Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Nicodemus Approach to Homosexuality

Allow me to show my cards from the outset: I am Christian, heterosexual, and I won't be taking an explicit side on the issue of homosexuality in this post. This issue is far too complex for 600 words. What I do intend, however, is to assert that nobody should hold a strong opinion on homosexuality until s/he has personally interacted with homosexuals. I call this the "Nicodemus Approach."

I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical community where nobody talked about homosexuality except when sharply condemning it. More accurately, I grew up in a community where nobody knew any homosexuals.* The issue did not concern specific human beings in our community; rather, it was about "them," those hypothetical people "out there." Accordingly, I learned that it was okay to hold conclusive opinions about matters that I knew little about and/or had never encountered in person.

Over the past four years, however, I have learned a different approach. During my four years in Philadelphia I have worked closely with a homosexual youth pastor; was mentored by a brilliant, homosexual chaplain supervisor; and walked alongside a handful of gay peers in Christian ministry. Unlike the former method of judging what I do not know, I came face to face with people instead of ideas. Enter Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees and a member of the religious elite. He belonged to a community that saw Jesus as a sinner because Jesus did things that were contrary to what was written in Hebrew Scripture (John 4:9; 5:16; 9:16). But John's portrayal of Nicodemus is fascinating: instead of remaining in his comfortable, homogeneous community, Nicodemus goes to encounter the man who had stirred up controversy (John 3:1-15). Then, at the end of chapter seven we meet Nicodemus a second time (7:45-52). That Nicodemus reappears in the Gospel is one thing; but he does not return as a static character. Nicodemus advocates for Jesus (v.51)! Here we see the impact of Nicodemus’ face-to-face encounter with Jesus.

We meet Nicodemus a third and final time at the foot of the cross. When all but one of Jesus' disciples had abandoned him, who is there? Nicodemus. The Pharisee who risked his religious identity to meet Jesus in person is the man that is forever remembered for laying our Lord to rest.

For me, this confirms the absolute necessity of personal encounter when forming opinions toward people. It is such a simple method, yet very hard to practice. However, I think that both Nicodemus and, more obviously, Jesus demonstrate this method clearly. Furthermore, the kind of opinion about which I am writing is specifically a strong opinion. I am quite aware that everyone will have an opinion no matter what; for that is natural. My challenge is to go and test your opinion (Lamentations 3:40).

I can imagine a reader asking, "Should we also not take a stand against abortion or capital punishment if we've never personally experienced it?" No, take your stand; for this misses my point. We must be careful to distinguish between acts/events and people. My point is that we ought to take an approach to homosexuality that takes seriously the fact that, in truth, there is no such thing as homosexuality the concept. There is only the homosexual - the person.

* Statistically this statement cannot be true. There must have been homosexuals in that community. However, the issue is that a community can create a statistically false reality (i.e. no homosexuals in a community) through pretense and silence.


  1. Why is there no homosexuality the concept? The apostle Paul sure thought of it as a concept. If not, then you could assume that he simply condemned homosexuality because he met every one and didn't like the homosexual - the person (which is rather hard to believe).

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tony. You raise the all important insight that Paul probably did not meet everyone that he ever discusses in his writings.

    Nevertheless, it's bold of you to speak for Paul. Secondly, bringing Paul into this requires citing specific texts and studying them appropriately. My post has less to do with biblical texts and more to do with Christian ethics.

    If you're referring to Romans 1:26-27, I'd be careful to say that Paul is discussing homosexuality the concept. Those verses belong to his argument against IDOLATRY the CONCEPT. Moreover, he explicitly mentions particular acts/behavior (hence my point about distinguishing between acts/events and people).

    I believe that there is no such thing as homosexuality the concept because a concept is an abstract idea. To treat human beings as abstract ideas is to treat them as objects; as de-human.

  3. Oh man. This is true about basically everything. When issues become people, it becomes harder to hold dogmatic beliefs. God help us to love first.

  4. Why is it bold for me to speak for Paul? How bold do YOU have to be to speak for God and how He views the "concept" (or whatever you want to call it) of homosexuality when his apostle has been exceptionally clear on the issue??

    The Romans passage isn't what I had in mind, but its hard for me to imagine how one can separate the concept of idolatry from the actions which are being condemned as idolatrous. What I'm saying is that a false distinction is being made in your logic on that.

    The passage which I think is plain as can be about homosexuality is 1 Corinthians 6:9. He is clear that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Men who practice homosexuality are included in the bunch (alongside theives, drunkards, the greedy, etc). Call it what you will or don't call it whatever you want, but its clear that as a practice, its condemned as unrighteousness.

    To be honest, I think you're letting your philosophic sympathies dictate your reading of Scripture and that is a dangerous road to start down.

  5. What makes me stop and think about issues such as this is clearly shown in the previous comment. Anger. Why do most Christians get so angry and upset about this topic? What is the harm in asking a question (especially if the answer is so "obviously clear")? Why is choosing to love so much more difficult than condemning something (or more importantly someone) you've never experienced or known? I think I know what it is. Fear. Fear that we don't have it all figured out. Because, let's face it, if we're not sure about the issue of homosexuality what else could we be wrong about? When the black and white rules disappear and we're forced to live by faith and walk in the gray, who knows what we'll discover. I have a feeling we'll discover Christ Jesus. I also have a feeling we'll be better for it.

  6. Why do Christians get so angry over the topic? - because people are being taught to ignore God's commands to man or to decide for themselves what they mean. Post-modern philosophy sounds really smart and full of all the right questions, but its philosophically bankrupt as a system of knowledge. Anyone here, please tell me what the post-modern method of epistemology is and how it has been shown to solve the problems of modernity. Please tell me how its critique of literary interpretation solves anything about understanding the intention of the author? Its just a big pile of questions and a couple of folks waiting to use it for their own agendas. All of these "questions" we ask are great, but we could use a little humility when we ask them, right?

    What do we (or I, I'll speak for myself) fear? God. God is the only thing worth fearing and that's why I hesitate to ask questions about things that are pretty clearly laid out in Scripture. By the way, Scripture is pretty clear that while God loves us and is merciful, He is also righteous and will judge us. Especially us teachers for what we have others believe. Just saying.

  7. @Tony: I think it bears repeating that this post is MY opinion on HOW TO APPROACH homosexuality, not an explicit moral opinion. I'm not exactly sure where I have spoken for God and how God views homosexuality - I haven't even explicitly stated my own view on issues of morality or particular practices.

    Nevertheless, may I ask a question? Do you know any homosexual men or women? I'm not assuming yes or no; I'm only asking because it gets to the heart of my post.

    Thanks for your comments and honest opinions.

    @Robby: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the power of fear and the need for faith. I resonate with your call to live into those gray areas.

  8. Yes, I do know homosexual men and have both worked with them in office situations and have interacted with them outside the office.

  9. @Tony: Great! Thank you for sharing. I don't think that a blog comments page is the best place to discuss this further, but, to be honest, I would enjoy learning more about your experiences and journey with them. I would want to learn from you about how you may or may not hold beliefs and actions in tension, etc. I think it is important to learn from how others approach and live life. If you want to share, I'd be happy to move to a private sphere. If not, no worries. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I lived in an apt community with homosexual men. I dont know why you think knowing them changes the idea what they do is wrong. This is not how God designed it- even within homosexual couples they still end up playing a male and female role. It is due to past trauma which becomes a fettish. No evidence for being born that way

  11. Thanks for sharing, Purplefern. Did you get to talk with those gay men? Did you ask them about their story? Did you listen to them tell you about their journey with their sexuality? Did you ask them when they made a conscious choice to find other men sexually attractive? Did you listen to them tell you that they are gay because of past trauma? Because if you didn't do any of that, then you didn't live with them. Living = doing life together, sharing your stories, talking, listening, etc. Residing in the same apartment community doesn't give you ANY credibility. Sorry. It doesn't.

    If, however, you've talked with them and learned these ideas, then I'm happy to listen to you and learn more about this complex topic. Otherwise, I encouraged you to go practice the "Nicodemus approach." PEACE.

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  14. The Romans passage specifically mentions how homosexuality came about. It is an interesting question whether there are stereotypes about homosexuality, and whether it relates to idolatry. I think you'd have to conduct a formal survey, but to answer your question, both times the info was *volunteered* to me, a past trauma was cited.
    1)wearing dresses to school.
    2)his wife was horrible to him.