Liberals Are Non-Biblical and Ahistorical? Not So Fast…

Mark Jordan, professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School, writes at Religion Dispatches about how he has answered journalists’ questions when they call him for a quote about sexuality issues in the church.  He often found the journalists to be dumbfounded because, even though the journalists might be progressive themselves, they had, to a man, bought the conservative line that the conservative version was the authoritative version of the biblical narrative.  He would say,

“I support ordaining openly lesbian and gay candidates because that’s where I’m led when I study scripture and pray.”

“My belief in incarnation pushes me toward the blessing of same-sex unions.”

The reaction was mostly awkward silence. I could hear the typing stop at the other end of the line.

So I decided to attack the assumed familiar plot directly—to go after the division, enshrined by Steinfels, between tradition and innovation. I began to tell reporters what I fully believe: no present church position on sexuality would be recognizable to Christian writers of two hundred years ago—much less two millennia ago. Part of the reason is that the basic terms and psychological models have changed astonishingly in the last century. All Christian writers, even the most “traditional,” assume the existence of things (like “sexuality”) and mechanisms (like the unconscious) that are neither scriptural nor traditional. But the more striking difference is the scope contemporary “traditionalists” give to sexual pleasure in marriage. Evangelical writers famous for attacking homosexuality write pillow books for Christian newlyweds advocating sexual techniques that church traditions classify as unchaste and unnatural—indeed, as acts of sodomy.

via ‘Traditional’ Christianity vs. ‘Liberals’? It’s Not That Simple | Religion & Theology | ReligionDispatches.

  • ThealityBites

    Heya Tony,

    Interesting article. I would be curious to know if Professor Jordan distinguishes between ‘openly homosexual’ and ‘practicing homosexual’.

    Paul was fairly clear about that in I Corinthians, that practicing homosexuals would not enter the kingdom of God. Of course, the list also includes a number of attributes that could possibly be attributed to myself from time to time.

    I believe the difference lays between fighting to control an attribute considered to be wrong, and arbitrarily accepting an attribute as a consequence of birth.

  • George


    I would say that whether someone is homosexual by birth or by choice should never overshadow the responsibility to see that love is the ultimate reality. when we approach an idea like ‘sin’ (which from the Jewish mindset isn’t epidemic) from a dualistic worldview then we too easily advocate a plumbline that can either only be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, rather than embracing a new reality where love reigns supreme and colors our views of people regardless of their life choices. Jesus had this knack to see us as we are meant to be, which is another good definition for the Hebrew word for sin…it was about our potential. And sodomy is usually related to the ‘acts’ of sodom and gomorrah, but they weren’t destroyed because of sexual acts, in the prophets, one of them states that the cities were destroyed because they had all the resources to help the poor and did nothing, so in its proper context, sodomy is directly linked with purposefully not helping ‘the other’ when we can. thanks for thoughts.

    Tony, would love to see if we could have a Skype chat on a project I am working on…check out my link above under Chairs’ for Dialogue’…cool!

  • Joe


    I would echo George’s comments about the misunderstanding of the word “sodomites” in I Corinthians (indeed, some mistranslated this as simply “homosexuals”). The history of that word is interesting, especially since it has been translated so differently through the centuries. The original Greek of that word, “arsenokoites” is heavily debated in it’s original meaning for Paul, and it’s extremely unlikely it simply meant “homosexuals”. The word most likely refers to an economic sin, possibly of a sexual nature – but there is no historical reason to see this as Paul’s “clear” condemnation of homosexuality. In the case of the Corinthian passage, some translators have even collapsed the two words that appear in the list, “malakos” as well as “aresnokoites” into one phrase, including homosexual perverts, homosexual perversion, or practicing homosexuals. The RSV translators recognized this bias and separated the collapsed word closer to their original meanings as “sodomite” and “male prostitute”. “Arsenokoites” appears in a few other non-canonical texts, including Acts of John and the Sibylline Oracle – both of which more clearly show the original meaning of the ancient, mysterious word referred to an economically exploitive sin. “Malakos” is another complicated word study, but it almost certainly does not refer to homosexuals either – another word that Paul never used more clearly connotes homosexuality – “kinaedos”. The debate for Paul tends to revolve more closely around Romans 1, but the context of the passage makes it difficult to know for sure what he meant. As a result of the fog inherent in the text on this issue, the real question becomes, what exactly might have been Paul’s understanding of homosexuality within his ancient context? Thus, we have a real debate today about gays and the church.

  • shak el
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  • Simon

    This one seems to have disappeared Tony… (the link doesn’t work)!

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