Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships: an interview with Karen Keen

I have known Karen Keen a long time and she is someone I have always appreciated as thoughtful and respectful in dialogue. I was thrilled to hear she was releasing a book called, “Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships.”  Karen is a biblical scholar who has navigated many different facets of the integration of faith, gender, and sexuality for many years. To engage with Karen, check out her website  and consider if there is someone who would appreciate (or need) the book for Christmas. One of our Winnipeg Generous Space facilitators, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, interviewed Karen about the book – and offered for us to post it here.  Thanks Jamie!

KK: Great question! Yes, books on sexuality and Christianity are a dime a dozen these days. Many of them cover similar arguments. I wrote Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships because of crucial gaps in the conversation. First, many books on this topic, whether traditionalist or progressive tend to preach to the choir. Often each side does not understand its opponents’ views well enough to engage them in a respectful and accurate manner. Having defended a traditionalist view for much of my life, I get why conservative Christians do not feel comfortable affirming same-sex relationships. That is also why I believe I can help traditionalists reconsider those same views. Second, the debate is stuck at an impasse with traditionalists arguing for male-female complementarity as a timeless creation ordinance, and progressives asserting that the biblical prohibitions are culturally specific to the exploitative practices of the 1st century. My book pushes beyond the impasse by raising issues currently overlooked such as legal deliberation or how we theologize the Fall.

JAR: What wisdom about engaging this conversation would you want to share with Christians who hold the traditionalist view?

I love how my traditionalists friends have a deep love of Scripture and commitment to seeking truth in it. I share that love and only want to encourage traditionalists to know the Bible even better. Some of the blind spots that traditionalists have can stem from not taking Scripture seriously enough. As I discuss in my book, the Bible has a lot more to say about the question of same-sex relationships than often assumed. I also urge traditionalists not to wrongly caricature progressives as spiritually wishy washy. Many progressives are likewise deeply devoted to following Christ and the teachings of Scripture. Traditionalists would do well to befriend progressives and listen to their hearts without judgment.

JAR: What wisdom about engaging this conversation would you want to share with Christians who hold an affirming view?

KK: I love how my affirming friends care deeply about the welfare of people on the margins. They have been willing to suffer significant loss of community by being honest about their own sexuality or standing with gay and lesbian people as allies. That takes courage and strength. The blind spot that progressives can have is not always extending their passion for human dignity to their opponents. I agree with civil rights leader, Ruby Sales, that God’s redemption is for everyone, even those who hurt us. The Freedom Riders used to sing “I love everybody in my heart.” The reality is most traditionalists do not hold the views they do because of callousness, but rather a desire to honor God the best they know how. Progressives would do well to enter the conversation with that understanding in mind.

JAR: What are the primary barriers you have seen that get in the way of meaningfully engaging in dialogue around this topic?

KK: The primary barrier is the temptation for each of us to be reactive rather than thoughtful. Our strong emotions are certainly understandable and legitimate, but when we are reacting purely out of anger or fear, we are no longer objectively seeking truth. If we truly desire truth and God’s will, we have nothing to lose by conceding to the best of our opponent’s arguments. The Apostle Peter’s advice is still instructive: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). Unfortunately, gentleness and respect are far too rare in the dialogue on faith and sexuality.

JAR: What has been the response to the book so far? The highs and lows?

KK: The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had both traditionalists and progressives commend the book. That is the result of my genuine efforts to be as fair as possible to all sides, even as I make a case for same-sex relationships. The wide appeal of the book is the primary high. If there is a low, it’s that a couple conservative leaders have given reactive responses that misrepresent my work rather than engaging with my key arguments. I welcome critique, but my hope is that those who disagree will engage fairly with the claims and evidence I provide.

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