After I posted two articles here critiquing the traditional view of Homosexuality – Why Romans Doesn’t Condemn Homosexuality and The Abomination of a Close Shave – someone brought them to the attention of well-known anti-gay Christian scholar, Robert A. Gagnon.
Just in case you’re not aware, Gagnon is often quoted in anti-gay documentaries or asked to appear on radio and television interviews to provide scriptural evidence that God hates homosexuality and that being gay is a choice to live in disobedience to God and His Holy Word. He’s something of an expert. [Just ask him].
Gagnon, after reading my articles, wrote a carefully worded response which I will share in full, and respond to his comments below.
Here’s Gagnon’s rebuttal:
“A fellow by the name of Keith Giles has posted online an article entitled “Why Romans Doesn’t Condemn Homosexuality.” Normally I wouldn’t respond to such things because Keith Giles, to my knowledge, has no standing in the guild of biblical scholars. However, since many people have forwarded me his article, I’m making an exception. All that I know of Keith Giles comes from his byline: “Keith Giles is the author of several books, including ‘Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb’. He is also the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.”
“Well, the last-mentioned activity is appropriately named because in pushing the acceptance of homosexual unions, when Jesus viewed a male-female prerequisite for marriage (and thus all sexual relations) as foundational for sexual ethics, from which Jesus derived a limitation of two persons to a sexual union, Keith Giles adopts a heretical position.
“Now as to his argument….Giles contends that Paul is limiting his indictment of homosexual behavior in Rom 1:24-27 to actions conducted in the context of pagan ritual worship. My friends, this is dumb. Now in my first book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon), first published 17 years ago, I have four-and-a-half full pages in a section entitled, “Did Paul Think Only Idol Worshipers Could Engage in Same-Sex Intercourse” (pp. 284-89) devoted to showing why this is a bad argument. Does Giles even bother to read that or any other substantive rebuttal before he comes out in support of a view that represents a radical departure from the historic Christian witness? Is it too much to ask him to read 4½ pages and attempt to respond to the arguments therein?
“For example, did it ever occur to him that none of the other vices that Paul goes on to mention in vv. 28-31 (like arrogance, greed, murder) are wrong only in the context of idolatrous associations? Paul’s point is not that these vices occur only in idolatrous contexts but rather that in ignoring the evidence of “the things God made” to worship statues in the image of humans or (worse still) animals, humans are more likely to ignore the evidence of male-female complementarity in human sexual structures.
“Or did it ever occur to Giles that the general term for sexual “impurity” or “uncleanness” (akatharsia) in Rom 1:24 includes not only homosexual practice but also adultery, incest, bestiality, and fornication? Are these behaviors also wrong only in the context of idolatrous associations? Or that Paul’s mention again of “impurity” or “uncleanness” in 6:19 to characterize a past pattern of behavior to which Christians must not return does not presuppose conduct only in the context of idolatrous worship?
“Or did it ever occur to Giles that, had Paul wished to single out sex in the context of idolatrous cults, there was no reason to limit his indictment to same-sex relations? Or that nothing in the description of Rom 1:26-27 presupposes idolatrous associations but only the fact of females having sex with females and males having sex with males?
“Or did it not occur to Giles that Paul’s indictment of lesbianism doesn’t fit the claim since we know of no cultic acts involving lesbian sex?
“Or did Giles stop to think that the reference to “men who lie with a male” (arsenokoitai), a distinctly Jewish term formulated from the absolute Levitical prohibitions of man-male intercourse (18:22; 20:13), in the offender list in 1 Cor 6:9-10 (so too 1 Tim 1:9-10) is an offender group distinct from idolaters?
“Or did Giles not ponder that no Jew in the ancient world (including two prominent first-century Jews, Philo of Alexandria and Josephus) limited their indictment of homosexual practice to same-sex relations in idolatrous contexts?
“Is Giles even aware that there is a clear intertextual echo between Rom 1:23-27 and Genesis 1:26-27 that establishes that Paul rejects all homosexual practice because of what it is not: a relationship that conforms to God’s design of a complementary sexual pair, “male and female [God] made them”?
“Even William Loader, a NT scholar who is thoroughly supportive of homosexual relationships and who has written more on sexual ethics in early Judaism and Christianity than anyone in modern times acknowledges that “It is inconceivable that [Paul] would approve of any same-sex acts” and that Rom 1:26-27 “included, but [was] by no means limited to exploitative pederasty,” “sexual abuse of male slaves,” or “same-sex acts … performed within idolatrous ritual contexts” (The New Testament on Sexuality [Eerdmans, 2012], 322, 325).
“Similarly, Bernadette Brooten, a self-identified lesbian and a NT scholar who wrote a major work on lesbianism in antiquity, has stated: “I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God” (Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism [University of Chicago Press, 1996], 244).
“So too “gay” historian Louis Crompton, though expressing sympathy for the claim that “Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships,” soberly acknowledges that “such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian” (Homosexuality and Civilization [Harvard University Press, 2003], 114).
“In short, is it too much to ask Keith Giles to read and grapple with the strongest arguments against the position that he wants to reach to satisfy his own prior ideology?”
Note: Since I’m not friends with Robert Gagnon, I cannot comment directly to his Facebook page. This is why I’m sharing my response here.
Honestly, I’m kinda humbled that someone of Gagnon’s stature would even sneeze in my direction. After all, as he so rightly brings to everyone attention, I don’t have my membership card to the Guild of Biblical Scholars. [Maybe my application got lost in the pile?]
Still, he does nail me on my greatest sin – the failure to read everything that Mister Gagnon has ever written on this daunting subject before daring to attempt to handle such befuddling Biblical texts with only my own meager wits to guide me through the darkness.
He’s right: I did NOT read all his writings in advance of writing my article.
Still, it would have been nice of him to at least attack my arguments more than he attacked me as a lowly, unscholarly peon. But I guess I’m just an easy target. That low-hanging fruit will get you every time. [Just ask Eve].
Anyway, what Gagnon fails to consider is that I might have actually read lots of other great scholarly material [other than his own] and even used some of it in the past to argue exactly what he is arguing for today – that homosexuality is a low-down, dirty sin.
He also fails to consider that I may have gone on to read even more New Testament scholars who [gasp] may disagree with him on these verses and that I may also have even prayed about this for several months, consulted a half-dozen of my friends who are both gay, and/or trained scholars and respected Bible teachers to get their take on these verses, and even to have them vet my own perspective on these verses.
What I think Gagnon fails to realize mostly is his own agenda and bias in this area. He has developed a very large persona in the realm of anti-gay Christian Scholarship. He’s been quoted and interviewed and appeared on documentaries as an anti-gay pastoral expert on the topic and written oh-so-many books and articles and blogs and post-it-notes and perhaps even a song or two about how God hates gayness and homosexuality is super-bad for you.
As I read through his lengthy, condescending “rebuttal” of my articles, what I do not fail to consider is how Gagnon starts out from an assumption – that all gay people are sinners who need to repent or face the judgment and hellfire for all eternity. Because of that bias, he can’t help but read those scriptures any other way. So, in some ways, I don’t blame him for being so self-assured of his view. For him, it’s an open-and-shut case.
But, I no longer come at this from the same angle that he does. I used to, but not anymore.
For me, there are several factors in play when it comes to verses of this sort in the New Testament: First, that there is a cultural bias on the author’s end that isn’t necessarily relevant to us today. Second, that there are linguistic and translation biases in our English Bibles that prevent us from seeing other possibilities. Finally, that there are hundreds of years [as Gagnon even mentions in his rebuttal] of tradition which reinforces those cultural biases and translation errors [or “choices”] made many years ago.
Gagnon doesn’t accept any of that. To him, all of that massive amount of tradition and unwavering narrowmindedness [for lack of a better term], is evidence itself that he is right and I am so very, very wrong.
This is exactly the same sort of reasoning [and translation bias] that helps to keep women out of the pulpit and “silent” in the Churches and forbidden from teaching a man.
It was also the same sort of approach that once kept black slaves in chains prior to the Civil War and allowed Christians to argue in favor of the practice using the Holy Bible.
I’d argue that this sort of approach isn’t very helpful, or Christlike. But, who am I? I don’t even have my Guild of Biblical Scholarship t-shirt.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is also the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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Please, join me at one of these upcoming events:
*Organic Church Conference with Neil Cole, Ross Rohde, Dan Notti and Keith Giles on Saturday, May 12 in Long Beach, CA. Register here>
*Jesus, the Bible and the Holy Spirit Conference with Jon Zens, Tom Atkinson, and Keith Giles, on May 18-20 in Seattle, WA. Register here>
*The Nonviolent Love of Christ: How Loving Our Enemies Saves The World, with Joshua Lawson and Keith Giles on Saturday, June 16 in Portsmouth Ohio. Register here>
*Crucifying Our Politics with Keith Giles on June 24 in Cleveland, OH. Register here>