I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture [on same-sex unions], and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.
It is extraordinarily important, however, that those of us who base our convictions [that same-sex unions can be holy] on experience do not make the category of experience a form of cheap grace, as though whatever feels good is morally acceptable. By “experience” we do not mean every idiosyncratic or impulsive expression of human desire. We refer rather to those profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures, that help define them as human. The church cannot say “yes” to what the New Testament calls porneia (“sexual immorality”); but the church must say yes to the witness of lives that build the holiness of the church.
The challenge, therefore, is to discern what constitutes the positive and negative in sexual behavior. A start would be to adapt Galatians 3:28 and state that “in Christ there is neither gay nor straight”—and on that basis, to begin to ask serious questions concerning the holiness of the church, applying the same criteria on both sides. If porneia among heterosexuals includes promiscuity, violence, and exploitation, then the church must condemn similar forms of homosexual activity. If the church condemns the bath-house style of gay life, it must also condemn the playboy style of straight life. Similarly, if holiness among heterosexuals includes fidelity, chastity, modesty, and fruitfulness, we can ask whether and how the same elements are present in same-sex love.
Such discernment is difficult, but it is necessary. I believe there is the deepest sort of consonance between such an approach to God’s revelation and the witness of the New Testament. Indeed, the New Testament compositions owe their existence to the struggle to resolve the cognitive dissonance between a set of sacred texts that appeared to exclude a crucified messiah as God’s chosen one (“cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” Deuteronomy 21:23) and the powerful experience of Jesus’ new and exalted life as Lord through the Holy Spirit—an experience that empowered the first believers.
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