One argument frequently heard in the defence of ordaining practising gays as church leaders, is the comparison of the gay leadership issue with the issue of women in church leadership. The argument is simple. Just as the world-wide church is slowly accepting women in church leadership, it will eventually accept practising gays as church leaders.
Those who push this view remind us that when the notion of woman in church leadership was first put forward, it was also highly controversial and by and large rejected. In time people saw that the bible was not against woman in church leadership. Similarly, given enough time, people will also come to see that the bible is not against practising gays serving in positions of church leadership.
It’s worthwhile taking a closer look at this argument. Any student of church history and the history of Christian doctrine must admit that there has always been an element of cultural influence in how people approach the Scriptures. This is not saying much beyond saying that no one comes to the Bible as a tabula rasa. We all bring our cultural baggage when we attempt to interpret the Bible.
A close look at the whole discussion of whether woman should serve as leaders in the church will reveal the influence of some degree of traditional patriachalism and the modern feminist movement. Scripture stands in judgement of culture. But often it is in the context of controversy and debate that what Scripture actually says, emerges.
The church remains divided on what should be the actual place of women in church leadership. A thumbnail summary of two of the main positions would go something like this:
Those who have a more egalitarian view of church leadership point to Galatians 3:28. There it is clearly stated that in Christ, we should no longer treat people on the basis of race, social position, or sex. Therefore women can serve in any position in church that they are gifted to do so. In the Body of Christ, ministry is based on gifting and not on sex.
Those who maintain that the primary leaders in the church should be male point to the Trinity. Father and Son are both co-equal members of the Godhead. Yet their roles are different. The Father sends the Son. The Son dies on the Cross, not the Father. Similarly, men and women are equal in dignity and value. But they have different functions. And men are to serve by providing leadership. Hence the existence of verses like 1Corinthians 14:33-36; Ephesians 5:22-33.
It is not my purpose to enter into this debate. The arguments for both sides are well documented. What I would like to point out is that both sides of the debate agree:
1. On the full and equal value of men and women in Christ.
2. That there is indeed role differentiation in the Body of Christ.
3. That, whatever your explanations, there have been women serving as leaders in the Bible, for example Deborah in Judges 4&5.
Therefore there is enough common ground for an ongoing dialogue. We can hope that one day this healthy tension will lead to a better theological construct for the role of men and women in church leadership.
The argument that practising gays should be allowed to be church leaders however, holds no such promise of theological synthesis. There is no common ground whatsoever.
Some would argue that just as there was a Deborah, there is the gay relationship between David and Jonathan. However, there is not a single shred of proof that David and Jonathan were lovers. It is an indictment on the poverty of strong male relationships in our day, that the only way people can view strong male friendship is to conclude that it must have been a homosexual one. This is reading into the text what is not there.
Furthermore the liberating agenda of Galatians 3:28 does not include straight and gay. There were already practising homosexuals in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s time. He could have made things so much easier if he had included the straight-gay divide in his spiritual Magna Carta. But he does not.
Instead there are passages like 1 Timothy 1: 8-11:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which he entrusted to me.” (NRSV)
Homosexuality does not conform to the sound teaching of God.
Do note however, that Paul places homosexuality (sodomites) in a list with many other sins that do not conform to God’s truth. We seem to focus on a few of the things in that list and basically ignore the others. There is no place for homophobia. It only makes us more vulnerable to the accusation that our reaction to homosexual behaviour is based on fear and prejudice and not on truth.
Measured against the truth of God we are all sinners. What makes the gospel so glorious is that it offers hope and salvation to all. And that includes homosexuals, fornicators, and liars.
We rob the gospel of its glory by blurring the distinction between what is of God and what is not.
The “gays in church leadership” issue is just another “women in church leadership” issue? I beg to differ.
Your brother, SooInn Tan