So I have just finished reading James Brownson's new book on same-sex relationships and Scripture. I have no intention of offering a detailed analysis. I simply wish to offer the back cover blurb and then to make a few comments.
Here's the blurb:
In Bible, Gender, Sexuality James Brownson argues that Christians should reconsider whether or not the biblical strictures against same-sex relations as defined in the ancient world should apply to contemporary, committed same-sex relationships. Presenting two sides in the debate - "traditionalist" and "revisionist" - Brownson carefully analyses each of the seven main texts that appear to address intimate same-sex relations. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honour and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the biblical text. Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson's in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.
James V. Brownson is James I and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.
OK. Some comments. There is an AWFUL LOT that one could say about this issue and about this book. I will not.
But I will say this. The burden of proof for a change in the church's traditional attitude on this issue lies firmly with those who wish to revise it. The default stance is, as with any issue, the traditional one. And any attempt to change this position will have to do some serious biblical and theological work, taking what Scripture says very seriously but also reflecting on Christian theological loci such as creation, sin, incarnation, atonement, etc. It is not enough to complain that traditional Christians are out of touch or are unloving or
intolerant, as if that should settle the case. The traditional position is integrated into a certain way of construing Christian theology and biblical texts and unless that is taken seriously there will be no progress. And one cannot simply dismiss traditional biblical and theological teaching, because that approach is not going to help the vast majority of Christians (straight and gay) for whom this text is Holy Scripture.
So if revisionists wish to persuade the church then they need to take both Scripture and theology very seriously and make the case that certain kinds of same-sex partnerships are actually consistent with a high view of Scripture and orthodox Christian theology. That is the task.
James Brownson seeks to undertake one critical part of this task — arguing that Scripture's teaching and Christian holiness are compatible with committed, marriage-like same-sex relationships. He also engages the theological questions insofar as they relate to the biblical texts he deals with (and often they do). He is a wise theological interpreter of Scripture with an eye for biblical-theological currents. (For a short but intelligent attempt at making a more systematic theological case see C. Norman Kraus, On Being Human: Sexual Orientation and the Image of God)
What marks this book out from many others on both sides is that
(a) unlike some revisionists his exegesis is not strained but very plausible. Really — I actually learned a fair few new things (and I thought I'd read around this issue rather a lot).
(b) unlike some traditionalists he takes the hermeneutical question (in terms of theological and cultural hermeneutics) seriously. Determining what the author of Genesis or what Paul had in mind is only the first step, not the last.
So this is a very sophisticated and, thankfully, a very irenic book. Indeed, it is the best book I have read on this topic from a revisionist perspective (quite possibly from any perspective).
In summary: a very thought provoking and constructive contribution to the debate, one that those on both sides will need to seriously engage with. Highly recommended.