For example, one of the theses of the book is that, in Jesus' death and resurrection, the new creation has already begun and we baptized Christians are called to live into its promised future consummation here and now.
In other words, those who accept the Christian faith can no longer accept the status quo of this world's "business as usual." Our lives should look different. What we do and what we say should communicate an alternative message, one that may sometimes create dissonance with the taken-for-granted assumptions and prevailing aspirations of the surrounding culture.
Some of Wright's concluding comments about how all of this impacts (or should impact) relationships and sexual intimacy are worth pondering. Obviously, you can't get the full sense of what he's up to from a few quotes (read the book!!), but here are some of his thoughts that struck me:
The trouble is that the modern world, like much of the ancient one, has come to regard what is sometimes called an active sex life as not only the norm but something nobody in his or her right mind does without. The only question is, What particular forms of sexual activity do you find exciting, fulfilling, or life-enhancing? The early and normative Christian tradition ... stands out at this point against the normal approach of paganism ancient and modern and utters a vehement no (p. 231).
Perhaps we could go further than Wright and say that many people today think of the option to have "an active sex life" as a human right. And for that reason, placing limits on that human right is tantamount to disrespecting the dignity of a human being.
We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically even in a church, where ... God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out - which is, as many have discovered, a recipe for chaotic, disjointed, and dysfunctional humanness. The logic of cross and resurrection, of the new creation which gives shape to all truly Christian living, points in a different direction. And one of the central names for that direction is joy: the joy of relationships healed as well as enhanced, the joy of belonging to the new creation, of finding not what we already had but what God was longing to give us (pp. 233-234).
This touches on the heart of our Church's debates concerning human sexuality. Wright is clearly saying that just because someone experiences themselves as having a certain orientation or a certain desire, the Gospel does not necessarily sanction acting on that orientation or that desire.
I'm reminded of a point made by Eve Tushnet, a Roman Catholic journalist (and also an out-of-the-closet lesbian), in an essay for Commonweal when she acknowledges "the real virtues exhibited by so many gay couples: loyalty, caretaking, and compassion. Anyone who supports church teaching must still acknowledge that these virtues are real: that deep, often sacrificial love works through these couples like gold threads in cloth."
Tushnet is absolutely right to make this point. The virtues and sacrificial love of gay and lesbian Christians are real. I have personally known gay and lesbian Christians whose relationships and ministries have, quite frankly, put to shame some of the heterosexual persons I've known in the Church. We need to honor what they offer in the name of Christ.
But, in a way that resonates with Wright, Tushnet continues as follows:
The question is whether that is enough. How could it not be? How could Christ require more?
And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” ... The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants.
"How could Christ require more?"
That question haunts me. For all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation.
On this and other matters pertaining to human sexuality and its physical expression, I don't fully embrace the agendas of either the Episcopal Right or the Episcopal Left. I genuinely struggle with these issues. I have no easy answers. I want to honor the rightful place of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of our Church. And at the same time, in compliance with my ordination vows, I want to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.
I'm left with the sting of Jesus' words: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (Mark 8:34-35).