Posted on: January 7th, 2011 The Multigendered Body of Christ

Inspired by a recent Facebook post from my friend Cynthia Nielsen I am reminded of an amazing passage by Graham Ward in his Cities of God (tied for the best book I read in 2010).

The body of Christ is a multigendered body. Its relation to the body of the gendered Jew does not have the logic of cause and effect. This is the logic which lies behind those questions, ‘Can a male saviour save women.’ This is the logic of Hegel’s description of the relationship between God and the Church.

As one who disagrees with Ward at the end of the day on same sex issues in the church, I nevertheless find his logic here compelling.

In fact I often think of Ward and this book during the service of Holy Communion, at the altar rail during the Distribution of the Elements. Frequently I will give a consecrated wafer to a woman saying, “The Body of Christ for you, my sister,” but then, before I finish that phrase, I am now giving a wafer to a man, calling him “sister.” It is a powerful reminder / suggestion to me, enacted during the liturgy, of the way sex and gender are deconstructed in the church.

Of course what I’m saying here presupposes the theology of the Three-fold Body of Christ, promulgated among others by Henri de Lubac.

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Posted on: September 27th, 2010 Nigeria & Eliza Griswold’s _The 10th Parallel_

About a month ago I heard a podcast of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross in which she interviewed both Eliza Griswold, daughter of former Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, as well as Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family and 2010 Blandy Lecturer at the Seminary of the Southwest.

Sharlet has an article in this month’s Harper’s on homosexuality in Uganda called “Straight Man’s Burden” which is interesting reading.

After hearing the interview I purchased the book and started reading, largely to prepare myself for the upcoming visit to Christ Church Tyler of the Most Reverend Benjamin Kwashi, an Anglican archbishop in Nigeria. (God willing, I also have the amazing opportunity, at the Archbishop’s request, to travel to Nigeria next summer with a group from Christ Church.)

I plan to blog on this book over the next few days. For now, here’s a great quotation (from page 11):

Today’s typical Protestant in an African woman, not a white American man. In many of the weak states along the tenth parallel, the power of these religious movements is compounded by the fact that the “state” means very little here; governments are alien structures that offer their people almost nothing in the way of services or political rights. This lack is especially pronounced where present-day national borders began as nothing more than lines sketched onto colonial maps. Other kinds of identity, consequently, come to the fore: religion above everything – even race or ethnicity – becomes a means to safeguard individual and collective security in this world and the next one.

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Posted on: June 11th, 2010 _Cities of God_: Church as Erotic Community (ch 6)

In this chapter, the key point has to do with the nature of desire or eros.

In addition to reducing eros down to sexual desire (see previous post) secular modernity roots desire in an economy of lack or scarcity. So the reason I want something (a cup of coffee, a new pair of jeans, a relationship with another person) is that I lack this thing.

This economy of lack presupposes that the things of this world (including relationships and other people) are posessions to be controlled and consumed.

Christianity’s understanding of desire, however, is not at all rooted in this economy of lack. This understanding, which seems so foreign to our fallen and modern minds, begins with St. Paul’s situating the Church as in Christ, Christ being both the source of all things as well as the consummation of all things. If I am a member of the church (Ward’s “We”) then I am in Christ, there there is absolutely nothing that I lack. (I know this by faith which of course is penetrated through & through by reason.)

If this is true, then lack or privation which Augustine (as well as Hegel) connects to evil cannot be the source of my desire.

What, then, is the source of my desire? Here, as well as elsewhere, is where human language fails. Perhaps we can say that my desire is stimulated by my participation in God, or perhaps we can say that I desire the Other simply because the Father desires the Son (and vice-versa, throwing the Holy Spirit in the mix, too).

Or perhaps you could say what my wife and I have always said to each other in answer to the question “Why do you love me?” The only answer which satisfies the questioner is “No reason.”

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Posted on: June 9th, 2010 _Cities of God_: Communities of Desire (ch 5)

I think (I hope) I might be reaching “a simplicity on the far side of complexity,” that is, a grasp of the big picture of what Ward is saying and doing in this book.

My dad & I have a long-standing argument over the question, “Is the world getting better & better, worse & worse, or something else?” It is easy, especially for Christians in the West today, to think that the world is getting worse & worse. However, what Ward (along with other practitioners of theological genealogy) shows is that the state of affairs we have today (I am thinking, for example, of rampant and dominating consumerism, and its many destructive effects) is really just a point on the trajectory of certain developments which have been happening for centuries now within modernity.

A few such developments are key to Ward’s thesis: the reduction of eros down to libidinal desire; the reduction of real community to transaction, then to imagination, then to virtualness.

These trends, along with the Hegelian and Freudian belief that the “nuclear family” is the building block of civilization, are all at work to produce the situation in which we find ourselves today: a culture in which we are determined in almost every way and at almost every level by the capitalistic marketplace which endlessly stimulates our desires, promising satisfaction but never delivering. (Worst of all, it is this dynamic which grounds most postmodern forms of community, or vestiges of community.)

However, what if we are at a “late point” in the history of these trajectories? For example, Ward shows how transactional community (seen clearly in the commodification culture of the Industrial Revolution) has led to imaginary community (ie, the formation of community, for example, in the modern nation state around nothing but the imagined belief that we are a real community), which has led to the virtual community which characterizes life today.

Well, what will this lead to? It is easy to see this as the last phase in modernity’s long project of the destruction of true community. If so, then that is good news, and perhaps we could say that, in this narrow sense, the world is getting better and better (or something like that).

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Posted on: January 1st, 2010 A Brief History of Translation: _arsenokoitai_

It is now clear to me that, in fact, there has been a significant shift in the translation of this Greek term in I Cor 6:9 and in I Tim 1:10. Wyclif’s translation in 1380 is “thei that don lecherie with men” (Webster’s definition of “lechery” is “free indulgence of lust; selfish pleasure”). Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1539), the Geneva Bible (1557), the KJV (1611), and the ASV (1901) render it “abusers of themselves with [the] mankind.”

In 1946 the RSV changed to “sexual perverts” and in 1973 the NIV translates it as “homosexual offenders.”

Dale B. Martin rightly describes this shift from a “reference to an action that any man [I would say “any person”] might well perform … to a perversion, either an action or a propensity taken to be self-evidently abnormal and diseased.” (Sex and the Single Savior, ch 3)

I think it is horrible to say that male-female sex & sexual desire is “normal,” while (fe)male-(fe)male sex & sexual desire is “abnormal.” This is not a theological statement. What is a theological statementis to say that male-female sex & sexual desire is creational in the sense of God’s creation-intent, while (fe)male-(fe)male sex & sexual desire is anti-creational, in the sense that, as a result of the fall, it runs counter to God’s creational intent.

Thus, I think that this 20th century shift in the translation of this term is deplorable, since it buys into the late 19th century view (documented by Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality) that same-sex attraction is a disease. It is wrong to allow such secular assumptions to creep into our translation of the Church’s sacred text(s).


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Posted on: December 31st, 2009 _Sex & the Single Savior_: Historical-Critical Method


This year (2010) I am redoubling my efforts to better develop (and justify) my convictions on same-sex issues. In addition to that, I strongly suspect that part and parcel with this process is a deeper grasp of the nature of Scripture in the Christian Tradition.

Therefore, I am reading Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior (2006) with great interest. Martin identifies himself as both a “reader-response” theorist and as a post-structuralist. He thus roots himself within two schools of thought from which I have learned much over the years, and which I think ought to be incorporated into theology in a non-reductive way. That is, theology ought to be open (as Radical Orthodoxy is) to both of these ways of thinking without granting them complete hegemony over Scripture, turning it into something which they alone can define and describe. For example, reader response theory rightly points out the role of the reader’s (or the community of readers’) interpretation for meaning. However to reduce the meaning of the text down to just this aspect (thus ignoring authorial intent and the text itself) does violence to meaning.

When it comes to the biblical hermeneutics of historical criticism, whereas I would want to recognize the legitimacy of this approach as a part of the total meaning of the text (seeing a pre-modern precedent in the sensus literalis), Martin wants to discard it completely.

Only thus can Martin deny that Scripture affirms the immorality of same-sex practice, which is one of the central goals of his book.


Martin rejects all attempts to justify the use of this hermeneutic approach theologically. For example, he rejects the argument that, due to the historical nature of the Christian religion (seen for example in the doctrine of the Incarnation), historical criticism is necessary or helpful for determining the meaning of a text.

That God took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazereth is unverifiable by historical study, says Martin. And I agree with him on this. However, the point of the historical – critical method (rightly used) is not to verify the claims of Scripture or theology. This would be to subsume theology under the standards of modern science. Rather, the historical – critical method is rightly used to shed light upon the original meaning of a text (be it author’s intent or original audience’s understanding).

So the Incarnation’s unverifiability (and resultant unfalsifiability) by the canons of modern scientific study is irrelevant to the validity of the use of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

For Origen, by way of contrast, the meaning of the terms employed by the ancient author (or authors, or redactor(s)) is helpful for understanding the original meaning of the text. This is not at all to say that the sensus literalis, was the most important sense for someone like Origen. On the contrary, Martin rightly points out that this is not the case. However, it is a crucial aspect of the full meaning of the text, and it is also first in order of sequence, serving as a foundation for other senses such as the allegorical sense.

Nothing Martin says in this book undermines such an approach.


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Posted on: August 3rd, 2009 Clarification: Where I’m at on Same Sex Issues

I just saw a really thought provoking (though not “perfect”) documentary which winsomely tells Gene Robinson’s story called “The Bible told me so.” Recently a friend “came out of the closet” with me in a private conversation. The Episcopal Church General Convention did its thing a week or so ago, with the rest of the communion beginning to respond. There are people of same-sex orientation both at my former home parish (some of whom are extremely close friends), as well as at the church were I am currently serving as Assistant to the Rector. I have dear friends (including my parents) at The Falls Church in Northern Virginia, a parish which left their Episcopal bishop over issues related to this. Many others I know are struggling with this complex set of issues. So, I thought it might be time for me once again to clarify “where I am” on all of this (including to myself).

My own interpretation of Scripture, in light of tradition and reason, is pretty much the same as that of Richard B. Hays at Duke Divinity School. This is my “default view,” and I have blogged extensively about it here.

This position is quite traditional on the broad spectrum of things.

As important as the role of my own interpretation Scripture is in all of this, however, I am motivated more by ecclesiology (which, of course, ultimately comes from Scripture via tradition and reason). To go down the revisionist road on same sex issues would violate the trust of our African bishops in the Anglican Communion. It would trample on the catholicity of the church.

You might ask, What about the homosexual persons right here in our own backyard? We must minister to them and embrace them and challenge them with the Gospel. I often find myself quoting Tim Keller who responds to the question “If I become a Christian will Jesus tinker with my lifestyle?” by saying, “To be a Christian, you must make Jesus the reason you get out of bed in the morning.” The Gospel runs deep, deeper than anything else in this world.

I think that is much of what is going on here. In Romans 2:1, St. Paul basically looks at the Judaizing types and says “You religious types who are accostomed to judging others from a distance are condemned because you do the same things.” Wow. I am a “religious type.” And Paul is correct: I do the same things. Am I totally pure sexually? How can I judge others?

Rather than judge, I am totally convinced of the need to listen. I am a big believer in the listening process which was proposed by recent Anglican Instruments of Communion over the last few years, a process which, depressingly, seems not to be “working.” And yet, being in listening relationships of trust with homosexual persons has done more to help me in all of this than anything else in the last couple of years. Such relationships do not make the issues go away, but they do recast them dramatically.

Hey, I might be wrong in terms of my own interpretation of Scripture. I hope that I am wrong. I want to be wrong on this one, just like I hope that all people are ultimately, somehow saved (even though I cannot see how that can be squared with Scripture).

I am grateful to have a bishop who is committed to the Windsor Process, and to the Covenant as a way of deepening the unity among our bishops and provinces globally. I am grateful that our bishop’s close relationship to the Archbishop of Southern Malawi (where our diocese works to dig and construct clean water wells for the poorest of the world’s poor) is one of the factors which compelled him to vote as he did recently at General Convention. That is exactly how things should be; that it what “communion” means.

All of the above comments apply to the Church. When it comes, however, to how to think about homosexuality out in the secular world, in terms of “the culture wars,” I inisist on the importance of thinking about this theologically.

The church is its own body politic and we are in a cultural moment in which the nation state wants to privatize the church and discipline the populace (including the body of Christ) through violence. This is the deep heresy which causes much of our confusion about homosexuality. This heresy must be resisted.

In fact, I have more in common with someone (such as ++Rowan Williams) who identifies and fights against this deep heresy but who has (or has had) revisionist tendencies on this particular sub-issue  than I do with someone (such as almost all conservative evangelicals, including almost all of the people in the PCA as well as in CANA) who is oblivious to this heresy which is ripping our culture apart at the deepest levels, but who holds an “orthodox view” on the particular issue of same-sex erotic behavior.

The main thing for the church to focus on is not “the culture wars” but rather the discipline of our own members such that true virtue is cultivated for the common good, as leaven in a loaf of bread. This has nothing to do with violence, except insofar as violence is something to be resisted and repudiated.

More than anything, we must hear and heed Bishop Wright’s call to pray:

I have said many times that, for all those involved in this whole messy situation, the main priority at the moment is prayer. That remains my conviction and my plea. Prayer for the church; for our beloved Communion and the many other Christians with whom we seek to deepen fellowship; for Archbishop Rowan; for wisdom, courage, clarity and vision; for God’s glory, the extension of his kingdom, and the power of the gospel and the Spirit at work in hearts, lives, communities and throughout our world.

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Posted on: July 16th, 2009 Is Sex the New Food?

See this thought provoking article by Brooklyn Presbyterian minister Matt Brown.

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Posted on: April 27th, 2009 Sexuality & Divorce in the Contemporary Church

Many people who keep up with me will know that, in my new role as candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, I am in the process (it will surely be a life long process) of trying to think more deeply about issues surrounding human sexuality.

Talking about this recently with a fellow seminarian (actually, a friend in the Lutheran program here at my seminary) I was confronted with a really good point.

Many conservative types (such as myself) who perhaps have a more “traditional” opinion regarding homosexuality become quite silent when the topic of divorce comes up. My friend suggested (though I don’t think I agree with him) that the Scriptures are more clear on this issue than on homosexuality.

What is true, however, is that Jesus explicitly addresses divorce, and not homosexuality, in the gospel narratives (Matt 19). Why is this important? Because, as another friend pointed out, Anglicanism has always followed “the catholic tradition” of seeing the Gospels as having a certain priority over other parts of the Christian Bible, and this view is embodied in our liturgy. For the classic statement of this by Origen, see here.

Joel at Living Text has a post on divorce which I find quite compelling.

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Posted on: April 8th, 2009 “The Body’s Grace:” ++Rowan on Human Sexuality

I just read Rowan’s article “The Body’s Grace.” I am glad I did. It is a wonderful article in almost every respect. I had already read — and profited from — Michel Foucault on human sexuality as always-already socially constructed, and so Rowan’s points about “the hermeneutics of sexual desire” (my term) made complete sense.

When built upon by Christian anthropology (specifically, our theological understanding of body), this is powerful stuff, and compellingly shows why (among other reasons) we don’t agree with (the supposed view of) Rome of procreation as sex’s sole purpose.

However, none of that theology actually challenged the “default posture” in my thinking about human sexuality (ie, same sex erotic desire).

The one sentence that did so challenge, me, however, was: “In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely … on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts….”

OK, I have blogged on Richard Hays’ (Duke Divinity School NT scholar) work on homosexuality here.

Hays addresses, very profoundly, the relevant Biblical material on homosexual relations, and I find it very compelling. He comes down at a place that is, I think, utterly responsible and charitable, and yet pretty “traditional,” especially by the standards of The Episcopal Church. (BTW, I am 99% sure that NT Wright basically agrees with Hays’ on this issue completely.)

Hays, who takes the authority of Scripture quite seriously (as does historic Anglicanism), ends up saying that, on the basis of Scripture, the church ought not to be ordaining practicing homosexuals to the presbyterate and the episcopate.

Apparently Rowan sees this as fundamentalist. I have spent many years thinking about fundamentalism, and it is not clear to me that this is the case.

I would love to discuss these biblical texts — and how and why they do or don’t matter — in greater depth.

Having said all this, however, here are three ways in which Rowan challenged me:

  • He forced me to go back to the three NT texts (other than Rom 1) which are regularly brought out for the traditional position (Acts 15:28-29;I Cor 6:9-11; I Tim 1:10). I can now see that the Acts passage (with its use of pornea) is probably irrelevant to this issue.
  • He forced me to think more deeply about our Reformed understanding that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In this understanding, we elucidate relatively obscure passages by use of relatively clear ones. My question is now: “Which are the clear doctrines: the three passages listed above, or all the biblical contexts Rowan brings out in his article (what God’s instructions to Hosea imply about human sexual desire, risk, and reciprocity; Paul’s instructions on giving our bodies to the other; etc.)?
  • While it is pretty clear to me that Hays’ work in this area is not fundamentalist, I do need to consider whether it is abstract. His material on his friend Gary, however, strongly suggests to me that it is not. (But I want to make sure.)
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Posted on: April 7th, 2009 Ecclesial Revision in the Book of Acts

In our study of the book of Acts (which meets on Sunday afternoons at St. Mark’s in Austin) we have waded through many details. We have “gotten down and dirty” and delved into the gritty particulars of the story.

Because we have engaged in this hard work, I think we are now in a position to begin to discern some larger patterns in the narrative (what Alfred North Whitehead called “a simplicity on the far side of complexity”).  One of these patterns which we have seen and discussed repeatedly is the outward expansion of the Jesus movement from Jerusalem, through “Judea and Samaria” (1:8), to Rome, a city which embodies “the ends of the earth” or the outer reaches of the realm of the Gentiles or the “Greeks.”

Presupposed by this theme is the more basic one of “Jewish versus Gentile,” which, again, we have discussed deeply and widely.

But these two themes (outward expansion to the ends of the earth and the cultural tensions between Jew and Greek) are connected to a third: revision of the predecessor religion of the people of the God of the Jewish Scriptures.

The church today is full of people who advocate revision of various kinds. (One thinks of the issue of “open communion” as well as the ordination / consecration of openly homosexual presbyters and bishops.)

There are, however, two kinds of revisionists (at least potentially or in theory): there are those who, in their advocacy for change, are motivated by and rely upon sources external to the tradition (for example, the values of our Western, secular, post-Enlightenment culture) and those who are motivated by and rely upon sources within the tradition of Christianity or, within that, of Anglicanism.

While it does seem to me that revisionists of the first kind are fundamentally misguided right from the start, it nevertheless remains the case that there is a place for revision within the Christian tradition. In fact, the case can be stated much more strongly: the religion of the New Covenant in Christ is itself a drastic, radical, and shocking revision of something prior.  The process of this revision, in fact, lies at the heart of the story told in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Given this, it seems that a revisionist can rightly analogize from the revision narrated in Acts to other revisions which might be needed today. (Henry de Lubac, in fact, thinks this way in chapter VII  of his Catholicism. See here.) This would be the second kind of revision, motivated by and relying upon sources inherent to the tradition. Unlike secular revision, this kind should be respected and deeply engaged with.

The book of Acts, in fact, provides us with a set of criteria for revision in the Church. How did it come about that the Gentiles were included in the New Covenant of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures without having to become Jewish (ie, without having to be circumcised and having to observe the other ceremonial and cultic practices of the Jewish people such as festival keeping and various food laws)?

There are several factors which hold in the narrative, and which the text is at pains to emphasize, in the developments narrated in Acts:

1.    Confirmation by the larger body.
2.    Confrontation by undeniable phenomena (ie, Gentiles speaking in tongues).
3.    Scandalous, uncontrollable surprise.

These three factors will be elaborated upon in upcoming posts.

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Posted on: May 20th, 2008 Sex & Reality: “One Flesh Union”

In the past I have written about Lauren Winner’s Real Sex, and I want to do so again, as part of a larger conversation.

Bouquet and I have a pair of good friends who are in their early-to-mid twenties and who are in a dating relationship which is getting “pretty serious.”

They recently approached Bouquet wanting to discuss the issue of sexuality, in particular asking the question, “Based on Christianity, is it really the case that ‘sex outside of marriage’ is wrong?'”

Great question, and one that I am always asking myself, and so I want to blog about it.

I want to start with a line from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, specifically from Book III entitled “Christian Behavior,” and chapter 5 of that book called “Sexual Morality:” “[t]he … Christian rule is “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or abstinence.”

First off, notice that Lewis is saying that marriage and not “a wedding ceremony” is a prerequisite for sex, on the Christian view. This is an important point because nowhere in the Bible is there a clear precedent for, or a clear teaching on, a wedding ceremony. Instead, what there is clear teaching on in Scripture is something called “one flesh union.” This is what is portrayed in Genesis (Gen 2:24) and in the sexual theology of St. Paul which always has the creation narrative(s) — or as Lauren Winner puts it in her book, the original order of God’s good creation which we see in the creation stories — in view (see I Cor 6:16 for Paul’s direct quotation of Gen 2:24).

In other words, even if the the Bible does not seem to have a lot to say explicitly about wedding ceremonies, it does clearly teach that sex goes with marriage. And so the question becomes, “What is marriage?” And the answer to that question is seen as elsewhere in the two verses cited above: marriage is one flesh union.

Now what is interesting about that is the word “flesh.” For, as Winner alludes to in her book, both the Greek and the Hebrew words (sarx and bassar, respectively) for “flesh” point in two directions are the same time. The word can mean “body,” and / or it can mean something like “the holistic life of the self” or the “one’s own life in its totality.” For the former meaning see I Cor 15:39 or II Cor 7:5, and for the latter see, again, I Cor 6:16. (There is a third meaning of the word which is less important for our purposes, though it is related to this second meaning: it can refer simply to the human person or to humanity as a whole, as in Jn 17:2 and Acts 2:17, and a fourth meaning can be “the sin nature” as we see in Gal 5.)

So when the Bible portrays the man Adam and the woman as “one flesh” it is referring both to both meanings. To quote Lauren Winner:

“One-fleshness … captures an all-encompassing over-arching oneness — when they marry, husband and wife enter an institution that points them toward familial, domestic, emotional, and spiritual [one might also add: financial, psychological, and social] unity. But the one flesh of which Adam speaks [in his “love poem” in Gen 1:23] is also overtly sexual, suggesting sexual intercourse, the only physical state other than pregnancy when it is hard to tell where one person’s body stops and the other’s starts.”

What is marriage? It is a relationship of holistic unity with another person, and this includes at its center the bodily unity of sex. Because this holistic unity involves so much, because there is so much at stake — physical health, emotional health, economic health, social health, psychological health — it requires commitment.

The kind of lasting commitment one finds in biblical portrayals and descriptions of covenants. And it is here, in the need for commitment, where the actual marriage ceremony becomes a serious matter, and one which wise people will consider very seriously.

To summarize, does the Bible teach that one must get married before having sex? I am not sure if it does or not, but I know that it does teach that one must be married before having sex (although it requires this not as some abstract law, but rather as a way to protect the health or shalom of the person), and a wise person will recognize that the best way to start being married is actually to get married.

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Posted on: April 30th, 2008 Comments on Bishop Wright’s article: “Women’s Service in the Church”

Several years ago now NT Wright spoke at a gathering of Christians for Biblical Equality, a group of evangelical, mainly American, Christians who want to promote “equality” among males and females in the context of the church.

After taking the group to task for its blindness to its construal of the issues, as well as for mistranslating (and therefore misunderstanding) Gal 3:28’s “male and female” as opposed to the reader’s expected “male or female,” Wright offers his own thoughts about this issue, limiting his comments to Paul’s theology as rooted in the creation narrative of Gen 1.

1. Wright points out that maleness and femaleness is not “a vital part of what it means to be created in God’s image.” He bases this statement on the fact that, even on Gen 1’s own terms, maleness and femaleness is not limited to man / humanity (what, in an effort to stick to the biblical language will call “Adam” and “the woman”), but rather also characterizes animals and plants.

Now, as grateful as I am that he pointed this out (this modest but provocative point has never occurred to me, and I have never seen any other commentator on the creation stories point it out), it seems to me that his conclusion does not follow.

That humans share gender with animals and plants does not imply that gender is not vitally included in what it means to be in God’s image, but rather develops the biblical understanding of the connection and relationship with humanity has to the rest of the created order (with the possible exception of angels). Wright himself stresses in various places (including his treatment of Romans 8 in his commentary on that letter) that man stands somehow at the pinnacle of creation in such a way that when humanity renews covenant with God the whole creation is renewed. Alexander Schmemann, in his For the Life of the World, has similar resonances.

2. The verse Pauline text Wright addresses in Gal 3:28, the implied context of which, he argues, is the synagogue prayer in which “the man who prays thanks God that he has not made him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Wright continues, “Paul is deliberately marking out the family of Abraham reformed in the Messiah as a people who cannot pray that prayer, since within this family these distinctions are now irrelevant.”

I fully embrace this interpretation, and agree that it fits nicely within the larger picture of what is going on in Galatians.

Wright continues at this point to say argue that the “presenting issue” is one of circumcision, and that Paul, especially in light of places like Rom 9 and Gal 4 where he is being especially attentive “to women in the story,” is implicitly arguing that, just as the Gospel obliterates the Jew / Gentile distinction as a boundary marker for the covenant community of God, so also, and to the same extent, for the “male / female” distinction.

Wright then goes on to point out what Paul does not do: he does not obliterate the difference, built into (the) creation (account), between male and female. In fact elsewhere in his letters Paul presupposes this difference, and so pastoral practice must take it seriously.

3. Gospels and Acts.

– It is significant that Jesus chose twelve male apostles, but also of “incalculable significance” is the role the women play in the resurrection stories of Jesus, when (in contrast to all twelve of the men) they are the first to come to the tomb, and the first to be entrusted with the news that he has risen from the dead. “Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles.” (Also, “We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Rom 6:17.”)

The woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in the Gospel stories is performing a priestly action. In Luke 10 what would have been obvious and unsettling to first century readers is that Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet in the male part of the house rather than being kept in the back rooms with the other women.

At this point NTW’s prose is so compelling to me that I must quote it directly:

This, I am pretty sure, is what really bothered Martha; no doubt she was cross at having to do all the work, but the real problem behind that was that Mary had clean cut across one of the most basic social conventions. It is as though, in today’s world, you were to invite me to stay in your house and, when it came to bedtime, I were to put up a camp bed in your bedroom. We have our own clear but unstated rules about whose space is which; so did they. And Mary has just flouted them. And Jesus declares that she is right to do so. She is “sitting at his feet,” a phrase which doesn’t mean what it would today, the adoring student gazing up in admiration and love at the wonderful teacher. As is clear from the use of the phrase elsewhere in the NT (for instance, Paul with Gamaliel), to sit at the teacher’s feet is a way of saying you are being a student, picking up the teacher’s wisdom and learning; and in that world you would not do this just for the sake of informing your mind and your heart, but in order to be a teacher, a rabbi, yourself.

– Turning to Acts, Wright cites one Ken Bailey for his “long experience of working in the middle east, ” where at the height of the troubles in Lebanon, all the men were either hiding or going about very cautiously, whereas the women were free to come and go freely, to do the shopping, to take children out, and so on. This resonates strongly with what we see in the crucifixion stories: in contrast to all the men disciples of Jesus, the women are unthreatened and able to come and go and see what was happening without fear from the authorities.

We find a striking contrast, then, we in the book of Acts, and the persecution against the church including the Stephen story, the women are being persecuted and targeted equally alongside of the men.

4. I Corinthians.

– On I Cor 14 Wright (admittedly, by him and by me) speculates that what is going on here is that women sat on different side of the room than men, and also were unschooled in the formal Arabic language in which the service would be conducted. Wright cites Ken Bailey on this. What happened is that during the service women would get bored and begin to chatter among themselves, and so Paul was encouraging them to be quiet and wait to get home to ask their husbands questions.

– On I Cor 11:2-11. This passage obviously presupposes that women are actively and vocally participating in the worship service, but Paul is encouraging women and men not to blur the lines in which that particular culture (ie, headcoverings for women) displayed the creational differences between men and women.

What I like about this interpretation is that Wright, in suggesting that the Corinthians themselves were likely taking one of Paul’s emphases (namely, the “equality” between men and women) and “running with it on steroids,” grounds this particular issue in a way which is consistent with the larger picture going on in I Corinthians. In that letter, it does seem that the community has an overly realized eschatology, in which, for example, marital relations (and the sexual rules that accompany them) dissolve away. Paul says again and again in this letter, “Hey, slow down, the fullness of the Kingdom has not come yet.”

-Wright also interprets Paul’s use of “head” in this passage as meaning “source,” rooted as it is in the creation story, where the woman proceeds from Adam’s side. Wright does not view this as inconsistent with Paul’s use of head to mean something else in, for example, Eph 5. (I am pretty sure that Wright holds to Pauline authorship of Ephesians.)

5. I Timothy 2. Stay tuned….

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Posted on: April 22nd, 2008 Martyrdom, Revival, and the Historic Episcopate: the Anglican Church of Uganda

My “Introduction to Anglicanism” class today was really encouraging. There were three group presentations on three different provinces in the Global Anglican Communion.

In particular, two of my classmates gave an excellent presentation on the church in Uganda, a church which sees itself as founded on three things: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate.

For more on the Ugandan church, see this article in First Things, and in particular this excerpt:

Theologically, Ugandan Anglicans share much in common with our evangelical brothers and sisters, yet we have retained the historic threefold order of ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons. This, of course, is reminiscent of the English Reformation, which theologically had much in common with the continental Reformers while retaining the historic episcopate.

And yet our commitment to the episcopate is not just about the good order of the Church. As bishops are successors to the apostles, so our focus through the historic episcopate is on apostolic faith and ministry. A bishop is ordained in apostolic succession to be the apostolic presence in the community. A bishop, therefore, is the ongoing presence and voice of the apostles. He is our link to the early Church, and this link between bishop and apostolicity gives Anglicans our transcultural identity. The implication, therefore, is that the essence of Anglican identity is to be apostolic. More than a simple unbroken line of consecrations, we are to be apostolic in nature: faithful to the apostolic message, submitted to apostolic authority in Scripture, committed to apostolic mission and ministry, and devoted to apostolic worship.

In short, an apostolic church is a missionary church. A bishop is the focus for the mission of the Church, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who commissioned his apostles to preach, to teach, and to heal. The bishop’s apostolic ministry starts with evangelism, because transformation begins with the individual. The bishop himself must have a testimony and set a direction in his diocese for evangelism and church planting. When the early missionaries came in the late 1800s, their understanding of mission was not only preaching but also education and health ministry. So, combined with our churches, there are schools and health clinics, all under the apostolic oversight of the bishop, whose charge is to preach (evangelism), to teach (schools), and to heal (health clinics).

The incarnation of Jesus Christ has been described as the “scandal of particularity.” The One who came, as Savior of all, was born as a particular man—Jesus of Nazareth—at a particular place, with a particular ethnicity, and at a particular time. Our particular experience of Anglicanism in Uganda, too, has some universal applicability. The pillars of Anglican identity in Uganda—the martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate, all resting on the Word of God—suggest themes with historic precedent from the formative years of Anglicanism in Britain.”

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Posted on: February 2nd, 2008 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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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 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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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (III): Hermeneutics (Responding to the NT’s Witness Against Homosexuality)

Hays in this section emphasizes the lack of rules prohibiting homosexuality in the NT. Instead what we have is principles, and these principles are not enough to ground an ethics in and by themselves, and therefore they require a deeper hermeneutic rigor.

For example, from Rom 1 we can infer the principle that humans should “acknowledge and honor God as creator.” But apart from a certain (moral) “order of creation” which specifies that, say, male-plus-female sexual relations are normative, this principle is not enough to prohibit homosexual activity for members of the Christian community.

Therefore, reasons Hays, we should look for neither rules nor principles in the NT to inform our ethics. Rather, we should appreciate and (assuming that the Bible is normative for the Christian life) submit to its symbolic construal of the world. In this symbolic world which Paul and others construe in the NT, homosexuality symbolizes man’s rebellion and ignorance which have resulted from Adam’s idolatry. “If we accept the authority of the NT, we will be taught to perceive homosexuality accordingly.” (396)

When we turn to tradition (which we should do in this hermeneutical quest, Hays apparently thinks), we find this perspective confirmed. If anything tradition probably has a more hardened disapproval for homosexuality than Scripture, since Scripture would lead us to view this vice as no worse than many others which are listed alongside it (1 Cor 6; 1 Tim 1).

After commenting on tradition, Hays turns to “reason,” which I will review in a subsequent post.

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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 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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Posted on: January 30th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (II): Synthesis (Homosexuality in Canonical Context)

“How is human sexuality portrayed in the canon as a whole, and how are the few explicit texts treating homosexuality to be read in relation to this larger canonical framework?”

Hays notes that unlike the the matter of “the subordination of women, concerning which the Bible contains internal tensions and counterposed witnesses, [t]he biblical witness against homosexual practices is univocal.” (389)

Hays then lists three major, overarching canonical considerations to keep in mind as “we place the prohibition of homosexuality in a canonical context:”

  • “God’s [Creational] Intention for Human Sexuality.” “From Genesis 1 onward, Scripture affirms repeatedly that God has made man and woman for one another and that our sexual desires rightly find fulfillment within heterosexual marriage.” (390)
  • The Fallen Human Condition. “The Bible’s sober anthropology rejects the apparently commonplace assumption [on the part of us who are “great-grandchildren of the Enlightenment”] that only freely chosen acts are morally culpable.” Hays sketches how, as a result of Adam’s / humanity’s fall, human beings are in a state of self-deception (he quotes Jer 17:9) and bondage (“We are ‘slaves of sin'” Hays writes, referencing Rom 6:17) . “Redemption (a word that means ‘being emancipated from slavery’) is God’s act of liberation, setting us free from the power of sin and placing us within the sphere of God’s transforming power for righteousness (Rom 6:20-22; 8:1-11; cf 12:1-2).”
  • The Demythologizing of Sex. Contrary to the assumptions of today’s (western) culture, the Bible undermines our obsession with sexual fulfillment. It bears witness, in fact, that we can be totally fulfilled and joyful without sexual relations. “Sex,” unlike food or drink, one would suppose, “is a matter of secondary importance…. Never within the canonical perspective does sexuality become the basis for defining a person’s identity or for finding meaning and fulfillment in life.” (At this point I must admit that it seems to me that Hays overlooks the Song of Solomon as well as the old covenant’s emphasis on childbirth, which is surely fulfilled in Christ but still somehow relevant for life in the new covenant and is probably somehow related to 1 Tim 2:15: “[a woman] will be saved through childbearing.” Given these, it does seem to me that “sexual fulfilment” might be more important than Hays allows, albeit in a way radically different from the assumptions of our culture.)
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Posted on: January 30th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (Rom 1), cont’d

In his exposition of Rom 1:18-32, Hays notes that this is the only place in the NT (I would add “and in the whole Bible”) where homosexuality is not just mentioned or prohibited, but explicitly theologized about. (383) There is, in a sense, a “theology of homosexuality” here in Paul’s thought, and this is especially true in light of the fact that, as Hays points, out, “this is the only passage in the whole Bible that refers to lesbian sexual relations.” (384)

Situating Paul’s teaching on this particular issue within the larger context of the letter, Hays rightly stresses that Paul’s initial main point in chapter one is that “the Gospel” is God’s demonstration of righteousness, that is, his demonstration of eschatological power (it is “the instrument through which God is working out his purpose in the world … reaching out graciously to deliver humanity from bondage to sin and death”), and thus it serves in Paul’s argument as the vindication of God.

“Having sounded this keynote,” Paul not only adopts a contrasting key by contrasting God’s righteousness to humanity’s unrighteousness, but he also actually grounds God’s righteousness in his response to humanity’s unrighteousness. When it comes to man’s sin (which, note carefully, is not here any individual or specific sin including anything having to do with homosexuality, but rather the more primal sin of replacing God and the worship due him with creation and idolatry), God does something about it.

And what does he do? He “gives humanity over” to themselves and their own devices. He gives them over to the dark futility of ignorance (1:21; cf 2 Thes 2:10b – 12). He gives them over to a debased mind. And, more to the point for our purposes, he gives them over “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v24), to the “dishonorable passions” which result in erotic homosexual behavior. (vv26-27)

Hays thinks that Paul’s rhetoric about homosexuality serves to make two points (I list these in reverse order): evidence and consequence. First, given the centrality (at least in Pual’s and his hearers’ minds) of the sexual difference of the creation narratives of Adam and Eve, homosexual activity in particular would have been regarded as a “particularly vivid” illustration of how God has poured out his wrath against primal human idolatry. Second, this particular sin, along with the others mentioned in the next paragraph of chapter one (slander, haughtiness, disobedience, etc.) are not the cause of God’s wrath, but, rather (much like the plagues upon Egypt) the result of it.

(Note: Hays’ point, for which he enlists John Calvin, that Paul’s audience would have unequivocally shared in his assumption that homosexual acts are “obviously” depraved raises a question in my mind. It is, perhaps, a question about Paul’s intended audience. I can totally see how a Jewish audience would share in this assumption, of course, but would a Greek / Roman audience? It don’t think so. This is particularly interesting / troubling in light of the fact that many commentators, including NT Wright, think that Romans was intended for a primarily Gentile audience.)

Hays shows how the connection between homosexuality in particular on the one hand and (the) creation (narratives) on the other runs especially deep. He points out that when Paul writes that people “exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature” (v26) this is in fact Paul’s third use of “exchange” (and its cognates) in this context. First Paul states that rebellious humans have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” of created things (v23), then that “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie (v25).” Writes Hays: “The deliberate repetition of [this verb] forges a powerful rhetorical link between the rebellion against God and the ‘shameless deeds’ (v27) that are themselves both evidence and consequence of that rebellion.

Hays summarizes Paul’s teaching in this chapter by stressing that “the aim of Romans 1 is not to teach a code of sexual ethics, nor is it a warning of God’s judgment against those who are guilty of particular sins. Rather, Paul is offering a diagnosis of the disordered human condition. He adduces the fact of widespread homosexual behavior as evidence that humans are indeed in rebellion against their creator…. Homosexual activity provokes the wrath of God…. The unrighteous behavior cataloged in Romans 1:26-31 is a list of symptoms: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Gentiles alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the pattern of sin (cf Rom 3:9)…. Homosexual activity will not incur God’s punishment; it is its own punishment, an “antireward.” (387 – 88)

Finally, Hays points out that, since this particular sin (here as everywhere else it is mentioned in the NT) is cataloged alongside other sins, it is not an “especially reprehensible” sin. It is in principle “no worse than covetousness or gossip or disrespect for parents (338). “Consequently, for Paul, self-righteous judgment of homosexuality is just as sinful as the homosexual behavior itself” (389).

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Posted on: January 29th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (1 Cor 6; 1 Tim 1; Acts 15), cont’d

The most fully developed thought on homosexuality the entire Christian Bible is is Romans 1:18-32. Before dealing with that passage, however, Hays first looks at two other NT texts which definitely comment on homosexuality (I Cor 6:9-11; I Tim 1:10 ), and one which possibly comments on it (Acts 15:28-29).

In two NT passages, I Cor 6:9-11 and I Tim 1:10, Paul (note however that Hays and many other NT scholars see the pastoral epistles of I Tim, II Tim, and Titus as pseudonymous) uses a word which is not extant in any source prior to I Cor: the word arsenokoitai. Hays demonstrates how this term, almost certainly coined by the apostle Paul, “is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur (‘lying with a male’), derived directly from Lev 18:22 and 20:13.” (See above for discussion of these OT texts.) In both texts this term appears in a list of “unrighteous deeds.”

Hays continues, speaking of the I Corinthian passage: “Thus, Paul’s use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code’s [in Leviticus] condemnation of homosexual acts. This is not a controversial point in Paul’s argument; the letter gives no evidence that anyone at Corinth was arguing for the acceptance of same-sex erotic activity.” Paul simply assumes that his readers will agree that arsenokoitai are “workers of unrighteousness” just like the other offenders named in the list (idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, robbers, etc.).

Here as elsewhere, Paul’s goes on to argue that in the lives of the Corinthians a new reality has come about, and that they no longer belong to themselves, but to God. This is the basis upon which Paul argues that they ought to “glorify God in their bodies.” (I Cor 6:20)

The first Timothy passage is quite similar to this one in that it, too, presupposes that the audience will agree that homosexual activity is rightly categorized as one sin among others including “murderers, slave traders, liars.”

The only other passage in the NT – besides Rom 1 – is Acts 15:28-29, which uses the word pornea (“sexual immorality”). Hays thinks it likely that “these stipulations” are based largely on the purity regulations of Lev 17:1 – 18:30, and therefore “probably include … homosexual intercourse.”

Next up: Hays on what Paul teaches about homosexuality in Rom 1:18-32.

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Posted on: January 24th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (prolegemena): Gary

The quality Richard Hays’ treatment of this issue in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp 379-406) is both rare and encouraging (though I will have some questions / criticisms later on).

First, though, I want to extol the way he opens up the discussion by talking about his relationship with his friend Gary. Gary, by Hays’ description a homosexual, was Hays’ best friend in undergrad who had over the years developed some serious, deeply held convictions about what the Bible actually teaches about being gay.

I am grateful that Hays situates his discussion of this issue in the context of his relationship with Gary. As we will see, both sides of this debate (both the conservatives who see no “grey” in the sub-issues surrounding homosexuality, and the self-styled progressives in the church who amount to little more than political activists with an ideological agenda) fall short of faithful theological reflection, and so I am not simply wanting to “slam” the conservatives here, but I must ask: among all of my friends in the PCA who have firm, settled opinions about homosexuality and the sub-issues surrounding it (some of these sub-issues will be discussed later on), how many are in actual relationships with a gay or lesbian person? Some, perhaps, but precious few. Here as elsewhere (issues such as “liberalism” or Roman Catholicism) most of us in the PCA are quite content to offer abstract critiques from a great distance.

I am grateful, then, to a couple of friends who are Christians (and in the PCA) who actually do have real relationships with gay or lesbian people, especially my friend Tessa. I am also grateful for my experience with so many Starbucks partners over the years who are in some sense homosexual, many of whom are open to exploring life as a Christian.

Unlike many would-be progressives, almost none of my G/L Starbucks friends “draw their entire identity from their sexuality,” a tendency which Gary lamented according to Hays.

A conviction of Gary’s which seems right to me: Hays writes that “he was angry at self-affirming gay Christian groups, because he regarded his own condition as more complex and tragic [emphasis mine] than their stance could acknowledge.” As I hope to discuss, this criticism cuts in both directions: the stance of many conservatives is just as simplistic, it seems to me.

After 20 years of struggling to make sense of his homosexual orientation and the Bible, Gary was planning to co-author an article with Hays about all this, but he died before that could happen.

This article is part of a larger series. For other installments, see

here, here, and here for Part I.

here and here for Part II.

here and here for Part III.

here for Part IV.

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Posted on: December 12th, 2007 ++Rowan Williams on Gay Clergy

From an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, posted on the American Anglican Council website (in which he reaffirms, in addition to the following, his staunch opposition to virtually all forms of abortion), dated Dec. 12, 2007:

Asked about his support for gay clergy, he replied: “I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible. Gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practising homo-sexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick-fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.”

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