Oh. My. Goodness. Bill Henson rocks!
Last week’s class was divided into two parts. First, a testimony and challenge from Bill Henson, who Skyped in from Massachusetts. And second, an introduction to what Romans 1 has to say about Homosexuality. Clearly, the first half was the best.
Bill Henson is the founder and leader of a ministry called Lead Them Home, which is an outreach to people who are LGBTQ and to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Bill himself identified and lived as a gay man for a number of years before he found Jesus and fell in love with the gospel. I met Bill through a mutual friend, Lesli, who also Skyped in to our class a few weeks ago. I haven’t met Lesli or Bill in person, but I can say quite confidently—and on behalf of our class—that they have both reshaped how we should think about homosexuality and the church.
Bill is theologically conservative; that is, he does not believe that same-sex marriage is within God’s will. However, he has a heart the size of Texas for the gay community and has a very nuanced and compassionate approach to reaching the gay and lesbian people. His over-sized compassion probably stems from his many years in seeking identity and value in his own homosexuality. Now, he believes that Jesus, rather than his sexuality, should define and determine his value as human being.
Bill articulated with uncanny precision the need for Christians to unconditionally love people who are LGBTQ. No, this doesn’t mean that the church should affirm same-sex relations. Again, Bill is theologically conservative. But he doesn’t let the Bible—or a wrong interpretation of the Bible—prevent him from extending grace to undeserving people. We are all lost and in need of grace. Making such grace inaccessible, or creating a bunch of Pharisaic hoops for people to jump through to enjoy such grace, is neither gracious nor Christian.
“What the evangelical church needs to do,” says Bill, “is not change its theology but change its posture.” And “unless we change our posture, our theology will suffer.” A theology that believes that God died for undeserving enemies and extends scandalous compassion to sinners must—if it wants to be consistent—love others without footnotes and caveats. Again, such love does not demand affirmation of behavior, but neither does such love require prerequisites for relationship. If Jesus could befriend ancient gang-bangers, terrorists, and porn stars (Matthew 9), then His followers can certainly saturate the LGBTQ community with counterintuitive love and compassion.
Bill is also a huge fan of not reducing our view of LGBTQ people to issues surrounding sexuality. People are much more than whom they desire sexually, and Christians diminish the beauty and creativity of other humans by reducing them to a particular sex act. (I feel a passing reference to Phil Robertson coming on…but I refrain.) Gay and Lesbians desire relationship—like the rest of us. They desire love and value—like the rest of us. They desire acceptance, forgiveness, laughter, and joy—stuff that I have been given as a sheer act of grace by my Creator. A Creator who demands that I pass on such blessings to others.
There were too many truthful nuggets Skyped in last Tuesday night. If you desire to learn more, I’d highly encourage you to check out Bill’s ministry at blog.leadthemhome.com.
As far as Romans 1 goes, we took a look at the logic of Paul’s argument in Romans 1 (esp. vv. 26-27) and his use of the Greek phrase para physin, or “contrary to nature” (or “unnatural”). Everyone acknowledges that his phrase virtually makes or breaks one’s view of what Paul is talking about here in Romans. Is Paul talking about “nature” in the sense of “against cultural norms” (as he does in 1 Corinthians 11:14), or does Paul mean “against the design and moral will of the Creator?”
After looking at several Jewish and Stoic writers, along with Paul’s allusions to Genesis 1-2 in Romans 1, we concluded that he does indeed refer to the design and moral will of the Creator, not just to what is socially abnormal (like wearing a tank-top in Saudi Arabia, which is socially unacceptable but not intrinsically evil).
Now, many of you may be a bit lost. If you haven’t engaged in the raging discussion about the meaning of “natural” and “unnatural” in Romans 1, then theses distinctions may seem unclear. So, I’ll circle back around—both in this blog and in class next week—to make sure we all understand the interpretive options available to us. And as I said in class, while I believe that Romans 1 considers all forms of homosexual acts as sin, I would be the first one to acknowledge that there are some serious exegetical arguments to the contrary. Not everyone who disagrees with my traditional view of Romans 1 is tossing biblical authority to the wind. Again, traditionalists need to stop quoting Romans 1 and start interacting with the contextual, historical, and exegetical complexities of this complicated passage if we are going to demand that people without the gift of celibacy remain single the rest of their lives, or pull our funds from particular Christian-based humanitarian organizations.