What must inclusivity exclude?

What must inclusivity exclude? April 28, 2012

“All means all.” It’s a battle-cry that is appropriately Wesleyan. Since we believe in prevenient grace rather than predestination, we understand God’s infinite love for all humanity as the underlying truth that explains everything else about Christianity. Prevenient grace is what leads us to slogans like “Open doors, open minds, open hearts” and the concept of inclusivity for all. The question is what inclusivity really entails, because for everyone to have safety and dignity, sinful behaviors that hurt the community must be excluded.

We live in a society in which certain taboos and assumptions have been deeply engrained in us as normal “civilized” behavior. Thus it would never occur to us for “inclusivity for all” to mean that a group of horny boys could grab a girl off the street and do whatever they wanted with her. But the ancient world did not share this assumption. It was a very sexually violent place. Genesis 19 and Judges 19 attest to the mobs of horny men who were wandering the streets of ancient cities in search of a sexual victim. There was no distinction between consensual sex and rape.

When Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem, the reason his sons massacre the town is because Shechem didn’t get permission from Jacob first. When David’s son Amnon rapes Tamar, she offers herself in marriage to him afterwards to avoid disgracing herself. Rape was just how sex happened.

The solution to the problem of rape in the ancient world was to guard women through the boundaries of a patriarchal order. This is what Leviticus 18 sets out to do: lay boundaries for excluding those sexual relations that do not allow everyone to be safe. Men are told not to have sex with their father, mother, son, daughter, wife’s kin, children’s spouses, other men’s spouses or children, other men, or animals. These boundaries protected the Israelites from the sexual violence that rampaged the ancient cities around them. Homosexuality would have compromised the male patriarch’s role as a gatekeeper protecting the women of his house. It would have made the social order unsafe. Thus inclusivity in ancient Israel excluded homosexual behavior.

The question is whether we need the same exclusions in our community today to provide a social order where everyone can be safe. Some think that patriarchy is the permanent, Biblically prescriptive order for human community and that women will
never be safe from violence without fathers and husbands in charge of them. Others see patriarchy as not only obsolete but an actual source of violence against women that does not allow them full safety and dignity.

John Wesley taught us that when we read our Bibles, it’s entirely appropriate to look for the underlying logic beneath verses that we interpret rather than plucking them out of context as “prooftexts.” Augustine wrote that we are misinterpreting the Bible if we cannot apply the text to love of God or love of neighbor since that’s what Jesus said the whole law and prophets are about.

If Leviticus 18:22 is part of a list of prohibitions that form the basis of safety from sexual violence in a patriarchal society, then its application today hinges on the question of whether patriarchy is still necessary to keep people sexually safe. If so, then homosexuality must be excluded for the sake of inclusivity. If not, then where is the fault line?

There is no question that the saturated commercialization of sex in our culture does violence to human dignity. Whether or not sexual promiscuity is consensual, it does wreck
community, speaking from personal experience. I have no doubt that a boundary-less inclusivity to any and all sexual behaviors would be inherently violent and thus not truly inclusive. But because the gay people I’ve met are nothing like the mobs in places like Sodom that Leviticus 18:22 was written to address, I have trouble seeing that verse as literally applicable to the gender of their orientation.

If you have a different understanding of the purpose of Leviticus 18, I’d love to listen and learn. But I think it has the purpose of excluding violence for the sake of making everybody safe.

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  • Melanie Seier

    Great post! Thank you for your thoughts!

  • I see Lev. 18 through the lens of the New Testament. In Romans 1, the prohibition has more to do with protecting the image of God as reflected in mankind than protecting people against violence – which is certainly not to say that God doesn’t care about protecting people. What I mean is that Romans indicates that certain behaviors are “dishonorable”. They are contrary to God’s plan in nature, and the story of redemption as pictured in the “mystery” of marriage (Eph. 5:32-33).

    As a Christian, I believe that I am not my own. I have been bought with a price. My body is not mine to do as I please with, as I once did. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 6: “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” This means I am not free to express my own sexuality in any way I see fit. This affects and limits me even though I am straight. I am not, for instance, inclined naturally toward monogamy, and yet in order to honor God and my husband I remain faithful. Whatever our natural inclinations, those of us who are in Christ, are called to use our bodies “for the Lord”.

    • Morgan Guyton

      All of these boundaries are contingent upon a view of gender as a binary rather than a spectrum. I’m very wary of putting too much stock in a divine order that is completely abstracted from God’s love for each of His creatures and goal of seeing each of us thrive. There are people who God creates as “male and female” rather than “male” or “female.” Literally hermaphrodites are born with both organs so they’re gay no matter what they do. The way I understand gay people is that they exist somewhere in between fully male or female on the spectrum of gender. This way of thinking about gender was not available to 1st century Jews who also believed that epilepsy was an evil spirit rather than an imbalance of brain chemicals.

      • In either case, whether for the reasons you offer regarding the O.T. context or for the reasons I offer for both Old and New testaments, we still must come to grips with the fact that for God’s reasons, God requires His people to limit their sexuality to expressions he sanctions.

        There were very likely homosexuals in Israel (otherwise the prohibition would have been unnecessary), yet they were forbidden to express this sexuality. Was God not concerned with their happiness and “seeing them thrive”? From the accounts I’ve read, homosexuality was commonplace and legal in Rome and Corinth during the time Paul wrote his epistles. The church at that time embraced those who had been practicing homosexuals (see 1 Cor. 6). This would have been the perfect opportunity, in a sexually diverse culture, much like our own, for God to extend His blessing to monogamous Christian same-sex unions. Yet here, writing to such a church, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, limited sexual expression to husband and wife.

        (I must admit, I do not follow your line of reasoning as to how forbidding heterosexual acts between men prevents abuse of women. In the case of Lot, he couldn’t get the populace of Sodom to rape his virgin daughters even when he tried [Gen. 19:8]. I’ve never met a gay man who was a threat to me or my heterosexual marriage or lifestyle. Perhaps you could clarify.)

        • Morgan Guyton

          First thanks for being willing to have an honest, respectful discussion. I will of course submit to what the Methodist church decides but I think it’s important to wrestle with these issues honestly so that we’re making a Spirit-led decision. If I’m going to faithfully speak about this topic, I need to really get it. If I’m wrong, I need to understand why so I can help other people my age and younger understand because they are leaving the church in droves over this issue.

          First, read Judges 19, not just Genesis 19. These mobs were at least common enough to get mentioned twice in the Bible, once with male potential victims and once with a female victim.

          The patriarchal boundaries were supposed to protect women and men against mobs of men who want to rape other men or women. Leviticus 18 is a list. You’re treating it as though there’s only one verse in Leviticus 18. It’s a system of all the imaginable sexual boundaries that needed to be drawn, which includes not lying with another man, but also many others we take for granted today. If these boundaries were followed, then people are sexually safe. If any one of them collapsed, then people would be left vulnerable. If a man lay with another man, then his children and wife would become fair game also because he’s no longer their impenetrable gatekeeper.

          There is no reference to monogamous same-sex relations in the New Testament. It is always described in the context of an orgy or pagan temple prostitution. It’s dishonest for the NIV to hide the temple prostitution connotation of the words in 1 Corinthians 6 in their translation as though the issue were just the gender. In any case, what Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are describing compared to the hopes of gay people today to have monogamous relationships is apples and oranges. Prostitution and orgies are obviously socially destructive. At the very least, monogamy is better than promiscuity so trying to attack same-sex civil unions makes no sense.

          The thing that I struggle with is that every other sin the Bible describes is clearly destructive to our communities or our spirituality. There really aren’t any other arbitrary boundaries that the Bible seems to set other than the gender of one’s lifelong partner. And this boundary would only be arbitrary today; it *wasn’t* when it was written. It was part of a patriarchal system which kept the nascent city-states of Israel from descending into war zones of sexual violence. Those boundaries were survival. But the circumstances have changed.

          “I’ve never met a gay man who was a threat to me or my heterosexual marriage or lifestyle.” Exactly. (Tell Focus on the Family that by the way.) That’s why I think it’s a moot point, just like the kosher food laws. Properly cooked shrimp and pork doesn’t kill people. Women no longer need to be protected by their fathers and handed off from father to husband to avoid rape. There was a real need for the father/husband protection at one point in time which meant that men could not be light in the loafers. But I really think that need is obsolete.

          And it seems obtuse to me to tell a gay person, I’m really sorry but you need to spend your life alone because Paul wanted to use marriage as a metaphor to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. Step back from that for a minute and consider how the Bible is being deployed in this case. Do you think Paul intended for His meditation on the mystery of marriage to be utilized as a “Thou shalt not”?

  • Tiggy Sagar

    Patriarchy never protected anyone.

  • Tiggy Sagar

    So allow gay people to be monogamous in marriage. I know a great many monogamous gay couples but they can’t express their faithfulness to each other through marriage.

    • Morgan Guyton

      I don’t disagree with you. What I’m saying is that the homosexuality prohibition only makes sense in the context of patriarchy. If the UMC accepts female pastors, it’s already made its decision about patriarchy.

  • agreed

  • John Meunier

    Morgan, can you share the sources that influence your reading on this issue?

    • Morgan Guyton

      My Old Testament professor Steve Chapman at Duke, Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror, Peter Enns’ Incarnation and Inspiration. It’s remarkable how often rape happens in the Old Testament and how the only problem associated with it is dishonor which is actually the dishonor received by the brother or father of the victim. I don’t think it’s
      far-fetched to call Leviticus 18 a set of prohibitions on rape.

      • John Meunier

        I’ll certainly re-read some of my OT. I can recall many instances in which sex happened without rape, so I wonder about that assertion.

        • Morgan Guyton

          My assertion is that there was no distinction between consensual and non-consensual sex, only between sex sanctioned through the patriarchal covenant between husband and bride’s father and dishonorable sex outside of that covenant.

          • John Meunier

            Hmmmm … interesting assertion. I guess I need to do some reading because I find it hard to believe people who actually lived then would ignore that distinction. Does Hebrew have a word that reflects what we mean by the concept “rape”?

      • Morgan Guyton

        In Genesis 34 for the rape of Dinah, the construction in Hebrew is three verbs: he took her, lay with her, and humbled her. Humbled her is the only hint that something happened against Dinah’s will. Dinah never gives any indication of resistance. The crime committed is against Jacob and his son’s honor. She is described as “defiled,” not as hurt or victimized in any kind of way. It’s a question of clean vs. unclean.

        In 2 Samuel 13:11-13 when Amnon grabs Tamar, she begs him to ask the king for her hand in marriage before doing the deed. Again, it’s not within the realm of possibilities for her to refuse his advances because of her own desires. It’s a question of whether the appropriate patriarchal covenant has been fulfilled to make the sexual contact honorable. The words used here for the rape are the same verb combination: humble and lie with.

  • I’m not sure that a spectrum understanding of gender wasn’t around back in the 1st century. I heard a few classics people talking about this issue once, but I forget who the writer was that dealt with it. He was a fairly well known doctor. It still might not have been an idea that had crept into the parlance of 1st century palestine. Dr. Campbell at Duke argues for a different reading of the Romans 1 text that really might be possible if we choose not to view Paul as parochial. Great post Morgan thank you for your thoughts!

  • Morgan, I’d like to conclude my own input to your discussion with a commendation of sorts and then a few very brief clarifications. I have never discussed this topic in any public forum before. The fact that I responded to your sincere question here testifies to the respect I have for you as a brother in Christ. You have earned it. I read very few blogs anymore. It is your heart for Christ and the gospel that keeps me reading yours. I wish we could agree in every facet of doctrine, but on this matter I am afraid we are at an impasse.

    Now for the clarifications: 1) I also view Leviticus system, a whole multi-purpose system, with both religious and civil aspects, which has the overarching purpose of revealing God’s character to Gods people (as well as the surrounding nations) and serving as a schoolmaster until the coming of Christ, 2) I do not use the NIV. I own one, but seldom refer to it. I prefer the ESV and NASB, 3) I have little-to-no use for Focus on the Family, et al, 4) In the secular sphere, I do not support banning civil same-sex unions, nor have I taken any firm stance on the legalization of “gay marriage”. 5) As you’ve no doubt gathered, I am not a Methodist. (Read a wink and smile into that last bit.)

    • Morgan Guyton

      Thanks Laurie. God bless. Pray that God would help me discover and accept His truth wherever it falls.

      • I have and will. I hope you will do the same for me.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Bless you sister. Please always speak up if God tells you to. I need His witnesses to help me not lose my way.

  • I hear your heart, but there are so many holes in this logic. It implies that a man who had consensual homosexual relationship would be incapable of protecting his family. It implies that bestiality, if consensual, would now be OK, which would greatly please Koko the gorilla. It implies people of ancient tikes had absolutely no power to reason or love at all and that they were ALL violent animals. My heart is with you, but I still cannot embrace your logic.

    • Morgan Guyton

      The way that ancient Israelites expressed their power to reason and love was by setting out the boundaries in Leviticus 18 because they didn’t want to live like the Canaanites that defiled the land with their hedonistic practices. Read the stories of Tamar and Dinah and tell me where the possibility of saying no to sexual advances is an option.

  • A pastor taught me that inclusivity must exclude anything where there is a victim. That makes a whole lot of sense to me.

    • Morgan Guyton

      To me too.

      • I always wondered about Dinah’s situation, if she grieved over what her ‘protectors’ did to her boyfriend. I was probably 12 the first time I read this. ; D