Kathy Baldock, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon (CanyonWalker Press, 2014)
Kathy Baldock unquestioningly believed that all gay people were going to hell – that Christianity and same-sex attraction were mutually exclusive. Until, that is, she realised her new friend Netto Montoya was a lesbian.
This friendship was the catalyst for around 10 years of questioning, conversation, research and soul-searching, of which Walking the Bridgeless Canyon is the outcome. It’s an incredibly humble and compassionate book, expressing a deep and godly desire for the Church to love the LGBT community far better than we have in the past. I’m impressed with the extent of Baldock’s research and the genuine love for gay people that drips from every page.
It’s an incredibly humble and compassionate book, expressing a deep and godly desire for the Church to love the LGBT community far better than we have in the past.
With each section, Baldock is seeking to ‘remove another layer of judgement’ used against the LGBT community (p.154). Parts 1 and 2 look at how our current understanding of homosexuality has developed. It’s written for an American audience but has plenty to say to British readers. Clear and well-researched, I learned a lot about the gay rights movement, legislative history, and recent shifts in social and psychological perspectives on homosexuality.
Part 3 takes a look at the science of sexuality. While it contains good explanations of intersex conditions, transgender, and human sexuality, it makes some assumptions that lead to erroneous conclusions.
One such assumption is that the inherency of a desire means it must be good. ‘All combinations and permutations [of sexual attraction/orientation] are natural and to be expected as normal variations of human sexuality’ (p.211). Yet we would all agree that there are some desires in us which are not good. Baldock makes no mention of this and gives no response to the idea that same-sex attractions might fall into the category of desires that are to be resisted rather than indulged. Indeed, the call to lay down our very lives for the sake of the gospel is lacking throughout the book – far more prominent is the cultural message of tolerance, complete acceptance, and acting on whatever one finds in one’s heart.
Everything in this section hinges on some assertions about intersex conditions. There are valid questions here – does the existence of intersex conditions prove that biological sex is not binary? Should a person’s internal sense of self (gender identity) determine whether they are a man or a woman, regardless of their outward physicality? But if Baldock’s answers here fail to hold water – as I believe they do – then much of her argument crumbles with them.
Part 4 finally digs into the crux of the matter – what the Bible has to say. Baldock expounds an affirming view based on the six ‘clobber passages’. While I find alternative readings of these texts more airtight, my main issue here is the lack of reference to the big story of the Bible and the role of sexuality within it. Baldock fails to raise some fundamental questions about what sex, sexuality and marriage are all actually for. Without this understanding, her scriptural exposition is flawed and incomplete.
Baldock rightly calls out the ways that the Bible has been used to bar gay people from coming to God. But she overcorrects in response.
Baldock rightly calls out the ways that the Bible has been used to bar gay people from coming to God. But she overcorrects in response, moving from complete rejection to complete acceptance of gay relationships. She questions the possibility of a third way – ‘Is it a biblical stance to tell gay Christians it's okay to not "act on it" while acknowledging that they will experience desire?’ (p.307). Yet we all experience desires that have been distorted and damaged by sin; following Jesus means saying ‘no’ to some things we’d rather say ‘yes’ to. This is the cost of discipleship for all believers.
The book concludes in Part 5 by looking at some of the damage done by churches and exploring how we might do better. Baldock speaks against ‘forcing’ gay Christians into celibacy, or ‘trapping’ them in opposite-sex marriages. Her statements here again reveal false underlying assumptions – that sex is a right, even a need, and that people need to be having sex with who they want in order to be fulfilled. But the biblical perspective is that:
- Sex is not ultimate.
- Singleness is a valid way of life that is just as blessed as marriage.
- No human relationship can satisfy our deepest needs.
- Marriage is about more than our emotional and sexual satisfaction.
- Denying some of our desires is a fundamental part of following Jesus.
The absence of these truths in Baldock’s work again leads to flawed conclusions.
Overall, that a straight woman with no skin in the game has chosen to so thoroughly challenge her own assumptions, educate herself, and speak up for those who previously she would have derided is astounding to me. While I disagree with many of her conclusions, I think that Baldock demonstrates what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves – and that we all have something to learn from her example.