Homosexuality and new creation
I would like this website to model a way of doing theological reflection and debate that gets beyond the old trench warfare manner of disputation. This is not going to be at all easy to do. As soon as we try to pick our way across these bloody, mangled battlefields, we risk becoming antagonists and victims in a war that is still going on. It’s very difficult not to feel that we are under attack, very difficult not to fall into one trench or another - and then someone thrusts a gun into our hands and tells us to start shooting. The debate over homosexuality is one of these battlefields. Somehow we need to turn it into something else - or at least create a reasonably safe space where we don’t have to behave like combatants in a mindless and probably futile war of attrition.
What I want to explore here in outline is the possibility that the sort of approach to eschatology that we have been discussing elsewhere might open up some new ways of framing the debate about homosexuality. It is also, obviously, a partial response to the ‘committed monogamous homosexual versus slave owner‘ thread.
Homosexual behaviour, as Paul understands it, is a consequence of not properly worshipping the creator God - the God whose ‘invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made’ (Rom.1:20). This appears to take us right back to the fall - a fundamental human rebellion against the Creator in favour of the worship of created things (1:25), the result of which was that God gave humanity up both to impurity, including homosexual behaviour (1:26-27), and to wickedness (1:28-31). Those who do these things deserve to die - because the wages of sin is death (1:32; cf. 6:23; Gen.2:17). In effect, this is Paul’s version of the fall.
Paul lists ‘catamites’ and ‘homosexuals’ among those who ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor.6:9). He also includes in his black book of those who are disqualified from the kingdom people who are guilty of ‘enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions’ (Gal.5:20-21). This would seem to me to rule out a significant number of those who are currently engaged in the war over gays in the church, on both sides.
But what does he mean by ‘inherit the kingdom of God’? He clearly does not mean by this ‘be part of the church’: on the one hand, it is a future event for Paul (‘will not inherit’); on the other, ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor.15:50). Since there is also a strong link between inheriting the kingdom of God and suffering (cf. 2 Thess.1:5), I am inclined to think that the strong exclusivist language is used because Paul is thinking of that group which will be raised (or transformed) and reign with Christ when he is vindicated as the Son of man and given the kingdom. These strict standards apply because he anticipates, in effect, a judgment on the church at the parousia (cf. 1 Thess.3:13; 5:23), which I would suggest is closely tied up with the transition from second temple Judaism, though confrontation with Rome, to multiracial, Spirit-filled church. This argument obviously raises a lot of questions, some of which were addressed in the discussion referred to above.
The list of those excluded from the new creation in Revelation does not explicitly mention those who practise homosexuality, but it is naturally included (along with other departures from the ideal of woman and man as ‘one flesh’) in terms like ‘abominable’ and ‘unclean’ (Rev.21:8, 27). The point of this again is that homosexuality is one of a whole range of ‘impure’ and ‘wicked’ behaviours that are the product of the fall from true worship of the creator God. They therefore have no place in a new creation in which the kings of the earth will properly honour God.
The church, I think, is to be regarded as being in itself a sign of the ultimate renewal of humanity and must somehow represent in its life and message what that new creation will be like: we are called to embody this hope for a world that is subject to evil, decay and death. I think, in that case, that we have to say that homosexuality will not be part of that new creation. But the church must also be a sign of the grace of God - not least because it can only ever be a very imperfect, sin-ridden sign of the new creation. If we accept the argument about inheriting the kingdom of God, then perhaps we have room biblically to shift the balance in the direction of grace and acceptance. It seems to me that homosexuality is an inescapable element in fallen humanity - whether we explain it biologically or culturally - and we should probably, therefore, expect to see it within the body of Christ’s followers - just as we see (and tolerate) other inescapable signs of our fallenness, including conflict, divisiveness, greed, sickness and death.
But if we are the people of the creator God, who have been entrusted with the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, we cannot afford to lose the clarity of that vision of a new creation which will be free from the distortions that have come about because of the fundamental human departure from God. That presents a problem for those who practise homosexuality, as it does for those who abuse their spouses, or who lust after other women, or who lie, or who get angry with their brothers and sisters, or who participate in unjust political and economic systems, who despise the poor, or who pollute and destroy the earth. It’s all there. It’s all very ‘natural’. So we must all come to the task of embodying and living from this hope with humility, in need of grace and forgiveness, willing to change where we can, willing to respect and honour one another, willing to recognize that we carry things deep within us that will not be part of the new creation.