Because of Scripture and Theology

Why We Repeatedly Revisit G-6.0106b
(and Will Continue to Do So Until It’s Amended)
Reason 2 – Scripture and Reformed Theology

Tricia Dykers Koenig
Covenant Network National Organizer

At least one overture to amend the current paragraph G-6.0106b has been sent to every General Assembly but one since 1997, when it became part of the Book of Order in an attempt to “settle the issue” of the ordination of persons in same-sex relationships.   Until the paragraph is amended to be more consistent with Reformed theology and polity, that is sure to continue.

This is the second in a series of articles exploring the reasons that “the issue” will come back to GAs and the presbyteries again and again, until amendment is made.

Reason 2 – Many Presbyterians are convinced that G-6.0106b violates both our understanding of God’s will as expressed in Scripture, and basic principles of Reformed theology.

Numerous volumes have been written – some resources are listed here, and they only scratch the surface.

Here is an abbreviated explanation of how I interpret what Scripture teaches:

First, what about the six or seven verses quoted as prohibiting homosexual practice?  Many of us are convinced that these are quite proper condemnations of behavior that was exploitative, such as the attempted rape in Sodom, and the sexual use of boys or slaves;  or cultic, that is, a part of idol worship –  that homosexual practice per se is a matter of uncleanness rather than sin, an ‘abomination’ in the same way that eating unclean animals was.

The Bible does reflect the cultural assumption that heterosexuality is normative, and of course most people are heterosexual so that’s to be expected; but then it also reflects the assumption that women are the property of men.  [“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17]  Just as we can retain the admonition against covetousness without continuing to consider a wife as comparable to an ox or a donkey, and without approving of owning a slave at all, we can retain the condemnation of exploitation, prostitution, and idol worship without condemning all same-sex practice.   Our guidelines for biblical interpretation involve figuring out which timeless principles underlie particular biblical provisions, then applying those principles to our circumstances.

Then, what about the rest of the Bible outside those few specific verses?  The idea that Scripture recognizes no legitimate intimate relationship outside monogamous heterosexual marriage ignores quite a few biblical realities.

Customs concerning marriage have changed dramatically through the centuries; most of the patriarchs had more than one wife and/or concubine.  How could they be “one flesh” with more than one woman without biblical condemnation?    Adam’s exclamation in Genesis 2:23-24 expresses his joy at finding someone who is truly kin:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

As we can see when Laban uses a similar phrase upon meeting his nephew Jacob [“Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” Genesis 29:14], it is a celebration of kinship and not restricted to heterosexual marriage.   When Jesus quoted Genesis – in reference not to same-sex relationships, but to divorce [Matthew 19:3-9] – he was emphasizing commitment and responsibility to family.

The creation stories in Genesis are descriptions of the predominant pattern of male-female human relationships.  It is an unnecessary leap to insist that an affirmation of one pattern is a prohibition of all others.  And even if one believes that the order of creation is proscriptive,  Christ’s  grace supersedes that order:

Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:24-28

When we read Scripture as a whole and in context,  all the major overarching themes lead us away from a conclusion that results in treating LGBT persons as defective or less-than:

  • Exodus, liberation from bondage and oppression
  • The prophetic call for justice and against domination
  • Jesus’ insistence on associating with women, lepers, “outcasts and sinners”
  • Paul’s insistence that faith in Jesus, not adherence to a set of legal requirements, is the constituting factor for membership in the covenant people
  • The systematic extension of the gospel to those previously considered outsiders in Acts
  • Peter and Cornelius [Acts 10-11], where the real subject of the vision about clean and unclean is not food, but people:  “What God has called clean, you must not call profane… If God then gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit
  • God is love
  • All members of the Body of Christ are needed, gifted, and valued

Jesus,  when asked the most important commandment,  told us to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves [Matthew 22:36-40].   My understanding of Scripture is based on Jesus’  law of love –  which does not mean “anything goes as long as it’s for love.”   It means that Christ calls us to follow the course that is most conducive to individual and community well-being.   How can the God we know in Jesus Christ care more for a particular law or form of human relationship, than for all God’s children who suffer the consequences – unintended perhaps, but nonetheless real  –  of believing homosexual practice always to be sin?  If God is love, that can’t be right; what kind of God would be ok with the pervasive collateral damage inflicted by the church teaching against homosexuality?    As Paul proclaims: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” [Romans 13:10]

In all my history with this conflict,  every opposing  argument boils down to the conclusion that Scripture says all homosexual practice is sinful.     Many who stand under biblical authority, including scholars converted through Bible study and encounters with actual people, are convinced that Scripture leads to the opposite conclusion .

In addition to singling out one behavior that many do not believe sinful, current ‘b’ violates one of the basic principles of Reformed theology – salvation by grace through faith – in implying that any of us earns our worthiness through righteous behavior, and that it is actually possible to repent of every practice the confessions call sin, whether we agree that each such practice is sinful or not.  Amendment 10-A strongly affirms that joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is our desire, and is simply realistic in recognizing that we are all on a journey of discipleship, striving to follow though perfection is unattainable.    Our Reformed tradition takes the reality of sin too seriously to pretend it’s possible to repent of everything, or to think that we could be worthy if somehow we could get the checklist just right; we are all reliant entirely upon the grace of God for our salvation and for our growth in faithfulness.

Friends, I could be wrong in my sincere attempt to discern the will of Christ on this matter – to presume that any one of us has an absolute corner on God’s Truth is idolatrous.  If I am wrong, and I have grievously sinned by teaching error and leading God’s children astray, when I stand before my Lord on Judgment Day I will only have grace to cover me.  If others are wrong, and the primary sin in question in this controversy is the harm caused by maintaining the stigma – leading persons to question their own worth in God’s eyes, giving them the anti-evangelical message that they have been abandoned by God and are not welcome in the church, suggesting that the Good News might not apply to them – if they are wrong, then those sinners – like me – will be covered only by grace, too.

None of us earns our worth or our salvation by getting this (or any) question right, nor do we jeopardize it by being wrong.  I stake my life on the promise in Romans 8 that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Jesus Christ my Lord.   If no power can separate me from God’s love, how is it possible that my mistake could, even my mistake about something important?  Or that a gay person’s could, as in their own conscience before God they know their committed relationship to be life-giving ?

It is not a matter of whether we stand under the authority of Scripture, but of how we understand what Scripture tells us about faithfulness.  It is not a matter of whether we seek to submit to the Lordship of Christ, but of how we understand what that means.  It’s not a matter of whether we expect our officers to maintain high standards, but of who determines if a particular candidate meets them.

Amendment 10-A seeks to make that crystal clear.

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Comments

  1. Dave Johnson says:

    I am concerned that you believe “our Reformed tradition takes the reality of sin too seriously”. While we are all reliant upon God’s grace for salvation, the promise of salvation through faith does not justify knowingly sinning. It seems as you espouse “live and let live” because God’s grace will provide me salvation. I am a firm believer that God also expects / demands that we live responsibly and display God’s love through our actions.

  2. Tricia Dykers Koenig says:

    To Dave Johnson: We agree! Like you, I am also “a firm believer that God also expects/demands that we live responsibly and display God’s love through our actions.” Jesus’ emphasis on the commandment to love our neighbors is a foundation of my interpretation of Scripture – as applied to the question of how we assess the ethics of same-sex relationships, and indeed every other issue I can imagine. Jesus taught that the purpose of the Law is to serve human well-being (see Mark 2:23-3:6); if an interpretation of Scripture leads to hurting God’s children – see the post “Because of the People” – we need to rethink our interpretation.

    Let me point out, however, that you excerpted the sentence you quoted in a way that changes the meaning. Here’s the whole sentence: “Our Reformed tradition takes the reality of sin too seriously to pretend it’s possible to repent of everything, or to think that we could be worthy if somehow we could get the checklist just right; we are all reliant entirely upon the grace of God for our salvation and for our growth in faithfulness.” I am glad that our Reformed tradition takes sin seriously; the current wording of G-6.0106b trivializes the pervasive reality of sin (“total depravity”) by reducing it to a checklist of behaviors and implying that we have the capacity to achieve perfection.

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