Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

GLBT Persons in the Church: Index

  1. Terms and Presuppositions.
  2. Use of Scripture in Moral Discernment
  3. Range of Christian Views on “Homosexuality.”
  4. The Sodom Story
  5. Two Texts from the “Holiness Code” in Leviticus.
  6. Addendum: Pro-GLBT “Over-readings” of Biblical Texts.
  7. Two Brief Texts from Paul (with major issues in translation).
  8. Romans 1:18-2:1. (The most difficult passage for the revisionist/inclusivist position I advocate.)
  9. Addendum 2: DVD Review of For the Bible Tells Me So.
  10. Richard Hays’ Argument, A.
  11. Richard Hays’ Argument, B.’
  12. Matt. 19:11-12: A Positive Word from Jesus?
  13. Addendum: Loose Ends.
  14. Sexual Orientation: Science.
  15. Identifying Threats
  16. Acts 10: Gentile Inclusion
  17. Bibliography
  18. “Final” Post: Toward a Single-Standard Sexual Ethic for All Christians.
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January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 4 Comments

GLBT Persons in the Church: Today’s Gentile Inclusion?

In the second post in this series, I gave some guidelines for the use of Scripture in Christian ethics–a beginning, but not an ending. I have written several articles on this topic (and reviewed more books on hermeneutics, biblical authority, etc. than I could count in a day) and may one day write a book on the topic.  But, for our purposes (and to help bring this series to a long overdue close), I will try to draw out the similarities I see between this debate and the 19th C. debate over slavery–and the first Century debate over including Gentiles in the Church without circumcision and without requiring adherence to Levitical purity laws (see esp. Acts 10).

  • In the 19th C., almost all the actual texts of Scripture were on the pro-slavery side of the debate–the morally wrong side.  The abolitionists could and did argue that biblical slavery was not race-based–and try to argue against the racist use of the story in Genesis of Noah’s cursing of Ham and his son Canaan which slaveholders (mis)used to justify singling out Africans for perpetual chattel slavery.  They could argue that the Exodus and the liberating work of Jesus undermined slavery.  They could point to Paul’s attempt to persuade Philemon to free Onesimus.  But there are no actual statements claiming that slavery is always and everywhere wrong. From Genesis to Revelation,  the owning of some humans by others is assumed.
  • This was the first crisis of biblical authority in U.S. Christianity.  Modern biblical criticism that began mostly in Germany in the 19th C. barely penetrated the awareness of U.S. seminaries until after the Civil War–certainly not as a widespread phenomenon.  But slavery was another matter–as it was earlier in the British empire.  The moral high ground was with the abolitionists–but the letter of the biblical text was with the slaveholders. 
  • The debate over slavery and biblical interpretation has often been compared to the debate over the equality of the sexes and women’s roles in church, home, and society. (See, e.g.,Willard M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women:  Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation [Herald Press, 1983].) And there ARE similarities. In the New Testament, for example, the biblical texts which are used to support the subordination of women in church, home, and society are usually the very same texts which were used to support slavery!
  • But there are also strong differences which those who are egalitarians regarding women and men, but not affirming of GLBT persons (folk like Catherine Clark Kroeger, David P. Gushee, Ronald Sider, Richard Hays, the late Stanley Grenz, Marva Dawn, etc.) point out with some frequency:  In the case of women’s equality with men, there are also strong texts that clearly support egalitarianism whereas, at best, this is ambiguous regarding both slavery and GLBT folk.
  • In both the 19th C. debate over slavery, and the current debate over “homosexuality,” the traditionalists employ a “flat Bible” hermeneutic which claims to place all direct commands on the same level unless they have been specifically repealed. (In practice, the literalism is far more selective and piecemeal, with little guiding it accept the biases of the traditional culture.)
  • In both debates, the traditionalists seem to use a hermeneutic of “control,” even of domination. Abolitionists and inclusivists, instead, are guided by solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.

Can we find a new path? I want to argue that it matters not only HOW we read Scripture, but with WHOM. Reading Scripture with the poor is different from reading with bankers and Wall Street day traders.  If white Christians had been reading their Bibles with Black Christians during segregation, could white churches have continued to support it? (The same could be asked of white Christians in South Africa under apartheid.) Reading Johannine texts about “the Jews” is different once one has celebrated a Seder meal with Holocaust survivors.  Reading divine promises to Israel concerning the Land sound different when read with Palestinian Christians whose families have been Christian since the first C. and whose homes and farms were lost in 1948–or plowed under more recently to make room for THE WALL.  Likewise, I began to change my views on “homosexuality” when some Christian friends I had known for years “came out” to me as gay and when I began reading the handful of texts in Scripture used to justify exclusion in the presence of these friends–some of whom can never go back to their home churches or even their biological families since coming out of the closet. Some have lost jobs, been falsely accused of child abuse, been denied access to partners in critical care units in the hospital (reserved for “family members,”), had children taken from them as “unfit parents,” lost housing, been denied the right to adopt, received hate mail or death threats–and so much more.

A clue from Acts 10.  Peter is given a vision of animals that are ritually unclean and told to rise, kill, and eat. He refuses, keeping the dietary laws (kosher) of Judaism, as he has done all his life.  After the vision, he is summoned to the house of a Gentile (a god-fearer, near-convert, who had gone so far as to build a synagogue and had a good repute from the entire Jewish community), an occupying Roman soldier named Cornelius.  It was considered taboo even to enter the house of a Gentile (but Peter, following Jesus, had already begun to question such purity concerns–he is staying in the house of Simon the tanner–and tanners were considered unclean because they handled dead animals), but Peter does it.  Cornelius is converted in the middle of Peter’s sermon and the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentiles (they speak in tongues as proof)–without waiting for circumcision or anything. So, Peter figures he might as well baptize them since they ALREADY HAVE the Holy Spirit.

He is called before the Jerusalem council to answer for his actions and says, in effect, “Yeah, I know what the Bible (Moses) says, but I tell you I saw these perver–er, I mean Gentiles, receive the Holy Spirit–the same as we did!”

The decision of the early church to include Gentiles without requiring circumcision, as people from Ken Sehested to Jeffrey Siker have argued, should be a major clue to how the contemporary church should welcome gay and lesbian Christians–without adding burdens by demanding a higher sexual ethic (mandatory celibacy) of them than we do for heterosexuals.  The risk those early Jewish Christians took in deliberately setting aside the clear word of Scripture for the demands of the gospel was no less than we face today regarding GLBT folk.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 3 Comments

Sexual Orientation: The Scientific Evidence (Such As It Is)

[In reproducing this series, I left out this post and one other. When I give the index, all will be in the correct order. MLW-W]

As I stated at the outset of this series, the term “homosexuality” is coined in German in the 1860s and comes into English a few years later.  So, the idea of someone with a sexual orientation that is primarily directed to their own sex (as opposed to same-sex acts) is a modern concept.

Freud believed it was a neurosis caused by an overprotective or dominant mother and/or an absent or abusive father.  In the 1950s, especially, psychologists blamed mothers if their children were gay or lesbian. Psychologists and psychiatrists regularly used electro-shock therapy to “cure” gays and lesbians. They also used lobotomies and “aversion therapy,” all of which would now be considered torture.  In 1973, the American Psychological Association dropped homosexuality from its lists of neuroses and psychosis and the American Psychiatric Association followed soon after. 

What changed? Not the political culture.  The gay rights movement had not yet emerged until a little later in the decade of the 1970s (immediately leading to the anti-gay “crusade” of former Mouseketeer and orange-juice saleswoman, Anita Bryant!).  What changed was the groundbreaking study of human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey and the institute he founded.  Kinsey discovered that few of us are completely heterosexual (ONLY attracted to the opposite sex) or completely homosexual (ONLY attracted to our own sex). Rather, most of us are dominantly heterosexual or homosexual.  Kinsey also discovered that, although the persecution of homosexuals by church and society often leads to attendant neuroses, there is no neurosis or psychosis in the condition itself.  That is still the conclusion of almost all psychologists and psychiatrists, and is reflected in their Diagnostic and Statistics Manual.

UPDATE: In the comments, Daniel Schweissing (Haitianministries), corrects this statement slightly. I accept it as a friendly correction and, since some readers never read the comments, reproduce it here:

While Kinsey’s groundbreaking study was undoubtedly influential in the decision of the APA, et al. to change their views on homosexuality, politics also played an important role. Gay theologian Robert Goss, in his book _Jesus Acted Up_ (Harper San Francisco, 1993 –pp.44-45), documents how gay and lesbian activists demonstrated at and disrupted a number of psychiatric and medical conferences, beginning as early as 1968 in attempt to convince them to change their views. This, in part, is one of the reasons why many conservative Christians continue to reject the professional opinions of such groups in regards to homosexuality. A better reading of this change in thinking might be that the political pressure from gay and lesbian activists forced the APA, et al. to take studies such as Kinsey’s more seriously.

Thanks, Daniel.

One often hears conservative preachers claim that “homosexuality is only found in human beings,” and that it’s claimed non-appearance in animals is proof that it is unnatural and sinful. The claim is false as anyone who has spent time around animals will tell you.  In some species, like dolphins and dogs, the majority of the males will mount anything that holds still! (Also, see what penguins are up to here!)In species that mate for life, a small percentage form same-sex pairings.  I have personally observed this in red-shouldered hawks–with two male hawks actually building a nest together!  This is always a small minority or the species in question would not survive.  But it happens.  Human sexuality is enough different from animal sexuality that this point is of limited value, but I had to refute an oft-made, but false, claim.

Among humans, approximately 90% of us are dominantly heterosexual in orientation.  About 5% are dominantly homosexual in orientation.  5% or less are bi-sexual or nearly equally attracted to members of both sexes.

Studies of the causes of homosexuality have been few and inconclusive. Several of the studies have either been poorly designed or given inconclusive evidence or used too small a sampling, etc.

There have been studies of monozygotic male twins which have shown that if one twin is gay, the other is gay 50% of the time. This has proven to be the case even when the twins were separated at birth and raised in very different environments. This does not answer the question of causation, but it does indicate something not-chosen and not environmental.

There have been studies in brain size and chemistry which purport to show differences in the brains of gay men and straight men.

In the mid-’90s, studies of birth order found that the more male children a woman had, the more likely that her last male child would be gay.  The hypothesis is that her body treated the male child as a foreign object and that, over time and with many children, the mother’s body introduced chemicals to change the sex to female–and sometimes got a gay male child, instead. The study was suggestive, but far from conclusive.

The most profitable field of research for causes is genetic.  However, many gay and lesbian people fear research in this area, because they fear that parents will either abort or attempt genetic manipulation in utero to prevent having gay children. (The fundamentalist president of my once-great alma mater, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., opined on his radio show that if geneticist discovered a “gay gene,” it would be a Christian responsibility to be screened and to have corrective procedures in utero. Way to channel the Nazi doctors there, Al!)

No “gay gene” has been isolated, but the human genome mapping project has suggested promising areas of research.  The general “consensus” (to the extent there is one) in the field is that homosexual orientation is probably caused by a variety of genetic and hormonal causes prior to birth and to some environmental factors shortly after birth. The only real consensus is that dominant sexual orientation is set by age 5 and not really alterable after that.

The scientific evidence (including recent studies on rats!) is found here.

Note on transgendered persons:  Transgendered persons have a different gender identity than their outward biology at birth.  Whereas gay men identify as male and lesbian women identify as female, but are just oriented to their own sex, transgendered persons feel “trapped in the wrong body.” We don’t know the causes of this, either, although they may be partly biological. A rare medical phenomenon is someone who is born with both male and female genitalia. They are arbitrarily assigned one sex or the other and “corrective” surgery is usually performed shortly after birth.  This suggests that transgendered persons also have some biochemical reason or genetic reason for identify with the other sex, no matter their outward primary and secondary sex characteristics.   Sometimes such persons choose sex reassignment surgery to finally find peace by no longer feeling “trapped in the wrong body.”

For more information on transgendered persons and the church, by the only Christian transgendered person I know, see here.  That is the website of Rev. Elise Elrod (formerly Ronnie Elrod), who speaks on bias, one-thing thinking (reducing people to one feature), and acceptance.

Now, why this interest in causes? Because moral responsibility usually implies choice; ought implies can.  But, this is not always the case.  Many like to compare same-sex sexual orientation to alcoholism or to violence. I may have a predisposition to violence–it does not justify my hitting anyone when I am angry.  I may be predisposed to alcoholism, but the conclusion would be that I should not drink (or if already addicted, seek help), not that alcoholism is “right for me” and I should pursue it.

This is what I meant above by saying that science itself provides no moral guidelines.  However, the relevant question to ask those who argue that “homosexual orientation is not chosen, but the behavior and can be changed,” is whether or not same-sex sexual orientation is really analogous to alcoholism or violence.  It seems to me that the conclusion of psychologists and psychiatrists that “homosexuality” is not itself a neurosis or psychosis rules out too close a similarity with alcoholism or violence.

Given the constraints in which most gays or lesbians live in our society, persecuted and outcast, subject to job loss or housing discrimination, often rejected by church and family, one would be very surprised NOT to find many gays and lesbians who have accompanying psycho-social problems. But we find such problems in heterosexuals, too. And the amazing thing is that we also find gay and lesbian Christians who lead lives of deep holiness. The ones I know personally are much better Christians than I am.

These things lead me to believe that same-sex sexual orientation is not a flaw, but simply a variation in nature, in God’s created order–like left-handedness. By itself, it is no more or less sinful than heterosexuality

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", blog series, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: Final Post for This Series

As we wrap up this long series, people still have questions–more than I can answer.  First, let us remember that this is a discussion of church life–not questions of civil liberties in society.  Those are also important.  Someone could decide that the church cannot change its sexual ethics but still work to stop the discrimination in society against GLBT folks.  This is a position I once held:  I thought is analogous to heterosexual adulterers–you would not let them be fired from jobs for their marital problems, nor denied housing, etc.  I am in favor of same-sex civil marriages–no church, synagogue, etc. is forced to recognize them.  It is a matter of secular justice.

But, at the same time, churches that agree to revise their sexual ethics (as mine has) are free to marry gay or lesbian couples–whether or not the law recognizes them.  One heterosexual couple in our congregation was married without a civil license–refusing the legal benefits of marriage until gay and lesbian couples can have them, too. It was a courageous stance of solidarity.  Legal marriage is the right to sue one another if you get tired of each other–it has little to do with Christian marriage or Jewish marriage, etc.

Some say that Gen. 2:24 is the reason we cannot allow Christian same-sex marriages. But that verse is not a command, just an etiological rooting of the practice of marriage in creation.  To turn it into a command would be to claim that every must marry.  See this blog on why “order of creation” arguments fail.

Others claim that celibate singleness is the default position for Christians and that it should take a special calling to marry. But the church would have died out with such an ethic.  It is true that Paul (who might have been a widower–it’s hard to see how a man who was never married could have been part of the Sanhedrin) wished for all Christians to “be as I am,” i.e., single–but that was because of his belief that the End was near and that single-minded devotion to the work of the gospel was needed. Even so, he did not command single celibacy–and, in fact, recognized that it took a special gift of the Spirit.

So, what can we say about sexual ethics for the church?  More than can be said here.  These are some broad conclusions and not a complete sexual ethic.

  • Let us begin by recognizing that the Bible does not contain any single sexual ethic.  In different portions of Scripture, we have polygamy, concubinage, levirate marriage, and much else.  By the time of Jesus, monogamy seems to be the Jewish norm, but, as African Christians would be quick to remind us, no word of condemnation is said about the polygamy of of several Old Testament “saints.” Divorce is permitted in the Torah, but condemned in very strong terms by Jesus–terms that are slightly relaxed by Paul.  The Bible gives us an ethic of love–given different form in different cultural contexts. Those in the U.S. who promote a politics of “family values” based on the Bible seem never to have read the Bible. Which family values? Those of Lot volunteering his virgin daughters to be gang raped if only the men of Sodom will spare his male (and angelic) house guests the same fate? Solomon’s many wives and concubines? Abraham having children by his wife’s slavegirl–then later driving mother and son into the desert to make peace with Sarah? Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac? Tamar’s playing the prostitute with Judah in order to force him to grant her rights  under levirate marriage? (Judah pronounced Tamar more righteous than he was.)  The Bible does not share the Religious Right’s “Leave It to Beaver” romanticism about nuclear families.
  • Human sexuality, though sharing much with that of other mammals, including a drive for procreation, is far more complex.  Procreation is one purpose, but far from the only.  We must reject the view of the Medieval Church that saw procreation as the only purpose that justified marital sex–which leads to condemnations of artificial birth control and masturbation–not to mention the absolutely bizarre judgment of St. Thomas Aquinas that heterosexual RAPE was less sinful than masturbation or same-sex acts because at least rape allowed the possibility of procreation!!!!!!!!
  • Sex is a created good, but a human, mortal, finite good.  I think we must also reject the teaching that marital sexuality is a sacrament. Yes, Paul compares marriage to the relationship of Christ and the Church, but he does not say that married SEX is like the relationship of Christ and the Church! This sexualizes God–and is far too close to the “sacred sex” of ancient fertility cults. 
  • Nor is sex as sacrament fair to one’s spouse: One needs to be “in the moment” with the partner, not using the partner to (weirdly) get closer to God.  Sex is a good, but a human, finite good.
  • Sex is a powerful human drive and most people are not given the charism for lifelong celibacy.  To say, as the Church has for most of its history, that heterosexuals have the choice between celibate singleness and monogamy, but that gays or lesbians (or bisexuals or transgendered persons) must be celibate WHETHER OR NOT they have the charism or calling to do so is to add burdens that one is not willing to bear one’s self. That’s what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.
  • Monogamy is hardly a perfect thing, but it is the best thing we have.  If sex is to be Christian, it must be in a covenantal relationship–not some form of recreation or entertainment.  We usually call this covenantal relationship “marriage” for heterosexuals.  I am not particularly concerned with whether we call covenantal unions between gay or lesbian couples “marriage” or “holy unions” or whatever (a matter of debate even among gay theologians), but that we recognize and bless such covenants as places to fulfill godly callings.
  • Monogamy is not perfect, but it helps prevent or reduce chances for exploitation. Bi-sexual persons, if they are Christian, are no more permitted to live lives of promiscuity than any other Christian.  I suppose they may date members of either sex (we would assume such dating to be as chaste as we assume any other Christian dating would be), but in choosing a life partner, they would be expected to be faithful.
  • Update: I want to avoid misunderstanding of the last point. I am NOT implying that bi-sexual persons are any more or less promiscuous (as a group) than anyone else.  They are simply attracted to (certain persons of) both sexes.  I do not mean to play into stereotypes about bi-sexual persons. However, I am trying to correct a misunderstanding on the part of traditionalists that any modification of the church’s traditional sexual ethic amounts to “anything goes.” Throughout this series commenters (and others emailing me) have asked, “How can you welcome and affirm bi-sexuals? Are you not allowing three-ways and promiscuity?” I am not, but I am sorry that my refutation of that error was done so clumsily as to seem to reinforce the stereotype that bi-sexual persons are any more inclined or tempted to sexual promiscuity than any of the rest of us. (The evidence seems to indicate that, if anyone is to be tagged as more promiscuous, as a group, than any other, it would be heterosexual males.)
  • We must reject all sexual violence.  This does not go without saying:  In much of the world, marital rape is not even a legal concept.  ANY sex act (as any other act) which harms or humiliates the partner is wrong.  Within covenantal limits, feel free to experiment–as long as the partner is just as willing. No, must mean no, regardless of whether or not one previously said, “I do.”
  • Sex leads to great vulnerability, emotionally. Covenantal arrangements do not prevent this, but do create more of a safe space for “appropriate vulnerability.” Harm is done when only one partner is so emotionally vulnerable. This happens within marriage, too. One of the many reasons promiscuity is sinful is that it teaches people to detach themselves from the sex act–to objectify it and with it, one’s partner.
  • The issues around transgendered persons are difficult.  Should the church encourage those who feel “trapped in the wrong body” to have sex reassignment surgery? I contend that it should–hopefully before one has married.
  • Great harm is done not only to gays and lesbians, but to their heterosexual partners when misguided Christians encourage them to enter heterosexual marriages in order to be “cured” of their same-sex orientation. I have seen the shattered pieces of such marriages–including with my sister. (She would NOT believe those of us who told her that her fiance was gay. Three sons later, he left her.) The current church teaching, and so called “ex-gay” ministries, is just setting up heartbreak for spouses and children. It must stop.
  • Though we reject the teaching that procreation is REQUIRED of all marriages (or same-sex unions), that Christian couples who are childless by choice are sinning, we must reinforce the view that Christian marriage (whether heterosexual or homosexual) is more than simply for the happiness or emotional needs of the couple.  Either by adoption or by making one’s home available to host others, or by some other way, any Christian marriage must serve the Kingdom of God.

For further reflection, I recommend Kim Fabricius’ Twelve Propositions on Same-Sex Relationships and the Church. 

I had imagined a more richly theological end for this series, but I have run out of steam. I do hope the series has been helpful. I hope it begins rather than ends questions. I think some readers came with closed minds and just wanted to see if they could criticize–but some of them nevertheless asked important questions. I think the majority of readers, whether or not they agreed with me, did come with open minds and with a desire to stretch beyond cookie-cutter answers. That can only be good for the health of the Church.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: Bibliography for Further Study

A Bibliography for Further Study:

There are far too many books on this subject to read them all.  I highlight ones that have been helpful to me. In an attempt at fairness, I will include a list of the best “NOT affirming” books at the end of this post.

I. Anthologies that Cover Diverse Views:

Jeffrey S. Siker, ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994).

Sally B. Geis & Donald E. Musser, eds., Caught in the Crossfire: Helping Christians Debate Homosexuality. (Abingdon Press, 1994).  (Most of those in this book are participants in the debate within the United Methodist Church.)

Michael A. King, ed., Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality (Cascadia Publishing House, 200&). Participants represent the debate within the Mennonite Church, USA.

Timothy Bradshaw,ed., The Way Forward? Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. (Eerdmans, 2003).

Dan O. Via and Robert A. J. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. (Augsburg-Fortress, 2003). A debate between two well-known NT profs, with Via arguing for the revisionist/inclusive view and Gagnon arguing for the traditionalist/exclusivist view.

II. Revisionist Views:

     A. Biblical Arguments:

Alice Ogden Bells and Terry Hufford, Science, Scripture, and Homosexuality (Pilgrim Press, 2002). A collaborative effort between a biologist and a biblical scholar.

Jack B. Rogers, Jr., Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006). Rogers is an evangelical theologian (formerly prof. of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary; later president of San Francisco Theological Seminary; still later, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA) who describes his journey from the traditional to a revisionist view.

Walter Wink, ed., Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for Christian Churches (Augsburg-Fortress, 1999).  More than most revisionist collections, this anthology contains several essays by prominent evangelicals including Ken Sehested, Lewis B. Smedes, Peggy Campolo, and others.

Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality. (Augsburg-Fortress, 1983).  Although, I now see that Scroggs overstated his case on Romans 1, this was the first book on this topic to be a major help to me. Scroggs’ basic argument is that the NT condemnations of same-sex behavior have a different focus than our current debate and, thus, are being misused in most of the debates.  I think that broad argument still stands.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, revised and updated edition.  (HarperOne, 1994).  Significantly stronger than the first edition. When the first edition was published in 1978, it was almost the only revisionist book from a Christian perspective, and definitely the first written by evangelicals. (Later, Mollenkott herself came out as lesbian, terrified that her friend, Letha would reject her as her home congregation had.) The original edition was written before the dominance of the Religious Right in North American evangelicalism–the book got a somewhat positive review in Christianity Today. (The CT review did not accept the thesis, but recommended it as a conversation starter in all churches!)

John J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual, 4th edition. (Beacon Press, 1993).  When published in 1976, this was one of the first studies of its kind–possibly the first revisionist study in English by a Catholic priest.  This was the book that converted one of my heroes (and a deeply biblical Christian), Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S. J., to a revisionist view. In 1987, Fr. McNeill was thrown out of the Society of Jesus for refusing to stop ministering to gays and lesbians.  Later, he was thrown out of the priesthood, despite having remained faithful to his vows of celibacy.

   B. Testimonies from GLBT Christians:

Mel White, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. (Plume Books, 1995). Mel White began as a member of the Religious Right. A ghostwriter and film maker for Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell (his “autobiography”), Pat Robertson, and a speechwriter for Oliver North!  He worked for years to be “cured” of his gayness (and save his marriage), but eventually had to admit he was always going to be gay. He also came to a different view of Christianity. Today, White is the founder of Soulforce, an organization which uses nonviolent direct action to confront Religious Right and evangelical churches and leaders with the harm they do to gay and lesbian Christians.  (In recommending the book, I am not necessarily agreeing with all of the tactics of Soulforce.)

Michael Glaser, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church.  (Westminster/John Knox, 1994).

Gary David Comstock, A Whosoever Church: Welcoming Lesbians and Gay Men into African-American Congregations. (Westminster/John Knox, 2001).

 III. Best Books from the “Not Affirming” Perspective

Stanley Grenz, Welcoming but NOT Affirming:  An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998). Written by a Canadian Baptist theologian and ethicist who died unexpectedly.  The hardest part for me with this book is that I support Grenz’ wider views on sexual ethics–which are so much more Christian than much of what is sold as “orthodoxy.”

Thomas B. Schmidt, Straight & Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. (InterVarsity Press, 1995). 

Marion L. Soards, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today. (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995). Written by a former Southern Baptist who became a Presbyterian to escape fundamentalism, but still sees the revisionist/inclusivist view as a threat to the health of the church.

Paul A. Mickey, Of Sacred Worth. (Abingdon Press, 1991). Argues against the Religious Right’s singling out of gays and lesbians for persecution, but also against revisionism on ordination or same-sex marriage.

More could be added from all perspectives. This is the tip of the iceberg where this literature is concerned.

See also the books recommended or cited in earlier posts in this series.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, book reviews, ethics, GLBT issues | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: The Case for Full Inclusion–Identifying Threats

I have mentioned the late H. Richard Niebuhr’s dictum for moral discernment that, before asking the question, “What must I/we do?” we should ask “What is going on?” In my mentor, Glen Stassen’s lectures on ethical method (and, no, I am not saying that Glen agrees with my conclusions on “homosexuality;” When last we discussed this issue, which is not a frequent topic between us, he held to a “welcoming, but NOT affirming” position and may do so still. But it was Stassen who alerted me to the Manchester U. dissertation on Matt. 19:11-12 and he SEEMED to be reconsidering based on this–or at least open to doing so), he draws attention to the perception of the situation that precedes and informs our moral reasoning (biblical interpretation, etc.).  Certain “critical variables” (like variables in an algebra problem) have major influences as to how we perceive any given moral situation. We have already talked about the variable of differing loyalties and interests that we bring to bear:  Richard B. Hays’ loyalty to his deceased gay friend and that friend’s rejection of pro-gay Christian arguments; loyalties to certain understandings of biblical authority or certain approaches to biblical texts; others have loyalties to gay relatives or friends or interests for or against changes in the church’s moral stance.

Another critical variable in perceiving the situation we face with “the issue” of “homosexuality,” (and, once more, I understand why gay or lesbian people don’t want to be treated as an abstract “issue” and apologize) is the threat that is posed or that people perceive.  For example, if we were talking about capital punishment/the death penalty, one could easily see that if someone were threatened by the idea that innocent people might accidentally be executed, such a person would perceive the issue very differently than someone who is threatened by the rate of violent crime.

In the case of sexual ethics and the church (with special reference to GLBT persons), some see a threat to the (heterosexual and nuclear) family.  Any redefinition of “family” by either church or society, we are told by many, will weaken the family, lead to more divorces and children raised by one parent only with a knock-on series of ills for society.  It may surprise some of my more conservative critics, but I also see the nuclear family as threatened in our culture:  I just don’t think gay or lesbian couples have much to do with the real threats.  What are some of the real threats to (heterosexual,  nuclear) family life? How about the fact that we live in a culture which teaches us to commodify everything and treat all people and values as “market values,” and thus to use even our intimate loved ones in a utilitarian fashion? All day long our consumer culture teaches us to ask, “What’s in it for me?” and far too often this carries over, usually unconsciously, to our home lives.

Or take the threat that economic strains in a globalized capitalism place on families: Even in middle or upper-middle class families, there is the threat of having one’s job outsourced at any time to cheaper labor elsewhere in the world. To keep that from happening, the 40 hour work week has been replaced by 50-60 hours, with work brought home and less time with spouses and kids–and more stress when interacting with them.  If one is poor or working in a job without health benefits and has a sick kid, the strains become worse.  In periods of heavy unemployment or economic insecurity, the divorce rate soars–as do the rates of spouse and child abuse.  (Country music, as the music of the white working classes, is filled with songs of cheating and broken homes–because these songs reflect the strains that impact the working classes first!)

Or take the “Hollywood” obsession with “celebrities” who cannot seem to commit to any relationship for more than 20 minutes.  The glamorization of their empty lives of self-indulgence is a huge threat to the nuclear family. 

Others see the threat concerning GLBT inclusion to be a threat to the church’s faithful discipleship.  I can understand this:  Throughout most of its history the church has been profoundly unfaithful to Christ in one dimension or another–with some periods shockingly so.  I know that one of the reasons it took me 10 years to come to a welcoming and affirming view of GLBT persons in the church was that I didn’t want to jump on any faddish bandwagons.

There are real risks here. But I think the greater threat to the church’s integrity is its failure to look with compassion and identify with the outcast and the marginalized.  If we place concerns about purity ahead of matters of compassion for the outcast and ahead of dignity for all people, we will be far more unfaithful than if we risk changing the church’s sexual ethic in this area and turn out to mistake God’s will.  When I stand before the Last Judge, I would rather be able to say that I erred (if I did) on the side of standing with the marginalized than that I erred on the side of purity.

The loyalties and interests and threat dimensions are joined by the critical variable of one’s attitude toward social change.  During the Civil Rights era, some people who were theoretically strong for racial justice were nevertheless strongly opposed to the Movement–because they believed social change should be slow and ordered and come through calm deliberation of laws or customs, not from the agitation of a mass movement.  They did not share Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of the now.”  One can easily make the analogy regarding current attempts to change laws allowing same-sex civil marriages in the U.S.–and the way this spills over into electoral contests where the main issues seem to be other matters.

(After this series is over, I need to blog more extensively about ethical method.)

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | Leave a comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: Addendum–Loose Ends

Some “cleaning up” matters on these posts before going to the next stage.  I am rushing through some things in order to try to finish this series and be done with it. The series is tiring for me and I don’t want to neglect it again.

At any rate, there are some loose ends on the biblical survey to date that need to be cleared up.

  • Would the biblical writers, especially the Apostle Paul, have known of long-term, same sex, partnerships based on love? I have followed the likes of Robin Scroggs and Victor Paul Furnish in saying, “No.”  However, several classicists have pointed out that such pairings were well-known in the Greco-Roman world–something I did not know when I began this series. (Randle and others repeatedly cited Plato’s Symposium. The thrust of that discussion still seems to me to be Plato’s condemnation of pederasty in “mentoring,” but there are mentions of longterm male/male lovers. Ergo, Scroggs’ original claim, and mine by extension, was too strong.)   However, this does not settle the question of whether Paul would have known them or had them in mind in his condemnations. It is certain that he is condemning exploitive relationships like pederasty and temple prostitution. If, in Rom. 1, he is also including non-exploitive same-sex pairings more like marriage (which is possible), it is not because he knows the concept of sexual orientation, but because he considers such acts to be evidence of idolatry and “unnatural” behavior.
  • In 1 Cor. 11:14, Paul asks rhetorically, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him. . .?”  Here “nature” clearly means “custom,” because what is “unnatural” is cutting one’s hair.  So, it is possible (by no means certain) that Paul has the same meaning in mind in Romans 1 when he calls same sex pairings “unnatural.”  What is clear is that Paul is not a reliable guide to “nature” or to natural law arguments.
  • I have said that Romans 1 is the only place where lesbian acts, not just male same-sex actions, are under review.  What I didn’t know until quite recently is that lesbianism may not even be mentioned in Romans 1.  The early church, up to and including St. Augustine, interpreted “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones,” NOT as referring to female-to-female sex acts (i.e., lesbian behavior), but to male-female anal intercourse.  It is only beginning with St. John Chrysostom that the early church starts interpreting this verse as referring to lesbian actions.
  • If the earlier tradition is the correct exegesis, then nowhere in the Bible are lesbian acts discussed.  The focus is entirely on male/male acts and the concerns are purity/holiness concerns and concerns about men being treated “as women,” like conquering armies did in raping those conquered. Note the strong connection between condemnation of male homosexuality and patriarchy.

In my next post, I will briefly turn from the biblical texts to discuss the (little) we know scientifically about the causes of homosexual orientation. Science does not give moral guidance on its own. But, as H. Richard Niebuhr constantly reminded his students in Christian ethics, the first question to be asked is not, “What should I/we do?” but, “What is going on?”  This post will also include a brief discussion of the related-but-different issues surrounding transgendered persons.

From there, I will make some comments on ethical method and on hermeneutics (as it applies to our discussion).  My concluding posts will present a theological case for fully welcoming and affirming GLBT persons in the church:  Defending their civil rights in society (something I would expect even of “welcoming, but NOT affirming” folks since public justice matters are distinct from purity issues or moral issues for religious communities); blessing same-sex covenantal unions (whether or not the law grants them the status of “marriage,”); and ordaining those called to ministry with same standards of chastity used for heterosexuals (not restricting all gay or lesbian ministers to celibacy unless the same standard is required for heterosexual ministers).  I will conclude with a brief outline of a “single standard sexual ethic” for the church today–one which is open-ended and welcomes additions and corrections by my readers.

I will then update the index of all these posts and create a new page of indexed series.

I hope to post the science post this afternoon/evening.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: A Positive Word from Jesus?

It is commonly said by those on all sides of this debate that Jesus said nothing whatsoever pertaining to “homosexuality.”  Traditionalists conclude that Jesus simply accepted the Levitical prohibitions (and the negative view of 1st C. Judaism) without question.  Revisionists conclude that Jesus was unconcerned about same-sex issues and that contemporary Christians are free to take Jesus’ overall liberating views on the dignity and equality of all persons as our guide.

But there is one ambiguous passage in the Gospels in which Jesus MAY have indicated an openess to same-sex covenantal love.  I want to be very cautious here.  I have been told about a Norwegian woman (a Baptist pastor, actually) who completed a Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Manchester in the U.K.  She investigated this pericope rather thoroughly. But the dissertation has not yet been published and so I have not seen the evidence for her conclusions. So, what follows, is a possibility that bears further investigation–but without that further investigation would be (in Lee’s words about how Richard Hays treats Rom. 1 on the other side of this debate) “too thin a reed on which to build a case one way or the other.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus condemns divorce (except for porneia, indicating some kind of sexual sin, usually thought to be adultery), using God’s created intentions to overturn Mosaic law (which allowed men to seek divorce). The disciples, blown away by the idea that they may have learn conflict resolution with their wives, mutter that it may be better not to marry at all.

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; others have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The one who can accept this word, should do so.” Matt. 19:11-12.

Now, traditionally, this passage has been interpreted to mean that Jesus was advocating celibacy, but that is not clear.

  • The word “eunuchs” is not really an English translation of the Greek ενουκοι. Rather, it is simply a transliteration. 
  • Because of the influence of the KJV, modern English uses the term “eunuch” to mean a castrated male. But did the term have that meaning in the ancient world?
  • In the dissertation to which I have referred (but I have seen only a summary, not the evidence),  a broad range of materials is consulted and it seems that “eunuch” had a much wider meaning in the 1st C. Mediterranean world–referring to any male who deviated from the cultural norm of marrying and begetting children. It was even used to refer to men who married and did not beget children. It was also used, I am given to understand, to refer to men who had longterm male lovers–NOT to pederasts or to temple prostitutes, etc.
  • Now, traditionally, this passage has been used to endorse celibacy, but the topic under discussion is marriage.
  • Jesus says that some are eunuchs (that is, men who do not marry and beget children) because they were made that way by men. These are probably castrated males such as many cultures used for herem guards.
  • Jesus says that some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the early church, Origen took this to mean that some should castrate themselves and he did so.  Fortunately, most of the church did not follow this pattern.  Those who would be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom” have been voluntarily celibate–as apparently Jesus and Paul were. (In light of his belief that Jesus would return any minute, Paul wished all Christians were “as I am”–apparently meaning celibate, but recognized that it took a special gift of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 7:7–a chapter in which Paul also indicates that an acceptable basis for Christian (heterosexual) marriage is to control one’s otherwise uncontrollable lust! Nice.)
  • Jesus says some eunuchs “were born that way.” Is he talking only of males born with some genital defect? Or is referring also to men who do not marry and have children because they were born with desires for their own sex?

Caution: Even if Jesus has people we would call “gay” or “lesbian,” those with homosexual orientation, in mind as part of the category of “born eunuchs,” the passage does not indicate what Jesus would have them do–except that it is clear that, contrary to his own Jewish culture, he does not order them to marry or condemn them for not marrying.  “Family” takes on broader than biological meaning in Christianity.  But Jesus does not say, “all born eunuchs must remain celibate,” either.

Is this a veiled positive word for gay and lesbian Christians?  I don’t think it is clear, but I do think it is a possibility worth further investigation.

Let those accept this who can.

Next, I will wind up this series by moving beyond reading of the few texts in Scripture relating to this topic to giving a theological rationale for welcoming and affirming GLBT Christians fully into the life of the church, including blessing same-sex unions analagous to heterosexual marriage.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (B)

Okay, when Hays gets to Romans 1, he argues on the exegetical level for a very similar reading of the text that I give: Paul is describing first the state of fallen Gentile humanity and then the state of fallen Jewish humanity in order to get to his conclusion that “there is no excuse,” all have sinned, Christ’s redemption is the only remedy, and there is no cause for boasting for either Jews or Gentiles.

Hays, “The unrighteous behavior catalogued in Romans 1:26-31 is a list of symptoms [italics in original]: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Greeks alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the power of sin (cf. Rom. 3:9).”  From here he goes on to make what he calls several important observations about Romans 1 and “homosexuality.”:

  • Paul is not describing the individual life histories of pagan sinners; not every pagan has first known the true God of Israel and then chosen to turn away into idolatry. When Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” he is giving a global account of the universal fally of humanity.  This fall  is manifested continually in the various ungodly behaviors listed in vv. 24-31.  [But what if, I ask, a different understanding of sexual orientation means that some same-sex behavior, namely that in covenant relationship between two people for whom this is their natural expression of sexuality, is NOT an “ungodly behavior”–even if it bears surface resemblance to the same–but a variation in God’s creation like left handedness?]
  • Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order.  God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings “exchange” these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.”  [I agree that this is how Paul sees things. It assumes that all sex is for procreation.]
  • Homosexual acts are not, however, specially reprehensible sins; they are no worse than any of the other manifestations of human unrighteousness listed in this passage (vv. 29-31)–no worse in principle than covetousness or gossip or disrespect for parents.
  • Homosexual activity will not incur [emphasis in original] God’s punishment: it is its own punishment, an “antireward.” Paul here simply echoes a traditional Jewish idea. The Wisdom of Solomon, an intertestamental writing that has surely informed Paul’s thinking in Romans 1, puts it like this, “Therefore those who lived unrighteously in a life of folly, [God] tormented through their own abominations” (Wisdom of Solomon 12:23). [Here I agree completely with this exegetical reading. Paul understands gay sex as a result of human fallenness and idolatry.

Hays concludes that the contemporary church should welcome GLBT persons the way it welcomes all sinners, but should continue to teach that all same-sex acts are always sinful signs of human idolatry/fallenness. He concludes that the church should not bless same-sex unions analagous to heterosexual marriage and should ordain gay and lesbian ministers only if they are celibate (as it would single heterosexual ministers).

He reaches this conclusion for several reasons–and it is here at the hermeneutical level that I think Hays’ argument fails.:

  1. The Bible speaks sparingly about homosexual acts (contrary to the impression from many preachers), but it speaks with one voice. The canon is unanimous in condemnation.  (I think there is a possible text he has overlooked–subject of my next post in this series–but it is ambiguous. Hays could be right. But, his conclusion need not follow. The Bible is also unanimous in never explicitly condemning slavery, but Hays would not conclude that slavery that followed biblical patterns, was not race-based, etc. could be legitimate.  In the case of slavery, the general direction of biblical message as a whole undermines the commands/permissions of specific texts.  The relevant question for our discussion is whether or not this is also true for same-sex covenantal love.  This is the metaphor making act of interpretation that Hays has emphasized–the embodiment of the Word in churches as communities of moral discernment.
  2. Hays points out that the Christian tradition is even more condemnatory than the Scripture. He’s right. But the tradition is also almost entirely supercessionist in its treatment of Judaism–and Hays conclusion on that issue is that the tradition gets it completely wrong.
  3. Hays is worried that revisionists like myself are simply substituting personal experience for the authority of Scripture.  There is always that danger. I share Hays’ concern here–he and I are equally critical of the way that, since Constantine, the churches have blessed war and militarism in direct opposition to the witness of Jesus and the New Testament writers.  He and I share a loyalty to biblical faithfulness against faddish trends.  But Hays’ misses the way that his own experience is shaping his interpretation, especially at the hermeneutical level: He begins the chapter on “homosexuality,” with a story about a friend of his, a gay Christian named Gary, who died of AIDS. Hays has personal loyalty to this friend–a friend who saw his inability to remain celibate as an addiction and who rejected as “cheap,” the revisionist welcoming and affirming line that I am taking.  (It is even more obvious in the original article in Sojourners from which this chapter comes that Gary’s story, including his interpretation that God had cured him of same-sex desires before his death, drives Hays’ interpretation throughout.) Likewise, it is Hays’ experience with Jews in a post-Holocaust world that directs his re-reading of the NT and rejection supercessionist readings–as he admitted personally at a meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics under questioning from a former student. Thus, without the Holocaust, Hays would probably have drawn different conclusions–more in line with the supercessionism of the church through the centuries–on Israel and the Church.  So, experience and contemporary new insights affect ALL our readings of Scripture–Hays’ included.
  4. Hays’ normative conclusions turns Romans 1 into a set of rules: Do not ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians; do not sanction same-sex marriages or “Holy Unions.”  But Hays has said that we should not transform Scripture from one mode of ethical discourse to another (see previous post).

I think it makes a difference in our normative Christian ethics not only how we read Scripture, but with whom.  If black and white North American Christians had read the Bible together in the same church buildings, could white Christians have continued to justify slavery or segregation?  Likewise, the catalyst for many of us in re-reading Scripture on “homosexuality” was our experience of reading these texts in the company of gay and lesbian Christians–and the testimony of their lives of holiness.

The full theological argument for my revisionist position awaits.  But for Hays’ counterargument(s) to work, he has to modify several of his guidelines for using Scripture in moral discernment–or come to different conclusions on his treatment of the supercessionist texts. As it stands now, his conclusions on “homosexuality” show a use of Scripture that is in tension with the use he gives in Jewish/Christian relations.

Hays is codifying Paul’s presuppositions about the causes of homosexuality–and allowing no new information to challenge those presuppositions. I think that not only fundamentally distorts Paul’s argument in the structure of Romans (Paul could have used another illustration than same-sex acts for Rom. 1), but it turns an illustration in a moral argument into a rule. On every other issue in the book, Richard Hays is a better theologian.

We all have our blind spots and I conclude that this is one of his.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, blog series, ethics, GLBT issues, moral discernment | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (A)

Romans 1 Continued:  The Argument of NT Scholar Richard B. Hays

I have repeatedly hesitated to write this post.  It involves publicly disagreeing with a scholar whom I respect enormously and that is never pleasant.  But, here goes anyway.

Richard B. Hays is a United Methodist minister and the George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament  at Duke University Divinity School–who previously taught at Yale Divinity School.  His book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament:  Community, Cross, New Creation:  A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), is widely agreed to be the best volume of its kind in decades. Christianity Today selected it as one of the 100 most important Christian books of the 20th C., and, for once, I agree with the editors of CT.  It is truly a remarkable book and I have used it my own teaching.  Most NT scholars, if and when they write works on New Testament ethics, confine themselves solely to the descriptive task, surveying the ethical contents of the biblical passages.  A few go on to make contemporary application.  Hays, instead, understakes a 4-fold task, and does it remarkably well:  First, descriptive:  surveying every major strand (and writer) of the New Testament and outlining the major themes in some detail.  Second, the synthetic task, searching for the canonical unity of these disparate moral teachings.  Hays rejects placing all the NT under one overarching theme (e.g., “love,” or “liberation,” etc.) and instead uses three concepts or focal images as guides: community, cross, new creation.  Third, the hermeneutical task, bridging the chasm between the meaning of the texts for their original audience and what they should normatively mean for the contemporary church.  In accomplishing this task, Hays does something few other biblical scholars bother to do: He reads widely in the writings of theologians and Christian ethicists, asking how they actually use Scripture in their work.  From this he develops a series of diagnostic questions about the adequacy of a given theologian/ethicist’s approach–illustrating this for the reader by surveying the use of Scripture in the ethics of Reinhold NiebuhrKarl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.  Hays finds appreciative points about each of these significant voices and things to criticize about each, as well, but he finds Barth, Yoder, and Hauerwas to be more helpful than Niebuhr or Schüssler Fiorenza. (It is significant that none of these figures is a racial or ethnic minority, nor comes from the Two-Thirds World. Still, this is more examination of theological ethics than done by MOST biblical scholars–who usually interact ONLY with specialists in their own field.)  From here, Hays proposes a series of guidelines for using Scripture in contemporary moral reflection in the churches.  Finally, he engages the pragmatic task  (“Living Under the Word”) of presenting case-studies for his proposals: seeking normative guidance from the New Testament on the issues of Violence in the Defense of Justice (Hays argues for Christian pacifism); Divorce and Remarriage (forbidden except in rare cases); Homosexuality (His view is what I have called, following the late Stanley Grenz, “welcoming, but NOT affirming”); Anti-Judaism and Ethnic Conflict; and Abortion (a subject never mentioned directly in Scripture–and so a good test case for using Scripture for other forms of moral discernment).

Now, in Hays’ section on “Homosexuality,” he first examines the biblical texts, as most of my posts have done to this point. I have very little quarrel with his exegesis, including his exegesis of Romans 1. As with many others, Hays’ rejection of the “full inclusion” or “welcoming and affirming” position (i.e., that would have the church bless same-sex unions analagous to marriage as I argue it should) rests most thoroughly on Romans 1.  But what I argue is that, unintentionally, Hays’ conclusion shows him violating his own guidelines for using Scripture in moral discernment–and stands in some tension to the way he handles some of the other test cases.

To argue this carefully, I must conclude this post (which would otherwise be too long) by listing Hays’ hermeneutical guidelines.  Then, in the next post, I shall (a) examine closely Hays’ conclusions about Romans 1, (b)point out where extra-biblical influences are apparent in his conclusions, and (c) contrast this to how Hays handles the texts in two other test-cases.

Here are Hays’ normative proposals for using Scripture in Christian ethics:

  • Serious exegesis is a basic requirement.  Texts used in ethical arguments should be understood as fully as possible in their historical and literary context. [This is in contrast to “proof-texting” which, surprisingly, is done by theologians and ethicists as often as by laypeople or fundamentalist preachers.]

            a. New Testament texts must be read with careful attention to their Old Testament subtexts.

  • We must seek to listen to the full range of canonical witnesses.
  • Substantive tensions within the canon should be openly acknowledged.
  • Our synthetic reading of the New Testament texts must be kept in balance by the sustained use of three focal images: community, cross, and new creation. [Presenting Hays’ argument for these 3 images, which I largely find persuasive, is beyond the scope of these posts.  Read the book.]
  • New Testament texts must be granted authority (or not) in the mode in which they speak (i.e., rule, principle, paradigm, symbolic world). [This is very important for my argument. Hays argues against taking a paradigmatic narrative, say, and transforming it into a rule.]

               a. All four modes are valid and necessary.

               b. We should not override the witness of the New Testament in one mode by appealing to another mode.

  • The New Testament is fundamentally the story of God’s redemptive action. Thus, the paradigmatic mode [of NT moral discourse] has theological primacy, and narrative texts are fundamental resources for normative ethics.
  • Extrabiblical sources [of moral discernment] stand in a hermeneutical relation to the New Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority. [Here, Hays is reacting primarily to the more liberal wing of his own United Methodist Church which cites a “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Hays will, with some nuancing, also refer to this fourfold process, but wants to subordinate Tradition, Reason, and Experience, to the final authority of Scripture.  He believes that those, like myself, who argue for revising the Church’s teaching to allow for same-sex marriages have violated this guideline. He believes we/I use reason (i.e., recent scientific study on “homosexuality”) and experience (e.g., meeting gay or lesbian Christians whose lives are more holy than our own) to “trump” or counterbalance the Scriptural testimony, instead of merely using such sources hermeneutically, to illuminate the meaning of the biblical texts.  In reply, I will argue three things: A. It is much harder to make sure that Scripture is the final norm in all ethical matters than appears at first glance as the second post in this series argued. B. Hays himself finds it difficult to hold to this principle in the way he handles the test-case of anti-Judaism in the New Testament.  C. Hays’ conclusion on “homosexuality” is far more influenced by his own experience and by his reading of church tradition than he admits.]
  • It is impossible to distinguish “timeless truths” from “culturally conditioned elements” in the New Testament. [I find this the most problematic of his guidelines. While difficult, it is not impossible–and Hays himself does it in at least one test case.]
  • The use of the New Testament in normative ethics requires an integrative act of the imagination; thus, whenever we appeal to the authority of the New Testament, we are necessarily engaged in metaphor-making.  [THIS is one of his best insights and I will return to it in the next post.]
  • Right reading of the New Testament occurs only where the Word is embodied.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, ethics, GLBT issues | 1 Comment