book response: God's Gay Agenda by Turnbull (2012)

Even if you are Christian who is not even open to considering the full inclusion of homosexuals into the life of your church, you can still learn something from Pastor Sandra Turnbull's book, God's Gay Agenda. Why can you learn something from this book? The author is informed. She loves the Bible. She loves Jesus. She sees the fields as "white unto the harvest."

Turnbull pastors Glory Tabernacle Christian Center in Long Beach, CA, and holds a Biblical Studies degree from Evangel University and a Master of Arts from the Claremont School of Theology. See more about her at her bio page. She grew up on the missionary field. She tells some of her own story in the beginning of the book. When she joined Youth With a Mission as a young adult, she developed a relationship with another woman on her team. YWAM sent them home. She submitted herself to Christian ungay-me ministry, which didn't work. Eventually, years later, she reconnected with that woman and they are now married. But the lesbian part of her did not change her devotion to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the church, or the great commission. She is still pentecostal. So is her church.

Whether the reader considers her "in sin" or not, it's still worth listening to her wrestle with the clobber passages, those seven key passages that condemn homosexuality. Before she gets to those passages, she shows, very conclusively that natural born eunuchs, in Jesus' words, refer to homosexuals. In the Old Testament, they appear as temple and royal officials. One even rescues Jeremiah. In the New Testament, one brings the gospel to Ethiopia. I can agree with Turnbull that gay people are seen in the Bible as good agents of God's purpose.

Her exegetical efforts in reinterpreting the clobber passages are the best that I have encountered, but I'm not that widely read. In regards to the Leviticus passages, she ties "abomination" to idolatry. There is too much unsaid, too many other passages using the word that are not assessed, for me to agree with her that the Levitical passages are specifically limited to idol worship practices exclusively. In particular, male priests received anal intercourse from worshippers. I also think her analysis of Paul's condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1 was weak. Paul is writing about the effects of idolatry, and he includes male/male homosexuality as one aspect, which would lend itself to temple worship practices, but she can't say woman/woman homosexuality that Paul talks about is also a temple practice.

Simply because I am not persuaded on all counts of her argument, does not mean there isn't much to learn from someone using different lenses than mine to read the scripture. In her discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how it's not a story about homosexuality, but of rape and violence, she notices something in Jesus' discussion that I never saw before.
Here is the biblical account found in Luke 17:28-30 and 34-36: Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. …I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken, and the other left. (KJV) Jesus mentions two men in one bed together quite purposefully.158 To an audience where some would be equating God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexual sex acts, this statement contradicted that myth. Jesus set the record straight by equating eternal life as contingent upon the condition of the individual’s heart. To Jesus, if you were his disciple, it meant that you were living a life of obedience to God. In Jesus’ illustration, one man is clearly a disciple regardless of the fact that he is sleeping in the same bed with another man. What Jesus was communicating is that eternal life is not based upon sexuality, but upon having your heart prepared and ready. Kindle Highlight Loc. 1281-90
Her comment on the footnote is important.
158 Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction And Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Illinois and England: Intervarsity Press, 1974 and 1988), 286. Bible translators deal with Luke 17:34 in various ways because the word “men” is not included in the original Greek text. The Tyndale New Testament Commentary by Leon Morris states that the original Greek text does use the masculine gender in both “one” and “the other.” The traditional reading of Greek would mean that the phrase should be read “two men in one bed” as the King James Version of the Bible translates it. It is interesting that other translators remove the word “men” or just omit the verse completely. Leon Morris concludes that it could mean man and wife however. The Interpreter’s Bible Commentary for the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, Volume VIII, (1952) states on page 304 that “Two in vs. 34 probably means two men, as alternative illustration to two (women) in vs. 35; but the earlier two could mean man and wife.” I don’t think there would be any question as to how to interpret this verse if the subject was not about two men in bed together. 
I never saw that before. I found her observations on what Jesus did not say about eunuchs, although an argument from silence, wroth considering as well.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never spoke about eunuchs in terms of healing, reprogramming, or restoration? In Matthew 19:12 there is no suggestion that a eunuch needs to be fixed, healed, or restored back into society. Remember that Jesus was all too happy to heal the blind, the sick, the oppressed, and to even raise some who were “sleeping” back to the living. But nowhere do we find Jesus healing the eunuch. Rather, to be a eunuch is held up as a model. It is a good thing to be a eunuch. The eunuch, in the context of Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce, is certainly outside of the heterosexual structure of society. Yet according to Jesus, the eunuch life is a model life and a prestigious calling. Kindle Highlight Loc. 1905-10

She contends that the third kind of eunuchs that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 19:12 are the church's gay believers. It's a weak contention in my opinion because Jesus speaks of those who make themselves eunuchs. Some translations interpret this as dedicating themselves to celibacy. The second option makes more sense to me. Nevertheless, I do appreciate her observation that Jesus did not heal any homosexuals of their sexual preferences. However, he did heal a centurion's slave, who might have been his male sex slave too. Gay Christians, including Turnbull, point to this as an example of Jesus' not taking an opportunity to condemn homosexuality. I see it as an opportunity missed of not condemning slavery.

As far as the hot topic of gay marriage, Turnbull makes a good point.

It is apparent from the Scriptures that God seems to have stamped His approval upon a variety of types of marriages which were considered “traditional” in biblical history. Besides the polygamous marriages, there existed under God’s blessing the levirate marriages, mixed marriages, slave marriages, and prisoner-of-war marriages. All of these “traditional” marriages would be shunned today in the Church and in most Western societies. Kindle Highlight Loc. 2444-47

This is not a new argument from the gay Christian, but she puts it in very stark terms. "Traditional" and "Biblical" are not helpful terms in these discussions. I'm for civil unions for any couple, regardless of gender. Turnbull's book has many helpful contributions to the church's discussion of homosexuality. She speaks as one who grew up as an insider, but has become an outsider, who wants to bring us back to unity. She models grace, devotion, modesty, and love. Whether we agree with her or not, her contribution to the conversation is valuable.

I received this e-book as a free review copy.
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Ben D. said…
Thanks John... I will check this book out. Hadn't seen it before .
Anonymous said…
You gotta love how she rolls out her Evangelical and Charismatic credentials, but shrouds the fact that she's actually become a liberal Mainliner.

Her particular theology is at the heart of this subject. It's a shame she poses as an Evangelical who somehow "broke out" of an alleged man-made marriage paradigm.

There are a host of NT and OT verses that support what we call "traditional marriage" today. But that's for another post one day.

Thanks for the review, John. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it's good to know we serve a forgiving God.
John Umland said…
I agree that Jesus' appeal to Genesis about one man and one woman as his view of marriage is what we call biblical and traditional, but the bible and tradition are full of other examples. That's why I agree with her that the words, biblical and traditional, are not helpful.
God is love
no Jesus would mention two men sleeping in a bed because people slept in beds together in that day without necessarily being homosexuals. Until recent times there was not the luxury of separate beds for people.

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