[Book Review] Reasoning Together: A Conversation About Homosexualiy / by Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation

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.

4 thoughts on “[Book Review] Reasoning Together: A Conversation About Homosexualiy / by Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation

  1. I know Mark from his time at the London Mennonite Centre. I don’t recall ever having a conversation with him on this, but we would certainly sharply disagree. Even before I left my biblicism behind I already believed that many of the passages commonly quoted were either nothing to do with homosexuality (e.g. the Sodmon narratives) or actually about something far more narrow (e.g. pederasty). This issue has become a watershed for the church. It makes liberals out of evangelicals and atheists out of Christians. It also splits churches and denominations. I spent twenty five years with my first wife (who happens to be gay); enough to recognise how much is at stake in getting this issue right. Sorry Mark, but you’re wrong. Hospitality can hardly be overestimated. We should be deeply ashamed that it’s taken us this long to change.

  2. Hi Nathan,
    For your readers who do not have access to this book, Ted Grimsrud has placed one of his chapters in their book on his website at http://peacetheology.net/homosexuality/a-theology-of-welcome-responding-to-the-homosexuality-issue/.

    This issue is so explosive in conservative evangelical churches out my way, that even to raise the issue of justice for these people evokes a hostile response. I honestly think that evangelicals need to repent of the pain we have caused homosexual people in our midst.

    We have created a culture of intimidation and have forgotten not only their rights as human beings created in the image of God, but we have also failed to demonstrate that God’s love for and to these people. It is to our shame.

    We need to spend more time creating a welcoming climate in our churches and show healing mercy and loving-kindness, no matter which side of the debate we stand on. But I cannot see conservative evangelicals doing this any time soon.

    John Arthur

    P.S. I am now leaning towards Ted Grimsrud’s position, though I have not yet worked out the details.

  3. Looks a good book and worthwhile reading the arguments even though I’ve seen a lot of them previously. The idea of ‘hospitaltiy’ with the issue interests me.

  4. Thanks for this review – it’s a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while.

    You seem to be laying a lot of weight on “homosexual acts” rather than homosexuality per se – is this a focus of the book?

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