[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Steven Kindle] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
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Is Homosexuality a Gift of God?
Opening Statement by John Rankin
Steven, thank you, and good evening to each person here.
Is homosexuality a gift of God?
I will be making my presentation without reference to anything that Steven said tonight, but we did do one forum earlier at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas. So I will give some reference to some positions he argued there over the issue of same-sex marriage.
But I am in the position of saying "no", that homosexuality is not a gift of God. And therefore I have to argue the negative. I do not believe that any negative can be honestly argued unless it's based on a prior positive. Therefore I am saying "no" to something that hurts a positive because of a prior commitment to that positive.
Let me pose one question that I think is ultimately determinative. I understand that unbroken trust is the fulfillment of human nature. Let's think abbout this for a second. Who in family and human community does not want to have fully trustworthy relationships? Does anyone want something less than that? I will circle back to the ability of people to experience trust and the foundations relating to heterosexuality in that context.
In February of 1995 I addressed a similar subject at Yale Divinity School. We sought to have a forum with another interlocutor but no one was willing. So they invited me to address an audience that was standing room only and overwhelmingly on the other side of the issue. I made a simple observation at Yale, historically a Congregational school. I asked the audience there, students and faculty alike, do you share with me the same assumption that the Bible on its own terms is defined by three doctrines that equal the story of Genesis 1 through 3. These doctrines or teachings are creation, sin and redemption. In other words, God sets forth in Genesis 1 and 2 a good order of creation. And Genesis 3, due to man and woman's free will, they reverse that order, they break it. Creation, sin and then redemption. The prophecy of redemption from Genesis 3 through to its completion at the end of Revelation is a reversal of the reversal back to the original goodness and promises of Genesis 1 and 2. Creation, sin and redemption.
In asking that question I was not asking do other people share my assumptions about the inspiration of scripture. Rather I was asking them, is this how the Bible represents itself? They all agreed that was the case. I moved from there and I said, if we're going to say, and they were saying, that Jesus as the Redeemer affims homosexuals as homosexuals, as a gift given by God, who is Jesus the Redeemer? What does he redeem us from and why? Does he redeem us from sin? Yes. What is sin? It's the brokenness of trust between God and man, between man and woman, between God and woman back in Genesis chapter 3. And therefore the redemption that Jesus brings restores us to the unbroken trust in Genesis 1. No one disputes that understanding that that is how the Bible understands itself there in that audience, and also in my work at Harvard University where one of the most skeptical scholars in the world would say, well you know, he doesn't believe that the Bible holds together. But it is the story of creation and the repair of a broken creation. So the Bible on its own terms is understandable in that framework.
Now, the next question is this. When we say, "Is homosexuality a gift of God?", we have to ask, who is God? Now Steve says he believes in the God of the Bible. That's the God I'm speaking about. But the question is, who is representing the God of the Bible on the terms that scripture brings to us? And so the question is, if homosexuality is a gift of God given by God, and the word grace in the Hebrew and the Greek is the same as word gift in English. If God gives the gift of homosexuality, where is it to be found in the order of creation? I said to the students and faculty there at Yale Divinity School, I said believe it's not to be found. But if you can show me in Genesis chapter 1 and 2, the order of creation, the explicit or even implicit presence of homosexuality, then my position will be changed. And no one was able to do so.
The fun of doing a prior forum with Stephen, is he has made the most creative attempt to try and say yes to this question. Let me address a little bit about how he said it in our conversation before.
Stephen is arguing that in Genesis chapter 2 God gave Adam the desire and freedom to marry a goat if he wanted to. That's what Stephen said to me over breakfast after our last forum. That had Adam chosen a goat or some other animal, that would have been fine with God. There's a lot of questions that come out of that possibility. I won't examine those right now. But that was the theological observation.
Now, I understand Genesis 1 and 2 as being complementary. Genesis chapter 1 is the grand design of creation. It is good, good, good, good, good. Then finally, as the completion of creation, as God goes from the most remote to the most immediate, the lowest form of life to the highest form of life, each form of life reproducing after its own kind. You get to the highest forms of the animals, each after their own kind, then Yahweh-Elohim makes man and woman after his own kind. Therefore we are the image of God.
In Genesis chapter 2 what we have is the first covenant with the first man before the first woman is made. There is a reason for that. When the woman is made it applies to both. And it’s a covenant of freedom to receive God's goodness. What we have in Stephen's thought from our prior forum is an understanding, he didn't use the term tonight, of process theology. Or that God experiments in the process of creation. If we look at Genesis chapter 1 verse 3: and God said let there be light. What type of experimentation do we see in that language. If there was an experimentation and it failed, where is it recorded. Then we move all the way through the certainty of creation at the end of that chapter, and he says let us make man in our image. What we have in Genesis chapter 2 is the details of the first covenant to the first man. And the first man is made in God's image and he is given dominion over the planet. He is given freedom of choice to name the animals. But that’s all he’s called to do. He is told ahead of time, God says it is not good for man to be alone. What’s powerful about the biblical Genesis in contrast with all pagan religious origin texts is it lays out goodness that no pagan origin text can grasp. They assume war and distrust from the outset. Genesis does not assume that. So when Adam is lonely and God says it not good for him, the not good is his present state. Why? Because God is teaching Adam a very simple issue back to the theological grand design of Genesis 1: Adam, you are not it. You by yourself are not the image of God. Then he has him name the animals. Adam having a very good nose, decided he didn’t want to mate with any of them. Being a mathematical genius since sin had not yet interrupted his life, discovered the animals were in twos and he was in ones, and he was lonely. So God showed him, and this ratifies Genesis, that he is not made in the image of an animal nor is he an animal. The reason God was teaching him this was to preserve him from folly later on. So when the woman is made, out of Adam’s very substance -- in the Hebrew substance of my substance -- he sees his equal, he sees his complement and we have the first poem in human history.
What we have therefore in the assumption in Genesis, and I jump ahead at this point into Christian theology, the understanding of the Trinity, is the three who are one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are three persons in one God with full equality between themselves. We see hints of this in the Old Testament, particularly the fact that Yahweh-Elohim’s name means he who is greater than space, time and number. He is greater than a monad deity as in other concepts. So as the three are one in unbroken trust and unbroken relationship, so the two become one and this is the conclusion of Genesis 2, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, that is, leaving one household, be joined to his wife, that is from another household, and the two become one flesh. What is assumed in this text from the beginning is complementarity and equality is the basis for humanity. So we have to ask ourselves, is the Bible true in what it claims for itself? If not, who judges? When we ask ourselves, the Bible on its own terms, is it something that we can not interpret, or is it something that interprets itself. I do believe that if we are honest to the exegetical work of grasping the original intent of the authors it is very, very clear. What I’m saying here very clearly is Genesis 1 is the grand design, the completion of which is man and woman in his image, who are not animals, they are above being animals. Genesis chapter 2 is the man discovering that he is lonely and indeed he is not the full image bearer of God. He is not equal in his humanity without his equal complement of the woman and hence we have the conclusion of Genesis chapter 2.
In a larger context we can ask, what is the biblical record about homosexuality itself. There are many texts in the Bible that address this and I won’t spend a lot of time on them right now. But I’m delighted in our Q&A tonight if you have any questions, whether Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, Romans, First Corinthians, or other texts, I’m glad to address them. A year and a half ago, two hundred ministers in Connecticut on nine-days notice, we took out a full page advertisement in the Hartford Courant, copies of which I have with me tonight, where we said yes to man and woman in marriage, and no to same-sex marriage. The first part of our argument dealt with unalienable rights and their relationship to marriage. That was the public argument. The second part of our presentation was, what does the Bible say about homosexuality? We were very clear to articulate from the outset that all people have the same unalienable rights, life, liberty and property, which equals the power to pursue happiness, given by God. We as evangelical ministers affirm that for all people no matter how much their religious belief or their sexual identity differs from our own. I’ve said this in many forums and I’ll say it again tonight. I don’t look at a homosexual person as a homosexual. I look at them as a man or woman made in God’s image. I disagree with the homosexuality. But because they are made in God’s image they deserve my finest respect including the freedom to debate an issue like this. But I’ll go a step further. If any homosexual person were ever in a situation where his or her life was in jeopardy I would not hesitate to risk my life to protect their life. Not because of issues of sexuality, but because of issues of a common humanity. My belief is that common humanity and trust between man and woman, between man and woman and God, is rooted in the gift of heterosexuality. I lobby positively for that understanding. But, how does the Bible sum up this issue? It nowhere says homosexuality is a gift of God. In fact, it is against it. Here’s the summation that we published in that affirmation a year and a half ago. That there are four points salient to a biblical understanding.
1. In the
biblical order of creation, God designed human sexuality uniquely
for the marriage of one man and one woman in mutual fidelity.
that, in all of antiquity, the Jewish people with their scriptures were
the only people ever to say no to homosexuality. Every other religious
origin text, every other culture, explicitly or implicitly permitted
it. So this is quite something. The only text in antiquity that says
no to homosexuality, and there are those today trying to say that it
When I was studying at Harvard Divinity School back in the late 1980s, I was doing my thesis in ethics and public policy. I then headed up New England’s largest evangelical pro-life ministry. My wife and I had three sons, our daughter was yet to arrive. I was in a class on feminist ethics and I clearly was a different sort of person. I was one of two men out of seventeen, the only married man, and I was about ten years older than everyone else. We interacted among ourselves on the issue of feminist ethics. During lunch one day maybe two to four weeks after we began the term, three of my fellow students came up to me, each women, and they said John, for an evangelical you’re a nice guy. For them that was an oxymoron theretofore. I didn’t quite understand why but that’s what they told me. I understand a little bit more now I think. Then they brought up a topic that we’d never discussed before. They said John, the three of us are lesbians. Every lesbian we know has been physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused by some man in her early years. Now this is not a statistical claim for every lesbian or even every male homosexual. But rather this was a testimony given in integrity. I do know there is large truth to this from various sources. What was my response when I heard this? My response was one of prayer. I said, dear God above, has the church heard this testimony, or do we just condemn? I think it is also important to note, and we make this clear in our minister’s affirmation, that most people who go into heterosexual promiscuity grew up in the same sort of familial dysfunction, whether passive or active abuse, the absence of a loving and present father is an overwhelming reality. And therefore this just doesn’t define homosexuals. To me, if we want to have the healthiest lifestyle, the modeling of our parents is crucial. When the father so overwhelmingly is absent and some other male comes in and gives abuse, I believe that’s the source of the greatest evil in human history.
Back to the issue of my starting point and my conclusion point. Unbroken trust is the fulfillment of human nature. Is that what we pursue? What we have in Genesis is we have God with unbroken trust in himself. He gives to Adam and Eve that unbroken trust because of mutuality and complementarity. If you go all the way through to the cross, when God the Father turned his back on Jesus his son, and Jesus becomes sin for us and is separated from God, why is it that Jesus doesn’t forsake God at this point? He has given up all power of deity. He has no supernatural resource whatsoever according to the scriptures. I submit to you the reason is an eternity of unbroken trust. No matter what comes against us, if we have trust that has not been sullied, we hold to that trust. What we have in Genesis is Yahweh-Elohim, the Lord God, starts with an act of giving to the man. He discovers he’s alone, he is not full, he is not made in the animal’s image. When Eve is made, Adam gives to Eve as his equal, and the cycle of giving has been initiated. She is free therefore to give back to her husband, they both give to each other forever with that initiative to give, and therefore to give back to God in worship. We have one of two choices in life: give and it shall be given, and that’s the model in Genesis 1 and 2, or take before you are taken, which is what all pagan antiquity is all about. We only take before being taken if we’ve been taken beforehand if trust has been broken. The uniqueness of scripture is unbroken trust produces man and woman that has that trust between themselves and with God. And then it breaks when they choose to break that relationship. Every other source, including those that support homosexuality, begin not with complementarity, but with broken trust. In fact if we look at this issue we hear about diversity in the debate over homosexuality. A woman and a woman are not diverse in their sexuality, nor are a man and a man. Man and woman equals the true diversity because true and healthy diversity serves unity and that’s precisely the conclusion point of Genesis 2. Out of that unity comes the blessing in a healthy marriage in Genesis of producing children.
Finally thought here. Why do we have the great language in the New Testament of the Father and the Son. I submit to you that it’s men who leave women due to reasons of sexual promiscuity that leads to abuse of children and leads to the abortion ethos, it leads to brokenness of human sexuality. Therefore my biggest concern in the face of this issue is the godly manhood. We have that modeled for us in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Is homosexuality a gift of God? Nothing in the biblical text even hints at that possibility. It says otherwise. Are all image bearers loved by God equally? Yes, and hopefully that’s my agenda tonight. Thank you. [audience applause]
[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Steven Kindle] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]