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Gay Christians: Should Relationships Matter?

Certain kinds of people simply cannot be part of the people of God.

Making such a judgment is not based on bigotry. It is simply based on the story of God in which the people of God are defined in particular ways. These definitions demand that some are out while others are in.

Canaanite Transformation

Take Canaanites.

This is a blanket term for the people living in the land that God gave to the people of Israel through the wars of Joshua. They are excluded from participation in the people of God.

One way they are so excluded is in multiple warnings not to allow daughters and sons to intermarry with these indigenous peoples. Such liaisons might lead the Israelites astray to worship gods other than Yhwh.

But there is only one way to make sure that no such commingling occurs: kill them all. “You must devote them to complete destruction,” says Deuteronomy 7:2. Make no covenant. Show no mercy.

Michael_Angelo_Immenraet_-_Jesus_and_the_Woman_of_CanaanSo when a Canaanite woman from the hill country comes up to Jesus, a woman evocative of the remnant of the Canaanites that Israel couldn’t quite seem to root out–he rightly rejects her.

Jesus rejects her not because of bigotry, but because the Word of God has assigned her a place in the story. She cannot belong.

She wants an exorcism: “Lord! Son of David! My daughter is badly demon possessed!”

Jesus rebuffs her: “I was only sent to the sheep. To the House of Israel.”

She continues, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus rebuffs her again, “Look, dog. It is not right take bread from the children and throw it to such as you.”

Ouch. Jesus knows her place. And so, it would seem, does she.

“Yes Lord. And, even the dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters.”

And then, finally, he relents. Finally he is willing to extend transgressive grace. Finally he is willing to allow that this woman who by all biblical rights should be excluded and even killed, might be embraced in the onslaught of the kingdom of which Jesus, Son of David, is king.

“Oh woman! Great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.

You see, the strangest things happen when we actually know real people. We start to discover that those whom we thought were beyond the pale of God’s grace and mercy might actually be entrusting themselves to it at that very moment. And that relationship has the power to change us.

Yes, I would say it had the power to change Jesus. As Jesus was in the midst of inaugurating the reign of God, and discovering in the process who would and who would not be a part, he found rather against his will that the grace of God could not be cordoned off from even the Canaanites.

Jesus was changed, not because he had been a bigot, but because a relationship showed him that the kingdom of God was not contained as he had previously imagined.

The story had changed.

Embrace of the Gentiles

Of course, if Jesus can be at the center of this kind of transformation, his followers certainly can as well.

When God made covenant with Abraham, God was quite clear: the only way, at all, ever, to be part of the people of God is to be circumcised.

If anyone remains uncircumcised?

He “will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.” — God

But this was only for a time, right?

“My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.”

Forever.

You don’t get to eat the defining meal of the people, Passover, without being circumcised.

So Jewish people might be excused for thinking that their exclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles is not a matter of bigotry. It’s a matter of principled adherence to the Word of God.

But then… the kingdom of God bursts beyond the bounds of the circumcised.

Peter has a vision, yes. But it is when he musters the courage to go, to relate to a Gentile, and then observes that God has accepted them through the gift of the Spirit that Peter is finally converted.

In that personal interaction, Peter sees that God has worked. And he no longer can hold to his own position. Not because he was a bigot, but because a new moment has arrived in the story.

Paul will say a similar thing in Galatians. “You received the Spirit. God worked miracles among you.” Their experience tells them that they don’t have to be circumcised, don’t have to keep food laws, to be part of the people of God.

In the unfolding narrative of God and who belongs to God’s people, the move from exclusion to embrace has been marked by the inclusion of those who had previously been excluded due to the theology, principles, and narrative of scripture.

Homosexuality?

In his review of two books that argue for full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the people of God, Tim Keller asserts that if a person’s position on inclusion is influenced by relationships then their opposition was based on bigotry.

And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin.)

This is simply untrue.

The history of God’s people is one in which we have cultivated deep and rich theological positions based on the principles and teachings of scripture, only to have God demonstrate that those principles have to be abandoned because it is a new moment in the story.

Opposition to inclusion of Canaanites and the uncircumcised isn’t based on bigotry, theologically–God underscores that Israel is no better than the rest, but God chose them anyway.

And yet these theological and ethical principles were overcome by the grace of God and the surprising eruption of the Kingdom of God.

Experience Matters (i.e. The Wesleyans are Right)

We should never imagine that the fact that relationships change our theology indicates a weakness in our theology or ethics.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral
Wesleyan Quadrilateral
On the contrary, we should question any theology or ethics that does not change in the face of relationships. This is what it means to be both human in general and a part of the body of Christ in particular.

It is easy to hold forth unwavering strength as the sign of integrity and correctness, but such strength has sometimes been the strong pillar around which the unstoppable flow of the kingdom has poured forth.

Keller makes five or so arguments against the books he is reviewing. I will probably touch on his review a bit more, because it’s getting some good traffic, makes a couple of good points, and makes a couple of points that perhaps enable people to too quickly find relief in their cherished position being upheld.

The argument against experience falls into this latter category. It is precisely the experience of gay Christians, loving, faithful, and full of the Spirit, that should make us wonder if we have been wrongly continuing to draw lines of demarcation that God has begun to take down. Experience alone cannot answer this question (here, too, the Wesleyans are right!).

But we cannot allow a pious-sounding appeal to a theology or ethics that lies, allegedly, outside of experience to keep us from exploring the significance of what we have learned in relationship with those who, alongside us, address Jesus as the promised son of David and Lord of heaven and earth.

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66 thoughts on “Gay Christians: Should Relationships Matter?

  1. I’ve seen this argument offered before, by Ken Wilson and others, that they are following the way of Wesley in valuing Experience along with Tradition, Scripture, and Reason. But John Wesley was always absolutely clear that the foundation of his religious discernment resided in Scripture. John Wesley wrote:

    “This is a lantern unto a Christian’s feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequence, he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor conjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.”

    — From the Sermon #12 “The Witness of Our Own Spirit.”

    1. No doubt. That’s why the first 2/3 of the post are scriptural exegesis! But it is quite easy for folks committed to scripture to be dismissive of narratives that begin with a person’s experience of gay Christians, and it’s important for those of us who hold scripture in such high esteem to recognize the place that experience always has in our theologizing, and has always held in the church’s assessments of right and wrong.

      1. But above you wrote, “…only to have God demonstrate that those principles have to be abandoned because it is a new moment in the story.” This seems to suggest (correct me if I’m wrong) that *we* are empowered to decide when some principles of Scripture are to be abandoned, based on our experience, reason, etc. Am I reading you right? If that is correct, then John Wesley was wrong, it is not the scripture “alone” which is our rule of right or wrong, good or evil. In fact, in this view Scripture can be “overruled” by our experiences, reason, etc.

  2. N. T. Wright wrote an excellent essay that relates very much to this discussion: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Communion_Koinonia.htm

    He specifically addresses the comparison of the gay/straight distinction to the Gentile/Jew distinction.

    “We need to make a clear distinction between the aspects of a culture which Paul regards as morally neutral and those which he regards as morally, or immorally, loaded. And we need to note carefully what Paul’s reaction is when someone disagrees at either side of his balance. When Peter and the others tried to insist on keeping their Jewish distinctives, i.e. only eating with other circumcised people, in Antioch, Paul resisted him to his face. The word ‘tolerance’ runs out of steam at this point. What mattered was the gospel, the message of the cross, the doctrine of justification by faith, the promises to Abraham, the single family God intended to create in the Spirit. Like a great chess player, Paul saw all those pieces on the board threatened by this one move of Peter’s to insist on maintaining Jewish boundary-markers, and he moved at once to head it off. And when someone disagreed with Paul’s clear rules on immorality or angry disputes, the matters he deals with in Colossians 3.5-10, he is equally firm, as we see dramatically in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. There is no place in the Christian fellowship for such practices and for such a person. Not for one minute does he contemplate saying, ‘some of us believe in maintaining traditional taboos on sexual relations within prescribed family limits, others think these are now irrelevant in Christ, so both sides must respect the other.’ He says, ‘throw him out’.”

    1. Yes, I do think Wright onto something. But it is also important to note that the inclusion of Gentiles meant a redefinition of what it meant to be a “sinner”: “We are Jews by nature, not sinners from among the Gentiles.” Inclusion in the people of God changed how you knew a sinner when you saw one. In this case, paradoxically, it meant upholding Torah.

      As I’ve written about in the past, I do think that upholding sexual standards is a huge component of Christian ethics / morality. And I do think that inclusion of homosexuals in the church has, at times, come with the abandonment of all but the most pedestrian of sexual mores. That’s a problem.

  3. But the change in relationships was accompanied by other changes, was it not?

    Israel on occasion welcomed / accepted gentiles, Canaanites, into their nation, WHEN THE GENTILE WAS LOYAL TO YAHWEH. See the story of Ruth, for example: “Your people will be my people, your god will be my god.”

    Acts 15, Eph 4.20ff., show the same kind of change was expected when Gentiles joined the body of Christ.

    You’re not just suggesting that the church change its view of a particular group, based on love and acceptance of their worth as persons. You’re suggesting that the church redefine the entire biblical sexual ethic, a much more monumental undertaking.

    1. But what if there’s a whole group of people who have affirmed their loyalty to Yhwh through allegiance to Yhwh’s anointed messiah? That’s the question I think we’re wrestling with here.

      1. I think it’s a good question. A lot of it depends on whether you consider sexual orientation something like race or ethnicity. But as you know, there are profound differences. Sexuality can be very fluid and change over the course of someone’s life (sometimes more than once). People also choose whether or not to act according to some of their sexual desires. I have friends and a family member who have same-sex attraction but have chosen heterosexual marriage and have children. It’s not that their same-sex attraction magically disappeared, but because of their faith they did not feel free to pursue those same-sex romantic relationships.

        What to do with people who feel absolutely trapped by their sexuality (in the sense of it being something they can’t deny or change) is a very sensitive pastoral issue. I wrote once that perhaps a stable same-sex relationship in these rare circumstances would be a “concession” to brokenness and better than futile attempts at celibacy. But I’m very uncertain of this, or how practically it would benefit people long-term. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that there are many, many non-gay people who are in a situation where biblically they must be celibate. Perhaps they are in an estranged marriage, or are married to an invalid or someone with sexual dysfunction, or they are an unmarried 20-, 30-, or 40-something. They are wanting to be married and sexually active but are still waiting. Those also are difficult situations where Scripture apparently says “no” to any sexual activity, yet I don’t see anything leading me to abandon scriptural sexual ethics.

        1. I don’t think the situations you name here are comparable to the situation of the Christian LGBT community. Tragedies happen in marriages. Some people aren’t able to find a spouse. These situations are inevitable, and are/will be inevitable in the LGBT community as well.

          But there’s nothing in those situations that compares to a couple who HAVE found each other and HAVE a healthy relationship, and ARE physically able to have sexual contact being told, “No. A church blessed relationship, lifelong commitment, and relational intimacy (at every level, not just physcially) is denied to you.” The only common element is “not having sex,” which is really quite reductionistic.

          1. Matt, what about the situation of someone in an unhappy marriage who falls in love with someone else? Isn’t the church telling them “no,” you have to stay in your unhappy marriage, you cannot be with the new person you’ve fallen in love with? My point is just that Chriatian sexuality is *very* limiting when it comes to whom you can have sex with. Only now we have becomes convinced that satisfying our romantic and sexual desires is a fundamental right and priority in life, that nothing must interfere with. It has not always been so.

            1. Totally different because there is someone you are called into intimate relationship with — a relationship blessed and supported by the Christian community. Making that work is hard — all relationships are hard. But for the LGBT person, there is no possibility of such a relationship ever happening under the traditional paradigm.

              1. Matt, it’s the same because in both scenarios the church is telling someone that they can’t be sexually intimate with the person they want to be with.

                Having a good sexual relationship is not a guaranteed right for all adults, it is a blessing that some experience and some don’t. But having good human relationships is something we can all have. Also, I know several people personally who have same sex attraction but are happily married with children. Others are celibate, but with life-giving friendships. SSA does not condemn one to loneliness.

                1. Again, I think that’s highly reductionistic. There are a very small minority who are able to marry and have children and be happy. But there are literally millions more for whom this is an unthinkable option, and who suffer dramatic psychological and relational pain as a result.

                  1. There are many, many more people who find themselves in love-less or sex-less marriages and remain faithful to their spouse because they take the scriptures seriously and do not believe that divorce for those reasons is legitimate.

                    The church should have compassion both for those who have same-sex attraction and for those who are unhappily married. But it cannot offer an easy way out of either scenario.

                    1. Well, I guess we’re just talking past each other then. My whole point has been that offering the LGBT community relationships blessed by the church isn’t an easy out. They will still have all the problems that straight couples do. It’s just giving them a means of relating that, for most people (not all) is a deep need.

                    2. Actually Matt I think it is much easier than heterosexual partnerships. Many of the tensions that arise in other-sex marriage do so because men and women are very different, have different interests and communicate in different ways. As you know, there is a whole industry based on this.

                      Same-sex partnerships might have their challenges, but will avoid a whole lot of this stuff—as indeed some have testified. A former lesbian who is now other-sex married said exactly that on a blog I read recently.

                  2. Matt, I’m sure you are not saying the only way to be fully alive, truly happy is to have a sexual relationship in your life. Jesus teaches that to find true peace in our lives, lies in our yielding our lives in complete surrender to the will of the Father. That is where we become fully alive. I believe this was God’s intention in creation, which was disrupted by the master of disorder. That continuing disorder has come as a result of our move away from submitting to God’s plan in our lives, to the pursuit of individual fulfillment and self actualization. The brilliant sociologist Phillip Rieff sums the current problem when he asserts that “Religious man was born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.”

                    1. Hey Ian, I’m glad you’re sure of that, because you’re right. That’s not what I’m saying.

        2. Don
          Your assertion about the fluidity of sexual orientation is incorrect. It is only “fluid” in that there is a spectrum (most understood as the Kinsey scale). But, with rare exception, our sexual orientation is fixed around a point on that spectrum. Sexual orientation is, for the vast majority of people, immutable.

          I think that the middle of the spectrum – bisexuality – is the most misunderstood and may be where your confusion creeps in. Bisexuals are attracted to both men and women and might find themselves in relationships with either gender at various points in their lives.

          1. Science would disagree with your assertion. Many studies show the fluidity of sexual orientation. As well, with nearly two decades of counselling experience, I’d have to disagree on that front as well. I can’t argue with countless client reports.

          2. David, that’s just plain untrue. Refer to Harvard’s Lisa Diamond’s book, “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire.”

            Sexual fluidity is an indisputable, verifiable, fact. Especially among women. There is no scientific basis for asserting that it is “fixed.”

          3. And this is an interesting point where the argument *within* the church is completely at odds with wider culture.

            The revisionist position within the church is entirely based on identity. “God made me gay; it is fixed; it cannot change; it is part of my identity. You cannot therefore separate the ‘sin’ from the ‘sinner’.”

            I don’t think anyone in the wider world now pursues this argument, even though it is the basis for non-discrimination legislation. Almost from the beginning, ‘gay liberation’ was about rejecting fixed categories in favour of free choice. Why should I be oppressed because of my choices in a free society? In the UK, that was certainly Peter Tatchell’s argument, and as Don mentions, Lisa Diamond and other authorities in this area also believe it is about choice. If you watch her presentation on this on YouTube, she ends by strongly asserting that ‘identity’ arguments should have no place in this discussion.

            It is not a little ironic that churches are conforming to culture by following an argument that culture doesn’t recognise.

            1. Ian, the foundational arguments of open & affirming Christians rests on the proposition that sexual orientation is fixed and unchanging, like gender or ethnicity. And that choice or “preference” has nothing to do with it. You are right, this flies in the face of much pro-gay writing and the experience of many LGBT people.

              It was Gore Vidal, of all people, who wrote:

              “Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.”

  4. Okay, I won’t comment on the reading of Jesus’ encounter, which, I know you know has been read by some as an ironic response on his part. Still, on the issue of the Gentile and inclusion, does this skate past the fact that OT specifically had prophecies regarding the future inclusion of the Gentiles? Like, there was some anticipation of this sort of thing already written in. Plus, after their experiences of the Spirit, Paul and the apostles give us a logic of covenantal movement and eschatological transition that moves us forward in the story. It wasn’t just some encounter with the despised other that changed things, but a decisive shift, an accompanying revelation, visions, etc. that helped them see structures in the prior narrative differently.

    Following Kathryn Green-McCreight, I guess what I’m asking is, what similar eschatological shift justifies a move here that has no anticipations in either OT or NT? the Sexual Revolution is not a new eschatological event. Cornelius’ inclusion, along with the rest of the Gentiles, was brought about by the eschatological turning of the ages. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the particular covenant with national Israel was fulfilled, pouring forth into the always-intended blessing of Gentiles joining Jews in being built up into Christ (Rom. 4; 15:8-12; Gal. 3; Eph. 2:11-22). Nothing similarly climactic has happened in salvation history to suggest a new administration of God’s covenant is in place, which includes behaviors clearly forbidden to God’s people in both Old and New Testaments. In that sense, unlike Peter, we’re not standing in a eschatologically-new situation calling for a radical revision of Christian theological ethics. The 1970s were a big deal, but not that big.

    Which visions, apostolic revelations, and so forth, justify us in thinking we stand in relation to the NT witness in a position similar to the apostles and the OT?

    1. Derek,
      I really appreciate the clarity of your critique of the arguments made for inclusion of those engaged in same gender sexual relations. If one stays rooted exclusively and explicitly in the whole content of the scriptural narrative trajectory there just isn’t any basis for it. God can conceivably change the parameters of sexual ethics but it would take a dramatic prophetic announcement in continuity with our received tradition–I haven’t seen it. We ought not diverge from scriptural traditions–doing so should be seen as cultish and idolatrous. There are, of course, those who claim that the full inclusion movement is a move of the Spirit–I don’t see it that way and I won’t unless clearly Jesus authorized prophets say it is. I don’t know what that would look like but I suspect it would look something like the return of Christ himself–a truly apocalyptic scenario, way beyond the sexual revolution of this generation.

    2. Derek, thanks for your engagements.

      On your first paragraph, a couple of thoughts: (1) There was always a way for Gentiles to be included, but that way was not as equals without becoming Jewish. It required a conversion to Judaism (or else, in some other strands, Gentiles being subordinate to Israel). That is actually how the comparison is apt: everyone agrees that LGBTQ folks can be part of the church, the question is whether they have to become like others in their sexual practice in order to do so. Paul says yes in 1 Corinthians 6, I would say (“Such were some of you, but you were washed…”) (2) Yes, there is a decisive revelation that prepares them to interpret their experiences in a particular way–at first. But as you go through Acts, it is the arrival of the Spirit, without special revelation otherwise, that signals the expansion of the Gospel to a new people (in Jerusalem, Samaria, with the Gentiles). If you can say confidently that the Spirit is among a group of people today, is there any revelatory weight in it? It’s a tough question, made more difficult due to the fact that we don’t have a church unified enough to have an “official” conversation about it.

      On your second paragraph, there are a couple of arguments one could make to the effect that the beginning of new creation with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus relativizes gender relationships in a way that might allow for full inclusion, even though the NT writers themselves did not work it out that way. Off the top of my head here are three arguments other people have advanced from which someone could make such a move: (1) Jesus says that people won’t marry or be given in marriage in the coming kingdom, but will be like the angels of heaven. This could be an indication of the lack of centrality of (reproductive) sex in the kingdom of God. What might the implications be for people whose calling is to embody the eschatological future? (2) The NT nowhere mentions childbearing as a reason for sex or marriage. That’s really weird. Might that tell us something about a different perspective on sexuality that comes with the kingdom of God? (3) When Paul describes the people of God in Gal 3:28, he says “no longer male and female,” echoing the language of Gen 1. This could be taken (as I believe J. L. Martyn does) to indicate that looking to male-female coupling as the inherent way to complete a person is no longer binding in the eschatological age.

      I don’t necessarily find those points persuasive, but my point is that you can make an argument based on the eschatological trajectory of gender and sexuality that those upon whom the ends of the ages have come might have some freedom to ask the question about what expressions of sexuality are acceptable within the people of God.

      If we are going to establish “apostolic revelations” as needful here, we might need to ask where that leaves us with, say, the delay of the parousia or the continuance of slavery, or the failure of the church throughout the ages to continue healing and exorcising, or… Obviously it’s not going to happen that we get that kind of definitive word. Of course, even if we did it wouldn’t matter that much, if the NT’s witness to the difficulty of including Gentiles is any indication!

      1. Dr. Kirk, Thank you for this reply. I challenged you earlier to dig deeper into scripture, and you did. No comments now–just reading.

      2. Daniel: ‘(1) Jesus says that people won’t marry or be given in marriage in the coming kingdom, but will be like the angels of heaven. This could be an indication of the lack of centrality of (reproductive) sex in the kingdom of God. What might the implications be for people whose calling is to embody the eschatological future? (2) The NT nowhere mentions childbearing as a reason for sex or marriage. That’s really weird. Might that tell us something about a different perspective on sexuality that comes with the kingdom of God? (3) When Paul describes the people of God in Gal 3:28, he says “no longer male and female,” echoing the language of Gen 1. This could be taken (as I believe J. L. Martyn does) to indicate that looking to male-female coupling as the inherent way to complete a person is no longer binding in the eschatological age.’

        Yes, that is all true, and the theological logic of this leads to celibacy, which explains why Jesus and Paul were, surprisingly, single and celibate.

        The argument for same-sex sexual relations is moving in the opposite direction: it is making sexual ‘orientation’ foundational in defining human identity (Matthew Vines, for example, says this explicitly) and sexual activity as an expression of that non-negotiable. Indeed, to be gay and celibate means being ‘untrue’ to yourself or denying ‘life in all its fulness’ (the argument of Dan Via).

        1. Just a little note about Paul’s celibacy: yes, it was real at the time of writing, but it was not necessarily chosen. His wife may have died in childbirth, or been reclaimed by her big Pharisaic family when he got converted; but he had certainly had one at one stage. Unmarried he could never have risen so far and so fast as a relatively young leader. The requirement was a safeguard against unchastity of every kind.

      3. Dr. Kirk,

        Thanks for the response. A couple of follow-ups:

        On the first paragraph: (1) Yes, the question is inclusion by what means. I guess what I’m wondering is how you feel comfortable moving sexual practice proscribed by every explicit reference to it in both testaments over into the category of Torah practice along the lines of circumcision? Especially when the authors who give us that basic logic in the Scriptures don’t make that move, and in fact, seem to heighten the polemic against it. And when there were a number of signs in the OT that race and covenantal boundaries were indeed going to shift, in a way that has no parallel in regards to same-sex relations. (2) Every time the Spirit moves into an area in Acts, they give up important moral practices that mark the as outside the bounds of the covenant such as the burning of magical works in Ephesus. Everything in the NT points to same-sex eroticism as being one of those various works that is to be given up. And that’s relevant to the whole point about seeing “fruit” and so forth. Paul says that one of the “fruit” we’re supposed to see is an abandonment of pagan sexuality. Asking that question in that way includes the (quite problematic) assumption that it already hasn’t already been answered. Presumably for Paul and Jesus a refusal to abide by Scripture’s commands for marriage and sexuality is bad fruit, as opposed to holy submission despite our desires (good fruit).

        On the various other moves to relativize gender relationships: (1) Jesus does say that, but he also reaffirms Genesis 1 and 2 in its clear demarcation of male and female as the two subcategories of human, man and woman, who unite in marriage, become one flesh, and receive the command to be fruitful and multiply. I do think that the new eschatological future presents an opening for understanding a Christian vocation for sexuality that points to that reality. The Church always has: celibacy. Christopher C. Robert’s work “Creation and Covenant” develops this point well. That said, what in the eschatological future points you to the idea that the substitution of either male for female, or female for male, creating a repetition of the genders in a sexual relationship? (2) It doesn’t directly, but arguments from silence aren’t really that strong are they? Especially when: (a) Jesus references texts that do (Mark 10; Gen. 1-2), and (b) the NT gives other logics that reinforce the importance of sexual difference for the semiotic purpose of marriage such as representing the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5). (3) That interpretation is really rather a stretch when considering the way Paul is at pains to correct against the relativizing of gender in 1 Cor 11. Or, the way that he appeals to the same creation narratives in Romans 1 to condemn same-sex relations as against the order of nature that God has established in Genesis 1 and 2. I really just don’t see the trajectory moving in this direction, either in Jesus, or Paul, or any other text in the NT.

        As for the apostolic revelations and so forth, I get the problem, (though I do think those various issues have historical explanations). I just don’t see any argument weighty enough to force this kind of reconsideration.

        Best,

        D

        1. Again, cogently clear reasoning from scriptural tradition rules the day. Keep on taking every argument captive to Christ!

  5. Hi, Daniel,

    Let me push back with a few questions/comments.

    Following up on Derek’s comment, you appear to be placing too much emphasis on the formative influence of “relationships” both for Jesus and Peter. In what sense did Jesus “really know” the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 (assuming, as I think you would assume, that he didn’t have full knowledge of her internal thought process on the basis of his “divine nature”)? And in what sense are you equating “the grace of God” and “inclusion of Canaanites” with a singular instance of healing? The narrative of Acts 10 is particularly clear that Peter’s change in perspective was caused by a divine revelation, not a relationship. Peter reports his “conversion” based on this revelation before Cornelius ever says a word to him (10:28-29). And, of course, the Gentiles welcomed into the Christ-believing community on the basis of the revelation given to Peter are required to abstain from porneia (15:20).

    Obviously, all theology is contextualized, and that includes the context of human relationships in which theological convictions are embodied. But don’t you wonder why the experience of self-affirming gay and lesbian Christians—“loving, faithful, full of the spirit,” as you say—is not a worldwide phenomenon but is largely limited to contexts in which larger cultural shifts have already affirmed same-sex relationships? I have not met any gay or lesbian Christians like you describe here in Tanzania. So are gays and lesbians in America uniquely gifted with the Spirit? If so, why? As Derek perceptively asks, is this experience the result of an eschatological event or the sexual revolution in the West? If it is an eschatological event, why is its scope so limited?

    Your reflections on “experience” here seem to me to have far more in common with the role of “experience” in the liberal Protestant tradition from Schleiermacher onward or, since you draw attention to the oft-misunderstood “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” even with developments within the Methodist tradition in which reason and experience came to trump Scripture and tradition (see Abraham’s Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia). In the absence of a clear divine revelation such as Peter received, it would seem that any appeal for the church to change long-held convictions regarding human sexuality would need to be weighed first against the revelation that the church has received and universally confessed to have come from God in the form of its canonical Scriptures. And when you concede at the beginning of the post that “certain kinds of people cannot be part of the people of God,” that sounds precisely like that Paul says in 1 Cor 6:9-10.

    Asante sana!

    1. David,

      Thanks for jumping in.

      I gave a lengthy reply to Derek, so you can check that out, too.

      For the Canaanite woman, I do think that there is an important point Matthew in particular is making in calling her a Canaanite, that has to do with overcoming the past. In terms of the relationship, he engaged with her enough to judge her faith. That interaction was informative, at the very least.

      In terms of Peter, I would say that there was a gradual/multi-part conversion for him. He had the dream, yes, but it was the arrival of the Spirit that convinced him they should be baptized (as it also marked the going out of the Gospel to other groups in Acts). Of course, appealing to the dream is a double-edged sword, because that makes Peter’s own personal experience of God determinative for what the church should do, despite the scriptural precedent.

      I suppose that’s what makes me nervous about excluding based on scripture in the face of contravening experience: I’ve lived with these first-century conflicts long enough to know that it’s the people who more firmly have the Bible in their corner who the NT always cast as holding back the revisionist readings of the early Christians. Scripture doesn’t come as scripture alone, it comes as reimagined in light of the Christ event. What does that mean for this of late contentious issue? I don’t know, but I’m sure that excluding experience out of hand is a mistake.

      It doesn’t surprise me that it’s in the liberal west that we find gay Christians. Their absence from so identifying in Tanzania in contrast to San Francisco, for instance, does not surprise me in the least. But that peculiarity does not answer for me the question of what are we supposed to do with this? It is easy to say that the church has always objected to it, which is true enough! But it’s much more difficult, in my estimation, to figure out what it means for us that there are self-identifying Christians, committed to walking in the way of Jesus [in every other way] and still live in same-sex partnerships. That’s not a phenomenon, to my knowledge, that the church has had to deal with before.

      I’m not sure how to parse different kinds of experiences, all down the line. I don’t think that this new thing is some grand eschatological moment, but I do wonder how it fits into the church’s experience given the grand eschatological moment that happened two thousand years ago, the trajectories of which we are still discovering. I’m not interested in a church that just affirms all the stuff that society affirms.

      But experience raises a question. And it’s supposed to. Both Jesus and Paul call us to identify [the work of the Spirt by looking at] fruit.

      Tons more to be said. Not enough hours to say it all here!

      1. Thanks for the response, Daniel.

        I don’t at all disagree that “experience” ought to provoke us to ask questions about our theological/ethical commitments. But I’m happy to affirm what I take to be the classic evangelical conviction that Scripture is the norma normans, so that when “experience” runs counter to the unified witness of the church’s Scriptures, Scripture determines how we ought to assess and respond to “experience.” Self-identifying Christians, committed to walking in the way of Jesus can err in all sorts of ways. You could make a number of substitutions in the following sentence of yours: “But it’s much more difficult, in my estimation, to figure out what it means for us that there are self-identifying Christians, committed to walking in the way of Jesus [in every other way] and still [hoard possessions, own slaves, remain in the German Christian Church in 1935, have sex with prostitutes, offer sacrifices to Decius, run businesses that exploit the poor, exclude from worship people based on their skin color, etc.]” Not all of those behaviors would be equally egregious. But all illustrate the fact that the attempt to justify sinful practice that runs counter to the clear testimony of Scripture is certainly a “phenomenon . . . that the church has had to deal with before.”

  6. Comments from a real live practicing gay man. I was born in 1945. In the country, black and white TV….Leave it to Beaver and I love Lucy. Southern Baptist Church. NO OUTSIDE INFLUENCES. As soon as the differences between boys and girls dawned on my senses…I knew something was different. For many years I prayed for ‘this feeling’ to be removed from me, it never was and many nights I prayed to die and thought of suicide. And….believe me…there is more about my coming out process. At age 30 I accepted myself as a gay man and celibacy was not an option. I am lucky to have had two relationships; the first lasted 20 years and the current one is in the 16th year. Both have been positive.

    You can believe it or not, you had nothing to do with being born straight and I had nothing to do with being born gay. It just is. The gut level question is, “Is God going to deny me because I love another man?” I needed to love another person and for someone to love me, it just happens to be another man.

    All of us are Prodigal Children trying to find our way home; but at some point we need to stop being children and become the Father.

    Thank you Kirk for publishing this as it does force people to think.

    May the Thoughts of God be with each of you.

  7. I agree that we are to use experience as input to our faith and the so-called gentile Pentecost is an example of that based on how Peter responds.

    I do have some comments on the exegesis part of the post.

    1) Passover/Pesach can refer to either the festival/ceremony or the sacrificed lamb or goat. It is possible to read the prohibition as referring to the animal (either a lamb or goat) and I think that is the preferred way. In any case, animal sacrifice is not possible today as there is no temple, so the Passover ceremonies done today have no lamb or sheep meat to eat. I mention this in case you attend a Passover and no one asks if you are circumcised, as you are not eating the Passover (sacrifice) since no one is.

    2) Gentiles were not excluded from the temple, altho they needed to “fear God” to get into the court of the gentiles. They were also not excluded from synagogues, but again needed to fear God. It is true that for a gentile man to convert to being a Jew, they needed to be circumcised and this kept some from converting. My understanding is that it was a human tradition that Peter was referring to about Jews not seeing gentiles and since this tradition negated Scripture, it was to be ignored, per Jesus.

    3) I do not see abandonment of principles as something that is taught in Scripture, but I do see a deeper understanding of what is taught at times AKA progressive revelation.

  8. I’m with Derek. “What similar eschatological shift justifies a move here that has no anticipations in either OT or NT?” Your seems an argument of baptized sentimentality–shockingly so. It is as if you are trying with all of your intellectual equipment to lobotomize yourself. Simply make the case that Derek asks you to make. Show us all how this is the wisdom of God made manifest to all but now specifically revealed in his Son. Make an argument not subject to the spirit of the age but well-established in the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

  9. Daniel, thank you for this post and for continuing to challenge us to wrestle. Tom, thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your story. My journey began with the simple prayer, “God, show me Your heart” and I never would have imagined where that prayer would have taken me…

  10. Thank you J.R. Daniel Kirk for showing us from Scripture how God takes one apparent issue after another and lets us see what happens to that apparent issue when love prevails. In a way I find it sad that we are still discussing sexual orientation as if it is the real issue. The real issue is all about the more excellent way – self giving, self emptying, sacrificial love. And isn’t the real authority of Scripture in that it courageously begins to unveil the story of God and humanity moving together toward the full manifestation of love in Christ Jesus. (Exposing a lot of hits and misses and bumps and bruises and lessons learned and yet to be learned.) Definitions of right and wrong, morality, orientations, sexual ethics, science, civil law and even the Scriptures themselves are all subservient to love. Sexual orientation is no more the real issue than is racism, slavery, gender equality, divorce and remarriage, or stem cell research. So for hundreds of years we argue and debate the right or wrong of each of the above. Right now and likely for years to come sexual orientation is on the hot seat. I would say, it is time for us to grow up and mature in love. The real issue is, how does self emptying, serving, laying life down, turning the other cheek, love inform each of these apparent issues. I think what we will find is that love always includes. Love is powerful enough to absorb and overwhelm. Love ‘sucks it up’ and keeps right on loving. What are we afraid of? Let’s let the perfect love of God deal with any fears and keep moving us all to ever deepening dimensions of love.

  11. Daniel,
    It is not likely ever so in complex theological and ethical reasoning that anything “is simply untrue. Trade you one absolute statement for a probabilistic one? So, is it really true that God said that something was always going to be true? So, turn the question back to me, hey? There are lots of things in the OT that God said would be so for time indefinite, rather than “forever.” For instance, that the offering of sacrifices could only be done by the Aaronic priesthood; then Jesus came along in the order of Melchizedek and offered a better sacrifice.

    Now on to the serious push back. Arguments rarely succeed unless there are no valid counter-arguments. At least some of your (counter) arguments seem quite weak because there are viable counter points. You said: ‘If we are going to establish “apostolic revelations” as needful here, we might need to ask where that leaves us with, say, the delay of the parousia or the continuance of slavery, or the failure of the church throughout the ages to continue healing and exorcising, or…’ Simple rebuttals: a thousand years are but a day to God; God in the OT put time limiting restraints on it and through Paul (at least) coherently argued away from even the economic slavery of the pagan age and as Christians did based on those trend lines against the more absolute slavery of more recent time; the Church is still healing and exorcising and not failing to do that except perhaps where there is little faith. Weak arguments easily undone as far as I can see. Apostolic revelations still hold up quite well until one gets into the “did God really say that?” mode, or the desire for an independent of God sort of deciding what kind of fruit is OK to experience. Yes, relationships with all matter–and they matter all the more because they can have eternal consequences.

  12. This is soooo good Daniel! It’s interesting for me to note how your views have developed over the years in this regard. I’ve been growing in that same direction myself.

    I’m noticing that there there are basically two ways Scripture is interpreted by Evangelicals. The old way is exhibited by Keller who basically says “this is what we always have believed, so we need to stick to that.” Here the argument is not made that something is right or wrong based on any reasons, but simply “because the text says so, and we all agree that it does.”

    The other way to interpret Scripture, which I see you doing here, is to connect our reading with ethics, with morality, with life experience, so we say “does my reading heal or hurt?” Here the “right” reading is not what is “correct” (as if all that mattered was getting the exegesis right) but what is “right” in the sense of being good and loving and leading to life.

    Determining whether or not something leads to life cannot be done in a way that ignores life experience, that ignores people saying “this is hurting me” or “this is helping.” I think you summed this up perfectly when you wrote above, “We should question any theology or ethics that does not change in the face of relationships.”

    This way of “moral reading” has an impact not only for the issue of gay Christians, but also for gender equality, for racism and state violence, and host of other issues today. For me therefore, the question is not “is there a biblical precedent for this?” but simply “is this good?” I frankly do not see any biblical precedent for the Christ-event. Sure they could look back *afterwards* and find clues woven all through Scripture, but none of the disciples saw the cross and resurrection coming. Yet it was good, and it was what God was doing.

    1. I wonder, though, Derek, is it is possible to separate the two. If exegesis says the text says one thing, but a healing pastoral approach appears to say another, isn’t the honest thing to say that ‘The text is wrong’ and we need to abandon the Bible?

      If not, then we either need to re-evaluate our way of reading the text (and people have tried to do that, on this issue unconvincingly) or we need to revise our estimation of what brings healing.

      1. I think that’s a possibility. However, I’d want to stress that just because the Bible is wrong about something by no means implies we need abandon *all* of it.

        It does, however, mean we need to have a more nuanced way of reading so we can separate what should be normative for us as followers of Jesus, and what should not. That’s hard, but I think that’s what it means to have a mature and morally responsible reading of the Bible.

  13. Aphrodite is a great goddess, and, to speak of experience, her worship is something of which human beings at all times and places have understood the overwhelming attraction. This is with the names altered is what a woman (33) wrote to her lover (40) early in 1971, after he had propositioned her in an oblique way, and then left to catch his plane:

    “I have been unresponsive to Sim ever since my wedding. I haven’t known why when there is so much love of every kind between us. There is not and never has been any concealment between me and Sim. We both discussed our conversation with you and agreed between us what it meant. I have always told Sim everything I knew about myself; it was just that I couldn’t tell him what I didn’t know. The moment I understood my own feelings for you, I told Sim about them. It is all over on my side, because the Lord has taken away my love for you out of my heart. I am a married woman, and He has released me from feelings which I do not need. He has given me the feelings which I do need in their place. He was present to me in the word of my promise and in the word written. There are not any texts complimentary to adultery. I had to wrestle all by myself with the temptation to go to you as you wanted, but when that was over, I told Sim all about it and that I would not go.” [O Love How Deep pp. 5-6]

    Homosex will be good and beautiful when the same can be said of adultery, the betrayal of a spouse and the desertion of little children.

  14. Daniel, I think overall you are misreading Keller here. He is not saying that knowing people shouldn’t change anything; he is really asking what was going on (for Wilson, and now he could ask for Campolo) all the years previously. Had they really not met gay people before? Not listened to them? Had they not read their Bibles previously, or connected these two things?

    Quite a few ‘conservatives’ I know have long been involved in ministry with gay Christians; I’ve had gay friends for at least 25 years. I am amazed when people like Campolo change their mind *on the basis of their friendships* since I just wonder what they were thinking all the years previously.

    1. Absolutely. I was Ken Wilson’s executive pastor from 1997-2011 at the Milan and Ann Arbor Vineyard churches. We knew gay people during that time and did our best to be welcoming and loving, while adhering to biblical sexual ethics. Gay people took communion, worshipped alongside everyone else, and participated in ministries and small groups. It was not as though we were bigoted and then Ken had a sudden realization a few years ago that gay people were human beings like everyone else.

      What has changed in the last decade is that society has experienced an enormous shift in attitudes toward this issue. This puts enormous pressure on Christians and pastors who hold the orthodox view, often from their neighbors, friends, and family members.

      1. Thanks Don, that’s interesting. So, if you had thought through the ethical issues and biblical teaching, and had a ‘welcoming but not affirming’ policy and practice, what would you describe as the difference now? Do you think Ken is now right, or have you stayed with previous policy?

        Someone has suggested that Campolo’s motivation in making an announcement now is that, if he had done it previously, it would have affected book sales. That sounds a bit cynical, but it is, sadly, all too possible.

        1. My own personal view is similar to Keller’s. Many Christians have held and still hold what is essentially a “bigoted” view, that gay people are somehow worse than other sinners. That is wrong and change is needed. At the same time I don’t believe, not even a little bit, that the church has somehow misread and misinterpreted the scripture’s prohibition on same-sex activity.

          So my argument has been that if you believe the scripture is wrong to prohibit all same-sex activity, then simply say that you disagree with scripture. But in trying to make the scripture not say what it clearly does is harmful all around, not least in terms of eroding trust in one’s basic honesty.

          In terms of the Ann Arbor Vineyard let me say this: we knew very well that the most generous givers financially tended to be much more conservative on the LGBT issue. So there was definitely a calculation of what the financial implications would be in terms of articulating a non-orthodox position. In terms of book sales, being an “evangelical pastor” arguing for full inclusion has been a huge boost to book sales. (As you can imagine, if the subtitle had referred to “mainline liberal pastor” instead of “evangelical pastor” the newsworthiness of the book would be much less. Liberal mainline pastors have been open & affirming for decades).

      2. thanks Don for pointing to cultures influence here. I find Robert Bork’s comment in his book, Slouching toward Gomorrah enlightening that, “No church that panders to the zeitgeist deserves respect, and very shortly it will not get respect, except from those who find it politically useful, and that is less respect than disguised contempt”

  15. Dr. Kirk,

    A little off topic, but I have a problem with readings of Jesus’ encounter of the Syrophoenician woman that indicate that Jesus had a prejudice corrected.

    I have seen this passage used to justify women teaching men, as Jesus’ prejudice is corrected by a woman and thus, Jesus learns from a woman. That Jesus was the son of Mary and Mary raised Jesus seems to cover that base without this particular reading of the text.

    And, in this case, it seems to make a case that if Jesus’ views of something can change with regards to its status as “sinful” then we can view homosexuality similarly, as it seems that it is being revealed that homosexual covenant relationships are permissible.

    While I may be tipping my hand a little on where I stand in the issue above, it seems that we need to ask whether or not this is the most plausible reading of Mark 7:24-30. I am no inerrantist when it comes to the Bible, but I guess you could say that, based on scripture, I hold to a position of the “inerrancy of Jesus”. That is, I am increasingly uncomfortable with hermeneutics that seem to suggest that Jesus is growing and developing morally, in love and compassion, during his ministry. It seems that this would violate the claims of John 1:1-18 and Hebrews 4:15-16. And while I have room in my Christology for a growing, learning, developing Jesus, I seem to struggle with the implications that Jesus could have held a worldview we would consider sinful – prejudice against the “other”. Moreover, I seem to struggle with the idea that after Jesus’ baptism and the inauguration of his ministry, which led to his death, that he would need to learn such a profound truth – that the “sinner” mattered to God.

    Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus encountered the sinner, called the sinner, fellowshipped with the sinner and forgave the sinner. That he held a prejudice against a particular sinner – the Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) would again be problematic when He already went to such great lengths to fellowship with other “sinners”.

    In fact, I think that what I have written above would make a greater case for the inclusion of gay Christians in the church as opposed to the above reading of Mark 7:24-30. To read it the way you suggest seems to undermine the very thing that you might be arguing for because it undermines Jesus.

    While I support the full inclusion of women in ministry, I don’t think that this particular reading of Mark 7:24-30 in any way helps the case. And, while I am not convinced regarding homosexuality, I don’t think this particular reading of the text advances the argument in a helpful, constructive manner.

    If you have time, I would appreciate your thoughts on the passage in question. Nevertheless, I have appreciated your work on the topic of homosexuality. Thank you!

  16. “It is precisely the experience of gay Christians, loving, faithful, and full of the Spirit, that should make us wonder if we have been wrongly continuing to draw lines of demarcation that God has begun to take down.”

    Does this mean you’ve crossed the Rubicon so to speak?

    1. It means I think there’s a serious conversation to be had. I hope I’m hoping facilitate it, in part. Like the characters in the stories I’ve cited, I’m learning in relationship here!

      1. Speaking as one who is following the conversation here on your blog, and engaging in it in my own faith community, THANK YOU. Thank you.

  17. Daniel – I applaud you for looking critically at the text. Henri Nouwen put it this way:

    “I have the impression that many of the debates in the church around issues such as the papacy, the ordination of women, the marriage of priests, homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia take place primarily on a moral level. On that level, different parties battle about right or wrong. But the battle is often removed from the experience of God’s first love, which lies at the base of all human relationships… Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.”

    Henri J.M. Nouwen
    “In the Name of Jesus”
    1989, p44,45

  18. Regarding the Canaanites, while yes God’s covenant with Abraham’s people made for an exclusive relationship, an indictment that we see throughout the OT of the Canaanites is their worship of Baal. A significant part of Baal worship is sexual immorality (as defined by the OT and NT). And interestingly the sexual practices of the Canaanite Baal worshipers were a significant part of God’s indictment as well as instructions to avoid such practices. It appears to me that the narrative you’re trying to make with this gospel story is one of inclusion. While I would agree Jesus extends God’s mercy to an individual outside of his ordained mission, I would not see this as Jesus being inclusive of Canaanite practice (which notoriously includes sexual immorality).

    Next, circumcision does continue ‘forever’, just in a changed format as Paul says circumcision is now comprehended in the covenant of baptism. And it’s no coincidence that circumcision is performed on a sexual organ. Yahweh wants our sexuality consecrated to his will and purposes. Part of our covenant faithfulness is sexual faithfulness. Is it coincidence that the OT often refers to covenant unfaithfulness in terms of sexual unfaithfulness? I think not. Whether we like it or not, the scripture is quite narrow / specific upon acceptable sexual behaviour.

  19. My involvement in these questions goes back to the 1970s, when the talk in church was simply about the ‘blessing’ of same-sex ‘unions’. Essentially although as time has gone on I have gone into the whole thing much more deeply from a biblical pov, as philologist and theologian, I am really back where I started: what blessing, and what union, and do we honestly need any texts to know what to think? I made love to my husband face to face, and over a very long marriage. The children demonstrate that we had real union, but this was possible from a logistical pov only because we were male and female. We were also best friends, but this was not to be confused with sexual consummation. We had mystical experiences in bed and out of it, but these too were not to be confused with sexual consummation. It is human, and I speak now from much reading, long observation and plenty of experience, to long for union with the human being one loves best in all the world. But sometimes it is simply wrong, as in the case of incest, and sometimes it is also wrong-headed, as the case of someone of one’s own sex. Is it sane to spend a lifetime longing for and/or pursuing what is not, and what cannot be for basic physiological reasons? Wanting what is not to be had is a tragic state of mind.

    Homosex gives the male of the species a mechanical orgasm, not a fully human face-to-face union. Other animals get the same. The male may get up a back-passage, the female frankly gets nowhere fast, for the specifically feminine experience of sexual awakening will elude her in such same-sex acts. Arguably that, long before children, is what the female yearns for. She can say with truth that male homosex is profoundly misogynistic.

    If I dare to write like this it is on the basis of my being not only the most well-read and experienced female on this thread, but I think the only female. It is a large part of my faith that my heavenly Father wants his children to be happy.

  20. Sure they can be loved and welcomed into the churches, but they will never enter the Kingdom of God. Narrow is The way and few are they who enter. Living according to the flesh will only lead to death, and a loving God warns us for our own good. A loving Christian must also warn, because a rebuke from a friend is kinder than flattering words from an enemy. God’s word is eternal, don’t bend it to your will.

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