What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.

I’m an evangelical pastor (founding pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor) who has publicly stated that I can no longer enforce any exclusionary practices aimed at men and women in gay partnerships. I know many evangelical pastors who are privately troubled by the current approach to gay people. These pastors are in a state of conflicted conscience, looking for a way to honor both their evangelical faith and the gay and lesbian people who are coming to their churches, or are loved by people in their churches.

Many pastors counsel conflicted parents of evangelical faith who are in a psychological torture device: forced to choose between accepting their child who is gay or honoring the faith that saved them.

I have proposed a path for these pastors that allows them to embrace people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender and to accept them fully — welcome and wanted — into the company of Jesus. I wrote A Letter to My Congregation when I realized my views had changed and I needed to communicate the intense theological, biblical, pastoral, and spiritual process that I had been through to get to this new place.

Why was I willing to let divorced and remarried couples know that they are welcome and wanted while refusing that same welcome to gay and lesbian couples?

It began with a burr beneath the saddle of my conscience: why was I willing to let so many divorced and remarried couples know that they are welcome and wanted while refusing that same welcome to gay and lesbian couples? How could I say to the remarried couples, whose second marriage was clearly condemned by the plain meaning of scripture, “You are welcome and wanted,” while saying to the two mothers raising their adopted child together, “I love you, but I hate your sin”?

A story from C.S. Lewis’ life helps point the way.

A priest going against the grain

C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century, fell in love with a divorced woman, Joy Davidman. Her husband was an alcoholic (and not a Christian) and their marriage fell apart. Lewis had never been married. His beloved Church of England, hewing to the biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, refused to sanction this union on the grounds that in marrying Joy, Lewis would be marrying another man’s wife, making them both adulterers.

But there was one priest who was willing to go against the grain, Father Peter Bide. Lewis turned to Bide, a former pupil who had become an Anglican priest, after the bishop of Oxford refused to marry Lewis and Davidman. Bide knew that Lewis was asking for something that wasn’t consistent with the teaching of the Church of England. But this naïve priest prayed about it. That’s right. He asked Jesus what he should do. What a concept! As if Jesus were alive and might talk back! And he felt led by the Spirit to perform the wedding.

During the ceremony, which took place in the hospital room where the bride was battling cancer, he placed his hands on her and prayed for her healing. She went into an unexpected remission almost immediately and Lewis and Davidman had a blessed reprieve in which to enjoy their union. They had what so many of us long for, including people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender: someone to pair bond with, someone to cuddle with at night, someone committed to care for the other should the other — as so many of us eventually do — get sick and die.

Most evangelical churches have remarried leaders. No one speaks of loving these remarried people but hating their sin.

That was then, over 50 years ago. This is now. The most theologically conservative expressions of Christian faith in the 21st century — Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism — wouldn’t blink at the thought of blessing the union of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. The Catholic Church would do so by annulling Davidman’s first marriage. Most evangelical churches would ask her a few questions (if that) and determine that God was surely blessing this new marriage.

A third way for evangelicals on same-sex marriage

I studied the scriptures on divorce and remarriage extensively as a younger pastor. I studied the early church fathers and the Protestant Reformers. Their grounds for allowing remarriage were extremely strict, based on a plain reading of scripture. This older consensus held sway in the church — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox — until it was flooded with remarried couples after World War II.

letterToday, most evangelical churches have remarried lay leaders and board members. Some have remarried pastors. No one speaks of loving these remarried people but hating their sin. Instead, they are fully accepted into the life of the church. A veritable cottage industry of evangelical books exists to help the conscientious Bible reader make sense of the biblical prohibitions in light of their historical context and apply their teaching in light of the experience of the remarried people we know, love, and often, are.

As I reflected on this issue, the thought hit me like a punch in the gut: if we gave the same considerate reading to the handful of texts condemning same-sex sexual practices that we give to passages on divorce (what did they mean in their historical context and how should we apply them today?), we would likely come up with a very different approach to gay, lesbian, and transgender people. We might even find a way to fully include them in the life of the church as we have done for so many remarried people.

And I wondered: are we reluctant to consider this possibility because it’s virtually impossible to finance an evangelical congregation without remarried people, while it’s easy enough to do so without gay, lesbian, and transgender people simply because there are fewer of them?

Then, the knock-out blow occurred to me: how would that square with the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one which has wandered from (or been driven out by) the rest of the flock?

With much trepidation and a sometimes paralyzing dose of fear, I opened myself to the possibility that my received tradition on this subject might be wrong. So I have proposed what I am calling a “third way” between the longstanding and polarized binary — either “love the sinner, hate the sin” or “open and affirming.”

Why Christians can agree to disagree on gay marriage

Some have objected that this “third way” is just “open and affirming” in disguise. But I maintain that this “third way” — I call it “welcome and wanted” — is not equivalent to “open and affirming” for two important reasons.

First, it grounds the full acceptance of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in a much-ignored portion of scripture: Romans 14-15, in which Paul introduces a category he calls “disputable matters.” The upshot is this: the church in Rome was splitting over disputes about first order moral issues — like whether or not eating meat sacrificed to idols constituted idolatry (one could make the case!), or whether ignoring the command to rest on the seventh day was a sin against one of the Ten Commandments, even a sin against nature, since God himself rested on the seventh day in the Genesis creation account.

If how the biblical prohibitions of same-sex sexual practices apply to modern same-sex couples is an example of a “disputable matter,” then it follows that the church can “agree to disagree” on this question, while practicing full acceptance of gay, lesbian, and transgender people, not to mention full acceptance of those who disagree with whether such people sin by having sex with their covenanted partners.

The biblical “ideal,” if there is such a thing, is not marriage, but celibacy.

I realize that in the current climate of intense controversy over this issue, that would be hard to pull off in many local churches, but that, too, seems to be Paul’s point: Jesus is more powerful than other lords (like Caesar) precisely because he is risen from the dead, and can empower those who follow him to do improbable things — like remain in a unity of the Spirit despite sharp disagreement over important questions. In fact, this demonstrates his resurrection power:  he can do what mere religion can’t — keep people together who watch different cable news-entertainment networks.

Second, the “third way” questions why people who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ think they have any business assuming that our acceptance of one another “in Christ” is contingent on granting each other our moral approval. The “affirming” in “open and affirming” implies that the congregation so tagged offers its moral approval to gay couples. But what does that have to do with the gospel? Isn’t the whole point of the gospel that God accepts us thanks to the faithfulness of Jesus and not because he approves of all our moral choices? And that we are to do likewise with each other? Where does this insistence that our unity depends on granting each other moral approval come from?

In any event, the biblical “ideal,” if there is such a thing, is not marriage, but celibacy, according to the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Marriage, according to both, is a concession to human weakness. “If you can’t remain celibate, it’s better to marry than to burn,” said Paul. Hardly a ringing endorsement of marriage. This business of granting marriage some privileged moral status is far from the New Testament ideal.

Call me naïve, but I think there’s a third way for evangelicals in the gay marriage debate, and it’s a way that honors the Bible and the power of the gospel better than “love the sinner, hate the sin” or “open and affirming.” Whether or not it works is another matter. But I think it’s time to give it a try, especially if it could bear witness to a risen Lord better than the current rehashed moralism that we’re calling the gospel.

If you are an evangelical pastor who has felt the same troubled conscience that I have over your exclusion of gay, lesbian, and transgender people, you might try what the pastor who married C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman did: ask Jesus what you should do and do that, come what may.

 

About

Ken Wilson Ken Wilson is the senior pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. He is the author, most recently, of "A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embrace People Who Are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender into the Company of Jesus."
  • Doug Wilkening

    I agree with you that, inasmuch as we found a solution to the conundrum of divorce, we will eventually find a solution to the conundrum that gays present to our theology. But I don’t think you have yet found the best way. Simply asking Jesus is not enough, because we all have limitless capacity to deceive ourselves. Without a biblical frame of reference, our individual “Jesuses” are likely tell each of us what our own itching ears want to hear. Ten people ask “Jesus” apart from scripture, they get eleven different answers.

    With divorce, we basically say “let the past be the past, let’s acknowledge that we made a mistake and let’s start over.” With gayness, that same approach doesn’t work because gay is for life. I am inclined to ask instead, why do we treat the “gay lifestyle” as a special sin that bars entry, even as we welcome businessmen who for all we know may be swindlers, and high school and college students who may be cheating in school (are you aware of what percentage of students cheat, according to surveys? Our youth groups should replace those chastity rings with No Cheating rings, it would be more convicting).

    Why not put more emphasis on the fact that we are an organization of sinners in need of grace? That it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick? There’s plenty of scripture and doctrine to support that, and if we really believed it, we wouldn’t bar entry to anyone. Here’s why we don’t do that. Too many Christians cling to those biblical statements against homosexuality to excuse our own sins as “not that bad.” Too many of us, like the Pharisee in the synagogue, are desperately in need of a greater sinner to look down on, to salve our own egos. In our day, gays serve that purpose for the modern-day Pharisee. Instead, we need to pay more attention to taking the beams out of our own eyes. We all have plenty of our own faults to work on, without calling out “gays” or anyone else. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, is still good advice.

    Meditate on this verse for a while and see where it leads: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces….”

    • Ken Wilson

      Doug, my earlier reply didn’t get posted…so here it goes again. The analogous issue is remarriage, not divorce per se as your comment indicates. And the moral concern with marriage is that the remarried person is having sex with someone other than his or her spouse (in the eyes of God)…or having sex with someone who is married to another (in the eyes of God.) So it is precisely analogous. The grounds for legitimate remarriage after divorce used to be (by church consensus for hundreds of years) death of spouse. Then the reformers added a couple of VERY narrow exceptions. Even today, in the Catholic tradition a person who is remarried without annulment has only option option to be faithful: live celibate with his/her partner. Virtually no one practices this. Ground for annulment followed the same accomodating trajectory as grounds for divorce among the Reformation churches. Little practical difference.

      On the issue of “simply asking Jesus”. Simply asking Jesus isn’t always simple: it can lead to a very extended discernment process (mine took years, not months). But isn’t that exactly what Christians are called to do, with the conviction that “simply asking Jesus” is adequate? Because Jesus is alive and is committed to communicating with us. The burden isn’t just on us. The greater burden is on him. Of course, we can be deceived but deception applies to all our ways of knowing: prayer, interpreting scripture, trusting trusted authorities, etc.

      • Doug Wilkening

        Well said. Thank you.

  • Trip

    You make some good, important points in this post, but I think the main thrust of what you’re writing still misses the mark. First and foremost, the argument, “My church accepts this category of sinner without demonstrating conviction, correction, reconciliation or discipline, so how can I condemn this other category of sin,” is not biblical or helpful. The fact that this argument is becoming so prominent in the gay marriage and membership discussion goes to show that churches ought to take holiness and discipleship across all categories of sin far more seriously, instead of arguing for more passive tolerance and inaction on the basis of selective inaction in the past. The church should be more intentional about how it addresses divorce and remarriage in local congregations, and I am thankful to know faithful congregations that still are. I fear your argument demonstrates a higher commitment to what is comfortable and what seems nicest instead of what the Bible actually teaches.

    Second, as Doug points out below, a sin or sinful lifestyle practiced in the past and repented of is not the same nor should it be addressed the same as a sin or sinful lifestyle being practiced in the present progressive. There are certainly many Christians who have divorced and remarried in our churches, and I think brothers and sisters ought to lovingly but faithfully encourage them to acknowledge the wrongness of those decisions and actions. If they refuse to do so, it might be right to pursue a more serious form of church discipline, but if they do indeed repent that does not render their current marriage invalid. On the contrary, it should inspire them to treat their second marriage with higher honor and praise God for his restoring work.

    On the other hand, the willful acceptance into church membership of those living gay and lesbian lifestyles cannot be biblical. This is a heavy, sorrowful claim that every responsible Christian must wrestle with. It would certainly be much easier to not believe this, to create complex roundabouts of scriptural interpretation to say “This is what Paul actually meant,” or “This is how we can understand the teaching more appropriately in our cultural context,” but try as I might, I just keep coming back to what the Bible actually says about marriage, and I can’t get past it to realign with what would be more acceptable to my cultural context. Should we welcome gay and lesbian people to attend our church and hear the good news of Jesus with us? Undoubtedly. Should we do the hard work of learning what it means to love homosexual people well as Christian individuals and as church communities? Absolutely! I’m thankful that your article draws attention to the importance of Christians and churches wrestling with what that looks like. But can we just agree to disagree and let homosexuals be impenitent members and church leaders? That, to me, seems to go against what the Bible teaches.

    • Ken Wilson

      The concern about accepting remarried persons while excluding and lesbian persons is not the only grounds for my approach. It’s what got me discerning.
      And the Christian concern about remarriage after divorce (except in the most narrow of circumstances, for centuries the consensus seemed to include only the death of one’s spouse) is precisely that the remarriage constitutes ongoing adultery (having sex with someone who is not, in the eyes of God, your spouse.) It’s never, until recently, and often in response to the implications re care of people who are in covenantal same sex partnerships, been viewed as “one time” sin.

      • Shaun L’Esperance

        Mr. Wilson, thank you for engaging us in this great conversation. I have begun to read “A Letter to My Congregation” and I appreciate the thoughtful process that you have undergone to “honor the Bible and the power of the gospel” through it. I was wondering if you could speak to the comment from Trip – “a sin or sinful lifestyle practiced in the past and repented of is not the same nor should it be addressed the same as a sin or sinful lifestyle being practiced in the present progressive” as it pertains to this “welcome and wanted, third-way”. This has been a recurring question posed to me in this “conversation” among friends and family. Thank you again.

        • Ken Wilson

          Shaun, this from a reply buried above covers the issue (I think): The analogous issue is remarriage, not divorce per se. And the moral concern with re-marriage is that the remarried
          person is having sex with someone other than his or her spouse (in the
          eyes of God)…or having sex with someone who is married to another (in
          the eyes of God.) So it is precisely analogous. The grounds for
          legitimate remarriage after divorce used to be (by church consensus for
          hundreds of years) death of spouse. Then the reformers added a couple of
          VERY narrow exceptions. Even today, in the Catholic tradition a person
          who is remarried without annulment has only option option to be
          faithful: live celibate with his/her partner. Virtually no one practices
          this. Ground for annulment followed the same accomodating trajectory as
          grounds for divorce among the Reformation churches. Little practical
          difference.

          • Trip

            But I think there IS a significant practical difference if the biblical definition of marriage really is one man and one woman. In the case of remarried attenders and members, if the person was a member of the church at the time of divorce and/or remarriage, and the church took no steps to address, correct or discipline, then, as you seem to be pointing out, the church has failed in her duty to practice biblical discipline over her members. There’s really no arguing that the church has done a poor job of correcting and discipling divorcees, because divorce is explicit prohibited in scripture, yet so many churches keep watching from the sidelines. But again, just because we’ve failed in one area does not mean we not have license to fail in another.

            You bring up an important point in that one of the reasons what the church has to say in the areas of homosexuality is so impotent and seemingly irrelevant is because we haven’t taken holiness and biblical alignment seriously in so many other areas, especially in places like marriage and sexual purity. But that should inspire us to a new, more serious commitment to whole-life holiness, not to slack off in new places. “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:19

          • Joao

            Ken, one thing you keep mentioning is “no one practices this”. I fail to see how that is relevant. There are many right and God ordained things that at different times, “no one practiced”.
            Is practice an indication of the righteousness of a particular thing?
            I remember in a sermon long ago, when you mentioned Jesus talking about a man and woman leaving their parents and cleaving together in marriage in your sermon series on sex and particularly that day, on premarital sex.
            You acknowledged how ridiculous that concept sounded in today’s society. Shall we agree that abstaining from sex before marriage today is something practically no one practices? Should the church cease to teach on that too? If it does not promote abstinence long enough, should it cease to return to promoting it because it did not for a long time?
            I remember you also saying in the past that yes, God’s prescriptions of sex were restrictive, but that was because our bodies, like the Old Testament temple, which also had specific instructions on its construction and
            Puse, were His house. And then you asked this, I have never forgotten, ‘who does God think He is for telling us how to use our bodies’. Answering it with, ‘well, He is God’.
            You also said that in our society, if one has no sex, one is considered odd, repressed, likely not very well balanced. Yet Jesus was celibate, and we all agree He was the most well balanced person who existed.
            So what is so horrible about celibacy? Whether by choice, or because of an unbiblical divorce or homosexuality?
            I have been celibate my entire life, and that not by choice and under considerable protest. What I see open and affirming stance churches telling me is that I have wasted my energies in following scripture and should have taken advantage of the few opportunities I have had to engage in sex with women I have dated.

    • tedhayes

      While I recognize how kind your remarks are intended to be, there is still a certain amount of subtle judgment that is unacceptable to me as a retired, ordained, former minister who is gay. I am an octogenarian, alone again after the death of my partner of monogamus decades.

      I would like to humbly request a few things of you:

      1) You mention “those living gay and lesbian lifestyles.” Would you please define for me “gay and lesbian lifestyles?” As stated above, I am in my 80s and I have never been able to find a gay or lesbian who can articulate what the “lifestyle” is. Yet those who oppose our being anything other than second class citizens “undeserving of equality,” seem to utter statements about our “lifestyle” regularly. So I earnestly seek your wisdom on the subject. Does it go along with the Catholic hierarchy’s thinking that it is okay to be homosexual as long as there is no sexual relationship involved? Since humans are sexual beings, that’s kinda like telling a canary it’s okay to be a bird as long it doesn’t sing.

      2) Speaking theologically, I am a sinner but homosexuality is not my sin. I agree that there are refrences in scripture to sex between two or more persons of the same gender, and I believe that all references to same relate to such things as idolatry, gang rape, inhospitality, etc. I, too, am opposed to behavior that would involve such, whether it be homosexual or between those of the heterosexiual “lifestyle.” I have yet to see one scriptural entry of any kind that refers to loving, committed, same-sex couples. Perhaps you have and I would appreciate your showing me such.

      3) I am a great believer in the fact that persons who read the Bible should do so as a means to CONFRONT their biases rather than as a tool to CONFIRM them. Can we agree on that or must we agree to disagree? My late partner was raised in a home where there was no exposure to religion of any kind and yet I saw in him more of the qualities of Jesus than those possessed by persons who would condemn us in the NAME of Jesus.

      4) Finally, I read that homosexuals cannot be “impenitent members” since that, to you, goes against what the Bible teaches. That observation and those immediately preceding it re: having us hear the good news of Jesus with you (so we can repent our homosexual lifestyle?) and learning to “love us well,” seem to smack of that old anit-gay standby, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” If I, the “sinner” am defined as the behavior they call “sin,” that statement doesn’t hold water. It really says, “Hate sinner, hate the sin.” As far as penitence is concerned, I am living out the remainder of my years as the person I believe God created me to be—gay and joyfully happy and fulfilled as I reflect on the decades that have preceded the present. I do not feel ashamed nor in need of confessing anything about my being gay. I cannot ever remember not being homosexual. It is simply who I am, not something I learned (from whom would I have learned it since I met no one else I knew to be gay until I was 47 years old?) or something I became. Can we agree or do we respectfully agree to disagree?

      I have met Ken Wilson only as a part of the internet community just like I am meeting you now. I think I would prefer to be a part of Ken’s church.

      • Trip

        Ted, I’m super frustrated because I just typed a long reply to your great comments, but apparently the moderator did not approve because I put an external link to another site. I hope to replicate what I wrote later this evening or tomorrow. Don’t think I’m ignoring you. You bring up some wonderful points here!

      • Andrea

        Thank you for sharing, Ted. Your perspective as a gay man is so valuable to this dialogue and helps those who are “straight” better understand what it means to be gay.

        So much of this debate seems to consist of misunderstanding sexual identity and the biblical instances of same-sex intercourse which consisted of rape, exploitation, orgy, and pedophilia. Jesus often dined with people who were outcasts in his contemporary society. I think we need to follow his example. As a result, I believe hearing the stories of our gay and trans* brothers and sisters will help us let go of our preconceived notions about gender, sexuality, same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships. Ultimately, I think we’d discover that monogamous same-sex/gender relationships are completely different from what is discussed in the bible regarding instances of inhospitality, gang rape, exploitation, idolatry, and prostitution. Not because we’d suddenly want to be more fair to our friends or more current with the times and thus alter our view on scripture, but because we’d realize that their experience does not match the biblical instances of same-sex intercourse.

        • tedhayes

          Thanks very much for kind remarks and for your understanding.

      • Trip

        Okay, let’s try this again: Ted, I greatly appreciate your heartfelt comments, because I can tell you’re someone who’s wrestled with and thought through these issues on a personal level. Thanks so much for commenting respectfully and giving me a chance to better explain myself. Let me see if I can respond to each of your points in turn:

        1) I really don’t like the word “lifestyle” in this context either, but it’s the best term I’ve found to express what I think is an important distinction, between those who experience same sex attraction and those who act on said attraction in a sexual or romantic way. I’m definitely open to terminology that better expresses that distinction; Do you have suggestions for me as to how I might express what I’m trying to express in a more appropriate, gentler way? I don’t mean for the word “lifestyle” to seem derogatory, reductionist or hateful, but as you rightly pointed out, because the voices who use that term the most and the loudest often exhibit such attitudes, I find that it does unfortunately communicate those negatives even when I don’t mean for it to.

        That said, I do adhere to the belief that same sex attraction itself is not a sin (though I would argue that it is a result of the Fall, but that’s a different discussion, I think), but that acting on that attraction sexually or romantically is sinful. And I don’t think that’s me “asking the canary not to sing,” as you put it. To say that humans are sexual beings is fair, but to say that we are primarily sexual beings is, I think, too narrow. The argument that we “need” sex or romance has been used in the past to justify, among other things, pornography use, one-night-stand living, adultery and divorce, and I don’t think it’s true or helpful. We are relational beings, and the sad truth is the church has done a poor job of presenting viable alternatives to romantic love (this is mostly due to our cultures rampant idolization of romantic love as the most significant type of love), but that doesn’t mean such alternatives are not real or valid. I could say more on this, but I think it would be more worthwhile to direct you to the work of Wesley Hill and the other contributors to his Spiritual Friendship blog (this is the URL that got my original post canned, so I guess you’ll have to Google it) for people who have given richer thought to this than I have.

        2) I’ve heard the biblical arguments for the validity of monogamous, committed, same-sex, marriage-type relationships, and as much as I’d like to be, I’m just not convinced. I agree that most of the negative incidents given in the Old Testament are heinous acts that should not be cited primarily as arguments against homosexuality, but to say that solves the whole issue is, again, too narrow. Most of these arguments represent complex, roundabout exegeses that seem far more indicative of the bias confirmation you mention in your third point than the biblical arguments I hear against homosexual acts. Moreover, one of the central and consistent themes of scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is the idea of marriage as a representation of the relationship between Christ and the church, and in every case, that relationship is explained as a bride and a groom. In other words, I think the “zoomed out” message of scripture is more convincing than any one passage, though I do think we can “zoom in” on passages and find strong evidence as well.

        That said, if you have searched the scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and have arrived at a different conclusion than I have, I respect that. I know homosexual people who have developed a mature, biblical view that affirms gay marriage and membership, and while I don’t agree with it, I can respect it. Unfortunately I find that for most people the argument boils down to, “How can God make someone this way then not let them love the way they want to?” That, to me, is a cop out that reduces God to a single attribute and has no basis in scripture. I center on the authority of scripture, and I interpret scripture to say that homosexual living is sinful. Which brings me to your next point…

        3) To me, the argument that I’m merely confirming my biases just doesn’t make sense. If anything, it’s an argument in the other direction. I have friends who are homosexual or struggle against same-sex attraction. I have former friends who have severed all ties with me because when they asked me what I thought about homosexuality, I told them what I thought the Bible said. It would be so much easier for me to flip sides on this, like Ken has done, and I have friends who are fighting hard against same-sex attraction in light of there understanding of the scriptures who have even more reason to flip. In our cultural context, it is easier to say, “We must have been wrong about this. Surely this is permissible.” But, try as I might, I can’t see the grounds for that in scripture.

        As for the second part of your third point, I would never argue that your partner or any homosexual person is worse than I am. I know myself better than I know anyone, and so I know I’m the worst sinner I know. I know many gay people who are kinder, more compassionate, wiser, etc. than most of the heterosexual people I know, and I know lots of Christians who are jerks. At the end of the day, I believe the most important thing I can say to ANY person is, “You are a sinner in need of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross unto imputed righteousness.” But I also believe the proper spiritual response to receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior is to begin to pursue holiness according to his word, and I think that’s a truth worth proclaiming as well. The most disappointing thing to me about Ken’s article here is that he seems to be saying, “We’ve slacked off in this area, surely we can slack in this one as well.” Maybe I’m misinterpreting.

        4) I also agree with you, Ted, that the old “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is tired and mostly damaging in this conversation. It may have meant something meaningful at some point, but because it’s often wielded as a rude stick by the loudest conservative voices, it’s come to be connected with all the attitudes and hatred you cited. I think I’m called, as a follower of Christ, to love all people because all people are created in God’s image. I also believe that all people need Jesus’ saving grace, and that being gay does not disqualify someone from receiving salvation. But unfortunately what “Agree to disagree” often means in this conversaton is that I have to accept and affirm a pro gay marriage and membership worldview, and that I cannot do because of my own biblical convictions.

        I’d love for you to come to my church, Ted. I’d love to meet you and know you and sit with you as we hear the word preached and fellowship together. But if your primary requirement for attending my local body is that we practice some sort of apathetic, don’t-ask-don’t-tell “tolerance” for alleged “disputable matters,” I do suspect you would prefer Ken’s church to mine. But maybe churches like mine would surprise you if you sat down and heard what we had to say…

        • anakinmcfly

          As a quick note: while I can understand (though disagree with) considering gay sexual relationships to be sinful, there is absolutely no biblical basis for doing the same with gay romantic relationships. I’m gay (and a virgin who has never so much as held hands with someone in a non-platonic way) and there is so much I would give to be able to fall in love with someone and have that reciprocated and turned into a lifelong partnership, even if it means we never have sex; and I cannot understand – based even on the most conservative interpretations of Scripture – how that kind of love, and sexless love at that, could be sinful in any way.

          • Trip

            anakinmcfly (Haha, love the username, btw; Star Wars + Star Fox?), that’s a really interesting point that I admittedly haven’t given much thought to. Thanks for encouraging me to dig deeper and think more. I guess I’d want to hear from you, as someone who’s thought more about this and has more at stake personally: How do you distinguish between romantic relations and sexual relations? The reason I struggle with your argument is because I’ve found that they’re usually connected and can’t be disconnected for long with positive results. Certainly in the short term we can have sex without romance (one-night stands and hook ups, friends with benefits, guys being jerks to the women who care about them, etc.) or romance without sex (dating, courting and engagement, long distance relationships, etc.) but can a healthy, non-platonic relationship exist in either of those realms long term? I’ve never seen it, but you may have. And to your point, I do think there’s biblical support for my perspective, but I’d love to hear more about what you think the Bible says on this.

            You bring up another good point, which brings me back to what I said to Ted above, that the church has done a poor job of demonstrating healthy alternatives to romantic relationships. (I hate that we Christians have elevated romance, “true love,” wedding ceremonies, et al to the idolatrous heights that we have, but that’s a different soapbox.) If we’re willing to say we think Christians experiencing same-sex attraction are called to chastity/celibacy, then we need to be emphatic that there are other great ways to experience real relational intimacy. This is not only applicable to SSA Christians, but also those called to singleness for a season or for life. And what I love about the Bible is that Paul speaks so directly about how incredible single Christians can be at serving the church and loving brothers and sisters well. Again, for more on this, I’d direct you to the blog Spiritual Friendship and the work of Wesley Hill.

            A number of years ago I had a good friend who dealt with same-sex attraction and was one of the first people I knew who was courageous enough to talk openly about that struggle with brothers in Christ. He was convinced that holding hands with male friends was a positive way for him to experience the gift of physical touch in a platonic yet intimate way, and after hearing his reasoning, I couldn’t argue. So many of the physical cues that we view as romantic or sexual today are culturally or historically specific, so I’m very open to the idea that there are good ways to express love, intimacy and friendship physically but not romantically. But I’ve found, in my own life and in the lives of people I know, that sustained romantic connections often lead to sexual connections, and if the Bible prohibits sexual connection outside of marriage, it’s wise for us to tend toward avoiding the romantic connections that would lead me there.

            What are your thoughts on all this?

          • anakinmcfly

            (I wrote a reply a while back, but looks like it didn’t get through because it had external links; so here it is again!):

            ‘McFly’ is from Back to the Future, actually! Thanks for your reply.

            “How do you distinguish between romantic relations and sexual relations?”

            I’d consider the latter to involve sex and the former not to. I know of gay and lesbian couples in non-sexual romantic relationships, some because of their religious convictions, others for health reasons, others because they’re not particularly interested in sex. In some ways it’s no different from straight married couples who don’t have sex for whatever reason – health, old age, personal preference – but whose relationships are still fundamentally more intimate and different from close friendships. I mean, there are probably a lot of elderly straight couples out there who haven’t had sex in years, but most people would consider that different from a non-platonic friendship. So I think sex and romance can be disconnected; on my part at least, my desire for a partner is driven much more by romance than sex. While it would definitely be difficult, I could live without sex and die a virgin. But I struggle a lot more thinking about spending the rest of my years without another person to journey through life with, to go home to each day, to look after each other when we each fall ill, to have meals together, to hold hands with, to share my joys and sorrows with, to be willing to sacrifice my life for, till death do we part. Sure, I can do some of those things with some of my friends. But it’s not quite the same. There’s still that desperate, gaping romance void in my life that yearns to be filled, and I would gladly and enthusiastically give up the chance to ever have sex if it meant I could have a relationship like that. Friends aren’t the same, even close friends. If it were, no straight guy with lots of friends would ever feel a need for a girlfriend or wife.

            Your friend’s account actually troubles me, because trying to fulfill desires for romantic/sexual intimacy with non-platonic alternatives feels like it could easily lead to an unhealthy sexualisation of those experiences. If I were constrained to meeting all my sexual/romantic desires through non-platonic ways, they wouldn’t remain non-platonic for very long, and I can’t see that ending well for anyone involved. At the very least, it could make friendships very awkward.

            Regarding Biblical support, I’ve spent years praying and reading up on everything I could about this, delving into the historical and linguistic contexts of the original Bible verses, and have reached a point where I cannot – intellectually or spiritually – believe or defend the view that homosexual relationships are inherently more sinful than heterosexual ones, particularly in the context of loving, committed monogamy.

            Have you read ‘Torn’ by Justin Lee? It’s currently the best and most balanced (and entertaining!) book I’ve read on the subject, and while the author comes out on the side of affirming gay relationships, he respects that others may have different views from him. On the internet there’s the speech (available as transcript) by Matthew Vines, which you might have seen before. It’s less thorough, but covers all the main arguments.

            But for me, the final argument lies in how I don’t, and can’t, believe that God would consider it sinful for me – or anyone else – to fall in love with another person in a way that makes me willing to lay my life down for him without a thought. (I might do that for a couple of close friends, but I’d probably have to think about it first.) It would suggest that God made me inherently broken or lesser, to the point that *any* romantic or sexual feeling I experience is somehow sinful temptation in a way that it wouldn’t be for someone who is straight.

            There’s also the matter of following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law: *Why* would homosexuality be considered immoral and sinful? The main, instinctive reason that comes to mind is that because for straight people, practising homosexuality would involve a perversion of their natural sexuality for the sake of hedonistic pleasure. Sexual orientation as a concept only came about in the 19th century; before that, and as of the time the Bible was written, all people were assumed to be straight, and any homosexuality on their part thus considered to be a perversion, and wrong. But I think the spirit of the law there is that: when it comes to sex, people should not pursue what is unnatural to them. For straight people, that would be homosexuality. But for gay people, it would be the opposite. There have been so many gay people pressured into heterosexuality with disastrous results, because *that* was sexual perversion, for them, and it ended up destroying their lives (some tried escaping through drugs, affairs, suicide) and those of the unfortunate people who got roped in with them.

            While some people are called to celibacy, and that too is good, not everyone is, and for them Paul says that it is better to marry than to burn. But what then for gay people denied the former option?

      • EM_Gumby

        Allow me to stick my big fat nose in here to comment on a few of your remarks

        1) Regarding the “gay and lesbian lifestyle” – this is a euphemism for “people who enjoy gay and lesbian sex” and I find it is used primarily by people who wish to discuss the issue without getting into the sticky, fluidy, sweaty parts of gayness and lesbianism. The only typical parts of being gay or lesbian that actually qualify as a “lifestyle” are the parts imposed on gay and lesbian people by society – such as a tendency to be circumspect to dodge hostility, judgement, and rejection.

        2) I find your reading of scripture regarding homosexuality to be somewhat disingenuous. I think that the Bible is pretty clear about homosexuality being a sin. My feeling on the matter is “so what?” Since the Bible was written the church has changed, modified, reversed, and manipulated its stance on a lot of things that were once considered sins. When is the last time your church had a good old fashioned witch burning? Stoned anyone for adultery lately? Do female members of your congregation typically remove themselves outside your towns when they happen to be menstruating (another of those sticky, fluidy things incidentally)?

        3) Preach that.

        4) Everyone is impenitent. Everyone. Christians sin every single day of their lives, then go to church, apologize for it, get forgiven, and walk out of their churches and sin again, probably within hours. If homosexuality must be considered a sin (rather than “one of those things that we used to consider a sin but don’t anymore – like miscegenation, women in church, slavery, wearing clothes of different fabrics, etc. etc.) then it falls into the same category as other sins – neither better than nor worse than others. Lying is a sin, and everyone lies – your pastor lies, your bishop lies. the Pope lies. Why then are liars not treated as second-class parishioners as gay and lesbian Christians are? Because if they were there would be nobody in the pews, and in fact nobody in the pulpits either. The only difference between a practicing homosexual and a practicing liar is that one is far more common than the other.

    • Shaun L’Esperance

      Hi Trip, thank you for sharing this thoughtful comment.

      I recently heard someone speak on the John 8 passage where Jesus is “challenged” by the pharisees on his commitment, if you will, to follow the moral principles taught in the Law. To follow the Law would have been to stone the woman caught in adultery. Now for some reason Jesus chose to “go against” the Law in that moment. Now I am not a pastor, theologian, or biblical scholar, but a follower of Jesus who is intrigued by this “conversation” around LGBT Christians and the Romans 14-15 concept of “disputable matters”. In this John 8 example, is it reasonable to say that Jesus seemed to “go against” the principles taught in the scriptures during much of his ministry? Does this relate at all to the way we address the biblical principles of the LGBT question? In this passage, Jesus does then say “neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.” The “repentant sin vs. the on-going sin” is one of my greatest challenges in this conversation. When considering the context of committed, monogamous same-sex couples, I feel like it is a matter of what exactly is being considered “the sin”. Either way, I am continually inspired and intrigued by the way Jesus seems to have radically challenged the “status quo” of the religious teachings of his day.

      • Trip

        Shaun,

        I think that’s a really great point, and a really important consideration in this conversation. I think the John 8 story brings up a couple of important points. First off, it seems like I’m “throwing stones” at homosexual people, forgive me. I want to acknowledge right out front that I’m the biggest sinner I know (because I know myself the best), and I think Jesus wants me to love first and pronounce judgement carefully, humbly and lovingly. I think the other point of John 8 is that, if we believe everything the Bible says about God and Jesus, the one person in the crowd who did have the right to throw a stone was Jesus himself. He wrote the law that prescribed stoning those caught in adultery, and he had every right to execute that sentence. So when Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you,” I don’t think he’s saying “It’s no big deal,” I think he’s saying, “I’m here to introduce a new order, wherein the only way you’re freed from condemnation is through my pronouncement of righteousness.” His other teachings in the Gospels, as well as Paul’s teachings in the epistles, support that claim.

        But then notice that Jesus tells the woman, “Go and sin no more.” In other words, the natural response of hearing and receiving the good news of no-condemnation is to pursue a life of holiness. And our understanding of that life of holiness should itself be founded on the word of God.

        I have trouble calling homosexual marriage and membership “disputable matters” because they seem to touch on such central, significant parts of the Christian life. That said, I’m willing to agree to that if we can decide together how we ought to respond to matters identified as disputable. What so many seem to prescribe is a kind of intentional apathy. I’m all for moving secondary issues to the back seat to discuss the primary concern that the gospel addresses. But in Romans 14 and 15 Paul suggests that one party’s view is weaker, and in 1 Corinthians he seems to imply that we should look for opportunities to correct and instruct weaker brothers and sisters. So if we’re going to label there “disputable matters,” I hope we can find a context to discuss what the Bible really says, what it means for our lives, and how the church ought to govern and discipline itself in light of these realities.

        • daniel buck

          Trip, I just wanted to thank you for being so thoughtful, genuine, and gentle in your writing. I think you are representing Christ well. Thank you, brother.

          • Trip

            Thanks for the kind words, Daniel. I appreciate you saying that.

      • Don Bromley

        Shaun & Trip, I mentioned this above, but I want to again recommend N. T. Wright’s article, “Communion and Koinonia: Pauline Reflections on Tolerance and Boundaries.” (You’ll have to Google it because this forum doesn’t allow external links.) It talks specifically about what Paul would and would not have meant by “disputable matters.”

    • Garden Lady

      I respectfully disagree with your persepctive on divorce and remarriage being in the past. One can repent of one’s role in the failure of a first marriage, of course, But if one continues in a conjugal relationship with the second spouse, then the “sinful lifestyle” is on going — it is not the past, it is continual.

      • Trip

        I’d like to hear more from you on that. I think it’s the churches responsibility to discourage members from getting divorced, and if a member is divorced, to encourage reconciliation instead of remarriage. If those members disregard the churches guidance, it’s probably necessary for leadership to institute some sort of discipline. I suspect we’d agree on that much. But what do you think the church is called to do with new members or attenders who are now remarried? Should the church encourage another divorce or an annulment of the second marriage? I’m not sure…

  • Don Bromley

    It’s been said that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. I would add that we are not all entitled to our own definitions.

    Calling something “third way” which in actual practice is exactly the same as Open and Affirming is misleading. The term “Open and Affirming” has meant something for decades: that the church will not exclude a non-celibate gay person from any role, including senior pastoral leadership and employment, or from the rite of marriage (when applicable). If a church does those things, it is “open and affirming.”

    • Ken Wilson

      I think it’s quite normal for people to disagree about definitions (e.g what it means to be “conservative”) and that is a reasonable part of the conversation. I’m sure you are not claiming sole authority to define all terms as you would want them to be defined. I’m not either, but I think my definition of “third way” is legitimate and I spell it out in the book. I am very clear in the book that what I describe as “third way” is non-exclusionary at every level, which is also true of “open and affirming” but I maintain my grounds for not referring to it as “affirming.”

      • Don Bromley

        A good way to determine what “open and affirming” means would be to examine what self-professed Open and Affirming churches and denominations mean by it. Or, look at how the folks who coined the term use it. The United Church of Christ, an Open and Affirming denomination, defines it in exactly the way you define “non-exclusionary at every level.” So why have a distinction without a difference?

        • Ken Wilson

          I think we have firmly established the reality that you and I disagree over whether there is a difference between my position and “open and affirming”. :)

        • grange

          Don, I think the difference between an “open and affirming” church and a “3rd way” church is that a 3rd way church is trying to make real room for you. I don’t think you’d last long in a real open and affirming church. They’d say they love and welcome you but it would only be with the hopes that you change your sinful (aka judgmental and condemning) ways. In the end you wouldn’t feel loved or welcomed. As much as the a 3rd way church is taking a stand for same sex couples it is taking a stand for those that think a same sex relationship is a sin. Same sex couples have to make real room for you just as much as you have to make real room for them. This is asking a lot of both of you. But this to me, is a real difference between the 3rd way and a purely open and affirming way.

          • Don Bromley

            Steve, so the third way is kind of like a “middle way” between the orthodox view and “open and affirming”? So you’d have gay weddings *and* ministries for those struggling with same-sex attraction? Some pastors would preach that gay unions are blessed and affirmed, and some would preach that they’re a sin? It’s just not true. The “third way” is “open and affirming.” If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

          • grange

            Don, isn’t holding two diametrically opposed views exactly what Paul asked the early church to do on the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols in Romans 14? Hard to imagine I know. But some semblance of the Pauline 3rd way happens at least 2-3 times a year in High School Sunday School class at our church. If you want to get off the discussion boards and into the trenches come to HS Q&A at the AA Vineyard where this question comes up over and over again. Not for the faint of heart let me tell you. In that group we have really smart, engaged and opinionated gay and straight students and leaders engaging the issue from a biblical and very personal point of view. So far through the grace of God no one has lost an eye. In the end we seem to make room for both points of view and move onto the next question. There are after all bigger fish to fry like “Will the zombie apocalypse come before or after the 2nd Coming?”

            But I think that is the point of the Pauline 3rd way: that the same sex relationship issue is but one of many issues the HSers are wrestling with. And let me tell you most HSers (gay or straight) aren’t wrestling near as hard with the issue as their adult counterparts. Most have accepted it and have moved on. For me the point of the Romans 14 3rd way is found in verse 17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit….” Let’s make room for the eating and drinking issue and move on to the righteousness, peace and joy stuff.

          • Don Bromley

            Steve, if the Apostle Paul were around and aware that pastors were using his letter to the Romans in this way he would be tearing his hair out (if he had any left). It is very definitely NOT the point of Romans 14 that we should simply “agree to disagree” on serious moral issues. Take a quick read of 1 Corinthians 5 if you’re unsure.

            Saint Paul was NOT suggesting that some people could go ahead and sin (by eating meat) if their consciences were okay with it. He makes the point quite clearly that it is *not* a sin to eat meat, but that if someone’s conscience is bothered they should refrain. That is 100% different than suggesting that some people can sin as long as they think it’s not sin!

            Regarding whether younger people have “moved on” regarding this issue—I certainly hope that isn’t how we decide where to stand on things: take a poll and see where people are at, then get behind it. That might be great for political parties but not for a prophetic movement.

          • Joao

            To Don’s point, part of the reason I left the AA Vineyard is precisely because despite assurances that my views that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful would be respected, I very much doubt that I would be given permission to, for example, give a testimony to the congregation that would encourage those who struggle with same sex attraction to continue to fight it. Or to announce that I was starting a small group whose purpose was to help struggling homosexuals to resist temptation. So how is that any different from an open and affirming stance? The only difference I see is semantics, the verbal assurance my view is respected, but no practical difference.

  • Don Bromley

    Regarding the definition of “disputable matter” in Romans 14, I can’t put it any better than N. T. Wright does in his article, “Communion and Koinonia: Pauline Reflections on Tolerance and Boundaries” (Google it)

    We cannot simply define any issue of great contention as a “disputable matter.” Evangelicals ask the question, “What did Paul mean by those words?” And the consensus of historical and scholarly opinion is that he certainly did not mean that activity which Scripture defines as sin can become something we simply “agree to disagree” on.

    If Jesus truly meant that ALL remarriage after divorce is ongoing adultery (I don’t think he did), then the question to ask is why we continue to do it. Not how we can be “fair” by extending our disobedience into another sphere of relationships.

    • Ken Wilson

      In the book I make it clear that we cannot simply define any issue of great contention as a “disputable matter.” I also offer my reasons for not accepting N.T. Wright’s reading on this.

      • Don Bromley

        It is not simply N.T. Wright’s reading. Can you point to any respected New Testament scholars of the past 2,000 years who believe that Paul would have considered an issue like same-sex activity a “disputable matter” per Romans 14?

        • R.A.

          Just because an idea is an antique doesn’t make it right. It took us a few thousand years to get to the point where we admitted that slavery probably wasn’t such a good idea. It was an old one, too, but we reconsidered it, didn’t we?

  • DukeTaber

    Ken, you are using a straw man to make a doctrine. The straw man is the proscription against any type of divorce. This is not a biblical teaching. In context, both biblically and culturally, the question asked Jesus concerning divorce for any cause, was a legal question concerning a type of divorce just as we have a no fault divorce. When you understand that, then the whole straw man that you use falls apart.

    • nadineharris

      Whew! You just twisted so much you might never walk upright again! Jesus condemns divorces a number of times in the gospels–unequivocably. And what does he say about homosexuality? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Goose egg. Well the one time he might be talking about it–the eunuchs passage– he seems to be perfectly okay with it. So I’m gonna just guess you PERSONALLY have no problem with divorce, but homosexuality bothers you. But this is poor reasoning. In fact, I venture to believe it is downright disingenuous.

      • http://taberstruths.com DukeTaber

        Nadine, I would gently suggest that you do some research. I did not twist anything. Both your assertion that condemned every type of divorce is incorrect, and that He did not address same sex marriage is incorrect. He addressed it by addressing what He believed marriage was. So thank you for responding, but I would encourage you to do some research. Please let me know if you need a place to start that process.

        Blessings!

        Pastor Duke

        • Edmund Edmonds

          Duke,
          Given that all three of the synoptic gospel writers quote Jesus as saying “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” in the context of collections of sayings and sermons (and not just in a debate with Pharisees), it seems to me like the burden here is on you, not Nadine Harris.

          Also, a “straw man” argument is when someone paints his opponents in an argument in a ridiculous light by misrepresenting their position. Blanket prohibitions against divorce and remarriage have been a mainstay of all mainline Christian traditions until the Twentieth century. And those prohibitions were based precisely on the mainstream interpretation of Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31 and Mark 10:11 which Nadine Harris and Ken Wilson articulated. Quite apart from using a straw man argument, Wilson articulated the previously commonplace view on Christian divorce with generosity, sympathy and accuracy.

          Your teachings on the matter may be based on some credible re-interpretations of scripture, but to present them as the obvious results of “doing some research” flies in the face of 2,000 years of research and is condescending to boot.

          Edmund

          • http://taberstruths.com DukeTaber

            Since my last reply didn’t post, I will just give you the research. However I am not interested in arguing on another persons website.

            What Does the Bible Really Teach About Divorce?

            by David Instone-Brewer

            What Does the Bible Say?

            The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications. Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: “Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). However, this has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn’t allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: “except for sexual indecency.” Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment by a non believer (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.

            Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical—even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10).

            As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly “impractical” biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about “sexual immorality,” perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn’t accept what they believed the text apparently said.

            But does the literal text mean what we think it does? While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus’ time. I “got inside their heads” enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was to re-read the Bible. I’d read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn’t heard before I read the rabbis!

            ‘Any Cause’ Divorce

            The texts hadn’t changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first-century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (InterVarsity Press), is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.

            One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce. By the time of Jesus, this “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce.

            The “any cause” divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses allowed divorce for “a cause of immorality,” or, more literally, “a thing of nakedness.” Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word “thing” or “cause” when he only needed to use the word “immorality.” They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce—divorce for “a cause.” They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for “any cause.”

            Another group of rabbis (the Shammaites) disagreed with this interpretation. They said Moses’ words were a single phrase that referred to no type of divorce “except immorality”—and therefore the new “any cause” divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” they asked. In other words: “Is it lawful for us to use the ‘any cause’ divorce?”

            When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn’t condemning “divorce for any cause,” but rather the newly invented “any cause” divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn’t mean divorce was allowable for “immorality” and for “any cause,” but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce “except immorality.”

            This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn’t get a divorce whenever they wanted it—there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced, because most of them had “any cause” divorces. Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18), because they were still married. The fact that they said “any divorced person” instead of “virtually all divorced people” is typical Jewish hyperbole—like Mark saying that “everyone” in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5). It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant.

            Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about “a gay old time”). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the “any cause” divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce.

            This meant that when Jesus condemned “divorce for ‘any cause,’ ” later generations thought he meant “divorce for any cause.”

            Reaffirming marriage

            Divorce

            Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn’t reject. He wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament—he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn’t reject: Jesus didn’t reject the other ground for divorce in the Old Testament, which all Jews accepted.

            Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus’ day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Before rabbis introduced the “any cause” divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect—though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!

            These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows—we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as “love, honor, and keep.” These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce.

            The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn’t say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn’t need to—it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.

            Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever—someone who won’t obey the command to return—he says that the abandoned person is “no longer bound.”

            Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: “You are free to marry anyone you wish.”

            Divorce and Remarriage

            Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage.

            Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:

            Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)

            Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)

            Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

            Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, “I forgive you; let’s carry on,” or, “I can’t go on, because this marriage is broken.”

            Does God Allow Remarriage?

            Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.

            Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible’s teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament. Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God’s law is both practical and loving.

            David Instone-Brewer is senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He is married with two daughters.

          • R.A.

            But what in the immediate context of the verse suggests that some divorces are okay?

    • anakinmcfly

      Exodus International, the largest ‘ex-gay’ program until they shut down, themselves admitted that in ’99.9%’ of cases there was no change in sexual orientation, just sexual behaviour, often despite the extreme commitment and desperation on the part of those people to become straight. A gay person in a heterosexual relationship is still gay as long as they remain exclusively attracted to members of their same sex. As for the 0.1% of people who seem to have experienced change, based on the testimonies I’ve read I have reason to believe that they were either bisexual rather than gay, or had always been straight and experienced homosexual desires as a result of sexual trauma, rather than as their natural orientation; I’ve known someone who was completely straight until he got raped by a guy, leading him to have compulsive, unwanted gay thoughts which he then pursued; after therapy and healing, he went back to his original heterosexuality. This isn’t the case for actual gay and bisexual people, for whom the imposed heterosexuality is twisting their natural orientations through similar imposed trauma – just look at the amount of sexual abuse apparently carried out under the guise of turning LGB people straight.

      • R.A.

        Hello! McFly! No noogies for you today, my friend. :)

        • anakinmcfly

          My dad used to do that to me all the time, going “Hello! McFly! Anybody home?” and I never knew why until the day I watched Back to the Future for the first time. :|

          • R.A.

            That emoticon doesn’t look that happy. Still angry at your dad? ;-)

  • Don Bromley

    Finally, concerning “welcome and wanted.” As someone who pastored with Ken at the Ann Arbor Vineyard for 14 years as executive and associate pastor, I can tell you that gay people (celibate or not) were absolutely welcome and wanted. So were atheists, the divorced and remarried, unmarried people living together, greedy people, addicts, etc. etc. We can “welcome” and “want” people in our churches regardless of whether their beliefs or behaviors are consistent with discipleship to Jesus.

  • Don Bromley

    My second “finally”… I have to set the record straight regarding Joy Davidman Gresham & C. S. Lewis (who is one of my heroes). What Ken did not mention in his article above is that in addition to being an alcoholic, Bill Gresham (Joy’s previous husband) was a serial adulterer. Therefore according to Jesus in Matthew 19 their divorce would have been valid, and Joy would no longer be married to Bill. So C. S. Lewis would not have been marrying another man’s wife. Am I missing something?

    • Ken Wilson

      Don, Yes. The point is the C/E considered the remarriage out of bounds. The largest Christian communion, RC, does not interpret Mt. 19 the way you would. (The text itself is ambiguous with respect to remarriage.) I’m not arguing against the increased accomodation to remarried persons today, simply stating that even in pretty strict churches, many more remarried people are not excluded than was the case years ago, and that the exclusions then were grounded in a plain sense reading of the texts.

      • Don Bromley

        My point is, pastors who perform weddings for previously divorced people are not simply choosing to disregard the clear commands of Jesus and Scripture because they prayed and felt like they should. At least I am assuming that’s not what you or I did for all those years! And it is not because, as you suggest (quite unfairly), that they could not finance their churches if they did. Rather, these pastors do not believe that Jesus is proscribing all remarriage after divorce and that Jesus would not consider such marriages adultery. (David Instone-Brewer’s book is helpful on this whole issue)

    • grange

      Don, please stop “setting the record straight”. It at least implies that the record was crookedly presented before. If you have some relevant facts to point out feel free but no need to disparage the record maker in the process (unless they were being dishonest) which I don’t think applies here. And the point was not whether Joy had a biblical basis for divorce but rather whether they had a biblical basis for remarriage after the divorce. I don’t see much in Matthew 19 about remarriage. Certainly the great weight of theological authority for centuries has condemned divorce and remarriage as a sin.

      • Don Bromley

        Steve, the fact that Joy’s previous husband was a serial adulterer is a key fact that was left out of the article. Adultery is specifically mentioned by Jesus as grounds for a legitimate divorce. That’s quite relevant to the discussion about whether Lewis would be “marrying another man’s wife”, don’t you think?

        • grange

          Don, it is a relevant fact. It is good for you to share it. I was just trying to encourage to choose a little more generous tone. “Setting the record straight” usually means you think someone is twisting the facts. I hope you don’t think Ken is doing that.

          But the point was that Church of England would not perform the remarriage because they didn’t think it was biblically allowed. Regardless of the grounds or permissibly of the divorce. Most of the church took that position for centuries based on their reading of scripture. Wouldn’t you agree? So over the course of a relatively short time we have come to a more tolerant view on this issue. Wouldn’t it be fair to say this is a similar disputable matter? That Christian discipleship has not sliden off into the abyss by making room for two views on this issue?

          • Don Bromley

            Steve, I think it could be argued that the church’s lax view on divorce and remarriage has been fairly disastrous. When the divorce rates among churchgoers is not significantly different then for the general public, I think we have drifted quite a bit from what Jesus taught. The Eastern Church has always allowed for remarriage after a legitimate divorce, and the Western church has made or allowances for it in recent years. However, as an evangelical I don’t really have a problem challenging long-held traditions. But the basis from which I challenge them should be Scripture.

  • JC

    Thank you.

    • http://www.rocktheworld.org Lloyd P. “Whis” Hays

      Dear Guest: yes, Jesus did say something very much like that. Let’s not ignore the fact that he also told the person who had committed the sexual sin two things: that they were forgiven, and to knock it off now. How about we pay attention to the whole passage, not just the part we like.

  • Merlin Friesen

    I have been wondering for some time if the story of Peter in Joppa at the home of Cornelius might be a better point of reference in this discussion. Elaborating: The Jewish people (the “people of God”) had for centuries assumed they were correct in their sincere understanding that Gentiles were not part of God’s people. It went beyond this, to a deeply-felt aversion to Gentiles. They believed they would be transgressing their faith even to associate with these people.

    However, God met Peter, and challenged him “Do not call unclean what God has made clean.” Something must have been moving in Peter’s heart for some time, for him to be ready to accept this admonition from God. But, fundamentally, Peter had to readjust his thinking, and had to accept that the lines of exclusion which had been so seemingly fundamental, were being re-drawn. God was moving his people to re-order their tidy assumptions of who was “in” and who was “out.” With hindsight, this seems obvious, but I think one can argue that this re-ordering of “reality” was every bit as big a challenge to faith assumptions for the early Jewish Christians, as the current controversy over the acceptance of persons of different sexual identity is in our day.
    Obviously, this line of thinking can be countered with “But the Bible clearly says….” But we must all admit that the Bible clearly says many things which we do not apply as literal requirements (e.g. some of the dress requirements for women laid out in the epistles, not to mention a variety of Old Testament proscriptions which we all seem to accept “obviously” don’t apply outside the context of the time. Different ones of us draw the lines differently on where we contextualize, and where we assume a “literal” application must apply. But we all clearly have to approach our reading of Scripture with some level of humility about how we apply and contextualize it — and how others may have an alternate perspective without our necessarily assuming that their views are thus in error. I think it’s entirely legitimate to read the Bible with similar latitude in regard to the present controversies over a Biblical approach to marriage and sexual identity. This, without simply throwing Biblical authority out the window.
    For many of us, the emotional groundwork has already been made for this adjustment in our perspective by the Holy Spirit — to make the claim of a true present parallel to the Spirit’s reordering in Peter’s faith assumptions in Joppa. Can we accept that God may actually be trying to correct and enlarge our long-standing but limited perspectives yet again, as he did for Peter?

  • Paul Myrant

    First of all as a pastor I would not remarry anyone who wanted to, there are clear boundaries. If you leave for any reason other than adultery, then there should not be remarriage, as a general rule. Secondly, there are several passages in the Bible which give us more nuance when it comes to complete prohibition of divorce and remarriage. There is no ambiguity about practicing homosexual behavior, it is forbidden. It is an aberration of the natural order of human sexuality. In addition to being unbiblical, all homosexual behavior goes directly against human biology, the social structure of humanity and it misunderstands the psychology of the individuals who are transgender and homosexual. It allows them to stay in their dysfunction and sin.

    • BM

      “Abrahamics” believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the gay members of the
      human race. Also, those who have studied homosexuality have determined that there is no choice involved
      therefore gays are gay because god made them that way.

      • Paul Myrant

        I would encourage you to read Lee Ann Payne’s book on broken image before you make such a statement, I have studied a great deal about homosexuality, and it is at the very least an abnormal sexual behavior, based on the biology model of sexual reproduction, the social roles of men and women and the historical role of heterosexuality. In other words, at least 90% of all human beings are heterosexual, despite Kinsey’s flawed study of the prison population. All human reproduction is heterosexual and the need for a man and women to raise children and carry on all of societies functions is very clear. Homosexuality is a dysfunction in a person’s soul regardless of the morality or any religious opinion.

        • BM

          The Royal College of Psychiatrists
          stated in 2007:


          Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation,
          there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of
          parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a
          person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear
          that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex
          interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual
          orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] ”

          “Garcia-Falgueras and
          Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, “The fe-tal brain
          develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a
          direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the
          female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way,
          our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female
          gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain
          structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that
          social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or
          sexual orientation.”[8

          See also from:

          the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said
          review addresses the following “How do genes associated with homosexuality
          avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

          “Most scientists who study human sexuality agree that gay people are born that way.
          But that consensus raises an evolutionary puzzle: How do genes associated with
          homosexuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

        • R.A.

          Hello, Mr. Myrant,

          In the interest of intellectual inquiry, I wondered if you would answer a few questions.

          Homosexuality stems from one’s soul? Can you expound on that point please. Also, you say that fact is proveable apart from religion or philosophical morality, as if the argument is secular, but then invoke the word soul. I’m curious as to your definition of soul.

          I’m also curious as to the studying that you’ve done on homosexuality.

          And a point of contention from your first post, you say something is unequivocally wrong based on scripture. May I ask how you derive this as absolute fact in light of human errors of interpretation on biblical issues throughout the ages?

  • http://readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    Ken Wilson’s title offers us the following: “What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy.” And then, when we read his article to find out what this “what” is, it all boils down to this: (1) pray about it, (2) ask Jesus what to do, (3) feel led by the Spirit to do what people want, (4) avoid the plain meaning of Scripture when it seems too extreme, (5) use the arguments of those who deny the plain meaning of Scripture as an excuse for converting this whole topic into a “disputable matter” per Romans 14, something analogous to the political differences among cable news networks, (6) accept gay and lesbian couples into full Christian fellowship without passing judgment on their behavior.

    So, assuming that a church actually does this, and one Sunday, as the pastor is preaching through 1 Corinthians, he comes to the following text:

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

    What is the pastor to say? Should he say being a fornicator, an adulterer, a thief, and a swindler is bad, but to be a homosexual is just one of those “gray areas,” one of those “disputable matters”—and nobody knows why Paul would lump homosexuality in with those other egregious sins, but it’s best not to worry about it?

    But what if the pastor keeps preaching and finds himself in 1 Timothy, where in the first chapter he reads:

    “…realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Tim. 1:9-11)

    How does the pastor explain that Paul ranked homosexuality right up there with patricide, matricide, murderers in general, kidnappers, and so on? Who is going to believe, after reading these (and other!) texts, that the Apostle Paul in particular and the biblical writers in general actually believed that homosexuality was a “disputable matter?”

    • jbarelli

      Rather sorry that the author hasn’t responded here, but maybe I can help.

      You quote 1 Timothy 9-11, but the Greek word Paul used which is often translated as “homosexual” is “arsenokoites”. The Penitential attributed to John the Faster (d 595) mentions arsenokoitia in the context of opposite-sex relationships: “In fact, many men even commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives.” (There is a point where it seems to be translated as “engaging in non-procreative sex acts”.)

      In other places, it is translated as “trading in homosexual slaves”. (Anyone wishing to condemn sex slavery will get no argument from me.) Perhaps a better translation for “arsenokitia” would be “sexual abusers”.

      So, the short answer is that Paul said no such thing.

      • Don Bromley

        “Arsenos” is Greek for “male.” “Koiten” is “to lie with (sexually)”. These are the words used in the Septuagint to translate the prohibition in Leviticus of men lying with men. It is also where the word arsenokoitai comes from. It is clearly a prohibition of men having sex with men. Which is why the NIV (and other modern translations) translate it as such.

        • jbarelli

          Actually, “koiten” is Greek for “bed”, rather than “to lie with”, at least if a number of scholars of ancient languages are to be believed, although it was apparently used euphemistically in much the same way we would use the word “bed” for sex. Nevertheless, the people of Paul’s time did not use the word “arsenokoitai” to mean “homosexual”. It’s easy to make the leap, considering the English word “coitus”, but that actually derives from the Latin “coire”.

          Interestingly enough, if your preferred translation were accurate, that would only condemn male homosexuality, as you are correct in pointing out that the word is masculine, and the Greek word for female homosexuality (lesbiai) is not mentioned anywhere.

          • Don Bromley

            Koiten used as a noun can mean “bed.” Where it is used as a verb, as it clearly is in this case, it means “to lie with sexually.” Check out a Greek lexicon. On your second point, I would check out a good commentary on Romans chapter 1.

          • R.A.

            And whom is the arsen koitai-ing? :) Right next to that mysterious word, we have malakoi. The word malakoi, as most Catholic Bibles note, was a Catamite. And this was a, most likely, prepubescent male prostitute. In that context, we’d condemn that, too. Even if the arsen was a woman, right?

          • Don Bromley

            “Malakos” refers to the receptive partner in a male homosexual act. It’s literal meaning is “soft.” Take a look at the most recent modern Bible translations or a good Evangelical commentary.

          • anakinmcfly

            It’s literal meaning *is* ‘soft’, as you say, or sometimes ‘weak’ as in spiritually so. In earlier translations, this was sometimes translated as ‘womanly’, given that women were considered ‘soft’; this later got translated to ‘effeminate’, and then somehow started being taken to refer to the ‘receptive partner’ you mention. But that’s a lot of linguistic leaps. Women aren’t inherently soft or weak. Being womanly is not the same as being effeminate. Being effeminate is not the same as being gay; and even not all effeminate gay men are the ‘receptive partner’, which is such a crude way to put it – you’re basically reducing a human being into a sex act.

          • Don Bromley

            R.A. do you really believe that St. Paul (or Jesus) would have accepted homosexual practices under ANY circumstances?

          • R.A.

            Mr. Bromley, thanks for taking the time to reply.

            In Christ’s cae, the answer to the question can only be I don’t know for either of us since he said nothing on the subject.

            For Paul, he has some cultural understandings that would keep him from seeing the issue as we can. Note the context of Romans. For Paul, this seems to be an issue of idolatry. He believes paganism leads to sexual frenzy where no discernment is made in the heat of the moment as to who your partner is.

            True, Paul says nothing positive and presents cases where the context is clearly sinful. That being said, such acts would still be condemned if we substituted in heterosexual acts into the mix.

            As for Malakos, what sources are you looking at? Strong’s concordance notes how the term figuratively means Catamite. The Catholic bible usually has a footnote explaining such, as well. So the two in this list are clearly in some form of prostituiton given the Catamite’s status. Also, it could be that the Catamite is a slave kept for sexual purposes. If such is the case, then it better makes sense that Paul would also include kidnappers right next to this pairing to indite

          • R.A.

            I don’t know why discuss hates iPads. Wouldn’t let me finish or edit that last post.

            Anywho, it indicts all three members of the issue.

            Also, what denomination are you from? Paul says quite a few things about women that most congregations seem to overlook, so appealing to him for cultural morality might not be the safest bet.

            Also, looking at only evangelical sources when it comes to an issue such as this could very well lead to a one-sided viewpoint.

          • Don Bromley

            I agree with you. But Ken goes out of his way to stress that he is an Evangelical, so I am primarily referring to Evangelical sources. Although I am not aware of ANY New Testament scholars who would agree that Paul would extend “disputable matters” to sexual morality.

          • Don Bromley

            Here’s one (there are many): Fritz Rienecker. “A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament.” Rienecker comments on these words in 1Cor 6:9, “malakos soft, effeminate, a technical term for the passive partner in homosexual relations … arsenokoites a male who has sexual relations with a male, homosexual” (p.402).

            Also, read the footnote to this verse in the NIV.

          • R.A.

            Thanks for this. I’ll check it out.

          • Don Bromley

            R. A. are you saying that we see this issue more clearly than Paul did because of our modern understanding of this subject? I have two issues with that: 1) wasn’t the percentage of gay adults then about the same as it is now? Were all gay people pedophiles and rapists? I think not. Paul was certainly aware that adult men had consensual sex with each other, as is forbidden in Leviticus. 2) Where does the idea of scriptural inspiration come into this? Does the New Testament simply reflect the limited narrow viewpoints of some human authors 2,000 years ago?

          • R.A.

            Mr. Bromley, thanks for a respectful response. It’s amazing how often many discussions like this devolve into character attacks over the other person’s interpretational views. Sad some people just get so dang angry when discussing this. Phew. There’s a lot to unpack in this post. I’ll try my best to address each of your points until the discussion app goes kaput on me.

            1) The percentage of gay people would certainly be the same. That being said, the concept of an orientation wasn’t classified until the late 1800s. Therefore, Paul would have understood that all men are attracted to women on some level. Thus, apples and oranges for us and Paul on “gay” people. But you’re right, Paul would have known about consensual gay sex, and he would probably wouldn’t have liked it. But, when referencing the Levitical verses, are we not free from the Law now, as Paul continually argued? If anything, I’m of the opinion I need to use the New Testament to determine morality.

            2) it’s not so much a matter of inspiration as it is interpretation. How do you interpret the verse where Jesus says for you to cut off your hand? How about when he tells the rich young man that selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a component of salvation to inherit eternal life? What about when Paul says that women will be saved through childbirth? When we choose to say, “Well, that’s not what was meant.” Then we immediately begin adding our understanding to the verse. And speaking for myself, I can’t say that my interpretation is as infallible as the Word. It’s just my best shot. And I’m hoping God’s grace is powerful enough to cover those shortcomings.

          • Don Bromley

            The argument in Romans 1 refers to those who exchange what is “natural” for what is “unnatural.” Heterosexual relations (natural) for homosexual relations (unnatural). His argument is that this exchange of natural for unnatural is a symptom and consequence of an idolatrous people who do not recognize God. I think the best commentaries on Romans 1 bear this out.

          • R.A.

            Okay, I’m answering this post after the other since there’s more to cover here.

            First, “unnatural”, in my humble opinion cannot be tantamount to “sinful”. I think this for a couple reasons.

            Paul’s usage of the term makes assigning it a solely negative meaning problematic. A few chapters later, Paul uses the same word to reference an action of God’s, noting how God acted unnaturally by grafting us, Gentiles, into his family tree.

            And if we try to understand the term in regards to Natural Law, then we must struggle with the verse where Paul says long hair is unnatural for a man. Isn’t long hair actually more natural?

            Then here’s my difficulties with Natural Law:

            A) Natural Law depends on God’s intent for creation. This is something we don’t know. Just because the creation account(s) depicts the beginning in a certain way doesn’t mean we have a glimpse into God’s intended purposes. True, we see what God creates, but that doesn’t mean we see his ultimate intentions. We can only surmise at those. What did God intend for the appendix? The jury’s still out.

            B) For Natural Law to really be a law, it must be pervasive in its scope, applied equally to all creation. But it’s only really appealed to in sexual contexts. The problem with that approach is that it ignores God’s intent for the rest of creation. If we applied it as a universal law, then we would be breaking it by using the penicillin-mold for pharmaceutical purposes instead of allowing it to simply decompose matter. But if someone suggests maybe God intended for penicillin to be used as a drug, then we run back into the problem listed under letter A.

            And suppose we allow the Law to stand despite the lack of all-inclusive scope, we (rightfully) condemn sexual conduct between adults and thirteen year-olds despite the fact that the body is physically capable of such conduct at that age. If we insist on Natural Law, then we must explain why this is an exception since, naturally, all mechanics are in working order, despite the context of a “marriage”. But if we (rightfully, in my opinion) insist that such a relationship is immoral, then we’ve made an exception to Natural Law. And by definition, laws must have no exceptions. Therefore, we’ve already showed we’ve applied the Natural Law selectively, thus we’ve violated its status as a law, rendering it outside of a universal rule.

            C) Natural Law just isn’t biblically based, in my humble opinion. It’s something we’ve read into the text. Can we find evidence for it? Sure. But to do so, we have to operate on the belief that it’s true before we ever start reading the text, and I don’t think that’s the best exegetical approach for interpreting the scripture.

  • Rory Tyer

    This is a very thoughtful, kind, and pastoral post, and I appreciate where you are coming from. I think most churches need to be corrected on their approach to LGBTQ persons and most Christians need to understand many things much better than they do, such as giving up the rhetoric of “choice” or “lifestyle,” and thinking hard about who exactly is welcome, and in what way, in our congregation. Avoiding double standards is an imperative for the church. I wrestled with sexual identity issues growing up and I have done a fair amount of reading / teaching / thinking about these things, as well as lamenting, in local church contexts, so I appreciate seeing other church leaders attempting to wrestle thoughtfully and compassionately with a difficult issue, unafraid of departing from what seems to be an accepted party line.

    But there are a number of things I think ought to be fleshed out further:

    1. You selectively quote Paul on marriage, giving a skewed and incomplete biblical theology of marriage in the process. You also do not quote Jesus but marshal him in support of a point I do not think his teachings support. He says some fairly affirming things about marriage in Matthew 19, including saying, in v. 11, that God gives people different “words” about marriage and remarriage–implying God definitely gives some people “words” about marriage!

    2. You rethought your position on tradition based not on the weight of the biblical texts but on a sort of meta-perspective change on the texts, irrespective of whether they may still mean what you don’t now think they mean. Or, at least, you don’t give evidence here that you have grappled with the exegetical issues; one reason I say that is…

    3. At one point you make passing mention of the “handful of texts” that refer to same-sex marriage. I’m not aware of any robust biblical-theological method that privileges counting numbers of verses when building a biblical theology of any subject, let alone the fraught, important, and deeply human subject of sexuality, being as it is a facet of a more broad theological anthropology. If you believe that weight should be given to numbers of texts, what about the doctrine of the Trinity? I am not being alarmist- I am asking for consistency in biblical-theological methodology. If the texts are telling us a story, and they are inviting us in to participate in that story, at some point we need to discern a narrative shape, work out various twists and turns of plot, and establish the character of the author so that we can continue to find our own place in the story. Counting Bible verses & finding a low number of explicit references on any given subject doesn’t empower believers to understand and relive the narrative of Scripture, let alone consistently incorporate its vision into their lives and their lives into its purview. We need to equip people to use the Bible better than that, especially as it concerns something so pastorally sensitive, culturally fraught, and existentially difficult.

    I do not want to come across as alarmist, but I would also hope that my reaction is not simply lumped alongside other “conservative reactions” or seemingly predictable responses on the part of people alarmed that someone is upsetting established conservative ways of thinking about some hot-button issue. I’m unconcerned with shibboleths and gatekeepers; they’re worthless as far as the kingdom is concerned. What I am concerned with is thinking well about how we hear the Bible on any issue, and especially those issues on which our ears might be that much more hard of hearing given our cultural context, assumptions, and existential difficulties.

  • Paul Thacker

    Hi Ken,
    Thanks for all the effort writing the article but I have some confusion. I don’t struggle with homosexuality, however I do find it difficult to keep several other christian rules. I struggle with being a cheerful giver, I would rather keep my money. There seems to be one heck of a lot less scripture on tithing in the New Testament than on homosexuality being a sin. Does this mean if I accept and promote gay marriage that I don’t have to tithe anymore? And while we are talking about sex, how about adultery? I think I would like to sleep with a whole bunch of other women. If I accept and welcome homosexuality among the faithful, can I have adultery be OK? I have trouble being obedient to God’s written word, and since we are writing new rules I want in on changing them.
    Thanks,
    Paul Thacker

    • anakinmcfly

      No rules are being rewritten.

      “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
      - Galatians 5:14.

      “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
      - Mark 12:30-31

      Not tithing is arguably not loving God with all your heart, mind and strength. Committing adultery is not loving your neighbour (your wife) as yourself. Being in a loving relationship with someone else who happens to be of the same gender – that doesn’t break either of those laws, from what I can see. Whereas condemning such people is *definitely* not loving your neighbour.

    • R.A.

      Hey, Paul. How are you? Your tone comes across as a little snippy. Not sure if you intended for it to be thus in your thought experiment here. If so, why are you upset?

      See Anakin’s post, as it is much better than mine; however, the argument you are making is dependent on homosexuality being a sin. I believe the Bible to be inconclusive on the issue, and I’m willing to go in depth further as to why if you ask on specific points. But since I believe the premise is false, the argument cannot follow.

      • Paul Thacker

        Greetings R.A.. “A little snippy” Ok, I can live with that. I’m a simple guy and I have an incredibly difficult time believing that anyone can read a Bible and not believe that the Bible holds that the act of homosexuality is a sin. It seems about as clean cut as can be. My “con man” meter is in the red zone.
        For the sake of argument let take 1 Corinthians chapter 6 = 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were.But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
        Currently the fashion is to say homosexuality is not a sin. As long as you are throwing homosexual out of this list, lets throw out all sexual immorality. Look on the bright side R.A., there are a lot more adulterers in church than there are homosexuals. You should have an easier time selling adultery and then you can slip in homosexuality as a bonus.
        Yeah, I’m snippy, I don’t think you are being intellectually honest. This is why liberal churches fail. For you homosexuality is difficult, for me it is other things. The liberal churches throw out the things they don’t like and for some reason can’t understand the logic that follows. There are times that following Christ has a cost. If you are in a church culture that says “wait a minute” these hard things to obey don’t have to be done if it is unpopular; then that church is undermining the authority of scripture. As for me and people like me if scripture has no authority then I’m outta here.

        • R.A.

          Hey, Paul, I can tell this is an issue that upsets you for some reason. Don’t take the comment on tone earlier as accusatory or insulting. I was just trying to tell if I’d misread your tone.

          Also, I don’t believe I’m being any more intellectually dishonest than the domination that worships down the road from you. Different interpretation? Maybe. But shooting for dishonesty? Not so much.

          I’ll try to address each point as well as my feeble brain is able:

          1) I certainly see scripture as authoritative. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be Christian. But please don’t think someone takes scripture less reverently just because they wind up on a different interpretational track than you. I don’t think you’re being intellectually dishonest or twisting scripture for your views. It’s just your interpretation, and I respect that.

          2) There are problems with that Corinthian verse’s translation before we ever come to the table to discuss it. Firstly, “homosexual” wasn’t even a word until the late 1800s, which was, coincidentally, when it became a concept for us post-advent of psychology. The word there is arsenkoitai. It’s translation, roughly, is male bedders. Now, is it someone who beds males? Or a male who beds? With compound words, it’s difficult. It’s even more difficult since Romans is the first ever recorded using of that word. And later uses of it only put it in similar vice lists, which makes using context difficult. The word it’s paired with in that verse is malakoi, which is, if you trust the Catholic Bible, a young, prepubescent male prostitute. Now, if that word arsenkoitai is used in conjunction with malakoi, then it is highly likely we are referencing the older male in a pederastic relationship. In fact, Martin Luther

          • R.A.

            Translated the word as knabenshander, which means “violator of boys”. Luther must have understood the context of the verse with malakoi to be a reference to the pederastic relationships common in Paul’s day.

            But even if we allow it to be in reference to a gay person, then it can only be a gay male, as the word does not allow for gay females.

          • Paul Thacker

            Greetings R.A., Sorry but the “shooting for dishonest” is where my meter is going. Here is why, if this push for homosexual marriage came out of someone doing doctrinal studies and discovering “whoops” we made a wrong interpretation, followed by translators for NIV, NAS, ASV etc. apologizing and coming out with better translations then ok. But that is not what is happening here. What is happening is that people with homosexual desires are wanting to keep and act on their desires and not have it called sin.
            Now I’m trained as an engineer, I’m used to spending months on minutiae that would drive other people crazy. If you can make that case and have bible scholars agree, more power to you, then I’m with you. You just want to argue for the standards of the ancient Greeks then not so much. We live in a time when Biblical morality is unpopular with our society, so be it.

          • R.A.

            I understand you may feel that gay people are shooting for “justification”, but that doesn’t mean that we, collectively as a church, haven’t gotten this issue wrong much like we were wrong on the subordination of women and the belief that the Bible supports slavery. Heck, interracial marriage opponents used many of the same arguments that anti-gay proponents do. But, maybe, just maybe, God might be trying to lead us slowly to where he wants us. Could I be wrong? Sure. I’m logical enough to admit I could be wrong. But I also know I’ve prayed passionately over this issue, as many have, begging God to help me arrive at the conclusion he would have me reach. I can assure you, this is not something I have taken lightly. And I still pray that exact same prayer. But I try out these arguments to see if they hold any water. Intellectual testing, as it were. So, I ask humbly once more, please don’t question my intentions or faith. I could be wrong on my interpretation, but my heart is seeking the truth on this issue, whatever that may be.

            By the way, these ideas don’t originate from me. These all come from various biblical scholars who, looking at the issue, are starting to find things that no one saw before. Many are straight, as well.

        • anakinmcfly

          But homosexuality is not inherently sexual immoral any more than heterosexuality is. I’m gay, and wholly against sexual immorality of any kind. More so than my straight peers, it often seems. They’re the ones copulating all over the place, sometimes non-consensually, sometimes adulterously, whereas I’m staying a celibate and mostly fapless virgin until gay marriage. Yet I’m the one considered sexually immoral, go figure.

          This isn’t about throwing out things we “don’t like”. It’s about studying the Bible seriously rather than blindly following what we assume it says, influenced by our own cultural and linguistic biases.

          And to paraphrase Christian blogger John Shore, homosexuality is the only ‘sin’ that, when condemned, reduces or denies a person of the ability to love. Not lust, as is the case with sexual immorality; but love. Not a single other sin does that.

          (unless you’re of the opinion that sexless gay romantic relationships are ok, in which case never mind.)

          • Paul Thacker

            Greetings anakinmcfly, I had to look up “fapless” , you learn something every day. For a second let’s set aside Matthew 5:28 “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”. Let’s make a distinction between desires and acts. It looks to me that in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 that the Bible is talking about homosexual acts, not desires. It seems to condemn those acts pretty clearly. It also seems to condemn “copulating all over the place” pretty clearly as well as drunken and greedy.

            I don’t accept the premise that homosexual sex equates to love. “homosexuality is the only ‘sin’ that, when condemned, reduces or denies a person of the ability to love.” Loving someone and having sex with them are not equal. Loving people deeply is a great and wonderful thing. Having sex before marriage is a sin. Sorry, not my rule, I would like to throw it out. My having sex with women other than my wife is a sin. Sorry, not my rule, I would like to throw it out.

            I have trouble with “sexless gay” adjectives. “Gay” is about sex. Love deeply, certainly love men. Romance men equals playing with fire.

            Sexual urges are incredibly strong, those middle of the night conversations with your buddy crying his eyes out because he has fallen in love with another woman and wants to leave his wife and two young children, start with innocent flirtation. He never saw the sequence of steps coming. Now he is claiming he has found his “soul mate”, he has never felt love like this before, God must want this, they are destined to be together. Fast forward a couple of years, he is divorced, the other woman is divorced, two families are broken and now the other woman is gone. True story, incredible pain for all involved. Try to avoid sin. Another true story, Methodist minister relative discovers after years of marriage that he is gay, has had lots of gay sex on minister gatherings. Decides to “come out”. His teen boys are crushed, one goes into a spiral of drugs and acting out. “God must want this, he can no longer deny who he is”. Try to avoid sin.

            I don’t know the reason behind your desires, I do know others that had incorrect sexual desires and acted on them. Whether they stayed with their wives or not there was still incredible pain.

            Job 13:15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

          • R.A.

            Don’t mean to intrude on this conversation, but just an interesting note, the American Standard version of the Job quote reads: “He will slay me; I have no hope.” The RSV agrees, even noting that KJV translators used a note on the side of the manuscript written by a “pious” scribe who, apparently, didn’t appreciate Job’s defiant tone.

          • anakinmcfly

            I fully agree that sex is not love, and that loving someone and having sex with them are not at all the same thing. You misunderstand me there. What I’m talking about is the difference between a romantic relationship and a platonic friendship. I’m guessing that the love you have for your wife (or future wife), even in the absence of sex, would be inherently different from the kind of love you have for a close platonic friend. And that’s the kind of love being denied gay people, and which I protest against.

            The examples you give are not relevant. That friend was committing adultery, which is a sin. He had made a promise and commitment to his wife that should have either been upheld or not made to begin with. As for that minister – that’s a precise example of how gay people pressured into straight marriages ends up ruining lives all around. It was the denial of who he was, and his pursuing of a heterosexuality that was unnatural and perverse for him, that led to all the trouble and affairs and destroyed lives. If he had been able to be honest with himself and society at the start, he would have never entered a marriage he knew he did not believe in and which was doomed from the beginning.

  • Troy Hendrickson

    Jesus settled the issue of homosexuality already.
    He considered it so important that he never said a single word about it.

    And when dealing with those who sought to involve themselves and judge others for sexual sin, real or imagined, he told them to shut up and go home.

  • Don Bromley

    Check out David Instone-Brewer’s books “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context” and “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities.”

    “Among the important findings of the book are that both Jesus and Paul condemned divorce without valid grounds and discouraged divorce even for valid grounds; that both Jesus and Paul affirmed the Old Testament grounds for divorce; that the Old Testament allowed divorce for adultery and for neglect or abuse; and that both Jesus and Paul condemned remarriage after an invalid divorce but not after a valid divorce. Instone-Brewer shows that these principles are not only different from the traditional church interpretation of the New Testament but also directly relevant to modern relationships.”

  • Monique

    I’m so glad to read this.
    My husband left me 6 years ago… he had been unfaithful (which I didn’t know), and he left me after a mere 15 months of marriage, filed… bam. Divorced.
    And yet:: I have encountered discrimination from single Christian men who will not date a woman who was married due to their translation of the Bible…

    My brother is gay… he used to follow Christ but couldn’t shake his core of what felt ‘true’ to him– and has undergone some of the harshest of scrutiny and discrimination from our father, a retired pastor, on his homosexuality.
    And yet:: I believe I am one of the only believers who has told him that- no matter who he decides to marry I will love him unconditionally.

    I think it’s so easy to debate these topics ‘from afar’ — and yet- when you’re face to face with someone who IS divorced… who IS gay… telling them that they are loved and wanted and SEEN and known and VALUED for all that they are- and all that they aren’t– holds so much weight.
    I beg evangelicals to imagine looking someone who is gay in the face and telling them they’re not welcome. These are real people… not just topics.

  • Paul Frantizek

    “Most evangelical churches have remarried leaders. No one speaks of loving these remarried people but hating their sin.”

    I would argue that if a priest/pastor isn’t telling the divorced people in his congregation that, while he loves and supports them as people created in God’s image, he hates the practice of divorce for its corrosive effects on our families and culture, if he’s not making that clear, he’s not living up to his obligations as clergy.

    Our contemporary secular culture does a good enough job pushing relativism in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ and ‘compassion’. It hardly needs the help of religious institutions to achieve that goal.

  • osu84

    You are correct. Marrying a couple where one or both have been previously married and without an annulment is a clear violation of the direct and unmistakable teaching of Christ. Personally, I wish he hadn’t said what he said. But he did so I don’t see how any Christian minister can perform or even consent to a remarriage. If the CS Lewis anecdote is completely accurate (and complete) then the priest who performed the wedding did wrong. I’m suspicious that all of the facts have been relayed. Was Davidman’s first wedding legitimate? I don’t know.

  • http://www.odubcm.org/ Brett

    Ken, what a great post.

    I wrestled with this subject while in seminary against all of my wishes to do so. “It began with a burr beneath the saddle of my conscience.” Your words reach back and aptly describe how something internal simply would not let me be. I tried to ignore, avoid, let someone else deal with, and even literally run from this prompting because I already knew what I “had” to believe on this subject. After a lengthy process I finally realized I had not asked God what to do. It seems crazy but the Bible had been an idol keeping me from praying, as you said, to our living God in search of where God would lead. What a difference it has made! I have had a few God “experiences” and they have all shaped my life. Would you believe when I finally stopped, with tears in my eyes, and begged God to let me know if I was following Christ in this, the stillness of God covered me. Only once before have I been so confident of God’s clear affirmation and it was in my salvation experience.

    Thank you for you post. Thank you for being bold in your thought and eager to follow our Lord! I appreciate you words and will contemplate them in the hopes this language may in fact build bridges and mend divisions in our family. I often wonder how dysfunctional we must seem to non-Christians!

  • Latanya Williams Jenkins

    Yes ,ask Jesus. He will say the word is the word. If someone has a relationship with Jesus, they can really hear his voice. He will lead and guide them in truth. Protestants must stop compromising for popular belief or what is politically correct.

  • klhayes

    Interesting story about C.S. Lewis, especially since the Church of England was formed so King Henry VIII could divorce his wife and marry Anne Bolyn.

  • Caryn LeMur

    Ken Wilson: thank you for your bravery shown in your article. I hope you will hold to your thoughts in the storm that normally follows a disciple of Jesus. After all, you are now welcoming the modern Samaritans, and allowing the Holy Spirit time to do the convicting and changing (if any). You have dared to become like Jesus, rather than like a normal Evangelical that serves in the office of pastor.

    I attended a Vineyard for a time, and rejected that church organization due to a strong prejudice shown by their statement, “All bisexuals are promiscuous… everyone knows that.” After all, as a bisexual, I had stated, ‘Some men are hot; some women are hot; it is just a chemical thing… it does not mean I am jumping into bed with anyone.” Also, they held to sloganism far more than scriptures… and believed their slogans to need no justification from the Bible.

    Are you planning to stay with Vineyard? If not, I hope you will create a new church, ‘The Open Vineyard’. I see in your writings someone that is wrestling with ‘What did Jesus do?’ and with the handling of Samaritans (bad genetics; divorced 5 times; currently co-habituating…). Thank you.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

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