Whatever your feelings about homosexuality, Luke Timothy Johnson’s candor should be welcomed and encouraged:

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order…

By “experience” we do not mean every idiosyncratic or impulsive expression of human desire. We refer rather to those profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures, that help define them as human. The church cannot say “yes” to what the New Testament calls porneia (“sexual immorality”); but the church must say yes to the witness of lives that build the holiness of the church.

Don’t miss Eve Tushnet’s followup essay either, where she points out the flaws in Johnson’s attempt to valorize our own experience of the world.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Matt: I’m glad you brought the Johnson-Tushnet exchange to the attention of your readers. I regard it as one of the finest conversations on the subject, especially because of it’s personal dimension: Johnson has a lesbian daughter and Tushnet is a celibate lesbian. The quoted remarks above reinforce what I’ve intuited all along in the debate: our positions on homosexuality depend entirely on what counts as our supreme (not sole) authority. Is it Scripture? Experience? Tradition? or Reason?


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson July 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks, Christopher. I am aware of the personal dimension to it, and thought it a very good exchange. And your intuitions about the debate are, in my opinion, right on the money.


  2. LTJ’s statement doesn’t necessarily represent the case of many gay Christians. Some of us have very solid Scriptural reasons why we affirm gay relationships. And these Scriptural bases are supported by experience. Historically the argument against homosexuality has been one made from silence. Some exegetes maintain that passages that proport to deal with homosexuality in the Bible, in fact speak to very specific cases of sexual transgression and not homosexuality in general. See for example, Robin Scroggs, Dale B. Martin, Sarah Ruden, Phyllis Bird etc.


    1. Jeff,

      Yeah, I am aware that there are other ways of interpreting the Bible on this issue. I interact with some of them in (shameless plug alert!) my book.

      That said, I do like the candidness of LTJ’s remarks, as a lot of the presuppositions of those other thinkers hinge upon the idea that the experience of homosexuality today is very different than it was in the first century. And in that sense, I think LTJ comes closer to the heart of the matter.




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