Implications of ‘in God’s image’By Ted Grimsrud
Norman Kraus provides something that has, by and large, been missing from Christian theological discussions about homosexuality — careful theological analysis of foundational issues about how we understand human beings as created in the image of God.
This short book contains an essay from Kraus that is thoughtful, carefully laid out and fairly dense, accompanied by several short responses to Kraus’ statement by people representing four somewhat diverse perspectives, though all laudatory of Kraus’ effort.
While Kraus and his companions in this book are Mennonites, and the book speaks to Mennonite debates and efforts at discernment, it is written in a more general tone that makes it relevant and useful for a variety of church-related contexts.
Kraus argues for an understanding of human life in which we recognize our creation in God’s image and, from that recognition, appreciate our created need for intimacy with other human beings. For the vast majority of us, this entails a need for one particularly intimate relationship that involves commitment, mutuality and sexual expression.
Kraus asserts the moral validity of same-sex intimacy that follows the same moral expectations Christians affirm for heterosexual relationships — fidelity, a lifelong commitment and shared life in the context of involvement in a congregation. He does this while giving little attention to the debate about the several short biblical passages that are usually cited as providing churches’ most authoritative guidance.
His main focus is to reflect theologically on the significance of the biblical affirmation of humanity created in God’s image and how this applies to human sexuality.
Though he takes a stance on the treatment of homosexual people, Kraus does not mark out a rigid position in the context of recent debates as much as focus on deeper, more foundational issues.
This book should be useful for people with a variety of positions on the spectrum of current debate. The writing is non-polemical, clear and well reasoned. All readers with an interest in the theological element of the broader discussion not only of homosexuality but human sexuality in general will benefit from thoughtful engagement with Kraus’ essay — even if they don’t agree with his support of same-sex intimate partnerships.
Kraus keeps the book’s main essay focused. He does not directly interact with perspectives he disagrees with. This is a weakness. But, on the other hand, by being so single-minded, the book may be more useful for study groups. This would not be the only text a group seeking a broader treatment of homosexuality would want to engage. But by refusing to be distracted from his core concern of thinking about the relevance of the image-of-God theme for the discussion, Kraus has done Christians a great service.
Though the writing is tightly reasoned (and thus not well suited for speed reading), Kraus’ care in expression makes his thoughts accessible and relevant — especially should the essay be read in the context of a study group where members can help each other think about and discuss the key points.
The addition of four short responses to the core essay by various writers is helpful. Martin Lehman, a contemporary of the octogenarian Kraus and longtime Mennonite church leader, gives an appreciative and insightful introduction, identifying Kraus’ key points and setting the reader up to engage the argument. Then, after Kraus’ essay, Pastor Cynthia Lapp, seminary professor Mary Schertz, and journalist-theologian Richard Kauffman each engage some of Kraus’ main ideas and reflect on how they apply to church life. Lapp’s essay in particular adds helpful perspective.
Over the course of his long career, Kraus has continually been willing to express his love for the church by courageously helping Mennonites and other Christians think carefully and creatively about challenging and even controversial issues. We should be grateful that he has continued in this vocation with this most helpful book.
Ted Grimsrud teaches theology and peace studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
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