Engaging on the topic of homosexuality

This is reprinted from http://www.themennonite.org/issues/16-10/articles/Follow_Jesus_example_and_spirit_not_rules.  This is my first post on the YAR site and I look forward to more, as well as getting to know some of you over the web and hopefully someday in person.  I’m involved in a young adult network with Religions for Peace and hope to post on that soon and to see if people in YAR are interested in participating.  You can learn a little about me and the others in the group here: http://www.rfpusa.org/what-our-young-adults-have-to-say-to-worlds-religious-leaders/

Harold Miller’s article “Membership Guidelines Allow Conversation” (February) is a great step forward in openness and dialogue on homosexuality. However, even a friendly discussion about homosexuality can be painful and draining for a homosexual person, since it involves defending their personal views, actions and beliefs.

It’s far easier to advocate patience and give a measured response when not having your way of life called into question. While not homosexual myself, I have been criticized about some of my views on sexuality, showing me how painful this subject can be for homosexuals. Additionally, key aspects of our theology and Jesus’ example are often left out in this conversation.

Many young adults won’t go anywhere near a church because of its views on homosexuality or because they’d be judged for living together with a committed partner before marriage. People outside the church believe the church’s teachings on sexuality are not true or complete. The church would do itself and the world a favor by figuring out what’s really important and what’s not when it comes to ethical and spiritual considerations about sexuality.

Struggle, disagreement and hurt feelings are a part of life; Jesus says the truth divides. But even nuanced, modest statements like, “our church’s teaching on sexuality is our best human understanding of God’s way” need exploration.

What happens if our best human understanding is wrong and needlessly causes suffering, alienation and drives away people earnestly searching for God or trying to walk Jesus’ path? Jesus is much harder on those who commit this sin of “shutting the door of the kingdom” than other sins.

One of Jesus’ biggest criticisms of the Pharisees is that they put their rules and interpretations ahead of God’s priority of justice and mercy—the things that really matter in day-to-day life and in loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

Is it not possible that the church’s teachings on homosexuality and sexuality shut the door of the kingdom on others? Yes, sexuality can be destructive, shallow or manipulative but not when genuine love between two people is the focus.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and this is important because Anabaptists believe he’s the clearest revelation of God and God’s motivations—the principles, reasoning and spirit behind the rules. He said that before, it was like people had a slave or servant relationship to God. Who shares their inner workings, thoughts or secrets with mere slaves? Jesus said that now we are heirs and good friends of God, to whom secrets, inner understandings and motivations are shared.

This means it’s our responsibility and privilege to know the hows and whys of any rules we hold and to make sure they mesh with practical, moral issues and the fruit they bear.

Jesus questioned the accepted religious rules, yet we often prefer the status quo to searching and knocking. If we want to be true to Jesus, we also have to question and focus on lasting values, ethics and wisdom.

A 2009 Gallup poll shows a strong link between people’s views on homosexuality and whether or not they know a homosexual person well. This leads me to think that some lack of understanding or fear may be involved, even if on an unconscious level.

Jesus went out of his way to know and understand people not accepted by the religious majority. Furthermore, biblical scholarship reveals that homosexual acts or relationships in the Bible may have been strictly abusive or drastically unequal in power or age, a vast difference from issues of homosexual marriage and church membership discussed today.

Anabaptism came about because people questioned and searched the Bible for its meaning, relevance and transformational power. Anabaptists emphasized the ability of each person and small community to engage and interpret the Scriptures, experiencing the Spirit as revealing an inner, permanent, lasting truth.

We need to keep the spirit of Anabaptism alive by continuing to question Scripture and focusing on Jesus’ example and spirit. We need to make sure we emphasize issues that truly matter without shutting the door to the kingdom in the faces of those who are searching and trying to enter. This requires looking to and understanding criticism of dominant Christian views on sexuality from both the outside and the inside.

Jesus said that only God judges, and with the measure we judge others, we will be judged. God is love, love is above all, and when two people love each other—regardless of their gender or orientation—it is special. The church should focus on helping people love one another better, not telling them their love is an abomination.

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5 Responses to “Engaging on the topic of homosexuality”

  1. Tim B Says:

    I thought it was Paul who declared we are joint heirs with Christ, not Jesus?

    None-the-less, it is true that Jesus did not mention homosexuality, but he also did mention sexuality on several occasions. For instance, he openly gave a more conservative approach to divorce. Yet, you say:

    Many young adults won’t go anywhere near a church because of its views on homosexuality or because they’d be judged for living together with a committed partner before marriage.

    And again Jesus affirmed that two people should be joined in marriage and become one flesh (Mark 10).

    Jesus openly affirmed the status quo of marriage at the time and re-enforced its importance. In fact, later in Mark 10 Jesus speaks to the rich young ruler (the oft quoted “give everything to the poor” mantra Christian Progressives love). Yet again ignored, the ruler says he has obeyed all the commandments including the whole bit on adultery (Which I assume also includes other sexual sins). Jesus affirms him then gives him additional instructions. Why do you love Jesus when it’s easy for you but totally ignore him when it runs counter your beliefs?

    I find liberal theology to be based on an “eh, f*** it” philosophy. Why bother with anything at all? 1 John says “God is love” so if I can equate something with love then Jesus is all for it. Golly, I love porn. Jesus is all for porn. Golly, I love putting other people down. Jesus loves putting other people down too! I love farting in public. Jesus must love farting in public!

    What a simplistic theology to follow. No wonder the church shrinks.

  2. Ethan Bodnaruk Says:

    Hi Tim!

    Thanks so much for your response and being willing to engage on this topic. I’m afraid I don’t exactly understand your reasoning about the “additional instructions” you mention and the story of the rich young ruler. How is that relevant?

    As to affirming the status quo of marriage, there are also ways that Jesus (and Paul) went against the status quo, by remaining single and explicitly saying that some stay single for the sake of the Kingdom. It’s also interesting to me that Christians divorce (and at about the same rates in America as non-Christians) when Jesus expressly forbids it (in some verses, except in the case of cheating, and in others with no exceptions whatsoever).

    The fact that Christians still do divorce is sad because it shows that there are many broken marriages/relationships within a religion that’s supposed to teach maturity, deep values, and love. Yet, I think that divorce should be allowable in cases where life goals, relationships, etc. are irreconcilable and the pain/arguing/whatever is just too difficult to go on. Does this fly in the face of Jesus’ teachings? In some ways, yes. But in other ways, no, if we look more at context.

    In His society, men could divorce women on a whim, and due to a more restrictive culture regarding women, they would be destitute and also not able to remarry. I personally believe, therefore, that Jesus’ teachings on divorce mostly have to do with these types of justice and ethics issues. I don’t believe that marriage (specifically the mere act of it) truly binds people together on such a deep cosmic level that it is inappropriate to ever break it.

    Of course, I want husbands and wives to be faithful to each other, I am in support of deep, committed relationships, etc. I just think there is a deep spirit (and intent) behind laws, and especially since many Christian laws were made 2,000 years ago in a very different time and culture, there are some *slight* modifications that should be made (not something radical in the sense that anything I love is automatically good).

    Making these small modifications – in my view – is being true to Jesus’ spirit and the core of a meaningful, deep love that touches upon the heart of God (as opposed to the shallow “whatever goes” love that you mention and that I’m definitely against). It also guards against laws becoming Pharasaical and shutting the door of the Kingdom on others when that’s not what they’re meant to do.

    I’ve been in touch with Pastor Harold Miller furthering the conversation on this topic (he’s the person I responded to in the original article) and I would be happy to share some additional responses to common biblical and other arguments against homosexual marriage if you are interested. Just let me know an email address if you would like me to do this.

    I hope we can continue to converse on this and understand better where each of us are coming from on this topic.

    Best,
    Ethan

  3. KevinD Says:

    Tim B,

    Jesus did not give a “conservative” view of divorce. The “conservative” view of Jesus’ day was that divorce was permissible according to the Law of Moses. Jesus questioned that standard and said that married couples should not divorce (unless there is adultery, depending upon the source used).

    The same could be used for Paul. He was not a “conservative” either. The “conservative” position of his day was that Jews and Gentiles were distinct and should remain separate. The “conservatives” in the church wanted to keep that by making Christianity purely Jewish. Paul, however, wanted an open and inclusive church, which in his time and context referred to welcoming the uncircumcised.

  4. gehman Says:

    KevinD- by today’s standards, Paul is a homophobe see 1 timoth 1 below. or Romans 1.

    Ethan- your denial of unambiguous NT teachings is not very sophisticated: e.g. as mentioned Jesus defines marriage b/w a man and woman. Paul’s writings condemn all same sex relations. you disparage orthodox christian sexual ethic in favor of love and non-judgement. However, your own standards are judgmental. It appears that you think relationships should be committed. In the “spirit” of Jesus’s teachings, I encourage you to accept open and casual relationships. you claim to be questioning the status quo and focusing on the spirit of Jesus. But what you really have in mind is a new status qou: a new anabaptist sexual ethic harmonious with mainstream contemporary sexual norms. That is a big injustice to persons with various alternative lifestyles.

    Now we know that rthe law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the slaw is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,2 liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to tsound3 doctrine, 11 in accordance with uthe gospel of the glory of vthe blessed God wwith which I have been entrusted.

  5. Ethan Says:

    Gehman,

    I would encourage you to check out this website for further information on biblical scholarship on the issue: http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_homosexuality.htm

    I think it is a fair and balanced approach.

    My article was limited to 800 words, so it’s difficult to present a highly sophisticated account in that space.

    I’m concerned about a few aspects of your response: your claiming to know what my ultimate intentions and goals are (”But what you really have in mind is…), that your argument is a combination of the “slippery slope” and “strawman” approaches, and your heavy use of sarcasm [at least as perceived by me]. Certainly I see some value for sarcasm in debate, but I don’t think that sarcasm should be the basis of debate. Of course, I may be reading sarcasm in to your argument when really your argument is mostly slippery slope and strawman.

    Also, why couldn’t the verses you cite be used to support a committed homosexual relationship? If the law is for the ungodly and sinners, then is it not possible that there could be a distinction between brazen, destructive homosexual practices of the day (children, rape, power differences) and homosexuality in a committed relationship? Check out the website at the beginning of the response for content related to this argument.

    Best,
    Ethan

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