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As we explore human sexuality at COS, the Next Steps Task Force has created resource suggestions for your reflection and learning.
We are interested in posting resources that can assist our congregation in developing a deeper Godly understanding of our human sexuality. We recognize that the Human Sexuality Report has led to differences of opinion both in the Christian Reformed Church and at Church of the Servant. We are interested in respecting a diversity of views on human sexuality as we articulate a vision of how to be together in the future. This will require flexibility from each of us and a willingness to agree to disagree. When we do this, we are making church unity a priority.
If we are inclined in one direction, it may be a spiritual discipline for us to study the opposite point of view. Above all, we recognize that there are sincere Christians who love God, study the scriptures deeply, and pray regularly – and who see things differently than we may. This means that we are deciding that this issue is not something we will divide over, but a matter about which we chose to disagree in love.
This first offering has been put together by Joan Huyser-Honig, Pam Bratt, and Dale Cooper, who are on council and working together on the Next Steps Task Force. We have also posted some suggestions from Gary Burge, a COS member who has done extensive reading on the topic of human sexuality. Others of you have already sent in suggestions and we plan to add them soon.
If you have suggestions, please send them to Janice McWhertor.
1. SUGGESTIONS FROM JOAN HUYSER-HONIG
Resources from pastors (three of them CRC) and Christian professors that present biblical and theological support that God created people along a spectrum of gender identity and sexual expression and that God affirms same-sex marriage:
Len Vander Zee
This 51-minute video presentation includes an introduction to the CRC group All One Body: https://www.allonebody.org/
Len’s presentation on biblical, theological, and personal reasons for supporting same-sex marriage; and helpful Q&As in response: https://www.hesedprojectcrc.org/learn/#a13lightbox-work-11054
Six very brief written reflections on Reformed theology and LBGTQ issues: https://www.allonebody.org/blog/reflections-on-same-sex-attraction-and-marriage-rev-al-mulder
Longer blog post addressing each of the verses that people use to uphold a more traditional view: Peripatetic Pastor
This long thoughtful article is by one of the English-speaking world’s best-respected theologians. He discusses how it’s possible to read the Bible both against and in support of same-sex marriage. He then explores two trajectories within the Bible (purity and love) to help decide what to do with those verses. https://outreach.faith/2022/09/walter-brueggemann-how-to-read-the-bible-on-homosexuality/
Classis Grand Rapids East report on human sexuality
This report outlines a range of perspectives among traditional scholars and among affirming scholars, see pp. 46-59: Classis Grand Rapids East Report – Revised
Unclobber, by Colby Martin Unclobber – Amazon link
As a worship pastor in an evangelical megachurch, he simply loved reading the Bible. Careful reading convinced him that the Holy Spirit was guiding him to become an LGBTQ ally-even though he didn’t know a single person like that. The book alternates between his biblical and theological journey and his personal experience of being fired from two churches for expressing his views.
Available through Melcat interlibrary loan. There is a more recent version: Unclobber Expanded 2022 Edition Unclobber Expanded 2022 – Amazon link.
Red Letter Christians
“The concept of merism is helpful for understanding gender and sexuality as a created spectrum, just like day and night, land and sea, etc. in Genesis 1. Here’s a good summary from a group co-founded by Shaine Claiborne and Tony Campolo: https://www.redletterchristians.org/how-biology-and-the-bible-breaks-the-binary-of-human-sexuality/.”
2. ALGER PARK CRC SERIES
Link to the Alger Park CRC series and videos of the presentations: Faithfulness and Human Sexuality Series – Alger Park Church
3. SUGGESTIONS FROM PAM BRATT
Some folks in listening circles had asked for resources that would balance the perspective presented in the HSR. These are samples of recent reading I had done that I found helpful to balance, so please keep that in mind if you look at my suggestions. These are not intended to give a comprehensive view on the subject. I hope others will add to these resources so that a range of views is represented.
Torn, by Justin Lee
Easy, approachable read. Alger Park featured it in their series. The Alger Park council person we spoke with felt that many traditionalists feel uncomfortable exploring alternate views because it feels disobedient to do so, and as a result, their engagement with the issue can sometimes be less experienced. However, she said this book touched someone in their congregation who comes from this perspective and who found this book a comfortable entry into the discussion. Preston Sprinkle, a traditionalist, praises its cordial tone. Sprinkle disagrees with Lee’s treatment of the text from Leviticus, feels it is not properly supported, and has recommended other ways he would like to see Lee address it. I would like to see Lee respond to this. Lee comes from the Baptist church, where there are no binding denominational creeds, so individual churches have more leeway in establishing their positions. I feel this changes the debate in important ways from the debate in the CRC. The same is true of the writings of David Gushee, also from the Baptist tradition. I also like Lee’s suggestions at the end of the book in Chapter 15, The Way Forward, about how to have better discussions.
Changing Our Minds, by David Gushee
Dale Cooper recommended this book to me. Chapters 7-8 were sent to council n the summer of 2022. Ch 7 deals with different approaches that churches can take to LGBTQ inclusion and makes points about the implications of each one. Ch 8 deals with common values a church could rally around in their differences. We hope this could provide some common interests among those holding a range of views.
Bible, Gender, and Sexuality, by James Brownson
This is the most thorough, Reformed hermeneutical study I have seen so far in support of an affirming view. Brownson does not agree with the position of writers like Lee and Gushee to the extent they believe the gospel of love is sufficient support for their views, responding that there needs to more hermeneutical support to justify an affirming view. (An aside: Robert Gagnon, whose work is often cited by traditionalists, wants to publicly debate Brownson. In my opinion, some of his remarks rise to the level of taunting. I think it is fair to say Gagnon believes strongly in his debating skills and hopes for a “once and for all” showdown on the issue.) For people who want to go deeper into the hermeneutics of an affirming view with a Reformed perspective, this book is valuable.
An article in which Preston Sprinkle responds to James Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. He describes it as the “go to” book for the affirming view. In his response, he also directly takes on what I understand to be the heart of Len Vander Zee’s position – that the kind of same sex love that Paul wrote against was not the love of committed same sex couples. He is respectful and polite in his tone. I think there are flaws in Sprinkle’s response and would like to see someone address them directly.
Matthew Vines wrote a response to Sprinkle, to which Sprinkle then replied. Did Consensual Same-Sex Sexual Relationships Exist in Biblical Times? A Response to Matthew Vines | The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender
Vines appears to successfully show that many of Sprinkle’s statements were more limited than they appear at first glance. Sprinkle presents Brownson’s view as quite stark, i.e., that the apostle Paul had no idea of gender identity and same-sex attraction, which appears to be an overstatement of Brownson’s position. Sprinkle points out some instances where the culture around Paul’s time showed some awareness of same sex attraction, but this is not the same as saying that the culture of Paul’s time did not understand them the same way we do, which is closer to what Brownson was saying. He deals with the bigger question of whether, even if Paul did, which is unlikely, these relationships were the kinds of relationships that Paul meant to include in his condemnation. If people want to get into the weeds on history and hermeneutics, articles like these can help identify the points of difference.
Preston Sprinkle critiques David Gushee. He also says he has some respect for James Brownson and Matthew Vines (more so, apparently, than Gushee), but still disagrees with them. He says that no one has refuted Robert Gagnon, except for Brownson on a few points. Again, we are in the weeds here, but for those who want to be there, these kinds of exchanges are very helpful.
Preston Sprinkle, who holds a traditional view, opens his book with, “You may find it shocking, but most scholars who have written books about homosexuality in the last forty years have concluded that the Bible does not condemn consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations.” He critiques some traditionalist arguments and notes where affirming arguments have made some good observations.
Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships, by Karen Kane. Available on Hoopla.
Karen takes many of the debates above a step further, lamenting the tendency to repeat the same arguments based upon the same passages. In Chapter 3, she argues that both traditionalists and progressives both agree on why Old Testament passages disapprove of same-sex relationships, at least for men. She believes the current debate is on gender and anatomical complementarity. Traditionalists emphasize that marriage is rooted in God’s design for nature and thus the cultural context is not relevant. Progressives tend to argue that the emphasis on marriage is on covenant faithfulness, not sexual differentiation. Karen also addresses the shortcomings on both sides in dealing with Old Testament texts, either the tendency to ignore cultural context or the tendency to dismiss much of the Old Testament as relevant. Later chapters explore Biblical ethics, including that God’s laws were written for the benefit of God’s people and not as arbitrary ways to please God, and that this also applies to creation ordinances. Karen takes a long look at how celibacy is often discussed in a superficial way and also discusses the use of science.
Preston Sprinkle responded to her book and Karen appreciated his gracious tone. Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships | The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender She gave a lengthy response Dialogue with Preston Sprinkle on Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships | Karen R. Keen (karenkeen.com) Sprinkle countered More Thoughts on Scripture, Ethics, and the Meaning of Marriage | The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender and Karen replied Part 2: Dialogue with Preston Sprinkle on Same-Sex Relationships | Karen R. Keen (karenkeen.com)
The back-and-forth exchange will interest some and turn off others. What I appreciate from Kane’s book is identifying how traditionalists and progressives tend to talk past each other and specifically identifying where that happens. I think that is very helpful to keep continued conversations from stagnating.
Note his strong response at 31:52 – 36:16 (esp. at 33:48 and ff) in response to often asked versions of the question, “are we just letting personal experience take precedence over scripture?” I think another way to phrase his answer is that the intersection of scripture with individual lives and experiences is the gospel and how God speaks, not a detour from it.
One of the nicest, most cordial discussions between different views that I have seen. It features a discussion between Justin Lee (author of Torn) and Preston Sprinkle, an engaging speaker who is well-liked among traditionalists. Lee’s guided reflection on what your life would be like without the people closest to you was good. Lee can be intentionally goofy sometimes in his videos, but this shows his more thoughtful, intellectual side as well. Sprinkle dodges an important hermeneutical question at the end about the significance of the two terms for Adam in the creation account in Genesis. It turns out this is a key part in the traditionalist arguments by Robert Gagnon, which Brownson addresses in his book. Would have liked Sprinkle to address it. (The argument is that Adam was born androgenous, both male and female, and God later separated Adam into two persons so that Adam would not be alone. Thus, his argument goes, couples must be of different genders because only this way can people again be complete and “one flesh”. Gagnon points to the different Hebrew words used for Adam in Genesis in support. My hunch is that Sprinkle realizes this is an argument that would turn many people off, so he dodged it.) Moderator did a good job here trying to dig down a few layers.
Follow up reflections from the moderator in the Lee/Sprinkle discussion as he struggles to decide what really divides the viewpoints.
Justin Lee talks with his Dad about what it was like to be very traditional and then deal with a child coming out as gay. His Dad now supports Lee and is very positive in this video, so you do not really see the past struggle, although Lee mentions it in his book.
Lee again, inserting moments of humor into what is a summary of his thinking in Torn, but without his personal story included. I like his point that the debate is not really about sex, it is about how gay Christians can live their lives – what kind of lifestyle is appropriate, how do they fit into the church, is same sex love without sex ever an option, is there a vocation for their lives other than “a vocation of ‘no’“. Lee refers to Mark Noll’s well-regarded work about the theology of the Civil War and the struggle of abolitionists to find theological support for their position.
Interesting story about how the past translation of the RSV erroneously used the term “homosexual” instead of “sexual perverts”. The YouTube description of the talk gives a good overview. I think the interview with the pastor involved becomes a bit long-winded, but the overall story is still good.
Video by LaGrave church about their church’s response to the HSR (pre-Synod). Includes a brief history by their pastor about the CRC’s history on this issue that could be helpful (5:32 – 17:57).
Haven’t seen this documentary but am intrigued by the question it asks, “Is gay marriage a civil right like black equality? Or is it a sin African-Americans should condemn?” Don’t know if this would help with dialog with multicultural communities or in exploring the intersection of sexuality and race issues.
4. SUGGESTIONS FROM DALE COOPER
Three Books I’ve Found Helpful:
Atkinson, David. Homosexuals in the Christian Fellowship. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1979.
Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: CA: Harper Collins San Francisco, 1996
Stott, John. Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H Revell, 1990
5. SUGGESTIONS FROM GARY BURGE
Sometimes it is helpful to find a volume that presents both views by scholars who disagree but are willing to remain in the conversation.
Two are excellent:
- Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, edited by Via, D., and Gagnon, R. (2003).
Two first-rate New Testament scholars answer the same questions but come to startlingly different opinions. And they are still friends!
- Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, edited by Sprinkle, P. Includes: Gundry, S., Loader, W., DeFranza, M., Hill, W., Holmes, S. (2016)
This outstanding compilation of essays belongs to the “Counterpoint Series” where leading scholars discuss controversial views.
These resources generally argue that the Bible is consistent in its teaching of a binary view of sexuality and the prohibitions in both the Old Testament and the New Testament are relevant for today. They desire to be faithful to scripture and interpret the Biblical texts contextually, often arguing that the questions we have today were known in the ancient world and can address our discussions today.
Gagnon, R., The Bible and Homosexual Practice.
This is today the leading academic study concluding with a traditional ethic on LGBT inclusion. It corresponds to Brownson’s volume (above). This is a Reformed scholar working within the Reformed Tradition.
Yuan, C., Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story (2018).
Christopher Yuan (author of the popular Out of the Far Country) tells the story of his dramatic conversion from an agnostic gay man who put his identity in his sexuality to a Bible professor who now puts his identity in Christ alone.
Hill, W., Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (2016).
Wes Hill is a New Testament professor now working at Western Seminary. Hill is a gay, celibate scholar who tells the story of his own identity and how it intersects with his Christian faith in the Reformed Tradition.
Paris, J., The End of Sexual Identity. Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are (2011).
Jannel Paris is a professor of anthropology at Messiah College who objects to how modern culture obsesses about sexual identity and fulfillment. Definitely a book that opens up conversations in a new way.
Videos by Christopher Yuan.
Dr. Yuan is not only a theology professor but a widely respected speaker throughout the U.S.
See video selections: https://christopheryuan.com/videos/.