Gentiles and Homosexuals (Pt. 1)

In Saturday’s post about homosexual marriage I made the suggestion that Christians need to develop the habit of asking two separate questions, without predetermining what the relationship between them might be. The first is, “What does God require of us as God’s people?” and the second is, “What does this mean for our life in civil society populated by people who do not, and will not, agree with us?”

I want to pick this back up today, once again focusing on those of us who are Christians and who believe that homosexual sex is sinful. I realize that there are Christians who disagree with this position, and that is its own debate. I want to keep pushing here the “so what?” question for those of us who uphold heterosexual normativity as part of our constellation of Christian belief and practice.

There is a strand of NT teaching that pushes me to keep the two questions I’m asking distinct, if not entirely separate. Why should we ask both what does God demand of us in our posture toward God and then, separately, what does God demand of us as an act of love toward neighbor?

That strand of teaching is the posture of the Jewish insiders with respect to Gentile outsiders in the NT.

In the history of interpretation, the church has made a number of mistakes in assessing the exclusivist posture of the first century Jewish community to the Gentile outsiders.

Perhaps most often the problem of early Judaism has been seen as legalism. Yes, the law was good, but early Jewish people were keeping it legalistically; or, they were keeping it because they thought that if they did they would merit God’s eternal favor and eschatological salvation.Gustav Dore, Jesus Teaching in a Synagogue

But the admonitions of Paul and the actions of Jesus point in a different direction: a surprising superabundance of grace that overflows the people of God even as that people is rightly adhering to the law that God has given them.

In Jesus’ famous sermon in Luke 4, he proclaims a jubilee year: freedom to the captives, good news proclaimed to the poor, light to those who are in darkness.

And the Jewish people marveled at the gracious words falling from his lips.

They knew themselves to be captives in need of deliverance. They knew themselves to be blind in need of light. They knew themselves to be poor in need of good news.

They were ready to sing “Amazing Grace.”

But then Jesus explodes their understanding of who the grace of God is for. There were many widows in the time of Elijah, and many lepers in the time of Elisha–but they were sent beyond Israel, beyond the people marked out as pure and holy and faithful, to feed the widow and cleanse the leper (without first demanding adherence to the Law of Israel’s God)–of non-Jewish, non-YHWH-worshiping outsider Gentiles.

And then the people were filled with rage and attempted to murder Jesus.

How are we to read this? On the one hand, we can recognize that most of us are gentiles and therefore happily included in this great surprise of God–that grace comes to us without our becoming Jewish.

And this is true.

But as those who now occupy the place of the “insiders,” the embraced and, by God’s grace, faithful people of God, we must also reappropriate this text from the point of view of its insiders. We must place ourselves not merely on the periphery as those to whom the word would come despite all apparent obstacles. We must place ourselves in the role of the insiders and be willing to hear that God’s grace will not be contained by us, and God’s blessings cannot be cordoned off to the faithful.

Of course, this is not an argument for gay marriage, but it is an argument about how we need to posture ourselves toward those we deem “other” if we are going to be faithful children of our Father in Heaven. Come back Saturday for part 2.

18 thoughts on “Gentiles and Homosexuals (Pt. 1)”

  1. I wonder, it seems that if one separates the first question from the second then there is a strong tendency for ideas to become hardened into overwrought formations of thought which cater to their own rank and file. One begins to “network” or “glom on to” similar people that hold the same convictions and beliefs.

    Concentrating on just the first question, in the biblical tradition, might be a step toward revisiting the dynamic of Babel, where individuals build cultural formations that are rigidly stuck in their ways, vertically-oriented toward making a name for themselves.

    Homosexuality, for most Christians, is “where they put their foot down.” Why is this? Is it because it really is something that God hates and scorns, or is it because cultural formations and religious expressions and applications of Scripture deem it to be destructive? Why are we so dogmatically against it as if it is a lifestyle which is going to be responsible for the malnourishment of a generation of kids; have we forgotten about the horrible divorce rate among Christians themselves — I believe the number is around 50 % — and what kind of ramification that has for children who, growing up, were preached to about saving themselves for one partner and that divorce is really really a no-no?

    To be sure, the kids are not all right in the Christian home.

    – And this is nothing to say of the other 50 % of Christians that “stay together for the kid’s sake..” That 50 % might have worse affects on a child’s psyche because the parents aren’t happy with each other, confusing the child who sees marriage as being something sacred and under God’s guidance. At least when parents break it off the child can stop faking along with the parents come Sunday.

    I know about this all too well. My parents were involved in a sort of cold war, where threats were made but not followed up on; where where everything was an “act” for the sake of my little soul.

    It seems to me, we ought to concern ourselves with larger issues or systemic pressures, like large-scale economic ills or government spending on new weapons technology which help facilitate the myriad of wars and “limited in scope operations.” That is where we should put our foot down.

  2. Thanks for the post. I appreciate the reflection on how Christians use power and the separation of that question from the rightness of certain behavior. In the New Testament we see Jesus use power to heal and to “cleanse” the temple and we see the Pharisee’s use power to legislate morality or put social preasure for and against specific behaviors and then when we deal with issues of social policy it seems we much thi

  3. (misfire on my last comment from my iPad)
    We must think about whether our use of power (even the power of our vote or support of a policy) reflects the character of one kind or the other. Separating the issue for the right/ wrongness of the behavior from how we appropriately behave in public is essential. Thanks!

  4. “but it is an argument about how we need to posture ourselves toward those we deem ‘other’…”

    I think a good deal about how we do this in real time. This past year, I ran across an example from early Church history that has caused me to rework the way that I treat those we deem “other”. I found this example in Augustine’s letters to the Donatists (easily accessible through the 3 vols. of his letters gathered in the New City Press translations).

    Augustine’s ecclesiology and understanding of the Body of Christ leads him to believe that those who have separated from the Church (i.e. Donatists) have scorned the very Body of Christ, and are thus existing outside of that Body (apparently in both a current and eternal sense). However, he chooses a position of hope, and addresses them in his letters as “brothers” – not so much as a statement of fact at that moment, for they were in a self-imposed separation, but in hope of their future reconciliation with the Body. It was idealistic and, perhaps, a bit naive. However, it was done in love and the recognition that none of us, trapped in time, truly knows who is our brother or sister until the eschaton.

    I realize that this is not an exactly parallel situation, but I do think that there is something to learn from Augustine’s hopefulness.

  5. Also, I find it both intimidating and frightening that the little head in your picture is staring at me no matter where I move in front of my computer. It feels like I’m discussing theology with Quato.

  6. “ … the little head in your picture … feels like I’m discussing theology with Quato … ”

    Perfect. Hilarious. Totally made my day. Total recalistically speaking. If the little egg-head held by the big egg-head really bugs you, then hear the voice of Austin Powers mini-me, in a San Francisco hot tub, saying, “Theology! It’s my bag, baby!”

    I totally agree. For me, for two whole miserable weeks, I’ve been imagining that hand held pic as one of the frozen, mongoloid, cold-killing, Bi-Frost, hell-hound demons from frozen hell, with bloodshot, neon-red, pulsing eyes, and freezing green drool dripping off its lips — from “Thor” – along with a caption, “Faculty: Fuller.”

    I just haven’t had the guts to say so. Until someone broke the “ice.”

    Now, we’ve really gotta see what happens on Saturday.

  7. … on the phone with Coen Brothers right now, they want the rights to a film based on the pic, “No Country for an Old Serious Man in Fargo – His Theology? – Burn After Reading”

  8. As an evangelical who lives near Albany, NY, I am appreciating your comments on this issue. I will never be a proponent of moral relativism, but I do believe that the majority of sexual sins are committed by heterosexuals (and sometimes married ones). Likewise, I believe social pluralism to be much more consonant with a Christian worldview. We cannot expect laws to draw people to God. Personally, I don’t believe that the State should have any stake in any form of marriage (which you alluded to earlier). Thank you for recasting the terms of the discussion.

  9. I think your comparing the Jewish toward Gentile attitude in the 1st century church is very interesting and worth consideration in this issue. Think Acts 15, what must the Gentiles do to be saved?

      1. ?? Shall not the insider’s posture toward the outsider ,regardless of their particular “sin”, be the same? Is not the only really relevant question here whether or not homosexuals must be circumcised and abstain from fornication and eating blood to be accepted as full members of the covenant community? But then the question still remains for us. What does this blood eating or fornication mean?

  10. Solomon Really Did Cut the Baby in Half …

    Kirk – “… develop the habit of asking two separate questions, without predetermining what the relationship between them might be. The first is, ‘What does God require of us as God’s people?,’ and the second is, ‘What does this mean for our life in civil society populated by people who do not, and will not, agree with us?’”

    If we’re really separating questions (I agree that we can and should), then the first question (“what does God require”) should not have any a priori null hypothesis that the answer to this first question will be a universal Kantian imperative rather than an ecological case-sensitive contextual answer (“a time for everything” – why should Kant trump Ecclesiastes here?). What if the answers to the first question depend upon knowing all the known variables in the answers to the second question (e.g. social costs of living in a civil society)? Yes, we can separate the questions. And should do our best to try. No, there is no a priori null hypothesis either in theology or in social policy which requires that the answers to both questions might not turn out to be multi-axial and poly-hierarchical answers equally distributed across both domains of the separated questions.

    You need to watch out for this very carefully. Otherwise theology is just a hat trick.

    Examples – the sum total costs of sexual promiscuity whether homosexual or heterosexual in the contexts of both no-fault divorce and socialized healthcare under the individual mandate (which courts may uphold – assume).

    Say your answer to the first question is that God requires an agape form of love beyond known biological forms of love like reciprocal altruism. Or say any other theological answer or cluster. Mark it down. Full stop to question one. Say the answers to the second question meanders through a cascade of applied theological inferences (pick your favorites) to result an answer holding in favor of some legal formalization of marriage for homosexuals. Full stop to the second question.

    But if we’re really separating these questions (not just faking it), then where do certified economic measures of costs from the sum total of harmful and damaging behaviors enter into either of these two separated questions in the real life contexts of no-fault divorce and national healthcare? Are our separated questions now a vacuum deliberately to ignore counting costs? Is cost-ignorance a Divine command? Is cost-ignorance a part of God’s plan for our civil life with each other? If you summed and factored all the costs – health and medical, counseling, familial, job losses, and emotional and all other costs to measure just one vector only – say promiscuity in extra-marital sex – across all sexual orientations, and if you discovered non-biased data showing a significant (maybe sliding scales per affair) costs for violations of marital vows, then – would you add taxes or add insurance premiums or give discounts for social hamartia or its absence ? – like we penalize or suspend licenses for drunken drivers? – or, like we give insurance discounts for good drivers?

    Please read between the lines here. I’m targeting extremely highly delicate matters concerning controversial behaviors. There is nothing gay-specific about this. I’ve done case advocacy for gays disqualified from health insurance for the pre-existing conditions of AIDS. I’ll put my real life track record up against anyone’s who just wants to talk about it. What I’m trying to illustrate is the complexity of defining marriage as a no-fault legislative matter (I wrote before that you can kiss private contract marriages good-bye: not in our lifetime, maybe a generation and a half), and then ignoring the real life costs of the laws your theology has caused you to pass, that is, ignoring the costs of your theology as a matter of theological blinkerdness. See next.

    Concrete case example: take divorce and custodial versus non-custodial parents for child custody. We theologians (I’d include myself as an amateur) would like to pretend that bifurcating the above questions is as easy and as wise as Solomon threatening to bifurcate that child by cutting the child in half in the custody case that Solomon judged. But, what would you do if your combined answers to those two bifurcated questions above told you (don’t argue – play along) that non custodial parents who fail to pay child support (a moral failure) should not get visitation? Full stop there. Next, would it make any difference to you if later you learned (as happened in U.S. legal history) that the suicide rates of non-custodial parents in arrears and denied visitation was 7-times the national suicide rate?

    How have the known (forget speculated: known) social costs of a net 7x increase in suicides affected your sense of what God expects of you? – and how does this concrete knowledge from praxis (praxis: social metrics of the studies) apply to your answer to question two, about civic life with non-custodial parents in arrears who are killing themselves at increased rates?

    I’ll connect a few dots for those who can’t read between the lines: it was moral proxy reasoning in U.S. civil life boostered by the direct boosterism religious conviction and blinkered by theological certainty that buoyed the old laws that LEGALLY prevented child visitation for non-custodial parents in arrears.

    The point here is not gay or anti-gay. The point is how theology considers itself theology in isolation of counting the basic social costs. And this is a reflexive question that will bite us either way – in questions of marriage. How do you, as a theologian, go about merely framing the questions of counting the costs? – not that you need to know all answers, nor even all the right empirical questions in advance – we’re all en media res.

    Now to homosexuals – legalize marriage via your combined answers to your two questions above. Hold constant for access and quality of national healthcare (this is a known lie – but assume for now). Would you give tax or health-insurance incentives to homosexuals who never violated marital vows and who KEPT their marriage vows and thereby never contracted STD’s? Why? Why not?

    If you refuse to answer this question, then what in your theology about what God expects from you is causing such deliberate ignorance?

    The above question is really just another variation on the theological question – what is marriage?


  11. Danile, Good article. The issue is truth. Truth is absolute, unchanging and devisive. Marrriage was the first institution created by God as the union between one man and one woman. That is absolute and unchanging. Man is his lust of the flesh has allowed him to beleive that other unions are permitted either because they deny the authority of God or sin has just overtaken their entire existence, ergo devisive. Arguements/discussions must begin with a basis of truth. Most arguements with non-Christians would stop right there. Lost people want no authority figure in their life, no accountability, just to do what is right in their eyes. We have an Old Testament full of a Jewish nation who took the later approach throughout their entire existence. Keep up the good work!!!! Larry and Carol Clarke

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