Response to Chris: Are Christianity and Homosexuality Reconcilable?
I have several problems with Chris’s post. First, while I’m very interested in his approach to interpreting the Scriptures, I take issue with his description of it as “post-liberal” in contradistinction to fundamentalist or literalist interpretations. It flatters the self-understanding of both liberal theologians and fundamentalists to think of literalism as older than liberalism. It flatters the liberals because they understand their method to be a sophisticated, up-to-date improvement on naive, outdated literalism and it flatters the fundamentalists because they understand their method to be the original, uncorrupted, and obvious approach to the text.
In point of fact, however, the literalist interpretive framework post-dates liberal Biblical criticism both chronologically and etiologically. The liberal theological project is usually said to have begun with Schleiermacher in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as I understand, whereas fundamentalism didn’t get going until the end of the 19th century, and defined itself as a rejection of historical criticism.
Secondly, and more problematically, Chris seems to treat the theological question as primarily one of hermeneutics. That is, the problem is that there are some statements in the Scriptures that seem to condemn homosexual acts unambiguously, but as always we have to understand the text as a thing to be interpreted, so the question comes down to interpretative method. But it seems clear that the Christian view of sexuality is not reducible to a few proscriptions explicitly stated in the Bible. There exists an old and still active philosophical tradition that treats Scriptural witness as authoritative, but also spells out systematic descriptions and norms where the Bible is allusive and literary. It is also adaptable to contemporary situations in a way that the Bible, being a fixed text, is not. So, while it’s certainly true that the homosexuality St. Paul condemned looked nothing like the modern couple consisting of two men committed to a life together, the Christian opposition to the contemporary form is surely grounded in large part not on a single passage from Romans but on principles worked out over centuries of Christian thought. It is with these principles that Chris should engage if he wants to convince us that Christians should reconsider their understanding of homosexuality.
Last and most problematic of all is that Chris’s approach would seem to exclude a possibility that has always been a precondition of Christian life: that it is possible to love all people, even the most thorough-going and unrepentant of sinners. The key sentence of his post is this one:
I mean if Jason is right and there is no way you can both be a Christian and accept/love gays and lesbians as they are in their actual lives, then I’ll have to abandon my Christianity because I’m not going to go back to the former ways of relating.
Is that true of any sinner? That to love a person it is first necessary to exclude the possibility that he or she is sinning? Even if we only restrict this principle to cases where the person in question rejects Christianity’s historical characterization of certain sins, as is presumably the case in committed same-sex relationships, this would seem to oblige us either to hate a lot of people or excuse a dramatic number of sins. I’ve met a number of people working in finance whom Chris would probably call ruthless, not unjustly. But many of these people have a completely sincere belief in the basic goodness of capitalist systems and of the self-interested pursuit of profit therein. They daily and professionally commit what Scripture and tradition have long called sin. Is Chris’s choice between denying that they sin or abandoning Christianity? I suspect he wouldn’t say so.