My Summer Reading on Homosexuality

Richard E. Cornell

Having spent my summer reading on the topic of homosexuality, I want to share some reading suggestions. I’ll use the terms “affirming” and “non-affirming” to distinguish the two sides in the debate.

Starting with the biblical material, the gold standard for the non-affirming side is still Robert Gagnon’s massive The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001). Its exhaustive consideration of biblical and early Jewish (200 BCE—200 CE) evidence is without peer. The fifth section of Gagnon’s work is extremely helpful as it considers the relevance of the biblical texts to today’s questions and the most common arguments from the affirming side. One can get what Gagnon calls “a revised synthesis” of his monograph in his 52-page contribution in Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Fortress, 2003; Dan O. Via’s affirming view is helpful but there are better arguments for the affirming side [see below]). Gagnon’s concern for this issue has not flagged and one can follow his work on his website and Facebook page.

Richard Hays’ chapter on homosexuality in his classic work The Moral Vision the New Testament (HarperCollins, 1995) is still to my mind the best short work you can read on the topic from a biblical perspective. Compassionate, biblically astute, and helpful in wrestling with the ecclesial questions, the chapter is an excellent biblical starting point.

With a nod to older works, I still find helpful Thomas Schmidt’s Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (InterVarsity, 1995). He handles the biblical material well and gives a chapter to the “nature-nurture” debate and to the uncomfortable but important issue of the medical and health issues related to homosexuality (especially male homosexuality) — though with both of these issues there are twenty years of new research to be considered.

Just recently published, Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Crossway, 2015) can be thought of as Gagnon-light (Gagnon blurbs the book), giving a concise yet helpful interpretation of the relevant biblical texts in part one and then dealing with common objections to the non-affirming position in part two. I find his chapter “It’s Not Fair” to be particularly helpful in addressing the question of fairness and the challenges of celibacy.

Looking ahead to upcoming works, Preston Sprinkle’s soon-to-be-released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015) and Living in a Gray World: A Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2015) should be interesting. His blog is a model of charitable debate on this topic, and he offers reviews of some of the newest books on the topic.

A growing number of books make a biblical case for the affirming position. One of the most interesting and substantial is James Brownson’s 2013 work, Bible, Gender, and Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Eerdmans). Brownson, a NT scholar whose journey into this topic started with his son’s coming out, is one of the few affirming scholars to directly engage Gagnon’s work. Most significantly, he challenges the view (espoused by Gagnon and many or most non-affirming Christians) that the Bible teaches divinely intended biological gender complementarity, the moral warrant for the Bible’s rejection of homosexual activity in the non-affirming view. Brownson’s whole book is an exercise in discerning the “moral logic” (examples of such “moral logic” include patriarchy, honor and shame, clean and unclean, etc.) at work underneath the Bible’s condemnations of homosexuality, so as to open up space for accepting committed same-sex relationships. Brownson closes his book with four chapters on the main text of Rom 1:24-27, where he seeks to show why Rom 1 does not condemn committed gay relationships.

Matthew Vines’s popular-level book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (Convergent, 2014) owes much to Brownson’s work. Part argument for the affirming side, part autobiography (more below), it offers a short and well written biblical case for the affirming position and makes the claim that compulsory celibacy for gay Christians is unbiblical.

Mark Achtemeier’s The Bible’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart (Westminster John Knox, 2014), is a middle-of-the-road offering between Brownson’s large work and Vines’s shorter, more popular work. Having been instrumental in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s ban on gay ordination in the late-‘90s, he recently was an instrumental figure in lifting the ban. Achtemeier starts with the claim that many gay Christians have experienced spiritual devastation and brokenness in trying to maintain the non-affirming position (and the celibacy it often entails), only to find life and spiritual flourishing once they embrace the affirming position. Achtemeier then proceeds to articulate a biblical understanding of love, marriage, and sexuality, concluding that same-sex relationships are not intrinsically ruled out by this portrait. Finally he considers the relevant biblical “fragments” (the texts that actually speak of homosexuality), arguing, in general, that the kinds of homosexuality prohibited in the Bible were violent, exploitative, or idolatrous, and not, therefore, the committed, monogamous, Christ-centered pairings espoused by the affirming side.

Reading personal accounts of gay Christians has been enormously helpful for me (as a non-affirming straight Christian) to keep the issue in proper human context. Robert Shore’s Unfair: Christians and the LGBT Question (Create Space, 2013) contains twenty-seven heart-breaking letters showcasing the struggles of gay Christians within their families and churches.

The aforementioned book by Vines is a must-read both for its nuanced argument for the affirming side, but also for Vine’s poignant personal journey. Given its best seller status, it behooves all Christian ministers and teachers to be aware of it.

A fascinating book is Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). A conservative gay Christian who is also a professor of biblical studies, Hill has chosen the path of celibacy and argues that to reject homosexual behavior is to say “yes” to a full, rich, and abundant life. His new book Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Brazos, 2015) is a powerful reflection on friendship in its own right in addition to its helpful insight into the gay Christian experience.

Also good in this same genre, from the affirming side, is Justin Lee’s Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate (Jericho, 2012). Lee is the founder of GCN (Gay Christian Network), a support ministry for gay Christians whether they are affirming (called Side A by the group) or non-affirming (called Side B). Lee’s book recounts his painful journey to the affirming side and shows how the stereotypes (e.g., “troubled youth with terrible home life turns gay”) do not always fit. He also has some interesting reflections on the shortcomings of ex-gay movements. Lee and Hill regularly speak together on this topic as two conservative Christian gay men who have chosen different paths. A quick internet search will turn up some helpful debates between the two.

Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (Ave Maria, 2014) is a strange and wonderful book about one woman’s unlikely journey to Catholicism and celibacy as a gay Christian. As she points out, it is good to have a woman’s perspective on these issues. Her blog is also interesting.

Posted Sep 28, 2015

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