Is it really a sin?

OK. I had originally thought when I came to this blog that there was consensus on the issue of “homosexuality” (a term which I don’t like using, as it is often conflated with GLBT when it is a term that doesn’t refer to that whole spectrum). I don’t entirely like “GLBT” either (is there a privileging of groups in there?). I usually use queer and gender queer, I hope it is clear what I mean when I say that.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I thought we had consensus on this issue. Yet from previous posts, it seems we don’t. There are others that I’m not linking to because I don’t have the time to search.

So, though I know Katie has sounded off on this many times and very well, even to me, I want to ask:

Is being queer (or gender queer) really a sin, as understood biblically?
As a related question: does it even make sense to look at it in this context?

Maybe this is a question for the sidebar.

If you’re arguing this either way, cite verse.

I’m not sounding off on this until I get at least 5 responses.

Also, all of the materials that Katie has linked us to should be in the sidebar if possible. They are invaluable.

Comments (45)

  1. Nate Myers

    This is a great place to engage in critiquing the reaction to paternalism that quite often does not succeed to engaging in conversation but occupies the opposite extreme and calls it a “consensus.”

    Because, you see, folknotions, what do you mean by “we” having consensus on the issue, and who are you excluding by necessity? And the way you’re talking insinuates a sort of superiority in thought that has emerged from a Biblicist approach to reality to enlightenment where you are. This is inherently the same disempowerment you claim “homophobic” Christians express in their positions in discussions on the topic. I think this approach is hypocritical, and I question that foundation.

    If by “we” you mean those contributing on YAR, then no, there is not a consensus on the issue of homosexuality, because I simply don’t toe the same line as Katie and others do.

    This all being said to emphasize the point that discrimination is in the eyes of the beholder, and is inescapably subjective and limited in its power as a phrase. Sure, maybe dissenters have more of a right to use the phrase if they’ve been prevented from speaking out in the past, but their disempowered state does not give them the corner on the term; especially when they gain enough adherents to form their own “consensus.”

  2. Nate Myers

    In regard to both of your questions, I answer “yes” and “yes”. I could quote Scripture, but I’m sure I’d get the same tired responses GLBT advocates give to the same fundamentalist folks. Most GLBT arguments place central priority on recent sociological and biological studies (where consensus clearly does NOT exist) over and against the Bible, and most fundamentalist arguments place central priority on the “letter” of the Scripture without taking into account how the Scripture developed (the context), and what the Scripture was speaking to.

    I think more in terms of an overarching goal that God has for all of His creation (most of which remains in rebellion); the reconciliation and restoration of it all (this includes physical bodies, human/human relationships, and human/rest of creation relationships (car for the earth and all that is in it).

    If we take this approach to creation, we start at the beginning and ask what the intentions of God have been from the very beginning (wholeness), and what that looks like. So instead of approaching the issue by defining what wholeness looks like on our terms, we instead ask what wholeness looks like on God’s terms.

    Relationally, then, what did the Garden of Eden look like? Why were male and female created? What did God ask of them? What did healthy relationship look like? These are all deeply relevant foundational questions from which multiple follow-up questions (in light of the fall) spring forth.

    Because if the fall was indeed a deep shift in self-willed disobedience to God on the part of humanity, then that has consequences in the way we think about relationships and our perspective on the created order and our role in it. These are the questions the Israelites engaged in their context as God was shaping them into a people, and these are the questions the Apostle Paul and early church engaged in their context as they sought to figure out what Jesus meant in the purposes of God and how to live.

    I’ll just leave it at that for now, and engage the conversation deeper if someone would like to go there.

  3. lukelm

    I was wondering whether I wanted to get involved, especially looking at your first post. I mean, come on… we’re talking about YOUR ability to feel like others agree with you, and we’re talking about MY ability to even be able to walk into the church I grew up in. If you haven’t read some of the excellent links about thinking about one’s privilege, then do it.

    But I’ll “go there.” What exactly is it about my relationship with my partner that isn’t whole or that’s unhealthy, on God’s terms? (Disclaimer: in light of the fact that I happen to know a lot about my relationship with my partner and you don’t know much at all, you might want to think about how to approach that question.)

  4. Nate Myers

    Since you think my perspective’s limited given my standing in society, I’d be interested to hear what you believe is whole and healthy about your relationship with your partner on God’s terms.

    I’ve certainly heard the fundamentalist arguments from one end over and over, and I’ve heard the GLBT arguments that having nothing to do with God’s terms over and over again. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective.

  5. lukelm

    Ah! Wow… thanks. I guess I kind of pushed it a little bit in the direction of being asked about it, but still, thanks. It never happens in the churches that condemn me, by the way.

    I met my partner at a time when I was doing a lot of searching and thinking about spiritual matters. I grew up in a pretty traditional Mennonite/Christian home with parents who were strong models of both that kind of faith and love, and I had always strived to make it the center of my life. The story as to how I actually came to understand and accept being gay would be a pretty long one – it involved years of tears and prayer, a significant amount of time believing that God wanted to change me to be straight, and an eventual breakdown/breakthrough when I realized how this belief was closing me down emotionally and spiritually. So I finally accepted the gay thing, and so many pieces of my life story came together for me – but other things came apart. My faith and worldview were radically deconstructed by all this, and I did a lot of seeking, and yearning for the kind of connection to God that seemed to be so much easier when I could rely on all the solid structures that I had grown up with to tell me what and where God was.

    So this is where I was at when I met the man who would become my partner. Our initial conversations were actually all focused on these spiritual questions, because he had been through similar times of his own, although being Catholic they had played out in a different way. He’s the most transparently spiritual person I have ever met (besides some saints in India, but that’s another realm of being) and through him my spiritual life was reborn in a deeper and fuller and purer way than it had ever existed before. After our initial summer of conversations he was away in Italy all year doing a fellowship, and we really got to know each other through email, writing every day for at least an hour. It was through this year of email that our relationship changed into one of boyfriends or romantic partnership or whatever you want to call it… coupleness.

    We have been together for six years now. Last fall we had a commitment ceremony in a welcoming church building with 150 family and friends and stated vows of life commitment to each other (this is something that we had actually stated at the beginning of the relationship to each other privately, but this was the first public declaration.)

    When you ask what is whole and healthy about our relationship, I can only say that I experience it as the same things that are whole and healthy about my three siblings’ relationships with their spouses, and some of what my parents have built over their years. We rely on each other, we trust each other, we build each other up, we have fun together, and ultimately we care more for the other one’s good than we do about our own claim on the other one, or about what we’re getting out of the relationship. Sex is a part of our relationship for the same reason it’s part of my siblings’ relationships, (minus that the fact that two of them have procreated.) We’re passionate about each other sexually, it’s an important aspect of our relationship, and it’s an important part of being an embodied human.

    That’s one story. I’m sure there are any infinite varieties of stories about relationships marriage/committed/and non, from straight and gay couples alike. But this one is mine.

    Okay, I’ve been able to talk about my own reality. Now I’m curious to hear you share yours Nate: how do you envision God’s will for wholeness and healthiness in relationships, both in your own and in general, romantically and non-romantically, in marriage and out of marriage? (And others, feel free to join in, maybe by answering these same questions, if you want.)

  6. Skylark

    Thank you for bringing this up, folknotions. When I first came to YAR, I got the impression that perhaps the majority believed homosexuality to be acceptable, and those who didn’t kept quiet about it. Then we started having more conversations about it, and I’m glad to have my perspective sharpened. Iron on iron, as some would put it.

    I don’t believe it’s a sin to be glbtq. The saga of how I came to that belief is long (and fairly unimportant, as I am straight.) Luke, I really enjoyed reading your story. It’s encouraging, and I’m glad you shared it. I’d be interested in hearing more about the process via email, if you want to share. (I totally understand if you want to cut-and-paste.)

    Since you asked, folknotions, it doesn’t make sense to look to the Bible to tell us what to do with people like Luke, who are committed for life to a same-sex partner. From what I’m told by Bible scholars, the only expression of homosexuality the Greco-Romans experienced was promiscuous. They didn’t have a concept of “sexual orientation.” Men might sleep with each other while in the army and then marry women when they became civilians. In that context, it would make sense to prohibit sleeping with the same sex, since it was always connected to hedonistic lusts and opportunism. Such is not the case today. Promiscuity is driven more by gender roles than specific sexual behaviors now. How can we condemn today’s gltbqs using a Greco-Roman understanding of sexuality? It just doesn’t hold up. We’ve got glbtq folks who are just as dedicated to their partners as any straight couple. Perhaps more so, since their long-term relationships have to withstand societal criticism and distrust faaar more than straight couples. I believe in waiting till marriage and monogamy thereafter as much as the next person–and I support that for gays and straights. I don’t think that’s asking too much of anyone.

    I’ve gone into more detail on this in other posts on YAR. And on my personal blog. I’ll definitely be checking into the various books and articles recommended by YARers.

  7. Katie

    folknotions, I think I’ve said enough about this for now but my short answer would be no and no. But of course, that’s not very helpful is it?Maybe to get an idea of my thoughts, I could link to the various things I’ve written on the subject here on YAR. I’ll put it at the end of this comment so it won’t interfere as much with other reading.

    I think a similarly interesting question we could add would be – What exactly do we mean when we talk about sin? ST touched on this sometime back but there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion to the posts (1 and 2 ).

    Nate – It really seems like you are trying to avoid actually engaging folknotions questions here as you have now a few of times to Luke and me. You seem to prefer attacking the tone and style of those who offer a challenge rather than actually engaging in discussion. I’ll try one more time to ask these questions as directly as I can:

    • How does homosexuality fragment human identity?
    • How are equal rights and power hazardous to lgbt people’s health and yours?
    • What exactly is it about Luke’s relationship with his partner that isn’t whole or that’s unhealthy, on God’s terms?

    What I’ve said in the past that touches on this general topic:

    intro to katie
    the queer radical mennonite conundrum
    polygamous anabaptists
    feel-good progressive evangelical leader getting old
    in a different spirit
    volunteer anyone?
    the homosexual lifestyle – a rhetoric of bigotry
    who needs hate crimes protections

    my comments in these posts:
    second time around
    intro to katie
    the queer radical mennonite conundrum (1) (2)
    radical like surfers or revolutionaries
    spreading democracy and civilization
    lancaster conference credentialed leaders respond to recommendation regarding the ordination of women
    sin and oppression part 1
    Story includes YAR
    feel good progressive evangelical leader getting old
    get your schism on (1) (2)
    do we look like jesus (1) (2) (3)

  8. eric

    Good thoughts from many.

    Joe, thank you for your patience and listening. It means a lot. I think other people have responded to you better than I could, so I will leave that unless you have direct questions for me. As for bigoted language – I think Luke was right to refocus on power dynamics, though the two are heavily connected. What I was reacting to was a language of privilege that keeps the conversation in terms of us vs. them with a gulf between us. It’s a language that results from, and helps sustain, unbalanced power.

    Nate, Your “Garden of Eden as sexually normative” argument is quite a stretch. Reading the Eden story that way teaches us several things that I have a hard time imagining you would stand behind (though many do): Women were created for the entertainment of men, and we are meant to be naked all the time in a world consisting of two and only two people because procreation is a result of the fall and a punishment for women, who deserve it for falling into a sneaky little snake’s trap and then seducing us men into it as well. The Eden story isn’t about sex. Leave it alone.

    I think others have made it clear, and if you read back through earlier posts (Katie linked to some) you will find it to be true for most YAR conversations on the topic, that we are all coming from a Biblical perspective. In fact, I think it shows Katie’s great respect for the Bible that she is not happy with a simple “The Bible says so” answer. The book is too good to be treated that way.

    But true respect for the Bible has to acknowledge the complexity of the story told. Biblical writers were often at odds. Through one prophet, God “condemns” a King (and all his decedents) for a massacre that God “commanded” through another prophet (II Kings:9, Hosea:1) Understanding the Bible as an evolving dialogue between people of faith (as it was written, and as Jews continue to read it today) brings a different light to much of what we find in it. Which, to me, makes it a much more powerful and humanly relevant book than if it were singular and focused.

    As Skylark and Walter Wink both point out, the Bible deals with sexual issues of the time, but does not present an overarching sexual ethic (this holds true in conversations about pre or post-marital sex as well, but that’s a different topic). That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t talk to us about EXACTLY how to treat Luke, his partner, and anyone else.

    Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no distinction here between different types of people, or who should have less or more rights because of their greater or lesser brokenness. “As yourself” is fairly different in every way from the paternal lesson-teaching bait-and-switch “love” that you are proposing. The Bible might not have a clear sex ethic, but it has a very clear love ethic. One that is not manipulative, does not seek to change the “other,” and certainly does not judge their sins.

    That doesn’t preclude accountability, because accountability actually happens between equals as equals. When one group has no rights or power in society or the church, and the other group has all the rights and power, you can hardly consider it a fair playground for equal accountability. It’s not about sin, it’s about power dynamics and privilege. I can’t say that enough. You can discuss sin all day long, but only after everyone has equal rights.

  9. Pingback: Faith: Nature or Nurture? Is it a choice? Can people change? » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  10. Nate Myers

    Ok, here goes. I’ve been deeply involved in an intensive class in my seminary here recently, so I apologize for my absence.

    First things first, I want to quote lukelm’s response to my initial thoughts on consensus and reactionary thought where he said, “If you haven’t read some of the excellent links about thinking about one’s privilege, then do it.”

    It is clear that you have a point, Luke. I enjoy a position of privilege in the church that other people groups do not have. And I should be aware of that. But that reality, I think, should lead to two critical questions;

    1)Should I be paralyzed by guilt in my position of privilege to the point that I render my position irrelevant or silenced for the sake of “oppressed” voices? and
    2) Should the “oppressed” voices be uncritically welcomed to the conversation as equals without value judgments on why they may be “oppressed”?

    These are not questions of “style” as Katie suggested but questions of foundations for life. While I recognize I enjoy a position of privilege as a white heterosexual male and should seek to listen to others whose voices are muted, I refuse to be so guilt-ridden at my position that I uncritically give those other voices equal status simply because they’ve been suppressed and mine hasn’t. Those who would suggest love= acceptance of equality without questions of value, I suggest again, are not operating in love, but in tolerance, and there’s a huge difference between the two.


    It’s a little interesting to me to see your reaction to my initial post on the subject of sexual normativity. First off, the Garden of Eden is not the complete picture for me, Biblically, of sexual normativity; though it is the beginning, and is a picture of God’s right relations with his creation before the fall. Your exegetical work here with each position that pulls out the most extremely fundamentalist position on each is a bit humorous to me. Ever heard of the temptation of “comparing the best of our tradition with the worst of theirs”? Exegetically speaking, women were clearly not created “for the entertainment of man,” but as “helper,” even being given the compliment of “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” a clear partner in the work of God.

    And this is where you get flat-out ridiculous. Last I checked, I suggested the Garden of Eden as the beginning of a conversation; never implying it was the end-all be-all. The nakedness piece is important because the man and the woman (one flesh, remember?) could stand in the sight of God and one another unashamed and trusting. This, relationally speaking, is huge; and is deeply important sexually. Second, the Bible never makes the claim that procreation is a result of the fall, but speaks of pain involved in the childbearing (implying childbearing was intended without pain). So again, the two and only two people suggestion is flat-out ridiculous. Third, the Genesis account does not blame the woman; instead placing the woman and man equally accountable…only stating directly that Eve was the first tempted, and Adam second. Equal culpability there.

    When it comes to the Eden story as a foundation of normativity regarding sex and physical and spiritual union, it is clear that a thread runs through the entire Bible (including the words of Jesus) that echoes the basic pronouncement of the complementary role of male and female. This is the deeply spiritual and physical reality of sexuality expressed in marriage; which is intimately tied to the sexuality of humanity. Does it stand alone? Clearly not. Was your exegetical work here verging on sacreligious in tone and importance? I believe so.

    I’m completely on board when it comes to seeking a Biblical perspective beyond “the Bible tells me so” in the pursuit of a faithful life. I believe God honors that pursuit, and desires our questions, doubts, and authentic prayers to find meaning amidst the complexity. I agree that respect for the Bible demands an acceptance of the complexity of parts of the story of God working with humanity.

    And I agree that the Bible is a progressive dialogue of people of faith, though I wouldn’t use the word “evolving,” because that suggests invoking a sort of superiority in our day over the interpretations of the authors and initial faith communities that shaped the Bible. Like it or not, the Bible is the authoritative guide for the Christian community; and its importance is unjustly relativized if certain sections are completely ignored or subordinated to one’s ideological commitments. With that being said, I’ll move on.

    You mentioned Skylark and Wink’s views on sexuality. Skylark suggested,

    “it doesn’t make sense to look to the Bible to tell us what to do with people like Luke, who are committed for life to a same-sex partner. From what I’m told by Bible scholars, the only expression of homosexuality the Greco-Romans experienced was promiscuous. They didn’t have a concept of “sexual orientation.”

    And Wink suggests,

    “No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation, over which one has apparently very little choice, and sexual behavior, over which one does…Paul knew nothing of the modern psychological understanding of homosexuals as person whose orientation is fixed early in life, persons for whom having heterosexual relations would be contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up” or “exchanging” their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them. The idea was not available in his world. there are people who are genuinely homosexual by nature (whether genetically or as a result of upbringing no one really knows, and it is irrelevant).”

    It is conspicuous to me that both Skylark and Wink talk of a orientation vs. behavior distinction that these pre-moderns were apparently unaware of. That’s a fair point on the surface, but it should be noted that there was no distinction for these folks between “being” and “doing” period; not just because they didn’t have the categories, but centrally because they had a unitary understanding of human nature…in short, one expressed physically what one was. It’s referred to as the “Semitic totality concept.” Remember Jesus saying, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”? And that’s not the “Greco-Roman understanding” of being, it’s the Judaic understanding that persists through today. It’s this sort of approach that makes Deut 6:4 so important to Jews; they believed you hadn’t truly “heard” God until you obeyed him in “being” and “doing” if we use these words in a different context.

    I think the being/doing distinction doesn’t make any sense at all period; and especially in this discussion. What kind of sense does it make for me to say it’s ok for someone to “be” and certain way, yet tell them that it’s sinful to act on what I said it was ok for them to “be”? I actually think the Biblical perspective on personhood deeply critiques this sort of distinction; if something is outside of the boundaries of God’s expectations for human life, I should seek to address my being drawn to consider that a “natural” part of my being that necessarily will result in action. The deeper part of this discussion would be the proper context to express who I “am” in healthy ways; such as the fullness of sexual expression in marriage, but that’s a conversation for another day.

    Wink’s comments also have a certain determinism to them, suggesting that for homosexuals, heterosexual relations would be “unnatural to them,” and “orientation is fixed early in life,” then sums up his position by suggesting that we move beyond the question; “What does Scripture command?” and (instead) “What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology? We can’t continue to build ethics on the basis of bad science.”

    This is a tricky subject to work with, first of all because there is no consensus scientifically speaking on orientation being “fixed” early in life; and even if we agreed that some have a more natural pull towards GLBT, that still wouldn’t finish the conversation for good. That’s what relativizes Wink’s comments today when he speaks of “bad science.” It’s pretty clear that for him, “bad science” is a scientific position that opposes his on this issue. I should be honest and say that my perspective is that “bad science” is a scientific position that opposes my perspective (GLBT lifestyles are outside the bounds of God’s expectations for Christian life). But then we have to talk about that…

    Let me set up the situation by first critiquing Wink’s position. He seeks to invoke what he deems as “good” science to reinforce his position that orientation is fixed and that heterosexuality would be unnatural for homosexuals to even conceive of, let alone live out. He wrote this article in 1979 where scientists (geneticists specifically) were starting to ask some serious questions about how our genes determine what we feel drawn to in life; most specifically the question “do we really have any choice in the matter, or are there certain behaiors built into our genetic code that are therefore natural for us because we can’t help it?” Those are good questions to ask, I think, and have become deeply informative today for discussions around genetics; but it should be said that there was certainly no scientific consensus in 1979, and there’s even less consensus today. How?

    Without getting into a deep conversation about genetics (an extended conversation would be better served in the Nature v. Nurture post by Katie), the idea that one’s genetic predispositions determine fatalistically one’s direction in life is now clearly defined as “bad science” by the scientific community. It has become clearer and clearer that one’s environment works in tandem with the genetic code to shape one’s personhood, and geneticists have even found that the environment so deeply shapes us that certain linkages in our genes actually mutate in response to environmental pressures! So, far from being deterministic in our behaviors, our genes show a surprising ability to be shaped by the environment while simultaneously deeply informing the way we live in the present tense. So, basically, one’s genetic code most likely can fundamentally change in response to the environment.

    Going deeper, the field of epigenetics is “the study of all heritable and potentially reversible changes in genome function that do not alter the nucleotide sequence within the DNA.” Basically, when a cell undergoes an epigenetic change, it is the phenotype of the cell that is affected; while the DNA sequence itself is not changed, different characteristics are expressed or muted, seemingly at random. So I can feel strongly pulled towards a certain way of being that doesn’t even reflect my genetic code at all, or, generationally speaking, I won’t necessarily have the same illnesses that run in my family if I undergo certain treatments that help me to mute and/or express certain phenotypes…playing an active role in shaping my personhood all the way down to the building blocks of who I am!

    I simply state this quick little overview to emphasize three points:
    1) the scientific community is not, I repeat, not in consensus on this issue; and the split isn’t between fundamentalist, close-minded Christians and “real” scientists, it’s represented across the scientific community at large, and
    2) it is widely believed that one’s genetic code can be so deeply influenced by one’s environment that either the expression of certain genetic traits are behaviorally altered or the DNA sequence itself physically is altered, and
    3) These advances in science since Wink’s confident assertions in 1979 have shown the danger (from a Christian perspective) in immediately subordinating a Biblical pre-modern perspective to modern disciplines and beliefs. If we knee-jerk shift our positions as the church every time some new idea comes down the pike, we’ll find pretty quickly that we’ve lost our rootedness and are simply drifting on the seas of cultural fads. So I can understand that the church is slow to move on new ideas sometimes, because some have been (and will continue to be) destructive and should be rejected; wherever this GLBT discussion eventually goes.

    A position which the scientific community likely has consensus on today would look something like this;

    Although genetics plays a large role in determining the appearance and behavior of organisms, it is the interaction of genetics with the environment that determines the ultimate outcome.

    This has already gone too long as a response, so I’ll wait a bit to specifically respond to Katie’s questions. I haven’t forgotten, and I’m not evading your questions; I’m just addressing some of the foundations of why we think the way we think and take positions on things. That sort of discussion is essential on this issue, because “progressive” does not mean “more accurate.”

  11. folknotions (Post author)


    While addressing Wink’s comments (which sometimes don’t totally address the issue to me either), you left Skylark’s comment behind. For the Greeks, there was no experience of homosexuality besides promiscuity.

    Not only biblical scholars but anthropologists, archaeologists,historians, sociologists, etc., and PAUL HIMSELF, have all noted that there was no homosexual relation which was Judaic and in the realm of marriage. And when Paul speaks of homosexual relations, he only does so in his letters to Greek and Roman churches, addressing their homosexual practices, which were outside of marriage or commitment and took place between young men and older men. He wanted to put a stop to this behavior as it was Judaic or Christian in character in the sense that it was outside of marriage, but does not necessarily mean, a priori, that a committed homosexual relationship is sinful or wrong.

    Additionally, Jesus said nothing of homosexuality in particular. Perhaps you take a flat-book approach to the Bible, I, however, cannot and think it is dangerous to do so and has caused enough confusion already. I will take the silence of Jesus over the condemnation of Paul and not feel like I’ve made some hermeneutic blunder.

  12. lukelm

    Hi Nate,
    I feel the need to clarify the issues of privilege that I was bringing up because I’m not sure you got exactly what I was saying. You ask:

    1)Should I be paralyzed by guilt in my position of privilege to the point that I render my position irrelevant or silenced for the sake of “oppressed” voices?

    My answer: definitely not. And I hope you didn’t think I was implying that.

    What I was trying to point out was the fallacy in your first post, referring to a definition of local YAR consensus that excludes your viewpoint, that “this is inherently the same disempowerment you claim “homophobic” Christians express in their positions in discussions on the topic” and that “discrimination is in the eyes of the beholder.” That’s where I say – whoa, back up. The relevant sections from Eric’s link about privilege would be:

    “Debunking the “Reverse -ism” Argument

    The foundation of this argument – that we’re all just people and so -isms are -isms, no matter which group they’re targeted at – is one I sympathize with. Would that we lived in such a world! But the world is more complex than that. The same power dynamics that create privilege have created a hierarchy of prejudice so that discrimination against a privileged group is not the same as discrimination against a minority group. This is because discrimination against a minority group is backed up with institutionalized power, whereas discrimination against a privileged group is often a singular act and therefore easier to avoid. I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that discrimination sucks, but glossing over the inequity of the two discriminations helps keep the inequity in play.”

    and especially:

    “Don’t Use the Language of Opression Against Minorities

    I cannot stress this one enough. Your foray into identity politics will inevitably give you a new set of vocabulary with how to define oppression, discrimination, prejudice, etc. This can be a powerful tool if used right, but can also can turn you into a Grade A Asshole if used wrong. Don’t forget that, with many groups, a sincere apology and inquiry as to the correct terminology will go a long way. And remember that you will find that different groups have different definitions of what language is acceptable. It can be annoying to keep the rhetoric straight, but do your best and you should be alright.”

    You have a right to feel miffed if you’re part of a community of conversation and a consensus is proposed that excludes your viewpoint. You can say that. Just say – “You excluded me in your definition and I don’t like that.” But that is IN NO WAY the same thing as the discrimination that happens against the relevant minority group. You just can’t say “you say I discriminate against you and I say you discriminate against me” meaning your viewpoint has gotten trampled vs. I’ve endured a lifetime of exclusion from important social institutions. That’s very very apples to oranges. The sooner this argument is put aside the sooner real conversation can happen, and we can share our viewpoints on equal footing, as we’re doing now.

    Okay – since you’re in the middle of developing your ideas and argument here I won’t write anymore of this right now. I just felt like I needed to clarify that.

  13. Nate Myers


    Thank you for your thoughtful walking-through of the nature of dis-empowerment. After seeing your viewpoint, I agree that my “situationally miffed” status of sorts in no way compares to the deep sense of exclusion you’ve felt in your life, and I need to recognize that. With that understanding, I’m looking forward to future conversations we will have, and commit myself both to accountability in the way I carry myself and in seeking to listen and interact well.

    p.s. Thank you for sharing your story.


    You commented that I left behind Skylark’s comment as my thought developed. I certainly did not intend to; forgive me. I do think it should be said, though, that the Greek homosexual understanding of promiscuity (lack of monogamy) is a secondary issue in the deeper issue of God’s intended purposes for humanity.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that though Paul was ministering in a deeply Hellenistic world, he was speaking primarily out of the Judaic historical understanding as regards the community of faith. This is important, because though Paul employed Greco-Roman language and used cultural norms to prove a point, they were part of his method and not his basis for his understanding of the foundation of human life, which was rooted in the living God’s shaping of a people from the world’s understanding to His.

    So therefore your point that “not only biblical scholars but anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, sociologists, etc., and PAUL HIMSELF, have all noted that there was no homosexual relation which was Judaic and in the realm of marriage” serves to prove the difference Paul underscored between the Judaic understanding and the Greco-Roman understanding. There are two significant cultural worlds colliding here, and it’s important (though messy and imprecise) to separate method from foundation.

    It should also be noted that though the letters to the Corinthians and Romans were where the practice of homosexuality was addressed most directly, and that these were Greco-Roman majority cities, he’s writing to the pre-Jewish-Christian split church; so the churches most definitely had solid numbers of both Jews and Gentiles in the mix. A deep reading of both sets of letters reveals Paul addressing both the need for Gentiles to undergo a seismic shift in cultural norms and Jews to quit walking around with their noses in the air (so to speak), and live together in harmony. Your suggestion that Paul’s position “does not necessarily mean, a priori, that a committed homosexual relationship is sinful or wrong” is true, but the weight of Paul’s life example is heavily against you composing a compelling argument from this silence (which is just another spin on the being/doing distinction I addressed in my comment before).

    Your comment that Jesus “said nothing of homosexuality in particular” is a terribly weak basis for seeking a place to stand on this issue. Literally tens of thousands of people have built positions from the silence of Jesus on an issue; including some who refuse to use instruments in worship because Jesus didn’t specifically institute them. Those churches (specifically the non-instrumental Church of Christ) exist today. Well, clearly the use of instruments in worship is strongly encouraged in the Old Testament…do you think a firm prohibition on the use of instruments is in order using your hermeneutical approach? That’s just one example, but it’s important, especially given that Jesus didn’t see his life as a break from Judaism, but in many ways an intensification and prophetic call back to the heart of faith. Using the argument that Jesus didn’t address something specifically breaks down in the face of multiple practices today that would be questioned in that approach.

    No, I don’t subscribe to a flat view of the Bible, but it seems you’re creating your own flat version that only includes the words of Jesus. In my view, the Old Testament reveals God working to progressively shape a faithful people out of the cultural norms and practices of the world and into his expectations of faithfulness. So the Old Testament is a movement uphill of sorts, with sharp upticks on Mt Sinai and with the messages of the prophets over time. The advent of Jesus, of course, should be the pinnacle of authority for the Christian life for us, with the rest of the New Testament being more secondary reflections on the practical meaning of his life; and major sections of the Old Testament are relativized when Jesus either intensified or directly rejected some positions (You have heard it said…but I tell you…) But most importantly, for our purposes here, Jesus specifically grounded himself in the historical community of Jews, and thus in interpretation of Scripture, we should err on the continuation of God’s expectations in Jesus’ approach rather than arguments from silence based more deeply in our ideological agendas.

    The rest of the New Testament is helpful in the regard of pastoral guidance in things not specifically mentioned in the gospels; and the example of Paul is vitally important as an early Christian voice used mightily by God. Taking the silence of Jesus over condemnation by Paul simply is a terrible hermeneutic blunder, any way you slice it. That sort of position ends up, practically speaking, allowing you to read your perspective into Scripture on any variety of issues; holding them away from accountability to the rest of Scripture because Jesus was “silent” on whatever issue it is. This is a catastrophic mistake, in my view.

  14. carl


    I think you really miss the point about references to “homosexuality” in the Bible. It’s very simple, and doesn’t require lengthy excursions into the nature of being vs. doing (interesting as they are). The point is this: if by “homosexuality” we are referring to loving, caring, committed sexual relationships between two consenting adults of the same gender (i.e. the same things I would look for in a healthy heterosexual relationship), the Bible is silent on that topic because the concept did not exist. Paul’s so-called “condemnations of homosexuality” are condemnations of ritualized pedophilia, which has nothing at all to do with homosexual relationships.

    More importantly, I think your Jesus exegesis radically misses the forest for the trees, so busy looking for a snippet of prooftext here and there that you miss the overwhelming repeated thrust of Jesus’ message. Jesus was silent about homosexuality, but he was abundantly clear about radically overturning religious notions of purity, cleanliness and “holy living” that were used to exclude and oppress, and he was also abundantly clear about the primacy of love as the metric for moral evaluation. If Jesus came today, he would most likely be wandering the country with a ragtag band of misfits and outcasts, including a flaming transvestite or two, having himself a joyous good time and giving the established church royal tongue-lashings for its hypocrisy and oppression.

    My first answer to the question “is it a sin?” is “what’s it to you?” We need to step back from the raging debate over minutiae long enough to see the big picture. It is simply asinine that there are so many straight Christians devoting reams of writing and lifetimes of energy grasping at Biblical straws to try to demonstrate that homosexuality is sinful, when there are so many other issues that Jesus speaks on clearly and repeatedly that desperately need attention in our churches (such as, oh, for example, hypocritically excluding and marginalized certain select groups arbitrarily identified as “unclean” by straight white men). Why? If it weren’t so oppressive and hurtful, it would be laughable.

  15. Skylark

    Bingo, Carl. Whether Jesus or Paul says this or that isn’t the point. Even if Jesus had laid out a point-by-point description of which sexual behaviors were acceptable and under which contexts, the followers certainly wouldn’t have gotten it because they had a much more limited experience with homosexuality. (Hey, maybe he did, and the writers just didn’t include it in the Gospels.)

    Some have said God knows all forms of homosexual expression, so therefore when the Bible writers like Paul condemned ritualized pedophilia, God was looking ahead to 2007 and condemning same-sex long-term relationships, and therefore Jesus didn’t need to say anything. That’s a view of the nature of the Bible that I just can’t accept. God was planning on a cultural perspective being misunderstood millenia later? Um, I suppose it’s theoretically possible, but a bit far-fetched.

    I’m really sick of Christian writers and editorialists yabbering on about how heterosexuals’ marriages are in jeopardy because some homosexuals might get married. If a het couple’s relationship can be “torn asunder” simply by the presence of married same-sex couples, something is rather wrong. Same-sex marriage cheapens marriage far less than indiscriminate divorce, lack of commitment and unattainable expectations. I read a report some time ago, suggesting perhaps Christians divorce at the same or slightly hire rate than non-Christians because we’re training our young people to think one human relationship is the be-all, end-all. Fanciful descriptions of the groom representing Jesus and the bride representing the Church don’t help. Reality says it’s hard work. Some clearly aren’t ready for the challenge.

  16. christyr-m

    To quote a very smart and dear friend of mine, “The devil isn’t stupid.” The church (and its inhabitants) are so busy talking about, analyzing, and picturing who is sleeping with whom, what they’re doing other than catching zzz’s that we have more or less entirely forgotten about the thousands and thousands of people who die every single day from preventable causes.

    THAT is sin.

    Anyone who doesn’t/can’t/won’t recognize that the powers of the Universe who would defy God are loving every minute that everyone here (and in the pews) are spending reading, writing about, and thinking on sexuality is, in the biblical sense, a fool. Why? Because it’s another minute that we’re not doing something to change the current state of the ebyon (the Hebrew word for those who have been intentionally disenfranchised by those who hold the power … and don’t think for a moment that every single person who writes in this forum holds that power – gay, straight, or undecided!).

    I have the dubious distinction of holding an MDiv from a Mennonite seminary, but cannot be ordained because I have chosen to marry someone of the same gender. (There are those at the seminary who would like to revoke the degree because of it, and I’m sure would if they could.) So I know Anabaptism up close and personal. I know what it is to be excluded for simply being who I am, and I don’t give a shit.

    The Mennonites don’t want me. Fine. The Quakers have more theological integrity anyway these days as far as I’m concerned, so I hang out with them. Rather than sitting around trying to decide whether or not who I love is a sin, I’m instead doing what I as an individual can to stand against the powers of chaos who encourage us to continue treating the ebyon as the rubbish of the universe.

    I sound angry, and I am. Somebody needs to be. Please, please, please … consider another way.

    Instead of trying to convince one another that you’ve sorted out “Truth” or that you know what God thinks or wants of us (good luck with that, btw), try living the words attributed to St. Francis:

    Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

  17. folknotions (Post author)


    thank you thank you thank you. you got the point, intentionally or not, of my question “does it make sense to look at it (being queer) in this way (i.e., sin?”

    For the welfare of the church (Mennonite church, that is), voices like yours should be heard more often.

  18. folknotions (Post author)


    Ok, I’ll take your point on silence, as it was well made.

    However, you have still to demostrate effectively this progressive unfolding/revelation of God’s purpose as it relates to condemning homosexual practice. I haven’t yet found your argument compelling.

  19. eric

    I don’t take the point on silence. It doesn’t actually make any sense. The argument Folknotions makes is that Jesus’ silence might reflect the unimportance of the issue, which is a perfectly logical claim – where the counter-analogy makes the obviously crazy claim that Jesus’ silence represents a condemnation on one side of the issue. There’s a huge difference in these arguments.

    Ever heard of the temptation of “comparing the best of our tradition with the worst of theirs”?

    Nate, you’ve ignored the content of most comments so far and responded primarily to minute details and side-points. You’ve also used all the same argument techniques you’ve condemned in other people.

    Like Carl said: What’s it to you?

  20. Pingback: A Mennonite Theology of Culture » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  21. eric

    And we’re back. I’m responding to Nate here, so as not to contribute to thread drift over there.

    Yet many who would affirm this stance towards Israel’s policies would reject this position on a variety of “personal” issues because love, relationally displayed (as they define it), should show no inequity in “rights” or “power”. In other words, establishing that one believes the other is involved in a destructive action is, inescapably, just one more flavor of paternalism.

    No, Nate. You’re mixing the analogy again. Israel and GLBT are not in any way comparable here. Where’s the power? Israel would be analogous to you, if you really want to stick with that comparison. I’m saying the exact same thing to you that I would say to Israel. You can’t have peace talks with your foot on someone’s throat. That means you can’t “lovingly confront” anyone who’s equal rights you are actively fighting against.

  22. Katie

    Somehow I missed this last comment from Eric earlier as I was trying to decide how to respond to Nate’s comments here and here. Eric, I think you’ve gotten most of it but I want to highlight one other thing related to both of these comments.

    “As a white heterosexual male, I recognize my power/privilege and how that has silenced other opinions; others certainly have a right to speak. That does not, however, mean their opinion on a certain topic is valid.”


    “But is there something inherently different about relationships that changes this dynamic of taking a clear position that another’s actions are unhealthy? I think not, and so I believe that in order to truly love one another, we must have expectations for one another as God has for us.

    “Now, how we carry ourselves in those relationships mean the world to show whether we truly are loving or not, but that doesn’t deny that we have to, HAVE TO find someplace to stand or we’re rootless, subject to the whim of various cultural pressures to knuckle under to their reading of history. “

    Nate, you seem to want to take this discussion to other threads. The problem is that you never finished this one. You keep making preachy sweeping statements, but you’ve never gotten around to backing those statements up. You haven’t answered your questions yet (although I’m sure you are very busy with your important white, male, heterosexual life and don’t have time to defend little trifles like your sweeping denigrations of other people’s sexual orientation and lives). You haven’t explained to us how “another’s actions are unhealthy” or how “homosexuality fragments human identity” or how “equal rights and power are hazardous to lgbt people’s health and yours” or even what exactly it is about Luke’s relationship with his partner that “isn’t whole or that’s unhealthy, on God’s terms.” You just hop around from post to post leaving these statements like droppings under the bushes.

    You say that you “recognize your power/privilege and how that has silenced other opinions…” but then you go on the continue silencing anyway… “That does not, however, mean their opinion on a certain topic is valid.” Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean yours is either, especially when you haven’t showed us why it is as valid as you assume that it is. It seems that while you “recognize your power/privilege” you certainly don’t understand it. I just don’t get how the opinions of a straight white male on the morality of lgbt people (the opinions you refer to but don’t really explain) carry more (or even equal) validity than the ones of lgbt people who live the experience every single day, or even their close family and friends who live with them in that experience every single day. The thing is, until you explain those opinions and sweeping statements a little more, and even how you came to form them, I can only assume you came to them from believing all the nasty stereotypes about the queer community, or drinking from the same well as James Dobson, Peter LaBarbera, Paul Cameron, Tony Perkins and all their buddies.  If that is the case, maybe you can spend your time on their blogs and spare us the judgement. If not, maybe you can enlighten me. In the meantime, why don’t you keep this conversation in this thread instead of muddying the waters elsewhere?

  23. Katie

    Nate, It looks like you are at it again. I’ll just pull my favorite bits from your response to Eric over at another thread:

    “Though these sexual boundaries don’t line up with your idea of what is right in the world, you might be glad that this God is also bigoted against alcoholism and murder and grudges and power-mongers and gossip and pridefulness.”

    “I believe the Bible addresses homosexuality in its very nature as sinful; it’s ridiculous that you would call a Biblical concern for healthy sexuality in all of its forms as just a condemnation of “having sex with the wrong people”;”

    “The Bible does not, however, speak to masturbation, though I think it gives us guides to understanding how it can be healthy/unhealthy if carried out in certain ways/mindsets. This applies to pornography and sexual abuse insofar as guides for healthy behavior as well. Are you glad rape is considered an unhealthy behavior? If so, you’re clearly not being sensitive to (and in fact are oppressing) those who enjoy such activities”

    Alright, well, now we (by we, I mean you) have compared lgbt people to murderers, alcoholics, pornographers and oh boy here it is: rapists. I’m surprised you didn’t throw bestiality, polygamy, and necrophilia in there too. Those are usually so popular in this argument. Do you have any idea how offensive it is to compare murder and rape to consensual, committed same-sex relationships? Oh, and then you make a cute little joke about rape, isn’t that special.

    Is this just be a fun little exercise in arguing a point of view for you. Are you having fun saying that lgbt people (that would be me, and Luke and a few other folk around here) are like murderers and rapists? hmm, is this fun for you?

    You are way out of line with this argument and I’m asking you to stop. Just stop.

  24. Skylark

    To pass the time while Nate ponders, I’ll address some arguments I’ve heard for why lgbtq relationships are a bad idea.

    1. It’s like looking at a mirror of yourself. Such relationships are doomed.

    Given that no two people of the same gender are exactly alike, I find this implausible. Are people attracted to others who are like them or people who are different? Those who are attracted to people exactly like them will probably be that way even if they’re in a hetero relationship. And, I’ve heard it said that while opposites attract, it’s the commonalities that keep the relationship together. Longevity rates on lesbian relationships would contradict the “doomed because the same sex” idea.

    2. Two men in a relationship is a bad idea because anal sex is risky from a medical standpoint.

    Ya know, they don’t *have* to have anal sex more often than any other couple. If they preferred oral, would their relationship pass muster?

    3. Children fare best when raised by a man and a woman.

    While raising children is not an imperative for lgbtq couples, it’s silly to condemn parents for being the same gender. Does it matter whether a child learns to catch a softball from a man or a woman? Can a man teach a child to be kind and compassionate with equal skill as a woman? It might be awkward for a girl to hear about menstruation from her fathers, but if her fathers are wise, they will have encouraged healthy relationships with women in their daughter’s life. She might be close with an aunt or family friend who could fill her in on what she needs to know. Hetero coupling is no guarantee a child will experience healthy examples of both genders. Mom might display more “masculine” characteristics than Dad, and vice versa. I know several married hetero couples with near-complete role reversals. Their kids turned out fine.

    I’ll be willing to grant that lgbtq relationships may “fragment” gender “identity”, but I’d also argue that’s not a bad thing. But human identity? Nobody’s being raised by wolves and a black bear in the jungle, like Mowgli in The Jungle Book.

  25. Skylark

    Whoops, this line should have read “Hetero coupling is no guarantee a child will experience healthy–or even heteronormative–examples of both genders.”

  26. Nate Myers

    i’ll have time to respond on monday possibly

  27. Nevin

    I tend to lean to the left politically, but applying the individualistic ideals of liberalism to the kingdom community can be problematic, to say the least. John Howard Yoder’s classic The Politics of Jesus was probably criticized the most for its chapter on “revolutionary subordination,” and while I understand some of that criticism, I am wary of going far as, for example, Walter Wink does (or seems to), in making individual liberation and self-fulfillment the primary ethical preoccupation of the Christian. I know that it is incredibly pretentious of me to even suggest that LGBT Christians should be celibate, given that I am not gay and plan on enjoying all the benefits of heterosexuality myself. Indeed, I won’t even go so far as to suggest that, unsure as I honestly am on this issue and because of my awareness of my own shortcomings. But should we really become so “tolerant” that we completely do away with the (Anabaptist) emphasis on the necessity of suffering in a life lived in discipleship to Christ?

  28. carl

    Nevin: I totally agree with you, I’m no proponent of “the individualistic ideals of liberalism.” Revolutionary subordination and self-sacrifice, yes, but the question is, who is called to sacrifice/subordinate, in what ways, and to whom? Jesus clearly calls the rich, for instance, to radically sacrifice. He doesn’t happen to mention queers.

    I think one of the strongest overall themes of the biblical story is God’s “preferential option for the poor/powerless”, and that might give us one guide as to who is called to sacrifice and in what ways. I simply don’t see God, through the Bible or anywhere else, calling on queers to self-sacrifice their sexuality. I do think that I, as a straight white man, and others like me, are called to do an awful lot of sacrificing our need for control. Now there’s a moral priority, if you ask me.

  29. Nevin

    So, I had actually initially typed up a much longer post than that. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the rest of it, and that was only the tail end. Oh well. I tend to ramble anyway, so I’ll try to make my points more concise now anyway (and fail miserably). Firstly, hi all. I’m Nevin, a (young Anabaptist, and radical depending upon whom you ask and what we’re talking about) student at Messiah College who found this site through Facebook, and has enjoyed perusing through it thus far. I wasn’t sure if this was the best topic to make my first comment on, contentious subject as it is, and muddled as my own thoughts on it are. However, I have given it a lot of thought–especially in light of Equality Ride’s recent visit to my school (which I wrote about on my blog)–and had a couple of thoughts and questions I wanted to put forward. My stance–when I’m comfortable characterizing it as such–on this issue is similar to Nate’s, and I think that if there is Biblical support for the opposition of homosexual marriage today, Genesis 1 is probably the best place to find it (much better than, for instance, Leviticus or any of the passages in which Paul is talking about–as has been pointed out–“homosexuality” completely unlike what we mean by that today). I do have some difficulties with using the “Garden of Eden” as an ideal, though. While I agree, Nate, that eric goes too far in suggesting that the creation myths teach us that women are entertainment for men, etc., he does make a valid point that the first chapters of Genesis are not about sexuality. The general consensus among Biblical scholars is that the first creation story (i.e. Genesis 1, and the first few verses of Genesis 2) was composed in order to promote monotheism and condemn polytheism. Especially when we’re dealing with the Old Testament, which is (in my opinion, and I suspect the opinion of most on this site) riddled with bad moral teachings implicit in the text, it’s dangerous to draw out meaning from a passage beyond its explicit purpose (and even that is often suspect in the OT!). Furthermore, if we are to take Genesis 1 and 2 as normative, then should we all become vegetarians? True, God does make provisions for eating meat a few chapters later, but it does seem clear that the ideal is for human beings to be vegetarian. (And in all seriousness, when I have thought about becoming vegetarian, that is one of the biggest reasons.) Finally, how does one’s view of the literalness of the creation myths impact this argument? I, for example, am a theistic evolutionist, and do not believe in either a literal Garden of Eden or a literal fall (or, at least, not a literal historical fall). I don’t believe that God created human beings male and female in the beginning. I believe that our ancient evolutionary ancestors were asexual, and that sex and gender developed via natural selection (of course, maybe God “guided” the development of the sexes, but such pronouncements are notoriously unreliable–we could, for instance, suggest the same about homosexuality, which is also present in nature). Of course, it may be that none of this matters, that the Bible tells us moral truth, if not historical truth. I’m not convinced of that in every case myself, but I would be curious as to what you think.

    Allow me now to give my own best reason why we can still use Genesis 1 in the way you and I want to (although I would be curious as to what other responses you would have to my objections). That is that Jesus himself uses it in that way. In Matthew 19 Jesus refers to Genesis 1, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’,” in responding to a question on divorce. Although he is, of course, talking about divorce and not homosexuality, it seems implicit (and I trust the implicit teachings of Christ far more than the implicit beliefs of the author of an Old Testament passage) in his words that God intends for marriage to be between a male and a female. And whatever we may say about other parts of the Bible or historical teachings of Christianity, one of the tenets of Anabaptism is radical discipleship of Christ, which, as I indicated in my last post (the part that didn’t get deleted) can (and does) involve suffering, and giving things up that we would otherwise be free to enjoy. Of course, the danger is to use this (as some think Yoder did, although I think they misread him) to justify oppression and glorify suffering. It is also dangerous to stake too much on a single passage which seems to support a viewpoint, even if it does so fairly well. We have, after all, not even considered the possibility that the historical words of Christ are different than what has been handed down to us, and although that may not concern us in some cases, in one in which I am placing so much on something incidental to the actual passage, perhaps it should. For these reasons I do try to remain open to new ideas on this subject (and others).

    That being said, there remains one big difficulty that I have with the acceptance of homosexuality. This I shall put forward in the form of a question, for anyone who would care to answer. Katie, you objected to Nate’s ostensible comparison (in another thread–I didn’t read it, so I can’t comment on it) of LGBTs to murderers, etc. This is an understandable objection that I see quite often. You then go on to express surpise that he didn’t include “bestiality, polygamy, and necrophilia in there too.” For the first and the last I’ll say fair enough–no possibility of consent–but what, may I ask, *is* wrong with polygamy? Infamous to the Religious Right’s opposition to the legalization of gay marriage is the “slippery slope” argument–if people are marrying those of the same sex today, they’ll be marrying farm animals tomorrow. As an argument of what will happen, the slippery slope argument may not have much credence. But as an argument of what should happen, if we apply the same logic that you apply to homosexuality, on what grounds do we condemn (among other sexual “perversions”) polygamy, incest, and free love? I pick these three intentionally because with the other two examples you gave, and others that could be given (e.g., rape, pedophilia), there are problems involved with the consent (or ability to give consent) of one of the parties. But in the three cases I have given, we can do away with that problem. Let’s start with the first. Polygamy is, as I’m sure you’re aware, the norm in a number of African cultures. Indeed, missionary opposition to polygamy has, for better or for worse, caused a lot of cultural strife for Africans. One of the primary reasons for this is that the missionaries didn’t really understand what they were opposing (I’m generalizing, of course, but bear with me)–in their minds it was all about sex, whereas in reality it was about much more than that for the Africans involved. (Incidentally, one could take–in many of the same cultures–an example of a much more gruesome and probably easily condemned practice, female circumcision, and still come up with the same missionary misunderstanding and resultant cultural harm from their opposition to it.) This is the same thing that LGBT Christians object to (rightly) in many conservative Christians–that they simply don’t understand what being gay is all about. And yet, would you go so far, in the case of polygamy, as saying that it is completely permissible, or that there is nothing wrong with it? (When I say “you,” I don’t just mean you, Katie, but anyone else who agrees with the view of homosexuality that you’re putting forward. I’m asking these questions to anyone who cares to answer them.) At the very least, would you not want to (as I do) say that although the missionaries went too far in their opposition to polygamy, monogamy is still God’s ideal for Christians? Well, perhaps you wouldn’t. Perhaps you’re broad-minded enough to say that polygamy is just fine, if it’s culturally appropriate. (After all, it’s in the Bible–as Africans never tire of pointing out.) Then what about incest? On what grounds do you say that a brother and sister do not have the right to marry and engage in sexual relations, if they truly love each other? This question is not simply hypothetical. Germany’s anti-incest laws have recently been challenged by a couple making arguments very similar to those made by LGBT Christians: Is there something inherently wrong with siblings loving each other in that way? Who are you to be the judge of that? And finally, why do we even need the institution of marriage in the first place? Sure, it may have worked well in the past, but what is inherently wrong with a group of people simply having sex with each other–providing that they are all consenting mature adults who truly love each other? By this point it may seem as if my tone has gotten rather sarcastic, but I assure you that that is not my intent. I truly do want to know what *is* wrong with polygamy, incest, and free love. For those of you who believe that God’s ideal plan for sexuality is not between one man and one woman, on what grounds do you say that God’s ideal plan for sexuality is between two–and only two–consenting and unrelated adults within the bounds of marriage? Let me reiterate that this is not meant as a sneering attack–I truly do want to know how you can draw the line where you do, and am curious as to your responses. I’m not saying that homosexuality *is* equivalent to the things I’ve mentioned, but I’m asking *why* it isn’t. Part of me very much wants to come to the same place as you have on this issue, but the above objection is one of the primary reasons I have difficulty doing so.

    Also, since I see my previous post has a response, I’ll respond to that now. Carl, you’re absolutely right that the overarching message of Jesus has very little to do with sexuality and a lot to do with how we treat “the least of these,” and that that is our moral priority. This is why I find it ridiculous that so many Christians make the deal out of homosexuality that they do. There are simply more important battles to be fought. However, although the above may constitute the core of Jesus’ message, I simply am not convinced that it constitutes the whole of it. *Any* follower of Christ is called to sacrifice, be they gay or straight, white or black, male or female, college professor or construction worker. And these people will have to sacrifice different things–I think that much at least we can agree on. This alone does not mean that LGBT Christians should have to sacrifice that which we heterosexuals enjoy, of course, and it is always dangerous for those of us in positions of power to tell those less powerful what they should sacrifice (and I would frankly rather that all the LGBT Christians out there go and get married to committed loving partners than people misunderstand my words to justify the terrible homophobia that is so prevalent in our culture). But if the whole of Jesus’ message is simply to be kind to the lowly, then I really don’t think we have any grounds for denouncing polygamy/incest/free love/et al. And if Jesus’ message consists of something more, then I think we have to seriously ask ourselves if we aren’t simply buying into the individualistic ideals of our culture when we claim to simply be living out the radical all-inclusive love of Jesus in our acceptance of homosexuality.

    And I see that I again failed to keep my post short. Oh well. Perhaps one of you will have the patience to read through the whole thing, and the graciousness to respond. :-)

  30. lukelm

    Hi Nevin, welcome to YAR – glad you found your way here.

    I appreciate your sincere laying-out of your thinking on this issue. I’ll try to express what I see as the central flaw in your line of thinking, which I’m afraid is directly tied to how the church deals with (or fails to deal with) sexuality. I hope to get at your questions about incest, polygamy, and free love, although indirectly. What I see as the flaw is the implication that sex (in whatever) form is self-gratification – pleasure, basically – and that sexual ethics therefore consists of categories in which it is or isn’t appropriate to take this pleasure for oneself. To me this cuts sex out of a relational ethic, where I believe God placed it. I’ll say more:

    You, and everybody around, seem to agree that sex between a married man and a woman is good. Yet… is this REALLY what you think? What if they got married while drunk and divorce three days later? What if the woman doesn’t want to have sex and is forced to (marital rape, it’s called)? What if the woman was forced into the marriage against her will? On and on… clearly there are some situations where sex isn’t okay in a straight marriage. My only point is that a categorical/individualistic approach to sexual ethics never works out… we always find ourselves falling back on some other ethic we can’t really name when faced with actual situations.

    What if sex actually has some power, some place in life and in creation, beyond personal, individual pleasure (and procreation)? What if sex can actually create something good and positive in the world, can be a form of spiritual connection between people, can be a form of self-giving and love? What if sexual relation can be used to build up the kingdom of God? What if there is some living ethic of sexuality not based on Law but on a kingdom ethic of giving, community, relation, and love? And what if sexuality is something way beyond physical genital acts of sex, and is something that goes to the core of being human and relating to other humans, something that is so a part of us and so tied up in everything we do and are that it couldn’t possibly be separated out no matter how hard we tried?

    This is my reaction to speaking of giving up one’s sexuality as a necessary form of “sacrifice” to be in God’s kingdom. To me that makes as much sense as saying that I have to sacrifice the use of my arm to be in the kingdom. An arm can be used for so many things… it can be the arm that gives the cool cup of water, that comforts the needy, or it can be the arm that strikes another down, or steals. This is how I see my gay sexuality. It’s not just a part of me – it IS me, it is my self in this creation that God has made. I’m not talking about gay sex here. I’m talking about being – being a human- in my case, being a gay human. Where can my gay sexuality (where can I) fit into God’s kingdom? Where can I offer myself, my sexuality, to build up this kingdom, and bring love to others?

    Why is the church so afraid of this – why does the church seem terrified to its very foundation of this? Not just queer people, but of everyone’s sexuality? What are the boxes, the secrets, the shame – what are these for? Why can’t it just stop being dead and start calling its member to enter the real, living, kingdom of God in sexuality?

    This is what we all really long for, I think – gay, straight, and otherwise. We long to live our sexuality openly and freely as a way of loving, being, and giving in the world, fully in harmony with God’s reality. Yeah, by forcing everyone into straight marriages, maybe some of this can come through on its own, but certainly not because of the box that it’s been shoved into. Real, living sexual ethics is not about categories, taboos, and being allowed to take a selfish pleasure for oneself, or having to sacrifice it. Real sexual ethics is the same as all other kingdom ethics. It’s giving, accepting, freedom from fear, loving, and building others up.

    THAT’s the Garden of Eden, or Heaven, yo. The Garden of Eden is not a penis and a vagina.

    This is the real gift we queers can offer the church right now. This is what Katie and BMC are working to bring to the church. We (well, me, and a lot of others I know) don’t just want to fit into our little gay marriages on the old law-based model and fade into the way of the church. The church’s sexual ethic is dead, and through struggling with our reality, maybe we can offer life not just to the queers of the Anabaptist world, but to everybody.

    (I hope you don’t read this as being written “at” you Nevin, in the sense that I’m saying you’re working against what I’m talking about. Also, since this thread is very long, if you don’t have time to read through the whole thing, make sure to look at my post in comment #5 about my relationship with my partner for more context.)

  31. davisagli

    Hello, all; I’ll start with an introduction. I’m an Anabaptist and a Mennonite who grew up in Goshen and recently graduated from Goshen College. My degree is in physics but my interests are wide-ranging and include history and the Church–hence my interest in this blog. I’ve been lurking since YAR’s beginning and like Nevin I felt moved to offer some thoughts on this hot (too hot?) topic.

    Nevin, thanks for your thoughts and sincere questions. Leaving aside for a moment your thoughts on sacrifice (because Luke and Carl have addressed it better than I can), I’d like to offer my own interpretation of Matthew 19 and its quotations from Genesis. I was intrigued by the hermeneutic you applied to Genesis 1, of trying to focus on the main purpose of the text. But applying this to Matthew 19 led me to a different conclusion than you about homosexuality and sexuality in general.

    Disclaimers: I am not a biblical scholar, and I recognize that this is a view (and a fairly undeveloped one at that) through the narrow lens of one passage, on a complex topic with which I am not as familiar as many of you.

    Looking at Matthew 19, I noticed that after Jesus quotes Gen. 1:27 (“made them male and female”), he goes on to quote Gen. 2:24 (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”) He then goes on to conclude, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Since Jesus is responding to a question about divorce, his main purpose seems not to be to make a claim about what sort of commitment God intended (which I believe was your reading of this passage, Nevin), but to highlight the importance of honoring a commitment. The Genesis reference, as I read it, seems to serve mainly as an introductory statement to remind Jesus’ listeners of why marriage is a special commitment, rather than as the main point of his response to the Pharisees. Jesus does reiterate the words ‘male and female’ from Genesis, but he does so in response to a question about divorce in a culture that only had a concept of marriage between a male and a female.

    But I said that Jesus bases his claim to the specialness of the marriage commitment on the passage from Gen. 2:24 which talks about marriage between a man and woman. So how can I then claim that a male-female union was not God’s intent from the beginning? Well, I think that the main point of Gen. 2 is not about what sort of marriage union God created, but about why God created it (this is also the question you raised, Nevin, when asking what the institution of marriage is for). The section that ends “For this reason a man shall…be joined to his wife…” begins with God saying “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Based on this, it sounds like one reason for marriage is to provide intimacy, instead of lonesomeness (Question for another thread: where does this leave single people?). God also goes on to say, “I will make him a helper as his partner.” I read this as saying that one of the partner’s purposes is to be a partner in the tasks assigned just previously in verse 15 (to till and keep the garden)–in other words, another reason for marriage is to provide support in the service of God.

    Looking for these fruits–a mutual commitment to intimacy and a mutual commitment to following God–can provide a more helpful starting place for a biblical basis for evaluating a union’s morality–and one that I think is more compatible with the good things Luke has to say about sexuality. And if I observe these traits in a marriage between two men or between two women, my conviction is that I can in the same spirit as Jesus say, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    As may be obvious, I am biased in my interpretation from being raised in a generally gay-friendly congregation. To those of you who hold a different bias, do my interpretations take too many liberties with the text? To those of you who share my bias and value same-sex sexuality, do you think there is any value in trying to interpret the Bible in a way that leaves room for honoring same-sex sexuality (as I have here attempted), or must we surrender this text to those who use it as a basis for condemnation or disapproval and instead base our ethics on some other source? To those who are married (I am not), homosexual or heterosexual, what insights into the relationship between spirituality and sexuality can you add to Luke’s?

  32. Skylark

    Welcome, Nevin and davisagli. I enjoyed reading the comments both of you shared. Nevin, your ponderings and questions struck me as genuine and thoughtful. I hope you keep posting.

    Nevin asked what is wrong with bestiality. Some secular thinkers use the criteria of “consent” to determine if a sexual act is acceptable or not. Since non-human animals do not have the capacity to consent in the same way humans can, this supports the idea it is wrong. Sex between an (legal) adult and a (legal) child is the same way – even if a child appears to consent to or initiate the activity, the capacity for fully comprehending the consequences of the act are not there. There’s too much room for manipulation and “using” by the legal adult.

    davisagli’s comment prompted a question for me about divorce. It’s a lot more acceptable in Christian/Mennonite churches today for heterosexuals to divorce and/or remarry than it is for queers to get married the first time. This is definitely an issue worthy of its own post and discussion. On what basis do we allow divorce and remarriage? Jesus didn’t seem too keen on it in the Matthew 19 passage. I’ve had the thought that maybe he was reprimanding husbands not to condemn their wives to a life of poverty through divorce, ’cause I’d heard somewhere wives could not divorce their husbands under cultural traditions. Maybe someone here could fill me in.

    Luke, thank you for your interesting and thought-provoking post. I guess I’m honestly not sure what your vision of love and intimacy looks like. Maybe this is my “dark side” rearing its head, but I’m not comfortable with public displays of graphic sexuality – whether hetero, queer, or whatever. I’d much rather people kept their pants on until they’re at home. I got the impression (perhaps mistakenly) from your post that people should be much more open – and by this I thought you meant publically demonstrative – with their sexuality. Could you clarify? Thanks!

  33. eric

    Skylark, I think you may have read something into Luke’s comments that aren’t really there. I resonate strongly with his condemnation of the taboo nature of sexuality in the church, but wouldn’t say that “public displays of graphic sexuality” have anything to do with that. In fact, I think the graphic sexuality in our media is a result of the taboos around honest sexual conversation.

    I think what Luke (and myself) are asking for is honest and open conversation around sexuality. Conversation that is more interested in reality and people and life and love than condemnations.

    I went through an abusive marriage and divorce several years ago. I found that the church teachings (and mainly lack of teachings) on relationships and sexuality were not only inadequate, but quite harmful in getting me into an unhealthy relationship and then telling me to stick with it despite everything.

    If the church wants to work against divorce, domestic abuse, and many other related issues all at once, it has to start with more up-front honest conversation about sexuality – not simplistic condemnations.

    Sexuality is such an integral and powerful part of our lives, it is dangerous to make it taboo in the way the church (and our culture) has. It’s not about doing away with all sexual boundaries, and it’s not about having sex in public, it’s about acknowledging sexuality as a powerful and important part of life, with potential for amazing amounts of good.

  34. lukelm

    Thanks, eric, for stating this in a possibly clearer way than I did.

    No, skylark, my thoughts really didn’t have much to do with how much sexuality is displayed in public. My take on the church is this: the real, applied teaching on the church on sexuality, as it is lived out day to day, is basically “keep it in marriage, and beyond that, let’s talk/think about it as little as we possibly can.” That’s why I refer to the marriage teaching (and associated condemnations) as a “box” to place sexuality in – a box with the lid closed as tight as possible. Maybe if someone is straight, gets married at a youngish age, and never really thinks about it, they might not notice this as strongly as those of us who have to really think about and deal with sexuality intensely because it doesn’t fit into that pattern (for any number of reasons.)

    This seems to me a very important topic for everyone on the board, but maybe it’s bigger and broader than should be contained in this thread, which should probably narrow back down to LGBT stuff. I’ll start a new thread for it.

  35. Nevin

    Thank you for your frank (and prompt) response, Luke. You’ve made some good points and given me some things to think about. You’re quite right that sexuality is about a lot more than what genital goes where. Part of me would at least like to think that it is more than that in the ideal form of marriage between a man and a woman, in a way that it still cannot be between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, but I confess that at this time, at least, I can’t really explain how that would be. It may simply be my own prejudices that refuse to go away. I thank you for reminding me that a lot of heterosexual “marital” sex is far less than ideal itself. We’re hardly saving the “sanctity” of marriage by attacking the LGBT community. And I daresay that I would rather a good gay couple than a straight couple of the type you mentioned. Of course that alone does not necessarily mean that homosexual marriage is permissible, but your point is well made that we can’t just slice things into neat little categories. I’m a philosophy major, so putting things into neat little categories is exactly what I like to do: but of course nothing really does let itself be categorized as such. It’s easy to get lost in philosophizing and forget that real people are involved. I suppose my concern is that we’ll do the opposite, becoming so focused on people that we lose sight of principle.

    The rest of your post is compelling, and I find myself wanting to agree with you. However, I’m afraid I don’t feel that you have addressed my concern about what is wrong with other non-traditional forms of marriage/sexuality. Why can’t that brother and sister in Germany marry each other? (Note: I just realized when I tried to click on that link that it’s broken… but that’s just because the hyperlink included the . in it–so delete that and it’ll take you to the page I was *trying* to link to.) If they truly love each other, why should we ask them to give up their love simply because we have this preconceived notion that incest is wrong? Heck, maybe we shouldn’t–maybe we’re just not progressive enough to see that. And cannot a man and his three wives truly love each other in a polygamous marriage? Can there not be a spiritual connection between him and more than one person? Indeed, it might seem odd to him the idea that he could only have that connection with one person. And again, I’m having difficulty seeing why, in principle, sex has to remain within the bounds of marriage at all, if we adopt a “living ethic of sexuality…based on…a kingdom ethic of giving, community, relation, and love.”

    One possible response would be that while certain people are not naturally predisposed towards marrying their sibling, or having more than one spouse, or having sex outside of marriage, people are naturally predisposed towards being gay or straight. It’s naturally dangerous for me to make judgments in that area, being straight myself (and highly doubtful that I could make myself “gay” if I tried). But while I’m as skeptical of “ex-gay” counseling as anyone, I’m not entirely convinced that human sexuality is itself this neat little box in which we are either one way or the other, and then we should live that way. I don’t think that the science bears that out, and I don’t think that that makes sense intuitively, given how very little else in life can be separated so neatly. Also, I think that that is too deterministic a view of sexuality, and indeed, of anything in life. I know that this comparison is made ad nauseam, but I still think it has some validity: it is not just as natural for me to have sex with many women rather than one as it is for you to have sex with men? Science (and my hormones) would say yes. I have a moral sense that that is wrong, but how do I know that that simply isn’t an outgrowth of my culture? Is the guilt I get when I find myself attracted to girls other than my girlfriend that different from the guilt that gays who believe that homosexuality is sinful feel when they are attracted to others of the same sex? Of course, such guilt can be harmful–especially given that I’d say no sin has been committed in either case–but the guilt may reflect something real. I think we would both agree that I ought to make the sexual “sacrifice” of not having sex with a woman besides my wife. At any rate, the point that I’m trying to make is that I have difficulty drawing a line between homosexuality and other sexual taboos based solely on the idea of orientation, or that (a la Walter Wink) it’s “natural” for homosexuals to have intercourse with those of the same sex whereas it’s “unnatural” for heterosexuals to do the same. Nate already covered this some in a previous post, and I basically agreed with what he had to say about genes not being our destiny.
    Thanks, davisagli, for your response as well. I agree that the main point of Mt. 19 is not to affirm heterosexual marriage but to affirm the sanctity of marriage itself. The point that I was trying to make was more that *implicit* in Jesus’ words was the *kind* of marriage that is sacred. You say that Jesus uses the words “male and female” because of the culture he was in, whereas I say that his use of those words shows his agreement with them. Of course, we could go back and forth all day on that all day, and never get anywhere, because there’s really no way to tell. I certainly acknowledge that I don’t have an airtight case for my interpretation–I suppose that I simply prefer to err on the side of caution when interpreting Jesus’ teachings, because it seems to me that utilizing more “open” interpretations almost inevitably leads to our reading into the passage. I was very fascinated by your take on Gen. 2–that marriage was instituted because “it is not good that the man should be alone,” and that the purpose of marriage, in the beginning, was to give people companionship and support. It certainly seems to make sense, and it wasn’t the way I had been approaching the passage before. I don’t know if it’s reading our agenda into the text or not–I will need to give it more thought, but I am glad to have another perspective on that passage now.

    Skylark: I wasn’t actually so much asking about bestiality/pedophilia as other consensual forms of intercourse. I am familiar with the criteria of “consent,” and I think it generally makes sense (the line that is drawn between “child” and “adult” is of course somewhat arbitrary, but that is of course unavoidable). What I’m wondering is how one draws the line, not between heterosexual and homosexual marriage, but between non-incestual monogamous marriage and polygamous marriage/incest/intercourse outside of marriage. Of course, maybe we shouldn’t be “drawing lines” at all–that seems to be what Luke is arguing–but then where does that leave us with these other forms of marriage and sexual expression that we remain uncomfortable with? As for your questions on divorce, the approach I have usually taken to the passage is that although Jesus permitted divorce only in cases of “marital unfaithfulness,” in our day and age it’s reasonable to expand that to include spousal abuse, etc. The point of Jesus’ teachings was not: “never divorce except in cases of adultery,” but “divorce is a terrible thing because marriage is so sacred, and so it should never be done except when it is absolutely necessary.” Also, as you observed, in Jesus’ day divorcing one’s wife would pretty much have been condemning her to a life of poverty, whereas today it is much worse for many women to stay in abusive or unhealthy marriages than to divorce and try to get by without the “support” of their ex-husband. Now, I still think that divorce is far too prevalent in our society, and that it is never a good thing, but I also think that it is sometimes unfortunately necessary. (And now I begin sounding like Just War theorists–hmm.) You make a good point, however, that divorce is rarely mentioned as a “sin” in churches today, whereas of course homosexuality is. What’s interesting too is that a few decades ago, that was not at all the case, or so I understand from those who were around back then. Randy Balmer observes in a book of his (which I haven’t read, but which I have heard him give a summary of when he spoke here at Messiah) that the Religious Right in America stopped making divorce a big issue when they chose as their political hero a divorced man, Ronald Reagan.

  36. eric

    A few quick thoughts, Nevin:

    Incest has genetic problems. It’s not so much a religiously moral issue as a genetically moral issue. Polygamy is always men with multiple wives, why is that? Polygamy is also not condemned biblically, but has become condemned socially – maybe because of its patriarchal imbalance? The bible certainly doesn’t go out of it’s way to condemn multiple partners – it even requires it at times (leverite marriage, for example).

    We tend to confuse our own cultural sexual morality with the sexual morality that is actually in the biblical text. I think that is the key to what Walter Wink talks about. Why do you find it so easy to expand your understanding of acceptable divorce, when you find expansive interpretations otherwise dangerous? How can you make an ancient text relevant to your life today without some expanding and interpreting? Even the concept of “Lord” holds entirely different meanings and connotations now than it did in first century Palestine.

    I think you are right that it makes some sense to err on the side of caution in interpretation – and considering Jesus’ overwhelming condemnation of judgment and condemnation… well, it seems most prudent in my mind to err on the side of not stoning anyone, despite what the bible has to say on that.

    On another note: you are right, of course, that it is not as simple as “gay” and “straight” – even scientifically. For more on that, look into the research of the Kinsey institute, where they talk about sexuality on a continuum.

    Correction: Polygamy in Judeo-Christian tradition is almost exclusively polygyny – men with multiple wives. Thanks, Michelle, for the correction in terms.

  37. j alan meyer

    Thanks for you thoughts, Nevin, and your well-put response, Eric.

    I certainly acknowledge that I don’t have an airtight case for my interpretation–I suppose that I simply prefer to err on the side of caution when interpreting Jesus’ teachings, because it seems to me that utilizing more “open” interpretations almost inevitably leads to our reading into the passage.

    Nevin, I would echo Eric’s confusion about how your preference to “err on the side of caution when interpreting Jesus’ teachings” leads you directly to exclusion instead of inclusion (something Jesus seems to explicitly speak to often). And, as he noted, you seem to backtrack on that when you address divorce, and how the interpretation has needed to expand over time.

    My other concern is your default defense of not wanting to “read our agenda back into the text.” I understand your hesitancy (and I think that’s a topic for discussion), but I don’t see that as ever being a valid defense for biblical interpretation. As I challenged Nate with earlier comments, I challenge you to think about your seemingly obvious and “safer” interpretations, and where they come from. The Christian tradition that gives you those interpretations has been rich and full at times, but has also been consistently patriarchal, racist, hetero-bigoted, and ultimately exclusionary in reinforcing the status quo and generally not taking Jesus’ message of love seriously. But that’s just my opinion. I chafe at the idea that anyone can claim to stick with traditional interpretation because it’s inherently more godly, or closer to what Jesus actually meant — as if any “opening” of the traditional interpretation is inherently dangerous and somehow moving away from the Divine. No matter how you interpret it, there’s an agenda of some sort being read back into the text. The question is: What agenda? And is it an agenda we can reconcile with our understanding of Jesus’ message?

  38. michelle

    Eric writes:

    Correction: Polygamy in Judeo-Christian tradition is almost exclusively polygyny – men with multiple wives. Thanks, Michelle, for the correction in terms.

    No problem. I just think it’s important to recognize, especially when talking about “norms,” that there are a range of norms that exist (and have existed) in other cultures – and throughout the animal kingdom… including polyandry (females/women with multiple male partners/husbands).

    Sometimes the reasons for polyandry and/or polygyny seem, well, reasonable. It may be more practical for the lifestyles, or even survival, of a culture. Other times, as I think Eric was pointing out, those structures can represent an abuse of power. And that, perhaps, is what several people are trying to get at…

    I am not a biblical scholar in the way some of you are. But my understanding of one of Jesus’ primary messages is in reference to power. Who has it, and how do they (we) use it? And in this current thread, how do those with power use it to define their (our) own and – more importantly – others’ sexuality?

    In a very simplistic way, I think misusing an imbalance of power is key to defining unhealthy sexuality in all areas – and that is the question to apply to individual situations. Is there an imbalance of power, and if so, how is it being used and/or acknowledged? There are other values I have that grow out of that question, and some situations are more complicated than that, but for me, that is the baseline from which to start.

  39. Nevin

    Firstly, my apologies for the late response. In addition to working full time this summer I’ve been taking a summer school class, and I didn’t exactly have the free time I would have liked. I’ve finished up that class now, though, and so am finally getting around to a few things, such as responding to the posts here that were written in response to mine.

    Eric, you observe that incest has genetic problems. You’re right, of course, and that is one of the common arguments against it. But, to be fair, should we really be basing our sexual ethics (or ethics in general) off of what is genetically healthy? I don’t find the argument that incest is wrong because of its genetic problems that different from the argument that homosexuality is wrong because of the dangers of homosexual intercourse. It is indeed true that (male) homosexual intercourse, at least in the form of anal sex, is more dangerous than heterosexual intercourse. But this in and of itself hardly makes homosexual intercourse wrong, right? As for the danger of producing genetically inferior offspring, should we let people with inheritable disabilities have children? Does that not have “genetic problems”? And finally, what if, hypothetically, a brother and sister were incapable of having children, or opted not to? Would the relationship be acceptable then?

    As for polygamy, I think you’re right that it typically is a manifestation of patriarchal imbalance (and yes, when referring to polygamy I have pretty much been talking exclusively about polygyny). In that way, it is a product of a certain kind of culture–one that is becoming increasingly less common in our postmodern, globalized world. But of course, some would say, and I indeed did say, in my first post on this thread, that homosexuality–in its modern sense at least–is in many ways an outgrowth of Western liberalism, and its ideals of individual freedom and self-expression, often at the expense of community, responsibility, and respect for tradition. Although these ideals are not bad in and of themselves (nor are many of the ideals on which, for instance, African and Israelite cultures were based on), but I think that they ultimately ought to remain subordinate to Christ. What exactly this means, practically speaking, is of course a difficult question, and I realize that my simply observing that homosexuality is an outgrowth of Western culture says little about its morality. I was mostly making the point that although you’re right, polygamy has been condemned socially for its patriarchal imbalance, there might by that same logic be comparable reasons to condemn homosexuality.

    Eric and Alan, you both ask why I can expand my understanding of acceptable divorce but not do the same for marriage. I think the difference is that I am not expanding my definition of what is “right” or what is “good”–marriage is still good, divorce is still bad–but what is culturally necessary. In fact, another possible implication of that passage I have toyed around with is an “updated” understanding of marriage. It seems to me that just as divorce is, while still a bad thing, unfortunately necessary in some situations, so homosexuality, while not a good thing itself, ought to be tolerated and accepted to an extent since it is such an integral part of the culture in which we live and since–like those who have undergone a divorce–GLBTs face the tremendous amount of persecution and suffering that they do. But this is of course different than what you seem to have in mind–my broadening the definition of not what is acceptable, but what is good, what is ideal. Although I practically never live up to such ideals–and as such often feel that I have no place condemning other Christians for their lifestyles–I do tend to believe in a very high ideal for which we as Christians ought to strive. Pacifism isn’t easy. Discipleship isn’t easy. The cross isn’t easy. There is an inherent difficulty in moving from one’s own commitment to living a life marked with the suffering inherent in following Christ to asking others to do the same–or even to do different, as of course the struggles that we all face are different. And I feel as if I’m treading on eggshells whenever I so much as suggest this–lest any LGBT Christians feel that I am making unreasonable demands of them that I cannot possibly understand, being a relatively privileged heterosexual. Indeed, it is this trepidation which often keeps me from openly voicing my thoughts on this subject in general. I am trying to be forthright here, however, because I feel that the best discussion occurs when those on both sides of an issue are honest (if sensitive–and if I have failed to be that I apologize) in stating their views.

    All that to say that I don’t think it’s as simple as simply “expanding and interpreting” the Bible in such a way as to allow for homosexuality. I think you are right that to an extent we need to expand our interpretation of the Bible. I am a far cry from a Biblical literalist or inerrantist, believe me. I am more apprehensive about new “interpretations” of Christ’s teachings, because of the high value that I place on the person of Christ. And I do retain a certain hesitancy in the eager embrace of new interpretations of Scripture in general, for the reasons outlined above. Although I am almost certainly more liberal than Yoder in terms of my views on the Bible, I did like a quote of his from The Politics of Jesus. In the interests of honesty, I must confess that I actually disagreed with some of the interpretations he was using this quote to defend–but if I may nevertheless by hypocritical and use the quote anyway for my no doubt biased purposes:

    “How can there by any corrective or challenge to our self-sufficiency, any continuity in the Christian community…if the present insight of the bearer is to be sovereign judge of any communication one will accept?”

    Now, Alan observes, quite rightly, that there is a danger inherent in sticking with “safe” interpretations. I do try to remain aware of that danger, and open to new understandings of Scripture, and Jesus’ teachings. It is, unfortunately, impossible for any one of us to avoid reading our own opinions and interpretations into Scripture. Alan argues that an interpretation which allows for homosexuality is more consistent with Jesus’ message of love. I am not convinced that this is an accurate interpretation of what “love” means in the Christian sense. It clearly does not mean “anything goes,” and I have yet to see why it necessarily means that we should not view same-sex marriage as a sin, or as not the ideal form of marriage. As conservatives never tire of pointing out, Jesus may have kept the crowd from stoning the adulteress, but he nevertheless told her to leave her life of sin. Of course, I doubt he would have said “Okay, *now* I condemn you” if she had gone and committed adultery a second, or a third, or fourth or fifth or sixth, time. So we do need to have that ideal of inclusiveness, of forgiveness, of non-condemnation, especially as we are all terrible sinners and Jesus himself was sinless, but I think it needs to be balanced out by an ideal of discipleship which might have implications we don’t always like. Interpreting the Scriptures in the light of Jesus’ love doesn’t simply mean accepting certain practices because we don’t want to be condemnatory towards those who practice them. I think that in “updating” Jesus’ teachings on divorce I am not contradicting anything explicit or implicit that he was teaching, that, on the contrary, I am affirming it. Similarly, I would “err on the side of not stoning anyone, despite what the bible has to say on that,” because Jesus quite clearly teaches that we should *not* act as the Old Testament ostensibly commanded. Jesus never explicitly contradicted the ideal of monogamous heterosexual marriage that we get from the Genesis account, and indeed, it is my contention that he in fact affirms it. Now, of course, he never explicitly condemns homosexuality in so doing; there is admittedly a marked difference between implicity affirming heterosexual marriage and explicitly condemning homosexual marriage different (although on the other hand, in that passage he condemns divorce *because* of his affirmation of marriage). I may indeed be making a mistake in failing to recognize that his implicit affirmation of heterosexual marriage is merely an expression of the culture he lived in. But before I am willing to accept that, I need to see a reason why I *should* accept that interpretation, in light of passages like Genesis 1-2 and the difficulties that I see in understanding incest, polygamy, et. al if one accepts homosexuality. I really am of two minds on this; still, I am arguing the side which I am because of genuine difficulties that I do have with the other side.

    A similar point that I will conclude on is that my disapproval of a homosexual lifestyle does not equate to me promoting the “exclusion” (to quote Alan) of anyone. I think that oppression of and hate acts towards homosexuals, or anyone else, are terrible things, far worse than I think homosexual marriage itself to be. Eric, you note that Jesus “condemned” “judgment and condemnation”–this itself shows that there is a distinction between “condemning” a sin and acting as if one is the sole arbiter of good and evil, making judgments on a person herself, ignoring the plank in one’s own eye while pointing out the speck in hers. I do not advocate exclusion of homosexuals–I imagine many are much better Christians than I am. All I am saying is that I believe gay marriage to be sinful, and that I believe such a belief to be the most faithful interpretation of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings. I could well be wrong. I’m not about to go taking God’s judgment into my own hands on this or any other matter. I happen to believe greed to be a sin, but I’m not in the habit of confronting persons who I do not know well because they are being greedy, or kicking them out of the church because of said sin. Now, if I felt a good friend of mine was being consumed by greed, I would probably tell him as much, but this would not amount to condemning him. I have only one good friend (that I know of) who identifies as gay, and he knows what my feelings on homosexuality are (or, at least, what I tend to say they are, since I honestly don’t know for certain what I think about it), although he does not share them.

    Now, there is the question of how Christians of the same mind as me ought to actually deal with homosexuality in the church, and to be quite honest I don’t have a good answer to that. I don’t plan on pastoring a church myself, and so will probably never have to deal directly with this issue. I can tell you that if I were ordained, I would not marry two men, or two women. I would rather that my church did not either, but if it did I would probably not consider it cause to leave that church, unless I had other problems with it as well. Eric, your excellent post on schisms and church unity (which I mean to respond to next) illustrates this problem, of what one believes personally and what one insists that one’s church affirms, and I don’t really have a good answer to that problem, at least in this case. But I would like to make clear that there is a wide gulf between someone like me, who thinks that he thinks that homosexual marriage is wrong, and James Dobson or Pat Robertson. One of the unfortunate things that happens in both this and other “hot-button” issues are that people get pigeon-holed into one of two camps. A middle ground is neither conceived of nor allowed. I think that I can disapprove of homosexuality without being homophobic, or without hating homosexuals. I’d imagine that most folks on this blog aren’t big fans of Israel’s foreign policy, but I also imagine that few of us would appreciate being called anti-Semitic. Nor would those who support a woman’s right to choose likely label themselves as “pro-abortion.” The point is that there is a middle ground on this, and most, issues. Whether or not that middle ground is where we should be or not is up for debate, but there is a place between “hating” or “excluding” GLBT Christians and believing that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.

  40. lukelm

    Hi again Nevin,
    Well, if you’ve already read my responses in schisming and floodgating, you’ve probably heard enough from me for the day. You do pose one question though that I thought I’d turn around to you and ask as a question:

    “and I have yet to see why it necessarily means that we should not view same-sex marriage as a sin, or as not the ideal form of marriage.”

    I’m not sure if you’ve had the chance to read through all the earlier posts in this thread in detail, but I’d invite you to look at my post in #5 and give a response to it if you can. In it I tell the story of my partnership and ask a simple question (from #3): “What exactly is it about my relationship with my partner that isn’t whole or that’s unhealthy, on God’s terms?” More simply than that: “What is wrong with my partnership?” I ask this especially because no one who has posted on this thread in support of the church’s status quo (excluding LGBT people from the church) has taken up this question, even though I and others asked it several times. Let’s face it – this whole issue isn’t about abstract arguments and obscure Bible verses. It’s about a lot of people in the church telling me in my specific life with my specific partner that our relationship is wrong. And yet, while any number of people are willing to spend any amount of energy condemning me in the abstract, no one has ever personally been able to tell me or express to me why my relationship with my partner is wrong.

  41. Nevin

    Well, Luke, to be perfectly frank, I don’t think that I have a good answer for you. I’d like to be able to say “well, your relationship is wrong for such and such reasons,” but I simply don’t have a well formed enough idea of what I believe the source of morality to be in general. Divine Command Theory, Natural Law, utilitarianism, deontological ethics–all of these have all sorts of problems associated with them. I think that it is difficult to say what makes any act right or wrong. That’s sort of what I was driving at with the questions about other forms of “sexual immorality”–why are they wrong? (Or aren’t they?) One could ask about many other things too, though. Why is greed wrong–assuming we’re ruling out “because God (or the Bible) says so”? Is it because of the effects it has on others? What if we’re greedy but give generously because we want to be thought well of? That doesn’t seem much better. Why is destroying the environment wrong? Is it just because it’ll be bad for humans in the long run? I’d like to think there’s more to it than that. Even if we extended that to say that it’s wrong because it’ll harm life in general I’d like to think that there’s more to it than that. But what, exactly? I couldn’t say. Or what about war? Why is it wrong? One could come up with a myriad of answers to that question, perhaps, but one could also poke holes into all of them. The point is that it’s hard to say why anything is wrong–and while I am by no means a theological conservative, I’ve come to think that “the Bible says so”–or perhaps, more appropriately–“Jesus say so” isn’t that bad of an answer after all.

    Nevertheless, it is a good question you ask, and I don’t mean to brush it off lightly. I would, ideally, like to come up with some answer to it, because I don’t like to simply say that something is wrong without being able to say why. And with other issues, such as war, I think I can offer, at the least, much better guesses than I can for this issue. But they are all guesses, after all, and in the end it seems to me that we simply can’t know. Our best course of action may be to humbly submit ourselves to the teaching and example of Christ. Maybe I’m not doing that in this case; maybe my bias is making my read my own values into the text. Maybe you’re doing the same thing. The only thing I’m really sure about is that we all ought to be humble enough to not insist that everyone else come to the same conclusions we do, and somehow find a balance between declaring our convictions on contentious issues and not letting them override those values that we can agree on, and that are often far more central to Jesus’ message than the ones we argue about.

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  44. somasoul

    “And yet, while any number of people are willing to spend any amount of energy condemning me in the abstract, no one has ever personally been able to tell me or express to me why my relationship with my partner is wrong. ”

    I think people have you haven’t listened.

    Justifying our sinful behavior is part of this whole fallen world mess. You can be ignorant of your sin or acknowledge it and try to change it.
    One is easier than the other.

    I believe that you are saved so long as you trust Christ.

    in love,
    a fellow sinner.

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