Was Jesus ‘inclusive’?

jesus-mosaicI have written a Grove booklet on Same-sex Unions: the key biblical texts which is available from the Grove website. It explores, briefly, all the main biblical texts in the Old and New Testaments which come up in the debate on the issue.

Here is the chapter on the gospels and Acts.

The material in the gospels and Acts is of quite a different kind from the texts we have been looking at so far, in that there is no explicit mention of same-sex sexual activity. Arguments from this part of the New Testament therefore need to be made by inference to a large degree. This does not mean that there is nothing of importance here. But it does mean that we need to read realistically, taking historical context seriously, and being aware of the dangers of arguments from silence.

One of those arguments is that Jesus said nothing directly about the question of same-sex unions, and the inference made is that Jesus’ teaching has nothing to contribute. This is not strictly true, as we can see from two sets of texts.

First, in relation to the dispute about divorce (Mark 10.6, Matt 19.4), Jesus returns to the creation accounts. He emphasises the gender binary of humanity by citing Gen 1.27 first, before citing the explicit teaching on marriage in Gen 2.24. Marriage is not to be dissolved trivially, since it represents the restoration of the original unity of humanity.

Secondly, Jesus mentions sexual morality in Matt 15.19 (par Mark 7.21):

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

It is worth noting that ‘sexual immorality’ (porneiai) is in the plural, and is included as a separate item from ‘adultery’ (moicheia). This term would include premarital sex before marriage,27 and sex with a prostitute, but would also refer to illicit sexual unions prohibited in Leviticus 18.28 Given Jesus’ ‘conservative’ approach to sexual ethics generally (such as supporting the more restrictive of the approaches to divorce), it is difficult to imagine that he did not also share the characteristic Jewish rejection of same-sex relations.

Against this, it is often noted that Jesus caused a scandal by his association with ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ (Mark 2.15–17; Luke 5.29–31; Matt 9.10–13), that he touched the ‘lepers’ (Matt 8.3) and others who would have been considered unclean (Mark 5.25–34). Eating meals with such people was particularly significant, since sharing food in someone’s home was a sign of acceptance of them.29 This was clearly a significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry, and one we need to take seriously. In some ways it is continued in the first generations of Christians; from what we can tell, the Jesus movement was particularly attractive to those in the lower echelons of first-century society. If any marginalized group in society is missing from the church, this suggests that we are not following Jesus’ pattern of engagement.30 But we also need to observe:

  • Jesus’ scandalous association with ‘sinners’ never leads to accusations that he himself behaved immorally. Rather, where the Pharisees see themselves as being in danger of contamination by the uncleanness of sinners, Jesus appears to act as though it is his holiness which will ‘infect’ those around him. Had Jesus relaxed biblical teaching on sexual relations in any respect, it would have been the first thing used against him by his opponents. The silence here is very significant.
  • Jesus explicitly reinforces his association with ‘sinners’ in his teaching about his mission and the kingdom of God: ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you’ (Matt 21.31).
  • Jesus’ consistent teaching in relation to the kingdom is that it demands a response of ‘repentance’ (Mark 1.15). God’s initiative in coming close to us must lead to a response of change, in our thinking, in our behaviour and in the direction of our life.31 In Matt 21.31, Jesus links the comment about those entering the kingdom with the teaching of John the Baptist, and Luke 3 gives an account of the specific changes John’s preaching demanded.

So Jesus’ association with ‘sinners’ was not simply a question of hanging around with undesirables, or even welcoming them, but being prepared to take the risk of being with them in order to preach the good news of the transforming power of God’s presence in his kingdom. If anything marked him out from the Pharisees, it was his belief that even these ‘sinners’ could change and be transformed.32 This is typified in the encounter with the woman caught in adultery in John 8. In this encounter, Jesus simultaneously confronts the hypocrisy of the accusers, pronounces forgiveness to the woman, and affirms the possibility of change and transformation: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’ (John 8.11).33

Several other arguments have been made to suggest that Jesus’ teaching should lead us to accept same-sex activity:

  • Dan Via, in his debate with Robert Gagnon, notes that Jesus comes to bring ‘life and life in all its fullness’ (John 10.10). Via argues that, for people with same-sex attraction, to deny sexual expression to that would be to prevent them living in this ‘fullness of life.’ This raises some significant pastoral questions, but it does seem to set aside Jesus’ own example as a single person, who appears to have experienced ‘fullness of life’ without such sexual expression, and with it the long Christian tradition of celibacy.34 In relation to the text of John, it also requires us to separate this idea from Jesus’ teaching a few chapters later, that this full life is found in ‘obeying my commandments’ (John 14.15); somehow or other, this ‘fullness’ is present in the restriction of obedience.
  • Some have argued that Jesus himself set aside OT laws (such as the importance of Sabbath in Mark 2.27 and food laws in Mark 7.14–19) on the basis of common sense and human need. These are, in fact, better understood as Jesus restoring both Sabbath and food to their original creation purposes.
  • Others have suggested that there are ‘hidden’ affirmations of same-sex relations in the story of the centurion’s servant (Matt 8.5–13) or the two men in a bed (Luke 17.34). But, as with the story of David and Jonathan, such approaches are imposing a sexualized reading for which there is no evidence in the text and no real possibility historically.
  • It has also been argued that the admission of the Gentiles into the people of God, following the council in Acts 15, offers a paradigm for the church’s response to those with same-sex attraction. The difficulty with this is that it ignores the nature and rationale of the fourfold prohibition in Acts 15.29, which correspond to the laws that apply to ‘resident aliens’ in Lev 17–18, including the prohibition on same-sex activity.35

Acts 15 requests Gentiles to refrain from certain activities which were viewed as part of their Gentile identity and there is a strong case that amongst these was homosexual practice…[T]he value of Acts 15 for those seeking further to revise traditional church teaching on homosexuality is very limited. Indeed, by focusing attention on the Jerusalem council, revisionists may, ironically, have highlighted yet another biblical basis for insisting that, even as the church continues to struggle with this issue, to repent of its past hostility to gay people, and to welcome them into the church and learn from them as gay Christians, it must appeal to all disciples of Christ to refrain from homosexual conduct.36

27 Thus Joseph’s action in Matt 1.18–19.

28 See R T France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007) pp 586–587 and 208–209.

29 This makes Jesus’ instructions on sending out the 12 and 72 challenging for his followers (see Luke 10.7–8).

30 The group consistently missing from churches in the West has been the working class, and especially working-class men.

31 The Greek word here, metanoeo, has a sense of ‘thinking again’ but also translates the Hebrew shuv, which means ‘turn,’ literally in the sense of a change in direction and metaphorically meaning a change in direction of life.

32 Note that elsewhere he commends the teaching of the Pharisees; it is their failure to live out their teaching that he condemns (Matt 23.3).

33 The Lukan style of the passage makes it unlikely that it was part of John’s gospel originally, and poor textual support raises questions about its historical authenticity. But the episode seems highly characteristic of what we know of Jesus elsewhere in the gospels.

34 It is worth noting here that we have no evidence that Jesus was heterosexual in terms of contemporary categories of sexual orientation.

35 Richard Bauckham, ‘James and the Gentiles (Acts 15.13–21)’ in Ben Witherington III (ed), History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts (Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp 172–173.

36 Andrew Goddard, Gays, Gentiles and the Church (Grove Ethics booklet E121) p 25.


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32 thoughts on “Was Jesus ‘inclusive’?”

  1. I realise that this is by its nature a rather slight piece in terms of length, Ian, but I really think the way to engage with this question is not via those who make the nature of Jesus’ ethic as a pro-gay piece of argument, but the broader perspective on ethics provided by, among others, Richard Burridge in Imitating Jesus? I think the question is best answered within the context of the broad ethical sweep of Jesus’ teaching rather than by taking the specifics of a particular issue and trying to deal with them in a way that feels slightly like proof-texting (I know you’re not doing this quite, but I think the big picture informs the lesser issues rather than starting with specific texts and painting the big picture from them).

    • But what is included in the ‘big picture’? When Richard presented his book at New Testament Conference, I asked him what place eschatology had in his ethics, and the answer was ‘Not very much.’

      Yet in the gospels, the largest ‘idea’ in relation to ethics was surely the notion of ‘repentance’ or change, and this was provoked by Jesus’ proclamation of the coming kingdom in his person and ministry. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry was not unrelated to this—you see connections between the marginalised, ethical change, and the kingdom all the way through.

      Perhaps I have not expressed this clearly enough? I am not sure you can get much more ‘big picture’ than that can you?

  2. Just as a minor point on Dan Via’s comment on John 10:10 – in the context of John, surely life in all its fullness is seen in John 11 (raising of Lazarus) – i.e. the raising of all Christians to eternal life? As you say in another comment, it’s the eschatological picture. All our desires are not fulfilled in the here and now.

    Also, you don’t mention Mark 10 / Matthew 19 about Jesus’ affirmation of ‘male and female’ and the created order. As CofE canon B30 puts it, “The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong … of one man with one woman”. It is the only sexual relationship which Jesus actually affirmed. Maybe this isn’t a disputed text when it comes to those who affirm same-sex relationships but surely it is relevant?

  3. You make your case very well and from a scriptural point of view it certainly seems to hang together. When all is said and done, if Christ came to fulfill the law and the law banned gay sex, then it must be one of the things that Christians shouldn’t do.

    I’ve always seen the arguments of the revisionists as weak attempts to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The bald yet hairy truth of the matter is that if you’re gay and a Christian then it’s no sex for you, ever! If you slip up, then on your knees and grovel for forgiveness. That’s the price of faith. But don’t worry, a few lashes of whatever whip you habitually use to scourge yourself with when you sin, and a sincere resolution never to do it again are all you need to make things right. You can fall and keep on falling, but as long as you regret it, you’ll be fine.

    After 50 or 60 years of this, you’ll certainly have earned your place in heaven, or the kingdom, or wherever it is Christians go in the next life. I have no idea how post-mortem rewards are doled by God, but I should imagine the pious virgins over on Living Out will probably be the Vanderbilts and Gettys of eternity. A few decades of celibacy in the here and now in exchange for a great apartment with Throne views in the hereafter seems like a fair bargain, doesn’t it? Or will God’s favour be measured in goats rather than real estate, do you think. Are the lives of Old Testament patriarchs archetypal for us all?

    I have this vision of Sam Allberry sweeping down some heavenly hillside surrounded by a pre-Columbian bison-herd-sized throng of goats. I wonder, if we assume he gets 10 goats for every sexual temptation avoided, minus 1 for every chocolate hobnob consumed as a palliative for frustration, could we calculate the exact size of his herd? I hope he likes goat’s cheese. And long and luxurious Cleopatra-style baths…

    Anyway, while I amuse myself with visions of the nature of Mr Allberry’s heavenly bliss, the fact remains that if any of this Christian stuff is true, as a sexually active gay man, I’m toast. But quite honestly, I’m just not worried.

    I don’t just reject the clobber passages in the Bible. I reject the whole thing. I have no proof it’s true. Indeed everything I know about the universe makes it seem highly unlikely to say the least. Not only is it internally inconsistent (for example, are we justified by faith alone or by faith and works? The Bible says both, yet if one is true, the other can’t be) but it also claims we’re descended from a man and his rib, that knowledge can be stored in fruit and transfered directly into the brain via consumption of said fruit, and that not only can snakes talk, but their pea-sized brains are capable of forming complex thoughts and concepts and communicating them with subtlety and guile to intelligent human beings.

    If we take the clobber passages literally, (which I’m perfectly prepared to do considering that any holy book worth its salt has to convey truth to both the sophisticated and unsophisticated mind, therefore Occam’s razor must surely apply) we also have to take every other passage literally, and if we do, we end up in the realm of fantasy fiction with talking animals, learning by fruit and the co-existence of mutually exclusive truths.

    Such a Harry Potter vision of creation bears no relation to the world around me, therefore I conclude the Bible is just a story and nothing else.

    So yes, by all means, your fictional God is anti-gay and wants me to live a celibate life. But as he only exists on the pages of a book and in the minds of those who believe that book to be true, I’m not overly concerned by his likes and dislikes. I’m certainly not going to alter the way I live my life to satisfy those who can’t separate reality from fiction. You may wish to, but then as your fairy tale gives you most of what you want out of life (love, marriage, sex, social standing and power over others), it isn’t that hard for you to live by it, is it? Try imagining what your life would be like if you were gay. Do you think you’d be quite so keen to live according to your script if you had to play the bum role?

    • Thanks for the comment. I think we are agreed on what the Bible says. But I think you misread Christians if you believe that obedience is done out of a desire to earn merit. I did find that in the church I attended before faith became real for me personally. But since then my experience has been the opposite.

      I am sure Sam would agree with me when I say that Jesus really meant it when he said that he came to bring life in all its fulness. And the sometimes difficult, costly and demanding decisions of obedience are part of that.

      My hope and prayer is that, at some point, you will encounter this reality too. (I don’t mean that to sound patronising, but it is what I feel.)

      • You don’t sound patronizing, just vindictive and narcissistic.

        You hope that I’ll experience a conversion to your form of Christianity, which will require me to dump my partner, causing pain and suffering to both him and me. Then you want me (him too, probably) to live in solitude, isolation and sexual frustration for the rest of our lives. You wish upon us what you would never wish upon yourself: all the pain of divorce and unwanted separation and no chance of ever rebuilding our lives with someone else.

        This is the hallmark of the true Christian: whatever pain others must endure in order to shoehorn themselves into your one-size-fits-all moral straightjacket is worth it if they end up looking, sounding and acting just like you. Or at least your idealized picture of yourself.

        Sometimes when I read this blog I get the impression I’m looking at the world through the eyes of straight Christian male version of Katie Price. Both of you have an image of perfection in your heads that you strive for but probably think you’ll never quite reach. Both of you think everyone else should be striving for the same goals you strive for, no matter what it costs them. Both of you are utterly convinced of the rectitude of your position and are evangelical in your attempts to promote it to others. And neither of you gives a damn about the carnage you cause in other people’s lives.

        Your polite hope for my utter downfall and enslavement to your image of perfection is noted and rejected. Whatever I am will not be decided by you and the Photoshopped reflection of yourself you project into the universe and call God.

        • We talk past one another so badly here because we disagree about the nature of evidence. Roughly, it’s experience v. authority.

          Ian wants gay people to be celibate because he’s certain that it’s God’s will as revealed in scripture, and therefore, he’s sure that celibacy must be good for them. However much he empathizes with gay people, and I’ve no doubt he does, he’ll consider his hands tied.

          This is no comfort to gay people, and nor should it be. Everything they’ve experienced tells them that it’s healthy to accept your sexuality and to form relationships. If you don’t accept biblical authority, Ian’s position can look needlessly cruel. I accept his sincerity, but don’t like authoritarianism for exactly that reason.

          Many Christians don’t share Ian’s belief, either because they don’t share his interpretation of the Bible, or because they don’t share his approach to biblical authority. If the acceptance of gay people continues to spread, the church must, at the least, accept both views as valid.

          • I see what you mean. It’s hardly surprising that a white male heterosexual will place the authority that validates his life before experiences that differs from his. When you’re trained from birth to see what you aspire to as the gold standard for all humanity, your ability to empathise with other people and their aspirations is necessarily limited.

            The arrogance of an attitude that says “what I want for you is what God wants for you, because my will is God’s will, so shut up and let me tell you how to life your life” doesn’t leave much room for empathy though. It displays a total assumption of authority and a total rejection of any experience outside one’s own.

            Perhaps you’re right, perhaps Christianity is slowly maturing away from a model of imposed authority to one where differing experiences are recognised and allowed for. A religion that accepts the validity of diverse experiences is certainly more in keeping with our culture than the one-size-fits-all model promoted on this site. And yet I find myself wondering whether this vision of God is any more valid than any other. Doesn’t it boil down to us all trying to make God in our own image?

            Seems to me that God as a composite reflection of all of us is just as artificial a construct as God as a reflection of a white straight male. In neither case can we point to anything as indisputable evidence of the existence of such a God. Or any God at all, come to that.

            In the end it all comes down to a conscious act of believing in the stories we construct for ourselves. Whether one story is accepted by all, or each individual writes his own, they’re all still just stories. And stories with no factual basis beyond “I want to believe this” have to be classified as fiction until corroborating evidence establishes them as fact.

  4. Hello Ian,

    I don’t doubt your argument above in some ways – you write of Jesus that “it is difficult to imagine that he did not also share the characteristic Jewish rejection of same-sex relations” and make a good case… but couldn’t it be objected that it’s also hard to imagine that he didn’t reject usury? I raise this to ask about interpreting this now – after all there aren’t any pro-usury Biblical texts either….

    Have more to say about your piece on the Leviticus text – but not now!

    in friendship, Blair

    • As Lorenzo notes below, there are exceptions to the ban on usury, specifically the charging of interest to those outside the people of God. So there is very far from an exact parallel.

      However, I would actually agree that we need to take the ban on usury seriously, and ask big questions of our debt-dependent version of capitalism. I do this in a couple of places:




      • Hello Ian,

        But if we’re speaking of the Torah, there are as it were exceptions regarding homosexuality, given that sex between women is not mentioned. Or from another angle, Andrew Goddard’s essay ‘Semper Reformanda in a changing world’ (available on Fulcrum) gives evidence that, in Christian circles up until Calvin and others reworked the tradition, the ban on usury was absolute: so even if you hold that the ban on same-sex sex is total and absolute, there could be an analogy here. Either way, I suggest that the parallel is closer than you allow.

        If I’m not misreading you, an important argument of yours on usury in the pieces you link to is that there should be a cap on the rate of interest, to give a stronger bulwark against extortion (e.g. your support for Germany’s 20% legal limit). But if I’m understanding you, you’re not arguing for a return to a total ban on usury – so it’s odd that you give those links in the context of support for your argument about homosexuality. It could be cheekily suggested that, just as carefully limited usury should continue to be permitted, so as to be strictly anti-extortion, only faithful permanent gay relationships should be permitted, so as to be clearly against promiscuity 🙂

        in friendship, Blair

  5. Usury is not utterly condemned in Jewish law, however trying to cast our Lord as a Torah-observant Jew whilst holding that he also taught the key doctrines of Protestant Christianity is quite strange, and the usual riposte trying to divide the Torah between moral and ceremonial commandments is in itself not very Jewish at all, or Christian for that matter (James 2.10). Your argument is circular: moicheia (not morcheia, by the way) and porneia are condemned by Jesus, he must have included homosexual activity among these, therefore homosexual activity is condemned. The conclusion has to be true for the premise to be valid, that’s no argument at all.

    • Thanks for the correction–well spotted!

      I am not sure I follow the logic of your comment here though. It is a relatively straightforward exercise in historically-informed reading to ask ‘What would Jesus’ hearers have understood by these words?’

      There is ample evidence from rabbinical sources that porneiai would have been understood to include the whole list in Lev 18, which was a key text for sexual ethics. Reference to it in Acts 15 and 1 Cor 6.9 makes this even more certain.

      How is this at all circular?

  6. And sex with another man can never, ever constitute adultery (moicheia) in Jewish law, even though it may be considered quite immoral, open your Talmud.

  7. Beg your pardon, but there’s a huge amount of discussion among rabbis about why or if the things mentioned in Lv 18 constitute porneia, most of them did not have a clue what to’evoth, for instance, might have meant, or go to fantastical lengths to try to figure out why some of the harsher mitzvoth (you know, marrying your rapist, being put to death if you don’t shout loud enough for help when violated and the like) are not counted as hukim (commandments for which there is no obvious reason, logical or moral). In fact, most of the discussion is devoted to this.

    Your argument is circular because its conclusion is needed to prove the veracity of its premises.

  8. Ian, you write that ‘Jesus’ scandalous association with “sinners” never leads to accusations that he himself behaved immorally’, later minimising the scandal caused by his behaviour around the Sabbath as ‘in fact, better understood as Jesus restoring both Sabbath and food to their original creation purposes’, not setting aside Old Testament laws on the basis of human need. Yet to his accusers, this appeared as profoundly immoral, involving clear-cut defiance of a commandment handed down by God, breaching which could be punishable by death. The particular circumstances of persons, their suffering and desire for freedom and acceptance, were irrelevant from the perspective of some of the most pious: God had ordered Creation in a certain way and rules were rules. I think the question of what makes an immoral act immoral is extremely important.

    • “I think the question of what makes an immoral act immoral is extremely important.”

      Couldn’t agree more, Savi. Time and again, objections to gay relationships come back to authority. Those who want gay people to suppress their sexuality for life say its expression goes against the norms that God sets out in scripture.

      OK, but what’s actually *wrong* with gay relationships? What harm do they do? Absent obedience to a source of authority, is there *any* rational argument against them?

      If none can be found, then perhaps, just perhaps, we should reconsider the weight put in that source of authority?

  9. Alongside the basic question of what is wrong with gay relationships (and why we always seem to be discussing men!) is why anyone in any circumstance would choose to try to intervene in the sexual preferences of another person. If there is something that is “wrong” taking the historical record as a whole, it is surely this, causing more misery and placing more restriction on the fullness of life than just about anything else. As something that corrupts and undermines community and the celebration of human creativity it is without equal. Why do you, Ian, even think of going there?

    • Aidan, I think the traditional response is that through most of human history and in most cultures, sex and sexual relations are not private things but communal, since sexual conjugation is the basis for social cohesion. We are freaks of history imagining that this is all about ‘private preferences’!

      From a Christian point of view, there is also the question of how we understand what it means to be human, and how God’s revelation of himself shapes that.

      I have been drawn into this debate, practically, not because of any prurient interest, but because it is out there being discussed, and I am offering my own contribution to that.

    • Oh, and we are mostly discussing men, since this affects men more than women, and I think it is widely accepted that both socially and psychologically the two phenomena of male homosexuality and lesbianism are quite distinct.

      • Ian, if we were engaged in some sort of Bohmian dialogue, this would be a wonderful start. I wrote sexual preferences and you quoted back “private preferences”, for instance. I wonder what assumptions that would allow us both to uncover if we supported each other.

        Equally, I am sure you have been drawn into the debate with the best and most authentic intentions, my point was that to intervene, to join that debate, has historically been deeply divisive and destructive. Difficult I am sure for you not to take sides precisely because the debate is so destructive, but in my estimation the more Christian thing is to turn the other cheek. I expect you have read Leaving Alexandria.

        Put this another way. Exactly who do you think you might reconcile to whom by your exegesis of what in your own words is a bit of a non-issue in the NT?

        • I don’t want to speak for Ian but I, for one, see great value in his perspective. I think he’s following the “narrow way” which is certainly the way Jesus calls his disciples to choose. If it “has historically been deeply divisive and destructive” Jesus certainly expected that response to his message (Matt. 10) not as a matter of intention, but as a matter of course. I think reconciliation has to come on Jesus’ terms, whatever they may be, not ours. Your suggestion that he rather turn the other cheek, implies that there is no room for any legitimate dialogue or debate on these issues. Turning the need to turn the other cheek arises in a context where to object to being slapped on the cheek by a Roman soldier meant that his next blow would be fatal. The time for that may come when those with Ian’s position on this issue can be punished severely for it by the power of an authoritarian state. To ask that of him now seems a bit presumptuous, I would think.

          • Paul,
            I dipped my toe in what for me is a weary and wearying non-conversation. To be endlessly told “what the bible says is this” and “what Jesus meant is that” leads nowhere but round in circles to itself. To be fair I think I made real contact with Ian, a metaphorical twinkle in the eye if I am not mistaken.

            I was led to read some of Ian’s blog by someone who suffers from the same blindness and defensiveness I find in your words.They too wanted Ian to be an intelligent champion. I want to talk to that person as a friend and the narrow way is too narrow!

            You and I may overlap in the challenging nature of what Jesus brought. His challenge to the power that keeps us in chains was not direct but was effective. It had real consequences that we don’t see today. But the idea that his words brought division and destructiveness amongst his own people is a stretch for me!

            Even chains have very different connotations in today’s world.

        • Aidan,
          I’m sorry that you find blindness and defensiveness in my words. I’m sure you are correct about that. I try to work at a remedy for it and hope always to see more clearly in time. But where you see a wearying non-conversation that leads nowhere but in circles, I think I see better understanding that, for me at least, makes the sort of friendship that you favor possible. I see the “narrow way” as one between the extremes of inclusiveness and exclusiveness that many Christians are taking in this discussion. Rather than championing my point of view, Ian’s commentary has been very instructive for me. It demonstrates the challenge for those who follow Jesus to also avoid those wide extremes and live out the same tension between them that he did. It also demonstrates very well that one can’t easily make Jesus’ words say and mean whatever one wants. There is some valuable understanding to be gained in the effort required for a deeper understanding of the Bible and its cultural and theological context. The discussion only seems to lead nowhere on the surface, I think.

          As for Jesus words bringing destructiveness and division among all sorts of people, even his own family, I think that is frequently described in the Gospels and demonstrated in much of our history since Jesus’ time. His words still challenge us in that way today. I think the chains with which we are bound can only be broken when we embrace the whole of Jesus life and teaching, not just the parts that make us comfortable. That is an act of faith and trust, but it promises to be a life transforming one. In my defensiveness, I only mean to suggest that it isn’t necessarily the case that the problem lies with the messenger when the message brings division among those who hear it. Jesus’ message has certainly done that. On the other hand, it’s been so much an inspiration for great good in the world that I find it hard to imagine our not being much worse off without it.

          • Paul,
            A gracious response from you and I will respond in turn, but only to try and ground something. We should take the conversation offline if you want to explore.

            You are having a conversation with someone who is weary as I said. I don’t experience words as conveying “intended” meaning. I despair of the literalism of our “education”. To double check with myself I tried negating the sentences in your last post.

            Unless I experience a spark, unless I glimpse a person behind all the face, unless I hear a message radical enough for our times, unless I sense the person I am talking to can also experience the vacuousness that passes for life, I don’t have the energy to build communication. Sorry.

            This morning I will talk to two strangers about a project to re-engage kids with the natural world. My experience of bringing up my own five is that wilderness is key. Literal grounding!

      • I’d be interested to know your sources for this!

        Isn’t the Bible’s near-exclusive focus on male homosexuality a large part of the gendered focus? Alongside a lot of patriarchal cultural baggage about dominance and masculinity (i.e., guys hopped up on machismo who view gay men as being “unmanly” for taking on a “woman’s” role).


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