Here is something I wrote on some time ago, and I have expanded this repost here to include the remarks from the person I was debating with. See what you think.
I am writing a post in reaction to something about which I was talking with my Christian friend (let’s call him Colin). We were talking about homosexuality and his approach to it given his Christian background. Some points were interesting and some I fundamentally disagreed with. Here are his views:
- As according to the Bible, homosexuality is wrong.
- This morality is grounded in God.
- He is not homophobic and detests that label as it automatically halts any further informed discussion.
- People can have genetic or environmental variables which help to influence a persons likelihood to homosexuality.
- However, to commit to a homosexual act is an act of free will, and thus falls within the moral sphere.
- As a result, it is not necessarily the disposition of being homosexual which is wrong, but the decision to act upon it.
- He has no ‘problem’ with homosexuals and has / has had homosexual friends.
Hopefully I am not building up a straw man of his position, but it does demand some serious unpicking.
Obviously, as a determinist, this is all moot to me, but let me at least give this a good seeing to, so to speak.
To start, this clearly begs the question as to the authenticity of the truth claim of the bible. Can we trust biblical accounts? If not, which ones do we trust and which ones do we accept as being potentially errant? Let us look at the various mentions homosexuality gets:
- Lev. 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”1
- Lev. 20:13, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them”
- 1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
- Rom. 1:26-28, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
It seems abundantly clear that it is not deemed as morally acceptable. Is this the act or the disposition as my friend differentiates?
The Levitican accounts are straightforward – it is the act. However, the punishment is death. Here we have the problem of the Law and whether it is now deemed as irrelevant given the accounts of Jesus. Is there a new covenant and does it eradicate the old one, the Old Testament? It seems incredible that the rules, decreed from God himself, allegedly, state that the act is punishable by death. And now? Either it should still be punishable by death, or it should be something close. The death of Jesus can’t simply mean that something abhorrent and deserving outright death suddenly becomes OK – bad, but essentially something to look down upon rather than to kill someone for.
It also begs the question as to whether these actually are the laws of God, or simply a codification of existing brutal societal biases. Colin would either have to accept that Leviticus is pretty much inerrant, but that the laws stated therein are now defunct (completely and paradigm-shiftingly) or he has to accept that this was merely a contextual reflection of a parochial and morally different society.
It also demands looking at all the other hundreds of laws therein. The Deuteronomical law “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together” (KJV) must surely still stand in some way. If Colin agrees that this is no longer relevant, then how can he special plead the relevance of the law of homosexual acts. There is an inconsistency here which needs to be explained in each and every instantiation of the 613 mitzvot in the Bible. What a task! In other words, he should be calling for the death penalty of those who commit such acts today, or explaining why the law is not relevant any more, though still stands as a moral guideline when almost all the other 613 rules do not.
Remember Matthew 5:18, talking of Jesus (and the covenant) – “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
If all has not been fulfilled, then all laws still stand and Colin should be calling for the death of all those who have committed such acts, including any friends he has had.
1 Corinthians states that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God. They are not the elect. It is not clear whether this is people who think it or do it. and this brings up my second issue:
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
So here we have a biblical diktat from Jesus telling us it is no the act itself, but the thought behind it. So if Colin accepts homosexuals can be at least partially influenced by factors outside of their control, and he declares that the sin (the moral badness) is in the choice to commit such acts, then this contravenes Matthew. It is equally sinful to merely think it. effectively, this is the same as being it, since it is almost impossible, if not actually impossible, to eradicate thoughts that are defined by one’s phenotype from coming into ones mind – it is who you are. And to automatically condemn people who are “effeminate” to hell is surely ridiculous. Where is the line drawn as to what is effeminate and what isn’t? What if I was effeminate at a fancy dress party? What if I am occasionally effeminate? What if I have an acting role whereby I am effeminate as part of my day job? And so on.
The last quote is the letter to the Romans. Both of these Pauline letters beg the question as to where Paul speaks for God or whether he was just some Jewish guy who defined Christian rules and practices. Assuming he IS a divine conduit, let us look at Romans.
There is much to be said in this quote from Romans about God’s role in this moral paradigm. God seems to do a lot of ‘giving over’. That aside, it is clear that it is the depraved mind which is being referred to as being the morally bankrupt entity. Is the ‘mind’ here referring to the disposition for homosexuality (the sexual orientation) or the decision to commit those acts. It is not clear. And this is the crux. The Bible can be interpreted how one wants. In this way, we have our prejudged and preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. The world is our world and what we want of it, more often than not. As a result, the Christian will (subconsciously) decide what is right and wrong and then find the evidence within the Bible to fit that. This passage, for example, can be read to defend the notion that it is the decision to commit homosexual acts which is wrong; but it can also be read as it being the homosexual mind (the homosexual as a complete entity) who is morally depraved.
It seems Colin might be having a gut-feeling or opinion and then exegetically overlaying it. And of course, this all assumes the truth of these texts, and their historicity and authenticity, in some manner. Something which is clearly not assured. So far, I would conclude that to take such ruling from the bible on the morality of homosexuality is at least in some way contradictory, depending on special pleading. It begs the question of the authenticity of biblical passages and on the authorship. It also problematically differentiates the mind from the decision to carry out an action.
In the next post, I will be looking at the genetic and environmental components to homosexuality in the context of free will and choice, as well as looking into the philosophy of morality a little.
When I originally posted this, the reply from Colin was as follows:
“Essential points by way of “first thoughts” reply:-
You are right that the “argument from revelation” on this requires a reliable-enough text. Inerrancy may not quite be required, although epistemologically its hard to see how we can underwrite the revelation without it. Someone would need to arrive at this on some other basis than mere proof-texting. We’d need to be able to say that we have a reasonable access to the teaching of the historic Jesus and that if that is true and if he has authority on the mind of God on issues such as this we might then work from there to strands / themes he accepts / carries over from the OT. That is arguably possible without requiring inerrancy although it would have to come from a broad-brush warp-woof of OT vision of sexuality / norms / design rather than putting tonnes of weight on a single text or two (eg from Leviticus). I would suggest that there is a broader basis for a heterosexual Jewish vision that Jesus would have stood within and that the NT witnesses to.
So, while I acknowledge some of your points, I would want to nuance them and expand the discussion beyond one or two texts to a broader narratival theology across the OT canon.
That lessens, also, some of the concerns about which laws carry through beyond the Israel-centric context onto a broader universal one—a tricky though not impossible discussion. I just don’t think we’re lumbered with that task in isolation—there’s a broader tradition.
On your orientation / practice theme I think there’s a valuable discussion to be had. I do think I would want to bracket any discussion of effeminacy which is a different one to homosexual orientation since there are heterosexual effeminate men and homosexual non-effeminate men. The texts you raised also don’t really touch on these issues.
I think that h/s lusting would be a problem in line with Matt 5. Yes. Spot on. But I don’t equate this teaching with simply having a thought or even a temporary fantasy go through one’s head but rather a mental intent to act whether with or without the opportunity to act out. It’s a mental volitional thing—this is seen too in the parallel texts about anger / murder. Its the hatred that would take a life if it could that is the issue makes it similar to the physical act itself.
That aside…(setting aside determinism / free-will for the mo) one might also mount arguments from an intuitive sense of moral norms to do with sexuality etc too although these are clearly not indubitable or easy to extricate from susceptibility to cultural conditioning. I’m fascinated, fr’instance, by the way people who are otherwise very “liberal” on h/s still laugh / make jokes (or at least accept this) that show an implicit understanding of these things as incongruent with what they think people should do / be. “
The last point is definitely valid and one which I have thought about at length. It is hard to get away from the cultural baggage of treating homosexuality and associated language in comedic or defamatory manners, resulting from in/out-group mentality and conditioning.
As for broadening the scope of the textual analysis of the references to homosexuality in the Bible, this amounts to appealing blindly to context. Either this activity or disposition was bad enough to be punishable by death or it wasn’t. If it was, it is incredibly problematic to argue that it no longer is, that suddenly, with the birth and death of Jesus, 613 OT laws suddenly became irrelevant.
The Bible and homosexuality do not make good bedfellows.