Brown Bag Reading
All of our readings have been important in this LGP program. Some have been easier than others and some have been more helpful than others. I will re-read some of these texts, and I will sell others. However, this week’s readings have a unique place all their own. Even as I am writing this early-morning post in Starbucks (where I do much of my studying), I am cognizant of this, “Is anyone watching what I am reading? What will they think about me? Will they think I am gay?” I know this might sound crazy; after all, this is the 21st century and I am an adult. But such as it is, this is how I felt this week. Although I did not carry our texts in a brown bag, yet I found myself making sure they were upside down on my table. I guess you could call this my “brown bag reading week.”
The Christian college where I work has been attempting to have “Bridge Building Conversations” for the past couple of years. In fact, we had Andrew Marin on our campus to help us with all of this. I have participated in the “Bridge Building” conversations. I met Andrew Marin. I have a copy of his book, but I never read it – until this week. Why not? There are many reasons.
I came to Christ in a Conservative Baptist church. Eventually, I felt the call to ministry and served as a pastor and counselor in various churches for sixteen years. All of these churches were theologically conservative, very conservative. We talked a lot about heaven and hell, about the Bible, and about sin and salvation. The questions about gays were no brainers; in a nutshell, gay people would all burn in hell.
I then found myself in the world of education: first teaching 74 Egyptian fifth graders, then in a school teaching ESL with various international students, then in a computer training institute, then is a business college, then in a couple of community colleges, and finally at the Christian liberal arts college where I have been for the past ten years. I have taught English, computer applications, writing, cultural studies, specific humanities courses, and religion. And the one constant through all of these teaching experiences has been people, lots and lots of very unique people. I have loved students now for 25 years – all my students. Most of my students have been “straight” but many have been gay – some openly, many silently.
The first openly gay student I encountered was in the late 1990’s. She was Hawaiian. She and her partner were in my “Strategies of Success” class at a business college where I taught for seven years. Coming out of a conservative, evangelical background, I had nothing but negative to think about gay people. But I knew that I couldn’t operate in that paradigm. One day after class, I sat down with my Hawaiian student. “Tell me your story.” I will never forget that afternoon. What a story she told. A story of early awareness that she was not like many of the other kids. She also told of being made fun of by some and of being unconditionally being loved by others, especially by her grandparents. These same grandparents still sent her money regularly with loving notes and small gifts. Loving uniqueness – what a thought! My student didn’t have a father, so I told her that I would be her father, a role that I had for several years. I have since lost track of this student. I often wonder how she is doing.
I have had many other gay students through the years. I always tried to operate the same way. I honor you and your story. I love you as you are. But how do I look at LGBT issues theologically? What does the Bible have to say about these matters? I am making a confession in this post: I never took the time to really think it through completely. I have always run from this topic. I only knew what I had been taught. It is not an easy admission, but it is true. How have I looked at the Scriptures that deal with “homosexuality”? What does the Bible have to say on these matters?
In Chapter 9 of Adrian Thatcher’s Text God, Sex, and Gender, the author looks at both Old Testament and New Testament texts that deal with issues of “Same-Sex Love.” The OT texts in view are Genesis 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13. The primary NT texts are Romans 1:18-2:3, I Cor. 6:9-10, and I Tim. 1:9-10. So what do these texts say in context? It depends on what context one is looking for. Thatcher offers non-traditional interpretations of these texts that were thought provoking for me. For example, might the Sodom story of Genesis have more to do with the sin of same-sex gang rape than with homosexual intimacy? And, according to Thatcher, there are several reasons for doubting the traditional reading of the Romans 1 text. One of his arguments is that this passage is referring to idolatry more than to “unnatural sex.” He makes some good points. Although I do not completely agree with Thatcher’s arguments, there are certainly many things to consider here that I will now take the time to think through carefully.
Andrew Marin’s book is more of a popular read than Thatcher’s, which is more scholarly. Love is an Orientation is book that should probably be read by all American Christians. Marin tackles the topic of how Christians should relate to the LGBT community. I was pleasantly surprised how balanced this text is. It gives the reader a lot to consider, offers lots of options, gives dignity to all human beings, and honors God and the Scriptures. I was encouraged by Marin’s openness to grow and learn and also by his transparency and vulnerability. The book does not have all the answers, but it asks lots of hard questions and attempts to deal with these questions in a balanced fashion. Not everyone will agree with Marin. In fact, many won’t give the book any consideration. But for me it was helpful, readable, and gave me a lot to consider in how I deal with this important cultural reality. I am very grateful for this assignment.
By the way, I made a decision to now take the book out of the brown bag. Who knows, it just might prompt some good conversations at Starbucks and on campus.
 Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2011) 157-174.
 Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009)
11 responses to “Brown Bag Reading”
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Bill, one thing I always love about your posts is the raw honesty and personal reflection. You are not afraid, or at least you don’t seem to be afraid, to say what you feel. I, too, have tended to run from this topic. I made sure not to pull out these books at work, as going to a gay wedding last summer raised enough eyebrows from my pastors. I quietly read from the comfort of my own home… I am almost ashamed to say that I have never fully studied the biblical content and context relating to the topic of homosexuality. I have listened to others’ arguments, and struggled through my own talks with God on the subject, but when it comes down to it, I have stuck with my “conflict-free” zone and simply smile and nod when the subject comes up. Being in this program has made me realize I am capable of more than that, and in fact, more than that is expected of me, as a leader and as a Christian. Thank you, Bill, for leading the way through our program, and teaching me it’s okay to be authentic and honest!
Thanks for your kind comments. After reading the posts this week, I realize that we were all pretty honest with this topic. I am in process on many fronts right now; this is just one of them. The Scriptures on this matter are confusing to me. But that does not mean that I do not take a position on this issue. My position is to love and to try to understand others who are different than I am. It is God’s business to judge; it is my business to love and to embrace everyone. Sometimes that is not easy at all; at least not for me. For example, I don’t know if I have a calling to the homeless and to the poor. I am not proud of this, but at least at this point in my life, that is where I am. Overall, I will continue to love people the best that I can and with God’s help, that is what I know is the right thing to do.
Bill, I’m wondering if there is anything specific out of Marin’s book that challenged you, or confirmed your view of sexuality?
This is a challenging question.
I think the thing that touched me the most from the Marin book was that it is good to invite people from the LGBT community into our churches. With some things that have happened in the church that my wife and I have been attending for several years, this was a timely word for me. We left the church about six months ago since it seemed that the church was, in my view, becoming unbalanced in this area. However, Marin’s book help me to see that my position is not necessarily the best one. So now we are thinking of returning to that church. It is a long story, and for me it has been a difficult journey, but this week’s reading gave me a lot to think about, and perhaps some things to do as well.
Bill, I think we came away with pretty much the same take on both of these books! (Great minds think alike?) What I find so interesting is that after reading five posts now, how each of us have personal stories of meeting gays in our lives. It is really interesting to think about, that all of us professing Christians don’t seem all that sheltered as we are often made out to be by the world. And most of the responses to these encounters have been of a compassionate nature. I don’t know if it just reflects the nature of our cohort…but I am hopeful it might be a deeper reality for all Christians. That is why I appreciated Marin’s book so much…it wasn’t an argument for or against the gay lifestyle or practices, but it was a reminder that everyone is a child of God and deserves to be treated as such. So, surprisingly, I can take away a positive from this weeks reading (as I continue to struggle to know the deeper issues and a consistent biblical response…prayers are welcomed!) (Note: I had a Kindle addition of the Thatcher book…no need for paper bags to hide it!)
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your sharing. Yes, it sounds like we are both in the same boat. All of our readings will make for some great road trip conversations in June!
I, too, love our cohort and their responses to this week’s readings. It is good to know that we do not all have to be on exactly the same page to be in fellowship with one another. In fact, I think that is a good thing that we are not all on the same page. Diversity of thought and opinion makes for a better way to look at the world in which we live.
Great great and honest reflection here as always! I believe that the Christian church in general has a lot of help coming it’s ways about the issues both spiritual and social which mostly polarize it’s ability to engage.
I agree with you that even though some people may not give the book a consideration, it is a helpful resource and can help with the on going complexity of the conversation about sexuality and other areas of life.
I don’t think there is an honest Christian who hasn’t struggled with thinking through this topic, especially in light of the Biblical passages. It is not an easy topic no matter how one looks at it. I am grateful for Marin’s book. He is courageous for writing it, I think. I was surprised at what he said — and at what he didn’t say. When it all comes down to it, God is the only one who knows what to truly believe on this topic. Perhaps we will never know the perfect position to hold on these issues. I am OK with that mystery. Actually, there are a lot of mysteries in the Kingdom of God. Thankfully, I don’t know everything. And if I thought I did know everything, I would have to be God — how dangerous that would be!
I read your post much earlier, but so much on the table this weekend, I could not respond until now (I hope its not to late).
Your post really resonated with me. I loved your antidote “My Brown Bag Weekend.” I think these are understandable feelings that are sensitive to the multiplicity of positions on issues of sex and sexuality. I appreciated your openness to read (hear) opposing concepts and arguments. I did read a number of commentaries this week and I will acknowledge that I learned from Thatcher. Of course, many of his sources were different from what I have customarily used; I used his bibliography to compile my own resource file to return to, perhaps when we do our reading summary for Jason in June.
Here is one source on Thatcher’s interpretation of Romans 1:
Loughlin, Gerard. “Pauline Conversations: Rereding Romans 1 in Christ.” Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality. 11 no.1, Sept. 2004, 72-102.
I will have to acknowledge that Thatcher was inclusive…He did not leave much out. That does make it (sort-of) a resource book.
Concerning Andrew Marin’s book “Love is an Orientation,” I/ll back to that later. As I noted, I really liked Dan Kimball on these issues, “They Like Jesus but not the Church.”
Thanks for your thorough comments. No, it is not too late.
As I said to your post, I so appreciate and respect your work on these topics this week. You are a good thinker and a thorough researcher. This is important. I am no Bible scholar these days, so it is good to have a friend who does take these matters seriously.
So often, especially these days, we do not take the time to research and think deeply. This, I think, is the reason that so many people buy in to the “new status quo” so quickly. I think it is better to think things through carefully and welcome debate, even a heated debate. There is nothing wrong with a good debate/discussion. That is why I liked the Marin text better than Thatcher’s. Marin didn’t draw as many conclusions as Thatcher did. Just my thoughts.
John – Great thoughts, I am very in-tune with being open yet critical in our reflecting and research.