Response to “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality”

[1] First of all, a word of appreciation to the members of the Task Force who have generated this draft. Having been a part of the development of the last sexuality documents, I do understand the time and energy entailed. Much insight is available in this draft and certainly the final social statement should stand in significant continuity with it.

[2] I focus in this review on the scriptural witness, especially the Old Testament. My comments about the draft basically divide at line 580 (p. 20). Generally, the material from that point on is less open to criticism than the first 19 pages. I concentrate on those first sections, though if my comments are considered helpful, they will have some impact on the nature of the presentation of the last half of the document.

Biblical Moorings
[3] Generally, the document contains remarkably few references to the Old Testament (I count five brief contexts) and not all that many New Testament texts; references to the Lutheran Confessions and Luther may be more common. I understand that this document does not purport to be a biblical study of sexuality, but the Bible speaks to issues of sexuality in significant ways and, given Scripture’s authority in our tradition, its texts are deserving of a more prominent place in the study. The creation texts in Genesis 1-2, for example, which are certainly crucial for any such study, are mentioned only in passing.

[4] The biblical references that do exist are not accompanied by any serious study of them and, in addition, remarkably minimal reference is given to scholarly (and other) biblical studies in the footnotes. Readers are thus given no place to turn with respect to, say, scriptural studies regarding sexuality or a theology of creation.

[5] The first reference to an Old Testament text does not occur until p. 12, but then Gen. 1:26 is quickly passed over with a “yet” that suggests that it is no longer a directly applicable text.

[6] Again and again in reading, I thought: why no biblical reference here? Some examples:

–Lines 215-16, 255-56, where human actions are to correspond to God’s actions, could benefit from references to such texts as Deut. 10:17-19.

–Or, one thinks of the many texts that could be cited with respect to the paragraphs in lines 263-78 on the proper place of the law. Certainly one can speak of biblical sexual ethics, not just “Lutheran sexual ethics.”

–At other times (say, lines 238-250), there is a New Testament reference, but a paradigmatic scriptural reference on this topic of “rescue” is the exodus. Such a citation could make the claim of line 247 more comprehensive: God’s “rescuing mercy” not only “frees us from sin,” but also from the effects of the sins of other people-a major issue in matters of sexuality.

–Again, the claim in lines 325-26 (and elsewhere, e.g., 104-105) that “the transformation of the whole creation” is “revealed to us in God’s resurrection of the crucified Christ” ignores a number of Old Testament texts that reveal such divine promises (e.g., Isa 65:17-25). The draft does speak of a “biblical vision” in line 329, but the context suggests that it is really a New Testament vision that is in mind (see also “Scripture” in lines 350-52). Several general references to the Bible could be more closely specified (e.g., line 84 – “the Bible makes clear”). A number of explicit or implicit references to the Bible are left without mooring in the text itself.

–Or, in the section on marriage (pp. 33-36) it is striking, again, that only New Testament texts are cited (lines 1005-06), though the New Testament texts themselves are grounded in Old Testament texts, e.g., Mark 10:7-9.

— Only one Old Testament text is cited in the entirety of pp. 20-46, and only a few New Testament texts.

Creation and “Christian Sexuality?”
[7] Upon completing a first reading, I was reminded of the old bulletin (and institute) named Christian Economics and the conversations it generated about whether there was such an animal. I sense that, despite the title of the draft, “Human Sexuality,” there is an effort here to carve out a position regarding what could be called Christian Sexuality. Though I did not see that phrase used in the document, I wonder whether the nature of some of the material lends itself to such an understanding. Is this the intent? Is this a discussion worth having?

[8] The outline of the entire statement, for example, suggests this direction for reflection. Specifically Christian themes introduce and dominate the first two sections, especially incarnation and justification, and a formal consideration of God’s creative activity is delayed until Chapter Three. And then, only about five pages are devoted formally to a focus on creational issues (pp. 15-20), with few scriptural references. The relationship of creation to the two opening sections of the draft is left to the edges of the discussion.

[9] Line 89 (p. 4) does make an important claim: “sexuality is integral to what it means to be human.” But this solid creation statement stands somewhat isolated in a context where incarnation and justification considerations about sexuality abound. Generally, the document speaks more of “Christians,” and less commonly of human beings. Of course, sexuality is something we have in common with all other human beings, but this needs to be recognized regularly in the text. Sexuality is not a uniquely Christian gift (and Christians, faithful Christians, are notorious for not handling it very well, while many non-Christians do so).

[10] Specific examples of this direction of thought include the following.

—In lines 9-11, “Christians respond to these commands,” could be interpreted to mean that only Christians can fulfill the love commands. This is reinforced by lines 13-15, which suggest that these are only New Testament commands (see also fn. 5, where the only references to love of neighbor are from the New Testament). This narrow sense of loving the “neighbor” is also evident in lines 187-190, where it sounds like “only” Christians can have a “concern for the neighbor”! Lines 280-285 also suggest that “lives committed to loving our neighbor” is a uniquely “Christian vocation.” In such a context of “Christianness,” one is even given to wonder about lines 315-316: how is one to interpret “the source” (=the only source?).

–In line 103 (p. 5) the document contains a reference to “creation,” but this stands at odds with the claims in footnote six regarding incarnation and justification as the theological grounding and framework (see below). Indeed, from many an Old Testament text, God’s people know that their “bodies are valued by God” and this is the case before there is an Incarnation. A similar direction of thought occurs in lines 210-212. Here it is acknowledged that a gracious God “grants life to the whole creation,” indeed “provides sexuality.” Genesis 1-2 would be an important text to cite regarding both of these claims-they are creationally grounded-and as such these texts are a witness to a pre-fall move on God’s part regarding sexuality. The draft seems to admit as much by the paragraph at lines 358-361, when it does cite Gen. 1:27. Here creation in the image of God is understood to be given to all people, and “grounds” (note the language!) the “dignity and basic equality of all people.” Does that not include sexuality?

–A specific reference to the lengthy fn. 6 is in order (and its need to justify raises suspicions). This is an unfortunate rationale statement, not least because of the depreciation of creation that is characteristic of it (echoing the draft as a whole). It is not only a “surprise” but wrongheaded, in my opinion, given the scriptural testimony to sexuality. How can it be claimed that “Christians cannot ground their understanding of sexuality in nature or creation itself” when the Bible itself does just that (admitted it seems in lines 358-361)? Genesis 1-2 is a creation text that is descriptive of a pre-fall situation and speaks in a straightforward way about sexuality as integral to God’s good creation. Some folks do misuse these creation chapters in their talk about fixed “orders of creation,” but there is ample room in the text itself to contest such a claim (e.g.,”be fruitful and multiply”). Just because this text is sometimes misused does not mean that it can no longer be properly used. Moreover, the document gives the impression that the only alternative to its own approach is this “conservative” one; it is the only specified “other theological category” in fn. 6. The document should include the development of a thoroughgoing creational approach as a significant alternative (which can be just as “dynamic and provisional” as this one is!) and developed sufficiently so that readers can see what such an alternative entails. Note: The “orders of preservation” talk is not “better,” not least because it does not take seriously the Old Testament witness to ongoing creation that is more than preservation. (See the “Continuing Creation” section in Fretheim, God and World, pp. 7-9, and “Creation and Law,” pp. 133-156).

[11] Many non-Christians practice love for the neighbor in remarkably generous ways, often out-shining the practice of Christians; that reality should be recognized. Moreover, the practice of sexuality by non-Christians in responsible and loving ways is comparably common and should be drawn into this conversation.

–One wonders if the lack of careful consideration of creational issues makes for claims such as line 57 and the phrase “sexual-and therefore relational-beings.” That is certainly a mistaken way of putting the matter for it suggests that human beings are relational because they are sexual. The creation accounts in Genesis, and many other texts, claim that we are most fundamentally relational beings, one dimension of which is sexuality.

—Or, it may adversely affect the wording of lines 118-124. It is stunning to read the narrowness of the “Therefore” in line 120-21 in the context of incarnation, not least because of a neglect of the bodily form of God evident in the Old Testament (theophany). The Old Testament gives ample divine witness that “history and creation are neither lost nor hateful to God”; such a truth does not become evident for the first time in Jesus, however central that word is (e.g., Ps 8:5; Isa 35; 43:4 and often). The “Therefore” was in place long before Jesus.

—This is also a critique one could bring to bear against lines 401-407, where it seems to be said that God’s will for creation regarding such matters as sexuality is only revealed in Jesus Christ. At the same time, line 417 recognizes that “Scripture cannot be used in isolation,” though it is not entirely clear what the other sources are. At the same time, lines 424-429 clearly and commendably recognize that appropriate and helpful knowledge regarding sexuality is available from the creation. Why then the seeming hesitation to draw on specifically Old Testament resources regarding creation?

—Lines 196-197. I think I understand the point of the statement, “salvation is not dependent upon human action,” but it can be misunderstood. For example, Exod 15:2 speaks of “salvation” at the Red Sea with God as subject, but the larger story includes the statement from God in 3:10 that “Moses will bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” God’s saving work seems to be dependent in some sense on what Moses does (see also the people’s response in Exod 14:31). Why not acknowledge that God uses human agents in God’s saving work and the work of those agents has a genuine impact on whether the saving work of God is furthered in one context or another?

–Or, Lines 59-60 and 150-151 could use some qualification. For all the law’s wisdom, it does not always “protect from harm,” both from the perspective of legislators and from those who flaunt the law.

Section III and Beyond
[12] The first paragraph of “Sexuality as part of God’s Creative Activity” (p. 15), while welcome, does not follow through very well on the occasional earlier statement about creational grounding. Sexuality is a good gift and that much is appreciated. But the scriptures are quickly left behind in the basic argument of what follows, with only one biblical allusion at lines 521-526. That the Song of Songs is referenced only here (one clause) in the entire document is another illustration of the neglect of biblical resources, not least Old Testament resources. Not to have available at least a preliminary analysis of such biblical materials regarding sexuality from a creational perspective is a disappointment.

[13] It is not very clear to this reader how the material in this section (III) is related to the next sections (IV-V); the latter contain much creational reflection as well; one could even say they are dominated by creational considerations. Yet, this reality is not so recognized by section (and other) headings and is infrequently grounded in scriptural texts. Indeed, one may ask whether the diminishment of creation reflections in the first part of the paper results in a non-recognition of the extent to which this last section is actually and significantly dependent upon creational insights. The emphasis upon interhuman trust, for example, is “grounded” clearly in the family, which is an order of creation (lines 630-631, 640).

[14] Finally, it is striking how frequently creational reflections are present in this section compared to matters of “incarnation and justification,” though that is not specifically acknowledged. I believe that the only reference to “incarnation and justification” within the entirety of pp. 20-46 comes at lines 1419-20 (where only Lutheran emphases and traditions are cited, not scripture). It may be asked: What effect does this development in the document have on the prior argument? It could be argued that the prior argument is faulty inasmuch as it is not brought to bear on this last and major section in any significant way.

[15] Again, thanks to the Task Force for this thoughtful and helpful work.