Homosexuality: A Way Forward?

Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 12.28.22 PMIn the now-irreplaceable volume edited by Preston Sprinkle, Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, two — yea, four — views are presented, two affirming and two traditional, and each of the authors responds with admirable civility and firm difference to each of the others. The four authors are William Loader and Megan DeFranza as well as Wesley Hill and Stephen Holmes.

Last week the post examined the view of Loader and this week the focus is Megan DeFranza. DeFranza has a lengthy book on intersex — Sex Difference in Christian Theology. While at times there are signs she is conversing with those who know all the debates, she backs up and summarizes her entire argument, and then very helpfully moves into a discussion of how to be “faithfully improvising” in our ethics today. (Well chosen expression, even if one will focus on faithfully and another on improvising.)

If Loader thinks the Bible is unequivocally against same-sex behavior and even same-sex desire and that, consequently, Christians will need to move forward on the basis of knowing more and having different experiences, DeFranza’s approach is more along the line of restricting the sense of the biblical passages as well as the need to rethink what we think of faithful, monogamous, consensual same-sex relations along the lines of how the church has thought, say, about slavery.

She opens with a good discussion (even if brief) of intersex sexuality and of “eunuchs from birth” and how such awareness — of which we are more aware today — should complex-ify our approach.

I will clip her own words for they are as tight a summary as one could possibly provide of her chapter.

1. Genesis 1 and 2 do not need to be read as providing an exclusive model of what it means to be human. The creation narratives speak in broad categories. Just as most animals fall into the classification of land animal, sea creature, or creature of the air; so most humans fit into the category of male or female. …  Adam and Eve can be understood as the majority story … 90 [This theme of the majority comes out of knowing that there were eunuchs from birth and other non-majority sexuality themes in the ancient world.]

This “majority story” then forms a ground for seeing heterosexuality as the majority, not the exclusive, story.

2. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and its parallel in Judges 19 describe gangs threatening to rape men and angels when in fact it is only a woman who suffers sexual violence at their hands, violence which led to her death…. . These stories warn of judgment upon sin—certainly the sin of sexual violence. They teach nothing about marriage. 91

In #3, DeFranza concludes that exploitative same-sex relations are behind the NT prohibitions and not consensual, faithful monogamy of same-sex partners.

3. There were many different ways of practicing “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” in the ancient world, and many of them were not the ways we are familiar with today. … In the same way, just because the Bible condemns certain kinds of same-sex sexual acts does not mean that all same-sex sexual acts are therefore out of bounds. 91

It is possible to read the prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 as proscriptions of decadence, lack of self-control, and exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of enslaved persons and prostitutes. 91

4. Leviticus 18 and 20 may stand behind the creation of the term arsenokoitos in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. … It is difficult to discern the rationale behind the prohibition, given how same-sex relations were understood to dishonor a man by treating him as a woman and the lack of understanding of sexual orientation as we are beginning to understand it today. 91

She has made a case for seeing sexuality in the ancient world as about maleness and femaleness, about aggression and passivity, and that to be a good male is to be the dominant penetrating partner; any male permitting himself to be penetrated is acting the part of a woman. This is not how sexuality is understood today.

In #5 the limitation of Paul’s horizon for who was involved in same-sex relations comes to the fore.

5. The condemnations in Romans 1 are part of a rhetorical “sting operation” intended to stir up judgmental ire against “godless” Gentiles which turns on those doing the judging, proving all need redemption in Christ. Given the epistle’s audience and rhetorical force, the apostle could very well have had in mind the excesses of the Roman aristocracy and imperial court, including the sexual exploitation of enslaved persons, as examples of the extreme forms of sin to which one can fall when one rejects God. 91

More importantly, it provides no guidance for those Christians who have not rejected God but nevertheless experience same-sex attraction. 92

She makes a case for seeing marriage in the ancient world as patriarchal and hence the use of such metaphors for God and the church etc all emerges out of a  patriarchal worldview. Hence her claim opening #6.

6. Contemporary Christian marriage is not “biblical marriage” of the Old or New Testament. In both testaments, heterosexual marriage functions as an analogy based on ancient patriarchal marriage illustrating God’s covenant faithfulness, sovereignty, and condescending love for “his” creaturely “bride.” … Christians can learn what metaphors based on ancient social structures teach about our relationship to God while working to reshape those same structures to better reflect Jesus’ ethic of neighbor love. 92

Big issue for her at the level of ethical debate is how to move forward. How?

There is no recognized ecumenical council to deliberate on such matters for us. [SMcK: I would contend there are small such councils, that is, denominations. Such councils then function with some authority and these deserve to be factored into her discussion.]

Instead, we must listen to the voice of the Spirit as we study the Scriptures and sift other sources of wisdom from the tradition(s) of the church, human experience, and our growing knowledge of the human body and sexuality gained from science, psychology, sociology, etc. 94 [SMcK: Who is the “we” here?]

To move forward, we need to consider three points of common ground.

  1. Human beings are created for communion with God and with other people. 94

2. Because of sin, we need help to keep our promises. Human sexuality points to sexual relations in general rather than directly to marriage, but most cultures have found it wise to limit sexual activity to publicly recognized (legal) relationships in order to reduce community conflicts which tend to arise from jealousy, quarrels over paternity and responsibility, etc. 95

3. A Christian theology of marriage recognizes that humans are made for communion and that our sexuality brings us into particular relationships which, because of sin, need to be governed by public vows which hold couples accountable and enable communities to support their unions and arbitrate when vows are broken. 96

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