The Bible, Steve Chalke, Wilberforce and ‘The Civil War as a Theological Crisis’

“How has the whole Church found itself believing something about slavery which is so at odds with the Bible?” prominent British evangelical Steve Chalke asks.

Chalke asked that in his essay, “A Matter of Integrity: The Church, sexuality, inclusion and an open conversation.” That’s the essay in which Chalke argues for his fellow Christians to begin recognizing, and celebrating, same-sex marriages. It’s the essay, in other words, that resulted in “prominent British evangelical Steve Chalke” being reclassified by many of his fellow Christians as “controversial post-evangelical Steve Chalke.”

But let’s get back to his question, because it’s an interesting and important one. The whole Christian church has, indeed, come to believe “something about slavery” that is “at odds with the Bible.”

Or, rather, that is “at odds with the Bible” as it is read and cited by most evangelical Christians. Chalke’s whole point in asking this question, and the whole point of his essay, is that this approach to the scripture — treating it as an almanac of clobber texts — inevitably produces a Bible that is at odds with the Bible.

The question of slavery is the key example of this partly because it presents such a stark contrast between what the whole church now believes and teaches — unanimously and unambiguously — and what the text of the Bible manifestly and undeniably says. The question of slavery is also the key example because it was this exact question that created and shaped the approach to reading and interpreting the Bible that evangelical Christians today take for granted.

For a vivid and entertaining consideration of Chalke’s question, see also this fun video from NonStampCollector:

YouTube Preview Image

(There’s a transcript at this link for those who cannot watch video.)

The God-as-Karl Pilkington business goes on just a bit too long there (much like the Karl Pilkington-as-Karl Pilkington business tends to go on just a bit too long), but the video hits on the main salient points raised by Chalke’s question:

1. Slavery is morally abhorrent.

2. Slavery is permitted, condoned and/or commanded by multiple passages of the Bible.

3. Yet slavery is also condemned by the Bible’s repeated condemnations of injustice and oppression.

4. The same Bible that says “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner” also permits the lifelong enslavement of foreigners.

5. The laws of Moses prohibited Israelites from enslaving one another in the way that they were permitted to enslave foreigners and outsiders.

That last point is central to Steve Chalke’s argument, what he refers to as “the nature of inclusion,” a point we’ll return to in a later discussion. Here we’ll just note, again, that this message of ever-expanding inclusion is a central theme of the book of Acts and — as I’ve argued repeatedly — the key given to Peter at Pentecost and again in his rooftop vision. From now on, God told Peter, everybody is an insider. “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” Peter said. So whatever rules there might have been permitting us to treat profane and unclean people differently no longer matter because that category of people is now an empty set.

The question of slavery is inescapable in Steve Chalke’s argument because none of what he is saying is new. We Christians have been over all of this before, in great detail. Every word of Chalke’s essay echoes an argument from an earlier generation, just as every word from his critics also carries such an echo. This is not new.

Chalke acknowledges the existence of the clobber texts and engages them, resolutely going toe-to-toe in an exegetical debate with any who would say that this handful of biblical passages prohibits his conclusion for inclusion. But the real force of Chalke’s argument is not from such narrow exegesis involving such a narrow set of passages. He’s making a bigger, broader argument — that the overwhelming trajectory of scripture demands a hermeneutic of love and inclusion, and that no single verse or collection of single verses can properly be understood as contradicting or constraining  that larger context.

Again, this is not a new argument. Every step of Chalke’s essay, every idea he promotes, is explicitly parallel to similar arguments from the earlier debate over slavery, in which many white evangelicals argued for precisely the approach to the Bible that Chalke advocates.

And they were right. Everyone says so today — the “whole church” is agreed on this point. There may still be some who privately disagree, but the anti-slavery side of the argument prevailed and the question is now regarded as so firmly settled that today few would dare to suggest otherwise in public.

Go back 150 years, though, and it was a different story. In their day, the white evangelicals who argued that the clobber verses could only be properly understood through the lens of a hermeneutic of love were denounced as enemies of the Bible and deniers of the clear authority of scripture. “Inerrancy” hadn’t been invented yet, but the ancestors of the inerrantists of today decried the faithlessness of anyone who suggested that a face-value reading of the clobber texts did not authoritatively settle the matter in defense of slavery.

The arguments of that side — the losing side, the side that everyone today agrees was deeply, repugnantly wrong — can be heard today in the condemnation directed at Steve Chalke and anyone who dares agree with him.

Hearing those echoes sent me to my bookshelf for Mark Noll’s terrific 2006 history, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. (I wrote about that book last fall in a post called “The clobber verses of slavery & the slavery of clobber verses.” An article by Noll based on his chapter on white evangelicals’ biblical arguments can be found here: “The Battle for the Bible.”)

It’s impossible to read that book without an eerie sense of how familiar all the arguments and debates are to the debates that continue even today among white evangelicals. Take for example this statement by a white Baptist from Kentucky:

All that God teaches us in Scripture is right. Christ and his apostles do not indicate at any point that the Old Testament is immoral, and in fact say the opposite. To say otherwise is to indicate that God is not absolutely right, and his word is not trustable.

Is that from 2013 or from 1863? It could easily be from either. White Christians in the American South have been saying this same thing for centuries. That statement — exactly that statement — was how white Christians in the American South turned their defense of slavery into, as Noll writes, “a defense of Scripture itself.”

Here’s more from Noll about the way the defense of slavery became a defense of the Bible in the American South:

The procedure, which by 1860 had been repeated countless times, was uncomplicated. First, open the Scriptures and read, at say Leviticus 25:45, or, even better, at 1 Corinthians 7:20-21. Second, decide for yourself what these passages mean. Don’t wait for a bishop or a king or a president or a meddling Yankee to tell you what the passage means, but decide for yourself. Third, if anyone tries to convince you that you are not interpreting such passages in the natural, commonsensical, ordinary meaning of the words, look hard at what such a one believes with respect to other biblical doctrines. If you find in what he or she says about such doctrines the least hint of unorthodoxy, as inevitably you will, then you may rest assured that you are being asked to give up not only the plain meaning of Scripture, but also the entire trust in the Bible that made the country into such a great Christian civilization.

And here is Steve Chalke covering the exact same ground in his British context:

William Wilberforce and friends were condemned by huge swathes of the Church as they fought for abolition. They were dismissed as liberal and unbiblical for their ‘deliberate abandonment of the authority of Scripture’. But, on the basis of a straightforward biblical exegesis of the Bible’s text, their critics were right.

… How then did Wilberforce and friends reach their conclusions? It was their view of the proper interpretation of Scripture. They saw that the biblical writers did not take blind dictation from God, instead, their personalities, cultural and social understandings all played a part in the formation of their writing. So, rather than basing their approach on isolated proof texts, the abolitionists built their stance around the deeper resonance of the trajectory of Scripture. Their compass for this re-calibration was Jesus who, through his inclusion of both women and various groups of socially unacceptable groups of his day, challenged social norms and perceived orthodoxy.

The Bible does not always speak with one voice. It is a very diverse collection of books, written in many different times and cultures, containing an array of perspectives, not a few tensions, and even some apparent contradictions. Instead of pretending that this diversity does not exist, our task is to do justice to all these components as well as holding them together with a coherent theological approach.

… Through my hermeneutical lens, the Bible is the account of the ancient conversation initiated, inspired and guided by God with and among humanity. It is a conversation where various, sometimes harmonious and sometimes discordant, human voices contribute to the gradually growing picture of the character of Yahweh; fully revealed only in Jesus. But it is also a conversation that, rather than ending with the finalization of the canon, continues beyond it involving all of those who give themselves to Christ’s on-going redemptive movement.

And the response to Chalke, today, is exactly the same as the response Noll described to antislavery Christians in the 1860s.

 

  • fraser

    There’s also Noll’s observation that a number of abolitionists pointed out slavery “sanctioned” in the Bible is not at all race-based, so presumably American slavery could yoke white people too. To which the response was “But black people are inferior and therefore I’m only doing what the Bible tells me, nah-nah-nah, can’t hear you!” Again, familiar.

  • Lunch Meat

    I love it when people’s response to this argument is that slavery in the Bible is totally-not-at-all the same thing as slavery in the US was. Okay, so how do you know that same-sex relationships are exactly the same as they were back then?

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

    Christians today unanimously condemn slavery as a grave moral evil.

    Not when a girl or woman is enslaved to her father or husband. Or to the sperm of any man, if it happens to join with one of her eggs. Or to her own body generally; besides wanting to force women to risk pregnancy, being anti-contraception means being pro-periods from hell. 

    Further, there are still Christians who like to pretend that antebellum U.S. slavery was about happy darkies singing in the fields, and do so loudly. They aren’t really that uncommon. 

    I don’t think Christians today unanimously anything. There are even Christians who don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity, they just like his moral teachings. And then, of course, there are Christians who do believe in Jesus’ divinity, but despise his moral teachings.

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

    The question of slavery is the key example of this partly because it
    presents such a stark contrast between what the whole church now
    believes and teaches — unanimously and unambiguously — and what the text
    of the Bible manifestly and undeniably says.

    I question this assumption. I submit that there is a sizeable percentage if not an outright majority of the American church that has no problem whatsoever with forced labor for prisoners; that has no real objection to illegal immigrants picking their vegetables for subsistence wages; that is considers sweat shop labor in Third World nations to be, on the whole, a moral good; and that believes wholeheartedly that minimum wage laws and, indeed, all worker protection laws are socialist and therefore per se ungodly. Quite honestly, if the social mechanisms that prevent widespread slavery disappeared tomorrow in some sort of LaHaye inspired cataclysm, Christians in the Bible Belt states reinstitute the “peculiar practice” by the end of the month.

  • MaryKaye

    As a non-Christian maybe it’s not my place to intervene in differences within Christianity, but it does seem like “Bible only” branches of Christianity founder on this kind of thing.  Our sense of ourselves is that we have actually improved our morality in the last couple of thousand years; we have a better idea of right and wrong than we did.  If Christianity can’t learn and grow along with human culture, it’s going to end up being an evil influence overall rather than a good one; a shackling to bad aspects of our past.

    Catholicism at least allows the tradition of the Church, which potentially can grow and develop, a footing alongside that of Scripture.  Not that this prevents them from being evilly reactionary in practice, but at least growth is *possible*.

    Why would God stop talking?  Why is this text the last word?  So much energy expended on trying to grow a big healthy plant in a pot that cramps it.  (Not Christianity per se; Biblicism.)

    (Hm.  I may be making an even better case for LDS or Ba’hai than for Catholicism.  Ba’hai in particular rejects the “revelation to end all revelations” model.)

  • J_

    Shorter Fred: It takes Christians herculean intellectual contortion–plus, y’know, the bloodiest land conflict in North American history–to successfully conclude what non-believers know between sips of coffee.

    Fucking bravo, liberal Christians. What a fucking *accomplishment* for you.

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

     Atheism predates abolition, you (probably don’t) know.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    You know, the thing I’ve always loved about J_ is how open he is to other people’s perspectives…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Yes, J, if it weren’t for Christianity, if everyone were purely rational, surely they would have looked at the vast profits to be had from slavery and said “Well, making money hand over fist just doesn’t make good sense.”

  • AnonymousSam

    I was going to say, what about Mormonism? Isn’t the Book of Mormon an indication that God hasn’t stopped talking? What about Islam? It’s not that God stopped talking, the problem is that various churches decided that any future words were to be regarded as heresy, even blasphemy.

  • Damanoid

    I wish I could wholeheartedly believe that this line of argument would provoke more white Christians to reconsider their stance on same-sex marriage, rather than slavery.

  • Jurgan

    Shorter J_: I’m smarter than all you Christians because I don’t believe in a Spaghetti Monster.

  • SisterCoyote

    Oh hey, That Letter Guy is back.

    I continue to be mystified as to how The Gatekeepers can be making the same arguments that every desperate force for inequality and oppression made before them, knowing how every one of those generation-long debates ended, ultimately… and somehow, somehow, not even notice.

    More succinctly, as Jon Stewart put it:

    “From the losing side of history, I’m Pat Robertson.” (At least I think it was Pat Robertson. They all start to run together for me, after a while, which is probably a bad thing.)

  • SisterCoyote

    …the bloodiest land conflict in North American history…

    American history. We have no idea what conflicts happened prior to the European settlements that began the USA, but I’d give even odds modern America didn’t invent war on the North American continent.

  • smrnda

    As others have already pointed out, there are plenty of Christians today who would defend slavery (Doug Wilson comes to mind) and I tend to find that in any issue involving justice for workers, I hear more Christian voices demanding that workers submit than anything else. I mean, when you wrote about the ‘company town’ a while back and how today we *know* it is wrong, but I could find plenty of Christian writers, preachers and pundits who would probably argue that the company town was good and just, and that it was immoral for the government to interfere with that particular business model. In fact, I think the contraceptive debate seems to have triggered a new outpouring among Christians in support of the company town model.

    I can’t figure out what % of Christians believe or promote which view of things, but as an outsider to the faith, it’s seems like promoting slavery as Biblical isn’t even something that relegates a person to fringe status.

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    Observation; In this argument you’ve put forward here and Steve Chalke has put forward there you don’t allow any room for the view that someone might sit down with the bible and take it seriously and try and work out what it’s saying for what it’s saying and come to the conclusion that the overall argument is that slavery is wrong but yet homosexual practice is still sinful. You seem to think that if you accept that bible can be tolerant and accepting of slavery initially only to in the course of time and revelation show it’s evil, you must also accept that the bible is intolerant and un-accepting of homosexual practice initially only to in the course of time and revelation show it’s perfectly okay. I’m not sure one follows the other. In fact, I think, from trying to understand what scripture is saying, that God does seem to hate slavery even if he let’s pass it initially, and yet he decree that any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin, even if he let’s pass other relationships initially.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    and yet he decree that any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin

    Uh… where?

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

    Mark: when you sit down with the text and conclude from it that God decrees that any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin, how much “room” do you think you allow for the view that God does not in fact decree that?

    If someone else sits down with the same text and concludes from it that God takes the same joy in two people having sex in the context of a relationship defined by mutual love and mutual support regardless of their gender and regardless of who else they might be in such a relationship with, do they allow more “room” than that for your view, or less?

  • Foelhe

    I think, from trying to understand what scripture is saying, that God does seem to hate slavery even if he let’s pass it initially

    Let’s take this out of the realm of theory, shall we? I’ve been discussing this very issue with a few people in another thread, and I’ve yet to be convinced that the bible says much against slavery at all. Do you have any actual verses you’d like to share with the class, or is this all gut instinct?

    and yet he decree that any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin

    Again, verses? Any proof to back this up?

  • The_L1985

    Yep, because non-Christian peoples all over the world, throughout human history didn’t own slaves!  Nope, that was just the Christians in America!

    J_, your ignorance of history is showing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobby.herrington.1 Boze Herrington

    The final quote from Chalke is beautiful, and summarizes the debate over scriptural interpretation as well as anything else I’ve seen. This whole post echoes an ongoing argument I’m having with a friend – a retired pastor and leader of one of my Bible studies – who thinks that imagination, art, creativity, are depraved and worthless in the sight of God. Yesterday he pulled out the argument that Lamech, the grandson of Cain, was the father of all who play musical instruments. He can easily frame the Scriptures to fit his interpretation, but I’m having a much harder time supporting my own. (Being a writer and artist, I find these statements very hurtful, as I imagine the rest of his family must, since they are all musicians).

    Sometimes it seems like the people who think humans are bad have a monopoly on interpretation. I see two choices: either I can find verses from the Bible that counter his verses, or I can try to reframe the debate by appealing to the spirit of the text. But it’s hard to get someone to listen when they think what they believe has the authority of Scripture.

  • The_L1985

    “and yet he decree that any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin,”

    Er, no.  No he doesn’t.

    1. Quite a lot of polygamy happens in the Old Testament, yet polygamy as such is never once condemned in the Bible.  David’s sin wasn’t having another wife–it was killing Uriah so that Bathsheba would be available.

    2. There were no single women, as we understand the concept, in the Levitical society.  Girls were betrothed at an early age, often pre-puberty.  Thus, raping an unmarried woman was essentially breaking her vow to marry another man as a virgin.  Consensual sex by two parties who are neither married nor engaged is never once explicitly condemned in the entire Bible, save for prohibitions on prostitution.

    3. The passages which are supposed to condemn homosexual relationships were written in a time when the sort of same-sex romances we have today didn’t exist.  Homosexuality in the ancient Near East was between an adult man and a young male of lower rank (usually only a boy at the time).  The concept of two men or women loving one another as equal partners in a romantic context would have been completely foreign to Paul.

  • Mark

    I’m not quite sure if this is answering your question, but sure, I could be wrong. I’ve given it thought but not as much as it deserves. Sorry, I’m not sure what exactly you’re asking?

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

     I’m asking whether, in your view, the other thinkers on the subject who you feel “don’t allow any room for” your view are giving less room to your view than you give to theirs.

  • Mark

    I could come back with a list of verses at this point, but isn’t the Fred’s argument that throwing out individual verses without working out the whole context and argument of the bible is a bad idea and a poor way of reading scripture? I don’t stand where I do on these issues without reason I think I’ve got from scripture. I could write down a few short essays on why I think the bible says this, working through the scope of scripture, but is that really going to be beneficial to you? My observation was that Fred (and others) weren’t leaving room for the idea that someone could conclude that biblically God calls slavery a sin as well and he also calls homosexual practice a sin.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    To say otherwise is to indicate that God is not absolutely right, and his word is not trustable.

    Yeah, I could never trust someone who isn’t infallible.    (e_e)

  • Foelhe

    I could come back with a list of verses at this point, but isn’t the Fred’s argument that throwing out individual verses without working out the whole context and argument of the bible is a bad idea and a poor way of reading scripture?

    … Dude. What? There’s a lot of ground between “throw one verse out, ignore context” and “summarize entire bible vaguely, imply it agrees with you”. You should quote the parts that you think agree with you, then we’ll look at the context and figure out precisely what they said.

    I could write down a few short essays on why I think the bible says this, working through the scope of scripture, but is that really going to be beneficial to you?

    Of course it’s going to be beneficial. We’re arguing what the bible says, we disagree, so we look at the evidence. This is the backbone of every logical argument throughout the history of time.

  • Gotchaye

     Speaking only for myself, I think it’s obvious that lots of people do sit down and try to take the Bible seriously and conclude that God’s against slavery and homosexuality both.  That’s not really the point.  The point is that these people ought to find this disturbingly convenient.  The fact that arguments against rights for gay people look an awful lot like arguments against rights for black people should give people who accept those arguments pause.  If the method you’re using went horribly, horribly wrong when applied by lots of people in all but ~50 of the last 2000 years, and yet it wasn’t at all obvious to those people that the method had gone wrong, you have to doubt the method.  It’s clearly a serious possibility that you’re likewise getting things badly wrong.  With that kind of track record, I think it’s clear that the best thing to do is just to throw out the method altogether.

    The scientific approach here is to look back and note that nobody would ever really have gone very wrong emphasizing the inclusive bits of the Bible.  That should be kept in mind when, going forward, we encounter apparent tensions between the inclusive and exclusive bits of the Bible.  In light of history, you’ve got to have just an ironclad case to justify exclusion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    “I’d give even odds modern America didn’t invent war on the North American continent.”

    Certainly not, but I think calling the civil war the bloodiest war in North American history is probably pretty accurate. It killed some 640,000 people, a number that would be nearly impossible to kill in a single conflict prior to slavery, simply because the infrastructure didn’t exist prior to the arrival of American slave masters. I think the standard estimate of Native Americans in North American prior to the arrival of Columbus was something like 20 million, spread from Maine to the Yucatan. There just isn’t a high enough concentration of people to have killed more than the Civil War.

  • P J Evans

     On the other hand, I doubt that the pre-invasion inhabitants had wars that covered a large part of the continent and involved a large percentage of the inhabitants of that same area.

  • Patrick

    “The passages which are supposed to condemn homosexual relationships were
    written in a time when the sort of same-sex romances we have today didn’t exist.   Homosexuality in the ancient Near East was between an adult man and a
    young male of lower rank (usually only a boy at the time).  The concept of two men or women loving one another as equal partners in a
    romantic context would have been completely foreign to Paul.”

    When the Bible instructs its followers to engage in campaigns of genocide through murder and rape, it claims that the cultures to be obliterated are populated entirely by wholly evil people who completely deserve to be butchered- from the adult men down to the infants.  This doesn’t mean those societies were ACTUALLY this way.  Its just hate speech.

    So while it may be true that the Bible doesn’t even have a concept of a loving same-sex relationship, and while it may be true that it was written by people who denied the concept of a loving same-sex relationship, that’s not because there aren’t weren’t any people who would like to have engaged in loving same-sex relationships.  It may have been true that same-sex romantic relationships didn’t exist, but this was probably because of the presence of packs of moral panicky murderers waving scripture in the air.

    Its not like gay people have undergone some kind of moral evolution that made them previously unfit, but presently fit for polite company.  The Bible’s prohibitions against same-sex intercourse aren’t saying something specific to the social context of their time- its reflecting the world seen through the lens of its authors, who were morally wrong on this subject.

    Its like saying that the Bible passages endorsing patriarchal rules for marriage are inapplicable to the modern debate over gender politics, because sensible women capable of holding up half of an egalitarian marriage didn’t exist in ancient times.  That may accurately reflect the views of the authors of those passages, but it certainly wasn’t true!  And to the limited extent that it WAS true, ie, to the extent that women weren’t educated, those passages probably bear some of the blame.  The Bible isn’t irrelevant to this issue because it was addressing a different culture, its just wrong, and it reflects the world view of people who were wrong.

    Here’s Chris Rock explaining the issue.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMNl-UvRIQM

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    There’s nothing about atheism that rules out white supremacy or slave owning. Radical Objectivists, for example, will sometimes come up with the concept of limited-term enslavement contracts, for instance.

  • Lunch Meat

    creativity [is] depraved and worthless in the sight of God.

    What? I just–what? How can you call God a creator and say that people made in God’s image aren’t supposed to be creating?

  • Lunch Meat

    My observation was that Fred (and others) weren’t leaving room for the idea that someone could conclude that biblically God calls slavery a sin as well and he also calls homosexual practice a sin.

    While I think it’s possible that someone might do that, that is not a literal interpretation. If one is going to argue that the Bible is easy to interpret and one should take all of it at face value, and anyone who disagrees is either deceived by Satan or doing it on purpose because they love sin, then one should be consistent in one’s interpretation and always take the face value.

  • SisterCoyote

     Fair enough. It was a stupid argument to make, but I figured everyone else already pointed out the rest of his fallacies, so I might as well point out the one he maybe didn’t see coming. Probably. Ish.

  • vsm

    But… the Bible itself contains plenty of poetry. David being a musician didn’t seem to bother God, since he made him a king. On the contrary, his lyrical and musical talents are kind of a big thing.

    That’s a damn absurd position.

  • The_L1985

     ”It may have been true that same-sex romantic relationships didn’t
    exist, but this was probably because of the presence of packs of moral
    panicky murderers waving scripture in the air.”

    Really?  This is why pagan people in ancient Greece and Rome didn’t have egalitarian same-sex romantic relationships?  Because Hebrew Scripture said not to?  Wow, how did I ever miss that one when it is just sooo obvious?

    I’m not saying that there weren’t more egalitarian same-sex relationships elsewhere in the world at that time.  I’m saying that, in the ancient Mediterranean world, where the Bible was written, that just wasn’t how it went down in that cultural context.  A man was considered more virile in ancient Greece if he had a young boy as a lover.  This had nothing to do with Jewish or Christian morality one way or the other–it’s just the way Greek society viewed sexuality.  Morally abhorrent to modern people?  Yes, of course!  But that doesn’t change the fact that within that cultural context, “a man having consensual sex with a man in the context of a romantic relationship” was less likely to occur than “a man having probably-not-consensual sex with a young boy.”

    There wasn’t even a word for homosexuality yet–the phenomenon of a person being solely attracted to members of the same sex was not named as a specific state of being until the 19th century.  Before that, gay men were generally lumped into the general category of “men who don’t have sex with women,” which also included eunuchs and celibate men.

    Please, PLEASE do your research.  I’m no more Christian than you are, but your argument just doesn’t stand up because it is not borne up by the facts.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    There may still be some who privately disagree, but the anti-slavery side of the argument prevailed and the question is now regarded as so firmly settled that today few would dare to suggest otherwise in public.

    Wanna bet?  You don’t have to scratch very far below the surface at all to find people who condone, and sometimes even celebrate slavery, be it “Biblical” slavery and/or American slavery.  Hell, I once had someone argue at me that the only thing wrong with American slavery was that it was so mean, and that slavery in Ye Ancient Times wasn’t so bad at all, seeing as how sometimes people could eventually buy their own freedom.  It was more like indentured servitude, really, and what could possibly be wrong with that system?

    For a number of different takes on more “modern” slavery, I recommend Confederates in the Attic

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I was just reading about this recently.  It sounds like in the Greek and Roman culture at the time, the distinction that was made wasn’t heterosexual/homosexual, it was penetrator/penetrated.  The only acceptable role for a red-blooded Roman man was to be the penetrator, as being penetrated was considered to be the act of an inferior.  You know, like women.  Or like  slaves.  Or like what were viewed as insufficiently manly men.

    So it was considered perfectly appropriate for a Greek or Roman man to have sex with all the boys or male slaves he wanted, as long as he was pitching.

    But it sounds like in general, especially in Roman society, sexual relationships between a man and a boy or between two men was usually exploitative, involving an imbalance of power between the two parties.  (In Greek society I’m not sure it’s quite as clear — there could be a sort of mentor/mentee relationship between a man and a boy, but I gather it’s also not totally clear how often these relationships involved sex and especially anal sex.)

    So I suspect many people today would also condemn the sort of homosexual relationship Paul had in mind when he wrote those verses.  What Paul would have thought of modern loving gay relationships, who knows?  They would be against Jewish law, but so were other things that Paul said were acceptable for Christians.  However, that just wasn’t a concept that existed in his culture.
     

  • Patrick

     ”But that doesn’t change the fact that within that cultural context, “a
    man having consensual sex with a man in the context of a romantic
    relationship” was less likely to occur than “a man having
    probably-not-consensual sex with a young boy.”"

    I’m well aware that coercive adult-teen same-sex intercourse was normalized within the surrounding cultures.

    Look.  I agree with your claim that the authors of this passage probably saw all same-sex intercourse as part of a cultural context of pedophilic rape.

    But that’s not a defense; its an indictment.

    I also acknowledge that culture at large didn’t even have words for the idea of a man interested in loving sexual relationships with other men until recently.

    That’s still not a defense.  Its still an indictment.

    For your argument to work, you’d have to claim that homosexuals interested in loving relationships didn’t exist before, I dunno, 1990 or something.  But the facts you actually have indicate that dominant, hetero-normative culture didn’t ACKNOWLEDGE the existence of homosexuals interested in loving relationships.  That’s not the same thing!

    So its not a defense.  Its still just an indictment.

    I get that it is, from a sort of historicist perspective, somewhat forgivable.  Particularly from a secular standpoint, there’s no particular reason to demand that the authors of the Bible exhibit better morality than everyone else around them.  And if everyone else around them held bigoted views about homosexuality, well, its understandable that they did as well.

    But that doesn’t get you to where you want to go.

  • Fusina

    I’ve been thinking about slavery lately. Seems to me that there are some people who would like to see the feudal system of serfs and landed gentry back. (From what I have read regarding the system, it was sort of like slavery, with worse wages and no benefits.) It seems these people want to intrude on the lives of all who they see as beneath them, while continuing to be above the laws that are loaded on everyone else.

    I’m tired. I’m frustrated. This is such an awesome world, and it seems too many “leaders” don’t see the wonders all around. We could have enough for everyone to eat, wear, housing, but too many people are hoarding so much that they have enough and to spare many times over. It’s depressing. Does anyone have any good news?  I could use some.

     

  • vsm

    Actually, there are some references to ancient same-sex relationships that were consensual and were for life. To steal an example from Wikipedia, Aristotle talked about Philolaus and Dioclese, two guys who lived together and were eventually buried next to each other.

  • stardreamer42

    Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. And nobody over there is interested in studying anything except the Bible. Preferably the KJV.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     I think that you’re dramatically underestimating the role that out culture plays in shaping our worldview.

    Personally, I’d be interested to see what things that us bleeding-heart liberals don’t even think about now we’ll be condemned as bigots for not being vehemently against 2000 years from now.

  • Gotchaye

    I’ll put $5 (plus interest) on liberal responses to “What’s next?  Men marrying toasters?” getting dredged up when robosexuality becomes a thing.

  • David Newgreen

     Ancient Greece and Rome didn’t have egilitarian opposite-sex romances either, as a rule. Given the legal and cultural frameworks of the ancient Mediterranean, talking about an equal relationship between a man and a woman is ludicrous – in most societies, women had so little freedom you may as well be talking about an equal relationship between a master and his slave.

    Yet the Abrihamic religions only come down on same-sex relationships. To try and justify that based on the nature of such relationships in surounding cultures, and ignore the fact that those same issues exisisted just as strongly if not more so in hetrosexual relationships of the time is to whitewash what was and is unjustified bigotry. Biblical sexual morality has nothing to do with issues of consent, it had to do with maintaining patriarchal structures.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    5. The laws of Moses prohibited Israelites from enslaving one another in the way that they were permitted to enslave foreigners and outsiders.

    I suspect that the big take-away from elements like this, and the primary method of resolving “Biblical dissonance,” is with the understanding “Rules for me and different rules for thee.”  

    We see that quite a lot in dominism in particular, something like “All religions are equal under the law but Christianity is more equal than others.”  I can kind of understand when a group says “Our rules are not your rules” as a means of self-imposing restrictions, but so much of the time that seems to have been turned around to imposing restrictions on others instead.  

  • Hexep

    The whole of the material universe is simply a twinkling dream in the eye of Brahma, the Creator, who sadly is not very smart but is essentially good-hearted. His creation will last for at least one trillion years, and as soon as one of our lives extinguishes for whatever reason, we flitter off to another place in it, and then another place after. And once we finish our appointed roles in this iteration of existence, and once our whole material cosmos is finished, he will scatter the board and try for better luck next time, and then again, and then onward for uncountable times more, and as he has done for uncountable times past, for the entire birth and life and death of the universe is but one day to him.

    Then, after perhaps one trillion creations, each of which lasts for a trillion of our years, he will die, but someone else will become the new Brahma, and the late Brahma will take his place in the mad mosaic of material life.

    By personal reckoning, it may take you uncountable years and aeons and lifetimes to ‘get it right,’ for whatever value you think that is (a value that is sure to change over the ages), but you have infinite chances to get it right. This, too, as with all things, shall pass.

    Feeling better?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I’ll put $5 (plus interest) on liberal responses to “What’s next?  Men marrying toasters?” getting dredged up when robosexuality becomes a thing.

    I imagine the campaign against it would look something like this.

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

    the bloodiest land conflict in North American history

    The bloodiest land conflict for white people.

    Try not to pat yourself on the back too hard there, I think you might strain something. And we wouldn’t want that. You might have to take some time off from running around on the internet wanking all over other people’s blogs about how awesome you are compared to them. You perfect being you.

    As one atheist to another: fuck off. The fact that you happen to not believe in the supernatural (or is it just Christianity) does not make you a better person than anyone else, any more than people who do believe in the supernatural are better than those who don’t. You are what you do. Stop doing the equivalent of coming into someone else’s house, pooping on their rug, and pretending you’re better than them for it.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X