Are homosexual acts inherently wrong, dishonorable, and sinful? Or, is homosexuality morally neutral, with specific sexual acts and relationships determined to be either right or wrong by context and intention? Are homosexual acts morally good and honorable? These assertions of moral judgment represent something of the range of possibilities and cover most of the main alternatives.
Most Americans come to moral judgments by a complex and often confused process that combines moral intuition with emotivism and some (often quite minimal) knowledge of the history of moral judgment. Add to this the fact that most Americans are highly influenced by popular culture and mass opinion. In the end, as many observers have argued, most Americans are probably moral pragmatists at heart.
On an issue as controversial as homosexuality, moral confusion abounds. Americans respond to questions related to homosexuality with a range of often inconsistent and contradictory moral judgments. Ask a question about same-sex marriage one way and you get one answer. Change the question slightly, and you might get a very different response from the very same person.
President Barack Obama recently signed a proclamation designating the month of June as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2009." The President declared:
Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.
President Obama is not the first American president to make such a declaration. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a similar executive order declaring June of that year as "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month." At that time, President Clinton stated:
This June, recognizing the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done, we observe Gay and Lesbian Pride Month and celebrate the progress we have made in creating a society more inclusive and accepting of gays and lesbians. I hope that in this new millennium we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and tolerance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.
President Obama's proclamation goes far beyond the statement signed by President Clinton. After meeting massive opposition to his proposal to allow openly-homosexual citizens to serve in the Armed Forces, President Clinton crafted the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In his declaration, President Obama pledges to end that policy. President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. President Obama has called for a repeal of that legislation.
In issuing his order, President Obama applauded the successes of the gay rights movement to date, but affirmed his judgment that "there is more work to be done." He called for enhanced federal hate crimes laws, adoption rights for homosexuals, and for "civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples," among other goals.
Nevertheless, the most morally significant dimension of President Obama's proclamation is the use of the word "pride." With the stroke of a pen, a vast moral judgment was communicated.
Given the background noise of cultural conversation, most Americans probably gave little thought to that word. Yet, by means of this proclamation President Obama called for all Americans to find pride in the fact that some of our fellow citizens are homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered.
This poses a big problem for citizens who believe that homosexuality is inherently sinful. Can we find pride in what we know to be sin? That question contains its own answer. There is no way that biblical Christians committed can join in the chorus of gay pride. The Bible is straightforward in its consistent identification of homosexual acts as inherently sinful. Homosexual acts are not singled out as the only form of sexual sin. The Bible condemns any number of heterosexual sins, ranging from fornication and adultery to a catalogue of forbidden acts and relationships.
Beyond sexual sins, the Bible condemns sins as various and deadly as anger, envy, covetousness, disobedience, gluttony, greed, and dishonesty. The Bible declares all of us to be sinners and makes clear that no one of us can even understand the full sinfulness of our own sin. Sin is deceptive and addictive. Sin leads to death, judgment, and eternal destruction.
The Bible allows no room for finding pride in sin. Indeed, such pride amounts to further evidence that sin is deceptive and subversive. Perhaps one of the most horrifying aspects of sin is just this -- we will find a way to be proud of our sin and the sins of others.
In signing this proclamation, President Obama put the issue right before us all. During the 1980s the gay rights movement began using the "pride" language in an effort to defy negative moral judgments about homosexuality. Calls for gay liberation became calls for gay pride. The new theme brought political, strategic, and psychological advantages. The assertion of homosexual pride is the ultimate rejection of normative heterosexuality.
Those citizens who believe that morality is mere social construction can go along with this. Those who believe that homosexuality is morally positive will champion the call for gay pride. Most Americans will probably give passing attention to the President's call. But Christians committed to the authority of the Bible as the Word of God cannot find pride in sin. To do so is not only to confuse sin, but to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Morally serious persons must take the President's proclamation as a morally serious act. As such, it demands a response. Evangelical Christians dare not respond with a claim of moral superiority as if we are not ourselves sinners. But we must be clear that we cannot find pride in sin, whether these are our own sins or those of others. The Gospel of Christ simply does not allow us to see sin -- any sin -- as a matter of pride.