Struggling with Homosexuality

There are a lot of people in our time who can be described as “struggling with homosexuality.” In some cases, it is individuals struggling with their own sexuality. But in far more cases, it seems there are people who are heterosexuals and who are nonetheless ‘struggling with homosexuality’ – struggling to read the Bible in ways that are not harmful to other human beings, and struggling with their own innate tendency to disdain, judge, and interfere with the sexuality of others. And so I thought I would share here a brief summary of some key points that I and others have made on this blog and elsewhere. I wrote what follows in a Facebook message, in response to a question someone asked me on this topic, and I thought that perhaps it would be relevant to a larger audience.

I think one has to begin with the question of how to approach the Bible if that is the source of a person’s concern about this. My own Baptist tradition has divided in the past over issues such as slavery and women in ministry, and the two camps have had underlying disagreements about how to approach the Bible. The conservative inerrantists made the claim that if one says that slavery is wrong, then the Torah was wrong to legislate but accept slavery, and Paul was wrong to council slaves to obey their masters without telling slaveowners to free their slaves. With hindsight, I hope you can see that inerrancy is used by the powerful to maintain structural evils, and is thus not an approach to the Bible that ought to be accepted by Christians. The alternative approach is to recognize that there are fundamental principles which individual Biblical authors did not always live up to. “Love your enemies” is not universally the outlook of the Bible’s authors, and an inerrantist in Jesus’ time could have rejected his teaching, making the same claim about hate that the Southern Baptists and others later did about slavery, saying that regarding hatred towards enemies as evil would make various Psalmists wrong and thus undermine the authority of Scripture.

In the case of human sexuality, the underlying principles in the Bible seem to be that it is not good for human beings to be alone. There is also a principle of fidelity, but it was not practiced in a gender-equal way in antiquity. A man only committed adultery if he slept with another man’s wife, but was not prohibitted from having more than one wife or concubine. The same was not true for women. And so it seems very odd to me that anyone could ever appeal to “Biblical marriage” in discussions of this topic, since marriage as practiced historically in the United States (outisde of Utah, obviously) is a very different institution from marriage in the Bible.

Finally, when it comes to the application of these principles and others, the most fundamental for a follower of Jesus is to treat others as we would wish to be treated. I think that this is still an issue for so many precisely because they have never genuinely reversed the situations. How would you react and respond if someone told you that heterosexuality is inherently evil? If they said that it is OK to have heterosexual desires as long as you never act on them, even in the context of marriage, and if they had in fact long made any marriage you might thus participate in illegal? If they said that it is inherently evil for you to feel love towards a person that you are attracted to simply because they are of the opposite gender from you, and that – despite the principle in Genesis 2 – it is not only good but required that you be alone, or otherwise enter into a marriage with someone of a gender to which you feel no attraction? Once you put yourself in the shoes of another, only then can you ask what the loving thing to do is, and how Christian principles apply.

But at the end of the day, it reflects the underlying issue of power that came up earlier when heterosexual men have this conversation, thinking that we ought to be the ones to judge another’s servant, and decide whether the feelings others have and the choices that others make are acceptable to God, even though they can clearly justify them with arguments based on the Bible – whether or not we find them persuasive. The slaveowners were often not best poised to evaluate the matter of abolition fairly, and men in positions of power were likewise not always open to reconsidering the questions related to women in leadership.

If you are still struggling with your own sinful tendencies – wheth to fail to empathize, to judge others, or to use things like biblical inerrancy to defend institutional evils as others have done in the past – I suppose the appropriate thing to say in conclusion is that you are loved despite these sins, and that you are invited to repent and to join together with Christians who are seeking – even though we fail often – to follow Jesus, including in his approach to Scripture, which was diametrically opposed to inerrantism, and instead touched the unclean and healed the historic enemy, and gave both a place at the table literally and metaphorically.

Inerrancy is only ever used to defend sin

 

John Corvino on Homosexuality and the Bible

HT Hemant Mehta. If you find those videos of interest, you may also be interested in some of Corvino’s other videos, and his recent book, What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? (Philosophy in Action). Corvino is a philosophy professor at Wayne State University.

John Byron on the Centurion’s Slave and Homosexuality in the New Testament

John Byron has offered a great response on his blog to my post about the New Testament’s relative lack of interest in the topic of homosexuality. He agrees with me on the point that at times it is appropriate to view a matter differently than New Testament authors did. And he makes the point that an argument from silence is unworkable. Even though most will understand that my argument from Jesus’ silence was aimed primarily at poking fun at those who claim to be his followers and yet seem to never share his silence on his topic, John’s point is an important one to take to heart if it is not to be misunderstood. And I agree with him that the possibility of a sexual relationship between the centurion and his servant is just that, a possibility, not something that is certain.

Click through to read John’s post, and let me know what you think of it!

The New Testament: Uninterested in Homosexuality?

I have found myself blogging on the topic of same-sex marriage and related subjects a lot lately. Perhaps I should try to take a more Biblical approach to the matter in the future – in other words, not talk about it much, if at all. :-)

But perhaps I can use this opportunity to share one more thought on the subject. Among the Greeks and Romans, same-sex relationships between men were common, so much so that the entire Greek culture has been described as “bisexual,” while authors like Plato looked down upon “barbarians” who did not appreciate such relationships the way the Greeks did.

The question that does not get asked often enough is, if Paul, for instance, really had strong views on this subject, then why in his letters do we not have clear references, ones that actually use the unambiguous terminology current in the Greek language?

I also need to add an apology. I was, in a comment on John Byron’s blog, dismissive of a claim made in a recent article at The Huffington Post, which suggested that the Centurion’s “servant” (Matthew 8:6) was in fact his “lover” because that is what pais meant in ancient Greek. It turns out, according to Dover’s classic study, Greek Homosexuality, that the term pais was indeed widely used for the younger, passive partner in a same-sex relationship. Hopefully that will teach me to pronounce so quickly on a matter without looking into it adequately.

At any rate, the point is this: If Jesus cared about whether people were engaged in such activities, given how common they were among Greeks and Romans, he really missed a good opportunity to ask, and potentially offer a rebuke. I wonder how those who think the answer to “WWJD?” is “condemn homosexuals” will explain the fact that Jesus did not even bother to ask or address the issue, apparently missing an opportunity that his conservative followers today would not have passed up.

So too Paul. In his letters, he wrote to Gentile churches where it would be safe to assume that such relationships were a common part of their collective cultural experience and for many their personal experience, as part of a widely-accepted norm. Is it not to be expected that he would address this topic frequently and unambiguously if it were important to him? Are we really to believe that, in the time period that Paul interacted with Christians in Corinth, someone marrying his stepmother came up, but someone engaging in a same-sex relationship of a much more common sort never did? It is possible, to be sure – but is it likely? One could assume that Paul had “pray away the gay” sessions every time he planted a church among Gentiles, and thus he assumed that he had no need to mention the topic ever again. But is that a safe assumption?

And if Paul was genuinely concerned about the issue, why did he eschew all the terminology familiar to Greek speakers to denote those involved in such relationships in the various forms that they existed in ancient Greek culture? Why, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, did he choose a term that did not have a clear meaning, if he was referring to something familiar and about which clarity was possible?

This is not to say that Paul did not have a viewpoint on the subject. In the first chapter of Romans, perhaps the only unambiguous reference to same-sex relationships in the New Testament, it becomes clear that Paul assumed, as did many of his contemporaries, that there was something “unnatural” and “shameful” in at least certain same-sex relations. But what made them seem “unnatural” and “shameful” in that cultural context was the fact that men and women were assumed to be inherently different in status, one superior and one inferior, one by nature active and one by nature passive. For a man or a woman to transgress this supposedly natural gender role was considered unnatural and shameful. But we who do not share these assumptions about men and women cannot simply accept a view of same-sex relations built upon those assumptions.

Same-sex relationships in ancient Hellenistic society often involved a teacher and pupil or some other distance of status and power. They were not viewed as mutually exclusive to marrying someone of the opposite sex in order to produce legitimate heirs. And so they may have objected to them not least because they viewed them merely as forms of fornication and adultery. Their comments on same-sex relations in their time are not about the forms of relationships we are talking about in our time, any more than the Bible’s discussions of marriage envisage precisely the institution most of us are familiar with.

Be that as it may, it remains noteworthy that the one place where Paul seems to be explicitly referring to same-sex sexual relations, he brings it up in the service of luring conservative Jewish Christian readers into condemning such stereotypical Gentile practices, so that he can then turn their accusing fingers back on them. And so even if one were to conclude that Paul would have condemned today’s gays and lesbians, it would still remain the case that the conservative Christians of our time who read Romans have, for the most part, missed its point entirely.

That Paul and other NT authors say little about the subject in a world where it was more taken for granted than it is in our time tells us a great deal. This simply was not as important an issue for the NT authors as it is for contemporary conservative Christians. And in those few places where the subject seems to come up, what is said and what is not said both serve to remind us that the sorts of relationships that are in view are not those being discussed by advocates of same-sex marriage today.

And so perhaps the important question to be asked, which often fails to be asked explicitly, much less answered, is this: Given how little the Bible has to say about same-sex relationships of any sort, why is so much attention given to the issue by contemporary conservative Christians?

I think the answer, if I had to venture a guess, is this: Focusing on condemning gays and lesbians is just one more form of today’s conservative Christians condemning what seem like easy targets, so that they can persuade themselves that they are doing the Lord’s will and fighting evil, even though for the most part, they have little to say about and do little to address the most pernicious forms of evil and injustice in our time, subjects about which the Bible has much more to say, and much more explicitly and directly.

And so the heart of the matter, from a Christian and Biblical perspective, seems to be this: Today’s conservative Christians condemn and persecute gays and lesbians to make themselves feel better about their own serious shortcomings, leading to a self-righteousness that is thoroughly unbiblical, and according to the clearest New Testament passage mentioning homosexuality, in heaping such condemnation on gays and lesbians, they are really condemning themselves.

Homosexuality and Sin Flow Chart

This came my way on Facebook. While some of it is simplistic, I don't expect otherwise from a flow chart on Facebook. The notion of “civilized society” is also extremely problematic. But even so, it does seem to helpfully draw attention to the assumptions many bring to discussions of this topic. And I wanted to share it here because it reflects arguments which are in danger of being perceived as anti-Christian, when in fact they have been pioneered by liberal and progressive Christians.

Thoughts?

 

Chick-fil-A Coupon: Trade Your Homosexuality for a Chicken Sandwich

I thought for sure that there must be some good bits of humor out there related to Chick-fil-A (sorry, I meant “chicken restaurant that must not be named”), given the current controversies. But the web’s offerings were surprisingly few – barely an extra-small fries’ worth. But then I found the coupon below on a site called “Chick-fil-A Foundation”, which I think is actually from months ago, which seems like it is worth circulating now:

There is also another coupon on the site offering a free sandwich to traditional couples.

I think that satire is likely to be a more effective weapon in the controversy over Dan Cathy’s views and donations, and the broader social and cultural issue of gays and lesbians having the right to marry, than protests and boycotts.

And so where are the satirists? What are they working on, to bring painfully sharp witted insights to bear on this matter? Anyone come across any satirical treatments of this topic that are worth sharing? And what do others think? Is the struggle to change public opinion as well as legislation best waged through protests and boycotts, or satire, or some other means?

 

Gene Robinson on the Bible and Homosexuality

The Lead shared links to the first two pieces in a new series that Gene Robinson is writing for The Washington Post on homosexuality and the Bible. The first is essentially about hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation. The second focuses on Leviticus.

Two Friars, a Fool, and Homosexuality

I previously shared links to resources related to the Bible, homosexuality, and the ordination of gays and lesbians which have been made available on the blog Two Friars and a Fool.

Today, the blog features a detailed response to some criticisms of those resources which were offered by Rev. Tom Hobson.

The Bible and Homosexuality: Resources for Sunday School discussion

My Sunday school class has been discussing the topic of homosexuality, and we’ve reached the point where we are ready to take a close look at the New Testament passages that are potentially relevant to the topic. I’ve blogged about this subject here before, but want to offer links to web resources which reflect differing views, which can provide basis for discussion in the class.

There are several sites that seek to provide more than one viewpoint:
Homosexuality and the Bible – a dialogue between Walter Wink and Ulrich Mauser
Bridges Across the Divide (an American Baptist conversation)
Loren L. Johns, “Homosexuality in the Bible”
Religious Tolerance
BBC News: What does the Bible actually say about being gay?

Resources from Gay and Lesbian Christians and those accepting of them
Jeffrey Siker, “How To Decide? Homosexual Christians, the Bible, and Gentile Inclusion
SoulForce: What the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about homosexuality
Other Sheep: The Bible and Homosexuality
James Allison, “But the Bible Says… – A Catholic Reading of Romans 1
Steve Schuh, “Challenging Conventional Wisdom
The Bible is an Empty Closet
Would Jesus Descriminate?
William O. Walker, “What the New Testament Says about Homosexuality

Resources from those who believe the Bible condemns homosexual practice and should be followed today
Richard B. Hays, “Homosexuality – Rebellion Against God
Thomas R. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality”
Rob Gagnon, “What the Evidence Really Says about Scripture and Homosexual Practice: Five Issues
Catholic Answers on homosexuality
Guenther Haas, “Perspectives on Homosexuality: A Review Article,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45.3 (Sept. 2002): 497-512
An interview with N. T. Wright focused on homosexuality. And here is a video of him talking about the topic:

Other relevant materials:
John Boswell, “The Church and the Homosexual: A Historical Perspective
Two Paths
The West Wing did a dramatization of a famous “Letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger“:

I’ve tried to provide scholarly perspectives where I found them, and beyond that, sources that do not merely restate the text but discuss issues of context, culture, linguistics, and application. Other suggestions for relevant reading are welcome!

Homosexuality and Hinduism in Sunday School Today

Today in my Sunday school class we began our discussion of homosexuality. It immediately took an interesting turn, with one person suggesting that “gay activists” are trying to expose children at a young age to the idea of homosexuality, so that they will treat it as normal. An individual involved in education replied by pointing out that the aim is to have children treat other children in their class who may have gay or lesbian parents as normal rather than with ridicule.

This helpfully led us away from trying to immediately tackle Bible passages that may be related to homosexuality, whether any of them still deserve to be applied, and if so why, and the subject (on which I already know people in the class disagree) about whether homosexuality is a sin. It got the discussion to focus instead on how even Christians who think homosexuality is a sin should view, treat and interact with homosexuals.

I sought to stimulate discussion about this by offering as a parallel the way people in the class might view local Hindus (there is a significant Hindu population in Indianapolis). Hindus break one if not indeed both of the first two of the ten commandments, whereas homosexuality doesn’t even get a mention in that famous list. Yet I was confident that people in that class would not object to their children being taught by a Hindu (unless they were teaching them religion, perhaps), and would most likely be able to establish friendships with them and talk on occasion about topics other than making images of God or monotheism vs. polytheism. And so the challenge was to not be inconsistent by being more tolerant of something that the Bible is less tolerant of, while being less tolerant of something about which the Bible says far less and about which it speaks far less clearly.

We’re going to tackle Leviticus next time. In particular if there are readers whose expertise is in the Hebrew Bible and who have the time (or want a break from grading), I’d welcome input about key terms like to’evah as well as other aspects of the subject.

I’ll just conclude by saying that I continue to be impressed with the capacity of the people in my church to state and discuss their convictions in a way that genuinely listens to what others have to say, and to explore disagreements in a way that facilitates learning rather than simply sparking heated arguments.

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