I have another post on interpreting scripture almost ready, but . . . things happen.
Like a lot of people, I prefer not to discuss the issue of homosexuality in the church. I have expressed my position on this repeatedly: Temptation is not sin; desire is not justification. No matter what one says, commenting on it is equivalent to painting a target on your chest. But events sometimes complicate our preferences.
Recently, Jonathan Henderson, the chaplain at Pacific Union College preached a sermon on the topic. You can find a video of the sermon, and an article here.
I must say, I found him and his delivery quite humble and winsome. It is no surprise it is being widely praised. His basic point is that God is practical, He deals with us as we are, rather than as we ought to be. Not only can I not quarrel with that point, I heartily endorse it. God is practical, and that is something we too often lose sight of.
Everything in the chaplain’s message hinges on a passage in Matthew, where, when discussing marriage, “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’” Matthew 19:8.
He points to this as an instance where God “called an audible,” that is, where God through Moses dealt with the situation as it was, not insisting on the ideal. And once again I agree. That is exactly what happened.
However, his conclusion is that in Moses granting a bill of divorcement, God was relaxing his requirement of the ideal of one man/one woman marriage. From his presentation, it is clear he sees granting the bill of divorcement as a relaxation of this requirement. And, in light of that, perhaps we should relax the notion of one man/one woman marriage as necessary, because, quoting Jesus, “not everyone can receive this teaching.”
But that turns the passage–and history–on its head. When Moses granted Israel the “bill of divorcement,” it was a new restriction, a movement toward the ideal, not away from it. Before the bill of divorcement, a man could simply throw the woman out, with no explanation. That meant that a woman who perhaps had too sharp a tongue for the man’s liking (no, I don’t believe that’s cause for divorce, but they did), could not be distinguished from one who was promiscuous, guilty of serial infidelity. The effect was to make all divorced women unmarriageable, and with few or no means of survival.
The bill of divorcement, however, had to give a justification, and drastically improved the prospects of most divorced women. It was not a great improvement. But it was an improvement, a movement toward the ideal, not away from it.
Although not stated explicitly, Henderson’s conclusion strongly implied that same-sex marriage is one of God’s audibles, that though not ideal, it is an appropriate accommodation to things as they are.
Is it a relaxation that God is granting, or is it movement toward the ideal? Is it more thorough expression of inclusion and grace, which after all is the center of the good news? Certainly, as I said, Henderson’s presentation was winsome and inclusive, and certainly appeared gracious. Watch the video and decide for yourself.