I got a link to an article yesterday from a friend of mine, and on the surface, it seemed pretty benign. But the more I sat with it, the more it bothered me. The piece is part of a series the Christian Post is publishing on homosexuality and Christianity, and this article on particular is written about Christopher Yuan, a self-identified “gay Christian.”
First off, I’m encouraged that Yuan is given the platform in a more conservative publication like the Christian Post to even identify as both gay and Christian, given that some more hard-line voices in the crowd might suggest the two identities are inherently mutually exclusive. And I’m also okay with the fact that, after exploring scripture and his own faith, Yuan chooses to be both single and celibate. These certainly are decisions that should be borne by an individual after much reflection, study and prayer, and not handed down by mandate from any religious authority.
But despite all of this, something still really troubled me about the article.
Yuan points to the six common “clobber passages” often cited when condemning homosexuality (see: Leviticus, Paul’s letters, etc.), and says these did not inform his decision. I’m glad for this because such a choice that has such far-reaching implications for one’s life should not be predicated on shame or self-hatred. This, after all, is hardly the joy to which we are called as followers of the Way of Christ.
And yet, it seems Yuan finds ways to judge himself for who and what he is, nonetheless.
Particularly disturbing was to me was this excerpt from the article, in which Yuan takes a rather in-depth look at Biblical passages that he sees as standing in opposition not just to sex itself, but to what is called “same-sex attraction” throughout this article series:
In Romans 1:26-27, Paul draws from well-known Greek philosophers and Hellenistic Jewish authors to universally condemn all homosexual sex and romantic relationships. “Unnatural” or para fusin is used by Plato, Philo and Josephus to refer to homosexual sex per se, not merely lustful, homosexual relationships. In addition, “nature” or fusis is found in Wisdom of Solomon, 3 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees. In each occurrence, fusis refers to nature (in general), a characteristic or origin – never as “customs” as (Matthew) Vines asserts (in a prior article in the series).
Most importantly is Paul’s appropriation of the Levitical condemnation against all homosexual sex and relationships in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Paul created a word “arsenokoitai” directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). The first half of Leviticus 20:13 from the Septuagint reads: “kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos.” Any good Hellenistic Jew familiar with the Torah and the Septuagint would make an unmistakable connection between “arsenokoitai” and the universal condemnation of all homosexual sex and romantic relationships found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
Even if Vines’ presumption is true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address loving, same-sex relationships, the absence of evidence is not evidence to the affirmative.
Yes, the phrase “same sex attraction” is inert enough, but it still implies that homosexuality is a phenomenon to be dealt with, rather than inherent part of one’s identity. Second, although Yuan is explicit about not leaning on the common clobber passages, he still makes short work of using the Bible to condemn homosexuality citing it as “unnatural,” with all of its negative connotations.
Sure, you could make the case that there’s no judgment in this, but consider the implications of the word “unnatural” versus “atypical,” and you’ll recognize the heavy-handedness of his claims.
Finally, the summation of his case for living single and celibate is that the Bible lacks any explicit celebration of same-sex consensual relationships. Therefore, by this logic, the absence of such an affirmative means it’s bad, given the context of previous scriptures cited.
I don’t object to Yuan living a life of chastity, if that’s indeed his personal choice. But the problem for me is that, although this is presented as a kinder, gentler evangelical take on sexual orientation, the same judgment, condemnation and intolerance ultimately is at the heart of the message. And as I stated from the outset, when we make decisions about how to live our lives based primarily on the avoidance of something of which we feel ashamed or guilty, that is the kind of thing that festers in our hearts, perhaps even coming out sideways, expressed in unexpected ways.
Take New Life Church’s Ted Haggard, for example. Had he come to terms with being both gay and Christian in the first place, he may not have built such a big, influential church. Hey may not have even been welcomed as a Christian leader in those circles at all. But given his call to ministry, he tried to set aside his orientation as a gay man, trying instead to live into another life expected of him in this Christian culture to which he also felt drawn.
But there is little about our basic nature that can be ignored and held at arm’s-length forever, particularly when it comes to sexuality. He wasn’t truly being himself in the church, and as such, he sought alternate ways to express his feelings as a gay man. Because he repressed them in exchange for acceptance by the church, he lived this out in secret, in ways most would consider deviant.
And when he was caught, this only serves to reinforce the stereotype that gay people are inherently sexually corrupt.
But where’s the culpability of the church culture for forcing Haggard to choose between his sexual orientation and his call to ministry? Where’s the talk of the sinfulness of a system that requires you to be something you’re not in order to belong? Yes, Ted Haggard is guilty of many things in this scenario, but being gay is not one of them. Do I think he’s gay? Absolutely, but it’s not something to be guilty of, save for in the eyes of his fellow faithful.
That, I would suggest, is where the heart of sin lies in the culture of the church around this issue.
My hope is that Yuan and others like him who have chosen lives of chastity find in it a deeper relationship with a radically gracious and abundantly loving God. My fear, however, is that it’s simply another attempt to put so-called new wine in old wine skins, nuancing the same old arguments of intolerance and hate that have plagued our faith for far too long.
Enough damage has been done.