Recently, self-described non-emergent theologian Kevin DeYoung posed “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags.” As he describes the questions, they “aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.”
In the midst of several responses to the 40 questions, including Ben Irwin’s responses and Matthew Vines’ posing of an additional 40 questions, I wanted to invite a panel to address each of Kevin’s questions. Each of them represent different approaches to the question and different places in life, including age, career, and faith development. Allow me to introduce our three panelists.
Johnny – 10 years old to 15 years old. Highly creative child; writes plays, movies, and stars in a public access TV show. Historically hates going to church, but goes to a Lutheran Middle School and undertakes first communion and confirmation. Develops an appreciation for faith and spirituality, but also has begun to develop attraction towards boys, and is getting scared. Develops a deep depression once entering high school.
John – 16 to 23 years old. Has religious commitment experience at age 16 that would set him on a path of happiness and exploring the Christian faith. Becomes committed to following his dream of being a teacher, but now within a religious context. Reconciles that his sexual attractions are ok as long as he is “in Christ.” Goes to Christian college and continues on to Seminary. Becomes very active in a church.
JFou – 24 years old to present. After rigorous study and reflection in seminary, decides to come out at age 25. He/him/his pronouns are fine. Leaves his church prior to coming out, which was a very painful experience. Has excellent last year of seminary, where his queer theology flourishes. He continues to study and write after seminary and becomes more active in the LGBTQ community. He continues to explore the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion around and within him.
So, without further ado, let’s get to our panel. I have grouped some of the questions into similar categories while preserving the original questions as a means of simplification for our guests. And now, the first series of questions revolving around the theology of gay marriage:
1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
Johnny – I’ve never liked weddings. Weddings are boring, but I have to go to them…
John – I don’t have a problem with gay people or gay marriage. My problem would be if a gay Christian person’s gay identity would be become superior to their Christian identity. As a Christian, identity should be based in Christ alone; any other identity (political, religious, economic, whatever) would still be subject to the Christian identity. If a gay person still has their identity in Christ as the centering of his or her identity, then it’s great.
JFou – A long time. Reflecting back on my life, I realize that perspective would have been a good resolution to my own inner strife regarding the question of identity. Today, I am critical of that viewpoint in principle because I believe that identities are storied and multilateral rather than static and unilateral, or hierarchical. I think Johnny’s position is a good place for Christians to start when it comes to reconciling certain beliefs with their experience, but I do not think it is necessary.
2, 3, 30, 4. What Bible verses led you to change your mind? How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated? Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage? What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
Johnny – Romans 1:26-32. I think sex outside of marriage might be sinful, but like Jesus talks about, I think the real issue is lust. It’s bad to have lustful thoughts towards people, and I know it’s really bad to have these attractions. But, if I don’t act on them, and if I try hard enough to not have them, then I think I’ll be ok. I’m still afraid I won’t go to heaven, but I think God still loves me enough.
John – Romans 5:3-5. This is my life verse. In the midst of depression, I know that whatever suffering I go through is not for naught, but that I have hope in the midst of it. As for a positive case from Scripture, I haven’t thought about that in that way, but I think that if God loves everyone in spite of what they might think, God would look upon any loving relationship favorably. I think sex outside of a monogamous situation is not sin but may not be good or useful; it could be risky. I am not one for ‘waiting until marriage,’ but I think that sexual activity should have a focus or end in regards to the health of the relationship, gay or straight. Whatever is healthy and useful and loving is good. I am an egalitarian, so I don’t believe in established gender roles in a marriage. I think that the Christ and church piece is one that enforces these roles. I see the roles in marriage as mutual and reciprocal.
JFou –One cannot make a case from Scripture concerning your tenet, and I am not certain that you could make a case that any sexual activity itself is blessed. The problem here is in the concept of ‘blessing.’ What are the loci of the blessing: in the manipulations of the genitals themselves, in the symbolism it entails, or in the cultural institution it enacts? However, if there is one verse that can show a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church, I would use John 8:23a: “But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above.” 😉
5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?
Johnny – I don’t know. I just know that I don’t want these feelings, but I can’t talk to anyone about them. Nobody would understand.
John – Absolutely. Jesus practiced a lovingkindness to all, especially those on the outside. I’m just not sure where I fit into this. I have feigned a sort of asexuality for a long time, but I would love to be in a committed relationship. I still have things to work through.
JFou – I’m not sure Jesus would have understood, in his cultural context, the situation you provided. In his context, the most immediate situation of homosexual behavior in a quasi-committed relationship would be that between a consenting adult male and a ‘consenting’ prepubescent boy. He would also be aware of homosexual behavior between nonconsenting adults, where a soldier might be fucking a captured enemy or something like that. But, if there were consenting adults in a committed relationship who ‘practiced homosexual behavior,’ and if this behavior would be considered deviant and sinful, it would be likely that Jesus would have reached out to them in the similar ways as he ministered to the other outcasts of Judean society. So, I don’t think that the present context of homosexual relationships relates to anything within the 1st century AD. Moving on a tangent, I still want to be in a committed relationship, but I’m also learning how to be present with and love myself.
6, 7. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman? When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?
John – The context of this argument is in his teaching on divorce. The central message is not that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that God did not intend divorce. This is not a passage to be used in the conversation about homosexuality. Porneia is used to describe sexual immorality in general, but in this context, I think it is specifically talking about sexual immorality within a marriage context, which would ultimately be adultery and unfaithfulness.
JFou – John is right. This is because—among several hermeneutical lines—the cultural context would not have an understanding of a committed ‘homosexual’ relationship. Moses wouldn’t have, and neither would Jesus or his followers. I think John is on the point regarding porneia. I would add that where porneia is used as ‘homosexuality,’ this is a clear example of exegetical prejudice, or, using a word the original audience would not have understood in order to make your point.
8, 40. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1? When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
John – I think it is sexual immorality in general that drives us away from God. If an exchange would be sinful, it is because it draws us away from God. Back to my point of identity in Christ, if a gay couple are together in a loving relationship, God will honor that. However, if the relationship or actions of a gay person draws them away from God, it is sin. Sin is all about that which divides us from God.
JFou – I would agree with you John, but I don’t think that is entirely the point of Romans 1. Romans is a letter to Jewish Christians in Rome who have returned after being exiled by the Emperor Claudius. Upon returning to the predominantly Gentile Christian communities, they inquire of Paul on how to live in this community. Paul’s response is to ultimately show that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, as stated in Romans 2:1:
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
The ‘vice list’ in Romans 1 is a common rhetorical device among the writers of this time, but Paul may be “recycling this list”, as Morgan Guyton writes,
…as part of disparaging the salvific sufficiency of Torah, so it has at most secondary importance and may only be relevant as a means of taking the listeners for a ride whose real purpose is to establish a repudiation of the law as a means for justification before God.
So, a repudiation of the law may also be tied to a repudiation of these vice lists in order to establish (as Paul does later on) the principle of “justification before God.”
9, 10. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven? What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
Johnny – Yes, and I’m scared. I think the sins they are referring to include the thoughts and attractions. However, I read that God loves me, and I understand it, but I’m worried I might be deceiving myself.
John – No. Again, if one is in Christ, there is no condemnation. It always comes back to being in Christ, experiencing the love of God in Jesus Christ.
JFou – Absolutely not. I think there are host of presuppositions that are misplaced in this assumption.
32, 33, 34. If “love wins,” how would you define love? What verses would you use to establish that definition? How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
Johnny – I think there are all kinds of love, but I see the Bible talk a lot of neighborly love. Love God and love your neighbor; that’s what I read. Still, I need to read the Bible more.
John – I think the Bible is important for the development of Christian ethics, but not in a deontological way where God says it and that’s it. At the same time, I am not a situational ethicist, whereas long as someone does the ‘loving thing’ it’s cool.. I think that teleological ethic of love is a way to go. If the Bible describes the story of God’s love for humanity, and we continue that story, then our end is to experience and propagate God’s love. Along ethical lines, I think that virtue is still important, but I’m suspicious about how churches define virtue, especially when it is used to shame and exclude people.
JFou – I began a turn towards virtue ethics the year prior to coming out, around the same time as my turn towards the symbolic, so I understand John’s interest in it. I’m beginning to lean more towards the tenet that theology is ultimately a conversation about ethics. Whether or not you believe in God or gods, theological conversations are about what we consider to be the ultimate for us, and so it has a tremendous ethical implication. When you pose the question of how obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love, there’s a risk of demonstrating ‘bad faith,’ wherein the ultimate concern is in the literal words of the Bible as God’s commands. Without good hermeneutics, I think there are profound ethical missteps that can happen, and thus a misinterpretation of love. However, developing an ethic based on inspiration from sources like the Bible, as well as others, may prove to be a fruitful endeavor.
37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
Johnny, John, JFou – We are not evangelicals.
Next: Answers to the remaining questions, which include the political, familial, and ecclesiastical ramifications of marriage equality.