Lately a song stuck in my head is Seeker Lover Keeper’s “Even Though I’m a Woman”. It’s on the radio and in the top 20 Australian singles chart. The verses go like this:
I got a secret
I think I’m in love with missing you
More than I’m in love with you
That’s why I go away all the time
That’s why I travel the world and roam free
I got a secret
I think I was born to be in a state of longing
Born to be wanting wanting
I put in a letter for you
I love the danger in distance
This time I’m leaving you
This is how I feel
I feel like a traveling salesman
It’s a catchy song, and a sadly beautiful one, but it’s also a dangerous one. It expresses so purely a view of love and life which saturates our culture. It’s the Romanticism of the 19th century spread to mainstream culture. It’s easier to miss someone than to be with someone. It’s more ‘dangerous’, and intense to be in a state of longing than a state of marriage.
Being in a state of longing makes for a society of discontented people. It can only fuel divorce and affairs and marriage breakdown. (Yet it also fuels poetry and the Romantic mood that we take for the necessary posture of the artist.) Being in a state of stability and monogamy is not so exciting – yet surely the way Christians believe God calls us to live.
So few works of art show the beauty of long fidelity. It’s a harder task, and a rarer experience. Meanwhile, love is routinely reduced to falling in love and the hope of both Christians and non-Christians to live in a state of stability is not celebrated in any catchy songs.
Reasoning Together brings two Mennonite theologians, Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation, into dialogue on an issue they disagree over – homosexuality. For Nation, the Bible’s witness on the issue is clear: homosexual acts are sinful; sex should only occur in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. For Grimsrud, to follow Jesus means to be on the side of the liberation of the oppressed – including homosexuals. This means the burden of proof is placed on the other side to prove that homosexual sex within the context of a same-sex marriage is wrong. For a number of reasons, he believe this burden is not discharged – particularly, the few passages which talk of homosexuality do not envisage homosexuality as an orientation nor do they refer to same-sex marriage.
The conversation moves around a lot, returning to several key points which are never fully resolved as the two writers respond to each others’ cases. How are we to conceptualise homosexuality? The contrast between the metaphors Nation and Grimsrud use is central to the debate. Aware of the offence it will cause – and pained by it – Nation conceptualises homosexuality as a disability, like blindness. For him, it is something that means a person is not functioning as fully as they should be. In response, Grimsrud believes a better metaphor is left-handedness, which was once thought to be a disability, but is now seen as a neutral trait, present in a significant minority of the population. For Grimsrud, homosexual acts are not inherently sinful – they are only sinful if practised outside a same sex marriage. A number of times he states that he does not believe Nation has made a case for the inherent sinfulness of homosexual sex.
The two interpret Jesus’ silence on homosexuality in opposite ways. Does it mean that Jesus endorsed the Jewish status quo, regarding homosexual acts as sinful? In this view, it was a presumption that didn’t even need mentioning. Or does his silence mean that we shouldn’t prohibit what he did not prohibit?
The opening chapter of the book is an excellent and evenhanded survey by Grismrud of the ‘restrictive’ and ‘inclusive’ cases within Christian ethics. Both writers also supply an annotated bibliography listing what they see as the key resources.
While always respectful, each of them seem frustrated with the other at different points. Perhaps this means they are being honest. On a number of points, they are just not even able to arrive at a common definition from which they can depart. Nation thinks Grimsrud overstates the importance of hospitality in the biblical narrative – it is not the only emphasis. Grimsrud thinks Nation fails to prove the inherent sinfulness of all homosexual acts. Nation thinks the meaning of the scriptures is essentially settled and inclusivists like Grimsrud are trying to avoid the obvious. The book sums up the present debate well from an Anabaptist perspective, and shows what a divisive and difficult issue it is, while also offering an example of respectful if robust conversation.
I watched the first episode of Hungry Beast last year and was unimpressed. It reminded me of one of those student newspapers on just about every university campus, full of bravado opinion pieces without nuance and just straining for attention by shocking.
I was surprised, then, to watch some great television on tonight’s episode, including a very senstively handled piece on homosexuality and evangelicalism. They interviewed three gay men, one ex-believer burned by ‘gay conversion’ therapies, one current believer embracing a gay lifestyle and one current believer who regards homosexual behaviour as sinful and is married (to a woman) with children. It was such a mature piece of journalism in letting each of those perspectives sit next to each other, without pushing any one of them.