Harvard Educational Review
  1. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?

    A Positive Christian Response

    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    San Francisco: Harper, 1994. 242 pp. $12.00 (paper)

    "Who is my neighbor?" With these words, the student of the Hebrew law hoped Jesus would delineate for him more clearly just whom, as a good, righteous Jew, he was to love. He thought he knew how to love God, but apparently he was unsure about exactly who was included in the category of "neighbor," whom he was to love as himself. Jesus's reply has come to be known as the parable of the Good Samaritan. We can only guess what the young lawyer thought about the story. Samaritans were among the most despised of all the earth's peoples in the eyes of the Jews.

    In their preface to Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Mollenkott explain how the teachings of Jesus inform their mission and how "the question that makes up the title of this book shouldn't be necessary" (p. iv):

    Jesus made it clear that every person is our neighbor. And the Bible likewise makes clear our responsibility to our neighbor: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
    Yet, all too often, the Bible is brandished as a weapon to clobber gay and lesbian people. Claiming to be doing the will and work of God, some Christians are hurting their neighbors, bearing false witness against them, and assaulting their dignity and sense of self-worth. It was in the hope of alleviating such hurtfulness (which harms us all) that we wrote the first edition of this book, and our purpose remains the same as we send out this updated edition — a radical revision and expansion that both we and our publisher felt was called for in these changing times. (p. iv)

    A dramatic story lies behind the writing of this book. Scanzoni and Mollenkott, both evangelical Christians, scholars, and theologians, began their collaboration while working on a treatise on Christian ethics. That collaboration led to one of the authors revealing that she was a lesbian. The powerful emotional response of both to that event convinced them of the need to write a book not on ethics in general, but on homosexuality and how Christians ought to respond ethically to the issue.

    Scanzoni and Mollenkott challenge the Christian Right's dogmatic, preemptory, and blanket condemnation of homosexuality and homosexuals. The foundation for the authors' challenge rests on the Bible, the same Bible used by those who would condemn their fellow human beings. The authors use basic principles of hermeneutics, or Biblical interpretation, to invite those who conclude that the Bible categorically condemns homosexuality to reconsider their position thoughtfully and prayerfully.

    Scanzoni and Mollenkott acknowledge that to suggest that Christians reconsider their views on homosexuality carries some danger. Those who care for the stigmatized become subject to potential stigmatization themselves. Scanzoni and Mollenkott take Jesus as their role model in these matters:

    Jesus knew all about stigma. He never hesitated to move among the oppressed people of his day, including the most despised social outcasts. He went about his ministry without worrying about the aspersions upon his character, his motives, his righteousness. (p. 154)

    This book is a must read for any Christian who takes seriously Jesus's command to "love your neighbor as yourself." Scanzoni and Mollenkott conclude Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? with a challenging passage from the Bible:

    Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (I John 4:20-21, New Revised Standard Version). (p. 198)

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    Book Notes

    Open Lives, Safe Schools
    Edited by Donovan R. Walling

    Uncommon Heroes
    Edited by Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein

    Free Your Mind
    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    Becoming Visible
    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Death By Denial
    By Gary Remafedi

    Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    One Teacher in Ten
    By Kevin Jennings

    The Gay Teen
    Edited by Gerald Unks

    Tilting the Tower
    Edited by Linda Garber

    School's Out
    by Dan Woog

    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
    Edited by Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin

    Joining the Tribe
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    Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth
    Edited by Teresa DeCrescenzo