if the whole ‘gay vs. christians’ debate gets under your skin, maybe you should skip this one.
or maybe you shouldn’t.
on friday, i wrote about how paul burkhart had written some helpful commentary – a rare thing online these days - on the recent renewed online chatter concerning homosexuality and christianity. more specifically, paul discusses gay reparative therapy and its decreasing popularity, highlighted most recently by exodus international distancing itself from ‘curing’ gay people, a subject on which i’ve written previously. his is ‘a clear, balanced and transparent voice in the midst of this conversation where so many others are simply shouting past one another.’
paul brilliantly gives a balanced critique of both the right and the left in his posts. the following is a summary of those critiques written last week ::
i begin with the disclaimer he placed at the end of his first post ::
P.S. I want to apologize for my extensive use of the cultural shorthand “Right” and “Left.” I hate the terminology, but it seemed better than any other alternatives at this moment. I know it’s simplistic and only perpetuates division in our society. Please just be gracious and let it go. Hopefully, you get what I mean.
There are some really important things that seem to be getting lost in this discussion – on both sides.
paul begins by confessing his initial appreciation for the concept of gay reparative therapy when he first read the groundbreaking book, ‘reparative therapy of male homosexuality‘ by joseph nicolosi.
The theory behind the therapy – that male homosexuality was formed by a distortion of masculinity due to a failure of the man’s father – made “sense.” It had all the loose ends tied and – as a self-enclosed system – it “worked.” And yet, there was this part of me that didn’t fully buy in. Something seemed missing. It’s only now, looking back, that I realize what it was :
he points out in his piece that both the right (and surprisingly, the left as well) get hung up on alan chamber’s statement in the ny times article, ‘those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by christ and go to heaven.’ this is interesting, says burkhart, since they’re skipping over what seems to be a much more challenging statement, ‘i believe that any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according to the bible.‘
Evangelicals just had someone praised by The New York Times and most every major news outlast, who openly calls homosexual behavior a sin. He says this, and the Right is demonizing the man? Churches are pulling out of supporting his ministry? Not because he doesn’t think it’s a sin, but because he feels that those that persist in that sin (in the same way that many of those same Conservatives persist in gluttony, pride, avarice, lust, and the like) can still go to heaven?
burkhart continues to point out the fallacy in this position ::
Life is much more complicated than those simplistic categories of “willful”, “deliberate” and “persistent” (and “sin,” frankly).
What do you do with pastors that are irresponsible in their preaching and “pastoring,” and even in light of SO many other believers telling them they are wrong, disobedient, harmful, and sinfully relating to their people, they “willfully persist” in that? What about all of us Christians that “willfully persist” in driving even 5 mph above the speed limit?
In [Romans], homosexuality is exalted right there next to – catch this – disobedience to one’s parents. There’s not a consistent “extra-special” -ness to homosexuality in the Bible.
likening the elevation of homosexuality as a ‘special’ sin to the ‘mortal’ or ‘venial’ sins in the catholic church, he carries on ::
To Evangelicals, it seems that homosexuality is…a “mortal” sin that steals one’s salvation (or rather, in the Protestant formulation that they think resolves the issue, but doesn’t – “proves they never had it”), until they repent and are absolved by the opinion of a holier-than-thou human member of the church.
pointing out the tragic irony that chambers is actually taking a more conservative and challenging position that ultimately is more culturally offensive than most fundamentalists, he writes ::
He is proclaiming the message that more and more homosexual believers seem to be coming to :: the drives themselves are not sinful, but their exercise goes against God’s design for the world, and so, while no easy fix can be offered to “cure” those drives, grace and self-control must be sought to remain celibate to the glory of God – like so many believers before us have. That will get the Left more mad than abusing the Bible to fine weird interpretations that elevate homosexuality to be a worse sin – interpretations that are ultimately easily written off.
lest the progressives get too excited, burkhart then goes on (in the next day’s post) to critique the left in their response to the conversation.
the Left has their own version of “homosexual choice” dogma, and they equally suppress any idea that goes against that. Contra both sides (which is my favorite sort of thing), most recently, studies have shown that sexuality is much more fluid than we originally thought, with many people drifting to different poles before settling into their sexuality. Our experience of this is certainly not that of willful change or choice, nor is that what is psychologically happening, but more research is showing that it’s not as “fixed” as many on the Left want to proclaim.
carrying the discussion up a notch, burkhart takes on perhaps the most convincing argument from the left,
I’m going to say something that hopefully gives us all some pause : Even if you took out every single reference to homosexuality in the Bible, there would still be a clear theological basis for a sexual ethic based around heterosexual marital sexual monogamy.
clarifying that this certainly does not give license to an ethic of anti-homosexuality, he suggests the concept of ‘homosexual behavior not being the fullest of God’s intended design for sexuality has been around a lot longer than naive fundamentalist proof-texting.’
It’s not about a few verses in Leviticus or Romans.
It’s bigger than that.
further encouraging his readers to think theologically and christianly about each issue (including conversion therapy and gay marriage) burkhart makes the following transparent statement about where he finds himself on the issues ::
On a more general cultural and theological level, I fully support the rights of homosexuals to marry and have full legal protections under the law. But, I also believe in the absolute freedom of churches to not have to go against their consciences in light of this – whether that be in the area of offering up their sacred spaces, offering their ministers to conduct services, or clearly communicating their beliefs about where they stand on these issues.
as he continues, burkhart makes the following declaration that i find quite helpful ::
Long-story-short, the church’s primary biblically-revealed task when it comes to its corporate sexual life, talk and behavior should be marked by cultivating healthy heterosexual marriages and communities embracing celibate individuals, more than about cultivating antagonism against alternative sexual expressions.
and there you have it. to read more of paul burkhart’s thoughts, check out his blog. in the meantime…
what do you think?
was burkhart’s critique balanced and fair in your opinion?
do you find his position refreshing? frustrating? infuriating? why?