(To be accompanied with Richard B. Hays’ “The Moral Vision of the New Testament”)
The word homosexuality holds much prevalence in today’s news, societal issues, including homosexual marriages and civil rights for gays and lesbians, and even more importantly, within the church. Right off the bat, I want to bluntly answer some major questions regarding the acceptance of homosexual behavior within and without the church. It has been a common practice for the church to administer the four parts of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Let us not neglect this practice, and be sure to sift the issue of the acceptance of homosexual behavior through scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Towards the end of his chapter on “Homosexuality”, Hays answers seven heavily debated questions in the fourth section, the section that tells us, matter of factly, how to live out the text of the New Testament in today’s church community. Hays’ list of questions and answers are as follows: “(a) Should the church support civil rights for homosexuals? Yes. (b) Can homosexual persons be members of the Christian church? Yes. (c) Is it Christianly appropriate for Christians who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation to continue to participate in same-sex erotic activity? No. (d) Should the church sanction and bless homosexual unions? No. (e) Does this mean that persons of homosexual orientation are subject to a blanket imposition of celibacy in a way qualitatively different from persons of heterosexual orientation? (Nuanced answer, explanation required.) (f) Should homosexual Christians expect to change their orientation? Yes (nuanced answer, explanation required.) Lastly, (g) Should persons of homosexual orientation be ordained? Yes (also nuanced, explanation required.) These are the questions and answers that Hays eventually determines to be true and right. Beginning at the end of Hays’ chapter on “Homosexuality” is quite startling, is it not? I want you to see the importance of being able to back up the questions and answers that you, as an individual personally accountable to God, eventually decide to be most important and true. Let it stand that we, as Christians, would be causing a deficiency if we gave these matter-of-fact answers without explanations. Without scripture, tradition, reason and experience to back them up, Hays’ answers become senseless.
Speaking for myself, and more importantly for the author of this text, I say that we, and the rest of the church, are called to be people of truth, rightly dividing the scripture. The Bible’s stance on the issue of homosexual behavior is “univocal.” With one voice, the entire canon speaks against its practice. The issue at hand is not, whether or not homosexual behavior is a sin. Scripture attests to this. The issue the modern church faces today is one of content and approach. What scriptures in the canon apply to its stance on the practice of homosexual behavior? Which scriptures do not apply? Exactly what do these scriptures say? How should the scriptures temper the approach that we use in everyday conversation with our fellow Christian, yet homosexual believers? How do these answers tie in with Hays’ hard, end-of-chapter questions I presented at the beginning of this discussion?
First, let us approach the issue through scripture. How does the first portion of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral answer our questions? To demystify one common reading of Genesis 19: 1-29, Hays writes that it, “is actually irrelevant to the topic” of homosexuality. The book of Ezekiel states, “‘This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy’ (Ezekiel 16:49).” Now to address the more topic-relevant scriptures, Hays cites the Old Testament scripture of Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and the New Testament scriptures of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:10, Acts 15:28-29 and Romans 1:18-32. It seems as if Hays moved, in scripture from least topic-relevant to most topic-relevant, so let’s pass by the less topic-relevant scriptures for length’s sake and for time’s sake and move on to the scripture that Hays says is most relevant to the topic, Romans 1:18-32. The scripture reads, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their own error.” Ok, it’s obvious that this text is “unambiguously and unremittingly negative in” its “judgment.” Though, as Hays states, “the genius of Paul’s analysis…lies in his refusal to posit a catalog of sins as the cause of human alienation from God. Instead, he delves to the root: all other depravities follow from the radical rebellion of the creature against the Creator (1:24-31).” The sin of both Jews and Gentiles alike (the sin of replacing Yahweh with other gods) invokes God’s wrath, which in turn causes this “catalog of sins,” in which Paul also, in other texts, places homosexuality. Hays even goes as far as to quote his homosexual theologian friend, Gary, who announced the uneasiness he experienced when faced with the contemporary homosexual community. His main concern was the common homosexual practice of flaunting one’s sexuality and allowing it to take a higher importance and prevalance than one’s relationship with the Father.
Romans 1: 18-32, I believe, calls the church away from regarding men and women who practice the sin of homosexuality as blasphemers destined for hell. Homosexuality is a sin, and it is important for us to remember, that amongst the other sins talked about most in the New Testament, homosexuality is not mentioned very much. Sins of economy, sins of pride, and lust in general are mentioned and warned against much more frequently. I believe that, as Hays writes, “The “logic underlying Paul’s ‘sting’ expose of self-righteousness in Romans 2:1” says that “we should not leap to” the “condemnation of others, for we—no less than those who are engaged in ‘the dishonoring of their bodies’—are under God’s judgment, and they—no less than we—are the objects of God’s deeply sacrificial love.” “The cross models the way in which the community of faith ought to respond to them: not in condemnation, but in sacrificial service.” The cross also “marks the end of the old life under the power of sin. Romans 6:12-14 reads, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Law and grace should never be separated from each other in the issues surrounding homosexual behavior.
BE SURE TO READ THE NOTES BELOW:
–Homosexual practice considered to be a natural biological phenomenon…”no one in Christ is locked into the past or into a psychological or biological determinism.” (alcoholism—many are genetically inclined to become addicted to alcohol…are they allowed to make excuses?)
–letter c—Romans 6:1…
Living the homosexual life is living in sin, though, we are all sinners living in sin. Yes, homosexuals are expected to cease homosexual activity, but Homosexuals are called to “a life of disciplined abstinence, free from obsessive lust. (Exactly the same standard would apply for unmarried persons of heterosexual orientation.)”
–inspirational and flooring quote from Hays’ homosexual friend, Gary (who eventually died of AIDS) : “Since All Saints Day I have felt myself being transformed. I no longer consider myself homosexual. Many would say, big deal, you’re forty-two—and are dying of AIDS. Big sacrifice. No, I didn’t do this of my will, of an effort to improve myself, to make myself acceptable to God. No, he did this for me. I feel a great weight has been lifted off me. I have not turned ‘straight.’ I guess I’m like St. Paul’s phrase, a eunuch for Christ.”
–letter g: “Strictures against homosexuality belong in the church’s moral [standards], not in its ordination requirements.”
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