Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PCUSA Debate over Homosexuality

I've been following the debate in the Presbyterian Church over whether practicing homosexuals should be ordained for the gospel ministry. Mark Roberts is a Presbyterian minister who recently left the pastorate of an influential church in California to serve as the resident theologian of a retreat/camp in Texas called "Laity Lodge." I've followed his blog ever since I met him last year (through a mutual friend, former student, Steven Purcell, who's also on staff at Laity Lodge), and have found his writing to be very helpful, insightful, wise, and compassionate. He has a great mind and a good heart--a great combination for the work of the kingdom. Anyway, his blog can be found here:

I think Mark has put his finger on the salient reason why those who oppose ordination of gays and lesbians will never be able to agree with those who do (and vice versa). For those who oppose, it's a matter of personal righteousness. Since same sex behavior is condemned in the Bible as sinful, then those who participate in homoerotic behavior are committing sin. For those who support ordination of gays and lesbians, it's a matter of justice. Since the marginalized are often singled out by the prophets as victims of injustice, then those who fight for the marginalized are doing the work of God because He is a defender of the weak, the outcast, the rejected. So, as Mark writes, those who support ordination of gays and lesbians will never give up until these who have been marginalized in America are accepted--it's a matter of divine justice. And, those who oppose ordination of gays and lesbians will never accept the homosexual lifestyle as anything but sinful because personal righteousness is defined by God's Word not by individual preferences.

So, here's the question that I think will help bring a little light to the subject. Can you think of examples where Jesus defended the marginalized by redefining the margins--what is "unclean" anyway? And, can you think of examples where Jesus defended the marginalized while maintaining the margins--sin is still sin, right? I think the difference will be revealing.


Darryl Schafer said...

Good thoughts. I've been wrestling quite a bit with the exclusivism of our faith (although a very good friend made the obvious point that all faiths are exclusive to some degree). Admittedly, I have more questions than answers. Your post, especially the last paragraph, is helpful.

As far as margins on this issue go, how do you feel about the conclusions Hays draws in his ethics book?

Darryl Schafer said...

And yes, I'm asking you where you stand on this. ; )

jesnicole said...



Rodney Reeves said...


Which conclusions do you have in mind? Regarding his methodology, or its application?


I was saddened to hear about the death of your mother. We prayed for you.


Darryl Schafer said...

Dr. Reeves,

Since you asked, how about both?

Rodney Reeves said...


Although I agree with his methodology (analysis via diagnostic questions and reading Scripture via three foci [community, cross, and creation]), I see the emphasis on truth as metaphor as reductionist. On the one hand, I agree we cannot equate "timeless truth" with "culturally conditioned texts", but at the same time neither should they be viewed as mutually exclusive. It seems to me Hays drives a wedge between historical meaning and universal truth that leads him to the conclusion of truth = metaphor (see p. 310, "It is impossible to distinguish 'timeless truth' from 'culturally conditioned elements' in the New Testament). Of course, I love his emphasis on exegesis as the starting place for NT ethics.

If I've read him correctly, I cannot help but wonder, though, whether his emphasis on metaphor forces Hays to speak of the "normative" function of the text rather hesitatingly as scriptural "tendencies" and theological "proposals" (Hays' humility is admirable but where is the prophetic voice? By the way, I hear the prophetic voice in Hays more loudly when I read his chapter on nonviolence, where he speaks with more authority, "not as one of the scribes").

In other words, I'm in great agreement with Prof. Hays (only registering a few reservations). For my money, his "Moral Vision" is one of the best works on NT Ethics.

You know I admire him and have profited much by his work.

Were you thinking of any particular application of his method with regard to margins?


Darryl Schafer said...

Dr. Reeves:

I'm also in love with his method. His book actually helped me organize sermon material, although I doubt that was a major thrust of what he was trying to accomplish!

What I was thinking of in my original question was his conclusions on homosexuality, particularly when it comes to ordination for the ministry. His conclusions (i.e. allowing celibate homosexuals to be ordained) seem to hover in the tension between the two polarities you mentioned in your post.

To me, it seems a rather fair assessment, given that the text condemns the behavior and not necessarily the orientation. (Oooo, look at the legalist in me!) The margins of holiness within the community are maintained while so-called "outsiders" are embraced as a vital part of it. (The margins bother me somewhat. It's not that they're inherently bad, but I've seen them abused far too often in a way that sets up an "us" vs. "them" mindset.)

In the end, I think folks on both sides of what can be a shouting match are after the same thing: a faithful read of the text followed by faithful living (as you originally alluded to). The perennial question: what does that LOOK like?

I'm still trying to hammer this out. Again, your concluding remarks in the original thread are definitely helpful.

Rodney Reeves said...


One of the major problems we have when we talk about homosexuality is that we assume the cultural/social convictions of our world automatically translate to the biblical world, in this case the NT world.

In the NT world, they didn't think in terms of sexual orientation. No Roman who engaged in homoerotic practice would call himself a "homosexual." Homoerotic behavior was a "legitimate" sexual experience (especially among the elite)for Romans; but they would be offended by the idea that someone would therefore claim a sexual orientation because of their homoerotic behavior. In fact, Greco-Roman intellectuals write of those who prefer ONLY homoerotic experiences as shameful persons.

All of that to say this: I also agree with Hays regarding homoerotic behavior as sinful according to the Bible (BTW, I've heard he's received much grief in the academy for his position). That is not the same as saying persons who "struggle" with same sex attraction are already condemned because they are placed in a modern category of sexual orientation. In other words, I believe there are Christians (yea, even ministers) who are tempted by homoeroticism, that doesn't make them any less a follower of Jesus Christ or a minister of the gospel (than those who struggle with other appetites of the flesh).

Of course, those who promote the gay and lesbian lifestyle take great exception to calling homoerotic behavior as sinful. And, there's the rub.

Darryl Schafer said...

Dr. Reeves,

Some of my interest in this thread is coming from my experience at the SBC in Inidanapolis a few weeks ago. I might fill you in the next time I'm in town. Oy vey.

For what it's worth, I'm with you. It IS unfair to impress 21st c. sexual mores upon the 1st. c. world (hence my "legalist" crack). Part of my struggle is the fact that the topic has come up several times with folks at my church, and I've just had to sit there in silence. I imagine you can play out the discussion for yourself. How do I inject into a conversation observations such as this without being branded as a heretic?

Of course, as you pointed out, the same thing has essentially happened to Hays from the other side of the aisle. Maybe I should humbly follow his example. Again, I'm still working on this.

Michael Gilley said...

Dr. Reeves,

Nice to see you in the blogging world once again. I suspect everything is going well at SBU in preparation for Fall. Everything out here in sunny Cal is going well except for the trimmers here and there. :) Ben Cassil told me a while back that I should tell you about my theology class this summer with Craig A. Evans. It was extremely interesting. He is a very opinionated man.

In response to your last post we are studying eschatology right now in systematics (my prof is Eastern Orthodox). It's quite interesting how much theology on this subject has influenced us post-Reformation, which in turn came mostly from Augustine and that from Plato (eternal nature of the soul an so on). Wright has picked up on the dualistic thinking of a vast majority of the Protestant church for sure. I've found it helpful and really entertaining to read some of the rabbinical writings on the resurrection in the Talmud.

Chris Dodson said...

While I realize I'm a little late to the discussion, I believe that some instances of Jesus protecting the marginalized can be found. Look at the example of Jesus' call to Matthew, a theif by trade. He simply says come with me. A man of the same trade, Zacheaus, receives a similar reception by Jesus: no (recorded) mention of their sin at all. Zacheaus provides a very good example of this, but he works both ways. In this instance Jesus both redefines and maintains the standard. Though Jesus "redefines" the standard of holiness to dine with Zacheaus, Zacheaus' response to the invitation of Jesus is a response of of the pursuit of holiness and justice. I believe that this is the end goal of many in emergent church movements who believe in the maxim "belonging before becoming." As to how far this extends on the issue of ordination, I don't know. But we ordain gluttons, haters, and idolaters all the time. Is the matter of homosexuality a categorically different issue of personal righteousness or is merely a more public one?

ben cassil said...

On redefining the margins, perhaps the Lukan theme of a curse reversal is applicable. Inclusion of an outsider like Zacchaeus into the community by a pronouncement that he too is a son of Abraham would possibly be a redefinition of margins.
On keeping the margins but still including the marginalized, the same story can be applied. For, Jesus did not condone the greed that the crowd suspected of Zacchaeus. Rather, he confirmed that either he had repented, or was faithful all along.
Hopefully we, as a church, can learn to struggle with this issue. The concern I have is that those of us who are on the side that homosexual behavior is sinful tend to offer that as a blanket statement, dismiss the people and ignore the problem. We must not do this, we must learn how to love, to accept before we disciple. We cannot expect converts to become holy in conversion. Ordination is a whole 'nother deal, of course, and my proximity and work with All Saint's Church has made it clear how all sides must come to an understanding of love.

Also: regarding good ethics books, have you read Stassen and Gushee's "Kingdom Ethics?"

Rodney Reeves said...

Thanks, guys, for your comments. I hadn't checked this post for a while, then realized several posters have made some very perceptive suggestions.

I think Chris and Ben have hit the nail on the head. Jesus identified with the marginalized (because he was one!) and did not compromise holiness. That's a hard act to follow, but we must try. All of us tend to find the sin of others more grievous than our own. Thank God it took a real holy man to show us the error of our ways.

Yes, Ben, I've read Stassen and Gushee. Brilliant.

Tom 1st said...

I know I'm a bit late here, but would Jesus interactions with the Syro-Phoenician woman count?