A new book affirms the kaleidoscopic array of gender identities and sexual orientations

A new book affirms the kaleidoscopic array of gender identities and sexual orientations

There’s an interesting new book to be published in September: The Widening of God’s Mercy. Sexuality Within the Biblical Story. It is written by two eminent, conservative-ish American professors, Richard Hays and his son Christopher Hays.

Richard Hays is one of the most well-respected NT scholars in the world. He famously argued *against* LGBTQ inclusion in his landmark ethics book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 30 years ago. He teaches at Duke Divinity School. He now is a proponent of affirming and inclusion. His son, Christopher Hays, is one of the most well-respected OT/Ancient Near Eastern scholars in the world. He teaches at Fuller Seminary, an institution founded as a strongly conservative seminary, which has become less “conservative” in recent years.

In 1996, Richard Hays wrote about a range of ethical matters in his work The Moral Vision of the New Testament. A number of biblical scholars, theologians and ethicists provided positive reviews of the work, and it has been an important work for students in each of these disciplines.

In chapter 16 of this book, Hays discusses relevant New Testament passages and comes to a conclusion that homosexuality cannot be affirmed by any New Testament text. Reviewing that chapter, American scholar Dr Anna Sieges notes, “His careful argumentation and generous posture toward LGBTQ individuals (by 1996 standards, at least) made the chapter a fan favorite among those who wanted to respectfully and biblically exclude LGBTQ people from public spaces (religious or political) for what they deemed sexual immorality.”

Personally, I was surprised that Richard Hays had come to this conclusion about LGBTIQA+ people. I knew him in the 1980s when I was a doctoral student studying at Yale University, where he was a member of Faculty. I took a particularly lively seminar on “War and Peace in the Bible”, where we explored biblical texts and the full sweep of theological and ethical interpretations of this area.

Prof. Hays was consistently careful and compassionate as he explored key texts with critical acumen and a clear connection to contemporary thought. On that basis, as well as personal interactions with him in other contexts, the book was published, I had thought that he would have come to a different conclusion about the biblical texts relating to sexuality and gender. But he did not.

Thirty years later, he is publishing a work in which he argues differently. The book, we are told, will provide an argument for a theological and ethical position that supports, affirms, and encourages LGBTIQA+ people of faith as they exercise their ministries; and also in terms of how we relate to people of diverse secularities and gender indentures in society. It is an encouraging move.

The publisher’s blurb says:

“In this learned and beautifully written book, Richard and Christopher Hays explore a more expansive way of listening to the overarching story that scripture tells. They remind us of a dynamic and gracious God who is willing to change his mind, consistently broadening his grace to include more and more people. Those who were once outsiders find themselves surprisingly embraced within the people of God, while those who sought to enforce exclusive boundaries are challenged to rethink their understanding of God’s ways.

“The authors—a father and son—point out ongoing conversations within the Bible in which traditional rules, customs, and theologies are rethought. They argue that God has already gone on ahead of our debates and expanded his grace to people of different sexualities. If the Bible shows us a God who changes his mind, they say, perhaps today’s Christians should do the same. The book begins with the authors’ personal experiences of controversies over sexuality and closes with Richard Hays’s epilogue reflecting on his own change of heart and mind.”

“I think everyone in Hays’ circles in the 90s knew, to affirm gay people was career-suicide in their institutions. It still kinda is. I’m not suggesting it was deceptive or anything, but I think it’s very hard to imagine a theological conclusion when you subconsciously know you’re whole faith community will not go with you. Fear doesn’t inspire courageous thinking.”

Certainly, within the Uniting Church as a whole, and in formal decisions by councils of the church over the years, we have long accepted, affirmed, and encouraged LGBTIQA+ people within the life of the church. 

And yes, I am aware that this has been seen as a slow and imperfect process by some, whilst others have fought tenaciously against each step with dogmatic aggression. But formally, and substantially, the Uniting Church has a position that would welcome the argument of Hays and Hays, when it is ultimately published.

I need to note that Prof. Richard Hays was one of the examiners of my PhD thesis in 1988, while Karl Hand wrote a PhD under my supervision in the years 2008 to 2011.

Rev. Dr John Squires is the Editor of With Love to the World. This reflection originally appeared on his blog, An Informed Faith.


1 thought on “A new book affirms the kaleidoscopic array of gender identities and sexual orientations”

  1. Reading that these men writing this book The Widening of Gods Mercy have over time changed their thinking does give me some hope.
    It’s good to know that man can be more flexible in his thinking , more accepting of change, more inclusive of people who are LGBTQI + it also can help save peoples lives.
    God has always been accepting.
    His Son Jesus was quite a radical in his time.
    Going to the Festival of Light in the 70’s with a small group of gay friends we were holding banners saying God loves me too.
    I’m a 72 year old woman now, mother, grandmother, composer, songwriter, artist, that has been in and out of “closets “
    most of my life. Also I’ve had a deep faith in God most of my life, not doctrine or religious dumbing down of people, but feeling God was with me in really difficult fearful times and also joyful times. It’s been a long journey, one that isn’t over yet. People who are in our category LGBTQI+ do have to be careful who they are opening up to, which is sad really, when most just want to be ourselves, get on with others. If everyone could just be kind to each other, whether we are from Australia, Iran, UK, Gaza, USA, Greenland White, Black, Indigenous, different faiths, different colours, different genders
    etc. If only we could just be kind and accept each other, as God has.
    This world would not be in such a mess.
    In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,”

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