Gay Non-Christians, Gay Christians, and Pro-gay Arguments

In the comment thread on "Is Repent America Really Loving?", while trying to persuade a supporter of RA of the misguidedness of their approach, I said:

As you probably know, there is sadly an enormous amount of effort today spent developing arguments to rationalize and justify homosexual sex and relationships.

Mark Poole of Prodigal Sheep responded:

I’m glad you recognize the efforts of Repent America as self-aggrandizing and offensive. But you’re in danger of repeating the mistake yourself in describing the efforts of GLBT Christians to develop theologies of affirmation, resistance and transformation based on our experiences of God and our understanding of the biblical witness as “arguments to rationalize and justify homosexual sex and relationships”. Queer theology isn’t about justifying gay sex any more than traditional ‘heteronormative’ theology is about justifying indiscriminate heterosexual intercourse. To characterize the gay and lesbian Christian witness in this way not only diminishes our faith and struggle but I think it also diminishes the one who makes such a characterization.

I chewed on this for a long while. I looked over my comment for something I could "take back", something I could say I didn't really mean. While I don't normally say the sorts of things I said in my above comments, except when defending myself to the "Jason Alexander"s of the world, I realized upon reflection that I believe and mean every last one of them.

There was so much I wanted to say, but knowing that I tend to err in saying too much too quickly, I simply said this:

I do have a rather low opinion of pro-gay Christian apologetics. But I haven’t studied the matter in depth since 2000, so if there have been significant advances since then, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

Having slept on it, I'd like to do his comments a little more justice than that.

Looking at my initial comment in context, I was talking about gay unbelievers. My point was that if you are trying to convince a gay non-Christian that he is a sinner, you shouldn't do so by talking primarily about homosexuality. Others may disagree (particularly Catholics and others who are natural law fans), but speaking personally, as a gay atheist I truly did not believe that there was anything wrong with homosexual sex or relationships. So talking to me about homosexuality would not have been the way to cut to the quick of my heart, get me to see my sinfulness before a holy God, and get me to cry out "What must I do to be saved?"

In my original comment, then, I was not particularly concerned with pro-gay theology. I was concerned not so much with gay and lesbian Christian "theologies of affirmation, resistance and transformation" as I was with what I believe to be a general darkening of the unbelieving conscience regarding sexuality in our society today. My point would extend beyond homosexuality–for example, I wouldn't try to persuade a heterosexually active teenager of his sinfulness and need for Christ by talking about the premarital sex.

So when I was talking about rationalizations, I wasn't thinking of objections like "The Bible only condemns same-sex relations in cultic or exploitative contexts." I was instead thinking of things like "We're biological animals with sexual drives–we NEED to have sex", or "How can it be wrong if nobody's getting hurt?" or "Love is all that matters," or "You can't judge me because you don't know what it's like to be gay," etc. I was concerned with the non-Christian rather than the Christian.

But Mark's concern in his comment isn't with my view of gay non-Christians but with my view of gay Christians. So I will try to speak to his concern here.

Like I said in my brief reply to him, I believe that the pro-gay Biblical arguments as a whole are weak. No big surprise there–if I thought the pro-gay arguments were any good, I would have been convinced by them, and would have taken a different path than the one I actually took. This would be a gay Christian blog, not an exgay Christian blog.

I do not believe that this necessarily discredits or diminishes "the gay or lesbian Christian witness" as a whole. I think we'd all agree that there's more to the gay and lesbian Christian witness than their arguments about what the Bible says! I have seen gay and lesbian Christians demonstrate love, humility, a willingness to pursue God in difficult circumstances, a servant heart of caring for "the least of these," a yearning for intimacy with God, and other beautiful things. To my mind, if there's any gay and lesbian Christian witness, it's in those–not in what they say about the Bible and homosexuality. So I don't doubt that God is present among gay Christians, that He is working in their lives, that He is working through their lives in their ministry to others, etc.

I simply doubt their views about homosexual sex and relationships and their interpretation of Scripture on that matter.

When I was an atheist, it seemed to me that the gay Christians were clearly wrong about the Bible. I didn't study their arguments in depth, because they were of little concern to me practically speaking, but I was familiar with most of them. My conclusion was this: "I sure am glad I don't think the Bible is morally authoritative, because it seems clear that the Bible proscribes homosexual sex."

I noted that most other gay atheists, gay non-Christians, and gay theologically liberal Christians had the same impression. In fact, many of them took it as a reason to criticize the Bible, that it was so obviously primitively patriarchal and homophobic in its anti-gay teaching. I also noted that very few hetero theologically conservative Christians were impressed by the pro-gay Biblical arguments either. So, by and large, it looked to me like pretty much the only people who found them persuasive were gay theologically conservative Christians–those who were depending on them for justification to pursue same-sex relationships. This looked pretty suspicious to me.

So I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't a theologically conservative Christian. A while later, God came crashing into my life and I became one. I guess it was His little joke on me or something.

Unsurprisingly, after I became a Christian, I felt a strong desire to revisit the pro-gay Biblical and theological arguments. :) Perhaps there was something I had missed the first time around. Perhaps all the gays and straights who thought the arguments didn't work were simply biased–perhaps the straights were operating from a homophobic bias, and the gays were operating from an anti-Christian bias. Perhaps gay Christians were the only ones thinking rationally and seeing things clearly.

(This certainly wasn't true of me, as I came to notice that how good the pro-gay arguments looked to me depended on how badly I was struggling. An argument that looked implausible to me under cool, calm, and collected circumstances would suddenly look a lot more convincing when I made a new gay female acquaintance that I found attractive. But the fact that my thinking was so powerfully influenced by sexual desire of course doesn't mean it's true of other gay Christians.)

In the gay Christian stuff I read, I found some interesting things to ponder, but nothing that could really persuade me, no matter how hard I looked for it. In the years that followed, whenever the going got tough with my sexual struggle, I would go back to the pro-gay Biblical arguments, hoping to find something there that could change my mind, that would give me peace to pursue that path, that would mean I didn't have to keep doing the exgay thing which at that point wasn't working so well for me.

I share all this just to say that I did not casually dismiss the pro-gay arguments that I knew of. I read everything I could find on the subject. And I thought about these matters passionately and intently for years. I may very well be wrong, but I am convinced it is not a wrongness that comes from indifference to or ignorance of the "faith and struggle" of gay and lesbian Christians.

Addendum: I should note that my inability to find pro-gay arguments convincing is partly based on my larger theological framework. I am overall an extremely theologically conservative Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) Christian, getting most of my theological inspiration from the Reformers and the Puritans. So my views of fundamental concepts such as grace, sin, obedience, law, love, salvation, how we come to know the will of God, etc., may not line up neatly with those of many (perhaps most) contemporary evangelicals, especially those with postmodern sympathies.

I mention this because I've noticed that at least online, there is a significant trend of pro-gay evangelical apologists moving away from talking about the "clobber passages," to instead trying to construct arguments that have nothing to do with them, relying on appeals to "grace" and "love" to do all the work. While I believe very much in grace and love, I do not understand them in the way these pro-gay apologists do, and therefore their arguments have no appeal for me. (Of course, I think if they thought them through just a bit more carefully, such arguments would have little appeal for them either.)

6 Responses to Gay Non-Christians, Gay Christians, and Pro-gay Arguments

  1. grace says:

    Can I link to you on my blog? I have wanted to do this for some time……I tried to message you about this several months ago….and it didn’t go through for one reason or another. Let me know if this would be okay with you. I’m not sure that it would bring a great deal of traffic to your blog….but…I do know that your words/message are of the sort that I’d like to see more people be exposed to…in whatever way possible.
    grace

  2. Sure, Grace. I’d be honored. I plan to link to you as soon as I manage to set up my blogroll!

  3. grace says:

    I really AM going to link you! ha! It’s just been crazy lately. Just sayin’ “hi” for now!
    grace

  4. Yeah…I see what’s been goin’ on with your fam. As I don’t know nothin’ about all that mom stuff yet, all I can do is pray for you guys. Which I’m doing!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I hope you don’t mind. I’ve had you as a link to my blog for some time.
    I was wondering. When you say that you understand grace and love differently than pro-gay apologists, is it that grace and love lead us to repentance/grace is freedom from sin?
    Also, what do you think of Acts 11:1-18 when Peter sees all food declared clean? How does that not apply also to homosexual relations which were an abomination under the Levitical law?

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll link to you as soon as I post this comment!

    A full answer to your questions is probably better put off until I can write some more in-depth posts on why pro-gay theology did not work for me. But, briefly….

    In answer to your first question, yes that’s a part of it. But there’s more to it than that. Dealing with love first, I’ve seen some pro-gay apologists insist that Jesus’ statements about the greatest commandment and Paul’s comments along similar lines mean that “all that matters is love,” that none of the specific commandments or moral teachings, Old Testament or New, matter any more as long as we love each other.

    I don’t think this view really works. I think we fallible, fallen humans don’t really understand what love is, and that God spends so much time in the Bible giving us specific moral teaching to help us understand it. Love is ultimately about doing good to one another–how can we do that if we don’t understand what is good for the other person. I think specific Biblical teaching, including what I interpret to be its teaching about homosexuality, is part of that. I believe that the Bible’s teaching fleshes out for us what love is, so that we don’t have to rely totally on our fallen ideas about the matter.

    My problem with their view of grace is very similar to my problem with their treatment of love. They will seize upon the verse “you are not under law, but under grace,” and take that to mean that we are no longer to follow the specific moral teaching of the Bible, but we can just go by our own judgment, which will theoretically be led by the Spirit. I just don’t understand things in this way. I am under grace, not under the law, thanks to Jesus Christ. But to me this means not that the specific moral teaching of Scripture doesn’t apply to me, but that my motivation and my obedience are totally different than someone under the Law. I don’t obey out of abject terror, expecting God’s wrath if I screw up. And I don’t obey out of a sense of my own self-righteousness, seeing myself as racking up brownie points. No, ideally, I obey out of love, the love of a daughter for her heavenly Father. I obey out of joyful gratitude for the redemption I have in Christ. I obey (increasingly) out of delight in the will and the wisdom of God.

    We *are* guided by the Spirit, but at the same I know at least of myself that I am a notorious self-deceiver, especially when it comes to sin. Without the specific moral teaching of Scripture, I think I would find myself hearing the “Spirit” say whatever I wanted to hear. I have heard some gay Christians suggest that they are too spiritually mature to need a Book to tell them what to do. I confess that I am not so mature. I believe and hope that I am born-again, that I am led by the Spirit, but my flesh is strong, and it leads me astray.

    I think the big challenge for anyone who advocates these sorts of apologetic approaches is to make sense of Paul’s emphasis on moral teaching, He has so much to say in many of his epistles about what people should and shouldn’t be doing, and how the church should discipline them if they get out of line. If Paul thought that all we need is grace and love to live rightly, then most of his writing doesn’t make any sense at all.

    About Acts 11:1-18 and the Levitical Law. Again, I don’t think this is really the time or the place for me to get deep into my specific interpretations of each passage. But I’d quickly point out that judging by Acts 11:1-18, Peter didn’t think God was primarily trying to talk to him about food–he thought that God was trying to tell him something about *people*, in particular the Gentiles.

    Speaking more generally, I would find the suggestion that the restriction on homosexuality went the way of the ban on unclean foods much more plausible if it wasn’t for those NT verses that plausibly deal with sexuality and homosexuality, including Romans 1, 1 Cor. 6, 1 Tim. 1, and indirectly/implicitly all of the NT teaching on sex and marriage.

    The stuff about unclean foods, at least according to most people’s interpretations, has been explicitly revoked in that Acts passage and/or in the Gospels. But instead of an explicit revoking of the Levitical law on homosexuality, we have in several places what looks plausibly like a *reiteration* of it. And this seems to be the general rule we use when we decide what still applies to us and what doesn’t. Overall, what I find persuasive is the *joint* witness of the Biblical texts. If the only mention of homosexuality in the Bible was in Leviticus, maybe I would be like “Oh I guess that was just for the Jews.” And if the only mention of homosexuality in the Bible was in Romans 1, maybe I would be like “Oh, he’s just worried about cultic pagan practices. But all the different texts and references all put together, combined with a general New Testament teaching on sex and marriage that in my view really doesn’t leave room for same-sex marriage–I find that combination strongly persuasive.

    Sorry for such a quick and superficial sketch that I know doesn’t do justice to all the issues. I will work on developing a more thorough explanation of why I think the way I do.

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