A good teaching from John Corvino. More here: http://www.youtube.com/user/johncorvino?feature=watch
A good teaching from John Corvino. More here: http://www.youtube.com/user/johncorvino?feature=watch
There are only 7 explicit references to homosexuality in the entire Bible. And not one of those references comes in the context of a specific teaching on the topic. Two of the references come in narratives, two are in the context of Old Testament law lists, two are found in general “sin lists” in the Pauline Epistles and one is in the context of an example to really teach a different point.
There are some possible additional references, including one in the Gospels and one in the Book of Acts.
In Matthew 19, in the section where Jesus is teaching about marriage and divorce, he says this:
11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.
In the ancient world, gay men were often referred to as eunuchs. Not all eunuchs were gay, but this was a known category of eunuchs. Here, Jesus refers to three kinds of eunuchs — those born that way, those who have been made that way (presumably through castration) and those who choose this way (similar to Paul’s discussion of the gift of celibacy).
Dr. Robert Gagnon, who is one of the leading writers on the Biblical texts about homosexuality and decidedly anti-gay, has written about this passage. He concludes that “born eunuchs” most likely refers to homosexuals. (You can read more about this here). If Gagnon is correct — and the evidence of history is that he is — then this is a fascinating issue. Jesus seems to be saying that some people are born gay. I think the implications of this are significant.
This is not the only reference to eunuchs in the New Testament. In Acts 8, Luke records:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Now we can’t say conclusively that the Ethiopian Eunuch was a gay man. It is a distinct possibility based on what we know of eunuchs in the ancient world, but not a surety. Was is sure is that — gay or not — the eunuch was a sexual minority unable to marry and fulfill God’s creative plan for marriage and reproduction.
So this possibly gay (but definitely a sexual minority) man is reading Isaiah and Philip comes and explains the Gospel to him and he accepts Christ and asks this question: Is there any reason I should not be baptized?
In other words, is there anything that would keep me from Jesus and the Kingdom?
You see, eunuchs held a special place in society (they were considered “safe” around women and therefore were used to care for women of high status. (This makes sense — a gay man is pretty “safe” around women). But they were also used to being on the outside, treated as “other”. And so this eunuch wonders, “Is this Jesus for me too?”
Philip, of course, knows that the answer is YES! Not just because he knows the heart of Jesus, but because he has read the whole book of Isaiah. The eunuch is reading in Isaiah 53 — the quintessential passage about Jesus! But if you keep reading, you get to Isaiah 56:
4 For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.
This is remarkable! Not only is there a place for sexual minorities in the Kingdom of God — apparently there is a special place! This should come as GOOD NEWS for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and inter-sexed people everywhere!
Of course, to those of us who dwell in and live in the scriptures, this comes as no surprise — for we know the heart of God. And the heart of God, as as incarnated in Jesus, is obsessively in love with the least, last, lost, lonely, left out, and forlorn. While Jesus loves all people, he seems to have a special place in his heart — and apparently his Kingdom — for the “other”.
So here is what I take from this: if you are an LGBTQI (or any other sexual minority), God loves you. He loves you and desires that you know him — personally and intimately. You are invited to the GREAT BANQUET and there is a special seat set just for you. While others may want to cast you out, demean you, abuse you and dehumanize you — Jesus
says COME! No strings, no catch, no games.
The Ethiopian Eunuch asked a question that I know many LGBTQI’s have asked — “is there anything keeping me from Jesus?”
Sadly, for many, the answer is yes — many things keep them from Jesus… closed churches, modern day pharisees, and his misguided followers. But Jesus says COME! Come as you are… come now… come to the table and eat with me.
And so the real answer is the answer that Philip gave: No… nothing should hold you back. Come and follow… come and worship… come and be baptized (which is a powerful symbol not just of salvation, but of full and public acceptance into the family of God, the church!)
So the word for LGBTQI’s is a GOOD WORD… good news indeed!
BUT… with that GOOD NEWS comes a new perspective on life… an new focus… a new center.
Jesus — the one who says come, the one who died that you and I (and all people) may have life — is worthy of our worship and our very lives. The Apostle Paul, having laid out the foundations of the gospel and hope in Christ in the the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, now declares:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is a high calling… and a calling for every follower of Jesus — to worship with our very lives!
And so I think that this is the question for all LGBTQI folks who are followers of Jesus — how do we follow Jesus with integrity and wholeness and shalom, in our lives and in our relationships?
In many respects, this is the journey I am on and am sharing on this blog. One of my great fears for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters is that due to the extremes in today’s church, we are either condemned and judged and dehumanized (by the conservative church) or so welcomed and affirmed and celebrated (by the liberal church), that we are never challenged to think critically and prayerfully about how to follow Jesus with integrity.
Integrity comes from the root word integer, meaning whole. How do we become whole and healthy followers of Jesus? What mentors do we have to show us the way? What pitfalls do we need to be warned about?
These are questions I am becoming increasingly interested in and committed to answering. I hope this blog will be a place where those kinds of questions can be asked, discussed and ultimately answered.
But more than anything, here this good news for you: Jesus says COME!
We are nearing the end of my study of “the 7 references” in the Bible to homosexuality. Today, I want to consider two Pauline texts — 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. To do that, I have pasted a copy of Mel White’s writing on these two passages — not because I necessarily agree with everything White says, but because I think he outlines the interpretive and language/translation issues well.
Monday, I will be posting about “the 8th & 9th References” (you will have to wait to see what they are) and then next Friday I will briefly look at some other passages that provide some principles that are important to consider. Finally, a week from Monday (I think that will be March 15th — the Ides of March) I will post my own conclusions from this study.
In the meantime… here is what Mel White writes about 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10…
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS — AND DOES NOT SAY — ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY (excerpt)
by Mel White
Now what do the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 say, first, about God, and then about homosexuality? These are the last two places in the Bible that seem to refer to same-sex behavior. We can combine them because they are so similar.
Paul is exasperated. The Christians in Ephesus and Corinth are fighting among themselves. (Sound familiar?) In Corinth they’re even suing one another in secular courts. Paul shouts across the distance, “You are breaking God’s heart by the way you are treating one another.”
Like any good writer, Paul anticipates their first question: “Well, how are we supposed to treat one another?” Paul answers, “You know very well how to treat one another from the Jewish law written on tablets of stone.”
The Jewish law was created by God to help regulate human behavior. To remind the churches in Corinth and Ephesus how God wants us to treat one another, Paul recites examples from the Jewish law first. Don’t kill one another. Don’t sleep with a person who is married to someone else. Don’t lie or cheat or steal. The list goes on to include admonitions against fornication, idolatry, whoremongering, perjury, drunkenness, revelry, and extortion. He also includes “malokois” and“arsenokoitai.”
Here’s where the confusion begins. What’s a malokois? What’s an arsenokoitai? Actually, those two Greek words have confused scholars to this very day. We’ll say more about them later, when we ask what the texts say about sex. But first let’s see what the texts say about God.
After quoting from the Jewish law, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that they are under a new law: the law of Jesus, a law of love that requires us to do more than just avoid murder, adultery, lying, cheating, and stealing. Paul tells them what God wants is not strict adherence to a list of laws, but a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that isn’t phony.
That’s the lesson we all need to learn from these texts. God doesn’t want us squabbling over who is “in” and who is “out.” God wants us to love one another. It’s God’s task to judge us. It is NOT our task to judge one another.
So what do these two texts say about homosexuality? Are gays and lesbians on that list of sinners in the Jewish law that Paul quotes to make an entirely different point?
Greek scholars say that in first century the Greek word malaokois probably meant “effeminate call boys.” The New Revised Standard Version says “male prostitutes.”
As for arsenokoitai, Greek scholars don’t know exactly what it means — and the fact that we don’t know is a big part of this tragic debate. Some scholars believe Paul was coining a name to refer to the customers of “the effeminate call boys.” We might call them “dirty old men.” Others translate the word as “sodomites,” but never explain what that means.
In 1958, for the first time in history, a person translating that mysterious Greek word into English decided it meant homosexuals, even though there is, in fact, no such word in Greek or Hebrew. But that translator made the decision for all of us that placed the word homosexual in the English-language Bible for the very first time.
In the past, people used Paul’s writings to support slavery, segregation, and apartheid. People still use Paul’s writings to oppress women and limit their role in the home, in church, and in society.
Now we have to ask ourselves, “Is it happening again?” Is a word in Greek that has no clear definition being used to reflect society’s prejudice and condemn God’s gay children?
We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the married men who hired hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure just as they hired smooth-skinned young girls for that purpose.
Responsible homosexuals would join Paul in condemning anyone who uses children for sex, just as we would join anyone else in condemning the threatened gang rape in Sodom or the behavior of the sex-crazed priests and priestesses in Rome. So, once again, I am convinced that this passage says a lot about God, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.
To continue our exploration of Romans 1… here is a video teaching from Lewis Smedes. A lot of the same material we have already covered, but in video format.
Definitely worth watching:
Here is some great teaching on Romans 1 and its implications to our discussion. This comes from Lewis Smedes. Dr. Smedes was a well-respected theologian, psychologist and pastor who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary.
LIKE THE WIDENESS OF THE SEA?
Lewis B. Smedes
I remember the first time that I watched the General Synod of my (Christian Reformed) church in action. The Synod met back then (late 1940’s) in the reading room of the old Calvin College library and, since there was no separate gallery for visitors, some of us got to nestle close enough to the delegates to make us feel as if we were right there in the dugout with the real players. The delegates, as they looked to me, were, most of them, old, all of them male, dark suited, and with such solemn demeanors they gave me the impression that they might that day be sealing the spiritual future of the world-wide Church. I was brand new to churchly deliberations then and when I now try to recall my feelings, the word “awe” does not feel to me like a huge exaggeration. But, then, this was no ordinary Synod.
On the table that day was the church’s long standing policy of excluding a certain class of Christian people from its inner circle. These were people who confessed their love for God and their faith in Jesus as their Savior and lived exemplary Christian lives in every way. Except one. And that one exception was serious enough to disqualify them for membership. It had to do with their marriages. They had been married once, then divorced, married again to someone else, and were committed to keeping their covenant with each other this time. That was the rub. Odd as it may have seemed to an outsider, precisely because these people stayed faithful to their marriages, they were, in the church’s eyes, implicitly committed to sin and for that reason alone were excluded from the circle of grace.
The church believed that by excluding them it was simply obeying the word of the Lord. For the Lord had said, in terms that seemed as clear as mineral water, that people who stayed married to anyone other than their first spouse (if, to be sure, he or she were still living) were devoted to a life of continuous adultery.
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another she [also] commits adultery. (Mark 10:11)
There it was, the Lord’s Word, simple, uncompromising, absolute, with no casuist’s accommodation to special cases or extenuating circumstances. People who divorced one person and then married another are really, in the Lord’s sight, not married at all, but are only having an adulterous affair. And that was that. True, Jesus did not expressly say that, once wed, they went on living in sin every day of their married lives. But the church had long inferred , and with a certain logical necessity, that if divorcees commit adultery by marrying another person, they must be recommitting adultery every time they have carnal knowledge.
Harsh as it seemed, the church believed that its exclusion of such people was nothing else but obedience to the clear teaching of the Bible. The Bible said that adulterers cannot be members of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said that divorced and remarried people are adulterers. And so any Bible believing church had to exclude the remarried from the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ.
The only way they could clean their slate with God and the church, then, was to break up their marriages. The ideal solution would be for them to have gone back to their previous spouses. But in the event that their previous spouses had also remarried, maybe bred a nest full of young ones, and had no intention of breaking up their families, the next best thing was to live as celibates. Either way, go back to their first spouses or stay celibate, their only entree into the church’s inner life was to break up their present marriage.
What their exclusion always came down to, outwardly, was banishment from the Lord’s Supper. They may have been welcomed at its Sunday services, invited to its scalloped potato suppers, permitted to put money in the offering plates, and quite possibly been well liked by everyone in the congregation. But banishment from the Supper signed and sealed the church’s judgment that they were banished from the circle of grace and the fellowship of Christ. While some churches may construe the supper to be a public dispensary of Gods grace, for mine it was a private meal for certified Christians. And when such a church turned you away from the Lord’s Supper, it was saying that, no matter how nicely you fraternized with the saved, you were – as best it could tell – an unsaved soul.
The church could keep the matter this clear and this simple, however, only as long it leaped directly from the Lord’s blunt statement about divorce and remarriage to its own banishment of divorced and remarried people. No pausing to consider any special circumstances that might have made their divorce necessary. No pausing to discern the love and devotion that the remarried people had for each other in their second marriage. No stopping to consider how bitter and cruel the consequences of its policy were for all the people it affected. As long as it read Jesus’ words with no regard for the devastation that its policy inflicted on the human families involved, especially their children, the church could go on believing that it was only following Jesus’ own instructions.
But once it factored human reality into its reading of the Lord’s words, it was bound to ask: Could Jesus have actually meant the church to cast away people who were committed to him, on grounds that they were committed to each other too? It was thus, on that early June day a half century ago a new breed of church leaders pleaded for the church to change its policy of exclusion to a policy of embrace.
In what must have been one of the better debates in the history of churchly Synods, they pleaded with the Synod to consider the fact that these people wanted to be faithful to their spouses and to their Lord. They asked the Synod to consider the tragic consequences of compelling them to divorce again. They asked the church to consider how spiritually betrayed such devoted Christian people felt when they heard the church’s door slam in their faces over and over again.
The ministers who challenged the tradition of exclusion lost the debate the year I heard it. But they had put it on the church’s agenda, and no-one could take it off again. Finally, in the middle 1950’s, the church did reverse its policy of exclusion and began embracing divorced and remarried couples into its family circle. The grace of Jesus Christ, it decided, could bless and support remarried people in their second marriage. The result is that today, rather than requiring them to break up their second marriages and families, it devotes itself to helping them keep those marriages alive and well.
How did the church come to such an amazing reversal of its age old exclusionary practice? Was it because the champions of embrace argued more persuasively? Was it because the party of embrace just happened to have the majority at a given Synod? Was it because the Spirit moved the hearts and minds of delegates in a new direction? All of these factors, human and divine, were doubtlessly at work. But congregations paved the way for the reversal by a change in their personal experiences with divorced and remarried people.
First, more sons and daughters of the faithful were getting divorced and were marrying again. Before World War II, the church could comfortably exclude such people on the assumption that they would very rarely turn up among their own loved ones. After the war, however, local congregations discovered that perso
ns whom they loved as brothers and sisters in Christ – and, yes, their own children – were doing it. And it was very hard to look their own sons and daughters in the eyes and say to them: “You will go to hell unless you leave your present spouse.”
Second, ministers and congregations were revising their sense of the sacrament. Reformed congregations had always had double vision when they looked at the Lord’s Supper. At one level, they saw it as the prime occasion for the faithful to signal that all was well between them, their God and their brothers and sisters. At another level, they saw it as a gift of strength to help unworthy sinners fight the good fight. Earlier, people focused on the first vision; you could tell it by the buzz that bounced through congregations when anyone stayed away from the Supper more than once. After the War, they focused on the second vision; they came to the Supper, not to witness that all was well with them, but just as they were, “torn about with many a conflict, many a doubt, [with] fightings within and fears without” and so they came “without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me.”
Third, the church came to see that it had to factor the consequences of its policy into its discernment of what the Lord required. When it had seen the cruel consequences of its practice of exclusion, it also came to see that Jesus simply could not have meant to lay down a hard fisted rule for excluding remarried people from the family of faith. Instead, it concluded, the Lord must have been witnessing to God’s original intention for married people, an intention that included keeping our covenants to each other as long as we lived. But if, in our broken life, people did get divorces and did marry again, surely God would want them to keep their covenants the second time around.
In these ways the way was being paved for a new policy of embrace; the hearts of the people were ready for it.
I have gone on this long about my church’s about face in its ministry to divorced and remarried people in order to set the stage for asking about its exclusion of another group of Christian people. I refer to homosexual people who trust in Christ as Savior and want to follow him as their Lord. More specifically still, I have in mind Christian homosexual people who have committed themselves together in a monogamous partnership. These Christian people have always been, and still are, officially disbarred from membership in the inner circle of the church.
Which brings me to the question that I wish to raise.
Was the church’s embrace of people who were once divorced and are now living faithfully in second marriages a precedent for embracing homosexual people who live faithfully in covenanted partnerships?
To answer this question, we must answer two others first. The first question is this: Is a partnership of two homosexual persons morally similar – in relevant ways – to the marriage of divorced and remarried heterosexual people? The second question we must answer is this: Does the Bible’s word about homosexuals lay down a rule for excluding partnered Christian homosexuals from the church’s fellowship? Or does it witness to God’s original intention for sexual orientation without laying down abiding rules for the church?
How can we find the answers to these two questions?
It seems to me that the only way to answer the first question is to take a good look at what is really going on with partnered Christian homosexuals and then compare what we see in them to what we have seen in remarried heterosexuals. And the only way to answer the second question is to go back and study the Bible’s teaching on homosexual behavior in the light of what we have discerned about what was really going on when homosexual people committed themselves to a monogamous partnership. In short, we have to do the same thing the church did when it decided to embrace remarried people.
Are the two situations significantly and relevantly like each other. Let me share five ways in which I think they are.
It seems to me, therefore, that the moral and spiritual situations of divorced and remarried heterosexuals and the situation of homosexuals in a covenanted partnership are significantly similar. Enough alike, at any rate, to lead us into the second question: Is the biblical basis for excluding partnered Christian homosexuals any stronger or clearer than it was for excluding divorced and remarried heterosexuals? I suggest that we examine just one passage, Romans 1:18-27, the text most scholars agree is the New Testament’s most definitive judgment on homosexual behavior.
In this passage, Paul tells us that God had abandoned people who refused to worship and give him thanks for his gifts These God-forsaken people – bereft of the restraining presence of God – lapsed into a swarm of deplorable behaviors with which most of us are experientially familiar. Some of them fell into unnatural homosexual lusts with which most of us have had no personal experience. (Mind now, God did not abandon them because they had done such things. They did them because God had abandoned them.)
Who were these people, the ones who were having sex with partners of their own gender? Temple prostitutes? Pederasts? People engaged in wild orgies? Nobody knows for sure. But it seems to me that we can be certain of who they were not; they were not the sorts of people that I am talking about in this essay – Christian homosexual persons who are living out their need for abiding love in monogamous and covenanted partnerships of love. Three things about these people tell me that the apostle could not have been talking about them.
Hold on, wait just a minute, a sharp reader may say: “You ignore the fact that Paul said that these people were doing something contrary to nature. If what they did was contrary to nature in Paul’s day it must still be contrary to nature today. And their sexual practice does not become more natural by doing it in monogamous partnerships. Remarried heterosexual people’s second
marriage sex is natural. So what makes the cases essentially different from each other one is that one is natural and the other is unnatural.”
Well, Paul certainly did consider the sorts of homosexual behavior that he had observed (or heard about) to be contrary to nature. But what he meant by “contrary to nature” none of us knows for sure. The traditional Catholic and Reformed view has been that it was contrary to nature because, to be natural, sex had to be capable of conceiving children – a view derived reasonably enough from the simple biblical story of how God created his children. Therefore homosexual relations are not natural and, being unnatural, they are essentially different from and much worse than the sexual relationships of remarried heterosexuals.
But not many modern evangelical Protestants believe that only baby-making sex is natural. Most believe that God meant sex to be the most intimate was to express love within a committed partnership. To be consistent, then, modern evangelicals would have to agree that, at least on this score, homosexual relations within committed love can be as true to nature as are heterosexual relations within committed love.
The whole argument would be avoided, some say, if homosexuals were willing to be celibate. When the church asks homosexual Christians to be celibate, they say, it asks no more of them than it asks of any single heterosexual person. But in fact it does ask more, much more of homosexual people. To single people in general it says: you must choose between celibacy and marriage. But to all homosexuals it says: You have no choice; you may not marry and you must be celibate.
The apostle conceded that most heterosexual people did not have the gift to be celibate. Such people, he said, were free to get married even though celibacy might have been more ideal for them. (I Corinthians 7: 8,9). If Paul thought that most heterosexual people lacked the gift of celibacy would he not have thought that at least some homosexuals lack it?
In sum, then, the promiscuous and lust-driven people Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans could not have been, it seems to me, Christian homosexual people who – being left with no better option – choose to live together in covenanted partnerships. And the biblical ground for excluding them from embrace within the church is actually weaker than was its ground for excluding divorced and remarried heterosexuals.
Early on, back when I was talking about divorced and remarried people, I mentioned three shifts in the church’s consciousness that were going on behind the scenes and preparing the way for their embrace by the church. Let me recall them. For one thing, the church became sensitive to the growing number of divorces and remarriages among their own sons and daughters. For another, the church began to see and feel the sacrament more as medicine for our spiritual illness than as a symptom of our spiritual health. And, thirdly, it became more aware that it could not tell how the Lord’s Word about marriage should be applied to real people unless they also had eyes for the real people it affected.
It seems to me that our attitudes toward Christian homosexual partners are being modulated these days in exactly the same way. And I wonder whether the changes might be preparing us for the consideration of a new policy of embrace just as they did half a century ago.
We have, in the first place, begun to see the “homosexual problem” in the faces of beloved homosexual persons who are our own or our friends’ sons and daughters. We have, in the second place, become more sensitive to the sacrament is a support for Christians who are trying to do the Lord’s will for them even though the Lord’s ideal is out of their reach. And, thirdly, we have begun to see that we need to factor our discernment of what is really going on with partnered Christian homosexual people into our understanding of the Lord’s will for the church’s policy toward them.
Recall that I began this long discussion by asking this question:
Does the church’s dramatic move from the exclusion to the embrace of divorced and remarried Christians provide a precedent for an embrace of homosexual Christians who live together in a committed partnership.
My own answer to my own question is, Yes, it does seem to me that our embrace of divorced and remarried Christian people did indeed set a precedent for embracing Christian homosexuals who live together. And I am here and there, as mothers and fathers of homosexual people tell me their stories, picking up signs of hope that eventually the church will see it as I – and they – do.
This is the end of my argument. Before I quit, however, I need to make a couple of personal remarks.
Some homosexuals feel devalued when people like me say that their orientation and their way of life is not how the Creator originally intended his sexual children to live out their sexuality. They say that their homosexuality is as at home in and native to God’s creation as heterosexuality is. Some say that it is God’s special gift for them to celebrate and thank him for just as their sexuality is gift for heterosexuals to celebrate. I cannot believe it is. I have not found quite the right word for it, but it seems to me that homosexuality is a burden that some of God’s children are called on to bear, an anomaly, nature gone awry. But I do believe that homosexuality is the only raw material they have for living as good a life of sexual love as they can within our broken world where so much of life is bent out of shape.
I believe that God blesses us when we improvise on nature’s lapses. To create my own family, for instance, three mothers had to have given away their own children. And my children had to suffer the deep trauma of being torn away, long before their time, from their mothers. Surely Doris’ and my way of family making was no part of God’s design for the family. But I know that he gives his supportive grace to such improvised families as mine. And, in the same way, I believe, he gives his supportive grace to the way homosexuals improvise marriage-like covenants for themselves even though they cannot by sexual means create families.
Some time ago, an elderly couple of a fundamentalist persuasion told me about their fear for their daughter’s soul. She had left their church because she could no longer accept some of its fundamentalist demands on her life. The daughter still confesses Christ as her Savior, but her parents consider her denial of some fundamentalist standards an equivalent to a denial of the Lord. Their sorrow and fear for their daughter made me very sad. And, as happens to me often these days when I feel sad, a hymn popped into my head as a kind of anti-depressant: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” I wished that my friends could believe that mercy so wide must embrace their daughter even if she is no longer a fundamentalist believer.
My church’s exclusion of homosexuals who confess Christ and live together in committed love makes me very sad in the same way. And when I think about it, I am haunted by the same hymn. Is there really a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of sea? Is his mercy wide enough for people who, through no choice of their own, have no other way to fulfil one of the deepest of all human needs but the way that my wife and I have fulfilled them for fifty years – in an abiding partnership of lasting love? I think I know my own heart well enough to believe that if his mercy is wide enough for me, it must be wide enough for them.
Key Question: Does this passage say anything implicitly or explicitly about committed, loving, monogamous, covenanted same-sex relationships?
I am going to post three times (today, Tuesday and Wednesday) on this passage, because it is pretty central to the discussion.
The only way to understand Romans 1:26-27 is to read it as part of Romans 1-4 (yes, four chapters). Paul is making one single argument through the first several chapters of Romans — and it has nothing to do with homosexuality.
Paul is trying to make the case to his Jewish audience that there is no advantage to being Jewish over being Gentile when it comes to salvation. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace.
This is Paul’s fundamental argument. And he is arguing using the old bait-and-switch with is readers. He begins by painting a terrible picture of gentiles… you can almost hear his readers cheering him on… “yes, such terrible people!”, they were thinking. This is what Paul is trying to accomplish and so he chooses examples designed to bring about that reaction. Homosexuality is used by way of example… an example that any first century Jew would have understood and reacted to.
Paul wants his audience to accuse their “enemy” so that he can turn the argument around in chapter 2 and again in chapters 3 and 4, asking “are you any better?” (Answer: No.)
So that is argument Paul is making. He is not laying out a theological teaching on homosexuality, but uses it as an example that would have resonated with his audience.
Some interpretive issues include: (1) what exactly does Paul mean by homosexuality in this passage, (2) what does he mean by “natural” or “unnatural”, (3) as an argument from example, how much weight does this passage hold in terms of ethical prescription?
While there is some debate as to what Paul means by homosexuality, let’s just assume a straightforward cultural understanding. In other words, Paul is not talking about covenanted gay relationships here (such and idea was unknown in his world) nor is he talking about sexual orientation. Again, an idea foreign to Paul.
As for “natural” or “unnatural”, it is hard to tell what he means by this term. Is this the same “unnatural” of women having short hair or men having long hair? (same Greek term, same author). We generally reject that teaching of Paul as being merely cultural and not universal.
What the text DOES SAY about homosexuality?
I think this text teaches that homosexuality is not God’s A-plan, but that it is the result of brokenness and sin in the world. That is not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is itself sinful or the result of individual sin, but rather it is part of how SIN (big S) has wrought havoc with creation.
I have written elsewhere on the idea that we all live in “Plan B” — and that is really the nature of the Christian life. Plan A was a sinless existence in Paradise. Once sin (big S, again) was introduced into the world, we all find ourselves in Plan B. Jesus’ death and resurrection are only need in Plan B. Paul’s argument in Romans is an argument from Plan B — that we are all in it and that Jesus is the only answer to it. Not holiness, not personal piety or righteousness. But Jesus and His cross alone. The notion of this Plan-B is described by Paul in Romans 8:18-25.
As a gay Christian, the question this raises for me is what does it look like to live in Plan B (like we all do) with integrity, joy, freedom, and in a Christ-honoring way? More thoughts on this tomorrow and Wednesday.
What the text DOES NOT SAY about homosexuality?
This passage is not a teaching on homosexuality, per se. It is uses homosexuality as an example. So it is not fair to say that Paul needs to address all aspects of the issue… that was not his goal or purpose. So while this passage says little or nothing about how gay Christians are supposed to live in Plan B, nor much about committed, covenanted, relationships — we cannot take that silence as endorsement by Paul. All we can say is that we are limited in what we can conclude from this passage.
But here is something I am confident in concluding from the Book of Romans (chapter 8):
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Those are my thoughts on this passage… what are yours? Questions? Observations?
Key Question: Does this passage say anything implicitly or explicitly about committed, loving, monogamous, covenanted same-sex relationships?
I am going to look at both Leviticus 18 and 20 together, as they are very similar, close to each other, and have the same interpretive issues as far as I can tell.
Leviticus is a tricky book for 21st century Christians, but a crucial part of the Old Testament canon and central to the Jewish Torah. While the book must be understood in its historical and theological context, there is much to learn and glean from it for us today. I am actually a big fan of Leviticus and think it is a sadly, too often overlooked, book in today’s church.
The basic context of Leviticus is a spelling out of “the law” for how Israel is supposed to live as God’s chosen nation. Israel finds itself in a situation as a young nation surrounded by enemies — many of which were engaged in moral practices that were totally antithetical to the teachings and heart of Yahweh. The most prominent of these practices was child sacrifice to the pagan God Molech.
If you want to have a solid understanding of why certain things are banned in Leviticus (and some of them are downright weird — such as boiling a calf in its mother’s milk or wearing clothes made of different types of fibers) just remember this basic formula:
God, in essence, says to Israel: whatever you see THEM doing, I want you to do otherwise!
That is how messed up the world Israel found itself had become. Whatever the Canaanites and others do, you are to do the opposite!
This is where much the “holiness code” comes from — a set of rules and laws that were designed to set Israel apart (and therefore to guarantee its cultural survival) from its neighbors. These includes dietary, liturgical, sexual and other types of rules (such as the mixed fabrics, already mentioned).
One the most important teachings of Leviticus is that “all things are spiritual” — if you thought God was only interested in a small aspect of your life, you are very wrong!
The big question for Christians reading Leviticus is which the commands still apply as binding commands on Christ-followers today? Let’s be clear… to say that certain commands are no longer binding on us is not to say that (a) they were wrong, (b) there is nothing to learn from them today, or (c) that there is not potential wisdom in them. It is just to say, they are not binding on believers today.
There are 613 explicit commandments in the Torah, many of which are in the Book of Leviticus — and the vast majority of which Christians do not follow.
To understand how theologians approach these issues, it is helpful to know the basic breakdown of Leviticus. Broadly speaking, chapters 1-16 are instructions to priests and chapters 17-27 are instructions from priests to the people of Israel. More specifically:
What the text DOES SAY about homosexuality?
Leviticus 18:22 says:
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Leviticus 20:13 says:
“‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
I think these texts clearly teach that Mosaic law prohibits homosexual intercourse/activity and that the punishment for such activity was to be the death penalty.
We could go through the rest of these chapters to highlight some of the commands we obviously don’t follow anymore, but that is unnecessary. The text tells us the purpose of this whole section of teaching and law in both Lev 18:1-3 and again in Lev 20:22-26 —
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. (Lev 18:1-3)
” ‘Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. ” ‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Lev 20:22-26)
Simply put, WHATEVER THEY DID YOU ARE TO DO THE OPPOSITE!
This teaching is unique to what God was doing in and through Israel at this time in history.
What the text DOES NOT SAY about homosexuality?
So the real question is whether these passages from Leviticus are binding on Christians today. My belief is that none of the Holiness Code is binding on Christians today. This is for several reasons:
1. Christ has fulfilled the law and we no longer live under it.
2. The Holiness Code was unique to the nation of Israel and what God was doing in and through them at the time. Just as the sacrificial system is no longer valid, the holiness code also does not still apply to us.
3. Our “holiness” today comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our baptism and our obedience to Jesus Christ.
4. The Holiness Code must be understood as a whole — either it is all binding on us today or it is not. We cannot claim certain verses as binding (such as on homosexuality) but not others (such as eating of blood) — let alone that one half of a verse (Lev 20:13a prohibiting homosexuality) is valid while the second half (Lev 20:13b – that the death penalty is appropriate for homosexuality) is not valid.
Now I don’t think most people will find this a controversial conclusion. This is pretty much the orthodox way of reading the holiness code
within the church for the past 2000 years. And most Christians I know who oppose homosexuality, so not do so based on the holiness code of Leviticus.
That said, let me respond to a couple of “objections” I would expect from a more fundamentalist response:
OBJECTION: Does this mean you think incest, bestiality, etc, are all OK?
ANSWER: No, I do not. However, I do not base that conclusion on the holiness code found in Leviticus. Some people find the “slippery slope” argument powerful; I do not because it is a fallacy. There are lots of reasons — both biblical and non-biblical — to oppose incest, bestiality, etc. I do not rely on these verses to make that case.
OBJECTION: Doesn’t the Jerusalem Counsel (Acts 15) tell us that the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus are still binding on Christians today?
ANSWER: What the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15 decided was that Gentile Christians in the 1st Century did not have be circumcised (that is, become Jewish) in order to become Christians. The counsel said that all they had to do was follow the teachings on both sexual immorality and the prohibition against eating blood. (Two major topics in the Leviticus section we are looking at). Some argue that Peter’s vision negates the dietary restrictions, but that comes in Acts 10 — so either Peter did not share that vision with those at the counsel or he was out voted. And to be clear, if you aren’t eating Kosher meat, you are eating meat with blood in it. As the church developed (and became less Jewish), they increasingly realized that the holiness code was no longer binding.
Those are my thoughts on this passage… what are yours? Questions? Observations?