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Fall 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 2 · pp. 217–223 

Recommended Reading

Faith and Homosexuality: A Short Bibliography

Vic Froese

As I was working at putting together this short list of books on religion and homosexuality, I quickly realized that I had hundreds to choose from. In fact, since 2000, over 1,000 such books have been published, an average of more than sixty per year. Many of these come from university presses which tend to shy away from value judgments, but over two-thirds are from evangelical and denominational publishers who are less reticent.

As impressive as the number of books is the range of Christian denominations wrestling with the subject. Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite, generic evangelical, and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox all strain to understand same-sex desire and the people who experience it. (Jews and Muslims are not exempted from this challenge either.)

Some Christian communities may, for the time being, find it easy to skirt the issue—homosexual practice is condemned by Scripture and ancient tradition, they say, and therefore there is no “issue” to fight over. Others have been forced to address various questions arising from the presence of gay and lesbian Christians in their midst, as well as from their straight supporters. The resulting conversations have not always gone well, even in Mennonite contexts, as many readers will know. Nevertheless, this conversation shows no signs of tapering off. Here is a small sample of the voices striving to be heard. For the most part, they belong to writers who are also striving to listen.

Bradshaw, Timothy, ed. The Way Forward? Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

The “church” referred to in the title is the Anglican Church, which has been rocked by deep disagreement among its member churches on what limits, if any, should be placed on the {218} ecclesiastical rights of Christian homosexuals. Rowan Williams, Oliver O’Donovan, Gerald Bray, and Anthony Thiselton, among others, offer carefully considered, at times bracing, reflections on various facets of the homosexual issue. The book offers a model of how believers with honest disagreements on the issue can still respect one another and conduct a fruitful dialogue, a model that not everyone in that communion chose to follow.

Gagnon, Robert A. J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.

An extremely thorough review of the biblical texts that condemn homosexual practice and refutation of arguments that dispute their meaning or diminish their authority. The book is controversial, mostly because its uncompromising insistence that all homosexual practice, whatever the context, will—unless repented of—take a person to hell for eternity. He urges a compassion that calls on homosexuals to discontinue their practices to escape that horrible fate. Celibacy for those with stubborn homosexual desires and heterosexuality for those whose desires are pliable are, in his considered view, the only valid biblical options.

Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2015.

Though he does not address homosexuality directly, Grant (an Anglican minister in Auckland), sets the stage for deeper conversations on its place in society and church. He first examines the threadbare modern view of sex, which he describes as individualistic, licentious, consumeristic, and hypersexual. This view, he suggests, has infiltrated the church and influenced its approach to all matters sexual. The second part of his book counters that view with sharp reflections on Christian formation, which necessarily takes place in Christian community. Its main themes are transformative truth, envisioning the good life, redeeming desire, narrative discipleship, and the formative power of practices.

Grenz, Stanley. Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Well-respected Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz offers a careful study of homosexuality that looks at contemporary perspectives and theories that seek to explain it. But he believes the main issue is the question of what it means to be human, a question whose answer must be derived from the Bible. Because Scripture condemns homosexual behavior, Grenz believes this can only mean that {219} Christians must disallow it. In heterosexual married sex he finds a reflection, though sometimes dim, of a Christian’s relationship with God in Christ. In the end, however, Grenz is “welcoming” of homosexuals in encouraging churches to stand with them rather than rejecting them, just as one would stand with, rather than despise, the ailing. Both need community support and the assurance of divine assistance to be liberated from their maladies.

Grimsrud, Ted, and Mark Thiessen Nation. Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2008.

The conversation referred to in the subtitle is between the “welcoming” Ted Grimsrud and the “traditional” Mark Thiessen Nation. Both are deep thinkers about these issues, and both strive to be what they expect of the other—open to learning, respectful, reasonable, and frank in stating their case. One of the key issues identified is the relationship between hospitality/justice/welcomingness and holiness/righteousness/separation. How can these emphases be held together without watering down both?

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

An influential book that includes a chapter in which the author rejects homosexual sex as contrary to God’s created order as described in Genesis. Romans 1, he says, merely sharpens the point by identifying such sex as rebellious idolatry—the worship of self-invented gods who approve activities that offend the true God and pervert what he designed male and female bodies for.

Helminiak, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality. San Francisco, CA: Alamo Square, 1994.

Helminiak attempts to provide credible alternative interpretations of biblical passages usually understood to condemn homosexual behavior as such. Though few of his reinterpretations are convincing, the exercise is worthwhile both for the additional light it sheds on biblical prohibitions against homoerotic behavior and for directing attention away from exegesis toward more fruitful theological reflection.

Hill, Wesley. Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2015.

———. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Hill is an articulate spokesman for celibacy, and a practitioner of it. He knows {220} firsthand that same-sex attraction, where it is deep and strong, is incurable. But in this book and his latest (see previous entry), he holds out hope that gay Christians can find fulfilment and love even if they submit themselves to the demanding discipline of the celibate life. (The book is reviewed in this issue. See below.)

King, Michael A., ed. Stumbling toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality. Living Issues Discussion Series, v. 4. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2007.

The first half of this book consists of articles that first appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of DreamSeeker Magazine, the theme of which was homosexuality. The second half presents articles that respond to those in the first half or add reflections on their own experiences as homosexuals, lesbians, or their close acquaintances. One strength of this volume is that it brings Mennonite pastors, theologians, conference leaders, and lay people together to share their views, arguments, and experiences. Another is that it puts faces on what sometimes appears to be a long, tedious intellectual war. And although the “welcoming” voices outnumber the conservative, the editor makes a commendable effort to ensure that none of the opposing views are pushed outside the circle of more vocal speakers and left to eavesdrop from the periphery.

Kraus, C. Norman. On Being Human: Sexual Orientation and the Image of God. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011.

In this “essay,” published a decade after his edited book on homosexuality (see below), Norman Kraus provides what he calls a “teaching resource for use in study groups” (xv). His intention is not to be polemical but to explain the church’s historical opposition to homosexual sex and the theology that supports it. He then looks at what the social and biological sciences contribute to our understanding of homosexuality. In the end, he moves beyond merely relating information by arguing that “there are historical, biblical, and ethical grounds for including all orientations . . . in a continuing discerning dialogue.” He suggests that different sexual orientations are “normal variant[s] of sexual orientation” (72) which together reflect the image of God. For God himself is a trinity, whose essence is social and relational, a being-in-community that enshrines the ideal of unity in difference.

Kraus, C. Norman, ed. To Continue the Dialogue: Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality. The Living Issues Discussion Series 1. Telford, PA: Pandora, 2001.

“It is not the intention of any of the authors to argue that there is only one indisputable solution for the church to adopt” (14). So says Kraus in his preface to this collection {221} of fifteen essays, most of them written by such notable Mennonite academics as David Schroeder, James Reimer, Ted Grimsrud, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Carolyn Schrock-Shenk. Perspectives differ and sometimes clash, with some writers giving more weight to Scripture and others to biblical theology. But all of these essays are offered in good faith and in the hope that they will aid the church in the painful process of discerning the leading of the Spirit.

Kreider, Roberta Showalter, ed. The Cost of Truth: Faith Stories of Mennonite and Brethren Leaders and Those Who Might Have Been. Sellersville, PA: R.S. Kreider, 2004.

The editor of this volume has collected thirty-two personal faith stories, all either Mennonites or Brethren in Christ. The contributors have in common significant leadership gifts which they have been prohibited from using in the church because they experience same-sex attraction or have made it known that they accept LGBTQ people into their churches. Kreider’s hope is that these stories will prompt the church to open a genuine dialogue with nonheterosexual Christians that allows them to be seen and heard as brothers and sisters in the faith, spiritually gifted with much to contribute to the life of the church.

Linehan, Kevin. Such Were Some of You: The Spiritual Odyssey of an Ex-Gay Christian. Scottdale, PA; Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1979.

The moving biography of a gifted young Christian who repents of his homosexual urges and embraces celibacy only to find himself rejected by church leaders concerned about the fallout if his orientation becomes public. He struggles on, however, obediently following where God leads, which is ultimately to be a pastor to people who recognize his significant spiritual gifts. Many of these are also people who share his proclivities and his determination to live a celibate life to the glory of God.

Roberts, Christopher Chenault. Creation and Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in the Moral Theology of Marriage. New York: T&T Clark International, 2007.

“Christian tradition” is often appealed to by opponents of gay marriage. In this critically acclaimed book, Roberts uncovers what that tradition actually says about sexual difference and marriage by carefully examining writings of some of its theological giants: Church fathers Tatian, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Jerome; Augustine; Bernard of Clairvaux; Thomas Aquinas; Martin Luther; Karl Barth; and John Paul II—all of whom affirm that sexual difference has some kind of deep theological significance. He then {222} evaluates three same-sex-marriage-friendly proposals by contemporary writers (Graham Ward, Eugene Rogers, and David Matzko McCarthy) whose readings of the tradition lead them to conclude that sexual difference is insignificant. Roberts finds that each of the three proposals, despite their authors’ theological commitments, leans toward Docetism, which tends to dismiss the theological weight of human bodilyness.

Shaw, Ed. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015.

Like Wesley Hill (see above) who endorses his book, Shaw advocates celibacy for unmarried, homosexual Christians. But since our present culture (hence, many in the church) finds this option nonsensical, he sets out to make celibacy plausible again. Himself gay and a pastor, Shaw proceeds by identifying the “missteps” that the church has taken—accepting that “Your identity is your sexuality” and “If it makes you happy it must be right,” etc. He then offers deeper spiritual accounts of identity, happiness, family, and intimacy which he believes will lend a new plausibility to celibacy and remove the aura of abnormality that surrounds those attracted to people of the same sex.

Paris, Jenell Williams. The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.

Paris, an anthropology professor at Messiah College, argues against the increasingly common view among Christians that same-sex attraction and behavior are “identity-constituting characteristics, and . . . points of theological disagreement that warrant separation or exclusion” (83). The idolization of sexual fulfilment in our culture creates problems for both heterosexual married Christians (exaggerated and frustrated expectations) and homosexually inclined celibate Christians (the anguish of irrational self-denial). Churches, she argues, must resist this idolatry and instead become communities where sexual holiness is rationally plausible as well as practical both for heterosexuals and those otherwise inclined.

Rogers, Jack Bartlett. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

The author, a professor of theology in California and past moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), identifies himself as committed to an evangelical theology that presents faith as consisting of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Bible as the final authority for Christian living. His book moves from history {223} (how the church has in the past changed its mind on difficult issues and developed hermeneutical guidelines to preserve lessons learned), to applying those guidelines to biblical passages about homosexuality, to compelling stories and testimonies of gay Christian couples. Rogers ends with a review of his church’s restrictive rules on what homosexuals are and aren’t allowed to do, and suggestions for how to revise those rules so that faithful homosexuals can be granted full membership.

Swartley, Willard M. Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment. 1st ed. Scottdale, PA; Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2003.

Swartley’s book is a bold but irenic treatment of homosexuality and faith. Swartley’s hermeneutical explorations of Scripture lead him to support the conservative view that the Bible consistently regards homosexual practice as sin. Even so, he insists that the church is called to welcome Christian homosexuals into its midst, inviting both gay and straight Christians to a frank conversation about their common accountability to Scripture.

VanderWal-Gritter, Wendy. Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2014.

The title captures well the author’s intention in writing this book. With a burden for the sexually despised and rejected, VanderWal-Gritter goes beyond merely wishing for some nebulous “generous spaciousness” by sharing workable practices she has seen in welcoming churches. She concludes her appeal with clear advice for church leaders seeking an authentically loving response to gay Christians, and for gay Christians longing to find a church that will open their hearts to them.

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