After thirty-two years in parish ministry as an Episcopal priest, Don Hanway writes his book A Theology of Gay and Lesbian Inclusion from the perspective of a pastor. The work is divided into a series of letters, written to the Christian community in the spirit of the letters written by the pastors of the early church. It is not intended just for gay Christians, but for all who would understand better the unique challenges facing gay men and women within the church.
The book begins with an overview of those elements common to all Christians, focusing on the universal call to love. Chapter two deals with the realities that get in the way of love, including the lack of acceptance by many Christians of their gay brothers and sisters. Hanway is not just arguing for an acceptance of the dignity of gay men and women, while upholding the traditional prohibitions against gay sex. He argues that the church should accept homosexuality, not as a cross to be borne, but as a legitimate alternative lifestyle that does not contradict the message of the Gospel or the teachings of the New Testament.
To support his argument he tries to help his readers move beyond the stereotypes prevalent in western society to a more realistic picture of the lives of gay people. He also offers alternative interpretations of the biblical passages often used to condemn homosexuality by presenting in a clear and concise way the conclusions of contemporary Biblical scholarship. The book ends with an “Appeal to the Bride of Christ,” which encourages Christians to abandon their fears and to bring their gay brothers and sisters fully into the midst of the church.
The book’s key strength is the pastoral sensitivity in which it is written. In many ways it reads as a guidebook for the Christian life. Hanway is not offering a diluted morality for gay Christians; his book is a strong call to greater commitment to the message and path of Jesus Christ.
The weakness of the book is that Hanway does not offer a convincing reason why the Christian church should abandon its prohibition against gay sex. Most mainstream Christian denominations acknowledge the humanity and dignity of gay Christians, but consider the sexual-genital expression of homosexuality as sinful or at least failing to meet the ideal of human sexuality. Hanway clearly rejects this notion and his work would have benefited from a more thorough explanation as to why Christians should embrace his position. He generally only responds to those arguments that are biblically based without addressing the philosophical premises that also underlie the prohibition in some Christian traditions. Another significant problem undeveloped in Hanway’s book is the difference that exists between western culture on this issue and the growing church in the developing world.
Dealing with these larger problems is not the intent of Hanway’s work, however. As stated, he is presenting a pastoral response to the problems and challenges of gay Christians. For those who wish to have a better understanding of these issues from a pastoral perspective, the book is worth reading. If one is searching for a more in-depth theological analysis and engagement of the Christian and philosophical traditions concerning homosexuality, this work will fall short.