The McLaren-Driscoll Exchange on “the Homosexual Question”: On Posing a Different Question

I found the Jan 23rd McLaren-Driscoll exchange on the Out of Ur blog concerning “the Homosexual question” to be telling. The vitriolic rhetoric that flowed forth on both sides in the comments was revealing. Frankly I confess I have been scared to comment because no matter what one says on this, it seems it cannot help but discharge a tirade of hate your way from one side or the other within the evangelical and Christian community. I think this in itself reveals some things about the disarray in our American protestant Christian Community. Nonetheless, I learned some things from it all regarding the “homosexual question” and how we must go on in this broken world we are confronted with everyday.

First, I learned we desperately need to learn how to talk amidst disagreement. Duh! Ok It’s obvious. Yet to do this, we need to have a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and His Lordship over the church in times of disagreement. We need to be able to listen without clamoring to take up a side. The truth will only be won, in the sense of bringing a unity, if we can listen to each other. I have no doubt that Mark Driscoll could have learned something from Brian McLaren and equally vice versa. But as it stands, this issue is so dividing that it appears we still can’t listen well to each other. With all due respect, I think pastor Driscoll’s rant was heavy on entertainment, light on the love needed to further dialogue for the Kingdom.

Second, I learned from Mark Driscoll and then from Dennis Belkofer (Out of Ur post Feb 6), whom I have personally known as a friend, that the best way to minister love to a person may not be to withhold a judgment that is both clear, truthful and loving. Pastor Driscoll suggests, in his own way, that if we offer confusion for those looking for a direction to be oriented to, we are not really loving people and we are not offering the saving gospel. We are confusing them into hopelessness all the more. It is here where I humbly confess that I see the Scriptures and/or the history of the church as straightforward on the moral status of gay relations. And so with all due respect, I can’t agree with Brian when he suggests we pay attention to more “scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we’ll speak.” And I can’t sympathize with Doug Pagitt, if indeed Driscoll has correctly characterized him in his quote, that we have a culture “that knows more about the genetic, social and cultural issues surrounding sexuality and gender than any previous culture.” I have read too much Foucault to believe more science, genetics or psychology will help us “progress” in truth in regard to this issue. I have gleaned from Foucault (a practicing gay), Deleuze and other post modern writers that desire is not innate but technologized always towards some end. I have learned that the reason gay and lesbian identity may be so important to the Western world and an issue in the church (as opposed to Africa or S. America) is the same reason that preference, choice, orientation and lifestyle have become so central to life in Western consumer capitalism and democracy. I therefore think we all at the end of modernity should have less confidence in modern science, genetics, historical studies and the human sciences to lead us to moral clarity, not more.
Instead I see the crucial issue to be centered on what these postmodern writers illumine about desire. They lead each of us to ask, out of what orientation are we going to be shaped when it comes to sexual desire? What technologies, what pulsating forces of capitalism will we allow to be the primary shapers of our desire. Will the church itself and her worship take up her place as the shaper of desire towards God and His glory. If the church of Christ has any hope of being such a shaper of desire in the midst of the consumerist forces of capitalism, idolatry and personal narcissism, we must somehow also be a community of desire that offers a clear (re-)orientation to all sexual desire that is not directed out of His glory. This requires being able top say what we believe is faithful to our Lord in respect to the “homosexual question”

None of this negates however what I learned from Brian McLaren. So thirdly I learned from Brian the necessity of pastoral response. I learned the necessity of grace. I learned I agree with the sentiment of Brian McLaren put in this way: if you cannot speak the truth meaningfully with love, it is better not to say it all. It will sound like clanging symbols (1 Cor 13.1). I believe a majority of gay and lesbian peoples are injured hurting people who have been victimized through various kinds of abuse in their upbringings and in culture. Many walk wounded and hurt beyond belief. In this regard, I agree with McLaren, that we the church may need to take 5 years to become the kind of people that can love and welcome the broken hearted and wounded souls of the gay and lesbian worlds into our midst. Not to contradict myself, I don’t believe we need more time to study science or Biblical studies, I think we need more time to become the kind of people we need to be as a community of Christ sufficient to be able to say the things we are called to say in loving ways that will sufficiently allow people to understand why we are saying it, how we are saying it and the life to which we are actually all being called into in regard to sexuality in our times. I think this may have been what Brian was aiming for. I may not always agree with Brian, but he has been a friend, a support to me personally as a pastor and writer. To me he gets how our words on this subject simply don’t do ANYTHING until we can embody grace, love and the salvation in Christ to all sexually broken and abused peoples, including everyone already in the church.

How then to go on? This is what I propose: Let us, the emerging churches, the “younger evangelicals” and all communities of Christ who seek to be missional to the gay and lesbian worlds, direct our attention to a different question when it comes to “the homosexual question. Let us spend our time on the question, “what kind of people should we be to welcome gay and lesbian people into the redemptive and healing salvation of God in Christ for sexuality?” Let us listen to each other. Let us listen to the postmodern writers who tell us it is our communities and cultures that form desire. And let us spend sufficient time (5 years?) to discern what kind of community we need to be to both speak what we are called to say and be the kind of welcoming and redeeming community that can say it as “good news.”

This question, “what kind of people should we be to welcome gay and lesbian people into the redemptive and healing salvation of God in Christ for sexuality?” is merely a play on Stanley Hauerwas’ same words regarding abortion. Instead of dealing with the abortion issue independently of the church, making a pronouncement from God, Hauerwas, a person opposed to abortion, posed the question, “what kind of people should we be to welcome children into the world?” His point in Community of Character (p.198) was not merely to say we needed to examine the way we love people who have fallen victim to the so-called “unwanted pregnancy.” His point was that the world couldn’t possibly understand why we believe what we believe about the unborn child apart from a way of life, a language and a grammar that can make sense of this. Likewise, I suggest this is all true of what we Christians believe about “the homosexual question.” For surely we would have to be the kind of community that did not indulge hyper romanticist notions of sexuality that objectifies sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage. Surely we would have to quit disembodying sexuality in the way we do whenever we make the Bible into moral propositions that should be enforced instead of a narrative world to be shaped and directed towards so as to live into. And we would need worship that would order desires towards God away from narcissism, for any other kind of worship cannot hope to train us out of our narcissistic obsessions with sex. We would need a way to love and nurture the hurting souls and the bruised lost ones who seriously desire to be shown another way but are too consumed at this moment to see anything else.

When the man and woman came up (in the 1st Out or Ur post The Homosexual question”) and asked the question of Brian in his post, the biggest problem was they had no grammar or referring community by which to make sense of why this question would even be asked in the first place. We would do well then as Christian leaders of an emerging Christianity to deal then with the question, “what kind of community would we have to be in order to be able to say the kinds of things we are called to say to those gay and lesbian among us and our neighbors? Hopefully if we start soon, this won’t take five years.
Rae Ann and I are off to Russia for three weeks. Blogging and comments from me will be spotty at best. Maybe that’s good. Maybe I’ll do a follow up post when we get home responding to comments. But if anyone wants to post a comment, can we do it in the spirit of furthering the dialogue for Christ’s Kingdom under the Spirit’s rule? Be free to disagree, and let’s speak truth in love.

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