Post #17, Understanding Homosexuality meets Straight Into Gay America, a continuing conversation between Pastor David Glesne and Pastor Lars Clausen
Thanks for your post of November 27 which moves several central issues onto the table. I too see us turning a corner in our discussion and entering more into the arenas of philosophy and theology. (After writing what follows, I just noticed your most recent post as well.) I agree about moving on – although I do so a bit grudgingly because there are some assertions made that will go unchallenged and not clarified. But because we and our readers are starting to cover the same ground over again and repeating ourselves, I - as you - am willing to let this peripheral discussion of science and behavior rest and move to the more core issues.
As we do, let me just say that as a result of this discussion with you and especially our readers, I am sure that I didn’t realize then the full implications of what I wrote at the beginning of chapter 5 in my book when I said that when the discussion turns to the data gathered from science and experience we can quickly move into a low-land fog in which one interpretation can always look as good as another. This scientific study is more valid than that scientific study. This person’s experience counters that person’s experience. “We sink into the quicksand of opinion and interpretation that loses sight of the particularity of the claims at issue which cannot cope with the passion and tenacity with which these opinions and interpretations are argued and held.” It can become a stalemate that ends up trivializing the debate. I have learned much through the discussion for which I am grateful. Thanks for you important lead, Lars, and for your level-headed approach to our discussion. But lest we trivialize…lets move on.
What I will do here is interact with the three central issues you bring forth in your November 27 post.
True Nature? You ask, Lars, why I can’t be open to understanding that the true nature of a numerical minority segment of our population is LGBT? Why does the heterosexual majority need to describe the minority as sinful and against the will of God?
I love your compassion for people, Lars. Your warm heart comes through for LGBT people again here so clearly. Your question, however, moves us into the realm of the understanding of the nature of human beings which I believe moves us beyond the minority – majority social distinction. I could accept that self-described LGBT persons’ true identity is LGBT if it were not for the following: 1) God’s revelation concerning the creation of male and female in his image and their identity as male and female rooted in the very nature and being of God himself, 2) the reality of the Fall of human beings into sin with the result that we as fallen creatures cannot know our true nature from merely observing or experiencing current realities because human experiences are never self-interpreting and self-validating, and 3) God’s condemnation consistently and without exception in His Word of all homosexual behavior (and indeed all sexual behavior outside of the man – woman marriage relationship).
I understand God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures to teach us that sexual behavior in the lives of both heterosexual and self-described LGBT persons which is outside the will of God is against the very character of God and therefore equally condemned by God. That is why I am eternally grateful for God’s radical love which sent Jesus so that my sins (and the sins of all others) can be forgiven and by the work of the Holy Spirit I can be restored in Christ to my original creation – not perfectly in this fallen world but substantially - restored into the image of this One who is most truly human – Christ. My openness to understanding is limited only by the form of God’s Truth as revealed in Scripture.
Objective Reality? You ask a most important fundamental philosophical question when you ask what makes us take up and keep the worldviews we hold. You then helpfully spell out the differences of two worldviews – a subjective view of reality (experience based) and an objective view of reality (revelation based). Let me attempt at least some preliminary personal reflections on worldview and why I hold the worldview that I do.
I am thinking that “religion” or “worldview” is that which binds together and makes sense of reality, much as a ligament, for example, binds muscles and bones together into a working whole. A religion or worldview, then, is made up of beliefs and practices which give meaning to, make sense of, and bind a community together. Most basically a worldview provides understanding of origins (where the world came from), of moral order (the meaning of existence), of who I am as a person (personhood), and of how I know what I know (epistemology). In short, a worldview or religion is to make a cohesive sense of reality.
I believe it was Francis Schaeffer who said something to the effect that wise people choose their presuppositions but most people catch them like measles. What I believe he was saying is that everyone has a starting point and some people choose them carefully and wisely and others just sort of inherit them from their environment. In seeking to understand the reality that surrounds me and answer the questions I have of myself, history, and the cosmos, I can choose either to start with my own existence and work outward from there in search for the meaning of the world, human existence, my own existence and how I can know anything, or I can start with the existence of God. Since everyone must start somewhere, God is just as legitimate a starting point as my own existence and experience.
What I have found is that God being there, creating the cosmos, then speaking into human history truth about Himself, myself, history, and the cosmos makes the most sense and corresponds best to what I know about myself and the world around me. For example, God existing as a unity and diversity within Himself (Trinity) explains the existence of unity and diversity of this world. God being a Personal God who thinks, feels, and acts explains that personal portion of reality called human beings made in His image who think, feel, and act. Since God has created human beings to communicate with human beings through language, I am not surprise to read in Scripture that God has in like manner spoken in human language to human beings. God being there explains 1) where the world comes from (God spoke and it came into being), 2) the reason for my existence (God created human beings to love and to enjoy community with Him), 3) the human dilemma (why human beings are the most noble of creatures and yet the most flawed - because of sin), and 4) how I can know something for sure, because God has communicated truth to human beings. God has not told us everything but He has communicated what we need to know to live and find meaning in this world.
Having chosen God as my starting point, I have found that as I bring the questions regarding being, morals, and epistemology to Him and His Word, my questions are adequately answered. Because I find what He says to be true in the areas where I can verify them, I have confidence that what He says in areas where I cannot verify to also be true. And so I have humbled myself before Him trusting Him not only for salvation but for living. I am trusting God’s explanation of reality to be the true explanation. I enjoy the full range of human experience and can even face fallen reality in all its twistedness and depravity because of the hope that is in Christ both for my future and the future of the world. My human experience shapes and molds me to a great degree. But I never see human experience as self-defining, self-explanatory, or self-validating.
With regard to the specific matter of homosexuality, different starting points again, I think, let us see where we can end up on the different sides of the Continental divide. Robert Gagnon has written a helpful paper entitled “Why The Disagreement Over the Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice? which was written in response to Myers and Scanzoni’s What God Has Joined Together. He acknowledges that we have reached a seeming impasse in our discussions in the church.
Gagnon speaks of inverted hermeneutical scales. He sees one side served best when it formulates the following arguments, in this order of significance: 1) Scripture, 2) philosophic reason (a nature argument), 3) scientific reason, and 4) experience. The other side of the debate formulates the following arguments, in this order of significance: 1) experience, 2) scientific reason, 3) philosophic reason, and 4) Scripture. He points out, then, that not only do we have different starting points – Scripture for one and experience for the other – but that “each side adopts a range of arguments in inverse order of significance to the other side”.
I find his description helpful. I would also agree with him, however, that although we come at the issue from different angles, what is not at issue here is that the Scriptures and its hermeneutical (i.e. interpretative) application are ambiguous. I will let Gagnon speak for himself: “There really are no substantive exegetical and hermeneutical arguments for claiming that Scripture does not give us a decisive witness against homosexual practice per se.”
I hope I am speaking to your second point here and that this gives you at least a glimpse into seeing why I hold the worldview that I do.
Consequences: In this section, Lars, you question the interpretations about homosexual behavior as sinful that are ascribed as revelation from God. If I hear you correctly, I hear you saying that as we listen closely to the stories of our homosexual friends, we hear homosexuality as more than an act, a behavior, a pseudo-identity, and that compassion should therefore move us not only to accept these neighbors as persons but to approve of their behavior. And so if I understand you correctly, the foundation of your worldview is that compassion moves you to affirm and approve to same-sex persons and their behavior.
Lars, as I state in my book, I too believe it important to listen to the stories of LGBT people. That is one reason why I enjoyed reading Straight into Gay America. These are friends, neighbors, family members, church members, real people, with real experiences, with the full range of human emotions and feelings, with real joys and hurts. Listening to their stories honors them as fellow human beings. Christ calls us to follow his example, to listen and show compassion and love to these neighbors as well as all others.
But the question must be asked, “What constitutes true compassion and love for our homosexual neighbors? Do we humans get to define compassion and love? Or does God define compassion and love?” My concern is with what I believe to be your premise that compassion and love does not include calling for correction and for restoring a person to God’s kingdom. Let me explain.
Although there are those who would argue otherwise, I would argue that proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture. Rather, Scripture is uniform throughout, unambiguous, and straightforward in every respect that homosexual behavior is contrary to the revealed will of God. It follows that Jesus himself, who never called for the abolition of the moral Law of God, but rather summarized the Law’s fulfillment in the two great commandments of loving God and one’s neighbor, would have found any self-affirming and unrepentant homosexual activity to be egregious, putting the person at risk of not inheriting the very kingdom of God he proclaimed and embodied. He would have looked at an incestuous man or a polyamorous man in the same way. He would have compassion and love for the homosexual person, the incestuous man, and the polyamorous man but he would not have condoned the behavior. Rather, he would have offered them a way out of their sin.
Jesus had compassion and love for the Samaritan woman (John 4). In that love and compassion he never condoned her multiple marriages, he accepted her without approving of her behavior. Jesus had compassion and love for the woman caught in adultery (John 8). In his compassion and love for her he called the adulterous woman out of sin, lest something worse should happen to her. In I Corinthians 5, the early church faced the situation of an incestuous relationship between a member of their community and his stepmother. I put the question before us. “Who was more loving – Paul or the Corinthian believers?” The Corinthian believers were affirming of the incestuous relationship. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians and urges the excommunication of the incestuous man not to be punitive, but in the hope that once outside the church, this man would get roughed up by Satan and wake up to the serious consequences of his sin, and would return and be restored to the kingdom. Paul then goes on in chapter 6 and warns the Corinthian believers not to be adulterers, warns men who have sex with men, warns men who have sex with prostitutes, lest they risk not inheriting the kingdom of God. I am betting that in God’s eyes Paul is the more compassionate and loving.
Every one of us is a sinner and continually in need of daily repentance and God’s grace and forgiveness and cleansing. But there is a big difference between this and participating in serial, unrepentant sin which can sever us from God. I believe the church is called to be compassionate and loving to all sinners which involves calling for repentance and correction of life lest something worse should happen to us.
I think we are touching on central issues here as we focus on compassion and love for our neighbor and I’m thankful for how open and honest we can be with each other.