By Robert A.J. Gagnon, First Things
The senior pastor and elders of San Francisco’s evangelical City Church will no longer require members to abstain from homosexual practice, so long as the homosexual activity occurs in the context of marriage. According to a letter written by senior pastor Fred Harrell on behalf of the Board of Elders, “We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.”
“Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long ‘celibacy,’ by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing,” the letter said.
As a church inspired by Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and founded in the Reformed tradition, City Church is supposed to give preeminence to Scripture. Instead, on the matter of homosexual practice, the Pastor and Elder Board gave preeminence to their judgment regarding what conduces more to human flourishing and, oddly, to a scripturally misguided book written by former Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson called A Letter to My Congregation. The letter recommends it to church members for showing, “great empathy and maturity to model unity and patience with those who are in different places on this conversation, all the while dealing honestly with Scripture.”
Wilson contends wrongly that the biblical indictment of homosexual practice is limited to exploitative relationships with adolescents, slaves, and temple prostitutes, as though these were the only forms of homosexual practice known to persons of the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world. In fact, adult-committed relationships in the ancient world were widely known, with early Christians and rabbis forbidding even adult-consensual marriages between persons of the same sex as abhorrent acts.
We receive indication that Paul did not have only exploitative or promiscuous acts of homosexual practice in view, given (1) Paul’s appeal to a nature argument in Rom 1:26–27; (2) his strong intertextual echoes to Genesis 1–2 and the Levitical prohibitions when citing homosexual practice (Rom 1:24–27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10); (3) the unqualified character of his indictment (including an interdiction of lesbianism in Rom 1:26); and (4) the fact that even some Greco-Roman moralists (to say nothing of Jews and Christians) rejected homosexual practice absolutely.