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,
A Few Preliminaries
I want to outline a few of the ways that an argument can be
First, there is deduction, where after stating some
premises, the conclusion necessarily follows. For example:
is a man.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
“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)
So, how does evil cause disease in an individual,
in Swedenborg’s view?
“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) )
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”
While the disease in an individual person might
not be due to their personal sin, an individual who is diseased cannot be
“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)
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.
“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
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