In one week, my book People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is not just an Issue will be released. If I can be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s for an author whenever a new book is released. But on the other hand, this book is so different than anything I’ve written that I’m having a tough time sorting out my feelings about its release. The book isn’t about me. It’s about two different persons. First, it’s about God and what he says about sexual ethics in his word. And second, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how they’ve been dehumanized, especially by the church. Here I stand, a cis-gender, straight, white, male, talking about a God whose image I bear, yet whose holiness I fall short of, and a group of people who have been mistreated by the church. And, well, I’m sort of freaking out.
Anyway, enough of the drama. I want to post the Preface to my forthcoming book People to Be Loved. Some will love it. Some will hate it. The lovers are gonna love, and the haters are gonna hate. At the end of the day, I only hope and pray that Jesus is honored by the challenging (some would say, edgy) words that are about to be published in my book. Here’s my Preface, quoted in full:
I used to sleep like a baby. If a dump truck blew through my living room, I wouldn’t wake up. But I don’t sleep as well as I used to. I frequently wake up way before my alarm, haunted by the pain that Christians have caused gay people. Sometimes I hit the pillow exhausted but am instantly stirred up by a rush of fear that I have interpreted the Bible incorrectly—and hurt people by doing so. I can no longer read what the Bible says about homosexuality from a distance. I now see real names, beautiful faces, and complex stories splashed across its pages.
This book is by far the most difficult one I’ve written. If all I did was to study a bunch of Bible verses, it would have been much easier. But as I began researching for this project, I made it a point to spend half my time in books and the other half in the lives of gay people. And my life will never be the same. I have made many unexpected friends whose stories have seeped down into my bones. I guess that some of you may already be agitated. All this talk about listening to gay people makes you wonder where I “stand.” So let me tell you up front: I stand on truth and I stand on love. Figuring out how to stand on both is hard work.
The question of homosexuality defies simple answers, so I refuse to give thin answers to thick questions in the pages that follow. If you want quick, easy answers, or if you just want me to affirm all of your assumptions—whatever they may be—then this book isn’t for you. There are plenty of books out there that will reaffirm your presuppositions. In this book, we’re going to think. We’re going to study. We’re going to listen to the pain and joy of real people who are gay. We’re going to hold our views with a humble heart and an open hand—inviting God to correct us where we have been wrong. We are going to do our best to lay aside our assumptions and genuinely seek to know what the Bible, not our tradition, says about homosexuality.
Some of you may affirm same-sex relations while others may not. I am writing this book for both of you—for all of us—for anyone who cares to know what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about homosexuality. This book is written for Christians, those who consider the Bible to be authoritative. Although I am a biblical scholar by profession, I am also a pastor who cares about people, and an ordinary dude who likes to surf, play baseball, and watch action-packed movies that get bad reviews. I have a PhD in New Testament and Judaism, and yet I didn’t read a book from cover to cover until I was seventeen. I am not a natural- born geek. I happened to have become one because I fell in love with learning.
All that is to say, I sought to make the tone of this book more conversational so that anyone interested in the topic will understand it. The professor side of me cringes at books that are built on thin or sloppy research, so I’ve included many endnotes and an appendix for those of you who wish to go deeper into the subject. The first two thirds of this book wrestle with what the Bible says about homosexuality, while the last third addresses other questions that come up in the discussion.
I am well aware that some people are tired of bantering around about the so-called “clobber passages” in the Bible that mention homosexuality. I can see why people feel this way, but as I’ve read many books on the subject, I still see a great need for a clear, thorough, and fair-minded study of Scripture. Some books I’ve read seem like they are using the Bible to justify their previously held beliefs about homosexuality. They feel more like a defense of a particular view rather than an exploration of what the Bible actually says—being willing to go where the text leads, even if it leads them to change their view. There is no such thing as an unbiased reading of the Bible. We all bring assumptions and presuppositions to the text. But as my philosopher friend Jamie Smith recently put it, it is possible to give the text a “fair reading”—a reading that recognizes one’s assumptions and invites others to point them out.
I have tried to read the Bible as fairly as I know how with regard to homosexuality. I have listened to people on both sides of the debate, those who affirm same-sex relations and those who do not. To my surprise, I have made many friends with people who hold very different views of homosexuality. Perhaps it’s because, as you’ll see, I have discovered that the Bible challenges people on both sides of the question. It has certainly challenged me.
Whenever I write a book, I seek to do it in the context of a diverse community. I invite feedback and pushback on every sentence, and with this book, I cast the net broadly. There are dozens of people whose voices can be found hidden behind every word, and this book would have been different if I just sat in a room and wrote it by myself. I didn’t. This book reflects an ongoing conversation with many people about the Bible, the church, and homosexuality. The word ongoing is important. This book is not my last word on homosexuality, but my first word (in print, at least). It doesn’t represent my codified, unchangeable, etched-in-stone declaration of what I have and always will believe about homosexuality. This book is a contribution to a complex conversation about a difficult topic. I would be in sin if I had the audacity to declare that I have it all figured out. But before God and before you, I pray that the pages that follow give honor to my Lord and King who does have it all figured out.
Since this book is the fruit of communal discussion, I have many people to thank. Several people read through all, or portions of, this book: Joey Dodson, Roy Ciampa, Sam Roberto, Mark Yarhouse, Jeff Cook, and I am especially thankful for the many gay and lesbian readers who have offered incisive feedback, especially on my language, tone, and ignorant assumptions: Matt Jones, Nathan Collins, Julie Rodgers, Bill Henson, Brian Gee, Wesley Hill, Bill Henson, and Nick Roen. Several others, who didn’t read the manuscript but whose stories had a significant impact on my thinking, include Lesli Hudson-Reynolds, Justin Lee, Eve Tushnet, and many others whose testimonies have forever shaped my life. I don’t know if I would have been able to finish this book were it not for the constant encouragement of my pastor and friend Bren Angelos and my friend Brad Heinrichs, who let me use his mountain cabin to finish writing this book. Most of all, thanks to my wife, Christine, and my four kids who have seen this book take a toll on my life.
Many thanks also to the ninety students in my class: “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church” (Spring 2014), as you listened to me test-drive an earlier version of this book. Also, there were many people who interacted deeply with my ongoing series of blogs on the topic. There are too many names to remember, but Julie Perez, Joe Tobias, and David “Ford” Sinclair stand out. None of you would let me get away with any unthoughtful remark—and I am a better person for it. I am sorry for some of the offensive things I have said, and I am very grateful for your critical feedback. I’ve given several talks on homosexuality to diverse audiences, and, by God’s grace, I’m still alive. In particular, the AudioFeed Music Festival in Champaign, Illinois (July 2014), the Young Adults Conference at First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (March 2014), and the Clydehurst Family Camp somewhere in the boonies of Montana (August 2014) proved to be incredibly helpful in shaping my thinking. Thanks are also due to Denny Burk, Wesley Hill (again), and Owen Strachan for your stimulating interaction in our seminar on sexual orientation at the Evangelical Theological Society’s Annual Meeting in San Diego (November 2014).