Hays on Homosexuality (II): Synthesis (Homosexuality in Canonical Context), cont’d

Hays now applies his device of “community, cross, new creation” to this issue.

1. As for community, Hays does a masterful job of showing how Paul’s pastoral theology to the Corinthian church is an amplification of what we see in the holiness code of Lev 18, where we read in vv24-26,

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out have defiled themselves. Thus the land has become defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you.

Like Leviticus (one might say, “like Moses”), Paul’s concern in his letters to the Corinthian church is primarily one for the community. The following paragraph of Hays’ is so good I must quote it in full:

… Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to ‘glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor 6:20) grows out of his passionate concern, expressed repeatedly in 1 Corinthians, for the unity and sanctification of the community as a whole. Fornication with a prostitute is wrong, among other reasons, because ‘your bodies are members of Christ’ (6:15). Thus, to engage in sexual immorality defiles the body of Christ. Through baptism, Christians have entered a corporate whole whose health is at stake in the conduct of all its members. Sin is like an infection in the body; thus, moral action is not merely a matter of individual freedom and preference. ‘If one member suffers, all suffer’ (1 Cor 12:26) This line of argument is not applied specifically to every offense in the vice list, but it does not require a great leap of imagination to see that for Paul the church is analogous (though not identical) to Israel as portrayed in the holiness code [of Lev 18, emphasis mine]. That is the logic behind the demand that the Corinthian church expel the man engaged in a sexual relationship with his stepmother (5:1-13). A similar logic would certainly apply, within Paul’s frame of reference, to the malakoi and arsenoikotai of 1 Cor 6:9. The community of those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to have put such behaviors behind it. The NT never considers sexual conduct purely a matter of private concern between consenting adults. According to Paul, everything that we do as Christians, including our sexual practices, affects the whole body of Christ.”

Hays then rightly points out that this canonical discipline does not apply to the wider society, for which “the right to privacy may well be a useful principle for a secular political order.”

2. As for cross, there is an implicit and crucial connection between homosexuality and the cross in Romans. The human unrighteousness in Rom 1 is the condition that makes the cross (ie, the death of Christ) necessary (Rom 5:8). In addition, “[t]he human unrighteousness detailed in Rom 1 is answered by the righteousness of God, who puts forward Jesus to die for unrighteousness (Rom 3:23-25), enabling [us] to walk in newness of life.” (392)

Therefore, writes Hays, we can see the following two implications: first, “the wrath of God — manifested in God’s “giving up” of rebellious humanity to follow their own devices and desires — is not the last word.” The cross shows us that God loves us even while we are in rebellion “and the sacrificial death of his son is the depth of that love.” This is the logic of Paul’s “sting” operation in Rom 2:1ff, thinks Hays, that no one is sanctioned to condemn others for anything. “This has profound implications for how the Christian community ought to respond to persons of homosexual orientation. Even if some of their actions are contrary to God’s design, the cross models the way in which the community of faith ought to respond to them: not in condemnation, but in sacrificial service.” (393)

This is brilliant on Hays’ part, I must say. We are not to emulate the creator God in his wrathful condemnation, theologizes St. Paul, but rather, as ministers of reconciliation, we are to emulate the merciful love and welcoming invitation of Jesus, the saving, redeeming Lord.

Secondly, because the cross “marks the end of the old life under the power of sin (Rom 6:1-4) … no one is locked into the past or into a psychological or biological determinism.” Only “in light of this transforming power” the Gary’s of the world (let alone the Matt Boulter’s of the world) enter into the hope and change offered in the Christian life.

3. New Creation. The eschatological framework of Romans and the entire NT implies that Christians will still struggle with sin, struggle “to live faithfully in the present time…. Those who demand fulfillment now, as though it were a right or guarantee, are living in a state of adolescent illusion.” (393)

And then Hays makes a striking statement: “Consequently, in this time between the times, some may find disciplined abstinence the only viable alternative to disordered sexuality.”  (393) And then, “the art of eschatological moral discernment lies in working out how to live lives free from bondage to sin without presuming to be translated prematurely into a condition that is free from ‘the sufferings of the present time’ (Rom 8:18).”

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