A Deeper Tenor — Center for Action and Contemplation

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A Deeper Tenor

Gender and Sexuality

A Deeper Tenor
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

My deceased friend Walter Wink (1935–2012), a Methodist minister, biblical scholar, theologian, and nonviolent activist, put religion’s struggles with gender and sexuality into historical perspective as another opportunity for learning Jesus’ way of liberation—of both oppressed and oppressors.

Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue today that slavery is biblically justified? [Over] one hundred and fifty years ago, when the debate over slavery was raging, the Bible seemed to be clearly on the slaveholders’ side. Abolitionists were hard-pressed to justify their opposition to slavery on biblical grounds. Yet today, if you were to ask Christians in the [U.S.] South whether the Bible sanctions slavery, virtually everyone would agree that it does not. In the same way, fifty years from now people will look back in wonder that the churches could be so obtuse and so resistant to the new thing the Holy Spirit was doing among us regarding [sexuality].

What happened to bring about such a monumental shift on the issue of slavery was that the churches were finally driven to penetrate beyond the legal tenor of Scripture to an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and the prophets and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus’ identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God sides with the powerless. God liberates the oppressed. God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. Therefore Jesus went out of his way to declare forgiven [or unconditionally loved], and to reintegrate into society in all details, those who were identified [by culture and religion, not God, I might add] as “sinners” by virtue of the accidents of birth, or biology, or economic desperation. In the light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel’s imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear. [And make no mistake, despite the secular culture’s celebration of LGBTQIA identities, there is still deep suffering in that community, most often at the hands of their own families and churches.]

In the same way, women are pressing us to acknowledge the sexism and patriarchalism that pervades Scripture and has alienated so many women from the church. The way out, however, is not to deny the sexism in Scripture, but to develop an interpretive theory that judges even Scripture in the light of the revelation in Jesus. What Jesus gives us is a critique of domination in all its forms, a critique that can be turned on the Bible itself. The Bible thus contains the principles of its own correction. We are freed from bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible. It is restored to its proper place as witness to the Word of God. And that Word is a Person, not a book. [1]

Richard again: We have moved in the direction of justice and equity on many issues that were seemingly acceptable when the Scriptures were compiled: slavery, of course, but also capital and corporal punishment, bigamy, child-rearing practices, inheritance, taking interest on loans, and commerce in general. It seems to me that we as Christians should be at the forefront of ending and healing the suffering that has been caused by rejecting LGBTQIA individuals, refusing them full inclusion in our churches, and denying them equal protection under the law.

[1] Walter Wink, “Homosexuality and the Bible,” in Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches, ed. Walter Wink (Fortress Press: 1999), 47-48.

Image credit: Gene Davis Paintings 1960-1972 Exhibition Poster (detail), Gene Davis, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Florence Coulson Davis.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead. —Richard Rohr
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