Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Brian McLaren's Self-Confessed Uncertainty has a blog where today Brian McLaren comments on homosexuality. McLaren’s comments are introduced by the words, “Brian shares a story that reveals the complexity of the homosexual question—a question where theology, truth, sin, grace, culture, politics, and pastoral wisdom collide.” Brian writes,” Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.”
Now minimally, I am confused. First, I think a case can be made that the biblical and theological understanding of the homosexual question is not that complex. Yes there are differing interpretations, but "complexity" is not the issue. I think they are fairly easy to understand. What's needed is choice. Thus I am a pastor who believes I know a lot about what I should think about this because I have made a hermeneutical choice. I do not feel confused. Nor do I think I should feel confused. But what does now confuse me is that the proposition “There may be a legitimate context for some homosexual relations” may be true. Please show me how the “biblical arguments are [so] nuanced and multilayered” that I should entertain the possible truth of this statement? And, of course, liberal theologians have already made this claim in varying degrees of strength for a long time now.
Are the “pastoral ramifications” “staggeringly complex?” Not in my estimation. A lot of pastoral work is very hard. I worked in campus ministry for eleven years and met with homosexually oriented students. A few of these were long-term situations. For example, I met for two years straight, usually every week, with a young man who was homosexually oriented. I can tell you that I loved him then and love him now while at the same time holding to the view that homosexual orientation, on the biblical view, is sin. This did not seem to offend him. Nor was I ever perceived to be some kind of great offense to anyone I met with in this regard. There’s no strictly logical incompatibility between holding to such a biblical view and loving anybody. Personally, I see my own sins and failures past and present so clearly at times that I feel a capacity to love anybody (not that I always do, and that failure itself I see as sin). Personally I did not feel some kind of "staggering" complexity about these encounters. I find a lot of interpersonal situations very complex.And some of these situations have caused me to struggle with the scriptures too.
I think Brian has a kind of false trichotomy at work here. It’s either conservatives or liberals, both of whom “seem to know exactly how we should think.” So, there’s conservatives who know what “we” should think. Then there are liberals who know what “we” should think. And finally there’s “we.” But I don’t want to be associated with any of these three groups. I want to be a person who knows – as far as this is possible – what to think (as I believe Christ knew who he was, unless we have a confused Willem-Dafoe type Kazantzakis Christ who really is a pretty confused Christ), and in that thinking be humble, and also be a person who loves all others as Christ loves all others. I’d also like to be loved even though I am not in any of the three McLaren groupings. And finally, I want mostly I give thanks to Brian for the work that God is doing through him to draw people to Jesus.
[NOTE: McLaren's original post has generated a lot of heat and some light. These posts appear on's "Out of Ur" blog. McLaren's newest post includes some confession re. unclarity and some clarification re. issues. While Brian calls for pastoral compassion he chooses not to give his own theological position on the h-issue. I wish he would do this. Why? I commented on the blog that I believe theological position informs pastoral application. Then, a dialectic begins between theological position and pastoral application. But I think both are needed. So Brian, if you want to help someone like me on an issue like this, please give me both theological position and pastoral application. Because you ask, “if you are certain without a shadow of doubt that homosexual behavior is always wrong, where do you draw the line?” This is a good question. But if I, the reader, am uncertain where a writer is on a position, how do I make any sense of pastoral application? Different theological positions raise different questions as to where to “draw the line.”
I’ll add this: State a position on anything and an “us/them” situation will be there. I don’t see how this can be avoided. I do see how hating and mocking and ridiculing “them” can be avoided. But I say again, using Brian’s language, ”we” always “deteriorates” into “us/them.” I think it did for Jesus. The issue for me then becomes how we speak both love and truth at that point. And a toughie for me then becomes the real application of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that his children would "all be one, as he and the Father are one." I'm going to begin asking for God's help to empower me to apply this in my own marriage and with my sons.]