Straight Talk about Gay Christians

 Like many of you, I’ve found the personal reflections that David and Maria have offered us this week to be profoundly brave and moving. I had planned to post something more today on Leviticus and gay Christians, but I feel that I can’t let my colleagues’ posts go by without addressing them directly.

Of the three of us at UTS, I’m the only who has a “church-approved” romantic life: straight, married, with children. As far as my private life is concerned, I have no reason to care about where the churches (and, in particular, the Orthodox Church, my ecclesial home) stand on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or any related issues, because, on the sex front, nothing about either my public or private life contradicts its explicit teachings or implicit expectations about how a good, God-fearing Christian should live. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unaffected by questions about the church’s traditional theology concerning homosexuality, or by the way that it treats community members who are also gay. Insofar as these are challenges to very nature of the Christian community – not simply regarding who gets to be “in,” but what our answer to this query means about who we all are, both as individual Christians and as a community based on love and care for each other – they are pressing for everyone.

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David’s Story

So here’s my story.

I know that, in the midst of controversy, personal accounts can be manipulative and distracting. They can blur instead of clarify the issues. But I want to ground my discussion of homosexuality in my own experience. This is in part to show my hand, so that people understand where I’m coming from. But it’s primarily to remind us that there is a lot at stake in this issue: the churches’ traditional stance can really hurt people.

It really hurt me.

I believe that if we don’t understand the full effects of the churches’ teaching on real people, our discussion is not credible. Certainly, if we’re going to move forward, the churches must start coming to terms with the very tangible, personal effects of what they’ve been teaching and what they’ve been doing.

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Here I Speak – I Can Do No Other

I’m bi, I’m Christian, and I think it’s important to say this out loud.1

I’ve often heard well-meaning people muse (in a conciliatory tone): “I’m not against gay people, myself. But can’t they just live their private lives quietly? Why do they have to talk about them? To put it bluntly, I don’t talk about what I do in my bedroom, so why should they? And doesn’t this merely add fuel to the fire? Live and let live.”

They have a point. I, too, would love it if my sexuality were a non-issue. I would much rather live quietly – date and break up, fall in love and maybe get married – without anyone but my friends and family knowing anything about it. I would love it if the simple fact that I date both men and women could be just one part of who I am, like my blond hair or my love of detective stories.

But the thing is – I can’t be quiet about my private life and have integrity at the same time.

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  1. I’ll use the term “bisexual” throughout these posts simply because I’m relatively ok with it. I do, however, think that binaries, sexual or gender, are not something set in stone. And I think that we need to pay attention to the words we use. But these important issues are not central to the questions I’m raising here. []

Leviticus, Gay Sex, and Christianity (I)

In my last post, I made a few observations about how important it is to comprehend the theological framework of biblical regulations. This time, I want to get into the weeds a little bit by discussing two verses of the Old Testament, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, that directly address sexual relations between two people of the same sex.

These passages are nestled in a portion of Leviticus generally known in biblical scholarship as the “Holiness Code,” which is concerned, as its name suggests, with rules designed to conform Israel to God’s own holiness. Holiness is important so that the land can be kept ritually and morally clean for God to dwell in, and so that Israel’s priestly representatives can continue to communicate with God. (The moniker “Holiness Code” is taken from Leviticus 19:2 and its demand, “You [Israel] will be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”)

This theological school is deeply concerned with creating precisely established categories. Its authors’ theological imagination is motivated by a natural, social, and political world in which boundaries are easy to understand and neatly delineated. The best of all possible worlds – the world that God has created and tries to sustain – is one where all things have a proper box that they fit into. This imperative is especially evident in a related text: the creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:4. As most readers will recall, each day of this narrative involves God taking some element that was previously undifferentiated and splitting it into categories. The ordered creation that we inhabit is the result of God creating very elemental distinctions: dividing darkness from light, waters from waters, water from dry land, day-time from night-time. Creation is about dividing the stuff of the universe into categorical spaces within which life is able to thrive. After the categories are established, God puts into them the creatures that are proper to each space; these creatures can only live and thrive if the proper boundaries that God has ordained are respected. If the borders that separate them begin to blur, creation itself is threatened.

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Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity (I)

In my first post in our new series on Christianity and homosexuality, I want to start with a little reflection on what we’re actually doing, or should be doing, when we read the Bible. It is necessary to understand what the Bible is, what it claims to be, and not only what information and guidance it is capable of giving us, but just as importantly, how it provides those things. I’ll get in a moment to how that affects the question of rules governing sexual behavior, but there are a couple of general principles that will guide all of my discussions on this topic.

First, the Bible as an entire collection is a uniform source for Christian theology; that is, all portions of it are foundational, first-order texts for Christian theological reflection and argument. Biblical texts are the raw material out of which Christians are required to construct any theological argument, because they represent the common fund of experience that Christians of different cultures, classes, and background may use to talk to each other. There is a reason that Bible and liturgy are the two most fundamental sources of Christian theology: they are the only two elements that all members of the Christian community experience in common.

That does not mean, however, that the Bible itself is theologically uniform. Indeed, critical portions of the Bible not only have different theological emphases, but actively contradict each other’s theology. Some, in fact, were expressly written in order to oppose the theological views of other biblical texts. (Leviticus/Numbers and Deuteronomy are prime instances of this latter phenomenon.) One of the reasons that the Bible, and particularly portions of the Pentateuch, can be so confusing for readers is that the viewpoints of particular texts so frequently clash with others that are not only part of the same canonical collection, but frequently positioned directly next to each within the very same book. (Genesis and Numbers, where multiple sources are interwoven throughout the books, provide excellent examples of the conceptual whiplash that this can create for a reader.)

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A Gay Ol’ Time

Over the next little while UTS is going to take up the issue of homosexuality. We’re doing this for several reasons.

First, we at UTS have all been personally – and negatively – affected by the church’s traditional stance against homosexuality. So, it’s something that has been bothering us.

Second, we feel that, despite the topic’s great currency, much still needs to be said.

Third, we’ve realized that this one issue serves to encapsulate much of what this blog has set out to address [Ed. note: this link refers to the introduction to the first version of this blog]: how to remain Christian in a world where many elements of the traditional Christian synthesis now seem exhausted, problematic, or even destructive.

Our position is simple: we think the traditional teaching is wrong. Many Christians have said as much for some time. But we want to explore in-depth why it’s wrong. We don’t think that a superficial mistake has been made in one area of contemporary social ethics. We think that this error is symptomatic of much deeper problems in how we read the Bible, how we do theology, how we relate to the state and society, and, ultimately, how we understand the gospel itself. In fact, at UTS we believe this issue has become explosive precisely because it exposes systemic deficiencies of the traditional synthesis – and that this is something that none of us really want to face.

Each UTS author will approach this topic in a different way.

David is going to speak a little about his own experience of coming out, and the costs to himself, and others, of the church’s traditional teaching. By doing this, he wants to provide a concrete, real-life platform for exploring the dynamics and consequences of the church’s teachings. His ultimate concern, however, is to reflect on how the church’s error on this question is a consequence of much deeper theological and ecclesiological missteps – missteps that he feels reach to our very understanding of the gospel. David will also suggest that the question facing the churches is no longer really “did we get it wrong?” (yes), but “what responsibility do the churches now bear in light of the fact that we got it so wrong?”

Maria will also begin by speaking about her personal experiences – both her coming out and her complicity in the church’s traditional stance. These reflections, however, will underpin a more direct engagement of what she sees as the central theological and moral issues surrounding the debate. Does human sexuality have anything to do with theology? Must the church, for instance, take a stance on whether homosexuality is a sin or not, and what do we mean when we say ‘sin’ (especially in light of the distinction that Christians must make between law and gospel)? Maria will also suggest that our customary recourse to the Bible in arguments either for or against homosexuality betrays our (sinful) rejection of Christ’s radical grace, and will explore how our everyday choices – to speak out or to remain silent, to stay or to leave – disclose our failure to live out Christ’s gospel with integrity, frankness, and freedom.

Tim will be exploring how homosexuality is presented in the Bible, and what these presentations mean when formulating contemporary theology. Since Christian theology is ultimately governed by our appropriation of biblical texts, he will investigate how the Bible’s negative depictions of homosexuality can be understood when constructing contemporary Christian theology (and how that might be different from the way in which it is often done). Since Tim is also very concerned with the relationships between religious conventions and state enforcement, he’ll also be writing about the civil debate over same-sex marriage, and what (if anything) it has to do with the church.

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