Book Review: Homosexuality and the Church

Reviewed by Karen Booth –

Some say that the church’s moral teaching on homosexuality is a non-essential issue compared to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. However, living a life of godly integrity in our sexual relationships is an essential part of being a disciple (see 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Our church and our culture would be greatly advantaged if moral traditionalists were more adept at explaining why the denominational struggle over the acceptance of homosexuality matters.

A new book by Howard Snyder, a former professor of missions at Asbury Seminary, might help in that effort. Part of Asbury/Seedbed’s “In All Things Charity” series, Homosexuality and The Church: Defining Issue or Distracting Battle? intends to help United Methodists “gain clarity in … the distinction between essentials and non-essentials.”

So, does the book deliver on its stated goals? Mostly, yes.

In Section One, Snyder offers four compelling reasons why the acceptance or rejection of homosexual behavior is (or should be) a core issue for Christians: the witness of Scripture, the risks of redefining family, the image of God reflected in male-female marriage, and the mandate to be countercultural in Christian identity and witness. Snyder is particularly astute here when confronting one popular pro-gay theological argument – the false comparison between gay rights and women’s rights or the abolition of slavery.

Section Two explains how and why this core issue is rooted in doctrinal assumptions about the authority of Scripture and the nature of salvation. The non-binding nature of ceremonial law is contrasted with eternally-relevant moral law in Section Three. And Section Four explores the difference between salvation and sanctification, reviews scientific evidence for genetic causation of homosexuality, and recommends “joyful obedience” to biblical moral standards as the most spiritually fulfilling personal choice.

Though his arguments are solidly biblical, Snyder also admits that he continues to “struggle” for understanding of the issue, particularly in regard to the people affected, and how best to respond with Christian love. His humble, pastoral approach sets a winsome tone that is hard to resist. This is most evident in Section Five, where Snyder shares some of the email Q&A that resulted from the original blog post upon which the book is based.

There are some very important ideas that Snyder could have developed more fully. In the “Forward,” Asbury President Timothy Tennent argues that a shallow culturally-defined understanding of marriage is the major cause of our current moral confusion in the church. Yet Snyder spends little space on the foundational teaching from Genesis 1 and 2, almost treating it like a common Christian assumption. Greater depth here, perhaps with some reference to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, would have been beneficial. Likewise, Snyder’s counter-cultural arguments would have been strengthened by citing some of the recent work of Jenell Williams Paris (The End of Sexual Identity) on sexual orientation/identity and Mark Yarhouse (Homosexuality and the Christian) on “the gay script” and the 3-tier distinction between attraction, orientation, and behavior.

At only 63 pages, the book could be used to spark some interesting one-on-one conversation. And with some supplementary material, it would be a great resource for older youth and adult study group discussion.

Karen Booth is the executive director of Transforming Congregations, a program of Good News.

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