Hays on Homosexuality (III): Hermeneutics (Responding to the NT’s Witness Against Homosexuality), cont’d

Turning to a consideration of (various things he associates with) reason, Hays discusses three areas: arguments of nature (genetic predisposition) versus nurture or culture, argumentation from statistics, and argument from experience.

He points out that, even if conclusive, undisputed evidence were to emerge that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexual orientation, this would have few implications for Christian ethics. In fact, he argues, “we need not take sides in the debates of nature versus culture” since, as Hays points out earlier in his material, “actions do not necessarily have to be “voluntary” to be sinful before God” (though I would insist, along with the counselors from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, associated with Westminster Theological Seminary, that human brokenness which stems from sources other than “free volitional decision” such as physiological addiction, clinically diagnosable impairments such as Alzheimer’s and A.D.D., and indeed genetic predisposition, while not legitimizing behavior with the Bible describes as sin, do in fact call for a different, more compassionate and patient approach to counseling).

I would also add that a robust theological anthropology which acknowledges that sin and brokenness have wreaked havoc not just on our souls but also on our bodies might actually predict or expect sins to be deeply tied to bodily impairment. As the doctrine of total depravity teaches, there is no part, aspect, or dimension of the human person which is not marred and twisted by the fall.

Turning to statistical data, Hays is correct summarily to dismiss any argument which would seek to legitimate homosexual activity on the basis of statistics: “If Paul were shown the poll results, he would reply sadly, ‘Indeed, the power of sin is rampant in the world.’”

Hays rightly sees advocates of homosexuality in the church have by far their most formidable case “when the appeal to the authority of experience.” “There are individuals who live in stable, loving homosexual relationships and claim to experience grace – rather than the wrath – of God.” Then Hays asks several pointed questions:

How are such claims to be assessed? Was Paul wrong? Or are such experiential claims simply another manifestation of the self-deception he describes? Or, besides these irreconcilable alternatives, should we entertain the possible emergence of new realities which Paul could not have anticipated? Does the practice that Paul condemns correspond exactly to the experience of homosexual relations that exists in the present time?” (398)

I must say that I find Hays’ point here especially compelling in light of Paul’s teaching in I Cor 13 where he enjoins a new law of love on the community and instructs us to “hope all things, truust all things, believe all things.” As my wife and I have discussed countless times over the years, this “covenantal epistemology” teaches us to resist the temptation to be suspicious of (the) other(s), and instead to listen and to trust and to believe and to hope. This is true (as any couple who has been through good marriage counseling will tell you) for the covenant community of marriage, and it is true for the covenant community of the church (ie, the Eucharistic community). If there are brothers and sisters within the church who bear witness to healthy experiences of homosexual behavior, we must listen to them in a 1 Corinthians-kind-of-way.

And yet, there is much more to be said than just this, and Hays says it.

For one thing, we should allow gay experience to critique gay experience. In other words, the voices of those like Gary, “who struggle with homosexual desires and find them a hindrance to living lives committed to the service of God” (399) must be fully appreciated.

Further, Hays takes the “covenantal epistemology” of discerning what is good and true though the voices of the community seriously enough to admit that, if one day a strong consensus in the (global?) church should emerge that homosexuality is possible to practice faithfully in the covenant community, then that consensus would become normative.

(This is hugely important in my mind, and this kind of reasoning highlights the importance of the church as prerequisite for truth, 1 Tim 3:15. Sadly I find that many evangelical – and even Reformed – American Christians are lost on this point.)

Has the church ever so dramatically reversed her position on such an issue (especially one as pressing as this)? Indeed she has, and Scripture records it. And, significantly enough, it was experience which provoked the church, in grappling over the inclusion of Gentiles (qua Gentiles) in the covenant community, essentially to say, “We now see that we had previously overlooked something in the Scriptures.” Not only is this deep grappling on the part of the apostolic church recorded in Paul’s dense argumentation in texts such as Romans and Galatians, but “we see the rudiments of such a reflective process in Acts 10:34-35, where Peter begins his speech to Cornelius by alluding to Deuteronomy 10:17-18 and Psalm 15:1-2 in order to confess that ‘God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”

As can readily be seen, huge differences exist between the reversal of the apostolic church and the reversal which proponents of homosexual acceptance are proposing. And yet, we must admit, the experience of believers should prompt a deeper investigation into Scripture. When this occurred in the apostolic church, manifold textual indications were discerned which did in fact reveal that, now, at that present time, God was in fact doing something new, and new light was truly breaking onto the covenant community.

Especially in light of the scant and univocal Biblical material regarding homosexuality, Hays is right to argue that, until such an unlikely phenomenon occurs again in the (global) church, “we must affirm that … marriage between man and woman is the normative form for human sexual fulfillment, and homosexuality is one among many tragic signs that we are a broken people, alienated from God’s loving purpose.” (400)

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