Three books, in particular, have been extremely helpful to me, two from the Seventh-day Adventist perspective and one from a dear colleague in the Methodist tradition. The latter book is The Moral Vision of the New Testament, by Richard Hays (San Francisco: Harper, 1996). It was named by Christianity Today as one of the hundred most important religious books of the 20th Century. In it is a chapter where Hays wrestles with the Scriptures on this topic in full and fair dialogue with a gay friend. Hays’ commitment to God and the Scriptures is unassailable. I remember him responding to a question at a seminar in Loma Linda about whether he has changed his position since he wrote that book twenty years ago. He responded, “I wish I could.” His compassion for people caught between their personal experience and what the Bible teaches was clear. But he testified that the he couldn’t get around what the Bible teaches. He said something to the effect that: “However one might exegete specific texts, the overall trend of the Bible is clear. Whenever the Bible speaks about sexuality within a traditional marriage, it is always positive, whenever it speaks about sexual alternatives, it is always negative.” Any person of faith approaching the issue honestly will find it complex and sometimes heart-wrenching.
The second book I found helpful was the volume edited by my esteemed colleague, David Larson, and others; Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (Adventist Forum, 2008). The book is generally considered to promote a more left-wing perspective than that of Hays or the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. But Larson explained to me the intention of the editors that the multi-author volume would provide a balance of perspectives that would include right, left and middle. But some of the more right-wing authors pulled out rather than be associated with other authors in the book, so the more conservative perspective in the book was there but relatively limited, giving the book a distinct, more radical flavor than the editors intended. While I found some of the perspectives extreme, I learned a lot from the book and recommended it to the members of the University Board as a good way to get up to speed on the issues.
In reaction to the above book, the Seminary at Andrews University set up a conference including many of the more conservative scholars who bowed out of the earlier project and added significant names from scholarship outside the Adventist Church. This resulted in another book, Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church, edited by Roy Gane, Nicholas Miller and Peter Swanson (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2012). It was expected that this conference and book would be very different from Larson’s. To my great surprise, the two books seemed to agree on more than they disagree. There are certainly points of difference. But the points of agreement were considerable and, in my view, point the way forward for the church. Any conversation on this issue should begin with what all reasonable believers can agree on. One purpose of this blog series is to spell out some of those points of a agreement and explore the best way for the church to move forward. I don’t claim to offer a final word, but those who have heard me talk about these things have urged me to share them for the benefit of the church. I will begin in the next blog by defining some key terms that are sometimes misunderstood.