The Journey’s End: Scripture and Same-Sex Relationships (Part Eleven)

In this essay I will finish my chapter-by-chapter summary, analysis, and critique of Karen Keen’s book, Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships. In this series I followed Keen’s outline, used her vocabulary, and let her frame the issues. However after today’s essay, with Keen’s argument and my analysis still fresh on our minds, I plan to reflect on the issue of same-sex relationships a bit more independently.

A New Approach?

The Framework

In chapter 8, “Imagining a New Response to the Gay and Lesbian Community,” Keen makes her final appeal for changes in the way evangelical believers relate to gay and lesbian Christians. She opens the chapter by summarizing her foregoing conclusions and urging readers to allow the following principles to inform the debate:

“Scripture interpretation requires recognizing the overarching intent of biblical mandates, namely, a good and just world.”

“Scripture itself teaches us that biblical mandates, including creation ordinances, cannot be applied without a deliberative process.”

“Evidence indicates that life-long celibacy is not achievable for every person.”

“Evidence shows that same-sex attraction is not moral fallenness; it could be understood as natural fallenness or human variation.”

Practical Options

On the basis of these four assertions, which are the conclusions to which the previous chapters have come, Keen argues that there are three ways evangelicals can embrace same-sex relationships without abandoning their evangelical faith:

First, the “traditionalist exception” view enables even those who believe that same-sex relationships are wrong to accept them as accommodations to human weakness because covenanted, loving relationships are better than promiscuity.  Second, the “traditionalist case-law” view accepts the principle that we must take into account the “overarching intent” of biblical mandates. Given that many gay and lesbian people cannot remain celibate and that their determination to live good lives would be greatly strengthen by remaining within the Christian community, traditionalists could view the relationship as morally acceptable.

Third, the “affirming” view accepts gay and lesbian relationships on the same basis as those between other-sex couples. The affirming view sees the biblical prohibitions as “prescientific” in the same way as the biblical cosmology is prescientific. The affirming view bases its acceptance of same-sex relationships not on the letter but the intent of biblical sexual regulations. For the Bible’s rules for sex are designed to prevent harm and facilitate “a good and just world.” “Same-sex relationships are not harmful by virtue of their same-sex nature,” Keen adds. They become harmful in the same way other-sex relationships become harmful, that is, when they are poisoned by betrayal, violence, coercion, deception, manipulation, and other unloving attitudes and acts.

Karen Keen’s “Personal Journey”

In the last section of the book, Keen recounts her journey from her introduction as an infant to “a small-town conservative Baptist church” to the frightening—in some ways shattering—experience in her late teens of “falling in love” with her best female friend. Keen continues her story by recounting some of the stages in her twenty-year spiritual and intellectual quest to understand herself as gay and an evangelical Christian. I will not attempt to summarize in detail Keen’s story. I could not possibly do justice to the confusion, pathos, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and suffering that at times shows through her rather straightforward account. Her book is the fruit of her intellectual journey…so far.

Analytical Thoughts

Theoretical or Practical?

From the beginning I’ve been struck with way Keen combines her intellectual arguments from biblical exegesis/interpretation and science with her pragmatic goals. In this last chapter we see highlighted her practical, pastoral side. Clearly Keen would prefer that evangelicals accept her exegetical/hermeneutical case for accepting loving, covenanted, same-sex relationships on the same basis as other-sex loving, covenanted relationships. But she is willing to tolerate the “traditionalist exception” and “traditionalist case-law” views—though they are far from ideal—as ways to achieve her practical goal of having evangelical churches allow same-sex couples to participate in the life of the church without having to deny their identities or struggle unhappily and unsuccessfully to remain celibate. Keen will not allow fanatical desire for ideological purity to stand in the way of achieving her practical aim. I am only speculating here, but perhaps she hopes that once churches allow gay relationships, even on a less than ideal basis, they may be persuaded to move on to the “accepting” view by coming to understand gay people on a personal level.

The Rhetoric of Autobiography

It is foolish as well as arrogant and uncaring to argue with someone’s telling of their story or to diminish the significance of their self-reported experiences. People feel what they feel and experience what they experience, and no one knows this better than they do. The quickest way to alienate a contemporary audience is to appear unsympathetic to anyone society has designated a victim of oppression. Hence it is almost impossible for members of officially recognized oppressed groups to resist using their stories of struggle and oppression as proof that they are on the right side of history, justice, and goodness; anyone not sympathetic with them is by that very fact on the wrong side. I appreciate very much that Karen Keen resists this temptation. Along with everyone else she knows that feeling that something is good or right or true does not make it good or right or true. Things are good or true or right independently of our private experience. To assume otherwise would destroy the very idea of morality. Nor can telling one’s story serve as proof for anything other than the subjective experience of the story teller. A listener has no rational or moral obligation to accept a story full of pathos and suffering as proof of anything other than the emotional state of the story teller. Such stories rightly evoke compassion but cannot legitimately command agreement.

It would take a hard heart indeed not to be moved by Karen Keen’s story and stories like hers. And I do not have a hard heart, and I never have. Her first church experience was not unlike my own, of a small, very traditional, and Bible-centered congregation. She wanted to become a missionary, and I wanted to preach the gospel in the church. I too made a journey through graduate study of the Bible and theology, confronting all the critical questions modern historians, biblical scholars, philosophers, and theologians raise about our faith. I am also passionate about healthy teaching in the church and the care of the little lambs in Jesus’s flock. We both published books with Eerdmans Publishing Company. I do not, however, have her experience of being a woman or of having same-sex attraction. I do not consider myself better than her on this account. I know that I am worthy only to pray the tax collector’s prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is also my prayer and hope for everyone, including Karen Keen.

Since I read Keen’s book the first time and looked at her website, I’ve felt a great love for her. I find her story compelling in many ways. And yet, I find myself unmoved by her argument that accepting same-sex relationships is consistent with a Bible-based evangelical faith for all the reasons I’ve laid out in this eleven-part review.

2 thoughts on “The Journey’s End: Scripture and Same-Sex Relationships (Part Eleven)

  1. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    Hello Ron,
    Thank you again for this blog (and the interesting book that you have recommended to us), and the unbiased way you have reviewed it’s contents. I’d like to say a genuine “thank you” to it’s author Karen Keen, too, for being courageous enough to write it! Even if i don’t agree entirely with her logic. The scripture remains.
    Here’s some of mine.
    I’d like to provide some data, some scripture, and a poetic epitaph (or reference to) from a poet known for questioning stuff. In this case, human virtues (altgough i’m not going to ask everyone to read Umberto Echo’s book “The Name of the Rose”, but the film is an eye-opener on sin, guilt and celibacy gone wrong).
    GT Stanton (2011) writes, “Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviours and attitudes- attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples- enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public, and unbelievers”. He continues ” Faith does matter, and leading sociologists of family and religion tell us so.” As he also quotes Profs Brad Wright and Scott Stanley, and their considerable independent research. We have our faith before God- don’t we?
    Roughly speaking, you are twice as likely to marry and then divorce in your lifetime, if you do not at least try to ‘take on board’ what is written above, regarding “couples” and ” marriage” in church. This is undeniably significant.

    Historically (across the western world), about 10% of marriages in the 1940-50’s failed, 30% in the 1950-60’s, 55% in the 1960-70’s, 50% in the 1970-80’s and this figure has drifted slowly downwards to about 45% (on average) today.
    Dependent upon where you live, we now have roughly 10 years data for the LGBT demographic (or community if you wish). On average, divorce rates are slightly lower across the board for LGBT; but, of the two main types of same-sex marriage, ~75% of divorces are female lesbian and ~25% homosexual male. Psychologists suggest that this data indicates that male marriage is more likely to have begun with a longer introduction, with female relationships much shorter? Though this ratio is common to ALL groups (the male homosexual marriages are showing more apparent faithfulness); and is suggested to be related to a known fixated ideal of what is referred to as a “white wedding obsession” for girls or indeed, a popular ‘cultural’ pan-global media Cinderella-themed organisation that brain washes all children with ” the Princess Marriage”.
    If i could add to the above with my recapitulation on St Paul’s ‘caution’ about “getting married if you must”- then to me, he seems to be making his point more about minimizing sin, than making generalizations about sexuality; he is simply thinking about helping us all to identify and act against sin in all of it’s guises. We none of us should want to think that we’ve done something that we intend and believe is good, only to find that it wasn’t the panacea we (pl.) thought. Did we definitively divorce because of sin? Or did, what we thought we had, fail because it simply wasn’t a proper marriage?
    Jesus, himself does mention marriage in heaven (there isn’t any) see later. Read Matt 12 v38-42 for an introduction on how Jesus is questioned, – He continues “When an evil spirit comes out of any one… it says ‘ i will return to the house i left’. When it arrives, it finds the house unguarded, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
    In chapter 23 v1- of St.Matthew, Jesus exposes hypocrisy, Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples ” the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat! So that you must obey them and do everything that they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach… and they love to have people call them ‘ Rabbi’… But you are not to be called Rabbi for you have only one master, and you are all brothers and sisters”.
    Jesus continues about all those people who take “oaths”. It is a bit of a ‘rant’; but by Jove it’s a good and valid ‘rant’! And it all leads to our own beautiful Christian New Covenant (brothers and sisters)- upon which you know “all other laws {things} hang!”
    I’ve laboured my point. But i hope that we all can live in both love, and tolerance, and do not judge too much.

    To conclude, and to make a poetic point regarding my worries about “too much moralizing” in the wrong directions, for the wrong reasons, with misapplied scripture- i’d been through Papplewick village in the forest of Sherwood (in Nottingham where we live) for a short walk. Down through the ornamental gardens behind the Abbey at Newstead, which is the ancestral home of Lord Byron. Behind a great decaying stained glass window i was thinking about a light-hearted article about a man in Las Vegas who married a house brick- and a lady who married her cat. Seriously?
    I found a plynth that i thought was a bird bath, but actually it is the biggest monument by far in Newstead Abbey. It’s the grave of Byron’s own dog “Boatswain”; and the inscription “Epitaph to a Dog” drew me to tears, for it is the equal of any ‘vanity of human wishes’ poetry i’ve read.
    Only God can answer prayers like this!

    God’s blessings.
    You’ll find this poem on Wikipedia under “Epitaph to a Dog” as i don’t know if i can post a picture.

    Liked by 1 person


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