Last year our campus hosted a scholar from an evangelical university who has published extensively on the topic of same-sex attraction. Overall, the presentations were very good and I enjoyed them very much.
However, there were a couple of things that were brought up in one of Q&A sessions that I've been rolling around in my head.
The issues brought up in the Q&A had to do with a choice the speaker presented regarding the identity scripts available to Christians experiencing same-sex attraction. As described by the speaker there is, on the one hand, a gay identity script. This script basically says that the person should explicitly and intentionally "own" the label gay as both an identity marker and lifestyle choice. This would signal a departure from the Christian community and a movement into the gay community.
On the other hand, the person could also adopt an "in Christ" script where allegiance to Jesus trumps sexual experience. That is, this person might, for a lifetime, experience same-sex attraction but this experience doesn't become an identity marker. Rather, following Christ is the identity marker, and this, according to the speaker, would mean obedience to a traditional Christian sexual ethic (i.e., sex is only sanctioned by God when it occurs in a heterosexual marriage).
So the speaker presented this as a choice, a choice between a gay identity script and an "in Christ" identity script which adheres to the traditional Christian sexual ethic (in this latter script the person might experience lifelong same-sex attraction but would remain celibate). A Christian experiencing same-sex attraction, then, has to choose between these two identity scripts, gay vs. "in Christ."
But during the Q&A one of my colleagues questioned this dichotomy. Are these the only choices? Specifically, why couldn't there be a "gay in Christ" script? In this script the person would be committed to sexual relations under the same structures as hetero-Christians. That is, they would confine intimate sexual relations to a marriage covenant, only in this case the covenant would be same-sex. In short, why not a fusion of the two scripts presented by the speaker? Could this not be an option?
At this point, the speaker demurred stating that such a "gay in Christ" script wouldn't be in keeping with a traditional Christian sexual ethic. That's true, but the speaker seemed to suggest, though I could have read him wrong, that such a script would signal an effective departure from Christianity itself. That the traditional Christian sexual ethic was a boundary marker that couldn't be crossed if one wanted to be a Christian. That a "gay in Christ" script was, effectively, an oxymoron.
This is the part that set my mind wondering.
As I noted in a recent post, I'm aware that certain moral, doctrinal and theological accommodations may create too much of a rupture for the interpreting community. So I understand how a "gay in Christ" script could go "too far" for particular Christian communities. But I can't help but note that those communities have already accommodated hermeneutical moves that are just as rupturous1, if not more so, than a "gay in Christ" move.
Take, as an example, the moral issue of killing.
As we all know, Jesus expressly forbids his followers from killing:
Matthew 5.21-22a, 39, 44As we are all well aware, many Christians, now and in the past, have read these passages in a less than literal way, making allowances for killing under various circumstances (e.g., self-defense, police work, just war). But that said, there have been other Christians who have read these passages literally and have argued that Jesus really meant what he said. Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evil person. Love your enemies.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Now, I don't want to adjudicate between these two views, between, say, just war thinkers and pacifists within the Christian tradition. I simply want to make two observations and then ask a question.
Here's the first observation. Even if you are a proponent of just war I hope you'd admit that it takes a lot of hermeneutical chutzpah to override an explicit command of Jesus. More, a command that many would consider to be at the very heart of Jesus's ethical vision for Kingdom life. And while it is true that it also takes hermeneutical chutzpah to override the presence of homosexuality in Paul's vice lists, I think such an override isn't nearly as significant as overriding the Sermon on the Mount and the foundational ethical vision of Jesus.
This is my second observation. Though there is great debate and controversy between the pacifists and just war people within the Christian communion these believers seem, by and large, to recognize the Christian brotherhood and sisterhood of those who disagree. To be sure, each group might question the depth or level of Christian commitment of their opponents, but by and large the Christan community allows people to differ on this very difficult moral issue.
And these two observations lead to my question: If we are okay with diversity on the issue of killing--overriding an explicit command at the heart of Jesus's Kingdom vision on a topic of enormous moral consequence--why won't we allow for a diversity of views within the Christian communion in regard to Paul's vice lists?
That is, if you are willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to pacifists or just war advocates why not to gay Christians?
The point is, even conservative Christian communities, though they don't notice this, have already incorporated a hermeneutical rupture that is very much greater than anything in play regarding Paul's vice lists. Christian churches allow their members to go to war. Christians are allowed to kill. This, despite Jesus's explicit prohibition. And to be clear, I'm not challenging that position. I'm simply pointing out that if you allow for diversity on the issue of killing--an issue of the greatest moral consequence, theologically, biblically, and ethically--why not diversity and Christian communion on an issue--sexuality--of more marginal concern and importance?