40 Answers for Kevin DeYoung Part 2: A Panel Discussion!

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.

Three voices:

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 second in a series of questions revolving around the theology of gay marriage:

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Johnny – Of those people, I only know Luther, and all I know about Luther is his Small Catechism, and he doesn’t talk about it in there.

John – I don’t think they could have grasped homosexuality as it is today; it would be so foreign to them. Still, they would probably have looked at it and still condemned it. We must understand these theologians as contextualized, and it would be impossible for them to think otherwise. Just because the long arc of history has been against same-sex sexual activity doesn’t mean the arc is right.

JFou – Straight White Men dictating church dogmatics?  C’est la même chanson. Vieux chapeau.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

Johnny – I hate the idea of being a missionary, but I feel guilty about feeling that way. Still, if I’m going to do any convincing, it will be through teaching. If I’m called to ministry, it would be in teaching.

John – I wouldn’t. I think there are ways of reading the Bible poorly, such as reading agendas into it.  I think we see just as much of ‘biblically incorrect’ arguments in North American churches (i.e. prosperity gospel, America as a Christian nation). The point is that a North American reads the Bible—and even uses it differently—than a South American.  A North American might be apt to draw out rules and regulations from the reading, whereas a South American may identify more with the liberationist narratives. It’s all culturally conditioned, but it doesn’t mean that understandings are incorrect.

JFou – Me neither. To presume biblical correctness is to assume the category of ‘biblical’ as a distinct (and sacrosanct) culture. The assumption is that ‘biblical’ means to be historically and grammatical correct as to the original intent of the writer. For some, that writer is God; for others it is ancient people, and for even more others it’s something in between. It is important to understand that—in spite of our attempts to understand the intent of ancient writers— our understanding of what is biblical is still informed by our own cultural lens.  We interpret the Bible as a cultural document—distinct from our own—with our culture’s lens.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

Johnny – I know Hillary, but who’s Barack?

John – If it were the case, I think it would be at best theopolitically motivated and at worst purely political. The former would mean that their political beliefs were precisely informed by their religious beliefs, wherein at some point there was a move of conviction that allowed them to think differently.  For the latter, it was a means of earning approval points. Smart, but…

JFou – With all due respect, what a stupid question. Amidst all of the questions posed, this is the most thinly veiled (triple metaphor) biased question. I think both of them have a tremendous amount of personal animus and bigotry, as I would expect from any politician. It’s unfortunate that we have come to distrust our political system). However, if our politicians claim that we are a democracy, then our cynicism is warranted by the paradox that (1) it is democracy that fosters this cynicism and that (2) we do not actually exist in a democracy but an oligarchy of the wealthiest. Coming back to the issue at hand (marriage equality), I would still confidently say that there is much more animus and bigotry from those opposing marriage equality than those who may change their mind hither or thither. Still, outright, subtle, and silent prejudices are all still bigotry.

14, 15, 16. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father? If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion? If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

Johnny – My family’s not perfect, but I think my mom and dad are doing their best, and I know they love me regardless. I don’t think it would make any difference if the parents were either both men or both women. The kids might miss out on learning about what it’s like to be a male or female if one of them is missing, so I think it would be important for that kid to have someone important in their life who is not like them.

John – Johnny is on to something. I think a stable family is ultimately what is important. I don’t know many (or any?) families where there are two parents of the same sex, but I would weigh their stability with the same rubric as a heterosexual couple. I agree with Johnny about having a broad network of influence on a child’s rearing from differing gender and sex perspectives. I don’t think the church or the state should have any role in promoting or privileging any family dynamic.

JFou – Johnny’s right. Strong, inclusive families can foster greater happiness. I now know families with two dads or two moms, and I’m impressed with their family system. I’ve seen some research that shows no difference between heterosexual or homosexual parenting, but I think Johnny has a point about the ‘missing out’ piece.  I would like to see families approach gender and sex in a constructive way, inviting persons into the family dynamic that are not like the immediate family. This sort of inclusivity is incredibly beneficial.

17, 18. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment? How would you define marriage?

Johnny – I think marriage is a big commitment, and so it’s more than emotional and sexual fulfillment.  I think it’s spiritual. I think it’s supposed to last all your life. I think it’s about finding that soul mate. I think it’s romantic. I would like to get married and maybe have a family, but I’m also a bit nervous about it. I just hope I find someone that likes me enough and that I have good kids.

John – I too would like to spend my life with someone.  What can I say? I’m a romantic.  I think the purpose of marriage is an ultimate expression of love through commitment.  You can have emotions and sex outside of marriage, but marriage is a ritual that symbolizes the sort of ultimate commitment two people have to one another before God and the world. I see it more as an intimate partnership, where two people come together and decide to devote themselves to the love between them and the love that will come from them, whether in children or in the work the two do together.

JFou – Marriage is a social institution with whatever symbolism a society ascribes to it. If there is any theological significance to it, it is because it is ascribed that; nothing more. While I would like to have a partner, I don’t know if I want to get married.  I like how John describes the partnership of a marriage, and I resonate with his romantic tendencies. However, since coming out, I have also deconstructed my concept of romance and its tendencies.  Critiquing that part of me was a difficult process, but I know better what I want and why I want it.

And now: a lightning round! Questions 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24.  

  Johnny John JFou
Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married? No. No. Probably not.
  Johnny John JFou
Should marriage be limited to only two people? Yes. Probably. I’m not sure if I care.
  Johnny John JFou
On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married? I don’t know. There would need to be a free will commitment to enter into a loving and mutually reciprocal relationship. I leave it to the professionals on this one. I can’t even begin to hypothesize. Sorry.
  Johnny John JFou
Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license? Yes. Yes. Probably.
  Johnny John JFou
Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage? If not, why not? Yes. Absolutely. Yes.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Johnny – Yes. I think freedom of speech and religion is important for that, just so long as there isn’t any violence or anything like that.

John – I do, but I think that when one’s freedoms adversely impact another’s freedoms, then the freedoms should be freely withheld. Example: if you think that homosexuality is wrong, but there is a gay wedding next door at the church. You should recognize the freedom that the gay couple has to marry, but your opinion would still be protected.  I think that there could be a healthy practice of democratic differentiation: holding on to one’s beliefs and convictions while living in a situation that may be otherwise.

The person who thinks homosexuality is wrong still exists in spite of the fact that a gay marriage is taking place next door.  Their integrity is not threatened. The tricky part is when injustices are experienced; but who would experience the greater injustice: the gay couple unable to live in a world where they cannot marry, or the heterosexual person unable to live in a world where their paradigm is not accepted as absolute?

JFou – I agree with John. We would need to look at this through the context of a marginalized minority within a majority controlled society. In order to be a just and fair society, the minority and the marginalized would need to be treated with equitable interest. This means that if there is an experience of injustice caused either formally or informally by a majority, it is the minority’s responsibility to make it known and the majority’s responsibility to listen and take action.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Johnny – Yes. Freedom of speech is protected.

John – I would. I think it’s a shame that the schools I go that have such strict rules against homosexuality.  And yet, I understand that these institutions can make these decisions (Dartmouth v. New Hampshire). Can a Christian college have a code of conduct that prohibits homosexuality? Yes, it’s lawful, but it ain’t right.

JFou – Absolutely. I am thankful that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes in Minnesota.  I think it’s terrible that they are not in other states. I hope that with marriage equality that this issue will be addressed forthrightly. But, in the posing of the question, I wonder who Kevin thinks is actually being threatened.

Allow me to make a pragmatic case: I think the case of the heterosexual baker who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is a fascinating one. I don’t think the baker’s freedoms are being threatened in the request to bake a cake, but I am not sure if the gay couple’s freedoms are being threatened in that they can take their business elsewhere.  This is an interesting example of market forces having an influence on the exercise of liberties. Will the market favor the baker and bring more business to them from people who think homosexuality is wrong, or will the market favor the inclusive baker?

Simply speaking, more people would go to the inclusive baker because, well, there would be straight and gay people going to the bakery, as opposed to only straight people going to the heterosexual baker. The heterosexual baker’s liberty to provide goods and services is not adversely impacted, but the gay couple’s liberty in regards to access to goods is impacted. However, the market would create an equitable outcome by encouraging the conditions for these two bakeries to exist, where, in my opinion, the inclusive bakery would thrive and the market forces behind that would help encourage the collective ethical consciousness.  So, in short, let the market decide!

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Johnny – Maybe. I don’t like speaking out.

John – Possibly; but I’m not an activist. If I have a platform, it would be through teaching and mentoring—one on one instead of in front of a protest or demonstration.

JFou – Yes. I would want to speak out when an injustice is committed. I’m doing it right now in regards to LGBTQ folk experience discrimination and prejudice. As the religious folk, I am quick to defend religion, faith, and spirituality, but not certain beliefs or institutions.  For example, I will speak out against evangelical churches-as-institutions for their oppressive theology of anti-homosexuality. I will speak out against the Archdiocese of Minnesota, whose leadership decries homosexuality as a destructive and evil force while its priests molest little boys. That I will shame. That I will bully.

28, 29, 31 Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles? Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline? What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Johnny – I would think that it would be important for pastors to hold married people accountable. I think that if they are doing something wrong, it should be addressed in a loving manner.

John – The kind of church that I would want to be at would be one where everyone is in a close community where there is mutual encouragement from everyone.  If there is a problem in the community, I would want to see the community come together to help.

JFou – I’m against religion-as-institution, so I am against churches as a sort of moral police on its congregation.  This is known as heteronomy, or, subjugation of an individual to the perceived moral authority of an institution wherein the moral authority of the institution is never subject to question.  It is my modus operandi to question the moral authority of a church-as-institution. The moral authority of a church-as-community is slightly different insofar as it resists the temptation to institutionalize, wherein its moral authority is defined by the integrity of each member of the church and not in the church itself. Discipline would be communal, relational, and multilateral, not authoritarian, isolated, and unilateral.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Johnny, John, JFou – Yes. It’s damn hard, but it’s possible. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Johnny – I don’t know. I’m still new to understand more about Christianity. I only recently was baptized, went through communion, and went through confirmation. I’m still learning.

John – I think that I have accepted the invitation to explore my faith deeper in so many ways, and I have found it incredibly beneficial. I have been able to explicate my thoughts in a more coherent way, and have been able to teach others too.

JFou – Even though I recognize my theological method and beliefs have changed, there are core parts that I recognize that have not. I look at my faith journey as one integrated narrative. With that, I am able to hold onto the integrity of my faith in the midst of change. The theological changes I have undertaken may not have the same magnitude as my other colleagues. One big reason would be that I was not raised in an evangelical and/or fundamentalist background; I adopted evangelical tendencies through Lutheranism, especially at my high school.  Nowadays, I do pine for some of those experiences, and there are still questions I wrestle with, but I am ultimately very happy with the contour of my faith journey.

 

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

Johnny – I like faith and what I’ve learned, but I still don’t like going to church. It’s really bad now because of all of the politics going on at my church. Its stuff like this that makes youth like me want to leave the church.

John – My current church is doing a great job with that. We are open to accept everyone and rescue them from their troubles, but we want to see people restored to a loving faith with Jesus and released to a life of ministry. I’ve very proud to be active in this church!

JFou – I wouldn’t point to orthodox Christianity!

 

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Johnny – I hope so.

John – I hope so.

JFou – If I can deconstruct each of those commitments, then yes; I hope so.

Next: We ask the panel to respond to each with a concluding statement!

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