Luke Timothy Johnson and Eve Tushnet’s views re: homosexuality are articulated so powerfully in a June 15th Commonweal article titled Homosexuality & the Church: Two Views (Volume CXXXIV, Number 12).
Homosexuality & the Church is a must read article for anyone interested in the conversation re: the Christian church and sexuality.
Luke Timothy Johnson: Our Interpretive Struggle
The church’s vehement denouncing of homosexuality, according to Luke Timothy Johnson, has less to do with sex and more to do with perceived threats to the authority of Scripture and the authority of the teaching church. How can Johnson say such things so confidently? It’s simple: If the church’s issue with homosexuality really was about sex, then why isn’t the church consistently vocal about sex? In other words, why isn’t the church prophetically speaking out against the mass commodification of sex in culture, manipulation of sexual attraction in order to sell commercial goods, exploitation of women and children via global prostitution and pornography, and practiced heterosexual distortions of sex and sexuality (many heterosexual men regularly hurt many, many women, and on several levels). The church would also do well to discuss the effects and ramifications of the now well documented pedophilia practiced and protected among Catholic clergy.
Johnson’s approach to the issue seems to find a culmination in the following wisdom: Resist forcing the experience of God in Christ into a framework of scriptural interpretation built completely upon a previous understanding of Scripture. Basically, this means to continue the interpretive work embraced by Jesus, Paul, and the disciples, rather than immutably freezing in time their own interpretive work and immaturely calling it our own.
This approach faithfully celebrates the Spirit of the Scriptures and the art of primitive Christian praxis as seen in Jesus, Paul, and disciples; it properly prioritizes the paper on which it’s earliest moments have been written and consequently creates interpretive tension in the midst of which we must all faithfully stand.
Eve Tushnet: A Theology of Body
Tushnet, while expressing appreciation for the rare and fruitful approach taken by Johnson, nonetheless disagrees and goes off in her own direction. Johnson cites experience; Tushnet does not, at least not in the same degree (experience is just another text that requires interpretation). Her peeking distrust of personal experience seems to be a catalyst of sorts that propels her search for a “theological school” with which she can unpack, tool, and understand the church’s teaching regarding homosexuality. Tushnet avoided the mechanical natural-law schools of theological thought and embraced an admittedly imperfect “Theology of the Body” (Pope John Paul II). Theology of the Body emphasizes he/she distinctions, but not in a typical, codifying fashion. Tushnet embraces he/she distinctions but discards list making in favor of longing (e.g., man’s longing for woman, woman’s longing for man). Said differently, the male become a man in his longing for woman, and vice-versa. Sexual identity is a product of love shared between two individuals joined as one.
There are obvious problems with a Theology of the body application to homosexual understanding. tushnet admits as much, and cites her lasting dissatisfaction with all schools of theology as regards the subject. She also seems open to the idea that God could call a homosexual person to an expression of love that does not include sex. She writes:
Almost all the time, love of God will deepen and strengthen our love of others in obvious ways, rather than conflicting with that love or posing a dilemma. And so we are tempted to believe that our love of God and our love of others won’t ever conflict. But there will be times when it does seem like God is asking us to choose. At the very least, God may require us to radically reshape our understanding of what love of another person should look like. God may ask you not to stop loving your partner but to express that love without sex.
Tushnet goes on to say that Johnson’s approach may not be the best if it runs counter-scriptural or actually becomes a counter-narrative. Tushnet travels full-circle. She ends at her beginning. She is left with the seemingly irreconcilable tension between church teaching and homosexuality. She, as a lesbian, seems ok with it.
Christ’s Church and the Differentiated Set
This issue is not going away anytime soon. It is something we all are dealing with, as a community of communities. We all have precious loved ones who identify as homosexuals. I think this fact alone is enough to send us all into deep, deep solitude, contemplation, and prayer. Christ’s church is all about people. Period. The church has always claimed to be about people, but it is usually a differentiated set of people. It’s not as easy to differentiate between people when the act consequently separates you from the people you love the most. No, it’s not so easy at all anymore. We would all do well to pray deeply and invite the Holy Spirit into all of our conversations regarding this matter. Let’s pray it is so.