Why Every Christian Leader Needs To Have a Good Answer about Homosexuality

Why Every Christian Leader Needs To Have a Good Answer about Homosexuality June 6, 2013

Some commenters expressed consternation at Rob Bell’s answers on the Christian radio show that I highlighted earlier in the week. Some thought he should have had a better answer when asked, point blank, whether it’s a sin for a man to have sex with another man. Others noted that for Rob to do so would have have lowered him to his inquisitors’ level, to mean that he was playing by their rules — and anyone who’s followed Rob’s career knows that he’s not apt to do that.

But it reminded me of a lunch that Doug and I shared with another prominent Christian leader a couple weeks ago. When the subject of marriage equality came up, he pushed back on me a bit: “Tony, it’s just not my issue. My issue is ______. Why do you insist on pulling me into the issue that you think is most important?”

It’s a good question, but I have a good answer.

Clearly, the issue of gay marriage — and, more broadly, the issues of human sexuality, gay ordination, and how to treat persons who are gay, lesbian, transgendered, and queer — are vexing the church. And, I would say, they are vexing the church poignantly, immediately, and like no other issues. As I said to my friend at lunch, LGBT issues are a wave crashing across American culture right now, and you don’t get to not have an opinion about it.

I get that there are other issues that various people find more important: poverty, immigration, Guantanamo, the war in Afganistan, climate change. Those are all important, and they need to be dealt with by the church and spoken about by Christian leaders. Yes, absolutely, and without question.

But at this moment in time, GLBT issues have come to a head. It is the issue of the moment. And that’s not just because evangelicals have made a shibboleth issue, like the radio host and evangelical pastor on the radio show with Rob Bell. It’s also because GLBT persons have rightly asked the church for a response. This isn’t just an issue being ginned up by the right or the left — this is an issue being asked about by a critical mass of our society. And people are not just asking Christian leaders what we think; they’re also asking leaders of other faiths, politicians, and other public figures.

If you’re a Christian leader, you might be asked about immigration or whether you believe in human-made climate change. You will get asked about homosexuality. At a pastors’ conference, on a radio show, on your blog, on Twitter, or just about anywhere.

So, you may not like it, because it’s not what you want to talk about. And you may think it’s a small issue compared with war or poverty. And you may even be right. But it is the issue of the moment, so you’d better do your homework and have an articulate answer, no matter where you fall on the issue.

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  • Tony, thanks for bringing up this question. Those of us who serve as pastors of traditional congregations sometimes find it difficult to offer a word on this increasingly important issue.

    I recently issued my boldest sermonic statement, the link to which I’ll post here: http://www.bobcornwall.com/2013/04/barriers-breached-sermon-for-easter-5c.html

    You’ll find both the written text and audio.

    Of course there are other issues, such as abortion, for which I can’t seem to formulate a very straightforward answer!!


  • Craig

    Agreed. But I think you are being overly gentle with Christian leaders who so push the question away. They push the question away because – at least in part – the question is either morally or theoretically awkward for them. Serious inquiry reveals serious problems for Christians – wherever they stand on the issue. So the dismissive “It’s just not my issue” is always somewhat evasive.

  • That’s an intriguing picture for the article. I remember when the rainbow represented a covenant God made with man… to never flood the earth again as he did in the flood, which was instigated by some sort of corrupt sin that had taken over humanity. Theologians disagree, of course, on what the sin was. However you look at it, it was something that affected both the natural and supernatural realms… something that involved sexuality, bloodline and more.

    Actually, now that I think about it – the rainbow still represents that. Nothing has changed there. Certainly, culture has had its way with the rainbow from tie-dyed shirts to My Little Pony marketing. I believe we’ve seen other uses of the rainbow as well to further other matters as well. Some even have flipped its meaning to represent a covenant of surrender to God to now represent independent ideas that have to coexist with each other in some type of equality.

    And yet the rainbow remains what it was created to be – no matter how much it’s used, abused or misused.

    The union God instigated between a man and a woman will likewise always remain was it was created to be… no matter how much we use, abuse or misuse what we call it… no matter what we do to even the word marriage, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. And they will be one flesh.”

    That’s an intriguing picture for the article.

    • Pojo1968

      Do you really think the rainbow was created after the so-called Flood? I cannot think of a more shallow, stupid idea than that – that the rainbow, which is sun breaking the prism of light in water – didn’t exist until after the Flood.

      • It’s okay for you to say that, Pojo1968… although (personally) I wouldn’t think that in a discussion like this you would want to say something like “I cannot think of…” when trying to dissolve someone else’s point. It’s a bad debate tactic as it shows you’re revealing you will be using limited thinking to try to attack what you think is someone else’s limited thinking. Meaning, if you can’t think beyond how you already think – well, that’s one thing. But publicizing it? That’s another thing.

        Meanwhile… man… that rainbow… that’s an intriguing picture for the article.

  • It’s like being asked about Roman taxes during Jesus’s time…

  • Great thoughts.

  • donnamathwig

    Dang. And I so wanted you to just give me the language. Yes, it’s a cop out to doing my own work.

  • Tom McCool

    What do you think about this quote from John Wesley, that coincidentally I just came across today? I note that he wrote this in a letter in 1775, when the American Revolution was in full swing. I’m guessing that is what he is referring to. But does this apply to today? I’m not sure what to make of it, but in some ways this does make sense to me.

    “As to the public affairs, I wish you to be like minded with me. I am of neither side and yet of both…Private Christians are excused, exempted, privileged to take no part in civil troubles. We love all and pray for all with a sincere and impartial love. Faults there may be on both sides but such as neither you nor I can remedy; therefore, let us and all our children give ourselves unto prayer and so stand still and see the salvation of God.” ~ John Wesley in letter dated March 1, 1775

    • Craig

      Why should Christians in particular excuse themselves from the pressing social, political, and environmental problems–particularly these days when many of these problems are exacerbated and sustained by those who call themselves Christians? I would think that Christians in particular should own up to some responsibility for these troubles. Aren’t you supposed to be the salt of the earth?

    • Craig

      Before excusing yourselves please at least try to counteract the civic troubles your Catholic and evangelical friends are creating. Would to God that these folks became “private Christians.”

  • Jim Thomas

    Tony, I agree. I recently posted what I believe about the intersection of LGBT folk and my faith community here: http://www.b74eqcm.blogspot.com/2013/03/gay-marriage-lgbt-christians-bible-and.html

  • hm1

    I recently read Andrew Marin’s book: Love is an orientation. This bloke has made it his life’s work to build bridges between the gay community and church. He didn’t give an answer and his foundation still does great work. But doesn’t not having an answer do damage too and makes us look like idiots on many occasions. It is a puzzler.

  • 2TrakMind

    There are two sides (probably more) to this issue. One side is simply to do with human rights. We can each have our opinions on whether gay marriage is a human rights issue, or not, and debate it all day long and get nowhere. That’s fine. On the other side of the issue, there are the “religious” questions; to which I answer, “I don’t care, ” or “it’s none of my business.” When it comes down to it, it’s not my place to make a call on whether homosexuality is a sin, or not. Clearly, God didn’t freak about it in the Bible, so why do we? Beyond that, why do we think that it’s our job to be the moral police for the world? Jesus was pretty clear that ours is not to judge whether what our brother does is right, or wrong. We are simply to love them. My primary role in life is to learn to live a Spirit led life, and to introduce others to Christ, then release them to live a Spirit led life of their own. What they do is really none of my business. It drives me crazy how Christians stand so firm on subjects when they have so little ground to stand on. There are so many other things going on in society that are clearly more important, and which Christ spoke about like caring for those in need, protecting people from abusive, etc., etc…

  • Sometimes not having an answer is the best solution when it comes to the mysteries of God and his work in this realm. In the end you may have the right answer, or you may have the wrong answer, but regardless, love is always the right answer.

    • But isn’t learning how to respond to a topic that is deep-rooted in the lives of many people, a great example of love? We can say that love is always the right answer but we also have to ask WHAT is the specific way that I can love in this situation? It’s exclusionary to say we’re doing out best to love but also say we don’t have to understand.

  • John McCauslin

    I have to say this: Christian leaders can no longer duck away from the issue of inclusion of members of the GLBT community from full participation in the community of believers, hoping it will either go away or take care of itself. It wont, and it wont.

    And “not having an answer” wont fly anymore either. Love compels a compassionate response, whichever side of the issue you gravitate to.

    Personally I come down on the side of total accepting inclusion and frankly I think that this is ultimately God’s answer. If we are going to introduce others to Christ, we do so in our own person. And in doing so we embraced the whole person-hood of the other. We cannot look away and deny that certain portions of their lives (which we honestly don’t care for) are none of our business. Christ embraces the whole person of the believer, not just the chaste and public parts, but the embarrassing and sinful parts as well. As ambassadors for Christ in the world we must see the world for what it is, love people for who they are, and we must respond appropriately to those who are being excluded especially because they are distasteful to those in power.

    Christians cannot in good conscience claim disinterest and then turn away from the mistreatment of others in concealed disapproval.

    We are not called so much to ‘introduce others to Christ and release them,’ but we are called to heal and proclaim the presence of the Kingdom in their lives. As for healing GLBT folks, we must first see their wounds, and then determine what we can do about addressing them. One’s sexual orientation is not a wound! The wounds come from they way people have been damaged for their sexual orientation. The fact that God’s self-proclaimed followers are often found in the front row or tormentors is the real abomination. If Jesus were to speak he would write your sins on the ground then ask those without sin to cast the first stones.

    Christian leaders who choose to look away, or who dismiss the bashing of these children of God as no big deal, or who tolerate such violence, even by their silence, have abdicated their responsibility.

    And if you are on the other side of the issue, then as a leader you are equally obliged to oversee and encourage those who listen to your exhortations to express their opposition with compassion, and with the love of Christ in their hearts and on their lips. I admit that I dont know how one can lovingly seek to exclude God’s children from the grace of the community, but if you feel compelled to so exclude, then Jesus’ command to ‘love God and love your neighbor,’ still operates and compels you, especially as a leader, to figure out how to do so in such a way as to reflect God’s love.

  • Carla Jo

    I think the reason Rob didn’t answer that question was because it’s a nonsensical question. Sex isn’t it’s own thing. It never has been and never will be. It happens in the context of some sort of relationship and that’s the question that’s at the heart of this conversation. So is sex between a man and another man sinful? That depends entirely on their relationship.

    The nonsensical nature of the question is clear if you ask it of heterosexuals. Is it a sin for a man to have sex with a woman? If someone asked that same question of any one of us, we wouldn’t be able to answer it until we knew the relationship between these two people. Is the man raping the woman? Are they 70 years old and married to each other? Is one of them 14? The relationship changes the answer.

    What Rob should have done is push the other guy for some context, and I think he was trying to say that. He was very clear that he believes in monogamy, in fidelity, in commitment. He said he thinks promiscuity is a problem. He was very clear and yet the other cat kept pushing him to answer a question that was meant to trip Rob up, not further the conversation.

    One of the big hurdles I come across in my conversations with people who think differently than I do on this issue is that they are focused on the act of sex, while I’m focused on the relationship in which sex takes place–call me old fashioned, but I think that when we’re talking about marriage, we are talking about something that goes beyond sex. So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what we mean when we talk about marriage. What aspects of marriage are God-ordained? What makes a godly marriage? What role–if any–does gender play in marriage? If we can quit talking about sex and start talking about marriage, I think we’ll start getting to the crux of the biscuit.

    • ^^^ This!

    • Craig

      The claim that it is sinful for a man to have sex with a man may be false, but I don’t see why it is nonsensical.

      • Carla Jo

        Because you can’t answer that question with a yes or no answer, which is what the guy seemed to want from Rob. You have to ask which men? In what context? In what kind of relationship? It’s nonsensical because he asked it as a trap, not as a genuine question. That might not make it nonsense, but it’s certainly insincere.

        • Craig

          I do not think that it is certainly insincere to ask whether it is sinful to tell a lie. What’s the difference between that and asking whether it is sinful for a man to have sex with a man? Wouldn’t the correct answer in both cases be, “it depends”?

          • Carla Jo

            It’s insincere if you’re asking as a way of trapping the other person. Rob had already explained his position. He was very clear. The question was meant to put Rob in an awkward place. You don’t have to think that’s insincere, but I do.

            • Craig

              Here’s another way to interpret Wilson’s behavior. For many Christians (Wilson especially) it is difficult to bring oneself to confidently affirm that it sometimes isn’t sinful for a man to have sex with a man. So, quite naturally, this is precisely what Wilson was asking Bell to do. Confronting him on this point was Wilson’s way of exposing and thereby emphasizing what he takes to be the most difficult aspect of Bell’s position. Bell’s apparent reluctance to answer directly (e.g., to forthrightly affirm: “Homosexual sex is often perfectly holy”) only confirmed, in Wilson’s mind, the difficulty Bell himself had about the very aspect Wilson was repeatedly trying to highlight.

              So while I find Wilson’s own view about sexuality morally repugnant, I don’t see anything insincere or devious about his interrogation of Bell.

              • Carla Jo

                I can see that. But to me, it felt like he was pushing the point, especially because I thought Rob had already answered the bigger question of fidelity and commitment. It seemed like Wilson’s question was focusing on sex when Rob was clearly talking about marriage. Those are two entirely different conversations and I think that’s why Rob wasn’t responding the way Wilson wanted him to.

                • Thursday1

                  Rob had already answered the bigger question of fidelity and commitment.

                  This only highlights the difference. For conservatives fidelity and commitment aren’t the only relevant moral criteria: they are not “bigger.” That’s what is in dispute.

                  You may disagree with them on that, but there is a difference, and by not answering the question it does seem like Bell is trying to paper over some rather large differences.

                  As I’ve tried to explain below, just speaking descriptively, without getting into the merits, there really does seem to be a gaping chasm between two very different worldviews here.

                  • Carla Jo

                    Then that’s what we should be talking about.

    • Darrell Ross

      Given, the question did not explicitly name two men and describe their exact ritual for sex, but it doesn’t need to.

      Context is completely unnecessary unless you are being pedantic. Or are you this way when someone asks you for directions to a movie theater? Do you say, “Do you mean by bus, foot, horse, or car? What time of day are you talking about?”

      The question is about gay men having sex, not about age differences, not about rape, not about married people, it is about SEX.

      Is it a sin for two men to have sex?

      Your response is a perfect “dodge” from the question.

      Attempting to rationalize your dislike for the question and being pedantic about it wins you no points.

      • Carla Jo

        Is it a sin for a man and a woman to have sex?

        • Sven2547

          Not intrinsically, no.
          You might as well ask “Is it illegal to drive a car?” While there certainly are (many) ways to illegally drive a car, the act of driving is not, by itself, illegal.

      • toddh

        Is it sinful for a man to kill a man?

  • Thursday1

    The differences over this issue really come down to ethical intuitions.

    On the one hand you have people who believe or at least intuit that ethics can be boiled down to happiness and suffering and how to divide those things up. For these people, it is obvious that there is nothing wrong with gay sex per se.

    On the other hand there are others for whom there are other ethical implications than whether something hurts someone else. For these people, ethics may, for example, be about realizing an ideal or essence rather than promoting happiness per se. They tend to live in a thick, sacred cosmos where particular forms (like male and female) contain deep meaning that is independent of human desire. Therefore, for them, though they would rather people be happy than not ceteris parabus, it does not necessarily matter that gay people would be happier if they have gay sex, because that’s not the ultimate moral standard.

    The former are often horrified that anyone would put anything else before the happiness and suffering of human beings, while the latter are horrified that anyone would radically empty the cosmos of meaning.

    I have to say the latter tends to go along with any religion, including Christianity, a lot better than the former. Trying to stake out a middle position strikes me as inherently unstable. The work of Jonathan Haidt does suggest this as well.

    • Thursday1

      There is a particularly eloquent exposition of the latter position here:

      Compassion is a fine, even necessary, thing, but it is not love. . . . When one loves a person, one wills that person’s good. This will often include alleviating suffering and increasing happiness, but it means more than that. A compassionate man might be content to leave his neighbour content in ignorance, sin, and degradation, but not the man who loves. Christ said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; when we inspect our own hearts, we realize that for ourselves we would prefer honourable suffering to a shameful happiness and a distressing truth to a comfortable lie.


      • John McCauslin

        So then which of my assertions are nothing more than comfortable lies? What are your distressing “truths” am I dismissing?

        You say: “A compassionate man might be content to leave his neighbour content in ignorance, sin, and degradation, but not the man who loves.” I suspect that the “ignorance, sin, and degradation” referred to here by you has to do with the failure of your neighbor to adopt and abide by your moral values. Can you honestly say that your desire for their conformance is genuine love on your part?

        The failure to take into account the psycho-physiological reality of GLBT folks and to otherwise attempt to shame GLBT folks into denying the reality of their psycho-physiological makeup, just to satisfy your need to bring the world into alignment with your moral compass, is itself the essence of “ignorance, sin, and degradation.” And it has nothing to do with compassion of love. It has everything to do with self-affirmation, and fear and loathing of the unknown “other.”

        • Thursday1

          Dude, I’m not trying to convince you to change any of your moral beliefs, so don’t shoot the messenger. Your bottom line for morality seems to be happiness, suffering, and fairness, and that’s fine, but again that seems to be the difference on which this all hinges.

          You can try to rhetorically frame the use of disgust and degradation as moral criteria as itself being disgusting and degrading, but there is a real possibility that in fighting fire with fire you’re just going to increase disgust sensitivity, which is what started the whole problem in the first place. Besides trying to argue someone into thinking of something as degrading is unlikely to compete with something they directly “see” as degrading. This all works primarily at the level of perception, not thought.

          Incidently, your remark about this being based in “fear and loathing of the unknown ‘other'” really shows you don’t really understand how conservatives get to where they are at all. One of the problems with liberals is that they can kind of grasp one of Haidt’s conservative moral intuitions, loyalty/ingroup, and so tend to way overuse it as an explanation for why conservatives believe as they do. In fact, homosexual acts primarily violate a different moral intuition, purity/degradation, which is not the same thing at all.

          Bottom line: most of the remaining religious people in the West are likely to remain opposed to homosexual acts.

          • John McCauslin

            It does not appear to me that you are attempting to change my mind. It does appear to me that you are attempting to disguise your disgust with non-heterosexuality and resulting impetus to control and oppress GLBT(Q) folks with an attempt to elevate the language of the discourse.

            Your efforts to claim high ground of essence and ideals and diminish those in the GLBT(Q) community and their allies with the dismissal that they are merely concerned with pleasure and happiness are transparent.

            Sex is sex. Its all intimate and “icky” depending on your point of reference. The attempt to claim that certain defined sex expressions are “ideal” and thus all other sex is degraded is absurd.

            What this discourse discloses is a profound failure to understand the fact that membership in the GLBT(Q) community is not just about sex, but about gender identity and human relationships. Also it discloses a profound failure to understand that s person’s gender identity and their relationships exist separate and apart from their sexual behavior, though not without influence.

            While human society seeks to impose a gender identity on each person and to prescribe the limits of sexual behavior in their relationships, in point of fact one’s gender identity is self-claimed (even if unconsciously so), and cannot be imposed, and the boundaries and behavioral limits in all relationships are likewise self-claimed and self-imposed.

            Platonic (or Christian, or communist, etc) idealizations which ignore the reality on the ground are nothing more than meaningless abstractions. However, when the powers that be within society seek to impose those idealizations on its members, with sanctions for failure to comply, hen the idealizations become become oppression.

            That is what I am resisting here.

            • Thursday1

              It does appear to me that you are attempting to disguise your disgust with non-heterosexuality and resulting impetus to control and oppress GLBT(Q) folks with an attempt to elevate the language of the discourse.

              There does seem to be this meme going around that conservative ideals are really just disguised attempts to gain power over others etc. This does not actually appear to be the case. They are _for_ something more than _against_ something. Which actually makes it

              And, again, this is descriptive, so don’t shoot the messenger.

              they are merely concerned with pleasure and happiness are transparent.

              1. The turn to a more utilitarian/Rawlsian ethic in modern society just _is_ behind the turn towards acceptance of gays. It may not be your reason, but it its most peoples’.
              2. I’d prefer the term happiness. Anyway, that human beings are often unhappy without a loving and physically intimate relationship does seem to be the main reason people are becoming more accepting of gays.

              What this discourse discloses is a profound failure to understand the fact that membership in the GLBT(Q) community is not just about sex, but about gender identity and human relationships.

              Well, gays, lesbians, and others have formed communities and that takes on a life of its own and becomes a part of your identity, so attacks on the legitimacy of gay sexual relationships are now seen as attacks on the very being of the person. But I don’t see how one can get around the fact that the reason for forming these communities in the first place was that people shared a need for certain kinds of sexual relationships.

              The attempt to claim that certain defined sex expressions are “ideal” and thus all other sex is degraded is absurd.

              This is where the dispute lies though.

              And, descriptively, many people, particularly religious people, do seem to be innately disposed to see things this way.

              Platonic (or Christian, or communist, etc) idealizations which ignore the reality on the ground are nothing more than meaningless abstractions.

              You can use these kinds of arguments, and they may be right, but keep in mind that they are also the same kind of argument used against belief in God, gods, and any other spiritual realities. Which is why those who are amenable to these kinds of arguments often tend to be or become more secular.


              Again, I’m not disputing your value judgments on what is going on here. I’m just describing what you’re up against.

              Anyway, it always surprises me that people get upset at any mere description of conservative thought processes that don’t paint them as primarily meanspirited pricks out to hurt others.

              • John McCauslin

                Conservatives have always been perceived as protecting the status quo, and the Conservative agenda, like the Liberal agenda has always been about gaining more power and using it to further the agenda. Not a meme – just a political fact.

                My reason, and I can only defend my reason for embracing members of the GLBTQ community is that because I am a Christian I am called by Jesus to do so, and to invite them into the faith community with love and acceptance and without judgment. It is not that I want them to have pleasure and be happy though I don’t begrudge anyone that. It is because my faith compels me to respond to all other children of God with love and with compassion, and not with judgment or exclusion. They don’t have to believe as I do, but they are always welcomed to worship they God I worship and I can only hope the welcome is mutual.

                GLBTQ people shouldn’t be forced to form separate communities, and especially not separate communities for worship. Just like everyone else they crave community, not just for sexual relations but for relations in general. Everyone wants to belong. It is society and religious exclusion which has forced them out and into their own ghettos.

                A GLBTQ label is a matter of personal gender identity. and as such attacks on GLBTQ people ARE attacks on their persons.

                No, anti-GLBTQ are not mean-spirited, they are afraid.

          • John McCauslin

            It is interesting how you shield yourself by hiding behind the “messenger” label. You share these views do you not?

            Also, it is interesting how today you claim “this all works primarily at the level of perception” and not thought, when yesterday it was all about grand ideals.

            I reject your liberal/conservative labeling on this issue. I know liberals who refuse to accord any status to members of the GLBTQ community and I know an increasingly large number of conservative folks who have embraced members of the GLBTQ community as brothers and sisters in the faith. Also, the conservatives you speak of don’t “see” any more or any better than I do…unless they spend time in peoples bedrooms and in their lives. If they did spend time in their lives it would be out of love and then they would not be so quick to judge those they know and love.

            By the way, I am a “religious person,” and your labeling doesn’t fit me or most of the “religious people” I know. Again, messenger or not, you speak from inside your own insular world. You cannot claim any strength of argument based upon an alleged majority status.work

            • Thursday1

              1. I’ve looked at the data and the correlations are what they are. Religiosity by just about any measure correlates strongly with the three “binding” moral intuitions: respect for authority, ingroup loyalty and concern for purity/degradation.

              2. These things are statistical tendencies, often strong statistical tendencies, but not absolute categories, therefore interesting exceptions such as yourself (and the people you know) can easily exist. But exceptions by definition cannot negate a statistical tendency. In scientific parlance n =1.

              3. Being religious and not being religious are not discrete categories. They also involve related but not identical aspects of the mind.

              If you look into the work of Jon Haidt, Jesse Bering, Stewart Guthrie, Paul Bloom, Joe Henrich, Scot Atran, Pascal Boyer, Peter Berger, Tanya Luhrmann, I’m pretty much just repeating what they are saying. The psychology of more conservative religious people kind of is what it is. We can certainly make different moral judgments on it, but that won’t really change what it actually is.

              Also, the conservatives you speak of don’t “see” any more or any better than I do.

              Why don’t you just say they see stuff that isn’t actually there? A case could be made.


              I think we’ve about reached the point where feces start flying, so I’m going to have to beg off here.

              Thanks to our host for letting me have my say here.


              • Thursday1

                I’d add David Abram and Owen Barfield to that list, though they’re not scientists in any sense.

    • John McCauslin

      But the ethics of the ideal is problematic where the “ideal” is not based on reality but upon a truncated understanding of reality. I acknowledge that we are all limited in how we apprehend reality. But the claim that we share a “sacred cosmos where particular forms (like male and female) contain deep meaning that is independent of human desire” is self defining and self limiting as to core values.

      The ideals of human male and human female are not defined by heterosexual human sexual behavior nor are they even defined by functioning reproductive organs. For example, chaste post-menopausal women would be excluded from your cosmos, denied access to the ideal. But they exist, as do men who are unable to have children. And GLBT people also exist. And they are all men or women or something in between. So the reality of the cosmos has to be understood in a way which takes all people into account, and which does not marginalize anyone.

      GLBT are not asking the rest of us for permission to have gay sex. They are asking us to accept them into the community (and into our faith communities) like everyone else.

      The cosmos designed by God includes GLBT folks regardless of the fact that some people want to idealize them away. They are here, God made them, and God made them the way they are. We can not exclude them because they violate our abstract and limited notions of some cosmic ideal where God only created “normal” people.

      Their presence within the cosmos does not risk emptying the cosmos of meaning – but it does call into question the validity of abstract idealizations of creation which fail to account for the fact that such people are a part of the creation which God made, and which God pronounced to be good.

      • Thursday1

        So the reality of the cosmos has to be understood in a way which takes all people into account, and which does not marginalize anyone.

        Your account sneaks in a Rawlsian/utilitarian understanding of ethics, when that is precisely what is in dispute.

        • John McCauslin

          Ethics are context driven. They are influenced by core values but ultimately they come down to: “What would I do in this situation.” That being said, there must be a utilitarian component. Ethics must take into account the reality on the ground.

          Ethics aside, when core values ignore or dismiss the real world circumstances they are intended to idealize, they are profoundly flawed. For example, how can alleged core values have any validity if envision an ideal world where everyone is red-haired and yet we have a contemporary real world where there are people with hair of every color imaginable, and even without hair, and even without the capacity to grow hair. Such a value is not only flawed but absurd. Is sexual orientation really all that different?

          When talking about grand ideas of the cosmos and its essence and we still filter these ideas through the lens of human experience. What constitutes an “ideal man” or an “ideal woman” is subjective and indisputably value driven. And when your values deny the humanity of whole communities of thriving people, and fail to account for them as anything but degenerate anomalies, the ideas are not very grand, but instead very parochial.

          • Thursday1

            Dude, I appreciate the attempt to frame things rhetorically, but there’s only so much you can do with words. You can say these things are parochial, but if someone “sees” them as grand, that isn’t going to make much difference. Remember, you’re competing against what they “see” not against my description here.

            In fact, Jonathan Haidt has noted how trying to use the other guys’ rhetoric can backfire:

            The soft-spoken psychologist is acutely annoyed by certain smug slogans that adorn the cars of fellow liberals: “Support our troops: Bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

            “No conservative reads those bumper stickers and thinks, ‘Hmm — so liberals _are_ patriotic!’” he says, in a sarcastic tone of voice that jarringly contrasts with his usual subdued sincerity. “We liberals are universalists and humanists; it’s not part of our morality to highly value nations. So to claim dissent is patriotic — or that we’re supporting the troops, when in fact we’re opposing the war — is disingenuous.

            “It just pisses people off.”

            Pretending you actually care just as much about the things conservatives care about when you don’t is likely to just piss them off.

      • Thursday1

        This brings up another point. Our ethical positions aren’t reasoned out, they are “seen” or intuited. So, if there is some innate tendency in human beings (variably expressed in different individuals and societies) to “see” heterosexual relationships as an ideal and homosexual relationships as degrading, there is little that can be done to argue them out of that position.* Since there is a strong correlation between that kind of “seeing” and religiosity, it seems likely that most religions, including Christianity will continue adhere to the traditional position.

        In fact, the religious impulse itself seems to be based on “seeing” agency, patterns, meaning and purpose in nature. Most highly religious people don’t in fact have a lot of doubts. God is “there.” They “see” him. If you look at most religious texts, they don’t even bother arguing about whether God or the gods exist. It’s just presumed. But for some reason, modernity has changed all that.

        So, as a general rule, religiosity and traditional positions on sexual ethics will tend to rise and fall together. Which is what we see happening. There will be interesting exceptions (see this blog), but the general trend holds.

        *The research does seem to suggest that both religiosity and traditional positions on sexual morality are inversely proportional to how comfortable, secure, and predictable one’s life is. When life gets comfortable, secure, and predictable, like it is in the West, people tend not to “see” the gods anymore, nor do they “see” things like essences or ideals. That, more than argument, is more likely to be behind the shift we see in society.

  • MIke

    Many of us are struggling with the “tension” of loving people unconditionally and not judging while still maintaining fidelity to our understanding of Scripture. We want to have a good answer but these are big shifts haha.

  • Christyinlosangeles

    Maybe I’m just projecting my own opinion into the situation, but it seemed pretty clear to me that Rob Bell was saying that as far as he’s concerned, love and fidelity are what’s important, so if two men or two women are in a committed relationship, which presumably would include sex, then that would be perfectly morally okay. I didn’t think he was being particularly evasive – he just didn’t fully buy into the terms of the question.

    Churches can stay out of the political battles, sure, but the GLBT question is not an “issue” that can be avoided within a congregation. It’s kind of like women in leadership that way. Practically speaking, you HAVE to come down on one side or the other, even if you never mention the word “gay” in the pulpit. Either a congregation will or won’t hire gay clergy. They will or won’t bless same sex marriages in their church. They will or won’t let openly gay people be members and lay leaders. So pastors pretty much already have an opinion on that matter, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that they don’t.

  • Never mind the politics. A Christian Leader needs a whole set of answers because it’s a Pastoral Issue. People in all sorts and conditions of life want advice about what’s Godly/right/just/moral in the way that they act themselves and the way they interact with those close to them. A faith that ignores the issue, or skirts around it, or offers trite abstract responses is no use to the community which is trying to live that faith. At best, those trying to address these issues will simply walk away from the church which fails to engage with them compassionately; at worst, they will find themselves depressed, in hidden destructive behaviours, or even heading towards great harm to themselves and others.

    I wouldn’t put Andrew Marin in this category, because although his work refuses to “take sides in a debate” it is profoundly suffused with the love of Christ – and *that* is a good thing on which to take a stand.

  • chad

    love the post. i think you’re right. people want to know what church leaders think. i wonder, “what is it they really want to know?” i think there’s a question behind they’re question. that is, for some, they want to know what one makes of the Bible while others want to know how to relate to their LGBT friend. pastoral care is always contextual – there’s always a reason someone says, “What up wit dat?”

  • FireDragon76

    I thought Rob Bell’s response was the proper thing to do- he was trying to elevate the conversation rather than playing on the terms of those who want to catch him as a “liberal” and dismiss the point of view of gay Christians altogether.

  • Freedom

    Scripture is very clear on the issue of sexuality especially its moral use and to refer to this issue as nonsensical to take a path completely different than what we are shown by the apostles and Christ. God calls his followers to sexual purity and more importantly to love Him above any desire. To put my natural sinful nature’s inclination as important than loving Him is merely another form of idolatry. Christ and the apostles only condone and praised one type of sexual relationship which was one man with one woman in marriage. Lets not forgot that we will not be sexual beings in the new world with Christ and so it only drives home that those who emphasis that we should find our identity, life and meaning from sexuality are of this world but those who who are in Christ live by what he did for us on the cross and the significance of his resurrection that models Christ’s example. He has them made new creations no longer obligated to their natural impulses but identified with his life daily by the Spirit of God.

    Colossian3:1-7 “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s
    right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

    So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have
    nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.
    Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the
    things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.”