The issue of homosexuality has been prominent in church discussions for several years now, long enough for most parties to be sick of the issue and incredulous that other people don’t see the matter as seems obvious to them. In many ways, the debates have resembled the debates about American slavery in middle third of the nineteenth century: both sides dug in and called the others non-Christians, and almost every denomination split over the issue in the period leading up to the American Civil War (and indeed, the Southern/Northern Baptist split remains to this day, even if the Northerners changed their name to “American Baptists” with all the arrogance of military victors). The disagreements over sexuality persist, in part, because both sides have been making really stupid arguments which are easily caricatured by their opponents. Conservatives have been accused by liberals of simply reacting with a knee-jerk “yuck” and seeking to justify their irrational prejudice with appeal to the Bible and tradition. Conservatives in turn have accused liberals of throwing out all that characterizes Christianity in their desire to kowtow to the current cultural trends.
No doubt some conservatives and some liberals have been doing as described, but of course the issue is more complicated, and the debates should take stock of that complexity if we wish to avoid just name-calling and schism over the issue. Neither the stereotypical conservative position nor the extreme liberal position work for me, for a variety of personal reasons. In terms of the caricatures, I do not have a visceral negative response to homosexuality. I also recognize that Christianity sometimes needs to buck current cultural trends, but on the other hand Christians get no points for being offensive where they do not need to be. I do think we are bound by God’s revelation, so we cannot just ignore what the Bible says about these issues. And interpretation is often a tricky business, but the various liberal arguments that I have seen about how the Bible is actually supportive of same-sex marriage are patently wishful thinking and only appeal to readers who have predetermined that conclusion. On the other hand, the exegetical correctness of the conservative position will not rescue most of its proponents from the charge of lack of love. Jesus loved sinners and partied with them, even as he himself never sinned, and he rebuked the religious leaders who were very fond of rules, whose heirs many conservative Christians have become. So I think we need to love like a liberal (or rather, like Jesus, who knew how to love hard cases without mere indulgence) and think like a conservative (or rather, like Jesus again, who knew which truths to emphasize without abandoning any). And I have prayed that God would provide people who can express this position better than I could. So I was delighted to see over the past few months a few different takes on this issue, grappling with the issues from different angles rather than simply repeating the slogans. I am not endorsing these perspectives, I found them thought-provoking, and I list them here with some minor annotation (but no substantive response) for those who wish to grapple further with these issues:
- Preston Sprinkle, “Homosexuality: Have I Changed My View?” Faculty blog, Eternity College. Dr. Sprinkle kept this blog while teaching a course about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, and how we ought therefore to live. In the course, he engaged with conservative and liberal interpretations of scriptural passages, and also engaged with what implications these interpretations would have for how to live a Christian life.
- Timothy Tennent’s 7-part blog response to a proposal by Adam Hamilton and others entitled “A Way Forward for a United Methodist Church,” which proposed a modification to United Methodist governance by which individual congregations could decide whether to keep or reject the anti-homosexuality language of the denominational Discipline. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7) Tennent is a minister in the United Methodist Church and, without vilifying Hamilton or others, argues that Hamilton’s proposal will not accomplish denominational peace. He engages with denominational structural questions as well as a broader awareness of developments within the LGBTQIA community and biblical arguments.
- Michael W. Hannon, “Against Heterosexuality,” First Things , March 2014. I had not anticipated to see Michel Foucault quoted with approval in First Things, but Hannon uses Foucault to argue against the notion of sexual orientation as a natural phenomenon. Hannon’s article attracted many critics, both on the right and on the left (an example on the right, which is more intelligent than its rhetoric might at first suggest), and he responded especially to critics on the left in a follow-up piece, “Against Obsessive Sexuality,” First Things, August 13, 2014.
May the Lord Jesus Christ guide us by his Holy Spirit to worship him and to display to the world his redemptive love and his saving truth.