In his now influential book, Torn, Justin Lee goes “back to the Bible” in his own experience and in this book to determine what the Bible says, and his claim is that whatever it teaches he’s willing to follow. I don’t think it would be unfair to Justin Lee to add “what it teaches clearly …”. He offers a clear and succinct approach to the texts in the Bible about homosexuality with the conclusion that what they say is irrelevant to same-sex, faithful, monogamous and Christian commitment. I want to add that he doesn’t use the word “irrelevant,” but as I read him I think that word is fair. These are his conclusions, and they are not propped with a patient examination of the evidence but with summary statements on the basis of his own work.
Do you think the Bible knows the same-sex, faithful relationship or is it speaking only of more narrow topics — like idolatry-fueled same-sex relations or violent same-sex abuse? Is there any text that deals with homosexuality in general?
First, the classic Sodom and Gomorrah text in Gen 19, along with the Gibeah story in Judges 19, are about violent rape and not about same-sex relationships that are faithful. The use of the Sodom text in Ezek 16:49-50 does not overrun Gen 19 but confirms what he thinks that text already teaches: it is not just about hospitality but the extreme opposite, violent sexual behaviors instead of hospitality.
Second, he contends Leviticus 18:22 connects same-sex relations with idolatrous worship, and on this one he quotes Robert Gagnon’s well-known book that contends the Bible cannot be squared with same-sex relations. If Lev 18 is about idolatry-shaped same-sex relations then it is not about faithful same-sex relations.
Third, perhaps the most significant text is Romans 1:18-32, and here again he connects same-sex relations to idolatry. He thinks the text is about a specific group of people who changed sexual relations from straight to gay, but on this he is missing an important alternative: this sketches a kind of human, one designed for male-female sexual relations but who instead pursues same-sex relations. At any rate, Justin Lee thinks the text is about idolatry and same-sex relations so it is not about faithful same-sex relations.
It would be fair to say he dismisses “natural” as nullified by hair length being “natural” in 1 Cor 11. The term deserved more consideration in a book like this.
Finally, he looks at the famous passage in 1 Cor 6:9-11 where he concludes the evidence is not entirely clear; that a reasonable view is that it is about men-boy pederastic relations. And the men are married men mostly. Therefore, once again, the text is not about faithful same-sex relations.
The conclusion he draws, and he doesn’t draw this conclusion with certainty because he’s not entirely convinced one has solid readings of 1 Cor 6, is that the texts of the Bible are not discussing faithful same-sex relations.
He proposes more, he proposes understanding all moral issues through the command to love (the word always begs careful definition), and here are his words:
Suppose two people loved each other with all their hearts, and they wanted to commit themselves to each other in the sight of God — to love, honor, and cherish; to selflessly serve and encourage one another; to serve God together; to be faithful for the rest of their lives. If they were of the opposite sexes, we would call that holy and beautiful and something to celebrate. But we changed only one thing — the gender of one of those individuals — while still keeping the same love and … suddenly many Christians would call it abominable and condemned to hell (205).
It’s more complex than this, and the complexity is more than “condemned to hell” which ramps this up a notch. The issue for the traditionalist is that these two scenarios are different because one is perceived as “natural” and the other as “unnatural.” The word “holy” would be problematic for the traditional because the same-sex relation would be seen as contrary to God’s will.