In response to my article on Foundry UMC’s recent decision to allow recognition of same-sex sexual relationships on its premises and by its clergy, I’ve had a number of interesting comments (some civil, some antagonistic, some just plain silly) sent my way. However, my fellow North Carolina UM blogger, Chad Holtz, pastor and student at Duke Divinity School, expressed disagreement with my article and I would like to address his points since he is someone I respect and our discussion has the potential to illuminate this divisive issue from our generation’s perspective within the UMC.
Here is the discussion from my Facebook posting of the article, along with my response to Chad’s questions. (I’ve invited Chad to respond on his blog and when he does I will post a link to it so that Disciple Dojo readers can follow along!)
Chad: JM – I think Gagnon is wrong on this on pretty much all fronts. I also find it dangerous ground to speak so surely of that which God does or does not “endorse.” Using this Bible this way has led to all sorts of abuse – slavery being j…ust one of them. While I’m not sure yet if Foundry is doing the best thing, I don’t think they are going against God. Perhaps conservative Christians, but the two aren’t the same.
JM: Chad, I can’t see how you could say Gagnon is wrong on “pretty much all fronts” unless that’s shorthand for “I don’t like him very much”; is there a serious scholarly engagement of his work where it is refuted decisively (or even attempted)… that I’m missing? If so, I’d be interested to know of it.
However, forget Gagnon for now. Richard Hayes (as I’m sure you know!) comes to similar conclusions. Is he wrong on all counts as well?
The question that is at the heart of any discussion withing the church on the issue of same-sex behavior and the acceptance/rejection of it, in my opinion, is this:
“What exegetical and hermeneutic principle allows one to say that same-sex sexual relationships are allowed by God?”
I know the emotional arguments and the arguments from a ‘Scripture-as-less-than-accurate’ approach, but when there is no tension within the canonical record regarding an ethical issue (in this case, the act of same-sex sex; not the treatment of or love for those who struggle with it–that is a separate issue), how can one say that God has not spoken to it? As I point out in the post, when it comes to other social/civil rights issues (such as slavery), Scripture itself presents at the very least a canonical development or tension that alerts the reader. When it comes to same-sex sexual relationships, as Hayes has demonstrated quite well (in “The Moral Vision of the New Testament”), there is no similar counter-witness within Scripture. I’m unaware of any argument in favor of same-sex sexual relationships among those who take Scripture as Inspired and Authoritative that is not based on emotion, eisegesis, or a combination of the two…If there were ANY counter examples in actual Scripture that spoke of same sex sexual relationships as acceptable (as there are for women issues) you would have a point. But there aren’t. Scripture is unanimous in its prohibition of same-sex sexual relationships. That’s why Christians of all denominations and traditions have held to this, despite differing on so many other issues, until the last half century when it became culturally fashionable to reinterpret and revise history to accommodate the acceptance of such relationships.
No, I don’t like Gagnon. And while I have tremendous respect for Hays, and love Moral Vision (apart from one chapter), I think he’s wrong on this count (and from what I know of Hays, he’s open to that possibility).
Scripture has nothing …to say about “same sex relationships” as we know them today. Not a word. All 6 times it comes up in the Bible they are unanimously about cultic worship, abuse or rape. None of them have a loving, mutual relationship in sight.
I find it untenable to take a stand on the idea that just because a “counter example” is not given in Scripture then the one interpretation you land on regarding those 6 passages must be universal in nature. It really undermines the authority of Scripture and here is why: It suggests that every jot and tittle in the Bible has universal implications, meant for all times and all places, EXCEPT for those places where the Bible contradicts itself. IOW, Paul’s admonition that women remain silent in ALL the churches is universal for all times and all places (normatively) BUT, since we have an example of a woman speaking in church, THAT particular command is contextual, not universal. It sets the Bible up as some systematic book that actively seeks to confirm what is universal and contradict what is not. And then we are left to sort through this “encyclopedia” to figure out which is which.
The point is – even if there were not an example of a woman speaking in church, I would hope we’d come to the conclusion through the Spirit’s leading that Paul’s words were contextually construed and meant for a particular time and space. The issue is more murky with slavery, since slavery is upheld all throughout Scripture and nowhere is it said to be sin to own slaves. So for the church to now take a stand against slavery in all forms is really to go against the moral world of the Bible – the same one you try to construct when it comes to homosexuality (which again, has nothing to do with same sex relationships).
What, exactly, is “sinful” about a loving, committed, same-sex relationship? Can anyone tell me what it is about this that makes it sinful, apart from just saying, “God said so”? In other words, we can no doubt come up with all sorts of reasons why murder, adultery, incest, lying, stealing, lust, etc are “sinful” which don’t rely solely on “God said so.” So what is it about a same sex loving relationship that is “sinful”?
JM: Hey Chad, thanks for at least admitting your personal feelings about Gagnon. I can sympathize because I don’t like the way he comes across in speaking or popular writing…but his work in “The Bible and Homosexual Practice” and “The Bible …and Homosexuality: 2 Views” (w/ Dan O. Via) has yet to be refuted in any serious manner that I’m aware of (but again, please share if you’ve come across anything that does). If you haven’t actually read those two works in particular I would strongly encourage you to as they (along with “Moral Vision” and William Webb’s “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals”) lay the foundation for this issue in its entirety, particularly the hermeneutical questions that you raise.
Chad, I’d like to move this discussion to my blog and answer your two posts above there. Then, if you like, you can respond on your blog and I’ll link to it so that both of our readers can share in this discussion. I think it would be very fruitful for people to hear two UMs discuss this issue with open disagreement and challenging one another in a spirit of honesty and charity (Chris, feel free to comment on it, but we both know that your debate style doesn’t lend itself to this type of interaction!). What do you think, Chad? I’ll share the link here when I post it and then you can respond whenever you have time…as I remember the life of the seminarian not being exactly full of free time to blog!
BTW, Paul never told women to remain silent in all the churches. He said that God was a God of order in all the churches. Here’s how we know this: http://www.examiner.com/methodist-in-national/ladies-does-the-bible-tell-you-to-zip-it