The Hermeneutical Challenge on Same-sex Marriage


(system) #1

Three somehow unexpected related events, occurred the last days of June, push and give us, as Adventist community, the opportunity to make a pause, to think and to reflect on a particular topic. God doesn’t speak only through the Holy Bible. He does speak as well through the events we daily live together with people who may be don’t believe and he also does through the new awareness these events provoke in us as individuals and as a Christian church. All these elements form “the hermeneutical circle” (Paul Ricoeur), a balanced and wise religious community should faithfully take care of, in order to shape its own profile and the today’s correspondent and needed strategies. The religious certainty and conviction we often attribute to the action of the Holy Spirit in us, sometimes is just the paranoiac and obsessive human religious defense mechanism of people and institutions reluctant to believe and to follow the Holy Spirit’s voice that also work through questions, doubts, uncertainties, bewilderments, consternations or disillusionments.

First event; “Exodus International”, a known Christian LGBT organization, after thirty seven years of existence, ceased its activities on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. "Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we've ceased to be a living, breathing organism," said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical”. For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and began a separate ministry. "This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation," said Chambers. "Our goals are to reduce fear, and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities." But Chambers’ apology goes further and becomes more specific. “And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there…Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story…The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this…Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives”.

Second event; the United States Supreme Court made two landmark rulings Wednesday June 26, 2013 with regard to a pair of controversial laws limiting rights for same-sex couples. In a 5-4-decision issued Wednesday morning, the high court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, overturning a nationwide legislation that limited benefits for same-sex couples. Moments later, the court dismissed an appeal regarding Proposition 8, a decision that will once again legalize same-sex marriage in the state of California. Both decisions out of Washington are already being hailed as important steps in ensuring equality for same-sex couples across the United States. Gay couples will receive access to numerous federal benefits such as tax breaks and survivor assistance aid. Such benefits were previously only afforded to heterosexual couples. Under DOMA, the federal government recognized marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman, although same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia. President Barack Obama wrote: "I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well…On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that”.

Third event: In a concerned defense of the “Biblical perspective on Marriage”, Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, sent out the following statement on June 27, 2013: “As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe in strengthening the family and following the biblical principles and patterns that God set forth in His Word for marriage between one man and one woman, the oldest human institution dating back to the sixth day of creation. We cannot deny the biblical pattern anymore than we can deny creation and not undermine the value and validity of the Bible as God's handbook for our lives…We hold that all people, no matter of their sexual orientation, are children of God. We do not condone singling out any group for scorn and derision, let alone abuse. However, it is very clear that God's Word does not countenance a homosexual lifestyle; neither has the Christian Church throughout her 2000-year history. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the biblical teaching is still valid today, because it is anchored in the very nature of humanity and God's plan at creation for marriage”.

We Adventist have a hard time on one hand, in nuancing our understanding and our description of the various legitimate and autonomous dimensions of reality, society and culture and on the other hand, in articulating, in differentiated languages and formulations, of our licit religious and biblical convictions and doctrines. The Bible is not and does not represent the all existing reality. That would be “bibliolatry”. The Bible is the preferential and by revelation regulatory part in/of reality that wants and pretends to speak on the whole. But still, we need as Christians, let the reality, in its various dimensions (scientific, juridical, aesthetic, moral etc.), speak by itself. We have being and still tend to be reductive and unilateral by being faithful only to the Bible. That could become, not a blessing but a curse. The healthy and un-negotiable “Sola Scriptura“ principle as it’s mainly understood and applied today by many Adventists all over but also by institutional Adventism (theological as much as administrative), also on the same-sex marriage issue, dealt as a “civil issue”, is not only alienating us from reality and from others but paradoxically is taking us also away from the true spirit of the Bible. The Bible is not the “Word of God” but rather the “Incarnated word of God” i.e. the word of God that takes seriously in account the surrounding reality and expresses itself only after having had a tight and “honest dialogue” (and not only a critical approach) with that extra-biblical reality. God doesn’t exist only in his word but also in the reality of the world he has created and in which he delights to manifest his Spirit through people’s best, noble and generous, initiatives and actions. A biblical fundamentalism (a kind of extension of a biblical inerrancy theory), as a linear and literalist approach to the bible, that we Adventists theoretically reproach in others and that unfortunately belongs also to our own history (1920-50), is not biblical at all and represents, in a sophisticated form, for us Adventist still today, a big temptation also in issues like this same-sex marriages issue. In fact, instead of enlarging our hermeneutical strategy and perspective in order to interpret our pluralistic and heterogeneous modern and post-modern societies and the extra-biblical reality they represent, with the same discipline, honesty and care we use to interpret the Bible, some Adventists are rather reducing it, they are going even back incurring in a kind of theological involution, by claiming that we don’t need any interpretation but just a disciplined, immediate and coherent application of what the Bible says. But things actually, are the other way round. In order to be faithful to the bible’s perspective we don’t need only one Hermeneutics, the “biblical one” as we usually believe, but rather three. That’s our challenge today: the first one is a renewed multiform and many-sided Hermeneutics of the Bible; the second one is a serious correspondent Hermeneutics of today pluralistic Societies; the third one is an honest genealogic and developmental Hermeneutics the Adventist identity. None of these three hermeneutics is easily given. We need to work hard to elaborate them but also work with imagination, passion and trust.

The three events mentioned in the first part of this column, represent three fallible but still courageous and necessary experiments in trying to build up this triple Hermeneutics that we should foster also in Adventism. Dan Jackson’s linear and concerned biblical affirmation on Marriage is not at all a serious “biblical Hermeneutics” on “civil marriage” as it implicitly pretends to be but rather just a biblical tautological affirmation of circumstance. Paradoxically the U.S.A. Supreme Court’s presupposed “Hermeneutics of society” (of American society), this second type of hermeneutics we Adventist usually neglect and even are allergic of, is a respectable one we Adventist should seriously consider and take in account. Surprisingly and strikingly “Exodus International” declaration on “reparative theories” in homosexuality, beyond the fact that it may be right or wrong, is to my view a noble and valid intent of elaborating the third necessary kind of Hermeneutics, a “Hermeneutics of ourselves”. We Adventist are not the same as we used to be in the past and particularly today there is not one but various possible Adventisms. Some consider that to be an anomaly and even a sin to be eradicated. This understanding sounds more as a totalitarian impulse rather than as a biblical one. In fact it’s not easy to be and to remain biblical. In order to succeed in being biblical is better and faster to go through society, history and culture.

Hans Gutierrez, “Villa Aurora” Florence-Italy


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5384