Notes for Calvin College Talk

Ron Justin

I will be speaking this evening at Calvin College, in dialogue with my friend Justin Lee, about same-sex marriage in the Church.

Because of the limits of the format, we had to talk about Christian teaching about homosexuality in broad brush strokes, giving the overall picture, but not addressing a lot of details. However, I have written a lot about these topics over the years, and this post will help point interested readers in the right direction.

Back in 2003, Justin invited me to write an essay defending the traditional view that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and he wrote a companion essay arguing that same-sex unions are compatible with Christian belief. They were published online together as The Great Debate.

Justin and I both profess Christ. We agree on many Christian doctrines. And, we disagree on same-sex marriage, which is one of the most profoundly divisive issues facing the Church today.

Christians are divided about many things. Spiritual Friendship is an ecumenical blog bringing together Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox writers. Although we agree that God intended marriage to be only the union of a man and a woman, we are divided by many other things.

Christian unity does not just mean welcoming every belief as just as good as any other. One of the things I have always appreciated about Justin is that he is willing to engage in serious discussion about what the Bible says about love, sex, and marriage.

To begin with, we shared a bit about our own stories. I have previously written about how I started to realize I wasn’t attracted to women. And this post, perhaps the most important for setting the stage for my later thinking about chastity, relates more about my experience of falling in love with a friend in college.

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church, first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

In addition to the Great Debate linked above, I’ve written a number of other posts about sexual ethics.

The shortest and most accessible overview is Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?

I’ve written two posts on the particular subject of how to interpret the Greek word arsenokoitai: Pederasty and Arsenokoitai and Why Did Paul Object to the Arsenokoitai?

I’ve also written several posts defending Spiritual Friendship and Revoice against conservative critics which help to defend my theological project: In Defense of Spiritual Friendship and Revoice and Am I a Sinner Saved by Grace?

Justin and I disagree about sexual ethics. This is, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 6, a serious matter which can exclude from heaven. But many other theological debates are serious, yet as Christians we should strive toward unity in truth, pursued with charity. I hope that our conversation made some small contribution to that, and that these links will help those who are interested in learning more to explore these questions in more depth.

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