As I wrote about last week, former Princeton Seminary chapel dean and evangelical Dr. Arlo Duba has created something of a sensation among the PCUSA’s gay advocacy groups with his declaration that he has changed his mind on the ordination of homosexuals. This morning, he graciously responded to my post in the comments Given the significance of the issue, I wanted to give his reply more visibility, and offer my own response to it:

Dear David Fischler,

My dear Brother in Christ, I know exactly where you are. I was in the same place a few years ago. Maybe it was a slightly different place, because I believed with the Apostle Paul, that I must press on. You mention the process of sanctification that follows baptism. That has been a mark of my life since I was baptized on September 21, 1930. And I was taught, as perhaps you were, that that sanctification must continue until our life on this earth is done. Yes, I had a cataclysmic “conversion” as an adolescent. That is probably the type of conversion to which you allude. But I can say confidently that there was never a day in my life that I didn’t love Jesus, but there have been numerous times that that conversion has been intensified.

I was taught, as perhaps you were, that according to Hebrews 6, we are to go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance. I was taught that the ultimate maturity is our departure from this life. My wife and I speak of that as “our graduation,” the completion of our Baptism. I once heard a sermon, “Converted at Every Revival.” It was a wonderful message, opening up Calvin’s Semper Reformanda, “always being reformed by the Word of God.”  And he ended it with an appeal to us that we should pray for that continuing conversion. We should long for it. And we should pray that we never renege or fall into stagnation. Further, the sermon taught that we are not to be lulled by custom or party.  I was taught, as perhaps you were, that the Shorter Catechism speaks of sanctification as a continual process in which we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” So for me the Bible has been my constant companion. And I could regale you with several notable conversions I have enjoyed or endured. You are simply commenting on the most recent one.

Let me interject here that I have no problem with Dr. Duba changing his mind, whether through a process of sanctification, or growth in understanding of an issue. I’ve done so lots of times. In college, I was a supporter of abortion rights, and even (to my eternal shame) competed in intercollegiate forensics with a persuasive speech advocating mandatory amniocentesis, so that women could make informed decisions about whether or not to have a “therapeutic” abortion. Most folks would consider my change of position to be in a more “conservative” direction. On the other hand, I once supported capital punishment, but no longer do, a change to what most would think of as a more “liberal” position. In both instances, a variety of factors were involved, including a re-examination of the relevant biblical material. There is no reason why, if the face of new information or new light on old information, why we should not change our minds, if the new information or perspective is correct and compelling. That’s what I have not seen in the debate over homosexual behavior.

I want to correct the title line on your response. Mine was not a “Position in Search of a Justification.” The interviewer asked,

The title of my post was perhaps not the best choice of words. What I was trying to say is that my impression of Dr. Duba’s argument was that it struck me as weak enough that he arrived at the change of mind first, even while still in the midst of his study, and then tried to put together a case for why the change was correct. If that is incorrect, I apologize for creating the wrong impression.

Did you start out this particular study with the inclusion of LGBT Christians in mind?

Not at all. That would have been the farthest thing from my mind. My field is Liturgical Theology. I’m a retired Professor of Worship. I was doing research in the area of Baptism and had just reread one of my mentors, Oscar Cullmann, on Baptism and an open table, where he focuses on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Peter and Cornelius. Cullmann says of his own study of Acts that Luke’s writing is full of surprises. I love biblical word studies, and that is where I started.

The recognition of possible change came slowly and painfully. Let me ask you to imagine what it would be like for you to search the scriptures and find that what you had believed for a long time was being challenged. There was the realization that I would lose friends, that people would try to talk me out of what I was coming firmly to believe, that they would try to convince me that it just couldn’t be the Holy Spirit who was leading me.

I’m not sure why those latter two things are bad enough to be mentioned in the same sentence with losing friends. Isn’t being open to friends’ arguments part of the process?

It happened bit by bit. Let me give you an example. I suppose that I might once have been willing to say as you do, that “preaching to Samaritans has nothing to do with going “beyond the plain reading of scripture.” Have you read Leviticus 19:17-18 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11? A neighbor there is defined as “your people,” and “your brothers.” I believe that the average Jew at that time would have accused Jesus of going beyond the plain reading of scripture. You note what I said about the eagerness of James and John to call fire down from heaven on Samaritans in Luke 9:54. You refer to Jesus’ commission to witnessing in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth as though it had already happened. Though Jesus ministered to the woman at the well in Samaria, I cannot find evidence that any disciple had ministered to any Samaritan. I believe that the first person to act on Jesus’ commission was Philip in Acts 8ff.  And of all people that the apostles sent to check on Philip’s evangelism, can you believe, they sent the same John who was so eager to call down fire from heaven on Samaritans. I think it is really quite probable that many of the Jerusalem disciples hoped that Peter and John would stop that preaching.  To gauge the resistance to receive these outsiders, just look at Acts 11:2 and 15:5 (When you read this last one, put some vehemence into your voice!) Let’s face it. It has always been difficult for people who are different to be accepted.

Dr. Duba is, I’m sure, correct about what the typical Jewish response would have been to preaching to the Samaritans. And if they’d been addressing your typical rabbi, they might well have properly done so. But Jesus is different, right? As God incarnate, He could send the Law which he quoted and upheld in a different trajectory, especially since that trajectory was in line with the universalism of the prophets, who proclaimed that Israel would be a light to all nations. That the church didn’t start preaching to the Samaritans until after Christ’s death and resurrection only makes sense, considering that while on earth He sent them only to the people of Israel. After His resurrection, He universalized their preaching, and the pattern seen in Acts is completely in keeping with the pattern laid out in Acts 1:8. That some resisted makes sense, in light of some of the theological differences in the early church, and especially the conflict involving the Judaizers. But I’m still not sure what this has to do with the question of homosexual behavior, though Dr. Duba does try to explain that later.

Back to the eunuch. Have you studied the ambiguous range of meanings for “eunuch? Please do so. Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word saris eight times and it is translated in the NIV with four different words. Not all eunuchs were sexless. They still had their prostates, and there is ample evidence that they were not necessarily chaste. And, I am interested in your stress on “behavior,” since all of us have behaviors that we have to confess every evening, and every Lord’s Day. Check out the definition of the Greek word, εθνος. You will find that it is not limited to “ethnic” as it is in the English language. In the Bible it is most often translated as “the nations,” always to non-Jews, really, to anyone not like us, people who eat different foods, have different customs than ours, which means different behavior patterns.

Here I think Dr. Duba definitely goes beyond what the text will allow. I don’t think there’s any way you can stretch εθνος (ethne) to include people whose only unifying factor is a particular mode of sexual expression, any more than you can say that all vegetarians are an εθνος, or that all Packers fans are an εθνος, or that all chessplayers are an εθνος. This is simply not what the Scripture is referring to when it speaks of “the nations,” who are not simply “anyone not like us,” but specifically those who are defined as being outside of the Old Testament covenant with Israel. In any case, that goes to the issue of who we are to bring the gospel to (everyone), not to the issue of who should lead the ekklesia. Oh, and as to the eunuch, what Dr. Duba presents is speculation. We don’t know anything about this particular eunuch’s sexual abilities or activities, so he really doesn’t answer the question at all.

Read Luke/Acts as if for the first time. Look for the surprises Luke throws at us. Example: Luke knew Mark’s gospel. Why then does he say the fourth disciple named is Levi? I believe that he might have put Levi there, a hated tax collector, so that early on we would see the inclusion of the customarily unacceptable.  I will be interested in your take on that.

I have no doubt that the tax collector was included by Jesus in His inner circle in part to demonstrate exactly that. I also have no doubt that Matthew (or Levi if you prefer) stopped collecting taxes for the Romans, just as Zacchaeus, another tax collector, said he would give away half his wealth and make restitution fourfold to those he defrauded. And I doubt that either of them ever tried to persuade Jesus that it would be perfectly acceptable for them to go on collecting taxes and defrauding people. So it isn’t just that the “customarily unacceptable” were accepted, it’s that they were transformed by the experience, and left sinful ways of life behind. Did that mean they no longer sinned? Of course not. But they knew that what they had been doing was inherently sinful, and thus to be put away permanently.

And I now believe that Luke, mentioning the sexual-gender of the eunuch five times, when he could have simply repeated “Ethiopian” five times, has unusual significance. I think that the supernatural visit by an angel (like the annunciation to Mary and Cornelius), and the supernatural “snatching up” of Philip after baptizing the eunuch (like Elijah, and like Jesus being taken up after the Supper in Emmaus), demands that it be searched diligently, to try to “see through” it for its deepest meaning. I now believe that as with Peter and the sheet, where God used that metaphor to teach Peter to “see through” to something much more significant that permission to eat pork, shrimp and lobster, in the same way Luke is trying to get us to “see through” the eunuch incident to something much more significant than the baptism of a castrated male.

Perhaps, but not in regard to homosexual behavior. When folks start talking about having to “see through” a passage for its “deepest meaning,” it sounds to me like they’re saying, “look for some way to make this say what you want it to say.” Peter didn’t have to look very far to find the meaning of the sheet, especially since he hears a voice in the vision telling him, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” followed immediately by the arrival of the delegation from Cornelius. To see the lifting of condemnation of homosexual acts, a condemnation repeated by Paul years after the eunuch event, strikes me as a real stretch.

By what standard can we pick and choose portions of the Levitical prohibitions, saying, this one is God’s unchanging will, that one isn’t. It was Jesus who said six times in Matthew 5, “You have heard it said of old . . . . But I say to you. . . .”  And Jesus himself challenged the Levitical laws, so much in fact that he had to say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). I believe we must pray to perceive how they are to be fulfilled.

That standard is, I thought, pretty well established. The ceremonial law has been abolished, as has the national law of Israel with its penalties for sin, but the moral law remains in force. Not only Paul, but all of the epistle writers make that quite plain in their calls for righteous life and growth in sanctification on the part of believers, a process that is directed in part by the use of the moral law. Dr. Duba’s reference to the Sermon on the Mount is curious, because at no point does Jesus loosen the moral law; rather, He makes clear that the moral law is even more demanding than His contemporaries claim. He fulfills the moral law, as we cannot, so that His righteousness in doing so may be credited to us, but that does not then give us license to ignore that law as a guide for our sanctification (as opposed to justification, which we can never have through observance of the moral law, given our inevitable failure to do so).

I believe that the very evangelical and conservative standard of exegesis, that as we allow scripture to interpret scripture, we must discern scriptural themes. I am no longer willing to say that Romans 1 trumps Galatians 3, nor does it trump the whole of Luke/Acts. Go back to Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and say that while this passage refers primarily to male and female and to the generation of children, it need not be that alone. But the message of the gospel is Covenant commitment. I even believe that the Apostle Paul is speaking to two quite different registers in Romans 1 and Galatians 3:27-28.

I agree completely that we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and that biblical themes are important to proper interpretation. But to say that Romans 1 “trumps” Galatians 3 or Luke/Acts in the analysis of those who oppose the ordination of gays is to make a couple of mistakes.

The first is to suppose that the matter of sexual morality (which includes a great deal more than just homosexuality, of course, but that as well) is not addressed outside of Romans 1. It turns up repeatedly, and always with the same theme, that sexual expression is meant to follow the pattern established from the creation of humanity, in the form of male-female relations within a covenant bond that came to be called marriage, or is to be avoided. Those who oppose the church putting its stamp of approval on homosexual behavior are not simply proof-texting, but upholding this theme with the utmost seriousness.

The second is in thinking that the notion of “inclusiveness” to which Dr. Duba is clearly alluding is an idea without bounds. The gospel excludes as much as it includes, as Jesus’s repeated chastising of the Pharisees and Sadducees demonstrates. So do Paul’s lists of behaviors whose willful, unrepentant practice indicates that their practitioners are not of the Kingdom of God. Gospel inclusiveness means that God elects His people from every corner of humanity, not that those who are so elected are then given free rein to continue to believe or act the way they did before encountering Christ.

I wish you had resisted listing the “slew of behaviors” that certainly have absolutely nothing to do with our subject.

Why do they “have absolutely nothing to do with our subject”? Dr. Duba, I’m sure, sincerely believes that this is just about that rather rare creature, the “life-long, monogamous, same sex relationship.” But for many, perhaps most, of those with whom Dr. Duba now agrees, it isn’t that simple. For one thing, many gays even within the church reject the idea that “monogamy” means that they may have sexual relations with only one person. For another, there is a small but growing movement within the mainline churches to accept polyamory, one of the “slew of behaviors” I mentioned, using largely the same rationale as has been used during the debate over homosexuality. I hate to say it, but there’s no way to isolate homosexual behavior from other immoral forms of sexual expression.

And since you did not include my closing adaptation of Galatians 3, I will now add it:
I now affirm, building on Paul’s Galatian affirmation in 3:27-28,
All of us who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed in Christ.
There is no issue of ethnic identity except citizenship in God’s kingdom,
no issue of servitude except the service of Christ,
no issue of gender or sexual condition, except the bonds of
covenant faithfulness,
for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.

And with a closing re-write of Galatians 3, Dr. Duba concludes.

I appreciate his response. He is more gracious to me than I deserve, and I appreciate the spirit in which he argues. But I still think he has adopted a hermeneutic that is essentially foreign to Scripture, and based more on the spirit of the age than on the Spirit of God. He is still a brother in Christ, however, and I appreciate the opportunity for discussion.