And Yet Heterosexuality Really Is Normative
While there is much truth in this, the weakness in Hannon’s argument, which I insist on correcting in my own exposition, is its refusal to grant any normative value at all to heterosexuality. Hannon is correct in rooting sexual morality at least partly in the procreative purpose of sex. But he fails to see that this teleology is not derived from Revelation alone, as if it is something not found in our natural experience. In fact, the normative character of heterosexuality is built into nature itself—which does not mean it cannot be abused.
We need to understand that, while any sort of lust is always disordered, sexual attraction between men and women has actually been designed into the human person by the Creator. As designed, this is a natural attraction properly ordered to its ends, even though it can become disordered by escaping the bounds of reason and love. To the contrary, same-sex attraction is fundamentally disordered in itself, because it lacks the primary and defining end of human sexuality. The term heterosexual should, scientifically, refer to the fact that the human species reproduces through an exchange between male and female, which is an accurate statement. The term homosexual should, scientifically, refer to the fact that the human species reproduces through the agency of only one of the sexes, which is false. All human persons, regardless of inclinations, are in fact heterosexual.
That is why heterosexuality is normative, and why its contemporary divorce from reproduction in our culture is not rooted in the fundamental nature of heterosexuality, but in its abuse. Reading Hannon, one would almost think that this distinction is irrelevant, and that only fools would insist that heterosexuality can be properly linked to the Christian understanding of sex. In fact, the very moral framework Hannon recommends that we recover (and he is absolutely correct in this recommendation) demands a heterosexual context. To put the matter simply, heterosexual sexual inclinations are not always properly ordered; but non-heterosexual sexual inclinations are always disordered.
For this reason, I do not see the main problem as a normative concept of heterosexuality. The main problem is that our culture, obsessed with sexual feelings and pleasures, presses us to identify our very nature with our sexual inclinations. Christians should try to avoid this when dealing with anyone, including themselves, who has wayward sexual desires. But in our time this is particularly difficult to avoid because, in order to justify homosexuality, modern culture identifies the “gay” or the “lesbian” as defined by sexual inclinations, thereby demanding approval and rights for what is not a nature or a person but a disordered attraction, or even a sin.
There is a reductionism about this process which makes everyone much smaller than they really are, and which makes it particularly important that Christians never treat anyone who faces temptation as if their nature or their personhood is defined by that temptation. This is challenging because so many people have been formed to believe their sexual inclinations do define them as persons, so that any criticism of these inclinations is taken as a personal attack. But in the end the challenge is worth meeting. Success here means treating each person not as something less—but as someone more.