It has been several years since I’ve blogged on the topic of homosexuality, but the time seems right to make public again an essay from late December 2013 entitled “Nazarenes, let’s talk about homosexuality.” There are a couple of reasons I’ve decided to do so:
1). Since the publishing of that essay, same-sex marriage has become the law of the land in all 50 states in the U.S.
It’s apparent that churches and Christian universities are coming under increasing pressure both externally and internally to modify their longstanding view that marriage as God intended it – and as Jesus Christ re-affirmed it – is between one man and one woman, for life (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:1-11). If as an academic and member of the clergy I can encourage compassionate traditionalists who are now swimming against a very strong current, I am happy to do so. I hope as well that the irenic tone of the piece will once again give it a wide reading. The comment thread is also worth your time and gives insight into the pain Christian families have suffered around this issue, an often overlooked communal angle on a topic that usually is seen only through the lens of individualism, a lens that can give us a distorted picture.
2). I’ve had a chance to do further reading on the topic, both narrowly and in its larger context of human sexuality generally.
James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (2013) was recommended to me. However, with all due respect to Dr Brownson, I found nothing compelling there that is a game-changer in this protracted debate.
I can’t get away from the fact that nowhere does Scripture give a blessing to a union of a man with a man or a woman with a woman. Our Nazarene marriage ritual, on the other hand, begins by citing Jesus’ blessing upon the marriage of a man to a woman in Cana of Galilee, a blessing implied by his attendance at the event and his turning the water into wine (see John 2:1-12). Can we bless what Jesus did not bless? While I am sympathetic to the predicament that Brownson found himself in as a New Testament professor when his 18 year old son came out as gay, I cannot help but think that his family situation has colored his biblical interpretation.
The 2013 General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene was wise when it appointed a commission to study the question of human sexuality with an eye to reworking paragraph 37 (“Human Sexuality” ) in the Nazarene Manual. As it now reads, it gives an inordinate amount of space to the question of homosexuality, which affects about 3% of the population, and much less mention to heterosexuality, which concerns 97% of people. My hope is that their report will be the impetus for the publication by our denomination of materials that deal with the full spectrum of Christian sexual ethics, but at a level that Nazarene children coming into adolescence can understand. Meanwhile, I’ve found Beth Felker Jones’ Faithful: A Theology of Sex (Zondervan, 2015) to be an excellent primer on the topic.
Africa is affected by this discussion in that the constitution of South Africa allows for same-sex marriage. South African Nazarene Pastor Patrick Thomas has written an excellent article for Volume 1 of the Africa Journal of Wesleyan Theology, helping the church think through how to minister without biblical compromise to those who are same-sex attracted. Thomas encourages lovingly enfolding those who – due to their commitment to Christ and their same-sex attraction – are living a life of celibacy. He helps us begin to think how we can do better in an area where as a church we’ve done very poorly. (For more, see Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian).
Finally, Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, a few years ago produced an excellent video addressing homosexuality and Scripture. Only 7 minutes long, I’ve not found another just-the-facts resource that does as good a job of laying out the two options when it comes to human sexuality as taught by Scripture, our rule of faith and practice:
- celibacy in singleness (like Jesus), or
- faithfulness in marriage, i.e. one man and one woman, for life.
May God continue to grant us wisdom and a loving spirit as we engage our culture in ways that – like Jesus – are filled with both grace and truth (John 1:14).
N.B. – This post is set not to allow for a comment thread. I am in a meeting the next several days and will not have time to moderate.
Image credit: Gabby Hillaire