Explorations in Theology

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A different direction

I wrote a paper in 1997 that tried to look honestly at outlining what a biblical perspective on homosexuality was. The conclusion I reached in that paper was what might be termed a ‘traditional’ perspective: namely that marriage was between one man and a woman, same-sex orientation and attraction was in no different category than hetero-sexual orientation and attraction; but that a same-sex sexually-active relationship was outside of a biblical boundary for sexual expression.

I wrote it affirming the reality of, and the acceptance of, same-sex attraction, with the only option for someone of same-sex attraction being that of celibacy. I hope I wrote the paper without being too critical and at the close of it I suggested that a review of the biblical material (as far as same-sex practice) would be necessitated when there was evidence that the Spirit was present within such a setting. Story does not, by itself, have an authority to change theology, but our reading of the Bible has to be challenged by story, and hence our theology also has to be reviewed and if necessary changed. That admission of ‘review’ was in glad response to the methodology that we see in Acts 15. Those present were immersed in the biblical material, they had also been shaped by their traditions, but they first submitted themselves to the stories of what the Spirit was doing and then, and only then, they referred to their holy writings. The stories challenged their traditions and their former reading of their authoritative writings.

An important interlude. As probably can be picked up from the first-two paragraphs this paper will move beyond that effort of 24 years ago, and not simply beyond but in a different direction. I was asked some months back if I was having a ‘Peter conversion moment’ (as per Peter’s vision on the roof-top). I replied ‘yes, and if I go where I think I am headed then I cannot do so in private but have to be public, with any accompanying apology that is appropriate’. If anyone who reads this paper and read the former one and through that paper I caused offence, I present my apology here. I appreciate that writing those previous few words is hardly sufficient, but I have to start somewhere.

Story is important, and over the years since writing that paper I have encountered stories that have caused me to re-think. Initially I had dialogue with people who were same-sex orientation and wished to dialogue with me regarding what I had written. As I listened I could hear their stories, and within a short period of time I no longer made the paper available, as I could hear the pain that a number of them had experienced through their marginalisation. Then came reading of books, listening to those who were both affirming of (monogamous) same-sex relationships and the grace that was on them left me convinced that the Spirit was indeed present with and for them.

Within the Judaeo-Christian tradition what one does with the body is important. The biblical teaching about the body is theological, ethical and also eschatological. The Incarnation is a major ‘vote’ given to the importance of bodily existence, likewise the resurrection of the body (both in terms of Jesus and the original Easter and also the future hope for the believer) marks out how important the body is. This ‘use’ of the body must include sexual activity… and yet, we can make too much of sexual activity, for from an eschatological perspective, there will be ‘no more marriage’. Humans are in the image of God, but there are two aspects that we humans experience that God does not. In God there is no death and there is no sex! We should not fall into the trap of listing ‘sex’ as the major criterion for holiness; there are many other vices that vie for the top spot, vices that are often whitewashed as not being too serious. And once we total up the possible texts that could be critiquing same-sex expression statistically we come to something like .0001% of the entire Bible. Statistics, of course, do not necessarily prove anything but that figure should at least make us a little cautionary in drawing our conclusions.

In putting my thoughts into print I acknowledge there are those who are better equipped, having greater understanding and wider relationships than I have. What is in this paper is simply a contribution.

For some time I have considered that the future will indeed be more ‘messy’ than the past with respectful disagreement among those who sincerely seek to interpret the Scriptures and observe (in order to learn from) society. Honest people will come to different conclusions and so dialogue will be necessary between them, the space between occupied relationally rather than being an empty space across which polemic voices can sound.

I will post here over the next days in sections what I propose I will put eventually together into one paper. I acknowledge that the material is not straightforward, and what I write will represent my understanding.

11 thoughts on “A different direction

  1. My view is God made man and Adam wanted a mate so he made Eve out of Adam’s rib. So I go back to the beginning it has changed completely but that is man who has changed not God.When Lot was told to flee because of evil in that city of Sodden and Gormorrah God told him to go immediately where man was behaving so wickedly as he was going to destroy that city Do we think we can do what we want and there r no consequences. If we live in the Kingdom of God I believe we live by God for he gave us life through Jesus and eternal life but I believe if we choose to do what we want by our carnal nature will we not go to heaven, for sin is sin

    1. Thanks Mary. Grateful for you taking time to read and comment. I am sure I will get a variety of comments here. All welcome.

  2. Looking forward to your thinking on this. Listening to my Christian children who have already crossed this bridge, I’m looking for reasons to ‘convert’!

  3. The subject definitely calls for some consistency in biblical interpretation. Leviticus 18 & 20, which forbid sex between men, also forbid sex with a woman during her period. Leviticus 19, which falls in between, forbids wearing clothing woven of two kinds of material. How often do you hear those described as sinful? Not to mention the various agricultural laws in Leviticus 19 that we would not even consider adopting today. (Not drawing any conclusions, just saying…)

  4. OH… OH… what a subject to try and choose to blog on. I appreciate all the comments, and if(!!!) we settle it, we then enter the world of ‘what does that look like on the ground / how do we respond to this situation’. Papers can make it all simple!!! But I think that is the world of the NT as well. All is easy in theory (well not ‘all’ as will be evidenced by my attempt!) but in practice????

  5. Bravo Martin for being willing to be challenged, to listen, to learn, to change. That for me is true holiness. And yes, stories are essential. Stories by women on how their humanity is so often defined by others, corralled and policed. Stories by those who are not heterosexual on how their bodies are denied, denigrated, and their love (not just sexual attraction) is counted for nothing. The first requirement of holiness has to be authenticity in how we live and who we are. Otherwise, we might attain purity, as defined by others, while living dishonestly. A problem that plagues most rule based cultures. I am pleased to be free of OT strictures. I am pleased to be freed by Jesus to explore love, authenticity and integrity in my life. Keep exploring. Keep on thinking and challenging. The Holy Spirit is not afraid of hard questions. She dances with a freedom to love and live. We can choose the same.

  6. Some suggest Peter never walked on water but instead walked on a living logos from Jesus…”Come”…of course he still had to get out of the boat and get wet.

    At some point we all get wet (even if we stay in the boat)…my own journey has vacillated between this is really important-to-I’m not smart enough to know and grace is the only sauce that makes uncertainty edible.

    I will say this much…my study of the “academic” side of this has led me to believe that the majority of our holiness codes here are based on cultural lenses and not actual language or real biblical exegesis…there are very specific greek words Paul specifically did NOT use that we have hoisted upon the rule of being “biblical” and the ones he did use mean something completely different than we have grown comfortable assuming.

    And there it is…”comfort”…I suggest this subject is a major comfort-disrupter for just about anyone with a lick of sense…you can just feel it there…knowing that either you have to be (or have been) uncomfortable with people or you are now uncomfortable with the “rules”.

    And for that we have a Comforter.

    If you are never uncomfortable what do you need a Comforter for?

    1. “grace is the only sauce that makes uncertainty edible.”
      This is so profound and funny and applies to so many areas of my life. Thank you!

      And thank you, Martin, for being willing to open a space for honest exploration and discussion. The given answers do not, and never have, fully answered our questions. Rather, they have cut them off and often those who ask them. I love that there is a rising courage to seek what God is doing in the places on the other side of such questions

  7. I am more interested in what someone like Carl Jung has to say about sexuality, including hetero, same-sex, trans, gender fluidity etc. I don’t think the Bible has the answers that we are looking for…

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