I am in San Diego at the annual meeting of the venerable Evangelical Theological Society. A hot topic this year is all matters concerning same-sex relationships as well as various gender identity issues. Next year the theme for the annual meeting will be Marriage and Family, so this is just a prelude.
I am struck by a couple things here. One is the generally hostile and condescending tone toward even the topic by most of the older ETS members (my generation). The second is the presence of younger scholars (even millennials) who are patiently asking tough questions that deserve answers.
Readers of this blog well know my general distrust of systematic theologians, especially in their handling of biblical information. Sometimes I don’t think the guild of systematicians should be allowed to use the Bible at all, but I know that is unrealistically harsh and stupid of me.
An example yesterday was a presentation that asked whether same-sex orientation in and of itself was sinful. That is, if a man has lustful thoughts about another man, is that sin? The presenter concluded that it most certainly is sin and that there are no gray areas here. His conclusion was based on the idea that Jesus condemned looking at a women “lustfully” meant that “adultery in the heart” had been committed (Matthew 5:28). I will admit that this presentation gave me pause. We have often focused on sin as action without considering the sins of our thought world, and I thank the presenter for this reminder.
However, I was troubled by the way in which the presenter applied this to the issue of same-sex orientation. To be sure there was a careful parsing of words, but his conclusion was that for a man even to be attracted to another man in any sort of sexual way was sinful. Therefore, anyone who admits to having such thoughts is admitting to sin. There is no excuse for any biological, sociological, or circumstantial factors, same-sex attraction is sin.
The presenter based this on Jesus’ words and on his belief in the “impeccability of Christ.” For those of you who have never heard of this doctrine, check out this link. This doctrine teaches that Jesus was not capable of sin. If we impose this doctrine on Jesus’ thought life, we must conclude that he never had a lustful thought. Even further, that Jesus never was sexually attracted to men (or to women) because this would have only been appropriate for his wife, and he was not married. So we get a sinless, sexless Jesus.
I don’t think this is very helpful, and is closer to the gnostic Jesus than the biblical Jesus. It reminds me of Phil Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. This is the Jesus of the systematicians, the Jesus that we are taught in church many times. Yancey said that when he really began to read the Gospels without this filter, he found a very human Jesus, the Jesus he never knew and had never been taught.
The conclusion, then is that it is not enough to tell a person that homosexual activity is sinful. We must teach that same-sex orientation for whatever reason is sinful, and that celibacy for a person with this orientation is not sufficient.
I’m not sure this is helpful (or biblical).
Nebraska Christian College