Opinion: Biblical and better way

Our churches should uphold biblical teaching about homosexuality — and be places to love and listen rather than shame or exclude

Oct 27, 2014 by and

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Theologically conservative Christians are widely perceived as hostile to gays. And it is largely our own fault.

Many of us have actually been homophobic. Most of us tolerated gay bashers. We did not deal sensitively and lovingly with young people in our churches struggling with their sexual orientation. We even had the gall to blame gay people for the collapse of marriage in our society, ignoring the obvious fact that the main problem by far is that many heterosexuals do not keep their marriage vows. We have often failed to distinguish gay orientation from gay sexual activity.

If the devil had designed a strategy to discredit the historic Christian position on sexuality, he could not have done much better than what the evangelical community has actually done.

Some believe the track record of conservative Christians is so bad that we should just remain silent on this issue. But that would mean abandoning what I believe is clear biblical teaching. It would mean forgetting the nearly unanimous two-millennia-long teaching of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians. And it would mean failing to listen to the vast majority of contemporary Christians, who now live in the Global South.

Goodness and beauty

The primary biblical case against homosexual practice is not the few texts that explicitly mention it. Rather, it is the fact that again and again the Bible affirms the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse — and everywhere, without exception, it is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman committed to each other for life.

In the creation account in Genesis, the “man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25). Their sexual attraction is good and beautiful. A whole book — Song of Solomon — celebrates the sexual love of a man and a woman. Many Old Testament laws and proverbs discuss the boundaries for sexual intercourse — and always it must be between a man and a woman. Jesus celebrates marriage (John 2:1-11) and tightens the restrictions on divorce — again, always in the context of a man and a woman. Paul urges a husband and wife to satisfy each others’ sexual desires (1 Cor. 7:1-7).

This affirmation of sex within the life-long commitment of a man and a woman provides the context for understanding the few texts that explicitly mention same-sex intercourse: Lev. 18:22, 20:13; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10.

Leviticus condemns lying “with a man as one lies with a woman.” It says nothing about motives or types of homosexual acts (rape or cult prostitution). It simply condemns, unconditionally, all sex between two males.

Reaffirmed or ignored?

But Christians today do not condemn every sexual activity denounced in Leviticus. So we must turn to the New Testament to see what prohibitions it ignores or sets aside and what ones it reaffirms.

The longest discussion is in Romans 1, where Paul argues that non-Jews without the law exchanged the truth about God revealed in nature for a lie. God’s punishment was to give “them over to the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity.” Paul then cites several illustrations, including women exchanging “natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” and men committing “shameful acts with other men.”

Numerous authors argue that Paul does not mean all homosexual intercourse is wrong. Perhaps Paul only condemns pederasty (an older male with a boy was common), or cult prostitution, or uncommitted same-sex activity. Or perhaps Paul was thinking of the common view that it was a disgrace for a man to play the part of a woman because women were inferior. But the text does not say any of those things. It simply condemns same-sex intercourse.

Contrary to God’s will

In 1 Cor. 6:9, Paul lists a number of sinful activities and declares that such “wrongdoers” will not inherit the kingdom. The list includes the greedy, slanderers, drunkards and malakoi and arsenokoitai. (It is tragic that many Christians spend much more time condemning the sexual activity mentioned in these two Greek words than they devote to opposing slander and greed.)

But what do malakoi and arsenokoitai mean? Many scholars agree with Richard Hays, who points out that malakoi was often used in Hellenistic Greek as slang to refer to the passive (often younger) partner in homosexual activity. Arsenokoitai (also used in 1 Tim. 1:10) seems to be a compound word first used by Paul. It comes from arsen (male) and the verb koitē (lying with) — a male lying with a male. It is likely that this newly coined word emerged from reading Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, because the same two Greek words used in Paul’s compound word arseno­koitai are in the Greek translation of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13.

Even scholars who defend homosexual practice by today’s Christians agree that wherever the Bible refers to homosexual practice, it condemns it as contrary to God’s will.

What’s required today?

But Christians today do not take everything in the New Testament (for example, head coverings for women) as commands for today. Some Christians advance a number of arguments to claim that (at least in the case of a monogamous, life-long commitment) same-sex intercourse is morally acceptable:

  • A great deal of homosexual intercourse in Greco-Roman society was pederastic (a dominant older male with a passive young­er male) and not infrequently involved slavery and rape;
  • The Greco-Roman world knew nothing about a life-long orientation or a long-term male-male sexual partnership;
  • Many people in Paul’s time condemned homosexual intercourse because it required a male to play the role of a woman, which was considered a disgrace because males were superior;
  • Some Greco-Roman and Jewish writers condemned homosexual intercourse because it could not lead to procreation.

Obviously, a mutually supportive life-long caring same-sex relationship is very different from the relationships described above. And we do not believe sexual intercourse must be for the purpose of procreation.

But two things are important to note. First, Paul never argues that homosexual practice is wrong because it is pederastic or oppressive or wrong for a male to play the role of a woman. He simply says it is wrong. Second, there are examples in ancient literature that talk about a long-term (even life-long) homosexual partnership. A number of ancient authors talk about a life-long same-sex orientation.

Slavery and women

Some argue for abandoning the historic Christian teaching on same-sex intercourse by pointing out that Christians no longer accept what the Bible says about slavery and the inferiority of women. But in the case of both, a trajectory within Scripture points toward a very different view.

What Paul asked Philemon to do when his runaway slave Onesimus returned was so radical that, if widely implemented, it would end slavery. On women, Jesus defied male prejudices and treated women as equals. Women were apostles (Rom. 16:7) and prophets (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5) in the early church. When Christians reject slavery and affirm the equality of women, they extend a trajectory that begins in the biblical canon. In the case of same-sex intercourse, nothing even hints at such a change.

Praise for celibacy

If the biblical teaching on sexual intercourse is decisive, then celibacy is the only option for those not in a heterosexual marriage. But many argue that celi­bacy is impossible or that the abundant life God wills for every­one involves sexual fulfillment.

Such an argument, however, would have astonished Jesus and Paul — both unmarried celibates. Both praised a celibate life. Furthermore, the historic position that sexual intercourse must be limited to married heterosexuals demands celibacy for vastly more people than just the relatively small number with a same-sex orientation. Widows and widowers and those who long for marriage but cannot find a partner are also called to celibacy.

In addition to the unanimous biblical teaching, church history’s nearly unanimous condemnation of same-sex practice and the same teaching by churches that represent the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world today ought to give us great pause before we bless same-sex intercourse.

This is not enough

But simply repeating biblical truth is not enough. We need a substantially new approach.

First, we must nurture Christian men and women who keep their marriage vows and model healthy family life.

Second, we need to love and listen to gay people, especially gay Christians, in a way that most of us have not done.

Mennonites must also take the lead in several other vigorous activities related to gay people.

We ought to condemn and combat verbal or physical abuse of gay people.

We ought to develop programs so that our congregations are known as the best places in the world for gay and questioning youth (and adults) to seek God’s will in a context that embraces, loves and listens rather than shames, denounces and excludes.

Surely, we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to teach and nurture biblical sexual practice without marginalizing and driving away from Christ those who struggle with biblical norms.

The best in the world

Our churches should be widely known as places where gay people can be open about their orientation and feel welcomed. Of course, Christians who engage in unbiblical sexual practices (whether heterosexual or gay) should be discipled (and disciplined) by the church and not allowed to be leaders or mem­bers in good standing if they persist in their sin. The same should be said for those who engage in unbiblical practices of any kind.

However, Christians who acknowledge a gay orientation but commit themselves to celibacy should be eligible for any role in the church their spiritual gifts suggest. Imagine the impact if Mennonite churches were known to be the best places in the world to find love, support and full affirmation of gifts if one is an openly gay, celibate Christian.

Ronald J. Sider is a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia and a professor at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University. This article is a summary of a chapter in a forthcoming book by Sider and Ben Lowe, Always Reforming: An Intergenerational Dialogue on the Future of American Christianity (Baker, 2015).

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  • Jennifer Gorman

    I am struggling with how to respond in a way that expresses my anguish at this position. My first thought is that Paul was writing each letter to a specific set of people, and they would have known the homosexual acts in particular he was talking about without him being explicit, so maybe he didn’t feel the need to go in detail what he was condemning. Although I certainly guide my life by what the New Testament says, I think sometimes we kind of forget that Paul was writing each letter to a church with specific issues at a specific time, and some things he mentions we are not going to understand all these years later. But what most hurts my heart in this is your position that gay Christians need to lead lives of single celibacy. Even when you do read Romans 1 you get the feeling he is talking about homosexual lust and indiscriminate homosexual acts, not sex as part of a marriage between two same sex individuals. Yes, Paul does talk about that leading a life a single, celibate is preferable, but he is quick to point out that this life is not for everyone. I can’t see how we can put such a burden on our gay Mennonite brothers and sisters if they are not one of those people. It simply is not fair, and does not communicate our love and acceptance of them as equal Christians, serving together, but in fact goes far to drive a deeper wedge of hurt between us and shows them that we still see them as something unacceptable in the eyes of God. I know my own marriage is a huge part of who I am. If I was asked to have never have married him that our marriage was unacceptable I would have instantly felt that you were telling me that I was unacceptable as a person. How can we say such a thing to our young gay adults, or any of our members? Not to mention, in saying such that their marriage is unacceptable, you are saying to the parents of that young adult that the heart of their heart is not welcome, is not fully loved by our church. If that was said to a child of mine it would leave me deeply concerned about my own ability to stay a member of that congregation.

    • Elaine Fehr

      Jennifer, should we let our emotions dictate what is right in the eyes of God? Or should we let God’s word speak to us, trusting that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours?.

      Romans 1 is clear that the homosexual act is unnatural, shameful and subject to penalty. Nowhere in scripture is there a hint of putting the homosexual act within the context of marriage to make it right.

      The good news for those who struggle with this is that God has the power to change the hearts and minds of anyone who will submit to Him. Paul’s message in 1 Timothy 1 8-16 is a good one. He is a prime example of one who was changed through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Notice he includes the sodomites too in this message of hope:

      ” But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

      And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”

      • Berry Friesen

        Elaine, let’s think of Paul as a physician whose emphasis was public health and whose specialty was cancer. He was acutely aware of how our way of life causes death, and then he stumbled on the cure, which was the life and witness of Messiah Jesus.

        He was not a moralist and his understanding of salvation was much bigger than ours. When we read his critical statements, we should not assume he was talking about reasons to exclude people, but about symptoms of the pathology. When he talked salvation, we should not assume he was talking about heaven, but about entering a life that made us whole.

        He obviously did not expect miracle cures because his congregations were full of sick people.

        The only things he would not tolerate were denial, sugar-coating the problem, or claiming that the old, imperial way of life could be part of the solution.

        If our congregations follow Paul, things will be much messier than they are now. But the authority of the Bible in our lives will only increase.

        • Elaine Fehr

          Berry, what do you mean by “If our congregations follow Paul, things will be much messier than they are now.”?

          • Berry Friesen

            Elaine, Paul was convinced that in Jesus’ life and death, YHWH had acted decisively to change the direction of the world. In Jesus, YHWH had revealed how to run the world, how it will be saved.

            The Roman Empire was the tangible manifestation of deception in Paul’s time, and the Jesus movement Paul led understood itself to be in a deadly serious confrontation with the empire’s claims to be lord.

            Everyone Paul met had been scarred by the empire of darkness. Think of them (think of us) as lifetime smokers whose lungs have been damaged by our habit, or whose metabolism has been altered by a lifetime of eating highly processed food. Paul welcomed them all into the assemblies of Jesus-followers, not because they had been “fixed” but because they had embraced the faith of Messiah Jesus and wanted to live in his light.

            If we do the same, we will welcome into our assemblies people whose worldviews, desires and habits have been shaped by the deceptions of our time, especially those of the U.S.-led empire in which we live. We often won’t agree with one another about what those distortions are or how quickly we should be “fixed.” Living with those disagreement will make our assemblies very messy. But because the Spirit of Jesus dwells there, and because those who gather are united in their desire to leave empire behind and live instead in the kingdom of Messiah Jesus, we will hang together and struggle along together under the authority of our Lord and the witness of the Bible.

            Paul called this victory. The darkness is powerful, so powerful that one cannot imagine the light. If you doubt this, simply think about what this nation of ours has done to the people of Iraq, the people of Libya, the people of Afghanistan, the people of Kosovo, the people of Syria, the people of Ukraine, the people of Yemen, the people of Somalia. If your assembly is like mine, people you worship with every week don’t give this evil a passing thought, much less imagine another way. Yet the light of Messiah Jesus endures, beckoning and encouraging and creating another way.

          • Elaine Fehr

            In light of what you have said, what do you think of Paul’s admonition and instruction in 1 Corinthians 5?

          • Berry Friesen

            Elaine, yes, we have judgments to make. We must bind and loose; that is part of what the church is to do with those “on the inside.”

            I don’t know what that means specifically, but it obviously can include expulsion. Such appears to be appropriate when a member both flaunts his/her “sinful” behavior AND refuses the congregation’s admonition and teaching. Then the congregation’s response is simply “why continue together and cause each other strife? Our understandings of the way of Jesus are too different.”

            I gather from chapter 6 that some of the rich men of the Corinthian church regarded the pleasures of a prostitute as similar to the pleasures of a good meal. What’s the problem? they said; we’re free to enjoy all that God has made. So the range of behaviors Paul was addressing was much wider (“messier”) than seen in a typical Mennonite congregation. Yet Paul was not quick to expel; he knew how different Jesus’ way from the empire’s way, and he expected people would struggle with it.

          • Elaine Fehr

            Thank you for that, Berry. I wasn’t sure as to whether or not you agreed that church discipline should include the possibility of exclusion if, as Paul says in
            1 Corinthians 5:11, we are “…not to associate [with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person”. I think that’s key. If someone purports to be a Christian, then their lifestyle must reflect that.

            True Christians are followers of Christ and submit to His Lordship. Sure, we continue to struggle with sin and at times stumble, but that is different than choosing a way of life that is steeped in sin. When we stumble and confess that sin, we can rely on the righteousness and faithfulness of Jesus Christ to forgive us (1 John 1:9). So different, is the one who chooses a lifestyle of continuous sin, relying on a false sense of God’s grace, which some people in the church have turned into a license to sin. (Jude 1:4)

      • Jennifer Gorman

        Yes, actually, emotions namely love and empathy are what guides my life. I read Scripture and live my life with a focus on what Jesus asks of me first and foremost, not the law, and that is to live a life of love, service, humility and justice. Emotions actually do matter in life. How we relate to others is actually, after loving Jesus Himself, the most important thing we do in this world, the thing that truly lasts. And He created all of us, and every part of us, and is in every one of us as it says in John 1. There are many things in the Law and even in the New Testament that we need to look at with the reality that we know things now they did not understand, and even that.our culture has changed, for example, slavery and women cutting their hair. Homosexuality is something that is understood differently now, especially through science. This is simply a part of who they are, it is not something they can choose to overcome, and not a choice or an agenda

        • Elaine Fehr

          I agree that emotions do matter, but they are fickle and we can’t afford to let them guide our lives if we want to live according to God’s will. Emotions often play a part in leading us in conflict with God’s law. God’s law was given to us graciously by Him to let us know the difference between right and wrong. And we do well to pay heed what He says in His word.

          Paul expressed that conflict so well in Romans 7:21-23: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”

          If we understand things differently than what scripture says, that is our cue to really re-examine what we believe. No matter what message science puts out there or whatever path popular culture takes, we can always trust that what God says in His word is good, right, pure and true. Then it’s up to us to decide which one way we’ll choose – God’s way or man’s way. The first leads to life, the other to death and destruction.

  • Dave Hockman-Wert

    I find it ironic that in an article purporting to present an alternative approach (i.e., conservative Christians should be more loving to LGBTQ people than they have been), Sider spends almost 3/4 of the article arguing (yet again) that the Bible says same-sex intercourse is wrong and bad. Since condemnation seems easy and loving seems difficult, perhaps he should spend more time discussing the latter.

    (Also, I must point out that while the Bible may affirm the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse, it does not “everywhere, and without exception,” affirm sexual intercourse between only *one* man and *one* woman. Or has he forgotten Solomon and David (and many others) and their multiple wives?)

    Alternatively, I would recommend the new article by “Mennonite Catholic” Gerald Schlabach in the latest Christian Century, in which he proposes an equivalent sexual/marriage ethic, for gay and non-gay Christians alike, based on 1 Corinthians 7: http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-10/what-marriage-now

    Dave Hockman-Wert

    • John Myers

      David and Jonathan WERE NOT sexually involved. Ever. That is a lie that has been spread by LGBTQ people for years to promote their agenda. When David says his love for Jonathan is better than that of a woman he is referring to their emotional connection and deep abiding friendship. The LGBTQ community has damaged the lives of young people by telling them that their fondness for deep emotional friendships with others is a cover for sexual yearnings. Hogwash! David’s lust for Bathsheba and all his wives and concubines proves he was NEVER gay. Kudos to Ron Sider. He finally gets it right even if others don’t seem to listen.

      • Darian Harnish

        John – I would suggest reading the comments before you reply to them. Dave was pointing out that David and Solomon both had more than one female sexual partner. No reference was made to David and Jonathan in Dave’s comment, he was, in fact, countering the author’s point that the Bible only affirmed ONE male and ONE female. Dave could have also pointed to several of the Israelite forefathers to make his point. Your comment is indicative of a larger problem in this conversation where we, as a church, do not listen to what each other is saying.

    • Mathew Swora

      Yes, Solomon and David (and many other Old Testament patriarchs) did have multiple wives. So did Abraham and Jacob and more. And always with regrettable results for all involved. The stories of their polygamous relationships are descriptive, not prescriptive. If anything, these polygamists are poster children for monogamy in spite of themselves. Mixing up the descriptive and prescriptive passages of the Bible in our interpretation is already something the church has done entirely too much of when it comes to war and wealth. Let’s keep that distinction clear.

      • Dave Hockman-Wert

        Matthew, Sider made no distinction between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” stories. He said, “everywhere, and without exception.” That is pretty strong language.

        what were these “regrettable results for all involved”? Jacob’s sons from his two wives and two concubines were the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. David’s heart was “fully devoted to the LORD” and he “followed the LORD completely” (I Kings 11:4, 6). And even Solomon, who was the counterpoint to the statements about David in the I Kings 11 passage, is only criticized in that passage because the hundreds of wives were from other lands and followed other gods. There is absolutely no critique of the fact that he had many wives; in fact, the passage says he “held fast to them in love”. Yet even this offspring of sexual misconduct and abuse of power was the wealthiest and most successful Hebrew king there was (“greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth”).

        I fail to see how these men are poster children for monogamy, given the fact that they are constantly lauded in the Hebrew scriptures as well as in the New Testament (Hebrews 11). Solomon and David are the authors of three books of the Hebrew Scriptures, for goodness sake.

        Where is the Bible prescriptive in its opposition to polygamy?

        — Dave Hockman-Wert

  • Aaron Yoder

    This is an thorough and well-written article. Ronald, thank you for upholding the authority of Scripture!

  • PGregory Springer

    I appreciate that Mr. Sider wants to support LGBT rights and I look forward to the day when he and others — who continue to believe that their interpretation of Scriptures is exclusively correct — show up at church and city council meetings to support full and equal rights for all. And I want him to know that he will not be excluded or questioned or ostracized in any way, and fully welcomed and embraced in love, regardless of his past beliefs and preachings, when all people and couples are welcomed into the practice of Mennonite churches around the world. We know this day is coming and God speed the day.

  • Scott Coulter

    “Mennonites must also take the lead in several other vigorous activities related to gay people. We ought to condemn and combat verbal or physical abuse of gay people.”

    I honestly believe that if Mennonites with a traditional/restrictive ethical/theological position on queer sexuality would show up as neighbors to be trained by and to work alongside activists who are fighting for anti-discrimination campaigns (for example, supporting laws that make it illegal to fire or evict someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression), there would be incredible opportunities for dialogue and witness to take place. Will leaders like Sider devote significant time, and many words spoken and printed, to encourage this? And will they also lead by example in this?

    “We ought to develop programs so that our congregations are known as the best places in the world for gay and questioning youth (and adults) to seek God’s will in a context that embraces, loves and listens rather than shames, denounces and excludes.”

    I would love to see church leaders from the traditional/restrictive perspective work together with queer youth and adults to produce training materials that would help our congregations create such spaces for youth.

    Not speaking for anyone else, but I would find it easier to engage in dialogue with my Christian and Mennonite sisters & brothers with whom I disagree on inclusion if those sisters & brothers demonstrated such a commitment to active, self-giving love with humility – even as they remain firm in their beliefs about the morality of same-sex marriage.

  • Phyllis Bixler

    You have argued the scriptural basis for lgbtq celibacy so effectively that I wonder if some lgbtq persons and persons who have beloved lgbtq friends and family members might not wonder, “Well, if the Bible is outdated/irrelevant on this issue, on how many other issues of importance to me is it also outdated/irrelevant?” I.e., I wonder if your essay might have responses other than what you intended.

  • Holly Blosser Yoder

    “What Paul asked Philemon to do when his runaway slave Onesimus returned
    was so radical that, if widely implemented, it would end slavery.”
    –And what would happen if Mennonite churches actually followed Sider’s instructions here to become “the best places in the world for gay and questioning youth (and adults)
    to seek God’s will in a context that embraces, loves and listens rather
    than shames, denounces and excludes”?

  • Nita Landis

    Lots to appreciate in this post. The humility to begin with confession. The belief that the church can hold the traditional interpretation of Scripture re: homosexual practice AND be a place where LGBT individuals can be embraced, loved, and listened to rather than shamed, denounced, or excluded. And the suggestion that we ask the Holy Spirit how to do this.

    Jesus — full of grace and truth. The church — full of grace and truth. That’s my dream. Thanks for articulating it, Mr. Sider.

  • Herbert Reed

    I don’t see much that is new here. This appears to be an updated version of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” argument which has been promoted for years by those opposed to welcoming LGBTQ individuals into our churches. The premise of the sin argument is the “Is/Ought” logical fallacy. Same sex marriage is not talked about in the Bible (the way things are), therefore it cannot be blessed by God (the way things ought to be). Celibacy is not a solution for many heterosexual people, so how can one seriously propose it as a solution for all LGBTQ people? If I am a LGBTQ person the fact that I am part of a “relatively small number with same-sex orientation” is no consolation for having to remain celibate. Widows and widowers do often remarry. And single persons who can’t find partners do sometimes find them later in life. The point is that they have the option to marry, an option which Sider would not offer to LGBTQ persons. Paul does praise celibacy, but he also says that “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” And let’s be real here. As much as we talk about it, marriage is not just about sexual intimacy. It is also about companionship and partnership. In the past much heartache has resulted when gay men and lesbians entered into heterosexual marriages because that was the only way that they could have a marriage accepted by society and the church. Is that the result we want as a church? Is that “dealing sensitively and lovingly with young people in our churches struggling with their sexual orientation?”

    I also fail to follow Sider’s logic in the paragraph which discusses Paul’s references to homosexuality and the question of long term committed relationships. Where is the evidence that “homosexuality” could apply to long term committed relationships? Sider refers to support in “ancient literature” for this application..His argument would be more convincing if he would provide actual citations and show that it would have been a concept relevant to Paul’s milieu and also that of Leviticus (the likely source of Paul’s teaching on this issue, he being a Pharisee).

    Sider seems to contradict himself when he comments on past church practice. On the one hand he calls for confession for “homophobia, gay bashing, etc.” But later he cites “church history” and the “overwhelming majority of Christians in the world today” as a reason for not welcoming and blessing same-sex relationships. I understand the distinction he is drawing (celibate is ok, not celibate not ok) but I think it is not an honest appraisal of the situation. There are many places in the world where being identified as an LGBTQ person is dangerous and Christian attitudes are too often indifferent to or even supportive of the discrimination. Of course if one is hostile or indifferent toward LGBTQ civil rights one is not going to be supportive of same-sex relationships. I would point out that if the Anabaptists had followed the same reasoning regarding church history and tradition we would still be practicing infant baptism and blessing military service in MCUSA.

  • Zach Gleason

    Absolute claims of uniform heteronormativity in the Bible are simply false. Contrary to this article, there are positive scriptural arguments in favor of inclusivity. It is discouraging to see people who are otherwise biblically engaged apparently unaware of them.


  • James Foxvog

    My wife and I just watched a hope-filled DVD, “Such were some of you.” It beautifully documents God’s love for those with same-sex attractions. It also challenges all of us to a total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

  • Richard Showalter

    I am profoundly grateful, Ron, that you’ve lent your voice as a scholar to this discussion. Given the vectors of western culture and the current uncertainties of North American Mennonite identity, it is a big challenge to point direction in a polarized context. You have done that well as an evangelical Anabaptist, with keen attention to the global Christian movement as well as to the scriptures. Some of the critiques by readers (that you omit reference to polygamy in the Old Testament, or fail to recognize that much of what you write is not “new,” or overplay the “always, everywhere” dimension of Christian tradition at the expense of the Anabaptist call to radical discipleship, or fail to document references to ancient texts, etc.) may help strengthen what you’ve written. However, I see nothing of substance to change in your article. Yes, to your inspiring call for us to repent. Thank you for a transformative, Christlike redefinition of “welcoming.” I stand with you.

    • Herbert Reed

      Richard, I have a great deal of respect for your scholarship. So this response is a disappointment. I don’t see how you can point out the lack of intellectual rigor in Sider’s article and then go on to say that you see “nothing of substance to change in your article.” Praising the “voice as a scholar” but affirming something which lacks basic scholarship is intellectually careless. How we get there is everything in scholarship so taking short cuts is “substance.” You seem to be saying that intellectual rigor doesn’t matter and I doubt that you believe that. If you do believe that, why do we even have seminaries?

      • Richard Showalter

        Thanks, Herbert. You’re right, I do believe that intellectual rigor matters. I wouldn’t say, though, that Sider lacks “basic scholarship” or is “intellectually careless.” My affirmations of critiques which you and others made were intended in the spirit of making a good argument better. But your comment is stimulating–I may have overplayed “nothing of substance.” Perhaps I should have said something like “nothing which would change my mind about your thesis.”

        • Herbert Reed

          RIchard, it is my opinion that the following paragraph lacks basic scholarship.

          “Numerous authors argue …. But the text does not say any of those things. It simply condemns same-sex intercourse.”

          How is this different from saying, “Just read the Bible as it is written.”?

          I am sure you are aware that this is the classic argument against textual criticism and not an argument a serious biblical scholar should use. It seems to me that Sider’s thesis succeeds or fails on this argument, and he compounds the error by referencing “ancient literature” without giving actual citations. In other words, he says on the one hand, just read the text as it is written (no need for interpretation), but on the other hand, there is ancient literature which supports my interpretation of the text. I ask again, why have seminaries if we are going to accept this as scholarship?

  • John Fairfield

    I appreciated the clarity and breadth of your statement, Ron. I agree with you that the Bible, in the few places where it directly discusses homosexuality, generally condemns it.

    Yet I am open to a different conclusion. It is unbiblical to assert that if the Bible says something is wrong, it is necessarily wrong.

    How so? The Bible tells us it is not the last word, that revelation is not finished, because God’s spirit abides with us. The New Testament tells us the story of God’s moving house, from the confines of a temple in Jerusalem, to the ekklesia, the synagogue, the church. God’s spirit is poured out on his people. Pentecost happened. The church is the body of the Messiah breathing the spirit of God. Whatever we, breathing the spirit, bind on earth is bound in heaven, whatever we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. There is no heavier responsibility.

    So we should not shirk our responsibility and hide behind the Bible. That would be unbiblical.

    This very process of church discernment that we are going through, is revelation happening. We need each other. Yes that includes the global south. This will take a long time. That’s the way it works.

  • John Beechy

    Ronald Sider states that not speaking out against homosexuality “. . . would mean forgetting the nearly unanimous two-millennia-long teaching of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians. And it would mean failing to listen to the vast majority of contemporary Christians, who now live in the Global South.” This sounds like “We’ve always done it this way” and “What will people think.” I expect more robust reasoning from a Bible scholar.

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