framed, pt. 3 (exclusively inclusive)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (it’s funny because you can’t; such power!):

“Jesus lived out his earthly ministry among the marginalized and outcast, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion that upended the sinful exclusivism of the hypocritical religious elite. Today, many religious leaders are denying full acceptance to gay men and women in local congregations due to disagreements about the moral status of same-sex unions. Jesus, who embraced the stigmatized, would side with those being denied total inclusion by the judgmental majority. To be Christians, then, requires that we cast off arbitrary requirements for acceptance that were made by power-seeking Pharisees and realize that those in monogamous, faithful, loving, same-sex unions (and the LGBTQ community in general) are the new Gentiles to our self-righteous 1st century Judaism; Jesus’s table is set, and all are welcome. Refusing full inclusion to affirming gay men and women goes against the very nature of Jesus’s embodied ethic of acceptance.”

There are some good biblical/theological arguments to be made in support of sanctioning SSU’s (same-sex unions). This is not one of them. It’s not even close. If arguments were colors, this would be taupe: the world would be better off without it, and I become depressed and angry whenever it is used.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, and not just in fringe blogs or rash YouTube videos. Authors I deeply respect have, at times, gone on in a similar vein. In fact, the prevalence of this argument across various media makes me wonder if I’ve simply misunderstood the logical sequence and dealt only with a straw-person; it’s certainly a possibility, so please correct me if I misrepresent this particular position. However, if I’m right (fingers crossed, everybody!), then such a polemic must be put to rest in order to move forward in constructive dialogue as it avoids the central questions, cheapens the Gospel, and displaces the centrality of the biblical text in favor of foreign standards of morality.

That large paraphrase up there? I actually agree with most of it. Jesus really did align himself with the poor and marginalized, really did devote himself to the scandalous inclusion of “the other,” really did excoriate the religiously hypocritical for their wretched xenophobia. And make no mistake, such actions were not peripheral events in the grand narrative of his life – they were central to his Gospel, and are therefore central to us. I think feminist/liberation/subaltern theologians have it right: if we proclaim the Gospel without simultaneously declaring that this good news is for everyone, no exceptions, then we’ve missed it.

We Christians (especially those in positions of cultural power) don’t get to choose who is invited to the feast table. We are not the gatekeepers. We are the messengers joyfully telling everyone that the Lord wants them to come and experience the abundance of his love. To do anything less is to play the role of deluded Pharisee, and the world is right to condemn us. We must be throwing ourselves to the aid of the sinfully stigmatized, showing love to those who receive undeserved hatred, and telling them of Christ. This definitely includes the LGBTQ community in all its multiformity.

That being said, and this is the crux for me, the Gospel is not just an invitation, it’s a new way of existing. And praise God for that! He doesn’t just leave us as we were, draped in tattered rags and caked in filth. He bathes us, clothes us, and sets before us a path of obedient faithfulness, promising to walk with us every step of the way. And, as we walk, we are changed, we are challenged, and we are daily having to cast aside old behaviors and patterns of thinking.

After Jesus came to the rescue of the woman in John 8, saving her life and exposing the sins of those judging her, he didn’t walk away and yell over his shoulder, “Cool, welcome to the kingdom of God, have fun sleeping around! I love you!” He told her to “sin no more.” The rest of the New Testament is univocal in expounding on that call: if you have accepted Christ’s universally offered invitation, then you must also live as he prescribes. If you truly love him, you will obey his commands.

This is Christian discipleship at it’s most basic, which is why it is so bewildering that the aforementioned argument, in all its popularity, fails to display even a rudimentary understanding of the concept. We come to the table as we are, but by the grace of God we cannot stay as we were. There are, believe it or not, rules. There are demands, prohibitions, standards, and consequences woven into the Christian faith. The Church is not an inchoate mass of autonomous individuals that answer to no one but their own consciences.

This argument seems preoccupied with conjoining the figure of Jesus to a secular manifestation of inclusion that demands nothing from anyone except self-identification and a laissez-faire approach to community.

In contrast, the Jesus testified to in the New Testament demands everything from those who would aspire to follow him to everlasting life. When he says “sin no more,” the question becomes, “How then shall we live?” And, there you have it, we are driven back to exegesis, to mining the text to understand what Jesus requires of us, what it means to be a Christian. In this context (for me as an Evangelical), it means scouring the biblical canon to determine what it is saying about homosexuality, how that applies to the church today, and then, whether I like it or not, obeying.

Jesus is not simply the best example of inclusion in abstracto, he is the true expression of what it means to be inclusive – he is the form and character of the thing. And the inclusion he embodies is not simply blind acceptance that costs nothing, it is a lightning, wide-eyed gaze that sees us all as we are, and shakes us to our core with the good news that the God of the universe loves us and has not left us to our own bitter devices, and that the daunting sacrifice of obedience, though it require everything, leads to unfathomable abundance, namely a relationship with God and his Church. It is a free gift that still costs all that we have.

The contended argument gets it half right, but, unfortunately, “half right” is still totally wrong. When I read it, I cannot help but think that the author has given up wrestling with scripture for fear of coming away with a dislocated hip. But we must keep wrestling, lest we forfeit divine blessing. The Church is a community of those who limp, yet we walk proudly, bearing with grace the mark that we have been touched by God. We simply cannot have it any other way.

I hope we can move past the kind of shallow arguments I’ve briefly described in the past few posts and begin to, with great humility and love, press into the heart of the disagreements for the sake of truth and unity. On that point, at least, we should all be in agreement.

Jordan

framed, pt. 2 (constructive criticism)

As I said in the last post, I think, as Christians, we must frame the conversation about homosexuality in terms of the Gospel and solid exegesis; it’s futile to form intricate and immaculate theological justifications for whichever side if the text simply doesn’t support them. (Yes, this means I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and yes, that makes me rather conservative and no, I don’t feel like arguing about it right now.)

So for me, the questions have to be, What does the Bible say about homosexuality and how is that applicable to life today? Nothing new at all, and yet there has been a surge of interest in asking those questions in a more critical light and with a renewed vigor. Theologians, especially those identifying as side-A, are re-examining the traditional interpretations of the six or so “clobber passages” that have been so abused (and abusive) in the hands of “Christian” homophobes who treat gay men and women as plagues rather than people. These scholars bring a host of historical and cultural knowledge to bear on the text that help clarify what the biblical authors would have intended their words to communicate to the first century audience. For instance, would the perverse sexual practices condemned in Romans chapter 1 have any moral correlation with the loving, monogamous unions shared by numerous gay people today, if such a social reality did not exist in Paul’s time?

Many conservative evangelicals refuse to entertain such “obvious heresy,” casting those who would dare even suggest such an endeavor as pagan monsters that burn Bibles to fuel their pitchfork-making factories. Staunch defenders of a “literal” or “plain” reading of the text, they often summarily reject critical methodology of any kind, saying it only serves to confuse the faithful and give all the power to a few spindly, diabolical, ivory-tower academics.

But I would humbly (and, I think, rightly) suggest that, without critical methodology, without some brave (and slightly insane) men and women meticulously carrying out word-studies, historical analyses, and theological examinations, we would have absolutely no chance to arrive at anything that gets even close to a “literal” reading, mostly because it’s mighty hard for the average American to read Koine Greek. As a rapidly growing number of evangelical leaders will agree, our relationship with critical methodology should be one of cautious approval, evaluating each “critique” by its own merit and integrity for the benefit of all believers seeking a clearer understanding of the text.

In a recent video discussing how to interpret the endlessly contentious first chapter of Genesis, Dr. John Walton (who was one of many phenomenal professors of mine at Wheaton) said:

“We’re well aware that people have to translate the language for us. We forget that people have to translate the culture for us. And therefore if we want to get the best benefit from the communication we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it, as the author would have meant it, and to read it in those terms.” That’s what it means to read the text “literally.”

Later in the video he reminds us that although the books of the Bible were certainly written for us, they were not written to us – we are neither the Galatian church nor the Israelites in exile. So we have a bit of work to do in order to extract the intended meaning from difficult passages, which Romans 1:26ff and others seem to be.

Rather than simply dismissing side-A scholars’ work as anti-Bible, I would love to see more conservative evangelicals willing to wrestle with the studies (some of which are more worthwhile than others) – evaluating the methods used, the motives of the scholar (or “scholar”), and the conclusions’ consonance with the whole witness of scripture. When we disdain historical/cultural inquiry on principle, we make ourselves hypocrites. Turn to John 5:4 in your Bibles to see but one tiny example. The fact that we can even read the book of John in English is the result of unbelievably painstaking research in multiple fields of study. This is important, and I think the Bible can hold up quite well under the scrutiny.

One final thing: should people read the disputed passages and interpret them as saying that “the gays” are all sinners who choose to be that way and are a threat to the church, the only thing I can say is that they are dead wrong. Even should it be proven that the Bible does not condone same-sex unions, an interpretation so devoid of love of one’s neighbor simply cannot be right.

In this ceaseless excavation for biblical truth, love of God and neighbor is the earth through which we dig, the gold from which the uncovered treasure is made, and the mysterious electromagnetic fields that lend it form and luster. Without love, not only is there no sparkling cache to be searched for, but there is no search to begin with! When I hear homophobic vitriol poured forth from pulpit or padded desk chair and labeled as “biblical truth,” I can only think that the person has, in this instance, actually forsaken the foundational purposes of the Bible, namely to know God and his love for all people. Instead of relentlessly digging into scripture with prayer and humility and discovering the vast wealth of God’s loving self-revelation, he or she is merely clutching a dry bone from the shallow dust while claiming to have plundered Solomon’s treasury.

I’m not saying that there is no meaningful disagreement between people adhering to either side-A or side-B (or whatever other sides there are). What I hope to communicate is that, given this disagreement, there is still much fruitful, Bible-affirming, Christ-centered wisdom to be gained from critical dialogue rooted in love and respect, and the all-too-common reluctance of conservative evangelicals to engage in that dialogue is one of my community’s greatest failures.

Thus for those whose interpretations are little more than thinly veiled justifications for their bitter fear, the Bible seems clear that “they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie” and have failed to unearth the most beautiful treasure in the text: deeper relationships with our awesome God and those he demands we love as neighbors.

I think we can do better.

Jordan

LeVay pt. 1

LeVay pt. 1

Hello world. I’m still alive, and I’m doing well. For those of you wondering, the lack of posts isn’t because of a crisis of faith or a sudden change in views or because I started dating a guy (although I wish at times). I’ve just been busy (between work and graduate school), and the thing with me is that when I make priorities, whatever falls out of those priorities really falls out of my life. So I just need to make the blog a priority again, even when I have a ton of research articles to read.

One privilege of attending graduate school at a liberal arts college is that I get free access to the wide variety of lectures, and it just so happens that this campus is really into LGBT issues (like there are rainbows on the doors of professors who want LGBT students to reach out to them; compared to Wheaton, this is refreshing to be honest). This last week I got to attend a lecture by Simon LeVay. If you don’t know who he is, he is notoriously famous for a 1991 study where he reported on a biological difference between gay and straight men. He found that the cell density in a particular area of the hypothalamus was significantly different between the two (for those unfamiliar with statistics, meaning very, very unlikely that the difference was due to chance).

He didn’t just find it by accident. He was comparing hypothalami intentionally because this structure influences basic biological drives such as hunger, thirst, and you guessed it, sexual drives. Thus, if there’s going to be a biological reason for why a man would feel sexually aroused by another man, there’s a good chance it’d be found here. LeVay simply claims that the biological difference he found is one possible explanation for why the two group of men differed in their sexual orientation. He doesn’t claim more than he can; other people have erroneously done that for him. He went out of his way at the lecture to say that his finding does not provide a genetic explanation for homosexuality because the differences in cell density could be due to environmental causes, genetic causes, or both.

Of course, his study is controversial, and many people attempt to discredit it. But I believe that this is mainly because if it’s true, people fear the perceived implications that they extrapolate from it. My friend who attended with me and who went to a different Christian college for undergrad, said that one of her psychology professors vehemently attacked the study because the professor had a premise that homosexuality cannot have a biological root. Many other religious figures have likely attacked the study because they believe in the same premise.

The truth, at least in my opinion, is that this study is well done. Because this isn’t a scientific research blog, I won’t go into specifics as to why it is well done, but if people are going to attempt to discredit this study, then there’s a whole slew of other studies unrelated to homosexuality that they better attempt to discredit as well because they contain the same level of methodological rigor. Just as much as we can’t pick and choose which verses we want to uphold, we can’t pick and choose which scientific studies we want to discredit simply because we don’t like their findings.

When there is a conflict between science and faith, either three things must be truth: (1) the faith belief is wrong, (2) the scientific evidence is wrong, or (3) the conflict doesn’t actually exist.

It is my belief that when individuals get all “up in arms” about research that supports biological factors for homosexuality because based on their religious beliefs it cannot be true, they have created a conflict between their faith and science that doesn’t actually exist.

There is absolutely no conflict between gay attractions having a biological root and the Christian faith.

The argument for this is simple:

(1)    We are biological beings (Genesis 1-2), which influences all aspects of our conscious experiences

(2)    Sexual feelings are included as being part of biological experiences (brain cells fire when we have an attraction!)

(3)    Because biological development is malleable and not everyone’s develops the same way, it is certainly plausible for the biology of certain individuals to develop to have attractions towards their same gender.

(4)    Even if Christians believe that God never intended for people to have gay attractions, we know from the Fall in Genesis 3 that the world is currently not how God intended things to be and part of the effect of the Fall is that the biology of all creatures (not just humans) does not always develop in the way it was intended to develop.

So there’s no reason for any Christian to fear LeVay’s research. Do I believe some people are destined to be gay the moment they are conceived due to their genetic combination? Absolutely. Do I believe the hormonal environment of prenatal development can cause gay attractions? Yes. And do I also believe that one’s family environment or choices later in life could also influence a gay orientation? Definitely.

Do I also think that if someone is destined to be gay because of their biological programming that this gives him or her moral license to express their sexuality in whatever way he or she wants?

Not if the person has a bigger moral and theological framework to frame their gay attractions, such as Jordan and myself.  And that is the real issue (rather than seeking to refute research that shouldn’t be refuted).

I have more to write about LeVay and will do so at some point (hopefully there won’t be another two month gap).

Blessings,

Tony

framed, pt. 1

This series will be, I desperately hope, one of my only forays into the various theological arguments regarding homosexuality. After observing the semi-renewed interest in Matt Vines’ Youtube video about homosexuality and Scripture as well as countless other posts, articles, reviews, tirades, and comments relating to the topic, I feel compelled to say one thing (which will then lead to many other things!): the conversations surrounding being gay and Christian must begin with a commitment to love, nuance, and solid, careful, biblical exegesis (the art of understanding the meaning of the text).

I’m so tired of reading one-dimensional arguments, from Christians, that simply peddle the same old tired rhetoric that avoids the real questions, namely, What does the whole of the biblical witness say, what does it require of the Church, and how should Christians then interact with those who do not share their convictions? Instead we pick and choose, proof-text, and pretend that we have it all figured out.

“I was born this way!” That’s fine, but let’s talk about the fall and Christian ascesis. “Leviticus says gay people are abominations!” Enjoy your shrimp and polyester graphic-T. “Genesis 2:18 says it isn’t good for man to be alone, so singleness is tragic!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the banshee-screams of your horrifying exegetical folly. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and—-” Banshee-screams, I tell you!

Ok, now I’m venting unhelpfully. Basically what I’m trying to say is that, as an Evangelical, I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with the shallow faux-theology that has been framing the popular discussion for the past few years. There have been some serious transgressions on both sides, mistakes that are then propped up by detractors and demolished in a haze of straw, as if something of consequence was actually communicated. It’s an elaborate dance of glancing tangents – sure, there’s contact, but nobody gets to the heart of the thing.

I intend to write a follow-up post on two approaches to the conversation that I find distinctly annoying: uncritical rejection of intense historical-cultural analysis that challenges the traditional status-quo, and uncritical acceptance of a distressingly anemic “gospel of unqualified inclusion.” The former is most commonly found among side-B Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position), and the latter is most commonly found among side-A Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position).

I’m quite solidly “side-B,” and it can be dangerously easy to slip into a “go team!” mentality when reading articles of divergent opinions; easy, that is, until I remember that my “team” is ultimately the Church and this Church contains men and women who are sincerely and ardently side-A because of their commitment to the Bible. When I approach material written by other Christians with the singular intent to expose all its weaknesses and deconstruct it, I do ecclesial unity a great disservice.

One of my mentors taught me to set my default question as, “What can I learn from this person?” As an intrinsically constructive inquiry, it encourages me to move past knee-jerk generalizations that only serve to feed the illusion of a simplistic us vs. them reality that fails to do justice to the complexity of the topic at hand (a “topic” that is intimately connected to the lives of beloved men and women) as well as the oneness of Christ’s body.

And I’m pretty sure I just ended up convicting myself. That sucks. I hate it when this happens! This is why it’s so hard being imperfect.

I found this article (consequently by a side-A brother) to be a helpful reminder of how the conversation must be framed: graciously, in terms of the Gospel. His last paragraphs especially gave concrete expression to my vague unhappiness, and I hope to build on his thoughtful clarity in the next post.

Does any of this ring true for other people? That it seems like, at least recently, there has been a small explosion of unreflective articles about homosexuality and the Christian faith? (And you’re like, Yea, I’m reading one. And I’m like, Oh.)

Anyway, more on this later, I need to go do this thing people call “sleep” (which, tonight, is mostly just a veiled pretense to lay in bed and listen to Mika’s new album). I hope you all are well.

Jordan

Correction: I mistakenly identified Steve Holmes as side-A when he is in fact not. My apologies. I think, in a way, that it stands as a testament to the humble grace with which he wrote that particular article.

gospel

Sometimes the Gospel bores me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced the occasional onset of slack-jawed numbness as some overly enthusiastic brother or sister prattles on and on about how, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins. If I don’t entertain myself with thoughts of tennis or food or something, I’ll probably fall asleep. I think it’s actually quite an amazing feat of the human spirit to remain so willfully unimpressed by the most mind-shattering truth that could ever be spoken.

I’ve heard this is a common occurrence for students of theology or people who have grown up in the church. Yes yes, Jesus cross death grave resurrection ascension hooray life-everlasting. Now get to the stuff that is interesting, like inverted parallelisms or etymological controversies; this is too basic. And all the saints and martyrs of the Church gape in horror.

Now, I would never verbally disparage the Gospel like that, but I’m sure I’ve come pretty close to such a sentiment in my heart. After all, I “prayed the prayer” when I was four, what do I know about the seismic upheaval Paul speaks of in Colossians 1:13? What do I know about salvation?

Consequently, I used to regularly come down with a bad case of “testimony envy.” I’d be sitting next to some guy tearfully speaking about how he was born in a slum, used to be an international crime lord, hourly smoked forty illegal substances, poached baby pandas, and watched the Bachelorette before Jesus rescued him from the pit of hell, and all I could think of was how my biggest spiritual crisis in the past month was having to eat a horizontally-cut sandwich my mom made for me (diagonal slices bring out the fair-trade, organic raspberry jelly flavor). It’s not my fault I became a Christian before I could spectacularly destroy my life like all the cool kids, growing up as a nice boy in a nice suburb with nice parents and nice things.

The Gospel bored me because my testimony bored me. The Gospel didn’t impress me because I had blinded myself to all Christ had overcome to save me. My life was so insular that I rarely observed the arresting transformation from sinner to saint, and thus I had a listless, lifeless faith for some time.

All I want to say is this: I was wrong. Dear God forgive me, I was so wrong.

This past year, God has revealed much to me about the overwhelming beauty and power of the Son’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and glorification. And not just abstractly, but played out like a mighty symphony in the lives of broken men and women – myself included.

Interning at a Christian recovery center for homeless drug addicts has afforded me countless, blessed opportunities to see this “boring” Gospel shake hardened, angry, desperate people to their cirrhosis-riddled core and draw forth something both unexpected and magnificent. I watch, daily, as dawning wonderment steals over faces unaccustomed to making such an expression, the reality that, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins slowly sinking into their souls, a megaton truth displacing the acid-pool of lies that had entirely corroded them.

And their smiles in those moments! Often toothless, usually crooked, but radiant all the same. And I find that, no matter what I am lecturing on, no matter what question they throw at the staff members, it always comes back to this:

We were once separated from God in the wild dark, adrift in the bitter sea of our sin and brokenness, when, in humble glory, Jesus Christ, the full faithfulness of God, reconciled us to himself with now-resplendent outstretched and punctured arms, catching us up into a binding embrace, filling us with life urgently abundant, and empowering us to go forth and joyfully demonstrate the healing love of our Savior to a sick and tragic world for the sake of his eternal praise.

And, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve become the overly enthusiastic prattler that I once disdained. Sure, I can’t relate to the clients’ abusive pasts, their meth addictions, or their homelessness, and I don’t think I’ll ever convince them that I made it to 22 without impregnating some poor woman, but we aren’t really so different as I might have once thought.

I may not know the weight of a father’s drunken blows, but I’ve binged on the lies of Satan and beaten myself into the mud. I may not know the head-splitting ache of a heroin withdrawal, but I have been tossed and torn by overpowering desires. I may not know what it’s like to have nowhere to sleep safely, but I have made my bed in the depths of Sheol and, unlike David, failed to sense the presence of God there.

But more importantly than any of that, they and I, we together, are in the thrilling process of discovering the endless breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us. And as I see, day by day, the very real force of the Gospel in their lives – as barriers are overcome, relationships are mended, and failures are met with grace – I become more aware of how that same Gospel is moving in me, and their testimonies become a part of my own.

I’m reminded that my testimony isn’t really about me – this isn’t a pageant in which I dress up my sins and struggles and put them on display to be judged more or less powerful than the next person’s. Rather, my testimony is all about God and how he has made himself known to me. And he has made himself known: on each page of Scripture and in each redeemed masterpiece that constitutes “the Church” he has revealed himself to be a glorious Christ who is love, who lived and died and rose to save the world from a deserved condemnation and only asks that we proclaim him as Lord and follow his perfect will, humbly serving everyone in need as we move toward the consummation of things, the everlasting feast in which all is as it should be and we finally behold the face of our Savior.

And for a dorky gay kid from the suburbs who just wants to know he isn’t alone, that is some seriously good news.

Jordan