Why God’s Sexual Ethic Is Good for the World

Rosaria Butterfield, Sam Allberry, and Jackie Hill Perry discuss in what sense God’s sexual ethic is not just true, but also beautiful and good for the world.

Sam Allberry

Sam Allberry explains how the message of Jesus on marriage is life-giving, at the General Synod of the Church of England.

Mary Hulse

The Rev. Mary Hulse is a Chaplain at Calvin College, an institution of the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In a series on relationships in the light of the resurrection, she delivers this chapel sermon to the students and faculty which clarifies the positions taken by Christians in the church vis-a-vis LBGTQ brothers and sisters and their relationships. She speaks of "position A" (those who would be affirming of same-sex erotic relationships) and "position B" (those who would hold to the biblical view of homosexual practice as sin and the call to celibacy for single people). In a presentation which is eminently fair and respectful to both sides, Hulse makes a plea for the church to become a more helpful place to LBGTQ people and single people as they live out their Christian discipleship. The text of her sermon is taken from 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6. It is not weighted toward any conclusion, but is very helpful in giving a generous presentation of both points of view in order to foster their understanding one of the other, and in incisively flagging the most urgent pastoral and existential issues.

Kevin DeYoung — What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality

Kevin DeYoung is the author of What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality (2015), a very clear and accessible little volume covering the main topics under debate as the churches look at sexual ethics in relation to Christian marriage, Christian discipleship, and Christian leadership. He is also minister of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. In this talk, DeYoung looks specifically at why it is essential for the church to make up its mind on this issue — not to treat it as a matter in which there can be liberty from congregation to congregation or presbytery to presbytery. He argues that what is at stake is the authority of Scripture, the Grand Narrative of the gospel, and the lives of same-sex-attracted Christians whose walk with God we make more difficult when we affirm desires with which they struggle. Secondly, he looks at the charge of justice and fairness. Is it fair to ask homosexual people to live lonely, unfulfilled lives? Of course! If that’s the best the church can offer. But the church calls all people — equally — to moderate their sexual impulses according to the Word of God, and to enter into the larger life God has for us. This is a very timely contribution to the discussion, as it captures the debate as it is framed at this moment, in terms of justice, exclusion, and pragmatic searches for a “third way.”

Human Sexuality Forum
The Presbytery of Hamilton hosted a day-long forum entitled “Speaking Truth in Love: A Forum on Human Sexuality” on Saturday, January 30th, 2016, at Chedoke Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, Ontario. The videos from this forum are now available online on YouTube.

Talk #1 – Setting the Tone – Rev. Dr. Clyde Ervine

How are we to talk respectfully and honestly about our deeply held differences? Examining the teaching of Scripture together in a way that is civil, gracious, and generous.

The transcript of this presentation is also posted here.

Talk #2 – Presenting the Traditional Position – Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston

(i) How has he come to the view he has on human sexuality in the light of the biblical witness?
(ii) What does a biblical theology of human sexuality and marriage look like?
(iii) How does Scripture point the way to how this is all to be worked out in the leadership and ministry of the church?

The transcript of this presentation is also posted here.

Talk #3 – Presenting the Revisionist Position – Rev. Hugh Donnelly – is available here.

Talk #4 – Responding to the Traditional Position – Rev. Wes Denyer – is available here.

Talk #5 – Responding to the Revisionist Position – Rev. Karla Wubbenhorst

The transcript of this presentation is also posted here.

Talk #6 – Question and Answer Period

Here is a reflection from a pastor in Quebec on his viewing of the video from the day at Chedoke:

    If my Session is any indication, I would say that the Hamilton debate has now effectively replaced Body, Mind and Soul as the denominational reference point/benchmark for our discussion on this subject. After three months, I am the only person in the congregation who has actually read B.M.&S., despite all my prodding in that direction. It is a tedious and tendentious bit of work – and in the wrong medium to engage the debate/discussion it calls for. The prospect of organizing a congregational study day around it had zero appeal to folks here. But there would/will be a crowd to watch the Hamilton five go at it (respectfully) and to use that as a basis for our own discussion. My hunch is that is also about where the Presbytery of Montreal is. It has taken us awhile to work up any enthusiasm to re-engage this subject. But a study day is now planned for April.

One of the prime organizers of the Forum summarizes the day this way:

    The direction of the day in Hamilton was to respect people holding different views as followers of Jesus Christ and to biblically engage their understanding of human sexuality in a spirit that valued their contribution albeit disagreeing with it. To that end Kevin, Hugh, Karla, Wes, and Clyde offered me and, I believe, the PCC a positive model of the respectful dialogue this discussion deserves.

Christopher Roberts
Christopher Roberts is a theologian, moral philosopher/ethicist and former journalist (PBS researcher). He speaks here about his landmark book, Creation and Covenant: the significance of sexual difference in the moral theology of marriage . This book is the premiere survey of the idea of gender complementarity in Western theological thought. His major chapters on Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, Karl Barth and John Paul II, show why sexual difference/gender complementarity was considered essential to the theological and moral vision for marriage by the main architects of the Western Christian tradition. Roberts’ journey of enquiry began with the sense that both liberal and conservative voices in the church were talking past one another and were not talking, indeed, very theologically at all. His search for theologically satisfying answers led him to consider questions which he first found absurdly speculative — were gender and procreation part of the original creation or of the fall? Would we continue to have sexually differentiated bodies in heaven? — but he came to see how these questions in fact probe the key issue. Is our embodiedness secondary to identity or is it essential? Roberts concludes that it is essential. In the course of his 25-minute talk Roberts concentrates mainly on Augustine, and his vision for gender and sexuality that works from ecclesiology and eschatology back to the individual, integrating the economies of creation and redemption. It may sound dry and inaccessible, but it isn’t! Roberts throws out enough teasers about things like pastoral responses to people with taboo sexual desires, gender as vocation, courtship as discernment, the politics of transgender, celibacy as an essential part of a world-view that upholds marriage, gay adoption, and IVF, that energetic questioners make for a riveting 30 minute discussion once the initial presentation is over.

Robert Gagnon: Jesus and Homosexuality
In this first part of his address to the Family Research Council, Dr. Gagnon considers the oft-heard claim that since Jesus didn’t say anything explicitly about homosexual relationships, he may have been more queer-affirming than the Christian tradition which followed him. Gagnon offers here a close analysis of the Mark 10/Matthew 19 text where Jesus cites Genesis 1 and 2 by way of upholding the one-flesh union of man and woman in marriage, and prohibiting divorce and remarriage for any cause. From this foundation, Gagnon unpacks the logic of Levitical and rabbinical (ie. from the rabbi, Jesus) sexual ethics. His core conclusion is that Jesus’ implicit teaching on homosexuality speaks volumes and that he was only silent in terms of explicit teaching, because no one was promoting homosexual practice within contemporary Judaism; its proscription was universally understood. Robert (Rob) Gagnon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a ruling elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). His book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: texts and hermeneutics is universally acknowledged as a meticulous piece of scholarship and the gold standard articulation of the entire Bible’s positive witness to male/female intimacy and its corresponding proscription of same sex eroticism. In fact Gagnon’s scope takes in much more than a close analysis of the Biblical texts — he also has a thorough knowledge of what classical and patristic writers say concerning homosexuality, and also what is emerging from the most recent social science and empirical research.

Robert Gagnon: Paul and Homosexuality
In this second part of his address to the Family Research Council, Rob Gagnon speaks to the “new knowledge arguments” which are used to suggest that Paul’s negativity toward same sex erotic relationships in Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6 applied to a narrower range of homosexual activity than we know today, or arose from cultural factors which are no longer relevant. Gagnon unpacks the logic of Romans 1 and explains why it constitutes an “absolute” argument against homosexual practice for the Christian church. Gagnon not only works closely with the biblical text, but also offers insight into the cultural world of the Apostle Paul — the context in which his writings should be interpreted. Robert (Rob) Gagnon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a ruling elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). His book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: texts and hermeneutics is universally acknowledged as a meticulous piece of scholarship and the gold standard articulation of the entire Bible’s positive witness to male/female intimacy and its corresponding proscription of same sex eroticism. In fact Gagnon’s scope takes in much more than a close analysis of the Biblical texts; he also has complete knowledge of what classical and patristic sources as well as modern social science and empirical research are saying about the subject.

Questions to Robert Gagnon
Following his talk on Jesus, Paul and Homosexuality to the Family Research Council Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a ruling elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), fields three questions. The first concerns the theory of gender complementarity: is there something missing in men and women, and if so, what? The second concerns the argument advanced by Matthew Vines that the expectation placed by the church upon homosexually oriented persons that they remain celibate is unreasonable if they are not gifted for such. The third concerns what it means to be loving and affirming of self-identified homosexuals when you do not affirm what they do.

N.T. Wright
N.T. (Tom) Wright is one of the most respected and prolific scholars and churchmen alive today. His field is New Testament studies. His academic career has taken him on a distinguished course through Oxford, McGill, and now St. Andrew’s. His ecclesiastical career (Church of England) has seen him in posts at Cambridge, Lichfield and Durham where he was latterly the bishop. In this short clip he speaks about the foundation of “man plus woman” marriage in the Grand Narrative of the Bible, and how both general and special revelation attest its significance. He also remarks on the politics of redefining “key words,” which he argues no State is competent to do, given the embedding of marriage by God in the very fabric of the created order.

Rosaria Butterfield
Rosaria Butterfield is the author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English professor’s journey into Christian faith and Openness Unhindered: further thoughts of an unlikely convert about sexuality identity and union with Christ. Here she shares the remarkable story of how she came to Christian faith through reading the Bible and through friendship with a Reformed Presbyterian pastor, Ken Smith, while teaching queer theory and 19th century English literature at Syracuse University and living in a lesbian relationship. Today she is married to Kent Butterfield, a Presbyterian minister, and is mother to 4 children. Dr. Butterfield has profound things to say about Christian friendship and community, and about the way her reading of Scripture helped her to frame the question of sexual identity differently, while continuing to live with homosexual desire.

Mark’s Story
Mark, a Christian man who lived many years in the gay community, reflects on how life can be full even without sex. “Can God be good and deny me sex?” Does Christ bring about transformation even when homosexual desire continues? What is it like to live in this difficult way, and what are the joys that are found through obedience?

Tim Keller
Renowned Presbyterian apologist, pastor and author, Timothy Keller, is confronted by David Eisenbach with an opinion commonly held by secular social liberals: Christianity teaches hatred of homosexuals, doesn’t it, and the view that those committing homosexual acts will certainly go to hell? Keller’s answer stresses the command given to Christians which is to love their (gay) neighbor, the humility that comes from an awareness and experience of saving grace, and a clarification of the sense in which homosexuality is sin/a contravening of God’s design for human flourishing. Keller makes the important point that homosexual sin has a “sin beneath the sin” and is thus a fruit sin, rather than a root sin. And this root sin is one which many pharisaical Christians share.

Sam and Vaughn’s Story
Sam Allberry and Vaughn Roberts are two church of England vicars who live with same sex attraction. Sam is the author of the book Is God anti-gay. Both speak passionately about the joy of life in Christ, the hard obedience which they feel the Bible enjoins upon them, the pain of that life at certain points, yet the fairness of it in terms of universal brokenness and everyone’s struggle to live faithfully in the sexual area. Indeed they express gratitude for the ways in which their struggle has refined them. Vaughn comments on the use of the language of “same sex attracted” rather than gay, since “gay” tends to be a term of identity more than “same sex attracted” which describes an experience of life. Both men’s stories stress the importance of friendship and the support they experienced from the church when they “came out” as same sex attracted.

Wesley Hill
Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting: reflections on Christian faithfulness and homosexuality answers personal questions about how he arrived at the conclusion that the faithful way for him to live as a self-identified gay man was celibately. He outlines how the marital theme is a unifying one for the grand narrative of the Bible, and how his captivation with that vision provides the inner dynamic for the way he lives. He shares the critical role of friends with whom he could live honestly, and supportive Christian community, as he speaks of his Christian journey. Unlike Sam and Vaughn, Wesley does use the term “gay” to describe himself, but says that it is an adjective, not a noun — his core identity is in Christ, as one of the baptized (hence “washed” in the title of his book). “Waiting” refers to this already/not yet paradoxical time in which we all live. Transformation occurs for the Christian during this period but for some it will mean a change in sexual desire, for others not. To seek to engineer such a change through conversion therapies is something Dr. Hill opposes. His comments on the charge of “cruelty” often levied against the church by those who cannot countenance its traditional non-affirming stance, are also profound. Dr. Hill describes himself as a “classical Christian” which, together with the term “Apostolic” is one PSALT prefers to “traditional” or “conservative.”