An answer, I hope in Truth and Grace
A few more things...
As I shared last Wednesday evening, the conversation about this subject took place between people who agree that the Bible, not cultural trends, is our source of authority. Thus my answer to these questions will be rooted, I hope, in what I believe that the Holy Spirit is saying to the church through the Bible.
One more thing. Psalm 48:13 says that "This God is our God for ever and ever. He shall be our guide forevermore." Because God has made us free, we needn't agree with Psalm 48. We can say, "No thank you. I'll choose to find my guidance from... " and then we can fill in the blank with whatever seems to work for us. At the outset, I think it's important to share with you why I've chosen to say, "God is my guide."
My choice is rooted in the observation that God's precepts and principles have proven themselves, to me at least, to a be a life enhancing playing field. There are limits; fences. Our lives are circumscribed by God's truths as he invites us to live here (generosity for example) and not here (greed). We don't do it perfectly of course, which is why we need Christ. But though we fail, my own life story has led me to believe, after all these years, that God's playing field is, indeed, the place where life can best be lived. I'll hasten to add that playing on God's field most assuredly will lead to a life of self-denial and suffering at various points, for the reality is that I'm inexorably drawn to some of the values on the wrong side of the fence. In a fallen world, all my dreams won't come true. But I'll best be able to find my way by participating in a community that sees God's YES and God's NO as equally life enhancing and preserving.
Here are the questions:
How do you believe God views the union of two people of the same gender? Do you believe it is sinful even if monogamous, loving, and committed?
How can we as a church deny the experience of gay and lesbian Christians that feel called by the Holy Spirit to a covenant relationship? What does the church have to lose or gain by blessing same gender unions?
Let's begin by asking the question: "What does the church have to gain or lose by blessing same gender unions?" because I think everything else will flow from that.
What's at stake, and this isn't just an opinion, but a reality, is the hermeneutic principle that "historical orthodoxy" isn't to be lightly overturned. As I shared already, this doesn't mean that theologians of any particular moment in history shouldn't challenge existing interpretations, for if there were no challenge, many horrific attitudes and actions of the church would still be happening today. On the other hand, there's a real risk in our post-modern era to view the entire past as mistaken and approach theology today as if it's a blank slate, bringing all our 21st century biases to the table when trying to interpret the Bible. This is a huge mistake!
So, at the outset we need to realize that if the church were to bless same sex unions, it would overturn the overwhelming testimony of how the church has understood marriage. The article referenced in the previous article seems fairly accurate and, while not without problems, it is clear that, from Genesis to Jesus, to Paul, to the early church fathers, and then throughout the various arms of the church that have come about because of schisms, marriage has not had a provision for same sex unions within it.
This observation leads me to the another hermeneutic principle that is important for our discussion, namely the issue of looking for movement (such as we saw with dietary regulations). One can find movement on many important social issues, issues on which the church has ultimately moved. Woman were treated differently by Jesus than would have been considered normative in the Old Testament, and Paul made further movement still, acknowledging a female apostle, and declaring that "when a woman prophesies (a declaration carrying the very authority of God), she's to have her head covered". Similar movement is made on the issue of slavery.
However, when it comes to marriage, this movement is simply not there. God declares a reference point regarding what marriage is supposed to be in Genesis 2. Jesus refers back to the same reference point. So does Paul. This lack of movement is, in my world, a hugely important consideration. Like the flame and cloud that guided Israel, we need to be willing to move when God moves. But when that same cloud is stationary, we need to be stationary. The testimony of scripture doesn't indicate that humanity has held to God's reference point well at all.
This is the crux issue, much more than our respective interpretations of Biblical texts about homosexuality, or anything about the nature vs. nurture debate. To bless gay unions would require climbing too hermeneutic walls that simply seem too high: God's lack of movement on the issue, coupled with the church's lack of movement.
What this means:
The church must decide how seriously it takes marriage. Everything written above seems to confine sexual intimacy to two people in a marriage covenant. Surely such a playing field will lead to suffering for all of us. Straight singles need to wait until they're married. Married people need to release their demand for sexual intimacy at various points, due to health issues, weariness, travel, emotional hurdles, and more. Holding our sexuality in this way is an enormous challenge, but the fact that it's challenging isn't evidence that we've got the ethic wrong. I'll note, as I have before, that our collective failure here as heterosexuals is far more dangerous to society than how the smaller homosexual community holds their sexuality. It's an issue for all of us, but for society the impact of departure from God's reference point will be felt more by the departure of the 95% than the 5%.
The church must get over it's homophobia. If the conversation is out of the closet, then we can offer our friends a place at the table, a place in the pew, a place to pray, listen for God's voice, and know, albeit imperfectly, a sense of family and intimacy in this broken world. Some, I believe (because I've seen it), will come to experience a transformation enabling them to marry. Others won't. That's God's prerogative. But all will experience the embrace of a loving God.
I'll close simply by suggesting that, as Lauren Winner writes in her marvelous book, our sexuality isn't a private matter after all. In her book calling all Christians to either chastity or marriage, she observes that this ethic, far from intended to isolate is intended to drive us towards a greater sense of community. Further, she observes that our departures from this (which she believes to be God's ethic) has communitarian and cultural consequences. I agree. That's why the discussion about how all of us are to hold our sexuality is an important one.
Whew! I fear getting shot at from both sides on this one... but if you could know how much I wrestle with articulating this with truth and grace, perhaps you'll use blanks?