Saturday, June 04, 2005

Talking Points

In our deliberations we should be clear about what the biblical evidence is and how it is to be interpreted. The issue Scripture is concerned with is sexual expression which is a matter relating to the well-being of God's creation that is in bondage to sin and in need of regulation as well as redemption. The consistent testimony of the Old Testament and the New Testament is that sex outside of marriage is a danger to society. Given the consistency and the persistence of such testimony, our question probably ought to be whether good reasons exist for rejecting those opinions.
There are few mysteries about the relevant biblical material for regarding homosexual activity as acceptable behavior. It has been thoroughly discussed and there is no basis for any sexual expression outside marriage. In Romans 1, Paul is embarrassingly frank about homosexual acts. When he wanted to find a way to depict a world alienated from God, he as well as Jesus, Ezekiel and others could find no more graphic example of rebellion than Sodom. The argument that Scripture only condemns homosexual rape has not been made and we could discuss it if we had more than three minutes.
Such acts are used as an example of alienation from God. This point deserves emphasis: for Paul sexual improprieties are tied directly to "not knowing God' (1 Thess 4:3-8; Rom 1:18-27). There are matters about which Paul is willing to allow more than one view (e.g., marriage; cf. 1 Cor 7:6-7, 12-16, 25ff). In other instances, what Paul says in one letter must be balanced by what he says in another (I Cor 11:2-16 and Col 3:26-28), but comments about sexual immorality are not of this sort: Paul is consistent.
People have grown accustomed to expecting a "however" from biblical commentators at this point-a sudden shift in the argument that demonstrates the one-sidedness of Paul's views or their cultural relativity, perhaps contrasting them to what Jesus said. There is no relief in the Gospels, of course, where Jesus' words about sexual expression are less compromising than Paul's (Mark 10:2-12 or Matt 19:10-12). People expect of interpreters is a way around difficult texts, perhaps even a way to make the Bible say the opposite of what it seems to say. Some seek refuge in a divine law that offers absolute clarity and assurance-and a weapon to be used against those who are different. Others view the enemy in church and society as a conservative view of marriage and sexuality, who believe teachers in the church need to combat conservatism and legalism in the interests of the 'freedom of the gospel.' In fact, the greater danger in our society may well be a nihilism that acknowledges no values outside individual freedom. It is possible that the greater danger in our time is the threat to the stable social order that makes it possible for people to simply live together as man and wife without being a man and woman married together legally. When discussing such matters as sexual expression, we ought to begin our conversation by respecting what the Bible says. Both Old Testament and New Testament authors are clear and consistent in maintaining that sexual relations between members of the same sex (and between members of the opposite sex outside marriage) violate God's will for the creation. It should be said that "however" is necessary at another point. Discussions about homosexuality and illicit intercourse must finally turn to how to be neighbor to homosexual persons. Jesus taught his followers a stringent view of sexual expression while seeking to associate with sinners of all sorts. Paul's dealing with his churches proceeded from an insistence that all have sinned and fallen short, and that God's saving righteousness has been revealed apart from law. God's saving grace is for homosexual persons as well as for sinners of all sorts. In our efforts to understand the gospel, however, we cannot collapse law into gospel. As forgiven sinners, we are freed to serve those for whom Christ has died. Out of respect for our neighbors and concern for the well-being of creation, we must work for a just order, but same-sex unions, and especially for the ordained, cannot be argued as being a part of it.

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