Homosexuality: Silence and Story

I am grateful to Tony Jones for returning, once again, to engage ch. 9 of Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?, after first critiquing the chapter last week.

He summarizes my three-fold engagement with scripture:

  1. We can’t run to the OT on this, but need to begin with the NT interpretation of the place of sex within the Christian story.
  2. Jesus is silent on the issue. I take this to be a slight argument against Jesus’ approval of homosexual practice–Jesus was Jew, and where he disagreed with his Jewish contemporaries we’ve heard about it.
  3. This leaves Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 as the principal sparring grounds for our exegetical debates about homosexual practice.

To points 2 and 3, he has this to say:

First, we don’t use Jesus’ arguments from silence to uphold ethical evils such as slavery, racism and rape. So what’s the argumentative force of arguing from Jesus’ silence on homosexuality?

Second, this leaves a couple of verses in the traditionalist camp, hardly enough to exclude one whole segment of society from full participation in the church.

I think that this is a strong counter-argument to a biblicist approach to homosexuality. Having one or two verses in our pockets is not sufficient to create blanket ethical statements for the church. But I’m working from another angle.

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Everything we believe and practice as a church has to be integrated into the larger narrative of the God at work in the world through the people of Israel to reconcile the entire cosmos to Himself in Jesus Christ.

In the book, I argued that the larger, redemptive dynamics of that story were sufficient to overturn practices of slavery and of excluding women from pastoral ministry and teaching. This was on the basis of a couple of considerations: (1) the overall trajectory of the story toward social equality and liberation; (2) the indications that inequalities and subjugations entailed in hierarchical relationships are dynamics of a disordered world and therefore subject to redemption; and (3) varied testimony in scripture.

The narrative of scripture undermines the complementarian efforts, for example, to uphold 1 Tim 2:11-15 as universally normative for male-only leadership in the church.

I increasingly feel the weight of the argument that point 1 is a factor in favor of full inclusion of homosexuals in the church.

It was factors two and three that kept me from allowing the trajectory toward freedom and liberation to play a decisive role. What I mean is this: first, whereas the indications in scripture are in favor of subjugation of women and other humans as slaves are distortions of the world as God intended, the narrative within which Paul’s critique of homosexual practice is embedded in Rom 1 is the opposite. There, homosexual desire and practice itself is depicted as an outcome of a world gone astray from God.

Also, there is no counter-testimony on this issue such as there is on so many others such as those pertaining to women in the church or ethnicity and the people of God.

So the bottom line of my response to Tony’s post is that it’s not simply two verses, but how those verses fit within the larger story line of the biblical narrative.

This is why I suggested that a different means of argumentation would have to be offered to convince me that homosexual desire and practice is o.k. within the biblical narrative. One of these is a reconsideration of what the “new creation” looks like that is both making itself felt in the present and toward which we are straining–the new reality that we are to realize in an incipient way within the church.

The second is a compelling work of the Spirit in and among my brothers and sisters (yes, I will call them that gladly) who are practicing homosexuals such that their acceptance by God as they are becomes an undeniable testimony of God that they should be received by the church as such.

To my mind, the call to affirming and embracing is an uncircumcision argument: a plea to recognize that God has accepted and embraced those whom we could never anticipate, based on scriptural exegesis, would be accepted as they are.

Our story has taken any number of unexpected turns. If the embrace and affirmation of practicing homosexuals is one of them, it will be one of those moments that could not have been anticipated beforehand, calling us to reimagine a bit more broadly the place of sexuality in our story.

Based on Tony’s first engagement with my chapter, I think this is where he is, and where I’m not yet ready to go.

To me the issue is less the content of a couple of verses and more the overall narrative withing which those verses find their coherence.

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