Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Care

“Sexual preferences” is simply contemporary code for lesbianism and homosexuality. The question is not asking, for example, about the “sexual … Continued

“Sexual preferences” is simply contemporary code for lesbianism and homosexuality. The question is not asking, for example, about the “sexual preferences” of clergy who choose or are chosen for celibacy which is, after all, a “sexual preference” or, better, a “non-sexual preference.”

The question repeats, first of all, what was already asked on Wednesday, February 28, 2007: “What does your faith lead you to believe about gay unions and gay clergy?” And, second, it asks whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an adequate solution if and when one’s faith prohibits gay married clergy.
My answer responds narrowly within biblically-based Christianity and it argues that “don’s ask, don’t tell” is not a solution but an evasion. What we need, instead, is a “don’t care.” Gay or straight should be as irrelevant as color or race in making a Christian judgment about a sexual relationship.
What has to be done instead is an honest and open decision on the contemporary validity of New Testament prohibitions on gay sexual relationships involving Christian laity and clergy. And so, quite deliberately, I repeat what I said to that February question.

Decisions on what is natural and unnatural define our humanity but those determinations, unfortunately, are also and always conditioned by time and place, society and religion. An example. The Greek philosopher Aristotle judged slavery to be a natural situation. But the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, judged it to be an unnatural status–“a thing absolutely and wholly contrary to nature, for nature has created all men free, but the injustice and covetousness of some men who prefer inequality, that cause of evil, having subdued some, has given to the more powerful authority over those who are weaker (On the Contemplative Life, 70).
Another example. My own personal and moral judgment is that capital punishment is a cruel, unusual, and unnatural penalty. But, quite clearly, many others in our country find it quite natural.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul made a rather sweeping accusation against non-Jews. “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,” he wrote in 1:26-27, “and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” That judgment on homosexuality as against nature (physis) is also echoed in most other contemporary Jewish writings on that subject.
Earlier, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also invoked “nature’ in discussing the length of female and male hair. “Does not nature (physis) itself teach you,” he asked them rhetorically in 11:14-15, ” that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.” Most of us might well agree that gendered hair-length is not about human nature and human unnature but about social custom and social habit.
My point is not that our judgments about what is natural and unnatural are irrelevant or absolutely relative but that we must always carefully assess what is nature (avoid eating people) and what is tradition (avoid eating pets).
On homosexuality, many ancients judged sexual nature in terms of biology and organs but many moderns–myself included–judge sexual nature in terms of chemistry and hormones. In other words, Paul was wrong on hair and equally wrong on homosexuality. And, by the way, can you imagine how unnatural he would have considered a heart-transplant?

  • Mary

    As science continues to reveal what is “natural”,

  • Huh?

    Viejita:I don’t remember hearing about any Christian religions that make the question of homosexuality the “core of their belief system”. Did I miss something?”While some of us are spending our time and energy fantasizing about what two men or two women do in bed together there is real suffering to be addressed in the world”? Just because someone doesn’t agree with homosexual activity doesn’t mean they think about it incessantly. Why in the world would they? You certainly are projecting.And by the way Crossan, your “modern” judgement of sexual nature in terms of chemistry and hormones rather than biology and organs reduces the human race to bunch of animals being led around by their uncontrollable desires. It gives the perfect excuse to cheating spouses and sexually promiscuous individuals. The “original” judgement of sexual nature gives the responsibility for your actions back to you, not your raging hormones.

  • JohnJ

    Over the past few decades, ever since biologists no longer had to fear hurting their careers by showing an interest in homosexuality and thereby bringing on themselves suspicion regarding their own sexuality, they have documented thousands of instances of homosexual relations among mammals and some birds in nature. Some involving life-long pairings. If animals in nature aren’t natural then it’s time to throw the word out all together

  • Huh?

    JohnJ:I guess that argument works if you consider yourself just another one of the animals.

  • Huh?

    JohnJ:The whole “animals do it, so should we” argument just doesn’t fly. Here’s some good reading for you:– Explaining Seemingly “Homosexual” Animal Behavior Bonobos are a typical example of this “borrowing (of the instinct of reproduction).” These primates from the chimpanzee family engage in seemingly sexual behavior to express acceptance and other affective states. Thus, Frans B. M. de Waal, who spent hundreds of hours observing and filming bonobos, says: There are two reasons to believe sexual activity is the bonobo’s answer to avoiding conflict. First, anything, not just food, that arouses the interest of more than one bonobo at a time tends to result in sexual contact. If two bonobos approach a cardboard box thrown into their enclosure, they will briefly mount each other before playing with the box. Such situations lead to squabbles in most other species. But bonobos are quite tolerant, perhaps because they use sex to divert attention and to diffuse tension. Second, bonobo sex often occurs in aggressive contexts totally unrelated to food. A jealous male might chase another away from a female, after which the two males reunite and engage in scrotal rubbing. Or after a female hits a juvenile, the latter’s mother may lunge at the aggressor, an action that is immediately followed by genital rubbing between the two adults.[7] Like bonobos, other animals will mount another of the same sex and engage in seemingly “homosexual” behavior, although their motivation may differ. Dogs, for example, usually do so to express dominance. Cesar Ades, ethologist and professor of psychology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, explains, “When two males mate, what is present is a demonstration of power, not sex.”[8] Jacque Lynn Schultz, ASPCA Animal Sciences Director of Special Projects, explains further: Usually, an un-neutered male dog will mount another male dog as a display of social dominance–in other words, as a way of letting the other dog know who’s boss. While not as frequent, a female dog may mount for the same reason.[9]Not surprisingly, the smell of a female dog in heat can instigate a frenzy of mounting behaviors. Even other females who are not in heat will mount those who are. Males will mount males who have just been with estrus females if they still bear their scent…. And males who catch wind of the estrus odor may mount the first thing (or unlucky person) they come into contact with.[10]– “Homosexual” Animals Do Not Exist In 1996, homosexual scientist Simon LeVay admitted that the evidence pointed to isolated acts, not to homosexuality: Although homosexual behavior is very common in the animal world, it seems to be very uncommon that individual animals have a long-lasting predisposition to engage in such behavior to the exclusion of heterosexual activities. Thus, a homosexual orientation, if one can speak of such thing in animals, seems to be a rarity.[11]Properly speaking, homosexuality does not exist among animals…. For reasons of survival, the reproductive instinct among animals is always directed towards an individual of the opposite sex. Therefore, an animal can never be homosexual as such. Nevertheless, the interaction of other instincts (particularly dominance) can result in behavior that appears to be homosexual. Such behavior cannot be equated with an animal homosexuality. All it means is that animal sexual behavior encompasses aspects beyond that of reproduction.[12]It Is Unscientific To “Read” Human MotivationThe term homosexuality should be limited to the human species, for in animals the investigator can ascertain only motor behavior. As soon as he interprets the animal’s motivation he is applying human psychodynamics–a risky, if not foolhardy scientific approach.[13]Human beings have sex one way, while animals have it another. Human sex is a question of preference where one chooses the most attractive person to have pleasure. This is not true with animals. For them, it is a question of mating and reproduction. There is no physical or psychological pleasure….The smell is decisive: when a female is in heat, she emits a scent, known as pheromone. This scent attracts the attention of the male, and makes him want to mate. This is sexual intercourse between animals. It is the law of nature.[14]

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    A “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with respect to religious clergy would be impossible for how indeed does one hide one’s sexuality when you serve the public?? The former governor of NJ tried but failed and had to come “clean” when his lover threatened to expose him. And what about the potential for contracting AIDS if you are a promiscuous homosexual/heterosexual clergyperson? Should the congregation have to pay for said cleryperson’s care? Magic Johnson can afford his medications, most congregations could not.

  • Anonymous

    Huh – So animals are irrelevant and you then proceed to argue that same-sex activity among them doesn’t count anyway since they’re really not homosexual, as if homosexual meant anything else. Which is it? You also have a symplistic idea of evolutionary pressures. For social animals, which includes humans ( sorry, biologists don’t cordon off human beings as creatures on a different plane) homosexuality can serve the purpose of reducing tensions within the group, particularly whenever an imbalance of the sexes occurs, as well as increasing the number of adults available to nurture and guide the young. In this way it can have survival value for the group as a whole.

  • Heron

    Dr. Crossan, what you wrote seems both sensible and compassionate. Thank you.

  • Huh?

    Anonymous:Animals are not “homosexuals”. They sometimes exhibit sexual behaviors with the same sex for different animalistic motivations, such as aggression, dominance, chemical reaction, etc. It is not because they are “sexually attracted” to the opposite sex.

  • Paganplace

    Actually, ‘Huh,’ there are in fact exclusively-homosexual animals in nature. In fact, among animals that bond for life, there are observed animals of the same sex bonding so in the same way. You can’t say, ‘Heterosexuality is Nature-ordained: gay humans are against Nature….’ and then discount the fact Nature in fact ‘ordained’ sexual diversity. Just like humans are observed to be, and in fact, report being. It’s only certain religion that doesn’t listen.

  • rafael

    Huh, you sound like an amateur biologist who likes the conclusions in what he reads but doesn’t understand the first principles behind them.Non-human animals certainly can be attracted to the opposite sex. For example, a single gene mutation in fruit flies makes the males pursue and try to mate with other males as if they were females. I’m guessing you’ll try to define attraction in a way that suits your goals, but without a doubt these males are responding to signals that cause them to approach males in a sexual manner.Whatever the causes of homosexual behavior in humans–and I hope you’re at least well-informed enough to avoid the “it’s a choice” argument–it’s unlikely that such causes are restricted to something particular about human biology. Just as fruit flies pursue males based on as little as a change in the complementarity between a signal and receptor, so too do humans rely on visual and olfactory cues for their attraction. Just because we are influenced by human culture (and bonobos by bonobo culture), we are still animals. Here’s a line straight out of 19th century thinking about the ladder of life: “The lower the species in the animal kingdom, the more tenuous and difficult to detect are the differences between sexes, leading to more frequent confusion.” Your understanding of biology is antiquated and seems limited to what fits your world view.

  • lepidopteryx

    marilyn:.**If He wanted them to have children he would have provide a natural way for them to procreate.**Then it stands to reason that straight infertile peopel should not ba allowed to adopt either, since if God had wanted them to be parents, he would have given them the ability to make babies. So what’s to become of all those parentless children out there? I guess they’re just up a creek.**The Bible tells us unnatural sex is a choice, learned, taught, or forced on a person.**Sex forced on a person is rape. No one chooses to be raped. **Oral sex is forbidden and unfit for all humans including husbands and wives.**Oh well. Guess I’ll go to hell then.


    Yes, why should I care?I do care about how another person treats me, my family, my friends, my community, my country, and Earth.I, of course, fail to meet my own criteria of being a good person. Then I suffer…

  • Godfrey

    Huh and Paganplace:”Actually, ‘Huh,’ there are in fact exclusively-homosexual animals in nature. In fact, among animals that bond for life, there are observed animals of the same sex bonding so in the same way.”Not only that. Animals that *don’t* bond for life, heterosexually, will do so homosexually. Dolphins for instance, who are absolutely licentous heterosexually, bond for life homosexually. Dolphins, incidentally, are considered to have a 41% incidence of homosexuality, as compared to the puny 4% of human beings. Imagine if we had a 41% incidence. Things would be different, wouldn’t they?Here are some other figures:Ostriches (both sexes), 1% homosexual. Female silver gulls, 10% bisexual. Black headed gulls (both sexes), 22% homosexual. Galahs (both sexes), 44% homosexual. (Does anyone know what a Galah is?)Bonobo apes, 100% bisexual. For more information, see: Bruce Bagemihl, _Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity_ (St. Martins Press), 1999.Cesar Ades is full of baloney. As Stephen Humphrey of the _Portland Mercury_ puts it, “Ethologist Cesar Ades… postulate[s] that these dirty-minded biologists are, in actuality, simply imagining homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom. In fact, he claims that animals are nothing more than furry robots; slaves to genital odors and nothing more.”Anyone who’s ever had a cat or a dog knows better.Huh said, “There is no physical or psychological pleasure….”In point of fact, females of certain species (other than human) have been observed to have orgasm. If that isn’t pleasure, what is?As for Simon Levay, this is what I found about him at the Univ. of Mich.: “LeVay is a minor academic who never achieved tenure anywhere, and whose past research has not proven repeatable.”Let’s not quote him as a scientist anymore, shall we?Antonio Pardo: Couldn’t find anything by or about him in English, but this is how his university describes itself: “It is a ‘corporate work’ of apostolate of Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church.”That doesn’t sound promising as a source of science.Charles Socarides: A psychologist, not a biologist, and a fellow with a great big hangup about curing homosexuality. Can’t be trusted on whether it’s natural, or on any aspect of zoology. Not his field.

  • Godfrey

    OK, a galah is an Australian parrot. Strange looking thing.

  • Roy

    No Catholic has the right to judge gays as long at the Pope, his Cardinals, Bishops and Priests continue to hide pedophiles in its clergy. Cases in point are Cardinal Mahoney in LA and Cardinal Rivera in Mexico who continue to hide the pervert Priest “Father” Aguilar in the Mexican state of Puebla. The Pope and these two cardinals are acomplices to criminal acts and should be in prison for their outrageous moral and legal crimes.

  • Viejita del oeste

    I am saddened by the way religious communities latch on to certain questions and teachings and make them the core of their belief system. As a heterosexual, I have the luxury of not being defined publicly by what my husband and I do in the bedroom. For us, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a normal way of operating in the world. Have we ever done anything of which the Catholic Church might disapprove? Probably not, but that’s no one’s business but our own.I think it’s kind of sick that anyone feels qualified to participate in the sexual decision-making of others. There are heterosexual practices that I find offensive. Should I find a church that hunts them out and shames them? While some of us are spending our time and energy fantasizing about what two men or two women do in bed together there is real suffering to be addressed in the world.

  • Former Christian

    Mariland, it sounds to me like you’ve never had a relationship with someone who is gay. If you did, you would understand that they have hopes, dreams and passions like everyone else and that’s the key — they are like everyone else. You would also recognize that it’s virtually impossible to shut off their orientation.My cousin, who is 6 years older than me, has an older brother and a younger sister. Both have families. Dale did not. Dale was gay. I say was because Dale died in 1990 from aides. Having spent vacations with Dale and lots of family get togethers and picnics, I can tell you that if he could make a choice, he certainly would not have chosen a gay life style. But it’s not a choice and only people that have never really had a relationship with a gay person would say it’s a choice.As to the fact that the bible prohibits it — that’s really all the more reason to support it. The bible prohibits working on the Sabbath, stoning your son if they are disobedient, stoning you wife if she has an affair and yet is perfectly silent — no actually supportive of — slavery. The bible provides a poor excuse for a moral guideline.

  • Huh?

    Godfrey:Male dolphins will work together in pairs or groups for weeks at a time following and restricting the movements of a female, waiting for her to become sexually receptive. I’m guessing a couple of weeks of “aroused” male dolphins all swimming together probably leads to all kinds of frenzied activities going on. These male dolphins also eventually bond and tend to work together for protection and help in finding females. It doesn’t mean they are homosexuals.You can interpret these activities the way that you want. I, and many others, do not believe the theory that 2 male black-headed gulls that have sex are involved in a loving, homosexual relationship.

  • jay

    Just one more example on the homosexual animal topic. There are species of lizards here in the United States that are all-female and reproduce parthenogenetically (true virgin births). Before one female ovulates its unfertilized eggs (which will develop into fully functional clones), it engages in pseudo-copulatory behavior with a fellow female, which is very similar to the copulatory behavior that closely related male-and-female species use (what you might call “normal sex”). This pseudocopulatory behavior occurs as the norm in this all-female species and apparently is needed to induce ovulation.The examples from the animal kingdom (of which humans are a part) are diverse and often outside mere human imagination. Makes it difficult for those who want black and white answers on matters of sex.

  • jay

    BTW, I have jokingly referred to these all-female lizard species as “lizbians”.

  • Ashley

    Rather than bang my head against the wall of intolerance and religious “superiority,” I’ll just ponder aloud: of all the myriad problems in this world, why sex? It doesn’t matter whether the sex in question is homosexual or heterosexual, we as a society of former Puritans are completely obsessed and backwards in our thinking. Do people like Marilyn work themselves up because they don’t get sex in their very strait-laced marriages?

  • Huh?

    Ashley:Just because Marilyn doesn’t get her freak on like you do doesn’t mean she isn’t satisfied sexually in her marriage, so stop bashing.And as to “why sex?”, well geez, that just happens to be the topic we’re all discussing in this forum.And your church workshops for terrified couples is a bunch of baloney. The reason more churches are having classes and discussions about marriage and sex is because they have found that more and more members these days are interested in talking about these subjects.

  • rb

    32 years old, never married, doesn’t date, lives with 12 other guys, seems like Jesus was gay to me. Either that or he was seeing Mary Magdalene as the rumors say.Either way, the Catholic church is screwed!

  • Thomas Baum

    To Marilyn Taplin and the rest of the world: According to the bible original sin was disobedience, a lot of people really seem to go out of their way to add what they want it to be but it is very clearly and simply said. After I met God, the whole Trinity, I got to wondering why anybody should be afraid of God since at the time I didn’t really know what, “Fear of the Lord”, meant and so I looked it up in the dictionary and it means, “reverence and awe”, it also says in the bible that the “Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. If you notice in Sodom and Gomorrah people were forcing themselves on other people most people don’t seem to notice that, God doesn’t force Himself on us and He doesn’t want us forcing ourselves on others. Remember God has a Plan and it is His Plan, one of the ways I like to put it is: Thank you Dad for Your Plan, Thank You Brother for Your Obedience to the Plan and Thank You Knitting Buddy for bringing the Plan to Fruition. Of course it is not to fruition yet but the dawning of the seventh day will arrive. Take care. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.


    Catholics are not the only ones who have pedophiles or homosexuals or BAD people in their hierarchy. I may not believe that what the Catholic church does is correct – and I do not. I do not believe in their stand on birth control and many other issues. I agree with you that these people should be put away; but to not listen to what someone has to say because you do not agree with an institution’s policies may make one miss out on important matters. Not everyone believes everything that their church says or even agrees with it. We have many former Catholics in our church who left the religion for many reasons – but they are open minded enough to listen to leaders of the religion. Sometimes they agree, and sometimes they do not. But just the way that Evangelical pastors who get caught with their pants down are not their Religion – neither is it fair to lump all priests or former priests as bad. Religions and faiths are made up of people after all, and humans are fallible.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Is it not also about the lack of interest in becoming a “clergyperson”? A good example is my Catholic Church. The number of men interested in the priesthood continues to plummet. The standards were therefore lowered, questions were not asked, celibacy was still required, women are still denied their rightful role and we are learning the lessons the hard way to the “tune” of a billion dollars so far.

  • Roy

    Oh, so because it is not just Catholics who have pedophiles amongst their clergy makes it OK. Read my post followed by today’s article about Aguilar. You think I made this up? The Pope and two of his Cardinals are complicit. Apologize all you want but don’t claim to be Christ’s only Chruch while participating in these crimes.

  • Roy

    Aguilar is still serving Mass in the Mexican state of Puebla while Cardinals Mahoney and Rivera and the Pope himself look the other way. Christ’s only true chruch, indeed.Letter Roils LA Fugitive Priest Case

  • Huh?

    Godfrey:Of course you automatically assume I’m Christian, because I don’t agree with you. I’m not, I’m simply able to look at things with an open mind. That’s right, I said an open mind. Sorry to burst your bubble, but not all biologists believe the loving, homosexual animal relationship theory. There are homosexual biologists who do, though.Your quote “This is sheerest speculation, and is not confirmed by observation. Biologists have considered the “any port in a storm” hypothesis, and have discarded it” is misleading and therefore inaccurate. It is not speculation; it is confirmed by observation. If one is simply willing to look, there is more than enough valid, accredited information from many years of studies showing so-called homosexual behavior that is rooted in animalistic showings of dominance, aggression, etc, etc.It’s very easy for people to get the wrong idea about something based on their own pre-conceived notions. Someone sees two male birds going at it and says “aw, look, those two male birds are in love.” People are very good at assigning human traits to animals; that’s why so many people are killed by wild animals every year. They are wild animals. They don’t think and love the way people do, and they don’t have loving homosexual and heterosexual experiences. They mate, or breed, or mount for different reasons, and none of them are for love. So stop trying to equate same-sex animal encounters with same-sex human relationships. They are not at all the same.

  • Thomas Baum

    To Concerned the Christian Now Liberated and the rest of the world: Actually I believe the bible is inspired because I met God and I have also met satan. The bible and it’s simple message has been distorted by plenty of people that doesn’t take anything away from the simple message of the bible, it just means it has been distorted by many. And as far as Jehovah being God’s Name, that is a scribal error. I AM WHO AM is God’s Name or is the close enough english equivalent. Don’t worry one day all will know that God is real, that God is a Trinity and that God is Pure Love. Like I have said many times: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof. Also God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable, God’s Plan is for all of His children and ALL OF HUMANITY are His children. See you in the Kingdom, take care. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Blind

    When Paul mentioned behavior going against nature he wasn’t up to date on science. Some, not all, but some people are born w/certain traits that makes their same-sex preference as natural as the preference of a man joining w/a woman. There’s also the psychological aspect where a young girl is so damaged by an abusive family member she is rendered incapable of having feelings of love or intimacy w/any man & can only find attachment w/another woman.To deny that person a place in church or in society because of abusive actions which were beyond her ability to prevent would be to victimize her a second time and I’m pretty sure Jesus would not be in agreement w/that…

  • Christie

    The sacred assignment of a true religious teacher is to tell, tell, and tell. True Christians leader are to follow Jesus’ example and tell the truth regarding Jehovah God’s purpose and standards.1Peter 2: 21-22: “In fact, to this [course] YOU were called, because even Christ suffered for YOU, leaving YOU a model for YOU to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth.”Jesus denounced the religious leaders of his day because they were hypocrites and failed to live up to their role as true religious leaders. John 8:44-47: “ YOU are from YOUR father the Devil, and YOU wish to do the desires of YOUR father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of [the lie]. Because I, on the other hand, tell the truth, YOU do not believe me. Who of YOU convicts me of sin? If I speak truth, why is it YOU do not believe me? He that is from God listens to the sayings of God. This is why YOU do not listen, because YOU are not from God.”