I want to thank my friend Jeff for yet another provocative post that has challenged my thinking and, especially, my
heart. It’s unfortunate that most of the readers of this blog/dialogue don’t know Jeff personally, and therefore haven’t experienced his raging passion for God and God’s people. But I do know Jeff personally, and this gives me a different lens through which I’m reading his argument—a lens of charity and understanding.
In any case, I still do have some comments, pushbacks, and responses to Jeff’s questions. So here we go:
According to Jeff, “What needs to be outlined by Preston (and by me) is a Christian moral theory that shows why we embrace *some but not all* of Leviticus/the Torah.” I definitely agree with Jeff’s question, although I’d probably word it as “embrace most but not all” of the Torah. So at Jeff’s request, here’s my quick outline.
For some commands, we have clear statements in the NT that tell us we don’t need to keep some of the laws in their most literal sense.
For instance, the sacrificial laws are fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ, as Hebrews clearly says. The dietary laws are no longer binding on Gentile converts, as Acts and Galatians clearly say. The circumcision command is no longer binding on Gentiles as Galatians and Romans clearly says. To state the obvious, the laws against same-sex relations (Lev 18:22; 20:13) are not done away with in the NT. In fact, one could make the argument—and one has—that the laws against same-sex relations are even reiterated in the NT.
Now, Jeff has argued that the NT has moved beyond the OT laws about same-sex relations since the NT elevates virtue over law, and “[b]y their nature” monogamous same-sex relations “simply do not insult virtue.”
Logically, however, Jeff must say that (1) the NT’s statements about same-sex relations (Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1) are irrelevant for addressing whether same-sex relations are virtuous. I think we’d all agree that this would be quite odd: Determining the virtuous nature of a behavior while muzzling the clearest Scriptural witness to that behavior?
Therefore, Jeff argues for a second line of reasoning: (2) the statements about same-sex relations in the NT do not apply to consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations. And this, once again, brings us back to Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1.
Now, here’s where I have trouble with Jeff’s response, or perhaps no trouble at all, depending on how I look at it. While Jeff disagrees with my interpretation of Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, he doesn’t refute it. And disagreement isn’t refutation. I offered several pieces of evidence for why Paul’s words in Romans 1:26-27 includes (though can’t be limited to) consensual same-sex relations. I also showed why Paul’s argument can’t be limited to idolatrous forms of same-sex relations, any more than the condemnation of “covetousness, malice, envy, murder, and strife” in Romans 1:29 can be limited to idolatrous forms of “covetousness, malice, envy…,” you get the point. The underlying logic of Romans 1 is that all sin is idolatry.
I disagree, therefore, that “the sexual activity in Romans 1 is orgiastic.” Paul doesn’t say that people exchanged monogamous relations for orgiastic ones, or consensual sex for non-consensual sex; rather, Paul says that women exchanged males for females, and men exchanged females for males. In other words, Paul explicitly locates the sin of 1:26-27 in terms of crossing gender boundaries established at creation by the Creator.
Jeff has rightly asked for more evidence for my view of malakoi and arsenokoites in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (and 1 Tim 1:9, where arsenokoites is used). I argued with admittedly little evidence (for the sake of space) that these two words refer to the passive and active partners in male same-sex intercourse. As Jeff stated, I have a whole chapter in my book devoted to these two words alone.
Let me first concede a point: I do not think that these two words by themselves would be enough to confirm a non-affirming view. And I also think that the translation “homosexuals” or “homosexual offenders” is misguided, misleading, and pastorally destructive. Put simply, malakoi and aresenokoites were applied to a wide variety of same-sex relations. And malakoi was even applied to some types of heterosexual encounters; for instance, if you were a dude who shaved his chest hair and displayed too much PDA with your wife, you might be called a malakos.
However, given (1) the larger context of Jewish-Christian teaching on same-sex relations, and given (2) Paul’s words in Romans 1, and given (3) the combination of malakoi with arsenokoites in a context (1 Cor 5-7) where sexual immorality is the main issue, and given (4) the lack of specificity inherent in these words, and given (5) the clear connection with Leviticus 20:13, and given (6) the way arsenokoites is used in later Christian tradition and translation (the latter is very important), I find it unconvincing to confidently assert that Paul has a specific type of same-sex act in view. If he did, he certainly could have made this clearer.
The more I think about it, it appears that Jeff’s case still rests on his interpretation of Romans 1 and other NT passages that mention same-sex behavior. After his initial post last week, I would have thought that in Jeff’s view, the interpretation of Romans 1 and others are irrelevant, since they don’t speak to virtue. However, I now see that Jeff must argue, or prove, that these texts don’t apply to consensual, monogamous relations. He also must assume that the Jewish Christian writers of the NT would have promoted the sexual laws in Leviticus 18:6-21 and 18:23 but not the sexual law in Leviticus 18:22. Again, Jeff agrees that Leviticus 18:22 (and 20:13) forbids all forms of same-sex relations. He simply argues that virtue trumps the sex law in Leviticus 18:22, but virtue does not trump the all the other sex laws in Leviticus 18:6-23 (except maybe 18:19). And I’m not sure why.
Even if we agree with Jeff that Jesus flat out disagreed with Moses about divorce and other laws (eye for and eye, etc.), the only reason why we would say this is because Jesus said so. (I actually don’t think that Jesus disagreed with Moses, but drew out the intention of Moses’ concession.)
So where does Jesus or other Jewish NT writers say that same-sex relations, while being unvirtuous in the Jewish Scriptures, are now virtuous under Israel’s new covenant?
The main argument Jeff keeps coming back to, of course, is this: same-sex married partners can exhibit the fruits of the Spirit and therefore same-sex monogamous sex must be considered virtuous. I just don’t see how we could draw a direct connection between same-sex relations and the virtues that may flow from the people involved in these relations. And I’d say the same thing about divorced straight Christians.
Say, for instance, that after 5 years of marriage, a couple falls out of love with each other. And since they have no children, they both decide to go their separate ways. They’re not mad or angry; in fact, they’re both in total agreement that they don’t love each other any longer. Both of them are demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit and other virtues that are germane to the Christian faith: Loving enemy and neighbor, caring for the poor, forgiving others who wrong them, etc. They both have simply found someone else whom they love and will make them happy. Why shouldn’t they get divorced and remarry the persons that they actually love?
Jeff might say that such an act would violate the virtue of faithfulness. But is it truly loving—and God is love—to mandate faithfulness in the face of life-long misery, when a consensual divorce wouldn’t hurt anyone and would enable love to flourish?
I don’t see how we could say that such a divorce would be wrong, or unvirtuous, except for the plain fact that our Creator says so.
Sorry Jeff for not answering your last question about same-sex marriage couples in the church! This is obviously a very complicated question for non-affirming pastors and I do address it rather thoroughly in my book. A quick, off-handed answer tossed in at the end of a blog would probably do much more harm than good.
Love you like a brother, Jeff! We seriously need to hang sometime soon!
Editors Note: This debate is also featured at Patheos Head to Head. For more debates on this and other topics visit our Patheos Head to Head main page.