Traditional marriage: the not-so-heterosexual option - updated Aug 12 'Cat' on Mills' "Love, Covenant and Meaning"
Posted 26 April 2010 - 08:26 PM
The following is a summary of Love, Covenant and Meaning by Jonathan Mills.
[I have attempted to stay as close to Mill’s actual argument as possible without inserting my own comments or views. Lines in “quotation marks” are direct quotes from the text. I also wish to note that whilst the focus of Mill’s work is on homosexuality, it’s equally relevant to any situation where a man’s sexual attraction is “fixated on other forbidden things” too numerous to list.]
This material is generally from a male perspective as regards sexuality.
Modern Christianity tends to define marriage as a “celebration of human sexuality”. But biblically this is not what marriage is about. Marriage is about covenant and is founded upon love. Not an erotic love primarily but an agape love that lays down one’s life for one’s wife.
Whether we are attracted to opposite gender or same gender, all sexuality is fallen "sexuality" and tainted by sin. In modern terms humans have a "sexual identity". It is about whom you desire to have sex with. Mills calls this “Venereal Desire”. Marriage is not founded on sexual desire. "Heterosexualness in a man is much more likely to dissolve his marriage than to bind him to his wife." Since, like Solomon, given free rein, his sexual desire would encourage him to heap up for himself many sexual partners. Marriage is not primarily about venereal self-expression but is first of all the restraint of the spouses' venereal desires. The husband wants many sexual partners but must learn to restrict himself to the one. Marriage is not about erotic fulfillment but covenant & purpose (belonging, friendship & raising a family). Marriage requires a humanly beneficial and ennobling self-restraint.
Conservative - homosexuality is a call to celibacy unless some way of re-orienting can be found.
Liberal - you must be what you are and embrace a homosexual life. Only fear, hypocrisy and denial could induce a homosexual to consider marriage.
Christian identity is not based on what we desire but on what we choose to do. The traditional Judeo-Christian view taught that venery should be kept within marriage; it did not teach that marriage was the expression of the desire for venery. One's choices, not one's sexuality, express who one is. Medical, psychological and social methods define human identity in terms of their "sexual response" to certain "stimuli". They ignore choice.
Sexual desire is not sin, but there is sinfulness in all sexual desire.
Proverbs 31 in describing the virtuous wife list her character and behavior (working hard for her family) as the treasure to be sought by a man. The brief mention her appearance gets (half a verse out of 21 verses) speaks of her venereal attractiveness as a hindrance rather than a help since her charms are described as “deceitful” and her beauty as “vain” (vs 30).
For men who are primarily heterosexually oriented, politeness urges us to overlook or at least mention as little as possible that “it is really only out of shame, fear of feminist censure and tender regard for women’s feelings that ‘heterosexual’ men do not more directly and openly emphasize that marriage is not a celebration of their sexualness but in a way the opposite”. Does marriage and family make sense only for a man when he must restrain his desires for sex with all attractive women? Can’t a man who must restrain his desire for men also have the same chance at love and covenant with a wife?
A homosexually oriented man is just as able to forgo giving into his desires for all attractive men and stay in a loving and faithful marriage to his wife as a heterosexually oriented man is able to forgo giving into his desires for all attractive women and staying committed and faithful to his wife. Sexual attraction towards females is also no qualification for parenting. A man can possess the character, paternity and qualities that will make him a good father quite independent of the focus of his venereal desires.
Whether or not sexual orientation is changeable for some, certainly a large majority find it not to be so despite their best personal efforts, the help of counselors and therapists, prayer and commitment to God. This has not stopped men whose venereal desires are mostly or completely focused on men from marrying women, being good husbands & raising families across history & cultures. In the light of this, young people experiencing strong venereal desires for other men (and finding no outlook for change) ought to be able to look to any man of integrity as a potential role model. If their particular role model is not restraining venial desires towards other men it is certain that countless others of their occupation, character, marital status & social standing have done so. Homosexually oriented men need to know that falling into a homosexual lifestyle is not an inevitable consequence of their sexuality. "Do you want him to fear that the only males like him in the world are the ones he hears about in the media?"
Cross culturally & throughout history marriage has been an institution whose primary focus has been the raising of children (Mal 2:14-15) not an expression of sexuality. "When a hetero man ''expresses who he is as a sexual being" the result is never monogamous marriage but such things as adultery, serial fornication, casual venery, pornography and the hiring of prostitutes".
Monogamy is not the expression of his sexuality but rather subordination to a relationship of friendship & partnership. It takes maturity to subordinate sexuality, but the wishes for a more expressive life remain. This maturity is achievable by any man regardless of the object of the desires he wishes to express.
But can men who do not experience venery towards women make good husbands?… do they have what it takes? Some men who experience strong “homosexual” desires are very unhappy in marriage… but so are some men who experience strong “heterosexual” desires. There is a significant lack of research on men who are homosexually oriented but are happily married to women. Most such men would be considered “heterosexual” and, in the face of modern opinion, would likely be disinclined to admit otherwise. However, studies on marriages that have failed because of abandonment of wives by “gay” husbands have shown that the wives were happy with the relationship, found their husbands to have been lacking in sexism, caring, sensitive, kind, loving, thoughtful, gentle, interesting in personality, exciting, adventurous and possessing a good sense of humor. Several mentioned that they liked that their husbands were more interested in intimacy than sex. In cases where marriages ended because of the husband’s commencing homosexual activity, the wives in relationships that had been working well as a friendship and partnership all wished that the marriage could have continued. How much more success could be expected from a relationship where the husband chooses to subordinate his desires for venery and stay faithful to his wife.
Sexual satisfaction for a gay man in marriage can be measured in terms of affection and the couple’s importance to each other. Even in marriages of “heterosexual” couples, frequency of sexual activity and excitement of sexual activity are not measures of marital satisfaction. Other research has shown that men who “pressure” their wives for sex put great stress on the marriage. This is less likely to be a problem in marriages where the husband’s venereal desire is focused mostly on men. A “homosexually oriented” man who sees his marriage as a fraud and his life as a lie and who is desperately but unsuccessfully trying to reorient his sexuality is likely to experience much marital stress. However this stress comes not from his orientation but from what he believes about it and his attempt to change it.
[At this point Mills goes on to discuss Conservative and Liberal views in the light of postmodernism. I am not going to summarize those chapters here].
Much of the modern view of marriage as an expression of sexuality comes from the writings (1761-1762) of Jean-Jaques Rousseau. Rousseau did not believe the biblical view of the fallenness of every man. Instead he believed that all people were fundamentally heterosexual and that any variation from this was brought about during development by environmental factors (corrupted by bourgeois civilization). “For Rousseau, human nature is not fallen: “degeneracies” can exist in human beings only by the deforming influences of human society. In contrast, traditional Christian doctrine merely forbade venery between men on the grounds that venery’s only permissible context is marriage. No traditional authority commanded the obliteration of “homosexual” lust and the extorting of “heterosexual” lust from oneself – as though such lust ought to exist in a man by nature according to God’s original design.”
Rousseau also taught that (solo) masturbation made one narcissistic and introspective. Hiring a prostitute was seen as better since it at least involved a social interaction. His teaching gave rise to the anti-masturbation hysteria of the 19th Century. This doctrine lingers in modern times amongst those who believe that it turns youngsters in on themselves and away from the normal social interactions they need to participate in to mature. This creates the danger of sexually charged young people who will face increased temptation to channel their sexual energy into actual sexual relating rather than “taking responsibility for their own sexual needs” and freeing themselves from sexual distraction so that they can better cope with their homework and work duties, be less vulnerable to predatory adults and have less sexually charged interactions with the people to whom they are attracted.
Rousseau’s premise was that, nurtured correctly, human sexualness was the only basis of marriage. “But how could our ‘sex drives’ really be the foundation of ‘family values’ and a genuinely human interpersonal belonging!” The idea caught on because on one hand people were seeking to escape the excessive “what’s in it for me” individualism of the day and, on the other, to break free from oppressive social institutions and conventions. Marriages based on romance and “sexual love” seemed to offer a third way.
Today we can see that the Rousseau ideals of romantic sexuality have failed, but no alternative has been put forward and we are floundering. The impact for “homosexually” oriented men is that conservatives believe they should not be married and liberals believe they should abandon the idea of marriage and pursue relationships with those to whom they are truly attracted. The ridiculous nature of the liberal view can be seen when we suggest that a married heterosexual man no longer attracted to his wife, abandon her (and possibly their children) to be with a woman to whom he is truly attracted. If we abandon our Rousseaunian notions of sexual identity, what we are left with is a set of various desires that everybody has to learn to live with and a Gospel that tells us how.
Some conservatives believe that “homosexuality” is changeable; others do not. It is believed that “homosexuality” was not God’s original design for creation but neither then was “heterosexuality”. A “homosexual” orientation and a (fallen) “heterosexual” orientation are morally and religiously equivalent (along with any other orientation or venereal twist one may have). Both are “normal” in fallen male human beings, both must mortify the sinful desires and find ways to celebrate the gifts of God. But our prejudice remains. A teen male who confesses to struggling with lust towards attractive females will be told that this is “normal” and encouraged to manage his “normal” feelings appropriately. A similar male struggling with lust towards attractive males will be treated very differently and he knows it.
A man comes into his own when he is a husband and father. There are maturities and strengths he gains from husbandhood and parenthood that single men generally do not. But suicide, depression and self-hatred are common in homosexuals who (having sought change) find themselves unable to “heterosexually” orient… and yet long for the benefits of marital companionship and children. When healing doesn’t come, he may feel abandoned by God and excluded from His grace. When a “heterosexual” man is struggling with pornography or engaged in an affair outside of his marriage… he doesn’t seek healing of his sexuality but repentance and self-control. For a man to be transformed from lust towards all attractive males to lust towards all attractive females could not be called a “healing” from God. God won’t heal anyone into (fallen) heterosexualness.
“’Reorientation’ has less to do with venereal desire than with the changing of life purposes and learning the love and complementarity of man and woman as life partners.”
The Scriptural prohibitions against venery between men are satisfied by refraining from doing it. A man’s choices, not his desires, define his personhood and moral and spiritual orientation.
A man can be a “homosexual” AND marry a woman and raise a family as long as he does not engage in homosexual activity and remains faithful to his wife (just as any man must). Such a life may have to be lived one day at a time and comes with its own set of struggles and hardships, but it is a brave and noble journey and there is no reason to deny it to them or suggest that he’s not qualified to make it.
End of Summary.
The most significant question that seems to me to be lacking in Mill’s material is the question of practical functioning. Sexual activity requires arousal. How is a man who is not attracted to his wife to get aroused, stay aroused and reach orgasm?
I am seeking answers to this question from one of the scholars (Rikk Watts) who is a proponent of Mill’s views.
For my own self, I am observing that for a male within marriage, two components make for satisfying sex. One is indeed attraction, but the other is emotional attachment. Intimacy and sexual activity that focus on one’s attachment to one’s partner have the potential to be quite satisfying. I suspect that the answer to the question lies in this direction.
Posted 26 April 2010 - 08:53 PM
I have read John Boswell’s “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” (1994, Villard Books) and seen his evidence that in early Christianity, asexual or nearly asexual ‘spiritual marriage’ was upheld as an ideal heterosexual liaison.
My first reaction was that this type of marriage could only have been of interest for the most scholarly and intellectual of people. Since child raising was NOT idealized in this system, the population effect would have been noticeable if the practice of spiritual marriage had become widespread. The production of additional sinners for this fallen and temporary world was not a high priority in early Christianity. The lusty would certainly have had more children than the pure.
In modern times, child-raising has changed status completely, become relatively sacrosanct in pure Christianity and quite optional in lusty atheism. And Mills speaks truly when he says that some homosexually oriented men want very much to get in on the fatherly family life and participate in this non-traditional sacrament, parenthood.
Many solutions have been proposed to solve the problem of how gay men can reconcile their sexual orientations with any desires they may have to live conventional family lives and raise the proverbial 2.5. Mills’ proposal on this topic, despite having a soupçon of 4th century Christianity in it, is really an astonishing innovation, and one I think most people would find truly shocking.
He proposes, in essence, that all heterosexual marriages be watered down to the level of passion that exists in marriages between gay men and heterosexual women. Or at least, that they be viewed as well-constituted if they are like that, and as threatened if add-ons like frank heterosexual desire and passion enter the mix.
Pardon my jaw for denting the tarmac.
Attraction and ‘falling in love,’ even if labelled by the 15th century term “venery” (which, being based on a female goddess, Venus, can’t be applied to male-male attractions), seem – I am being ironic – to have a role in what you might call the ‘realpolitik’ of heterosexual marriage. How much pleading does one need to do in intellectual life on behalf of such gale-force realities? There is no question that realistic heterosexuality, both inside and outside of Christianity, is going to roar right past Mills like an express train, making his pages flap in the breeze. Married men and women place plenty of restraints on themselves, but that doesn’t make their marriages matters of pure agape from start to finish. The girls screaming at Justin Bieber don’t just want to bring him his walker when he’s old and grey. When St. Paul talked about getting married to avoid burning with passion, he wasn’t thinking about going for some chit-chat over a hot cup of mint tea.
Mills’ idea, though, is fine if it is part of a broad array of choices, including choices that don’t try to expunge the notion of falling in love (heterosexually or homosexually) and living happily ever after. Think of the English gay rock star Tom Robinson, who met a “tomboy” girl one day (his song “Tomboy” on the 1990 “Blood Brother” album documents this), married her and became a dad. He was very irritated when people suggested he was trying to deny he was gay. The fact that his wife, Sue Brearly, was somewhat boyish suggested that he may have found as much ‘ganymedy’ as ‘venery’ in being with her, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the marriage is fairly steeped in agape. For my own part, I would really want Tom to go that way because he wanted to, not because he suffered from the notion that God was opposed to his falling in love with a male he had fallen for. And I have no doubt that he would agree with me on that.
Tom and Sue’s arrangement has seldom been tried, because most gay men who have got married have not been open and honest about their true erotic values. They have got into ‘living a lie’ instead of being filled with agape. The choice offered by Mills is only valid for those who are honest and above-board with their partners. Agape and deception don’t mix. Everyone who wants Tom-and-Sue relationships to succeed should make it as easy as possible for gay men and lesbians to come out to everyone they know. That would necessitate supporting same-sex relationships when they are individuals’ preferred option. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not an encouragement to come out and be honest.
Discussion of Mills’ ideas must seem strangely placed in a boylove board, because extending his thesis to boylovers raises a set of problems that he seems not to have thought about. Minor-attracted adults (MAAs) may want to raise families partly just because children fascinate them – not just their own, but all the little friends they bring around (I am not at all implying that they intend to have sex with those children). The partners of such men may well wonder, if they are a little paranoid, whether or not they have been the means to an end. Some MAAs can get a big charge out of heterosex if they imagine that they are fathering a child; the sexual act becomes a sort of imaginary three-way. This isn’t exactly gritting one’s teeth and thinking of agape. I don’t think Mills has steeped himself enough in peoples’ sexual autobiographies even to be aware of such impulses.
Also, gays in the modern era, unless they belong to quite fundamentalist faith groups, can just take up marital or near-marital life with same-sex partners. This leaves only MAA’s behind in the traditional no-man’s-land of people who can’t legally or, in most viewpoints, morally have relations with someone fitting in with their their primary sexual attractions. This development means that Mills, though writing in reference to gays, primarily now has MAAs as his natural audience; the rest of the crowd is leaving. He may argue that it should not be so, and perhaps he will continue to have a gay audience to some extent, but clearly he needs to think about his MAA audience as well.
One can only suggest that he write something clearly addressing the issue of pedophiles who want to raise children in agape-based Christian families.
Posted 12 August 2010 - 03:15 PM
I would like to comment on your response to the Mills article. Post it as you see fit.
I don't think Mills is advocating for an ideal of passionless marriage. I feel confident that he has no problem with passion amongst heterosexual couples who are attracted to each other and experience sexual passion. I think his point is that a marriage can exist quite happily and functionally even if that sexual passion does not exist.... that same gender attracted individuals need not feel disqualified from opposite-gendered marriage merely because they lack passionate, physical attraction to their spouse.
I think it is also true to say that Mills is not advocating "sexless" marriages. He envisions couples engaging in coital activity even though the partner without physical, sexual attraction for his spouse may be drawing his arousal in ways that skirt this obstacle (eg: through focus on the intimacy/love they share, through focus on the physical touch, or through sexual fantasy).
Really this article is not relevant to people who believe that same gender marriage is acceptable. I think a fundamental premise of this article is that it applies to people who see opposite gendered marriage or celibacy as the only choices on the table. Despite the availability of other options in social acceptance and community these days many of us still feel morally bound not to take them up. To those of us in that camp... Mills definitely has something compelling to say.
Whilst I agree in as much honesty as one can give to one's spouse I don't feel that a same gender attracted individual need necessarily "come out" to his potential wife in order to best love her. If he has it fixed in his mind from the outset that he will be faithful to her regardless of his lack of sexual attraction then the fact of his alternative attractions can be kept to himself without any real dishonesty taking place. A man who knows he's same gender attracted and yet deliberately chooses to forsake that and stays celibate is in the same position; he's not being dishonest to anyone by not coming out. Likewise this husband is not really betraying anyone. He's made a choice and he can be as solid and faithful and loving a husband as any straight guy can be. Full disclosure of one's fantasy life is never a prerequisite of marriage and I would suspect that not many husbands are so honest with their wives in that department regardless of their orientation.
Finally, I would discourage any person from getting married who was just using his wife as a means to have children... for whatever reason. I think, and know from my own experience, that one can deeply love for her own sake, a spouse one is not sexually attracted to... and this is as it should be.