I am not interested in the fact that John Piper disapproves of the celebration of LGBTQ Pride. The reason is that Piper and his ilk have no bearing on my life, as folks who think like him are becoming more and more irrelevant, and for good reason.
However, because John Piper – indeed, all the hyper-Calvinist nonsense folks like him espouse – still has his blood-sucking, life-killing tendrils in so many corners of the Christian church, I would be remiss not to comment on his most recent attempt at intellectual thought, entitled “A Peculiar Disapproval of Gay Pride.”
I make these comments, not because the article I’m critiquing is, in and of itself, worthy of anyone’s time, but because when I came across a fellow member of the LGBTQ community on Facebook who was again harmed by yet another so-called faith leader’s (not so) veiled bigotry, my heart broke for them.
Piper’s article begins where most Calvinist blather begins – with blood. Blood-soaked this; blood-covered that. Blood. Blood. Blood. How this relates to the LGBTQ community is a bit of a stretch, but that doesn’t stop Piper, who writes:
Distinctly Christian disapproval of sin is rooted in the sin-covering blood of Jesus Christ. It is sustained by the supernaturally transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And it aims at the glory of God in the Christ-exalting joy of as many transformed sinners as possible. The ability to experience a distinctly Christian disapproval of sin is a miracle from God.
The only thing I can gather from Piper stating this here, is that he is setting the stage (read: poisoning the well) for his disapproval of our so-called sin. He’s appealing to his uniquely “Christian” authority to disapprove of “homosexual” sin because the blood of Jesus gives him that distinct and, in his words, peculiar authority.
Piper then goes on, albeit in a less than unique manner, to explain to the whole wide world why there is disapproval at all. His go-to tactic? Turn to the apostle Paul, of course:
The apostle Paul locates the origin of homosexual desires in the humanity-wide exchange of the glory of God for the glory of man. He argues that, because of this humanity-infecting exchange, men and women exchange natural relations with the opposite sex for unnatural relations with the same sex. In other words, this valuing of humans over God finds one expression in valuing the kind of human in the mirror over the opposite sex.
Of course, Piper here is referring to Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically chapter 1, verses 22-27, which read:
They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. . . . For this reason . . . their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
The problem with plucking Paul’s words from the first century and applying them to the twenty-first is, at minimum, threefold.
Three Problems with Piper’s Method
First, what went on in first-century Rome is not – I repeat, is not! – what is going on today. Back in ancient Rome, male on male sexual intercourse was typically performed between rich, older, well-to-do men and poor, younger, servant boys. The term for this is pederasty. This is the broader context of homoerotic behavior in the first century, so should be kept in the back of one’s mind when reading passages from Romans or 1 Corinthians (perhaps even Leviticus, though that’s a topic for a different day).
Second, and piggybacking off of the first problem, what we today call “homosexuality” was not a concept back in ancient Rome. Sure, like I just said, homoerotic behaviors were aplenty. Male on male and female on female intercourse occurred. In fact, a lot of homoeroticism went on in the many drunken orgies that were taking place during Paul’s day. But as a sexual identity? That’s simply not how people conceptualized things. Here’s how the Oxford Classical Dictionary begins its entry on what homosexuality was and was not in classical antiquity:
No Greek or Latin word corresponds to the modern term homosexuality, and ancient Mediterranean societies did not in practice treat homosexuality as a socially operative category of personal or public life. Sexual relations between persons of the same sex certainly did occur (they are widely attested in ancient sources), but they were not systematically distinguished or conceptualized as such, much less were they thought to represent a single, homogeneous phenomenon in contradistinction to sexual relations between persons of different sexes. That is because the ancients did not classify kinds of sexual desire or behavior according to the sameness or difference of the sexes of the persons who engaged in a sexual act; rather, they evaluated sexual acts according to the degree to which such acts either violated or conformed to norms of conduct deemed appropriate to individual sexual actors by reason of their gender, age, and social status . . . The application of “homosexuality” (and “heterosexuality”) in a substantive and normative sense to sexual expression in classical antiquity is not advised.
So, with this fact in mind, what, exactly, was Paul denouncing in Romans 1:22-27? Honestly, given the overall point Paul is attempting to make in his letter, it doesn’t really matter, which brings me to my third point.
The list of vices used throughout the end of Romans 1 aren’t really that important in terms of what Paul’s main goal is in the letter. The point begins in chapter 2, when Paul hits the members of the Roman church with the sledgehammer: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Put most simply: Paul was concerned with hypocrisy.
You see, what was going on in Rome (as well as the Galatian churches) is that a group of False Teachers were spreading, not only lies about Paul and his message, but a false gospel that was antithetical to Paul’s. These False Teachers would have been on their way to Rome or just recently arrived when Paul penned his letter and then had Phoebe (a woman, Piper!) read it to them. They would have been spreading the message that in order to become a follower of Jesus, one had to keep certain Jewish rites like eating Kosher, keeping the Sabbath, and, if male, becoming circumcised. They were also spreading fairly commonly held anti-Gentile rhetoric that can be found in places like Wisdom of Solomon 13-14 (especially 14:22-28), which is largely reflected in the vices listed throughout Romans 1:18-32.
But Paul wasn’t having any of that, which is why he wrote his letter to the Romans in the first place. It’s also why the letter seems so confusing at first glance. Paul seems all over the map in many ways. The reason for this is because Paul is actually using a Greek rhetorical method of argumentation called prosopopoeia. Put most simply, prosopopoeia is Paul’s way of writing out a rhetorical argument between himself and the False Teachers in order to show the members of the church how ridiculous their gospel is. Which means, not everything Paul wrote in Romans is really Paul’s beliefs. Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell explains it this way in The Deliverance of God:
There are certain instances where Paul attributes material to the Teacher directly, using the technique of prosopopoeia. In these texts the Teacher in effect speaks for himself (although suitably crafted by Paul, of course) – first in the opening of his usual conversation speech (1:18-32), and then later in dialogue with Paul (3:1-9). However, for much of the rest of the argument Paul is quoting the Teacher’s teaching, and rather sarcastically, and this is entirely consistent with his main rhetorical goal throughout the section, which is to refute the Teacher in terms of his own gospel.
Again, to pluck out some verses from Paul about the type of male on male homoeroticism that was taking place throughout the Roman empire in a letter where Paul is often sarcastically quoting those whom he would later refute with their own internal logic is more ironic than any of the so-called ironies Alanis Morissette uses in her now famous song. That is to say, it’s really, really ironic, don’t ya think?
Piper’s Entire Premise
Because of Piper’s reading of Romans, he has forced his entire premise to hinge on the fact that “homosexuality” – regardless of any semblance of context – is an unnatural abomination that is something fallen men exchange for the glory of God. He of course puts in the caveat that it both is and is not different than other forms of sin (theft, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling), but then adds that “homosexuality” is in fact different for two reasons: 1) People celebrate being a part of the LGBTQ community whereas they don’t celebrate other sins (typically), and 2) that we who are a part of this community have exchanged “natural” relations with relations that are “contrary to nature.” Piper goes on:
In sexual relations, the penis was not made for the anus. It was made for the vagina. In sodomy, the distortion of that natural use is so flagrant as not to be a mere diversion of the male sex organ from its natural use, but a perversion of it. Revulsion is the emotional counterpart to that linguistic reality.
For anyone who has a basic understanding of human biology, this is nonsense. First off, find me a Christian who would apply this logic mutatis mutandis to oral sex (which is technically categorized as sodomy) and I’ll find you some oceanfront property in Kansas. Dirt cheap, too! And secondly, if you understand what role the prostate can play in anal sex, then you’ll know why Piper is so out of his league here that I probably don’t need to say more.
Like most of those who think like Piper, what he wrote in this piece (of crap) is called “love.” It’s the kind of “tough love” Christians use to justify their bigotry and closed-mindedness, but at the end of the day, it’s neither Christian nor loving. Sure, Piper claims that the “blood of Christ” gives him the privilege – nay, the mandate – to denounce everything but heteronormative sexuality, but this just seems like special pleading hiding behind crafty Christianese.
What’s really behind this ill-conceived “peculiar disapproval,” though, this so-called justification is, like just about everything else discussed in this article, a steamy pile of horse dung. If Christians like Piper want to offer hope, and love, and Christlikeness to the LGBTQ people in their lives – like they claim to want to do – perhaps they should ask us if their actions and attitudes toward us are loving or not. Piper talks about “loving thy neighbor,” but how can anything be called love if you first don’t ask the neighbor how they need to be loved?
At the end of the day, what I learned most about Piper and his ilk at “Desiring God” (read: Desiring Hyper-Calvinist Theology) is that they have built an entire system of peculiar disapproval of the LGBTQ community by saying a lot of words about hope, and life, and joy, and beauty, but in all reality have said nothing new at all. Piper just puts a shiny veneer of pseudo-intellectualism atop a Calvinistic turd. He talks a big game but at the end of the day, leaves me feeling more frustrated for the gay Christian community than ever before. Everything smacked of false piety. His words, albeit quite articulate, were empty and hollow. There was a lack of empathy in his tone, and so I can only hope less and less LGBTQ Christians will stumble upon them. If they do unfortunately find their way to this refuse pile masquerading as “love,” I hope they also stumble upon articles like mine, which will only help to uplift and heal them from the toxicity of the non-affirming “church,” of which Piper is one of their greatest idolized but ignorant members.
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