Theological Discernment on the Question of Same-Sex. Darrin W. Snyder Belousek. Union Grand Rapids, Baker Academic (2021) 330pp £17.66
Recently, I lent a good friend my copy of ‘Marriage, Scripture, and the Church’ and asked him to write his comments in the margins. I suggested, “Reflect on the chapters in reverse order and include the on-line appendices”. I don’t think he heard me, because most of his concerns for inclusivity that he pencilled on the early pages proved superfluous when viewed in the totality of the book. Taken as a whole, the book is compassionate, comprehensive and even-handed—so much so that the reader can discern that the author’s eventual (necessary) conclusions have not been predetermined by personal bias.
The book comprehensively faces the issues of same-sex union. Prompted by the debate on SSM in his own Mennonite denomination, the author, Darrin Belousek, presents an essential picture necessary for all churches to contemplate in any informed discussion. My hope is that those participating in our BUGB consultation on ministerial recognition will find this a rich resource for their reflections.
All 338 pages demonstrate how Belousek has carefully listened to a wide range of arguments and the 200 pages of on-line appendices go into greater detail (https://www.academia.edu/45557057/Supplement_to_Marriage_Scripture_and_the_Chur ch_Theological_Discernment_on_the_Question_of_Same_Sex_Union)
Belousek lays proof texts aside and frames the issue within the overarching concept of marriage, which ‘appears to be a God-designated focal image integral to the biblical narrative of salvation’ (144). He traces how it has been understood universally by the church until recent times. Scripture, church history and the place of the Spirit in experience are all given due weight, with the authoritative teaching of Jesus providing the central data. As a model for today, the early church’s handling of inclusion, especially at the Council of Jerusalem, is examined in detail (e.g., pp278-88 and app. 146-58 of the online appendix).
The book offers us serious pastoral advice on how to practise the love of Jesus when interacting with those who don’t feel that monogamous heterosexual marriage is an avenue for them (appendix (?). 182-6). On page 267 of the main book, he observes that:
Most vulnerable within the church may be sexual-minority believers who maintain traditional beliefs on sex and marriage: these believers have been assailed from both sides of the debate, judged by some traditionalists as suspect […] and denounced by some innovationists as complicit in spiritual violence (for not affirming same-sex union).
Belousek takes evangelicals to task for singling out one set of sexual impulses as meriting special attention and urges us to return to upholding older, long-standing ideals of purity in all our sexual ethics. He underlines that in recent decades the church at large has ceded much ground to cultural norms in our understanding and practice of marriage (157-160 and app. 57-68)
Both heterosexual and homosexual inclinations may lead us away from God, but not only is the richness of forgiveness extended to us when we have fallen short, but so is the depth of grace to change and follow Christ’s ways (cf. Titus 2:11f).
Along with the examples of same-sex attracted pastors, a personal afterword is included by Dr Wesley Hill, who, from personal experience, explores his own question, “Is this Christian vision of marriage and sexuality actually liveable, especially by those who know themselves to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual?”’ (289).
This book is an exceptional resource. Thoughtfully and extensively, it handles its subject matter in a manner that is a model for us. Whilst its conclusions support a renewal and reapplication of traditional Christian marriage values, it seeks to bring reconciliation and resolution to an acute disagreement in the church at large. I cannot overstress how helpful I believe that it would be for our current discussions.
From an acting family, Mark studied at London Academy of Music and Dramatic
Art in 1968, and still maintains links with broadcast media. He went on to become
a teacher and then trained at Spurgeon’s College, serving churches in the UK and
France. His final employment was for an international Christian maritime
organisation. On ‘retirement’ he benefitted from gaining an MA in Anabaptist
Studies at Bristol Baptist College, which he feels has enhanced his continuing
preaching and writing ministry. He and his wife, Ruth, hope to celebrate their
golden wedding in 2025.