A Gay-Affirming Christian, Part 3: It All Comes Down to Love

A Gay-Affirming Christian, Part 3: It All Comes Down to Love July 1, 2016
A Gay-Affirming Christian, Part 3: It All Comes Down to Love

This is the third post in a series arguing for the legitimacy of LGBTQ relationships from a Christian perspective. The previous posts lay the foundation for having this conversation and consider the overall view of marriage in the Bible. If you have not read them yet, please do so before reading this one.

As Christians, we do not live under long lists of rules and obligations. We have only two laws: love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40).

The best way we show love to God is by showing love to our neighbors (Matthew 25:40). So Jesus and the Apostles frequently condensed the two laws into a single command: love one another (John 13:34–35).

James says that “you are doing the right thing if you obey the royal Law in keeping with the Scripture, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself”” (James 2:8, ISV).

And Peter says, “Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins” (1 Peter 4:8, CEV).

But none of the other Apostles are as explicit about this as Paul:

You have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other. For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: “Love others as you love yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14, TLB)

Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. (Romans 13:8, CEB)

Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need. (Romans 13:10, TLB)

Just love. That’s all there is to it. There are no other restrictions or stipulations we need to worry about. Every moral decision we make comes down to a single factor—love. Anyone who says otherwise has Paul, Peter, James, and Jesus to contend with.

But what is love? The critics are on to something when they say that love needs to be defined. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles had a vague feeling of romance in mind when they taught that love fulfills the law. Love is something much more concrete.

Jesus summed it up this way:

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NET)

This “Golden Rule,” as many call it, is what Jesus calls the narrow gate that leads to life (Matthew 7:13–14). This is how we love others and thus fulfill the law.

How far do we take that? Here’s what John has to say:

This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave his life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16, NCV)

And Paul adds quite a few specifics to our definition of love:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NLT)

To combine all of this into one concise definition, love means consistently working for the good of others.

In as much as we consistently work for the good of others, we cannot sin. And we dare not label anything as sin which does not violate this principle.

To review, we’ve seen that God came up with marriage as the solution to being alone, and we’ve seen that Paul encourages such a relationship for those who desire it. Based on these facts, we can affirm that everyone should be permitted to pursue a relationship if they so desire.

However, we’ve also acknowledged that many people do not fit stereotypical gender identities and orientations. For such people, a person from the opposite gender may not be a suitable partner (Genesis 2:18). They must, therefore, be free to pursue a relationship with whatever genders they are oriented toward.

We’ve furthermore seen that the Bible offers no single model as the ideal for marriage, and we’ve seen that Christians are under no restrictions apart from the law of love. We cannot condemn any action or any relationship that consistently works for the good of others.

Since LGBTQ relationships are every bit as capable as “straight” relationships to work for the good of others, that leaves us with no reason to withhold our affirmation from them.

Let me restate that. As long as your relationships are carried out in love—that is, as long as they consistently work for the good of others—I affirm them. As a Christian, I believe I can do no other.

Having now established a positive case for affirming LGBTQ relationships, I will finally address the “clobber passages” (those texts of scripture frequently interpreted to condemn LGBTQ relationships) in the next and final post.

Posts in the Gay-Affirming Christian series:

  1. Entering the Conversation
  2. The Biblical Case for Marriage
  3. It All Comes Down to Love
  4. Confronting the Clobber Passages

See also, “It’s Time to Speak Out as a Gay-Affirming Christian.”

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  • improvislaw

    Once again. Wow. This is great.

  • I agree with much of what you’ve written about love. I think you’ve done a great job of avoiding the ditch of legalism. I do fear, however, that its possible that you’ve landed in the other ditch of minimalism. Minimalism robs the ethic of love of any requirements beyond the individual presupposed conception of what constitutes the “good”. Missing in a minimalist conception of the ethic of love is incorporation of “an ethic from above//beyond”. As Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”-Jn 14:15 Without the formation of “loving God” through obedience to God’s loving commands, we risk promoting an ahistorical, individualized, nebulous love ethic.

    I fear that much of the grounding of the ethics you present is the “freedom for desire”. I find this problematic for my own situation as a married man. My natural orientation is for polygamous sexual relationships, yet I do not bow to my desires and allow myself to be instructed by Scripture. I learn through Scripture that God calls husbands like myself to faithful monogamous relationships, as the expression of Christ loving the church. I am not suggesting that one needs to necessarily act against their orientation, but in my case it works. What I would suggest is that orientation is not licence for sexual behaviours. I also want to note that orientation itself is a foreign category to Scriptures, which only condemn sexual actions like μαλακός, ἀρσενοκοίτης, & the broader category of πορνεία.

    As I’ve mentioned in previous comments on the other blogs in this series… I disagree that the Bible offers no ideal for marriage. Jesus’ whole discussion in Matthew 19, in which he is echoing Genesis 2, assumes an ethic & an ideal. I also disagree that Paul is in anyway encouraging marriage outside his pre-conception of male & female. (Just read 1 Corinthians 7:1)

    • I hear what you’re saying. I would just disagree that minimalism is a bad thing. I’d say that minimalism based around love is absolutely essential if we are to avoid adding unnecessary burdens on people.

      As for your orientation toward polygamy, that would be a matter between you and your wife. Given that you have already entered into an exclusive relationship with her, it would be unloving for you to break your commitment to her by adding an additional partner. But it would have been a completely different story if you had proposed a polygamous relationship from the start, and if your wives were fully on board with the idea.

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        Jesus pared the obligations for human behavior as conceived by God down to a minimum. But they are specific in regard to human sexual relations. If God established those burdens it is not we who are doing so. Chuck, your line of reasoning doesn’t actually seem to consider God having much to say about sexual relations: “As for your orientation toward polygamy, that would be a matter between you and your wife.” Not between man and wife and God? Really. Come on, think again. Your reference to Matthew 25:40 is gratuitous because it doesn’t imply any obligation to love God by ignoring the teaching of Jesus on human sexuality. Obeying Jesus’ teaching is how one loves God–taking care of their needs however doesn’t include un-discipling them regarding their sexual orientations and behaviors. Your giving one concise definition for love is great: “love means consistently working for the good of others.” But we must let God in Christ define what the good of others looks like, and that must include Jesus’ definition of marriage. He in fact did provide one specific and clear definition of marriage–contrary to your assertion. There are various models in practice but only one model affirmed by Jesus. If your reasoning goes around Jesus to define a new form of good for humans we should not agree with you but rather with Jesus. I don’t think you have even come close to establishing a positive “case” argument for LGBTQ relationships, much less for LGBTQ marriage. Please clearly explain how Jesus’ teaching on this is no longer valid.

        • I went over this in the fourth article. Jesus said nothing to affirm any model of marriage.

          “When Jesus quoted [the] Genesis passages (Matthew 19:4–5 and Mark 10:6–8), he did not do so to make a point about LGBTQ relationships. He spoke in response to a question about divorce, not sexual orientation. His purpose was to defend marriage against unnecessary annulments, not to define it against same-sex partnerships.”

      • I fear that a minimalistic view of the law of love promotes a cheap grace, or worse yet, the heresy of antinomianism. Where we disagree is that freedom from the law is not freedom to do what we want. Freedom from the law is not the excuse for whatever behaviour we want to justify. This is one of the Apostle Paul’s big points in Galatians 5, the very passage in which we are told that love sums up the law. “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh” (Gal 5:13). Paul then defines “acts of the flesh” as:

        “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality [πορνεία], impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Gal 5:19-21.

        Most scholars agree that the term πορνεία, which occurs multiple times throughout Paul’s writings is an all encompassing term for any act sexual deviance that assumes the canonical context of Deuteronomy 22, and Leviticus 18-22. What should be of note, is that few things are in common between the inter-testament prohibitions. Sexual ethic appears to be one of them because according to Pauline theology, our bodies belong to Christ. (1 Cor 6:15) If sexual ethics is based in “freedom for desire”, as you suggest, then we have no basis for understanding the logic of Paul’s command to expel a man who engaged in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. (1 Cor 5:1-13) Note that even though the Corinthian community approved & tolerated this relationship, Paul still condemns it under the logic of πορνεία. Similarly, the only paradigms offered by the New Testament for homosexual behaviour are the emphatically negative sketches of Romans 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10. The New Testament offers no accounts of homosexual Christians, tells no stories of same-sex lovers, ventures no metaphors that place a positive construal of homosexual relations.

        As for my orientation towards polygamous sexual activity… I decided early on in my life that desire is not licence for practice. As the Apostle Paul states, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”(Gal 5:24) If I were to engage in polygamy I would be ignoring Paul’s instruction of having but one wife (1 Tim 3:2), not to mention the archetypal pattern of the “two becoming one flesh”. (Gen 2:21, Mk 10:8, 1 Cor 6:16, Eph 5:31)

        • You left out a significant portion of that verse. I believe you were quoting from the NIV, so let’s go with that:

          “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galations 5:13, NIV)

          Do you really think that pursuing a relationship with someone you’re oriented toward is “indulging the flesh”? I’m sure that wasn’t what you were doing when you pursued a relationship with your wife. Entering into such a relationship is all about serving one another in love. That’s every bit as much true for a same-sex relationship as it has been for my relationship with my wife, and I assume it has been the same for you and your wife.

          As for πορνεία, it’s a generic term in itself. It just means any kind of sexual activity which is immoral. It needs an outside definition for what qualifies as immoral. I understand that many scholars want to force a marriage from πορνεία to Old Testament regulations, but I don’t buy it. The law of love is our only basis for determining morality. Jesus and the Apostles couldn’t be more explicit about this.

          As for the man and his stepmother, we get only a tiny glimpse into what was going on there. Paul did not discuss the situation in detail because his original audience already knew the details. There could be any number of reasons why he came down so hard on this, and we can only speculate. Here are just a few quick thoughts off the top of my head as to what may have been particularly unloving about this situation.

          1) The stepmother is literally described as the father’s wife. That means she was probably still married and thus breaking her commitment to her husband. 2) Alternatively, it could be that he forced himself on her against her will. Note that Paul instructed for the man to be “delivered to satan” but not the woman. 3) We don’t know the marital status of the young man, but it’s also possible that he was already married and thus breaking his commitment to his wife. 4) Such a confused relationship between stepson and stepmother would almost certainly cross boundaries in terms of power dynamics and equality. And it’s begging to create friction within the family as a whole.

          Again, we don’t have the details, so we can only speculate. But what we can say for certain is that the problem was caused by a breach of love. Otherwise Paul was acting as a hypocrite, and I want to give him more credit than that.

          As for the clobber passages you cite, I covered those in part four. As for a lack of same-sex relationships in the New Testament, a) that’s an argument from silence, and b) such relationships weren’t common at the time. I wouldn’t expect to see any covered.

          As for 1 Timothy 3:2, that’s a specific guideline for selecting bishops, not a rule for all believers. Furthermore, the verse (in Greek) does not say “but one wife;” it just says “one wife.” That could mean “only one wife,” but it could also mean “at least one wife.” In other words, “a bishop should be married.” However, I think it’s even more likely that the intention is based on faithfulness to whomever the bishop is married to.

          • “Do you really think that pursuing a relationship with someone you’re oriented toward is “indulging the flesh”?”

            I would say that I can’t find any affirmation of sexual activity, in Scripture, outside of the bounds of male & female or disciplined abstinence. I believe that from a Christian perspective, our sexual orientation only helps define what our area of sexual temptation and perhaps dysfunction will be – but we are all tempted (and to some extent, dysfunctional) in one way or another. To be human is, among other things, to be in some wonderful and weird way, sexually dysfunctional. We are all sexually broken people, as well as sexually glorious people (Romans 3:23-24;Psalm 51:5).

            RE: πορνεία… If Jesus’ & the Apostles are not drawing from the OT prohibitions, where are they drawing it from? Are Jesus & Paul NOT Jewish? Even if you suggest that they are not drawing from the OT, then certainly there is enough in the Greco-Roman stoic worldview to put forth same sex activity as not in the realm of”kata physic” [natural order]

            Perhaps a big difference in our two readings is how I believe that the Law is fulfilled through love. I see the way of love as fulfilling & exceeding what the Law required, becoming a righteousness that is far greater than the Pharisees (Mt 5:20). Where the Law prohibits murder; love prohibits anger. Where the Law prohibits adultery, love teaches that we do not lust within our hearts. Jesus came not to subvert, cancel out or ignore the law, but to establish the law and the prophets- to unfold them. To show their true purpose. On sexual ethics we see that Jesus ups the ante by refusing to treat women as property & instead commands that divorce is a concession to “hard hearts”. (Mt 19) Similarly Paul treats women as equals and commands mutual submission. (1 Cor 7:3-4) Both Jesus & Paul assume the context of the OT, but fulfill it in a unique way. I don’t have space here to really sketch this out further.

            Stanley Hauerwas sums up my reservations with how you are using the term “law of love”. He writes, “The ethics of love is often but a cover for what is fundamentally an assertion of ethical relativism.”

            RE: 1 Cor 5…. Yes, we can speculate. The only reason Paul gives us is πορνεία.

            RE: Argument from silence…. I am pointing out that we should pay attention to what Scripture affirms. The fact that there is no affirmation of same sex activity qualifies your case as from the place of silence.

            RE: 1 Timothy 3:2 … The New Testament does not call leadership to exclusive practices and behaviours apart from the rest of the church body. The call to be ‘above reproach’ is interpreted as setting an example that others in the church should seek to imitate. Leaders are viewed as servants who are themselves members of the body. There is no separation of the ‘professional holy person’ in this view, rather there is a plea that we are all baptized into one body. Whatever practices and behaviours are acceptable to the Body are therefore acceptable to the leader in the appropriate context. In this view the function and demands of leadership are always invitational, imitational, and inclusive to the whole Body.

            I doubt it could mean “a bishop should be married” given Paul’s statements on celibacy. Let me suggest that If there was an allowance for polygamy, we would see it represented in tradition & in the church fathers.

  • J.P. Rea

    Jesus taught agave , not the worlds view of love .

    • ericbusby

      I’m not so sure that Jesus taught much about syrup according to scripture…