Is Alan Chambers Wrong?

I wanted to invite your responses to Alan Chambers’ latest piece in order to have some comments to bounce off from. With controversial articles like this (and some people are very upset about it) it’s good to know how people are reacting before framing my stance.

I think I want to suggest to you all that Alan Chambers is right, but in a wrong way for the wrong reasons. Let me explain.

During lunch, my friend asked my views on “covenant friendships”. I’d never heard that term, but quickly realized she was referring to sexless committed relationships between members of the same gender. I immediately called them sinful. She was shocked. So was I. Apparently, we don’t share what I consider to be fairly cut and dry biblical position on this issue. So I asked her to give me a first hand account of such a relationship that she saw as healthy. She went on to share the story of a Christian lesbian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, but holds no hope of ever experiencing heterosexuality. The thought of living a single life was too much for her to bear and so she developed a committed non-sexual relationship with another woman. They held a commitment ceremony, bought a house together, combined their finances and are trying to live happily ever after. They live in separate bedrooms, but in every other sense of the word, they are partners. “What’s wrong with that?” my friend asked. Everything.

The problem with the many negative responses to Alan’s piece is that they hinge on the understanding of what sin actually is. Is sin simply about doing something wrong (an activity) or is it about a more fundamental state of heart that rejects God’s sovereignty? If you took the first perspective then there is little in the lesbian relationship described above that is in and of itself sinful. There is no sex, no eroticism. They essentially live as close friends but nothing more. What are they doing that is itself sinful.

If you take the second perspective however then you run a different equation. If sin is one’s perspective and attitude on life (I can ignore God) then you start to see how a celibate but covenanted same-sex couple might be sinful.

Let me explain. A conservative reading of Scripture indicates two states of sexual being that are advocated for humans. The first is sexual activity within a marriage of a man and a woman. The second is celibacy and singleness. The Scriptures have absolutely nothing to say about giftings or callings to either of these two states (though many report such a thing to both states) and it expects humans to operate in one of the choices.

All good so far, but how does this impact upon the celibate gay couple? Dave Rattigan at Ex-Gay Watch makes a good point on this subject:

He has the audacity to claim this is a “fairly cut and dry biblical position.” There will always be debate over the nature of Ruth and Naomi’s relationship, or whether David and Jonathan physically consummated their unusually intimate (and covenant-sealed) friendship. But what can never be doubted is that these are two scriptural examples of committed, loving, same-gender relationships. Chambers calls this “living outside God’s best.” He must either deny the love that existed between Ruth and Naomi, and David and Jonathan, or make such relationships the exclusive domain of heterosexuals.

Now I know like the next man that there is absolutely no evidence that these two relationships were sexual in any way. But putting that aside, they were very strong friendships and the best of pro-gay theology has used them (in a non-sexual way) to support such covenanted relationships like the one above. However, here the Scriptures help us with our quandry. You see, in both these comitted friendships, the partners were open to God bringing the individuals involved into marriage. Both David and Jonathan married (David more than once, but not necessarily for the right reasons or in the right way, though Matthew 1:6 indicates how God can triumph over sin). Ruth left Naomi to be married to Boaz (and a quick look at the genealogy in Matthew 1:5 shows just how important that was). In each of these relationships, the friendship did not get in the way of following God’s will for them to either be single and celibate or married.

So back to the Lesbian couple in question. If the covenant that they are talking about doesn’t prevent them from being married or from being single and celibate then there is no problem with it. I wonder though whether the very act of entering into such a covenant has placed them both in a position that they simply cannot get married, because to get married would be to break that covenant. At the same, they can hardly be called single – they have obligations to each other that extend beyond mere friendship.

This is the crux of the issue. If the couple can still be thought of as single then there is no problem. If they can’t then the relationship is sinful, not because of any particular sexual activity but rather since those involved seek to create a manner of life that prevents them from that which God has indicated they should live.

Now, so far I have agreed with Alan Chambers, but on one point I differ. He writes:

What about abstaining from all appearances of evil? How about ? Two same-sex attracted women getting married and pledging their lifelong love and devotion to one another, with or without sex, is called homosexuality. How can we say anything less?

I think I’m hesitant to use the “abstaining from all appearances of evil” or “fleeing from temptation” argument here. After all, during my single years I have shared houses with men and women. Never at any time did I think that the fact that we both had keys for the same front door lock meant that once the door closed there was doubt as to what we were doing behind it. When two people say to me “We’re not having sex or anything like that” I believe them unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. When they are strong Christians, grounded in the faith, I don’t suddenly question their ability to resist temptation unless they come to me and say, “We are finding this really hard”.

So I think Alan is right, but on this issue for the wrong reason. The real reason why such relationships (and I would class for example Jeffrey John’s relationship as one of these) are wrong is because they prevent the participants from entering into a manner of life that God actually explicitly intends for them. The intimacy involved in such a relationship is not the kind of intimacy we were designed for. Here Alan does hit the nail right on the head when he says:

Our impatience with God and our inability to allow Him to work things out in our lives can lead us to sin. I see the relationship between the two women that I related above as a counterfeit to the intimacy that only God can give and bring through another person. Like Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Filling the hole in our hearts with anything other than God’s best will make our hearts sick. Whether we call them civil unions, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage or covenant friendships, the truth of the matter is that these unions are less than the Creator’s creative intent for His creation.

One more issue though needs to be addressed. It could be argued that there is no difference between a monastic community and the covenant relationship described above. At first this seems quite convincing, but when we explore the nature of a religious community we see straight away that kind of mutual committment between two people, to the exclusion of committing to anybody else, is the antithesis of what a monastery tries to achieve. A religious community involves the individual committing to singleness and to non-exclusive relationships with all members. You can’t do that if you have made a particilar vow of superior friendship to a particular person.

I think I’d want Alan Chambers to emphasise the point a bit more that it’s marriage or singleness that is the aim of our lives, but apart from this I think he’s roughly on the right track. As Christians we need to realise that our lives are not our own, that we were paid for at a price. What we do sexually and relationally speaks of him and to live our lives in a way he has not designed is to say something not just about ourselves and our desires, but also about God. That has nothing to do with whether our particular sexual attractions are mutable or not, and everything to do with whether regardless of the effect of a fallen world upon us, we will let our lives and how they are arranged speak of Him.

Your thoughts as always are welcome.

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