Saturday, May 4, 2013

God's Gay Agenda?

Sandra Turnbull's new book, God's Gay Agenda, tries to bridge too many gaps. Writing from a (conservative?) evangelical perspective, she confesses to having been struck by the Holy Spirit at the Crystal Cathedral--not a good start for those who find Robert Schuller's theology weak at best. Recognizing the importance of a fairly literal reading of scripture for her target audience, she still relies heavily on historical critical method to make her case. And, of course, there's the fact that she is a partnered lesbian making a case for full inclusion for LGBT members.

Just to make it clear from the outset: I have supported LGBTQ rights, including ordination, marriage, and adoption for decades. Currently, I co-lead a Bible study for LGBTQ students at my local university where I am a chaplain. I did not need this book to convince me. I was hoping it would be one I could give to others who need convincing. It would be a plus if I got something new from it.

Unfortunately, she gets lost in the Bible. Early on, she strongly embraces the notion that sexual identity as we understand it today was not in existence in biblical times. So where were all the LGBT folk back then if not being stoned to death? Apparently, they belonged under the category of eunuch, a group she stretches to include those born that way, the castrati, and those who voluntarily gave up sexual relations to serve God; it is in this last group that she places LGBT people. However, she is not making the case that all gays must remain celibate.

One big problem here is that it is impossible to read this book without knowing that Turnbull has already reached the conclusion she wants; instead of reading the Bible to see what it says, she reads the commentaries to find ones that best suit her agenda. The worst error occurs when she jumps from translation to translation until she finds one that best says what she wants it to say.

The truth is, she's ten years out of date. While she is doing biblical cartwheels to explain why Romans 1:26-27 (one of the so-called clobber passages) doesn't say what we long thought it did, she misses that the larger argument of Romans 1 is about the sin of idolatry, not sexuality. While she rehashes this old material, queer theologians have moved on to such topics as the real importance of the Ethiopian eunuch, which is that Philip gives a sexual outsider without a bloodline a family to belong to, not that he is also gay. She's writing for those who cannot get past those six references, of course. However, plenty of other people have tread through those waters, and she takes entirely too long reviewing them so that she can make her "modern day eunuchs" references.

Frankly, I really don't know how many of the LGBTQ folk I know would want to think of themselves as eunuchs. Well, more accurately LGB people, as she makes very little mention of trangender people, and the word queer never leaves her pen.

Finally, the marriage chapter is tacked on as an epilogue. One gets the impression she was not planning to discuss the subject and, as it took over the headlines, she hastily penned a chapter to cover that it.

Judging by the comments on Amazon, she has helped a lot of people take a second look at gay Christianity, so obviously there is a market. It is too bad a more skilled biblical scholar and theologian did not write the book as a way of moving the discussion forward. We are treading water at best with this one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With everyone's pseudo- intellectualism taking the form of "I'm smarter than you are"--let's just say that I am glad the scripture command's us to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling."

I guess I'm just a dumb white male that believes what Paul said about it being better to marry than to burn--and whole host of other scriptures that are being ignored here.