Q & R: Radically incarnational
Here's the Q:
Brian, you have truly been one of the people that have brought my faith back to life in recent years. Thank you! One of the results is that my theology has become radically incarnational.
Now I have an observation about the issue of LGBT relationships and I would like you to tell me if I am anywhere in the ballpark or have hit a foul ball.
The Jewish prohibition on same sex relationships, as I understand it, is/was based on the notion that propagation was essential – every couple was thought to be capable of bringing forth the Messiah. For this reason (not to mention the really important role of offspring in agrarian economies), barrenness was considered a bad thing (often a curse).
In Jesus (and Paul), God has revealed him/herself as acting “incarnationally” (through the people gathered in his name) rather than “theistically” (the Giant Hand reaching out of the cloud). Yes, I know this is oversimplifying things quite a bit, but this could really get wordy.
So, if we are supposed to be about “putting skin on God”, wouldn’t it follow that if a committed, loving, faithful same-sex relationship accomplishes this, it would be rather difficult to argue it was somehow “wrong”?
So, which side of the foul pole is this going? Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Here's the R:
Thanks for asking about this. I think your destination is good, but let me offer a caution about your way of getting there.
When you identify "the Jewish prohibition" and when you associate the Jewish mind with "the Giant Hand," you unintentionally become part of a huge problem that we Christians have been creating for centuries. My friend Paul Rauschenbusch sums up the problem quite well here:
Most of us Christians don't even realize we're doing this. We forget that when Jesus and Paul criticized elements of Judaism, they were doing so as Jews themselves. They weren't outsiders attacking "the other;" they were insiders critiquing "us." They weren't part of a powerful majority religion stigmatizing a vulnerable minority religion: they were a vulnerable part of that vulnerable minority religion critiquing elites who were more powerful than they.
I'm sad to say I've made this mistake so many times myself … trying to make a positive point about Christianity by making a negative contrast with Judaism. It's only in the last few years that I've become more sensitive to the issue, and even very recently I've unintentionally repeated the mistake.
That us-them approach led to centuries of Jewish suffering in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, plus the added injustices being visited on the Palestinians today (both Muslim and Christian) as an indirect consequence of centuries of Christian antisemitism. For that reason, I think all Christians of conscience need to give up this way of argumentation for good. We need to make it clear that the problem is not and never was "Judaism" - the problem is and was hostile, elitist, exclusive, self-interested religion of all kinds, of which Christianity itself has provided no shortage of examples.
On to your positive point ... I think you're right: a "radically incarnational" theology is profoundly important and radically changes the way we see the world. It moves us beyond the patriarchy, chauvinism, and clannism/tribalism/nationalism/racism that so often characterize religion (including Christianity!) … It dares proclaim that God's Spirit indwells women and men, the young and the old, people of every race and culture, Jew and Gentile, the married and the single, and yes, heterosexuals and others (like, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch about whom I wrote in A New Kind of Christianity).