A Better Conversation about Homosexuality
When many Christians have lost their manners—and then some—in the debate on homosexuality, Church in Crisis delivers sophisticated etiquette for moral deliberation. O’Donovan gently but firmly disabuses the Christian of two hermeneutic pitfalls: liberals conform Scripture to their own moral enlightenment, which thinly veils the cultural pieties of the day, and conservatives suppress dissent and discussion because of their fossilized interpretations of Scripture, which substitutes an unreflective biblicism for the living authority of God’s Word. Both sides are eager to throw in the towel. Liberals want to advance the church while conservatives want to preserve the church. O’Donovan exposes the seduction of schism for what it is and counsels patience—ever more patience:
The problem with the notion of separation is its expressive, self-purifying character. It will not wait for God to purify his own church in his own time. Schisms may come, but woe to that church through whom they come! There is no right, or duty, of schism. As unity is given to the church as a gift, so it is taken away as a judgment. But on no account can disunity be a course of action that the church may embrace in pursuit of its mission or identity. The only justified breach is the one we have taken every possible step to avert.
For now, Christians need to sit in quiet, self-critical reflection on the two big ideas raised by these books. Much of the conversation so far has failed to untangle the ethical question of homosexuality from its cultural matrix, which leaves no one unscathed, and failed to deepen our humanity beyond the erotic body. The flourishing of same-sex attracted Christians will depend on “a hope against all hope” (Rom. 4:18) that sex is not essential to human fulfillment, on celibacy that is not only a thorn in the flesh but also a goad to joyful service and creativity, on enduring and intimate friendships that embrace each person as “a real ingredient in the divine happiness” (C. S. Lewis), and on churches that achieve their metaphorical content as a “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Christopher Benson has been recently appointed to the English faculty at The Cambridge School of Dallas. He earned degrees at Wheaton College, Missouri School of Journalism, and St. John's College. His writing appears in various publications, including Books & Culture and The Weekly Standard.