It's one thing to say you personally support same-sex relationships. But it's quite another to say that the Bible supports same-sex relationships too. Yet this is exactly what a growing number of Christians are beginning to propose.
As I mentioned last week, the conversation about homosexuality within the church is changing. "Side-A" authors like Matthew Vines and Justin Lee are shifting the landscape by arguing you can be both gay and Christian because the Bible supposedly never condemns committed, same-sex relationships. Therefore churches shouldn't just be compassionate towards gay Christians - they should affirm them.
When you read the arguments of affirming Christians, you can't help but feel a mixture of empathy and confusion. Their writings are often well-researched and deeply personal. And while there are already a lot of books that have refuted Side-A arguments, I thought I'd share my own brief observations. Again, I've read a lot of their works now and I can't help but notice problems in their writings.
So with that being said, here are some brief responses/critiques about the written works of the affirming Christians I've read.
1) The Historical Research Isn't Always Accurate
Some Christians will see the amount of research that authors like Vine and Lee have done and feel intimidated. I mean, who are we to disagree with someone who knows so much about this subject? However, the careful reader will realize they're not really saying anything new. Most of their arguments are based on the earlier works of John Boswell and Robin Scroggs from the 1980s. Affirming authors today are simply re-popularizing them.
Though the works of Boswell and Scroggs have already been dismissed, affirming books keep citing them. This makes readers think there's scholarly research behind the biblical support of homosexuality. But this simply isn't the case. As scholar Donald Fortson notes, "One author just quotes some previous author who is favorable to his or her case, leaving unsuspecting readers to assume the argument is well established because of the footnote references to earlier books when in fact no assessment has been made.”
In other words, check the bibliography before accepting the source.
2) The Divinity of Scripture Feels Ignored
Many affirming Christians say they hold to the authority of Scripture but are simply re-looking at its interpretation. However, I can't help but feel they're saying one thing and doing another. For example: Vines argues that when Paul speaks against same-sex relationships, he's not speaking against all same-sex relationships. Why so? Well, Paul was only aware of exploitative ones since those were the only same-sex relationships that existed in the 1st century.
First of all, this claim is arguable at best. But more importantly, does this mean even God knew only about exploitative same-sex relationships? Were the thoughts behind Paul's writings limited to his historical context? Affirming authors seem to highlight the literary and historical aspects of Scripture while ignoring the divine aspect of it. While it's important to know a passage's cultural context, it's more important to remember that all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16).
3) Understanding the Bible Shouldn't Be That Complicated
I've always been skeptical of Christians who tell me, "You've been reading your Bible wrong this whooole time." While I know there are difficult passages that go through constant revisioning, I echo the 16th century Reformers who affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture. In other words, the Bible is clear enough where any Christian can understand it without having to rely on 2nd century secular sources.
But Side-A authors do so many hermeneutical gymnastics on the biblical texts that I can't help but feel suspicious. As author Mark Yarhouse observes, "If you are working really hard to make sense of a passage that is relatively clear, it might be that you are looking to justify something rather than really apply the obvious meaning of the text to your present circumstances."
4) Personal Experience Seems to Influence Interpretation
I find it interesting that almost every affirming author seems to experience SSA (same-sex attraction). The story usually goes that they grew up in a conservative church knowing the Bible speaks against homosexuality. However they later found themselves experiencing SSA, so they struggle with guilt and don't know how to reconcile their faith and sexuality. But after concluding this is just who they are, they re-look at what the Bible says about homosexuality and shockingly discover the church has been wrong this whole time: You can be gay and Christian.
Again, I can't help but feel skeptical about this. I mean, I know I can't judge their hearts, but how is their newfound interpretation not self-serving? It all feels so biased. As pastor Sam Allberry writes, “[Affirming] authors look for every possible way to make sure each biblical text can’t be saying what he’s already decided it doesn’t say, before concluding that indeed it doesn’t and could never have possibly done so.”
5) A Lot of Christians Seem to Switch For Shallow Reasons
But what about Christians who aren't gay themselves but also later realize the Bible actually affirms homosexuality? Well again, these authors all have similar stories. They usually grew up believing the Bible speaks against homosexual behavior but then someone really close to them "comes out" and makes them realize how unloving they've been towards the LGBTQ community. This often serves as a powerful, "I-once-thought-like-you," testimony for Christian readers.
However, if a person's view of homosexuality change after meeting a gay person, then how deep were those previous convictions? As author Tim Keller notes, "When I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise gay people, I'm inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry." I can't help but agree with this assessment.
6) You Can't Ignore the Testimony of Church History
For virtually all of church history, Christians always believed homosexuality is sinful. You can't deny this fact. Not only that, but every branch of Christianity held this belief. Catholic. East Orthodox. Protestant. They pretty much disagree on everything - but they're all in agreement here. To say the church has gotten it wrong for the past 2,000 years takes, quite frankly, a lot of arrogance.
In fact, most of the churches today still believe homosexual behavior is sinful. We must realize that the gay-Christian movement is strictly a modern Western movement. To quote Allberry again, "[T]he one place where this is being pushed is in the Western church at the precise moment our culture is making this a defining issue. This should give us enormous pause."
So while Christians shouldn't be shackled by tradition, we also shouldn't be so quick to dismiss them - esp. one held so consistently for centuries.
7) What About the Cost of Following Jesus?
I've always said that I understand why non-Christians would affirm same-sex behavior. I mean, if something makes people happy, then why not? But I'm still perplexed how Christians can reconcile their gay and Christian identity together. After all, the basic call Jesus gives to Christians is that we're to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Mt 16:24).
Denying ourselves is never easy. Taking up our cross is meant to symbolize death. And following Jesus means listening to Him especially when we don't want to. But every gay-affirming argument seems to domesticate Jesus' call. Instead, Gay Christians seem to highlight self-expression over self-denial, generic love over Christ-like love, and the need for a spouse over the need for Christ.
But this doesn't make Jesus look beautiful in the midst of pain and loneliness. Instead, it seems like we're trying to reinterpret His words to get what we really want - and that something is someone else but Him.
We're all called to situations that aren't ideal. But what makes the Gospel beautiful is that Jesus promises to fill all of our longings in ways we never imagined. This sentiment is something that I just don't get from the Side-A authors I read. I'm left agonizing over their "oppression" more than I'm feeling Jesus is satisfying enough for them (Ps 73:26).
So while I hear what affirming-Christians are saying and while I empathize with their situation, I can't help but disagree with their conclusions. To be frank, their research is thorough but disappointing; their hermeneutics are daring but biased; and their stories are very powerful but ultimately unconvincing.
However, don't take my word for it. Read them so that we can further the dialogue on this increasingly controversial subject that will continue to fill our churches.