On Religious News Service there was an article drawing out some parallels between the “Gay debate” taking place in the North American church today and the slavery debate that took place 150 years ago.
- One side argues for the plain reading of the Bible while the other argues from a grand narrative of freedom and inclusive love.
- The argument reflects the split visible in the larger culture.
- Denominations split.
- There’s almost no neutrality.
Although such generalities can pack a rhetorical punch, they lack substance.
The particular place where they fall short is that homosexual activity is consistently labeled sinful, or listed with vices to be repented of, throughout the Bible. Thus, the correspondence is not direct, even if a similar hermeneutic might take a person to condemning slavery while endorsing homosexuality. In my estimation, accounting for the fact that homosexual activity is always condemned as sinful when discussed in scripture is a hurdle that must be met directly, and not through appeal to “parallels” such as slavery or women’s ordination.
Also, while the regulating of slavery reflects a perhaps tacit biblical endorsement of the cultural norm, biblical condemnations of homosexual practice are exactly the opposite: a condemnation within the community of something that was generally an acceptable cultural practice (within certain socially approved frameworks). This gives me some pause with the arguments from analogy.
The church appears to have always seen itself as standing against the sexual mores of the surrounding culture, testifying to a particular sort of divinely-appointed alternative. I do often wonder if the pro-homosexuality position carries such weight because the church has forsaken its sexual ethics more generally–and too many of us are baptizing our pasts as divinely approved rather than seeking forgiveness for our missteps?
These two concerns come hand in hand. The arguments I hear in favor of homosexuality, by parallel with issue of freedom and justice, or parallels with those included within Jesus’ ministry, too often lack the category of sin, too often neglect that we are people fully in need of transformation and restoration.
Are homosexuals modern-day lepers? Perhaps–but Jesus included the leper by touching, healing, and removing the leprosy, not simply by embracing him as he was.
Would Jesus tell us to only cast stones if we are without sin? Likely–but then he would also turn to the sinner and bid her go and sin no more.