Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ: Responses and Further Reflections
by J. R. Daniel Kirk
This, I think, has been the most common conversation-starter about my work since Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? was published.
The responses to my work on homosexuality has ranged from a progressive reviewer throwing up his hands at what he calls yet another “love the sinner, hate the sin” traditionalist approach, to a more conservative reviewer asserting that the chapter calls for “welcoming monogamous homosexual couples into the Christian community uncritically.” One might wonder if they read the same book!
For those who have not read the chapter, the argument in brief is this: the Bible speaks with one voice. Across the eras and epochs homosexual intercourse is viewed as not only unnatural but sinful. Presumably, this is where I acquired the “hate the sin” part in the minds of my progressive reviewer.
But the chapter goes on to ask two further questions.
One of these is what it means to love our gay neighbor as oneself. The chapter argues that we advocate for civil equality and protection to secure the same freedoms and benefits for my neighbor who disagrees with me as I would want for myself.
So where did the accusation arise that I commend uncritical embrace of monogamous homosexual couples? This seems to be the author’s interpretation of my question of whether the Bible speaks the last word on same-sex sexual relationships.
There have been times in the history of the church when God decided that what was unequivocally required earlier was no longer needful. Indeed, Paul depicts as enemies of the gospel those who would require gentiles to comply with the eternal, covenantal sign of circumcision. Repeatedly in the New Testament the presence of the Spirit comes in to demonstrate to the church that the old stipulation has been overturned.
I suggested that we should be aware of the possibility that the Spirit might make such a demonstration today. We are dealing with a genuinely new moment in the history of the church: homosexual couples openly in committed relationships and striving to faithfully follow Jesus. The presence of this reality is something to be interpreted with care—neither hastily condemning due to a great confidence that we are on God’s side, nor hastily embracing due to the same.
This issue of sexual mores is one that I continue to find challenging. In the year or so since the book appeared I have been asked to speak to different groups—and, no surprise, they often want me to talk about sex. Here are a few more pieces I have been wrestling with since I finished writing:
• Most of us need to listen more. Those of us from backgrounds that are not affirming need to listen to the stories of gay friends, especially Christian gay friends. Those from affirming positions need to listen to the stories of homosexuals who have resolved to maintain a life of celibacy in order to faithfully follow Jesus.
• The point of listening is, in large part, to help us reimagine who “us” refers to. When speaking about sexual sin and failure, all of us are included; when talking about striving to faithfully follow Jesus, all of us are included.
• We who are heterosexuals in predominately non-affirming social locations need to stop treating homosexuality as though it were the great sexual sin of our day. To my mind, the most pervasive and destructive expressions of sexual sin are misdirected expressions of heterosexual desire, as when men use the power of our dollars or our muscles to force sex on unwilling women.
• We will become increasingly aware, in the years to come, that the sexual mores of the ancient world were part of a system of assessing value, and of viewing the world more generally, that we no longer hold to. If we believe in the fundamental equality of men and women as made in the image of God, and if we believe in the equality of people across all social ranks, then we disbelieve major pillars on which ancient aversion to homosexual activity leans. There are other reasons for opposing it, such as those I outline in my book, but a growing awareness of the cultural context of the Greco-Roman world will likely create additional challenges for folks wrestling over the inclusion of homosexuals with same-sex partners.
Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? is not a book about sex, despite the chapters that some readers jump to! It is an overview of a narrative approach to reading the NT, one that puts in place the basic stories embodied and told by Jesus and Paul for the sake of the church. If I have a lingering hope for the book, it is that it will create more conversations about how to faithfully read the Bible so as to learn a narrative about the cosmic, saving work of the God of Israel, in the person of Christ crucified, that we are called to enact in our modern-day communities.
J. R. Daniel Kirk (PhD, Duke University) is assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Northern California campus in Menlo Park, California. He is the author of Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God as well as numerous articles.
For more information about Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? click here.