Some 16 years ago I wrote a paper on the issue of the biblical material and homosexuality. In it I tried to look honestly at the biblical material. Having previously written on gender equality and Scripture, so for example, ‘I forbid a woman to teach and have authority over a man’ I maintained had no relevance to the issue, I was asked why the same did not apply to the issue of homosexuality. My response was that there was a key issue of what can be termed the ‘intra-canonical dialogue’. Let me explain.
With slavery there were many pro-slavery evangelicals who appealed to the authority of Scripture, but, amidst a slavery culture, there were some/enough Scriptures that clearly pointed in a different direction. And in the case of women within a patriarchal society (and a patriarchal-biased book) there was a phenomenal pull in an egalitarian direction. But in the case of homosexuality that there was not this intra-canonical dialogue.
Another aspect that needs a lot of unpacking (and qualification) was that the boundary for sexual activity was marriage and that marriage was between a woman and a man.
At the same time I wrote that original paper I was asked what would convince me to take a view that differed from the perspective that I was outlining. My response was that if there was a community that embraced same-sex activity, yet espoused biblical beliefs and gave clear evidence that the fruit of the Spirit was being manifested among them, then I might have to reconsider. That fruit would need to be clearly manifested (and not just through some claim to manifest ‘love’) and it would need to be maintained over a period of time – then we might have to consider that the Holy Spirit had ‘cleansed their hearts through faith’. (Now in applying this test I realise that if we were to apply it to some heterosexual Christian communities they might fail the test.)
In my response I was thinking of the first-century response to the Gentiles. The apostolic community was immersed in the biblical narrative but their primary question was ‘what do we perceive the Holy Spirit is doing’ which then pushed them to interpret and re-interpret the Scriptures.
Over the years I have had some wonderful dialogue with people of same-sex orientation. Men with a sensitivity and awareness of who they are – and an empathy with others – that is so often lacking in many hetero-sexual males. Without a doubt Jesus-like qualities.
I have also been very challenged when reading the Gospels. I am sure that Jesus would not be popular in church-circles because he would hang out with the ‘wrong’ people… and that would include the gay community.
Is there healing for our sexuality? Sure but what do we mean by that. My identity is who I am, part of my identity is my sexuality, and part of my sexuality is my orientation amongst other elements. First and foremost I am not defined according to my orientation. We do not introduce ourselves as ‘Hi I am xxx, I am hetero-/homo-sexually oriented.’ Our identity is in who we are, our personhood. Part of our healing is to realise that our sexuality does not define us.
There is nothing intrinsically more holy about being hetero-sexual in orientation than being homo-sexually oriented. Orientation – and I think most believers are clear on this – is not an issue. What remains is how I express my sexuality.
Having recently read, and reviewed, God’s Gay Agenda, I would gladly say to anyone ‘read this book with an open mind’. I have no doubt that the author and the community she represents are committed to Scripture and that there is no objective reason to say the Holy Spirit is not present with them. Indeed, and I thought rather ironically at that, when the author was at a low point in her spiritual life she went to Pensacola and was powerfully impacted there. She recounts how the Spirit came on her and in a corporate prayer time she began to groan and call out for the freedom for her people (the gay community), that the barriers to their entrance to the community of God would be broken down, that they would find their place.
We have to listen to such testimonies. If we disregard them we should also disregard other testimonies that have their source in a similar experience or environment. What is for sure is that this situation is not about to disappear and in a society / church where there is a greater push for transparency we are going to find ourselves being shocked at numerous points. Thank God for Scripture, but we so need the Holy Spirit to help us in our interpretation.
Here then in this post I want to conclude with some questions.
- Slavery – women – homosexuality. Are these on a trajectory or is there a difference?
- Prophetic imagery? I can see the dualities of Scripture (heaven/earth) being represented in the duality of male/female coming together. Can gay-marriage be prophetic in a biblical sense or simply provocative to force us to reconsider our boundaries?
- Are the restrictions on same-sex activity cultic and anti-idolatrous in their contexts or are they wider than this?
- What are legitimate boundaries for sexual expression?
- And where does the call to celibacy fit in? (And with reference to Sandra’s book is the biblical reference to those who ‘are eunuchs from the womb’ a reference to celibacy or to those with same-sex orientation?)
Someone wrote me and asked if my views had changed since reading Sandra’a book. That is hard to answer. My attitudes I am sure have. By that I mean, we all think we are open and do not have a problem, but on many issues we can find that a button is pushed. So I am being softened, this has been an ongoing process over the past 25+ years. (Before that I knew too much to be softened… (translation – was too defensive)). I am sure that in this context Sandra’s book has been another tool from heaven in softening me.
My views today? I still have questions. I have what might be called ‘sticking points’, but I am desperately trying to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing and saying.
The dialogue is certainly with us.
For those interested here is Sandra’s web site.