The questions about sexual acts between men, or between women, are not only contentious but complex. That is, to come to a responsible decision demands consideration not only of biblical texts and the lived experiences of our gay Christian brothers and lesbian Christian sisters but also of what authority the biblical texts have, the varying history of biblical interpretation, changes in society and its understanding (or misunderstanding) of sex, and newer understandings of the homosexual orientation--and beneath it all, what is the will of God. I offer this essay hoping it will help my sisters and brothers to sort through the many levels of argument and come to a sound conclusion.
Time for decision
I sense that the path I have walked through these issues may be like that of many others. It has not been short or direct. Initial prejudices or assumptions fell to new thoughts and possibilities. Namely, at first I was shocked at the mere suggestion that homosexuality was not simply perverse. Eventually--and I am grateful to those who speak up as, or for, gays and lesbians--I was made aware of how their orientation is primarily determined by forces beyond their control. Second, I came to see that their condition is one that no one would choose: to be very different from the vast majority of humanity in so basic a matter as sexuality. And with this rise of empathy for gays there also came to me the wish to make their situation better: to remove the condemnation, the ridicule, and the social and ecclesial prohibitions.
On the most important plane, I hoped that the biblical criticism toward homosexuality could be removed or at least modified. I was glad to learn to distinguish between homosexual people and homosexual acts. For the Bible never condemns people of homosexual orientation, only homosexual acts. Are homosexual acts condemned wholesale? What about when they are a part of an otherwise laudable relationship, like two men who love and care for each other? Perhaps the Bible intends to condemn only promiscuous homosexual acts. Maybe, in a good gay relationship, homosexual acts are the equivalent of marital coupling. Then the burden of condemning the actions of people we know and love and respect, fine church members and leaders, would be lifted from us--a longed-for relief.
But this revision was opposed by those arguing for the correctness of the tradition, even though maintaining that the tradition is awkward or even painful for us. I continued to listen to both sides, revisionists and traditionalists, and eventually I was persuaded that the latter were correct.
Order of presentation
I reckon with two considerations:
1. We must first arrive at a theological judgment: Does God prohibit or permit homosexual acts? Practical decisions about what then we must do, whether in civil legislation or church policy decisions, do not follow automatically from theological judgments (as when Moses, being a sensible legislator, allowed divorce simply because strict enforcement would have done more harm overall in society than controlled lenience). But the theological determination must be first, and this essay concerns only that.
2. I do not begin with scriptural texts, because our thinking does not in fact always begin with the Bible. We have many assumptions and values that we bring to our Bible reading. These must be reckoned with first so that we can better hear the biblical voice.
This, then is my order of presentation:
1. My understanding of how God has created sexuality to be.
2. On the authority of the Bible--what authority it has and why.
3. The Bible on slavery and the position of women.
4. Interpreting the Bible in the twenty-first century.
5. The biblical texts in question.
My understanding of the biblical teaching on sex comes from Genesis 1 and 2 and their quotation and interpretation by Jesus in Matt 19:3-9 (similar is Matt 5:32). …