“A Christian culture dominated by believing the right things about Jesus too often forgets that believing in Christ and walking in love are inseparable. In this case, followers of Jesus have too often forgotten that articulating a position on homosexuality does not in itself answer the questions: What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor as myself? What does it look like for me to do unto my homosexual neighbor as I would have done to myself?”
For quite a while now Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology has been one of my favorite blogs [really, you should be bookmarking it now, I’ll wait], so I was excited to learn he was going to share some of his work in narrative theology and Pauline studies in the book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? and agreed straight away when I was asked to participate in this blog tour.
The chapter I’m reflecting on is “Homosexuality Under the Reign of Christ” No easy task, as this is proving to be one of the most difficult issues facing the church today.
Daniel starts by laying out what the biblical text says about homosexuality, and honestly it’s not that much – far less than one would assume when you consider how much evangelicals in particular have tended to obsess over the issue.
Granted, what is said is uniformly negative, but even that is less straightforward than it might first appear. The infamous “abomination” line in Leviticus for example is hardly useable in current debates, as it comes in the midst of a whole list of other national laws that we no longer consider relevant, including another “abomination,” eating unclean foods (so next time you see someone eating a cheeseburger, haul out the protest signs).
The New Testament statements, almost exclusively from Paul, come in the midst of vice lists that lay out a classically Jewish diatribe against practices that seen as the symptoms of paganism and idolatry. They do indeed portray homosexual acts in a negative light, a fact which Daniel insists we refuse to brush aside, but there is more going on linguistically and hermeneutically than we often want to admit.
So we are left with a picture of the Biblical testimony that is far more nuanced, and gives no justification for singling out homosexuality as somehow different or worse than any other sexual sin, but is still essentially negative.
Where do we go from there?
In the aside “Arguing for Homosexual Practice,” which is directed at those who affirm homosexuality either for textual reasons or because they believe the Spirit is doing something new in our day, Daniel suggests that if you take this path it must go hand in hand with the Biblical narrative of fidelity and lifelong commitment. So that GLBT affirming churches should at the same time fight against the cultural trends towards easy divorce and casual hookups.
But the real thesis of the chapter, the theme that (rightly I think) trumps everything else, is love.
Central to our calling as Christians is love of others, and it is here that much of the church has failed spectacularly in its approach towards the GLBT community.
Jesus sums up the entire law with “Love the Lord your God with all your … and, love your neighbor as yourself” and then when asked who this neighbor might be, Jesus tells a parable which turns all the audience’s expectations upside-down and shows a hated outsider as more faithfully following the way of Jesus than the religious insiders.
“No clearer story could be told to show us that our predilection for keeping our love restricted to ourselves runs counter to the way of Jesus. When we restrict our love to those who roughly fall within the boundaries of those who are living lives pleasing to God, or when we use biblical regulations as reasons for excluding ourselves from the duty of providing for a person in need, we violoate the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Daniel continues by bringing this story to bear on the discussion of homosexuality,
“the homosexual is the Christian’s neighbor, and Christian’s duty is to love homosexuals as ourselves. If the result of our biblical convictions is that we stand on the streets with “God Hates Fags” signs, we are not holding a Christian position but are using a Christian idea to prop up our rebellion against the life that Jesus calls us to.”
So what does it look like to love our homosexual neighbor as ourselves? The last few pages of the chapter wrestle with that admittedly complex question. I won’t delve into specifics at the moment, but the general thrust is this – is it loving the GLBT community as we would want to be loved if we deny them rights that we would never want others to deny to us?
We’ve failed miserably in our treatment this group of people, but the Christian narrative of love and self sacrifice might just point a way forward.
Daniel begins this chapter with a quote from Love, Love, Love by The Mountain Goats, and I can think of no better way to close out this post than by sharing that song with you as you perhaps wrestle anew with what it means to love others as a follower of Jesus.
*Baker sent me a free copy of this book as a participant in the blog tour – no stipulations were made on the content of my review, but if you think I can be bought off with free books then this information might be relevant to you. And with that I think I’ve fulfilled my FTC obligations.*