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"Does Scripture forbid same-sex relationships?" UK radio host Justin Brierley put that question to Robert Gagnon, professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Jayne Ozanne, newly named director of Accepting Evangelicals, an organization promoting affirmation of same-sex partnerships in the church.
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Prof. Gagnon answered yes, and supported his answer with biblical scholarship rooted in the Genesis creation account, the teachings of Jesus, and the writings of the Apostle Paul. Ozanne, who has held leading positions in the Church of England and for many years held the same position as Gagnon, answered no.
So Brierley invited Ozanne to explain how her view of Scripture and its message on the subject had changed. "Well, I nearly died," she chuckled, and then, ignoring the reference to Scripture, spoke about her experience as a same-sex-attracted woman. The power of God was extraordinarily manifest in her life and ministry, she said, but nonetheless, she was unable to change her orientation or "remain happily celibate." After much difficulty, she came out as gay in early 2015.
"I Feel, Therefore I Am."
The discussion, which was spirited but civil, was loosely structured around the scriptural touchpoints of Genesis, Jesus, and Paul. It would be hard to nail down Ozanne's scriptural reasoning, but here are the points she made:
Genesis: The point of the creation narrative is that God intended for us not to be alone—that "we are meant to find completion in another." But it's not necessary that one find complementarity in the opposite sex. "For me, the key thing is about desire and where that desire comes from." She believes God has put relational and sexual desires in us to reflect his desires, and our desires are to be taken as indicators of how he has made us. People have been created complex, with a spectrum of gender characteristics, "so when I meet the person who complements me, they will complement me in many different ways with those different genders within themselves." As for her, she was not made to find completeness in a man, but rather in a woman.
Jesus: Jesus didn't come to steal or destroy. Rather, as she rightly noted, "he comes to bring life, and life in all its fullness." But, she continued, pivoting back to herself, "in trying to live the life that Robert would have had me live, I was dying. I was having my life stolen away. And it was killing me. And yet when I embraced who I believe I've been created by God to be, that brought life and life in all its fullness." This, therefore, is who God has made her to be.
The Calling of the Christian: Continuing with her conception of who she believes God has made her to be, Ozanne referenced Jesus' appropriation unto himself of the unique, holy, personal name for God, which has been historically translated, "I am who I am." Christ, then, she pontificated, is "behoven" to be who he is. And then she pivoted back to herself again. "For me, the biggest call that I think each of us as Christians have [is] that we are behoven—there is an imperative, a 'must'—to be all that God has commanded us to be. And for me, that is embracing my sexuality."
The False "Gay Christian" Binary
Setting aside for the moment Ozanne's deeply problematic, feelings-driven hermeneutic, it does seem to be a given today that if you're a same-sex-attracted Christian, you have only two options. You can either (1) follow your feelings and adopt one of the historically novel, gay-affirming renditions of Scripture being popularized today, or (2) retain the 2,000-year-old, plain reading of Scripture and live in sexual chastity despite your feelings. The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit online community, designates these as Side A (supporting same-sex marriage and relationships) and Side B (promoting celibacy for Christians with same-sex attractions)." GCN says its membership includes both camps, and it devotes a full page on its site to "The Great Debate."
Either way—Side A or Side B—you're a gay Christian. Notice how Ozanne characterized her move into open homosexuality as embracing who God made her to be. It wasn't a matter of capitulating to her desires; it was a matter of accepting who she is. This is the prevailing linguistic construction regarding homosexuality. It's not a matter of how one does sex; it's a matter of who one is as a person. It's a matter of core identity.
But might there be another way for the Christian to think about this?
In Search of Identity
According to Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, who specialized in Queer Theory as a lesbian English professor at Syracuse University, the idea that one's identity is tied to sexual desires is a product of the Freudian paradigm, which has thoroughly permeated our culture. In her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith, she detailed the inner landscape of her conversion to Christianity in her thirties, an experience she described as a mix of an alien abduction and a train wreck. In her second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, she proposes a more biblically faithful concept of identity as it relates to the Christian and sexuality.
"The concept of sexual orientation was first used by Freud," she writes, but Freud didn't just invent the idea in a vacuum. Freud was a product of the Romanticism of his day. "Romanticism claimed that you know truth through the lens of your personal experience, and that no overriding or objective opposition can challenge the primal wisdom of someone's subjective frame of intelligibility." This is different from the concept of learning and then knowing something—say a skill or a language—by experiential practice. Romanticism says that you know the truth about reality through your own personal experience of life.
Butterfield continues: "The Romantic period is typified by an uncontested embrace of personal experience, not merely as self-expression or self-representation, but also as epistemology and personal identity (who I am, ontologically)." So not only is experience the way you know the truth about reality, it is also the way you know the truth about yourself. Or, to be more specific, it is the way you discover who you are.
Into this self-referential milieu, Freud added sexual desires as an epistemological indicator. This precipitated a seismic shift in the way we think about people and sex. It redefined men and women "from people who are made in God's image with souls that will last forever to people whose sexual drives and gender identifications define them and liberate them and set them apart."
The Biblical Binary: "In Christ" or "Dead"
Rosaria Butterfield ultimately discarded the abstraction of sexual orientation altogether, along with the false dichotomy of Side A versus Side B gay Christendom, because she accepted the broader biblical view of the human person and the New Testament dichotomy that says one is either "in Christ" or still dead—that is, still dead in sin. "The redemption of Christ is not some weak, paltry shellac that we just put over the original sin of our lives," she says. Rather, "the blood of Christ makes us new. It liberates us from our besetting sin."
The categorizing identity for the Christian, then, is "in Christ," period. "We do not use our struggles as adjectival modifiers. If you're a Christian, you're a Christian. And if you're a Christian, the old man is dead."
And sexual orientation "is what we call a neologism"—a newly made-up word. It creates fictional identities that rob people of their true identity and re-maps personhood in a way that God does not. "Everyone loses when we define ourselves using categories that God does not."
Spiritual Deafness & Emotional Manipulation
It makes sense that Freud would adopt an unstable, narcissistically self-referential lens through which to construct an identity for himself. He was an atheist. But Scripture gives the Christian clear categories of personhood grounded in the eternal, unchanging Creator. Why would an Evangelical Christian vacate Scripture for Freud?
"There's a lot at stake in taking a scissors to your Bible and making big holes," Rosaria says, gently, but with deadly seriousness. "You lose the ability to hear the voice of God."
Indeed. Witness the floundering reasoning of Jayne Ozanne. When Gagnon invited her to consider the distinction between "how we would like the text to be read and how it is actually read in its day, in its historical context," she diverted (again) from Scripture and prattled on about the passion with which she held her position, as if her passion were somehow legitimate grounding for her viewpoint.
"If God has put both those revelations on our heart," she asked, "why has he allowed such a chasm to grow between the two different groups, and what is he doing there?" And then she answered her own question: "The pain that this difference brings up is either one of divorce [meaning both sides cannot be right since they contradict each other; this would be the straightforward, logical approach to conflicting views], or it's the pain of childbirth." She wants us to see it as a childbirth.
When Gagnon showed he didn't "feel" the same way, all meaningful dialogue broke down. Ozanne proceeded to criticize him for his certainty on the matter, piously mentioned praying for his soul, and then suggested with an audible shudder that teens are committing suicide because of him and his narrow-minded conviction.
"You have a message of death," she told him. "I hope that your listeners, Justin," she said to the radio host, "will listen deeply with their hearts as to what they feel is truly happening here." Apparently Gagnon, Brierley, and the rest of Christendom are "behoven" to accept this newly birthed revelation of hers based on nothing more than the authority of her feelings.
In his concluding remarks, Gagnon offered an alternative explanation for the disproportionately high rate of suffering among practicing homosexuals, but she would have none of it. Gagnon was talking propositional truth grounded in Scripture. Ozanne was talking feelings. And unless you "feel" the same way she does, you too are a messenger of death with blood on your hands. Are you feeling the love yet?
The best that can be done in the face of this kind of manipulative demand for "acceptance" flying under the banner of Christianity is to point people to the actual Christian Scriptures—and to the Cross, which, feelings notwithstanding, is available to liberate us from our besetting sin and seal us in Christ. It carries a heavier weight than feelings, yesterday, today, and forever. Prayer for souls, as well, will always be in order. •
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