Saturday, July 23, 2005

McLaren on Homosexuality

I thought this was a good response in PBS interview.

A lot of critics are really frustrated that homosexuality is a question you're not very definitive on. Why do you not want to go on the record on that?

That's a great question, and we could talk for hours about this. I think, as I said before, when an issue is badly framed, we're not wise to just rush in and try to answer it. And I think the issue of homosexuality is badly framed. One of my concerns about the framing of it is that I'm worried that the religious community is being manipulated by the political world and that the political community, in some ways, has decided this is a wedge issue, and we can use this issue to shave off voters from one party or another party. And so they've wanted the issue to be a political issue. I'm worried that the religious community has been manipulated by some of this political machination. I don't mean that as a conspiracy theory, but I just mean let's be realistic about how these things work. It seems to me it's worked that way; that's the first thing.

The second thing is that the issue of homosexuality is so complex, and as a pastor I have to sit across the table from people, from a young man who's raised in a wonderful Christian family and says, "Look, you know, I'm 19 years old. I've never been attracted to women. I didn't ask for this. I've been ashamed to tell anybody. You're the first person I've ever told." Well, when I have a conversation like that, or with a young woman who grew up -- her father is a minister, and she lived with this deep self-hatred for many, many years. She considered suicide and all the rest. When you have conversations like that, you can't just walk around making pronouncements like so many people in the media do. You realize these are real human beings we're talking about. And you realize that the issues are not as simple as many people make them sound. Then add to that the biblical dimension of it and the way of interpreting the Bible that yields these very easy, black-and-white [answers], throw people in this plastic bin or in that plastic bin and now we got them sorted out, here are the good ones, here are the bad ones. You know, I just think that's absurd. The Bible's so much more complex then that. If people want to start picking out a verse from the Bible here and picking out a verse there, and picking out a verse, we're going have stonings going on in the street. It's a crazy way to interpret the Bible, in my opinion. Now that doesn't mean that we just throw out the Bible, but we've got to learn ways to engage with the wisdom in the Bible that help us be more ethical and more humane and not less. So that would be, you know, one whole dimension of this.

In some ways homosexuality is the tip of the iceberg, and underneath, what's not showing, is this huge issue that theologians would call anthropology. What is our view of humanity? For centuries and centuries in the Western church there has been an anthropology of dualism, that the body is like a machine and the soul is like a little ghost that lives in the machine. Soul and body are separated. But one of the things that's going on in our world right now is a profound rethinking of that because we are learning, you know, through the study of mental illness, psychiatry, psychopharmacology, that body and soul are far more integrated than we thought in the past. That has implications on so many things. Let me just give one quick example. In the Bible you will not find the category of mental illness. There's nothing in the Bible about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, multiple personality disorder. You won't find Asperger's syndrome or autism in the Bible.

The thing that you will find in the Bible that's closest to any of those things is demon possession. So if we say, "Well, the only way to be faithful to the Bible is not to give Lithium or Haldol or Prozac, or whatever, it's only to do exorcism" -- well, I mean, we would be brutalizing people. It would be ridiculous to treat people that way. I think that's a bit of what we're dealing with underneath the surface with homosexuality. We're dealing with the fact that human beings are far more integrated body-soul units than we've realized in the past, and this is the deeper issue.

In the past, when the Christian faith grapples with major issues in our worldview like this, it takes centuries to deal with. So the idea that we have to have a solution and a definitive answer by yesterday on a complex issue is, to me, just unrealistic. It's not going to happen that fast; we've got to have extended dialogue. I believe it's possible to have Christians with different views on this issue behave charitably and work together. A lot of people say it's impossible. I believe it's possible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. I agree with his assessment about the framing of the issue. However, many Christians have allowed this issue to be framed, or framed it themselves with Bible thumping veracity. I've asked many times why this issue is important to so many Christians. It's as if the decline of our culture is symbolized by homosexuality. I am not certain that the decline of our culture has much to do with homosexuality. Selfishness seems to be a much larger issue.

BTW the Decatur Herald Sunday edition ran a story about a pastor's sermon series based upon super heroes. You might pick it up at the news stand--do they have those anymore?

rob smith