Doing Proper Christian Anthropology

In the midst of a report from the Christian Century (h-tip SF) is this gem of a quote from Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles:

Bishop Jon Bruno, who heads the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese, said the court decision resonates with the church’s baptismal vows to strive for justice and respect for all. "To paraphrase St. Paul," Bruno said in a May 15 statement, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Wow.

Did you see what Bishop Bruno did there? He changed Scripture. Hope he’s packed some asbestos underwear along with his pine pyjamas.

On a more serious note though, Bishop Bruno’s statement raises a huge hornet’s nest around the area of biblical anthropology. What does it mean to be human and what kind of categorisations can we use to describe humans?

Such questions, and their Scriptural answers, were key to me for moving away from viewing myself as homosexual. I’ve written before that issues of ontology are at the heart of the journey from "gay", but let me just lay out here briefly the key problem I have with Bruno’s statement.

"Gay" isn’t a biblical term to describe human beings

It’s such a simple observation, but it challenges the whole liberal agenda. Simply put, when the Bible categorises human beings, it never views the people of God as regards their sexual orientation. Although homosexual practice is mentioned, sexual orientation itself never gets a look in. Other categorisations do – male and female, jew and greek, slave and free – but gay and straight simply isn’t found in the Bible.

And this is important, because a true biblical justice and equality theology should seek to liberate those whom Scripture says are equal to others. So the passage that Bruno quotes makes it absolutely unequivocal that soteriologically there is no difference between men and women. Misogyny is therefore a sinful and unBiblical practice. It is good to be a man and it’s good to be a woman. I can build a "male theology" and a "female theology", because the Bible tells me different things about men and women that I can build upon.

Later on, Paul writing to Philemon about the slave Onesimus makes it totally clear that he wants Philemon to view Onesimus as a social and political equal. Slavery is therefore a corrupt and evil practice and true Christians down the centuries have always been opposed to it. However, slavery continues and Paul has instructions for how slaves should behave to their masters (Eph 5), so we can build a "slave theology" – how slaves should behave and live – from the Bible.

Paul writes that we are all equal in Christ, Jew or Gentile, and John has a vision of all the peoples and tribes and nations gathered round the throne worshipping God together. From this we learn that there are no inferior races and that all are equal, whether brown, white, black or yellow or any shade inbetween. However, since the adoption of the elect Gentiles into the people of God still leaves the Jewish people and their covenant relationship to be explored, it is correct to speak of a "Jewish Christian theology" and a "Gentile Theology", for the two groups will, biblically, approach God in different ways, for while there is no compulsion on any Gentile to follow the Mosaic Law, some Jewish converts may still wish to do so (Acts 15).

But when it comes to sexuality, the Scriptures are amazingly silent. We cannot in any sense build a "gay theology" because the Bible doesn’t have any guidelines for us. It might be proper to speak of "the experience of Christians who are attracted to people of the same sex", but that isn’t the same as a biblical theology. Furthermore, while we can speak of a "Jewish Christian" or a "slave christian" or a "female Christian" as biblical terms, to talk of a "gay Christian" is to posit an identity that the Bible doesn’t seem to recognise. In fact, the Bible bottom line doesn’t recognise "gay" at all, so to attempt an anthropological statement such as "gay Christian" is to use an entirely un-Biblical term. It’s simpy not an identity that the Bible understands humans to validly exist within – it’s not a Scriptural way of describing one’s self.

For myself, when I understood this it was like the chains falling of me. I suddenly realised that I wasn’t a "gay Christian", I was a "male Christian", a "Gentile Christian". I understood that it was wrong of me as someone who was united with Christ to identify myself in a manner that he didn’t view me as. And in doing so, I was liberated. The binds of "gay" fell away and I realised that the whole gay/straight continuum was simply an unChristian way of viewing humans. It hindered the healing work of the Spirit because it constrained people in a way that we were not meant to be restricted.

Ultimately, what Bishop Bruno is doing in making this statement is creating a false picture of humanity. Christ calls us to see ourselves as male or female, called to singleness or marriage, and to discover sexually the imago dei within us within that framework and within no other framework. Any other sexual anthropology takes us away from Jesus and who he intended us to truly be.

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  • Blair

    Evening all,

    Philip – a belated response to your post of 11 Sept at 3:21pm. Putting it down here to avoid that box-within-box look.

    “for your response to my earlier paragraph 2 ask you to go to the point on the ‘Sexualisation of Heresy’ thread. I addressed that very point (what is ‘committed, loving and faithful’?) towards the end”.
    Well, I took a look back… on that thread (or somewhere!) you did say you felt that same-sex relationships could demonstrate sacrificial love. If you’d still hold to this it does seem to me that it leaves you in an odd position – of deeming such a relationship sinful yet admitting it has potential to show forth such love. Hope I’m not misreading you or being unfair – but it strikes me that it must be one or the other, but not both…

    “My response to your response to my paragraph 1 (if you see what I mean) is to go to what I’ve just written to Paul about the whole mystery of God, male and female in creation thing”.
    I’m aware that in your reading this is a foundational theme of Scripture – but I was (and am!) wanting to put a question mark or two against how you’re applying this. One of my reasons for quoting James Alison was to start to ask, how do ‘new discoveries’ factor in to our faith and how do we discern if they’re real or illusory (hoping this makes some sense)? If I’m picking this up right (correct me…) – you’re applying the “male and female in creation thing” to say a priori that ‘gay is not real’. I was (and am!) wanting to suggest that, following an orthodox framework, it could be possible to discern that there is such a thing as being gay (ie that it’s not a defective form of being straight).

    Might be getting out of my depth… but for another angle on the same thing: Rabbi Steven Greenberg, some of whose arguments I stole on the ‘arsenokoites’ thread, says that, although the Torah obviously takes it that there are only 2 sexes, following real-life encounters with hermaphrodites, the rabbis of old ‘expanded’ this to 3 so as to help ‘third-sexed’ people negotiate a 2-sexed world. He says something to the effect that real encounters and experience are part of divine revelation, as well as Scripture (can’t remember the quote exactly but it’s Wrestling with God and men , p260). Rabbi Greenberg is an Orthodox rabbi by the way. Am wondering if this thing about real encounters / experience has any resonance for you, how it fits into your thinking?

    “I agree with everything that Peter wrote about ‘arsenokoites’ and I disagree with you”.
    … but to be a little cheeky Peter did comment that Steven Greenberg’s argument was the best he’d heard for restricting the meaning of ‘arsenoikoites’ to anal sex between men, so not sure where that leaves you :)

    Lastly (sighs of relief were heard…) wondered about your comment above that “such conditions [ie intersex conditions] are the fruit of original sin in the world NOT the sin of the individual concerned”. But in John 9:1-3 doesn’t Jesus dismiss any involvement of sin – not just that of the individual? Couldn’t one read the “nor his parents” as meaning any ancestor?

    in friendship, Blair

    • Lastly (sighs of relief were heard…) wondered about your comment above that “such conditions [ie intersex conditions] are the fruit of original sin in the world NOT the sin of the individual concerned”. But in John 9:1-3 doesn’t Jesus dismiss any involvement of sin – not just that of the individual? Couldn’t one read the “nor his parents” as meaning any ancestor?

      No. Goneus is a biological indicator of direct parenthood (same root as our modern gynaeo words). To be fair, Jesus doesn’t address the issue of original sin, he merely states that personal sin was not the direct cause of the blindness, but you can’t infer from that a rejection of original sin.

      • William

        It is unlikely that Jesus actually rejected original sin; there was no call for him to reject something that wasn’t part of Jewish belief to start with.

        • Now there’s a debate starter…

          • William

            It might be an interesting debate, certainly, but do we really need one? Why not settle the matter by asking a learned rabbi – or even several learned rabbis, if you want to make assurance double sure? (I don’t know any to ask, unfortunately.)

            • Blair

              William,

              good point re original sin – but at the risk of talking out of turn, what is there to settle? There is no Jewish doctrine of original sin as you said above. So the Christian doctrine must come from more than a reading of Genesis… Out of interest does anyone know when the Christian doctrine was fully formulated – was it by St Augustine?

              Peter,

              thanks for the pointer to the Greek – but suspect William is right as implied above… given Philippians 2:6-8 am taking it Jesus had no special future knowledge – though I’m making an assumption about where you might be coming from here, so correct me…

              in friendship, Blair

    • Philip Cole

      Blair

      Sorry, I’m on some work deadlines until Wenesday but will reply after then.

      All the best.

      Philip

      • Blair

        [schoolmasterly tone]
        You may have an extension for your essay…
        [/schoolmasterly tone]

        …you don’t have to explain yourself to me hun – I took more than a week to reply to you!! :)

        in friendship, Blair

  • Paul Emmons

    Peter, your opening essay began as an objection to Bishop Bruno’s statement “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    But you ended by saying “Christ calls us to see ourselves as male or female… Any other sexual anthropology takes us away from Jesus and who he intended us to truly be.”

    Isn’t that about like saying “There is neither gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord”? While you might disagree with the sentiment behind Bishop Bruno’s words, it seems to me that you agree with the words themselves.