Posted by: Dan | September 21, 2005

The Importance of Worshipping a God I Disagree With

Over the summer I engaged in an ongoing dialogue about gay marriage with a New Testament scholar that I know in Toronto. I emailed him the post I wrote on July 28, 2005 entitled, “When Justice Conquers Holiness: Why I Support Gay Marriage.” Over the course of this debate I have decided to recant my position. The thing is, recanting is something I didn't want to do. I have a strongly negative emotional reaction to the idea of saying that homosexuals can't marry. The idea that God would not allow homosexuals to marry just doesn't make any sense to me. Yet that seems to be what the texts tell us. And so, as much as I kick and scream against it, I have decided to submit to another authority.

Over the course of this discussion I have realised how important it is to disagree with God if we are to be faithful to God. There are all sorts of tensions around the character of God as God is revealed in scripture and we should be careful not to resolve those tensions too easily. If I worship a God that I always agree with, a God that always makes sense to me, then I am in grave danger of worshipping a God created in my own image. If I am worshipping a God that is other than me, a God who possesses the qualities that Christians ascribe to God, then it is understandable that a finite creature like myself would sometimes not understand God, and sometimes strongly disagree with God as well. It is by submitting to a God that we do not always agree with that allows us to be made into God's image — instead of making God into our own images.

For those who are interested, I have included the email exchange that went on between my prof and I.

Prof:
I have read your recent meanderings and have a few questions about your
logic and a few of the holes in the logic. I have not read belo's book.
I have only been reading things that focus on the meaning of the text
and the thematic connections I have not focused on.

I marked your paragraphs by number from 1-10.

Paragraph 1 raises the justice tradition and the holiness tradition and
I am wondering if this is a correct assumption since much of what you
later say depends on this bifurcation, especially when in par 2 this
bifurcation has Jesus as the advocate for the one and his opponents as
the advocate for the other, putting the holiness tradition at a clear
disadvantage. A jew of Jesus' day would not have seen the argument and
discussion in such terms and divisions.

The move into par 3 that begins' It is for this reason..' left me
saying what is the connections between par 2 and 3 and it is not clear
to me the leap being made. never mind the leap in Brueggemann's logic
as you persent in par. 3

Par. 4 is bizarre. The holiness tradition is rooted in an urge for
order… Is this God's view? He raises the question of holiness
because it was humanity's role and Israel's vocation to be 'holy'
because God is holy and that the unredeemed world needed to be
presented with the image of God reflected in a true humanity that did just that.
To put this simply on the level of 'order' is to miss God's point, despite what Israel ended up doing with it.

Par. 5 is not how LGBTO would look at themselves. This only serves to
blanket the churches reaction which you are at odds with. The language
'the oppression of homosexuals' is a laden comment that is self-serving
and not categorically true. If you encourage homosexuality through
marriage, how do you know that YOU are not contributing to their
oppression that you accuse the Church of?

There is the need for a new creation perspective that integrates true
justice and true holiness which challenges either sense of bifurcation
that you continue to foster as the problem.

Par 6 the term porneia would no doubt include homosexuality.

Par 7, your exegesis of Rom 1 is superficially despite you desire to
'remain true to the text.' As Paul describes a society committed to
idotatry (the offspring of Adam) it will be a society that expresses
itself in homosexual terms, as one indicator of its condition. How has
God come to resolve that problem? Not by simply the institution of
marriage.

In par 8 you make a cavalier and unproven statement 'There is nothing
here that overthrows what Brueggemann says.' WHo cares what
Brueggemann says, if it is not what God says, it matters nothing.

Par 9 the homosexuality is not a choice comment is unprovable. The
church is not a 'community of sinners' but a community of new creations
who see humanity differently and should desire encouraging toward a new
creation practice. To use the tired argument that we are all sinners
and therefore what right do we have to challenge those who engage in
homosexuality because we cannot help ourselves in heterosexual sin
misses the point. You also mention the broader biblical context but do
not present the story as a move from creation to new creation. What is
God's expectation of his new creation world? It is not served by
assuming that it is part of that world to think of homosexuals as being
married.

Your paragraph 10 is a subjective anti-Church rant. What do you mean, 'the very act of marriage that redeems them?'

How about the 'creation mandate' and ROm 1 in the context of fallen
humanity and that new creation desires to offer true intimacy in the
renewed presence of YHWH, without making this about 'justice' and
'rights' etc.

I find your comments open to many holes, that need plugged and I would
not be convinced by such self-serving stuff being passed off as a
statement of justice.

By the way I read your paper on speaking Christianly. I wonder about
the 'words' and not the practice comments. Words seem too narrow an
idea. ALso a statement on pg. 7 'the church that seeks to exist as a
counter-culture yet chooses to speak the language of culture will
become
absorbed and marketed' might be a good thesis to prove.

Over to you buddy boy

Dan:
You've challenged me a great deal. Let me try to continue moving the discussion forward. I'm typing a whole lot but I really would appreciate your further thoughts on this. Despite my biases I really do have a desire to be faithful. Increasingly I am developing an appreciation for those who have authority over me and I am finding myself increasingly willing to admit
that I'm wrong and humble myself (I hope).

(1) You are correct in thinking that much of what I say is premised upon Brueggemann's comments about the justice and holiness traditions. Reading Dempster's book has caused me to revisit much of what Brueggemann
says and it seems he carries a particular bias against creation theology, holiness traditions, and temple ideology which — although this may be an important countering voice to the ways in which those things have been abused in the context from which he writes — don't do justice to the text. If Brueggemann is wrong then the foundation is knocked out from under
me.

(2) Let me try to clarify how I understand the division. I agree that there is no sharp and clear bifurcation between justice and holiness — Brueggemann notes this but still does a pretty neat and tidy job of seperating them anyway — but I think the question raised is one in relation to cleanness and uncleanness. What has changed in this regard after Christ? I think what Brueggemann is trying to do (following Belo, I think) is to argue that Jesus
radically changes the notion of what is clean or unclean. Thus his table fellowship with sinners, tax-collecters, prostitutes, and his contact with
lepers, etc. It is no longer that the clean person comes into contact with the unclean person and is thereby defiled. Now the unclean person is made clean by contact with the clean person.

(3) Of course this would suggest some sort of fundamental transformation (a new creation). As you rightly note, I don't really pick up on this so let me
try to do so now. I was worried that when I was writing down these (somewhat rambling) thoughts that the argument I used is the same as others who would justify Christian violence and other such atrocities so I hope I can seperate myself from that (and from the whole Niebuhrian school of thought). Of course this hits me pretty hard because I've been spending a whole lot of the last few years wondering just where in the world this new creation is occuring. Of course it would be so much easier if people could just become
Christians and God would change their sexual orientation so that it reflects the original order of creation. But that doesn't happen. It would be great
if God healed all the lepers that became Christians but that's not happening. But this is where I try to distinguish between what I would call the genetics of
fallenness and the practice of sinfullness. Engaging in acts of violence is the practice fo sinfullness (even if there is a genetics of fallenness that it is
premised upon) while a homosexual orientation seems more like a genetics issue — like being born mortal. Of course we believe that as new creations we have overcome death — but that doesn't mean we will never die. Faith in the resurrection allows us to die well. Similarly (and perhaps you will say that my analogy doesn't fit here) homosexuality, like mortality, is something that must be practiced Christianly — and the Christian context for any sort of sexual
relationship is marriage. That's why I talk about marriage as a redemptive, as opposed to sinful, act.

Let me pick up on another example (although this issue is also contentious). Jesus, when speaking of divorce, argues that divorce was not ideal but was permitted because of human sinfulness. Now, if one thinks that divorce and remarriage can still be permitted after Jesus, can a similar argument not be
made for marriage and homosexuality? It's not ideal but it is permissible due to human fallenness. It seems to me that this is a movement towards the true intimacy that you mention.

(4) This, therefore, would be the beginning of my response to your more faithful, and detailed, exegesis of Ro. 1. Your connection of homosexuality to
idolatry is accurate and so I wonder if Christian marriage is a way in which homosexuality can be practiced while worshipping the one true God — until
the new creation of all things and the full consumation of God's kingdom.

So let me tie up a few other loose ends.

(5) Granted the whole homosexuality is “not a choice” is unprovable. But I'm not using this argument to support the notion of the Church is a community of
sinners. I whole-heartedly agree that we are a new creation people. I hope me last few comments how shown how I differ from the view that “well, what the hell, we're all sinners anyway.” You'll notice that my perspective still wouldn't be widely accepted by the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning) community because I argue that a homosexual orientation is a symptom of fallenness. However, there are instances where I think homosexuality is not genetic but is still permissible. I have done a great
deal of work with women who have survived repeated and exceedingly violent sexual assaults at the hands of men. Such women have quite understandably turned to other women in order to find intimacy. Shall we say
that such a thing is never permissible? I know that God can (and does, I've seen it happen) heal people from even this kind of trauma — but what of those who have to wait until the resurrection for such a healing? It seems that gay marriage is a way that the Church can journey with these people until such a
time.

(6) You mention that gay marriage may actually contribute to the persecution of the LGBTQ community. However, my focus isn't so much on overcoming
persecution altogether (persecution is, after all, fundamental to my understanding of Christian identity). Rather, my question is: how is the Church to journey with the LGBTQ community? It makes sense
that there will continue to be persecution for, as long as the Church is the Church, it will be persecuted.

(7) Finally, I am revisiting old thoughts I had about the Church being a community of intimacy that enables those who are celibate to find fulfillment. Perhaps if the Church were the community she was intended to be — a community of radical welcome and self-giving love — marriage would not be such an issue for either heterosexual or homosexual people. It seems to me
that one should find one's deepest fulfillment from being a member of the people of God, and, if that is truly the case, the door is opened for a way of living celibately that does not seem too hard to carry.

Well, that's a mouthful. I'll be eagerly awaiting your response — you've got a track record of making me recant certain beliefs and so I'll see how this
plays out.

Prof:
I have been thinking about what you have been writing about this same-sex marriage thing and I think I am hearing what you are saying but it is not either good logic or good theology, from where I sit. The issue of marriage as redemptive is a big chestnut that needs to be cracked, for it is built on some poor analogies from an over active mind that desires compassion to be express where scorn has been the most obvious response from the people of God. I cannot ask you to detach compassionately from the situations in order to gain some perspective but your 'desire to be faithful' despited biases is the place to build on.

To connect homosexual orientation genetically to the issue of being born
mortal is a hopeful leap; but alas one which is not given biblical justification. The later is clearly diagnosed in scripture; the former is not. TO compare this to the question of divorce is to appreciated that, despite the church debates over the meaning of Jesus' statements, Jesus did say something about divorce and hardness of heart, while he did not do the same for homosexuality.

The creation mandate is the beginning of the story and the end of the story. How does God's new creation reality address that and which same-sex marriage, despite offering some sense of rights and privileges and maybe even intimacy, does not?

THere will be many of your gay friends who will not be fully 'healed' until the resurrection. yet God promises them, in Christ, the ability for true intimacy now. That is not to say that gay marriage is the Church's avenue to journey, primarily because the church would be legitimating, what Paul understood as an _expression of fallenness and, dare I say, idolatry. Idolatry must always be replaced with true worship and gay marriage is not it.

Your question is a valid one: How is the Church to journey with the LGBTQ community? First, the Church needs to appreciate its qospel mandate in new creation terms and then to understand how 'rehumanization' of all people is central to the gospel. Second, the Church has to confess its sin of persecution of those exploited peoples and those who have chosen certain lifestyles. THird, the church has to get its hand dirty, in a true priest-king fashion, and declare the dominion of God to all peoples. The people of God need to be the people of God and living with true intimacy is possible, even for a celibate.

Your starting points need to be evaluated and your presuppositions test.
This journey is also about you and the issues you have and are dealing
with. Test every assumption, for what you are speaking of is vital and
could be 'lethal.'

Dan:
I am grateful for the thought you have given this and your willingness
to dialogue with me despite my biases. I imagine things will be quite
busy for you over the next few months. I miss your courses and hope
your students realise what a privilege it is to be in your classes.

I only have a few more objections to buttress what may indeed be poor
logic and theology.

(1) You are right to note that Jesus was remembered for speaking about
divorce but not about homosexuality. Perhaps in this regard (and in
the
analogy I make linking homosexuality to mortality) I am engaging in a
leap that is unjustified. However, I can't help but wonder if the
issue
of homosexuality wasn't really “on the radar” with Jesus. Granted it
was a part of the Greco-Roman world but how much contact would Jesus
have with that issue? I've been reading James Dunn's “Jesus
Remembered”
and if Jesus' ministry was mostly located within Galilee it's not
surprising to me that we have no record of Jesus teaching on this
topic.

Of course, there are many ethical situations that we face that Jesus
never spoke about explicitly. We are forced to try and live faithfully
by learning from the teaching trajectory started by Jesus. Thus,
although there is no specific teaching on slavery in the Jesus
tradition, we can develop a faithful Christian response that seeks to
eliminate slavery based on Jesus' words and deeds. Other examples
abound: we can say that Christians should oppose nuclear armament, not
because Jesus taught about nuclear weapons, but because of his
teachings
on violence, love of enemies, etc., and because of the way he lived his
life. Naturally it seems easier to draw these conclusions because the
links are more obvious. In situations like homosexuality where it
seems
like Scripture is much more silent and the links are not so obvious (or
are they just not obvious to me because of my biases?) it is more
difficult to know how to respond. I worry that in such situations it
becomes easy to rely on
other traditions and we can end up piling up burdens on people that
they are not able to carry.

So I think I need a little more to refute my analogy other than the
argument that Jesus is silent on the topic. I still wonder if I'm onto
something with the comparison to divorce.

(2) Continuing with the topic of a “redemptive” understanding of
marriage (that big chestnut waiting to be cracked), I wish you could
explain to me more about why marriage does not provide a context where
homosexuals can engage in true worship and no longer engage in
idolatry.
You simply say that gay marriage is not the context for true worship.
Can you explain why not?

(3) I appreciate your threefold response as to how the Church is to
journey with the LGBTQ community. I am intrigued by your emphasis on
the Church learning to live as God's priest-king people (the whole idea
of priesthood has been increasingly exciting to me as I've dived into
some OT studies and developed a bit more of an understanding of that
role. It seems to be sorely neglected by many of us Christians today)
that extends God's dominion to all people. Could you fill out a little
more about what you mean by that?

(3) As I have been thinking about this issue I have tried to examine
what my biases are and how they may be warped… but we all have our
blind-spots and I would find it helpful if you shared what you perceive
my biases to be. One bias that I have tried to avoid is the whole
notion that intimacy is only (or most fully) experienced in sex. I
really don't believe that. I think one's deepest intimacy should come
from being a part of the people of God. So, I don't think what I write
hinges on the popular notion of sex and intimacy. After all, I am
living as a single person and I don't feel some sort of emptiness or
deficiency because I am not married or not in a sexual relationship.
That said, I do think marriage and sexual intimacy is a great blessing
from God and I am trying to examine why some people groups may be
excluded from that — or what God-given boundaries exist around it.
Perhaps there are other assumptions and presuppositions you have picked
up on that you could share
with me?

(4) In my efforts to be faithful (as much as I have studied and read
about this) I have also been spending time praying. I was all set to
recant and submit on this issue after receiving your last email but as
I
was praying I felt fairly strongly that — at least for the moment — I
shouldn't recant quite yet. Man, I hate to even pull that card (as if
what I feel when I pray is definitive for Christian living, that's one
helluva dangerous slope as well), but I'm just trying to be honest.

Prof:
Classes started yesterday and we had a good beginning in all three.

In your last email you begin a thought with ' I can't help but wonder.'
That is another way of saying 'I hoping (with little evidence to
support my hopes.' My radar is up with sentences like that political
correctness.

Because homosexuality was a particular Gentile malady and not on a
Jewish neve mind Jesus radar screne is not really the point. It was
you
who made the analogy between something Jesus said (divorce) and
homosexuality. You can't have it both ways!

Slavery is a dehumanizing ethical evil, no questions. Are you prepared
to say that the homosexuality discussion should be approached like
slavery. If so does the analogy say that homosexuality is evil and
dehumanizing? Your cope out on scriptures silence is the 'fear' that
it
will become 'easy to rely on other traditions and we can end up piling
up burdens on people that they are not able to carry.' Come on, deal
with the issues here and not your fears (or biases). Scripture has not
left us in a vacuum on how to deal with human idolatry and
dehumanization and does not need to give a commandment with precision.
That does not give us license nor freedom to violate people in our
responses.

Marriage does not provide a context where homosexuals can engage in
true worship and no longer engage in idolatry, because we are not in
the
position to try and reform (or 'redeem' a term I resent being used this
way) idolatry. Through the power of God's new age Spirit we are to
implement God's plan to tear down idols.

The 'priest-king' implication comes from the creation mandate to
'cultivate and keep the earth.' It is carried through similarly with
the priests in the tabernacle and temple and it reflects the mission of
Jesus in whose steps we follow.

You mention that you think 'marriage and sexual intimacy are a great
blessing from God and I am trying to examine why some people may be
excluded from that.' Marriage may be a symbol of true intimacy, but it
is still only a symbol, and not the real thing. Was Jesus able to
express true intimacy? I assume he was not married (gay or otherwise).
WHy offer people a symbol, investing it with more life than it can or
was ever intended to bare. Is doing that not what Israel did with the
temple or circumcision etc. asking the symbol to give life, which it
was
unable to do?

My favourite paragraph was your last one. After trying to logic your
way through this discussion your play the 'reflective pietist' card.
Be
honest but be sure, as we must all, confront, your desires and your
blindspots. Again this is as much about you and your journey as it is
issue related.

Dan:
I have read your last email several times. This has continued to be a
topic of thought and prayer for me, and I really feel that the thing
for
me to do now is to submit to your teaching and the authority of the
Church. I really wasn't trying to pull the “pietist reflective” card.
I wasn't trying to use that to buttress my point, I really was just
trying to be honest.

Perhaps (and here I am being quite vulnerable and that makes me a wee
bit nervous) I am somewhat blinded to the significance of the issue
because of a sexual relationship I had in the past. Perhaps I have
developed something of a blindspot to just how sacred sexual intimacy
is
and how deeply inappropriate sexual relationships are connected with
idolatry. Funny, when I was coming out of that relationship, I
realised
how I had really made that woman my god — I was able to connect that
sexual relationship with idolatry in my own life. Needless to say that
should make me very cautious about making my position an authoritative
position.

So, you've got me, I recant.

Once again I affirm the idea the one's truest fulfillment, and one's
deepest intimacy, comes from being in Christ and belonging to the
people
of God. That was never the issue for me. I agree that this debate is
just as much about me and the journey I am on — a journey that is
leading me deeper in intimacy with marginalised people (that was the
reason why I compared this issue to slavery, slaves and homosexuals,
are
two oppressed bodies of people).

Yet it seems that this sort of intimacy is lacking in most Christian
communities. So, as I journey with people from the LGBTQ community I
almost feel like I, even though I'm heterosexual, need to take a vow of
celibacy or something. I mean I'm not really confident that most
churches actually offer this sort of intimacy to anybody (gay or
straight). It's almost like we need some heterosexuals who are willing
to take on celibacy and singleness so that these sort of communities
can
develop. Maybe the Roman Catholics are onto something in this regard.

But then again maybe this way of thinking is still investing the symbol
of marriage with too much meaning. Ideally it shouldn't matter if
people married or singled journey with the LGBTQ community but, given
where we are right now, perhaps there needs to be some people who are
willing to deliberately choose singleness until the churches that exist
around us more truly resemble the Church as Paul describes it. I don't
know.

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