Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality

Doug Chaplin is a parish priest in the Church of England who seems squarely in the middle on most issues. He had a post last week defending the ordination of women. I love his blog because he is both unpredictable--and thoughtful. Today he has a thoughtful post on the issues of sexuality that divide the Anglican Communion. He comes to different conclusions than me, but his comments are still worth reading. Here are some highlights:

I have (with considerable trepidation) decided to offer some periodic posts on some of the ways Anglicans (okay – and others) are reading, are not reading, could be reading and should be reading their Bibles about same-sex relationships. . . .

I think we’re standing at a point where, in the light of all our knowledge, it seems reasonable to ask whether this is one of those occasions for the church to engage in the kind of drastic re-reading of texts we thought we knew. This is the relevance of, for example, the admission of Gentiles, or the banning of slavery. In those debates, which were as divisive and acrimonious as the present one, what won the day for the overturning of traditional readings of scripture was the conviction that other readings of scripture were truer both to the overall reading, and to the core of the gospel. That is, even if it remains the case that specific texts and the traditional reading of them did support the exclusion of the Gentiles, or the owning of slaves, they were texts that needed to be placed in the tradition’s archives in the light of reading the text as a Christocentric, salvific and truly life-giving whole.

It does not seem to me that those seeking such a drastic re-reading of the texts have yet made a fully-convincing case, far less a compelling one. Some have simply seen no need to do so. That does not mean that others will never do so. I personally hope they will. Equally, while I think that absent such compelling arguments, the traditional readings need respecting, I have to say that the venom and desperation of some, together with some dubious arguments, suggest to me that the traditional reading not only has its weaknesses, but that it produces some very sour fruit. It is possible, of course, like 1066 and All That’s roundheads and cavaliers, to be respectively right but repulsive, and wrong but romantic. But as Jesus might well have said: “It shall not be so among you.” Repulsiveness is not a Christian virtue.



The true gem in Chaplin's post, however, is not his conclusion that the case has not yet been made to re-read Scripture. Rather the gem is his point that we may be asking the wrong question:

The answers we get are of course shaped by the questions we ask. It seems that the question many are asking is “Does the Bible condemn same-sex practices?” Apart from the dubious idea that the Bible says or condemns anything, I think this is the wrong question, because it is focussed on an abstracted behaviour, not on people. What matters, it seems to me, are the questions about how we can love one another, share God’s love with and for each other, and seek to respond as faithfully as we can to God’s calling. In that light the questions are perhaps better framed as “How do we (given that some of us are gay and others straight) follow Christ faithfully”? and “How do we (given that some of us are straight and others gay) love our brothers and sisters and help them follow Christ faithfully?” The parenthetical part of those questions could easily be omitted (or written vice versa) without significantly affecting most of the answers.

When framed in those terms, it is quite clear that 90% (at least) of the answers we get from our reading of scripture will be just the same in relation to both gay and straight people. Questions of sexuality are a small (but significant) subset about the ways in which we love God and our neighbour. We are not talking two headed Martians but fellow disciples and fellow creatures, alike the favoured recipients of God’s love and vocation. Any attempts to read or re-read scripture that seem to forget or disregard that common graced humanity will not take us very far. There may be better questions than the ones I suggest here, but they’re the best I’ve come up with, and the ones I intend to take forward on this effort at reading.



Read it all here. (By the way, g posted about one scholar's argument that we do need to rethink Scriputure on homosexuality here.

5 comments:

AZGuy said...

As noted in a story in today's Arizona Republic, even once hard-core homophobes like State Senator Karen Johnson have learned to view sexual orientation through a less-judgmental eye. The story of her growth while serving in the Legislatiure is worth reading.

Chuck Blanchard said...

AzGuy:

I think there is direct relationship between a person's views about homosexuality and whether they have any gay or lesbian friends, relatives or co-workers. I think this is one reason why polls shows that attitudes about GLBT persons improve with younger voters. Why? Because younger voters are more likely to know openly gay people. Without this contact with real human beings, sterotypes take over.

Gary said...

And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousnes. II Thessalonians 2:10-12

Doug Chaplin said...

Thank you for stopping by, and for such kind comments. I shall read this blog with interest.

Jack said...

Certainly an interesting commentary by/on Dr. Chaplin. It is interesting that he speaks as though Homosexuality is an innate part of a persons definition, comparable to race or city of origin. He seems to suggest by arguing that we should be looking at how each of us can live our lives in/with Christ that homosexuality and heterosexuality are merely part of us. He chooses to make a secondary argument, entirely bypassing the foundational issue: that is the fact that being "gay" or straight is a matter of choice. Certainly one may feel attracted in more or less fashion to men or women, however you are neither in one camp or the other until you "choose" to act upon your impulses, desires, inclinations. Such action then forms your character. Such a perspective re-focuses the debate on what is elemental. Is the act of homosexuality or lesbian sexuality sinful or appropriate? This is the question which most Christians turn to the Bible and Tradition to answer. Should they.....?