LGBTQIA+ and Swedenborg: It doesn’t have to be this way
This is a slightly updated version of an earlier post; no change in the basic argument but a bit more supporting evidence.
The purpose of this essay is to show that it is possible for Swedenborgians to be more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ (henceforward LGBT) people than in this February, 2022 statement by Bishop Peter Buss, Jr, the chief bishop of the New Church branch of Swedenborgianism:
Even with an emphasis on love and understanding, the Church cannot embrace same-sex marriage – on earth or in heaven. It cannot support a concept of gender fluidity. It cannot embrace variety of sexual expression implied in a bisexual identity. It should be a place where people can hear directly from the Word about the Lord’s vision of marriage and receive encouragement to reach for their experience of it.
Organizationally, the Church has a responsibility to make policies about what the priesthood can and cannot do around these matters, and what is expected of employees who have signed on to represent the beliefs of the New Church in their professional and private conduct. We must strive to align ourselves organizationally with what the Word teaches, and where we find ourselves out of alignment to work diligently to change. (page 23)
Buss, Peter M. Jr. From the Bishop’s Office. Standing for Marriage in Today’s World, A Church Perspective. New Church Life, Vol. MMXXII #1, January/February 2022, 15-24. NCL_JanFeb_2022-web.pdf (newchurch.org)
A Few Preliminaries
I want to outline a few of the ways that an argument can be made.
First, there is deduction, where after stating some premises, the conclusion necessarily follows. For example:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The validity of a deductive argument depends on the validity of the premises, if there is no fallacious construction such as assuming the consequent.
Second, there is induction, in which we generalize from the observed facts. For example, if thousands of swans have been observed and every swan observed has been white, then we might conclude that all swans are white. Arguments by induction can be refuted by further evidence, e.g. finding a black swan, or by showing that other conclusions are also consistent with the evidence.
Third, there are apologia, a formal defense of a position or belief. In apologia, we start with the conclusion we want, and work backward to explain or justify it.
There is an easy slide into apologia. For example, in the investigation of a crime, evidence may be gathered objectively, leading to an inductive inference that a particular person is likely to be responsible. But, once we get into court, the prosecution starts with a belief in guilt, the defense starts with a belief in innocence, and both sides present evidence to justify their positions.
Apologia are particularly common in religious writings. The Wikipedia article on Christian apologetics cites writers such as Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Anselm of Canterbury, Blaise Pascal, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, G. E. M. Anscombe, and John Henry Newman (author of Apologia Pro Vita Sua).
Of course, much as the prosecution and defense at a trial see things differently, different apologists will defend different positions. This is captured in the popular idiom from Shakespeare that the devil can cite scripture for his purpose.
With these preliminaries laid out, I present the following apologia defending an inclusive position for LGBT individuals.
We’ll start with the position that LGBT should be accepted on an equal basis in a church or religious community.
First, this should be the default – we should assume in Christian charity that others should be accepted. The basis of this starting point is Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Second, we can dispose of the Old Testament arguments by noting that there are many things prohibited in the Torah that are permitted to Christians (dietary restrictions and Jubilee years, for example) and also things that were allowed in the Torah that we would not accept today (slavery and polygamy, for example). There is a lot of “pick and choose” in Christians’ attitude toward the laws of the Torah.
There is, of course, the story of Sodom. There is a much more extensive discussion of what Swedenborg says about homosexuality in general and Sodom in particular by Lee and Annette Woofenden here: What does Emanuel Swedenborg Say about Homosexuality? | Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life (leewoof.org) Among many other particulars, it notes the parallelism between the story of Sodom (homosexual gang rape instead of hospitality toward travelers) and Judges 19 (heterosexual gang rape instead of hospitality toward travelers), both involving severe punishments (the destruction of Sodom, and the near genocide of the tribe of Benjamin). When we consider these stories together, it is the gang rape aspect that sticks out, rather than the specific form of gang rape.
Third, we can dispose of the New Testament arguments (e.g. a passage in a Pauline epistle) by noting that Swedenborg himself rejected all the New Testament epistles from his biblical canon.
But we cannot so easily dismiss conjugial love. An important belief among Swedenborgians is in conjugial love – the importance of marriage on earth, marriage in heaven, and the symbolism of the church betrothing herself to her Lord as His bride and wife (Swedenborg’s Conjugial Love 293:6)
(1) But while a Christian marriage on earth (and, for Swedenborgians, later in heaven) is an ideal state, it is not a required state. There is no requirement that Swedenborgians marry. Swedenborg himself never married. So, while the symbolism and correspondence is there, it need not be born out in every single individual in a church community by heterosexual marriage.
(2) We might further note that dispensations of charity have been given in this regard. Swedenborg states that remarriage after divorce should not occur except in cases of adultery, but even among the male New Church clergy there are several examples of second marriages and it seems unlikely that all of these involve female adultery, although it is clear that the specifics of these cases are none of my business.
(3) We do not require that all correspondences be taken literally, particularly in individual cases. Diseases, for example, are, in Swedenborg’s view, connected to sin.
a. “Diseases correspond to the cupidities and passions of the disposition; these, too, are their origin; for, in general the origins of diseases are intemperances, luxury of various kinds, merely corporeal pleasures; and also envies, hatreds, revenges, lasciviousness and the like, which destroy the interiors of man … and draw the man into disease, and thus into death.” (5712; from Potts Concordance, volume 2, page 173)
b. So, how does evil cause disease in an individual, in Swedenborg’s view?
i. “As death is from no other source than sin, and sin is all that which is contrary to Divine order, therefore evil closes the very smallest and most invisible vessels, of which are composed the next larger ones, also invisible; for the vessels which are smallest of all and wholly invisible are continued from man’s interiors. Hence comes the first and inmost obstruction, and hence the first and inmost vitiation into the blood. When this vitiation increases, it causes disease, and finally death. If, however, man had lived a life of good, his interiors would be open into heaven, and through heaven to the Lord; and so too would the very least and most invisible little vessels (the traces of the first threads may be called little vessels, on account of the correspondence). In consequence man would be without disease, and would merely decline to extreme old age, even until he became again a little child, but a wise one; and when the body could no longer minister to his internal man or spirit, he would pass without disease out of his earthly body into a body such as the angels have, thus out of the world directly into heaven.” (Arcana Coelestia, 5726. Arcana Coelestia volume 7 (swedenborg.com) )
c. But even though “the first of charity is to … shun evils because they are sins” (Charity, by Emanuel Swedenborg, , tr. by John Whitehead  at sacred-texts.com ), Swdenborgians do not shun those who are diseased, and are more likely to pray for them, and help them, as acts of charity.”th”
d. While the disease in an individual person might not be due to their personal sin, an individual who is diseased cannot be reformed.
i. “The reason no one is reformed in a state of disease of the body, is that reason is not then in a free state; for the state of the mind depends on the state of the body. When the body is sick, the mind also is sick; if not otherwise, still by removal from the world . . . When, therefore, man is in a state of disease ... he is not in the world ... in which state alone no one can be reformed ; but he can be confirmed, if he was reformed before he fell into disease. . . Wherefore, if they are not reformed before the disease, after it, if they die, they become such as they were before the disease ; wherefore it is vain to think that anyone can do repentance or receive any faith in diseases.” (p. 142; op. cit. page 174)
e. The correspondence between sin and disease is different in the natural and spiritual world, and the laws that govern the spiritual world are different. Therefore, does the correspondence between male and female in the natural world have to be the same as it may be in the spiritual world? No.
i. “While it is true that all disease arises from evil and falsity, and thus from sin; and while it is also true that man may bring disease upon himself through illicit lusts and pleasures of the body, through intemperance and many other things; it is by no means true that each man is responsible for bringing upon himself every disease he contracts. In the spiritual world, which is governed by different laws than is the natural world, man contracts those diseases which agree with his loves, for there [in the spiritual world] external things agree and make one with internal things.” (Frederick Schnarr, New Church Life, 1959 from SwedenborgStudy.com)
There is, of course, some truth to this view (e.g. you are more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke), but by and large charitable Swedenborgians are more likely to pray for a neighbor who has cancer, than to contend that it must be due to their own sins, shun their likely evil, and reject their full participation in the community.
We can understand that physical diseases may have a correspondence to spiritual diseases without requiring that this correspondence apply to specific individual cases.
To summarize this argument: We do not reject the unmarried person from full membership in the community, despite the importance of the concept of conjugial love. We do not reject the cancer patient from full membership in the community, despite the correspondence of physical diseases to spiritual diseases. Neither should we reject LGBT individuals from full membership in the community.
February 2022 (updated May, 2022)
This article can also be found at
Truncated thoughts: LGBTQIA+ and Swedenborg: It doesn’t have to be this way
It is worth noting that although I have been a Swedenborgian for decades, I did not go through the New Church educational system or attend its theology school. I have no doubt that there are those who did absorb decades of New Church education would be able to provide point-by-point apologia in opposition to this one. Whether I would find them convincing is an empirical question.
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