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)
For postings on all previous topics, go to Overview and click on "All Postings" for a given topic.
REVIEW AND APPROVAL OF SUBMITTED COMMENTS: Before submitting a comment on a given posting, please review our “Guidelines for Conversation” for our expectations for respectful engagement with those with whom you may disagree.
I am grateful for this conversation with Dr. Strauss. It helps me to see the more clearly those areas that still need work, and more particularly, those areas that are most prone to misunderstanding and ineffective communication. That, of course, is no assurance that such “misunderstanding” can be easily fixed, but it does provide a focus for further work.
I have greatly appreciated this opportunity for dialogue. I have learned a great deal and expect to keep learning. I want to thank Dr. Brownson for his incisive but fair and cordial engagement.
In this final post, we have been asked to respond to our dialogue partner’s previous post and then to identify issues that need more thought and that form the basis for further conversation. I will take on these two tasks in order, first with responses to the previous post.
I want to thank James Brownson for his thought-provoking essay. It challenged me to go deeper and keep exploring this issue.
There are a number of points on which we can agree. First, Dr. Brownson begins with the assumption that there are gay and lesbian Christians in committed relationships who show evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Gal. 5:22–23). I completely agree. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence that a believer has a relationship with Jesus Christ and has God’s Spirit in their life. But the fruit of the Spirit is not proof that a person is sinless or that they are not struggling with sin in certain areas.
Here are the questions I’ve been given, and some responses:
What can you affirm about the other person’s position and his/her reasons for taking that position?
There is a great deal that Dr. Strauss and I share in common. I essentially agree with what he identifies as “some contextual points of agreement,” and I also think they represent an important delineation of common ground from which to begin our work.
I also find Dr. Strauss’s “criterion of purpose” to be essentially in agreement with what I am saying, using the language of “moral logic.” We agree that we need to ask why the Bible says what it does, particularly when dealing with complex, cross-cultural matters. I also find myself to be essentially in agreement with Dr. Strauss with respect to how to interpret the Bible when it comes to the role and authority of women--the diversity of the canonical witness is an important clue here.
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.