Reading Gagnon: What Went Wrong [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

I have really tried to be charitable to Gagnon’s book in my blog posts. Maybe I’ve been too charitable, since Gagnon doesn’t just “overstate” the conclusions in his biblical exegesis. He relentless forces all of the evidence into arguments that seem intended to annihilate even the possibility of an alternative interpretation.

It is more difficult for me to be charitable with his fifth chapter, however. In this last chapter — about one-third of his book — Gagnon attempts to refute as many arguments as he can think of which attempt to “override the Bible’s authority” by appealing to “general theological principles or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience” (p. 37).

While the first four chapters of Gagnon’s book could be read as an important contribution to biblical scholarship on homosexuality and sexual ethics, I’m afraid that the last chapter reads more like partisan talking points that can be used to attack and dismiss interpretations which differ with Gagnon’s particular interpretation of the Bible. Instead of seriously engaging the theological and modern scientific challenges to the Bible’s apparent position on homosexual practice, Gagnon’s mind is clearly made up, and he will come up with any argument he can, good or bad, to defend what he already thinks.

Chapter five does have a promising beginning. He believes the Bible is the most significant authority for believers, a sentiment I share (see my first first blog post on Gagnon). He also admits that “the Scriptures contain significant internal tensions at points” due to the fact that the Bible was “compiled over millennium, from diverse locations, and by many different writers” (p. 345). He also admits that believers aren’t bound to embrace the pre-scientific cosmology in the Bible, that there is a difference between the historical Jesus and the different characters of “Jesus” in each of the gospels, and that Paul “does not (and did not in the first century) have to be inerrant in every matter,” especially since Gagnon recognizes problems with Paul’s exegesis of the Hebrew Bible (p. 345).

Gagnon moreover affirms that it is a mistake to simply quote the Bible and think that settles everything. Good interpretation requires two-way dialogue between the Bible and contemporary culture and knowledge (while Gagnon defers to the authority of the Bible over all other evidence). I fully agree with Gagnon when he writes, “I cannot be a biblical literalist or fundamentalist and still retain intellectual integrity” (p. 345).

So what went wrong? Gagnon seems to misunderstand the kind of material he’s dealing with when it comes to biblical texts and theological arguments. Texts and theological arguments are not like mathematical formula that have timeless meanings. Language is slippery. Translations are difficult. (As a philosopher, it’s interesting to me that both Continental philosophers like Hans-Georg Gadamer and Anglo-American pragmatists like W.V.O. Quine agree on the difficulty of translating anything with complete accuracy. Gadamer argues in Truth and Method that “every translation is at the same time an interpretation” [p. 384], and in Word and Object Quine speaks of the “indeterminacy of translation” [pp. 72-79].)

The best anyone can do is come up with likely interpretations that are subject to revision based on better evidence and arguments. With any luck, your interpretation may become widely accepted and a consensus can form around it, but even a consensus is historically conditioned and subject to correction and rejection later.

Gagnon wants to convince us that the theological and scientific arguments which reject his way of reading the Bible must be wrong because they contradict his conclusion about homosexual practice. In fact, the alternative arguments are really proposals or suggestions that may actually allow us to read the Bible more adequately. It is a mistake for Gagnon to understand these arguments as ways of undermining the Bible’s authority. They are rather different ways of valuing the authority of the Bible.

For example, the first four arguments he tries to refute deal with the fact that our contemporary culture and knowledge is significantly different from the different worlds and cultures reflected in the Bible. Gagnon tries desperately to refute even the possibility that the Bible condemns only exploitative or pederastic forms of homosexuality (pp. 346-61), or that homosexuality was perceived as a threat to male dominance in the biblical worlds (pp. 361-80), or that the biblical writers thought that homosexual practices were a result of over-sexed heterosexuals (pp. 380-395). (Even though he argued against the idea that the ancient writers thought that homosexual practices were considered excesses of hyper-sexual heterosexuals, I thought the original argument was still more persuasive than Gagnon’s refutation of it.) All he really demonstrates is that he can offer an internally consistent reading of the texts that differs from these interpretations, not that these interpretations are conclusively defective.

The weakest section of the book concerns his response to the argument that “homosexuality has a genetic component that the writers of the Bible did not realize” (pp. 395-432). Instead of relying on research peer reviewed journals (and accepted by the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics), Gagnon’s argument here rests on the dubious work of people like the widely criticized Paul Cameron, who tries to demonstrate that homosexuals threaten public health, social order, and the well-being of children.

Appealing to people like Cameron, whose conclusions are at odds with other published research and not accepted by the psychological and medical communities is like trying to prove that vaccines cause autism by appealing to someone like Andrew Wakefield, who fraudulently “proved” that the MMR vaccine causes autism. In fact, the overwhelming empirical evidence is clear: there is no relationship in the data between vaccines and autism. In the same way, Gagon’s reliance on dubious sources, and his failure to deal with all sides of the debate on the genetic origins of same-sex orientation weakens his argument.

But my biggest complaint is his apparent misunderstanding of the analogy between the interpretation of slavery and homosexuality in the Bible. I’m not sure if he’s obtuse or intentionally misrepresenting the analogy, but it should be easy to understand. As I hope you guessed from my second post on Gagnon, I think the “sin” of homosexuality and the “support and acceptance” of slavery have been completely misinterpreted by some Christians. Gagon seems to think it’s a bad analogy because slavery is nothing like homosexuality (pp. 443-52). But the analogy isn’t between slavery and homosexuality; the analogy is between how Christians have interpreted the Bible on slavery and how Christians have interpreted the Bible on homosexuality. The analogy is about two defective ways of interpreting scripture.

The fact is, slavery was an unquestioned cultural practice in the biblical world. In spite of Gagnon’s attempt to downplay the significance of slavery in the Bible, there is no verse anyone can find to overthrow the practice. (And while Gagnon tries really, really hard to make Paul sound like an abolitionist in Philemon, that argument is hardly believable.) No, the Southern Baptists had a good, Bible-sourced arguments in support of slavery. And Gagnon has good, Bible-sourced arguments to condemn the sin of same-sex practices. Having good, Bible-based arguments may be necessary for Christians, but it obviously isn’t sufficient for adequate Christian belief.

The biblical argument for abolition and the biblical argument against the sin of homosexual practice cannot be made by quoting particular scriptures (Where does God say that slavery should be abolished? Where does God say that same-sex couples are not sinning?) Rather, the scriptural appeals have to be made to a larger theological trajectory in scripture. That’s what the abolitionists had to do. And that’s what those [some] of us who reject the sin of homosexuality [try to] do.

Other people have offered biblically supported arguments for not condemning homosexuality or homosexual practices, so I won’t rehash those arguments. But if you’re interested in hearing these kinds of arguments, John Shore has an interesting essay, and Matthew Vines has a YouTube video (and transcript).

I’d like to offer one more post tomorrow about Gagnon, sin, and morality.

  • http://twofriarsandafool.com/ Aric Clark

    You were very charitable Scot. More than I’ve ever been able to be. You were even charitable to Paul Cameron here calling him “widely criticized” when it is more like he has been utterly repudiated by all credible professionals of the relevant field and is a proven liar.

    Here is the piece I wrote with Doug Hagler a while back that goes through every scripture passage and argument we could find in a brief summary form. And here is a series that explores the discussion from the perspective of Christian Ethics.

    Your point here about the analogy with slavery is excellent. It is not that homosexuality is analogous to slavery at all – it is that the way Christians use scripture to either justify or criticize slavery is exactly analogous to the way Christian use scripture to either justify or criticize homophobia.

    • Scot Miller

      Yes, I should have said that Cameron’s work is widely repudiated (if not just ignored) by researchers in psychology. I found an interesting page by a psychologist from the UCD who is not very happy at all with Cameron: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_cameron.html.

      Did you know that Kirk Cameron is Paul Cameron’s son? (Not Kirk Cameron the actor, but Kirk Cameron the statistician with a Ph.D. from Stanford.)

  • david

    Awesome. Thank you for this series, Scot. Great work. I appreciate how carefully you’re giving the benefit of the doubt while also clearly revealing some serious problems with the book.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

  • Larry Barber

    And that’s what those of us who reject the sin of homosexuality do.

    I don’t think that came out quite right. This sounds like something Frank would write.

    • Scot Miller

      Ugggg… You’re right. I tried to fix it, but I’m afraid it still sounds bad.

  • Brian MacArevey

    Let me preface my comments beforehand (I hope that I am not misunderstood). I am someone who is questioning (but still tentatively holds to) the conservative position that homosexuality is and remains sinful practice today. I am (seriously) open to changing my mind on this issue.

    I understand the slavery argument, agree with it, and I find it persuasive to some extent with regard to homosexuality. My question is, what prohibits people from applying this sort of argument to every moral position that is put forth in the scriptures?

    In other words, is there anything at all that is morally universal, and if so, how does one determine this? What makes love or justice (or sexual ethics or religious practices or whatever) universal or at least favorable or applicable to our contemporary context other than the subjective opinions of individuals or communities?

    Additionally (and related) it seems as though those who reject the idea that homosexuality is sinful desire to universalize their own understanding in a way that they are unwilling to allow conservatives to. If experience and science are allowed to override the sexual ethics of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, why shouldn’t they be allowed to override this newly universalized viewpoint.

    I am not saying that science and experience are on the side of the conservatives (largely, I would say that they are not at this time) I am just suggesting that since science and experience are fallible (as were the authors of scripture) who is to say that 50 years from now scientific consensus might not return a more conservative perspective. I realize that this is all hypothetical, but, what then? Would it still be just and loving to affirm homosexuals in their homosexuality, despite science and experience?

    I hope that you can all see my sincerity, and that I am wrestling with this question intensely. I do not intend to provoke anyone to anger. If anyone can help, I would appreciate it.

    • http://LostCodex.com DRT

      Brian, I am no expert, but I recently argued a bunch of this and have an opinion.

      First, it seems to me that you are trying to argue that just because we won’t have a literal basis for the judgment you feel we should disregard the argument. That makes no sense. Are you advocating we should go back and accept slavery because it fits the pattern you believe?

      Second, it seems that you somehow missed the argument that Scot made (and I did not go back and look up his words), that we have to look at the overall picture of teachings of the bible. Don’t you agree that it is better to find congruency about the big picture and the specific? Doesn’t that make a more powerful argument, to look at it in the context of the whole? Did you miss that point?

    • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

      Brian, thanks for your sincerity. The interpretive guide that we have for all of scripture lies in Jesus’ statement that “all the law and all the prophets hang on the two commandments [to love God and love your neighbor].” Augustine in his De Doctrina Christiana wrote that what this means is that everything in scripture is related to loving God or loving your neighbor. If I can’t find the connection, I am not interpreting it correctly. This principle for interpretation is completely different than simply going to the Bible and saying whatever each individual verse says is completely straightforward and literal and can be taken out of context.

      Using this principle of interpretation, I understand Peter and Paul’s injunctions to slaves to obey their masters to have to do with evangelism. The purpose of obeying your master is to win him for Christ. Furthermore, I don’t think they really had words in Greek for boss and employee that were different than doulos (slave) and kurios (master) and of course their slavery was completely different than ours. Everyone was a “slave” to somebody except for the emperor himself. It’s only in applying a literalist, out-of-context interpretation of the Bible without Augustine’s rule of love that Western modern slavery could be justified.

      The prohibition on homosexuality in Leviticus occurs in the context of a list of other sexual prohibitions that have the purpose of creating a stable, patriarchal social order in which women and children and weaker men could be protected from the gangs of horny men who roamed nascent city-states trying to rape whatever they could find, such as the angels in Sodom in Genesis 19 and the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. In Old Testament times, there was no distinction between consensual and non-consensual sex. The only protection from rape was to have a strictly enforced patriarchal order in which each man was a wall around his household (no sex with in-laws, offspring, other peoples’ spouses, other men who can’t fight you off, or animals). All of this is part of loving your neighbor because it’s done for the sake of protecting the vulnerable. We don’t live in a world where horny men run around in the streets raping with impunity, so the need for the patriarchal order has subsided. Since homosexuality is no longer inherently stronger-man-on-weaker-man rape, I do not see its prohibition as necessary for loving your neighbor though it was necessary in patriarchal times.

      With regard to loving God, Paul says in Romans 1 that the Romans in their orgies were consumed by worshiping created things (like wine and sex) instead of their Creator. He gives “unnatural” same-gender sex as an example of their debaucherous degeneration, but it’s not the same-gendered-ness itself that is inherently idolatrous. Paul thought it was unnatural certainly, but he never says “Thou shalt not” and he only talks about in the context of pagan religious practices and debaucherous orgies whose sinfulness is not the same-gendered-ness itself.

      The only logic by which homosexuality can be against loving God is if you also believe that God has ordered the universe in a strictly complementarian, gendered fashion and we are disrespecting Him to violate this order. Based on what I’ve seen, I just don’t think gender is a binary but a spectrum. I think same-gender attraction is really inter-gender attraction, i.e. people who are hormonally neither male nor female who are attracted to complementary non-male-females. It doesn’t bother me that God could create somebody who’s not completely man or woman. My cosmology doesn’t collapse when faced with the existence of hermaphrodites (people who are born with both organs which happens regularly). What’s evil are rape (Leviticus 18) and having an idolatrous view of sex (Romans 1).

      • Brian MacArevey

        DRT and Morgan,

        Thank you both for your well though out responses. I want to make a brief point of clarification. I am neither a biblical literalist or and inerrantist (in case my questions insinuated that I am).

        DRT, I understand the argument that you are making, and I do find it persuasive (largely). I do not believe that the argument should be disregarded at all. Actually, it is because I find it persuasive that I am left wondering if their are any limits to how and when it is applicable to our interpretation of scripture. How do you (personally) determine what sins we should apply this to? How do you come to a conclusion regarding the definitions of things such as love and justice?

        These seem to me to be more foundational questions, and while a “literal basis” might not be necessary in order to make a judgment on the issue, I still think that it is important to discuss how it is that we arrive at our conclusions. Additionally, I believe that the overall context of the bible, as well as the historical context, are vital to our understanding, but this makes my questions all the more pertanent with regard to the issue of homosexuality, especially if Scot is correct in his analysis of Gagnon’s presentation of the biblical evidence (and I agree with Scot).

        I think that Richard’s comment below sums up my questions. He is not ignoring Scot’s arguments (and I am not either), we are simply probing deeper in an attempt to get to the heart of the matter. By the way, Scot has said in this series that the argument from silence (per your reply to Richard) is not convincing to him, and I agree with that.

        Morgan, just a few things. I am not strictly complementarian, but on the other hand, I would not go so far as to say that God would be open and affirming towards sex change operations. I don’t think that God would reject hermaphrodites, nor do I subscribe to any strict set of gender roles. I hope this clarifies where I am coming from.

        I appreciate your Christocentric hermeneutic, and I believe that it is the correct way to approach scripture. I also take issue with people using Romans 1 as a proof text against homosexual practice (1 cor 6 is the text that creates problems for me when considering homosexuality; and I have heard the arguments coming from the liberal side, I am just not completely convinced).

        Again (like I said to DRT) I believe that it is essential to situate the text in its proper canonical and historical context, but my real problem is in trying to understand why somone couldn’t come along and contextualize something such as the two great commandments which you site in order to argue that they are not universally applicable.

        Seriously, I am not insinuating that it is necessary for us to have a “literal basis” for judgment on this issue, I just wonder how you personally come to decide why we should apply these hermeneutical principles to slavery and homosexuality, but not to love or justice, as well as how you have concluded that the scriptural condemnation of homosexual practice has no lasting impact upon our contemporary understandings of love and justice.

        I just want to conclude by pointing to Richard’s comment again, and his descriptions of the similarities and differences between the issues of slavery and homosexuality. He has voiced my concerns quite capably.

        • http://LostCodex.com DRT

          Brian, thanks for the reply.

          I replied to Rick, but I will say it in different words here because I feel it is important.

          It seems to me that you are taking the approach that has something like this:

          1. What did Jesus say? He was silent, therefore
          2. What did the other passages say? They condemn, therefore we should condemn.

          My argument is not an argument that says silence says we should affirm it, not in the least. My argument is like this, and it gets to the heart of your question about determination of moral valence.

          1. Did Jesus explicitly address this? In this case the answer is no

          therefore:

          2. How does Jesus rule of love apply to this situation? This is where some of the arguments made by Morgan come into play.

          and also:

          3. What does other scripture have to say? This is where the levitical codes come to play, and we have to also do number 4 now:

          and:

          4. How would Jesus apply his rule of love to the Levitical codes?

          You see, his silence does not, in my view, automatically make it right, what it does is force us to look further. The key concept though is that we have to use Jesus to interpret the other scriptures. We must use Jesus in light of them.

          I believe that Jesus would look at the prohibition today and realize that it is according to his rule of love to allow same sex monogamous long term relationships. Some of the reasons include:

          1. We now know that those type of relationship are not harmful to the participants or society
          2. It was towebah and that means a societal ban, not a god ban (it never says anything about it being against god)
          3. The OT was silent, and likely OK with girl girl relationships
          4. Paul’s teachings can easily be interpreted in the same light as eating meat sacrificed to idols. If you eat the meat as a gesture to worshiping that god then it is bad. In same sex relationships, if you are doing it to be evil and that excites you, or some scintillating sexual extravagance, or something else, then it is bad. Remember, the population of gay people is small enough that those who engaged in the behavior back then were probably more numerous than those who were gay.
          5. It is loving.

          So I am not arguing from silence for acceptance. I am arguing that we have to elevate the standard given silence.

        • Gavin

          Hi Brian. I think some of my fellow gentle-folk commenters might be missing the crux of your question, which I hear as this: “If you can reinterpret the bible now (based on whatever reasoning) such that what we formerly believed was immoral is no longer immoral, what stops us from doing the same thing but coming to a reverse conclusion in fifty years time?” is that a fair summary? In answering the question I described I’d say that one of my biases is that culture and scripture are in constant dialogue. If a genuine, earnest dialogue leads to a change in values which seems to be a reversal, then that will be ok.

          Editorializing, I’d say it’s unlikely based on the historical trajectory of western culture. But I’m no futurist! And I hope I would stick to my principles and not my morals if that day did come.

          • http://cjbanning.dreamwidth.org Cole J. Banning

            Amen! Undoubtedly the Spirit will lead humanity, in the due course of time, to places we can hardly even imagine today. Such is the consequence of being limited, fallible human beings.

          • Brian MacArevey

            Gavin,

            Thank you. This is the sort of answer that I was hoping for. It is an encouraging answer.

    • http://cjbanning.dreamwidth.org Cole J. Banning

      Certainly if there is anything at all that is morally universal, it can be determined independently of Scripture? Kantian deontological ethics (and other systems of secular moral philosophy) may have its flaws, but I don’t see that those flaws are any greater from a philosophical perspective than a meta-ethic of “Whatever the Bible says, is good.” Generally, speaking, liberals–whether their liberalism be theological, political, or social–are not relativists; indeed, their liberalism motivates and is motivated by some very strong normative claims.

      The continuing, ongoing, and Spirit-led dialectic between scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (which is, I believe, a reflection of the perichoretic dialectic which is the Triune God) will always be allowed to override any “newly universalized viewpoint.” This, I believe, is how the Spirit moves through history. The deuterocanonical book known as the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us that God’s “Wisdom guided Her disciples safely though all the tribulations” (11:9); “She rewarded the labors of a holy people and guided them on a wondrous quest” (11:17).

  • Richard

    Gagnon is hardly alone in having robust exegesis of a text and an inability to apply them to contemporary culture – it’s actually quite common in specialized academia.

    While I appreciate the charitable tone of these posts, they seem dismissive of his central point which is that the Scriptures consistently declared homosexual action to be out of the bounds of God’s intention for humanity. This seems to me to be a case of two parties talking past one another rather than engaging the actual point the other is making.

    So as we’re wrapping up this series I’m not thinking I’ve gained much here. The conservative Gagnon laid out and defended a conservative reading of the text, engaged thoroughly with opposing views of the text. Everyone begrudgingly agrees with the central case he’s made while nitpicking non-critical pieces of his argument. And at the end of the day we say, well, that doesn’t actually matter because we often change our minds on how to interpret Scripture. Context and original intent matter, except when we don’t want them to.

    If love for the homosexual means rejecting the consensus of Scripture governing homosexual action, why wouldn’t we follow the same line of reasoning with other actions that Scripture considers a sinful act? What keeps us from doing that? [honest question and yes it's a reframing of 'slippery slope' to try and be less offensive and accusatory]

    Regarding the comparison between how we have interpreted Scriptures on slavery and homosexuality, it seems to me that there is more ambiguity within the text itself on slavery than on homosexual behavior. And while Paul and the Apostles don’t call for abolition, they certainly subvert the actions and dynamic of the master-slave relationship to the point where they don’t need to argue in favor of full legal emancipation.

    And the slavery vs. homosexuality comparison frustrates me because as enlightened regarding the issue of slavery as we like to think we are, there are far more in bondage today than every before – so our notions of the liberation of slaves far outstrip our practices. That doesn’t have anything to do with the validity of the comparison, just an emotional reaction I have to it.

    • Richard

      And I should have prefaced all of that with exactly the sort of thing Brian MacArevey said in his but it’s the end of the day, I’m tired, and hungry. Please respond charitably to a brother seeking wisdom, even when he comes across as arrogant.

    • http://twofriarsandafool.com/ Aric Clark

      There is no shortcut out of the process of ethical reasoning. There is no point at which we can just say – well that is what Scripture says, that ends the debate, because every reading of scripture is an interpretation, not just a transcription of what scripture says.

      Scripture says, for example, that we will know genuine followers of Christ by their fruits. We cannot presume that someone is or is not right with God on the basis of a formal characteristic like gender, ethnicity, social class etc… We have to observe their behavior.

      Scripture also provides precedent for the overturning of scripture in the witness of the Holy Spirit. If we see signs of the action of the Holy Spirit we are required by scripture to revise our understanding of God’s will.

      The prophets tell us that God desires mercy not sacrifice, justice not purity. Mercy and Justice are not things that can be understood once and for all, but things that continually reveal themselves. Once we’ve seen a need for Justice or Mercy though, we cannot use purity or religion as excuses for avoiding our duty. Jesus has no tolerance for the Pharisee or the Levite who walks past the injured man on the road in the name of holiness.

      Finally, there is no “consensus” of scripture. Scripture doesn’t speak with one voice. It is a bundle of different books by bunches of authors composed over centuries. On any subject there are only various passages and our attempts to interpret them in ways relevant to our context. Gagnon presents some persuasive arguments for some passages of scripture (not very many) that apply in varying degrees to this issue. It is far from being the final word on “what the Bible says” as if such a thing were even possible.

      • Brian MacArevey

        Aric,

        Thank you. I agree with what you have to say here. If I could just press you a little further…

        I am speculating a little here, but I think that there is some basis for it in scripture. I want to understand the relationship between the important place of procreation in the ancient Hebrew mind and homosexual practice. For instance, in Exodus 1, procreation is presented as a threat to Pharoah and the egyptian empire (as just one example). Is it possible that homosexual practice was viewed as a threat to the oppressed Israelites under Babylonian rule (perhaps when Exodus was written?)?

        I raise this point because even today, abortion is viewed by some members of the black community as an attempt by the American empire to oppress the black community by limiting reproduction, and in China, where abortion is mandated, it can oviously be viewed as a threat to oppressed people under imperial rule. I believe that homosexuality can be (and likely is) viewed in the same light by some of these oppressed people groups, and that procreation can be a form of resistance to oppression.

        This creates a dilemma though, for granted that you will humor me in my point, who’s “justice” is more important to fight for? Women who believe that it is their right to control their own bodies, or those who are victimized by those who push abortion as a legitimate means of “birth control”? Is the justice of the homosexual more important than the justice of those for whom procreation could largely determine the fate of their community?

        I am not trying to be arrogant or flippant. These are serious stumbling blocks for me, and I think that you and I have enough places of agreement where you might enlighten me. Thanks.

        • http://twofriarsandafool.com/ Aric Clark

          Procreation is important to endangered communities, and could be important under certain circumstances to oppressed groups. In no way could that be a justification for forcing people to procreate against their will. That would never be just.

          • http://www.craigladams.com/blog/ Craig L. Adams

            But, obviously that is what was happening for centuries. And, the prohibitions and condemnations in the Bible support the notion of procreation as an obligation to the community or to God or both.

          • Brian MacArevey

            Thanks Aric.

            I wasn’t suggesting that it would be just to force people to procreate against their will (although I think that Craig’s comment in response to your’s has merit; the bible did consider procreation to be a matter of justice, and they even sought to enforce it to some extent).

            My question had a different focus. I can understand why the ancient Hebrews (and some communities in our own day) would see the promotion of homosexuality within their community as a threat to the community itself; an attempt by the powers of empire to keep the oppressed community in check.

            I am not sure (then) whether it woud be “just” at all to universalize your views on homosexuality, as if it were merely some sort of neutral issue that cannot be abused by oppressive powers. In other words, I am not sure that it is always “just” to contend for the “normalcy” of homosexual practice, and I could even see why some might consider the promotion of it within an oppressed community by representatives of the oppressive empire to be a racist act.

            To be clear, I am not saying that this is some sort of knock down argument against homosexuality; but I do believe that it exposes a flaw in the thinking of those who would universalize the idea that defending the legitimacy of homosexual practice is always the “just” thing to do.

          • Brian MacArevey

            Curtis,

            I am not sure if you’ll see this (since this thread is getting old) but I wanted to comment once more. The paragraph that I quoted in my last comment (from your previous comment) is actually a good summary of the point that I have been trying to make all along in this thread.

            There are communities out there who believe that homosexuality is a sin and who might also have valid reasoning for believing that the promotion of homosexuality is a threat to their community. Their arguments might be silenced in favor of supposedly scientific reasoning and liberal arguments favoring the rights of homosexuals.

            I brought up the colonial project because the reasons for which the West began colonizing the East were largely moral (in the eyes of Westerners). Based upon scientific reasoning and a liberal humanistic agenda, the West saw it as their duty to lead the uncivilized East into the modern world through the colonial project.

            Today, we correctly see many of the faults in the science and logic of the West during this period, and we consider much of what they were doing immoral and unjust. Today, we believe that our agenda is liberal, scientific, and good for humanity; but could it be that we are overconfident in our own abiities, as the colonializing West was in this period?

            I guess I am just asking why the “uneducated”, “uncivilized”, “unscientific” and supposedly “illiberal” viewpoint of an oppressed community should be so easily discounted in favor of what we know now from our “enlightened” perspective?

            Just because science says that “people are born homosexual”, that doesn’t necessarily force us to conclude that “promoting homosexuality is just”; does it? Even if the science is correct (which it may or may not be, and even if it is, that does not settle the matter from a biblical perspective, at least in my opinion) it is possible that homosexuality could be a tool easily used by empire which, while appearing tollerant, could actually be aiding genocide.

            My point, then, has been that these issues are much more complicated that saying that homosexuality is or is not sin…at best it will be both at the same time; it can never be “good” universally.

            Thanks for the interaction.

          • Curtis

            “could it be that we are overconfident in our own abiities, as the colonializing West was in this period?”

            Historic instances of colonization were harmful, not because the colonizers were “wrong”, per se, but because the colonizers caused harm while spreading their wrongness.

            I believe okay for advocates for the civil rights of gays to strongly assert their views, even within societies who may disagree with them or find their views “foreign”, up until the point of causing harm. If there is a chance of causing harm, the advocate must back down.

            Cases where harm in promoting a moral view may be justified may be instances where homosexuals are being actively, physically harmed or oppressed within a society. But harmful interference in those cultures, as in the U.S. interference in Nazi Germany, must be an extreme case.

        • Curtis

          ” Is it possible that homosexual practice was viewed as a threat to the oppressed Israelites ”

          I suppose that may be possible, but it would be a misguided view. To think that the failure of two adults to procreate threatens the survival of a population is to take a very narrow, nuclear-family biased view of society.

          Most cultures throughout history have recognized that the success of a community does not depend on the success of two adults to successfully rear children. Rather, the success of the community depends on all adults participating and contributing to the well-being of all children. In this “village” view of child rearing, the community benefits from having extra, productive adults around, like elders, or single adults who choose to not have children. These non-child bearing adults contribute to the food production and security of the community, and by doing so help the children of the community to thrive, more so than if the child’s parents were left to raise the children alone.

          A community may very well be more healthy and resilient, not less so, if they have a good number non-childbearing, economically productive adults in the clan.

          If any group feels that homosexuality threatens the survival of the group, it is a very narrow and misguided idea, and an idea that would not have much traction in a society that values the productive contribution of adults in the raising of all of their children.

          • Brian MacArevey

            I see what you are saying Curtis; to an extent. One point that I might raise is that it would be difficult to argue that the nuclear family was the foundational unit within ancient Israelite society. Yet still, homosexuality was probably viewed as a threat to survival; whether we believe this is misguided or not.

            Additionally, even if you or I believe that this view is misguided or irrational, what gives us the right to impose our morality on an oppressed community who’s experience tells them that our logic is flawed? This, of course, has been the West’s attitude towards those whom we have viewed as lesser peoples for centuries; we must make them civilized at all costs. How is your attitude different from the attitude of the colonizers in this case?

            I guess my next question, then, would be why is it that those of us in the West assume that arguing for the legitimacy of homosexual practice is purely a cause to bring liberty to the oppressed, and not equally (or even more so) the agenda of the American empire? This was the more essential aspect of what I was getting at in my previous comment. What has formed the logic behind our positions? Could it be that latent colonial presuppositions are at work behind the scenes, largely controlling the ways in which we come to our conclusions?

          • Brian MacArevey

            I just want to add that I recognize that the opposing position can also be (and has been) used by empire to oppress (if I wasn’t clear about that).

            Everything is neutral, and yet nothing is neutral; everything is created and is good, and yet everything is effected by sin.

            All I am saying is, at the very least, to say that consensual homosexuality is something that can be considered universally good or neutral at all times and in all places is a bit naive, and I think that this is something that we can say with a degree of confidence in relation to the scriptures (even if we can’t say that it is universally evil either).

          • Curtis

            “homosexuality was probably viewed as a threat to survival”

            What evidence is there for this assertion?

          • Curtis

            Forget about trying to judge the morality of consensual homosexuality based on 10th century B.C. texts. Consensual sexuality of any kind was an unknown concept at that time. Men wanted sex, and women gave sex. Consensual sexuality was in oxymoron in 10th century B.C.

          • Curtis

            A more accurate description of sexual practice in 10th century B.C. would be something like: people of high status could want sex and get it from whomever they pleased, regardless of consent, and people of lower stature had to make due with whatever sex they could find, when they had some free time between finding enough food to survive and evading imminent death caused by disease and pestilence. In any case, consensual sex was a meaningless concept in their world.

          • Brian MacArevey

            Curtis,

            I did not use the word “consensual” in order to make a comment about the “10th century BC”. I used the term for the purposes of the contemporary argument. The point that you were making has no significance to the substance of my questioning whatsoever.

            As for your question, “What evidence is there for this assertion?”, I admit that I am being somewhat speculative here, as I did from the very beginning of this thread; but I do see some evidence of this idea in relation to the importance of procreation in the OT. Prior to speaking with you, it seemed as though people were assuming that there is some basis for this, which is why I began to assume it in my questions.

            I am not trying to “win” in this conversation; just looking to get a better grasp on the issues and hopefully learn something. If you do not desire to answer my questions, that is fine. I’d appreciate it, though, if they were not simply brushed aside as insignificant, and if you wouldn’t shift the conversation to minor matters that avoid the central thrust of my questions (no disrepect intended).

          • Curtis

            Brian,

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to brush aside your questions.

            With respect to your questions:

            > How is your attitude different from the attitude of the colonizers in this case?

            By acknowledging the essential role that the entire community has played throughout history in raising children and ensuring the community’s survival, I’m rejecting the western, 20th century notion of nuclear family, not trying to impose our modern morality on “lesser people”.

            > why is it that those of us in the West assume that arguing for the legitimacy of homosexual practice is purely a cause to bring liberty to the oppressed, and not equally (or even more so) the agenda of the American empire?

            Throughout history people have strived toward some universal principals of morality, or to use the 20th century phrase, “human rights”. Throughout most of history, morality was a local concern. In the 20th century, humans have learned that our morality now has a global reach — all humans on Earth are now inextricably connected to each other.

            The global connectedness of us all leaves us with the unavoidable task of facing what our global morality will look like. It is not a task we are asking for; it is the unavoidable reality of all us having to survive on the same planet together.

            > What has formed the logic behind our positions? Could it be that latent colonial presuppositions are at work behind the scenes, largely controlling the ways in which we come to our conclusions?

            Of course, any moral argument can be dismissed as an attempt to impose the moral standards of one group onto another group. We could discredit our killing of the Nazis on the same grounds. We could discredit our effort to feed starving children on the same grounds. We could discredit the ending of black slavery on the South on the same grounds, and on and on.

            In the end, the moral standard that we choose to apply as a community, the civil rights that we choose to assert, can only be arrived at through mutual dialogue. Our global dialogue is far from finished. Whether the issues is economic justice, slavery, child labor, the role of women, ethnic strife, sexual orientation, or a myriad of other socio-economic challenges that any group of people experience, we can only arrive at some common understanding of morality through dialogue.

            Arguing in favor of the civil rights of homosexuals is only part of the dialogue, it is not the whole dialogue. But the whole dialogue must be had. Arguments in favor of civil rights of homosexuals cannot be silenced simply because they are only one side of the debate.

          • Brian MacArevey

            Curtis,

            Thank you for your response.

            “Arguing in favor of the civil rights of homosexuals is only part of the dialogue, it is not the whole dialogue. But the whole dialogue must be had. Arguments in favor of civil rights of homosexuals cannot be silenced simply because they are only one side of the debate.”

            I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    • http://LostCodex.com DRT

      Richard, assume for a minute, and I really am asking you to do this, assume that Jesus really did say it is fine for women to marry and that men can too if they were in love. We don’t have anything that says he did not say that, so he very well could have. And Scot did say that Jesus did overturn other parts of the old testament, so it is definitely within reason that he may have thought that way.

      Well, then would be right in discriminating against homosexuals? The answer is clearly that we would not be in the right for doing that.

      So what you are doing is ignoring all the arguments that Scot made in his posts that make the room for acceptance of homosexual unions and you still go back and make a statement that basically says that you don’t care if what Scot says makes sense, you are going to believe what you want.

      Don’t you see that?

      And if there is more ambiguity with regard to slavery than homosexuality (and I disagree with that statement whole heartily), how is that relevant?

      • Richard

        @ DRT

        I can imagine that scenario but it seems logical to me that as revolutionary as a lot of the social boundary expansions of the early church were, this one would have been recorded also. Arguments from silence (while inherently weak) seem to favor Jesus not having addressed it, especially since none of the disciples challenge Paul on his stance regarding homosexual actions.

        As for “discriminating against homosexuals,” I’m not sure what actions you’re referring to here. As I mention below in reply to Aric, if something is a sin then addressing it as a sin is not discrimination. I don’t think orientation precludes anyone from serving in the church (anymore than divorce, obesity, greed, etc) but I’m not convinced the answer is to act like it’s not happening (again the same as with divorce, obesity, greed, etc). I don’t think the church should be waging a war against gay marriage/civil rights. I’d much prefer to see the state handle that and the church continue to bless those whom they view are honoring God in their union (and that’s intentionally ambiguous language because I believe that churches that bless homosexual marriages are still churches as long as they’re striving to exalt Christ in all they say and do) and I’d support legislative efforts to make that happen.

        The ambiguity re: slavery is relevant in that within the various voices of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, there seem to be internal tensions that aren’t present in the texts regarding homosexual behavior (of which there are very few in my mind).

        @ Aric

        I agree with many of your points, which is why I’m wrestling with this as the pastor of a conservative-leaning congregation in the midwest. If homosexual action is sin, then justice and mercy wouldn’t be smoothing it over and acting like it’s not a problem. That’s why this question matters in my mind so much. And the question behind the question is, “what is sin?” or “how do we determine what is sin?” which is really vital. I agree it’s not as simple as finding a single prohibition. In fact, off the top of my head, it’s really only two passages from Paul that are sticking points for me in this.

        And I absolutely agree on the need for justice and mercy toward all, regardless of their sin or sinlessness. I’m just wrestling with what that looks like in practice.

        What does it look like for me, as shepherd of a diverse flock that ranges from full embrace and inclusion to ‘that’s an abomination,’ to shape a community that is welcoming to all of us sinners , gays and bigots and everyone in between? If I take seriously that there needs to be an act of repentance for both sides, what does that look like? You set justice and mercy against purity but I don’t see Jesus doing that. His holiness, purity, justice, and mercy transform our unholiness, impurity, injustice, and lack of mercy through his presence. That’s the real fruit of the Spirit – transformation.

        • http://LostCodex.com DRT

          Richard, I am not arguing that it is true because Jesus was silent. I am arguing that we need to strongly consider it because Jesus was silent. I get frustrated when people automatically say the argument from silence is weak. It is not if the argument you are making is that there is no prohibition against it therefore we need to look to Jesus other teachings to help us in our interpretation.

          What it seemed to me that you are arguing is that we should not use Jesus teachings in this case because the other evidence exists. I am saying that is non-sensical because we were taught by Jesus to look to him and use him as the interpretation.

          The conclusion of his silence is not that we fall back on the other texts, it is that we use his rule of love to ascertain what his interpretation of the other texts might be and how we can make a judgment today.

          Further, I wanted to make it hit home a bit more that it is appropriate to look at Jesus teachings because he could have condoned it. I actually believe that he would condone it today, without question.

  • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

    “Gagnon wants to convince us that the theological and scientific arguments which reject his way of reading the Bible must be wrong because they contradict his conclusion about homosexual practice.”

    Right on the money, bro! Now I’m not a science wiz by any stretch of the imagination. I’m one of those guys who thinks that if science can’t explain it, then it must not be true. However, if the majority if established scientists and psychologists agree that, based on years of meticulous research, that homosexuality is normal and healthy, then I think it’s time we rethink how we read the Bible.

    • Casey

      “…if the majority if established scientists and psychologists agree that, based on years of meticulous research, that homosexuality is normal and healthy, then I think it’s time we rethink how we read the Bible.”

      Travis,

      I’m struggling to think of a statement that exhibits less confidence in God or the scriptures that bear witness to him. That may be one of the scariest quotes I’ve seen on this blog.

      Yowzers.

      • James

        Gotta love it when conservatives like Casey turn God into a club to hit another Christian over the head for having a more critical reading of the bible. So just because one draws on the sciences to assist in the interpretive process means that one lacks “confidence in God”? What an absurd, naive thing to say.

        • Casey

          James,

          I was not trying to clobber anyone. I’m sure Travis and I would have a rousing time at the pub [which I extend an invitation if we are ever near one another].

          Where Travis and I would likely differ is over how science and scientists should be used in the interpretive process. There is a difference in using reasoned science and abdicating interpretation to a majority of scientists.

          The caution here is that the world around us largely follows the way of human autonomy. It says, “Think for yourself.” It regards the Bible as
          an ancient and merely human book [with primitive ideas]. So it advises us that we should just accept what scientists tell us. It is ironic, then, to find autonomous thinking described in the biblical account of the Fall. The serpent casts doubts on God’s word (“You will not surely die,” Gen. 3:4) and advocates making up one’s mind independently of God’s instruction. The serpent advocates autonomy. Genesis 3 shows that
          Adam’s and Eve’s choice to be autonomous leads to death, spiritually and then physically. This is what made Travis’s comment so scary.

          Science is a human endeavor, and human beings are sinners. So we need to be careful. Human beings are still made in the image of God, so we should respect and value human achievements. But sin generates distortions in human thinking, distortions that God overcomes by Christ’s redemption. And Christ’s redemptive provision for us includes the words in the Bible, which have God’s authority and lead us into the path of godly thinking and godly action (Ps. 119:105).

          The law governing the world is God’s speech. God’s speech expresses his personal power and wisdom; it is not an impersonal mechanism. Modern science, in seeking to understand “the laws of nature,” is really seeking to understand how the word of God governs the world. But many modern scientists have strayed from the truth. They think of law as an impersonal mechanism. This kind of thinking is a form of idolatry, conforming to the Bible’s description in Romans 1:22–23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.…” In ancient times, people
          made physical statues to represent false gods. Now, people often exchange God for a substitute in the form of an allegedly impersonal, mechanical law. This kind of substitution is still a form of idolatry.

          Idolatry involves foolishness (Rom. 1:21–22), and foolishness leads to misjudgments. We must therefore be prepared to sift pronouncements made in the name of science, rather than merely submitting to them.

        • Casey

          I also want to encourage Travis by saying that the world around us tells us to accept the latest scientific pronouncements as the product of experts who know much better than we do. Yet as Christians, though we must not overestimate our knowledge or our expertise, we have in the Bible a divine message that we can trust and a Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth. We ought to use this guidance and not shrink back from where modern science can be seen for its idolatry.

          • James

            God’s redemptive work clearly did not provide us with a divinely dictated book but a human life in Jesus Christ. The two have to be separated more than you think. While science is surely conditioned by human finitude, so were the biblical authors themselves. I never cease to be amazed by such defenses of biblicism like this, Casey. Good luck in defending that kind of head-in-the-sand Christianity in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bible is thoroughly conditioned by fallible human authors – however important it surely is as a witness to the Christ event. But for some of us, we will continue to speak up on behalf of those who are oppressed by your brand of dangerous biblicism. It is biblicism that justified slavery, makes the sciences threatening to faith, perpetuates sexism, and continues to justify heterosexism.

          • Frank

            James what is that “overwhelming evidence” that you speak of?

    • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

      I just realized I made an embarrassing typo. The above comment should read. “I’m NOT one of those guys who thinks that if science can’t explain it, then it must not be true.” My bad!

  • Carolyn Positi

    A wonderful piece and discussion with one flaw. Children are awarded settlements from vaccine injury including MMR all the time. There are lots of studies backing Wakefield up. He is not a fraud he is a hero speaking truth to power. Go see ageofautism.com . Ironically mercury overload can disrupt hormones and mercury (google gay flamingo) is in vaccines and is part of gold mining and medical treatments. Anyhow Jesus was kind to everyone and that’s enough information to tell me gay is okay. Please see ageofautism.com . I know my son got brain inflammation immediately after a shot. So come up with another example of fraud okay?

  • http://www.craigladams.com/blog/ Craig L. Adams

    Scot, I was with you until you got to the slavery thing. But, thanks for your reflections.

    • Frank

      I was impressed with Scot up to that point as well. I guess when you really cannot discount the text you must try and introduce a straw man to deflect.

      So now since we should all be able to agree based on scriptural evidence, not opinion, humanist or emotional reasoning, that the bible is clear that homosexual behavior is a sin, what does love and acceptance look like? I would imagine it would look like the love and acceptance of every other sinner.

      Homosexual supporters should now rejoice as gay people now have acceptance, like everyone else, into the body of Christ, and will be treated like every other sinner or habitual sinner if they choose to continue to sin.

      • Basil

        Frank
        You are being completely dishonest AGAIN (shock, shock!). Scott’s examination of the scripture casts fatal doubt on Gagnon’s interpretation, and he has quite rightly established that Gagnon has arbitrarily and without cause dismissed any alternative interpretations, probably because he has an authoritarian mindset and an excess of ego. So the only thing we can “all agree” upon is your persistence in trying to use the Bible as a weapon to justify your own bigotry towards gay persons which is manifest in every post you put up here. The linguistic tip-off to your naked bigotry is the fact that you insist on calling people homosexuals, which is a loaded and derogatory term similar to calling African-Americans “Negroes”.

        I’m sorry your hatred and disrespect of gay people has led you to this place of intellectual and moral dishonesty. It’s just pathetic.

  • Casey

    Scot,

    You write, “…the analogy is between how Christians have interpreted the Bible on slavery and how Christians have interpreted the Bible on homosexuality. The analogy is about two defective ways of interpreting scripture . . . The biblical argument for abolition and the biblical argument against the sin of homosexual practice cannot be made by quoting particular scriptures (Where does God say that slavery should be abolished? Where does God say that same-sex couples are not sinning?) Rather, the scriptural appeals have to be made to a larger theological trajectory in scripture. That’s what the abolitionists had to do. And that’s what those [some] of us who reject the sin of homosexuality [try to] do.”

    In regards to hermeneutics…

    The NT provides the final ethical standard for Christians in the New Covenant. The “theological trajectory” system of hermeneutics that you propose fails adequately to consider the fact that the moral standards of the Bible are not based on what God thought might be a temporary, partial step toward holiness for people within any given culture, but are based on God’s unchanging moral purity, to which he calls us to conform: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). The moral commands of the Bible do not need improvement. They reflect the absolute moral holiness of God himself.

    Hence, most evangelicals (including me) affirm that we are under the moral authority of the NT, and we are morally obligated to obey its commands when we are in the same situation as that addressed in the NT command (such as being a parent, a child, a husband, a wife, and so forth). When there is no exact modern equivalent to some aspect of a command (such as, “honor the emperor” in 1 Pet 2:17), then we are still obligated to obey the command, but we do so by applying it to situations that are essentially similar to the one found in the NT. In making such adjustments we do not have to abandon any NT ethical standards or say they are less than perfect. We just obey them by applying them to a similar but somewhat different situation. This is what obedience looks like in the New Covenant community.

    In proposing a “theological trajectory” to determine what is appropriate for NT Christian behavior, you fail to recognize the centrality of Jesus Christ for all of history. Yes, there is trajectory and development beyond the OT, because in the OT “at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” Yet by contrast, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:1-2). In the writings of the NT we have a written record of the revelation that God gave us in Christ and the revelation that Christ gave to his apostles. We are not to look for doctrinal or ethical development beyond the teachings and commands of the NT, for that would be to look for development beyond the supreme revelation of God in his Son.

    Christians living in the time of Paul’s epistles were living under the new covenant. And Christians today are also living under the new covenant (1 Cor 11:25). That means that we are living today in the same period in God’s plan for “the history of redemption” as the first-century Christians. And that is why we can read and directly apply the NT today.

    • http://www.craigladams.com/blog/ Craig L. Adams

      In the Wesleyan tradition particularly, opposition to slavery arose among people like John Wesley, Adam Clarke, etc. — people who could easily be called “biblicists.” Ditto for the Women’s Equality & Women in Ministry issues, which, again, were advocated in the Holiness Movement long before the advent of the modern feminist movement. (On the latter, see, for example this: http://steelesanswers.blogspot.com/2011/12/womans-sphere-in-church.html )

  • Casey

    Scot,

    In regards to abolitionists and the slavery issue…

    Do not discount all of the centuries of Christian commentators who argued against slavery from the moral teaching of the Bible itself. Rather than saying that we needed a better ethic than the NT (“theological trajectory”), they took the moral teachings of the Bible as definitive and argued that slavery was itself contrary to those NT moral standards.

    In actual historical fact, the Bible was used by more Christians to oppose slavery than to defend it, and eventually their arguments won, and slavery was abolished. But the fundamental difference between abolitionists and pro-gay supporters is that the evangelical, Bible-believing Christians who ultimately brought about the abolition of slavery did not advocate modifying or nullifying any biblical teaching, or advocating a trajectory “beyond” the NT to a better ethic. They taught the abolition of slavery from the Bible itself. This comment is already hellishly long, but this can easily be demonstrated if necessary.
    Most evangelical interpreters today would say that the NT does not command or encourage or endorse slavery, but rather tells Christians who were slaves how they should conduct themselves within that situation, and also gives principles that would modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery (1 Cor 7:21-22; Gal 3:28; Philem 16, 21).

    When we couple Paul’s teachings in 1 Cor 7:21, his condemnation of “enslavers” in 1 Tim 1:10, and his directions to Philemon, with the realization that every human being is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27; 9:6; Jas 3:9; see also Job 31:15; Gal 3:28), and the teaching that whatever we do for the least of Christ’s brothers we do for him (Mt 25:40), we then see that the Bible, and especially the NT, contains powerful principles that would lead to an abolition of slavery. The NT never commands people to practice slavery or to own slaves, but rather gives principles that would lead to the overthrow of that institution, and also regulates it while it is in existence by statements such as, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a master in heaven” (Col 4:1).

    What is significant about the anti-slavery movements is that they did not adopt your “theological trajectory” hermeneutic. They did not see any need to abandon the moral teachings of the NT and seek some trajectory that improved on the ethic of the Bible. They argued from the moral standards found in the Bible itself, and they won the arguments again and again in the minds of the vast majority of Christians.

    I’ve appreciated your posts much more than the comments that have followed, but let us be clear when comparing slavery and homosexuality in the NT. It is clear that one can oppose slavery without adopting a “theological trajectory” hermeneutic. The same cannot be said for homosexuality.

    • Luke Allison

      Casey,

      I’ll just push back on your comment here a little by saying that the abolitionists by and large used narrative themes like the Exodus and Jesus’ mission to argue against slavery. In a sense, they were speaking more out of the prophetic tradition than out of any sort of proto-inerrantist hermeneutic.
      http://www.brycchancarey.com/abolition/index.htm

      Something closer to the liberation theology of Gutierrez than the present-day biblicist method.

      • Casey

        Luke,

        I wouldn’t consider that a pushback at all. Understanding the narrative thrust of Scripture is what any faithful and reliable Bible interpreter does. Of course narrative themes are drawn upon, they are also coupled with definite principles like the eighth commandment, Exodus 21.16, persons created in God’s image, and the NT case of Philemon, among others. Whether these folks were more like Gutierrez in one’s eyes or not unrelated to the point I was making. What I cared to show was the anti-slavery movements did not resort to a “theological trajectory” hermeneutic. They did not see any need to abandon the moral teachings of the NT and seek some trajectory that improved on the ethic of the Bible. They argued from the moral standards [and narrativ themes] clearly present in the Bible itself.

        • Luke Allison

          Casey,

          Fair enough. I understand where you’re coming from, but I think we’re on completely different pages.

          “They argued from the moral standards [and narrativ themes] clearly present in the Bible itself.”

          They did so very obliquely. It wasn’t a whole lot different than saying, “God is love, and love is patient, kind, etc…so how could a God who is love allow any of his creation to suffer in hell for eternity?” Since the great theme of Scripture is that God is a covenant-making-and-keeping deity, the modern understanding of eternal conscious torment doesn’t make sense to people who sense the greater theme.
          In the same way, those who grasped the greater themes of acceptance, value, and freedom in the Scripture saw forceful slavery as an offense to those themes.

          In regards to the “ethic” of the Bible….I don’t agree that there is one definable ethic across the whole of Scripture…here’s a point of contention between us, I’m sure.
          We treated divorced and remarried women terribly for hundreds of years due to Jesus’ teaching on the subject. And yet we wouldn’t do that now. Why?

          Let me ask a few more questions….Were lepers really unclean? Why did Jesus touch and heal lepers and act as though their “unclean” status was an affront to God? Didn’t God initiate their unclean status? Isn’t that a a bit of an evolving ethic?

          When James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, (something Elijah apparently did with God’s help in 2 Kings 2) , why did Jesus rebuke them? Isn’t that the way God treats his enemies?

          I’m not a process theologian, but I feel like a “flat” reading of Scripture as sort of a coherent whole is like playing a piano sonata at one volume. No dynamics, and no expression.

          You and I likely agree about a lot of things. I don’t think, however, that the question of whether the gay lifestyle is a sin is a close-handed issue in Christian faith. There is no Christian consensus on it. If we believe that it is a close-handed issue, then we become remnant-oriented and start believing that the only “true” churches are those that proclaim that lifestyle as a sin.

          Much like the propensity of many churches today to cling to PSA as the only viable interpretation of the atonement (and likely the only viable way to understand “the gospel”), I see this as another way for churches to force areas of personal conviction into the center of “orthodoxy” as it’s been accepted for thousands of years.

          I for one am not going to go there. Did Jesus rise from the dead bodily and truly? Yes. Is everything affected and changed by this historical event? Yes. Has he ascended and been vindicated by God? Yes. Does he now reign over principalities and powers? Not obviously, and not like we want him to, but yes. Will he come some day to judge the living and the dead? Yes….I have no idea how or when, but I still hold to some notion of “God keeping the books” so that no injustice will escape redress, and no amount of kindness in Jesus’ name will be forgotten. Does that have to be violent and blood-soaked? No.

          I respect your thoughts and opinions, which is why I spend time writing something long like this. Hopefully this doesn’t come across as combative or smarmy. I honestly believe we can differ significantly on the purpose and “proper reading” of Scripture and still maintain loving community. Call me crazy.

  • James

    Craig, first, I would certainly differ in seeing Wesley as a biblicist. Taking the bible seriously like Wesley doesn’t equate to biblicism. Second, I realize progressive reform sometimes came from within conservative circles. That’s great. They elevated certain biblical principles of justice over unjust voices in the text (even if they didn’t always admit to it). But it doesn’t change the fact that most biblicists by far were in the past – and remain today – caught in a narrow, literalist paradigm that too often prioritizes a book over human well-being.

    • Frank

      I guess it all comes down to your definition of “well being.”

      Does well being mean that someone lives the way they want?

      Does well being mean “whatever makes you happy?”

      Does well being mean Gods desire for our lives?

  • http://www.bookmeal.blogspot.com Becky Bonham

    I’ve been reading Scot’s posts and the following comments with great interest – I’m still processing everything. But I have one question: I have a book on my shelf waiting to be read, “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” by William Webb. I’m wondering if anyone has read this, and if so, how it adds to the slavery/homosexuality analogy?

    • Curtis

      I’m a little skeptical about this whole slaves / women / homosexuals analogy. On the one hand, it is easy to demonstrate how human understanding of the Bible can lead to wrong conclusions, and these three topics may be used as illustrations of that point.

      But I think it would be easy to take this slaves / women / homosexuals analogy too far. My skepticism comes from that fact that, while 10th century B.C. society had a definition of women somewhat analogous to our own definition of women, and had a definition of slavery somewhat analogous to our own definition of slavery, I’m not at all convinced that 10th century society had a definition of sexuality anything like the way we view sexuality in the 21st century. I highly doubt “sexual orientation” had any meaning in 10th century B.C. So when I hear the word “homosexuality” used in a 10th century B.C. social context, I have a hunch that word probably means something very, very different than “homosexuality” does today.

      The slaves / women / homosexuals analogy may be useful to a point, but we have to be careful not to take it too far.

      By the way, when you finish reading Webb, please write back and let me know what you find out. And if you’ve got the time, likewise with John McNeill, John Boswell, Fr. Daniel Helminiak and Robin Scoggs. I’m too lazy to read them myself!

      • http://www.bookmeal.blogspot.com Becky

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