Editor’s Note: Full title of the book is Does the Bible Support Same-Sex Marriage: 21Conversations from a Historically Christian View. Also, Spencer Wentland is a former ELCA missionary.
Introduction and Summary
I have not read any of Preston Sprinkle’s other books, including his more famous, A People to Be Loved, but I have been asked to read and review this book. I am writing as a thirty-four-year-old, Side B[*], in process, queer and renewed Lutheran who has believed and contended for a traditional sexual ethic before, during, and after the ELCA’s expansion into its Bound Conscience era. How’s that for a late modern introduction!
Sprinkle sets two foundational premises he wants his audience to be aware of and informed by before he moves speedily through twenty-one commonly made arguments for a [gay] affirming position. Firstly, people don’t usually have a real open mind to ideas, rather ideas usually are manipulated to serve what people already believe to be true, so he wants us to take a full stop and have an open mind. Secondly, the Bible’s vision of marriage is rooted in sexual differentiation ala male and female as revealed in the opening chapter of Genesis and affirmed by Jesus directly in his own understanding of marriage.
So, we already know this book is somewhat of an apologetic against the affirming position. Each affirming argument is followed by his response. He concludes that the church needs to do a better job of being consistently against all sin, more consistently loving, and in particular loving and making space for sexual minorities so they can thrive in a traditional sexual ethic.
Sprinkle deals with a lot of arguments, the more popular ones and others that may not have been considered and heard. He shows a careful commitment to the task of exegesis and establishes how the traditional view is the historically Christian view in scripture. I appreciated the way he has worked to champion side B Christians against conservative elements that want to police the language they use to describe themselves or otherwise surround queer Christians with greater scrutiny than straight Christians.
Sprinkle is writing to a more conservative Christian audience, and this comes at the cost of always feeling like he is dealing with each of the arguments fully in the context of the perspectives from which they come. In many instances he comes across as dismissive. He never really wrestles with hermeneutical questions that are often a crucial component in some affirming arguments. The crux in these arguments is not what the Biblical authors meant in their own worldview but how that translates or fails to translate into the modern world. He does not address this.
Finally, he does not really deal with the moral imagination of those who concede marriage is clearly heterosexual biblically speaking, but that there may be other legitimate covenanted alternatives that could allow for homosexual relationships to be morally acceptable. This point of view is represented in two of the four commonly held understandings in the ELCA Social Statement Gift and Trust.
[*] I am usually not a fan of labels, but Side B represents a category of Christians who hold to a traditional sexual ethic but do not envision following Jesus as needing to claim complete healing from homosexuality or avoiding adjectives like gay, lesbian, queer etc.