Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?

Ted Grimsrud—April 21, 2012

In two of my classes during this just-ending semester (both classes mainly made up of first-year college students—Introduction to Theology and Ethics in the Way of Jesus), we had lengthy and helpful discussions about homosexuality. Preceding these discussions, in both classes we looked closely at Jesus as our source for theology and ethics. So, as would be expected, a good part of our discussion about homosexuality focused on how Jesus’ message might relate. What follows are some reflections, first put down on paper a number of years ago, in response to the “what about Jesus?” question.

Jesus as our model

Over the years, a popular Christian saying has been, “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?” This question, seemingly, serves as a personal reminder to keep the Savior in mind as one goes through life. In the end, a cynic could suggest, the Jesus of this slogan bears a strong resemblance to the young George Washington, who said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie”; he is a person with a strong focus on personal ethics.

“WWJD” does not seem to have much direct relevance to social ethics. What would Jesus do in the face of current church and societal struggles regarding homosexuality? Are we simply left with our individual preferences that we speculatively project onto a symbolic icon?

On one level, we are pretty much in the dark. We cannot speak with authority about how Jesus would respond to our debates because he said nothing about them. However, as followers of Jesus, we cannot simply ignore these questions. As I reflect on the relevance of Jesus for our social morality, I want to rephrase our slogan. Rather than speculate on “what would Jesus do?” I want to focus on something more concrete: what did Jesus do? I am hoping not so much to find a definitive resolution for today’s issues, as to find more clarity about the social ramifications of Jesus’ way—ramifications that do provide guidance for communities of Jesus-followers today.

Even though Christian creedal theology gives short shrift to what Jesus did during his life (e.g., the ancient Apostles’ Creed skips from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “crucified under Pontius Pilate” in its christological confession), historian Jaroslav Pelikan is surely accurate when he writes in Jesus Through the Centuries, “As respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown. . . . There is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians. Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new’ ” (pp. 232-3).

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