Current Conversation: Christian Faithfulness and Human Sexuality
Topic #2: Biblical Understandings (August 2015)
- Mark Strauss, University Professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego
- James Brownson, James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament Western Theological Seminary
Leading Question: What is your understanding of biblical/theological teachings relevant to issues being raised by Christians who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community?
Postings from “conversation partners” are scheduled for August 1, 10 and 20 (presented below with the latest post on top)
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I begin with two assumptions that are not directly found in Scripture, but which frame the way the church approaches Scripture on this issue. The first assumption is that there are gay and lesbian Christians in committed relationships who show evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Gal 5:22f.). I do not intend, by making this claim, to declare that the conversation is over, and there is nothing remaining to speak of in Scripture. Rather, I make this claim to suggest that the church has a problem and a challenge in dealing with the Bible’s witness regarding same-sex relationships.
Issues related to same-sex attraction are without a doubt the most difficult and volatile issue facing the church today. In the context of these Respectful Conversations, I have been asked to address the question of the Bible’s teaching on this issue from the traditional perspective that same-sex sexual relations are outside God’s design for human sexuality.
I have to admit from the beginning that I am torn on this issue. Like many other Christians, I find that my positive personal experiences with those who identify with the LGBT community are often at odds with the Bible’s apparent teaching on this issue.
Launch Date for Conversation: July 1, 2015
Eve Tushnet, Catholic Patheos Blogger
Justin Lee, Executive Director, The Gay Christian Network
Leading Question: What are your beliefs about morally appropriate relationships between persons who experience same-sex attraction?
Talking about LGBT people and Christianity is a big part of my job.
As executive director of The Gay Christian Network, I spend a lot of my time in situations—public and private—where I’m asked to discuss topics like sexual orientation with people who disagree with me.
I do it willingly, of course. As a Christian, I believe these are important conversations to have. But, if I’m honest, these conversations can frequently be downright miserable. I’ve watched too many people—many of them self-professed Christians—talk to others with derision and disdain, claiming to represent truth and love while treating others in ways no one would want to be treated themselves.
I've greatly appreciated Justin's contributions to this dialogue. I don't expect this to be “the final word”—and I'm sorry these posts have been so long!—but let me try to give a bit more of a sense of where I'm coming from. Here are five things.
What we long for. I generally write about the paths of love that are open to gay or same-sex attracted Catholics. That's because they are so much more varied and more fruitful than I realized when I became Catholic. I wish people had told me that I would not be barred from intimacy, ecstasy, devoted love, lifelong care, or kinship; that I could find ways of pouring myself out in love for others and becoming a part of their "chosen family."
Let's Talk About Monks, Baby
I loved a lot of things about Justin's first contribution to this discussion. I'm going to give a kind of slantwise rather than head-on response. First I want to highlight the areas where he is modeling the way this conversation should go. Then I do want to suggest a way in which his approach is still too much shaped by contemporary American culture. And finally I will offer a different angle from which to approach the question.
A week ago, Eve Tushnet and I were each asked to offer our thoughts on “morally appropriate relationships between persons who experience same-sex attraction.”
Eve’s response was called “The Hidden Paths of Love.”
Mine was called “Three Ways I Was Wrong...And How We Can Get It Right.”
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Growing up, I used to believe that the most serious, committed Christians were the ones who could give unambiguously clear-cut answers to controversial questions. I saw nuance as a form of wishy-washiness. Black-and-white moral questions needed black-and-white answers, I thought. If someone asked a question about the morality of homosexual relationships, for instance, and someone else began their response with “Well, it’s complicated...” I would have been quick to jump in with, “No, it’s not complicated. It’s wrong. The Bible forbids it. God condemns it. That’s all you need to know. Truth isn’t relative.”
I still believe in Ultimate Truth. I still believe God has the final word and that the Bible is morally authoritative for us as Christians. But these days, I also believe a lot of things truly are complicated.
The question we've been given is, “What are your beliefs about morally appropriate relationships between persons who experience same-sex attraction?” This is (a modified version of) the question being asked by American culture today, but there are a couple of respects in which I don't think it's the best question to address the needs of our churches and the longings of our hearts.
The best thing about this question is its focus on relationships: on love. So much Christian discussion about the role of gay and same-sex attracted people in our churches focuses instead on acts or on identities. There is a place for talking about both of these things, but the central question, I believe, is, “How are gay and same-sex attracted people called to give and receive love?” This is a question about relationships.