Concerning Homosexuality -- How Does the Church Discern a Proper Response?
If you read this blog with any regularity you know that I support the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, including gay marriage. I also have a high view of biblical authority, believing that God does speak through these words. For many these two affirmations seem contradictory. After all, the Bible seems to offer a straightforward no to same-gender sexual relationships. From Leviticus's declaration that such unions are an abomination to Paul's words about women and men exchanging natural intercourse (heterosexual) for unnatural (seemingly homosexual). But is there more to this story?
I have come to believe that despite this no to same gender relationships, the story is much more complex. Having recently preached on the Cornelius moment (Acts 11), I do believe that there is another way. I believe that God continues to speak, and in doing so, may modify our understandings of what is appropriate. I believe that personal experience can be revelatory, but what are the limits? To me, it is important that we keep a conversation going between scripture and our experience (along with the traditions of the church).
I'm raising the question this way because I had the opportunity to hear biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson address the question of discernment at the Rochester College Streaming conference. The question that Johnson raised concerned what it meant to be faithful to the biblical story. He pointed us to the process we see present in Acts 10-15 (explored in his book Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church, which I must read), where we see the early church accept the inclusion of Gentiles without them becoming Jews first. In this case the church -- ultimately at the Council in chapter 15 -- discerns that God is working in a new way. Here then is a model for the church.
In closing conversation, Johnson spoke specifically of this process. In conversation afterward he spoke of articles in Commonweal that speak of this process. In the article I called up, Johnson notes that in affirming same-gender relationships we reject the authority of scripture in this case, and if we do so faithfully, turning to experience, then:
Implicit in an appeal to experience is also an appeal to the living God whose creative work never ceases, who continues to shape humans in his image every day, in ways that can surprise and even shock us. Equally important, such an appeal goes to the deepest truth revealed by Scripture itself—namely, that God does create the world anew at every moment, does call into being that which is not, and does raise the dead to new and greater forms of life.
To quote the slogan of my UCC friends, "God is still speaking." But, how do we know it is God? That's the big issue that requires discernment. And what will help us in this discernment? Johnson suggests that we'll find the answer not in the laws, but in the narratives of Scripture.
I suggest, therefore, that the New Testament provides impressive support for our reliance on the experience of God in human lives—not in its commands, but in its narratives and in the very process by which it came into existence. In what way are we to take seriously the authority of Scripture? What I find most important of all is not the authority found in specific commands, which are fallible, conflicting, and often culturally conditioned, but rather the way Scripture creates the mind of Christ in its readers, authorizing them to reinterpret written texts in light of God’s Holy Spirit active in human lives. When read within the perspective of a Scripture that speaks everywhere of a God disclosing Godself through human experience, our stories become the medium of God’s very revelation.
So, are you willing to take this difficult road and seek the wisdom and purpose of God?