Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bible passages and same sex relationships

Doug Chaplain over at MetaCatholic began a series looking at Bible passages and same sex relationships. Here is the first post. He has several more done already. You can find his blog here.

Gay questions to straight answers
Tag: Bible, Sexuality — doug @ 8:58 pm

I have (with considerable trepidation) decided to offer some periodic posts on some of the ways Anglicans (okay – and others) are reading, are not reading, could be reading and should be reading their Bibles about same-sex relationships. This is partly in honour of the Lambeth Conference, where these texts and their readings are the ghost at the feast. But it is also because I have reached that point of irritation with both the lack of rigour in so many arguments, and the lack of love in so many comments. Those are, incidentally, criticisms I would aim fairly indiscriminately at some on all sides.

What’s the point to this exercise? If you’re asking that question, believe me that I am too. It does, however, seem to me to be worth considering that one or more of us may have got something to learn from going back to these texts and asking questions rather than necessarily finding answers. It is too much to hope that any significant new meaning might be found in texts as well quarried as these. It may not (I think) be too much to hope that we might see one another as having some integrity and being serious about engagement with the texts.

I think we’re standing at a point where, in the light of all our knowledge, it seems reasonable to ask whether this is one of those occasions for the church to engage in the kind of drastic re-reading of texts we thought we knew. This is the relevance of, for example, the admission of Gentiles, or the banning of slavery. In those debates, which were as divisive and acrimonious as the present one, what won the day for the overturning of traditional readings of scripture was the conviction that other readings of scripture were truer both to the overall reading, and to the core of the gospel. That is, even if it remains the case that specific texts and the traditional reading of them did support the exclusion of the Gentiles, or the owning of slaves, they were texts that needed to be placed in the tradition’s archives in the light of reading the text as a Christocentric, salvific and truly life-giving whole.

It does not seem to me that those seeking such a drastic re-reading of the texts have yet made a fully-convincing case, far less a compelling one. Some have simply seen no need to do so. That does not mean that others will never do so. I personally hope they will. Equally, while I think that absent such compelling arguments, the traditional readings need respecting, I have to say that the venom and desperation of some, together with some dubious arguments, suggest to me that the traditional reading not only has its weaknesses, but that it produces some very sour fruit. It is possible, of course, like 1066 and All That’s roundheads and cavaliers, to be respectively right but repulsive, and wrong but romantic. But as Jesus might well have said: “It shall not be so among you.” Repulsiveness is not a Christian virtue.

The answers we get are of course shaped by the questions we ask. It seems that the question many are asking is “Does the Bible condemn same-sex practices?” Apart from the dubious idea that the Bible says or condemns anything, I think this is the wrong question, because it is focussed on an abstracted behaviour, not on people. What matters, it seems to me, are the questions about how we can love one another, share God’s love with and for each other, and seek to respond as faithfully as we can to God’s calling. In that light the questions are perhaps better framed as “How do we (given that some of us are gay and others straight) follow Christ faithfully”? and “How do we (given that some of us are straight and others gay) love our brothers and sisters and help them follow Christ faithfully?” The parenthetical part of those questions could easily be omitted (or written vice versa) without significantly affecting most of the answers.

When framed in those terms, it is quite clear that 90% (at least) of the answers we get from our reading of scripture will be just the same in relation to both gay and straight people. Questions of sexuality are a small (but significant) subset about the ways in which we love God and our neighbour. We are not talking two headed Martians but fellow disciples and fellow creatures, alike the favoured recipients of God’s love and vocation. Any attempts to read or re-read scripture that seem to forget or disregard that common graced humanity will not take us very far. There may be better questions than the ones I suggest here, but they’re the best I’ve come up with, and the ones I intend to take forward on this effort at reading.

I request all commenters to commend their arguments by grace, charity, reason and restraint.

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