Hays on Homosexuality (IV): Living the Text (the Church as a Community Suffering with the Creation)

The fourth and final “step” in Hays’ interpretive process for ethics is “living the text.”

“In the midst of a culture that worships self-gratification, and in a church that often preaches a false Jesus who panders to our desires, those who seeks the narrow way of obedience have a powerful word to speak.” (403)

Hays charts some initial trajectories for this “narrow way” by asking and answering seven questions:

1. Should the church support civil rights for homosexuals? Yes. “… Christians should not single out homosexual persons for malicious discriminatory treatment: insofar as we have done so in the past we must repent and instead seek to live out the gospel of reconciliation.” (400)

2. Can homosexual persons be members of the Christian church? This, Hays insists, is rather like asking if envious persons can be members of the church. Not only “can they be” (and hence they should be admitted), but they already are. Hays writes, “If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone.”

This means that we in the covenant community must “find ways to live to live within the church in a situation of serious moral disagreement while still respecting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Further, Hays insists, there are much more important issues for the church to start drawing lines in the dirt over including violence and materialism (about which the Bible has much more to say than this issue, as we have seen).

At the same time however, the church must challenge all her members to repent and be conformed not to the world but to Christ. For the person of homosexual orientation this includes the call to resist the temptation to form personal identity over sex alone or even primarily.

Hays also points out that persons who uphold the traditional position have an obligation to continue to hold everyone to the same standard of sexual morality: chastity within heterosexual marriage, or celibacy.

3. Is it Christianly appropriate for Christians who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation to continue to participate in same-sex erotic activity? No, especially in light of the fact that “the only person who was entitled to cast the first stone said, ‘Go and sin no more.’ It is no more appropriate for homosexual Christians to persist in homosexual activity than for heterosexual Christians to persist in fornication or adultery…. Despite the smooth illusions perpetuated by mass culture in the United States, sexual gratification is not a sacred right, and celibacy is not a fate worse than death.” (401)

4. Should the church sanction and bless homosexual unions? No.

5. Does this mean that persons of homosexual orientation are subject to a blanket imposition of celibacy in a way qualitatively different from persons of heterosexual orientation? This is a penetrating and difficult question to which Hays shows great sensitivity. Homosexuals are left “in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner (and there are many such): summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while “groaning” for the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:32). Anyone who does not recognize this as a description of authentic Christian existence has never struggled seriously with the imperatives of the gospel, which challenge and frustrate our ‘natural’ impulses in countless ways.” Our hope, Hays goes on to show, is in the glorious future of the new heavens and new earth, and our resurrection bodies within them. Thus our hope is decidedly eschatological. (402)

I would add that, here again, the example of Gary is important.

6. Should homosexual Christians expect to change their orientation? In the new heavens and new earth, Hays suggests, “yes,” but not necessarily before then. And yet, Gary was granted a new sense of “not considering [himself] a homosexual” (his words, quoted by Hays on 403), and so we can hope and pray. But, to be sure, the ‘not yet’ of the gospel does indeed loom large, as it does with all our sins and weaknesses.

7. Should persons of homosexual orientation be ordained? In its (rather high-profile) discussion of this question, the church, sadly in Hays’ opinion, has suggested a double-standard for clergy and laity; “it would be far better to articulate a single set of moral norms which apply to all of Jesus’ followers.” And far from imposing a special requirement in this area (after all, are there such special requirements in other areas?), “such matters are left to the discernment of the bodies charged with examining candidates for ordination; these bodies must determine wither the individual candidate has the gifts and graces requisite for ministry. In any event, a person of homosexual orientation seeking to live a life of disciplined abstinence would clearly be an appropriate candidate for ordination.” (403)

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