What do You do When Scripture gets it Wrong?

So I have been dealing this week online with the outpouring of vitriol and jubilation by my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ over the SCOTUS reversal on the Colorado Commission’s decision against the Christian baker. As you know, SCOTUS decided the baker did not receive a fair hearing. BTW, we should stop referring to these people as “Christian bakers” but rather as “Christians who bake.” Different meaning altogether, catch my drift? The SCOTUS decision, unfortunately will embolden more divisive and hateful behavior from the Religious Right who seem more invested in their perceived unjust treatment by society than any concern for the rights of others who have been marginalized and vilified for centuries, much of it stemming from the misapplication of their religion. 

I have waded into the fray and tried to reason with people, tried to bring God’s love into the equation, tried to get them to see what science shows us…but they will have none of it. When you have an inerrant scripture, no amount of facts to the contrary matter. Frankly, I am deeply discouraged. It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion and being helpless to stop it. As a nation we have not seen this level of divisiveness and hatred since the Jim Crow South, which conservative Christians were also deeply complicit in.

To simply say, “I believe the Bible,” reflects an incredible amount of self deception, as no one, no matter how fundamentalist, approaches scripture that way. It is dishonest to claim otherwise. So what do you do when scripture seems to accept slavery as a given in society? Or that killing your enemies or the families of one’s enemies is God-ordained? What do you do when the Bible tells you killing children is a blessed or fortunate event under certain circumstances? What do you do when scripture says sex outside of marriage warrants stoning? Or that when a man lay with a man, they both shall be put to death?

Accepting that slavery was morally wrong was a hard sell to conservatives in the South. The Bible “clearly” supported it. In fact, Southern Christians really didn’t concede defeat in the matter but sought ways to circumvent the abolition of slavery, and felt doing so was upholding scripture. The result was a simmering hatred of Blacks that resulted in 4000 lynchings and a continued animus that still plagues the Southern church. That anti-gay “scholars” such as Robert Gagnon don’t see a connection between the slavery issue and the Gay issue is a tragedy of self deception and spiritual blindness.

I am afraid the lesson of slavery was not learned by conservatives. Scripture is still being used to diminish the worth of the “others” that are hated and feared for their difference. It is as though the conservative Christian’s self-worth is determined by comparing themselves to the supposed debauchery of Gays. Just as a White male could feel superior by lynching Blacks and controlling them, today’s conservative wants to regain control over Gays via legislation that marginalizes them and allows for discrimination against them.

Southerners gave dozens of reasons, besides scripture, why Blacks were inferior or dangerous, none of which were true or scientifically supportable, but that didn’t stop them from treating them as “truths.” It is the same with the conservative arguments against allowing Gays to be Gays. When the conservative understanding of scripture conflicts with reason, science, psychology and the law of love, their small minded views take precedent over all else. To further bolster their hatred numerous untruths about Gays were presented by conservative leadership to lead the faithful into believing Gays were dangerous and would lead to the destruction of the American family. The SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage reflected the fact that the justices were not convinced of the truthfulness of those claims by the Religious Right.

Unfortunately, conservatives still struggle with how to be Christlike. Rather than seeing the trajectory of scripture leading away from legalism and a judgmental spirit, they cherry-pick scriptures that can be weaponized and used to exclude others from a seat at the table. If you’ve listened to any of Franklin Graham’s pronouncements it is clear that the gospel is, for many evangelicals, more about exclusion than inclusion. All a part of the delusion of the Pharisee that prides himself that he is not like other sinners. While the Colorado baker thought he was upholding God’s laws against same sex relations he was unfortunately breaking the greater commandment to love others, to serve others whether we approve of them or not.

So does scripture get same sex relations wrong? Does scripture get human sexuality wrong in general? It depends on what we are referring to. Many evangelicals seem to think the Bible has all the answers. It does not. The Bible is first and foremost a sort of “diary” of human thoughts and the progression of those thoughts, about God. It is not God talking about himself, but man talking about God, and what man perceives with his limited understanding about God. To assert otherwise misrepresents what scripture is actually. It is not a marriage manual. Many of the sexual mores presented in scripture are simply no longer applicable. They are culturally bound, and sometimes immoral in and of themselves. They’re based on ancient assumptions of male superiority and women as a reflection of man’s authority. They are also based on prescientific assumptions of biology.

Most evangelicals I have talked to and argued with have no interest in educating themselves or of learning empathy. The reliance on authority figures for their directives and a literal use of scripture to the exclusion of outside sources that may temper their views is disturbing. It displays a remarkable laziness in attempting to come to grips with a complex issue: human sexuality. You would think that the adamant declaration that all same sex activity is immoral and the resulting wish to exclude them would warrant a more thoughtful and thorough study. But it has not.

When presented with these objections, conservatives double down and revert to outdated sexual mores designed to keep heterosexual males at the top of the food chain. Let’s be honest. Few conservatives would claim having multiple wives glorifies God. Yet that is supported by an uncritical reading of scripture. Yet many of those same Christians would declare a woman cannot teach a man, and should not work outside the home. While polygamy is almost universally recognized as demeaning to women, Christian men for centuries have sought ways to circumvent this and still control women for their pleasure.

When it comes to scripture, it must be remembered that male dominance is the backstory. When talking about same sex relations it is necessary to keep that in mind. And that the backstory is over 2000 years old, that we cannot take an ancient culture, uproot it, and simply plop it down in the 21st century and expect it to fit unadjusted. Male dominance is still the backstory, some things apparently do not change.

““But let’s just remember it’s not about the cake. It was never about the cake, and it was never about this one case.

The larger takeaway here is that it’s not only PRIDE month … it is PRIDE month in 2018, FFS, and here we are still talking about this. Still in a fight about whether or not people who love each other are allowed to live together and have all the rights that implies; whether or not they are allowed to have cake; whether or not they are allowed to show up at church and have bread at the table. Here we are, Church, still in a squabble about who’s in and who’s out, who Jesus loves more, and who’s allowed to sleep with who.

This is not about the Courts, and it’s not about the cake. It’s about the Body of Christ needing to get its shit together and love people. All the people. 

“Maybe it was never about the cake, but you know what? We’re here for the cake. We’re here for whatever thing you have to fight for today, because we are in this thing with you until you don’t have to fight for it anymore. And also, we’re here for the cake because we just like cake. And we would love to have a piece at your wedding. But more than that, we’d love to have you at our table.” (Erin Wathen)

Andy Stanley and Our Problem with the Old Testament

Wesley Hill’s Post

Andy Stanley

Wesley Hill’s response to Andy Stanley’s sermon about “unhitching ourselves from the OT” is emblematic of a larger, systemic and long standing problem in the church. In order to understand the nature of the problem, one needs to be able to step back from the historical investment the church has placed in the OT canon, and try to look at church history more objectively. The problem, as I will describe, is not uniquely evangelical, but has marred the church’s understanding of Christ’s teaching for over 2 millennia. I apologize for perhaps over estimating the evangelical responsibility in the matter.

What Andy Stanley, in this sermon has done, is attempt to bring to our attention a certain problem within the church, that has historically hindered the church from truly grasping the nature of the Heavenly Father that Jesus introduces us to. Wesley Hill’s response that the various councils, the church Fathers, the Anglican Church, etc., have all revered the Decalogue is true. He is stating the obvious. But when you understand that the Decalogue is symbolic of and integral to the Jewish covenant alone, as Christians we must be careful how we appropriate it for ourselves.

Stanley has used the Ten Commandments as a sort of code word for the church’s attitude towards the OT as a whole. Marcion was not the only Christian leader to be troubled by the apparent dichotomy between the OT Jewish understanding of God and the new revelation of God’s character presented in Jesus’ teaching and in Paul’s theology. Origen and others in the early church tended to smooth over the difference by the use of allegory, that the Bible had spiritual meanings that superseded the literal meanings of the text. Unfortunately, the grace and unmerited forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ has been muddied by a literal appropriation of much of the legalism of the OT.

For Augustine of Hippo, AD 354-430, there was a “veil” over the OT. One had to get past it to understand the spiritual sense of the passages, even the more scurrilous ones. As a Manichaean, Augustine had spurned the OT scriptures as rather crass and uninspired, but with the influence of Ambrose, and his subsequent re-conversion to Christianity, he changed his mind. It is important to note that, like Origen, Augustine and other church Fathers were not unaware of the ethical problems inherent to the OT. They dealt with the tension by spiritualizing the passages. 

With the collapse of the Roman Empire and increasing pressure from Islam, the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity grew further apart, until Catholicism, the Western branch, became dominant. During the Middle Ages, survival of the church relied on support from various monarchs, and the success of the monarchies relied, in part, on the approval of the Pope. While there were various reforms, and good Popes, there was a growing unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the secular state and the church. While technically not a theocracy, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate between the secular and the divine.

The state’s use of violence, war and coercion had a parallel in the OT, and the church’s collusion with the state implicated the church increasingly with that same coercive, violent mindset. Abandoning the more allegorical interpretive understanding of the OT, treating the enemies of the church violently became a way of treating heresy, following the similar pattern of ancient Israel.

The die was cast. According to the Catholic Catechism, the church was the new Israel. Protestantism had similar parallels. As a result, what we have seen historically in the church, is a gradual departure from the Sermon on the Mount as descriptive of the Kingdom of God, to a church that uses much of the same playbook as earthly kingdoms do. Ask any atheist about the church’s ethical shortcomings. We ignore the past to our own peril.

Frankly, I am a bit shocked that a scholar such as Wesley Hill does not seem to understand, that for Paul the Law leads to death and failure. That you can never have enough laws, nor follow enough laws to merit favor. Stanley’s point that we do not “need” the Ten Commandments as Christians, while certainly controversial, is, at root, true. We have something better, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the example of Christ and the teaching of the apostles. The Decalogue is so incredibly obvious, why should we need it as a reminder? Does anyone here need to be reminded that murder, lying or sleeping with the neighbor’s wife is a bad thing?

Instead the author of John and the apostle Paul, repeatedly remind us to LOVE others. Why? Because it is far harder than keeping the Law of Moses. The Pharisees kept the Law fastidiously yet failed being loving. This is the draw of legalism. It lets you off the hook in the love department. This is why the church, in its efforts to keep doctrinal, legalistic purity, could burn people at the stake, or torture them to get them to convert. In their perversion of love, they saw it as a way of saving souls.

While we no longer burn people at the stake for heresy, witchcraft or being Gay (except in Africa), the same obsession with legalism and doctrinal purity ostracizes people and turns people away from Christ. It is the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra that fails so miserably. Like Paul in Romans 2, people instantly know hypocrisy when they hear it.

While Origen and Augustine may have understood the OT in allegorical terms or spiritualized difficult passages, today’s evangelical is not so sure. With the rise of the Princeton School of Theology and the pushback on Christian liberalism and the historical critical method, inerrancy and literal interpretation has become the defecto evangelical methodology of understanding scripture. In effect, it mires scripture down to the understanding of scholastics like Aquinas and legalists like Calvin. Unintended side affects are a gospel that is irrelevant today and a rigid doctrinal system that cannot be reformed. It cannot be reformed because in the declaration of an inerrant scripture, the defender becomes inerrant himself. Check out Roger E. Olson, “Reformed and Always Reforming, The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology,” for more on this matter.

The danger with understanding scripture this way concerns us most when coming to the OT. While the Decalogue is certainly a wonderful document, Christian appropriation of certain Levitical laws generally ends up backfiring by creating legalistic Christians. Instead of manifesting God’s love and forgiveness, they become harsh and judgmental. This, of course, can happen when using the NT as well. I think Wesley Hill’s comment are illuminating:

It is striking how frequently flirtations with Marcionism are aimed at revising Christian teaching on sexual morality. Though he doesn’t walk through it himself, Stanley’s sermon opens the door to this revisionism. He says that Paul tied sexual behavior not to the old covenant, not to the Ten Commandments, but to “one commandment that Jesus gave us: that you are to treat others as God in Christ has treated you.

For Hill this is simply not enough. The example that Jesus showed us in his life. The forgiveness he showed his tormentors on the cross, the admonition to love greatly by Paul and John…not enough. As he further states:

we Christians so often fail to discern what real love amounts to, and we need the Old Testament’s commandments to shine a spotlight on our slippery self-justifications. We may intend to treat a sexual partner as God in Christ has treated us, we may try to act toward them out of self-giving love, but the distorting effects of sin mean that we must be told what love looks like in action if we’re not to get it wrong. That divine telling, sadly, is what Andy Stanley’s sermon would keep us from hearing.”

So here we have the real reason behind the uproar: the need for Christians to monitor others sexual behavior. This is the slippery slope conservatives fear if the church “unhitches” itself from following certain OT “moral laws.” Heavens! Some one might interpret that as freedom to love someone else of the same sex! And as Hill has pointed out, the OT is such a stellar example of marriage and sexual relations, come on Wesley Hill! Really? We’ve all seen the Facebook mimes. OT marriage looked nothing like marriage today, even among Southern Baptists!

So here’s the deal. The human tendency to legalism, is a universal. We gravitate towards laws. When they are used to protect us from each other, they are useful. When used to exclude, marginalize or persecute others…not so good. When treated as absolute inerrant codes of conduct, and end up hurting people, it’s time to step back and reassess things. It is my personal opinion that the doctrine of inerrancy actually produces unethical behavior in the church. One of the things that has come out of the battle for marriage equality, that SS relations would destroy the family, the nation, would result in pedophilia, that it was immoral, were false. The claims were disingenuous, misleading and were fear mongering. In Biblical parlance, it was bearing false witness.

A rigid inerrant view of scripture “unhinges” the church from the love of Christ unconditionally for others and replaces it with a “performance minded” conditional Christianity, something Stanley obviously was critiquing. As Robert Farrar Capon puts it:

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase, ‘cheap grace.’ As far as I’m concerned, nobody can make God’s grace in Jesus any cheaper than it already is: it’s free”. “…But what I really object to is people who use the so-called danger of cheap grace as a way of browbeating others into thinking there’s some level of performance they have to achieve before they can be worthy of grace.”

“…I guess what I really don’t like is the way people start out by defining sin as ‘moral failure’ and then go on to think that if they commit ‘sins’ they will cut themselves off from grace. That’s all nonsense of course: ‘sinners’ are the very thing God gives his grace to —lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons. As a matter of fact, the true New Testament opposite of sin isn’t virtue, or moral success, or getting your act together: it’s faith in the grace that takes away all the sins of the world. Paul says, ‘all that is not of faith is sin.’ And Jesus says, ‘the one who believes is not judged.’ We’re not on trial: ‘there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’”

“The Mystery of Christ and why We Don’t Get it.” p. 171-172.

I just don’t think Wesley Hill understands this, nor unfortunately, do many Christians.

Peace

CA Bill AB 2943, Are They Coming for Our Bibles Next?

Ok, first off, a disclosure. I am a liberal Christian, and as such, support the LGBTQ community. But I understand the handwringing, as this California bill, AB 2943, has a direct effect on limiting what evangelicals view as a “service” they “should’ be able to offer to the community, as a outgrowth of what they believe scripture teaches. The bill primarily expands an original California bill that prohibited reparative therapy being performed on minors, to a prohibition of that type of therapy being performed on anyone, regardless of age. The history of reparative therapy, predates modern psychological and biological findings on gay, non-binary and intersex individuals, and in the past included shock therapy, nausea inducing drugs and electro shock to the genitals.

The bill does not limit free speech, and conservatives will continue to be able to preach against homosexuality and write books to that end. The Bible never addresses reparative therapy, so it cannot be banned as the CBN has suggested. That is just fear-mongering. While I don’t agree with the evangelical stance towards the gay community, it is largely hurtful and counter productive, I support the right to have your opinions. What the bill is trying to address, is when those opinions are translated into a money making business, one that many now believe to be a sham. In other words, gay conversion therapy is malpractice. When pastors and Christian mental health workers council others they can be liable, depending on what is said and done. Often times they are not adequately trained as therapists, or have religious opinions contrary to science, and law suits can occur, and have in the past. Yes, that is one more concern for pastors and councilors, but the ability to do great psychological harm warrants being more careful.

Christian pundits have claimed these bills, such as the Massachusetts bill H1190, will stifle “talk therapy” as well. These bills do not prohibit a licensed therapist, social worker or mental health professional helping a person through the often painful and traumatic event of coming to grips with their sexuality, but it is not to be a professional platform for “converting” an individual to a particular Christian understanding of sexuality, especially when that understanding is not based on science. 

“Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.

As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.” (See Warren Throckmorton’s link below)

“What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.” (Throckmorton)

Looking at it in another way, when a Christian becomes a mental health professional, their practice should be based on the best, most current medical information available. Basing therapy on questionable, outdated or false science IS grounds for malpractice. How much faith would you have in a surgeon who told you, “as a Christian, I will not operate on your cancer. Instead I will pray for your healing.” No, we expect to get what we pay for, the best medicine has to offer.

The amount of disinformation, conspiracy theory and denial of expert witnesses amongst evangelicals is alarming, and yet again, another good reason the therapy should not be allowed. Anyone who still believes, for example, that being gay, transgender or intersex is a choice, is not fit to offer therapy or counseling to anyone. It is my hope, that eventually evangelicals will be faced with the biology behind human sexuality and modify their religious beliefs so that they are more loving and empathetic towards the LGBTQ community.

For further thought:

http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2018/april/one-step-closer-to-law-could-a-california-bill-ultimately-lead-to-the-banning-of-bibles

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/04/24/christians-claim-wrongly-that-ca-conversion-therapy-bill-will-ban-bibles-too/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/01/27/the-torture-of-conversion-therapy-must-be-banned-across-the-country-2/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/03/22/christian-group-dont-say-we-support-gay-conversion-therapy-even-though-we-do/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/04/09/md-delegate-my-state-sen-father-sought-conversion-therapy-after-i-came-out/

Throckmorton

 

When Your “Sincerely Held Religious Belief” is Not Ok

Hardly a week goes by when I run into someone who says its “ok” if they believe being Gay is “abnormal” or “sinful.” “You have your opinion and I have mine.” “What’s wrong with having an opinion?” As one gentleman recently told me “…nothing wrong with being of the opinion that it is abnormal. What would be wrong is insisting that everybody agree with that opinion. I don’t want anyone to insist that I accept homosexuality as normal, so I don’t insist that anyone must agree with me.” The irony of his comment was that he was Black. Talk about a lack of cognitive dissonance! The context for this particular discussion was on a conservative Christian English blog site, Premier, and the title was: “Cardinal says homosexuality is ‘abnormal’ and Church shouldn’t apologize for traditional teaching.” 

(https://www.premier.org.uk/content/view/full/901417)

So here’s the deal. Let’s not confuse normative human sexual behavior with what some Christians believe the Bible teaches about sexual behavior. Same sex and bisexual behaviors occur in about 10% of the human population, which is by all accounts, a fairly large group of people. I would hesitate to refer to 10% of the world’s population as “abnormal.” (*)

I would also hesitate to follow the Bible too closely, or literally, as a guide to sexual behavior, as that is not its purpose, nor does it do a particularly good job as a sex manual if used that way. Polygamy, slaves used as concubines, women taken as booty in war, male ownership of women, etc., kind of throws a monkey wrench in to the whole Biblical Marriage schtick.

Often when religious people fail to convince others that they “must” except their view they fall back on “I have the ‘right’ to my own opinion.” In this day and age there is a great deal of conversation and concern about individual “rights.” In most Western societies there is some sense of it being wrong to infringe upon the rights of individuals to live their lives free of discrimination, that everyone regardless of who they are, should be treated equally. Most people expect to be treated fairly.

Unfortunately, many religious people don’t see things that way. While expecting to be treated respectfully and fairly by others, they feel that the Bible gives them a mandate to do otherwise with those they deem “sinful.” When reprimanded for being discriminatory or bigoted, they claim they are being persecuted for believing what the Bible teaches. This type of thinking adds a sort of self-righteousness to bigotry and turns the oppressor into the oppressed.

Another tactic used by zealous religious folk is to dismiss arguments for equality and diversity as being “politically correct,” as catering to public opinion, or following “this world.” This is a cop-out, as getting to choose who we treat equally and who who do not, kind of negates the whole purpose of equality. It’s like saying all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. It also flies in the face of the “Golden Rule.”

I sincerely doubt the gentleman above would agree it’s “ok” to have racist opinions. Just what is meant by “it’s ok to have our opinions?” Is this a healthy attitude? Do opinions matter? Can opinions be hurtful and unChristlike? How has the evangelical adage of “hate the sin but love the sinner” worked out? Historically, not so well. And as long as religionists view Gays as abnormal and an “abomination,” they will continue to confuse hatred for acting loving.

All right, time to role up our sleeves and do a bit of research. One of the problems with patriarchal orthodoxy and its historical stranglehold on human sexuality is its blindness to sexual diversity in nature. In the OT Jewish canon, sexuality was defined solely in terms of a man’s dominion over the woman and the ability to pass on one’s “seed” in order to keep up one’s line perpetually. In other words, a woman was largely defined in terms of her ability to raise children, especially a male heir.

Anything, or behavior not fitting into that purpose was suspect. Women who were “barren” or didn’t produce a male heir were shamed or pitied, one of the reasons for multiple wives. Jewish laws before the Talmud, had no consequence for female same sex behavior, largely because it did not threaten men and women were not seen to be especially sexual in nature since there was no emission of seed. (1) On the other hand, male same sex erotic behavior circumvented what was understood to be the purpose of sex: to hopefully produce a male heir.

The Levitical prohibitions against SS behavior amongst males uses the term “toevah” which has a cultic meaning, i.e., pertaining to non-Israelite cultic practice. In this context homosexual temple prostitution is regarded as a “taboo” for Israel. “Abomination” in the KJV is a rather unfortunate and misleading translation of the word. For a good discussion of the use of the term toevah see the following footnote. (2)

“Now, if by “abomination,” the King James means a cultural prohibition—something which a particular culture abhors but another culture enjoys—then the term makes sense. But in common parlance, the term has come to mean much more than that. Today, it connotes something horrible, something contrary to the order of nature itself, or God’s plan, or the institution of the family, or whatever. It is this malleability of meaning, and its close association with disgust, that makes “abomination” a particularly abominable word to use. The term implies that homosexuality has no place under the sun (despite its presence in over 300 animal species), and that it is an abomination against the Divine order itself. Again, toevah is not a good thing—but it doesn’t mean all of that.” (3)

In the NT, it is Paul who non-affirming Christians most often turn to, and in particular, the first chapter of Romans. What is ignored in their proof-texting is the use of the vocative in Romans 2:1…

“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.” Here, then, is the vocative in the Greek, “Oh man,” a grammatical case used for direct address: ὦ ἄνθρωπε. And this takes us to the question I have posed to those who repeat 1:26-27 in condemnation. Who’s the ἄνθρωπος that Paul’s addressing here?” (4)

Rather than Paul condemning all SS activity in 1:26-27, he is quoting the ἄνθρωπος as saying such, then soundly rebuffing them in chapters 2 and following. Chapter 1 of Romans contains a typical Jewish diatribe against Roman culture, in particular its practice of orgies. What has occurred in the past is that theologians have concentrated so narrowly on the wording of Romans 1:18-32, assuming it is Paul speaking, that they totally miss the connection in chapter 2.

“Some scholarship of late, of which Porter’s article is the most thorough example, has noted that Romans 1:18-32 does not represent Paul’s view, but the prevailing view of Gentiles among many Jews at the time, which this apostle to the Gentiles feels compelled to refute. Building off of the scholarship of J.C. O’Neill (who calls it “a traditional tract which belongs essentially to the missionary literature of Hellenistic Judaism”) and E.P. Sanders (who explains that “Paul takes over to an unusual degree homiletical material from Diaspora Judaism”), Porter ultimately concludes that “in 2:1-16, as well as through Romans as a whole, Paul, as part of his Gentile mission, challenges, argues against, and refutes both the content of the discourse and the practice of using such discourses. If that is the case then the ideas in Rom. 1.18-32 are not Paul’s. They are ideas which obstruct Paul’s Gentile mission theology and practice.” (5) 

Wrapping things up, at best we can only claim that Scripture’s treatment of male homosexual activity is based on cultic prohibitions (OT), and that the practice of egalitarian, loving SS relationships are not addressed at all in the NT. Paul’s discussion in Romans hinges, not on the condemnation of SS activity, but on the hypocrisy of the Jews who do condemn it. Paul’s personal views on the matter are not really addressed. Even Preston Sprinkle, in his “A People to be Loved,” bases his anti-gay bias largely on an argument of silence on the matter. 

So, in conclusion, I think the use of the terms “abnormal” vs “normal” are unfortunate and misleading and do not reflect a medical/psychological analysis and ultimately result in marginalization and persecution of Gays and, in truth, and go far beyond what Scripture actually teaches. Opinions do matter. The church needs to do better.

* Those who identify as Gay in some fashion or another vary greatly from culture to culture, depending largely on the cultural understanding of what it means to be Gay. 10% is a ballpark figure representing Western Culture as a whole. As more individuals come out, percentages of those who identify as LGBTQ continues to rise. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

1 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Judaism

2 http://religiondispatches.org/does-the-bible-really-call-homosexuality-an-abomination/

3 Ibid.

4 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/

5 Ibid.

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door: Kevin DeYoung and Gay Exclusion in the Kingdom of God

Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition fame has recently published a small book entitled, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” Russell Moore, current head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, states on the back cover of DeYoung’s book “Every Christian should read this book.”

After reading DeYoung’s book I cannot say I share Moore’s enthusiasm. Although the book does give one a simplistic overview of the Conservative stance on same sex relations and exclusion of sexually active Gays from inclusion in the Kingdom of God, it is disappointedly lacking in sound Biblical exegesis.

DeYoung criticizes Progressives (Liberals) for building their arguments on silence (Jesus does not directly address it), yet, like Preston Sprinkle in his recent book, “A People to be Loved,” bases a great deal of his argument on the assumption that egalitarian same sex relations had to have been known to Paul and Jesus therefore Jesus did not have to mention homosexuality directly in his condemnation of pornea (fornication). Likewise, Paul must have known about egalitarian same sex as well, therefore his condemnation must have included all types of SS sexual behavior. This assumption is based itself to a large degree on silence.

Starting off, DeYoung bases his argument on the Levitical Holiness Code of the Old Testament: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” Two Greek words are used in the Septuagint translation: arsenos and koiten. Paul combines the two separate words to coin a new phrase used in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy literally meaning bedders of men.

First off, DeYoung, in tying Paul closely to Levitical Law, reflects a general trend among conservative Christians of creating a hybrid of Mosaic Law and Gospel Grace. Despite Paul’s general rejection of The Law in favor of the inward working of the Holy Spirit, conservatives like DeYoung seem honor bound to cherry pick favorite verses from the Pentateuch to point out the sins of others.

Did Paul, in addressing the church at Rome, have all same sex relations in mind, as DeYoung declares, or was he addressing a unique situation? Curiously absent from both DeYoung’s and Sprinkle’s assessment of Romans 1 is the inclusion of verses 29-37. In these verses Paul further clarifies the character of the of the men and women who “committed shameless acts” (v.27) and were therefore “worthy of death” (v. 32) and anchors the entire passage into a unique period of Roman history.

The omission, I am sure, is intentional, as it weakens both Preston’s and DeYoung’s argument considerably. Verses 29-37:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (ESV)

Likewise, the switch to the vocative that Paul uses beginning in Romans chapter 2 is not discussed, which is odd as the whole context of chapter 1 hinges on Paul’s condemnation of those who pride themselves on not sharing in the Roman licentiousness. Something conservatives should take note of: “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.” Some scholars see Romans 1:18-32 as evidence of an early Jewish polemic against Gentiles rather than Paul’s own thoughts. (1)

Paul’s description reveals a justifiable, deep revulsion of what we know of Roman sexual practices. His extreme indictment would seem out of place leveled against today’s Gay Christians or those in the LGBTQ community trying to live loving, committed lives in a society that has been historically hostile towards them. If Paul was indeed including loving committed SS relations, as DeYoung states, then we have a problem with perjury, or bearing false witness.

Likewise, in a few other passages, Paul includes SS activity placed among a list of other sins, but there is no indication that he has now switched gears to talk about committed “Gay” relations. Indeed, the severity of some of the sins, slave sellers, liars, murderers, etc., indicates he still has the same individuals in mind as described in Romans 1.

What the Religious Right, Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is take a unique circumstance out of its historical context and make a universal application that transcends time and place. Did Paul have a personal aversion to committed SS relations? Since we have no written record from him addressing that, we simply do not know. What I have seen time and time again is the Right basing their assessment of homosexual behavior on the belief that Paul’s description in Romans 1:29-37 accurately describes Gays today. Hence the references to “abomination” by luminaries of the Right like Falwell and Robertson, and hate groups such as Westboro Baptist and their “God Hates Fags” signs.

Like DeYoung, in “A People to be Loved,” Preston Sprinkle has presented Evangelicals with a roadmap to continue to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, yet feel better about themselves in the process. Discrimination without guilt, stone throwing but with softer words of condemnation. Sprinkle covers no new ground in this book, which was disappointing.

While repeatedly admitting the church’s failure to be loving towards Gays, Sprinkle fails to admit the underlying presuppositions about Scripture that plague Neo-Fundamentalists and bog them down in 19th century attitudes about the relationships of God and man. His is not a Cruciform theology, but one bound to an inerrant, infallible Bible. The unspoken and taken for granted assumption is that God has spoken definitively, once and for all time, through Scripture, how mankind is to structure itself socially. What traditional marriage proponents, like Sprinkle have given us is first century marital codes filtered through Western 19th century Victorian standards of propriety.

I hope to address in a future post the underlying hermeneutical problems of fundamentalism and it’s odd blending of a wrathful God and a loving God. The failure to consistently interpret the God of the OT through the lens of Christ continually hamstrings conservatives from worshipping a truly “Christlike God.” (2) rather than the Gospel being “good news” it ends up being an alternate legal system replacing the Law of the OT.

(1) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/
(2) See Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God, a More Beautiful Gospel,” and Gregory A. Boyd, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God.”

The Nashville Statement and Patriarchy

The recent Nashville Statement (1) on human sexuality is the latest attempt by the Religious Right to position male-female complementarianism, patriarchy and gender stereotypes as the Biblical norm for today, based largely on the ancient cultural norm in which male dominance and female subservience was the norm. One of the main problems with the belief that the Bible paints a clear picture of “one man, one woman,” is…that it does not. The truth is conservatives must carefully pick and choose their verses to support their thesis, conveniently overlooking the much more numerous passages that portray the ugly side of patriarchy and submission.

Contrary to most evangelical thinking, while the NT gives us excellent advice on loving our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves, the Bible, as a whole is a mixed bag on the issue of “Biblical Marriage.” With Biblical marriages involving polygamy, concubines, maid servants, spoils of war, sisters-in-laws, rape victims, etc., conservatives must do a lot of cherry picking to come up with a definitive view of marriage.

So, the basic quandary behind the Religious Right’s rejection of non binary human relationships and identity is the question of whether or not the “Biblical” model of sexual relationships is culturally informed and outdated, or whether strictly male-female complimentarianism and male headship (2) should be the cultural norm for moderns. As evident from the Nashville Statement, most evangelicals believe the latter, although headship is not specifically mentioned here. The traditionalist stance presented in the Nashville Statement is based, in large, on a specific biblical hermeneutic that is literal and believes the Bible is without error. But pushing for a literal, inerrant understanding of the texts poses problems for the definition of Biblical marriage. If one would follow the various examples of marriage in the Bible religiously and consistently, Christian marriage would differ little from that of Islamic fundamentalism. What conservative evangelicals have done to soften the hard edges of this fact is to couch male dominance in the language of “complimentarianism.” In other words, men and women have separate but equal clearly defined roles. We have heard “separate, but equal” used before and it never truly means “equal.”

This is not to say that all evangelicals hold to a strict male headship relationship of human sexuality and gender role. The minority model I grew up with was “mutual submission,” which is more egalitarian and follows a much more Christlike attitude of serving one another. It also follows the broad outline of Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

Behind the language of the Nashville Statement, is a history of a cultural shift from evangelicalism to fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist denomination. As David Gushee points out, fundamentalists within the denomination waged a fierce battle for control of the Southern Baptist convention between 1979 and 1993. What resulted was a decisive string of victories within the SBC that put fundamentalists firmly in control. In, turn, these men made sure that women and moderates were forced out of teaching positions within Baptist colleges as well as diminishing the role of women within the denomination. (3) Prior to 1979, Christian fundamentalism’s primary hand-wringing involved the Civil Rights movement and resistance to Black equality and the “mixing of the races.” But as Gushee puts it, “by the late 1970s, a different strategy was developed on the conservative side, focusing especially on traditionalist Christian discomfort with the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion…This proved a more appealing agenda for conservative Christian consumption than directly attacking progress in racial integration and black empowerment.” (4)

The shift from outright racism (which is still very much alive among fundamentalists) to “family values,” i.e., anti- feminism, anti-Gay, anti-abortion, is very much based on a traditional male headship model, as presented in scripture. One would wonder why evangelical and fundamentalist men would be so upset by Gay marriage, but the answer is simple: non binary individuals fall outside the control of male headship. They don’t fit into a patriarchal scheme of human sexuality. Which begs the question, in an egalitarian society, where an individual’s self worth and purpose is not based on their genitalia, exactly what value does male headship bring to the table? If divorce rates among evangelicals are any indication, the answer is, none, as the rate of failed marriages mirrors that of society as a whole.

The tragedy of the Nashville Statement is that it closes the door to dialogue about human sexuality, and attempts to rigidly compartmentalize gender stereotypes, ignoring the realities of gender and sexuality. It also closes the door to further understanding and reform amongst evangelicals. The door too has been shut on careful consideration of the Biblical passages themselves, preferring a inerrant, literal hermeneutic that does not take into consideration a great many things: culturally bound materials, story as opposed to historical facts, and a general inability to differentiate Kingdom principals from cultural mores. It has sadly become all too apparent that fundamentalists favor law over Grace, continuing over a century of vigorously defending indefensible attitudes towards race, women, violence and sexual minorities. This needs to stop.

1. https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/357531494/The-Nashville-Statement
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism
3. David P. Gushee, “Still Christian, Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism,” see chapter 3.
4. Ibid., p. 32.