A key strand in Nora Gallagher’s new book, “Practicing Resurrection”, deals with Christian perspectives on homosexuality. Gallagher’s pastor is a gay who has come out of the closet. The book chronicles in absorbing detail her church’s journey towards accepting same sex marriages, culminating in the wedding of Charles and Philip.
I was glad I read the book. It reminded me that issues like these are not just theological issues. It reminded me that there are sincere, thinking, feeling, good people on all sides of the debate. I am also glad that I am reading this book at this time because the issue of homosexuality is once again very much in the press.
First there was that incident at the recent Tony’s, when Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, personal and professional partners for 25 years, accepted the best score Tony for “Hairspray”, with a kiss. More pertinent to the readers of this column would be the appointment of a non-celibate gay bishop by the Episcopalians in the Diocese of New Hampshire, in the U.S.
I am aware that this is a big and complex subject that cannot be adequately covered in a short column. Let me focus on two issues. One, in reading the accounts of many gays in and outside the church I hear a deep and desperate cry for acceptance. There is a profound loneliness that cries out to the church to demonstrate the loving accepting love of the Lord who died for all. Instead, and especially in evangelical churches, gays are specially marked out and made to feel like second class citizens, perennially viewed with suspicion. In some communities they are hated.
I search the gospels and look in vain for any situation where Jesus condemns homosexuals. Instead I find again and again, Jesus condemnation of those who think they are spiritually better than their fellows. (Luke 18: 9-14) Evangelicals need to look long and hard at their predilection for selective condemnation and their frequent manifestations of “holier than thou”. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God.
However, even if we are not to subject homosexuals to extra condemnation, we still need to ask, is there a biblical position on homosexuality? As evangelicals, we pride ourselves on our exegesis. It is worthwhile remembering that not too long ago, some evangelicals accepted slavery and racism as biblical. Humility is always a good stance to take when approaching Scripture.
No, Jesus did not condemn homosexuality. But when He articulated His position on marriage, He returns to the divine pattern of marriage and sexuality (Matthew 19:4-6). Indeed the division of humankind into male and female and all its implications is predicated on the very image of God (Genesis 1:27). The rest of Scripture defends this understanding of human sexuality. There is no biblical support for same sex unions, not without jettisoning every principle of proper bible interpretation.
The response of some homosexuals is this: Life is so unfair. We have been given a raw deal. We have this powerful urge for sexual relationships with members of the same sex. We are prepared for honourable monogamous faithful relationship with one partner. Why is this wrong?
I would agree that life is unfair. Life has been unfair since the fall. The fall has affected every aspect of life. And that means biology is not an infallible indicator of what is right. Just because I am born with powerful homosexual feelings does not in itself justify homosexual behaviour. Our yardstick for what is right and wrong remains Scripture properly interpreted. This is not fair to those with powerful homosexual urges. But there are many, many things in life that are horribly unfair. That is why the whole of creation moans for the new heavens and the new earth (Romans 8: 19-22).
In the meantime we have to live in this flawed creation. And all of us who are followers of Jesus have to ask each day, for divine strength to live our lives. We all have good days and bad days. No, life in this world is not fair but there is another world to come. In the meantime I think we should treat each other with gentleness and compassion.
Homosexuality? I have to draw a line where the Bible draws the line. And that means no to homosexual practice. And no to same sex marriages. And no to fornication. And no to greed… etc., etc, etc, But I must never forget that the same Bible demands that I love my neighbour as myself. The homosexual Christian is my brother. And homosexuals, like all humanity, like myself, are sinners for whom Jesus died. They are my neighbours. The ground before the cross is indeed flat.