Culture

People To Be Loved – A Review of Preston Sprinkle’s Latest Book

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I have been anticipating the release of this important and timely book for some time. I have followed the author’s blogs on the subject and listened to him talk about the project for a while now. Understanding how to love our LGBT neighbors is an extremely important topic of discussion for Christians in general, and for evangelical Christians in particular. Preston Sprinkle has gone to great lengths to ground People to Be Loved not only in exegetical and theological research, but also in the real-life stories of LGBT people, stories of people who have suffered insults and isolation or worse throughout their lives. The result of his work is an honest, and at times heart-wrenching, look at what the Bible says about the sexual ethics related to those who have same-sex attraction.

The strength of the book is in its ability to challenge people on both sides of the discussion. Far from fueling the culture wars over “gay marriage,” this book has the potential to bring people together in conversation as Sprinkle leads us in taking a fresh look at Scripture.

rainbowI read the book over a three-week span. One night when I grabbed my copy of People to Be Loved, I saw something sticking out from book like a bookmark. My six year-old had drawn a rainbow and tucked it into the book. I took it as a sign! I finished my reading of the book with hope for the church, not that we will all agree, but that we can find a way forward to love one another despite our differences.

Let me be clear: this book is not simply a pragmatic tool on how to carry on a debate about sexual ethics. Rather this book focuses on the Bible, and not merely what the Bible says, but what it means. Sprinkle argues that the debate surrounding homosexuality is not about what the Bible is saying, but what it means, because the Bible is clear in what it says. This claim is a bit over-stated as Sprinkle’s own exegesis shows. What the Bible is saying, the words it uses, is deeply entrenched in layers of cultural meaning requiring much effort to understand the key texts in this discussion. Thankfully Sprinkle has done solid work in grounding key Greek terms like pornia, malakoi, and aresenokoites in their historical context, a context which is debated among scholars.

The book is itself a conversation with others who are writing on this topic, those who are also wrestling with Scripture to determine what it means and how it informs how we love and how we live.

The book opens with a painful story, “My Name was Faggot.” It then moves on to look at marriage and creation, with an emphasis on sexual difference. I appreciate that Sprinkle has grounded the discussion in creation, a starting place for both Jesus and Paul in answering questions about marriage and gender-related concerns. From here he moves on to a discussion of the key passages where same-sex behavior is specifically mentioned. Recalling the conversations he had with LGBT people, he aptly calls them “clobber” passages as Christians have used these texts to “clobber” LGBT people. He makes a strong case for rejecting the idea held by some scholars that the Levitical law was prohibiting same-sex temple prostitution in Leviticus 18 and 20, a claim, according to Sprinkle, that has very little historical evidence. Before moving into the New Testament, Sprinkle spends time surveying sexuality in the Greco/Roman world, including the diversity of same-sex relationships in Greek literature, including monogamous same-sex relationships. This historical context also includes a brief treatment of same-sex relationships in the light of a Jewish perspective, which is univocal in considering such relationships to be outside the bounds of appropriate sexual behavior.

When bringing the reader to Jesus, Sprinkle is at his best. Jesus from the Gospels seems to have something to say to readers on both sides of the discussion. To those who are affirming of monogamous same sex relationships, Jesus has much to say about obedience. To those who are non-affirming, Jesus has much to say about love. According to Sprinkle, “Jesus doesn’t lead with the law. He leads with love—love without footnotes” (p. 76). Sprinkle devotes two chapters to discussing key passages in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10. Here he does honest academic work in dealing with the texts and responding to the interpretations of other scholars.

To those who affirm monogamous same sex relationships, Jesus has much to say about obedience. Click To Tweet

The final one-third of the book is a helpful response to many of the questions evangelicals are asking in this complex conversation. I appreciate Sprinkle’s humility in this section, as well as his attention to nuance and specificity in our language choices. He makes no straw man arguments. Like a wise sage, Sprinkle gets to the heart of matter in many of the emotionally-charged issues surrounding this discussion. He remains keenly aware of his mostly evangelical audience when he writes things like:

Like waking up from a nightmare but realizing it wasn’t a dream, gay Christians battle daily with temptations and struggles that most Christians will never experience. It is time for straight Christians to lay aside the culture war and election ballots and become life-giving agents to brothers and sisters who are hungry for love yet often come up short when they search for it in the church. (p. 157)

He describes the challenges of celibacy for gay Christians and the honest reality that marriage is not the end-all answer for issues of loneliness and isolation. He makes a strong case that what makes us image bearers of God is not getting married, but in becoming fully human.

What makes us image bearers of God is not getting married, but becoming fully human. Click To Tweet

I do wish Sprinkle would have taken a bit more time in dealing with sources within the history of the church to underscore the tradition of Christians regarding sexual ethics. He makes it clear in the beginning of the book that he is interested in Scripture over tradition and he is willing to rethink tradition in the light of Scripture. I tend to give a little more attention to tradition, particularly the Church Fathers, in interpreting Scripture, perhaps more than Sprinkle does. He does reference church history in piecing together the historical context surrounding the Greek word aresenokoitesand in his list of the arguments for the non-affirming position. I think his work would have been strengthened with an entire chapter (or more!) on sexual ethics in the Ante-Nicene church or a chapter on the history of the sacrament of marriage for example. I deeply enjoyed his humor throughout the book. I drew a smiley face in the margin of the book whenever he dropped in a humorous phrase that caught my attention like “dip my Kindle in sanitizer” or “hump anyone and anything” or “take the pill, or get snipped.” Some people may be put off by his humor, but I loved it! I like scholars with a sense of humor; it lets me know they don’t take themselves too seriously.

I have attempted not to reveal all of the conclusions Sprinkle comes to in the book, because I do not want you to label him (or this book) and relegate him to captain of one team or another. I am recommending this book and I really want you to read it! The strength of Sprinkle’s work here is his ability to speak to both sides. So I highly encourage you to read this book if you are a Christian and you have questions, whether you tend to accept the affirming or non-affirming perspective on most issues.

At the end of the day what matters most is not the issues, but people. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day what matters most is not the issues, but people—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who were created in the image of God with worth and dignity, people for whom the gospel of Jesus Christ should indeed be good news.

Order a copy of People to Be Loved here. 

Here is the trailer for the book:

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7 responses to “The Pain and the Opportunity in the SGM Scandal by David Fitch

  1. The problem, in my never humble opinion, is when leaders choose to view themselves as apart from rather than a part of the sheep. I may have written a word or two on this topic. 🙂
    And the SGM scandals are simply symptoms of this leadership malaise in North American evangelicalism.

    1. “And the SGM scandals are simply symptoms of this leadership malaise in North American evangelicalism.” – THAT is why Christians and churches should be paying close attention to this issue: not so they can throw stones and feel holier-than-SGM, but so they can have their eyes open to the weaknesses and failings in structures that set churches up for this kind of think to happen.

  2. David,This post is like a scalpel cutting through all the rhetoric tossing going back and forth. I’m convinced this is not a Neo-Reformed issue, it’s a relational-ecclesiastical-eco-system issue. We don’t know how to create a way of life for leadership that is deeply submerged in authentic, vulnerable, mutually submissive community (I’m not talking cold sin-management accountability groups). We are afraid of this paradigm because we have soooo much riding on our leaders (budgets, buildings, movements, non-profits, vicarious spiritual strength).

    I can’t tell you how many pastors I meet with who say they have no community and go outside their local parish to be transparent. Funny thing, I’ve met with pastors who come across humble and transparent from the pulpit but are completely isolated relationally. This is jacked up and exposes that our churches run more like machines than gardens.

    This is how most of our churches are arranged from top to bottom. Not only do pastors not know how to live deeply into people and seek to submit their whole lives to localized spiritual family, most non-clergy people don’t know how to either. Let me say it this way “pastors don’t want to submit their choices, ideas and their brokenness and neither do the rest of us”.The organizational system just exacerbates this issue.

  3. The way forward in faithfulness depends totally on this key thought – I hope we don’t miss it: “Don’t’ be gleeful you all who have an axe to grind. Instead let’s use this moment to examine ourselves and our churches concerning our own lives, the structure and culture of leadership in our own churches.”
    Defensiveness on the one hand or accusations on the other evacuate the space for repentance. May this event reveal to us all the ways we are wrong and backwards today.

  4. David
    You write…
    “How long are we going to look the other way every time another mega church pastor has another moral failure? There’s something bigger going on here than just another isolated pastor who fell. We must ask whether our leaders have been set up on a false pedestal”

    Hmmm? Today’s – Pastor/Leader/Reverends – “set up on a false pedestal?”

    Yup… 😉

    Hasn’t anyone ever wondered? Why? In the Bible?
    NOT one of “His Disciples” was called to be a – Pastor/Leader/Reverend?
    NOT one of “His Disciples” had the “Title/Position” – Pastor/Leader/Reverend?

    Seems, In the Bible, Jesus is the only “ONE” with the “Title” Shepherd.

    Ex 20:7
    Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;
    for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

    Could part of this problem be?
    Todays “Pastor/Leader/Reverends” are taking the name of the Lord our God?

    In Vain???

  5. When I finally recognized the hand of God working throughout my entire community, at age 17, I committed to God that I may relate with the Truth. I am 69 now and have suffered and enjoyed a very full mortal life convincingly called and accepted to be one of so many disciples of Jesus Christ. I have maintained denominational membership within “churches” adhering to many different theologies. I have worked as a trained and practiced lay clergy within each of those structured and restrictive belief systems while getting paid to be a trouble shooter as a physical science engineer. …my resume…
    In my too short lifetime to really be an expert in anything I have noted throughout mankind that if we give an organization a name that organization becomes an entity with a life of its own. We see this in our “churches” and we see this in our corporations and we see this in our countries. All distinctive life forms have a yet to be well defined though very clear instinct to survive “at all costs”.

    With the advent of the Internet names take on a fluid and often anonymous designation for the participants within that community. Especially from those seeking information while posting questions and comments. Don’t like your Facebook persona (?), change it. Don’t like your email designation (?), change it. A real face and fingerprints do not have to be applied to one’s Internet persona. Cyber lives of the same person are born and die and born again but the pursuit by one heart and mind continues uninterrupted.

    Churches of man have always had scandal but without the Internet and instant news they could be much more easily contained. It more often than not took historians with or without agendas to uncover those scandals well after the violated were around to forgive the church’s transgressions and its pursuant cover up to protect its survival.

    We disciples of Jesus Christ who find sanctuary within His church need no other structure than His commands. He commands me in what will surely promote survival of physical, mental and spiritual life through all eternity. He commands me to love my Lord God, myself, my neighbor as my self and my enemy. The Decalogue with all its limitations of interpretive word shows me a way to begin to do that and the Holy Spirit sharing my heart and mind guides me on that path throughout the eternal journey. Oh yes, He, also, commands me to make all whose hearts and minds are open throughout the whole world students of His equal in privilege to the rest of His student body. I am not called to make His disciples “Christians” but am called to make disciples from Christians, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, Atheists and all of man whom He leads me to.

    Our churches can be really, really good to promote God’s will but not ever when we have to defend our church at the sacrifice of our children. There is one more definite command Jesus has clearly given me and that is that I must come to our Creator as a child ready and anxious to serve Gods’ all knowing love for all of Gods’ creation.

    Would we expect God to sacrifice children to protect Gods’ good name (?), ask God yourself in your name and Gods’ name. If God has does that make it correct for Gods’ children to sacrifice children to protect their good name when they know not how to raise them back to whole?

    What does Jesus Christ teach and live through each of our lives on this Earth as His active apprentices?

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