[Embarrassing confession: The following post was begun in December 2013. No joke! It has sat pretty much untouched in my Drafts folder since its birth — a neglected child, orphaned by its maker. Most of that is forgetfulness; some of that was fear. I determined it was likely time to send it out of my Drafts box and move on. :-)]
But now I know Phil.
Allow me to sketch a few things about myself:
I have been blogging here since 2007. Besides the occasional link in a Six-Pack, I have never posted about homosexuality.
If you enjoy labels, I suppose that I would be considered a conservative Christian from a mostly-Evangelical heritage.
People I know personally and value deeply would claim positions on multiple sides of this multi-faceted conversation. Some of them would even defend those positions well.
Perhaps more than any other conversation topic currently crossing my radar, dialogue around the topic of homosexuality highlights one word for me: nuance.
NUANCE IN MOUTHS AND EARS
Literally defined, nuance is “a subtle difference of or shade in meaning, expression, or sound”.
Nuance is the intellectual and linguistic ability to pick up individual grains of rice with a pair of tweezers.
As a speaker, this requires crystal-clear thought processes along with a finely tuned command of language (and one’s tongue). Within any bowl of rice, there will be some whose only utensil is a wooden spoon. These people should never be nominated as spokesmen for potentially explosive conversations.
As a listener, this also demands graciousness, displayed first by a tendency to reply inquisitively rather than insultedly. Such a listener will live with the acknowledgment that numerous views exist upon spectrums that contain more points than “right” and “ridiculous”. Many of these points will only be discovered as nuanced speakers (mentioned above) enlighten us to perspectives other than our own. Listeners whose ears register only the frequency of their own voices will make as much mess of the rice ball as the wooden-spoon-speakers mentioned above.
As was indicated earlier, I have never posted on the topic of homosexuality. It’s not that I have no thoughts on the subject, but I confess to questioning the value of adding one more voice to a dialogue that seems destined to be hijacked by the opinionated extremes of the discussion. Would it be too simple to say that this post awoke me in the night, and as a father with small children, I’m only typing so that my mind will allow me to go back to bed? 😉
Some random reflections, in the spirit of nuance:
Duck-man Phil’s comments about the illogical nature of gay relationships are hardly shocking. His phrasing, containing blunt mention of male and female anatomy, certainly engaged ears. But his basic point is hardly controversial: We cannot imagine what we cannot imagine. I have friends who anoint every dinner in burn-your-face-off hot sauce. My mouth does not enjoy the fire or the flavor of such a condiment. I have no trouble declining their every offer. In fact, I cannot imagine desiring that sensation as part of my meal. To my mind, it is illogical. To Phil’s mind, some other things are illogical. And when nuanced speakers are heard by nuanced listeners, then it doesn’t seem outrageous to imagine that many heterosexual men and women likely share Phil’s sentiment, albeit their expressions of the thought might come out through a different sequences of words and images.
As a student of Scripture, the piece of this large conversation that most interests me is the discussion of how we interpret the Bible’s teaching on the subject. I am not so out of tune with reality as to assume that every participant in this conversation gives a rip about the Christian faith or the words of our sacred text. But for my part, that is the strand that grabs my first level of interest. Everyone has a first strand of interest; now I have identified mine.
By its very nature, the more specific discussion about gay marriage demands nuance. The Bible-believing, God-fearing faith-folks will require nuance to keep from the turning this conversation into something else.
It is a separate topic to discuss whether Christian values should govern one’s nation.
- Who gets to determine this?
- On what historical or biblical model are you basing your concept?
- Are you speaking of the Christian equivalent of what we see in Muslim states where Sharia Law governs, or are you envisioning something else?
It is yet another topic to consider what the role of government is within a democratic country.
- What does it mean that public servants represent the people, when the opinions of the people are all over the map?
- Shocking as this may be, democracy is not a biblical teaching despite the fact that some of its foundational thoughts might be a rooted in biblical concepts, such as the value of every individual as an image-bearer of the Creator.
- How are the elected officials within a given democracy expected to protect or provide the privileges described in their Constitution to every stripe of citizen under their care?
In the handful of articles I recall reading, which provided commentary on Phil’s remarks, the majority of writers and journalists expressed bewilderment at a string of words within his opinion. The particular string of words were an impressively accurate paraphrase of Romans 1:21-27, provided below.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
As acknowledged earlier, some could not care less about Romans 1, or the apostle Paul, or the fact that Romans is one of the most profound texts in the entire Bible. But for some of us participating in the conversation, these are substantial facts.
(An aside to journalists, bloggers, and social commentators: When someone who professes to love the Bible, inserts mid-speech a string of words that don’t sound entirely like their own, the odds are reasonable that they have determined that Scripture expresses their next thought better than their own words. Google will typically decode this mystery, if help is needed. There is no sarcasm present here, as I’m fully aware of widespread biblical illiteracy. I just found it surprising how many people published pieces that expressed mystification over the most un-Phil-flavoured phrases of his whole spiel, despite these words and wordings having been spoken and respoken for two millennia. Tangent complete. 🙂 )
And it is words like those, with 2000 years or more of mileage, that intrigue me most.
This portion of the conversation is typically framed by the following thoughts:
Critics of the “traditional interpretation of the Bible” (This phrase gets used – sometimes for distinguishing, sometimes for dismissing – by people with a wide range of views on Scripture) point out that the Bible’s explicit mentions of homosexuality are few, with most references coming from the Old Testament.
Bible-loving individuals, whose theology lacks nuance, often attempt to throw down their “God says so” trump card before anything of value is on the table. Even if one believes wholeheartedly in a holy God who governs the morality of the universe, calls for nuance go out one more time. Your cause is not served well by flippant phrases or careless commentary. If the Kingdom of God is as central as you say it is to the reality of the universe, surely there are wiser ways to dialog — even disagree — with those holding opinions not your own.
In speaking of the Bible, it’s a fairly simple concept that not every portion of Scripture is equal in weight. The Bible is not a flat text, with every word dwelling at equal elevation. For some, this concept is shocking. For some, this concept is enlightening. I am not even implying that the Scriptures referring to homosexuality are insignificant. I’m simply pointing out that a lack of theological nuance can cripple any conversation centered upon Scripture.
Bible-bashing individuals, whose un-theology lacks nuance, frequently employ a feisty-while-funny line of reason, particularly when dealing with Old Testament verses that include the word “abomination”. The dismissal can be summed up in one witty line: “Well, God forbid shrimp too!”
Ah, and He did. 🙁
The argument appears an enlightened, humorous indictment of the brainpower so obviously lacking among the Bible-believers. Make no mistake: there is a worldwide lack of brainpower, and some of the shortfall is among the people of faith. But a serious irony dwells here, for the Bible-basher has just displayed the same error so common among Bible-believers: He is treating the Bible as a flat text, where every word is equal in value. (With clarity and conciseness far beyond my own, Timothy Keller breaks this concept down for anyone who cares to learn how to handle Scripture, regardless of their faith convictions. His brief piece is especially about why Old Testament application can seem inconsistent to some. It’s short and helpful to this and other discussions.)
OVER AND OUT
Mark McKinnon, an American political advisor, gives mostly-sound advice to any person in any discussion: “To pull off successful attacks in debates, you have to execute with nuance and subtlety. It has to be artful.”
Going beyond McKinnon’s strategizing for “attacks” and “debates”, the art of nuance is more than a battle scheme. It’s a good life skill for expressing care toward others and for learning from those unlike ourselves.
It’s a move of grace. It’s a method of wisdom. And it’s not always modeled best by folks whose lives revolve around bird-hunting. If Phil strikes your chord, that’s your choice.
But as for adding nuance to this, or any other potentially dicey conversation, that’s your duty.
So go for it… carefully. 🙂
[One ancient Draft cleared out. Next up: A rousing piece on Y2K! I never claimed to be trendy, at least not in any timely fashion.]