Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Jesus and Homosexuality 3

posted by xscot mcknight

A second theme in the ethical teaching of Jesus that sheds some light on this debated controversy about homosexuality is that of conversion, which is the transformation of cracked Eikons by grace into living out that grace. I rely here on what I have said in A New Vision for Israel and, to a lesser degree, in Jesus Creed. There are two elements to conversion for Jesus: a positive element and a negative element. Remember, too, that this summons to conversion was part and parcel of living with Jesus and watching him live; it involved sitting at table with Jesus.
The positive element involves a process of transformation, a process that is different from person to person, but to one degree or another, the following elements emerge: there is a deliberated decision (see Luke 14:25-33), there is public identification with Jesus (Matthew 10:26-33), and there is a life of obedience to Jesus (Matthew 5–7).
The negative element in conversion involves another process: both internal and external repentance. Internal repentance pertains to the self and the heart; external pertains to those things that we need to leave behind. The external varies from person to person — money, etc.. But there is one thing that is certain about conversion in its negative sense: everyone surrenders the self, the inner being, to Jesus.
Conversion is the process of transformation, it is both an event that happens and that keeps on happening, and the direction of that transformation is that we move into union with the perichoresis of the trinitarian God. You may know that I charted the process of Peter’s conversion in Jesus Creed and I think we are obligated to let God’s work be God’s work, without surrendering our important task of lovingly telling the truth. Forced moral conformity can destroy moral development.
Here’s the text that comes as close as we can get to the bottom line feature of Jesus’ summons to follow him:

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

And conversion is all about identity. In Turning to Jesus I define conversion (at some spot) as the transformation of our identity. Instead of being “Mine” (in the sense of grasping Ego) we become “Jesus’ ” (in the sense of no longer a grasping Ego). It is as simple and as penetratingly complex as that. And I do not mean to be anything other than deeply aware of how intricate, how involved, how deep our own sense of identity is.
I am concerned here with moral logic: moral decisions are made by followers of Jesus, not by appeal to self, but by appeal to life in and with and under Jesus. The Lord who is with us and for us.



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Joel Workman

posted February 1, 2006 at 9:20 am


I deeply appreciate your thoughts on conversion here. Developing our identity as “Jesus” instead of “Mine” is such a great summary of conversion. It seems that so often we make converson a complex ritual of being better and doing different. As you say, conversion is “as simple and as penetratingly complex” as a transformation of identity from mine to Jesus. This is so true. being transformed to be Jesus is deeply difficult and lifelong in it’s pursuit, but at the same time it is a much “simpler” approach than what we often present to people. Simpler being that it is a singularly focused (on Jesus).
It seems to me that we tend to focus too much on the results of transformation (the being better and doing different) as a beginning rather than a development of truly engaging Jesus.



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Scott Morizot

posted February 1, 2006 at 10:24 am


And conversion is all about identity.
And that concept in Turning to Jesus helped me immensely once I began to see the concept you were trying to expose. That particular book was a very difficult one for me to absorb, but was worth the effort. Though much too long, convoluted, and at times private to share in a comment, my own conversion was a lengthy process. While I could package it many different ways, the reality is that although my conversion began at seven, it followed a twisting path through a childhood exposed and “trying on” various world religions and practices as well as several intersections with various Christian traditions. A pretty negative experience at my early transition to adulthood led to a rejection of Christianity, perceived as the source of that pain, and an embrace of the rest I had been weighing and experiencing for years. However, I kept intersecting Christianity, usually through Christians who were kind, gracious, and/or giving in unexpected ways and contrary to my expectations. That eventually led me to step back through the doors of a church in the Christian tradition that had caused me pain. (I had sometimes been checking out Christian churches in other traditions.) I brought my family, but it was truthfully a test. I was pretty certain my worst expectations would be confirmed. They weren’t. And so I returned. And I still found something other than what I had anticipated. And so we stayed, joining the church in due course. I watched to conversion of my wife from nominal Roman Catholicism to a deeper Christian faith. And somewhere along the way, around thirty-ish, I realized that “Christian” was no longer a label I chose to adopt or reject, but rather a central part of my identity. It was no longer what I was (or wasn’t — since I had claimed both at different times) but who I was. I can’t pinpoint exactly when that happened, but that was not the moment of my conversion. It was the completion of a process that had spanned more than two decades. All of my earlier experiences, professions, and intersections had been real, authentic, and as much of a step toward Christ as I was capable of making at that time. So to had been my efforts to reject the mantle of a Christianity that had hurt me, and my curiosity and sometimes embrace of those other paths or gates. The tension that created within me, especially through the actions of other Christians was very real. But I mark the process complete when Christian became my identity. When, in the manner of thought more common in the ancient world, when I took the name of Christ as my own.
Of course, the positive aspect of the transforming work of conversion had only just begun! It was only when Christian had become a statement of who, not what, I was that faith and our Lord could really begin working outward. And that process continues. Perhaps it’s because I largely did not grow up enculturated in American evangelicalism or even another Christian tradition that I can see so clearly that process of transformation in my own life. I could be wrong, but it seems that many of the people around me in the church associate Christianity with the behaviors, attitudes, and expectations they absorbed as a child in the church. And as long as they look like that model (which they mostly do since it’s their native culture), then they are being Christian. My journey and degree of change has been a lot bumpier. And that culture still looks and feels alien to me. And I read Scripture and usually don’t see exactly the same thing.
For instance, moving now to the negative aspect of transformation, I have always been stopped in my tracks by that statement of Jesus. While I’m can’t claim to be sure, it seems that many people hear that statement and associate it with living in a self-sacrificing way for the benefit of others. While I certainly see lots of that in the life Jesus teaches, and possibly even here, it’s not what stands out to me. That view comes from our perception of the Resurrection as a completed event. I’ve always been stunned by the stark harshness those listening must have heard in the words take up your cross daily. We tend to reduce that to shouldering the burdens of life and any difficulties that come our way because of our faith. But that’s not what Jesus is saying to his listeners. He’s telling them that if they want to really be his followers, then it will be like every day picking up a part of the implement of your execution and carry it to the place where you would be executed in one of the most tortuous manners the Romans could devise. That had to be an extreme and shocking statement.
However, the ability to make increasingly moral decisions and see or know the areas in your life you must deny is not usually instantaneous. I know it has not in mine. There is definitely an element of revelation by the Spirit that this area is a problem and needs to change. Yes, the Spirit often (maybe even most often) works through other believers and Scripture. However, I’ve experienced instances when words I’ve heard or scripture I’ve read many times over the years suddenly connected to something personal that I had never seen before. And when I saw, it was at a time when I was able to change.
I’m not sure I understand your last sentence. While I certainly agree that it is the Lord who is the one who gets to determine our moral logic, I’m not sure how that can be separated from self. For it seems that only through the transformation of our identity to that of Christ that we are then able to make moral decisions. I’m not sure that says what I’m really trying to say, but I can’t think of another way to phrase it.



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Greg Mc

posted February 1, 2006 at 11:36 am


Scot: I’m not sure how do you get from “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me…” to some kind of loss of personal identity? Does Jesus say “become my followers” or “become Me”? Is not the promise that “we will be made like Him”? I don’t see self denial as a loss of personal identity but as a radical transformation of priorities from self to God and toward others. You echo that in your last sentence but in the former paragraph, you write:
“And conversion is all about identity. In Turning to Jesus I define conversion (at some spot) as the transformation of our identity. Instead of being “Mine” (in the sense of grasping Ego) we become “Jesus’ ” (in the sense of no longer a grasping Ego). It is as simple and as penetratingly complex as that. And I do not mean to be anything other than deeply aware of how intricate, how involved, how deep our own sense of identity is.”
This sounds more Hindu than Christian. Not trying to be picky but it struck me as odd. Even in the “perichoresis of the trinitarian God” the three persons remain distinct.
“do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,…” (Phil 2:4,5)



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Tom

posted February 1, 2006 at 11:36 am


Scot-
I see that my post (the 80-something-ith!) on the “Jesus and Homsexuality 2″ thread might better have been placed here.
(Scott) “Forced moral conformity can destroy moral development.”
I don’t know what “forced moral conformity” means. If it’s “(genuine) moral conformity” then by defintion it’s self-determined and not forced. There’s simply no way a person or State can ‘force’ genuine moral conformity. All we can do is forcibly apply certain consequences to certain behaviors (throw murderers in jail for example), which we of course do (without destroying genuine moral conformity by the way). But “forced moral conformity”? I confess I don’t find the concept at all meaningful. Did you have something else in mind? Perhaps you just had in mind making homosexuality ‘illegal’? That would be a “forced morality” of sorts (like making any other act believed to be immoral illegal). I’m not arguing the morality of homosexuality should or shouldn’t be ‘forced’ in this way, but we certainly all agree that SOME immoral behaviors ARE ‘forced’. For example, we “force” the morality of child abuse on our culture through legislation (and so we ought); that is, we enforce consequences for certain behaviors, though this does nothng to ‘force genuine moral conformity’ in those who lust after children for example. The law may deter their behavior, but it doesn’t nothing to conform their characters in terms of moral development.
I wouldn’t find “forced moral development” at all meaningful. And were you to agree that you only mean “forced consequences for particular moral behaviors” then I’d disagree that this can “destroy moral development.” On the contrary, it makes moral development possible. So I confess I don’t have any idea what you’re getting at here.
But now we’re back to having to decide between which immoral (not morally permissible) behaviors a society ought to make illegal (like theft, rape, murder, abuse) and which immoral behaviors a society shouldn’t (because it can’t) make illegal (lust, greed, gluttony, covetuousness, etc.). One could agree that homosexuality is morally impermissible without agreeing to outlaw such behavior (which is my view). But now the question follows–If I agree homosexual behavior is ‘legal’ does that mean I can’t then object to redefining marriage?
I’m all over the place. Sorry.
Tom



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Scot McKnight

posted February 1, 2006 at 11:46 am


Tom,
“Forced” in the sense of moral pressure beyond what a person is ready for. Some Christian parents force moral development on their kids when, if they were a little more patient and less concerned with what others might say about their kids, they could wait a little and see the child individuate more willingly into the faith. (By the way, I see this far too often in my students.)
When churches surround, encapsulate, etc, they can (sometimes quite unknowingly, and sometimes with good motives) force something on someone when what we need is to let moral development be the work of God and not the work of humans.
I hope this helps.



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Scott Morizot

posted February 1, 2006 at 11:52 am


Greg,
I know your question was addressed to Scot, but I thought I would jump in. The question of identity is the way and manner we define ourselves in a highly nuanced and deeply layered reality. Some find significant parts of their identity, who they are, in their job, their family, or some aspect of their character. Following Jesus in the manner he describes means (as I understood Scot’s post) adopting his name as our own. At our core, we become a follower and that not only describes what we do, but who we are.
As someone who explored westernized Hindu teachings (the pure stuff is too alien to the Western mind), it is not the same thing at all. This is not about the elimination of individual ego, but about making it our Lord’s. God obviously does not desire more of himself. That’s clear in the fact that there was a creation at all. It’s clear he deeply desired something that could choose to be ‘not-God’ and not to follow or love God so that we could also have the ability to choose to follow and love. So we remain individuals even as we allow Christ to define our identity.
Hopefully that helps a little.



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Greg Mc

posted February 1, 2006 at 12:13 pm


Thanks Scott M
That helps a bit…sort of. :)



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Bryan

posted February 1, 2006 at 12:14 pm


Hey, all….
Scot, thanks for having this conversation and I also want to thank everyone who has participated in the discussion. On the whole, this discussion has been civil and has minimized on ad hominem attacks and generalizations (categorizations of “conservative” and “liberal”). I have the sense that all of us, on either side of the debate, takes the Bible as authoritative. I do so in the same sense that N.T. Wright explains in “New Testament and the People of God”.
Here’s my issue. I am deeply disturbed when people say that homosexuality is a “choice” (because by logical extension we’re also saying we made a choice to be heterosexual and I don’t think we want to go there). It is easy for some folks to make the black and white blanket statement if they’ve never had a deep friendship nor heard the stories of those in the gay and lesbian community. Granted, there are those who have adopted this lifestyle because they’ve gone down the road of sexual hedonism. For them, I would agree that homosexual acts are sin. But, my concern is for those who have, as Scot said, developed behavior over time based on environment and upbringing (or lack thereof). Should they be harassed, judged, maligned and excluded because of something that was never in their control?
I had the privilege of attending Brian McLaren’s “Generous Orthodoxy Conference” last year. In one of the sessions, he invited two lesbians, a gay man, and a youth pastor to speak in an open forum. Each of the lesbians and the gay man gave their story. All of them struggled to become straight. All of them experienced rejection and scorn from grace-filled and Spirit-led Christians. The gay man, so distraught over his homosexual tendency and feeling that God didn’t love him because of his sexual identity (which he tried so hard to suppress or eliminate), attempted to kill himself three times. One of the women asked the rhetorical question, “Knowing how the culture treats homosexuals, why would I choose to live this way?” Why, indeed? All three of them ultimately accepted the fact that God loved them they way that they were. Unfortunately, Messiah’s family is having a hard time doing so. We’re so concerned about their “sin” and how it may “corrupt” the faith or displease God (and some people even believe that it is the gay culture that supposedly moved God to send hurricanes to nations that “harbor” gays and lesbians).
Frankly, I’m tired of this superstitious nonsense and cringe whenever I hear certain pastors and “Christian leaders” on radio and television say such stupid stuff. We say that we believe in God and we believe in his Word, yet it almost seems like we don’t take it seriously. If we did, we would try to find out the cultural context for why homosexual acts were forbidden in Leviticus (because we don’t have any problem eating crab, lobster, and rabbit and those were forbidden as well). We would also find out why Paul said what he said to the Romans and the Corinthians. Perhaps we would be a little more serious about Paul’s address to the Athenians when he said that God has determined the time and place to place each of us so that we may reach out to God since he is not far from us.
I think it’s time to start looking at things at a higher level. I daresay we should look at this in the way that the early Jewish Chrsitians looked at allowing Gentiles into the faith without being circumcised (Acts 15). Maybe my analogy is off, I don’t know. I know it seems like I’m leaving a lot of glaring holes in my thinking, but I’m trying to save space .
So, what do I mean? N.T. Wright said in his book that a way of looking at Scripture is as a five part play (although there is another book out “The Drama of Scripture” which says the Bible can be seen as a story in six acts). We are given the privilege by God to complete the fifth act, but it has to make sense based on the first four acts. There has to be continuity. Therefore, I think it would behoove us to look at what Jesus did in light of the culture in his day and then look at the first-century churches and move from there.
It may very well be that I’m wrong (in saying that those people who were “raised” gay are not in sin). I’m willing to listen and learn (which I have been doing on this board). But, I think it would be a grave injustice not only to our brothers and sisters in Adam and Christ, to proof-text in either direction. We should at least consider the movement of God in a big picture sense. If it comes out of the wash that we feel God considers all forms of homosexuality as sin, then so be it, I will grudgingly accept it.
Again, to state my position. I believe that there are heterosexual people who involve themselves in pornography and sexual hedonism and feel it’s okay to experiment with same-sex relations and thus “turn gay”. I would consider that sin. I had (still have) problems with pornography and I can see how that happens. It was this very thing that God used to show me my sin and addiction (although I didn’t go to the point of same-sex relations, the pull was there, just for the thrill). I went down a path that I should never have gone on and I’m totally responsible. But, for those people who (by accident or by purpose on the part of the parents and other authority in their lives) grow up to become gay, I say that we should show them the fruits of the Spirit and show them that God accepts them as followers of Messiah. I do not believe that people are “born gay” (a fallacy of the people who are trying to advance some pro-gay agenda). Perhaps God will convince them to change their lives and perhaps not. I trust the Holy Spirit to bring all things to completion, the way he (not us) wants it, in every individual.



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Tom

posted February 1, 2006 at 12:29 pm


Thanks Scot. That clarifies things.
Tom



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Ken

posted February 1, 2006 at 12:50 pm


Hi Scot,
I have your book Turning to Jesus, though I’m afraid it is still on my list of books yet to be read. I would put forward, however, an observation for your response and I apologize if you covered this in your book. Of late, I’ve come to wonder if hte model that was used for my “conversion”, in which one comes forward and says some form of the Sinner’s Prayer can yield valid conversions in light of reading Acts.
It appears to me that if one uses the actual speeches of Acts as a basis to know what one is to preach to an unbeliever, it focuses upon Jesus as Messiah and Lord and upon the need to repent. If those are the two key foci, how does that relateto yoru focus on a change of identity? What do you think that repentance means in Acts?



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Ron McK

posted February 1, 2006 at 1:04 pm


A Church is Jesus home. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts people of sin. He is also the one who restores sinners to wholeness. This means that sinners will benefit from being at a place where he is present. Hopefully he is in attendance at our meetings, so we should want sinners to be there to encounter him.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 1, 2006 at 2:18 pm


Ken,
Repentance is self-denial — it, too, is about identity.



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Ken

posted February 1, 2006 at 3:00 pm


Hi Ron McK,
First, I think that I’d prefer a biblical image, like the body of Christ, or God’s household, to Jesus’ home. Second, however, if we think of a local church as being a local, concrete manifestation of God’s people, then we need to ask what should take place among God’s people. If Isaiah, Jeremiah and John the seer (who wrote Revelation) are any indicaiton, God’s people do not depend upon the Holy Spirit inidividually and nothing else, but need to have people who are particularly chosen by and receptive to the Holy Spirit speak to them explicitly. Jeremiah did not wait Israel to feel the need to repent. John the Baptist did not feel inclined to wait for his generation of Israelites to eventually come to see that they had a problem that needed solving. John in Revelation 2-3 evidently didn’t think it was problematic to castigate other believers for immorality, idolatry, eating meat offered to idols or desrting their first love.
It seems to me, particularly in Julie’s posts, that there is some reticence to call anything a sin until the speaker is absolutely righteous. Yet Scripture seems to deny the second while requiring the first. Look at 1 John. 1 John 1 makes it clear that a church is not for those who are perfect, because such people do not exist. Yet, it is just such saints who continue to sin who are to declare someone to be an antichrist. At the end of 1 John 5, John calls upon his audience to keep themselves from idols. He evidently did not think that letting _professing_ Christians one day come to see the need to love their brothers and sisters in Christ, or repent of idolatry or reject those with false christologies was a good idea. He came right out and said “do it, period.” If Scripture provides this model, why are we afraid to follow it? Because it can be abused? That’s a reason to hold leaders accountable not reject the clear scriptural principle.



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Peter Magelssen

posted February 1, 2006 at 3:14 pm


scot, thank you so much for your writings regarding this and other writings. many times i dont have the words to adequately convey what i truly believe. i find many of your writings give me vocabulary to do just that. in addition, it is obvious that you are attempting to show the path to walk today for jesus followers. this is greatly helpful to me as i am trying to emerge from being a reactionary ‘that’s not right’ person to saying that doesnt resonate with me…”this is what i beleive’



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Ahnog

posted February 1, 2006 at 3:57 pm


I think the comments you make about conversion and the different senses in which we view it are important. Salvation, conversion, justification, and like ideas are not spoken of uniformly in the Bible but are instead spoken of in different senses. Sometimes they are spoken of as a single event in the past, at other times as something that is an on-going process in life, and at still other points they are spoken of as the end of the Christian journey that will be accomplished or completed in us by Christ when we kneel before Him on that Great Day.
Then, there is the sense in which all of this takes place in the mind of God even before the foundation of the world. That is the one that boggles the mind and encourages the determinist among us.
I think we err when we speak of these things and don’t clearly define the specific sense in which we are speaking of them.
In any event, I love your books and I will enjoying peeking in here from time to time.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 1, 2006 at 4:16 pm


Bryan,
I think most of us are with you on the issue of “choice.” I posted on this last week, and seeing the multi-faceted nature of the issue is important. Thanks for your thoughts on this.



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Ben

posted February 1, 2006 at 4:28 pm


Amen Ken. Excellent Post and it nearly parallels my own thoughts.



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Becky

posted February 1, 2006 at 4:32 pm


Bryan, did you read the entry Scot posted, “Becky’s Story.” I do not believe wounding from one’s childhood makes a person be without choice. That is such a victim attitude. There are plenty of people from wounded childhoods who find healing in counseling. I don’t know why we seperate those, from those who express their woundedness in same gender sexual relationships. Those expressing wounds in same gender relationships have no choice but to continue expressing the wounds ? I don’t think so, it hasn’t been my experience, nor the experience of many others I’ve been around, who are putting effort toward changing thinking, behaviors and feelings coming out from a wounded past.
In my story, I give the example of a woman in our small church who was having an affair with another man and was leaving her husband. We have only come to know this in the last 2 weeks. I have heard the reasons she gave her husband for the affair, and for leaving him. She is the adult child of alcoholic parents. The things she is doing with the affair and the divorce, is so typical of an unhealed acoa. She has dissatisfaction and since her husband hasn’t been able to make her feel satisfied, she has the affair and said she was leaving him. What I had to say to her, in part, is that her dissatisfaction was with herself and she’d keep repeating this pattern until she confronted what the dissatisfaction with self was about. It’s very close, if not the same, as saying “your job is to fill me up.” And when not filled, cuz another person can not do that when trying to get it out of woundedness, it becomes “their” fault, you find something to blame them for and a reason to reject them. She has a choice – when someone tells her to get into counseling, then she has a choice to do something and get some healing. And significant healing is available for her, so much so, that she stops making such stupid choices of having an affair with a man married 3 times who has had multiple affairs.
And her story is no different from those who claim they have same gender attraction because of their wounded pasts, and so, have no choice. We are not victims of forces put upon us, when we are adults. As adults, we have means to do something about it.
As to the line – why would I choose this lifestyle when so much difficulty comes with it – well, that’s a definition of insanity. Not insanity as in lock them up in an institution, but your walking around common neurotic. Sometimes when a person’s actions continue to bring them so much pain, sometimes they stop, take a look around, and thing “hey, maybe there’s something I can change to make things different.” I see it no different than any person who keeps running into that brick wall in their misguided way of living out the twistedness.
As for the woman in our church who was having the affair – that story is far from over, but a bloomin’ miracle has happened. She is staying with the hubby, for now, and they are in individual and couples counseling. That’s a bloomin’ miracle ! Talk about ability to change and make better choices.
in his arms,



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Rick

posted February 1, 2006 at 4:52 pm


I want to jump in on a couple comments and carry them in a slightly different direction. My thinking has been influenced by my soujourn among Lutherans.
The scripture says we shall be made like him, as Greg observes in reply #3. Where Greg emphasizes “Like”, I would emphasize “made”. The transformation is the result of God’s working in us by the Spirit more than our decisions and choices. I am far more comfortable and find it more accurate speaking of responses than of decisions or choices. It was Jesus who said “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you”.
I find so much to agree with in this discussion and I wonder if decision and choice types of language are in fact “phenomenological language” – comparable to saying the sun rises and sets when it’s more accurate to say it only appears to do that because of the earth’s rotation. Similarly we make what appear to be decisions and choices, but they are in fact responses to what the Spirit is doing – and the lack of decision or choice is a failure to respond to the Spirit’s work.
It’s OK, call me a hair-splitter.
In Christ,
Rick



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Julie

posted February 2, 2006 at 11:15 am


Bryan, I liked your post and especially this:
**
I think it’s time to start looking at things at a higher level. I daresay we should look at this in the way that the early Jewish Chrsitians looked at allowing Gentiles into the faith without being circumcised (Acts 15). Maybe my analogy is off, I don’t know. I know it seems like I’m leaving a lot of glaring holes in my thinking, but I’m trying to save space .
**
Saving some space… I like that idea period.
What is the role of experience and reason in theological formulations? The conservative side elevates Scripture and Tradition while the liberals tend to emphasize the importance of Experience and Reason when determining sound theology.
It seems high time to me to include all of these components and to come to the table with some epistemological humility (and less fear that we might be wrong – being wrong isn’t all bad). Until we engage those for whom being homosexual is an integral part of who they are (as well as being Christian) and allow them to navigate these waters so that we hear and see them (before we evalaute them), I think we are beating the air.
It is like saying that men ought to tell women what the Bible says about women. Certainly they have for centuries. But it wasn’t until women could get two words in that there have been some significant changes in how women are understood in the Bible.
And in traditions where a woman’s perspective is not welcome, those who feel marginalized by men leave. That seems a pity to me. We are poorer for it.



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Bryan

posted February 2, 2006 at 2:06 pm


Hello, all….
Thanks for the responses. I just think we’re being a little too simplistic with a notion that is disgusting to us (and thus don’t even want to consider the possibility that allowing it may be just).
Here’s my ultimate point. We should do everything possible to understand the cultural context of the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans and the Corinthians. To rip things out of context (intentionally or unintentionally) would be catastrophic (as Julie alluded to in her post).
A missionary goes over to Africa and spends time in a village where the idea that in order for a man to cure himself from AIDS he must have sex with a young virgin is prevalent (and this is an actual belief). While he is there, he dispells that notion and encourages godly, healthy relationships which causes a drop in AIDS cases. After he leaves for a time, he discovers that the village men have resumed the despicable practice of raping virgins to cure AIDS, because some men have begun living a loose lifestyle again. So, the missionary writes a letter to the village elders concerning this issue along with other things. Somewhere in the middle of the letter to the elders, he says,
“It has come to my attention that the men are sleeping with virgins again to be saved from death. Didn’t we deal with this when I was there before? While I was there, you’ve learned that you are safe if you have healthy relationships, not by sleeping with virgins. Stop this practice immediately or you will receive the due wrath of God. Again, if your men continue to sleep with virgins, instead of living a decent and moral lifestyle, they will not be saved.”
Now, for the villagers, that would make a lot of sense. Because he and the village elders have a common context, they know exactly what he’s talking about. But, suppose this letter is seen five hundered years from now, when AIDS has been defeated and this missionary’s writings are venerated (much like we may respect Augustine or Luther). Now, what if the Christian community of the future got ahold of this letter and saw that passage and never asked “what did this missionary mean”, but just decided “this is a timeless truth”? Then they would tie it to Paul’s admonition in his first letter to the Corinthians that it is better to not be married and the passage about the decision not to marry a virgin is a good decision. Suppose they never took the time to study the African history of the period five hundred years in the past and didn’t understand that it was written because the villagers were trying to stop an AIDS epidemic? What would their conclusion be?
So, I think Scot is onto something here (although I may not agree with his conclusions… but he’s far smarter than me). All I am suggesting is that we may be wrong about our interpretations. I believe that we honor God by doing a full investigation and I believe it is vital to have an open mind to other possibilities.



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Ken

posted February 2, 2006 at 3:53 pm


Hi Bryan,
That was an interesting hypothetical proposal. It raises some important hermeneuticla questiosn, andI always find those much more valuable than swapping verses, so unless Scot objects, let’s walk down that road a little.
First, are you saying that because we are obviously in a different cultural context that we cannot understand what Paul meant? Or, are you saying that everyone who believes that what Paul is speaking of is comparable to homosexual practice today is ripping texts out of context?
Second, do you have a model for how to take biblical exhortations related to moral issues and determine when and how those exhortations, shall we even say, norms, apply now? I personally don’t have an easy one-for-one process myself but that does not mean that I throw up my hands in despair and say “let Christians do what they want because I could be wrong.”
Third, what about other actions? When should the church say “this and not farther”? Only theological? Only ethical? Never?
I propose here an experiment. If we should set aside Paul’s words about this because we can’t be absolutely sure that homosexual acts that Paul spoke about are comparable to what is done now, how about issues Paul never even spoke to? I bet we could get a big crowd out if we advertised that my local church was showing Debbie Does Dallas, admission free. After all, Scripture says nothing about movies and maybe my reasoning about what is morally acceptable for Christians is wrong. Is that not approximately the same argument you are making? We don’t know, so let’s say nothing about it because we might be wrong.



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Don

posted February 2, 2006 at 5:22 pm


Ken,
I think you’re proposed “experiment” is a seriously flawed attempt at reductio absurdum. Serving shrimp at a church social would be a better analogy, since that would be just as much of an abomination according to Leviticus, and it wouldn’t fly in the face of both Jesus’ own teachings about lust being the moral equivalent of adultery AND legal proscriptions against displaying such material to minors. Plus, the OT passages interpreted as generally prohibiting homosexual acts (which I don’t believe are generally applicable to Christians because of our participation in the New and Improved Covenant) are better translated (NIV) as prohibiting acts of (male) same-sex prostitution. The meaning of Paul’s language on homosexual acts has also been subject to much debate, and one legitimately claim to accept the authority of scripture while choosing to reject an overbroad translation (or definition) of the Greek words involved.
As for the church setting (and loosening) boundaries on behavior, that is perfectly within the grant of apostolic authority given by our Lord in John 20:23 and exercised by Peter (with the confirmation of his brethren) by direct revelation in Acts 10 and 11. (Sorry for opening that can of worms, but I believe in progressive revelation in the sense of God’s Spirit unveiling what’s always been in the Scripture but not clearly understood by previous generations).
Anyway, that’s my $2.25 worth (adjusted for inflation).



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Ken

posted February 2, 2006 at 5:36 pm


Don,
The argument is over whether something that was once deemed an immoral act is now perfectly acceptable and we don’t need to talk about repentance because the church has been wrong 1950 years about the sinfulness of a givne act. I’ve chosen another “act” that would cause equal dismay among many. That’s a pretty close parallel, in my view.
As for the meaning of words, let’s try this. I had a professor in college who made the following argument. In 2 Thess 2, Paul says that the man of lawlessness will not appear until the apostasia. Literally, apostasia means “from standing.” There are two ways to go from standing: to fall over or to go up. Therefore, the prof interpreted apostasia as the “going up,” or (pre-tribulation) Rapture. We can all find ways to make Greek words suit our theology or lifestyle choices. The question is whether our choice is really defensible or just possible.
Finally, it seems to me that in fact Jesus requires NOT LESS from his followers BUT MORE. The Mosaic Law is probably EASIER to follow than the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t understand why so many here want to affirm tossing at least one specific straing of NT moral teaching out the door but for no apparent reason maintaining others. I think a hermeneutical model that can encompass all the moral decisions is called for.



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Bryan

posted February 2, 2006 at 5:42 pm


Ken….
You said: “After all, Scripture says nothing about movies and maybe my reasoning about what is morally acceptable for Christians is wrong. Is that not approximately the same argument you are making? We don’t know, so let’s say nothing about it because we might be wrong.”
No, Ken, that is NOT the argument that I am making. What I am saying is that the question of homosexuality is being raised more and more often, therefore we should do a little research and find out if we are right in our position on the subject. If it turns out that the “homosexuality is a sin” camp is correct, then so be it. If that is the case, then we need to readjust how we deal with this community, with less judgment and demonization and with more grace. If it turns out that the “homosexuality is not a sin” camp is correct, then we have to apologize to the gay community and move on. But, to honor the text, we should perform due diligence in examining the text and correcting our interpretations as necessary.
But, why close your mind off to other possibilities in interpretations? The Bible that the Apostles had was pretty clear that circumcision was necessary to be in a covenant relationship with God when Paul came and questioned the necessity of the practice for Gentile Christians (Acts 15). What was the end result? I’m sure the gnostics also brought their beliefs before the church leaders as well and their beliefs went down in flames.
So, let me be clear on what I am saying. I am not questioning Scripture. I’m questioning the church’s method of interpreting the Scripture, which should always be under scrutiny, unless you’re willing to say that you completely understand Scripture and are infallible. There is plenty of evidence of the church being sure of so many things. The church was so sure that the earth was at the center of the universe. The church was so sure that non-Europeans were barbarians that needed to be subdued. The church was so sure that the elimination of non-European cultures was biblical and right. The church was so sure that the laity didn’t need the Bible. The church was so sure that women didn’t need to vote or have any rights. Some in the American church was so sure that the civil rights movement was wrong-headed. But, all of these things were re-examined in light of history and culture and the church was found to be wrong. Now, if we have all of this evidence of when the church was wrong, then how can we say that we’re absolutely right on this issue without any real investigation into first-century culture? (Note: I did not say that the church should remain mute. Until we have found convincing evidence to the contrary, then whatever the church’s position is on this subject should stand.)



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Ken

posted February 2, 2006 at 6:23 pm


Bryan,
I can grant that the quest for a right understanding is a good thing and I hardly consider myself or the church at large infallible in interpretation. I wuold hasten to note, however, that while the Apostolic Council did not require circumcision, it did require Gentiles to avoid things strangled or meat with the blood still in it or idolatry or immorality. It’s unclear to me from this list exactly what the apostles had in mind in terms of what was givne up. Circumcision is just one matter.
I’ll ask one final question. Suppose that a search of Greco-Roman culture yielded the information that there was no word for committed, monogamous same-sex long-term relation, so that Paul could not have this in mind and suppose further that this was the only kind of same-sex relationship that ever ever ever occurs today. Would what Paul says about same-sex sexual activities then be irrelevant in your eyes? That is to say, I am convinced there’s no getting around the idea that Paul has homosexual activity in mind. The real question is, is moral hair-splitting the right road?



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Scott Morizot

posted February 3, 2006 at 12:15 am


Actually Ken, as I read the above exchange I had the sense that both “sides” were engaged in “moral hair-splitting”. Y’all were just splitting the same hair from varying perspectives. I sense a different direction in Scot’s slow unfolding of the discussion. However, personally I’ve always felt that focusing attention virtually exclusively on the few negative statements related to homosexual acts in Scripture was far too … limited a perspective. It feels something like trying to construct a clear picture of an elephant while viewing it through a straw from two inches away. You are going to encounter difficulty, and people will come up with varying interpretations and constructs for what they see.
Bryan, personally there’s nothing about homosexuality that disgusts me. That sort of visceral gut reaction is clearly a learned behavior and while the environment in which I grew up was … interesting, it didn’t leave me with anything like that. Further, if I had been gay, I wouldn’t have been at all worried about my family rejecting me. And (other than a few brief periods) until I completed the journey of my turn/return to Christianity, I can’t really think of any friends who cared one way or another. It happens that I’m not and never even had any interest, but I can be reasonably certain that’s because it’s truly my orientation and not because of any enculturated opinions.
As a result, this issue has long bothered me. Nor is it some abstract question for me. It’s not about the faceless “other” for me. Those faces carry names for me. Names of people I know or have known. Some have been damaged and hurting people acting out in ways that were less than healthy. (I’ve also had heterosexual friends who were hurting and acting out sexually in less than healthy ways.) Others grew up with loving, close-knit families, were in long-term, stable relationships (certainly healthier than some of mine have been) and were quite well-adjusted and happy. “They” are no more a homogenous group than “we” are.
Lacking anything that felt even vaguely satisfactory (from any of the “sides” fighting over this issue), for years I have simply set it aside, reexamining it from time to time. I still don’t feel I have an “answer”, but over the years I have nibbled at it from different directions. I feel I’ve made the most progress as I’ve considered the question of what God had in mind when he created sex. After all, it is something that cuts through our entire being, body, heart, mind, and spirit. It is intensely pleasurable on multiple levels beyond the physical. And when twisted, it has the ability to hurt and damage us more than virtually anything else.
So in my journeys of exploration, I found myself searching for clues to God’s design. And as I explored Scripture, I have developed the sense that God’s design was for the unbreakable union of one man and one woman, body, soul, mind, and spirit to do some very special things. It is not good for us to be alone. The God who exists as three in one made that statement. What perspective could be more complete on that question? While others focus on things I do not believe are the primary point in Ephesians 5, I found hints that there is some mystery in the union that God designed that reveals something of the relationship of God with us. It doesn’t really explain it, but Paul tells us it is there. And then of course there was Jesus’ statement when they tried to trap him into picking a particular camp on divorce that God did not design divorce at all. And the way he puts it in Matthew 19:4-6 is compelling and can be seen to speak to the true design for sexual union, not just about divorce.
So obviously the next question is why so many expressions of sex outside that design exist? Some are obviously damaging, or flowing from deep pain. But others are not. They merely appear … different. Many have even been accepted by God over the years. Why? That question (hardly limited to sex, but it is an aspect of some importance to virtually every human) occupied me intermittently for years. For at its heart, it is the question of why things exist that are not part of God’s design. Why (and how) is there evil?
First, I need to clarify that I never spent any time in either the monoism or dualism camps of Christianity. I experienced a wide array of pagan beliefs growing up (of which Christianity was most often presented as one of many choices) and I spent a significant number of adult years more seriously exploring a representative sampling. Monoism, or the belief that everything in creation, both good and evil, flows from a single source that is either beyond or neutral to the concept of good and evil is a fairly common theme in Eastern religions. Dualism, or the belief that good and evil flow from separate and somewhat comparable sources, is a common theme in Western pagan religions. Within Christianity, the former is typically expressed as the belief that everything that happens is part of God’s plan. He’s in control of and determines absolutely everything and if your wife and children are killed in a natural disaster or at the hand of a serial killer or by a drunk driver it’s because that was God’s plan and design. Dualism in Christianity, on the other hand, tends to elevate the devil as a source of evil and combatant of God more nearly on an equal level with God than anything in scripture implies.
I feel both are mistaken. The truth seems to be a mystery, an apparent paradox. God, in the strongest terms possible, says that he is not only the source of all creation, but that he continues to sustain it every moment. Nothing that is exists without him. At the same time, he proclaims in equally strong terms that he is good, that evil has no part in him, that the darkness cannot abide the light. As a mystery, I feel less a need to understand it and more a need to accept it. However, I do see some hints of what God has done in quantum physics, where we see there is some degree of randomness, uncertainty, and unpredictability at the foundation of our universe. As Stephen Hawking says, God plays dice with the universe with abandon. (That’s actually a paraphrase.) And I also find hints in the illustration that places two trees at the center of the garden. One of life (which certainly describes one aspect of what God provides to the universe), and the other of knowledge of good and evil. And if we take God at his word, we could describe that tree as containing knowledge of things of God and (somehow) things not of God. Somehow, God has imbued his creation, though utterly sourced and sustained by him and him alone, with the ability to create that which is not God. Why? I can only surmise it’s because the perfect community of God desired a creation to love that could choose to love him in return. And it could only choose to love if it could also choose not to love.
Again, those are just thoughts I’ve developed over the years and should not be misconstrued as theology. I am most definitely not a theologian. However, I then discovered an interesting thing in Matthew 19. (That passage has interested me personally because of my own situation.) After describing God’s design for the sexual union in marriage of one man and one woman, he makes an intriguing statement. “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because you refused to accept God’s teaching, but divorce was not allowed in the beginning.” And the more I’ve mulled that statement, the more difficult to encompass I’ve found it.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but it has always seemed to me that anything that is not part of God’s design for creation is necessarily then “not-God” or evil. It represents either overt sin or an expression of the damage done to creation by the very existence of that which is not God. Clearly then, by the words of Jesus, any break in the union of man and woman violates God’s design. By definition then, it is evil or sin. And yet Jesus says that God (my understanding is that Moses typically meant the Law, which came from God) allowed it. A lot of people focus on the reason, but that’s always struck me as less important than the fact that it was allowed at all. Somehow, God is apparently able to allow (and presumably somehow redeem) that which is not of God! And with no sense that it requires repentance (which is good because I never would), but simply because he chooses to do so. I find the implications of that idea staggering.
Further, we see it in practice through the history of the church. Everyone can see that the church has embraced the wrong idea about God, sometimes for many centuries, and acted wrongly on that idea. Slavery is one example. There are certainly others. And yet, even so, we have always remained the Church, the beloved bride of Christ, child of the Father, and the body of our Lord. During the sometimes lengthy periods when we embraced beliefs and practices contrary to God’s design, we were clearly unrepentant. And yet he allowed it.
Now, I’m not jumping from there to a sense that God allows homosexuality. I feel that would be deeply presumptuous. Nor do I feel a rush to bring this issue to a resolution. I’ve been nibbling at it for a dozen years. I’m content to keep nibbling. But I do feel equally uncomfortable both with the assertion that a given homosexual union (perhaps with children) is one that God could never allow or accept in a Christian and with the assertion that it is not a sin (a violation of the intent God has expressed in his creation) and is simply another expression of God’s design.
In my own case, I am now perfectly willing to admit that my situation in life as one who is married, divorced, remarried, divorced, and remarried (with children from each marriage) places me outside God’s design and thus in an ongoing state of sin. People can hem and haw all they want, but if there’s another way to read his words, I don’t see it. Further I’m completely unrepentant. I’ve never been sorry and it’s unlikely I ever will be. In fact, my second marriage was so toxic, had it not ended I doubt I would have kept any vestige of physical or mental health, which means I would not have been there for my older son. I would even (now) call that a rescue by God. Some pretty amazing things happened along the way. And my marriage today is certainly a tremendous blessing and part of what sustains me, though why my wife chose to marry me, I’ll never understand. I’m simply grateful for a God who accepts me anyway.
I am sorry for the length. I’ve never been very good at expressing myself concisely. I know that one mark of a really good writer is that ability. One day I hope to be a better writer. Until then, I make do. If you’ve read this far, thanks.



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Ken

posted February 3, 2006 at 12:44 am


Hi Scott,
I’m not sure if I’d consider Karl Barth a great wrtier, but he was certainly a profound thinker and no one would accuse him of being concise, Nor Thomas Aquinas. Nor Augustine. I could go on, but taking a lot of space to explore an idea is not per se a bad thing. Look at those who have gone befoer.



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Scott Morizot

posted February 3, 2006 at 11:19 am


Ken,
I get this feeling I’ve been unduly complimented. I’ve never read Barth, but I’ve certainly read Aquinas and Augustine. Even being included in their general proximity is certainly more than I deserve. I just have these often convoluted thoughts that take me a lot of words to untangle and express.
Thanks (I think),



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