Yesterday I finished Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Hays is my favorite New Testament scholar, so it should come as no surprised that I loved the book. Hays always makes me more sensitive to the text, points out things I have not seen before, asks questions I have not pondered, and, yes, says things that I do not agree with. But enough about how much I like Hays because the purpose of this post is a bit different.
For anyone who does not know, Richard Hays thinks homosexuality is sinful. This led to a somewhat recent controversy on the matter, which can be found here. I linked that particular site because I found it interesting. While I understand the concern, Hays makes it explicitly clear in The Moral Vision of the New Testament that he thinks violence is incompatible with Christian teaching. In fact, he is way more forceful on this point than he is on homosexuality. But I digress. The main point is this: Hays thinks homosexuality is sinful. You might disagree with him, but keep that in mind.
The reason why I made this post is because of the anecdote that comes in his chapter on homosexuality. I will simply quote it at length (p. 379-380):
“Gary came to New Haven in the summer of 1989 to say a proper farewell. My best friend from undergraduate years at Yale, he was dying of AIDS. While he was still able to travel, my family and I invited him to come visit us one more time.
“During the week he stayed with us, we went to films together (Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society), we drank wine and laughed, we had long sober talks about politics and literature and the gospel and sex and such. Above all, we listened to music…As always, his aesthetic sense was fine and austere; as always, he was determined to face the truth, even in the shadow of death.
“We prayed together often that week, and we talked theology. It became clear that Gary had come not only to say goodbye but also to think hard, before God, about the relation between his homosexuality and his Christian faith…For more than twenty years, Gary had grappled with his homosexuality, experiencing it as a compulsion and an affliction. Now, as he faced death, he wanted to talk it all through again from the beginning, because he knew my love for him and trust me to speak without dissembling. For Gary, there was no time to dance around the hard questions. As Dylan had urged, ‘Let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late.’
“The more we talked, the more we found our perspectives interlocking. Both of us had serious misgivings about the mounting pressure for the church to recognize homosexuality as legitimate Christian lifestyle. As a New Testament scholar, I was concerned about certain questionable exegetical and theological strategies of the gay apologists. As a homosexual Christian, Gary believed that their writings did justice neither to the biblical texts nor to his own sobering experience of the gay community that he had moved in and out of for twenty years.
“…He was going to write an article about his own experience, reflecting on his struggle to live as a faithful Christian wracked by a sexual orientation that he believed to be incommensurate with the teaching of Scripture, and I agreed to write a response to it.
“Tragically, Gary soon became too sick to carry out his intention. His last letter to me was an effort to get some of his thoughts on paper while he was still able to write. By May of 1990 he was dead.
“This section of the present book, then is an act of keeping covenant with a beloved brother in Christ who will not speak again on this side of the resurrection. I commit it to print in the hope that it will foster compassionate and carefully reasoned theological reflection within the community of faith.”
Hays later quotes Gary on the following (p. 403):
“Since All Saints Day I have felt myself being transformed. I no longer consider myself homosexual. Many would say, big deal, you’re forty-two–are are dying of AIDS. Big sacrifice. No, I didn’t do this of my will, of an effort to improve myself, to make myself acceptable to God. No, he did this for me. I feel a great weight has been lifted off me. I have not turned ‘straight.’ I guess I’m like St. Paul’s phrase, a eunuch for Christ.”
I give both of these quotes to say this: I wonder if many of us on either side of the issue are the type of people that Gary would come to when he wanted to discuss the issue.
For those who think homosexuality is wrong, I fear that our instant response is to remember this episode so that we can simply use it as an example of a gay person who thought the Bible forbid homosexuality, of a gay person who did not think the Bible was oppressive on the matter, of a gay person who overcame his temptations. I fear that many of us would be more interested in using this story for our own purposes in order to justify whatever we think will need to be justified in a conversation instead of remembering the story because we remember Gary.
For those who think homosexuality is perfectly fine, I wonder about our response. I fear that when we read the last quotation we simply write Gary off, quote a bunch of studies about how reparative therapy does not work, and think Gary has deluded himself, even if we are nice enough to not say it aloud. I fear that all of the emphasis the LGBTQ community has put on experience is thrown out the window when it comes to Gary because maybe he does not fit the acceptable window of opinion. I fear that we emphasize how Gary felt his homosexuality as an “affliction,” but instantly write off Gary’s opinion that the movement has become idolatrous in putting one’s identity in their sexual orientation over God in Christ.
For both sides, I fear that we are often more interested in our own agenda than we are in Gary. And I wonder about myself: am I more interested in using Gary’s story to critique both sides or do I care about Gary? So I ask again: are we the type of people that Gary would come to?
If we believe that homosexuality is sinful, are we the type of people that Gary would think would be loving? Would we show mercy? Would we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? Would we truly feel the struggle Gary must wrestle with or would we only get it cognitively? Would Gary look at us and see faithfulness to Christ because we are faithful to the Bible and identifying with those who are marginalized and outcast or would he simply see someone who is so faithful to words on the page about homosexuality such that we forget the way Jesus interacted with the people, washed His disciples feet, and died on a cross?
And if we believe that homosexuality is fine, are we the type of people that would actually listen to Gary? When he is trying to be faithful to what he thinks the Bible is saying, are we the type of people that would encourage him in his faithfulness even if we disagreed? Would we give him the time of day when he starts telling us how he “no longer considers himself homosexual?” Would we listen with open hearts when he critiques the homosexual community that he had actually been a part of? When Gary looks into our eyes, does he see someone who cares about his struggles and values his perspective or does he see someone who already has all the answers and devalues what he has to say?
On page 401, Hays has a quote from Gary that all should hear, “Are homosexuals to be excluded from the community of faith? Certainly not. But anyone who joins such a community should know that it is a place of transformation, of discipline, of learning, and not merely a place to be comforted and indulged.”
I think that goes for both sides.