What is Jesus doing? (LGBT issues)

This post continues a series looking at The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 1234, 5, 7891011, 12131415.

Last time we saw how Anderson addresses the calling Christians have to discern what Jesus is now doing so that they may participate with him in serving the Father, through the Spirit, for the sake of the world. An essential part of the discernment process involves carefully exegeting Scripture in order to understand God's will. Part of that exegesis involves looking for what Anderson refers to as a biblical antecedent related to the issue under examination. Last time we saw how Anderson applies this hermeneutical method in addressing the issue of female ordination. This time we'll see how he applies it to the issue of homosexual relations.

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As we begin, it's vital to remind ourselves that anything we conclude concerning this controversial topic must not overshadow what Jesus tells us (in word and in deed) about our calling to share in his holy, unconditional love for all people, no matter their current behavior or sexual orientation. There is no place in the body of Christ for condemnation or bigotry leading to excluding from fellowship anyone who, coming in peace, seeks in and through the church fullness of life in communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the Spirit's ministry is to lead the church toward this fullness of life in Christ (John 10:10)---what Anderson refers to as "eschatological fullness." In that context, Anderson asks this question: "Is it possible that the way forward includes acceptance of homosexual ordination and same-sex marriage?" He points out that to answer rightly, the church must not only be aware of cultural preferences, it must also seek the mind of the Spirit concerning these issues through careful exegesis of Scripture.

Anderson does acknowledge that the church must be sensitive to cultural preferences. Why? Because, by God's design, the church exists for the sake of the world. And if the church is to serve effectively with Christ in the world, it will at times need to change its practices. But in making such changes, the church must find in Scripture a biblical antecedent that would indicate that the Spirit is granting to the church freedom to make the change.

As noted last time, Anderson finds in Scripture a clear biblical antecedent (and thus freedom to change) with respect to ordaining females. He also finds an antecedent with respect to divorced believers remarrying. But Anderson does not find in Scripture a biblical antecedent that would grant freedom to the church to validate homoerotic behavior by ordaining practicing homosexuals or by marrying same-sex couples. He comments:
It is not [cultural] precedent that permits the church to move with freedom of the Spirit but a biblical antecedent. Where the church has recognized the role of women in ministry, it has a biblical antecedent for affirming this as the praxis of the Spirit. Where the church has blessed the remarriage of divorced persons in recognition of the renewing work of the grace of God, it has a biblical antecedent for his ministry grounded in marriage itself as part of God's created order. Some who argue that even as the first-century church struggled over the issue of including the Gentiles and finally accepted them, so the church today must accept homosexuals. The issue is not the same, however, for in the case of the Gentiles, there is a biblical antecedent in the promise to Abraham, a point Paul clearly made in his argument to the Galatians church (Galatians 3:8).
What can we say about the issue of homosexuality in this regard? Even if one should dismiss all of the biblical texts that appear to forbid homosexuality (in both the Old and New Testaments) as not relevant for our present understanding of same-sex relationships, we are left with absolute silence from the Bible in this regard. Those who argue for the validity of homosexual relations as fully equivalent to heterosexual relations do, in fact, argue from silence with regard to the biblical view of sexuality.... 
The Bible, however, is not silent regarding human sexuality and the image of God. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).... If one reads the text as intending that the image of God be understood to include sexual differentiation as male and female... as does Karl Barth, among others, then the biblical antecedent is clearly one of heterosexual orientation and practice as God's preference. The antecedent for homosexual relations does not appear to be found in Scripture. As a consequence, those who argue for the normalization of homosexual relationships and full acceptance by the church must do so on other grounds (pp. 111-112).
Anderson thus ties the nature and purpose of human sexuality to the imago Dei (image of God). In doing so, he is acknowledging that gender differentiation is fundamental to God's design for human being. With this emphasis, Anderson avoids entering into the seemingly endless and contentious arguments concerning certain individual scriptures that may or may not be relevant to the nature of homosexual relations in our day.

If you'd like to learn more about this topic, I recommend the following:

  • Read chapter 16 in Anderson's book (click here, then scroll to p266 to read much of the chapter online). 
  • Read a helpful (and thorough) paper from Dr. Gary Deddo on why God created humans as gendered beings (click here to download)
  • Check out an earlier series on this blog concerning Christian ethics (and note in particular the post entitled Ethics and cultural context).
  • Read a letter from GCI president Joseph Tkach on LGBT issues (and note the resources linked at the bottom of the letter).