Yesterday, the bishops of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglican Church) voted to allow gays and lesbians full participation in any ordained ministry (see NY Times full article). This move was not made sans controversy. There is a strong contingent within the Episcopal Church that opposes the full participation of active homosexuals in the life of the church, both in the U.S. and in Africa which has a very vocal branch of the Anglican Church as well. Here, there have already been four dioceses that have split to form a new denomination.

There are many theological arguments on both sides of this issue. Despite what one thinks is right, I get extremely frustrated when someone suggests that those on the other side either don't "know what the Bible says" or simply don't care. The issue of someone psychologically wired (perhaps even genetically though that has yet to be conclusively shown) for same sex attraction entering into a committed, monogamous relationship with another person pre-disposed for same sex attraction is never discussed in the Bible. Homosexual physical acts are, but they seem to always be in the context of the acts being unnatural for those who are participating in them. Of course it is unnatural and wrong for someone who is not pre-disposed for same sex attraction to simply engage in such acts for mere pleasure... just like it is wrong for anyone to ever use another person as a sexual object without being in a committed, monogamous (and I would argue covenental) relationship. My point is, though the Bible does unequivocally condemn unnatural, same sex activity, it never mentions natural same sex activity. My conclusion, this seems to be an issue that can go either way biblically.

That is why I have trouble with people on either side condemning the other. Each side must make their argument AND be willing to be convinced by the other side if that argument rings true. If I have learned anything so far, it is that when I think I know, without a doubt, what the Bible says, I am soon challenged by the same Bible with passages that seem to contradict what I had thought was 100% truth.

People must follow their God-given consciences. If that leads some to sever denominational relations then so be it. I love the phrase fiat justitia, ruat caelum or let justice be done, though the heavens fall (or do justice even if the sky falls down). If you think something is right, do it. I think the only stipulation is that it is never right to do something wrong in the name of doing something right. Take the murder of George Tiller as an example of how NOT to apply this Latin phrase. It is impossible to be "pro-life" and commit a murder.

My own denomination is wrestling with this issue. I have very close friends and mentors on polar opposites of this issue. Both love God, and both love others. Both believe the Bible. What do you do with that?? It comes down to how you read the Bible. One might say they take everything literally... but they most likely don't. Another might say only certain passages are authoritative... but, that is tantamount to saying that only they (the person) are authoritative since they are deciding what passages are useful. The appropriate, in my view, response is to simply acknowledge that the entire Bible has something important to say to those who call themselves Christian. However, all of us... every single one... picks and chooses which verses we think have bigger things to say than others. A professor friend of mine, a student and friend of Walter Brueggemann's, told me that Brueggemann would come into his classes and challenge everyone that each person bases their theology on 40 verses. He would then assign his students to figure out which 40 verses they use. Brueggemann himself has stated:

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that the arc of history is bent toward justice. And the parallel statement that I want to make is that the arc of the Gospel is bent toward inclusiveness. And I think that’s a kind of elemental conviction through which I then read the text. I suspect a lot of people who share this approach simply sort out the parts of the text that are in the service of inclusion and kind of put aside the parts of the text that move in the other direction.

Asked what he does with the rest of the verses, he says we must take them seriously, but that it is impossible to take every verse equally... no one does that.

This issue of homosexuality will continue to be divisive. People must follow their conscience and their interpretations of scripture, but they must also respect that those who disagree with them are simply doing the same thing. There is room for all within Christianity. Christ commanded us to love one another... we must seek to do that first. If that is our attitude, positive debate is possible, and the ability to agree to disagree won't lead to further splits.


Loren said...

Well said! God knows our hearts and He knows His intention for all of these issues well beyond His words stored for us Biblically. All we can do is love one another as Jesus did when He walked among us.

Karen Cousins said...

Beautifully reasoned and written!

Keith W said...

Dude, this is a complex topic, but your logic can be used & manipulated to make the Bible say whatever.
For example you say:

"though the Bible does unequivocally condemn unnatural, same sex activity, it never mentions natural same sex activity."... "People must follow their God-given consciences."... "I think the only stipulation is that it is never right to do something wrong in the name of doing something right."..."Take the murder of George Tiller"

The same approach could be:
"though the Bible does say unequivocally love your enemy, Jesus also said he came not to bring peace, and that he would turn son against father. People must follow their heart and God-given consciences, so I someone feels their calling is similar to Israel's OT calling to wipe out an evil nation (Take the murder of George Tiller)...

now, I completely condem the cilling of George Tiller.

I know the homosexual debate is not as easy as B&W

But your hermeneutic is very weak and could be used to justify about anything.

fun fun fun (not that my hermeneutic is any better, I'm just not blogging about mine).

Can't wait till you guys are 90 miles down the road.


A Modern Ancient said...

I agree that the Bible can be manipulated to say anything you want it to. That is sort of my point. No one can say they have all the answers or simply "just read the Bible." I read the Bible and get something completely different than the person next to me.

The goal is to be in community... struggle with the text in community... and sometimes agree to disagree. That is what I was trying to say. I used the example of natural vs. unnatural homosexual acts to illustrate that, not necessarily to push an agenda on that particular issue.

As for the issue of killing to prevent killing, I think that is an issue that can be shown as inconsistent. Trust me, I could have guessed your attitude on this so no real need to say you disagreed with the killing of Tiller... I know you did :-).

It's tough to flesh out an entire hermeneutic in a blog post. There are plenty of holes here for sure, but I think it can lead to a much stronger logic and means of interpretation and community interaction.

We can't wait to get up to Chicago as well. By the way, we love the pics of your family on Facebook.

Keith W said...

amen brother, amen

Raycol said...

I would question your statement that. “Homosexual physical acts are [discussed in the Bible], but they seem to always be in the context of the acts being unnatural for those who are participating in them.”

I can see that this might apply to the Sodom story in Genesis 19 and Paul’s references to such acts in Romans 1: 26-27. But there is no implication of the acts being unnatural for those participating in them in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The acts are simply either prohibited (Leviticus) or criticised (Corinthians and 1 Timothy) without any reference to naturalness or unnaturalness.

A Modern Ancient said...


Thanks for taking the time to read my post!

I would say that both Lev.18:22 & 20:13 are addressing unnatural relations. They both condemn lying with a man "as with a woman." This can be interpreted as though the men in question lie with both men AND women. Perhaps it means they should choose one or the other.

1Corinthians uses a fairly vague term that some translate as "homosexuals." The better translation is male prostitute and sodomite (they are connected together in this case). What Paul is condemning is the man-boy (teacher-student) sexual relationship that was prevalent in Greek society.

1Timothy is a similar situation. The word translated by some as "homosexual" is better translated as sodomite or even one who rapes other men.

The naturalness/unnaturalness is implied (in my opinion as well as many scholars... though there are many who disagree as well... sort of my point) in the Hebrew and Greek. We lose those implication in many of the modern translations.