As most Dojo readers are aware, I’ve been having a discussion over the issue of same-sex sexual relationships with friend, fellow Methodist, and Duke Divinity student Chad Holtz. Chad and I have come to different conclusions on this issue, though both of us are committed to the authority of Scripture. (You can follow the discussion beginning here, and continuing here, here, and here.) Chad is currently taking a sabbatical from blogging (quite admirably, I should add!), but I wanted to continue this discussion here in the Dojo because I think it is important and because many of the issue raised in my discussion with Chad (and the copious comments generated by readers, such as Chris).
The discussion has centered on the underlying Biblical hermeneutic (interpretational approach) that determines how we read and understand Scripture in our current context. Much still remains to be said, including a critique of Chad’s views on the “clobber passages” (i.e. the passages in Scripture which explicitly speak of same-sex sexual relationships), which I believe stands outside the bounds of not only the historic reading of these passages by the church universal, but also of accurate exegesis (I say that as a challenge, not an insult!).
I will need to show this, of course; and I intend to in future posts. But for now, I wanted to provide an excursus of sorts that, once more, puts a human face on what can often devolve into a purely academic discussion…and it comes from one of Chad’s professors at Duke, New Testament scholar, Richard B. Hays.
The following is from his New Testament ethics book “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” (you can read the full chapter here). It reflects both the theological and the emotional position from which I seek to approach the subject of same-sex relationships within the Church:
Gary came to New Haven in the summer of 1989 to say a proper farewell. My best friend from undergraduate at Yale, he was dying of AIDS. While he was still able to travel, my family and I invited him to come visit us one more time.
During the week he stayed with us, we went to films together (Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society), we drank wine and laughed, we had long sober talks about politics and literature and the gospel and sex and such. Above all, we listened to music. Some of it was nostalgic music: the record of our college singing group, which Gary had directed with passionate precision; music of the sixties, recalling the years when we marched together against the Vietnam War–Beatles, Byrds, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. Some of it was music more recently discovered: I introduced him to R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls; he introduced me to Johannes Ockeghem’s Requiem (Missa pro defunctis). As always, his aesthetic sense was fine and austere; as always he was determined to face the truth, even in the shadow of death.
We prayed together often that week, and we talked theology. It became clear that Gary had come not only to say goodbye but also to think hard, before God, about the relation between his homosexuality and his Christian faith. He was angry at the self-affirming gay Christian groups, because he regarded his own condition as more complex and tragic than their apologetic stance could acknowledge. He also worried that the gay apologists encouraged homosexual believers to “draw their identity from their sexuality” and thus to shift the ground of their identity subtly and idolatrously away from God. For more than twenty years, Gary had grappled with his homosexuality, experiencing it as a compulsion and an affliction. Now, as he faced death, he wanted to talk it all through again from the beginning, because he knew my love for him and trusted me to speak without dissembling. For Gary there was no time to dance around the hard questions. As Dylan had urged, “Let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late.”
In particular, Gary wanted to discuss the biblical passages that deal with homosexual acts. Among Gary’s many gifts was his skill as a reader of texts. After leaving Yale and helping to found a community-based Christian theater group in Toronto, he had eventually completed a master’s degree in French literature. Though he was not trained as a biblical exegete, he was a careful and sensitive interpreter. He had read hopefully through the standard bibliography of the burgeoning movement advocating the acceptance of homosexuality in the church: John J. McNeil, The Church and the Homosexual; James B. Nelson, Embodiment; Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?; John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. In the en, he came away disappointed, believing that these authors, despite their good intentions, had imposed a wishful interpretation on the biblical passages. However much he wanted to believe that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality, he would not violate his own stubborn intellectual integrity by pretending to find their arguments persuasive.
The more we talked, the more we found our perspectives interlocking. Both of us had serious misgivings about the mounting pressure for the church to recognize homosexuality as a legitimate Christian lifestyle. As a New Testament scholar, I was concerned about certain questionable exegetical and theological strategies of the gay apologists. As a homosexual Christian, Gary believed that their writings did justice neither to the biblical texts nor to his own sobering experience of the gay community that he had moved in and out of for twenty years.
We concluded that our witnesses were complementary and that we had a word to speak to the churches. The public discussion of this matter has been dominated by insistently ideological voices: on one side, gay rights activists demanding the church’s unqualified acceptance of homosexuality; on the other hand, unqualified condemnation of homosexual Christians. Consequently, the church has become increasingly polarized. Gary and I agreed that we should try to encourage a more nuanced discourse within the community of faith. He was going to write an article about his own experience, reflecting on his struggle to live as a faithful Christian wracked by a sexual orientation that he believed to be incommensurate with the teaching of Scripture, and I agreed to write a response to it.
Tragically, Gary soon became too sick to carry out his intention. His last letter to me was an effort to get some of his thoughts on paper while he was still able to write. By May of 1990 he was dead.
This section of the present book, then, is an act of keeping covenant with a beloved brother in Christ who will not speak again on this side of the resurrection. I commit it to print in the hope that it will foster compassionate and carefully reasoned theological reflection within the community of faith. The need for such reflection is great; no issue divides the church more sharply in the 1990s than the normative status of homosexuality. How is Scripture rightly to be employed in our deliberations about this matter?
Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp. 379-380
May we always remember that the issue of same-sex relationships, at the end of the day, involves real people created in God’s image, with real lives, real desires to love and be loved, and real hurts and struggles which we MUST address in a way that doesn’t communicate to them that suicide is a better alternative than the Church.