The Church and Same-Sex Relationships: A Case Study in Hermeneutical Ecology
Rollefson, John, Currents in Theology and Mission
"Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before," writes Walter Wink in an article entitled "Homosexuality and the Bible." He continues:
The issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture whole denominations, as the issue of slavery did a hundred and fifty years ago. We naturally turn to the Bible for guidance and find ourselves mired in interpretive quicksand. Is the Bible able to speak to our confusion on this issue? (1)
My experience as a pastor who has served three quite different congregations over the last quarter century and my present university congregation for more than a decade leads me to answer Wink's troubling question with a resounding "Yes!" Yes, the Bible speaks to us who gather week in and week out as church to hear God's Word and share the Supper. Moreover, it speaks in a way that has helped us as faith communities to hear a clarifying and unifying Word that is good news amid the larger church's "confusion on this issue."
This is due, in large part, to the "hermeneutical ecology" that is created by the presence in our congregation of fellow Christians who happen to be gay and lesbian. Their embodied experience of same-sex relationships, from friendships to committed partnerships, is a part of our common life in the same way as are our heterosexual relationships, from marriages to divorces, single friendships to dating and engaged couples. Homosexuality is not an "issue" that divides us but is one way of describing an aspect of the personhood of some of those among us that differentiates us and enriches our sense of diversity within the body of Christ. The presence of gay and lesbian fellow believers helps to sharpen the acuity of our listening for God's Word as we hear Jesus' imperative, "Whoever has ears to hear...." Rather than being "mired in interpretive quicksand" over this "issue" in which so much of the church feels "stuck," our community witnesses to the Truth that has set us free, a liberating Word that challenges all forms of enslavement to the powers that be. It is Scripture, interpreted through the lens of our week-in-and-week-out, shared experience as a Christian community, that continues to shape our theological anthropology by keeping us in Spirited conversation with God's living Word.
Choon-Leong Seow, Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and editor of a collection of essays written by PTS faculty entitled Homosexuality and Christian Community, cites this text in support of his contention that "creation is not as orderly as one would like to believe." Particularly the wisdom tradition, he contends, while recognizing that God is the Creator of the universe,
also concedes that God's creation does include many irregularities and unevenness--anomalies that no human being can explain or change.... Wisdom's perspective is admittedly heterodox when judged by the viewpoints of the Torah and the Prophets. The entire corpus of wisdom books defies any attempt to systematize the Old Testament in terms of a definite center. There is not one perspective in the Bible, but many.
"The Bible," Seow concludes (coining a tongue-in-cheek neologism), "is heterotextual." (2)
Further, Seow argues, the wisdom tradition's is a "theology from below (starting with the plight of humanity)" and thereby provides a "necessary counterpoint to the dominant 'theology from above'" which is often accompanied by a "thus saith the Lord." This means, Seow asserts, that "Wisdom literature is thus a persistent reminder to us that we should not be too sure that we speak for God and too slow to admit that we stand with the rest of humanity before the mysteries of God and in the face of life's contradictions." (3)
This leads to the clear implication for Seow that in "wisdom literature we are instructed not to ignore nature, science, reason and experience." Quite the opposite, the biblical wisdom tradition, Seow claims, is itself "scriptural authority for human beings to make ethical decisions by paying attention to science and human experiences. …