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Kristin Rudolph August 7, 2012
Christians on either side of the homosexuality debate have “a lot to agree on … [but] one of the things we might not agree on is that book ... the Bible,” said Bishop Gene Robinson at Skyline Church’s “Conversation on the Definition of Marriage.” Robinson was the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal Church.
On Sunday, July 28, San Diego’s Skyline Church invited Robinson, John Corvino, Jennifer Roback Morse, and Robert Gagnon for this discussion. Robinson, the retiring bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, and Corvino, philosopher and co-author of the recent book Debating Same-Sex Marriage, were defending homosexual unions. Morse, founder and president of The Ruth Institute, and Gagnon, a theologian at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, defended traditional marriage. “The Church is trying to ask and answer the question, how big … is God’s love for all of God’s children,” Robinson said in his opening statement. He explained that differing views of the Bible are a large reason for “why we miss each other in these conversations.” According to the Bishop: “The Bible is words about God [but] they were words not dictated by God … all of those words were meant to point to the living reality of a living God.” Robinson explained his view on the Scriptures. “I take the Bible unbelievably seriously,” he stressed. “I take it so seriously that I refuse to take it simply.” According to Robinson, “context means everything,” and when reading scripture, one should ask: “Is the context described there similar to our context and therefore is eternally binding?” Through this contextualization, he discounted scriptural prohibitions of homosexuality, and argued that Jesus’ promise in John 16 that the Holy Spirit would “guide you into all truth” means that Christians should adopt an evolving view on sexual ethics. With his highly contextualized and selective view of Scripture, Robinson admitted it is “a very tough call” to determine whether “the little voice I hear in my brain is God’s voice or my ego doing a magnificent impression of God’s voice.” He further insisted: “We’re not challenging the definition of marriage … we just want to be let in to that institution.” Robinson then compared legalizing same-sex marriage with opening marriage to African Americans after the Civil War and overturning anti-miscegenation laws in the Civil Rights era. The Bishop closed his opening statement saying: “For years you have criticized us for being promiscuous and shallow. And now that we want to participate in the fidelity and life-long commitment of marriage, how very sad to try to shut us out.”
Robert Gagnon, a theologian regarded as one of the top scholars on homosexuality and the Bible refuted Robinson’s claims and outlined clearly the natural and biblical definition of marriage. He cited Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:3-10 where he prohibited divorce on the basis of the natural order God established (Gen. 1:27, 2:24) by creating male and female. For Jesus, “The twoness of the sexes … becomes the foundation for the twoness of the sexual bond. Thus, prescribing marital monogamy and marital insolubility.”
“God intended, from the beginning, for sexual unions to be binary,” Gagnon explained. The allowance of polygamy in the Old Testament was due to “human hardness of heart,” but Jesus “closed that loophole on the basis of the Creation text,” the Presbyterian theologian said. Gagnon described how from Creation, God established “a male [and] female requirement for all sexual unions, on the basis of which other sexual principles can then be established.” Jesus rejected polygamy because of the male/female prerequisite for marriage, as the union of one woman and one man “[closes] the sexual spectrum because there are only two primary sexes. A third party then becomes neither necessary nor desirable.” Consequently, “since the foundation is more important than the superstructure built on the foundation, it would follow that for Jesus, a homosexual relationship is worse than a polygamous one.” Refuting Robinson’s claim that same-sex marriage would not redefine the institution, Gagnon argued: “If the male/female requirement is foundational for marriage from Creation on, on the basis of which other principles can then be extrapolated, then we have to say, yes indeed, we are right at the core affecting the definition of marriage.” He then emphasized that “sexual ethics for Jesus is a life and death matter … Jesus coupled a heightened ethical demand on the one hand with also an aggressive outreach of love to the biggest violators of that demand.” Jesus’ intention is not to condemn sinners to hell, or to give them a free pass on sexual ethics, but rather to “reclaim them for the Kingdom.” To Gagnon and others who affirm a traditional understanding of Scripture, blessing homosexual relationships is by no means “loving,” but a dangerous redefinition of Christian love. True biblical love desires what is best for the beloved, namely, eternal life through Christ. When Jesus told the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you,” he also commanded her to “go and leave your life of sin.” With eternal life at stake, it is perilous to abandon a firm foundation of historic Judaic and Christian teaching found in the Bible for an “evolving” interpretation that relies heavily on our own fallen intuition.
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