Recap of NPC: Books, Gays, and Divorce

I really like the National Pastors Convention. The old Town & Country Resort has grown on me over the years, and the weather was perfect. Many thanks to Erik and Sheryl of Jossey-Bass for coming down from San Francisco and throwing a wonderful party to launch my book. The great news is that it had already sold out of the NPC bookstore by the time of the reception on Thursday evening.

The session I co-led with Phyllis Tickle was a blast — that’s a show that we could take on the road. And the missional church panel was fun, too, especially the one-liners from Richard Twiss.

But back to the Critical Concerns Course. There was lots of talk during the panel about a book by William Webb called, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. I guess this is the “trajectory hermeneutic” that I’d heard about, and that I’d heard that Driscoll is so critical of Rob Bell for using. The gist is: There’s a trajectory in the biblical narrative toward more freedom and liberation for slaves and women, but not for gays. Scot and Andy seemed to accept Webb’s thesis, Phyllis did not.

I asked about divorce, one moral issue that Jesus dealt with directly, forbidding it except in the case of adultery. Scot implied that there might be a weak trajectory in this one since Paul broadens Jesus’ take on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. Andy, on the other hand, said that he thinks the church made a mistake when we softened on divorce and that we should probably move to a more conservative approach regarding divorced persons being leaders in the church.

So my question is this: Why are AMIA and other churches in other denominations ready to leave their parent denominations over gays and lesbians in pastoral positions, but they did not do the same thing 30 years ago when divorced persons were ordained? Or, better yet, why won’t they leave their denoms today over divorced clergy?

My point is: If we accept the trajectory hermeneutic of Webb, isn’t divorce the glaring exception?

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  • “If we accept the trajectory hermeneutic of Webb, isn’t divorce the glaring exception?”

    I fail to see the similarity that you are arguing with when being a slave and being female are never defined, nor should they be, as sin. Where as homosexual practice is defined as sin in scripture. I don’t see where the conflict is. Can you expound a bit further?

  • Tony,

    I guess the question is, are you:

    1.) Making the point so that we tighten up on divorce? If so, this gets slippery. Adultery might be the one exception clause mentioned y Jesus- but what about spousal abuse? or pornography as a form of adultery- which you could deduce from Jesus’ comments elsewhere?


    2.) Are you making the point so that we ease up the homosexual issue- because it’s not consistent to broaden the acceptance of divorce without simultaneously easing up on the acceptance of practiced homosexuality?

    I agree that we should not let divorce become a question of choice – when people conclude that “ah, I got tired of him/her”, or “I’ve lost that loving feeling” and all that. But I don’t think we should turn Jesus’ one comment into a legal code that is airtight either. As I said, I think the examples I listed above (spousal abuse and pornography addiction) are two examples where it doesn’t make sense to make this rule “iron clad”.

    Also, whatever one concludes, divorce is a one-time event, not an ongoing practice, as homosexuality can be construed to be. So I don’t know that the two are equivalent categories.

  • Tony and all,

    By the way, the above comment as mine. I forgot to sign out of an alternate wordpress avatar.

    Darren (Precipice Magazine)

  • Aaron – the trajectory line of thinking isn’t just about sins, it’s about what was once allowed/disallowed that changes/shifts because of continued redemptive positioning.

    template – I think Tony’s just throwing it out there for the wrestling factor, not to “take a stand” so that others in the discussion can stand their ground.

    Tony – I too see some double speak here which in my opinion translates to a kink in the works of the trajectory argument as it’s currently framed and actually used by more moderate evangelicals in an attempt to be a bridge between conservatives/fundies and progressives

  • Makeesha,

    Tony asks: “If we accept the trajectory hermeneutic of Webb, isn’t divorce the glaring exception?”

    I’m suggesting divorce is too slippery an issue to apply this way.

  • @Makeesha

    I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a “redemptive” position that is going to condone sexual sin ( hetero or homo). If there is it’s because people don’t like what God has to say on the subject and are therefore trying to remake him in their image so they can be all inclusive with their theology.

    We are told in scripture that it is our calling to speak truth into the lives of other believers not allow sexual immorality to grow within the church. I feel the same way about porn, friends with benefits, people living together before their married. It all fits within the junk drawer of what scripture calls pornea (not a greek scholar) . It is a twisting of what God intends for pleasure and beauty within a healthy marriage between two people.

    Corinithians has a lot to say on this subject.

  • Eric Gardiner

    Regarding the question “Why are AMIA and other churches in other denominations ready to leave their parent denominations over gays and lesbians in pastoral positions, but they did not do the same thing 30 years ago when divorced persons were ordained?”

    As a member of an AMiA church, and as one who’s witnessed the (re)-ordination process of several leaders integrating into the AMiA, I think it’s an over-simplification to state or imply that the primary issue is gay/lesbian leadership in the parent denomination. In every case I’ve seen, the reasons for leaving are far deeper and are usually rooted in a general abandonment of Biblical values and an accompanying desire to see lives transformed by the gospel of Christ. For new AMiA church plants, the focus is never on the denominational baggage that’s often left behind. They focus more on what they ARE (a missional movement, gospel-focused, in the Anglican tradition) and almost never on what they are NOT (led by gays/lesbians, formerly Episcopal, etc.).

  • Aaron – I don’t think I addressed those issues personally, I was just trying to clarify 🙂

  • Makeesha – yeah I was just putting in my 2 cents, not trying to single you out. 🙂

  • I would love to see the day when we are as concerned about economic sins i.e. greed as we are about sexual ones. I’m not saying this because I’m soft on sexual sins. But it seems to me that these are the only sins we are willing to speak out about!

  • yep, cuz the economic ones affect too many people – too many people of POWER

  • Daniel

    As a divorced clergy, I’d like to argue that the issue are different, except that then I’d sound like I’m justifying my cause. Suffice to say, after my wife left me some years ago, my fairly conservative evangelical church insisted I take a year off (restorative in some folks’ eyes, disciplinary in others), after which I was restored to ministry and eventually rejoiced (with) when I remarried. It was an incredibly difficult yet redemptive experience, the very thing that turned “the church I work” for into my church.

    Theologically, divorce is something that while the Bible allows, it never condones. Sort of like sin itself, except that even God divorced Israel (Jer 3:8) –but that would fall under Jesus’ adultery exception.

  • All, thanks for the discussion in this thread, especially posts 10 & 11. One of the reasons I love Shane Claiborne is because he seems to be one of the few championing an effort to address economic sin in our culture. May God lead us to be more congruent or consistent in our disdain for sin and our love for sinners.

  • I think there are a lot of ways in which our hypocrisy becomes evident. In many ways to me, the problem isn’t church’s saying homosexuality is a sin … it’s the complete lack of action in other areas. I was a morbidly obese man when I was ordained as a minister. 360+ lbs testifying to the fact that I was a practicing glutton, one of the “abominations” listed in the Bible, but not one Pastor brought it up at my ordination. I would have been mortified if they had … but isn’t gluttony listed as right alongside homosexuality? But in a nation where over a third of the population is overweight or obese, we’re pretty quiet about its abomination status …

  • mikevandrie

    To me it lies in the truth if the person is continuing on in the sin. Would it be wrong to have a pastor continue being pastor if he thought his divorce from his wife wasn’t wrong even though he just got sick of her? The answer would be yes. Would it be wrong to have a pastor/elder who practiced homosexuality? Yes.

    The main question I have with the trajectory hermeneutic is where do we end with this trajectory?

    Do we need only Jesus?
    Did Jesus come to bring life to the fullest?
    If it all can change who gets to decide?

  • “Do we need only Jesus?”

    Yes, yes we do.

  • Hi Tony (and all),

    I was in the Critical Concerns seminar and very much enjoyed it, and I was glad when the trajectory concept came up. I think it provides us with a great template for these discussions, bringing relative clarity to the issues while at the same time raising helpful questions like the one(s) you’re posing. From what I can tell, here is what we have to work with:

    Deuteronomy 22.13-21; 24.1-4 – disallowance except for discovery of premarital sex; assumed that men may initiate divorce for other reasons (the “concession”); remarriage allowed; concern for well-being of female; also, in Leviticus, priests are not allowed to marry a divorced woman

    Jesus – disallowance of divorce and remarriage except for infidelity; onus is still on the man, though both are held responsible for the adultery involved in remarriage; Jesus never speaks about divorce apart from remarriage (even in Mt 5 his comments assume that divorce and remarriage are in question)

    Paul (1 Cor 7) – disallowance except for abandonment; unclear on remarriage; teaching applies to both men and women

    So in each case divorce is discouraged in all cases and disallowed in most. The situations that call for allowance are different in each ‘author’. A concession in the OT that men may divorce for general reasons is not continued in the NT. Jesus never seems to deal with divorce on its own (apart from remarriage); he is perhaps the “harshest” on the issue overall.

    I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the exegetical issues, but that’s generally what we’ve got. What I see is a ‘flexibility of causes’ within a greater context of general disallowance. Regardless of exactly what we do with this, it is clear that the soft attitude toward divorce prevalent in so many Christian circles, especially when compared to the hard-line taken against homosexuals, is inexcusable. It does seem important to remember, however, that while we may not see much movement, we do see a consistent openness to valid divorces. Moreover, the reasons for valid divorces change throughout Scripture. The question is, then, in what direction do they change? Hardened? Softened? Neither?

    Anyhow, this comment is too long (sorry for that) so I’m going to wrap it up. Your assumption seems to be that divorce is sometimes allowed in Scripture, though increasingly less so as the story unfolds. If this is true, it certainly should have the humbling effect on GLBT exclusion within the church that you call for. (My homosexual Christian friends often make the very same point!)

    I think the other blind spot in the mirror of those who use the trajectory model is the violence issue (where we see an increasing disallowance as Scripture’s story unfolds), but that’s a whole other conversation. 🙂

    P.S. I’m loving your new book, bro! Thanks for putting in the work to get it out there. I’m excited about the next one you allude to where you’re going to do a mass researched survey of lots of emergings.

  • I would agree with the comments and general consensus that the church has been passive toward the issue (sin?) of divorce for too long and a strong covenantal theology must include strong marriages. There are many differences here, but one difference I see b/w homosexuality and divorce is restoration. Certainly the process of divorce is difficult, painful and full of sin in many ways, but over time, people are forgiven, healed and are able to move on in ministry. However, homosexuality is usually understood to be an ongoing orientation, associated with a person’s identity. This is inherently different from a sinful act of divorce.

    However, if a person can receive forgiveness and restoration after divorce, a person should also be able to repent of homosexuality, receive forgiveness and restoration, and continue in ministry. Honestly though, I’m not sure how many churches would ordain an openly formerly-gay/lesbian pastor, although there is little to no hesitation to ordain a divorcee. Perhaps that is Tony’s point?

  • Jesse (#18),

    I think some people in here are talking about forgiveness of homosexual behavior after it has been repented of, while others are talking about allowing for ongoing homosexual behavior as if it were no sin to begin with. I think Tony’s point (Tony, correct me if I’m reading you wrong) is that if we allow divorcees in leadership, then we should allow PRACTICING homosexuals as well. At least Tony’s saying there is some hypocrisy there.

    But as I’ve stated earlier, I don’t think these are comparable categories. As you point our Jesse (and I said the same earlier) divorce is an act- not an ongoing orientation. Unless of course we’re speaking of someone who rolls through wives (or husbands) life peanuts from a can. Now that sort of person should be dealt with much more seriously, because that demonstrates an outright mockery of the spirit of marriage.

  • I serve in a very conservative denomination. In the past year we have had some intense discussions on divorce and ministry. While everyone did not come to the same conclusions, I will say this: on the issue that you are speaking of, many of our leaders would leave the denomination if ordination or good standing was granted to divorced and remarried ministers.

    So in one sense – this issue is NOT an exception for them. On this they are consistent.

  • pomopirate

    I see the trajectory hermeneutic as the eventual end of sola-scriptura. When the people in school today are old the question of homosexuality in the church will be over and at least in North America the sociological evidence I have read points towards the majority supporting the full-inclusion of homosexual people into the faith community without the category of sin being necessarily attached. As this occurs the question will not be what will we do with homosexuals, but how will we converse about Christian ethics now that the myth of a universally applicable biblical ethic is over. I don’t think a reasonable person would say there is a kind word about homosexuality in the bible, even if they exegete the texts to not relate to the type of relationships in question today. In fact, I would assume most biblical scholars would think that if Paul had heard of a monogamous homosexual couple in Corinth his words would not have been nice or included sexuality in Gal. 3:28. As The trajectory hermeneutic is one way when dealing with this particular issue. It would allow one to focus on the nature and character of covenant relationships, challenge the relational escapism of our divorce culture, and value committed monogamous homosexual couples in our congregations as covenant partners. What this trajectory doesn’t do is tell us if a cloned human being can be ordained to serve the sacraments.

  • Hey Tony, Phil Cunningham here. We have been in the same room a couple of times, once when you spoke at the YWAM Mission Adventures conference, man that was awkward, I loved it. My friend Ben just used your voice in a song he mixed as well. Anyway, I am reading your book, The new Christian, and totally enjoying it. Thanks

  • Nick W

    I would like to make one point to darren, that divorce is an on going sin of adultery when the divorce person remarries. Each and every sex act is an act of adultery. I am no greek scholar, but my wife is and she tells me that in Jesus’ prohibition about divorce, what constitues porniea is in serious question. It might not be sexual betrayal but Religious betrayal of God, like a Christian woman and a non Christian man or a couple of other things are possible. Scholars are not certain. Willard Swartley has a great book on trajectory hermenutics not dealing with homosexuality, but called Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women.

    We live in a sinful world where none of us is perfect, to ask only one group of people to not sin is not fair and truthfully not biblical. Gay men and women should be allowed to minister in God’s church but only if they are called by God. Which ironicly the same criteria that should be used of straight men and women. Has God called you, then serve.

  • mikevandrie


    So should a pastor who sleeps with other women besides for his wife be a pastor?

    What if he is called by God?

  • Tony,

    I do think there is a “redemptive movement” on divorce texts in the New Testament:

    Lined up as Mark 10, Matt 5/Matt 19, 1 Cor 7 — clearly a statement that marriage is permanent but that divorces are granted for biblical reasons (Matt5/19) and for yet another reason (1 Cor 7). That’s redemptive movement. I don’t know why you say I saw a “weak” trajectory. That movement leads the church to discern other exceptions.

  • Wow, great discussion already! Aside from the specific issues (which are important) and the specific group mentioned, I think Tony has an excellent underlying question: Are there issues that the church is more willing (and able, due to certain dynamics) to compromise on than others? If so, why is this not addressed?

    I appreciate the comments above that look at this question in respect to economic sin or the less “sexy” sins (i.e. gluttony). Clearly there is something of a disconnect here, one that I personally struggle with at times. Thanks for pushing into this one, Tony.


  • nc

    Another dimension of the divorce issue is the tendency to see the “exception” for adultery turned into “automatic result”.

    This issue takes much discernment on a case by case basis.

    Frankly, I get very concerned when I hear Christians talk about divorce for “adultery” as a given, instead of facing facts about the call to forgiveness, redeeming the relationship itself.

    For example, if a partner stumbles, it is non-habitual, they are repentant and desire therapy, accountability, etc. etc.
    and the “offended” partner refuses to work it out, then I think that is indicative of the “hardness of heart” that allowed divorce by Moses in the first place. It is an unforgiving spirit–no matter how “justified” it may seem.

    I know that’s a tough one to hear, but I don’t see the faithfulness clause of your marital vows as “more important” than your vow to remain “through better or worse”–especially if we’re not talking about a habitual problem which possibly indicates much deeper issues.

    These issues are hard and I get nervous when I see the need for standardized responses to murky realities.

  • Gordon

    On Matthew 19:9, there’s good warrant to interpret this as “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, IN ORDER TO another woman commits adultery.”

    A nitpick perhaps, but one that goes straight to motive. If divorce is allowed then remarriage is allowed since divorce implies an end to a marriage. “Remarriage” is not a Biblical term.

  • what about continuing in the sin of greed or repenting of it?

  • Nick,

    I can see (theoretically) how you would draw the conclusion that divorce and remarriage equals ongoing acts of adultery, but I think this is an incredibly wooden perspective on the issue. I think this issue goes well beyond your wife’s understanding of greek terminology.

    Even if someone divorces for what we would deem inappropriate reasons, God forgives. It is an act, not an ongoing orientation- unless, as I said before, someone continues in a mentality that suggests that spouses are no more permanent than transient objects.

    Seriously, I’m all for pouring into the text (including in the original languages) but there comes a point where a wooden adherence to terms can lead us away from the larger context of God’s love, hope, and forgiveness for frequently erring human beings.

  • There are so many “what ifs” and “i think” and “i feels” in here I’m wondering if I’m listening to a bunch of first year philosophy students talk about the Bible.

  • @Darren – Thank you for saying that! 🙂

  • Brit Windel

    Tony i want to thank you for your questions. I have been doing some research on the Anglican church and the Area of AMIA is a very interesting question. it does go much deeper than just it being about homosexuality and more along the lines of some of the ECUSA bishops placing Jesus’ divinity and relevance and the relevance of the church and bible on the line. which that is indeed scary. but i too have asked these questions…why did Jesus focus on some things more strictly than other things…and why we focus on somethings more than he spoke on…i think it is a slippery slope but for some of the statements made along the lines of us not being able to find ‘redemption’….and i think that is completely absurd and an even poorer view and causes more confusion than the question of “If we accept the trajectory hermeneutic of Webb, isn’t divorce the glaring exception?”….great questions that i think we as the body need to answer and need to have answered

  • nc (27) and Gordon (28), I think your thoughts are extremely important. For the text to be read as you suggest would seem to make a huge difference. And I have often been uncomfortable with the assumption that if someone is cheated on, there need be no hesitation to end the marriage.

    Aaron (31), I think that’s unfair. I think we’d sound more like first year philosophy students if we were all stating our propositions and suggestions as obvious absolutes. Shouldn’t our language reflect the complexity of the issues? At least give us some credit for our willingness to hold our convictions tentatively until we are drawn to things we might presently be overlooking. This looks to me like a conversation between pastors (whether ‘clergy’ or ‘laity’) who really care about people who divorced, homosexual, etc, as well as churches and denominations who have the responsibility to read the Bible faithfully.

  • Tony,
    Thanks for the recap of your c.c. session and for your question. I have a number of gay Christian friends and we talk about these issues. As you know there are only seven texts that speak to homosexuality and even those are not addressing what concerns most Christian people today. I do not know of one biblical text that addresses the reality of gay Christians living in a committed relationship. And the term “homosexual” did not appear in the English Bible until 1947. We must allow the biblical texts and church tradition to have a voice in these issues as we IN COMMUNITY with gay brothers and sisters discern a way forward. Bible thumping and sending people into unwanted exile will not help deal with human lives and relationships. I believe this issue is in the lap of the USAmerican church to see if the church really believes in GRACE and unconditional love. And please don’t read me wrong. I am not at all calling for a weakening of holinee or condoning sin. We must seek to understand as much as we want to be understood.

  • “holinee”?? Waht the heck? I meant “holiness.”

  • I want to push farther into Matthew McNutts coments in reply 14. And if you are in a liturgical tradition that also claims to hold scripture at a high level of importance, particularly Anglicans that are ready to split a church over the homosexual issue, pay real close attention. Let’s talk about the body. There is stuff about the body all over scripture, including one of the most important things in the story of Jesus, where he uses his human body as sacrafice in the culminating event that washes away EVERYONES sins. We refer to ourselves as the Body of Christ. In many of our denominations icluding the Episcopal/angiclican which I am in we use our bodies in worship. We stand, sit, kneel at certain and specific times, we hold the body of christ in our hands at the culminating and highly regarded sacrarament of Eucharist. So, If we are going to be consistent in our belief in scripture and holding faithful to sacraments and liturgy, I guess every bishop and priest and all in places of leadership( myself included as an overweight youth minister) should be fired, defrocked or whatever else. Lets get over the narrow view of scripture that involves one or two issues. whether we are first year philosophy students or seminary professors just own up to the fact that over the last 2000 years we have got far away from what the first church envisioned and none of us are as smart as we would like anyone to think

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  • Kristie B

    I rarely jump in here, but here goes. From my perspective, the church’s move to a less strict stance on divorce and remarriage is a matter of pastoral sensitivity to the immense complexity of human relationships and the belief that God can bring healing and new life out of abuse, isolation and destructiveness. We want to encourage healed marriages—because we believe God intends that our marriages succeed—but we also recognize that in some cases remaining in a marriage causes great damage to the human beings involved, so we concede that divorce is the most redemptive option and we remain hopeful that God may be gracious to provide new relationships (remarriage) to deepen the healing process for those people. I’ve seen this happen and no matter how many scripture verses some friends might want to quote at me, I’m convinced the redemptive work of Christ is involved.

    In all of this, I fully believe that God’s intention is for marriages to succeed—that his good and perfect intention is for one man and one woman to be faithful to each other their entire lives. Divorce is a concession, though I believe a necessary one in some cases. I think Tony’s question about the parallel to homosexuality comes in here. Is this another case where we might rightly say, “God doesn’t intend it this way, but perhaps it’s actually redemptive in some cases”? I don’t know, but I think it’s worth considering.

  • Nick W

    Darren, this is my point;

    “the larger context of God’s love, hope, and forgiveness for frequently erring human beings.”

    In the Larger framework of God’s love he can use ministers that are flawed, straight and gay. One responder asked if ministers should be allowed to be ministers that sleep with other women. Jesus said that if you look upon a woman with lust, you are an guilty of breaking one of the ten commandments. I do not favor wooden literalism. I am only insisting that to not allow gay and lesbians to minister is literalism. We are all sinners and God asks us to minister, so as Luther might say “sin boldly.”

    in response to mike I would have to say that When i went to seminary I was told that 50-70% percent of pastors veiwed porn on a somewhat regular basis. Truthfully I was one of those for 8 years. If there are any others out there who are addictted to porn and I know there are, look at or org i cant remember.
    Mike, God was not happy with what I was doing. My wife was not happy with what I was doing, I had to stop. I never felt like I should have stopped being a minister though. Maybe I should have. I struggled alot in those years. Recently I was contacted by a young man in seminary in Texas that was in the youth ministry I was responsible for. He told me how much my ministry meant to his life, but this was during some of my darkest days. God used me inspite of all the shit that was going wrong in my life. God still uses us with our shortcomings and sin.

    My wife was ministered to greatly by a woman who was Gay, or lesbian whatever. I don’t know the struggles of this woman, but I know that she confessed that she was called and a church agreed. A CHURCH AGREED. People had tested her and concluded that as she was they sensed God’s call on her, and she was a good minister, maybe even a great minister. Called by God. I don’t know the answer to big questions posed in abstract, my wife deals with that, I know about particulars. That particular person was called by God, another person that sleeps with women all over the place may not be, or might be.

    One distinction I would ask you about is there is a difference between a man that sleeps with several women at a time and is a minister, and a man that sleeps with one man in a committed relationship that is a minister. Which one is worse. Or another, a man sleeps with a woman he has been dating for a couple of months, and slept with last woman he dated, and will sleep with the next romantic intrest and is a youth pastor. (I know this person.) What is the difference between him and a man that has a life long partner that is another man, and is a minister. (I know this one too).

    Mike and Darren I don’t mean to get offensive, but these are not just abstract issues, This is tearing our churches apart and destroying lives of men and women on both sides of this issue. God’s Grace should be applied to all.
    Nick W

  • Webb’s “Traj-Herm” is another excellent tool for helping people discern which scripture guides/commands we ought to try to follow today, and which guides/commands have changed or become obsolete in our culture. Most conservatives just get freaked by the title.

    If we are all honest, we must admit that each of us “picks and chooses” Bible values. We may use different systems, but we ALL pick and choose. We have to in order to function. Some of those systems are:
    .5 point Cal filter
    .Christ’s example filter
    .Traj Herm filter
    .Don’t ask questions filter
    .Dispen filter
    .1500-1600 AD only filter
    .everything in light of Rom 9 filter
    .everything in light of Acts 16:31 filter
    .what feels good filter
    .social gospel filter… and so on…

    By our actions (not always by our creed, beliefs, and statements) we are all pick and choosers. Traj Herm is seen in the lives of every commenter here who is, or is not, against it.

    Tony seems to be concerned about an out of balance or inconsistently applied ethic. IE – If you are going to hold to a Herm or filter, then at least be consistent. I call inconsistency ,in Bible command application, Unintentional Theological Dishonesty or UTD.
    EXAMPLE: one might believe that Christian women can not lead in the Sunday church function. But they allow for a Christian woman to lead Christian men at university, home, politics, business, athletics and all other walks of life. This is a gross Herm/application inconsistency as the “church” clearly expands beyond the brick and mortar of a Sunday building.

    So, because we are all pick and choosers (based on whatever filter you subscribe to) Tony may be saying that the homosexual issue should get some more opportunity for movement too. Webb outlines this critique and admits that we must be willing to apply our Herm to every issue. He admits that slippery slopes and messes can erupt. He’s honest. I think Tony and Webb are actually closer than it may seem. I tend to give “Jesus text” priority over OT and epistles, and I was even challenged to apply my Herm and cultural anaylysis to my usually sacred and unchangeable “Jesus text first” mentality. I was challenged to be honest in all study and app method.

    Let’s be more consistent with our Filter/Herm systems of life application from scripture.

    Webb’s book is a hopeful attempt that we can overcome UTD. For the record, Webb concludes that:
    1. the command against homosexuality does not move much in scripture (although it does move some; EXAMPLE: from execution of fornicators to grace and forgiveness)
    2. women’s rights moves tremendously
    3. slavery morals moves tremendously
    4. divorce rules move tremendously

  • Wright,

    I don’t think anyone on this particular forum is going to disagree with you when you point out that we all apply filters, that the process is always somewhat subjective and relative.

    But, for argument’s sake, I don’t think we can just take 3, out of 4 big issues, and say, “hey, there’s been movement there, why not on the 4th too!” That’s only inconsistency in a very general sense. The question is whether or not these are comparable issues. I think the jury’s still out on that one- at least according to this forum response here. But at least we’re talking it out, right? And for the most part, civilly.

    Nick W,

    I appreciate the passion and your honesty in your post. And I’m certainly glad to hear you’re not a wooden literalist. But it sounded a little presumptuous when you reminded us all that there are real people involved in this issue- that this is not an abstract debate. I think we’re all aware of that. Please don’t assume that when someone disagrees with you that they must be ignoring Christlike compassion and the hopes and dreams of real people.

    I agree with you (especially in mainline circles anyway) that these issues are tearing our churches apart. But again, please don’t assume therefore that the answer is simply to adopt the position you have. Responses in this forum suggest this is a contentious issue. But at least we’re dealing with it, yes? We’re not ignoring the elephant in the room while raising holy hands and singing hallelujahs. So, that being said, please be patient. Lets continue being community. Let’s continue working this through.

  • Tony Arens

    When I was a kid, it was considered a sin if didn’t make the sign of the cross when passing a catholic church. (My Aunt Betty made me go to confession after accidently making the sign as we passed a Lutheran church…no kidding!)
    The churches view on sin has and will always continue become more liberal as claim to become more enlightened. In another 50 years, people will ponder why we ever considered homosexuality a sin.

  • Right on DK. We are talking about it. That is to be celebrated. God bless the B-sphere.

    DK said:

    “The question is whether or not these are comparable issues. I think the jury’s still out on that one- at least according to this forum response here. But at least we’re talking it out, right? And for the most part, civilly.”

    Webb’s book premise asks this same question. How can we apply movement concepts to a variety of issues? My point is that, even though we may not like the idea of Traj Herm, it exists in all of our lives. Webb never concretely concludes that homosexuality experiences movement in the category of moral acceptance. But he does show that our treatment of the issue must (and has) move a bit.

    Thanks for helping clarify by adding that the 4 issues must be compared in different specific categories. I think you may have brought the discussion to a good place.


    1. Compare divorce and homosexuality commands in the “general possible movement category”.

    2. Compare divorce and homosexuality commands in the “moral category”

    3. Compare divorce and homosexuality commands in the “discipline/how to deal category” etc…

    Determining what issues should be comparable issues is tough when one looks back at all Bible culture history and church history collected. Add in messy nods like: “is divorce final at the paper signing or the infidel act?” and “is marriage final at paper signing, verbal vow, or random sex as a teen?” and “does marital unfaithfulness include phone and cyber sex, abuse of all forms, financial issues… or is intercourse the stand alone feature as many believe?”

    I love the conversation. thank you all.

  • mikevandrie

    So if one believes in what the Bible says then they are a “wooden literalist”?

    Nick, I believe that God uses broken people all of the time. I am not perfect and yes I sin. Does that mean I shouldn’t teach, no? However would it be right if I was confronted with a sin and said I don’t need to work on it, Jesus doesn’t need to heal me? I don’t believe so, the Bible doesn’t seem to point to that. Also just because a “church” says something is right doesn’t mean that it is.

    The main weakness with the trajectory hermeneutic is that where do we stop? Why look at the Bible as our guide?

  • Mike,

    I like what you said about being honest in evaualtion when confronted with true sin issues.

    Just curious, what herm would you reccomend in contrast to Traj Herm, and how would your choice herm stop movement. I value your critque that “where do we stop?”. But are there any honest systems that don’t do the same thing? I seriously would like to hear an explanation of your critique.

  • Mike,

    Believe me, you’re not a wooden literalist. Tony has this funny little dialogue in his new book that demonstrates this point. We all pick and choose our places to apply Scripture literally. In other words, in reality, none of us are wooden literalists.

    But when I mentioned “wooden literalism” I was actuallyt talking about the error of reading too much into one word, or one phrase, when other aspects of Scripture clearly contradict it- or at least, add further complexity to it.

  • The other point about trajectories is that the Bible already demonstrates movement- from the OT to the NT, and – some would argue – even within the NT. So, its not like we’re saying “lets take our fixed point and walk away from it”. We’re saying, “lets follow this line of thinking to a further degree”.

  • Point of clarification on the AMIA. It’s my understanding (which is somewhat limited) that the AMIA is not based on leaving the mainline denom over the homosexuality issue. In fact, the church I serve is much more welcoming of fringe lifestyles than local mainline churches.

  • @Mike

    “The main weakness with the trajectory hermeneutic is that where do we stop? Why look at the Bible as our guide?”

    You are so right! This is why I have said everything that I have from the start. The fact of the matter is this. Go on questioning what parts of the Bible are true, dilute it a little more and then pretty soon it’s a nice story book and not the word of God. At this point if we can’t trust everything that God tells us in scripture then we can’t trust what it says about Jesus.

    Scripture is everything because it is God’s only written revelation to man about himself, if we don’t believe that then suddenly everything can be all inclusive, touchy feely and relative.

  • Alan

    As one who ministers in a denomination that for over 20 years has been discussing and arguing over homosexual ordination, I am puzzled that that there is virtually no discussion in the church (even on this message board) whether the human being is a sexual being. Is sexual orientation a core human identity? And for the Christian, is the answer for that question one that is medical, psychological, sociological, philosophical, theological? Unless we address this question our discussions will go nowhere.

  • @Alan

    We are spiritual beings born into a world of sin. We are spirit first, sexuality does not define us. If we hold up this idea of sexual orientation being the thing that defines us we throw out the truth that God gives us our identity, God tells us who we are, God is our source of self worth. Anything outside of that is me telling God I know what’s better for me. Not only that we are worshiping the body and our own pleasure ahead of God, that’s idolatry. This goes for all sexual sin but the hot button topic within the church today for some reason is whether or not it’s ok to practice same sex sexual acts. How clear does scripture have to be? Keep that in mind in the context of my comment above.

    We know what’s right we know what’s wrong we just don’t like it.

    After reading this thread I would have to say I’m agreeing more and more with Driscoll’s summation of trajectory hermeneutics

    “Yeah the bible says things but we’ve evolved beyond that.”

  • Aaron Stewart,

    Redemptive movement (and thus some degree of trajectory interpretation, which is based on it) is a fact, at least within Scripture. Did Jesus not say, “You have heard it said… but I say unto you”? Did God’s blessing not at some point extend beyond Jews to encompass Gentiles? This is movement, change, development. The question is whether there should be continual movement beyond Scripture today. And if you deny that carte blanche, you must demand that slavery be an accepted option, that women should wear head coverings while in worship, and that men should not grow their hair long. Driscoll may be right, but if he’s trying to indict someone then we’re all guilty.

    I think.

  • “sexuality does not define us”

    But it does. Try to dissociate your identity from your sexuality for even a moment. Although our identity is forged with God, we cannot escape the physical limits of our being. The desert fathers and mothers sought to do this as well as other ascetic practices. This is where I take a page from Siddhartha – it does not work as a means to get you closer to God (in his case enlightenment).

    If we look at ourselves in the mirror we cannot live as a species without food and sex. They are irreducible conditions of human being. If we reduce God to these qualities then it is idolatry. If we reduce God to anything not God it is idolatry. But saying that sexuality is one fundamental element that defines human being is not to reduce human being to mere sexuality. It is one essential component of human being. You cannot relate to God unless you account for these conditions.

    The problem is that the Greek influence on Christianity is that things of matter are inherently not as good as things of the mind and those things that are “matter less”. We still work within that framework in our understanding of sex and how our sexuality is part of what relates us to God. Sex is still a taboo and dirty thing in our church discussions. And that is the place where we can find our sexuality to be redeemed. But don’t you find that growing up in the church you had to leave sex at the door before you entered the presence of God? To me that is not pragmatic and thus it is a failure of the church.

  • @Drew

    I couldn’t disagree more with everything you just said so I won’t quote each thing individually, not to mention you are all over the place so it was hard to make sense of where you’re going.

    “If we look at ourselves in the mirror we cannot live as a species without food and sex. ”

    Jesus, Paul and many others would love to share with you about the spiritual gift of singleness.

    “You cannot relate to God unless you account for these conditions.”

    Yes I can.

    “But don’t you find that growing up in the church you had to leave sex at the door before you entered the presence of God? ”

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

  • @Michael DeFazio

    I can see what you’re saying however read my very first comment, that is the context of what I am writing in this thread.

  • Aaron,

    Okay, that helps a bit. I haven’t read through this whole conversation in a few days, but let me respond to your initial remarks. You said:

    I fail to see the similarity that you are arguing with when being a slave and being female are never defined, nor should they be, as sin. Where as homosexual practice is defined as sin in scripture. I don’t see where the conflict is. Can you expound a bit further?

    While you are of course correct that being female is never defined as a sin, females participating in church leadership is disallowed and therefore could be considered “a sin.” And yet most people would say that women are allowed to lead (/teach) in church. Again, while you are right that being a slave is never called a sin, neither is being a slaveowner, and yet most people think that it’s not okay to be a slaveowner. In both of these cases, most people say that we have ample reason to move beyond (or disagree with, if you prefer) certain biblical teachings on these matters.

    On the other hand, homosexual behavior is not allowed in Scripture, and most people still affirm that it is not allowed today. We can’t move beyond the Bible in this situation, they claim. When asked why, they point to the lack of redemptive movement in this situation, which is different than the other two cases.

    So Tony’s question is, if we’re going to uphold Scriptures line-in-the-sand on homosexuality, don’t we need to do the same with divorce (which he thinks shows no movement either)?

    I don’t know if this clears anything up for you, but the question is not whether it’s a sin to be a woman or a slave. The question is when it’s right to move beyond what Scripture teaches, and for what reasons. And the implication, based on Tony’s perception of inconsistency, is that there is more going on here than merely the honest application of a hermeneutical principle (the trajectory hermeneutic) to ethical-hermeneutical questions.

    In your/Driscoll’s terms, the question is, Has the Bible given us ample reason to “evolve” beyond this or that given teaching? (Once again, note that we all answer yes when it comes to certain issues, like stoning disobedient children or wearing head coverings in church.)

    Thanks for responding. Hope this helps a bit.

  • Aaron,

    I was not “all over the place” you chose not to listen to what I am arguing. How one can disagree with everything and also say “you were all over the place” at the same time speaks to a communication failure. So let me be clear.

    Are you claiming that you are living as essentially an a/sexual person? Not a gift that most people have or will have. Therefore it is implausible to expect that most of the world can possibly conceive of relating to God without sexuality acting as an irreducible condition of their relationality. Still too confusing to you?

    I don’t care if singleness is a gift either. It’s beside the point. Marriage is also a gift in the same context in 1 Cor. for Paul. If you cannot be single, get married in order to channel your sexuality in the right direction. That’s the point he is making in Ch. 7. The issue for Paul is that a problem in the Corinthian community was the issue of gender. He is clarifying gender differences and properly directed sexuality here as he does in Romans and elsewhere.

    Finally, you probably have not read a whole lot of spiritual theology in your life because there you would see sexual metaphor all over the place in terms of union with God and union with Christ. And yes, this is all throughout Scripture as well. Eradicating our sexuality is not the issue and it is a failed project since being a/sexual is so rare and cannot be expected of many people. The issue is always a properly related sexuality in how we ground our identity in Christ, and certainly not the elimination of our sexuality as a condition of our human identity.

    Still too confusing?

  • “homosexual behavior is not allowed in Scripture”

    So is mixing fabric and crops. Milk and meat. Eating pork.

    The statement of injunction against homosexuality is not helpful to working through the issue unless we understand what this kind of statement actually means. Is it just sex? Properly directed sex? Properly constituted relationships?

    Or, we can step out from this a bit. What was marriage in the same context? Was polygamy allowed in the same context as Leviticus? Were all God fearing men monogamous? How about stoning those who work on the Sabbath which is really Saturday?

    The point is that we all draw lines of purity and impurity that are by necessity extra-biblical since we are living and communing with the Word in a context that is extra-biblical. It is understanding why we draw those lines and on what grounds they exist that will lead us down the road to healing. The either/or discussion exacerbates the division on both sides.

  • @Drew

    Man when you talk so nice it really makes me want to listen. 🙂

    “If you cannot be single, get married in order to channel your sexuality in the right direction.”

    I agree with you 100%

    The thing that others keeps dancing around is this. What is the right direction? What does God say about it? Everything that I keep hearing is that somehow we need to redefine what is right and wrong when God clearly says otherwise.

  • @Drew

    **Half of this is just to talk from the other side, I am with you on a lot of the points you just made so don’t take me for a right wing fundamentalist.

    The problem with all this talk of a “line in the sand” is that we always want to see how close we can get to the line, or how far back we can push it. Rather it would seem that we should be asking what the condition of our hearts are to ask those types of questions in the first place? Why do we always have to push the limit as far as it can go? Because we’re still worshiping our own comfort and pleasure rather than doing what God says is his best for us.

  • My point is that this line in the sand is always socially constructed as are claims on the biblical frameworks. There is likewise always a social construction that legitimates the biblical claims, but that social construction is a product of the age. This is not saying that relativism is the way to go. But I am saying that we have to understand the fragility of the conditions that regulate how we adjudicate and implement biblical principles. None of what we do and no doctrinal articulation is therefore non-negotiable on these grounds.

  • Tim

    In my mind, and I’ve read Webb’s book (although it has been few years), I think it is incredibly convenient that we can use such a hermeneutic to look back and say “Wonder of wonders, there is positive movement in these areas but not this one, and guess what – Christians were always on the forefront of change for these two social issues!!!” Bull. Using this logic demands that we’ll be able to look back and say that Christians have always been progressive in the area of creation stewardship or caring for the HIV/AIDS inflicted. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were so tidy?

  • Dene

    Drew and Aaron,

    About the so-called “gift of singleness”:

    It does not exist. Many people assume that just because someone is single, they have the “gift of singleness”. The GoS was an embellishment of the Living Bible of the 70’s that’s been picked up by the writers of really bad books to Christian singles, pretty much becoming a marketing catch-phrase for the last couple of decades. Unfortunately it causes people to confuse circumstantial singleness with singleness chosen by the individual for the sake of doing kingdom work (ie. “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom”, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:12).

    There are a number of new writers who have been “rethinking the gift of singleness”. The good news is that their message gives freedom to those who want to marry but have been told by their churches that have been told that they’re “making marriage into an idol” or that “it’s better to remain unmarried” (a mistranslation of 1 Cor 7:8 that actually reads “to the unmarried, it’s good to remain unmarried”). The bad news is that some people feel that these books pressure them into marriage.

    It is tragic when those who are struggling with their sexuality get pressured into marriage. But “the gift of singleness” should not be used as a shield, because the continuation of that term causes just as many to doubt whether or not it’s OK to pursue marriage (or if you’re just supposed to wait passively until God gives it to you as a gift). What we need to do is drop the cliches and respect people’s choices.

    I hope that there will be emergent voices speaking out against the use of the term “gift of singleness”, while at the same time treating with respect those who choose to remain single, because they are to do special kingdom work, or sort out their sexuality, or whatever.

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