Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ethics of Sex and Sabotage


The latest issue of the WordAlone Network News showed up in my mailbox this week. Its centerpiece was a lengthy article titled "The Necessity of Resistance in 2009" by James Arne Nestingen, professor emeritus of church history, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.

Dr. Nestingen's arguments are a bit convoluted, but he seems to be counseling his readers to perform a sort of economic sabotage against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Objecting to the Churchwide Assembly (CWA) decisions allowing for the ordination of same-sex partnered clergy, he suggests that withholding benevolence in ways that target "people, programs and ... specific missions" is an appropriate strategy.

In a pull quote from the article Nestingen says, "In fact, the passive-aggressives--those who withhold themselves, backing off from participation--are generally, as pastors commonly know, the most dangerous." Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder was once a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) used by mental health professionals. Like homosexuality, it has been dropped in recent editions. Still, I question whether passive-aggression and deliberate sabotage are ever appropriate ways for Christians to express disagreement.

Predictably, Nestingen refers to the first chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans:

In Romans 1 Paul moves beyond the sexual hunting to address the grounding offense evident in homosexual behavior. The sexual relationship that embodies the love of husband and wife, and that God generally blesses with children, is taken out of that context and made an end in itself for purposes of self-gratification.

This self-seeking, which can take over hetero- just as well as it does homosexual relationships, involves a covetousness that turns into idolatry.

I have addressed Romans 1 in previous posts here, here and here. It seems to me that Dr. Nestingen has reversed the flow of Paul's argument. Paul states quite clearly that idolatry causes homosexuality. Here, Nestingen argues that homosexuality causes idolatry.

He also suggests that procreation is the sole purpose of sexual relations. This is a disservice to heterosexual couples living in childless marriages. Yes, procreation is one function of sex, but sex is also an expression of loving intimacy.

Dr. Nestingen also does a disservice to homosexuals whom he characterizes as "self-seeking." Ethical gay sex, like ethical straight sex, gives consideration to the other partner.

Perhaps Dr. Nestingen does not realize that homosexuality, in the end, is about whom one loves and desires intimacy with. It is not all about sex acts.

There are other flaws in Nestingen's arguments. In my next post, I will take up his discussion of the Office of the Keys.


  1. I read this article, too. It was convoluted. I usually find Dr. Nestingen to be rather logical and reasoned even though I often do not agree with him. Perhaps a short deadline loomed.

  2. I agree, Nestingen is capable of better.