Wednesday, June 02, 2010

an ESPN columnist on homosexuality in the Bible for CNN... what?

LZ Granderson, a columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, has written an interesting little article for CNN Opinion: "Anti-gays hide their bias behind the Bible". My title, by the way, is meant to communicate my confusion at this whole picture, not to say anything about Granderson's credentials or opinion. I think this is actually a pretty good article: it's well written, honest, and behind both of those qualities stands a really clear passion. LZ himself is a gay Christian, and this is a question that's clearly and rightly important to him.

His argument isn't anything new. Like many, Granderson is discontent with the popular anti-gay arguments of (other) Christians that always seem to make the news and the sandwich boards. If Jesus set us free from the law, why are we so adamant about the prohibition of homosexual intercourse in Leviticus? Why don't we ever raise the banner against other sins mentioned in the law, "such as making love to your wife while she's menstruating." Why don't we lobby for legislation that would punish adultery with the death penalty? Wouldn't that be Biblical and consistent?

Some conservatives might attend church only twice a year, but ask their opinion about gays in the military. They can find Leviticus 18:22 blindfolded, handcuffed and sinking underwater: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination."

... like I said, this is a well written piece.

Granderson concludes by asserting unambiguously that he sees all of the 'conservative' protest as a thinly veiled attempt to use the Bible to buttress our own prejudices.

I think there is a lot of merit to Granderson's reading of scripture.
The Bible doesn't offer any distinction between 'ritual and moral laws' in Leviticus, as people like to imply. Why are people ignoring some and running with others?
The Bible also, as he suggests, doesn't give any justification for the all too common, supreme-demonizing of the GLBT crowd. Homosexual intercourse isn't elevated above other sins in scripture; instead it's frequently mentioned as one in a crowd: you find it right next to envy, thievery, etc. I don't see any sandwich boards about that special place in Hell for all the covetous.
If you want to argue with me on this point, go find me the scripture. This might involve reading the Bible, which you probably have not done before.

But what's wrong with Gradnerson's reading? Because there is something wrong.
I could offer several different points here, but let's highlight a simple one. These highly publicized debates all seem to center around Leviticus 18 and the sexual purity laws presented there, and everyone acts as if this is the only passage in the Bible that addresses the topic... when it's not.
In my opinion, the most important passage in relation to the question of homosexuality is not in the Old Testament at all: it's Romans 1. Despite popular construals, Romans 1 is not pronouncing some sort of extra measure of God's wrath upon gays and lesbians--this chapter isn't a prophetic word about AIDS or some such nonsense--nor is it, I think*, giving homosexual intercourse pride of place in the list of sins Paul mentions. But it is, nevertheless, absolutely condemning the practice, and Paul presents homosexual intercourse as a model indication of the fallenness of (all of) humanity away from the worship of the Creator.
The conversation around Leviticus isn't getting us anywhere, but it also simply isn't necessary. The Bible is, Old Testament and New, very consistent on this question, and it does come up multiple times.

The problem with offering a stance on the question of the Church's relation to gays and lesbians is that this has become a two-sided debate... and both sides are wrong. If I want to maintain any kind of interpretive integrity, I have to completely reject the 'progressive' view that would affirm homosexual partnered lifestyles as consistent with the faith of the Church. On the other hand, if I want to seek the kingdom of God with integrity, I cannot support the political maneuvering, the clear prejudices, the unquestioned hypocrisy, or the outright hatred of various parties on the other side.
People won't always recognize love beyond uncompromising condemnation of a lifestyle--and no, I don't mean to imply anything about 'lifestyle choices' by that--but that doesn't mean it's not there; this is just a difficult matter to address and to be addressed concerning. I do think LZ Granderson can be proud of his handling of it in his column. But I still have to dissent. I just pray that, as I do so, I still manage to look like Jesus.

Any post on this topic will be too short, and it won't give the kind of care, detail, and qualifications that I would in a longer discussion. There are so many more aspects of this that I could address here, and I do not line up with the typical conservative viewpoints on many of them--this just isn't the place to go into it all. I more than welcome whatever remarks you would make in the comments, though, and I'd be glad to continue the topic, if need be, there.

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* I am here following Richard B. Hays's reading of Romans 1 in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp 383-89--though the entire chapter is excellent). Hays concludes, in summary: "Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God's created order... Homosexual acts are not, however, specially reprehensible sins; they are no worse than any of the other manifestations of human unrighteousness listed in the passage" (388).

4 comments:

Bill said...

Ah, LZ Granderson. We meet again.

A few weeks ago, I read Granderson's article on closeted anti-gays (http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/05/11/granderson.gay.hypocrites/index.html) and was less than impressed. Good writing, as you said, but it was more of a fluff opinion piece with very little meat. However, the article you cover here is far more substantial.

Columnists like Granderson and people like the picketers he mentions seem to me like two parties each holding half a completed puzzle, and each claiming to possess the whole image. On the one side, grace; on the other, law.

I was speaking with a pastor recently about the nature of grace and sin. He told me that the level of freedom we're offered in Christ frightens him. In fact, we are free even from the restrictions of the ten commandments, and that Christians do not fall under judgment for any action, but instead may be subject to discipline (which often takes the form of God allowing the natural consequences of deviating from his prescribed way come to fruition).

My pastor friend said, "You can tell where grace is being taught appropriately, because there will always be people abusing it."

It seems that the gay controversy in the modern era, though a complex subject, can be resolved simply (albeit, not necessarily easily).

A homosexual act amount to no greater sin than lying, stealing, or adultery. As Christians, we ought not to be surprised or shocked by a sinful world behaving in a sinful manner. How can we hold non-Christians to a Christian standard?

As Christians, "all things are lawful for us." If we really believe Paul's statement here, then even homosexuality is lawful for a Christian. However, Paul also says we should by no means sin so that grace may increase.

The Christian lifestyle is a high calling of self control. I believe all current evidence points toward the idea that most gay people are born with inherent homosexual desires. I don't understand why so many Christians resist this notion while simultaneously insisting that we're born with the inherent nature to sin in a slew of other ways. However, in order that grace should not increase, it is the calling of the gay Christian--just as it is the calling of the alcoholic Christian, the pornographically addicted Christian, and the kleptomaniacal Christian--to not engage in those activities toward which he is inclined, and to battle daily against his own nature.

It is a hard calling, but it is universal.

That was much longer than I anticipated. All apologies.

Nance said...

Thanks for that, Bill. Of course many on the other side of the argument will not think much of two heterosexual boys talking the matter over in a lonely corner of the blogsphere--and we probably can't appreciate how painful and difficult the conclusions that we've come to are for some folks, but I think you're right all the same. Jesus often heard "this is a hard teaching", and people often left, but he just kept doing what he was doing.

I think that if our reading of Paul on law and grace doesn't leave him a theological warrant for telling a man that he can't sleep with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:1-2), then we need to go back to the drawing board. "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial... and he thought that point was significant. So long as folks like Mr. Granderson want to continue to put Paul and Jesus (mostly Jesus, but still Paul too, I think) on this unqualified anti-law--and this isn't Law in the 1st Century Jewish sense, mind you, but in a generic sense of 'restriction'--quest, there's going to be too much "grace" out there... and I mean that as a bad thing.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

ah, another shining example of insightful logical discourse from the brightest minds of the theological revisionist camp.

In all seriousness, it seems to me that logical discourse is systematically purged from this debate.
If we really talk about the nature of revelation and authority in the church, even really talk about what studies have revealed about the various health riks associated with living the homosexual lifestyle it is clear that the force of ARGUMENT is firmly on the side of maintaining the historic understanding of God's gift of sexuality.

But the strategy of the revisionists seems to be to have gay individuals share annecdotal stories of their own lives (which, poiniant as they may be are by no means typical); while silencing the stories of FORMER gay individuals, in hopes that the emotional impact will govern the church's decision making. It seems that, in the USA, the UMC is the only "historic/mainline" church for which this has not yet happened (in terms of canon law).

Nance said...

Daniel, I'm really curious as to what sorts of studies you're referring to (though, of course you can find studies to say whatever you want), and what you understand to be typical/how you came about that understanding.