A coherent, biblical, pro-gay theology of sex?
Andrew and Giles Goddard (no relation) have been engaged in a series of online discussions on homosexuality. The latest missive from Andrew to Giles is interesting because Andrew has deliberately upped the ante and challenged Giles to reply with a coherent, biblical pro-gay theology.
As you say, ‘we have to start engaging with the more crunchy issue, which is, of course, the place of sexual expression of love within same-gender relationships’. Your sentence at the end of that paragraph is I think the one that has kept haunting me ever since I first read it – ‘I think at the moment the place that I part company with the Church is that whereas I see their sexual expression as integral to the relationship’s godliness the Church sees it as inimical’. I appreciated your honest acknowledgment here that you part company not just with me but with ‘the Church’. I was also astonished at the way in which your soundbite summary captures why this is so crucial – how can the Church hold together and guide people in godliness when some are saying that something is integral to godliness which the Church declares to be inimical to it? We are here facing the stark fact that what you and others see as integral to being God-like in certain relationships, I and others see as embodying a rejection and denial of God’s character and purposes. Expressed like that I think we can see why this really cannot just be classed as ‘adiaphora’, ‘second-order’, somewhere where we can simply agree to differ and follow different practices.
Even more serious is the question of how we are going to resolve this fundamental incompatibility. Do you really mean it when you say (in response to “What are God’s commandments?”) that you answer this only by looking to Jesus and that when you do this you only find two commandments? I would have thought given your commitment to Scripture and the Anglican tradition you might have at least got the number of commandments into double figures! We talked early on – just over a year ago – about the Articles and I was encouraged that you said “I think they’re a neglected resource for the Church of England – I re-read them last year to remind myself of this particular foundational aspect of our Church and was pleased that I could find little to disagree with” I wonder how your reading of Scripture here fits with Article 7 – “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New…Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral”?
Andrew lays out the historical framework for his challenge. The traditional understanding of human sexuality and sexual practice is on his side, is expressed clearly in the 39 Articles, and that Giles needs to present some good evidence if he wants Anglicans to overturn that.
Your further claim is that you find “no commandments…about the place of sex in same-gender relationships”. This not only ignores the obvious commandments in Leviticus (about which we may talk more I guess) but also the clear warnings of Paul in the New Testament and Jesus’ commandments and teaching about sexual immorality. These, when they are responsibly set and interpreted in historical and cultural context as the words of a first-century Jew and received by us as the words of the incarnate Son of God cannot be understood to say nothing about the place of sex in same-gender relationships.
A true coherent theology of sex is going to have to handle the Levitical passages seriously and with some credibility. You can’t simply dismiss them (which is what "To Set our Hope on Christ" did) – you need to explain what they meant in the 10th century BC and what they would have meant to Jesus.
The case that I think Stephen and you need to make – biblically and theologically – is (1) that there is some structure of relationship between people of the same sex that is, in God’s purposes, equivalent to marriage, (2) that in such relationships there are forms of sexual intimacy between people of the same sex which are equivalent to sexual intimacy between people of the opposite sex in marriage despite the biological differences and lack of procreative capacity, and (3) that such sexual intimacy (though never commended in Scripture and always condemned in Scripture – which itself therefore requires certain hermeneutical and perhaps other moves) is in fact intrinsic to the goodness, holiness, sanctity and godliness of such relationships whereas it would – to pick up your language –be inimical to godliness in any other sort of relationship.
This is the key point. It’s not good enough simply to say that the Bible speaks of graceful love. The BIble also shows explicitly where the boundary of the sexual/erotic expression of that graceful love is between two people of different sexes. In order to have any theological credibility, the pro-gay argument needs to demonstrate a similar clarity for same-sex relationships. If it is unable to do so it should admit as much.
I (and expect many others) am really looking forward to Giles’ reply. Will he step up to the mark and provide that which is called for?