Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Award-winning Canadian journalist Naomi Klein has made a career of combining her training in economics (she was a fellow at the London School of Economics), law (honorary doctor of civil laws from University of King’s College, Nova Scotia), and journalism to report on the front lines of the debate over free market globalization for The Nation and the U.K.’s The Guardian.  The short film above goes with her bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  The film is a short introduction to her thesis, which is documented and defended at length in the book.  The idea is that disciples of economist Milton Friedman (who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on monetary supply, but who is better known as the most thorough advocate of radical laissez-faire capitalism) use societal shocks (invasions, coups, natural disasters, etc.) in a way similar to the way torturous interrogators use individual shocks to gain compliance with captives.  Friedman advised his disciples to use crises, shocks, to force through radical privatization of education, commerce, healthcare, prisons, even the military–while people were too numb from a crisis to know what was happening and resist.  Klein wants to document this pattern (from Pinochet’s Chile to China after Tienneman Square to Iraq under Paul Bremer to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, etc.) in order for people to recognize and resist it.  Her thesis is well worth considering.  Radical capitalism is neither the fruit not the handmaiden of democracy, but is most radical in dictatorships (e.g., Pinochet’s Chile, contemporary China, post-Communist Russia) and undermines democracy by concentrating power in business oligarchies and taking it away from the judicial and legislative branches of goverment and concentrating it in the executive–and then reducing government to bare minimum.  (It is worth noting that the insurgency in Iraq, though fanning sectarian rivalries between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, and augmented by foreign fighters from al-Qaeda, did not get any real headway until U.S. administrator Paul Bremer forced through the radical privatization of Iraqi business with sweetheart deals for U.S. business and concomitant loss of jobs for the Iraqis.  The Iraqi people saw this looting of their natural resources–against international law–as a continuation of the war against them–and THEN the insurgency grew and the U.S. death toll started to mount.  Klein contends that Abu Ghraib was a response–another shock– to a people that were refusing to be controlled. It is worth considering.  I think what has been done to New Orleans fits this pattern perfectly.)

November 30, 2007 Posted by | democracy, economic justice, human rights., poverty | 5 Comments

Bill Clinton Said WHAT??

O.K., I know that the context was his criticism of Republican-backed tax cuts during time of war–the only time in our history as a nation when we have financed a war by borrowing instead of taxation.  But I still could hardly believe my ears yesterday when former U.S. President Bill Clinton (D-AR), campaigning on behalf of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading Democratic candidate for U.S. President, stated boldly that he “opposed [the invasion of] Iraq from the beginning!” Really, Bill?  Then why didn’t you advise Hillary not to vote to authorize the war?  I don’t recall Bill Clinton speaking out against the war in ’02 or early ’03 when it might have made a difference.  In fact, having just “Googled” this topic, I am pretty sure he did no such thing.

I can’t stand these attempts by politicians to re-write history in their favor–whether Republicans or Democrats do it.  I am very angry about this remark by Bill Clinton–angrier than I have been at him since he bombed Kosovo to distract the public from the Lewinsky scandal or when he caved to GOP pressure and signed into law a “welfare reform” law that did nothing to solve the problem of poverty, but was, instead, draconian in its effects on the poor–especially poor children!! Why am I so angry? Because opposing a war takes more than thinking privately that it is a bad idea–it requires speaking out and that takes courage and usually involves consequences:

  • Col. Scott Ritter, the highly decorated former U.S. Marine, who was the Chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq during the 1990s, had that kind of courage. He spoke out against the invasion of Iraq, arguing that Iraq was no longer a military threat and had little if any WMDs left.  Ritter paid a price: having his name smeared on every news show in the U.S., with blowhards like Sean Hannity claiming that he had been paid off by Saddam Hussein and others claiming that Ritter should have his medals revoked!
  • Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to the first Pres. Bush (George H. W. Bush), wrote an article in the 15 Aug. edition of the Wall Street Journal called “Don’t Attack Saddam!” which argued that containment was working and the invasion would distract from fighting terrorism and from the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the real key to a stable Middle East. 
  • Some retired military officers and some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued against the invasion, including, most prominently, Gen. Wesley Clark and Gen. Anthony Zinni.
  • Several career diplomats with years of experience in Middle East Affairs resigned in protest over the coming invasion of Iraq–including many who supported Gulf War I.
  • Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst who now works for the publishing arm of the Church of the Savior, spoke out, forming VIPS: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and exposing the holes in the Bush admin.’s case for war. In 2004, McGovern had a public run-in with Donald Rumsfeld, charging him with war crimes.
  • Former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had once faced down Saddam Hussein face-to-face, and was decorated by the first Pres. Bush (George H. W. Bush) for his role in getting all Americans out of Iraq before Gulf War I, opposed this war and exposed part of the lies on which it was based–and the Bush admin. retaliated by “outing” his wife, Valerie Plame, as a deep cover CIA agent, ruining her career and putting lives at risk. 
  • Social justice advocate Medea Benjamin, put her business at Equal Exchange on hold to found CODE PINK: Women for Peace. She opposed the war and has been repeatedly jailed for it.
  • Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) was almost alone in the Senate in 2002 in calling for a real debate and careful hearings before rushing any kind of authorization for war. He was joined by a few including Sen. Russ Feingold and Sen. Edward Kennedy.  Byrd’s call for vigorous hearings and debate and defense of the Constitutional role of Congress in declaring war (or not)  was ignored or ridiculed.
  • Both the present Pope (Benedict XVI) and the previous Pope (John Paul II), spoke out against the Iraq invasion, with the ailing John Paul even sending the Vatican papal nuncio to meet with Bush in an attempt to stop the invasion.
  • Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners led a major ecumenical Christian effort to find ways to deal with any possible threat that Saddam might pose without war–and when he could get no audience for his plan in the White House, met with British PM Tony Blair to plead the case.
  • Other religious leaders such as Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Centre, spoke out against the war.  I drafted the open letter against the war by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  Members from Christian Peacemaker Teams and other faith-based groups tried to be human shields against the invasion–and several were kidnapped by insurgents and one lost his life because of this. 
  • In Feb. 2003, 10 million worldwide, 1 million in New York City alone, marched in the streets to stop the war. I was in New York. Bill Clinton was not.  Any peace rally would gladly have let him speak–he could have made a difference.  But he remained silent. 
  • Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks made one remark against the impending war in a London concert and the band went overnight from the hottest country band in the world to having their CDs publicly burned and radio stations refusing to play their music–and being burned in effigy.  I don’t recall Bill Clinton, supposedly a longtime fan, speaking out in their defense. Even G.W. Bush defended their right to free speech, but Bill Clinton was silent!
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) spoke out, as did former Pres. Jimmy Carter and former VP Al Gore. So did Howard Dean, Barack Obama (then a state senator in Illinois), and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). Bill Clinton was silent.
  • The list might be expanded, but it is so easy to name those in public life who spoke out BECAUSE THEY WERE SO FEW! Soon we had the stupidity of renaming French Fries “Freedom Fries” because French Pres. Chirac opposed the invasion! In that kind of atmosphere, most prominent Democrats, including Bill Clinton, kept quiet and showed zero moral leadership. To say otherwise now is a lie of incredible proportions–like all those white guys who claim to have “marched with Dr. King” now when they actually were silent. (An African-American friend of mine says he has yet to find a white Southerner of the proper age who admits to having been a segregationist at the time. Surely they didn’t all die already? Surely many changed their minds–and simply are too afraid to admit it, now.) This Clintonian lie is as large as “I did not have sex with that woman”–and, as far as the public good is concerned (rather than just the consequences to Clinton’s marriage or soul), this lie is far worse.

People paid various prices for opposing the invasion of Iraq “from the beginning,” Mr. Clinton!  My family received anonymous death threats for our letters to the editor opposing the war. My wife was stalked and had to remove an anti-war bumper sticker for 6 months because of physical danger for opposing this war.  My daughters were ostracized in school.  The majority of the public did not turn against this war until late 2004 or early 2005.  Before that it was lonely and hard to oppose this war. It took courage–courage that was sadly lacking in Bill Clinton if he truly was against it “from the beginning.” 

This is Bill Clinton’s pattern. He “opposed” the Vietnam War as a college student. But did he resist the draft and risk jail or exile as did so many? No, he used political connections (much like George W. Bush did!) to be passed over and then waited until he was safe at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship before speaking out against the war. He did this, he told us back in the ’90s, in order to preserve his future political viability. So, his convictions have never cost him anything.  Real opponents of war–whether all wars or particular ones–risk something. Bill Clinton, instead, plays it safe. So, did Hillary vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq because she believed the case for war, or to strengthen Bush’s negotiating hand at the UN (as she claims)–or because she, like so many spineless Dems, believed the GOP when it said the war would be short and didn’t want to be seen as “soft on defense?” Did Bill Clinton say to her “Honey, this invasion is the wrong way to promote regime change in Iraq or Middle East Democracy, but if you ever plan on being president you better vote for it?”  Was Bill rewriting history yesterday in order to shore up Hillary’s support with peace folk and progressives among Democrats? If so, I hope it backfires.

I am so angry and disgusted I could spit.  How many lives of U.S. soldiers could have been saved if someone of Bill Clinton’s stature had really “opposed the war from the beginning?”  How many lives of Iraqis?  Would we have been spared Abu Ghraib, the Gitmo gulag, and much else?  True, Bill Clinton did not create these evils–Bush and cronies did.  But Bill Clinton’s silence is a guilty silence–a silence much like that of the “good Germans” who let the Holocaust take place (if not–yet–on that scale).  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that for evil to triumph all that was required was for good people to do nothing. 

I am not angry at those people who were truly taken in by the Bush phoney case and who later repented–like former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), for instance.  As a friend of mine who moved from Republican to Democrat over these issues said, “It is truly hard to believe that your government could lie to you so thoroughly.” But Clinton did not say that he was taken in by Bush’s phoney case. He said he opposed the invasion of Iraq “from the beginning.” To have opposed but said nothing is an act of moral cowardice of tremendous proportions. If his wife is equally guilty, then she is nearly as unworthy of the office of president as the current occupant.

Let’s demand some basic honesty and moral courage in our leaders–or get new ones.

November 29, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, peace, taxes, U.S. politics | 6 Comments

Olberman on “The Simpsons.”

My favorite news anchor/commentator on the funniest modern day cartoon. Just for laughs.

November 28, 2007 Posted by | arts | Comments Off on Olberman on “The Simpsons.”

Another Hiatus

I am trying desperately to finish an article by 01 December. So, I am not reading comments, etc. until after it is finished. I will try to get back to all you fine people soon, Gentle Readers, but I am behind on writing that PAYS–even if not much.  Blogging is great, but it doesn’t generate income and we still live in a capitalist society. I try to live simply, but light and heat, etc. still take dinero. So, please don’t feel insulted by my silence in the meantime.

While I am trying to finish my article, I did notice that political change has come to my friends in Australia.  John Howard’s coalition of Liberal (“conservative” in U.S. terms) Party and the Nationals has lost to the Australian Labour Party led by Kevin Rudd (with a major assist from the Greens). Australia uses an instant run-off system that lists one’s top 3 choices. Labour was the second choice for most Greens.  It’s too early to know all of what these changes will mean, but one factor in Howard’s downfall was his unconditional support for George W. Bush’s approach to fighting terrorism and for the Iraq war.  Labour has promised to bring home Australian troops from Iraq, to sign and ratify the Kyoto Treaty and work to reverse global warming, and other progressive changes.  Rudd is pro-American, but not pro-Bush who is deeply unpopular in Australia.  This may be the only time in Australian history that a sitting prime minister was defeated when the economy was good–showing that other issues can dominate.  Since the PM-elect is a committed republican (i.e., he thinks Australia should be a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy), one wonders if this change will take Australia out of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Expect Rudd to place the question of keeping the monarchy or becoming a republic up for referendum before the end of his term. 

The UK remains center left with Labour as does New Zealand.  Will Canada and the U.S. soon move back toward the center-left as well?  Meanwhile Germany and France have moved in a more conservative direction. Curious.

November 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Another Hiatus

Another Baptist Congregation Confronts GLBT Inclusion

Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX, a centrist-to-progressive Baptist congregation, is being forced to wrestle with how inclusive they want to be of GLBT persons.  Baptist blogger Big Daddy Weave has the story here.  J.C. Baker, a member of Broadway, a progressive Baptist, and a Ph.D. student in N.T., argues for full and equal inclusion here.

Mainline denominations have been confronting this issue for years, with the Quakers and the United Church of Christ paving the way for full and equal inclusion.  Although the struggle is far from over, thanks to pressure from the global Anglican communion of which it is a member, the Episcopal Church, USA seems to be firmly on the path to full inclusion, too.  Things seem divided almost 50/50 (with traditionalists having slight majorities over revisionists/inclusivists) in such mainline denominations as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), and United Methodist Church (UMC). 

Baptists have long either ignored this conflict to focus on other (non) issues like whether women should be relegated to housework and childrearing (!), how many beers send you to hell, why evolution is demonic, or why charismatics are really possessed, etc., but can pull such dodges no longer.  The tiny Alliance of Baptists (size isn’t everything), the progressive denomination to which my congregation belongs, has adopted an inclusive policy–although this is not binding on local churches since Baptists are congregational in polity.  The American Baptist Churches, USA is being pulled apart over the issue, sadly.  And the member congregations of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB)(to which I also belong) are increasing.  Will Broadway BC of Fort Worth soon join AWAB’s ranks? I pray it will be so.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, GLBT issues, progressive faith | 4 Comments

Why I Am a Progressive, IV

Last of the commercials by the Center for American Progress:  Progressive and Proud of It.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Why I Am a Progressive, IV

Creation and Evolution 5: New Testament Passages

This is the last of my survey of some of the many biblical passages on Creation. In this survey, I have attempted to show that the Bible uses a variety of metaphors, myths, literary genres, etc. to speak of Creation–and the focus is never on a scientific account.  From here, I will turn to other matters: defining science and scientific theory, evolutionary perspectives before Darwin, Darwin the man, the scientist, and his contribution, and the neo-Darwininian synthesis; early Christian (even evangelical) defenders of Darwin; defining theistic evolution, creationism and “intelligent design;” why neither “creation science” nor ID are scientific theories or research programs; why “teaching the controversy” in science classrooms is neither good education, nor respects church/state separation; why ID is inappropriate for a science class but would be appropriate to study in a class on comparative philosophy or comparative theologies–views on the origin of creation and life. I will conclude the series with a look at theological challenges that evolution poses and some of the ways that have been proposed to handle those challenges.

But first, finishing up our brief biblical survey. A real theology of creation would have to survey much wider and concentrate on the texts in far more detail than I have done for this series. 

John 1:1-5. As part of the larger Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (1:1-18), the Gospel of John echoes Genesis 1, but, in language that will lead (rightly) to later Trinitarian doctrine, claims the Word (which will soon be revealed in this Gospel to be the pre-existent Son of God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth) as the agent of Creation.  This passage also goes beyond the “creation out of chaos” perspective we have found in the Hebrew Scriptures to assert the vital Christian teaching of Creatio ex nihilo, that God created the universe from nothing.  All things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being. (V. 3) This is why I reject the process theology perspective that would have God, like a Platonic Demi-urge, persuade the universe into being from primordial uncreated “stuff.”

Colossians 1:15-20.  Here again, although Christ is called “the firstbon of all creation” (presumably meaning the New Creation, and being firstborn by the Resurrection), he is also “the image of the invisible God” for “in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers or powers [Note that even the Powers are created by God in Christ–though they are rebellious and fallen now]–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He Himself is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Using language from Greek philosophy, Paul gives a very exalted Christology and that also places Christ as the agent of creation. This is why, although “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” trinitarian language may be one form of inclusive language useful for worship, it is not fully satisfactory theologically.  Although some complain that recent theology has overused the term perichoreisis, that important term means that each member of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to use traditional terms–debates on inclusive language for God must await another discussion) participates in the work of the other–Creation is not the work only of the Father, but also the Son and the Spirit, etc.  Thus, the Trinitarian doctrine of God means that God is already BEFORE creation LOVE–giving and receiving love in relationship in God’s Self.  God did not create in order to learn love or because God lacked something in God’s Self.  Christ is also involved in sustaining the universe (in Him all things hold together). So, we need more than an economic Trinity–a view of God that can become Tri-theistic–but must go on to affirm an immanent Trinity–God is Triune in God’s very nature, not just in how God reveals God’s Self to us.  (This goes beyond anything in the biblical texts–Trinitarian doctrine did not become fully developed until the Council of Nicaea and beyond–but texts like Col. 1 push us in such a direction.)

In neither of these passages is the author concerned with the question of HOW God created the universe.  The authors of the 4th Gospel and of Colossians are concerned with WHO (the Word, Christ) Created and with the extent of creation (all things).  These are deep theological concerns–and worth far more time than I can give here. But the concern is NOT to describe natural processes either in astronomical terms (e.g., Big Bang vs. Steady State Cosmologies), geological ones (the ancient nature of the earth) or biological ones (e.g., the interrelatedness of all life on earth, evolving through mutation and natural selection into ever more complex forms, including humans who share with modern apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans) a common ancestor).  As with all the biblical creation passages, these NT texts are neither scientific nor in conflict with any scientific account of natural origins.  The biblical writers are concerned with other questions. 

November 18, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, science & faith | 6 Comments

Why I Am a Progressive, III

3rd of 4 commercials by the Center for American Progress and 2nd in the Mac v. PC format.  I should make clear that “Conservative v. Progressive” has not always translated into “Republican v. Democrat” in U.S. history.  Until the 1960s, for instance, the GOP had a stronger commitment to civil rights and the Democratic Party included a large component of Southern segregationists.  Also, conservatives have often come to embrace things (child labor laws, votes for women, etc.) that they originally opposed.  Progressives are pioneers in that regard.

November 18, 2007 Posted by | U.S. politics | 1 Comment

SOA Vigil

The annual vigil to close the School of the Americas, Ft. Benning, GA, the U.S.’ own tax-supported school for state-supported terrorists and human rights abusers, is going on right now.  You can see pictures and keep up with developments here.  Several people, including many of the older youth, at my church are there this year.  Friends from the BPFNA and FOR will be there. My prayers are with them and my prayer for all the people of Central and South America are that this horrendous school will soon be closed. Far too many peasants, priests, nuns, and human rights workers have been killed in Central and South America by graduates of the SOA.  It’s time to padlock this “School of Assassins” forever.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | human rights., terrorism prevention, U.S. politics | 1 Comment

GLBT Persons in the Church: The Case for Full Inclusion 7

Yes, Gentle Readers, after long neglect, I am returning to this series.  I am arguing (too slowly) for full inclusion (‘welcoming and affirming’) gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons in the church. I am arguing for a single sexual ethic that includes the options of monogamy or celibacy for everyone–instead of the current ethic of most churches whereby heterosexual Christians may be monogamous (and we wink at “serial polygamy,”–one spouse at a time) or celibate, but GLBT Christians are told they must either be celibate or “cured” of their sexual orientation.  If you are new to the series, please read the previous installments first:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, this addendum, and 6.  Jumping straight to this post is not advised.  Also, even those who have read the entire series may want to refresh themselves before this post.

Rom. 1: 18-2:1.  :  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of  those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  So they are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

       Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen.

       For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.  Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.  Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God have them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.  They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice.  Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die–yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

   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. 


This is the most important biblical passage about our topic so far.  It is the only passage in which same-sex acts between women (lesbianism) is discussed along with male/male acts.  It is also the only passage which gives a theological rationale for condemning same-sex activity.  For many people, this is the passage which controls their decision on such matters.  For instance, the late Stanley Grenz, Canadian-American Baptist theologian and ethicist, said that without Romans 1, he would adopt a fully inclusive view toward GLBT folks like I am endorsing. Because of Rom. 1, Grenz coined the term “welcoming, but NOT affirming” for his view.  (See Stanley J. Grenz, Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. ) For many years, I came to the same conclusion.

The condemnation is clear:  There are no difficult translation issues as with other passages.  Same sex acts are condemned clearly without being overly graphic in description.  The reason is also clear:  Paul thinks all same-sex activity is “unnatural” and a result of rejecting the general revelation of God (a kind of “natural law” thinking) and embracing of idolatry–which has resulted in “a debased mind,” and unnatural passions, leading to all kinds of sin.

It is important, however, to see that Paul’s emphasis is not on “homosexuality.” It is not called more sinful than other things, nor even listed in the sins condemned in vv. 29-32.  We need to step back and see Paul’s larger purpose by seeing the structure of Romans as a whole. 

The church (or series of house churches) at Rome was not one of the Christian communities that Paul founded.  Unlike the recipients of most of Paul’s letters, most of the believers in Rome did not know him. Paul was about to visit them (he thought) before a planned missionary trip to Spain. (Paul was arrested and eventually brought to Rome in chains and executed without ever having the opportunity for the visit with the Roman Christians, much less the mission to Spain.) He wrote both to introduce himself and to outline his basic gospel message–along with some peacemaking, as we’ll see.

The house churches in Rome were divided between Jewish and Gentile Christians, each boasting and prideful toward the other.  For Paul, the gospel of justification by grace through faith denies all reasons for pride and boasting and demands reconciliation.  Romans is a careful argument for that message. 

Romans 1 is part of a larger argument that climaxes in Romans 5: Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus and we must reconcile with one another–boasting only in suffering for the sake of the gospel.  To get to this point, Paul must convince both Gentile Christians (Rom. 1) and Jewish Christians (Rom. 3) that they have no grounds for boasting–they all sin and they are all without excuse.  Jews are without excuse because of special revelation in God’s delivering acts and in giving of the Torah (Law). Gentiles are without excuse because even though they didn’t have the Law, they had enough general revelation to worship God (not idols) and to know the basics of morality.  Romans 1 condemns stereotypical Gentile sins (all the Jewish Christians were saying “Amen!”) and Romans 3 condemns stereotypical Jewish sins (and then the Jewish Christians said, “say what?” and the Gentile Christians said, “Yeah!”). 

The purpose of Romans 1 is not to make heterosexual Christians feel superior–it climaxes in 2:1 with the condemnation of the one who judges (i.e., condemns) as being a hypocrite because the judge does the same things. 

Having said that, it isclear that Paul understood same-sex acts as sinful.  He sees them as evidence of idolatry and rejecting God’s standards revealed through nature–that is, Paul sees the primary purpose of sexuality as procreative.  NOTE: I am not claiming that Paul sees procreation as the ONLY purpose of human sexuality even within marriage. I believe that to be a later doctrine–when Greco-Roman views of the body as inferior to the spirit led Christian theologians to elevate virginity and celibacy as somehow more holy than monogamous sex–a view that intensified after the work of St. Augustine, who projected his own past lusts onto everyone and distorted Christian views of sex in the West for centuries.  I don’t think Paul shared that view.  But Paul did believe that procreation was a primary purpose of sex and that same-sex actions denied this–and were thus unnatural.

Paul was trained as a rabbi. His thinking is very Jewish–even as transformed by the experience of the Risen Christ and his salvation.  So, doubtless Paul shares the thinking behind the condemnations we saw in Leviticus:  The need to separate the sacred from the profane.  Crossing categories is taboo; it pollutes. Thus, same sex acts (unlike in Leviticus, Rom. 1 does not specify intercourse–other sexual acts could have been included–and for the women most certainly were) are unnatural because they violate the “order of creation.” Paul has no concept of a created order in which some are naturally attracted to their own sex. That is outside his worldview–which is shaped by Levitical purity concerns, not by scientific study of human psycho-sexual nature.

The import of this text for the contemporary church discussion of GLBT inclusion depends not on its exegesis, but on how we understand it’s authority.  This is Scripture and I confess believing it to be inspired and authoritative.  But Paul’s intention here is to teach human sinfulness (without excuse) and the need for justification by faith. Are we to understand his background views about human sexuality to be equally inspired?  What authority do we give to new scientific perspectives which tell us that some persons are born attracted to their own sex?  Paul assumes that all people are heterosexual in orientation unless their idolatrous ways lead God to “give them up” to unnatural passions. He clearly sees same sex acts as the result of idolatry and excess lust (“burned with passion.”) Well, there is no denying that SOME same-sex activity, like much heterosexual activity, is a result of such things.  There are some feminists who adopted lesbianism for political reasons.  And we live in a culture that exploits women and promotes rampant promiscuity–and part of that ideology is to convince “Girls Gone Wild” that they should commit sex acts with other women (regardless of their sexual orientation) in order to increase the lusts of men. 

THAT kind of same sex activity (along with the promiscuous heterosexual activity) is clearly condemned by this passage. But what of those for whom attraction to their own sex IS natural and attraction to the other sex is unnatural?  One response to this is to deny that such people exist.  Everyone is heterosexual as Paul believed.  But does the inspiration of Romans mean that Paul had revealed scientific information? Would Paul have written Romans 1 in quite the way he did if he had known that some people are naturally oriented to their own sex? That not all same-sex couples are the result of “a depraved mind” and excess lust?

We cannot know.  But having information that Paul did not, we have to wrestle not only with the text, but with new questions, new challenges.  I think that relativizes the normativity of vv. 26-27 while reinforcing the overall argument of the epistle:  All have sinned; all are without excuse; none are righteous in themselves; none have reason to boast; none have a right to condemn others–all need justification by faith in Christ.

Update: Comments have made it clear that I have been less than clear in places.  D.R. Randle has been asking me from the beginning of my NT survey on this subject to deal with Plato’s Symposium.  He says (following, I suppose, people like Robert Gagnon, Thomas Schmidt, & Craig S. Keener) that because Plato deals with “homosexuality” in the Symposium and condemns it as “unnatural,” that Paul probably got his “natural/unnatural” terminology from Plato (I agree) and that this shows that Paul knew about same-sex monogamous love analogous to heterosexual marriage and rejected THAT.  Here, I disagree.  Plato didn’t know about modern biological understandings of sexual orientation anymore than the biblical writers did.  Nor did Plato think of marriage in terms of monogamous sexual love between equals–heterosexual or homosexual equals.  For Plato, women were inferior to men. Therefore, marriage was for procreative purposes and childrearing. One could have only an inferior kind of love between men and women.  The highest forms of love had to be between equals which meant that men had to love men and women had to love women.  This was traditionally done in the case of males when an older man, a mentor, undertook to educate and prepare an adolescent boy for manhood.  For Plato, this was to be without sex.  That is why we get the term “platonic love” or “platonic relationship” for deep, loving, friendships that are not sexual.  But this mentor-student relationship often degenerated in practice into what we, today, would call pederasty–sexual abuse of a minor of the same sex.  THIS Plato condemned. And these kinds of exploitive relationships (along with male prostitution) are what Paul understood when he condemned “homosexuality.”

Does this mean that if Paul HAD KNOWN of monogamous same-sex relationships between equals, he would have considered them “not sinful?” We CANNOT KNOW that. He might still have used the natural/unnatural analogy.  But that natual law tradition is not based on deep understanding of human sexuality–but on basic “this fits there” reasoning and on the connection with procreation.  Should we declare the understanding of sex “inerrant” rather than focus on what Paul is trying to teach (or what God is trying to teach through this epistle)? I contend that would be like those who insist that, contrary to modern botany, the mustard seed must really be “the smallest of all seeds” because Jesus said so in Matt. 13:32–instead of focusing on what Jesus was trying to teach about the Rule of God in the parable of the mustard seed.

In my next post, I will stay with Romans 1 and interact with NT scholar Richard Hays who comes to a “welcoming but not affirming” position. Hays is a brilliant scholar with whom I am often in agreement and whose work I usually celebrate. I want to show, however, that on this issue, his exegesis is better than his conclusion–because he violates the hermeneutical (interpretive) perspective that he outlines in his larger work.  After that, I will turn to a neglected word from Jesus that may bear directly on our subject.  After that, my biblical survey will be complete and I will turn to other considerations in coming to our final conclusion.

N.B.: I will be very busy with a writing deadline for several days. If I take awhile to get to your comments, rebukes, etc., please be patient. I am not ignoring you and will get back to you. You may have to discuss among yourselves for awhile, first, though.  Sorry it took me so long to get back to this series.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, ethics, GLBT issues | 22 Comments