Selfish Gentiles and ‘Shellfish Objections’: Timothy Dalrymple vs. the Apostle Peter

Who are you going to side with: the Apostle Peter, or Timothy Dalrymple?

You’re going to have to pick one or the other, because Dalrymple, an evangelical blogger here at Patheos, is the latest contemporary American Christian to come out against Peter’s explanation of his own vision from God.

Peter believed that his vision from God was about accepting Gentiles (for starters). Dalrymple says that’s wrong. He says that Peter’s vision was really just about shellfish.

Peter says that God sent him a vision telling him to welcome the outsiders that his Bible told him should be shunned as “unclean.” Dalrymple says, No, God was merely telling him that a narrow portion of dietary Mosaic law was henceforth nonbinding for Christians.

The old Shellfish Objection is easily dispensed for anyone who has actually studied both sides of the issue,” Dalrymple wrote in a recent post.

He doesn’t bother actually dispensing it — he simply asserts that serious, studious people have done so, easily, and that there’s no reason to worry your pretty little heads over it.

Specifically, Dalrymple is objecting to a variation of “the old Shellfish Objection” recently expressed on the TV show Glee. The relevant part of the show was summarized by Stephen Prothero:

Sam (Chord Overstreet) observes that “the Bible says it’s an abomination for a man to lay with another man,” prompting Quinn (Dianna Agron) go ask, “Do you know what else the Bible says is an abomination? Eating lobster, planting different crops in the same field, giving somebody a proud look. Not an abomination? Slavery. Jesus never said anything about gay people. That’s a fact.”

The “Shellfish Objection,” in other words, asks why contemporary American Christians insist that homosexuality is “an abomination,” based on the laws of Moses, but yet they do not regard eating lobster as “an abomination,” even though the same laws of Moses call it exactly that.

And that is what brings us back, yet again, to the book of Acts and the story of Peter’s rooftop vision from God. The contemporary American Christians, like Dalrymple, who don’t regard the Shellfish Objection as worthy of serious consideration point to this passage and say that it explains why eating lobster is not an abomination.

Here, again, is the relevant passage from the New Testament book of Acts:

Timothy Dalrymple went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. Timothy Dalrymple saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Timothy Dalrymple; kill and eat.” But Timothy Dalrymple said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Oh, wait. That’s not what the book of Acts says at all. It says Peter went up on the roof to pray, and that Peter saw the heaven opened, and Peter heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter.”

It was Peter’s vision. It was given to Peter, and Peter was the only one there to see it.

So how did Peter interpret Peter’s vision? At first, he didn’t know what to make of it. But then the Gentiles knocked on his door and suddenly he understood.

And what he understood was that his vision was not about dietary laws regarding “all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.” What Peter understood about Peter’s vision was that it was about Gentiles — about outsiders, about those people whom the laws of Moses said were law-breakers, unclean, an abomination.

Here is what Peter himself said about his own vision:

You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

And then, according to Acts, Peter’s interpretation of Peter’s vision was affirmed as correct by the Holy Spirit:

The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

These people” — these unclean Gentiles who did not live in accord with the laws of Moses — were receiving the “gift of the Holy Spirit” just as the law-abiding Jewish believers were. That, Peter says, is what his vision was all about.

But now that these Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit and been baptized, didn’t that mean it was time for them to repent of their non-kosher, uncircumcised, Sabbath-violating, law-breaking ways? Nope.

Peter’s vision — according to Peter — did not mean that the unclean were to be welcomed provided they were willing to become clean. It meant that Peter was not to regard them as “unclean” at all.

“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us,” Peter says. “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

Nothing there about shellfish. Nothing.

The story of Peter’s vision in Acts 10:1-11:18 cannot be used to “dispense” with the Shellfish Objection. Not according to Peter.

Peter did not say that Peter’s vision was about shellfish. Peter said that Peter’s vision was about people — about the people he believed the Bible told him were “profane or unclean,” about the people of whom he thought the Bible required him to “make a distinction between them and us.”

Can Peter be trusted to understand his own vision? Is Peter’s interpretation of Peter’s vision correct?

Timothy Dalrymple, like Al Mohler, says no.

They say that Peter’s vision is about shellfish. They say — contra Peter — that Peter’s vision explains why it’s OK for Christians not to keep kosher. And unlike Peter, they think Christians are still required to classify others as “profane or unclean” if those others violate the non-dietary parts of biblical law. Unlike Peter, they say it is very, very important to continue to “make a distinction between them and us.”

But despite disagreeing with Peter’s interpretation of Peter’s own vision, “dispensing” the apostle’s words as “the old Shellfish Objection,” Dalrymple and Mohler still want — and need — to cling to a part of what Peter was saying. This is because, like me, they are Gentiles. Like me, they cannot say, “I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”

And that means we are, according to the Bible, “profane and unclean.” Abominable. If God’s people are supposed to “make a distinction between them and us,” then, as Gentiles, we are part of them.

Here is where the studious folks hand-waving away “the old Shellfish Objection” contradict themselves.

On the one hand, they say that Peter’s vision was a limited, lawyerly amendment to biblical law — dealing exclusively with one limited set of “purity law” and declaring one limited set of “abominations” no longer abominable. But on the other hand, these folks, being Gentiles, still have to cling to the broader interpretation of Peter’s vision, because their own standing as Christians depends on it.

That’s a contradiction. Either this vision was just about shellfish, about dietary law — in which case Gentiles like Dalrymple, Mohler and me are in big trouble. Or else this vision is about people — about a commandment from God “not call anyone profane or unclean” and a commandment from God not to “make a distinction between them and us.”

The very best that can be said for folks like Dalrymple and Mohler — Gentiles who use Peter’s vision to dispense with the old Shellfish Objection — is that they’re horrifically selfish. They want Peter’s vision to apply primarily to shellfish, but they’re also relying on it being about people — but only some people, only and exclusively Gentiles.

When Peter said “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” what he really meant to say was much narrower. What Peter really meant to say was “God has shown me that I should not call Gentiles like Al Mohler and Timothy Dalrymple profane or unclean.”

And when Peter said “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us” what he really meant to say was much narrower. What Peter really meant to say was, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between Gentiles like Al Mohler and Timothy Dalrymple and us.”

Peter’s vision was mainly about shellfish, but it can also be used to sneak heterosexual Gentiles in the back door. But only heterosexual Gentiles.

And after we sneak in that back door, we should slam that door behind us and lock it tight to make sure no other kind of profane and unclean outsiders tries getting in. We double-bolt that door so that we’re still able to “make a distinction between them and us.”

That’s clearly what the book of Acts teaches, “for anyone who has actually studied both sides of the issue.” What else could it possibly mean?

 

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

    Indeed. To people like Dalrymple, the Bible is nothing more or less than a collection of proof texts that they can use for the purpose of supporting whatever they have come to believe,  or what suits their purpose. See, for example, the use of Biblical texts to support slavery. They really should change that bumper sticker to “I believe it, I say that the Bible says it, and that settles it.”

  • Mark Z.

    “LOL SHELLFISH” is the cheap, simplistic rebuttal to the even more simplistic idea that a verse in Leviticus establishes once and for all that gay sex is a sin. The rebuttal is “What about the shellfish thing? Or the mixed fabric, or the improper haircuts?”

    “the New Testament addresses the issue in several places and clearly puts sexual morality in a different category from the dietary laws.”

    What the New Testament does NOT do is put sexual morality in a different category from interpersonal morality. Look at that quote in Mark: “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit…” These are actions and attitudes that hurt people.

    But when Christians (or anyone, really) talk about “sexual morality”, they almost always mean something built on a different foundation from just plain “morality”. Christian morality is about being a good neighbor, in the very hard sense that Jesus talked about. “Sexual morality” is a list of things someone else tells you not to do with your genitals: don’t have sex before marriage / outside marriage / with birth control / with someone of the same sex / unless you’re Really Truly In Love / before the third date / at all / on the kitchen table with the lights on and your mom watching.

    There is no such list in the New Testament.* Jesus and the apostles preach against porneia, but they never try to define it, because it can’t be defined, for the same reason Jesus couldn’t give an exact number of times to forgive your neighbor. It has to be discerned.

    * There’s a list in the Mosaic law because it’s a civil code, not a guide to being a good person. Leviticus doesn’t say that male homosexuality is a sin. It says it’s a crime.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    A “fundamentalist” & literal meaning of the Bible tends to mean cherrypicking & ignoring 90% of it.  Otherwise you end up a pacifist protesting capitalism & hanging out with sex workers & tax collectors, & that would be AWFUL.

  • friendly reader

    The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between
    them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the
    man’s house.

    Acts 11:12, New Revised Standard Version, which is one of the most commonly used translations of the Bible.

    Now, I know if you’re a KJV person only that’ll confuse you, since in it the verse reads:

    “And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these
    six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house:”

    The NIV gives it as:

    “The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.”

    The original Greek (apologies to those without the font) is:

    εἶπεν δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα μοι συνελθεῖν αὐτοῖς μηδὲν
    διακρίναντα. ἦλθον δὲ σὺν ἐμοὶ καὶ οἱ ἓξ ἀδελφοὶ οὗτοι καὶ εἰσήλθομεν
    εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ ἀνδρός.

    (with the usual caveat about variances based on typos etc.)
    The word that everyone’s translating different seems to be διακρίναντα, or diakrinanta. But from looking around at various online concordances and even a few scholarly things posted on the web,* it seems that “make a distinction” is likely. διακρίνουν (diakrinoun) means “to distinguish, differentiate.” It also makes sense when you realize it’s related to the English “diacritical.”So why “doubting”? No idea. Back in Shakespeare’s day the word meant the same thing. Perhaps it’s from the manuscripts they were working with?(The formatting you were looking for is

    )*This, for example.

  • Pseudonymous Brave

     The problem (for homophobes) with this is that if the status of shellfish can be decided by a council, then so can the status of homosexuality. So attempting to refute the Shellfish Objection by appealing to the decision of a council invites a counter-reputation of “so why doesn’t the current council-equivalent just revoke the condemnation of homosexuality?” Excusing your behaviour by claiming you’re doing God’s will stops working if said will is actually a law you could change at will.

    All of which rises a question: why is Christianity so obsessed with homosexuality anyway? Even if it was a sin, even if Levictus was taken completely at face value for this one thing only, the level of attention it’s getting is completely out of proportion to either the level of attention it got in Bible or its level of prevalence in modern society. What gives?

  • friendly reader

    Wow, Disqus did a number on my formatting. Sorry if that is awkward to read.

  • http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/friday-fictioneers-lunacy/ esmerelda_ogg, the lurker

    we should slam that door behind us and lock it tight to make sure no
    other kind of profane and unclean outsiders tries getting in.

    Well, Fred, we CERTAINLY shouldn’t welcome the kind of person who would make friends with tax collectors and sinners! (Matthew 11:19 – lookit me, I’m proof texting just like a fundy!)

    (Sorry, don’t have time to read the comments right now, and this may have been said already)

  • Tricksterson

    And Spike was evil up until he got a soul no matter what his fangirls and boys say and that was attempted rape.  Both Whedon and Marstars said so.

  • Tricksterson

    Isn’t that basically what it is for everyone who invests authority in it  The only difference is what spin you place on which texts.

  • Sigaloenta

    one cannot argue that there is an allegory or metaphor
    if the author says there is not… since any such thing would have to be deliberately placed
    there by the author and, as such, if they say it isn’t there, then it
    isn’t.

    Well…no, but there’s a lot more in a text than what was “deliberately placed there by the author.”  They author can “say what is intended” all they want, but often there are many interesting things that exist in texts whether or not the author intended them.  For example, Tolkien did not “intend” for the harrowing of the shire to be an allegory for socialism and the industrialization/destruction of pre-war pastoral England.  Fine.  But clearly there’s something analogous going on, and it seems like special pleading to say that a novel published just after WWII by an Englishman, and by an Englishman, moreover, whose other work and career displays a great concern with Englishness and old English life/culture, isn’t making some comment on some level about English culture and the changes that have been wrought in it, although that is not the primary thing the novel is doing.

    The question, in other words, is never “what the author really meant”, as if it is one message to be discerned out of the text (allegory), but rather what many things the text (the thing that we have) contains, given that texts do not simply appear fully-formed from the genius of an Author, but are created by an individual situated in a society and a cultural matrix, who had read lots of other texts, lived in a literary culture, experienced many things, and who wrote things that inevitably reflect those circumstances.

  • christopher_young

    Peter and Paul and James the Just were living, breathing, intelligent human beings who formed opinions, sometimes disagreed and argued with one another; also they didn’t always convince one another. A couple of hundred years after they were all safely dead, some people who didn’t actually speak the language in which those arguments most likely took place, thought it wise to create to create a canon that included texts reflecting the views of all three. If you don’t like the fact that this leaves the position a bit messy to say the least, you should take it up with Origen. Or possible Athanasius or somebody. Only they’re dead too.

    This sort of thing is surprisingly high on the list of reasons I am not a Christian.

  • http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/friday-fictioneers-lunacy/ esmerelda_ogg, the lurker

     @christopher_young:disqus  – “This sort of thing is surprisingly high on the list of reasons I am not a Christian” 

    Um, why? (I mean this seriously and politely.) If I’m reading you correctly, it bothers you that the canon is honest enough to let us see that the early leaders disagreed among themselves. To me, this makes them believable human beings instead of the robots that the fundamentalists imagine. And you don’t seem to find it objectionable that they saw things differently, as intelligent people often do. So why would it be a strike against Christianity that the people who were around at its beginnings were intelligent and opinionated, and the people a little later thought the views of the founding generation should be respectfully preserved?

  • congyoglas

    EO: I am not CY (and shouldn’t speak for him), but I can offer my opinions on that subject: 

    One would think a genuine, divinely inspired religion would have clear, unambiguous texts with unmistakable meaning, and that the people near to that divinely inspired fellow would have some unity.[1] But if it’s people all the way down, who know no more than I do, the evidence that Christianity is an Iron Age Jewish heresy that happened to get backing by the foundational early Western European state gets a big notch on its belt. 

    Not my personal reason for atheism, but one I can understand. 

    [1] Timothy Dalrymple hates gays, so he interprets the Bible in favor of homophobia. Fred and folks here aren’t hateful bigots (and good for them!), so they interpret the Bible against homophobic bigotry. And in two centuries or so, whatever new Christian social movements have arisen will discover that the Bible, surprise surprise, has been endorsing what they believe all along. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    All of which rises a question: why is Christianity so obsessed with homosexuality anyway? Even if it was a sin, even if Levictus was taken completely at face value for this one thing only, the level of attention it’s getting is completely out of proportion to either the level of attention it got in Bible or its level of prevalence in modern society. What gives?

    One of the most common explanations (and it’s not uniquely a Christian problem) goes like this: we have a tendency to create scapegoats or “others” who we can separate from “us” and project blame on for all manner of ills. There’s some sort of sociological/psychological benefit from marginalising a group of people. It helps if that group is a minority, and ideally one that members of the majority will not have to fear becoming part of.

    Put simply: if I want to find a group to marginalise and demonise, a group of people who behave in some way that I have no inclination to copy is a great target. Whether it’s that I have no inclination to have sex with someone of my sex, or cut off my foreskin, or eat a particular type of food–all good targets.

    It’s much, much harder (speaking from personal experience) to maintain a sense of separation and superiority from people who are greedy, self-centred, nasty jerks because too often I’m one of them.

  • christopher_young

     If it was simply that the people a little later thought the views of the founding generation should be respectfully preserved, I would be cheering them on, even though I might still not be convinced.

    But having made the decision to preserve the debates of the founders of their faith, all subsequent generations have then devoted enormous energies to trying to create a monolithic dogma out of their sacred texts, in spite of the fact that the evidence of those texts is that it can’t be done. And they have fetishised intolerance for differing opinions within their faith, often to the extent of active persecution, in spite of the fact that differing opinions are baked into the foundational documents of that faith. I can’t be doing with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Congratulations to The Kid!

    Is it possible that the grumpiness arises not just from being tired (as good a reason as that is) and not just because of  “tired of trying to deal with stupid, obnoxious people forcing their interpretation of the plain sense of Scripture (uh huh) on the rest of us, or their religious morality on the state” (as good a reason as that is), but maybe a tiny bit because you have been faced with indisputable proof that The Kid is growing up? If so, I’ve been there.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I wish I could give you 10 likes for that post.

    This is one area where I was very, very lucky in college – my lit professors were very big on the idea of the death of the author *but* – they did so while accepting that that very much meant our interpretations were as valid as their own, meaning if we went off the expected rails we could actually come up with some very, very interesting discussions.

    The one I most remember was when we’d read a romantic (era) poem written from the perspective of a black child.  (I’ve forgotten the name and most of the poem sadly, which is unfortunate but understandable given how crazy busy I was at the time.)

    We all agreed that the poem was remarkably progressive for the time, but we got hung up on the line “oh but my soul is white” because there were a lot of ways to look at it.

    The professor said it showed the latent racism of the author because while he was (we think) advocating equality,  he lived in a time when slavery was still the norm.

    The rest of the class pretty much unanimously had taken the line to be more of a way of saying “we’re all the same underneath the skin”.  It felt like that jibed better with the rest of the poem.

    Now that I’m older, from what I remember I’m actually of the mind that it was probably both… that the imagery in question is pretty cringe-worthy today, but that the goal was very progressive and worthy.

    /ramble ramble ramble

  • Mary Kaye

    Fred’s written a lot about why homosexuality has recently been exalted to the most important sin in (some flavors of) Christianity, but I’m thinking there’s one reason he didn’t list.  I’ve been reading a lot lately about “courtship”, the set of rules some flavors of Christians are trying to impose on their young people in place of dating.  It seems to me that courtship (and the restrictions on male/female contact that go with it) are all about a HUGE fear of sexuality and a HUGE need to control it.

    So imagine this.  You are terrified of sexuality and go to enormous lengths to block sexual attraction and affection among your young people.  (A lot of what’s written about “courtship” involves women, and some men as well, mourning that they were never allowed to have opposite-sex friends and now they don’t know how or are too afraid to do so.)  But then it turns out that this isn’t *enough*.  Even if you never let your son/daughter be around a member of the opposite sex unsupervised–even if you kill all changes at opposite-sex friendship and ordinary social behavior–they might *still* have sex, and a particularly forbidden kind at that.  You can’t even be sure they won’t have sexual feelings if you lock them in a bloody monastery/nunnery.  It’s the ultimate failure of control.

    I think we heard the same reasoning a lot in the debate over women and gays in the military.  Soldiers can’t have sex!  If there were women, they might have sex!  If there were gays, they might have sex!  We couldn’t control it!

    Now, why controlling young peoples’ sexuality is the most important thing in the world, I have no idea.  But that’s the picture I’m beginning to get.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

     I believe it’s Fred who said it; but… it’s because it’s a sin most people aren’t tempted to.  That is, if you’re a pastor, and your method of getting paid and beautifying your work space relies on the generosity of the people you’re preaching to – then it’s probably wise (from a monetary perspective) not to poke them on things they actually do.

    IE: Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Pride

    All those are easy traps for anyone, if you hammer on them, you’re very likely to offend part of your audience.  ESPECIALLY in the culture we live in where for a lot of folks Greed is Good.

    Homosexuality though is common enough to make certain people uncomfortable, but LGBT people are few and thus don’t have a lot of direct political power, nor are they anywhere close to the majority in your church.

    It’s also “icky”, and it’s easy to rally people against something they aren’t interested in and find icky.

    Finally – it’s reactionary.  Society is changing, and that change scares the crap out of some people – the more afraid they are the more they need to kick and scream about it because they know they’re absolutely impotent to actually change it.

    That’s one of the reasons I can always comfort myself by taking the long view:  Social progress is largely one-way, once something becomes broadly acceptable, it’s rare for it to become UNacceptable again so long as that thing is genuinely harmless.

    So yeah in short it’s panic coupled with an easy target.

  • AndrewSshi

    All of which rises a question: why is Christianity so obsessed with homosexuality anyway?

    Well, sometimes it is, as Fred says, simple bigotry.  But I know quite a few thoughtful evangelicals who’ve wrestled with this issue not because they’re looking for a peg on which to hang their bigotry, but because the wrongness of gay sex seems to be fairly well established in Romans 1, when the Apostle Paul lays out what Roman Catholics call Natural Law.  And it’s Romans 1 that’s a bigger problem for folks dealing with scripture and gayness than the prohibitions in Leviticus.  It’s especially a big deal with respect to salvation:  It’s the first chapters of Romans, after all, where Paul lays out that everyone is guilty of sin and that it’s because of this universal guilt that people need Christ’s sacrifice.

    I wish that more folks taking the argument that gay sex qua gay sex isn’t a sin would address Romans 1:26-7 rather than the more easily knocked down arguments such as the one Fred addresses here.

    (Although why the absolutists on Romans 1:26-7 are often remarkably flexible on Matthew 5:31-2, well, I leave that as an exercise to the reader…)

  • P J Evans

     I think it’s been argued over pretty thoroughly here in the past.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    “I’m basically just as good as you are” and “You’re basically just as good as I am” don’t actually express the same thought. The former implicitly asserts that you are the norm to which I aspire; the latter reverses that assertion. If I make one of those claims in a culture where you are generally understood to be the norm, and it is heard in a culture that lacks that understanding (or where challenging it is mroe commonplace), the question of what exactly I’m saying is bound to be confusing. Especially if the listener consults their intuitions about my meaning without considering the difference in our contexts.

  • AnonymousSam

     Times like this make me very glad that I don’t particularly care which side of the self-contradicting mouldering old tome supports. Some rights are just inalienable, and if God himself wants to tell me that it’s wrong, I’ll be happy to tell him which parts of Creation to shove sideways up his divine behind.

  • guest

    Even rereading my own fiction, I know what my intention was but am occasionally astonished by what I find in my stories that I never deliberately or explicitly put into them.

  • Lori

    I wish that more folks taking the argument that gay sex qua gay sex
    isn’t a sin would address Romans 1:26-7 rather than the more easily
    knocked down arguments such as the one Fred addresses here. 

    That discussion basically comes down to 2 things. The first is the actual activity being condemned. As with the whole discussion about what “fornication” is, that’s not as obvious as many people want to claim that it is.  The second is that Paul (or whichever of the Not Paul’s) could be more than a bit of a prat and that it makes no sense to bind his homophobia on other people.

  • Erista

    For me, Romans 1:26-7 is actually really easy, although you’ll need to back it up to make it Romans 1:18-27 to see my point.

    First, a little background. Do you remember in Genesis 20:17, where the bible states that God had closed the wombs of the women in King Abimelech’s household because he had (unwittingly) taken Abraham’s wife? If not, go give it a quick read. Now, do you think that this passage is saying that being barren is a sin, and that people should choose not to be barren? Does it indicate that barren people must do whatever it takes to become not barren, or that barren people should be barred from marriage? Is it a kind of mandate for things like in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination? Does it mean that people are sinning when they do things to make themselves temporarily or permanently unable to have children (birth control, abstinence, etc)? No. The women in this chapter started out fertile and then were made infertile by God through no fault of their own, and they were blameless in their condition. Other women (including modern women) might be born infertile or become infertile for reasons completely unrelated to King Abimelech’s actions.

    Romans 1:18-27 is exactly like that. In Romans 1:18-27 you have a bunch of people who were naturally straight, but they were not worshiping God as they should, so God changed their desires to something that was unnatural for them, causing them to unnaturally lust after people of the same sex. It was a curse that God laid upon them, changing their inborn nature so as to punish them, and such a curse would be very traumatic (can you imagine being married to someone you love, only to have your attraction flipped so that your loved one is now of a sex that you are not attracted to?). It no more indicates that being born homosexual is wrong than Genesis 20:17 indicates that being born barren is wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

     Hamlet didn’t have an Oedipus complex because they don’t exist and so
    Shakespeare could hardly have written about them unless he independently
    arrived at the same idea. Maybe reading it changes how you think about
    family relations, that’s fine, but you don’t get to say that Hamlet has a
    psychological condition that doesn’t exist and which no one even
    thought could exist at the time.

    The Oedipus Complex doesn’t exist? Then how do you explain George W. Bush and Mitt Romney?

  • Lori

     

    Romans 1:18-27 is exactly like that.  

    Those verses don’t say that God made their desires change, it says that God “gave them over to” their desires and that this action was the result of their denial of God. So no, that’s not exactly the same as God making women infertile as the result of their husband’s behavior.

  • Erista

    God didn’t “give them over to their desires,” God gave them over to unnatural desires. 

    And God “giving someone over” to unnatural desires seems to me to be a pretty clear indicator that God changed those desires. First they were heterosexual, then they were given over to homosexuality that was unnatural to them.

    And yes, giving over was a result of their denial of God, just like the barrenness of those women was a result of the King taking Abraham’s wife. It’s a curse.

  • http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/friday-fictioneers-lunacy/ esmerelda_ogg, the lurker

     Christopher Young -

    Okay, I think I get it now. Your problem isn’t that the canon contains differences of opinion but that over the centuries Christians have fallen embarrassingly short of the ideals we claim to believe in, right? And you have a very good point. It’s not one that convinces me personally that the whole religion is wrong, but I’ll agree that we do a terrible job of living up to it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    All of which rises a question: why is Christianity so obsessed with
    homosexuality anyway? Even if it was a sin, even if Levictus was taken
    completely at face value for this one thing only, the level of attention
    it’s getting is completely out of proportion to either the level of
    attention it got in Bible or its level of prevalence in modern society.
    What gives?

    It’s helpful to understand that our modern understanding of sexual orientations and sexual identities is itself a very modern thing. Things which get the “As far as I know, this did not exist when I was a kid” bump are always prime candidates for decrying as an abomination, like that new rock and role noise and comic books.  This may be why they spend so much effort on “protecting” children from even knowing that homosexuality exists, so that they can preserve that whole ‘This didn’t exist when I was a kid’ thing for the next generation.

  • http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/friday-fictioneers-lunacy/ esmerelda_ogg, the lurker

     congyoglas – With respect, I guess you and I have different expectations of what God would do in a genuine religion. I’d say that “the people near to that divinely inspired fellow” were united on what they seem to have considered key points – Jesus was crucified and rose to life again, and Jesus was the Messiah, and what God offers to us and expects of us is, above all else, love.* Where the founding generation disagreed and argued was on various implications of how they should think and act, given the key beliefs they agreed on. To me, this isn’t a deal-breaker; it suggests that God allows, and expects, us to use our own intelligence instead of wanting us to be holy sock puppets.

    YMMV.

    *(And as CY explained, we have done a spectacularly lousy job over the centuries in acting from love.)

  • Lori

    God didn’t “give them over to their desires,” God gave them over to unnatural desires.   

    ” Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves”

    That’s the New Revised Standard, which I understand is a pretty reliable translation.  Other translations I’ve seen give the sense that the desires are “unnatural” in general, not merely for the specific people being discussed.

    And of course that’s another problem. In the story King Abimelech’s household that’s a defined group of women. The passage in Romans is talking about all people who deny the (supposedly) obvious truth about God. That group is A) much less clearly defined and B) would be much, much larger than the women of  King Abimelech’s household. Since I don’t recall ever reading about any time when 90% of heathens suddenly went gay I’m not seeing how the two situations can be exactly the same.

    And God “giving someone over” to unnatural desires seems to me to be a pretty clear indicator that God changed those desires.  

    And here we have a perfect example of why “the plain meaning of the Bible” is never, ever plain. I think those are clearly different things. It seems to me that giving someone over to something is more akin to saying, “Fine, be that way. Do what you’re going to do.”  That doesn’t mean that I’m making them do it, it means that I’m washing my hands of it and what happens as a result it on them.

  • Lori

     

    Your problem isn’t that the canon contains differences of opinion but
    that over the centuries Christians have fallen embarrassingly short of
    the ideals we claim to believe in, right? 

    I can’t speak for Christopher, but for me the issue goes well beyond people failing to live up their claimed ideals. The issue is also that the claimed ideals themselves are, to a large extent, manufactured out of whole cloth. The original documents show significant disagreement even among the earliest, and supposedly most knowledgeable, Christians. Instead of acknowledging those disagreements people have tried to paper over them and say that the Bible is without contradictions. From there they moved on to saying that everyone needs to understand the allegedly conflict free text in the same way and fall in line with it. Oddly (not), the supposedly conflict free, “just do it” plain meaning always seems to favor the powerful over the powerless.

    My reaction to all of that is basically, “Shine that on”.

    Related: Bible Quiz Show, contradictions edition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB3g6mXLEKk

  • Lunch Meat

    Here is the short version of my response to the verses relating to homosexuality in the New Testament:

    Romans 1:18-32 describes a very clear process. First, “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Then “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” At the same time, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” This is a cause/effect thing. First, they stopped worshiping God; as a consequence, they were “inflamed with lust for one another.” As a contrast, many of the queer people I know grew up Christian. They believed in God and worshiped God and prayed to God. Yet, from a very early age they knew they were attracted to people of the same gender. If they were raised in a church who taught that was wrong, they continued believing in God and repenting and praying to God to change them, and they didn’t change. In addition, they are certainly not “filled with every kind of wickedness.” They have almost nothing in common with the people described in Romans 1, therefore I have to conclude that that’s not who Paul was talking about.

    Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul says that “malakoi and arsenokoitai” (the two words commonly translated “homosexuals”) will not inherit the kingdom of God, and adds “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This, combined with the fact that Paul (in his extant letters) never has to remind any new Christians that they have to stop being gay–while he does have to remind them to stop committing adultery, stop quarreling, stop being proud, and stop judging–implies to me that the malakoi and arsenokoitai did not have any problem stopping what they were doing when they became Christians. It was self-evident that they should change and they didn’t have trouble doing that, at least not enough trouble for Paul to address. Again, that doesn’t match the queer people I know. They do not find it easy to change, even after years of effort and prayers and therapy. Again I have to conclude that the people Paul was talking about are not the queer people that I know.

  • ReverendRef

     Is it possible that the grumpiness arises . . . a tiny bit because you have been faced with indisputable proof that The Kid is growing up?

    Oh, I suppose it could.  Although we’ve been pretty good about intentionally preparing all of us for that event (sometimes better than others).  But rather than proof that she’s growing up, it might be more from all of the End Time events surrounding the growing up. 

    So, to tie that back to the original purposes of Fred’s postings (and hopefully avoiding the charge of hijacking the thread), The Kid experiences an Event of her own, being whisked away from her parents, leaving us — dum da dum dum — Left Behind.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Any religion that boils down to, “we get to eat shellfish now — oh, but we still get to treat other people like crap,” is one crappy religion.

    “Gee golly whiz, I sure do wish I could treat people like people, but this here book tells me I need to oppress certain people for being women/non-white/non-straight/non-rich.” How convenient that your book conforms to most of the same prejudices most people have had throughout time and space, even among people who had never heard of that book. 

    There are lots of people who look at the exact same book and say, “this here book tells me everyone is equal.” So who to believe? Well, you have a choice: on the one hand, a religion that tells you you get to eat shellfish and oppress people. On the other, a religion that says you get to eat shellfish but that you do not get to oppress anyone. And, of course, you could throw out the book entirely.

    The choice isn’t about the book. It’s about what kind of person you are. You can use the Bible to justify anything — what are you trying to justify?

  • Blaine Stum

    Great post Fred! I’m always a little shocked by the interpretation of Peter’s vision by people like Mohler et al. Given what Peter says himself and context the vision takes place in Acts, I find it hard to see how they can argue that the vision *doesn’t* apply to people. 

    I saw someone asking why Christians focus so much on homosexuality. I think there are a lot of explanations for that. As someone else posted, there is the “scapegoat” factor at play. Many times, groups will look for something (or someone) to blame their ills on (or the ills of society). It’s a way to remove personal responsibility and can be used to unite sometimes disparate factions against a common enemy.

    I’m not sure if this was mentioned earlier in relation to the question above, but one of the reasons (at least from a Conservative/Evangelical view; having grown up as one) homosexuality and other forms of “sexual sin” receive such intense focus is because the sexual undertones of the fall of Adam and Eve. Conservatives and Evangelicals tend to focus quite intently on the passage describing how they found themselves naked after eating the fruit and were “ashamed” and found stuff to cover themselves. The equating of sexuality (even knowing of it) and shame and degradation is strong from the get-go in more Evangelical circles with that reading of the creation and fall narrative.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s also “icky”, and it’s easy to rally people against something they aren’t interested in and find icky.

    Point of correction: it’s “icky” to some people. Plenty of straight people feel no sense of disgust at the idea of same-sex sex; it’s just something we have no inclination to engage in.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

     Well right, I could have worded that more artfully I guess.

    My point was that the target audience most probably DOES have the ‘ick’ reaction; and that’s a feature, not a bug.  That’s what I was getting at.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Also, even those who don’t have the ‘ick’ reaction could be led to believe that their disinclination is equivalent to ‘ick’ and because society normalizes their heterosexuality anyway, they could be led to believe that it is fine to hold QUILTBAG people in secondary status because they’re different and ‘weird’ for not following the norm.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

     This as well.

    I guess a simpler summation of my post is just:

    “They do it because it’s easy, and pisses off people they like pissing off, as opposed to people who pay their salaries.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s OK, I know what you were getting at. Just wanted to make sure anyone who thinks otherwise is made aware that revulsion is far from the default response.

    Martha Nussbaum, among others, has done some interesting work on “disgust-based morality” and how the politics of disgust has been historically used to marginalise a whole range of groups in society. There’s considerable evidence that much of what we find “innately icky” is socially conditioned. So it’s less that people find same-sex sex disgusting and therefore oppress gay people, and more that we say that same-sex sex is disgusting as part of our marginalisation of gay people.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Well, sometimes it is, as Fred says, simple bigotry. But I know quite a few thoughtful evangelicals who’ve wrestled with this issue not because they’re looking for a peg on which to hang their bigotry, but because the wrongness of gay sex seems to be fairly well established in Romans 1, when the Apostle Paul lays out what Roman Catholics call Natural Law.

    I’d expect a thoughtful, loving evangelical who could not in good conscience agree that there is nothing sinful about gay sex  to be full of compassion for the incredibly difficult situation this theology puts gay people in; to share in the solidarity of suffering. When you stand in a position of solidarity with someone you don’t mock them, demonise them, diminish their pain or remain silent while other people do these things. The large majority of people I’ve heard speak against equal rights regardless of sexuality don’t look like this. So I have to conclude that they are not thoughtful, loving Christians who have genuinely wrestled with this issue only to reach a scriptural impasse.

    I’m sure there are some people like this, but they’re a minority.

    And I think that those folks (the folks who’ve sincerely come by such a position) ought to be reasoned with on why the point of the act isn’t the set of genitals that’s involved, but rather how we treat people.

    Agreed.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I can vouch for the ‘innate ick could be social conditioning’ from personal experience.   I won’t elaborate unless asked because I tend to ramble about myself too much (x.x) Suffice to say, I believe I understand quite well how people end up like Ted Haggard did.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Warning: graphic discussion of sex and abuse below

    On Romans and homosexuality:

    I recently purchased a book called “Paul among the people” by Sarah Ruden. She examines Paul’s writings in the context of contemporaneous Greco-Roman literature (Paul’s hometown Tarsus had been occupied for 3 centuries before his birth, and he was well-acquainted with the cultures).

    There’s a whole chapter on Paul’s writings that refer to homosexuality, which I obviously can’t do justice to here. In brief, though, Ruden quite vividly makes the point that “homosexual culture” of the time was not remotely comparable to our understanding now–that it was bound up in abuse and degradation.

    From the book:

    The Greeks and Romans thought that the active partner in homosexual intercourse used, humiliated, and physically and morally damaged the passive one…There were no gay househlds; there were in fact no gay institutions or gay culture at all, in the sense if times or places in which it was mutually safe for men to have anal sex with one another.

    The only satisfying use of an adult passive homosexual was alleged to be oral or anal rape–the satisfaction needed to be violent, not erotic. Greek and Roman men, in public, would threaten bitter male enemies with rape.

    The active partner had no comeback from his callous and selfish behavior. There were no derogatory names for him. Except for some restraint to avoid conflict within his actual household, he positively strutted between his wife, his girlfriends, female slaves and prostitutes, and males…In fact, society pressured a man into sexual brutality toward other males. To keep it unmistakeable that he had no sympathy with passive homosexuals, he would tout his attacks on vulnerable young males.

    The Greeks and Romans even held homosexual rape to be divinely sanctioned. There was an idol of sexual aggression, Priapus, the scarecrow with a huge phallus who was said to rape intruders, lawfully policing gardens though sexual threat, pain and humiliation.

    Do I, like Paul, condemn a culture of rape, degradation and use of other people to assert your own power as incompatible with life in Christ? Absolutely. But it doesn’t remotely resemble the lives of my gay friends today. It stretches my credulity too far to believe that what God hates is not abuse, but loving relationships.

  • AndrewSshi

     

    I’d expect a thoughtful, loving evangelical who could not in good
    conscience agree that there is nothing sinful about gay sex  to be full
    of compassion for the incredibly difficult situation this theology puts
    gay people in; to share in the solidarity of suffering. When you stand
    in a position of solidarity with someone you don’t mock them, demonise
    them, diminish their pain or remain silent while other people do these
    things. The large majority of people I’ve heard speak against equal
    rights regardless of sexuality don’t look like this. So I have to
    conclude that they are not thoughtful, loving Christians who have
    genuinely wrestled with this issue only to reach a scriptural impasse.

    May I please use this quote elsewhere?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    By all means.

    I have Christians friends who don’t share my theological view of sexual morality (which itself has evolved over a number of years). Those I know best, and who in my experience are thoughtful, loving people, I also know have laid awake at night crying over the pain our gay friends experience, and they hate the rhetoric of the “traditional marriage” crowd. People who genuinely wrestle with difficult things usually have some bruises.

    I should note that none of these friends are in the “Bible as the source of all moral thinking” camp, and they remain open to the possibility that their understanding of the theology may be wrong, and may change.

  • AndrewSshi

     Thanks. 

    By all means.

    I have Christians friends who don’t share my theological view of
    sexual morality (which itself has evolved over a number of years). Those
    I know best, and who in my experience are thoughtful, loving people, I
    also know have laid awake at night crying over the pain our gay friends
    experience, and they hate the rhetoric of the “traditional marriage”
    crowd. People who genuinely wrestle with difficult things usually have
    some bruises.

    It’s been about fourteen years now, but I was once having a conversation about gayness (back when I was much, much more of a doctrinaire evangelical) and someone called me out on an anti-gay slur that I used.  Realizing that I was a bigot helped change my mind on a whole lot of things over the next few years.

  • histrogeek

    I always think of this as the “Except them” problem. Paul, Augustine, Luther, among others say, “God has saved us all according to free grace. You didn’t deserve it and I certainly didn’t. But thanks be, we have it. Yay God!”
    (Somewhat later) “I mean except for those (Donatists, Papists, Jews, really annoying people, etc.) obviously. That’s just common sense.”


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