A Response to Bishop Sano’s ‘Call to Biblical Obedience’– Part One

It was with great sadness, and dismay, that I read the recent article by Bishop Sano, a retired bishop of the UMC, which can be found here, at this site—- http://www.pnwumc.org/news/biblical-obedience/. I find it sad not only because Bishop Sano is in fact calling for the very opposite of ‘Biblical Obedience’. I find it sad because he mistakenly thinks that a matter of sexual ethics and sexual behavior is somehow a ‘justice’ issue, when it absolutely is not. The very logic of Scripture is turned upside down in order to support an increasingly popular view of gay and lesbian sexual activity and gay marriage as well. The coup de grace for me was when Bishop Sano decided that we must support these cultural trends as an act of ‘Biblical Obedience’. As a NT scholar who has spent the last thirty five years of my life exegeting the NT and writing commentaries on all the books of the NT, this frankly was a bridge too far. So the following is the first part of my response, in four blog posts.

First of all let’s address the presuppositional issue that people are born gay or lesbian. In fact, the scientific jury is still out on that matter. I am not a scientist but I take seriously what good scientists like Francis Collins and others say on the matter. So far, there has been no discovery of a ‘gay’ gene. So far, the study of zygote twins, one of whom chooses a gay lifestyle the other of whom chooses a heterosexual lifestyle, also does not really support such a claim. Here I would refer you to the more than ample data amassed by Dr. Robert Gagnon on his website— www.robgagnon.net/ and I would refer you as well to his important book Homosexuality and Biblical Practice, published by Abingdon some years ago.

As for Francis Collins, here is an important quote:

“An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.” (This is found in the Appendix to his book The Language of God, p. 260). He has further qualified this more recently by saying as of yet no gay gene has yet been found, but there may be such a discovery in the future.

So what should we make of this statement by Collins? That there are certain tendencies or dispositions or inclinations in some persons from birth that lead to same-sex attraction. Fair enough. But what Collins adds is just as important– “sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations”. In other words…… we have a choice about our sexual behavior. We are not predetermined from birth to behave in a certain way.

But for the sake of argument let’s assume some persons do have such ‘gay’ inclinations or predispositions from birth. Why exactly would we see this as necessarily a good thing? After all there are such things as birth defects, bad genetics, and so on. Why should we assume that simply because one is ‘born that way’ that therefore ‘God made me this way’ and that thus necessarily this must be declared to be good? If we look at this from an strictly evolutionary point of view, any species that develops tendencies towards relationships with other members of the same species that cannot result in the propagation of that species is a dead end. It is a non-productive activity vis a vis the survival of the species. Why exactly this is never a part of the conversation is hard to fathom.

This whole line of thought (‘that I was born this way and so this must be good’) totally and completely ignores a crucial Christian concept—namely human fallenness. Not everything in its present condition is good. And when it comes to human beings, here is the truth according to Scripture—- “all have sinned and fallen short (or lack) God’s glory” (Rom. 8). The Biblical message about our human condition is that we are all in our present condition sinners, and as such we have a rather infinite capacity for rationalizing our bad behavior. Self-justification in fact has become an art form in our overly sexualized and narcissistic culture.

In short, there is neither a scientific nor a Biblical basis for saying ‘because someone is born that way, that is necessarily a good thing and must be endorsed or celebrated’. Not so. And I would reiterate the point that ‘predispositions are not the same thing as predeterminations’.

In fact, as Collins and others also say, there are a bevy of factors which contribute to a person’s sexual behavior, some having to do with nature, and some definitely having to do with nurture, environment, education, friendships and so on. In any case, it is not true that a person is hard-wired and cannot help behaving in this way or that when it comes to sexual expression.

The issue in any case in the Bible is not ‘sexual orientation’ or even sexual inclinations. The former is a phrase invented in my lifetime. The issue in the Bible is sexual behavior. Period. The assumption throughout the NT is that by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit we have control over our behavior. When we cease to believe that fact, we have given up the whole notion that grace and the Spirit of God can enable us to behave in good and godly ways. We will discuss a different presupposition usually brought into this discussion in the next post.

CKB--- August 26th 2011: A Hommage
Paul and his Recent Interpreters by N.T. Wright--- Part One
Paul and his Recent Interpreters by N.T. Wright-- Part Four
Paul and his Recent Interpreters by N.T. Wright-- Part Three

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