Homosexuality and the Bible—not the last word

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I should start off by apologizing that I did not post anything last week. It was just too difficult with my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, and two cars (make that three) that just did not want to work. I’m back and as you can see dealing with a difficult topic.

I considered writing about the hurricane, but as Al sent out an email, I would also ask that anyone reading this who is religious in any way at all would lift the soon-to-be victims up in their prayers.

Just as a warning up front, what follows will simply be some of my ramblings on this topic and not at all a comprehensive analysis of this hot-button issue. In fact, I will likely take a few tangents so I apologize for that in a way, but also in a way you get to see somewhat of a stream-of-consciousness post. I suspect that is more true to what I’m thinking anyway. So, without further ado, here goes.

My problem with this issue first of all is that it is culture driven. If it were not for the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual?) pushing this into the public eye, I doubt we’d be addressing it at all in our churches. Why? Because when there are those in our churches who are GLBT, they are not outspoken, very likely because we’d kick them out if we knew about them. For example, a site by the pseudonym Gay Restorationist. He tells us that he writes anonymously so he won’t get kicked out of his church. But back to my point, if the whole issue of same-sex marriage was not in the arena of politics (from both sides, i.e. its advocates such as the ACLU and its dissenters, i.e. Focus on the Family), we’d probably not be talking about it much from our pulpits, or indeed, our blogs. Why? I would venture to say that it is not a primary concern of Scripture. We don’t have thousands of verses of our Bibles written about the subject. It is peripheral. One does not have to know what the Christian or biblical stance is on homosexuality to become a Christian. Not that morality is unrelated to Christian living, it is not, but for someone to become Christian, they don’t have to have all the beliefs down about such things. (If so, I think we’d all be in trouble.)

Because it is culture driven (as at least one of the reasons it is such a pervasive topic in Christian circles today), those who believe it is not sinful compare it to the slavery problem in this country. (I know some minorities that take serious issue with this comparison, and rightly so.) They suggest that churches that continue to believe it is sinful and condemned by Scripture are similar in that respect to churches that would not condemn slavery as it was practiced in the Southern states (I’ll just stay with slavery for now because discrimination and everything else involved in the racial problem that still exists today would be too broad for my posting.). From such a perspective, they would challenge us to reinterpret Scripture and come to a better understanding of it as they have (tongue in cheek intended), namely that homosexuality is not sinful. Just as slavery was cultural and Paul could not envision a world without slavery and therefore technically did not condemn it even though it was wrong, so also, the type of homosexuality he condemned was a cultural phenomenon and he could not have envisioned a loving, non-abusive, monogamous, homosexual relationship. What Paul saw of homosexuality was of two kinds—either idolatrous cultic prostitution or man-boy relationships at feasts that were unequal and would be pedophilia by today’s standards. The comparison is usually taken a bit farther along the lines of the head covering (if that is what it is) of 1 Corinthians 11. Just as that was cultural and Paul commands women to wear a veil (or have long hair, the issue is not clear) when praying, and we don’t follow it today, so also what Paul condemned in homosexuality was not the same as what it is today and so we should not follow it either. Since Paul did not know what we would face here in the 20th/21st centuries, he could not have condemned it and so the Scriptures that speak about it do not include monogamous homosexual relationships like we have today. I’m trying to give a fair representation of the issue, but realize that I will likely miss part of their point or misrepresent it and am open to someone calling me on it if they happen to read this article. For more on this, see the arguments, especially in the comments section of Wrestling with Gays, but I must warn you in advance that some of it gets very explicit in describing some behaviors so that you might not want to read that blog. The comments written, of widely varying views, are for the most part irenic, and that surprised me. For the purpose of discussion, I will give those with this view full cooperation in the nature/nurture argument. I have no difficulty allowing that it might be genetic, and if someone claims that in their case it is the way God made him/her, I will give him/her the benefit of the doubt and say okay, it is the way he made you. I don’t think that is the crucial part of the discussion here. I will also allow the point of comparison with slavery, but only where it fits. The only real point of comparison between homosexuality and slavery is that the church was not the front runner in the debate, but it was people from outside the church that brought up the issue and thrust it upon the church, helping the church understand how important it was to condemn slavery as it was practiced in America at that time.

One interesting side point is that the people who were “wrong” in the slavery debate were the ones who went to Scripture to try to prove that what they were doing was okay. The Bible does not condemn slavery, or even abusive slavery (see 1 Peter 2:18), and while I would have to agree with one of our ancestors in the faith, Alexander Campbell, in this respect, there are plenty of Scriptures that talk about how we are to treat one another as Christians, which should lead one to conclude that slavery as it was practiced in the United States was wrong. In other words, there was something more central in Scripture than slavery itself, namely the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, that should override anything that seems to condone something that by its very nature disregards this important command. I don’t want to belabor this point, but it is curious to me that those advocating homosexuality as not sinful are on the same side in their use of Scripture as those who advocated slavery—they are going to Scripture to try to prove that what they are doing is not condemned. Anytime someone does this, I’m a little leery to say the least. I find that on a personal level, when I try to do this, I’m wrong 100% of the time, whether or not my interpretation is ultimately proven correct. It is my own denial of my sinful behavior and my attempt to rationalize it by going to Scripture to prove it is okay that scares me. When I’m in this situation, it takes someone other than myself to bring me back to reality.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. There are varying views on sexual self-fulfillment. (I wrote it this way because the actual term may set off warnings on the parental controls of most web browsers, but I’m sure you get what I’m talking about.) Since the subject is not addressed directly at all in Scripture (for those of you thinking of Onan, this is not what he was doing and it is not what Genesis 38:8-10 is addressing), we are left to our own interpretations as to whether it is okay or sinful. As it is practiced by most, I cannot accept it as being okay; it is sinful. (You might be convinced otherwise and I won’t take issue with that.) The Scripture I think applies is Matthew 5:27-28, which reads:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NRSV)

One who usually is a practitioner of this type of self-fulfillment in my experience is usually using some picture or mental image of someone other than his wife. From the other side of the fence, on the women’s side, it might not involve a picture, but is fantasizing about someone other than one’s husband typically. I think Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 5 speak to this situation and call it sinful. It is committing adultery by lusting after someone else and actually fantasizing about the actual fulfillment of that act. Now suppose I have a very strong sex drive (that is definitively a genetically inherited trait) and my wife/husband just can’t fulfill my desires as much as I need her/him to do this. Or, say I’m a single person. What is the answer? Experience tells me I will try to rationalize my own behavior and justify it by saying the Bible does not address it. Although this argument is technically true, it is not the end of the matter. Aside from using the Scripture I mentioned, I’ve counseled enough couples to know there are damaging effects this behavior has on couples’ intimacy similar in kind to the damage having an affair does. The point, however, is that I’m tempted to go to Scripture to prove that what I’m doing is okay. When I do that, I’m in dangerous territory, to say the least. It is too easy to find a way around what Scripture says so that I can rationalize away my sin.

One other case where I’m tempted to do this is when it comes to women’s roles in the church. It is somewhat confusing to say the least when we look at women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 and then being told not to speak at all in 1 Corinthians 14. Scripture itself is not of one voice it seems when it comes to what women should do in the assembly. Phoebe, in Romans 16:1-2 was clearly a deacon as she is called such there and yet in some situations Paul seems to say women should not have authority over men (or is it their husbands?). Without going into detail here (and getting myself into more trouble), I think women were doing many more things than what we allow them to do today in Churches of Christ, but I will also say that some Scriptures seem to limit their role. It is sufficiently unclear that I hope that I am not letting my egalitarian nature drive my interpretation of Scripture, but I will admit that this is possible.

The Scriptures speaking about homosexuality, alternatively, are of one voice—it is sinful. One can argue that they don’t apply because of cultural reasons but one cannot say that there is a Scripture that discusses homosexual behavior and permits it. Even in attempting to rationalize the behavior, one would have to really twist Scripture around to say that Paul (or Leviticus) taught that homosexual behavior, as it was practiced then, was permitted. Although Leviticus discusses some things that seem strange to us and are culturally driven, the overriding point in Leviticus 18 (where male homosexuality is discussed as well as bestiality, but not female homosexuality [was it not even an option?]) is not to be like the nations who defiled themselves by doing everything that God commands the Israelites not to do. They are his people, whom he brought out of Egypt, and he has the right to command them when it comes to sexual morality. To do otherwise would mean God would punish the people and kick them out of the land he gave them. Paul, a Pharisee trained in the Law, does not suggest anything different from what Leviticus says. Although in Romans 1 he adds the female variety of homosexual practice, he does not go on to permit any form of homosexuality.

For those who think they know the mind of Paul well enough to say he’d permit their form of homosexuality, Paul recommends some things we would not today. In 1 Corinthians 7, he suggests people should get married if their passions are too strong (notice in the case above of a genetic predisposition of strong sexual desire, Paul does not recommend self-fulfillment, even for singles), that couples should not withhold sex, except by mutual agreement, that widows and single people should remain such, like Paul, because it is better and they can devote themselves fully to the Lord, that it is better to be married than aflame with lust, etc. Paul nowhere permits couples to live together and have sexual relations to see if they are compatible. (There are at least a couple of books out there that show how this is harmful to a marriage rather than helpful as is the typical reason for doing this.) In fact he does not permit pre-marital sex anywhere, but it is prevalent today. In fact, in the only situation I can think of right now where Paul deals with an actual relationship that involves aberrant sexual behavior, he tells the church to kick the man out (1 Corinthians 5 where a man has his father’s wife). It appears that in 2 Corinthians this was done, the man was repentant, and he was restored to the community (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). My point in this paragraph is that we do not know the mind of Paul, but only have some of what he wrote in our Bible. It is a common misconception that is also part of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets. We assume we know what Jesus would do, but I doubt that we would think that when a Syrophoenician woman came up to him asking him to heal her daughter that he would call her a dog and try to send her away without helping her (see Mark 7:24-30).

One last word on this issue. Some will contend that when they make the homosexual issue a cultural one, thereby saying that Paul does not condemn the form of homosexuality they practice, they are being more consistent in their application of Scripture, considering everything in it to be culturally bound. This does not make me any less consistent simply because I think that Romans 1 and Leviticus 18 speak to our current situation. I am consistent in saying that any form of sexual behavior that is against God’s intention is sinful. That is the principle at work that I see in these texts. Paul thought that Leviticus 18 applied to his day in Romans 1 just like I see that both apply in our current context. The specific manifestations of the behavior are not at issue; the principle of sexual purity is, in Romans and in 1 Corinthians. (For another argument, that does not even mention homosexuality, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul deals with people who go to a prostitute [culturally this is very likely a cultic prostitute in some form of ritual worship] and have relations with her. In his discussion of this issue [similar to Romans 1], he does not even deal with the fact that this involves worshiping an idol or another god. He goes directly to the problem with the impure sexual behavior. A person has become “one flesh” with a prostitute. His basic question is, “How can a person be united with the Lord and with a prostitute at the same time?” Such a sin is against one’s own body, which belong not to oneself, but to the Lord. The body is not meant for sexual promiscuity, but for the Lord [1 Corinthians 6:13], no matter what form of sexual behavior this takes.) When Paul takes this much of an issue with impure sexual behavior, I will probably not be convinced that he would permit the form of homosexuality that is practiced today, even if it is monogamous. Yet I am open to listen on this point to whomever would show me a text suggesting the behavior is not sinful. All I would ask is that one not try to point out all the aberrant heterosexual behavior to try to distract people from the main point and point fingers saying “they do the same things we do.” Keep in mind that I have not said those are permissible either.

Sorry for my rambling, but I hope you can take something from this. You at least know where I stand. Let me know where you stand. The crucial point here, though, is an irenic spirit in the discussion (which I hope I’ve demonstrated as well), and an attitude of love toward one another in spite of our disagreements.

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12 Responses to “Homosexuality and the Bible—not the last word”

  1. DeJon Redd Says:

    Duane, I am ever grateful for your approach to the tough topics in our culture as well as your faithful application of scripture.

    You’ve done a great job of discussing this topic in the academic realm with real application to a gay or lesbian person.

    I suspect our posts may be slow today since the significant voices in our number are under siege from Hurricane Katrina. Pray we soon hear good news from Al and Sandy and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

    As for the discussion topic, it is overwhelmingly easier to throw darts at the issue while our lives are sterile and insulated from it – as far as we know. But I’ve finally grown tired of the theoretical portion of this discussion.

    This Saturday I spent about 9 hours meeting, knowing and gaining a significant respect for six people I consider pretty courageous. Their names are Brad, Peggy, Manny, Ann Marie, Phil and Bruce.

    While Peggy and Ann Marie are heterosexual, Phil, Brad, Bruce and Manny are not. But they all have one thing in common. They are living with HIV or AIDS.

    I spent a few hours trying to see how my stigmas toward homosexuality, HIV and AIDS are subtle yet hateful jabs at these people who see people like me representing prejudicial hatred much better than I represent Jesus Christ.

    Phil looks like a guy that doesn’t feel well. He talked about losing about 100 lbs before being diagnosed. He also told this story…

    About a year after his diagnosed as HIV positive he was walking through the mall. He saw a lady he hadn’t seen in some time and he called her name. She didn’t recognize him at first, but he stated his name and she recognized an old friend in the more feeble frame whose had she was shaking. She asked how Phil had been, and he stated he had had a rough year. That he has been in and out of the hospital and has been feeling very sick. She leaned in to give him a compassionate hug and while she did she asked what was wrong. He said, “I have AIDS.”

    Instinctively she jerked back. She was unable to harness he natural repulsed reaction. Phil was devastated.

    Sadly, I can see myself with the same default reaction.

    All six of these people talked about being shunned and hated for their disease. All four gay men each between the ages of 35 and 45 had been told their disease was punishment for their lifestyle.

    Through all this, the discussion of the morality of homosexuality really faded to the background. While I could never be convinced that homosexuality is a natural state of existence, I don’t want to hate those that feel differently.

  2. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “Shunned and hated” for their disease? “Hateful jabs”?

    How about normal folks just having a natural fear reaction?

    Would I shake the hand of an HIV infected person? Yes.

    Would I let them kiss me on the cheek? Probably not.

    Do people that have tuberculosis get offended or feel hated when someone wears a sanitary mask in their presence?

    I understand the overall sentiment of your post, Dejon, and it is admirable, but we are dealing with the realities of a contagious, deadly disease.

  3. DeJon Redd Says:

    Joe, I think we’re getting a central part of this issue.

    If Phil had confessed to his friend in the mall that he had a different disease without the stigma of a “gay’s disease” would the reaction be the same?

    I think not.

    Joe, you mention “the realities of a contagious, deadly disease.” I don’t believe the lady’s immediate reaction to hearing Phil had AIDS had anything to do with the realities of his contagious and deadly disease.

    I thought about my church’s prayer list when discussing HIV & AIDS. It occurred to me that I’ve never seen a victim of HIV or AIDS on a church prayer list. Never. How many names are on my church’s prayer list due to cancer right now? More than 7.

    I submit that the reasons for this are pretty simple.
    1)“Church folks” don’t hang out with the “icky” people that get AIDS
    2)Socially, cancer is much more acceptable than HIV/AIDS

    Before Saturday I held significant misconceptions about HIV and its transmission. I’ll agree that not many people would give a kiss on the cheek to a person suffering from HIV, but then again I don’t kiss many people on the cheek besides my wife.

    My point about HIV is the “ick” factor related to this disease is exponentially higher than similar medical conditions – not because of medical fact, but social misconceptions.

    I believe these social misconceptions only perpetuate our ability to turn our nose at the GLBT portion of society. I say again … I don’t believe God intended for humans to live this way. But I don’t feel right looking down my nose at a homosexual person. The more I think about it, I am sad to admit my issue-filled life has more in common with their life than the one lived by Jesus Christ.

  4. Whitney Says:

    Many prayers to our loved ones on the Gulf Coast. We love you!
    ———————————

    DeJon & Joe, hopefuly no one sees Joe’s post as heartless; it is simply an honest reflection of our natural inclination to self-preserve. I think the natural reaction to hearing someone has AIDS would be fear. That is, indeed, a natural reaction to a deadly disease that has been deemed a world-wide epidemic. Fear. It is a survival instinct. I don’t think the knee-jerk reaction you (Dej) mentioned was out of hatred, but it would be easily perceived that way from someone already sensitive to his plight.

    (When someone has a cold, I don’t even want to shake their hand. I understand that you cannot contract HIV from a handshake or a hug, and not likely from a kiss, but I don’t know anyone who wantonly risks it.)

    When I was in Haiti, I met a Christian lady who was dying of cancer and AIDS. Blood transfusion. She was in horrible pain. She just wanted hugs. That was very difficult, yet humbling to try to overcome our concern about our own exposure. We forget to see the people inside. I think when we’re dealing with homosexuals, it is even harder to see the people inside because we see their disease may likely be a direct result of a lifestyle many of us consider sinful. It’s hard to take our judgment out of the situation and just see a human being.

    But back to the main point, Duane, I actually read “Gay Restorationist” about a month ago. The guy is very interesting, and I think you do a wonderful job addressing his attempts to justify his homosexuality. I haven’t read anymore because he kept talking about how God had “affirmed” him, yet he wouldn’t expound on the point. Also, you did a great job at addressing a VERY difficult subject.

  5. Whitney Says:

    Dej,
    Personally, I see the “ick” factor of AIDS & HIV stemming more from the fact that it is an incurable, terminal disease that you can catch from someone else than from the homosexual side of it. (I know that this is not the case for everyone.) Cancer is terminal in many cases, but you don’t catch it. Alzheimer’s disease is terminal all the time, but you can’t catch it. Same with ALS, and many other diseases. We don’t worry so much about diseases we have no control over.

    Our prayer list is full of cancer and other things, too. It also tends to list illness w/o giving details (I think it should always be that way, personally, from my former church secretary standpoint), so who’s to know if HIV/AIDS is among the things not lsited?

    You’re right when you say that we don’t educate ourselves nearly enough on the facts of transmittal, but that doesn’t mean I want to risk it. I know an awful lot about how you don’t get HIV. It’s actually pretty hard to get the virus. But who wants to play around with it?

  6. Whitney Says:

    I hit enter, and it posted my comment before I was finished….

    Your comment that struck me the most, though, was this:
    “The more I think about it, I am sad to admit my issue-filled life has more in common with their life than the one lived by Jesus Christ.”

    How true that is for all of us.

  7. Joe Longhorn Says:

    You know… lots of diseases are hard to get, but people still get them.

    Hepatitis A is hard to get, but I got it. I’ll let you look up the transmission path yourself since it’s pretty gross.

    I blame the seafood buffet at Boomtown, or more accurately, one of the workers at the buffet.

  8. Whitney Says:

    EEEWWWWWWW

  9. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Realized that I didn’t post word one about the original article… maybe that’s because you lost me at the title, Duane.

    I got through the rest of the article, but my guard was up from the get-go.

    You give a title like that, but then go on in your article to state that there are no scriptures to suggest homosexuality is acceptable to God, and several that outright condemn the behavior. But to qualify that condemnation, we’ve got to look at the culture and see what Paul actually meant.

    You lose me everytime you try to tell me what the Bible is really saying.

  10. Duane McCrory Says:

    Joe,

    Thanks for your comments. I think there is some misunderstanding, though. I was trying to do my best to present the Scriptural argument from the GLBT point of view. Perhaps I was not clear enough on that point. I can buy that the type of homosexuality Paul was condemning was the type that was practiced in that culture. How could he have spoken about a practice that was not even heard of? My point was that even if one took that approach, it does not mean that Paul, if he had known what people practice today, would accept their practices as okay. My point was that one could argue from the principle and apply it the same today–impure sexual behavior is wrong, which includes any type of homosexuality, and that is what I see as the key point in Paul’s argument not only in Romans 1, but also in 1 Corinthians 6.

    Maybe I was unclear on this point.

    I stand by my title, though, because I don’t presume to be the final authority on this issue. I will contribute the knowledge I have gained from my education and experience and put it out there for what it is worth. I am stating what I think Scripture is saying, and I think if we choose to ignore the culture in which the Bible was written, we do so to our own detriment. We need to try to understand everything we can about the culture of the various books of the Bible so that we don’t mistakenly push our own agenda onto the Bible. I will listen to those who might try to pick a Scripture which they think accepts their behavior. I presented the arguments as I’ve heard (and read) them, but don’t know if there’s something else the GLBT side might bring to the table. That is simply it. My point is not to silence the communication, but to listen and dialog. If by my comments you think I’m saying what the Bible really means, I’m doing no more than anyone else is when they interpret it. I am doing so from my current understanding.

    From what I understand of the GLBT argument of Romans 1 is that they insist that Scripture does not speak to their situation. They compare it to 1 Corinthians 11 and the head covering (or long hair) for women and say it does not apply. We would say the same about 1 Corinthians 11 and take that Scripture out of the equation. (Unless your church does make women wear veils, or long hair, or whatever it is Paul means. The issue is not decided among biblical scholars as to what definitively the practice was.) They are taking Romans 1 out of the equation and I am saying even if I agreed with them in the cultural argument, I still would say that it speaks to their sin.

    Does this help to clarify my intent?

  11. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Yes… that definitely clarifies the intent. I didn’t catch that you were presenting from the GLBT point of view. Are they trying to say that monogamous, loving homosexual relationships did not exist at the time these scriptures were written? Seems doubtful to me.

  12. Duane McCrory Says:

    That is what they would argue. I haven’t really spent extensive lengths of time in research trying to verify this, but I don’t see that as necessary. Whether or not such a relationship existed then, I believe that the principles of Scripture still speak to their sin and from the examples I tried to give of sexual behavior Paul elsewhere condemns that our culture would accept indicates to me that he would not very likely permit the type of homosexuality being practiced today either.

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