I don’t make the news, I just report it. For those of you who have been following this series you will recognize that the title of this article is following a particular pattern as I have been responding to each one of Brian McLaren’s “ten questions that are transforming the Christian faith.” I realize that even mentioning the word “sex” will cause some readers to have a conniption, while at the same time draw in other readers that wouldn’t normally frequent a Christian website. For those of you in the former group, I apologize; I am simply following the ten questions in the order they appear in the book and the seventh question is the question of sex. Don’t worry though, this article will be mostly G to PG rated. For those of you in the latter group (if you are still reading after finding out that this is not only a Christian site, but that the content of this article will be prudishly tame), I welcome you and invite you to stay and listen. Now that the pleasantries and the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Much of what McLaren writes in A New Kind of Christianity is unashamedly self-serving. Apparently he has read enough of his own press clippings to completely believe the hype. McLaren has something of a martyr’s complex in that he thinks that everything he says and does is helping to bring down (what he believes to be) the sacred cows of the modern evangelical church. Even though he is a good enough writer, by the time the reader gets to the “sex question,” he is pretty well over McLaren’s “I’m just a nice guy asking questions” routine. And if you were reserving judgment and still giving him the ultimate benefit of the doubt, this chapter will end it for sure. Although I was already aware of where McLaren stood on the issue of homosexuality, I was actually anticipating a chapter with a little more substance than the one I actually received. He spends the first half of the chapter discrediting a view he calls “fundasexuality,” which he defines as a “reactive, combative brand of religious fundamentalism that preoccupies itself with sexuality” (p. 174). The second half of the chapter is an embarrassingly lame attempt to encourage a re-evaluation of homosexuality based on the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:25-40. We will briefly look at each of these two parts, in addition to making a few concluding remarks about this topic in general.
I’m quite certain that most readers can identify with McLaren’s definition of a “fundasexual.” I’m sure many of us know one or two, some of us may even be one. I am intrigued by how McLaren turns the fundasexual argument around on those who oppose homosexual behavior, as if they were the ones who started the crusade to begin with. It should be pointed out that these “fundasexuals” were not very evident until the modern homosexual movement got the notion to go public. Fundasexuals appear to be “preoccupied” with sexuality, because the pro-homosexual agenda is preoccupied with it. It is rather disingenuous to accuse an opponent of something with being obsessed with what the opposition keeps bringing up. Of course they appear to be preoccupied with it, they are constantly being prodded into action and public statements because of the public action and statements of the pro-homosexual lobby itself. A recent Christianity Today (CT) interview with Jennifer Knapp reveals just how much of this fundasexuality mentality is actually initiated by those who condone (and practice) homosexual behavior. Knapp, a successful singer/songwriter that went into hibernation 7 years ago has recently returned to music and acknowledged that she is a lesbian. Many of her answers to CT interviewer Mark Moring display her anticipation of what she believes awaits her from the long-arm and bony-finger of the condemning and critical Christian community. (And, quite frankly, she’s probably right. But until both sides quit talking past each other, miscommunication and heated rhetoric will continue to be the result.) Knapp claims that she never considered her homosexuality as something that she struggled with, instead her struggle was
with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith…I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people. I’ve struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.1
Notice that Knapp has come to terms with her homosexuality as a part of who she is, yet she still knows that other people will not perceive it this way. McLaren would be right beside her, informing her that those fundasexuals are always this way; judging comes second nature to them. And maybe it does. But as Moring brings up later in the interview, there is still the thorny issue of those biblical passages that don’t paint homosexual behavior in such a positive light. Moring asks, “What about what Scripture says on the topic?” Knapp responds:
The Bible has literally saved my life. I find myself between a rock and a hard place—between the conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the “clobber verses” to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics, and various other Scriptures we could argue about. I’m not capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn’t allow homosexuals within our church. There’s a spirit that overrides that for me, and what I’ve been gravitating to in Christ and why I became a Christian in the first place.2
Knapp employs the very same diversionary tactic that McLaren does in his own chapter on the subject. She never answers the question, but she heaps just enough Old Testament law back onto the condemning crowd to show that they are law-breakers too. Apparently she has a few “clobber verses” of her own. Knapp is quite right to point this out and it shows yet again that the church has a long way to go in its understanding of the continuing validity of the law of God. Showing your critic that he also has blind-spots does not excuse either one to continue in their sin. Not eating shellfish, like all the other dietary laws in the Old Testament, were designed to keep Israel separate and distinct from the nations. The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior is not a law of this type, it is a moral law that has continuing validity all the way through Scripture.
Also notice how Knapp defines her relationship with her partner as a “loving relationship.” McLaren resorts to the very same sort of semantic gymnastics to try and emotionalize the debate as one not of sin, but of love. I have no doubt that Knapp loves her partner. I love my mother; but not every “loving” relationship must be sexual. The Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourself, yet it also tells us not to covet our neighbor’s wife or to commit adultery with her. Obviously the Bible does not teach that every “loving” relationship must be sexual. But the real issue comes in when Knapp claims that she is not “capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn’t allow homosexuals within our church.” Maybe I’m dense or don’t get out much, but I have never heard a theological argument put forth that says we shouldn’t allow homosexuals into the church. The church’s doors are open to all. The issue is not whether or not to allow homosexuals into the church, anymore than we should not allow rapists, adulterers, murderers, thieves, and liars into the church. If sinners aren’t welcome in the church, where else could they possibly go? The real question is not if we should let them in, but whether they are interested in being transformed by the Gospel. But because Knapp isn’t interested in hearing what the Scriptures say about her particular sin, she finds nothing but condemnation and hate in the church. While the church should open its doors to everyone, no matter their sinful past, if they willfully refuse to heed the biblical teaching on a particular topic, they are only showing that they love their sin more than they love the Savior.
McLaren indicates that because he believes sexual orientation is not chosen and that “orientation [is] a category completely unrecognized in Scripture” (p. 178), this somehow makes the homosexual debate a much more difficult issue. Even if we grant that homosexuality is an inborn “orientation,” we cannot then make the leap that the Bible is not clear about the issue. We are born sinful, but this doesn’t get us off the hook for being guilty before God. There’s are many things I would have done differently had I been in charge of my own birth. I was born in a particular place, at a particular time, to a particular family, with a predisposition to cry when I wanted something. I had no say in any of this, but as I grew older, I was taught to modify my behavior to certain standards. Just as I would be viewed as developmentally-challenged if I still cried every time I wanted something, so it is to appeal to “orientation” to explain away a certain sinful behavior. Just because we are born a certain way (again, granting this to be the case) does not excuse us from taking responsibility for our actions. We all have sins that we struggle with, but giving in to the struggle and “accepting it” is not a proper response from a Christian.
Much more could be said on the first half of the chapter, like McLaren claiming that “marriage in the Bible was not always between one man and one woman, but rather evolved through stages in which polygyny was not only permitted, but in some cases required” (p. 176). McLaren footnotes Deuteronomy 25:5-10 as an example of one such “required case.” It should be noted that polygyny is defined as having multiple wives at the same time, but McLaren’s pointing to this example in Deuteronomy proves nothing of the sort. The levirate marriage discussed in Deut. 25 refers to a man who dies without a son. If this happens, it falls to the man’s brother to marry his brother’s widow so that his brother’s name “will not be blotted out from Israel” (Deut. 25:6). This verse teaches nothing about marriage being something other than one man and one woman and it certainly doesn’t teach polygyny. This is just one example where McLaren is being downright deceitful in his attempt to make the Bible say what he wants it to say. More could be provided, but we must move on to Philip and Acts 8.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, I suggest you quickly read it to acquaint yourself with the details (Acts 8:25-40). McLaren correctly notes that eunuchs—or castrated males—since they were incapable of having families of their own, were often used in political positions that required complete loyalty to the king, positions such as “managers of the king’s harem, taster of the king’s food…overseer of the king’s treasury” (p. 181), etc. After doing a quick exposition of the passage where he points out the beautiful story of God’s grace calling this Ethiopian eunuch to Himself through the intervening ministry of Philip, Mclaren makes the unbelievable leap in logic that a eunuch in the first century, is kind of like a homosexual in the twenty-first.
Scripture tells us that the Ethiopian eunuch was accepted and baptized that day by Philip, but tradition tells us more—that this “sexually other” person brought the gospel of the kingdom back to Ethiopia. Think of that: a nonheterosexual in missional leadership from the very beginning of the Jesus movement. (p. 186)
Huh? A eunuch is a “nonheterosexual?” Forgive me for doubting, but wasn’t the very reason for castrating these men to prevent them from having families and allegiances to any other person than the king? In other words, to prevent them from having a heterosexual life, complete with wife and kids? McLaren is correct about the tradition of this eunuch taking the gospel back to Ethiopia, perhaps even planting the seeds that eventually sprouted in the Nubian Christianity that played such a key role in the 4th to 6th century early church. But to refer to this eunuch as “sexually other” and “nonheterosexual” is to employ the most dishonest sort of word games imaginable. He has already made the outlandish claim that homosexuality is the new “tension” in the church, even equating it with racial segregation (p. 185). And now to even hint (although he does more than hint, as the quotation above reveals) that a eunuch and a homosexual have something in common is to elevate sex to the level that he reserved only for the fundasexual.
He then goes on to point out that the church has its share of problems even with the heterosexual ideal of one virgin man and one virgin woman for life. While this is undeniably true, it doesn’t mean that we can now scrap the whole idea and remake it according to current cultural standards. Lest we forget that the very concept of marriage is a biblical concept. There is no reason in nature that would compel a man and a woman to commit and remain devoted to each other as long as they shall live. Nature knows nothing of commitment (the true definition of “love”); nature only knows of need and impulse.
It should be obvious by now that McLaren has no real intention of allowing the Bible to speak to this issue. He begins the chapter by discussing the findings of modern science and how these are even challenging our concepts of what it means to be male or female. He closes the chapter by pointing out that everyone is having sex early, even our young kids who have taken “abstinence” pledges. He claims that “we must pursue a practical, down-to-earth theology and an honest, fully embodied spirituality that speak truthfully and openly about our sexuality, in all its straight and gay complexity” (p. 189). But if McLaren isn’t willing to listen to the Bible and has no problem classifying sexual orientation as a complex category that is “completely unrecognized in Scripture,” he has just thrown out the only standard that is capable of drawing clear distinctions about the issue. Science can’t tell us what should be, only what is. Human nature—which even McLaren recognizes is broken and in need of a Fixer—cannot be trusted because of the very fact that it is broken. Only the Bible is the sure and reliable guide to this most hotly-debated issue. This is why McLaren’s words on this topic ring so hollow when he makes this closing statement: “A new kind of Christianity must move beyond this impasse and begin to construct not just a more humane sexual ethic in particular, but a more honest and robust Christian anthropology in general”(p. 190). But by the time this sentence is read the reader has already become aware that McLaren is really only creating a smokescreen of rhetorical nonsense that he can disappear into. McLaren knows that he has no answers, but he also knows that he can’t write a book of “ten questions that are transforming the faith” without dealing with this topic. It’s been nearly five years since McLaren made his famous statement about proposing a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements on the issue of homosexuality, and if this chapter from A New Kind of Christianity is any indication on what has happened in five years, he better plan on making it ten.
To be continued…