Kevin DeYoung of the Gospel Coalition posted 40 questions for those who have posted their support of the Supreme Court decision and Gay Pride Week. I rarely find anything of worth from GC — ideologically and politically speaking, we are adversaries and they represent the things I find most reprehensible about white masculine American Christianity. But the questions were good. Here is the original post. Here is my response.
- How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
I think for as long as I believed marriage is something to be celebrated. I’m 25, and marriage hasn’t always been something I gave much thought.
For honesty’s sake I can point to a comment I made once on a blog, which I found while googling an old handle from 2011, putting me at 21 years old. I wrote a thank you message to a Christian whose story had become Sydney’s #1 gay mag’s #1 viewed article after 2 days up. I wonder what I meant back then, what I thought the main points were, and whether I had reservations I’d now consider unfounded. Certainly I was not where I am today:
Was great to read your article. That's a tough story but I'm glad that you've come through it and now have risen to new heights! I wanted to say thanks. I admire your courage and that you've committed, even after the pain and misunderstanding, to the community of faith. There are many reasons to leave the church but I always find it exceptional when people instead find the strength to be the change they want to see. I think this article being in the SX will give the gay readership a chance to think, 'yes the church has been backwards about this but here's a story of hope' - in a way, bringing down walls that those readers may have up (for good reasons) against Christian faith as it's been represented. It presents the possibility: "I can be gay. I can be Christian" which is such an important message. I'm a youth worker in Perth. Straight. Researching ways to make my community and the church broadly a more gay-welcoming place. I don't necessarily share all the same convictions as yourself or Tony Venn-Brown about this but mostly, and I want to keep learning from those who speak with experience and continued involvement. Finding your info and his has been a blessing in that regard :)
- What Bible verses led you to change your mind?
Not a single verse, rather a sense of Scripture’s underlying meaning, or a recurring theme, namely the focus on those excluded, outcast and second-class in the eyes of the dominant group.
Isaiah 56’s invitation into Temple-life extending to all peoples – “a house of prayer for all nations” – with specific attention to two groups excluded by the Law of Deuteronomy (eunuchs and foreigners, both thoroughly in the legal category of “unclean” at the time), showed a way in which Scripture is being rewritten from the inside, has an inner testimony of change, permitting us and requiring us to do the same in the name of a better story, more just and loving.
- How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?
By pointing to the centrality of love and the Biblical tradition of interpreting Scripture for the sake of love. The tree is discerned by its fruit.
This question is worded a little strangely. Sex between two people isn’t automatically a blessing (consider, for example, the many “Biblical marriages” in the Old Testament where sex was obligatory – what we call marital rape) and neither is celibacy a blessing to bestow on others (as the misappropriation of Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7 would do) but rather a choice of some. While Paul has men and women in mind, it’s true “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (7:9).
- What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Anyone who loves with agape love, self-giving love, is an image of the love of Christ.
- Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?
Possibly. Possibly not. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and what he said about marriage is perplexing for us today. Consider: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19). In Matthew 5:31, Jesus appears to suggest that a divorced wife becomes an adulteress by definition and that for her to remarry makes the new husband an adulterer too.
I don’t know what he means. And can I be honest? I don’t particularly care! Jesus was answering questions of a religious community with all kinds of messed up prescriptions and proscriptions on marriage, vows, family, bodily fluids, bodily functions, etc., and could be meaning a whole range of things. Either way, we know better. It is not only sexual unfaithfulness that provides a just cause for divorce. We can only accept such ideas if we are blind to the realities of married and unmarried people dealing with complex love, abuse, co-dependency, independency, loss, hope, and the possibilities of new relationships after all that takes place in a divorce.
I find it likely enough that Jesus might have wished he could marry his true love, whether that was Mary Magdalene (as many suggest) or Lazarus whom Jesus wept over, who he loved, whose funeral preparations (as solemn and regulated in that culture as marriage) he interrupted to raise his love again.
Question back to you, Kevin. Could Jesus have been gay? If not, why not?
- If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?
Just like the point of Genesis isn’t the definition of marriage as being one man and one woman – it has one man and one woman, but that’s not the point, just as it has a six-day creation but that’s not the point – neither is Jesus using it amongst the Scriptural community a proof-text for a binary world.
That said, I have no doubt that the speakers-respeakers-writers-rewriters-rememberers-editors-redactors-canonisers-translators-retranslators-commentators (that’s how many layers a story like Genesis went through into it’s current form and present-day interpretations) lived in a pretty male-female-binary world, at least as they perceived it. If Jesus wasn’t in love with Lazarus – which is only my feeling, not anything I can or want to substantiate – he would have also lived in such a world.
This really just says something about the language, perceptions and blindspots of the time, or, rather, the ongoing erasure of queer bodies and experiences in such traditions – something, like Isaiah 56, we ought to overturn for the sake of inclusion.
- When Jesus spoke against porneiawhat sins do you think he was forbidding?
I’m sure the general translations of “sexual immorality” and “fornication” are correct, but also inadequate. What is sexual immorality? What is fornication? What is sin when it comes to sex, sexuality and sexual relationships?
Rather than being “liberal” on these topics, I’m something of a prude according to my friends. Or rather, I’m interested in an even more rigorous ethic than simply dealing with morality and sin on a level where obvious and overt behaviour is highlighted and hidden immorality and sin is given a pass. I think this is why Jesus goes as far, in Matthew 5, to identity immorality as beginning with the heart and with the eyes.
As marriage in Jesus’ day could be organised by parents against their children’s wishes, and was consummated by having sex (here, potentially, marital rape), the idea that sex outside of marriage is the obvious place of sin is rather short sited. Sex and marriage, as the Christians today mostly advocate it is something of a gift, a marvellous sharing of two in commitment, embrace and self-giving. A sexual ethic here, then, would encourage such loving sexuality against cheapened expressions of sexuality found among the unmarried and the costly commitments expected of the married, in both cases loveless sex.
I don’t know if Jesus perceived this far. After all, he appeared to have remained celibate and aloof of such things and was mostly answering oversimplifications with oversimplifications in an attempt to show up the logic of contemporary morality – “you’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”
- If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?
I think it is quite clear what Paul is doing in Romans 1, and we can find out by taking it in the contexts of the Letter to the Romans generally. Notice that the entire letter is concerned with the relationship of the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the Roman congregations. The two groups are mutually excommuning with each other based on their cultural assumptions about what a Christian should do, be and look like. In Romans 1 he shows up their logic, taking it to its end point, revealing the hypocrisy of both parties.
The Jews, who believe the Gentiles ought to become Jewish Christians (circumcised, Sabbath-keeping, etc.), do not follow their own holiness codes – after all, they steal and break the Law in multiple ways. The Gentiles, who believe the Jews ought to abandon such pretensions and become wise in the Greek sense, do not follow their own Stoic “logic” – after all, Greeks had a whole system for assigning correct function to any and everything around them, but were known for homosexual activity.
Both parties, then, didn’t practice what they preached but maintained expectations of the other that was causing a rift in community.
That said, I’m happy to concede that Paul relates homosexual desires with a fallen nature, idolatry and other clearly negative associations. This might be something we can’t get around. There is a problem here of those who try to wrangle a biblical text so that it lines up with our current sensibilities. We should try to avoid this, for the sake of honesty. What do we do then? I say, lets admit parts of the Bible associate heterosexuality with God’s order and homosexuality with disorder, and lets fight against the legacy of those parts that were written in ignorance, superstition and blindness.
- Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?
Yes. In these passages, sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven. For Jesus, wealth likely will keep you out of heaven – as likely as it is to get a camel through an eye of a needle! Perhaps, if heaven is not a place you go to, but a reality that breaks into one’s life, then we can get a better perspective of how these verses make sense. Sexual exploitation, promiscuity, the chasing after wealth and other ways in which we assign ourselves into false selves… all this, but especially (like wealth) those things that disconnect us from the “least of these”, can keep us from seeing where God is at work, where true treasure lies.
- What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
In 1 Corinthians there is a good case to be made for Paul referring not to committed gay relationships – of which he may still have disapproved – but rather the widespread Greco-Roman practice of pederasty, the apprenticeship of young boys by older men that included an element of sexual encounter. Considering the power dynamics involved, there’s no doubt a great deal of this would be exploitative (like in the case of marital rape – the expectation that a woman submit to her husband sexually, on which the Bible is relatively silent, even permissive).
- As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?
This one is easy. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Luther all failed to grasp the nature of power, and the Bible’s subverting power through powerlessness. None of these were committed to the ochlos (the masses) as Jesus was. Luther and Calvin both participated in the murder and state-power relations of the religious wars that destroyed and rebuilt Europe during the Reformation and beyond. Augustine’s City of God served both as a criticism and a concession to Empire. Aquinas and his “Thomistic” heirs located theology in questions of abstract, logical, supernatural and scientific questions, rather than the real Gospel locus on justice and peace.
- What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?
Which essentialised groups of African, Asian and South American Christians is DeYoung referring to. A great deal of our Christian struggle for full equality is not only inspired by the liberation theologies and contextual approaches found in the Majority World churches, but actually begins there.
Take, for example, the Argentina’s Marcella Altaus-Reid, founding mother of Queer Theology; or Korea’s Chun Hyun Kyung, likewise queering theology for justice in the Minjung tradition; Patrick S. Cheng who is leading the way in Asian-American contextual and queer theology; or openly HIV+ Ugandan Bishop Gideon Byamugisha who described his country’s anti-gay laws as genocide… to name just a few of the hundreds of theological and pastoral voices speaking from places of experience in the global church.
Furthermore, we can look to cultures around the world where alternatives to the heteronormative binary are accepted, only to be struggling now against the colonial prescriptions of white missionaries. Transgenderism and cross-dressing are near centrepieces of some South American societies and today are re-embraced in resistance to outsider domination. In the Pacific Islands we find the categories of Fakaleiti or Fakafefine, almost a third gender, coexisting and thriving in the church and cultural celebrations. Meanwhile, in Papua New Guinea, being gay can get you killed, meaning we must not romanticise any culture and fall into the same trap of essentialism.
- Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?
Not motivated by personal animus and bigotry, but certainly partisan and blind to it. Clinton and Obama are both as criminal as their Republican counterparts, colonisers and occupiers of the global spaces in question 12., and, like career politicians of any colour and stripe, willing to follow a few steps behind the general public opinion to retain popularity and appear progressive.
Their real moral crimes go uncommented by the GC authors, crimes of worker exploitation, imperialism, wealth and all that is key to sustaining the North American dominance over world affairs and internal structural inequality of the North American people.
- Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
- If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?
The research we do everyday as people and communities committed in love to our queer members, neighbours, friends and family… research that, like our theology, is done “on the move”, providing answers along the way, finding solutions where there is none or would be none if the status quo people had their way. That is, we are building family, community, support, hope, possibilities against a great backdrop of struggle, exclusions, discrimination and systems designed to provide us with bad results.
There is research out there pointing in surprising directions (I mean scientific, quantitative, methodical data), but that is less my concern and would make my responses even longer. The onus is on those denying freedom to provide such justifications anyway, which they will do according to different criteria and without an eye on the realities we experience. They have “research”, we have “field work”.
- If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
The role of the church should be to support all families, individuals, children and adults to love with integrity. Kids need male and female role models, and, indeed, trans role models, so that they can perceive the healthy and hopeful possibilities open for them as young men, women and intersex people.
If I have two lesbian friends who have kids and I perceive the need for a male role model there, I can, with a permission that comes through actual friendship, attempt to be that role model. In that role I will model that one can be (as I am) a straight cisgender male who doesn’t need machismo, dominance, heterosexism and other such false masculinities to be a human.
- Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?
Yes. Love is more than emotional. Love is more than sexual. It is both these and more.
- How would you define marriage?
People committing in love through a kind of covenant (or, realistically, though I don’t like this word, contract) that is recognised by their community of close others. It’s a partnership that lasts through better and worse as long as viable, hopefully into “death do us part” if there is enough strength and not too many insurmountable pressures. It also involves community – private and personal as marriage is – to provide the kind of friendship, encouragement and space for a relationship to survive and thrive.
- Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?
I think they probably ought to be allowed to. In many places they are. In many times they have. But that is not what we are advocating for right now.
- Should marriage be limited to only two people?
I don’t know if it “should” be. It is, except where and when it isn’t. Polygamy is thoroughly Biblical. Polyandry is real (it exists). Polyamory seems better than these two models because the focus is on consenting, loving, cooperative relationship. Again, this is not what we are advocating for right now. If enough people decide they want this, and if they suffer the kind of discrimination facing gay and trans people, then we’d have a comparative issue. At present this is just the tired “slippery slope” question/argument.
- On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?
I not sure there would be a solid basis (bases by definition are solid) for preventing consenting adults. Again, coming to a better ethic than what our adversaries are working with, we can ask what is loving, what is harmful, what is justice, who is affected. If these boxes are ticked, there should be freedom and frameworks to embrace difference.
- Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?
Not according to the Bible, but yes, according to the current majority view on when one can knowingly consent and physiologically-psychologically commit to such a covenant. This is a tricky question for which there is no answer Christians could provide with a good deal of contextualising. Mary was likely 13 or 14 when she heard she’d fallen pregnant. God himself then, while not engaged in sexual intercourse or sexual attraction to Mary, possibly violated her teen body by non-consensually impregnating her. Indeed he violated her and her husbands marriage vows… this is where we get if we follow the mix of Biblicism and contemporary Legalism that “traditional-marriage” proponents combine.
I am not being facetious or controversial here, the logic can’t sustain a decent ethic or honestly account for the Scriptures. It is clear we must find a better “basis” for ethics.
- Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?
Perhaps. We will see. We are speaking about a very concrete, experience inequality. Such questions that seek for answers to imagined scenarios are obsfucations of the actual issue at hand. Besides, it is only the asker and not us who imagines there is a universal doctrine for all past and future dilemmas.
- If not, why not?
- Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?
Yes and no. Maybe. It depends on how one frames it. If sexuality is something, that like skin colour, is an embedded, non-chosen aspect of a person’s personhood and bodily form, then should Christians be free to exercise their religious conviction here? Should Christians be free to bar an interracial couple from marrying without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion? Of course they don’t frame it the same way, so we have a dilemma of two competing “freedoms”.
Such inclined Christians have had freedom for a long time now to persecute or embrace their diverse sexualities and gendered bodies and experiences. They have used that freedom, the kind of freedom that exists for those at the top of society, to do the former and have scorned the latter. Now they are less free and it is painful for them.
- Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?
Yes. If there comes a time, which I doubt will happen, where Christians who are homophobic become so despised and reviled that they face the same kinds of discrimination (much worse than losing jobs, try never getting them in the first place!) as queer people do now (and have historically), then my basic ethic of fighting for and alongside the vulnerable and persecuted will see me stand up for them.
As it so happens, all that is going on is a slight evening of the imbalance that has benefitted hetero and cisgender folk over and against their queer brothers and sisters for generations. It seems to me not a shred of the kind of death sentence being trans can be for people – who go rejected, abused, jobless, impoverished because of their appearance – which is cemented into policy by the obstructions Christians are putting in the way of recognition for trans-reality. When those who don’t get jobs fall into poverty and are forced into male-or-female hostels, crisis-accommodation and prisons, they face even greater humiliation, abuse and physical harm.
The blindness to these issues faced by our neighbours, in the name of protecting a binary male-female reality, is despicable, constituting real persecution of which these Christians cannot imagine.
- Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?
Yes. But we do shame the shameful apartheid promoted by many in the churches. Your sense of being bullied, mocked or shamed is not one iota on the daily violence incurred by those you deny freedom to.
- Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?
A simple framework that doesn’t put a burden on people like the Pharisees did. Simply: love, faithfulness, openness, trust, mutuality, acceptance, compassion.
- Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?
They are already. No. “Discipline” is the kind of language the abuser uses for their paternalism. What you mean is sanction and punishment. Again, no.
- Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?
If it is a sin for heterosexual people to, yes. I’m not so sure it is sin, or at least, that it is a sin to focus on. But the same rules apply to people no matter their sexuality. Sexuality is not itself sinful or sanctified, it is just the biological-emotional-relational coding in which any number of ethical choices can be made, good and bad. It is sin, certainly, to think of homosexuality as a sin and heterosexuality as normal. Caste systems are sinful in a way that sex outside of marriage isn’t. I distinguish, as does any honest person, between actions that cause no harm, some harm, more harm and great harm.
- What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?
They will find ways that can speak prophetically amidst the brokenness, hope, love, unlove, and human diversity that is found in the struggle for justice alongside those unjustly treated. Open and affirming churches take a prophetic stance by following the prophetic model of advocating for “the least of these”, the excluded, the disenfranchised. The prophetic cannot have a single voice, and to speak must incorporate and uplifted the voices of the poor, the downtrodden, those made voiceless or unheard.
The basis will be different. Pornography, for example, is not fought against here because it is “sex outside of marriage” but rather because it is exploitative, virtually a modern slavery in many cases. Conservative Christians often miss the point, fighting against “unholiness” when they should be fight against unjust relations, both “holy” (sacralised) and “unholy”.
- If “love wins,” how would you define love?
A society in which people are not outcasted, forced into conformity, etc., and the definitions I’ve provided above.
- What verses would you use to establish that definition?
We could work by negatives. E.g., It is not loving to eternally torture people by fire for the wrong belief. Basic ideas, really. Incomprehensible to the “loving” fundamentalists who await our destruction and their own salvation.
The Bible has a multiplicity of verses with competing definitions of right and wrong, love and unlove, justice, fairness, etc. But Love Supreme is Jesus who does not abandon and condemn people to the fiery pit of society’s hellish ghettos, exclusions and sacrifice zones.. the God who lives amongst the supposedly damned and doomed, who shows that where the religious see destruction there is promise. Finally, it is hell and death itself that is thrown into the lake of fire, a poetic image for the destruction of the forces of destruction, the saving of people through and for love, love modelled by the solidarity of Jesus with us stuck in hell and kept, by the religious gatekeepers, out of heaven.
- How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
Love God. Love your Neighbour. These are the foremost command. To do this, one fulfils all requirements.
- Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?
Yes. I’m not sure that is what “traditional marriage” folk are doing though, as much as they claim to love us.
- If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?
Many things, relevant but unable to be dealt with here. One thing stands out though, real life connection to people who challenge the binaries, dualisms and categories that suit me and not them. Faith “on the move”, faith “in love”, faith “among the people”.
- As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
It has helped me more passionately fight against the totalising and universalising of these priorities over and against the priority of love, justice and liberation.
- What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?
The historic “Peace” churches, Quakers, Uniting Churches and other “liberal” and “liberationist” traditions are reinvigorating what “orthodox Christianity” means, are at the forefront of warning and repenting against the great evils of exploitation, disaster capitalism, racism and other hatreds, and the destruction of the environment which will lead to the destruction of all.
- Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?
- When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
The false security of those who, believing they already have a secured spot in the live-ever-after, hypocritically engage in all kinds of luxuries and easy sin, giving each other permission and applause, praise and promotion… all the while denying the grace of Jesus for “all” and the “many” (poullos kai pantas), the universal love of God for all his creation and not just the self-righteous.
Yes that includes even the camels and needles of the Gospel Coalition rich white males who make burdensome laws to prohibit entrance into the knowledge of that love, requiring the impossible of their siblings, creating hellish conditions on this earth. We are all judged, have gone astray, and are all saved, loved, forgiven! Amen.