Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gay Christian Network (GCN) - Side B

So today, I post about the Side B essay that I recently read on Gay Christian Network (check here for the side A posting). As you probably know, I am a "side A" person, so I'm going to be more critical today of the essay, compared to my relatively mild post yesterday.

If you wish to read the essay, please go here.

Ron starts out by saying he doesn't agree with judgmental attitudes, but that doesn't exclude our calling something a sin.

Thus we must never pass judgment on anyone, because we do not know their heart or all of the hidden reasons behind their actions. But we must always bear witness to the Truth revealed by Christ, because it is that Truth which will set all of us free from judgment (cf. John 8:32)

I agree that trying to tell the truth is different than judgment. However, this is a fine line many people cross. Many people.

About what the Bible speaks to, Ron says:

In his booklet, “What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Homosexuality,” Mel White makes the following astonishing assertion: The Bible is a book about God. The Bible is NOT a book about human sexuality.

White explains: “The Bible is a book about God, about God’s love for the world and the people of the world. It is the history of God’s love at work rescuing, renewing, empowering humankind. It was never intended to be a book about human sexuality. Certainly, you will agree.”

Unfortunately (and I do not know whether to blame this on my genes or my home environment growing up), I cannot agree with Mel’s assertion. Let me give a slightly different example: suppose someone said, The Bible is a book about God. It is NOT a book about human love. Would such a dichotomy make sense?

So I agree and disagree with Ron here. I agree with his strictest reading of Mel White's words that the Bible may be about (have components of) human sexuality; this is, of course, because the Bible does talk about sex, so that is in essence about sexuality. But if I were to step back, I think what Mel White is referring to is about sexual orientation, which is not addressed in the Bible.

After asking the way to interpret what to keep in the Bible (from the Old and New Testaments), he discusses "natural law" that is written on the heart, concluding:

I would suggest, therefore, that the operative principle behind the Old and New Covenants can be expressed this way. At the creation of the world, God inscribed His will onto the human heart. If human beings had not sinned, that knowledge of His will could still be discerned without confusion or struggle. But because of sin, God is hidden from us, and we are strongly tempted to obscure even what we can see of Him.

In this, I find that Ron is actually approaching the same idea as discussed yesterday of "cultural" and "transcultural" ideas in scripture. In short, some things are culturally based and not necessarily a moral issue to the Gentiles, while transcultural things are already practiced by most Gentiles because of the "natural law" written on their hearts. Of course, this will be difficult to transfer into a meaningful approach later on, since the whole point is that the Gentiles of today are divided on the issue of gay marriage (even, you might say, in favor of gay marriage according to their hearts).

In referencing how Jesus dealt with sexual sins in the Gospels (John 8:3-11), Ron ends:

The second lesson to be drawn from Christ’s treatment of sexual sin, then, is that He is concerned with redemption, not punishment.

Indubitably. But we've yet to say whether gay sex = sin!

Starting to finally roll into "God's plan for sexuality", Ron writes:

Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees concerning divorce (Matthew 19:3-12) illuminates a third key element of His sexual ethic. A group of Pharisees approached Him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Jesus answered: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female (cf. Genesis 1:27), and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (cf. Genesis 2:24)? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Some have argued that the creation stories in Genesis are just stories, that they describe the origins of the human race in a sort of mythical way, but they don’t have any prescriptive force—that is, they don’t tell us the way things are supposed to be, they just tell us the way things were. It seems to me, however, difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus appeals to Genesis precisely because they did have prescriptive force, telling us what God intended sexuality to be “from the beginning.”

Now it's getting juicy! First, just because Jesus quotes something doesn't mean that he was preparing the verse to be used in all ways over all time to justify all sorts of things. I think that what may "seem" to Ron to be straightforward does not seem the same to me. Here Jesus uses the Genesis references in order to make a point about divorce (and consequently, the nature of marriage). But this does not necessarily translate into Jesus talking about it always being male and female. A generalization would be that Jesus is instead refering to people joined in marriage (regardless of gender).

Second, I'm finding it annoying that just because a passage refers to male and female that the essayist assumes that it is making a statement about human sexuality. When I talk about men's and women's basketball teams, I am not in any way referring to sexuality ... I'm just talking about a sport. I really wish that he were not flippant about the use of the word "sexuality".

Finally, if Genesis has prescriptive force (as Ron's arguing), I have some other prescriptions for Ron:

To the woman he [the Lord] said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."


To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return."

Perhaps Ron should be chastising us all for 1) trying to reduce the pain in childbirth through modern anesthetics, 2) letting women not be ruled over all the time, 3) men painfully toiling the earth up until their dying days, and 4) sweating out in the fields instead of sitting comfortably in our air conditioned office buildings. What's more, the LORD himself prescribed all of these to man and woman ... it cannot be much more proscriptive than that, eh?

Ron goes on into God's creation of the sexes, stating:

The division of the human race into two distinct genders who both participate in child rearing is not a biological necessity. An atheist can regard it as an accident; but a Christian who believes that God intimately guided the creation must accept that the details of creation have significance, especially when Christ explicitly points to them as significant.

Actually, I (as a Christian) do not believe that God intimately guided every aspect of creation that we see today. I know it's craaaaazy to think, but I believe in ::gasp:: evolution, and that the love of God for humanity is not contingent on the exact genes they evolved, nor the shape their body ended up, nor the fact that mammals evolved to have two sexes as a way to procreate most efficiently to outpace their predators. And I fail to see how Christ has explicitly pointed to "male and female" as the significant part of this passage.

Marching on into male-female complementarity:

It is especially important to defend the principle of male-female complementarity in our culture, where it is not merely the cultural manifestations of complementarity that have come under attack, but the very notion of complementarity itself. With those who argue that the theological principles articulated by Paul can be applied differently in a different cultural situation, I think very productive dialogue about cultural norms is possible. But with those who deny Paul’s theological principles, I think dialogue about cultural application is impossible, because there is no common ground of jointly accepted theological principles. To those who reject complementarity in principle, I think we can only say (as politely and as humbly as possible), “you reject the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of your own culture” (cf. Mark 7:8).

I (as politely and as humbly as possible) think that in a book that Ron has already shown to have plenty of cultural manifestations, to consider that male-female complementarity may just be another of those issues. I go even so far as to say that perhaps Paul, as much as he had already changed from the Jew he had been, was perhaps holding fast to his traditional understanding of the sexes. Ron does bring up an interesting point that this complementarity is mentioned along with God, Christ, and the Church. Indeed, this seems a stronger argument. However, I yet feel that the point of the passage and its theological implications can remain as we consider the example it brings up (patriarchical hierarchies), yet reject the underlying cultural the example is based on (the patriarchy itself).

Ron then discusses briefly each of the "clobber passages", which I won't go into, because they are so often addressed. He then finishes with some conclusions, including:

But because love is the heart of the Gospel, Satan always tries to fool us with counterfeits of true love. Against these counterfeits, the Apostles and Prophets warn us again and again. God is love, and so nothing that is against His will can be love. He only approves of certain kinds of love, but punishes His people for loving idols, foreign women in the case of Israel, foreign deities, multiple wives, money, sexual love between close relations (incest), etc.

We do not always understand these prohibitions; God’s reasons for forbidding gay relationships may seem like dim shadow in a mirror to us when we first confront them. But it is love, not understanding, which God most desires from us. To place our hopes in Him even when we do not understand His ways is a mark of great faith, and even greater love.

Ron and I obviously don't see eye to eye. And whereas he must end his arguments saying that God's reasons for forbidding a gay relationship are mysterious, a dim shadow in a mirror, something which we need to have faith to believe, I offer a different view. I offer up the idea that God has reasons for allowing gay relationships, that these reasons are visible and obvious, that they cut to the very heart of God and his love for humanity and how that love is meant to be shared in order to better understand God, and that our faith is obvious by what we do, not just by clinging to our non-understanding of God's commandments which lead us to be stuck in the past instead of progressing to a whole and fruitful understanding of God.

(Day 312)


Newscrazy said...

Half way through... Amazing so far!

Intrepid Wanderer said...

I have a slight question, it was brought up implicitly in some of the posting. Is the major problem of Side B that gay sex is unnatural? If so are they ok with marriage as long as it doesn't have sex in it. Kinda a puritan marriage? It seems that if that is the biggest problem then asserting that marriage is not a license to have sex could change the discussion in more productive directions.

Also, a lot of Christians subscribe to evolution. Evolution is verifiable in a lab (take a colony of bacteria, introduce a conflict, watch adaptation and natural selection take place. If you 'believe in' evolution then the implication is that you have belief that something is true without proof. The only part of evolution in that respect is the 'humans are descended from worms' which is a belief and not proven science. Might want to make sure you place the appropriate wordage in there. I would imagine you say you know natural selection and specialization through evolution is verified while leaving the second part open. Just trying to help convey the correct idea. :-)

Topher said...

So each side B person is different. But the guy who wrote this essay said (somewhere in the looooong essay) that a gay relationship with the trappings of marriage was a farce and not supported by God. The implication is that even a sexless marriage would be a sin. But that is just one side B opinion; there are others that think a sexless marriage might be ok.

And on evolution, I agree. Even my undergrad church believed in what they called "microevolution" (so the colony of bacteria) while not believing in "macroevolution" (so the worms turned into people). I should have said I believe in both micro- and macro-evolution.

Joe Moderate said...

It seems the most open-minded and thoughtful evangelicals I have known would all readily welcome gays and lesbian relationships if it were not for their theology that teaches--contrary to their own gut feelings--that such relationships are sin. Even my own father has articulated that he "wants it to be okay" that we are married, but because his theology tells him--against his own logic and reasoning!--that our marriage is wrong, he must reject it :-(

I love how you articulated this in your final paragraph:

"I offer up the idea that God has reasons for allowing gay relationships, that these reasons are visible and obvious, that they cut to the very heart of God and his love for humanity and how that love is meant to be shared in order to better understand God, and that our faith is obvious by what we do, not just by clinging to our non-understanding of God's commandments which lead us to be stuck in the past instead of progressing to a whole and fruitful understanding of God."


I love you,

your Joe