Preston Sprinkle. Living In A Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Zondervan, 2015. (155 pages)
I won’t say much here, as I’ve already provided a critical review on Preston’s previous book, People To Be Loved | Critical Review, which is more theologically/philosophically thorough. Since this particular book is geared towards teens, I considered carefully what this would yield in the hearts/minds of young people and their families as they read. Two things come to mind.
First, I consider this book to be a paradox. On one hand, there is the tremendous exhortation to ensure that we are seeing, and treating, LGBTQ+ peoples as people to be loved, rather than an argument to be won. Yet, the fact that that must be stated is itself a condemnation of the very problem we are facing. And, because of the theological position of this book, there is far more about the theology, than there is about how to actually love people who are a sexual minority. I find that to be quite lacking, and a bias that could end up perpetuating the damaging and hurtful culture that I know Preston is himself attempting to work against. Or it will render this book a relic of a dying religion. Which leads me to my second thought,…
…that for many young people in our culture, this is not a question. Sexual equality is a matter of justice. To deny LGBTQ+ people full and complete inclusion is nothing short of discrimination. Within religion, it is what we could perhaps call theological discrimination.
As before, my comments are in blue interwoven with the notes below.
NOTES & CRITIQUE
My heart goes out to the thousands of teens and students who are wrestling with their faith and sexuality–oftentimes with no one to talk to. My hope and prayer are that this book will not only help you in your journey, but encourage others to journey with you.
A Message to Parents
Chapter One: A Conversation About Homosexuality
LET’S HAVE A CONVERSATION
However you feel about homosexuality, the Bible, or whatever, this truth is nonnegotiable: (21) Homosexuality is about people and not about some issue. (22)
As we wrestle with all of this, never forget that we’re talking about people–real people with real feelings. (22)
So let’s drop the “lifestyle” lingo. (24)
“Transgender,” if you’re wondering, refers to someone who doesn’t identify with his or her biological sex. (25)
[via: Here’s where things are going to get tricky. How does one define biological sex?]
This is not an “us/them” discussion, but very much a “we” discussion. How can we best love people who are same-sex attracted among us? Who are us? (26)
A BETTER WAY
Let me be frank: I think both approaches are wrong. The dehumanizing, backwoods, “homosexuality is an abomination, period” approach is wrong. And the atheistic, arrogant, “I have not authority but science, myself, and Oprah” approach is wrong too. (27)
| I want to take a more balanced approach. It’s the more difficult path, but it’s the one that seeks truth and love, conviction and compassion. I want to listen to the Bible and take seriously the words of my Creator. And I also want to sit down with a cup of coffee and ask Jordan what it feels like to be treated like an animal at the zoo. We can love people and still ask hard questions. Love and truth aren’t at odds. (27)
Chapter Two: What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?
IF TWO PEOPLE LOVE EACH OTHER
…we need to ask questions about God’s purpose and design for gender difference, marriage, and sex. Or more specifically: Why has God created humans as two different biological sexes–male and female–and what purpose do these have for marriage and sex? If we believe there’s a Creator, and we believe that he designed us as humans–gendered humans who are created male or female–then it only makes sense to ask the question: Why has God created us male and female, and what does this have to do with sex and marriage? (30)
[via: I’m curious if the “why” question emerges simply because the Biblical narrative is so inadequate to address the question. This is an important aspect of the conversation; that we are seeking further answers to the questions that the Biblical narrative perhaps wasn’t intending to address? If so, then we are responsible for the kinds of narratives that we invent to help answer the questions that we are asking.]
Whether two people love each other is only one of several questions that need to be answered. (31)
You see, when it comes to questions surrounding sex, marriage, divorce, and, of course, homosexuality, the question “if two people love each other and aren’t hurting anyone” isn’t the only one we should ask. We also must ask: What does our Creator say about sex, marriage, and same-sex relations? … After all, the Bible does not just contain religious thoughts about God. Rather, the Bible is God’s timeless revelation of himself to mankind. And in it, God reveals to us how he wants us to behave. … Either way, Christians should submit to what the Bible says about right and wrong–especially when it comes to love, marriage, and sex. (32)
DOES GOD MAKE SOME PEOPLE GAY?
Most experts say that both nature and nature play a role in forming same-sex desires. … All of the studies that argue strongly for either nature or nurture have been debunked. (33)
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. – www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx under “What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?”
[via: I’m also beginning to wonder if “nature vs. nurture” is also another false binary.]
The fact that people have same-sex desires does not change the ethical question: Is it God’s will for people to act on those desires? (35)
I’m not going to tell you what to believe. I’m not going to spoon-feed you the “right answer.” What I’m going to do is simply point out some basic truths in the Bible that will help guide our thinking about homosexuality. (36)
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT MARRIAGE
Jesus on Marriage
This [Matthew 19:4-5] shows that Jesus rooted his view of marriage in Genesis 1 and 2. (38)
Paul on Marriage
The difference between Christ and the church is reflected in the difference between a husband and wife. (39)
But I still think that the three passages we’ve looked at–Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and Ephesians 5–assume that marriage is between a man and a woman. (39)
[via: It may be important to distinguish between assume and argue for.]
If God affirms same-sex couples, you would expect that the Bible would say something positive about same-sex relationships. (40)
Chapter Three: What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
If the story of Sodom teaches us anything, it’s that attempted gang rape is wrong. … You see, in Old Testament times, men would sometimes rape other men in order to show them who was boss. It was an act of domination, not attraction. (44)
But again, the question we’re asking is: Can two people of the same sex fall in love, get married, and have sex? And (44) in regard to that question, the story about Sodom tells us nothing. (45)
In fact, the Bible gives a different picture of who the real “Sodomites” are. Many of them are overstuffed straight people. (45)
[Leviticus 20:13] If the verses were talking about some sort of ancient “prison rape,” only the rapist would have been condemned. (46)
[via: Is this true according to purity laws?]
Some laws are meant to apply today, and some aren’t because they may have been written for a very specific reason and context. But here’s the thing. When it comes to who (or what) we’re allowed to have sex with, all the laws in the Old Testament are still valid. … No one disputes whether these laws are for today. (47)
[via: So, then capital punishment for homosexual sex?]
…the most fail-proof test is to see if an Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament. (47)
[via: The challenge with this line of reasoning is that the entire premise is a “rules & regulations” view of the Biblical text.]
JESUS ON HOMOSEXUALITY
Silence doesn’t mean affirmation. And silence doesn’t mean indifference. THere are good, historical reasons why Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. He simply didn’t need to. (49)
[via: After several notes on “not natural” and “power of sin,” etc., I noted that it is possible to see “sexual perversion” as a proxy for “corruption,” according to the theology. But that is not really considered.]
…the phrase “not natural” doesn’t mean that something is weird or creepy. It means that same-sex intercourse goes against the design of Creator God. (51)
[via: And the hard epistemological question is what distinguishes, or how can we know what is “God’s design” vs. “a cultural norm?”]
But think about this. Is it really unloving? (55)
| To me, it’s only unloving if God says it’s fine. … Our (55) human desires are very poor moral guides for determining right and wrong. We must look to our Creator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and submit to what he says about how we are to live. (56)
[via: This misses that our exegesis has also proved to be poor moral guides throughout the ages, correct?!]
Chapter Four: Gender, Transgender, and Intersex
The term dysphoria simply means to be dissatisfied or uneasy about something. (58)
An intersex person is someone who was born with ambiguous genitalia, or perhaps a blend of both male and female parts. (59)
[via: And genetic make-up. See Between XX & XY.]
Our first response must be one of compassion. (60)
But having compassion doesn’t mean that we affirm everyone’s behavior and feelings. … This is important to understand. Many people say that the biological sex of transgender people is wrong and their perception of who they (62) are is right. But the Bible doesn’t say that our perceptions of ourselves are always right. Many times they are wrong. (63)
In no way do I want to downplay the real pain that transgender people go through when they feel like the opposite gender. I want to empathize with them. Cry with them. Listen to their pain and hopes and fears and joys. But this doesn’t mean that their perceptions accurately reflect God’s perception of them. (63)
[via: But then is it not also true that neither, then, do our perceptions of them accurately reflect God’s perceptions?]
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT GENDER DYSPHORIA?
[Leviticus 22:5] Cross-dressing isn’t primarily about the types of fabric that cover your flesh. It’s about identifying with a gender that’s different from your biological sex. It’s a heart issue. (64)
…(1 Corinthians 11:2-16). But this isn’t the cultural norm in America. While most women have long hair and most men have short hair, no one would assume that a woman is trying to be a man if she has short hair. So the specific rule about long hair doesn’t apply today, as hairstyle (64) does not reflect one’s gender in the same way it did back then. But the heart of the command does: men and women shouldn’t cross gender boundaries. (64)
[via: First, the “heart” of the command is not necessarily that “men and women shouldn’t cross gender boundaries” as has been argued (cf. Cynthia Long Westfall’s Paul and Gender.) Second, it is the same perennial question, that if hair doesn’t mean the same thing, what if same-gender sexual relationships also don’t mean the same thing?]
…the Bible doesn’t say that humans are divided between the “bodily you” and the “spiritual you.” The Bible talks bout the body and soul (and sometimes the spirit) as different aspects of one whole person (1 Thessalonians 5:23). You don’t just have a body–a physical shell that covers the real you. Rather, you are a body. And you don’t just have a soul. You are a soul. When God breathed life into Adam, the Bible says that he became (literally) a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). Your body and your soul both constitute the real you. (65)
[via: ויהי האדם לנפש חיה, Genesis 2:7.]
So when someone says that their true self has been born into the wrong body, this is simply wrong. Their true self is their body. (66)
[via: A, is this slightly semantical? B, what if their body is transgendered?]
First, the fact that some people are born with ambiguous genitalia should not be surprising. Some people are born with cleft lips, missing libs, and all sorts of other biological abnormalities. In fact, I was born deaf in my left ear. This doesn’t mean that this is the way God created me. What it means is that sin has affected the very fabric of our being, and sometimes it distorts our biology–even from birth. (67)
Second, I don’t think that intersex people are some sort of “third gender” or blend of male and female. But this is what some people say. There are males, females, and intersex. All three are legitimate sexes. But I don’t see how (67) someone could reconcile this with Scripture. Intersex people were around during Bible times; it’s not a new phenomenon. But the Bible only recognizes two biological sexes: male and female. There is certainly a lot of diversity about what it means to be male and female–remember, I wore a skirt in Samoa. But such diversity of gender expression doesn’t mean that there are several different biological sexes. There’s nothing in the Bible that talks bout a third biological sex. (68)
[via: The problem with this line of thinking is that you dismiss that which you don’t understand, especially don’t understand through the pages of a sacred text. It is positing a false dichotomy, and sets the standard for why people must reject one or the other. Second, Jesus does mention “eunuchs” who “have been so from birth.” (Matthew 19:12)]
Chapter Five: Truth and Love
Jesus is a perfect example of how Christians should relate to people who are gay. (69)
JESUS AND THE WEE LITTLE MAN
Ancient tax collectors were committing political and religious treason. (71)
JESUS FRONTS LOVE
GAY IS THE NEW TAX COLLECTOR
Even though Jesus never mentions homosexuality, in many ways Christians have treated LGBT people the same way that (74) ancient religious Jews treated tax collectors. And so Jesus’s approach to tax collectors gives us a good model for how we are to relate to the LGBT community around us. (75)
| We have to be careful with this analogy though. Gay people are actually nothing like tax collectors of the first century, so I’m not comparing LGBT people to tax collectors. I’m only comparing how religious people have viewed the two. (75)
Until Christians develop the reputation of being far too chummy with the LGBT community, we fail to imitate Christ. (76)
| Acceptance doesn’t have to mean affirmation. Biblical love accepts people as they are, and then loves them into the people God wants them to be. (77)
[via: There are several problems with this otherwise good-intentioned statement. First, does not “as they are” include a gender identity? Second, “into the people God wants them to be” is a “bait and switch.” It is even unbiblical. I’d be curious to know the scriptural support for this kind of “condition” or “end goal” of the love. Third, there is a disconnect between ‘love’ and ‘acceptance,’ and ‘your body is a result of sin.’]
GAY PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH
The fact is, most gay people I know who grew up in the church ended up leaving the church not because of the (77) church’s stance against homosexual behavior, but because of its stance against gay people. (78)
We need to be more like Jesus. (80)
| You can be different. You can be both truthful and loving just like Jesus was. Being truthful means that we believe what God says about homosexual behavior. Being loving means we accept people for who they are and love them into obedience. Acceptance precedes obedience. (80)
WHEN TWO LESBIANS WALK INTO YOUR CHURCH
Always remember: Acceptance precedes obedience. We can never obey God until we are first accepted by God. And we’ll never experience acceptance by God until we are accepted by God’s people. (82)
Chapter Six: I Think I Might Be Gay
You are not an abomination.
It’s true that God considered all sexual immorality to be sin. This includes lust, pornography, sex outside of marriage, and same-sex intercourse. Which means we’re all in the same boat! (85)
[via: For many, the “same boat” argument is really distasteful, as if one’s loving monogamy is the same as ‘pornography’ or other sexual deviations.]
Gay sex is called an abomination, but gay people never are. They are created in God’s image and are the object of his delight. (85)
[via: Does this mean affection, emotional bonding, relationship, and non-penetrative sex are okay? Also, what about the capital punishment of the Levitical laws?]
Same-sex attraction is not a sin.
[via: Doesn’t Romans 1 mention “lusted after.” It would be good to parse out the distinction between having an “attraction” and having “lust,” which may not be distinguished in Romans 1 passage according to this non-affirming hermeneutic.]
There is a difference between attraction, orientation, behavior, gay, and Gay.
…but I think that a good measure is this: sexual activity is anything you wouldn’t do with your brother or sister. (88)
[via: And, immediately in the next paragraph…]
You may kiss your mom on the cheek or hold hands with your sister. But this same act is going to mean something else if you do it with someone you are romantically attracted ti. (88)
| This may sound harsh, but I don’t think you should engage in any activity that you wouldn’t do with a family member. This doesn’t mean you can’t be affectionate. Again, family members are affectionate. But everyone knows the difference between kissing your mom and kissing a hot boy or girl. (88)
Not every same-sex-attracted person calls him- or herself gay. It’s an identity label. And not everyone wants to identify themselves by their sexual attraction. (88)
I don’t feel it’s good for Christians to label themselves as “Gay” (uppercase) as their primary identity. Our identity is in (88) Christ–everything else is secondary.
[via: *sigh. Okay, the “moral equivalency” argument of family and romance is deeply inadequate. Second, the identity question of comparing one’s sexual identity with a Christian identity is unhelpful, as if someone’s race is not their identity, but rather their standing in Christ.]
You’re not alone.
Find someone to talk to.
Give grace to your parents and friends.
Accept God’s forgiveness.
Banish the thought of suicide.
Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it.
[via: I’m not sure this is really helpful advice, as suicide/depression are not merely volitional aspects of our psychology.]
God gave you life. It’s not yours to take. (95)
[via: This kind of thinking also adds shame to the person contemplating suicide. Very unhelpful.]
Chapter Seven: My Best Friend Is Gay…Now What?
Listen, and don’t react.
To listen is to love; you can’t truly love unless you first listen. This applies to every type of relationship, actually. (99)
Listen. Learn. And love. It’s the only way you’ll be able to be a friend to the person opening up to you. (100)
Express your commitment to them.
Know the difference between the terms gay, attraction, and behavior.
Honor their parents.
Don’t assume that your friend is sexually attracted to you.
If you think your friend might be gay…
As I said earlier, I believe God wants girls to act like girls, and boys to act like boys. But what it means to act like a boy or girl is rather flexible. (106)
Believe that sexual sin is destructive.
Notice I didn’t single out same-sex sexual sin. That’s destructive too. But so is heterosexual pornography, sex outside of marriage, and mild forms of sexual activity outside of marriage that almost always lead to sex outside of marriage, which can lead to pregnancy, which can lead to (107) single parenthood or adoption or abortion. There’s nothing good and loving and healthy about sexual sin. It’s deceptive. It’s artificial, superficial, and will officially eat away at your humanity bit by bit. (108)
[via: That “adoption” and “single parenthood” is included in this line of reasoning as “abortion” and “pornography” is… well,… not well constructed. It would be helpful to clarify this kind of “moral equivalency” line of argumentation.]
Chapter Eight: Homosexuality All Around Me
HOMOSEXUALITY IN POLITICS AND MEDIA
HOMOSEXUALITY IN MY COMMUNITY
…let your love sing brighter than your stance on homosexuality. (122)
Chapter Nine: Can I Attend a Gay Wedding…and Other Questions
I’m not sure I can give a black-and-white answer to all these questions. Some of them aren’t directly addressed in Scripture. But what I can do is help us think through some biblical principles that should guide our response to these questions. (123)
CAN I ATTEND A GAY WEDDING
It’s pretty hypocritical to attend certain weddings that aren’t sanctioned by Scripture yet not attend other weddings that also aren’t sanctioned by Scripture. (125)
…you have to ask yourself: What would your presence at the wedding convey to the couple getting married?
CAN I ATTEND THE BIRTHDAY PARTY OF MY GAY FRIEND?
This one is pretty easy to answer. Yes, you can attend.
Some people may say, “Yeah, but my gay friend is an unbeliever and her party will have a whole bunch of really bad people there.” If this is the case, then I would say you (126) really need to attend. Followers of Jesus should be all about hanging out where bad people are hanging out. What better place for a Christian to be than with a group of people who need Jesus the most? (127)
[via: I appreciate the response to the hypothetical question, but calling unbelievers or “gay” people “bad” is poor form.]
SHOULD I VOTE FOR A GOVERNOR OR PRESIDENT WHO SUPPORTS GAY MARRIAGE?
Will gay marriages hinder God’s kingdom from advancing? Probably not. While I don’t agree that same-sex marriages are within God’s will, I don’t think it would be wrong to vote for someone who supports gay marriage. (128)
WHAT ABOUT “GAY CHRISTIANS”?
[via: That the header includes quotes around “gay christians” is also poor form.]
Are you seeking to live out your God-given gender in a way that reflects your biological sex? Struggling with gender identity is not a sin. Acting on that struggle might be. (130)
The real question comes when someone is engaging in the sin of homosexual sex and believes that such an act is perfectly fine and yet continues to confess Christ. The Bible considers this to be sexual immorality. And there’s a good chance that those who persist in sexual immorality are not genuinely saved. But at the end of the day, only God knows. (130)
CAN GAY PEOPLE CHANGE THEIR SEXUAL ORIENTATION?
The best answer is that it’s possible for gay people to change their orientation, but it’s very unlikely. (131)
[via: The footnote in this section references Mark A. Yarhouse’s study Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. The scholarship of this work has been considerably critiqued, in addition to their other study Ex-Gays?]
ARE GAY PEOPLE FORBIDDEN FROM GETTING MARRIED?
Homosexuality is about people.
Believe the Bible.
- The Bible only endorses male and female marriages.
- The Bible sometimes even highlights male and female differences within marriage.
- The Old Testament explicitly forbids homosexual sexual intercourse.
- The New Testament also explicitly forbids both male and female same-sex intercourse.
- Jesus’s silence about homosexuality can’t be taken as indifference or affirmation.
Therefore, to be truly Jesus-like and biblical means that we should:
- Stop saying and doing things that make LGBT people feel less than human. No more gay jokes. No more looks of disgust and contempt. No more destructive words like “fag,” “homo,” “abomination,” or any other word that communicates hate rather than love.
- Be exceedingly welcoming to LGBT people in our churches and Christian communities. “Welcoming” doesn’t mean affirming everyone’s behavior, but it does mean accepting a person’s humanity. People can’t obey God until they first know they are accepted by God–and by God’s people.
- Believe that we are all sinful before God and in need of his grace. All of the passages that mention same-sex sin also list many sins that straight people commit every day. Being biblical means not being a hypocrite.
- Not just tell LGBT people that God loves them. We need to show them that God loves them by loving them ourselves. (142)
Appendix: Does the Bible Really Say It’s Wrong?
ARGUMENT 1: THE TYPE OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE TIMES IS NOT THE SAME AS TODAY
ARGUMENT 2: ROMANS 1 PROHIBITS EXCESSIVE LUST, NOT MUTUAL SAME-SEX LOVE
ARGUMENT 3: ROMANS 1 REFERS TO IDOLATROUS SEX, NOT CONSENSUAL SAME-SEX RELATIONS
ARGUMENT 4: 1 CORINTHIANS 6 IS TALKING ABOUT EXPLOITATIVE SEX, NOT CONSENSUAL RELATIONS
ARGUMENT 5: THE BIBLICAL WRITERS DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Just because we now have a greater understanding of the desires that may lead to that act, that doesn’t change the biblical stance on the act. Remember, we are born into a fallen world and we possess fallen emotions, bodies, and desires. Even our sexual orientation is subject to sin. (155)