Another Round with Michael Brown

Dr Michael Brown recently responded to gay Christian author Matthew Vines’ questions of him on the website Christian Post (trigger warning: toxic content, especially in the comments after Dr Brown’s piece). It’s a very clear article (with which I often disagree for many hermeneutical reasons, even though I’m also a pentecostal). My brother in Christ Conrad Gayle, whom I know as a gifted jazz musician and celibate Christian who lives with same-sex attraction (those are terms I have heard him use in my presence) wants me to answer the two questions that Brown directs to Vines.

 

  1. Can you give me a single, unambiguous biblical example of a God-blessed homosexual relationship?

No, and it doesn’t matter much. Here’s what I mean:

  • Can you give me an single, unambiguous biblical example that God forbids all slavery?
  • Can you give me a single, unambiguous, instance of an woman in senior church leadership?
  • Can you give me a single, unambiguous verse that says all Christians must speak in tongues?
  • Can you give me a single, unambiguous reference in the OT that says Gentiles will be welcome into the covenant without being circumcised?

You might say yes, I might say no on some of these, or vice versa. What’s ambiguous to one might be absolutely clear to another.

What procedures are we going to use in order to ease the deadlock?

Most Christians make decisions about whether these things move with or against God’s plan for the world made known primarily in the life of Jesus (I am including birth, life and ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, present ministry through the Spirit, and coming again). The process of making thoughtful decisions about how to approach and interpret Scripture is called hermeneutics–and everybody’s got a hermeneutic. This applies especially to folks who believe they are not interpreting the Scripture because “it is black and white, not fifty shades of grey.” As I said to my friend Conrad, I think the drive for clarity is commendable. And: where’s the colour, my brother? (Insisting that one is not using a hermeneutic often leads to unwise use of power over others (“believe what I tell you or you’re in danger of hellfire”), or to what philosopher’s call naive realism. In Christian circles, naive realism usually manifests as the (unconscious) belief that the way I read Scripture is the same as God’s own view of things.)

There’s a strand of Scripture, a “theme,” that I think leads well into an inclusive framework (and thus I disagree with Dr Brown): the stories of eunuchs throughout Scripture. Most Evangelical people (at least on the internet) assumes that eunuchs are always celibate because their genitals have been compromised. More recent studies falsify this assumption. Eunuchs have a lot of sex, though often they don’t consent, but are victims of sexual violence. The author of Leviticus thinks that eunuchs are excluded by virtue of physical deformity; Isaiah 56 says that eunuchs are welcome if they are faithful (they are given a name better than sons and daughters). Jesus seems to include himself in the category “eunuchs for the Kingdom” in Matthew 19; and the first Gentile convert to the way of Jesus is the highest official in the court of Ethiopia, a eunuch!

Buried in the middle of the many eunuch stories of the Bible is a tiny comment about the prophet Daniel. He’s a strapping young lad, and the text seems to say that God caused his warden, a eunuch, to have chesed and racham for Daniel so that he and his friends would be treated well (Daniel 1:9). Chesed can be translated ‘covenant love,’ or ‘tender mercy’ and racham is usually ‘compassion’. David Neelands of Trinity College says that these words apply in many cases to people who are in love in Scripture. If it doesn’t have a romantic meaning in this text, the text does not explain how the author knows that a Gentile palace master is experiencing the kind of love that God has for his people (which often has a marital connotation in the Hebrew Bible)!

But hold on a second: traditional Christian interpretation says that all same-gender attraction is broken or disordered, in need of the healing touch of Jesus. If this is always the case, why would God deliberately cause a broken condition to arise in this jailer’s heart, even if it did benefit Daniel? Would that view of God be consistent with the compassion and healing ministry of Jesus? So conservative Christians want to interpret in terms of how they understand the canon of Scripture—they say that these words are not romantic.

But if the word does have a romantic or sexual connotation here, and if God did cause that desire to arise in someone’s heart, is it possible that God would approve of certain kinds of same-gender relationships? This interpretation would certainly cohere with my view (below) that the Bible does not speak clearly of all kinds of homosexual relationships. Once again, we see the importance of hermeneutical decisions that we usually make before we ever read a text.

 

  1. Do you agree that every reference to homosexual practice in the Bible is decidedly negative?

Yes. But scope and moral logic are also important. What I mean is this:

  • When the Bible refers to homosexual practices, what does it mean? What behaviours are described and condemned?(Speaking as an evangelical with high regard for the content of Scripture, I want to try to agree with Paul! I believe, even as an affirming Christian, that I am condemning the same thing that he is.)
  • What is the moral logic of the condemnation? Do these reasons apply to what we are discussing in today’s culture? If yes, why? If no, why not?

I admit: It is possible that the Biblical authors objected to all forms of homosexual practice or relationships. But if this is the case, they should have been much clearer.

Contrary to the work of NT Wright and others, the majority of scholars who know the culture of the ancient world say that there was no such thing as a sexual relationship between social equals. This means agency and consent between equals (values that the Western world gets from the Gospel that are important to us!) have been absent from the vast majority of sexual relationships throughout history. (Our increasing understanding of marital rape should tell us that we have a different view of things than does the Bible!)

If all instances of homosexuality have to do with sexual abuse or religious prostitution (as I believe they do), isn’t it fair and wise to recognize the profound distance between their context and ours?

Michael Brown believes that the Bible is unequivocal about the sinfulness of homosexual sex, and that misreading this important point puts even self-identifying Christians in danger of hell-fire. But given that a great many Bible-readers believe these passages refer to something we rarely see today, is it responsible to be controlled by fear of being wrong? Where do 1 John 4 and 2 Timothy 1:7 fit in? These passages portray the kind of fear we often see in conversations about sexuality as opposed to the Gospel, and even possibly demonic in origin.

Is the grace and mercy of Jesus shown us in his death-on-cross and resurrection sufficient to save us even from very serious (and unintentional) misinterpretations? After all: no self-identified Christians I know are trying to lie about the content of Scripture! I am confident the answer is yes, we are still saved and loved despite our lack of understanding.

So, knowing I could be wrong, I will live as a gay man and seek (if it seems good to the Lord) a holy and faithful same-gender relationship, confident that there will be blessing if I am called to it. Speaking as a man who used to be in a marriage with another man, I already know some of the blessings of a Christ-centred marriage. I am convinced in my own heart, both because of study and experience, that normally there is no difference between straight and gay Christian couples in this regard.

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