C & R Driver-Burgess’ photostream on Flickr.
My latest set of photos from our drive up from WEllington last weekend.
Ok, so last night I watched this year’s Superman movie by Zack Snyder. I recognised the high-contrast desaturated look of the movie from 300, and it was mostly a big techno-romp, with a little bit of classy acting. Henry Cavill did ok in a title role that required some angst as well as a lot of heavy hitting. I liked him better when he was wearing the beard. Russell Crowe was pretty impassive as superman’s father, Jor-el; I felt he could have been played by a computer simulacrum – which is what he was supposed to be playing a lot of the time, so was that good acting or not? Michael Shannon as the supervillain was sufficiently nasty, while actually managing to look like a man with integrity according to his own lights. It was great to see Laurence Fishburn doing a sterling job – even in such a cramped role. Amy Adams as Lois Lane was competent in a forgettable role. For my money the big awards should go to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Superman’s adoptive parents. Decent script-writing and understated acting made for some touching scenes as they worked out their relationships with a distressed child. And it was those relationships that gave the action movie a beating heart.
*Spoiler Alert* Don’t read the following if you don’t want to find out what happens in the movie:
Driving the big fisti-cuff/ let’s knock each other through buildings/ throw bombs at one another/ rip planets apart conflict is the decision facing superman as he has to choose between two futures; that offered by his fellow Kryptonians (the exiled leaders of a failed military coup on their now-destroyed home planet) to use the earth (and Superman’s own genetic material) as the foundation for renewing the Kryptonian race – at the expense of our entire planetary ecology. Or to fight against his own kind in defence of the technologically and physically overmatched humans. The flash-backs through his childhood and emergence into adulthood through his adoptive father’s death provide a coherent and believable set of motivations for Superman to reject the cruelty of the Kryptonians in favour of those who have given him shelter, understanding, wisdom, and love. Cool. There is very little drama in this decision-making. We know from the outset that he’s on our side; that one of his major motivations is to protect others. That character development almost manages to make up for the absurdities of superman’s powers (it looks like they tried to give his flying some basis in physics – but utterly failed, sorry) and the continued referencing of 9/11, a bit of LotR (Gandalf leaping from Saruman’s tower onto an eagle), a MASSIVE borrowing from the matrix as machines pluck pods of babies grown in an artificial environment, and even some Harry Potter (a blogger as the combination of Rita Skeeter and the Quibbler). As my eldest son said, “Don’t pick at it, it makes it worse!” Let it pass – those are minor issues.
The big issue for me is the central conflict for Superman; which isn’t actually a choice between Kryptonian planetary destruction over defending the helpless little humans, but rather the question does he positively accept his super-powers and use them to make a difference, or does he stay in hiding and lay low, so that humans won’t reject him out of fear of his differences? Essentially, it’s the reluctant messiah complex. And it’s framed as such. In the early moments of the movie, Jor-el predicts that humans would see his infant son ‘as a god’. At the turning point of the movie, immediately before he offers himself to the invaders as a ransom for the people of earth, Clark Kent seeks counsel from a young priest in a church. As they talk, you can see over his shoulder a stained glass image of Christ kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane, praying “If it is possible let this cup pass me by – but not my will, yours be done.” The obvious happens; Clark Kent puts on the cape, becomes Superman, and gives himself up to the evil General Zod. He even submits to a sort of death; losing his superpowers on their spacecraft, and then hallucinating sinking into a landscape of skulls. But he inevitably recovers, and (with some help from his ghostly Father) knocks the baddies out of existence (eventually).
So what we have here is a clearly contrived Superman-as-Jesus parallel. I guess it helped the movie to sell well in an America where Jesus is supposed to be something of a military crusader and his anti-violence message is derided and underplayed. This is the key discontinuity at the heart of this movie – and perhaps at the heart of modern culture. We want a messiah; someone to protect us from the evils that we have brought upon ourselves (no matter how much we protest that they are ‘aliens’ from ‘out there’ – we created our own enemies!) But we want that messiah to be just like us. Mark Driscoll, in the article linked above, has a point; the Bible is not a comfortable document for modern peace-makers. But nor is it a comfortable document for modern war-mongers. And at the heart of the Christian scriptures is a Jesus who most emphatically did not use violence or force against his enemies; instead he prayed for their forgiveness. He sought their reconciliation. He gave himself up to death (real death, not just some hallucination of it) on their behalf. Driscoll reads the pages of Revelation as if he were one of the oppressed minority churches of Asia to whom that book was written, and who were being assured – through powerful visual metaphors – that they are on the winning side, that they will overcome evil “by the word of their testimony and by the blood of the lamb“!!! Not by boxing their enemies through buildings and then breaking their necks. For someone living comfortably within the most militaristic society in history, that’s just got to be a bad idea. Driscoll is acting as an apologist for the modern incarnation of Revelation’s Beast.
Superman is the messiah as we want him; a messiah who conforms to our violence-fetish culture. He overcomes evil through bravery, yes. But mostly, just because he’s stronger and smarter than the other guy. And actually, that’s just a little bit unbelievable. What Christmas was all about was God becoming flesh, not steel. God joining us in our suffering, so that we can join him in his perfection. If I had to choose between messiahs, I know I’d be tempted to pick superman, oh yes! But I hope I would choose Jesus, instead. Because beating ourselves up all the time doesn’t actually work. We need grace and forgiveness, not pyrotechnics. Jesus Christ, not Clark Kent.
I wanna be Super-Christian!
I want to get up before dawn every morning without fail
and spend three hours in prayer and meditation!
I want to fast twice a week
without thinking once about my waist-line.
I want to be able to perform miracles of healing
and cast out demons,
and diagnose short legs and roots of bitterness
with a single glance of my compassionate eyes,
and then, with a mere gesture or a whispered word,
set people free from whatever it is that binds them.
I want to be so filled with faith that I never have a single doubt
and I never have to work again,
because all my needs are meet by God.
I want to be so free from materialism that I own nothing,
but can still give away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
I want people to immediately think of me
when they’re asked what a great Christian looks like.
And I want to be so immensely humble
that I’m never aware of this mass adulation.
I want to be so good at evangelism
that I just have to walk into a room for everyone to be instantly converted.
I want to be able to read and remember a book of the Bible a day
and actually understand everything I read.
And everything I write
(or at least, everything my researchers write in my name)
becomes an instant best-seller.
And not just in Christian bookshops either.
I want this direct line to God,
so that I always know exactly what He wants me to do
and he always knows exactly what I want Him to do.
And he does it.
Because I’m such a fantastic Christian.
I wanna be Super Christian.
What a pity I’m just me.
And the Bible says this:
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
3 If I give away all my possessions,
and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love. 
According to the Bible, nothing else really matters apart from love.
Only love is eternal.
Hope and faith are right up there,
but hope is all about the future
and one day that future will arrive and we will need hope no more.
And faith is our trust in the one who we do not now see,
but one day we will see him face to face
and our faith will be taken up into adoration.
Faith and hope will one day be redundant,
love is eternal.
When Paul wrote those words to the Corinthians,
he was writing to a church where people saw themselves as super-Christians.
Earlier in this letter he said he was writing to them,
“so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.
7 For who sees anything different in you?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!
Quite apart from us you have become kings!
Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,
so that we might be kings with you!
Paul can be really sarcastic when he wants to be.
To this church full of puffed-up people
who thought that the goal of Christianity is to become super-spiritual
he prescribes a radical change of direction.
It’s not about you, he writes, it’s about other people.
It doesn’t matter if you can speak in tongues or prophecy or move mountains;
what matters is how much you love.
It’s important to anchor Sunday morning sermon thoughts in reality,
so having your own personal examples of what Godly love looks like
is far better than having a few vague words from the pulpit.
So can we just pause for a few minutes
and talk amongst yourselves at your tables.
Ask each other this question:
“Who do I know
or what have I seen
that has shown me what real love is?
1 Corinthians 13 type love?”
Anybody want to share the example of Love they thought of?
Of course, Jesus is the greatest single example of love that we know of.
Paul points us towards him when he wrote to the Philippians:
2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2 make my joy complete:
be of the same mind, having the same love,
being in full accord and of one mind.
(and here’s where he really begins to warm up…)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This passage is one of the most important Christmas passages in the Bible,
because it talks about Jesus’ birth in the same breath as Jesus’ death,
and it shows us that the birth, no less than the death,
was an act of humility and obedience and love on Jesus’ part.
By entering into creation with us;
by becoming one with the world he made
Jesus healed the division between creator and creation.
In his body He is the bridge between heaven and earth.
And in his embrace of creation,
his holding and enfolding of sinful humanity into the inner life of the Trinity,
he didn’t stop at the manger
but continued to the cross and the grave.
Manger scenes tend to be prettily painted and very sweet.
I’ve done that myself.
The danger is that we miss the amazing indecency of what actually happened!
There was the out-of-wedlock conception,
There was the long journey in the final days of pregnancy,
There was the inability to find a decent room,
and the agony of birth – amongst animals!
There was the use of a feed-trough as a cradle.
There was a frightened and jealous king
who slaughtered an entire village of baby boys,
and there was a frantic flight by night from the danger zone
and being a refugee in a foreign land.
Jesus birth wasn’t especially pretty or lovely.
It wasn’t even a standard first century birth;
It was awful.
It was a pointer to the death that was to follow.
When God chose to close the gap between us,
he didn’t just come to the good things and the good people;
he came to the lowest of the low – shepherds and tax-gatherers.
Foreign astrologers and village no-bodies.
And in becoming human, Jesus embraced sin, and pain, and sickness
- and death.
Even death on a cross.
It is because God has entered into the very worst of human evil
and has destroyed it from the inside
that we have hope today.
Jesus has kicked down the doors of death
and thrown open the gates of the grave.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christmas is the beginning of Easter
and Easter is the completion of Christmas.
The two holidays cannot be understood apart from one another.
This has obvious implications for us:
This means that Christmas is not all about getting stuff
but is all about giving to people.
Giving hope and forgiveness.
Giving respect, and care and attention and compassion;
those things that mean so much more than stocking-fillers
and make such an amazing difference in the lives of lost individuals.
Please turn again to those around you, or simply sit and ponder,
and ask yourselves:
“what can I do this Christmas that will make a difference for someone else?”
(Close in prayer)
There’s a problem with that title – right there, in the verb. Being. There’s a problem that we can all too easily slip into an either-or mode of thinking about reality, and make our faith all about ‘being’ and nothing at all about ‘doing’. In this version of reality, my ‘being’ Christian is something static. It is the way I am, like the colour of my skin or the length of my nose or my place of birth. There might be some slow, minor developments over the years, but it is essentially always the same.
Yet Jesus taught us that those who love him (and that’s a good definition of Christian, right there) would DO what he commanded. He taught that the highest expression of godliness is love. And love is active. The writings of the earliest Christians and our records of Jesus’ teaching (the New Testament) abound with instructions for how to act. It’s all too easy for us to slip into a somnambulant state of ‘being’ in which all is well with my soul – and the rest of the world can go to hell. And that’s why Christianity is an ‘activist’ religion. Because the world – the lives of individuals and families all around us – are full of pain and suffering. God rejects the idea that human pain and suffering are normal and we just have to ‘toughen up’ and ‘get over it’, and comes to us to bring liberation and celebration. That’s the whole story of the scriptures, climaxing in Christ’s Cross and resurrection, and looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.
So because we have an activist God – a God on a mission – we get to go along for the ride, and we even get to play our part in God’s mission of bringing Shalom – peace with Justice – to the earth he created and loves. And so we are busy with the business of God’s kingdom. Doing works of righteousness and love. Bringing peace and truth to the earth.
So if ‘doing’ is so central to Christianity, how come I’m writing about ‘being’ Christian?
Because even though you can’t really keep being and doing separate (unless you’re involved in Greek philosophy) there is this essential point to be made – that who we are in Christ is in fact more important that what we do. The doing comes out of the being. Because I’m Christian, I do stuff, but I’m not Christian because I do stuff. I’m Christian because of what God has done – and is doing – in and for me. We talk of God saving us, reconciling us, adopting us, healing us, redeeming us, purchasing our lives from the slavery of sin and setting us free. In many different ways we describe what God has done for us, and the upshot of it all is that I have a different life now, and a different status. I am different. If before I was a slave, now I am free. If before I was an orphan, now I belong in a Holy family. If before I was sick unto death, now I am healed and whole and well. These are differences in my basic being. Before I was mortal and my life was no more than a brief flicker of existence across the inky darkness of infinity. Now I am eternal, sharing by the Spirit in the resurrection of Christ, and through him, the immortality of God.
Because who I am is different, what I do is different, too. My human doing is meant to reflect my human being. But being comes first.
Putting ‘being’ first has certain consequences. It means that we don’t fall into the trap of legalism; making our status dependant upon a certain set of actions; “You’re only Christian / saved / one of the elect if you do things our way.” Putting ‘being’ first undercuts all the human power plays by which we seek to control one another. No-one else can give or take from me the status that God has given.
Putting ‘being’ first leaves me without protection from God; I can’t hide my sin behind a cloak of religious respectability – ticking all the boxes on the outside, but continuing to be filled with envy, lust, fear, greed, sloth, pride, and anger on the inside. My ‘good works’ aren’t good enough. Only God’s work is good enough to save me from these things, and so I need him to have and to hold the real me. I need to lay down my religious defenses long enough to let God make me his own, and bring me healing and hope.
Putting ‘being’ first means that what I end up doing is done with integrity. I do it, not because it’s what others have told me is right, or it’s what others want me to do, so much as because it is consistent with my true nature as God’s beloved child in Christ. Because it’s consistent with what God himself is doing.
I’m an activist. I want to do so much and I want to make a difference, and I want to see God’s kingdom unfolding in the lives of those around me, and I believe that I might have a role to play in that – by God’s grace. I am an activist, but only because I am in the hands of an active God. It is who I am in Christ that makes me what I am. Being Christian leads inevitably to Christian action, but it is ‘being’ that comes first.
This year God used my annual retreat to challenge me about my greed. About my sense of entitlement to the good things in my life, about my resentment when anything (even He) gets between me and what I consider ‘mine’. About my refusal to let the good things he’s given me become a means of communion with others; my refusal to share in His name. I don’t stuff my face at buffet meals. I don’t avariciously seek to maximise every penny. I don’t feel any need to wear designer clothes or drive a flash car. I can sneer at all these things – and yet greed has innumerable tiny hooks in my soul, and it was only the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting, scripture reading and contemplation that exposed me. That showed me my need for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s discipline in my life.
There are episodes of devotion, like my annual retreat, that are intense and that can overthrow spiritual mountains (or expose spiritual undermining), but if those intense episodes aren’t grounded in daily life, then they are meaningless. How do we live in the valleys and on the plains by the light of the mountain-top visions? Here’s where the disciplines are essential. The discipline of fasting is taking the ordinary discipline of self-denial to a pointed extreme. On its own, fasting is meaningless. If I’m only prepared to deny myself on those special occasions when I ‘fast’, then I’m not really fasting at all; I’m just trying to earn spiritual brownie-points – yet another form of greed! I need to be able to deny my desires, my lust and greed on a daily basis. How? Start small. What’s something small that you know you don’t actually need or even want, but take for yourself because you’re afraid of missing out? Something that is a little self-indulgence. A little guilty. Whatever it is, it can be your opportunity to practice the discipline of self-denial. Say to yourself that you’ll forgo whatever it is next time you have the opportunity. Tell yourself that you are free to leave it for someone else to enjoy. Remind yourself that God will supply all your needs – abundantly. Consider how denying yourself in this way might help you to serve others.
When Jesus spoke about fasting, he talked about dressing up festively – “put oil on your head and wash your face” – instead of covering ourselves with sackcloth and ashes. His point was that the fast is between us and God so we don’t need to advertise. We should beware of using the disciplines as an opportunity for boasting, but the picture he paints goes a little further than that, too. We should dress up festively not just to put on a false face, but because we can be glad in our fasting – because God really is an amazingly generous God, and pours his grace out to us superabundantly. When we detach ourselves from our petty desires, and pause to see all that God gives, we live in gratitude and celebration. Fasting and self-denial shouldn’t lead us to pretend that God’s goodness isn’t good, but should sharpen our appreciation for the richness of God’s bounty. And that should overflow into generosity. These are the spiritual fruit that come from fasting; not misery and resentment and suspicion of pleasure and plenty, but joy in God’s blessings, and a warm open-handedness. We may first have to confront our resentment of God’s Lordship in our lives, and our anxieties about not having enough, and our fear of missing out, and so forth, and that might be a painful process. But the outcome should be a much greater freedom, and an easier communion for us all.
The whole world is now clutched tight in the grip of rampant commercialisation. There is nothing that has not been reduced to a market opportunity. Our worship of wealth has led to a tiny elite of super-rich, and ever-increasing poverty for those who supply the wants and desires of the 1%. The world needs better answers than “increased quarterly growth” and “buoyant markets”. It needs a new vision. It needs God’s Kingdom. And it needs us to show them what the kingdom looks like. But for us to show forth the kingdom, it has to become real in our own hearts. Can I commend to you the discipline of fasting? Prepare yourself well, and find a spiritual overseer to guide you in it, and then enjoy what God will do in your soul.
Ok, this is the list of references for the blog posts immediately preceding. Enjoy!
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So where does this leave us?
One commentator says
Whereas re-exegeting the biblical texts that bear upon this issue certainly has shed light on what those texts mean and in some cases leads to a re-reading of them, this seems to me to leave the basic issue unchanged. What revisionists must contend with is not four relatively isolated texts that prohibit, but a whole biblical witness to human sexuality that permits and affirms. …the vision of male and female in the complementary and productive union for which their bodies equip and prepare them. No other vision is offered.
Alternatively, though the bible affirms only one model of sexual relationship, does that mean that it necessarily denies the validity of all others? Another writer states
…there is in principle nothing to prevent our affirming the central importance of Christian marriage without necessarily in the same breath condemning other responsible sexual relationships. Marriage between Christians may be both sacrament and vocation and as such embrace and transform a natural coupling. It may in a unique way show us something of the Trinitarian mystery while informing us of the true nature of the relationship of Christ to his Church, It is not these things simply because it is ‘natural’, however, nor does its being these things and therefore God’s ideal for us necessarily have to deny the legitimacy of other ways of relating where this ideal is precluded for whatever reason. 
In other words, simply because we uphold marriage (or celibacy) as Christian callings and sacraments, does that mean that we therefore reject other forms of sexual relationship? This is a central question for us. What does the bible say? Where do we fall between the two views expressed above?
In reviewing the specific scriptures referring to homosexuality, we see that the bible never, apart from in Leviticus, addresses homosexual behaviour as a topic in itself. Paul, on three occasions, uses it as an obvious example of vice in pagan society. Many have noted that the homosexuality referred to in the vice lists, and possibly also in the Romans passage, very likely referred primarily to the forms of homosexual relationship that were known to Paul at the time; pederasty. It can be shown that other Jews who wrote about homosexuality at that time described such behaviour in such a way that they were clearly influenced by their social surroundings. Thus we can say that Paul was condemning what we would describe today as pederasty – but we should also say that, for him, that was equivalent to condemning homosexuality per se. What was wrong with these relationships, for Paul, was not just that they were exploitative or non-reciprocal or age-inappropriate, but that they were homosexual – they exchanged ‘the natural use’ of male and female roles in a very specific way.
Finally, then there is the law of Leviticus. As noted, this is the one occasion where the bible actually focuses (albeit, very briefly) upon homosexual behaviour per se. Again, like Paul’s statements in Romans, it can easily be read as having very broad applicability – to men, at least. When we seek to understand the principles and concerns underlying the law as it is given, we can see that it is probably aimed at limiting specific activities (cultic prostitution and abuse). However it can’t be proven that the original intent was simply to restrict abusive, idolatrous, and dangerous practices, and promote fertility. The context of Leviticus chapters 18 & 20 within the holiness laws requires us to read them also in terms of the confusion of categories that is inherent in homosexual relations.
So then we come to the specific question facing us; can these scriptures be taken to refer to loving, exclusive, and respectful same-sex relationships today? This is, after all, what it comes down to. All the biblical statements against homosexuality could be explained (away) as opposing lustful, exploitative, or idolatrous practices and therefore as irrelevant to the relationships that many gay Christians seek, enjoy, and hope that the church will bless and support. Is that the best way of dealing with these scriptures? Do such explanations deal with the scriptures completely, or do the scriptures still speak to those relationships which aren’t prostitution or pederasty?
Analogous issues: Before we leave the scriptures, we should consider the many analogous issues which are regularly raised in this debate. An analogous issue is one that is similar in some way to the subject at hand. By thinking about how we have dealt with this other matter, we throw light upon how we can deal with our current concern.
The most frequent is that of other ‘irrelevant’ laws, as suggested above. We often hear the argument that the church is reading the OT very selectively in upholding one verse in Leviticus 18, and ignoring a great many of the verses around it. The proposed analogy here is with laws such as that prohibiting mixing fabric in clothing. In reading Old Testament law, there are several criteria by which we consider it; firstly, as I have done throughout my discussion of the Leviticus passages, we should consider what good the law promotes, and what evils it seeks to prevent. While some do so from a materialistic perspective (i.e. how do these laws promote the health and socio-economic well-being of God’s people) this cannot be detached from a spiritual perspective; how do these laws promote God’s glory among his people, and limit idolatry and other sins which separate people from God? Many OT laws certainly had powerful material benefits, but none of them should be separated out from their religious context. In this respect we have noted the social and familial benefits of the restriction of homosexual relations in ancient near eastern households, and we have also noted how the Leviticus law might function as upholding God’s good creation of male and female, of God’s gift of life through procreation, and of the separation of God’s people from the surrounding peoples, emphasising holiness.
Secondly, we should consider how the laws impacted upon the people of God in their specific culture; this tells us something about the intended impact of the law. A notorious example of this is the separation of kinds of fabric in clothing, or seeds in horticulture in Leviticus 19. Many people point to these laws today, and say that as they serve no purpose, we have (rightly) discarded them, and should do the same with other OT laws. I hope I have shown, however, that the impact of such laws was not meaningless in their original context, but served to remind God’s people in everyday life of the holiness (i.e. separateness) of their God and therefore of his People. We have to ask ourselves if the intention of this OT law is still relevant in our society, and if so, how we would express that relevance today. What do we believe to be the intention of the Leviticus law? How relevant is that in our society? How should that be expressed today? It is abundantly clear that God’s call to holiness is by no means redundant. How do we show our distinctness from society around us in relation to issues of homosexuality?
Thirdly, we should consider the way in which those specific laws were dealt with in the New Testament, and thus seek the guidance of Jesus and his Apostles in our interpretations. In our specific case, it is clear that the Leviticus law against homosexuality was seen by Paul as still relevant, and his writing makes direct reference to it through the use of the word arsenokoites.
Jesus didn’t ever mention homosexuality, but nor did he mention idolatry so we should not take his silence on the matter to imply his indifference to it. Also, as we have seen, in sexual matters generally Jesus didn’t just affirm the OT teaching, but moved it from the realm of action to that of attitude. He also shifted marriage from being simply a legal contract, subject to law, and referred to it as part of God’s creative intent of the creation of maleness and femaleness, strongly affirming the creation mandate to marry, and to be one flesh. At the same time he made marriage a subservient institution to the over-riding importance of the Kingdom of God. NT teaching generally is strongly pro-marriage and also strongly pro-celibacy. Thus, we have to say that comparing the Leviticus laws on homosexuality (or incest, or bestiality) to ‘other irrelevant laws’ doesn’t really work.
Gentile inclusion Another key analogy that is found in the debates, is the inclusion of the gentiles in the (previously) completely Jewish early church; how the witness of the Apostles to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of gentiles led them to re-examine the scriptures, and come to a new decision about the requirements of the law for all Christians, thus welcoming into the church those who were previously banned, without requiring the gentiles to conform to the standards of behaviour that had previously been thought to be normal (Acts 15). While the key point is that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be Christian (or, in our analogy, homosexual people wouldn’t have to become heterosexual), a substantial secondary point is that the Jerusalem council took some pains to provide clear instructions on what ethical expectations they did have, if the whole of the Torah was not relevant in its literal form; they didn’t have to stop being gentile and start being Jewish, but they certainly had to change their lifestyles in ways which were costly, and which led, eventually, to martyrdom for some. If we were to push the analogy, then, we would have to say that homosexual people are certainly welcome in the church – as is anybody who is filled with the Holy Spirit of Christ. But the church should have no problem in saying that the characteristics of the individual’s life which were seen to be sinful prior to their conversion are still seen as sinful after and need to be repented from.
A much closer analogy may be the case of Eunuchs; banned from the temple (Leviticus 21.20) and from citizenship of Israel (Deut 23.1) by OT law, these men were still an everyday part of civic life, serving in various capacities (2 Kings 23:11; Jer 38:7) as they did throughout the middle-east. There was a word to them from the prophet Isaiah:
3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off. 
And this word was fulfilled in Acts ch. 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch was baptised, and set off to found the first church in Africa. The parallel here is, like that in Acts 15, that a group of people thought to be unacceptable to God, (in this case because of sexual ‘difference’) are now accepted as God’s people without any alteration to the essential point of difference that previously excluded them. There is nothing here, however, to suggest that there was anything about Eunuchs apart from their inability to procreate that excluded them from God’s people previously; that is, they were identified by a ‘negative’ quality – something they lacked rather than a positive quality (something they did or were). In other words, Eunuchs didn’t have to cease any specific behaviours in order to enter the church. Would the same be said for homosexually oriented people?
Women’s Roles, Race, and Slavery are issues which are occasionally brought up in this debate. The question is usually framed that, if the church was wrong about slavery and racism, and if the church was wrong about the role of women, and if the church now interprets some scriptures differently than it did fifty years ago, could the church be wrong again, now?
In response to this argument, others have pointed out that to say “wrong on slavery and women, and therefore wrong on homosexuality” is to draw an unwarranted conclusion reached on other grounds. Simply because a teaching is traditional doesn’t make it wrong, or that which it denies right. And of course the converse is also true – just because a teaching is traditional doesn’t make it right.
The value of the analogy is that it teaches us to be careful that our reading of scripture is not simply an acceptance of social norms (often, given the inherently conservative nature of the church, the norms of the previous century), but is a genuine attempt to discover the fullest meaning of scripture taken on the whole.
As regards women and slavery, a reading of the scriptures within the context of their times reveals that the provisions of the bible in their regards were essentially humanising, and, by comparison with their context, profoundly liberating. Thus we came to see that scripture contained within it a tension between the social norms of the day as reflected in scripture and the liberating power of God as regards slaves and women. Is there any similar tension as regards homosexuality? As far as our reading has gone, the only visible tension in the scriptures regarding homosexuality is that between the social norms of their day that accepted various homosexual behaviours, and the consistent biblical emphasis upon faithful heterosexual relationships as the only acceptable form of sexual relationship.
Contraception, Usury and Divorce; Finally, it is sometimes pointed out that the church has accepted, fairly uncritically, social norms without much reflection on the biblical material. Why, it is asked, don’t we do the same as regards homosexuality? Is it not simply ‘homophobia’? While it is true that modern innovations, such as consumer capitalism, contraception, and convenience divorce, have been accepted and even blessed by churches, that is not a good argument for saying that we should do the same with every trend; rather, we should revisit our stance, perhaps, in regards to some of these other matters, and strive for a higher standard of holiness than we presently do. It is valid, however, to note that there is a greater reluctance to accept change on sexual standards that don’t affect the majority. In fairness, we need to consider whether we would be so quick and simplistic in our thinking about homosexuality if it affected as many of our members as does divorce and contraception.
This concludes our survey of the key scriptural texts, themes, and additional, analogous issues.
In presenting this material, my aim has been to fairly, clearly, and comprehensively communicate the arguments that are frequently heard and used in debate within the church about homosexuality. I have not covered every aspect of the debate, but I hope I have covered the core issues in such a way that decision-making will be well-informed and careful. While I have critiqued arguments on both sides of the debate, I’m sure that my own opinions are reasonably clear. Nevertheless, I hope that the arguments speak for themselves, and that others will be able to sort through them and come to their own conclusions.
 (Wright 2002, 142)
 (Patterson 2000, 136-7n)
 (Scroggs 1983, 78 – 79, 88 – 96)
 One commentator notes that Jewish exegesis carefully delineates exceptions to the laws so that they can be applied easily – but that there are no exceptions recorded for this law, concluding that “A text without exceptions in Jewish literature probably really is a text without exceptions!” (Ron 2003)
 I am aware that some see the phrase “gay Christian” as an oxymoron; I use the term as it is used by those who own it.
 See, e.g. (Rogers 2006, 89-90) (Goddard, 2001) (Siker 1994, 154-156)
 Of note here, is that while the word translated ‘sexual immorality’ (porneia) listed among the prohibitions for the gentile believers in the Acts 15 narrative is not explained by the text, but it may arise from the Leviticus purity regulations (17.1 – 18.30) which applied not just to Israelites, but also to the aliens living among them (ch 17.8-16, 18.26). If that was the case, then it points to all the sexual boundaries listed in Leviticus 18.
 Rev 2.13.
 (McNeill 1994, 57) offers this analogy.
Isaiah, 56:3, NRSV
 (Rogers 2006) is an excellent example of this type of argument.
 (Goddard, God, Gentiles and Gay Christians; Acts 15 and Change in the Church. 2001, 13)