Walter Brueggemann in Theology of the Old Testament talks about two traditions that exist alongside each other within the Old Testament. These traditions cannot be easily resolved and exist with a certain amount of tension that makes them irresolvable. These are what he calls the justice tradition and the holiness tradition. The first looks toward the neighbour, the second toward the well-being of YHWH. The first is marked by caring for one’s neighbour, the second is marked by ritual purity. Often these traditions overlap but sometimes they do not. Brueggemann argues that it is essential to maintain the tension between these two “interpretive trajectories,” for they reveal a God that is both for us, and a God that is jealous for God’s own self.
Pulling on the work of Fernando Belo (cf. A Materialistic Reading of the Gospel of Mark), Brueggemann then argues that Jesus champions the justice tradition while his opponents are advocates of the holiness tradition. This is not to say that the holiness tradition is to be completely discarded (indeed, a distortion of both occurs when they are taken by themselves) but it does set the tone for Christian action.
It is for this reason that Brueggemann argues that homosexuals should be granted equal rights and privileges in both civil society (i.e. marriage) and the church (i.e. ordination). Those who oppose the granting of such rights have divorced themselves from the justice tradition and are more concerned with issues of purity — cleanness and uncleanness. Brueggemann suspects that “moral arguments” raised against the granting of such rights are actually propelled by a sense of shame and defilement, having little to do with justice.
The holiness tradition is rooted in an urge for order, and — as most of the old reliabilities in or social world are in jeopardy — a large measure of unrelated issues and feelings are heaped upon the issue of homosexuality. While the tension between “the felt threat of disorder” and the “voiced urgings of justice” will continue to be a disputed issue Brueggemann argues that, regarding homosexuality, “the justice trajectory has decisively and irreversibly defeated the purity trajectory… the purity trajectory of the text may help us understand pastorally the anxiety produced by perceived and experienced disorder, but it provides no warrant for exclusionary ethical decisions in the face of the gospel” (these paragraphs completely rely upon Theology of the Old Testament 193-96).
I am in agreement with Brueggemann. I think that Christian need to realise that homosexuals (and all members of the LGBTQ community) have been marginalised, persecuted, and cut-off from fellowship with both society and the Church. When the Church acts in such a way in completely contradicts its vocation to bring freedom to captives, cast out demons, and to heal the sick — for all those actions were accomplished so that people could once again journey intimately together; slavery, demons, and sickness where all things that prevent full and proper fellowship. When the Church contributes to the oppression of homosexuals it acts in a way that completely contradicts the lifestyle of Jesus who was committed to journeying with the oppressed and marginalised of his day, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, and yes, even the sinners.
However, does this notion of justice triumphing over holiness contradict what the bible teaches elsewhere about homosexuality? I think not. When one takes a look at the biblical texts one is struck by how little is said about the topic. Richard Hays does a careful case by case analysis in a chapter called “Homosexuality” in his masterful work, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Old Testament evidence is primarily found in a law found in the purity codes of Leviticus — that, of course, is neither here nor there for there is much of Leviticus that Christians no longer follow (and much that they do). Where Hays is especially useful is in the application of his knowledge of ancient Greek when he approaches the relevant New Testament texts. The three terms used in 1 Cor. 6, 1 Tim. 1, and Acts 15 are malakoi, arsenokoitai, and porneia. Yet none of these terms refers to homosexuality as we understand it today. Malakoi was the name given to young boys who engaged in sexual activity with adult men; the term porneia is simply an umbrella term for any type of sexual activity; arsenokoitai is definately the most problematic term and scholars have yet to agree on its meaning.
This means that Romans 1-3 is really the pivotal text in the debate (from a New Testament perspective — it is also the only passage in the bible that refers to female homosexual activity). In seeking to remain true to the text I am forced to agree with Hays that Paul understands homosexuality to be a sign of the fallenness of creation. Here it is important to note (as Hays does) that Paul is not teaching a code of sexual ethics but offering a diagnosis of the disordered human condition. Therefore, Hays says, “Homosexuality is not a provocation of the ‘wrath of God’ (Rom. 1:18); rather, it is a consequence of God’s decision to ‘give up’ rebellious creatures.” Of course those rebellious creatures are not homosexuals but all of humanity.
And this is the extent of what the texts say. There is nothing here that overthrows what Brueggemann says. I light of an ongoing oppression, and in light of the vocation of the Church, it seems to me that there is no biblical reason for justice not to trump holiness in this case.
Therefore, I must depart from Hays (who goes as far as to approve the ordination of homosexuals, but disapproves of gay marriage) and attempt to synthesize this brief exegesis with Brueggemann’s argument. Over against Christians who argue that homosexuality is a choice I have no problem affirming the opposite. For many homosexuality (or other orientations that are deemed sexually “deviant” by contemporary culture) is not a choice. Fallenness can impact even genetics. And yet it must be noted that this is true for all of us — not just for members of the LGBTQ community. As much as the Church embodies a new creation it also exists as a community of sinners. We are, all of us, in the process of moving into intimacy — which is itself the very thing that overcomes fallenness. To exclude homosexuals from the most intimate of human relationships seems to be as absurd as excluding myself. After all, I too exhibit signs of sexual fallenness. As a member of contemporary Western culture I find it quite easy to objectify women and treat them as sexual objects — not as people. Yet nobody — certainly no straight man that I know — as ever thought that this meant I was excluded from marriage. No, no, they say, such a sex drive means I’m perfect for marriage. For, as Paul himself says, it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Well, I say the same of homosexuals. It is better to marry than to burn with passion (I realise that I’m engaging in eisegesis to a certain extent by applying this text in this way but I think it is an application that stays true to the broader biblical context). Within the context of two consenting adults who are “naturally” inclined to homosexuality justice conquers holiness.
Really it comes down to how we are defining people. It seems to me that the Church has imposed a false — an anti-Christian — double-standard when it comes to members of the LGBTQ community. Church-members look at themselves and define themselves by their holiness yet they look at others and define them by their fallenness — which is a fallenness that they received, not one that they earned. I say that’s bullshit. That’s like saying a baby born addicted to crack is to blame for her mother’s addiction. What do we do with such a baby? Kick it out of the family? Of course not! We journey in love relationships with that child — even if that means we have to supply it with crack so that it doesn’t die. And at least a part of the reason why we do so is because we recognise something of that child in all of us. Let me take another (and perhaps a better) example to try and express what I mean. All of us are born mortal. We suffer the maladies that come as a consequence of that and all of us will one day die. Yet this mortality is taken as the strongest evidence of fallenness. However, the Church learns to live as a people that emobodies a new type of life within a decaying world. In the same way certain sexual orientations may be rooted in fallenness but it is the very act of marriage that redeems those things.
So I say that the Christian answer to the current debate is to vocally support gay marriage. I can think of no other solution that makes sense within the context of the Christian story.