There’s this chap called Kevin DeYoung who blogs on Gospel Coalition, it seems. I hadn’t heard of him before the “40 questions” he asked of “Christians now waving rainbow flags” became one of the most talked about posts in a lot of progressive Christian circles. This is not surprising, because I don’t identify with his flavour of Christianity very well, which I gather he regards as “Evangelical”. However, a lot of those who now self-identify as “progressive” have come from the “Evangelical” camp and still retain roots and connections there, and I read quite a lot of them, and agree with quite a lot of what they say, and find their faith journeys to be particularly interesting. And, in a spirit of complete disclosure, my main church at present, although denominationally Anglican, would identify itself as “Evangelical” as well, as would the majority of the congregation there (I think).
So I’m probably not his target audience – indeed, he’d probably dismiss me as “Liberal”. However, the post did engage the interest of a lot of people I tend to see eye to eye with, and I wondered if my answers would differ radically from theirs, many of which have been linked by James McGrath. I quote the main bulk of the original text below in blue. My replies are in white.
If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution. These questions aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.
Well, I can reasonably identify with the description in the first two lines, though there may prove to be some argument as to what “Bible-believing” means – particularly when it’s capitalised. Usually any use of the term, and particularly when it has capitals, means that it demands a sadly literalist view of scripture and the use of a particular set of lenses through which it has to be read, lenses which were invented many years after the scriptures were written, and some as recently as the late 19th century. I take the Bible extremely seriously; far too seriously to read it that way. From the point of view of most Evangelicals, that puts me in the category of “bible-burning liberal”, which is amusing, as actually I generally want to ignore less of the Old Testament than they do, and not infrequently less of the Gospels as well. I contend that I fit as well into “bible-believing” as the majority of those who would use the term of themselves.
I don’t do a lot of flag-waving, personally, and the recent Supreme Court decision doesn’t have any effect on me or on anyone I’m close to, as none of my gay friends live in the States, but I am heartened by the fact that it’s occurred. The similar but earlier change in the law here has allowed some friends to give legal status to what has been a de facto position for years, and I’m glad for them, and so glad for those in the States for whom that has now become possible. So I may be a rather half-hearted flag-waver in his eyes.
However, I beg leave to question Mr. DeYoung’s description of his questions. I spent enough years moderating on a religion discussion forum to recognise loaded questions designed to be unanswerable, or unanswerable without giving away something the author would consider a victory. Had these questions been raised on that forum, I would have been having some serious words with the writer about encouraging discussion rather than argument.
But I am a sucker for considering my position and answering questions about my faith, and have an historical weakness for a spot of proof-texting which I’m attempting to recover from with only partial success, so:-
1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
I have to admit that it wasn’t until about my mid-20s, (i.e. nearly 40 years ago) when I was asked to try to replicate as nearly as possible the legal position, had they been married, of a committed gay couple. What I could do was not straightforward, and there was a lot I couldn’t achieve, because the UK was quite a few years off civil partnerships at the time.
2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?
None in particular, though I could point to the trajectory of scripture from the regulation of an iron age tribe through towards an universal religion prioritising inclusion of the underprivileged and excluded. But then, it wasn’t really a matter of changing my mind – I’d have thought the same way earlier, except (to my embarrassment now) it had never really crossed my mind, and it should have, because I had friends who were gay, and had even spent some serious time discussing the position of the gay Christian with one of them.
Though Jesus’ injunctions to love our neighbour as ourselves, love one another as he loved us and the like would spring to mind. I don’t see that sexual love is necessarily excluded from the generally loving nature one is supposed to have, though I do think there are excellent reasons for restricting eros to one person, while relationships with others can make do with various other flavours of love.
3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?
The same way I’d make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two people of opposite sexes is a blessing to be celebrated, i.e. probably the Song of Solomon. Though, in conscience, I’ve never felt the need to use Scripture to make either case. Loving mutual commitments are a different matter, but that isn’t the question asked.
4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
You have to be joking, yes? Christ was (is?) male, I’m a man, and I’m part of the church (as, so far as I know, was Paul). It’s already conceived as a same-sex union.
I will confess that the way in which Teresa de Avila wrote about her relationship with Christ is one which I find personally exclusive, as an heterosexual male – maybe a male of a different sexual formation might find that easier?
In fact, of course, Paul was not thinking of the sexual aspect of love when he wrote in these terms, but of the complementarity of married couples; it seems to me that such complementarity is largely independent of sex. Aspects like mutual dependence and inseparability would also figure, I think. Neither, I think, was Teresa actually thinking of explicit sexuality, but her use of charged imagery does make it very difficult not to see her as talking of a sexual relationship.
5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?
I’m pretty confident he would have been, if he’d had any examples to consider, yes.
6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?
Because he was asked to speak about divorce, which presumed a marriage, which in those days could only be between a man and a woman (and he was issuing a rebuke to the asymmetric and unfair divorce provisions of the day). Reference to Gen. 2:24 is rather problematic here; firstly, the immediate previous verses indicate that their cleaving together is because they’re actually the same species rather than particularly opposite genders (previously offered mates were animals), secondly, Eve is presented as a kind of clone, which is going to have to come within prohibitions against incest these days. In addition, enquiring minds might want to know in what way leaving father and mother was relevant to Adam and Eve…
7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?
Probably heterosexual promiscuity beyond a single adultery (which is dealt with using a different term earlier in the passage in Matthew 5).
8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?
Until really quite recently, I’d have taken that as actually condemning the actions he mentions as such in passing (and naively accepting that that did mean homosexuality in all its forms), and I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago lamenting the fact that I actually agonised about this with a gay Christian friend many years ago without coming to a better answer than the one I then gave, namely that Paul was a man, not in any manner God (and therefore massively less reliable than Jesus), and (if you credit him with all the epistles which bear his name) wrote some stuff which is morally reprehensible, e.g. that slaves should obey their masters and women should be silent and not teach, but admitted on one occasion that occasionally he wrote stuff which came from him and which was not divinely inspired. However, I have now read Douglas Campbell’s “The Deliverance of God” and find that a better reading is to ascribe all of this section of Romans to a view Paul puts forward as being that of his opponents, which he then proceeds to use to lambast people for being at least as bad as this caricature. Clearly Paul’s account of a position opposing his should not be taken as binding!
An Anabaptist correspondent of mine used to be keen on suggesting that if you broke any commandment (such as, for instance, failing to give all your money to the poor) you were equivalent to an homosexual prostitute. He was, of course, using these passages as a basis, and both he and Paul were appealing to the base prejudices of their audiences.
9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?
I think any manner of worldly preoccupations can keep you out of heaven, and that the most dangerous of those (at least according to Jesus) is the pursuit of money, though abuse of power comes in a close second. A preoccupation with sex is certainly among the lesser ones.
10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
I’m not wholly certain, apart from a strong suspicion (from the use of “malakoi”) that Paul disapproved of effeminacy, and (from the construction of “arsenokotai”) that he wasn’t keen on anal intercourse (which would give quite a number of heterosexual couples a problem), but better scholars of the period and language than me raise a good argument that he may have meant abuse of young men by old ones and male prostitution.
11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?
I don’t actually see much Church disapproval of same-sex activity as distinct from sexual activity generally (which a lot of the Church has disapproved of for much of its existence) until the late 19th century. Most writers during that period, including those, said very little if anything about the issue, and none of those that I’m aware of said anything about committed same-sex relationships.
However, the question indicates that the writer misses the overarching trajectory of scripture; Jesus was unworried about modifying (for instance) the rules of divorce or the exclusion of Canaanites and Samaritans from fellowship with Jews, Paul was unworried about modifying the rules regarding the major Jewish distinctives of circumcision and dietary particularity, both being modified in the direction of greater inclusion of those thought of at the time as “beyond the pale”. Augustine was keen to accommodate parts of his tradition to Roman rule (which would have had both Jesus and Paul in fits), including the very retrograde step of a theory of Just War. Aquinas accommodated his theology to Plato and Aristotle, which I also think was a retrograde step; Luther and Calvin rejected the previous 1000 years of Church authorities’ interpretations of the Bible en masse, retaining only what they thought they could justify directly from scripture, and in the process accommodating to an increasingly individualist strain in Northern Europe; some of their innovations were in line with the trajectory set by Jesus and the early Paul, following the Prophets, some were not.
You present me with a set of examples none of whom thought previous authority was sacrosanct and all of whom paid attention to the society in which they lived; why should I not follow their example, and of course those of Jesus and Paul?
12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?
I think I might start by pointing out to them that every understanding of sexuality, including the Biblical one(s), theirs and mine is culturally conditioned. I, for instance, have a culturally conditioned revulsion towards the marrying off of girls of a very tender age (sometimes as young as 12), and towards the forced marriage of girls of any age on the say-so of their fathers. Those are, of course, things which were regularly approved in the Bible. So was slavery; so was genocide (consider the Amalekites and Canaanites, for instance).
13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?
I have absolutely no idea (not my circus, not my monkeys) but in any event particularly applaud their move towards celebrating a wider conception of marriage if, in fact, it represents repentance of previous animus and bigotry. I might point out, however, that the question assumes that anyone who might approve of marriage equality would also support these people; both of them are far too right of centre for my social-democratic taste!
14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
Not as such. I think children do best with more than one loving parent and even better with a more extended family – I think “It takes a village to raise a child” is a very wise statement which ought to be Biblical, but isn’t. They do better with only one parent than with two opposite sex parents in a state of constant conflict, though.
It seems possible, however, that you are actually asking whether children benefit from having the kind of attributes modeled to them which are commonly thought of as “masculine” and “feminine”, in which case I would say “yes – but masculine attributes are not the exclusive preserve of genetic males nor feminine ones the exclusive preserve of genetic females”. I also consider that gender stereotyping is bad for children.
15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?
30 years experience as a family lawyer is not enough?
16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
I am not at all confident that it was a good idea for the church to start attempting to regulate marriage, which it did not do for its first thousand years (it didn’t solemnise them in church either for even longer). I’m very happy that churches will bless and confirm at least some marriages, however.
The state does have an interest in the welfare, education and happiness of all its citizens and in particular its children (which are its future) and so will naturally wish to privilege relationships which promote that at minimal cost to the taxpayer.
17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?
Very often, yes, but not necessarily (as otherwise what becomes of the infertile or sterile).
18. How would you define marriage?
By whatever happen to be the ruling laws or custom and practice of the day in the country which I’m considering. As the Biblical writers did, in fact.
19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?
Probably not, and in saying that I am aware that I am going completely against Biblical precedent, which favoured (for example) marrying cousins (Abraham) or the brother of a deceased spouse (Ruth). Exactly how close is a matter of argument, but unions capable of producing children need to consider genetic issues, and any sexual relationships between close relatives have a strong possibility of involving unacceptable imbalances of power.
20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?
Quite clearly the Biblical writers, at least those in the Old Testament, did not think so (consider David and Solomon, both of whom are held up as shining lights of followers of God). As a matter of legal practicality, I do think the state has a potential interest in prohibiting multiple marriages, as regulating property and children issues in the event of marriage breakdown becomes unreasonably complicated; also most such marriages in practice involve unacceptable imbalances of power. Of course, if polygamy is allowed, polyandry should also be allowed, as should intermediate conditions.
In addition, extending the range to seriously multiple marriages offers much scope for tax avoidance.
21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?
22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?
Probably, on purely pragmatic grounds, though as a matter of principle I would prefer a test of mental capacity and the absence of duress (including from family members), but there I need to point out that duress from family members would appear to have been the Biblical norm as the society of the time was patriarchal.
23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?
See above. However, the State will legislate according to what it sees as the most appropriately restricted range of relationships to which it will afford tax and other privileges.
24. If not, why not?
25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?
Of course. Though I might suggest that they try reading Romans 1-8 along the lines suggested by Douglas Campbell.
26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?
Probably not, because their jobs, accreditations and freedoms, at least in the UK, will not be legally threatened as a direct result (I cannot speak for their reputations), and if they have chosen an occupation which demands that one abide by the law of the land and they refuse to perform part of that job, they should not expect me to speak out if they lose their job or accreditation as a result; they should be prepared to suffer some penalty if they do not follow Paul’s injunction in Romans 13:1-7. I will, however, be happy to state publically and regularly that I respect their convictions on the issue and that they should not automatically be regarded as homophobes and bigots.
27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?
I will certainly speak out against shaming and bullying of gays and lesbians, as they are persecuted minorities (they are still to some extent persecuted even in my own country, which has not rid itself of a large homophobic contingent, and will always be in the minority according to my understanding of population genetics).
I will also speak out against the shaming or bullying of any Christian for being a Christian, even if that includes disapproval of homosexuality. However, I will not support any Christian in shaming or bullying others, and I reserve the right to criticise them for it. If they feel that to be shaming or bullying, “judge not, lest you be judged” springs to mind.
28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?
I am really not interested in policing anyone’s marriages (or morals) other than my own. I am always happy to explain why I consider some sexual (and marriage) practices to be damaging if people enquire.
29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?
I have grave misgivings about churches policing individual morality at all.
30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?
Not as such, provided no person is harmed and full and mature consent exists (exactly as I would say for heterosexual persons); in saying this, I am aware that Biblical precedent supports the rape of female captives and the forced marriage of young women, neither of which I think should be permitted. It is, moreover, extremely easy to sin in connection with sexual practices (as in all situations where heightened emotions occur) and care should therefore be taken. Promiscuous sexual activity whether heterosexual or homosexual is almost always damaging to everyone concerned and should be avoided. The least potentially damaging situation other than celibacy (which, as Paul says, is not a viable option for most) is long term monogamy, in my experience, and I therefore encourage it as an ideal.
31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?
Not being in a situation of leadership in one, or in any danger of becoming such a leader, this is not really my problem. I do, however, consider that there are very many far more damaging things about which churches should speak prophetically.
32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?
I might well start with 1 Cor. 13:1-13. But frankly, I would just suggest you go out and experience it; if you need it defining, you should involve yourself more with humanity.
33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?
See above. But, frankly, although I could also give any number of dictionary definitions (including the six types of love in koine Greek), poetry would be better – so move on from 1 Cor. to the Song of Solomon, perhaps.
34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
Haven’t you got that the wrong way round? The Great Commandments both enjoin love, the first for God and the second for our fellow men; that should shape our understanding of any other commands.
35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?
Look, I’ve been married for over 35 years and am happy still to be in that state. What do YOU think?
36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?
My earliest understandings of God and Jesus showed me that the divine approves love in general, without restriction; if my attitude has changed, it has been to realise that perhaps some of the Biblical writers who I thought were condemning homosexuality were not actually condemning it in all its aspects, and that therefore I could have a little more confidence in their writings.
I have been wrestling with faith for nearly 50 years now, and my understanding changes in small ways fairly often – but when I say that, I suspect I mean something different than you do. I do not mean by “faith” a set of rules for conducting my life. I mean love for and trust in God.
37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
Ah well, that’s where we really part company in a big way. I am evangelical only in that I accept and seek to follow the Great Commission and to bring people where possible to a conscious relationship with God and to seek to develop that relationship. I do not consider the instant conversion “born again” experience to be the only or even the principal way to get there. I have never felt any affinity with substitutionary theories of atonement and consider that exemplary, participatory and anti-violent concepts are far the most important ones we can see in Jesus’ willing self-sacrifice, and I don’t expect to start feeling affinity with substitutionary concepts now.
As far as the trustworthiness of the Bible is concerned, the more I study it the more I consider it trustworthy as an account of the spiritual experience at the time of the writers. However they cannot be regarded as writing reliable science or history or, indeed, anything other than their spiritual (and therefore interior) experience. The more I study the history and customs of the times they lived in and the languages and philosophies they used to think, the more I feel some kinship with them. However, I do not live in that time, do not have that cultural background, do not speak their languages and emphatically do not subscribe to their philosophies; I am therefore likely to express myself differently from them on many occasions and on many subjects, always honouring their contributions and seeking to make use of their perspectives so far as is possible in order to illuminate my own experience of God.
38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?
I do not know of any church near me which entirely accurately fits my ideal of what a church should be (and, along the same lines as Groucho Marx, if it existed it probably wouldn’t want me to join). I would mention, however, that I see no Evangelical churches which convert people to what I would describe as orthodox Christianity, as they all teach concepts which have no place in the orthodoxy of (say) the second century. I also see very little warning of sinners and calls to repentance in relation to other sins, such as arrogance, gluttony and lack of care for the needy, per Ezekiel 16:49 (which I point out describes the “Sin of Sodom”, in the process radically reinterpreting earlier scripture…). My current church comes as close as can be expected.
39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?
40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
Oh, we’re back there, are we? Again following Douglas Campbell, I think he is chiefly encouraging his audience to look at the beam in their own eyes and to shut up about the motes in the eyes of other people. But you have to read a few more chapters than just Romans 1 to get the picture…
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, I think.
This all makes me wonder at the conception of God which Mr. DeYoung must have. My own conception of God drawn from the life and sayings of Jesus is that God’s attention is far more directed to issues of charity and attention to economic and social justice than it is to what his followers’ sexual activities might be. This, I can use as a basis for sharing the gospel.
A picture of a God whose current principal preoccupation is the sexual habits of a minority who have been born with minority sexual orientations is one which I cannot use as that basis; it’s a picture which, frankly, people laugh at. In all honesty, I resent Mr. DeYoung and those of his understanding being so loud about it; it gives me an immediate obstacle to evangelism before I can start talking of the love of God exemplified by Jesus.