Current Conversation: Christian Faithfulness and Human Sexuality
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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.
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.
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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.”
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.
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."
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.
- 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?
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.