Comments on the Book Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality As Justice-Love
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see:
O thou who changest not, abide with me
I have always read the whole of any book I have written about, but last night after reading Scott Haldeman’s essay, “Receptivity and Revelation: A Spirituality of Gay Male Sex,” in Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality As Justice-Love I was sick at heart and laid the book aside. The book edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith, uses the controversial 1991 Presbyterian study “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice” as a foundation for most of the essays. The book attempts to redefine several biblical concepts; the most important one redefined is the being of God. After laying the book aside, as I was attempting to fall asleep, the lines from a hymn, “O thou who changest not, abide with me” continually ran through my mind. The God who changest not, but who changes us, is not the God worshipped by the authors of this book of essays. They are advocating pagan gods; gods formed out of human experience, in particular, sexual experience.
There are some issues of interest in this book The debate over “essentialist” versus “social constructionist” views of sexuality is addressed by Carter Hayward in her article “We’re Here, We’re Queer.” This is where feminist ideas about human nature, post modernist ideas and liberal attempts to say homosexuality is natural come into varying kinds of conflict. As Carter writes, “Nonetheless, by their proclamations that homosexuality and heterosexuality are essentially unchanging and unchangeable, theologians like Perry and McNeill unwittingly made it difficult for progressive Christians to understand sexuality as, often, a more nuanced dimension of our life together, a dimension that is at least partly constructed culturally.”(83) However, for the biblical Christian, neither argument is helpful since the essentialist view means there is no transformation from a gay lifestyle and the social constructionist view means there is no dividing line between gay and straight.
Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos in her article, “How To Read What We Read,” states “Prescriptions for and descriptions of sexual conduct, including those for same-sex conduct, were determined by the cultural patriarchal norms of biblical times and by high anxiety about biological productivity.”(69-70) Using methodology that would fail most kinds of historiography (e.g. Wijk-Bos’ understanding that since concubinage, brother and sister marriage and polygyny did not hinder order or the production of children they were acceptable and without penalty in ancient Israel.1) she uses an analogy that mixes apples with oranges. Wijk-Bos writes, “Clearly, faithful people today are not called to repeat the norms and patterns of sexual relations observed here. Otherwise, we might as well try to construct a church building by following the instructions given by God for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus!”(69) On the one hand, Wijk-Bos suggests that sexual biblical norms were formed for sociological and cultural reasons and on the other hand she refers to God’s blueprints for the tabernacle. Perhaps unintentionally, Wijk-Bos has grabbed onto an important truth. The building is important but as a shadow of better things. The book of Hebrews helps us understand that the tabernacle and its offices were a shadow of the reality that came with Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews reminds the reader that because of Jesus’ death we “have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.”(Heb. 10:19,20) So we have two realities: redemption by the blood of Christ but also the fact that we are sinners. The author of Hebrews also warns the reader that, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”(26-27) The connection between leaving the sin and finding redemption in Christ cannot be severed so easily. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives understanding on this point. In The Cost of Discipleship, he writes that in Germany, in the last century, “The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world. Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship.” (50)
However much the logic of these articles fails it is the shaping of new gods, based on human sexual experience, that is the most disturbing. Rebecca Todd Peters in her article, Embracing God as Goddess: Exploring connections between female Sexuality, Naming the Divine, and Struggling for Justice, attempts to erase the unchangeableness of God. She puts her problem this way:
If we believe that God disapproves of nonmarital sex, then that affects behavior in one of several ways: we do not have nonmarital sex; we have nonmarital sex and feel guilty and alienated from God; we think that such a God does not make sense in a world in which nonmarital sex is a positive aspect of life and thus we reject God; or we experience God’s presence and love in the context of intimate relationship, which helps us rethink our relationship with God and our theology. (161)
Peters goes on to side with the present culture’s view of nonmarital sex as positive and to shape God in the image of changing female sexuality. Reminding the reader of the various life changes women experience, e.g. menstruating, giving birth, she posits a changing god/ess. Peters believes that , “A God/ess open to change, vulnerability, and partnership exercises a nontraditional form of power rooted in relationality and reciprocity. These, then, can become the moral ground for ethical behavior in the world, including sexual behavior.”(168) Peters rejects God’s revelation of Himself and holds on to an idol for the sake of nonmarital sex. Once again Bonhoeffer offers a better way. In his book Ethics he makes confession for the whole Church during the Nazi era. Included among such horrendous sins as the death of the innocent, “the exploitation of the poor and the enrichment and corruption of the strong,” Bonhoeffer confesses the sins of the Church regarding sex. He writes:
The Church confesses that she has found no word of advice and assistance in the face of the dissolution of all order in the relation between the sexes. She has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. . . . She has rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ.(114)
In this new proclamation of “sexual libertinism” the god and goddess of paganism are held up for worship. The new call for sexual freedom with new gods will be no different than yesterday’s paganism; the images are all human and are always capable of turning demonic. Scott Haldeman, in his article “ Receptivity and Revelation: a Spirituality of Gay Male Sex,” after assuring the reader he does not think of his partner as god, defines his meaning. He writes, “Sex as revelation is about mediated knowledge of God, about encountering God, in partial, momentary glimpses, through the act of encounter with my lover.”(221) Going on to describe the act of gay sex he focuses a great deal on his own sense of receptivity and sees it as a kind of sacrament. Describing the various stages of the sexual act he explains how they contribute to spirituality, and in the conclusion suggests his version of deity. “I see a divine self that is more playful and more serious, quite uninterested in notions of purity, and yearning to become a new thing among us, a communion in which all will dance a wild dance of joy and passion.” (229) This after he has put aside the biblical account of God with the words, “Certainly we ought not confine ourselves to the tales of ancestors for knowledge about God.”(227)
The Biblical understanding of God’s plans for His people is quite different than those pictured by the above authors. In Malachi after the prophet has pleaded for some one to shut the gates to keep the priests from offering useless offerings on the altar, he speaks God’s words of promise:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like fullers soap.
He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 1-3)
The biblical God is unchanging. He seeks the sinner and calls for repentance. He brings salvation at great cost and includes obedience in his call. Oh thou who changest not abide with your church and purify her.
1 Several things could be stated about this. First, Leviticus 20:17 does hold a penalty for brother sister marriage. Second, while Israel may have accepted polygyny and concubines, God only tolerated the arrangement. The statement about man and woman becoming one flesh in Genesis 2:24 is the God given norm. Furthermore, both David and Solomon sinned in having their many wives and concubines, because in Deuteronomy in God’s laws for Kings the texts states, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away.” (17:17b)