Wolterstorff says “yes” to same-sex marriage

Photo courtesy All One Body
Photo courtesy All One Body

Nicholas Wolterstorff, professor of philosophy at Calvin College from 1959-1989, spoke publicly on homosexuality and same-sex marriage for the first time on Oct. 13 at Neland Avenue CRC.

The lecture was sponsored by All One Body, an LGBT+-affirming organization among members of the Christian Reformed Church.

Wolterstorff opened by acknowledging that he is not an authority on the matter, and as such, would present a narrative of his own journey to an affirming stance on same-sex marriage in the church.

It was through relatives, students and former students who were gay, as well as people in committed, same-sex relationships, that Wolterstorff was drawn to more closely consider the traditional views he’d grown up believing.

“I’ve listened to these people. To their agony. To their feelings of exclusion and oppression. To their longings. To their expressions of love. To their commitments. To their faith. So listening has changed me.”

He first established the commonplace view that sexuality is a continuum, and people may fall anywhere between homosexual and heterosexual in their sexual orientation. He cited the Classis Grand Rapids East study report on “Biblical and Theological Support Currently Offered by Christian Proponents of Same-Sex Marriage,” in which a non-heterosexual identity on the sexuality continuum is considered a creational variance, an aspect of one’s nature.

“Almost everybody agrees that no one is to be blamed for being on the homosexual end of that continuum,” he said. “For the homosexual person it matters a great deal — a very great deal — whether you say to him or her that their orientation is a disorder, a mark of the fallenness of creation, or whether you say that their location on that spectrum is a creational variance, like any other location on that spectrum.”

This stance veers away from the 1973 report of Synod on homosexuality, which defines same-sex orientation as a disorder.

Wolterstorff then observed that a same-sex orientation does not break the love command, thus is not morally blameable. Having established that same-sex orientation is neither a disorder nor morally blameable, he asked, “If accordingly members of the church are to accept such people as they are, then why is it wrong for people with that orientation to act on their desires?”

But what does Scripture say? Wolterstorff briefly examined each of the seven Biblical passages which concern homosexual activity. He stressed above all that these passages should be interpreted in context.

He quickly dismissed passages in Genesis 19 and Judges 19, which are about gang rape and, he argued, therefore irrelevant to a discussion of committed, covenantal same-sex relationships. He similarly put aside Leviticus 18 and 20, where the holiness code has been cherry-picked and it would be “unfair to universalize that condemnation while ignoring everything else that’s forbidden.”

As for 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, he claimed that translational disagreements make the passages too ambiguous for an authoritative claim about same-sex relationships.

He spent the most time dissecting Romans 1:24–31, which describes a “truly, appallingly wicked group” from which we cannot generalize. “There is night and day difference between the people that Paul describes and the committed same-sex couples that I know.”

Wolterstorff concluded, “When we look at the context … I don’t see how we can generalize to the conclusion that God forbids homosexual behaviour in the profoundly different context of a loving, covenantal relationship.”

Lastly, Wolterstorff approached the question of marriage, namely that of marriage in the church. He noted that three of the four “goods” of marriage as defined by the CRC in 1979 are not dependent on gender. The fourth, regarding childbirth, is evidently not a requirement, as the church marries heterosexual couples beyond childbearing age.

“Once one says that a homosexual orientation is no more culpable or disordered than a heterosexual orientation, and once one observes that Scripture does not teach that God says that homosexual activity is always wrong, I think we’ve left to conclude that justice requires that the church offer the great good of marriage both to heterosexual couples committed to a loving, covenantal relationship, and to homosexual couples so committed.”

A video of the entire lecture and following question time are available on the All One Body Facebook and YouTube pages.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Calvin College’s official view on homosexuality is the same as the official position of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The position found on the CRC website is as follows:

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world. Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement. Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. Opportunities to serve within the offices and the life of the congregation should be afforded to them as to heterosexual Christians.

Homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice), however, is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. The church affirms that it must exercise the same compassion for homosexuals in their sins as it exercises for all other sinners. The church should do everything in its power to help persons with homosexual orientation and give them support toward healing and wholeness. A synodical report titled Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members is available at www.crcna.org/SynodResources.”

About the Author

Gwyneth Findlay

Gwyneth is the head copy editor for Chimes. She’s a junior writing major who loves to find and fix everyone's mistakes. She grew up in Ontario, which she understands is the most unfortunate way to hail from Canada, but she proudly wears the maple leaf nonetheless. She missed the stage in life when everyone finds a real hobby, so she fills her spare time with articles and podcasts on intersectionality and liberation that often make old white men furrow a brow or two. In addition to deleting commas and adding "they" pronouns across campus, Gwyneth is a SAGA leader and is always looking for conversations about gender and sexuality. She didn't intend to become head copy editor, but since she's here, she's eager to seek out (and demolish) spelling errors and misplaced apostrophes.

View all posts by 

Comments