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.

Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights

I ran across this very insightful article this morning posted on Facebook. I thought it presented a clear statement of the underlying reasons for homophobia in the world. The article is by Masha Gessen and can be found here:
http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/07/27/why-autocrats-fear-lgbt-rights-trump/

“July 26, 2017, was a personal anniversary for me: one year earlier I had written a piece in which I argued for setting aside the idea of a Trump-Russia conspiracy (yes, this idea was with us a year ago) for the much more important task of imagining what a Trump presidency might bring. I wrote that Trump would unleash a war at home and while it was difficult to predict the target, “my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable.” This was a thought exercise; even as I made an argument that I believed to be logical, I could not believe my own words. On Wednesday of this week, one year to the day since I made that prediction, President Trump announced, by tweet, that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military—a policy reversal that would directly and immediately affect thousands of people.

Many commentators immediately branded this move a distraction, an attempt to draw attention away from the Russian-conspiracy story, the health care battle, or anything else they deem more important than the president’s declaration that a group of Americans are second-class citizens. This is not only a grievous insult to transgender people but a basic failure to understand the emotional logic of Trumpism. This is a logic that Trump shares with most modern-day strongmen, and it was this logic that made his attack on LGBT rights so predictable, even while he was literally draping a rainbow flag over his body last year.

Trump got elected on the promise of a return to an imaginary past—a time we don’t remember because it never actually was, but one when America was a kind of great that Trump has promised to restore. Trumps shares this brand of nostalgia with Vladimir Putin, who has spent the last five years talking about Russian “traditional values,” with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, who has warned LGBT people against becoming “provocative,” and with any number of European populists who promise a return to a mythical “traditional” past.

With few exceptions, countries that have grown less democratic in recent years have drawn a battle line on the issue of LGBT rights. Moscow has banned Pride parades and the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” while Chechnya—technically a region of Russia—has undertaken a campaign to purge itself of queers. In Budapest, the Pride march has become an annual opposition parade: many, if not most, participants are straight people who use the day to come out against the Orbán government. In Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey, water cannons were used to disperse an Istanbul Pride parade. Narendra Modi’s India has re-criminalized homosexuality (though transgender rights have been preserved). In Egypt, where gays experienced new freedoms in the brief interlude of democracy after the 2011 revolution, they are now, under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship, subjected to constant harassment and surveillance and hundreds have been arrested.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is a telling exception to the rule: the government has touted its record on LGBT rights precisely to assert its otherwise tattered democratic credentials—a tactic the writer Sarah Schulman has termed “pinkwashing.” In other words, queer rights are anything but a distraction: they are a frontier, sometimes the frontier in the global turn toward autocracy.

The appeal of autocracy lies in its promise of radical simplicity, an absence of choice. In Trump’s imaginary past, every person had his place and a securely circumscribed future, everyone and everything was exactly as it seemed, and government was run by one man issuing orders that could not and need not be questioned. The very existence of queer people—and especially transgender people—is an affront to this vision. Trans people complicate things, throw the future into question by shaping their own, add layers of interpretation to appearances, and challenge the logic of any one man decreeing the fate of people and country.

One can laugh at the premise of the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda”—as though the sight of queerdom openly displayed, or even the likeness of a rainbow (this claim has been made) can turn a straight person queer. At the same time, in Russia queer people make an ideal target for government propaganda because the very idea of them serves as a convenient stand-in for an entire era of liberalization that is now shunned. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, queerdom was unthinkable. Afterward, it became possible along with so many other things: the world became complicated, full of possibility and uncertainty. It also grew frightening—precisely because nothing was certain any longer.

This fear cuts across geographic borders; it feels much the same in countries that were never Communist and in societies that were never apparently closed. The precipitous loss of economic security, the disappearance of lifelong careers, the rising sense of a world transformed by the movement of people across borders have all coincided with the growing visibility of LGBT people. In America, too, the sight of a queer person can conjure the fear of change.

Trump’s campaign ran on the word “again,” the promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back”  a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Here, too, queers can serve as convenient shorthand. By tweeting that he has decided to ban transgender people from the military, Trump shows that he is the autocrat that he was elected to be: he can control people by issuing an order. The order juxtaposes the military—the symbol of Americans’ security—with transgender people, who make so many Americans feel so anxious.

Looking at a person who embodies choice—the possibility of being or becoming different—can be like staring into the abyss of uncertainty. In this sense, seeing a Pride march or a trans person can make a straight person feel very queer: it demonstrates possibility, making the world frightening. It speaks to the modern predicament the social psychologist Erich Fromm wrote about in his book about the rise of Nazism, Escape from Freedom: the ability to invent oneself. One is no longer born a tradesman or a peasant, or the lifelong resident of a particular quarter, or a man or a woman. This freedom can feel like an unbearable burden. No wonder the most notorious piece of American anti-transgender legislation—the North Carolina bathroom bill—focused on the birth certificate as the most important document. In mandating that people use public bathrooms in accordance with the sex assigned at birth, the law created a situation where some people who looked, acted, smelled like—who identified and lived as—women were required to use the men’s bathroom, and vice versa—but it established that one’s position in the world was set from birth.

For the last half-century, the American LGBT movement has bent to accommodate the belief that a person’s identity is already present at birth. “Born this way” has been the mantra that has enabled many of the political advances and much of the cultural acceptance for LGBT people, even as it has pushed out of view many queer people’s lived experience of choice. But no amount of reassurance that LGBT people “can’t help it” can alleviate the anxiety brought on by the spectacle of people transgressing gender roles. This is the kind of anxiety Trump addressed as a candidate and has addressed again with his apparent promise to purge transgender people who are already serving in the military. This is no distraction: it is the very heart of Trumpism.”