*Preface: This post cannot be rightly understood without reading Part I.
In my experience, the tendency of both conservatives and liberals is to approach the issue of homosexuality with the delicacy and precision of a sledgehammer. To share my moderate perspective I’ve broken this huge issue into 42 sub-issues using a Q & A format. Sorry for the length, but I find it’s rather difficult to completely re-frame the common perception on a hot button issue… Here goes:
1. Can I sympathize with people struggling with homosexuality?
- Yes. All I can say is that I really do try, although I confess my imperfection and request grace.
2. Can I empathize with people struggling with homosexuality?
- No. I cannot relate from firsthand experience, so will truly try to proceed in a spirit of love, humility, grace, compassion, and civility. Don’t confuse stoic with civil, though. I’m passionate about this issue and hope that comes across.
3. Have I read and interacted with both the liberal, “Queer Hermeneutics” (their term not mine) AND the conservative, Focus on the Family perspectives?
- Yes. My research over the past 6 months included books, articles, websites, and videos. Clearly that’s not enough to make an expert who can write authoritatively, but I do think I can offer an informed and balanced perspective.
4. What irritates me most about people’s use of the Bible with this issue?
- Hermeneutics 101. It seems like freaking everyone fails to delineate between interpretationand application. In the former you’re trying to piece back together what the text means. Anyone who tells you this is simple is a fool. There’s a complicated process of trying to understand a passage as its original readers would have understood (exegesis), how it fits within the larger themes of Scripture (biblical theology), how the Church throughout history had understood it (historical theology), and how it fits within the larger framework of christian theology (systematic theology). In the latter you’re trying to live the text in our contemporary setting. The relationship between interpretation and application is no doubt complicated, but it’s vitally important. Unfortunately, it seems like all these Ph.D crackerheads on either side somehow missed the same lecture. A doctorate in theology does not (necessarily) a good steward of God’s Word make.
5. Ultimately, does my interpretation of the homosexuality passages align with the liberal or conservative camp?
- No. I think both sides have a deficient view of Scripture’s nature and inspiration, which deeply impacts their view on this issue. Seems to me they need to spend more time on theirprolegomena. Pardon me for being crass, but I can think of no better way to put this: By in large, theologians on either polarity have allowed their ideological commitments to take a dump on their theological methodology.
6. OK, so what is my view of the Bible’s inspiration?
- Sorry, this requires a longer reply. I’ll try to keep this as short as reasonably possible… My thoughts on Scripture’s inspiration are perhaps most influenced by Mark Noll’s historical analysis in Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America. He explains that, on the one hand, classic liberal thought stripped Scripture of its divine origin. Thus, it can and should be interpreted like any other ancient primary source document. (This thought continues to linger in The Episcopal Church.) In direct response, conservatives swung the pendulum to the other extreme in emphasizing its divine origin. 19th century theologians like Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield were adamant that the Bible is the Word of God. More than a century later, Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, suggests that conservatives have often been guilty of a sort of Scriptural Docetism. It merely appears the Bible was written by human authors but, in reality, to quote conservative Anglican J.I. Packer, God “overruled [their] writing and… thinking” such that He is the true author; or He is more fully the author. It seems to me that both extremes are inadequate. Those on either ideological polarity have made massive mistakes stemming from an unwillingness to accept paradox and tension. The result is oversimplification of a complex reality. I’m reminded of Philip Yancey’s observation that a “church uncomfortable with paradox tends to tilt in one direction or the other, usually to disastrous consequences.” I believe that the Bible is special revelation; the divinely-inspired Word of God as communicated by human authors living in precise cultural-historical contexts. As is often said, it’s both/and rather than either/or. An admittedly limited analogy–that I used before reading Enns’ book but had better cite–is Jesus: simultaneously fully God and fully man. In the same way that orthodox Christology insists that His two natures are inconfused, unchangeable, indivisible, and inseparable, so I’m convinced Scripture’s two origins must be upheld. For this reason, I reject verbal-plenary inspiration and affirm Enns’ incarnational analogy view.
7. What do I like about the liberal interpretations?
- They take seriously the Bible’s Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) origins when interpreting the relevant OT passages. They’re right to criticize conservatives for rarely considering the passages’ cultural-historical context. Conservatives are prone to completely ripping OT passages out of time and space–to say nothing of literary context–to slap ‘em down in the present. That whole interpretation/application thing…
8. What do I dislike about the liberal interpretations?
- They do the same d*** thing with the NT as they criticize conservatives for doing with the OT! Specifically, not interpreting the passages in light of their cultural-historical context. Seriously. In nearly every liberal interpretation I interacted with they started not with how an original reader would have understood it but with the rather nebulous (and easily manipulated) doctrine that “God is love.” Therefore, God doesn’t hate homosexuals. Therefore, the NT passages can’t really mean that God disapproves of homosexual acts. They seem preoccupied with justifying homosexual lifestyles rather than properly exegeting the text. Drives me batty.
9. What do I like about the conservative interpretations?
- They insist upon interpreting the NT in light of its cultural-historical context.
10. What do I dislike about the conservative interpretations?
- You guessed it. They refuse to interpret the OT in light of its cultural-historical context. The pragmatic needs of culture war outweighs those of biblical fidelity. They’re too busy collecting ammunition to bother with considering the liberal arguments about the OT passages. The rallying call is, “This is no time for fancy academic arguments!” (Small print: Unless they support their agenda.) Holy theological double-think, Batman! There’s just blatant methodological inconsistency on both sides.
11. Don’t you think you’re blowing this issue out of proportion when Jesus didn’t even address it?
- No. This question usually comes from the left, so I’ll direct my five-part response in that direction. First, we don’t know that Jesus didn’t address it. All we know is that the Gospel writers didn’t see fit to include it in their accounts. (No, that’s not an Argument from Silence for all you philosophers looking for logical fallacies.) Second, we also have no evidence that Jesus talked about stewardship of the environment. Surely we’re not spending too much time and energy thinking about that. Third, Jesus didn’t live in the 21st century United States. He lived in first century Israel. He was immersed in its culture, religion, politics, economics, technology, archaeology, linguistics, geography, etc. Everything He did and said is reflective of that context. I know homosexuality was a common practice elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but to my knowledge it wasn’t in Israel. Thus, it would seem He would have no reason to address it. Fourth, Paul did address it, which makes sense for his own cultural context. Fifth, I don’t rank Scripture in terms of different levels of authority since it’s all inspired by the same Holy Spirit. The issue isn’t less important because Paul rather than Jesus addressed it.
12. Do I think it’s a sin to be gay? That is, is it a sin to have an attraction exclusively to members of the same sex?
- No. That’s no more a sin than a heterosexual person’s attraction to someone who isn’t his/her spouse.
13. Do I think it’s a sin for a gay or lesbian person to lust after a person of the same sex?
- Yes. But I’m quick to point out it’s no more or worse a sin than a heterosexual person lusting after a person of the opposite sex.
14. Do I think it’s a sin for a gay or lesbian person to have sex with a member of the same sex, even if it’s within a loving, monogamous relationship?
- Yes. But, again, I’m always quick to note that it’s no worse than any heterosexual sexual sin.
15. Isn’t it hypocritical that conservative Christians make such a big deal about homosexuality yet ignore other sins?
- Yes. I cannot help but think back about one rotund preacher I heard preach a sermon against homosexuality. He ranted and raved for a solid hour about how it’s this grave abomination that’s destroying the the fabric of American society… blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, he completely ignored his own gluttony, wife’s gossiping, son’s pornography addiction, and church’s lack of concern for the poor and oppressed. Actually, I kind of pity him. He clearly suffers from late-stage Plank in Eye disease that’s clearly poisoning his soul. Yet for all his hatred, hypocrisy, and ignorance, there’s one important strand of truth in what he was saying: I have no joy in writing this, but, as I wrote above, I do think homosexual activity is a sexual sin. It’s inexcusable that our churches ignore these other culturally-accepted, “lesser” sins, but no one is arguing that gluttony is actually a divinely-blessed lifestyle, for example. That’s the key difference than liberals ignore.
16. Do I think it’s possible that some people are “born gay,” by which I mean they’re born with an innate attraction only to members of the same sex just like a heterosexual person has an innate attraction only to members of the opposite sex?
- Yes. But I reject determinism. People are born with propensities toward all sorts of sins, including violence, alcoholism, etc. I hold that we’re all responsible for our own conduct regardless of our inclinations. More later…
17. Do I think all people who are gay were born gay?
- No. This is purely my own unscientific thoughts, but I suspect there’s likely cases where it’s just nature, others where it’s just nurture, and some where it’s a combination of the two. That seems to be the pattern with just about everything else, right?
18. Do I think the Bible explores the psychological/biological question of whether homosexuality is a matter of nature or nurture?
- No. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover three times and am yet to come across the verse that reads, “Homosexuality hath stemmed from the fall and corruption of thy DNA.” The fact of the matter is that the Bible is a collection of primarily ANE documents. It just plain doesn’t answer every question a 21st century, Western, empiricist reader might have. Another fine example of its teachings being authoritative but not exhaustive.
19. Do I think churches should marry gays and lesbians?
- No. Within the Church, I believe marriage should be defined as the covenantal union of one man and one woman.
20. Could I, in good conscience, attend a church that married gays and lesbians?
- No. But neither could I attend a church that blessed premarital sex, which is something a great many churches cast a blind eye toward… That comment requires a bit of clarification. I do think it’s horse crap that we expect people to get their life together first, then come to church. That’s like saying you must skin a fish before you catch it. Just plain absurd. The Church should be a place of mercy and support. Yet it must also be a place of discerning confrontation. I do think there’s an appropriate time to ignore certain moral failures so that people can be part of community, but that’s quite a different thing than blessing them… It’s a complicated issue. Bottom line: I think the Church must recognize sin for what it is and confront it in good time, but Christians should never act like Nazis.
21. As a future pastor, would it violate my conscience to marry a gay or lesbian couple?
- Yes. Of course, it would also violate my conscience to marry a couple with any other unrepentant sin like gossip, drug dealing, or theft as well as a couple consisting of one or more non-Christians.
22. As a future pastor, could I be a part of a ecclesiastical body that condoned/blessed gay or lesbian marriage even if I personally weren’t forced to perform the service?
- No. I’m not sure about The Episcopal Church in the U.S., but this is the situation in The Anglican Church of Canada. Priests don’t have to perform the marriage, but they do have to recommend those seeking gay or lesbian marriage to another parish that will. I couldn’t serve in that situation for that involves the tolerance of others’ celebration of sin.
23. Could I in good conscience attend a church with a gay pastor?
- Maybe. That would depend whether or not he or she is celibate. If so, I’d definitely feel comfortable attending that church.
24. Do most of our churches–conservative, moderate, and liberal–need to seriously reconsider the role of celibacy within the Church?
- Yes. Too many Christians completely ignore St. Paul’s teachings on celibacy. According to him, celibacy is actually greater than marriage. Yet in our oversexed society the expectation is that all people will have sex, so our churches try to channel those passions into marriage. I believe that this is one of those times when the Church must confront the culture rather than adapting to it. Celibacy needs to not only be restored as a viable option, but those who’ve chosen it ought be praised.
25. Do I think the government’s definition of marriage is authoritative for the Church?
- No. A newlywed couple I know recently talked about how they got married but it wasn’t official for a couple days because they didn’t sign the papers. What?? I would suggest that they were thinking too much as christian Americans instead of American Christians. Let’s say the Chinese government passed a law tomorrow saying Christians couldn’t get married. Do you think the Church in China would stop marrying Christians? Of course not! If a government’s view of marriage happens to coincide with the Church’s views and practices, then great. If not, oh well. We serve God, not man. It’s times like this when I wish that Western Christians had a more historical mindset, ‘cuz then they’d realize that this synthesizing of church and state was virtually unheard of before Constantine.
26. Do I think the Church’s definition of marriage should be authoritative for all of society?
- No. There’s a profound tension in my faith concerning church-state issues. On the one hand, I agree with the Reformed concept of the “Lordship of Christ” over all areas of life. On the other hand, I’m radically opposed to caesaropapism. Things go to hell in hand basket when the church takes over the government (see: Crusaders, The). My belief is that we must apply the Lordship of Christ within the general framework of the Augustinian and Lutheran conception of the “Two Kingdoms.” The church has its role. The government has its role. I believe individual Christians can and should play a role within government and other areas of society, but they must not confuse their temporal earthly identities with their eternal heavily identities. Far too often in church history the Body of Christ has been prostituted to political agendas, parties, figures, and nations. We’ve got to stop repeating that mistake (Paging the Christian Right). Regarding our situation here in the United States, all can agree that, whatever we once were, ours is clearly not presently “christian nation.” As such we ought not interject specifically christian morality into the public sphere such that we expect the same standard for both. For example, do I think adultery should be a government crime? No. Do I think it should be condemned within the Church? Yes. Likewise, do I think gay marriage should be legal? Yes. Do I think it should be practiced within the Church? Absolutely not.
27. Do I think American Christians should fight a political war to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman?
- No. Not only am I principally opposed to this, with all our blatant hypocrisy I believe we’ve lost the right to speak into society in that way. It’s like the marriage counselor who’s been divorced five times. I believe in grace and forgiveness, but at that point the man needs to find a new profession. Anyone who takes him seriously is a fool. We’re in the same boat. This “Do what I say and not what I do” bullshit has got to stop and discerning church discipline has got to start. When the rate of divorce and addiction to internet pornography within our churches drops significantly, then we might regain the credibility to tell society about God’s intention for sex and marriage. Until then I say we shut up and focus our energy on removing the plank from our own eye. Maybe then we’ll see clearly enough to help our neighbor with the speck in his.
28. Do I think there should be a law barring violence against homosexual persons?
- Yes. It royally pissed me off when Christians are principally opposed to any law that might help homosexuals even if it’s their mere physical protection. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” anyone?
29. Am I in favor of laws barring employment discrimination against homosexual persons atsecular places of employment?
- Yes. Just like I’m opposed to laws discriminating against age, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, disabilities, etc. Again, love your neighbor as yourself. This isn’t Nazi Germany. Gay and lesbian persons should be able to make a living.
30. Do I think there should be a law protecting the rights of individual persons and sacred organizations (e.g. churches, parochial schools, private colleges/universities, para-church ministries) to openly share their religious beliefs regarding the moral or immoral nature of homosexuality without fear of financial punishment, prosecution for hate speech, and the like?
- Yes. This is something that liberals aren’t concerned about, but in the interest of fairness they need to be. It’s basic psychology that people seek their own self-preservation. Conservatives truly are fearful that the advocacy of complete sexual equality will lead to their persecution, and that’s a legitimate concern. As for the biblical perspective, the NT does say Christians will face persecution but it doesn’t say they should seek it out or desire it. It makes sense that conservative are concerned.
31. If gay and lesbian marriage were legalized, do I think there should be a federal law specifically protecting religious groups from being mandated to perform those marriages?
- Yes. This point is basically just a clarification of #29, but they should not face charges of discrimination for practicing their faith.
32. What do I think about the controversial “sexual realignment”?
- I’m skeptical. If it works, then OK. But I’ve just heard about too many ex-”Ex-Gays” who’ve testified that it’s bunk. In trying to put myself in their shoes, I can tell you for a fact that sexual realignment wouldn’t be effective in turning me gay. If that’s any indication, I doubt it’s very effective in turning gays and lesbians straight. Plus I’m concerned about the potential wounds and confusion it would cause and has caused.
33. Do I think liberal Christians have uncritically bought into the spirit of the age?
- Yes. They seem particularly adept at that (see: Modernity).
34. Do I think liberal Christians are guilty of presentism?
- Yes. Look, I’m not Bill O’Reilly or Glen Beck. I don’t think “progressive” is an epithet, but I do think progressivism is problematic when it takes on an eschatological dimension as the guiding principle of one’s theology. All people reflect the paradoxical human condition of being made in God’s image but being completely marred by the fall. That’s human nature, and it never changes. This idea that we’re smarter and better than our ancestors (i.e. presentism) is just plain erroneous and hopefully naive. Look no further than WWII to realize humanity isn’t improving.
35. Do I think liberal Christians need to change their tone toward those with whom they disagree?
- Yes. They often come across as smug, condescending, intellectual jackasses. I really don’t think they have any clue the degree to which that demeanor turns off conservatives and inhibits meaningful discussion.
36. Do I think liberal Christians tend to underestimate the fall’s consequences and misunderstand the nature of sin and temptation?
- Yes. Many liberal Christians I’ve talked to argue that God wouldn’t make people with same-sex attraction if it were morally wrong, and they’re right. God didn’t. Unfortunately, Genesis 3 happened. Everything was corrupted, not the least of which is the human body. After the fall people have felt all sorts of impulses that are morally wrong. Humanity’s subsequent nature is often far darker than we imagine. I’ve had men confide a “longing” to sexually abuse women and inflict severe violence upon other men. I’ve heard from a pious married woman who feel this desperate need to sleep with other men. There’s no reasonable explanation for these things. None were abused or neglected as a child. They were just born with these temptations toward evil. It’s a scary prospect, but I’ve no doubt they’d be serial rapists, murderers, and adulterers were they not Christians. Something within them is broken and it’s only by the grace of God that they resist and are slowly healed. I tend to think it’s much the same thing with same-sex attraction. It seems to me that liberal Christians often haven’t grasped that the only “natural” condition of humanity was that before the fall.
37. Do I think conservative Christians need to knock it off with the self-righteousness, hatred, and condescension toward gays and lesbians?
- Yes. Nothing could be further from Jesus’ example.
38. Do I think conservative Christians’ all-too-common lack of discernment in how they handle this issue drives gays and lesbians away from Christ?
- Yes. And that’s not just theory…
39. Do I think conservative Christians frequently chalk up such instances as the Gospel being offensive when, in fact, it’s the Christians’ arrogance that is causing the offense?
- Yes. I can’t stand it when Christians exhibit this martyr complex when the real problem is that others are angry that they’re being assholes.
40. Since I’m seeking ordination from an African Anglican province, am I opposed to Uganda’sdeath penalty bill?
- Yes. I’ve not heard whether it was passed into law, but if so I condemn it in the harshest possible way and am angry at any Anglicans in America or Africa who fail to do likewise. Affirming that a practice is immoral and shouldn’t be condoned by the Church is one thing. Saying that those who practice the act should face the punishment of death is different altogether. I enthusiastically stand with all human rights advocates who oppose that law or any like it.
41. Shouldn’t this be a matter individual conscience alone where Christians do what they feel is right, not something where the Church should “police behavior”?
- No. A have several thoughts on this one. First, I think the language we use is important. In my opinion, “police behavior” is loaded terminology that poorly frames the issue. It’s like a survey question that reads, “Are you against the U.S. being the world’s police force?” The word choice contains so much bias that it automatically distorts the issue. Second, we see Paul standing for certain behavioral standards through the NT, but especially in 1 Corinthians. His expectation was that faith will inevitably result in certain conduct, which is a sentiment that is echoed by James. Third, it’s clear from the NT that there is a proper place for church discipline. I think the American church in particular has uncritically embraced the autonomy of the person as imbued into the church culture by capitalism and democracy. The christian faith was never supposed to be about individual faith outside of the community, and the community has the clear responsibility to confront when appropriate. Fourth, there is a NT notion of the law being written on people’s hearts but that must be held in tension with Israel’s moral corruption in OT where the text says that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The human heart–even the regenerate human heart–is corrupt beyond all understanding. We need the Body of Christ as a whole to help guide the individual members. Fifth, I’m not a legalistic jerk. Trust me. I value grace as much as anyone, but we ought not use it as a license to do whatever we want.
42. What are my thoughts are the relational dynamic of this issue?
- I have to acknowledge that my research is incomplete. It’s taken a half year to get my mind around mostly just the sexual dynamic alone, let alone looking into the nature of psychological nature of homosexual relationships in society and the church. Obviously the thoughts I’ve proposed would leave a lot of persons feels detached and lonely, and I feel bad about that. At this time, I just don’t have a good response that helps with those feelings without compromising what I see as biblical standards. What I can say is this: I suspect that unusual, out-of-the-box thinking is probably required. What that means exactly I don’t know.
43. As a former anti-intellectual, pious fundamentalist, have I been guilty of much ignorance and hate toward homosexual persons?
- Tragically, yes. And I beg their forgiveness.
Lastly, my proof-reader is on vacation so please let me know if you found typos. Thanks.