RELEVANT’s Burning Issues: Homosexuality

Posted on April 23, 2008


The May_June 2008 edition of Relevant Magazine posted 7 burning issues: Injustice, Homosexuality, Faith, Politics, Culture, Consumerism, and War.

HOMOSEXUALITY: How Should We Respond?

The range on this question is much more difficult to decipher. I’m also working on a “Surprised at Love Won Out, pt.3” (link not up yet) post in which I will tackle the Biblical theologies, the difficult passages of Scripture, and try to outline the key arguments on both sides. So, unlike the previous RELEVANT post, with these quotes, I will respond to each excerpt as they come:

1. We need to respond to people within their struggles. The hard thing about issues around your sexuality is that it just permeates everything about who you are. The struggle of the Church, and for us as individuals, is: How do we align what we know about homosexual issues now with our understanding of Scripture? … But I think churches need to stop being primarily known for this issue. There are so many other things in the world that we need to be proactively bringing the Gospel and the Kingdom to bear on — how we got stuck on a couple of these issues is just curious to me. I don’t understand it. (Nancy Ortberg)

One, Ortberg is exactly right in responding to people within their struggles. As mentioned in previous posts, homosexuals are not issues to be won, but people to be loved. So, addressing first the point of pain and struggle for those who are suffering (because obviously not every homosexual person is struggling), must precede, and even usurp principled argumentation.

Second, I would question whether or not the church is really primarily known for this issue. I may be naive, but perhaps the ecclesial conscious and the Church’s societal reputation is not primarily dominated by the issues of homosexuality. But then again, I could be wrong. However, given that, I disagree that “there are so many other things in the world that we need to be proactively bringing the Gospel and the Kingdom to bear on.” This seems to be a dismissal of the importance of wrestling with this issue, and the people who are in turmoil over their sexual identities. I don’t think we can succumb to a prioritization in this matter, for “if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer with it.” While it cannot dominate the discussion, neither can it be secondary to others, especially since Christianity (so I’ve heard) is about the marginalized, forgotten, forgotten, etc. It seems appropriate then, to give fair attention to our brothers and sisters who face this battle every day of their lives.

2. First of all, one needs a biblical worldview and to know what the Bible says in passages such as Romans 1:26-27. Homosexuality is a very serious issue to God. With that said, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Therefore, we are to love homosexuals. I didn’t say “homosexuality,” but homosexuals. They need the Lord, and somehow they have become society’s ‘untouchables.'”

On a governmental level, we must take a biblical stance and work on such legislation as the Defense of Marriage wording to be put into our state’s constitutions. (Cindy Jacobs)

I patently disagree. If homosexuality is “a very serious issue to God,” why then do we point to Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, and Romans 1 (and occasionally 1 Corinthians 6:9) and then we are at a loss for Biblical references? Arguing from a position of textual percentages, it seems very low on the priority list. That does not mean that it is unimportant. I just simply don’t understand how anyone could use the strong language used by Jacobs.

Her “love homosexuals” comment is too close to “love the sinner, hate the sin” phrase which all Christians ought to strike from their categories. I appreciate Mike Haley’s insights,

We understand that cliche in these four walls [of the church], but when you use them outside those four walls, we need to look at how people are interpreting that. So what ultimately are we saying to someone when we use that phrase? Well, what we’re saying is that I love you, but I hate what you’re doing. But you need to see it from a gay person’s perspective. We see ourselves as defined by the very thing that we’re doing, so we believe that when you hate what we’re doing, you hate us to our very core. That’s why we’ve got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary, it does not translate. [1]

Lastly with Jacobs, I pray we never make Marriage any more an institution of the State than it already is. Civil Unions are the jurisdiction of the State, and there ought to be clear definitions and parameters on what that means and what rights and unions the State decides. Marriage, however, has always been an institution of faith, religion,…of the Church. And Christians who want to take it to the political realm are doing more damage to both State and Religion than they realize. I as a pastor already have “power invested in me by the state of…” I thought our commissioning and authority came from God to marry. Let’s be VERY careful how we legislate.

3. Nobody has the luxury of speaking as an outsider of the human race, and [our] subculture has certain ‘acceptable sins,’ and others that are just not the ones for which Christ died. So grace is the operative word. I don’t think we can compromise any truth of Scripture, but self-righteousness is also a major compromise of that truth….Today Jesus would be accused of being a friend of gays and lesbians too. That’s because He is. (Steve Brown)

I appreciate Brown giving some perspectives on the collective whole. The problem is, we all compromise the truth of Scripture, and we do it all the time, in the Church, and we even accept it. One word: Sabbath. How about another word: Coveting. Here’s another example: Philippians 4:8, do we really “think on these things?” How about the unity Jesus called for in John 17. We could go on, and on, and on… So, I would simply ask Brown to take it one step further, and be even more gracious on his declaration that we really can’t “compromise any truth of Scripture.”

4. The best way to understand homosexuality is Romans 1. God created a physical order. He then condemns those who ignore what should be obvious to them, who exchange the truth for a lie. And then He immediately singles out homosexuality. That is not because homosexual sex is any worse a sin than many others we commit. It is just that it is the one that most obviously violates the natural created order. I would welcome homosexuals into my church, but I would expect them to be chaste in their sexual behavior, as I would any other unmarried person — or married person, for that matter. (Chuck Colson)

I would refer to my comment under Jacobs above, and add that this reasoning is a bit myopic. “The best way?” Hmm. No actual relationships with people who are gay? Just a mere textual reading is the “best way” to understand homosexuality? “Obvious to them?” That seems to be the crux of the issue, and in fact, an argument in the other direction. For homosexuals, there is no obvious egregiousness. “Expect them to be chaste?” So, would you kick them out if you found out they engaged in sexual behavior? Then what about other members who were caught lying? Would you kick them out too? (etc., etc., etc.)

5. First, before we say or do anything, we should pray for wisdom, keeping in mind the promise in the epistle of James that God loves to give sincere and single-minded people wisdom. In sincerely and single-mindedly praying for wisdom, we are admitting we don’t already have things figured out, that we have more to learn. When the issue of homosexuality comes up, people quickly say, “What about Romans 1? What about Leviticus? What about 1 Corinthians 6?” I what to say, “Well, what about 1 Corinthians 13? What about James 3?” You can’t find solutions to a lot of polarizing issues on the level of the polarization; you have to move above the line that runs between extremes, seeking a higher vantage point or perspective, and there you can find creative solutions and redemptive ways forward

We can never forget that we’re dealing with more than a theory or issue. We’re dealing with people with breakable hearts — sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, and colleagues and pastors, too. In my view, to be a follower of Jesus means to live in that relational tension and not try to solve it by writing off a percentage of people as lepers or Samaritans or Pharisees or enemies. (Brian McLaren)


6. I think the question is twofold: one is a matter of public policy, and the other is a matter of Christian teaching…A cooling-off period of public policy wouldn’t be a bad thing, instead of this frantic race on the one hand to say, “We must have gay marriages,” and on the other hand to say, “We must ban any such thing.”

The Bible is actually quite clear on the subject…The idea that Paul was only referring to a small scale of something different from what we know now simply doesn’t stand up historically. But it is also a problem in the Church, because we have forgotten how to do reasoned, wise discourse. (N.T. Wright)

I have a great appreciation for Wright, but this perplexed me. I’m not sure what he’s getting at, and not sure if I agree that a “cooling-off” period is a good thing. I want to know more about the historical context. I do concur completely, however, that “we have forgotten how to do reasoned, wise discourse” which may be the reason for the succinctness of his contribution.

7. We need to be able to disagree well, and maybe one of our biggest witnesses to the larger society is that we as a Church can disagree well…If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this…It’s so scandalous that there are these heterosexual, married [couples] pointing fingers and saying gay folks are breaking up our families. Evangelicals are surpassing the divorce rate of secular society, and yet we’re accusing gay folks of breaking up the family, while all of them want to get married. I want to create communities where we can have a healthy conversation and not just point fingers and excommunicate people who disagree with us. (Shane Claiborne)

I actually think Claiborne’s sentiments are a great place to conclude this post and a great positioning for us in the Church. There has got to be some sense of acceptance with this issue, allowing some denominations (and even churches within denominations) to disagree about this without losing fellowship or communion. There’s got to be a way that we can argue well, have “wise discourse” (Wright), and recognize that there are good Biblical arguments on all sides of the issue.

May we disagree well, argue honestly, and love unconditionally, transcendently, above and overtly against any other ethic.

[1] Mike Haley testimony from “Love Won Out” (April 12, 2008).