TORN – Pt. 2

Derek Ouellette —  March 25, 2013

In part 1 I offered some reflections on the first half of Torn: Rescuing the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. Today I’ll offer some reflections on the second half of the book and in part 3 we’ll look more closely at Justin’s arguments for the biblical permissibility of gay sex.

Whereas in the first half of the book Justin comes off as clearly confused about what to do about his situation as he seeks help from nearly every possible avenue. Help to change his orientation. Only to discover near the end of the midway point that change of ones orientation is unlikely.

Justin is gay. No doubt about it. He is also an evangelical Christian with a Baptist background. No doubt about that either. The only question remains is what to do with those two facts.

Many Christians who discover they are gay either spend a lifetime trying to find a way to change themselves – with almost every instance being a complete failure, or they leave the church and embrace some type of stereotypically gay lifestyle.

Justin realized that the first option was not really an option for him. He saw the effects ex-gay ministries had on gay Christian men, and it wasn’t good. But he loved Jesus and the church too much to abandon it. Yes Justin was gay. But Justin was always just Justin. Sexual orientation aside, Justin believed keynote traditional evangelical doctrines. He wasn’t about to go liberal just because of a sexual orientation that he had no control over.

So for Justin, an evangelical Christian, the question of what to do next rested on the scriptures. If the scriptures taught that gay sex was a sin in every and all situations, then Justin would choose to honour God and live a celibate life. If, however, the scriptures did not condemn gay sex in every and all situations, then Justin would be able to honour God and continue on as a passionate evangelical Christian while retain the hope of one day falling in love and perhaps getting married.

The question, for Justin, rested on the scriptures.

Now with a history as Justin’s, he was all too familiar with every place in the scriptures that seemed to condemn gay sex. Every time a Christian discovered that Justin was gay they’d drop a passage like Romans 1:18-32 without explanation failing – harmfully – to distinguish between gay sex and gay orientation. So Justin knew every verse that seemed to condemn gay sex because they were always thrown in his face.

But he decided that before he made a final decision about gay sex he would need to look more closely at the traditional texts that seemed to condemn it rather than just assume on a surface reading that they did so.

This led into a chapter where Justin explores all of the relevant biblical passages and at the end, as you probably already know, he came away convinced that while the Bible does condemn gay sex in certain circumstances, it does not seem to address monogamous gay sex.

In the next part of this review I’ll take a closer look at Justin’s interpretation of the relevant passages that are traditionally used against gay sex. For now I want to make an observation to help you understand the force of Justin’s biblical arguments. It is my opinion that Justin’s biblical arguments countering the traditional interpretation of gay sex passages are stronger than biblical arguments that egalitarians use to counter traditional passages interpreted in favor of male leadership in homes and churches.

To put this another way, to use an example, Justin’s arguments of Romans 1 are more convincing than egalitarian arguments of 1 Timothy 2.

This isn’t to suggest, of course, that if one is an egalitarians one ought to also automatically support gay sex (though, maybe there is room to consider that connection more closely – why wouldn’t a “consistent” egalitarian also support gay sex and gay marriage?). I’m just trying to show the biblical force with which Justin addresses these difficult, traditionally anti-gay sex biblical passages.

We’ll look more closely at this in the next part of this review.

In the rest of the book Justin argues that Christians should make room in their churches for gay Christians. He goes so far as to argue that even gay Christians who are in gay marriages should be welcomed and embraced in the church. He believes that Christians are mostly good people with right hearts and intentions, but armed with bad information, they are doing more harm than good. Justin believes – and this is why he wrote the book – that what is need mostly today is good and right information to counteract the bad information which inform ex-gay ministries and churches.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll be looking more closely at Justin’s biblical interpretation of key traditionally anti-gay sex passages.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Holly

    I think that you may have a point if we are only using the flat narrative and application of scripture, rather than the overall portrait of scripture and what it says about male and female, and what that tells us about our reflection of the nature of God. Have you ever read “Theology of the Body” by Pope John Paul II? It’s a better treatise of gender/sex/gift/Imago Dei than anything I’ve ever read on an evangelical level. (And I’m a Wesleyan Arminian and an egalitarian.)

    Also – if egalitarians use the example of Pentecost as the time when restrictions were lifted and the gifts of the Spirit were to be given to all, how would this fit into your argument? Restrictions weren’t lifted at that time regarding the boundaries on human sexual relationships.

    Further – if arguments and boundaries are erased in favor of monogamous gay relationships within the church, all boundaries must be lifted for all people. I know – very well, in fact, several young people who once hearing this was possible and indeed okay with scripture, decided to live in homosexual relationships. Some will say that no one will choose to live in a homosexual relationship, but that is not true. They can, and do, particularly if there is no scriptural reason why not. If this is the case, then we need to consider raising our children to say, “You can choose. There are no restrictions against whom you may love. Just be monogamous.” I have heard some laugh at the thought that acceptance of gay relationships within the church and society at large would take us to the next level of polygyny – but it is true, too. That is the next level of acceptance, and frankly, with a straight scriptural reading (if you don’t go with the overall concept of “what does scripture say and where does it lead us and what is it telling us about the Image of God) there is more support for polygyny than there is for monogamous gay marriage. (I’m blessed with a friend who is a Muslim in a strict Muslim country. She makes a great argument -along these same lines – for marriage with multiple partners.) What keeps that from happening next. Are we okay with that? (I’m not…not okay with any of it.)

    I think that Justin surely makes some excellent points on how to treat people, but I’m going to stick with NT Wright on this issue and his interpretation of what Scripture says. Just curious – Justin isn’t a well-experienced NT theologian, is he?

    • Derek Ouellette

      Hey Holly, I think my main suggestion is simply that it is an idea or connection worth exploring. I wouldn’t expect that any anti-gay sex egalitarians would immediately agree, though I can think of one prominent evangelical egalitarian thinker who probably would.

      As an example of exploring the connection: if Justin is right that the scriptures do not address monogamous same-sex relationships (thus leaving behind the “flat narrative and application of scripture” that is often used against gay sex by surface reading of certain passages), and rather taking “the overall portrait of scripture” – which is what Justin tries to do – we find ourselves again being challenged to think about these things more carefully, rather than just sweep them aside.

      Since egalitarians seek equality of all people – with particular emphasis on women in the church – followed by a necessary step of reinterpreting the traditional interpretation, then I would suspect the next step to be doing the same with homosexuals in relation to same sex marriage. To my mind, this is the next logical step for a consistent egalitarian.

      Of course, as you’ve offered, there are immediately arguments against taking that next step. There always will be for any next step. So I agree with you about how gay marriage can (and will) lead to the acceptance of polygamy. I’ve used that argument myself. But, of course, gays have offered arguments against taking that next step…

      Thank you for your comment and thanks for that book suggestion, I’ll have to check it out!

      • Holly

        Well, I have thought about it and read about it, a lot….I wouldn’t comment unless I felt that I had taken careful time to consider the entire issue, but thanks for the invitation anyway (and I mean that.) :) I speak with kindness. :)

        Regarding Rob Bell…pretty sure he’s at the very least “post-evangelical” and likely, if we’re going with Roger Olsen’s definition, he’s way past that. I’m guessing that a la Brian McLaren, it won’t be long before Bell says that he’s not an evangelical. (Whatever….it doesn’t matter to me.) :) I think his recent (further) interview in which he says that he believes Christians need to welcome not just marriages of all types but also gay pastors will take him to new heights of popularity with some, but further isolate him with others. As always, escalated polarization.

        As for Justin Lee (whom I think is just about the nicest person ever!,) he can’t possibly have seriously considered the writings of conservative (not fundamentalist – there is a huge difference, right?) theologians. Wright is an egalitarian, but certainly doesn’t believe in the ordination of gay ministers within the Anglican Church. Another theologian whose work I admire on this issue (who is also egalitarian and conservative but definitely not fundamentalist) is Dr. Ben Witherington (Asbury Seminary.) If you lay Wright’s work side by side with that of a progressive theologians (regarding this issue, I mean,) you are going to have to come to the point of choosing one side or another – and I truly think that is a personal choice, not one based upon the substance of the argument. There is no correlation to be seriously considered between the concept of who may serve in ministry and and who may have sexual relations with whom. (Notice that I am not talking about orientation.) It is a different argument altogether.

        But anyway – thank you for the conversation, Derek. It has been a long time since I’ve commented – but I always enjoy our conversations. You are always nice to me – and that is appreciated. God bless you!

        (And if I have glaring grammatical mistakes, I apologize in advance. I’m a homeschooling mom of nine kiddos – and usually I’m typing in between spelling lessons and making sure the dishes are done.)

        • Derek Ouellette

          Homeschooling nine kids! That is super amazing. Kudos! We are merely weeks from having our first. Exciting times.

          Of course I generally agree with you, but here’s a question.

          Put aside gay sex. What about celibate gay monogamous marriage?

          • Derek Ouellette

            [Oops. I hit “post comment” on a mistake. Continued… ]

            You’re right that gay sex and women in leadership are not the same thing. But equality in leadership in the church for women and equality in marriage for gays is similar.

            I know heterosexual couples who fell in love and got married even though they knew that for a variety of reasons they could never have sexual intercourse (do to physical disabilities, diseases from mistakes in their youth, etc.). They still fell in love and got married.

            (When I closed down the blog last August I lost 85% of my regular visitors and blogging friends, so I really appreciate your comment!)

            • Holly

              So excited for you on the upcoming birth of your child! Congratulations! There isn’t much that is more wonderful and fulfilling in this life. :) (Perhaps I am a little biased or even addicted to babies, though…)

              And regarding blogs and percentages? Oh, how well I know. I did the same thing. The blog world is fairly fickle. There is a component to blogging – as I know you know – whereby you could make your stats fly through the roof by being purposefully controversial or confrontational on a regular basis. It’s a tactic, used by a lot of bloggers. Once you step aside from that and focus on faithfully living out the Gospel – well, people like extremes. You could always make your titles inflammatory or incendiary…(just kidding. I would so much rather thoughtful commentary.) That type of blogging feels so dishonest, though, for me – you always have to be be up in the air over something.

              As to your question: Hmmm…depending upon what I say I think you are going to refer me to some historical situation or some church father who approved of such. :) But what do I really think?

              First, I think we can find anomalies all over the place, and we can’t necessarily accomodate each one of them. I’d have to choose the course of thought which covered the most of them, with love, of course; but even more than that with what I believe to be the most accurate reflection of the true character of God.

              It was very common for unmarried men or women to live together – non-sexually, long ago. It is still common for same sexes to be deep friends and even hold hands in other countries – without same-sex romantic feelings. Should two men, now, who love each other deeply but who will never be involved sexually be allowed to marry (within the context of the church, I assume?) I’d have to say “no.” Marriage is a sacrament which reflects the gift and reception of the gift between Christ and the church, it is not only a reflection of deep friendship. Two men or two women who love each other deeply have no need to be married. They can not reflect the covenant of love. :) They can remain wonderful friends.

              How about a man and a woman who choose to be married, even thought they can not physically consummate their marriage? Yes. The two genders together reflect the gift and the giver, even though not carried to completion they still speak sacramentally to who God is at his core and what he has done thru Christ.

              What I would like to have a national conversation about (but which will never be allowed) is regarding the thoughts of those who are not really gay from birth. It is so unpopular to say or think that some choose to be gay, I totally do understand that some are born with a gay orientation, but personally know several Christian women who have chosen to be gay – and they will tell you that they have and that there is nothing wrong with it (a la the scriptural argument from Justin’s book.) I have known several young women, who, as they journeyed through their young adult years have toyed with the concept of lesbianism simply because they have not found a suitable man, or because they had been wounded by men, or had been widowed and wanted comfort or even because of cultural pressure – it was not because they were truly compelled in that direction. It is very much out there as an option, and if the scriptural boundaries are re-read, there is absolutely no reason for them not to simply make a different choice. Marriage is a spiritual thing, not simply a biological thing, and we steal so much from it if we make it only biological. I do have much compassion for individuals who have found themselves with an inborn struggle, particularly within the church setting. It must be terribly difficult, and the church has not often handled it well.

              Okay – sorry have taken up so much space. Thanks for blogging. :)

      • James Palmer

        Hey Derek,

        You might want to check out this book sometime:

        It is precisely how a progressive hermeneutic should lead Christians towards egalitarianism, but not towards accepting homosexuality. It’s an interesting read. I’m still sorting out my thoughts on homosexuality, but I don’t believe that arguments for egalitarianism naturally lead towards accepting homosexuality. This book gives quite a few reasons why.

        • Derek Ouellette

          Ah Webb. Yes. I’ve heard loads about it. Mostly by progressive egalitarians who aren’t quite willing to progress quite that far. That’s sort of the go-to book. I do intend to read it. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention brother.

  • Holly

    Have you seen this? Gagnon says Justin took him completely and purposefully out of context. So interesting.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Awesome! Thanks for the link. :)