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Book Review of To Inclusion and Beyond:

Evangelical and Affirming LGBTQ+ relationships and equal marriage by Danny Brierley

I was glad to engage with this book which comes out at a time when in Baptist history the question of same-sex marriage is front and centre. It promised to be rooted in Scripture and show an inclusive meta-narrative. I hoped for well-argued affirmative biblical theology as there is little available; sadly this is not what I believe I got.

There is no doubt that the author is an engaging and talented writer. The book was easy to read and follow but it lacked any theological depth. Instead, arguments and assumptions were presented as fact without good theological grounding.

Brierley suggests that those arguing against inclusion have not read or understood the Bible properly. It seems that by outlining what it means to engage with the Bible he wants to leave the reader in no doubt that he has read and understood the Bible and therefore his presentation can be trusted.

Brierley does make good use of the Bible and its passages around homosexuality both those that seem clear and those much less so. He quickly writes off what he, and others, call the clobber texts of which there are seven. While his writing is articulate and at first glance persuasive there is much that he misses in order to dismiss the arguments. While he is right that many scholars do indeed agree that some of these texts refer to pederasty, rape and violence, this does not in itself prove that same-sex relationships are therefore accepted. 

His argument from nature seems to ignore the fact that we are human beings born after the fall, all born into sin and therefore our natural desires do not necessarily come from a pure place. If we are to agree that our natural desires should be followed up on, the repercussions are frightening when applied to other natural desires some people may have. I would rather argue that the sexual orientation that is not in line with God’s creation is a symptom of the fall, much like other unhealthy or ungodly tendencies we each have that require submission to God.

By far Brierley’s most extensive argument is that salvation through Christ is for ALL and that he loves ALL (author’s original capital letters). In this I cannot agree more, yes Christ did indeed die for all and loves all. However, what Brierley misses is the radical call to discipleship—disciplined living. Where believers are called to take up their cross, it seems he believes that this does not apply to ALL (my caps added). He does agree that we are called to obedience against sexual impurity; the problem is that he does not, along with others who are affirming, believe that same-sex sexual activity is impure or a sin. 

It is here that any argument breaks down because if the defence starts from an understanding that same-sex sexual activity is not a sin then there is no biblical starting point. Brierley is arguing from a place of biblical silence. This is where Brierley really starts to go beyond the text as he reads into that silence. He brings into creation multiple couples being created including a same-sex couple. While I agree that Genesis should not be read as a literal creation text it does however set a pattern for creation. There is no evidence in scripture or outside of it in other ancient texts that this would have been assumed or understood.

He is right that God did create man and woman not to be alone. The danger is that when this comes to mean that only a sexual relationship can fulfil that mandate, where would that leave single people? God created us for community, the implication here is that sex is the ultimate fulfilment rather than relationship through Christ.

Brierley goes on to put words in the mouth of Jesus and Paul when they are clearly talking about marriage as understood between a man and a woman, indeed the passages quoted from Corinthians include husband and wife in them. He seems to argue that because Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven, who we marry here does not matter as long as it is committed. 

On this point he uses an argument about Eunuchs and Jesus’ affirmation of their faith as a direct parallel with those who are same-sex attracted. Exactly how he comes to this comparison is not clear but rather assumed, as they are completely different people groups. However, he goes on to draw on arguments for sexism and racism in almost the same breath as if they are all the same thing which they clearly are not.

His last liberty with going far beyond the text was in the story of the Centurion and his servant in which he assumes a same-sex relationship to which there is no indication in Scripture and implies that Jesus’ healing is a clear acceptance of the relationship. Despite the fact that the text is about faith even from a Gentile and nothing to do with relationships. Brierily does a similar injustice to Peter’s vision of clean animals and Paul’s teaching on food which is clearly about food and Gentiles and not about same-sex activity. If these texts are used to condone all behaviours and desires, we would find ourselves in some seriously deep water.

In conclusion, Brierley’s book is an easy read and therein lies the danger for the untrained reader. Many of what may be read as theological truths are rather more just pondering’s way beyond what the text says or could likely mean. We can make Scripture say anything if we add to it what is not there; the author has necessarily had to do this because of the Bible’s silence on same-sex committed relationships. The Bible is silent on many things, as Brierley rightly says it also does not mention coffee but we drink it. However, it does talk about what to put into our bodies and about excess, and so in this way we know how to drink it. Although the Bible does not mention same-sex committed relationships it does on numerous times talk about heterosexual relationships and anything outside of this being sexually immoral. It seems that the ‘beyond’ of Brierley’s title means beyond scripture in order to reach a biblical affirmation of same-sex relationships.

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