Wednesday, July 8, 2015

40 Answers (more or less) for Kevin DeYoung

Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, Icon, 7th Century

Click here to read "40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags."

Dear Kevin,

While I certainly don't expect to change your mind, I thank you for asking these questions. Some of them were very insightful, some I thought were a little patronizing, and, alas, many were redundant. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise, for my own personal growth and journey. So I thank you for that. Here it goes...

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

Like many Christians, my support for the recognition of gay marriage by the state, and eventually even the blessing of same sex unions by the Church, came after a lengthy struggle to accept the fact that some people are innately attracted to members of their own sex while possessing the same God-given need for intimacy and relationship that heterosexual people have. Even after accepting this, it took me years to open myself to the possibility that the moral teachings against homosexual behavior (teachings I had held since childhood) actually placed a greater burden on gay people than most heterosexuals could ever hope to endure. Over time I became more and more convinced that being gay was neither a “call to celibacy” nor a reason for a person to live a life devoid of the intimacy of relationship that most heterosexuals take for granted.

The election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 caused me to study the issue of same sex unions with an added measure of pastoral urgency. I found John Boswell’s Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (1996) to be a helpful resource in this regard. Boswell demonstrates that the status of same sex relationships is not a “new” issue for the Church; indeed, there exists a long, albeit often quiet, history of sanctioning “quasi-marriages” or life-long “holy friendships” between two people of the same sex, complete with corresponding liturgies of blessing. While scholars hotly debate the nature of these pre-modern unions (though all agree that these rites stopped short of condoning sexual activity), it can hardly be doubted that pre-modern cohabiting same-sex couples, if given the opportunity, would have taken advantage of the ecclesiastical cover that these rites afforded. This seemed to be the pastoral model I was moving towards, though it would still take me over a decade to fully embrace.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Matthew 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Comment: This is an implicit acknowledgement, placed on the lips of Jesus, that some people born into this world do not easily fit the gender binary.

Galatians 3:28-29“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Comment: While certainly not negating our biology, this passage nonetheless compels us to radically rethink what gender/sex means in Christ in the same way that it challenges us to rethink ethnicity and slavery. In Paul’s day Christians struggled with the question, “What does full inclusion of the Gentiles look like?” Centuries later Christians would be challenged to rethink the morality of slavery and the status of women in society. Perhaps in our day we are being challenged to rethink what the full inclusion of those who do not fit the gender binary looks like (i.e. LGBTQ).

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

Genesis 2:18 “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’…”

Comment: Human beings are created with a God-given need for intimacy and relationship.

1 Samuel 18:1-3“The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

Comment: Apart from any consideration of sexual activity, love on the deepest level and commitment can and does exist between members of the same sex.

1 Corinthians 7:9“But if [unmarried persons] are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

Comment: Gay marriage is preferable over insisting on celibacy for those not naturally disposed to it.  (Let’s face it, that’s the overwhelming majority of us.)

Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

Comment: Christ has set us free from the Law of Moses (that enslaved and condemned us) to fulfill the law of love (which sets us free and gives us life).

Galatians 3:28“There is …no male and female, for you are all one in Christ.” 

Comment: See #2 above.

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

I dare say I would continue to use the same verses that I would for a marriage of two persons of the opposite sex. But I do see your point, particularly with regard to male headship in marriage:

Ephesians 5:20 -- "For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior."

My honest question here would be whether the headship metaphor still carries the same application today in light of our contemporary understandings of the essential equality of the sexes and equal partnership in marriage. Even those who still insist on male headship do not share, at least to the same degree, the same underlying patriarchal values and attitudes that Christians of earlier times had.

Therefore as a preliminary answer (since I’m still working this through), I would offer up the suggestion that marriage as a scriptural metaphor for the self-giving love of Christ to his Church still applies to marriage in contemporary times, though, in light of our understanding of equal partnership in marriage, the application of this metaphor expands to include both partners in reciprocating Christ’s love for each other.

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

A better question to ask would be whether a first-century rabbi or itinerant preacher could ever have imagined such relationships, let alone would have taken time to teach about them or against them. The answer I believe is self-evident.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

The context of the passage (Matthew 19) makes it clear that Jesus was addressing divorce. His reference to Genesis 2:24 was no more a condemnation of same sex unions than it was a condemnation of polygamy. He addresses neither subject, so it is unfair to twist his argument in this way. Indeed, I have used Genesis 2:24 myself to make the very same point.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

In context Jesus clearly had in mind illicit forms of heterosexual behavior, particularly any willful act on the part of a wife against her husband that constituted a breach of spousal fidelity.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

Sexual orientation as a psychological dimension of a human person was not understood in Paul’s day. So it should not surprise us that Paul’s conception of exchanging “natural” for “unnatural” relations was shaped by the sexual taboos of his time, place and culture; reinforced as they were by a few line-item commands within the Mosaic code as well as by the most common and scandalous homoerotic practice in Roman society, namely pederasty (i.e. the sexual exploitation of young males and slaves by older males). Hence, Paul addressed homosexual behavior as he observed it in his day (no doubt from a safe distance).

In light of what we know today, I think it is a gross misapplication of Paul’s words to make them a blanket condemnation of all homosexual expression, particularly in the case of two members of the same gender living together in a covenanted relationship of mutual love and affection.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Sure, if by “heaven” you mean the “kingdom of God.” However, in the final analysis, it is God, not Paul or the author of Revelation, who will judge.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

1 Corinthians 6:9 refers to arsenokoitai (literally “man-bedders”), a derogatory term used to describe hedonistic male homoerotic behavior in general. I personally cannot see how this term would apply to those living in life-long covenanted relationships.

Revelation 21:8 refers to pornois, which in most contexts refers to prostitution, but certainly could have the more general meaning of promiscuous behavior, both heterosexual and homosexual.

I do not think it particularly helpful to make an exhaustive itemized list of every activity or behavior that these terms might possibly describe in any given context, nor do I believe the biblical writers intended for us to do so.

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Augustine felt obliged to allegorize the most embarrassing parts of the Old Testament to accommodate his former-Manichee (dualistic) sensibilities. He also bequeathed to the western theological tradition his own sexual hang-ups, including his belief that original sin is transmitted through heterosexual coitus.

Aquinas relied more on natural law than on biblical exegesis for his understanding human nature and sex. In his taxonomy of sexual sins, he ranked masturbation worse the fornication, incest worse than rape, and consensual sodomy worse than incest or rape. Such a ranking should make us shudder in horror today. Yet it makes perfect sense in a time and context that viewed any sexual act as “unnatural” that did not envisage procreation as its primary end.

Calvin was the subject of a vicious lie and rumor started by the Catholic controversialist, Jerome Bolsec, that, as a young man, Calvin had been convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death in the city of Noyon. After the intervention of a bishop, Calvin was supposedly branded and instructed to flee the city. While I do not believe this rumor for a second, it nonetheless illustrates just how dangerous a sympathetic attitude towards homosexuality would have been in Calvin’s (and Luther’s) day.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

I detect a hint of colonial imperialism in this question. Be that as it may, I would use the same arguments I employed above. I do however wonder what the inquirer thinks of active western evangelical lobby and support for the anti-homosexual legislation recently enacted in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where gay people can be fined, imprisoned and in some cases executed. I wonder if the inquirer believes that such laws should be enacted here in the US, and if not, why not?

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

I really do not think I could care any less about what motivates either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama on this issue.

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

Yes, it might surprise you to know that I believe a family where both parents raise their biological children is ideal. I also realize this is not always possible or even for the best in a broken world (e.g. death, divorce, abuse, neglect, etc.). However, lest we turn the biological family unit into some kind idol, we should keep in mind another biblical model of the family – a model that happens to provide the greatest scriptural metaphor for our redemption in Christ: adoption. (It also happens to be a model that I think should be open to gay couples.)

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

“Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma.”
–Perrin & Siegel, “Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian,” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013. (Hat tip to Ben Irwin)

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

I think that the state should, if possible, prioritize the placement of children in two-parent families, while recognizing that many single people make wonderful parents as well. Of course, churches are free to promote the kind of family arrangements that they feel most agree with their fundamental beliefs.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

I believe it is self-evident that the institution of marriage is a great stabilizing factor in society, promoting fidelity and discouraging harmful sexual behavior (behavior that contributes to the spread of HIV, unwanted pregnancies, etc.)

As an Episcopalian, I affirm the purposes of marriage described in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), which states that marriage is intended by God for a couple’s “mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” To this I would add the care and nurture of any children entrusted to a couple via adoption.

18. How would you define marriage?

Marriage is a socially recognized, often ritually blessed, legal contract between two persons that establishes certain rights and responsibilities between them, their natural and/or adopted children, and, to a lesser degree, their extended families (e.g. child guardianship).

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

No, for two reasons: first, human beings have a natural aversion to incest; second, incest involves the high risk of harmful genetic consequences.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

I do not in any sense advocate state-sanctioned polygamy, even though I believe that ultimately “marriage” should be defined by families within the context of their communities of faith or affinity. So, if Mormons wish to practice plural marriage in a free society, more power to them. However, the state is not in any sense obligated to sanction, endorse or privilege archaic practices like polygamy and/or the taking of concubines, especially given the harmful patriarchal implications involved.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

The state has a compelling interest in both prohibiting marriage between genetically close relatives and discouraging the practice of polygamy (see above).

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Yes, reasonable societies do not assume minors are mature enough to enter into legal contracts of any nature, let alone marriage licenses.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

In the United States of America, people are free to decide for themselves what marriage means within the norms of their faith/affinity communities. However, the state is not obliged to sanction any definition of marriage that conflicts with its compelling interests.

24. If not, why not?

Slippery slope arguments that gay marriage inevitably opens the institution of marriage up to limitless redefinition and any number of possible scenarios and configurations are not logically valid. In civil law, marriage is still defined as the legal union of two people for the purposes of setting up a common household and holding property in common.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America ensures the freedom of faith communities to promote and celebrate the kinds of marriages and family arrangements that they feel most agree with their fundamental beliefs.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Absolutely!  But, frankly, I cannot imagine a scenario where a dissenting Christian would actually be forced to conduct, celebrate, witness or participate in a gay marriage.

However, I suspect your question is more about the bakers, photographers, pizza shop owners and state clerks we hear about in the news. To my way of thinking, there is a considerable difference between a baker and, say, a kosher butcher. A baker may have religious scruples against gay marriage, but baking and selling a cake is not a religious obligation or a ritual custom on the part of the baker. It is a transaction of commerce, and to refuse business to a protected class of people is discrimination. Likewise, state clerks tasked with issuing marriage licenses represent the civil government in their capacity, not their church or religion. The First Amendment simply does not apply in these cases.

With regard to accreditation, accrediting bodies are private peer-governed agencies that establish their own criteria for membership. I would hope that dissenting Christian organizations would not be penalized for their beliefs, but that is not my call.

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

I will always speak out against shaming and bullying.

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

Churches in my denomination offer premarital counseling, couples counseling, family counseling, and crisis counseling, among other things. I think churches are obligated to extend the same kinds of support to married gay couples.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

Fidelity in marriage is the Christian norm.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

See above (#29).

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Encourage couples to model healthy marriages and teach accordingly; offer support for relationships, counseling for those trapped in sexual addiction, and guidance for young people as they grow into adulthood.

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

As love is defined in John 15:13.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

See above (#32).

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

In light of Matthew 22:36-40 (and John 15:13), the question should have been stated, “How does our understanding of Christ’s love for us shape our obedience to God’s commands.” I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Yes, and most happily married people know about this firsthand. :-)

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Over the years I have changed much of what I understand about the Christian faith. It’s called growth.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

The challenge of full inclusion in the Church has brought more passion to my faith and more motivation to share the good news of Christ with others than any attempt on my part to protect the Church from “false teaching” or “heresy” ever has.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

The Episcopal Church welcomes you…and we actually mean it. :-)

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

See # 37.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

Clearly Paul’s purpose in Romans 1 was to disturb his Jewish audience out of the complacency of their legalistic self-righteousness. In the very next statement he says: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (Romans 2:1). This is a rebuke that every legalist should take to heart.

Again, thank you Kevin. By the way, I don't wave rainbow flags.

Sincerely yours,

Click here to read my Postscript.

1 comment:

  1. Just fantastic. I have pinned this for later reference.