A Response to Julie Rodgers' Reasons for Changing Her Mind About Homosexuality (2/2)

Editor's Note: The following is a response to Julie Rodgers, who recently resigned as ministry associate for Spiritual Care at Wheaton College, after changing her views about homosexuality. You can read part of the back story in Part 1, "What I Knew About Julie Rodgers Before She Resigned From Wheaton," here.

So how did Julie Rodgers justify her change of views about homosexuality? She begins:

"While I struggle to understand how to apply Scripture to the marriage debate today (just like we all struggle to know how to interpret Scripture on countless controversial topics), I've become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy."

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Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | (Photo: Robert Gagnon)

The irony of this statement is that Julie is now struggling not to "apply Scripture to the marriage debate today." Julie has now put her own subjective evaluation of her limited personal experience over the authority of a clear core value in biblical sexual ethics.

Our Lord Jesus Himself based his understanding of the essential twoness of the marital bond on the foundation of God's intentional creation of two primary/complementary sexes for marriage, "male and female."

Julie now rejects that foundation for sex, which is tantamount to claiming that she knows better than Jesus. Her statement is akin to claiming to still "struggle with how to apply" the severe indictments of incest in Leviticus 18 and 20 and in 1 Corinthians 5 while coming to the newfound conclusion that adult-committed close-kin sexual bonds are permissible.

Moreover, the church does not insist that "all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy." The church insists with Jesus that God has made provision for sexual relations in a marriage consisting of one man and one woman.

Most persons who experience same-sex attractions have this option because most have felt, at one time or another, at least a small degree of attraction for a particular person of the other sex. There are also "mixed-orientation" marriages that provide a limited but acceptable level of satisfaction for husband and wife to form a family. The church proclaims a gospel that insists on obedience to foundational elements of human sexual ethics.

In accordance with the gospel, the church does rightly insist that persons with same-sex attractions "renew their minds" with the knowledge of the truth about themselves as sexual beings; namely, that God did not intentionally design any half-males or half-females, needing to supplement their sex through union with someone of the same sex. God designed us to be a whole male or a whole female, recognizing only in the opposite or other sex a true sexual counterpart or complement to one's own sex.

Some persons with homosexual attractions will feel that God has given them a special gift of celibacy, just like some persons with heterosexual attractions. For those who do not feel that they have such a gift (homosexual and heterosexual alike) they still have a calling to abstain from all sex outside the context of a marriage between one man and one woman. As someone once aptly put it: "My resolve to remain chaste is in no way contingent upon the extent to which my desires do or don't align with that call; it's entirely based on what I believe honors the Lord." That someone was Julie Rodgers.

"No matter how graciously it's framed, that message [that homosexual practice is bad] tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians."

According to the apostle Paul, shame comes from engaging in homosexual relations (Rom 1:24-27), not in abstaining from such. He describes homosexual relations as a form of sexual "impurity consisting of their bodies being dishonored among themselves," arising out of "dishonorable passions" to do what is "contrary to nature" and therefore "what is shameful."

In homosexual behavior a person's sex is treated dishonorably, as half of one's own sex rather than as half of a sexual whole. There is never any shame before God for crucifying the sinful passions of the flesh (Gal 5:24) and living as a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). This is rather a badge of honor.

"It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-love."

Replace "gay-marrying" and "gay-love" with any form of prohibited sexual behavior (like brother-sister marrying or second-spouse marrying) to expose the absurdity of this reasoning. The church manifests the love of Christ precisely in not allowing people to engage in self-dishonoring, shameful practices that God abhors.

Loving one's neighbor includes reproving one's neighbor (Lev 19:17-18; Luke 17:3-4), even, if need be, church discipline (Paul loved the incestuous man, not the tolerant Corinthian believers). Acceptance of sinful behaviors abhorrent to God, however, is moral sloth at best, functional hate at worst.

Augustine got it right: "If any of you perhaps wish to maintain love, brethren, above all things do not imagine it to be an abject and sluggish thing; nor that love is to be preserved by a sort of gentleness, nay not gentleness, but tameness and listlessness. Not so is it preserved. Do not imagine that . . . you then love your son when you do not give him discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend. . . . Love not in the person his error, but the person; for the person God made, the error the person himself made." (Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John 7.11)

Julie continues:

"When that's the case — when communion is contingent upon gays holding very narrow beliefs and making extraordinary sacrifices to live up to a standard that demands everything from an individual with little help from the community — it's hard to believe our bodies might be an occasion for joy."

Holding "very narrow beliefs"? A male-female prerequisite for sexual relations in grounded in the creation texts in Genesis 1-2; in any narrative, law, moral exhortation, proverb, metaphor, and poetry that discusses sexual relationships in the Bible; in Jesus' statements on marriage; and in the entirety of the apostolic witness to Christ (not least in Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10, but hardly limited to these texts).

A male-female requirement for sexual relations is the most basic belief in sexual ethics in ancient Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity. It was generally held in opposition to contrary trends in the ancient world and maintained strongly by the Church for two millennia.

"Extraordinary sacrifices"? Perhaps. Yet not the greatest sacrifice that Christians are asked to make. Surely Julie can think of more extraordinary sacrifices. For starters: the cruciform life that Paul lived every day since his Christian conversion. Jesus did define discipleship as taking up one's cross, denying oneself, and losing one's life. Moreover, the body given over to the controlling influence of Christ's Spirit is always "an occasion for joy."

"It's hard to believe we're actually wanted in our churches. It's hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us."

Doubtless some Christians have not behaved toward those struggling with same-sex attractions as they ought. I'm sorry for that. But there are many in the Church who do love as they should. The Church is called to want all people to come to a knowledge of God's truth and grace through repentance and faith. God obviously doesn't "like" sin. But, as the Book of Job makes clear, God does delight in his servants who in the midst of hardship continue to praise him while remaining faithful.

"We're made for long-term, committed relationships that bind us to one another and cost us something .... Some might find that in friendship, which is wonderful. But most will find it in a spouse because that's the context we have for making such serious commitments and staying true to them once life happens."

God did not create us for sexual relationships with a person of the same sex. We are made to glorify God with our bodies precisely because we were "bought with a price," nothing less than the precious blood of Christ, and no longer "belong to ourselves" (1 Cor 6:19-20). This is true irrespective of whether we enter into a marital bond with a true sexual complement to ourselves. Marriage is not a requirement for presenting oneself to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). It is not possible to be "true" to another while violating God's standards for sexual purity.

"When we make those kinds of promises to one another, we need a community to surround us to support us for the long haul. Communities with a traditional sexual ethic have, more often than not, dismissed sexual minorities the moment they moved in this direction."

What Julie refers to as "a traditional sexual ethic" is core scriptural sexual ethic, not merely a traditional one. When people make a promise to another in an immoral sexual relationship, a relationship that disrespects the integrity of one's own sex, the church cannot "surround" them "to support" them in that endeavor. Persons who enter into an immoral sexual union are not "dismissed" but rather called back to obedience to their Creator and Redeemer (again, 1 Cor 5). We have already addressed infelicitous expression "sexual minorities."

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon).

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