I can’t write about LGBT issues today like I normally do. I will get back to that injustice soon, but I can’t right now. I’m too concerned for anyone in this country who isn’t a White European.

But I haven’t known what to say. I’ve written two different posts addressing bigotry and White Supremacy, and nothing feels right.

I finally realized that the last thing I want to talk about is exactly what needs to be said.

I am beginning to understand how deep inequality goes, how much it persists to today in the lives of Black Americans especially, but to all POC. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to begin to see.

This knowledge is painful. It makes me think of my country differently. I certainly don’t feel the same way about America as I once did, and there is sadness there. I wish I could believe this to be the best country in the world. I wish I could believe the dream of America was more than a dream. But I’ve learned too much.

Sometimes I have to consciously mourn the view the death of the beautiful vision of my country and the accomplishments of those who came before me. If I don’t recognize that need, and accept the reality of it, I might end up trying to deny it. Instead I want to see the shame of it all, the violence done to native people, Black people, LGBT people, and every single new wave of immigrants.

I’m tempted to explain it away, say we weren’t that bad. Didn’t we fight a war to end slavery? Yes, but we followed it up with Jim Crow. Didn’t we make dramatic changes after the Civil Rights movement? Yes, but we followed that up with mass incarceration in a prison system with ingrained racial inequalities which effectively strip civil rights from poor Black people.

I love America, and love requires no dishonesty. When it comes to POC, we have always taken with the left hand what was given with the right.

Since I won’t deny it anymore, I’m tempted to do what come natural in White culture and try to fix this. I want to understand it, come to the right solution, implement that solution, do it with excellence, fix the problem, restore the image of a whole and beautiful America, erase our shame, correct our injustice. But I don’t know how. Even an attempt at this point, with wounds so fresh, would be wrong.

In White culture we are uncomfortable with our imperfections. It’s not okay for us to be broken, to have shame in our history, to not have the answers, and to be less than perfect. But we are far, far less than perfect. White washing our history only brings more pain.

For my part, I’m learning to sit with the reality of White Supremacy in my family tree, in the people who came before me and set-up the country in the way they did, a way that favors me.

I’m learning to sit in the reality that there are two Americas: The one I get to live in, and the one POC live in.

Owning the shame of my history may open the possibility of a brighter future. Because if I own the shame of White America, I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t have to pretend our country is better than it is.

If we own the shame of our past, there is no need to pretend that the people who tried to tear this nation apart in order to keep race-based chattel slavery intact were good people who deserve monuments. We can learn to be honest about our past, and build monuments to the right people, those who resisted and survived slavery.

I’m also free to believe that our future can be better than our past. I’m free to see that in order to be better, we don’t need to return to the past, we need to transcend it.

In the past, power was kept in the hands of one ethnicity. It’s tempting for us as White people to think that it is our responsibility to solve the racial problems in our society, but we aren’t the ones with the solutions.

People of color have been fighting this fight for centuries. They have been and continue to be my teachers, in person and through the books I read. They are in mourning right now, and I want to mourn, too.

If I am to learn to be any part of the solution, perhaps now is the time for me to enter into sadness. Perhaps this is a time for lament.

I will figure out how to do more. I will keep my eyes open. I will continue to have difficult discussions online and in person. I will look for opportunities not only to search for helpful ideas, but to lift up the voices of POC that we so desperately need.

The solution to White Supremacy won’t come from White people. I increasingly believe that the voices of oppressed people are the moral soul of this country, and if we are ever to learn to be good and just, we will learn it from them.

So let me share first this Jewish Lament, Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

And let me share with you a voice truly capable of inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCenwgheIBs

After a helpful message from one of my readers, I want to add this caveat: I still don’t think the real solutions will come from White people, but I do think we need to take responsibility, learn solutions from POC, and get out of the way. What needs to happen is to turn over real power and give a real voice to POC. We need to listen to and implement what we learn from POC, yes, but that’s ultimately just a patriarchal way of offering help on our terms unless we learn to actually give up power, give up a voice, give up privilege so that POC can have real influence in ways that are not under our control or our supervision. Solutions offered by those who are privileged tend not to go far enough and not to go deep enough. The first reaction of people like myself to events like this is usually to explain, to say what needs to happen, and solve it, if only intellectually. What White people need is to sit with the gravity and the enormity of this problem that is about much more than one rally, but about a history in this country and in European countries that goes back many centuries. We need to sit with that reality before we act. Trying to come up with solutions in the aftermath is disrespectful, there needs to be a period of mourning, of allowing the gravity to sink in, of feeling the sadness, not of rushing to solutions based on our own discomfort, solutions which will inevitably be superficial.

I dedicate this post to the legion of people who have ever compared me to a pedophile, an alcoholic, or an adulterer. I know I’ve told you these comparisons aren’t worth discussing. I know you thought I was just being emotional. I know these seem like helpful comparisons. Well, you’ve finally convinced me to talk about it. This one’s for you.

These analogies come from the search to explain why same-sex relationships are a sin. I had a real exchange with a Baptist pastor that went like this:

Him: “How is homosexuality different than any other sin?”

Me: “How is it the same?”

And this is at the core of the matter. Does same-sex love pass the sin test? Does homosexuality belong on the sin list? Or should we take it off? That’s the point of analogies. To show how it belongs on the list. Every single one of the sins listed below is something to which my sexuality has been compared.

Bestiality

First, there’s the super obvious that having sex with an animals is nothing like a real connection with a human being.

Beyond that, I’ve spoken to people who have sex with animals. It’s one of the more unique aspects of doing intakes in juvenile corrections. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that the process is nothing like falling in love. It’s a sexual perversion, a type of addiction actually, that generally begins with pornography addiction at a young age that transitions to animal porn and then to acting out.

True sex addiction can escalate as people search for more and more deviant behaviors, the forbidden nature of which can bring them new excitement so they can get their chemical fix. That’s what bestiality is.

Pedophilia

This is a criminal act of assault on a child. Pedophilia involves sex not only with a minor (that’s statutory rape), but with a prepubescent child. I’ve interviewed many teens who have histories of assaulting children and treated many teens who were sexually assaulted as children.

Pedophilia causes serious emotional consequences for the victim if not properly supported and treated. It confuses them about what love is because they are being exploited in their first sexual experience. For the perpetrator, it’s by nature an avoidance of intimacy and not an embrace of relationships, because adults can’t have a intimate partnerships with children.

It’s amazing to me that I even have to explain these things, but such is the nature of homophobia. I have no problem using the word homophobia to describe people who can’t tell the difference between pedophilia and same-sex relationships.

Queer relationships are partnerships. We coined the application of the word “partner” for intimate relationships when we were legally barred from marriage. It works because it expresses the nature of our relationships. They are not exploitation; they are partnerships.

There is also a long history of non-affirming Christians accusing LGBT people of being pedophiles. Google “Anita Bryant” if you don’t believe me. Fortunately, because of the hard work and sacrifice of gay activists, this slur is dying out, but it’s certainly still around.

Incest

Incest violates an already established kinship relationships between two people, generally that of siblings or that of parent and child. You can’t stop being someone’s brother or someone’s mother. Violating this primary and foundation relationships in order to establish a romantic relationships is an attack on the entire family. I’ve also counseled families in this situation, and it’s a mess.

Of course, normalizing such relationships in society would also lead to genetic problems. Yet even if in an individual case that were not an issue, there is a sacredness to our family relationships, to be someone’s brother, sister, mother, or father is a rare and important place in someone’s life. It’s incompatible with sexual or romantic relationships, because it involves a special level of closeness but also the ability to separate and form new families.

Of course same-sex relationships do not threaten any previously established relationship. Also, normalizing same-sex relationships causes no threat to society in terms of child birth. The accusation that the inability to have children is a threat to the human population is unjustified.

Only about 5% of the population is LGB. Even if 5% of people married someone of the same gender, half the couples would be able to have children with artificial insemination. That would leave 2.5% of the population, male couples, who often adopt children who need a home.

So there is no risk to society there either, if anything it’s an advantage for children who need adoption. Besides, what do you want gay men to do? Marry your daughter?

Divorce

Divorce is the result of a broken relationship and a failure of fidelity that was once promised. It’s falling out of love, the painful failure of love, and a tragedy whether it happens to other-sex couples or same-sex couples couples. Divorce is the opposite, not the analogy, of two people of the same-gender falling in love.

There is one way in which there are similarities between the two, though. Both have historically been viewed an forbidden by the church on biblical grounds. So why has the view on divorce changed?

Jesus himself explicitly forbade divorce on any grounds but infidelity when he was asked explicitly about the subject. It’s quite remarkable that the church found a way to accept divorce as a regrettable but sometimes unavoidable aspect of life, but there is no room for reconsidering same-sex relationships. I’m guessing that things would be different if same-sex relationships directly effected the same number of people that divorce directly effects.

Alcoholism and Other Drug Addiction

Addiction is a compulsive substance use in order to attain a high. It involves increasing use of a substance, tolerance, withdrawal, and normally leads to an obsession with obtaining and using the drug.

This obsession causes the addict to lie, cheat, steal, and generally mistreat the people in his or her life. Addictions are often a way to escape from the reality of life. Queer relationships are not marked by such behavior any more than straight relationships are.

Yes, people can also become addicted to sex. Yes, sometimes the people who become addicted to sex are queer though usually they’re straight. No, that doesn’t mean the ex-gay person giving you the testimony at the non-affirming church about his gay sex addiction is representative of all gay people.

Non-affirming churches too often find gay sex addicts who have found God and say they left the “gay lifestyle.” Really they just left their sex addiction.

Same-sex couples get married, have children, raise families, and even if they don’t choose to do those things, reducing same-sex love to addiction is untrue and prejudicial. When non-affirming churches refuse to acknowledge this reality, and only share stories of broken and addicted LGBT people, they encourage bigotry.

Porn Addiction

Sometimes people think it’s kind to disclose to me their pornography addiction as a way to show they don’t think they’re better than me. As if to say, “See, we all struggle. I have a porn addiction I have to give to God, and you have your homosexuality. If I can do it you can do it!”

I know from their perspective they are showing solidarity, that they don’t demonize homosexuality, and that that homosexuality is not the worst of sins. But someone’s obsession with getting off to images of women they will never meet has no commonality to me falling in love with a woman I know in real life.

When someone tells me about how they compulsively objectify women for sexual gratification, it feels dirty. I don’t want to know. It has nothing to do with love and commitment to an actual human standing before you.

Selfishness

“Gay love is selfish. When you fall in love with someone of your same gender, instead of a different gender like God intended, you’re falling in love with yourself.”

Yep. I’ve heard this one too. Multiple times. This is a favorite of preachers.

They say that in opposite-sex relationships people are falling in love with someone who is a different gender, therefore they are loving the other. But in same-sex relationships they are the same gender, therefore they are loving themselves.

But no matter what the gender configuration, when you love another human being, you love another human being. I’m not sure why I need to say this, because it seems obvious, but people of the same gender are still completely different human beings. There’s not some weird para-scientific Freudian thing going on here. Same-sex couples, just like opposite couples, fall in love with each other both for similarities and for differences, and when they do fall in love and have sex, it’s not a solo activity.

Having a friend of the same gender is not having a friendship with yourself. Going into business with someone of your gender is not a sole prorietorship.

If the differences between two people matter in these less intimate relationships, they will only be more magnified in an intimate relationships. Relationships are hard because they expose selfishness and demand selflessness, that doesn’t change for same-gender couples. So can we stop using this crazy analogy? Please?

Broken Straight Sexuality

“We need to address homosexuality in the context of our own broken sexuality as straight people.”

I hate to admit this, but I used to think this one was humble and compassionate, and in some contexts it is a move in that direction. It’s a way of saying that I’m no better than you just because you’re queer and I’m straight.

There is a world of difference between people who make the bestiality comparison and people who talk about their own broken sexuality. I know the heart that this comparison often comes from, and it’s a desire to not be bigoted and hateful, but compassionate and caring. I can appreciate that heart even as I critique the comparison itself.

Broken straight sexuality, no matter what form it comes in, is still demonstrably harmful. Broken straight sexuality is not love, but a failure of love. By its very nature, it’s those things that draw straight people away from their partners, not towards them. It’s exploitation, selfishness, and degrading of relationships. Same-sex love is not degrading of relationships, it is the establishment of a relationship.

Sin

There is a reason none of the analogies work. They are comparing something that is sin to something that is not sin. They compare something selfish, harmful, and addictive to something good, holy, and loving.

I challenge Christians to be more cautious in using these analogies, and more cautious in making any reference to same-sex love as sin. Calling sinful something that is holy is destructive and sinful itself.

Are you really so certain that you are willing to risk causing harm by telling someone their love is sin? What if you’re wrong? What will your words cost others? What relationships do you stand to damage? What love could you be denying or discouraging?

Yes, I know there are bible verses used to say same-sex love is sin, and I’ve addressed those too and will continue to do so, but when you think about the main point of scripture, the real heart of what is holy and what is sin, love between people of the same gender doesn’t qualify as sin. Jesus told us sin is failure to love, because the entire law is based on love (Mt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-31). Loving someone of the same gender is not failure to love, but love itself.

The way I have interpreted scripture, particularly the six verses used against same-sex relationships, fits perfectly with Jesus’ understanding of the law. The way non-affirming Christians interpret these laws does not. The reasoning doesn’t fit, the analogies are ill conceived, and the results are prejudicial. Maybe there is a reason for that? Maybe there is a reason none of the analogies fit?

The truth is that love between people of the same gender, even sexual love, even romantic love, even passionate partnership, does not meet the criteria of sin. It’s nothing like sin. It’s everything like love, because it is love. And love is the core nature of God, the foundation of the law, and the most wonderful thing in the world.

People turning to the Bible for answers about same-sex relationships often believe they find references to LGBT people in two particular passages in the New Testament. They are both lists of vices, and they share the same very unique vocabulary.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV).

and

“The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” 1 Timothy 1:10 (ESV).

Rare Vocabulary

In order to understand the meaning of the New Testament vice lists that have been translated as referring to sexual minorities, it’s important to learn a little bit of Greek vocabulary. Specifically, you need to know the word arsenokoites. This is the word Paul uses in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 that is sometimes translated “homosexuals.”

The reason you need to have some understanding of this Greek word is that there are some translation issues that need to be explained. Most of the time the translation of the Bible you have is beyond excellent. Understanding of the Greek usually adds nuance but doesn’t change the meaning of your translation. However, one exception is when a text contains a very rare word.

arsenokoites is translated in these passages as “men who practice homosexuality” and is often applied to LGBT people and the sexual intimacy in our relationships. These two verses are the only places the word arsenokoites shows up in the New Testament. It is also the first time the word shows up in any Greek text anywhere and it wasn’t used again until much later. Yet Paul assumes his readers understood it. So it is possible that the term was used exclusively by the Christian community. So where did they get it?

Reference to Leviticus

The New Testament Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, verses translated “you shall not lie with a man as with a woman,” the author uses the words aresenos and koite. Many believe arsenokoites is Paul’s simple shorthand to refer back to these verses by combining the two words: arsenos + koite = arsenokoites.

This is what I think Paul was talking about, and I share this understanding with non-affirming scholars (see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice or Richard Davidson, The Flame of Yahweh).

I differ with them on the nature of what behavior Leviticus references. I’ve written two blogs on the topic to demonstrate that when scripture is allowed to be its own interpreter, it leads us to the conclusion that Leviticus is referring to aggressive actions for the purpose of domination through humiliation, the specific humiliation of forcibly treating men like women through abuse of power.

These acts would be wrong regardless of the gender configuration. It is difficult for those of us who have or desire loving romance with someone of the same gender to understand why our relationships would be compared to such violent acts.

Additional References to Exploitation

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul gives another indication that this relationship is an abuse of power by using the word malakoi. This is the second Greek word that is important to know, and it refers to being weak, passive, soft, or effeminate. Often it is used to describe a passive partner in a same-sex erotic encounter.

According to what is probably the best lexicon for understanding New Testament Greek (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), malakoi was often used of a catamite, a boy slave that Romans used for sex. It could also refer to pederasty, a common Roman practice in which an older man would initiate an early teenage boy into sexual experience. The boy always took the so-called passive role because the relationship was unequal.

The difference between a catamite and pederasty was not a difference in kind, but degree. A boy who was a victim of pederasty had more advantages because of it and there was less stigma attached to him, but he was still a victim of the abuse of power. Paul’s use of arsenokoites connected the contemporary Greco-Roman practices to the levitical prohibitions, all of which were based on humiliation and abuse of power.

These were not familial relationships, but sexual relationships. They involved no commitment and took advantage of difference in power and social status. They were sexually exploitative relationships taken on by men who also had wives at home. In short, the behaviors were lustful and selfishness on the part of the arsenokoites and humiliating for the powerless malakoi.

The Problem with Equating These Verses to Queer People

These relationships dishonored the sacredness of God’s creation. They violated the humanity of the boys and young men who were socially expected to accept this abuse. They insulted the wives these older men left at home. Nothing about this situation is holy or good. They are violations of the primary biblical mandate to love all people as God’s sacred creation.

For those straight folks who are reading this: If someone were to tell you your relationships were wrong because of a biblical story like the one found in Genesis 19, where Lot’s daughters get him drunk and rape him so they can get pregnant, you wouldn’t accept it. Just because the daughters are women and Lot is a man doesn’t mean it applies to you. It’s wrong because of incest and rape, not because of their genders. This much is obvious.

It’s not much different as a queer person to read that disgusting sexual practices in ancient Greece and Sodom and Gomorrah have any relevance to you and your relationships. Sure, the genders are the same, but that’s where comparisons end. Our desire isn’t to sexually dominate someone else. We don’t want to humiliate someone. We aren’t looking for a straight marriage plus a young kid on the side. These behaviors are unrelated to us and our lives.

The difficulty is that unlike opposite-sex sexuality, there are so few stories of any type of same-sex eroticism in the Bible that they all get lumped together and applied to us. That’s because we’re trying to find a direct answer for a question the Bible never directly asks. That’s dangerous.

As much as we want a “thus say the Lord,” there are all kinds of issues on which we don’t have one. Is democracy a legitimate form of government? What about socialism? Is birth control okay to use? Is healthcare a human right in the modern economy? Should there be limits on social media use? God has given us principles to apply and live by, not a manual with the answer to every question we will ever ask.

In the New Testament, they never asked whether it would be wrong for two men to marry. They never considered that women could fall in love and have a family together. The Bible does address abusive same-sex eroticism that men who were married to women were engaging in on the side. That’s what we find in these texts.

Whether you are gay or straight, the way to honor the intent of these verses is to honor the dignity and humanity of all people, to never use sexuality to exploit another human being, and to honor the commitments you have made to a partner. That is biblical sexuality.

For those of us who are queer: Go in peace. Be affirmed. These verses aren’t about us.

As someone who spent many years closeted in a Christian community that most definitely did not affirm my sexuality, I know more than most what it takes to live life by the principle that your feelings can’t be trusted.

“It’s just a feeling.” These were the words I used to distance myself from the inevitable knowledge that I was in love.

“It’s just a feeling.” I reassured myself when a silent energy passed between me and another woman.

“It’s just a feeling.” I desperately clung to these words when I longed for my friend to rest her arm across my legs, feeling I would crumble inside if she didn’t touch me.

No matter how hard I fought, how persistently I refused to think about women, how many prayers I prayed, how willing I was to be and do anything God wanted, I could still feel in my bones that women falling in love was a beautiful thing and could be a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to know it was true. I just did. So I told myself, “it’s just a feeling.”

These words are how I taught myself that I don’t matter. They became the mournful refrain that played in the background of my life until I stopped feeling and settled into a resigned depression. I lost myself, but at least I was doing the right thing.

One doubt still haunted me. Where was the abundant life, peace, and joy that I am promised?

Heartless Theology

Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion. Religious rules are taught without reference to their psychological impact. The approach is intellectual and philosophical. It has its roots in modernism, rationality, and science (and even further back to Plato). It’s not rooted in Judaism or scripture. Instead of each religious teaching being part and parcel with Jesus’ commandment to love, the rules are supposed to apply no matter how much harm they cause.

Many times since coming out I’ve been reminded of this viewpoint by people who believe I am required to ignore the suffering of my community and abstractly discuss theological issues. They want to compare love between people of the same gender to pedophilia or bestiality, and don’t think it matters that such comparisons are discriminatory. Or they believe that mental health problems aren’t theologically relevant. It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs.

But our emotional lives matter. They matter not only to us and to those who love us, they also matter theologically. Theology is a spiritual discipline. If the Holy Spirit is required to understand the scripture, that must mean that compassion and suffering matter.

Am I saying that I should get to do whatever I feel like? Does this mean I don’t have to deny myself or do things that are hard? Absolutely not! It wouldn’t be good or right for me to date women only because I want to. Not by any means.

It is not good to live a life ruled by feelings uninformed by goodness and truth. Taking feelings into account is not the same thing as being ruled by them. We should pay attention when feelings go beyond a simple desire and into the realm of significant mental health problems for a group of people. If our theology is causing depression, shame, and suicide, it’s irresponsible to carry on as if feelings don’t matter.

Violent Theology

Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What is the fruit of theology that says same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful? Here is a small sampling:

If you are straight, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you and your friends to experience depression, rejection, and shame every time the church teaches your sexuality is broken. Personally, this was my experience despite the fact that I believed and always followed by what the church taught. I never disobeyed, but that didn’t make the shame go away. Many of my queer friends have told me about being suicidal right after being told their sexuality was sinful. Would you want church leaders to consider these consequences if they happened to you or someone you love?

This is the fruit of a rotten tree. I firmly believe the promises of the Bible still apply to queer people. Fruit like depression, rejection, and suicide are heartbreaking. Those who stay in communities whose theology is a true expression of God should not be 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are outside these communities.

On the other hand, what are the fruits affirming theology? If LGBT rejecting communities increase harm, affirming communities reduce harm. Supporting same-sex marriage and affirming LGBT people is life giving for us. It’s certainly hard to see who is being harmed by same-sex love. It’s clear many are benefiting from its affirmation.

Elsewhere on this website and through many other resources you will find more sophisticated theology addressing specific texts and theological interpretations, but aren’t these matters of harm, joy, and love the gospel at its core? God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering.

Taking Responsibility

If you are non-affirming in your theology, you have a God-given responsibility to resolve this problem. It’s not enough to say, “the church should do a better job of loving people, but we have to follow the Bible,” and move on to other things. Something is seriously wrong. Non-affirming theology does not deliver on the promises of scripture.

If you are straight, and especially if you have a place in an institution that teaches non-affirming theology, it’s easy to theologize about what is right or wrong for people like me who don’t fit traditional theological constructs. It’s easy to avoid getting to know us or to go along with the prevailing culture that does not to respect and believe the things we say about ourselves and our lived experiences. It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. It’s easy to dismiss our pain, place our suffering outside the category of worthwhile information for theological study, and ignore the consequences of your theology about sexuality and gender.

It’s easier and feels better to separate theology from it’s impact on real people, but we can’t wash our hands of responsibility. Scrub until our hands are raw, the stain is apparent. Each of us is responsible for the fruit our theology. If we drive people to the depths of depression and self-hatred, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t care for the excuse: “It’s just a feeling.”

Gender, Bible, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, by James V. Brownson

James V. Brownson is eminently qualified to write a book about. He is a professor of New Testament, has served as academic dean at Western Theological Seminary, and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His book, The Bible, Gender, and Sexuality is the first affirming book someone with serious theological inclinations should read.

Brownson’s study began when his son revealed that he was gay. Believing in the authority of scripture and describing himself as in the reform tradition, Brownson wanted to understand the will on God on the matter. As often happens, when someone he loved was suffering, he could no longer ignore the questions. He went about his study to understand the truth whatever it may be.

Brownson sets out to examine the underlying moral logic of prohibitions against same-sex sexuality, arguing that such a step is essential when applying a text to one culture that originated in an entirely different culture. Without such work, religion would be incapable of progress.

Traditionalists have claimed two different themes of underlying moral logic to justify the absolute prohibition on same-sex relationships. The first is a social argument about complementarianism, that men and women have distinct roles to play and same-sex relationships are forbidden because these roles cannot be maintained. The second is biological complementarianism where men and women are biologically fitted to each other and capable of procreation.

Brownson deftly dispatches Robert Gagnon’s claim of biological fittedness in Genesis 1 & 2, pointing out that the “one flesh” statement is used of kinship ties and not the complimentary nature of male and female genitalia. He does so by pointing both to the simple meaning of the Hebrew vocabulary and a close exegetical analysis of the text. “One flesh” is also a term that God uses of his relationship with his people, it is a bond of kinship and not biological sex.

A careful examination of biblical understandings of marriage, sex, lust, celibacy, and family strengthen Brownson’s analysis and his critique of complimentarianism. His explanation of gender-based concepts of shame and honor in the New Testament and surrounding culture was easily the clearest, most helpful explanation of gender difference in sociological concepts of honor and shame that I have ever read.

Brownson’s treatment of Romans 1:26-27 is the high point of this work. His pedigree as a New Testament scholar shines clearly in this section. The exegetical, hermeneutical, and cultural material he brings into his analysis is superb.

One thing that could be challenging for some readers is that instead of making a single interpretation of Romans 1:26-27, he gives several compelling options. I agree with this approach. The text refers to something specific that the original audience would have immediately known. But from our viewpoint, there are many compelling ways to understand this passage that don’t involve universal prohibitions on same-sex sexuality.

The one critique I have is Brownson’s analysis of the levitical law. As a New Testament scholar, it isn’t surprising that this was his weakest point. In my experience, most books of affirming theology tend to take the Old Testament law less seriously than I would like. This is a reflection of Christianity at large which lacks a coherent understanding of the purpose, structure, and application of Old Testament laws and instead tends to dismiss them.

The logic of the book not only challenges traditional interpretations, Brownson builds to an underlying moral logical for sex and marriage that is cogent and compelling. Rather than simply allowing for same-sex marriage for the sake of compassion, Brownson clarifies the biblical ethic for sexuality and marriage. He summarizes, “People are not to say with their bodies what they cannot or will not say with the whole of their lives” (p. 109). That’s the foundation of biblical sexuality and marriage.

Brownson speaks to the true heart of biblical marriage, which is expressed in commitment and a sexual ethic defined by the giving of one’s self to another in a reciprocal and self-sacrificial kinship bond. He argues that such a bond is compatible with same-sex marriage, though it is not compatible with the sexual liaisons described in the bible’s six passages addressing same-sex sexual activity.

Bible, Gender, Sexuality is a true achievement. Brownson’s critiques and theological contributions make his book a must read for anyone interested in this topic.