Homosexuality: Yes? No? Maybe?

Don’t underestimate the importance of the issue of homosexuality.

For the upcoming generation of Christians, this is going to be a very disturbing issue. The younger evangelicals are looking at faith with fresh eyes and listening to ideas with fresh ears. They are also growing up in both a post-Christian culture and a postmodern culture.

The post-Christian culture is less familiar with the Christian worldview. The postmodern culture is skeptical of anything that can be called an over-arching worldview. This coming generation has to deal the difficult issue of homosexuality as they also deal with post-Christendom and postmodernity. This is the world in which our young Christians are living. Most of them know someone who claims to be both gay and also a Christian. To simply state that the Bible says that homosexuality is sin will not do.

When California voted for Proposition 8 that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, many were shocked. They could understand states like Ohio doing so (as we did in 2004), but liberal California? What was truly shocking was that a majority of African Americans voted for the bill. The conventional thinking in our culture is that “Gay Rights” is just the latest in the progression of “Civil Rights.” So, how in the world could those who had suffered and had been liberated by way of one of the greatest civil rights movements in history be against gay civil rights? The San Fransisco Chronicle's John Wildermuth wrote, "Californians voted their religion, not their political party, when they pushed Proposition 8 to victory and banned same-sex marriage in the state, campaign officials and political experts said."

Open, honest dialogue must take place. The biblical texts dealing with homosexuality need to be carefully examined. Hard questions will need to be asked and answered.


Because we evangelicals have been wrong before: Look at how we used to defend slavery based on Scripture, or outlawed inter-racial marriage based on Scripture, or created theocracies that killed dissenters based on Scripture (as was the case in Calvin’s Geneva), or subordinated women based on Scripture.

We might be wrong again. We had better be sure, and give a very convincing argument for what we’re sure of, for young evangelicals who are skeptical of the status quo to buy in.

How should we go about talking about it?

Maybe we need to sit down and talk with people with differing views than us. We need not fear this; when our views are challenged, it can either result in sharpening why we hold our position or it can moderate our position as we seek the Lord on what is his truth.

Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and former national coordinator for Emergent Village, has taken a great risk and began a conversation with conservative blogger Rod Dreher on the issue. It was risky because Tony admits, "I now believe that GLBTs can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state." Dreher disagrees, and they have started a generous debate about it (they even have a video of the two of them talking about it).

I strongly disagree with Tony Jones on this issue, but I need to do so in a respectful way. And I need to listen and interact. Much in the same way that Rod is modeling. Recently, I commented at Bob Hyatt's facebook page inappropriately criticizing Tony for his views. Tony called me out on it, which I appreciated. I apologized for how I went about it, and he has forgiven me. It taught me a lesson: When addressing other brothers and sisters in Christ that we have strong differences with, we need to do so with grace and kindness.

For the next generation, homosexuality will be a major issue, and the heat that will rise from the frictional debate will inevitably cause some of us to say things we will later regret. Let's do what we can at the outset to enter the debates with humility and grace.


Monica @ Paper Bridges said...

Hi, there. Found you via High Calling Blogs.

I completely agree with you regarding homosexuality and the evangelical church today. Thanks for posting your thoughts and I'm going to follow those links.


Henry Zonio said...

Thank you for this post and for your honesty in how you are trying to respond appropriately and the challenge to keep an open mind while still trying to discern truth.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

An excellent and needed call to generous and humble dialogue. When I shared my own lifelong struggle with homosexual orientation and faith at my blog, stating (with difficulty and uncertainty) that I believe the lifestyle to be inconsistent with Christianity, I received some very harsh criticism. Interestingly, they came from both sides- Christians who felt that I was not strong or confident enough to "condemn" it and many within the gay community who felt I was a bigot.

However, as I attempted to be real, humble and honest, the result was that the majority of the conversation was positive, even in our disagreement. It is possible and it is worth striving for.


Byron Harvey said...

I'm all about grace and kindness, speaking the truth in love. And on this issue that tends to generate more heat than light, sometimes, that's a fitting reminder. We definitely need to find a place at the table for people like Jamie, who seems to have a clear and Biblical grasp on this issue if his post is any indication. Open and honest dialogue is a good thing.

That said, open and honest dialogue needs to include a fellow like Tony Jones disclosing his commitments. I posted on his blog that one only arrives at Tony's position after jettisoning one or more of the following confidences: confidence in the infallibility of Scripture, in the authority of Scripture, and/or the sufficiency of Scripture. And while I don't mind hearing what anybody has to think, a person who does not share these commitments, while I cannot and would not try to make a judgment as to their salvation, is clearly not playing on the same team as I am. Can two walk together except they be agreed? If the Word of God is not our infallible, sufficient authority in navigating this issue, then we're pretty much wasting our time in dialogue.

That makes me a little nervous about your statement that "simply stat(ing) that the Bible says that homosexuality is sin will not do." Yeah, I agree if your concern is that we treat others with compassion, that we not with a dismissive sentence on the subject assume we can just move on. That said, I think that there are many who have already done the "careful examining" for which you call. After all, though the rapid rise of the militant homosexual movement has been surprising as to its speed, it's been for some time on the horizon; that spade work has been done; hard questions have already been asked and answered.

We need to speak the truth in love. But we need to speak the truth in love. And that's where I fear Tony and some others have jumped ship.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

I also appreciate this post. There was a time, in my "fundamentalist" youth, when I would have simply closed my ears to any discussion: The Bible calls homosexuality sin and there's no need for any conversation about it.

But while I do believe that the Bible is clear on this subject, the way we deal with this issue, not only in the church but also in the "world", is too important to simply "bark" and then turn around and look the other way.

As I was reading and considering a "comment", I noticed that Byron had already said what I was feeling (and probably conveyed it much better than I would have anyway).

I'm also concerned about your statement that evangelicals have been wrong before and we might be wrong again. Wrong about what? That homosexuality is sin? That our response to the homosexual community is wrong? That we should welcome homosexuals into our church's regardless of whether or not they will abandon their lifestyle?

You mention that you strongly disagree with Tony that "GLBT's can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!)". I agree with you! But by your own admission, can we be wrong about this? Sometimes, I think, simply stating that the Bible says that homosexuality is will do just fine. But then, having stated that, the question is, I suppose, "How do we now dialogue" in a way that moves the conversation forward?

This is an important issue; not because the Bible is not clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality, but because we're called to live in this world as Christ's Body, expressing His life through us by the power of the Spirit. And in this way, all issues of "life" are important and necessarily demand our utmost attention and gracious interaction.


Bob Robinson said...

Monica and Henry,
Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I look forward to hearing from you again.
It is challenging, isn't it, to conserve the truth while being humble enough to say, "I might not exactly understand the truth."

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for the encouragement, and for willingly heading to the frontlines in the discussion. Your input on your blog is a wonderful resource.

Bob Robinson said...

When we say, "hard questions have already been asked and answered," we must always put a qualifier on it.

I agree with you in that I have been convinced by the arguments of those who I've read that the Bible teaches that homosexual practice is a sin. However, as with all my theological decisions, I hold them loosely.

We both believe that doctrine develops over time. It started with the Cappadocian fathers who had to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity, something not specified until the fourth century. Basil wrote that they were commenting on issues "that passed in silence by earlier generations," and Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, "You see lights breaking on us gradually."

To paraphrase Barth, the task of theological inquiry is to not simply regurgitate what theologians in the past have already said. He said, "Dogmatics does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets."

It is the ongoing task of you and me and everyone else that confesses Christ to prayerfully, and with great trepidation, dive into these issues and ask those hard questions, over and over again.

Bob Robinson said...

Great Googly Moogly,
You raise good questions (as Byron does as well).

My point in this post is this: If you are convinced that homosexual practice is a sin, then don't rest on your laurels and say it's a closed issue. This will not do, especially when we are dealing with a church in a post-Christian and postmodern culture.

We must continue to dialog and discuss and research. We must be willing to listen to the counter-arguments with an open mind, and offer a convincing defense for our position, with grace and humility. We must be willing to be proved wrong.

If not, then we are merely pundits of the status quo, and will be dismissed by the next generation of Christians.

Byron Harvey said...

And I can agree to a point, Bob; I'm reading Dan Kimball's excellent "They Like Jesus, but They Don't Like the Church" (Dan being a representative of what is RIGHT with the emerging church movement, by the way), and one of the things he talks about is that the church is perceived as "homophobic" (I detest that "word"). But he's right, and I do think that a lot of work needs to be done in our approach to the subject, as well as in articulating an apologetic for God's will regarding human sexuality as a whole.

Your wording, though, that disturbs me and Moogly, seems to suggest that it's possible that on the basic issue of the morality of homosexual practice, we could be dead wrong. That's just a bridge too far. But we do need to be able to Biblically, logically, eloquently, and compassionately articulate the truth of the Word--the whole truth.

Miche said...

I think the church lost this cultural battle decades ago and is fumbling around trying to figure out what to do about it. You can "compassionately articulate the truth of the Word" about homosexuality all you want, but until it gets lived, it will mean absolutely nothing. And this is where the church has failed miserably with this issue and still does.

The challenge the church faces regarding this issue is NOT defending correct theology, but living out the theology it boasts it already believes: Sharing the love and grace they have found forgiveness for in their own sin of lust, adultery, divorce and pornography with a group of people they have made very clear that they hate over these past decades. It is a "no-brainer," but it seems we would rather engage our energy and efforts with things less challenging, like arguing over theology.


pahiles said...

hey bob,
scot mcknight wrote an article which may complement this discussion. the article is titled "the right view of the bible" and was publisged in the latest issue of relevant magazine which is issue 37. i just thought you guys might want to know!

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for the heads-up on that one, Patrick!