By Rev. Henry Sun, Ph.D
Special to the Herald
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, a group of Christians calling themselves the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published a highly charged piece on Christianity and homosexuality. This group does not speak for all Christians, and it does not speak for me.
It is clear that the few verses in the Bible that speak unambiguously of homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18 and 20; Romans 1) do so in a negative light. That is however not the fundamental problem at hand. Rather, the fundamental problem is the extent to which these unambiguous texts are communicating theological views or ethical positions that are no longer normative in today’s church.
For example, no one believes that missionaries should be sent out, two by two, in accordance with Jesus’ unambiguous instructions in Matthew 10. We don’t send missionaries out with just the clothes on their back, with no money in their wallets and on foot. It clearly absurd to think that this unambiguous command is still normative for the church today.
Similarly, everywhere the Bible speaks about divorce (and remarriage after divorce), it does so in unambiguous negative terms. Still, divorce and remarriage as a social reality has been widely accepted within the church, and in fact divorce rates for Christians mirror the divorce rate in general. The church may say that divorce is bad and should be avoided, but no one would ever say that the status of being divorced (and remarried) separates the divorced man or woman from God’s grace or the Christian faith in any essential way.
Scripture – or Paul, at any rate – also speaks with unambiguous clarity about the non-role of women in teaching ministries. For some Bible-believing Christians, this is reason enough to deny ordained ministries to women. For other Bible-believing Christians, this is just another example of a cultural artifact from antiquity that is no longer normative in the church. For these Christians – I include myself in this group – the hand of God is seen in the ministry of ordained women. And just like the early Gentile Christians in the book of Acts, born outside of a Jewish lineage and uncircumcised but nonetheless recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit, expanded the traditional understanding of what it means to be a saved member of the community of faith, so the ministry of ordained women expands our understanding of who can be rightly ordained by God.
For me, the question of homosexuality and gay marriage is analogous to this question of the ordination of women. First, it is an issue upon which faithful Christians can disagree. Second, it an issue that brings the ancient text into dialogue with our perception of the hand of God at work today. Let me be clear: I do not advocate for promiscuous sexual behavior (straight or gay); I do advocate for faithful, monogamous and long-term relationships (straight or gay); I support the ecclesiastical ordination of gays and lesbians and the civil right of gay marriage. I also support the subordination of deeply held religious beliefs to federal anti-discrimination laws that protect the civil rights of gays and lesbians. But I would never advocate for the excommunication, breaking of fellowship or any equivalent act of disenfranchisement for someone who disagreed with my position.
Why? Because in Romans 14-15, Paul addresses the treatment within the church of traditionalists who held to the ongoing importance of traditional dietary and calendric practices, and of progressives, who believed that in the light of Easter dietary and calendric practices were abolished. His command to the traditionalists is to not condemn the progressives for their progressive theology. His command to the progressives is not the judge the traditionalists for their traditional theology.
Wise counsel then. Wise counsel now. I wish that the framers of the Nashville Statement would have prayerfully reflected on that before publishing their document.
Rev. Henry Sun is a Benicia resident.