Thursday, April 23, 2009

This is a discussion of the Bible and homosexuality

Is the anti-gay reading of Scripture a slam dunk? There are alternative interpretations available.

26 comments:

Crude said...

I think the 'alternative interpretations' are on very thin ice, and the extrabiblical arguments (Natural law, etc) are considerable enough to render the view hard to justify.

That said: I don't think there are any 'anti-gay' readings of scripture. People are people. A person who favors homosexual activity is still a person, and the bible is not 'anti-them' any more than the bible is 'anti-me' because of my faults and shortcomings.

Further, I find it tremendously suspicious that I have heard arguments in favor of homosexual behavior being tolerated (or even celebrated) by Christians again and again. I have not heard, not once, a single condemnation of behavior popular in gay subculture(s), while the equivalent behavior is routinely condemned for heterosexual behavior.

I'd have less trouble doubting the sincerity of the people offering their arguments if it wasn't for that tremendous blind spot. I'd still have trouble, but that's a big one.

Ilíon said...

The Bible is silent on 'homosexuality.' However, it is quite clear on homosexual behavior.

Blip said...

I really have a hard time taking these "progressive" interpretations of Bible passages condemning homosexuality seriously. I put them in the same absurdist camp as open theism, gender egalitarianism and universalism.

Gordon Knight said...

"I really have a hard time taking these "progressive" interpretations of Bible passages condemning homosexuality seriously. I put them in the same absurdist camp as open theism, gender egalitarianism and universalism."

Hello Blip! I am wondering if you are serious--do you oppose "gender egalitarianism"?

Open theism and universalism are both damn good views. Glad to see my view of homosexuality has good company!

Crude said...

I wouldn't place universalism in the same group as this. Nor open theism. Gender egalitarianism I'd have to think about, mostly because it seems like it typically has similar (politics-first) drives.

Ilíon said...

But, on the other hand, one important commonality between "progressive" interpretations of Bible passages condemning homosexuality, and "open theism," and universalism, and (it seems to me, even) gender egalitarianism, is a refusal to take the Bible seriously in what it says --


The "open theist" says, "But, of course, the Bible doesn't *really* say that God 'knows the end from the beginning,' much less that he is unchanging."

The universalist says, "But, of course, the Bible doesn't *really* say that God condemns some persons ." -- Mirroring like the Calvinst, who says, "But, of course, the Bible doesn't *really* say that God desires the salvation of all persons."

The "sexual egalitarian" says, "But, of course, the Bible doesn't *really* say that the sexes are complimentarry -- and that some things are appropriate or inappropriate to each sex -- rather than identical or irrelevant."

The "progressive" says, "But, of course, the Bible doesn't *really* say that God condemns all homosexual activity."


The thought occurs to me that, in a way, this homosexual "progressivism" may grow out of "sexual egalitariansm."

Blue Devil Knight said...

What Gordon Knight lacks in strict constructionist proclivities he makes up for in a mature moral sense.

Victor Reppert said...

You Knights have to stick together.

Gordon Knight said...

A true strict constuctivist on the Bible would, presumably, follow the explicit teachings of Jesus. These explicit teachings are quite severe including the explicit condemnation of divorce (including the claim that re-marrying constitutes adultery) Jesus is not silent on sexual morality, but he is strangely silent on homosexuality. The sermon on the mt is given lip service, yet the clear and difficult moral teaching there is ignored in favor of a pharisaical and obsessive interest in sexuality.

Raycol said...

While the Bible says that sex between men (homosexual activity) is wrong, I would suggest that the Bible’s prohibition on such activity does not apply to men today when the sexual activity causes no harm. Also, the prohibition does not apply to men today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Greek-Roman cultures of Bible times. Reasons supporting these conclusions are given on the “Gay and Christian” website at www.gaysandslaves.com.

mattghg said...

Gordon,

Jesus is not silent about "porneiða " (Matt 15:19, Mark 7:21), which on the standard reading covers all sexual acts prohibited under the Mosaic Law. Also, I'd argue that, in the same speech about divorce that you mention, Jesus teaches that the pattern for human sexuality laid out in Genesis 2 (1 man + 1 woman for life) is normative.

Of course, this doesn't detract from your valid point about how people tend to overlook Jesus' difficult teaching on divorce and remarriage. I think in this area the Church of Rome has it right and we Evangelicals need to get back on track.

mattghg said...

Like C.S. Lewis said (I think), it's much easier to rail against sins you've never been tempted to commit yourself.

Blip said...

Hi GK,

I'm perfectly serious in what I say. I find it disappointing that I have to say as much! I find it incredible that someone should study the Bible and come out thinking that it does not assert that homosexuality is wrong. I really do. Ditto with all the other views I mentioned. Perhaps you will claim that those views nevertheless have excellent philosophical support. But our own philosophical speculations are always crude and murky. If God wrote me a letter saying that some brilliant evidentially well-supported theory I devised was completely misguided, then I'd drop the theory. Well, the Bible is such a letter - being written by God it carries an incredible testimonial force.

Yes, I am against gender egalitarianism, but to be clear I take this as the claim that there are no roles in family, church, etc. that are reserved exclusively for either males or females. (Read Paul!) Not the claim that one gender is "better" than the other, whatever that might amount to. I am a patriarchalist - I think a patriarchy represents the ideal society genderwise. I recommend Steven Goldberg's excellent book "Why Men Rule", if you are interested.

I have no problem with the condemnation of divorce and remarriage, but there are real considerations that should give one pause here. For instance, suppose A sleeps with loads of women but never commits himself to marriage. He has a string of broken relationships. B, on the other hand, gets married and is strictly devoted to his wife, but then, through no fault of his own, his wife goes off with another man. It seems unfair that A can marry after all this, but B can't. But I have no problem with a strict condemnation: it's on the cards for me.

I think It's just intuitively obvious that homosexuality is worse than divorce and remarriage though. When you meet a couple that have divorced from their previous spouses you will "tut tut" to yourself. When you meet a gay couple, though, you shudder to yourself and are inwardly repulsed. To put it crudely, at least the former have the genders right!

I don't think we interpret Scripture in a moral vacuum, it's just that where scripture is clear (like with homosexuality), it is strong testimonial evidence.

It also worth noting that most of the views I defend here on homosexuality and gender roles etc. have been taken as intuitively true by the majority throughout the history of mankind. If it's gonna be an intuition war, I think I'd win.

Finally(!), I find it sad that atheists often see better than professing Christians what Christianity is really about. David Lewis calls universalism the "universalist fantasy" in his essay "Divine Evil" (p. 240), and my attitude is similar. If there was no real possibility of my going to hell I really don't think that the truth-claims of Christianity would have gripped me the way they did. I doubt I would've bothered with Christianity at all in fact.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in anyone who would refute JP: http://www.tektonics.org/lp/lev18.html
http://www.tektonics.org/qt/romhom.html
http://www.tektonics.org/gk/gayjude.html

Merlijn de Smit said...

I'm by and large in agreement with GK and Raycol on this issue. Then again, I also take universalism very seriously, am sympathetic to gender egalitarianism and generally think open theism doesn't go far enough. So there ;-).

I'm highly uncomfortable with both taking supposed condemnations of homosexual behaviour in the Bible as such - without some serious analysis of textual and historical context - but also with the projection of very modern categories such as "child molestation" onto St. Paul's letters - as the article Victor linked seems to do. "Child molestation" may well be as problematic a category in Paul's world as "homosexuality". Which doesn't mean that Christians shouldn't condemn child molestation - just that more than simply pointing to a specific verse needs to be done.

Generally, condemning homosexual "activity" while not condemning (or professing not to condemn) homosexuals as persons seems to me to sit very ill with the New Testament's focus on dispositions, rather than actions in themselves. It's about the why more than the what. So it seems to me that a Christian moral view on homosexual behaviour really needs to take into account what it is that attracts people of the same sex to one another, and whether there is an inherent difference between that and heterosexual attraction. I suppose it is possible to argue that there is no such thing as homosexual love (rather than lust) - but having been around enough gay couples (not shuddering and inwardly repulsed either, Blip) I'm pretty convinced that there is.

Also, it seems to me that in the NT and early Christianity there is a strong identification with the marginalized and oppressed of society - from the publicans and prostitutes Jesus associated with to the women and slaves who were very receptive to the gospel in the early years. Or indeed those blessed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, this does not mean automatically that homosexual activity is allright. But what it does mean is that, seeing that gays have been pretty much a marginalized and oppressed group over the last two millenia; seeing that not so very long ago gay men were forced to swallow female hormones as "treatment" and grow breasts; that some more time ago, they were simply killed (and in some places, they still are); seeing all that (and seeing that conventional Christianity has not been entirely innocent here), one needs to think twice about supporting any anti-homosexual interpretation of scripture.

In general, I would say that if you find that the Bible just happens to conform exactly to what Blip calls your internal repulsion - and that internal repulsion happens to be shared by a big part of society and directed against some relatively powerless and easily available scapegoat - look over it again.

But then, I'm a liberal. What is at stake for me is one's interpretation of what Christianity is about, as a whole. Not this or that verse of Scripture. Because there isn't a plain, uninterpreted meaning of Scripture. Or of _anything_ expressed in human language for that matter. Both individual and social desires, prejudices, systems of ideas are always immanent in interpretation.

Blip said...

Here's an interesting question: who is worse off (in God's eyes), the liberal Christian or the fundy atheist?

My money's on the former.

Blip said...

"that internal repulsion happens to be shared by a big part of society and directed against some relatively powerless and easily available scapegoat"

Are you kidding? Our society worships the very ground gays walk upon! They are militant, angry and crime- and violence-prone, but they get away with it thanks to their sacred cow status. You let slip the slightest suggestion that (gasp!) homosexuality might just be morally wrong and the media fall on you like a ton of bricks. Ditto with gender egalitarianism.

I'm sorry to hear that you don't intuit the moral wrongness of homosexuality. I have to say I think you've lost something important and God-given.

"Because there isn't a plain, uninterpreted meaning of Scripture. Or of _anything_ expressed in human language for that matter. Both individual and social desires, prejudices, systems of ideas are always immanent in interpretation."

Ya washed up liberal. Get some real religion.

Gordon Knight said...

Blip,

I know we read the same Bible, but I can't imagine jesus agreeing with you. I guess you cannot imagine jesus agreeing with me. This is the grain of truth in solipsism.

But on the empirical question, gay people may be popular in parts of SF, or NY, but there is a lot of anti gay feeling and anti gay violence. People are beaten up for being gay, and people do kill themselves because of the most unchristian homophobia they confront.

"liberal Christian" can mean, by the way different things. In one sense I am a liberal christian, in how I interpret Christian morality, but in another sense, I think so-called "liberal Christianity" goes astray in de-emphasizing (or "demythologizing") the great metaphysical claims.. incarnation, trinity, even ressurection.

Merlijn de Smit said...

Well, yeah, I agree on insisting on those three. I find liberal Christian thought very worthwhile - but it's kind of like walking along a knife's edge. Very easy to fall over, and ending up defending a kind of naturalism with symbolic language as window-dressing.

Politically, "liberal" is simply the closest understandable equivalent of my position in American terms. Though it means something very different in Europe.

I'm happy to hear gays are worshipped where Blip lives, but where I grew up, there were many things you did not want to be if you wanted a life, and gay was definitely one of them.

mattghg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mattghg said...

Merlijn,

Now, this does not mean automatically that homosexual activity is allright. But what it does mean is that, seeing that gays have been pretty much a marginalized and oppressed group over the last two millenia; seeing that not so very long ago gay men were forced to swallow female hormones as "treatment" and grow breasts; that some more time ago, they were simply killed (and in some places, they still are); seeing all that (and seeing that conventional Christianity has not been entirely innocent here), one needs to think twice about supporting any anti-homosexual interpretation of scripture.I don't see how this follows, unless I've misunderstood you. What I think it shows is that we need to be careful about how we treat people, whatever they've done. The way I see it, the Christian attitude to gays should be the same as Jesus' attitude to the woman caught in adultery: have the compassion to call off the stone-throwers, and (not but) have the courage and integrity to call a sin a sin.

Because there isn't a plain, uninterpreted meaning of Scripture. Or of _anything_ expressed in human language for that matter.Big topic, of course. Actually I agree with you, although not really for the reasons you go on to list. One thing I would say at this stage is that while there may not be uninterpreted meanings, there are intellectually and morally responsible and irresponsible interpretations; and, I'm afraid to say, I have to agree with Blip and Ilion that intrepreting Scripture as saying that gay sex is fine counts as irresponsible for one reason or the other.

Of course, very many Liberal Christians simply deny that Scripture is authoritative. But that's a separate issue.

Merlijn de Smit said...

Hi Matt,

I'm unconvinced by interpreting the NT passages as involving a condemnation of gay sex, as such. It seems to me Paul is generally interested in condemning messing around, at a time when male-male sexual contact generally meant messing around outside of marriage. The idea of homosexuality as a lifelong sexual orientation was, AFAIK, pretty marginal in Roman times - and the idea of stable, monogamous homosexual relationships as well. I don't believe Paul is talking about the latter. What is unambiguously condemned in the NT is adultery. And in Paul's times, homosexual contacts generally took place in an adulterous context.

The sinful nature of adultery lies not in the physical action itself, but in the dispositions behind it: it is a failure of love (hence Christ's extension of adultery to "coveting"). This seems to me to be in line with the general morality of the NT. However, a blanket condemnation of gay sexual acts, without regard to the contexts and the intentions with which they took place, seems not. Rather, it seems to me to go "against the grain" of the general NT tendency to replace a law-based ethic with a more situational, intention-based one.

So I don't think there is clear scriptural support for either "gay sex is wrong" or "gay sex is fine". To apply the more general Christian message to a moral position on homosexual activity, you really need a theory on what makes gay people tick, on love, sexual attraction, etc. And I don't think you can get such a thing from Scripture alone. Of course, Roman Catholic moral philosophy, for instance, provides precisely such a thing - but I'm not sure I agree with it.

What I meant with the first comment you quoted is that everywhere, the gospel seems to challenge rather than confirm ingrained social conventions and prejudices. The publicans are closer to the kingdom than the pious. Help may be expected from the despised stranger. And, most gloriously, God is revealed in a carpenter's son from the outback.

Of course, this ironic tendency in the NT doesn't translate easily into any specific position on any specific matter. But I do believe it gives reason to distrust one's instincts, to distrust the "intuitively obvious" of which Blip spoke. Because throughout human history, people deeply convinced of the intuitively obvious have engaged in the marginalizing and the scapegoating that Jesus overcame.

Lastly, I should point out here that I have no problem disagreeing with Paul on issues where he is very unambiguous. I believe there is room for interpretation with the "gay passages" but there is much less room with Paul's opinion on gender relationships. I do not believe man is the head of woman, or that woman was created for man. Which pits my opinion against that of Paul. My opinion of Scripture is, very roughly, that it is a not-inerrant record of God's self-revelation in human history and human affairs (and this self-revelation is not restricted to the time and place covered by Scripture, even if the events of that time and place have a very central meaning). So in that sense I believe Scripture is central but not authoritative in an inerrantist sense.

mattghg said...

Merlijn,

I'm going to have to agree with N.T. Wright and disagree with you about just how much Roman society knew about stable, long-term homosexual partnerships. And Paul was clearly a very educated man.

"The sinful nature of adultery lies not in the physical action itself, but in the dispositions behind it"

Surely it's both?

"What I meant with the first comment you quoted is that everywhere, the gospel seems to challenge rather than confirm ingrained social conventions and prejudices. The publicans are closer to the kingdom than the pious. Help may be expected from the despised stranger. And, most gloriously, God is revealed in a carpenter's son from the outback."

This is all true. Hallelujah! But it's not the whole of the truth. I just want to rephrase the point I made last time like this: the fact that Jesus spent time in the company of prostitutes does not mean that he condoned prostitution. I mean, to think that would be the Pharisaical interpretation of his actions. Right? And the same goes for gays: Christians absolutely should be ministering and showing Christ's love to the marginalised and broken in society, but that doesn't mean we're morally indfferent to what they do.

I completely agree that we need to question our intuitions (FWIW I actually don't share Bllip's sense of the "intuitively obvious" here, probably because I was brought up in a liberal environment). But we also need to question the mores of our society - that is, of any society, but perhaps particularly of our current Western European society. I actually think that the drift among professing Christians towards acceptance of gay sex on the one hand, and denial of the resurrection etc. on the other, are horses from the same stable: that is, wanting not to have to disagree too much with the secular world. The fact is, every time anyone in Scripture mentions gay sex it is treated as a sin, and we should be re-educating our moral sensibilities (wherever they've come from) in the light of that rather than anything else.

Merlijn de Smit said...

Hi Matt,

I don't think it's both - I think sin (as opposed to ethically questionable action) is really a matter of internal disposition, of turning from God. I'm very sympathetic to a situationalist understanding of sin, in which sin always occurs in a very particular setting with very particular persons - irreducibly concrete, not to be generalized to any more universal system of rules and norms. Of course, we're social animals, we need conventional, more-or-less universal systems of rules and norms. What the NT, however, to me seems to provide is something transcending all that.

My comment about emphasizing the ironic side of the gospel story was directed originally at Blip's post, in which the gospel and intuitive judgement seem to fit together all too comfortably for my taste. I agree that Jesus' attention to the outsiders does not mean the outsiders are free of sin. Neither of course does it mean they are especially sinful. As one might think if one emphasizes publicans, etc. Basically I think that the mainline interpretation of the gospel story as involving personal redemption from personal, individual sin is only part of the story: other perspectives are possible (such as for example provided by liberation theology or Rene Girard's idea of Christ subverting and overcoming the scapegoating/sacrificial mechanisms that hitherto kept social peace).

Based on the above, I am extremely uncomfortable in calling anything a sin (as opposed to unethical etc.) with no knowledge of the three persons involved in that determination (self, other and God). Gay sex may or may not be sinful depending on the concrete situation in which is takes place. Same as hetero sex. (And I see as little basis for calling gay sex immoral, or unethical, in general).

However, this all may be pretty heterodox :-) As to N.T. Wright, I'm not convinced by his identification between homosexuality now and homosexuality then: whereas stable, long-term homosexual relationships are known in antiquity, it seems to me the importance of the family in Roman society would ensure that a man was not allowed to forego marital duties regardless of his sexual attractions; the choice open to gay people in modern Western society, of living in an exclusively gay relationship roughly analogous to heterosexual marriage, would not be available then.

I however agree by and large with your final remarks. The changing attitude to homosexuality among the churches is an adaptation to (post)modern secular society. That does not mean it is wrong. But I suspect that our current notions of what homosexuality is may eventually change again, as well as our ideas on romantic love, on the basis of marriage, and so forth. So to an extent, I do not want, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church to change its ideas on the family, on homosexuality, etc. - no matter how much I personally disagree with them! (Any denomination I would agree with would have exactly one member, if that, anyway).

Jim Baxter said...

MIND Over glands

The defenders of homosexuality continue the oxymoron
contradiction of attempting to use the mind to justify the
rule of carnal glands.

Thinking Americans still don't give 'a tinkers-sham' what
homosexuals do with their body-parts. An individual or
a society which is by law and tradition committed to the
natural human hierarchy of mind over body will not, how-
ever, sanction glandular rule over the human mind.

Undisciplined human desire can induce distorted perception.
The disturbed personality or inverted character can be
considered to be cognitively confused. This description is
confirmed by the work of English psychoanalyst Money-
Kyrle, who indicates that it is more accurate to recognize
such a condition as the result of distorted perception.

Neurosis, psychosis, stunting of growth, etc., are all, from
this perspective, cognitive diseases contaminating not only
perception but thinking, learning, remembering, valuing, and
decision- and choice-making.

Money-Kyrle affirms that scientific truth is not attained by a
trendy self-serving fashion, confession of inadequacy,
abdication, or collective majority-vote. There is no excuse for
professional ignorance willfully maintained.

By definition, a standard that is flexible is not a standard at all.
The human mind requires a standard of comparison that is
invariable. A criterion must be greater than the value measured
in order to supply value-meaning in a predictable direction of
survival and progression. The mind thus equipped is enabled
to maintain a natural dominion over the body and its appetites.
The very survival of the body itself, therefore, depends upon this
maintained intellectual authority.

Our posterity cannot respect what it does not perceive, and it
cannot perceive that which has been abandoned or inverted to
an appetite of physical expediency by the equivocal person.

With confidence in the laws of human nature, we can know that
in the clash between carnality and intellect, the 'man of the mind'
will always prevail.

That is nature and GOD's way & intent all along.

Jim Baxter

Santa Maria, CA

semper fidelis

+ + +

Ilíon said...

Jim Baxter: "Money-Kyrle affirms that scientific truth is not attained by ..."

There is no such thing as "scientific truth," if by "truth" one means, you know, actual truth.

There is truth, simpy (*) ... and sometimes, but not all times, 'scientific statements' happen to be true.


(*) 'Truth' takes no qualifiers, nor can it take any, for there are no degrees to it: a statement/proposition is true, or it is not true; it is imposible for a single statement to be both true and false or fractionally true and false.