Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church
Preston Sprinkle, editor
Church Times Bookshop £9.90
THE editor of this book is right to comment that it “is the first of its kind to be published by an Evangelical Christian publisher”.
Two authors represent the “affirming” view of homosexuality, and two affirm the “traditional” view. Each of the four essays is followed by responses from the other three essayists. A short rejoinder from the first author then concludes each of the four sections. The structure looks complicated, but it works well, and is concluded with an essay from the editor.
No one knows more than William Loader about sexuality in the biblical and intertestamental periods. He thinks Paul thinks that “homosexual acts” are sinful; that being gay is not ethically neutral; that all people are heterosexual, and that “a homosexual orientation is contrary to nature”.
This, however, gives the traditionalists no encouragement, since “the need to engage both Scripture and experience, including setting some parts of the former aside or overriding some parts of Scripture with others, goes back to the beginnings of the Christian movement,” and must be undertaken in the present case.
Megan de Franza, known for her work on the theology of sexual difference, remains true to her discovery that “While most humans seem to be clearly sexed, there is a significant minority for whom
being male or female is not obvious or uncomplicated.” She accepts the criticism that she holds that the Bible “is not interested in deliver-ing a once-for-all model of marriage”.
Wesley Hill, a gay celibate Christian, concludes: “The scriptural material . . . would appear to rule out any and all gay sex in the lives of Christian believers.” Gay people are called to rich “spiritual friendships”, deep and perhaps permanent, but never sexual.
Stephen Holmes argues that the Church needs to recover the Augustinian view that sexuality is “primarily oriented towards procreation, not towards pleasure, and to restate an ethic that takes this orientation seriously”.
The tone of the book is respectful and never polemical. The participants listen and engage with each other deeply and commendably. This is most welcome.
My reservation is directed towards the assumption that the detailed attention paid to the biblical texts, while essential, can of itself settle anything. There are many examples of such biblical inconclusiveness, slavery being an obvious example. All the authors seem confident in finding “homosexuality”, “heterosexuality”, “orientation”, and so on, in the Bible, not for a moment heeding the warnings of historians of sexuality that the imposition of modern concepts on ancient texts distorts them irreparably.
Dr Adrian Thatcher is Honorary Professor of Theology at the University of Exeter.