Before apokalupto moves on to fresh topics, there's still time for me to jot down a few final thoughts on the Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church Conference I attended last week at Andrews University. It's also time for me to share my position on the debate over whether homosexual sex is sinful, since that will inform the comments that follow. My theology on this issue is informed by presuppositions I have found to be well articulated here.
I believe that from Genesis 12 onward, the Bible tells the story of how God is leading his people on a journey, which includes moral progress, toward Heaven. So I believe the descriptions of Heaven in Scripture (primarily found in Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22) are an ethical compass for God's people, pointing us toward the ideal to which he is taking us. According to this ideal, marriage is a union of one man and one woman (Gen 1:21-28, Gen 2:18-25, Rev 21:2)
Now the problem is, given all the aberrations from this ideal that human beings desire, how do we get there from here. In the scripture we can trace God making allowances for our less than ideal situations while moving his people closer to Heaven (cf. Ex 21:10, 1 Tim 3:12). Some might argue that based on this we can make an allowance for homosexual marriage as a step closer to Heaven.
The problem with this is that God has never indicated in Scripture that such an allowance should be made. Even if you believe that the biblical injunctions against homosexual sex apply to only exploitative or non-mutually fulfilling homosexual sex, it remains the case that God never revealed homosexual marriage as the solution to this problem. In fact, given those injunctions, it seems very unlikely that God would make such an allowance.
Therefore, I believe homosexual marriage is not the way forward for God's people on their journey to Heaven. But if that is a difficult conclusion to arrive it, it leads to the even more difficult question of how the church should then respond to homosexuals. So I offer these reflections on the Andrews homosexuality conference in light of this conclusion and in partial answer to the question that comes from it.
As was the diagnosis another time Adventism and psychology converged, I suggest that the symptoms of multiple personality disorder may have been present in the conference; it spoke with two voices. Those from the counseling and pastoral care disciplines said we need to love homosexuals, and those from the public policy and religious liberty disciplines said we need to fight homosexuals. Now that's a generalization and oversimplification, but the popular perception of this conference will be generalized and oversimplified and the message of the conference will, I believe, end up sounding schizo.
Now if you're schizo, you're mad; and when you're mad, people, in this case homosexuals, don't feel the love. My point being that if you want to do some tough love, you've got to earn the right. Now the public policy guys at the conference said Adventists already have that legitimacy because of ADRA, etc., but I don't buy it.
Adventists earned the right to advocate against slavery by helping with the underground railroad, we earned the right to advocate against alcohol and tobacco by helping people kick their habits, and we earned the right to advocate for religious liberty, by sticking up for other religions, too. What have we done for homosexuals? Since the Colin Cook debacle, officially we've done whole lot of nothing.
I believe our level of public policy advocacy on homosexual marriage, regardless of the position we take, must be correlated with our level of direct ministry to homosexuals or we will end up preaching to the choir and loose our public witness. Right now we've got GLADventist.org and a handful of Wayne Blakelys and Ron Woolseys, so that means we can probably send our lawyers to court. I don't think we should start mobilizing our church members to vote until they can identify at least one homosexual person in their congregation. And if Adventists get something like an AIDS hospice going in San Francisco, I think we'd be ready to start talking to homosexuals about homosexual marriage.
Along the lines of ministering to homosexuals, I think Mark Yarhouse's three-tier distinction is an excellent starting point. I think it has implications beyond homosexuality and could be a good tool for discussing sexuality with heterosexual youth. It opened my eyes to how I have constructed my sexual identity, and, as I've said elsewhere, I think it will be remembered as the ideological core of the conference.
One thing that disappointed me at the conference was conservatives playing the victim card. I believe we need to act out of faith that God is protecting us, not fear of being marginalized.
It also seems to me that conservative Adventist Bible scholars need to take special care to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), and this is not something that's impossible to do. When discussing the possibility that a whole class of people may be required by God to forfeit sexual and romantic companionship, we're going to have to do better than, "Life isn't fair." That may or may not be the truth, but it is certainly not the truth in love. Scholars would do well to heed Miroslav Kis' advice that we never discuss this issue from an impersonal, abstract perspective.
Finally, I believe this conference is the start of a new and more healthy direction in how the Adventist Church relates to homosexuals. The general assumption of the presenters was that homosexually attracted persons could, like persons attracted to other sins, be regular members of the Adventist Church. If this assumption is adopted by the church as a whole (and I believe it gradually will be), it will remove a fair bit of the prejudice that Adventists have against homosexuals.
Progressives are of course miffed that the basic question of homosexual practice was not up for debate and will likely claim the conference results are just the same dish reheated and served as leftovers. But why not? Sometimes it takes a little time in the fridge for the flavors to sort themselves out into the right combination. And maybe if we work on it a little more we could one day have a potluck.
Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)