Brownson sets out to find the moral logic behind the same-sex statements in the Bible. Interpretation is the issue. “We do not interpret rightly any singlepassage of Scripture until we locate the text within this larger fabric of meaning in Scripture as a whole.” (9) Underlying values and core principles must be sought.
“...When interpreting scriptural commands or prohibitions, we must ask not only what is commanded or prohibited but why. The reason for asking why emerges when we attempt to apply the commands and prohibitions of Scripture in new and diverse contexts.” (259)
Christians disagree as to the why of same sex prohibition.
Traditionalists refer to divinely intended gender complemenarity, discerned in the anatomical and personality differences between male and female. Brownson argues, “The biological differences between the sexes seem a rather slender basis on which to build an entire marriage ethic.” (22)
Traditionalists say the “one flesh” union in Gen. 2:24 is the joining of male and female. Brownson argues that “one flesh” actually refers to kinship and therefore does not preclude committed, loving same-sex relationships.
Brownson also argues that what Paul prohibits in Romans 1 is not loving, committed same-sex relationships but those of excessive and self-centered desire – lustful ones.
When Paul writes about what is “natural” in Romans 1, Brownson says, “...it is clear that Paul is not operating with the modern sense of sexual orientation here.” (229) Paul speaks of “leaving behind” their own true nature for same sex relationships. If same sex attraction is a person's true nature, Paul is not talking about them in Romans.
“We must reckon with the fact that what we are confronting here is a dimension of human experience that is unaddressed and unanticipated by the biblical writers – Jews or Christians – in the ancient world...” (232) “Over the course of human history we have encountered questions that take us beyond the assumptions and problems envisioned by the biblical writers themselves, and these new questions and problems have forced us to reread the text and to probe more deeply for answers.” (104,5)
Brownson says the central problem that he has confronted in his book is “the fact that the New Testament does not envision the kind of committed, mutual, lifelong, loving, moderated gay and lesbian unions that are emerging today.” (251) “Writers in the first century, including Paul, did not look at same-sex eroticism with the understanding of sexual orientation that is commonplace today.” (166)
Brownson comments on the other vice lists in the Bible, “...they single out stereotypically abhorrent behavior that is widely regarded in the community with condemnation, ridicule, or rejection. Hence they are of limited use in the morally more nuanced conversation taking place in the church today about long-term committed same-sex relationships.” (275) Of these passages Brownson concludes, “The evidence suggests that there are no forms of moral logic underpinning these passages that clearly and unequivocally forbid all contemporary forms of committed same-sex intimate relationships.” (277)
But Brownson adds, “Elements of personal experience factor largely into this discussion as well...” (263) He is quick to point out that he began to rethink his position on homosexuality five years ago when his eighteen-year-old son revealed he thought he was gay. Prior to his “rethinking,” Brownson had taken a moderate, traditionalist position on the issue, that, while homosexual orientation was not sinful, homosexual behavior was. (11)
Brownson notes that there are issues he has not addressed in this book, for example ordination of gay and lesbians and their acceptance as Christian leaders.
Brownson envisions “that gay and lesbian committed unions might actually find affirmation and support within the life of a church that seeks to be faithful to the gospel.” (253) He writes, “I am convinced that the church needs to move away from an interpretation of Scripture that assumes that the Bible teaches a normative form of biological or anatomical gender complementarity.” (278)
Brownson's book is long and, although logically written out, is complex and will probably not be read by the majority of laypeople in the RCA. I have provided a review for those who are looking for something like a layperson's synopsis of the book.
I must also point out that I do not agree with Brownson's vision for the future of the church. However, I do not have the theological expertise to critique his argument. I must leave that to other theologians within the RCA.
James V. Brownson is the James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, a seminary of the Reformed Church in America. For eight years he has served as dean of that institution. He is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. You can follow his blog at http://jimbrownson.wordpress.com/
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 300 pages.