Same-Sex Intimacy: Nine Reflections

I never intended to write more than five posts on same-sex intimacy and the OT, much less nine (click for menu to all). But now that we’ve looked at all four texts with some detail,[1] it seems appropriate to take a step or two back and reflect on the bigger picture that has developed in our study. Moses needed Ten Commandments—I need only Nine Reflections (ahem).

#9 To steal a thought, Ellen Davis writes, “whenever I find myself in the position of asking other Christians to make a sacrifice for which I am ineligible—if I as a heterosexual ask homosexual Christians to give up the possibility of a committed sexual relationship—then I should feel the inherent vulnerability of my position, because my ‘proclamation’ of the gospel is costing others more than it costs me” (emphasis mine).[2]

#8 If we want to be taken seriously, then let’s be consistent with our use of the text. If we want to appeal to an OT passage that speaks against men wearing women’s clothing (Deut. 22:5), then let’s take the surrounding text seriously and not plant two types of seed in a field at one time (22:9), and stop wearing clothes made of two types of material (22:12). Outside of the two texts about same-sex intimacy in Leviticus, how many other texts do we know about? What does that say about us?[3]

#7 I am conflicted by how much time we have spent discussing an issue that the OT speaks about so infrequently. On one hand, given our current situation we need careful study of these texts in their contexts and thoughtful theological reflection. On the other hand, it seems to me that if we want to be serious about revising employee codes, student handbooks, and church doctrine so that it is biblical, we should start with what concerns God the most—what the prophets, priests, and sages speak about over and over again: pride, excess, prosperous ease, and the mistreatment of the poor and marginalized (e.g., Ezek. 16:49). Or to follow Isaiah, “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16-17).

#6 It’s unfortunate that discussions about sexual identity tend to treat people as objects and problems. To the extent that I have fallen into this trap, I apologize. No person should ever feel as if they are anything less than a valued and loved child of God. May God forgive us when we forget this and begin to speak about those people, them, and that group as a dehumanized problem to solve.

#5 Beware of patterns. Just as it’s easy to cite selected laws, it’s also easy to find God-ordained patterns (e.g., marriage between a man and a woman in Gen. 1-2). Patterns, however, have a way of trapping us in inconsistencies. For example, Genesis 1-2 also includes a man leaving his parents and the blessing of procreation (“be fruitful and multiply…”). Which elements are part of the pattern and who decides?

#4 It’s funny how easy it easy to agree with my friends about “the clear teaching of Scripture”—because it’s so obvious to us. And as long as we only listen to or read those with whom we share the same perspective, it will always be easy. Only when we get outside of our group and our culture, will we have the opportunity to hear viewpoints we have never thought about and questions we have never raised.

#3 I wonder what will happen in the future? In years to come will places of faith step forward to confess and ask forgiveness for the ways in which they treated their LGBTQ brothers and sisters? Will the future mirror the recent movement of some Christian universities that have begun work toward racial reconciliation? Will it be like the churches that are beginning to recognize and open to women doors that have been kept shut for centuries? Or will time lead in the opposite direction, toward a reassertion of “traditional” values? I can’t help but wonder.

#2 Whatever may come, one thing seems certain: LGBTQ Christians are not going to vanish. Nor are questions regarding same-sex intimacy going to leave churches alone, as if they can slip under the radar—unless, of course, their objective is to slip beneath the radar of cultural relevancy (God forbid the thought). Now is the time to think deeply, theologically, and critically[4] about the text and our lives.

#1 I wasn’t sure what I thought when we began eight weeks ago. I simply couldn’t believe anyone who had studied these texts would stake a claim to “the clear teaching of Scripture.” Now I have a better sense of what I think, but I’m not going to tell you because what I think doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with the evidence and issues raised over the past eight weeks that matters.

Now, finally my friends:

    May the Lord bless us and keep us humble;
      may the Lord slow our tongues and open our ears.
    May the Lord help those unsure of their sexual identity;
      may the Lord help us be aware of the pain we can inflict.
    May the Lord lead us to understand the heart of God;
      may the Lord give us strength to live into God’s image.
    May the Lord make his face shine upon us,
      and be gracious to us.
    May the Lord lift his countenance upon us,
      and give us peace.[5]

[1] Gen. 19; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; and Deut. 22:5.

[2] Ellen Davis, “Reasoning with Scripture,” p. 517 in the Australasian Theological Review (vol. 90).

[3] Another writer raised this point and asked the same question. However, due to my excellent note-taking skills I have lost the reference. If you can help with this information, please post it as a comment. Thanks.

[4] “Critically” means to ask the difficult questions, questions that are not always easy to answer.

[5] See Num. 6:24-26.

Glenn Pemberton is a minister turned professor turned writer. After serving churches in Texas and Colorado, Glenn completed a Ph.D. (Old Testament). He then taught at Oklahoma Christian University before coming to Abilene Christian University in 2005, retiring as professor emeritus in 2017 due to a severe chronic pain. Glenn now spends his time writing for the church. Along with short essays he has published four books, including The God who Saves: An Introduction to the Message of the Old Testament (2015), and Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (2012). Glenn and his wife Dana continue to live in Abilene, Texas.

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Author:  Publish Date: May 8, 2018

3 Comments

  • Dan Brannan says:

    Very Irenic and fair approach. Like you, Im still wrestling with resolution. I say we should keep the conversation going.

  • Joshua says:

    Blessings, my brother. This is certainly a can that can no longer be kicked down the road. I appreciate the fair observance of both sides of this conversation. May we have the courage to have it in our own local communities.

  • Margaret Weber says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts and the issues/questions you have caused each of us to think about. Blessings to you as you continue to challenge us around scriptural texts.

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
Karissa Herchenroeder
Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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