Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, Question 7

Can we find a way to address human sexuality?

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the trajectory of Brian’s career, but in this chapter he finally defends the rightness of homosexual practice.  He begins and ends with a couple of red herrings, describing those opposed to homosexual acts as “angry, dominating” fundasexuals (conservative Christians who seem overly preoccupied with sexual sins) and reminding heterosexuals that they have their fair share of promiscuity and divorce.  This last point is sadly true enough, but I don’t understand how the sins of heterosexuals prevent me from saying that homosexual acts also are wrong.

Here are the various arguments which Brian uses to defend homosexual practice.

1. Male and female is a dualism which goes back to Plato, so if you oppose homosexual practice you are being Platonic.  In Brian’s words, you are endorsing “the Platonic dualisms in which maleness and femaleness are two absolute, eternal categories of being into which all people fit.”

I covered this in an earlier post (“Interlude”), but let me say again that not all dualisms are Platonic and not all dualisms are wrong.  Brian’s argument is also strange from a historical perspective, as Plato himself might have been gay.  Plato said that you might remember the form of beauty when you look at a naked boy—an unfortunate statement which would have landed Plato on my state’s sex offender list.

2. Our experience should trump the authority of Scripture. He writes that “If a Christian today experiences gay friends, neighbors, colleagues, or relatives as healthy, sincere, and morally equal” then we must not “marginalize and discredit this experience” just because we think the Bible tells us “that they are rebellious and dangerous sinners, a twisted abomination, a…moral aberrance.”

Here I would appeal to Luther’s theology of the cross, which aptly reminds us to allow the Word of God to interpret what we see rather than the other way around.  Brian is reading his Bible and experience from the wrong direction.

3. It is unchristian to say that homosexual practice is wrong for then we are condemning gays “simply for being who they are.”

I address this in chapter 5 of Don’t Stop Believing, so I’ll just say here that we must not allow homosexuals to define themselves by their homosexuality.  They are essentially the image of God, not gay.  We are actually defending who they are when we say that homosexual practice is not how an image bearer of God should behave.  This may be difficult for some to hear, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t humbly and lovingly say it.

4. Brian says that “God demonstrates supreme solidarity…with the ones who are rejected and excluded…with the ones who are humiliated and shamed.”  So we who “cast the first stone at the ‘sexually other’” are throwing rocks at God.  Got it?

5. Biblically, if God accepted the Ethiopian eunuch (a marginalized sexual other) then we can expect God to be okay with other forms of sexual otherness, including homosexual practice.

Observe that Brian conflates loving a person and accepting what they do, as if bringing the gospel to a eunuch or homosexual connotes acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle.  He also equates being a eunuch, which is a non-moral issue, with homosexual practice, which is a decidedly moral one.

6. Rather than criticize homosexual practice we should be thanking gay people, for “By coming out of the closet regarding their homosexuality, gay folks may help the rest of us come out of the closet regarding our sexuality” (emphasis his).

I am sure that coming out is often difficult and I would gladly embrace anyone who feels isolated and ostracized.  But openness is not our greatest moral achievement.  I don’t think God grants unrepentant sinners a free pass simply because they’re vulnerable.  And neither do we.  I’m not saying that these sins are in the same category as homosexual practice, but just as we don’t exonerate Bernie Madoff because he said “I did it!” or John Edwards because he finally let his baby girl out of the closet, so I don’t see why we must look the other way when someone admits they commit homosexual acts.

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  1. Wait just so were clear.

    1. Plato invented genders?! I can only imagine the mass confusion humans had before Plato came along and explained it all two everyone with his dualism.

    2. I thought McLaren said like three years ago we were all taking a 5 year timeout from talking about the homosexual issue.

  2. Ryan,

    To your second point: a day as like a thousand years in God’s eyes, and since McLaren fashions himself to be God….

  3. If I understand pt. 3 right, Brian’s saying that we shouldn’t oppose homosexuality because that would cause some to deny who they truly are? But isn’t Brian more of a “red-letter” Christian? And didn’t Jesus say that one of the essential things in following him was to deny ourselves? It just seems completely out of place for him to make these comments since he says we are so prone to waste our lives. How can the church correct others from wasting their lives without telling them to deny something?
    Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic, but it seems that, in the end, he leaves us with a call to indulge our own desires and deny Christ.

  4. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”–2 Timothy 4:3-4

  5. Hmm. I hate to be a broken record, but once again I have to proffer and alternate view. I dunno if you’ve seen this yet, but Brian affirms Christian orthodoxy.

  6. Pt. 4 got me thinking . . . without any room for a doctrine of sin in his theology, if that’s what’s really going on here, is there any room at all for ethics in his system? Without any true notion of sin, decay, the being of things as they should not be, etc., from what stance do we then go on to distinguish between right and wrong?

    In a nutshell: If McLaren repudiates sin, then where does the humiliation and shame that Christ identifies with come from? And what is it?

  7. Religion should be primarily moral. Ceremony and abstract doctrines and historical claims are secondary. Condemning homosexuality, adultery, and fornication and so is more important than everything else. A religion that denies the need for morality is of Satan, which is why faith onlyism and once saved always saved are wrong, and why McClaren will join the Calvinists in the pits of hell.

  8. This morning I learned of the September 2008 “coming out” of Ray Boltz. It is sad that the one who wrote the words to “Watch the Lamb” is openly mocking Jesus Christ by his lifestyle.

  9. Better late than never, Yooper.🙂

  10. I remember the tears that ran down my cheek when I first worked up that song on my 12 string. I’ll still sing “Watch the Lamb”, however, I’ll preface it with how we need to obey and keep our focus on Jesus Christ with each step that we take.

  11. I have heard it said that, at any point in history, about 4% of the population is homosexual. There is beauty in the human body, and an undeniable attraction for both genders to both the male and female form. Like most beauthful things, we want to possess and hold and caress them, loving them, becoming one with them, drawing them into ourselves, merging their beauty into our own.

    Sex for the sake of sex is usually empty and unfulfilling. When a man and woman pre-plan a child together, and come together to create a body for that child, then that loving relationship act will surpass any carnal pleasures experienced before or afterwards. It is the co-creation of a new human being, when 1+1=3, that is the ultimate creative fulfillment we seek.

    A person who finds more beauty and love in someone of the same gender can co-create something other than a child with their partner. We are all creators. This world needs creators, to imagine a better future, a loving and peaceful future.

    Jesus gave us only 2 directives: Love God (The ultimate Creator) and love each other. All the other details are clarifications or distractions. Let’s return to “basics” and try to love each other to the best of our ability.

  12. hi mike and other bloggers,

    i’m siehjin, a youth worker in a mainline denomination church in seremban, malaysia (that’s a small southeast asian country north of singapore and south of thailand).

    i recently purchased mclaren’s book (i have not read any of his previous work) and have read it up to chapter 6. i find his questions good and his responses thought-provoking, although i do not agree with a lot of the things he says.

    thank you for this series of reviews, as they are very helpful and serve to spark further thought and reflection on these questions. the discussions in the comments are also fascinating.

    i haven’t read this chapter on sexuality yet, but i’m curious. how would you respond to a gay christian friend who claims that consensual homosexual relationships were not common in biblical times and as such are not addressed by the bible? in this view, homosexual temple prostitution and exploitative homosexual relationships such as pederasty are condemned by the bible, but not necessarily consensual homosexual relationships.

  13. Sieh Jin Kiew,

    As I explain in “Don’t Stop Believing,” this interpretation is impossible to reconcile with Romans 1:26-27. It also can’t make sense of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. While we no longer stone the sexually immoral, it is important to note that no one in the New Testament disagreed with the sexual laws of the OT.

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