God’s Gay Agenda by Sandra Turnbull is well-written, thoughtful and hopeful examination of, in the words of the subtitle, “Gays and Lesbians in the Bible, Church and Marriage.” Turnbull’s passion for not only full inclusion of LGBT individuals in the church, but also her view of the crucial role they have to play within the Body of Christ is admirable. Her enthusiasm for the mission of the Church shines through on every page and her deep love of God, her awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life and her respect for the Bible are something the church could use much more of. Turnbull’s optimism for further advancements in God’s kingdom is contagious.
But, unfortunately, the foundational premise of this book is one that I remain unpersuaded of: namely, that the “eunuchs who have been so from birth” of Matthew 19.12 are synonymous with our modern understanding of homosexual persons. Turnbull spends considerable time developing a historical, linguistic, cultural and exegetical case for this conclusion. Her writing on the topic is clear and detailed without being overly technical and her conclusion is certainly worthy of consideration. But such an understanding of Biblical eunuchs is far from a scholarly consensus: to my knowledge, few scholars (liberal or conservative) agree with her position.
This premise regarding eunuchs underlies Turnbull’s vision for the church, leading her to new understandings of the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity. She examines many of the eunuchs in the Bible and how they lived their lives for God. But I think it is precisely this optimism that leads her astray. It would indeed by a transformative discovery if many of Biblical eunuchs were actually homosexuals … but I simply don’t think the evidence is there to support that conclusion. In the end, her case is largely circumstantial and, to me at least, elevates wishful thinking above sound exegetical and historical arguments.
Turnbull also spends a considerable amount of time dealing with the “clobber passages” of the Bible: those texts that supposedly condemn homosexuality. She deals with these texts ably, examining their broader contexts and exegeting them in light of pervasive idolatry and pagan cultic ritual. I think her conclusions are generally sound, though they’re unlikely to convince a hostile audience. But she does provide ample reason to re-think the “traditional” reading of these verses.
Turnbull provides a strong challenge to the church to live up to God’s calling, to move forward in continuing the mission begun by Jesus. And while I don’t think “eunuchs” play the key role that she thinks they do, I do think that every Christian, whether gay, straight or somewhere in between, does have a crucial role in the advancement of God’s kingdom.
I recommend this book not as a comprehensive apologetic for LGBT inclusion — for many of Turnbull’s arguments seem to miss the mark — nor as a rock-solid resource Biblical understandings of homosexuality — definitions from Strong’s aren’t going to win you points in an academic context — but rather for Turnbull’s dynamic vision of what it means to love God with all your heart and her expression of a passionate desire to see his plan for the world implemented through all people.
You can find out more about Sandra Turnbull and God’s Gay Agenda at the book’s official website.