Like most Christians who haven’t made the shift to affirm the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the church, I’m persuaded to hold the traditional view by regular textual evidences. I’m a Christian and stand accountable to God and his revelation. I’m judged by it, not the other way around.
But an increasing number of Christians wish to accept the authority of the Bible while affirming homosexuality in the church. I’m not convinced of their reasons. The new books don’t have new arguments, just old ones already addressed. And the acceptance of homosexuality in the church seems to be read back into the Scriptures through cultural narrative and personal experience.
Faith’s Existential Side
As emotional creatures, we must admit our experiences shape how we think about and approach God and his world. More often than not, this can be a good thing. Experiences with orphans and widows may not change what we believe about how the church should care for orphans and widows, but it does give us more wisdom, empathy, and even greater love. We can gain a different “perspective” through personal relationships and encounters.
We ought not downplay how experiences, temperament, and even pain shape the conclusions we draw about God and his world. This reality exists, and to deny it is self-delusional and naïve. There is an existential side to our faith.
On the one hand, I don’t believe the Bible allows us to make the conclusions “affirming Christians” have made. I won’t give an account for these reasons; they can easily be found in other resources. (Kevin DeYoung has an excellent book on the topic [review], as does Sam Allberry [review]. Tim Keller also has a good response to some recent books affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the church.) All these reasons are my governing reasons. Even if I wanted to reject them, I don’t have the right as a creature of God. He governs, I don’t.
Nor am I convinced on an existential level. There are variables that simply won’t allow me to be at ease with “affirming” conclusions. Here are three reasons why I can’t comfortably make the leap.
1. Leaping Means Breaking with Orthodoxy
First, I’d have to adopt the term heterodox for myself. The word orthodox means to have the same theological and religious beliefs and standards of Christians throughout time; a faith that’s been once for all handed down. These are the conclusions that Christians, with their Bibles open and hearts filled with the Holy Spirit, have consistently reached throughout history.
This doesn’t mean Christians have come to the same conclusions about all things. There are differences and variances on many different matters. I’m a part of a Protestant tradition that says the church got some fundamental things wrong along the way and we needed to see reform. However, the Protestant Reformation was an effort to bring the church back to her roots: Scripture and the apostles. When the Reformers made arguments, they didn’t say, “We’ve advanced as Christians and no longer believe what we’ve always believed.” No, they went back to the text and used the early church fathers as witnesses to their reforms. Whether you agreed with their reforms or not, they only advanced by returning.
Affirming Christians have come to conclusions no Christian tradition—whether Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic—have ever made until recent decades. This isn’t merely something Christians can disagree over; it’s something Christians have fundamentally agreed on completely until a small contemporary minority came to different conclusions.
As a Christian, that doesn’t just seem like a difficult pill to swallow; it seems like an impossible one. Only a radically individualistic culture could make the leap that “2,000 years of Spirit-filled Christians got it completely wrong and I, along with a few others, have finally got it right.” Not only that, but it also seems to be startlingly arrogant. A humble Christian posture would be that if I’ve come up with a conclusion that no other Christian in history has come up with, I’m probably wrong.
2. Leaping Means Abandoning the Global Church
Second, I’d have to separate myself from the poorest of the global church. Mark Galli recently observed that in current polls of Christians in Asia, Africa, and pretty much anywhere else beyond Western Europe and the United States, there is “a resounding ‘no’ to gay marriage.” As noted above, history makes the same conclusion.
Affirming Christians would have to say by evidence that the missing element is that these cultures or traditions aren’t enlightened, or educated, or wealthy enough to come to these right ethical conclusions. I don’t think affirming Christians would want to say that, but I don’t know how you can’t. There simply isn’t a reason, other than cultural advances, why some in the Western church have come to an affirming conclusion while others, especially the Majority World, have not.
3. Leaping Means Ignoring Scripture
Finally, even if you believe in the authority of Scripture, but think the prohibitions in Scripture against homosexual activity pertain to abusive or promiscuous acts rather than monogamous, committed relationships, you still have a significant problem. You have no positive affirmations of homosexual relationships to hang your hat on. None. You only have strong affirmations of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. And these strong affirmations are anchored in the beauty of the diversity between the sexes (male and female) rather than merely in the level of commitment.
You’d not only have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Paul couldn’t imagine or foresee monogamous same-sex relationships, but you’d have to say that neither did Jesus or God the Father, the ultimate authors of the Bible’s affirmations and prohibitions. This position doesn’t provide much comfort or ease in accepting an affirming position.
From where I stand, it seems affirming Christians must not only make exegetical leaps to come to their conclusions, they must ignore a lot of emotional and existential reasons not to as well.