A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part one)

Ted Grimsrud—May 20, 2012

Over the past fifteen years or so, I have given numerous talks and papers in various settings explaining why I believe that Christian churches should take a welcoming or inclusive stance in relation to homosexuality. These talks have evolved over time. The most recent presentation came when I was a guest speaker in a seminary sexual ethics class.

Because it does not seem that this discussion is going to end any time soon (witness the recent juxtaposition of North Carolina’s vote against gay marriage and President Obama’s statement of support for gay marriage), I find it necessary to keep thinking about how to articulate my views. Here, I will offer an expansion of the remarks I made in my seminary class presentation.

Point one: Marriage is a good thing

My first starting point is the belief that marriage is a good thing. Christians should work in their communities to offer support for married people—to help couples in their struggles, to celebrate the beauty of these relationships, to encourage people entering into healthy and life-enhancing covenant relationships. In our contemporary American society, marriage is a difficult undertaking; the odds are tragically high that couples will face major crises and have a strong likelihood of moving into divorce territory. Couples need the resources offered by supportive faith communities.

Now, I recognize that this is all quite complicated. Some marriages are not life-enhancing. People who do go through divorces also need the support of faith communities. And, absolutely, people who are single need support as well. Singleness should not be seen as an inferior state, and churches often have a lot of work to do to become redemptive places for single people. Nonetheless, we do recognize the potential for beauty and life in the context of marriage and believe that the churches should bless and encourage people who choose marriage.

The issue then becomes whether the churches have moral bases for withholding such blessing and support for people in same-sex covenanted partnerships (and now, in many places around the world, actual marriage). Continue reading “A basic Christian argument for affirming gay marriage (Part one)”

The Mennonite Confession of Faith and homosexuality

Ted Grimsrud—May 9, 2012

What kind of directives do Mennonites get from their main denominational doctrinal statement concerning homosexuality? A recent news article reports that several churches in the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA will bring a resolution to their annual conference assembly that assumes clear directives. The resolution will require the conference to name the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (CofF) as stating the official position of the conference. If the resolution passes, the Conference will then expect that “those who cannot do so according to their conscience resign their positions of leadership and influence in the Western District Conference.”

Chances are that the resolution will not pass. However, I doubt that few if any people considering this resolution will question assumptions being made about the content of the CofF that underlie the resolution.

The context of the resolution makes it clear that its central concern is with the issue of homosexuality. The resolution, reflecting a common assumption throughout MC USA, clearly understands the CofF to provide a clear basis for a negative view of intimate same-sex relationships (the specific issue that triggered this resolution was a conference pastor officiating at a same-sex wedding). This assumption that the CofF provides clear opposition to same-sex marriage is problematic, to say the least (as is, of course, the notion that the CofF should be used as a basis for drawing clear in-or-out lines based on beliefs).

It’s not surprising that people would assume that the CofF provides a clear basis for rejecting an inclusive stance concerning homosexuality given that official denominational statements cite it as doing so. However, a careful reading of the CofF itself actually repudiates such an assumption. Continue reading “The Mennonite Confession of Faith and homosexuality”

Jesus and homosexuality, part 2

Ted Grimsrud—April 27, 2012

I appreciate the several thoughtful responses to my post, “Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?” They have encouraged me to do some more thinking.

The direct relevance of Jesus’ message for homosexuality

My cyber-friend Bill Samuel suggests that the essay “had no final conclusion” and “seemed to sort of wander away from the original topic.” While I may want to challenge his assessment a bit, I do take this as a challenge to try to complete the circle a bit more forcefully and suggest direct application of the account of Jesus’ “politics of compassion” for how churches today might negotiate the “homosexuality issue” (I have felt uneasy about using the word “homosexuality” for some years, but I have the sense that the word has somewhat less of a negative feel about it more recently—and we still don’t seem to have an alternative single-word term).

I ended the post with four somewhat general points about Jesus’ relevance for our day: his practice of welcome to all kinds of people, his direct challenge to those practicing a boundary-marker-centered faith, his willingness to suffer for the practices of welcome and challenge and call upon his followers to do likewise, and his foundational priority upon healing mercy as the locus of his ministry.

The final, seemingly obvious but admittedly unstated, point would be simply to say that Jesus’ message would seem clearly to require communities of his followers to embody his way of welcome in relation to homosexual people in their midst. Such communities should also make a special point of welcoming into their midst homosexual people who are currently outside their doors. In fact, this issue might well be one of the clearest test cases for how serious Christian communities are about embodying the way of Jesus. Continue reading “Jesus and homosexuality, part 2”

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).

Continue reading “Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?”