"Challenging Same-Sex Marriage" was the title of Dr. Robert. A. J. Gagnon’s address last evening at Elmhurst College (IL). I was priviledged to be present among the 250 or so students and area attendees for a most amazing evening.
For those who do not know, Dr. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PCUSA), where he has taught since 1994. He is a frontline Pauline scholar and the author of the finest book available on this subject: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001). Dr. Gagnon’s work has influenced me more than any single author in this field. It is simply magisterial. He covers every possible shade of interpretation and destroys the case frequently made by certain Christian authors for homosexual practice. He also maintains the finest Web site available on the subject: http://www.robgagnon.net.
Frankly, Gagnon is hated by many in the mainline churches. This is because his work has done more to galvinize the biblical renewal movements on this issue than any single author. For example, his work is being used presently by renewal leaders to try to stop the Lutheran Church (ELCA) from embracing the homosexual agenda formally. His name is used with disdain by many I have encountered.
Last evening was the first time I actually heard Gagnon in person. I have to say, after further reflection, that he blew me away with his presentation. I have never heard such a clear-headed, calm, and biblical treatment of a controversial ethical subject in my lifetime. What amazed me even more was how Gagnon began his remarks, and then ended them nearly two hours later. He spent the first twenty-five minutes showing how to come at this heated debate. He reasonably explained why he felt the subject of the evening was vital to every single one of us present. (He eventually made it clear that the soul of every person present was in the balance and all would be judged in the last day on the basis of their repentance and the practice of the ethics of Jesus in real faith! He acknowledged that real Christians often fall, even sexually, but they also repent when they do fall.) He asked his audience, "How many of you believe that Jesus approved economic exploitation and greed?" No hands were raised. He then went on to show how Jesus strongly disapproved of such destructive behavior. But then Gagnon showed how Jesus regularly hung out with tax-collectors and similarly corrupt people. In other words, Jesus disapproved of their sin profoundly but embraced their humanity warmly and thus warned them of their need to repent and enter the kingdom.
Gagnon then told a personal story about his own family. His younger sister was a prodigal who broke her parents hearts. When she ran away from home he said to himself, having seen how she had wrecked the family, "Good riddance. I hope you never come home again!" When she returned, after disapperaing for two months, she was treated with acceptance and love by her parents. But Robert still despised her, all the more given her homecoming and acceptance. He then related this reaction to his sister to the parable of the prodigal son and the story of the elder brother. He openly and disarmingly showed how his attiude and response was not that of a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. The point he made was that we must love people enough to speak the truth while at the same time we embrace them as people. If we love our neighbor we cannot allow him to perish without warning him of the danger of hell. He surprised me at this point for there was no flinching or hesitation in his appeal or his references to hell. (Sitting in front of him were at least fifty people wearing green tee-shirts that said, "S.A.G.E. Pride." This acronymn stood for