Levellers

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

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

  1. Good reading. There certainly is no reason why we have to adopt the worldview of the writers of scripture. In many cases their morals were horrific by our standards – permitting slavery, supporting patriarchy, polygamy, violent public forms of capital punishment etc… etc…

    Comment by Aric Clark | November 17, 2007

  2. Hello Aric. The difference is that with the issues of slavery, patriarchy, polygamy, capital punishment, there are places WITHIN the Scriptures that offer counter-voices. I am not aware of any counter-voices with respect to same gender sexual activity. This is a point made by Richard Hays, and I look forward to reading how Michael interacts with Hays.

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | November 17, 2007

  3. Jonathan,
    I think there may be a possible counter-voice within Scripture in a neglected saying of Jesus. But I am aware of no place in Scripture which says bluntly “slavery is everywhere and always wrong.” And I am aware of no place that directly condemns polygamy. Hays himself says in his overall hermeneutical guidelines that one may have to set aside a biblical teaching–and he does so with regard to supercessionist teachings vis-a-vis Israel and the Church. It is the experience of the Holocaust that leads him to do this–the exact opposite of the way he approaches “homosexuality” as we shall see.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 18, 2007

  4. Years ago I read Robin Scroggs on this subject. I came away with the impression that Paul had ample exposure to a widely-held view that homosexual practice was respectable within the norms of that day. Nevertheless, Paul was not convinced it was natural.

    Scroggs, as I recall, argued that Paul did not have access to our modern view that homosexuality is an essential aspect of one’s being and often results in committed relationships.

    The privileging of our modern construction of homosexuality in that way leaves me uneasy. Is that what Michael is suggesting?

    Comment by Berry Friesen | November 18, 2007

  5. Berry, Scroggs was one of my major influences on this topic. But I did not get quite the same impression. I read Scroggs (and his underlying citation of Greco-Roman works) as saying that Paul did NOT have exposure to an idea of same-sex practice as “respectable.” It was condemned by Plato and other Greek philosophers because the form that was practised was exploitive–either in terms of male prostitution or in terms of pederasty (older males having sex with adolescent boys).

    Scroggs does say (and I agree) that the kind of “homosexuality” that the modern church debates is not what was in view. I suppose this could be considered “privileging a modern construction,” but if we reject this on what basis do we do so? Do we claim that studies of the brain showing differences between same-sex oriented and other-sex oriented persons are wrong? Do we say this because we find the methodology flawed or because “we already know from the Bible” that same sex attraction is chosen? I find it hard to say we have to get our science from Scripture.

    Now, the question of what role science and other modern information should play in Christian ethical formation and decision-making is a large one–and one I will deal with more later in the series. It is one of the reasons that, although our Christian ethics must be formed and informed by Scripture, it can never be simply identical with the ethics in Scripture.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 18, 2007

  6. One of the biggest problems with your position is that so many liberal commentators, like Scroggs argue against your interpretation. You plainly say, “it is clear that Paul understood same-sex acts as sinful.” And I appreciate your honesty, but you immediately reject the authority of Scripture regarding Paul’s words. Your forefathers did nothng of the sort. The Early Christians understood this as a clear condemnation of homosexual behavior and in doing so they basically rid the Roman empire of the homosexuality so rampant within it, even before the Edict of Milan was adopted.

    As to whether Paul was exposed to the idea of homosexual “love,” it seems equally clear. You did not interact with Plato’s Symposium, which most scholars agree Paul likely got his language regarding natural v. unnatural relations. And for Paul to have been any sort of informed Jewish scholar (for him to believe himself able to argue at Mars Hill and willing to help greatly in Corinth), then he surely would have understood Plato, the most definitive philosopher of Paul’s time. And Plato struggles deeply and at length with this idea of a same-sex natural attraction. So, for Paul to use the language found in Plato’s Symposium, it seems to confirm that he indeed understood this argument and rejected it. In fact, Paul would have had to go out of his way to avoid this idea in the 1st century Roman empire.

    Additionally, you cannot get around the fact that the Holy Spirit clearly inspired this text. Would the Holy Spirit have no clue about this sort of behavior? At what point do we make any text only culturally relevant when we think the authors have disinformation? And why dishonor the saints, who for 2000 years taught this text as truth, not the opinion of Paul? Additionally, what about the clear condemnation in Leviticus of this act? Doesn’t that play into Paul’s mindset here? Even the Babylonian Talmud and other text agree that homosexuality is wrong. In the end, there is a long and storied history of believing that God, Himself, designed sexual relationships to be only between men and women. To change that idea, it demands more than a hunch that Paul didn’t know enough of homosexual relationships, or the belief that possible the Holy Spirit didn’t really inspire this portion of the text (though He inspired the rest of Romans – at least the other parts one finds agreeable).

    In the end, you have to interject way too much into this text in order to make a point that has been clearly rejected by the Church Universal for 2000 years. God commanded it in the OT, Paul carried it over into the NT, and the early Church communicated it to the world. Seems damning evidence for a reading of a text that is less than 50 years old and coincides nicely with societal norms rather than Biblical truth.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | November 18, 2007

  7. Scroggs does NOT argue against my position, nor is he a liberal interpreter.

    I do not “immediately” reject anything. Yes, Paul probably got his natural/unnatural usage from Plato–and Leviticus. It does not add anything to the discussion. Neither Paul nor Plato understood human nature in terms of modern science. They were arguing with a basic “this part fits into that part” mentality and about procreation.

    You keep thinking that the Symposium contradicts what I am saying, but it doesn’t. The kind of same-sex “love” described there (and condemned by Plato) was this older man/young boy pederasty that I claim is what Paul, along with prostitution, knew about same-sex relations. Plato describes a world in which men married for procreative reasons. Men and women could not, in Plato’s view, experience love because he viewed women as inferior. So love was reserved for equals–but Plato believed that should not involve sex (thus we get our term “platonic relationships”) and condemned the way the mentor/student love relationship kept degenerating into pederasty. It is here where he introduces the nature/unnatural terminology.

    Paul presupposes that same-sex action is always a deliberate choice against one’s nature (see the words “exchanged,” “gave up,” “natural” for “unnatural,” “against nature) Paul assumes this is the result of unrestrained lust (“consumed with passion”). But Paul assumed that “nature” taught a geocentric universe and a flat earth, too. And “physis,” can mean “culture.” Notice 1 Cor. 11: 14-15, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” This is clearly a cultural construction: “Nature,” meaning “biology” teaches no such thing. Paul wrote that in a setting in which Roman military and high class men wore very short hair and Jews and others wore longer hair. How long did Paul think a man’s hair had to be before “nature” taught that it was too long?

    As for your argument from tradition, you are basically saying that I should conclude that same-sex relationships are wrong because that is how people have usually read this text and the handful of others like it in Scripture. Own up to the fact that this is not an argument from Scripture, but one from tradition. Until the 19th C. abolitionist movement “saints always interpreted” slavery as permitted.

    Why are you asking me about Leviticus–I dealt with Lev. in a previous installment. Review if you need to do so.

    I am NOT arguing that the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire this. I am asking us to question what such inspiration means. Inspiration does not equal authority without understanding the purpose of both the human author and of God speaking through the human author(s). When Jesus says in Matt. 13:32 that the mustard seed is the “smallest of all seeds” He was technically wrong: We know of several smaller seeds. Do we conclude that the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire this parable? NO! Jesus was taking a proverbially small seed that grew into a large plant and using it to teach NOT ABOUT BOTANY but about the Kingdom of Heaven (small beginnings and large ends–through the work of God). We don’t insist that Jesus’ science be correct according to modern standards.
    Similarly with Paul in Romans: He is taking the knowledge of his day (both from his Jewish background and Greco-Roman philosophy) and using this “received wisdom” (i.e., same sex actions are against nature but widely practiced) and using it to teach something else: that despite general revelation people turn from God to idols and to sinful behavior. AND, his main point is clear: “For there is no distinction [between the sinfulness of Gentiles and that of Jews], for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!” Thus, there is no room for boasting, both Jews and Gentiles will need the remedy (ch. 5-8) in Christ and the Jewish and Gentile house churches will need to reconcile (ch. 12-14).

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 18, 2007

  8. Hmmm. According to N. T. Wright, Paul DID know about monogamous long-term sexual relationships between people of the same gender, and he rejected them. Of course, Paul did not know what we know scientifically. But he did know that two people of the same gender can have monogamous long-term sexual relationships as equals.

    As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato. The idea that in Paul’s day it was always a matter of exploitation of younger men by older men or whatever … of course there was plenty of that then, as there is today, but it was by no means the only thing. They knew about the whole range of options there. Indeed, in the modern world that isn’t an invention of the 20th century either.

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | November 18, 2007

  9. Michael,

    I am glad you addressed the issue of Plato, but you sidestepped my critique and the entire issue related to why the Symposium is important. It matters not what Plato’s views on homosexuality were. That is not the issue. And subsequently, it doesn’t matter how he viewed men or women. The reason why the Symposium is important is because it rebukes your claim that Paul could not have known about mutual same sex relationships. I don’t know if you have ever actually read it, but it is set up as a conversation between men of differing views on love and sex. What we learn from this book is that the people of Plato’s day (a full century before Paul, mind you) were indeed thinking about biological relationships whereby two men or two women could “naturally” be attracted to one another.

    See, your entire argument revolves around this idea that Paul simply couldn’t have thought that men and women would have “love” toward those of the same sex, but if that is true, then you must posit that 1) Paul had no clue about Plato’s Symposium, 2) That a century after Paul there were no longer those thinking of homosexual relationships in terms of being “natural”, and 3) That Paul was speaking from complete ignorance on homosexuality, and the Holy Spirit was complicit in his ignorance.

    Unfortunately, your argument fails on all three points. On point one, it would see completely unlikely that Paul would not have read one of the most important texts by the most important Greek philosopher of his time. Additionally, you would have to be quite convincing to show how Paul could speak about homosexuality using the very same language employed by Plato in his conversations between fictional characters in his Symposium. This makes your point almost impossibly inconceivable.

    On point two, history testifies that the Romans empire increased in its tolerance of homosexuality up until Christians became the majority. After which, homosexuality became taboo and functionally extinct in the empire. If we examine how Western society has dealt with homosexuality, it seems that it has evolved from unaccepted in the early 1900’s to understood as “natural” now. Why wouldn’t this also have been the case in Paul’s time? In order for your point to be proven (and mine disproven), we would have to have conclusive evidence that ideas of homosexuality in the Roman empire actually reversed from the time of Plato to Paul. But where is the catalyst for such a reversal? Without proof, we must assume that history would repeat itself and attitudes in Paul’s day regarding homosexuality as being “natural” would have been clearly known.

    Finally, on point three, I think I have proven by points one and two that Paul could not possibly have been ignorant of the idea that homosexuality could be “natural”. And thus that is exactly why he addressed it as such.

    Now, when you suggest that Paul needed modern science to speak on the matter, you assume that modern science has spoken definitively today, which it hasn’t. All we have are preferences, observed in individuals. Yet that is likely the very think Paul saw as he traveled to Corinth and other areas of the empire rife with homosexual behavior (and on which Plato based his conversations in his Symposium.

    Finally, and you didn’t take this serious enough – the Holy Spirit did indeed inspire this text. Why would such a clear denunciation of homosexuality be allowed to be preserved in the post-Resurrection NT, when God, Himself, knew that it would cause “persecution” for gay and lesbian “Christians” in the modern day?? Seriously, if the NT contains timeless moral teachings (which has been the position of the Church for 2000+ years), if modern science can debunk it’s moral laws, then on what basis can we hold any of it to be true, given that modern science hasn’t definitively spoken on all issues? What if Paul was wrong about marriage? About children? About adultery? About drunkenness? About peacemaking? How far can we take your principle in determining right from wrong based on modern science?

    You see in the end, your argument boils down to believing that Paul cannot speak on homosexuality because enough can’t be know about how much he knew. Yet, for 2000+ years the Church has been definitive. Seems like quite a task to overcome 2000 years of Church teaching to rely only on a modern science that itself has made no definitive pronunciations.

    I’ll stick with the Church Universal. And allow johnny-come-lately theories to pass away, which they always do.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | November 19, 2007

  10. Mustard seed was the smallest seed available in Palestine. He was right locally/contextually, wrong globally.

    Comment by Thom Stark | November 19, 2007

  11. Thom makes a good point. In many passages, the word “world” is used to encompass a finite set of people or places. One example is in Mark when the Gospel writer says that all of Judea was going out to John the Baptist and being baptized. It’s clear the author didn’t intend to make that all inclusive, but rather to make a point about how great the outpouring was. The problem with the way you are trying to use it is that you are stripping the hyperbolic nature of the phrase from Jesus to apply a hermeneutic even the First Christians wouldn’t have done.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | November 19, 2007

  12. Randle,

    First of all your tone is over-the-top. You haven’t proven anything, though you’ve presented some very reasonable arguments. There is no call to be demeaning, if you honestly don’t think Michael’s arguments hold water at all you’d do better to go elsewhere rather than waste your time here. If, however, you think you have a worthy partner for an interesting debate then you should approach with a modicum more respect and dispense with the attitude.

    But enough chastisement.

    I think you prove too much with your arguments. Michael’s point does not revolve around Paul’s knowledge or ignorance of loving homosexual relationships. Certainly this is a supporting point and you’ve done enough here to throw that into question, but it remains true that since Paul never said a word either way on this topic we are all speculating in an area of history that is extremely nebulous. No one knows what Paul had read or not read, what he was exposed to or what he wasn’t.

    Michael’s argument is essentially that the meaning of this passage remains the same whether we accept the example Paul is using of homosexual sex among Gentiles as legitimate or not. This passage is not a direct condemnation of homosexual sex. It surely does indicate Paul’s attitude on the matter, but he is not concerned here with making an argument for or against homosexuality. He is concerned here with demonstrating a point which is that we have all sinned and fallen short of grace. The mistake those who use this passage to condemn homosexuality make is taking an isolated example out of context for the whole argument. The argument here has nothing to do with homosexuality.

    As for your assertion that the Holy Spirit would have prevented things from entering the canon that would be used in harmful ways, clearly that is not the way the Spirit works because Scripture has been used in countless ways by faithful interpreters for harm. If that’s your attitude you can blame the Inquisition, the Crusades, Witchhunts, the Holocaust and countless other horrors on the Holy Spirit. Using inspiration in the way you do as a defense of every letter and wrong-fact is an abuse.

    Comment by Aric Clark | November 19, 2007

  13. Aric,

    First, I’ll simply say regarding your “chastisement” that Michael is a big boy and I don’t think he needs anyone riding to his rescue. If my tone has been “over-the-top” then you must charge Michael with the same thing. But in the end, focusing on my supposed tone or attitude really does nothing to further this debate.

    You said, “…it remains true that since Paul never said a word either way on this topic we are all speculating in an area of history that is extremely nebulous. No one knows what Paul had read or not read, what he was exposed to or what he wasn’t.”

    Aric, you know that Biblical interpretation involves examining probabilities and assessing likelihoods after examining all the evidence. We could take the skeptical side of any issue and claim can’t “know” for sure, but that wouldn’t be a logically secure argument. After examining the evidence regarding Paul’s rhetorical skills, his knowledge of Greek and Roman culture, and his understanding of Greek philosophy, it is simply incomprehensible that Paul wouldn’t be extremely familiar with a philosopher like Plato. And with the time Paul spent in both Rome and Corinth, it defies logic to think that Paul wouldn’t have known what the attitudes of those engaging in sexual sin were. After all, he chastizes the Corinthians regarding their sexual sin, noting his familiarity with the cultural practices. Additionally, something I should have noted above is that Severian, writing in the fourth century about this text stated, “Paul did not say this lightly, but because he had heard that there was a homosexual community at Rome.” That is extremely reliable third party evidence that seems to suggest that Paul was indeed much more knowledgable about the subject and that homosexuality had evolved to a point where there were whole communities of homosexuals.

    Furthermore, you cannot ignore the witness of history, which testifies to a uniform view of the early Christians on homosexuality, and a virtual extinction of the practice once Christian sexual morals were inserted into the Roman empire. This completely reverses the attitudes expressed by Plato, which were surely rampant by the time of Paul.

    Now, the idea that somehow Paul’s overall argument should overshadow his clear pronoucement against homosexuality (which Michael himself admitted to) is completely foreign to Pauline literature. Paul often made numerous mini-points along his journey toward an overall message. Yet to acknowledge the whole is to also accept the sum of its parts, especially when it comes to Romans, a book that when studied closely reveals itself to be intricately woven together by the Holy Spirit so that every word sets forth importance. We simply cannot dismiss or demean any part of Paul’s argument. Doing such is to pick and choose what we like, discarding the rest. Can we do that with the Sermon on the Mount as well? Certainly not! So, while Paul is making a greater point, we cannot ignore any part of that which the Holy Spirit has inspired.

    Finally, I will acknowledge that my point regarding the Holy Sprit’s intentions on inspiration was poorly worded and horribly unclear. My point there was to express that the Holy Spirit’s role is not just inspiration of the text, but also illumination of that text to the saints throughout the ages. For 2000 years now, the Holy Spirit has illuminated the same thing to the saints across all geographic areas and along all socio-economic lines. While many texts have been abused by certain individuals or groups within the church, the practice of homosexuality has been UNIVERSALLY condemned by the Church. Thus, unlike slavery, the Crusades, etc., we have an unbroken and universal witness of Church teaching whereby the Holy Spirit has taught the same things. This began with the Early Church with men like Tertulliam, Ambroisiaster, Severian, and Chrysostom, and continued throughout all ages and among all people groups. Such a universal condemnation cannot be ignored, nor can the unique circumstances of the 20th century (after the sexual revolution), when these texts were first reinterpreted. So while one can point to numerous examples of mishandling of texts, none of those compares to the history of interpretation of that which is associated with this text and this issue. Further, let me note that in all those misinterpretations, political expediency and societal pressures were the main factors influencing those misinterpretaions. Today, one could not look at the reinterpretation of homosexuality in the Bible and point to an issue more in line with our society’s changing moral compass.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | November 20, 2007

  14. Aric, I didn’t think D.R. violated the rules for commenting on this blog. There IS a different understanding of revelation, inspiration, and illumination–and authority, at work between D.R. and myself. I will pursue that further in a different post. It has been my observation that not only do different doctrines of Scripture influence approaches of biblical interpretation (which they do), but struggles over interpretation lead to struggles and adjustments in views about Scripture. For instance, I would argue that the issue of slavery was the first major Scripture crisis (and much larger than the impact of historical critical methods later in the same 19th C) for U.S. churches–the pro-slavery folks were wrong but appeared to have the Bible on their side.
    I think the issue of slavery is the closest to the issue of “homosexuality” for the churches. I will argue this more extensively later. In both cases, the history of tradition was all on the oppressive side. In both cases, traditionalists accused the revisionists (abolitionists of slavery and defenders of GLBT inclusion) of using a “modern moral compass” in place of Scripture and tradition. In the case of slavery, the tradition was “unbroken” before the 19th C.–and pro-slavery preachers said the same thing about how abolitionists were swimming against all the saints and the Holy Spirit, etc. that D.R. and others now charge those of us who believe in full and equal inclusion of GLBT folk in church.

    Aric is right that I meant for Paul’s understanding of same-sex relations to be more a supporting argument than the main argument with Romans 1. The main argument is that we cannot simply take the same view of natural vs. unnatural sex–unless we are prepared to say also (as Catholics do) that all non-procreative sex is unnatural.

    As to whether or not to emphasize the main argument–interpreters do that all the time. You will notice, D.R., that there are not imperatives in the section describing those who “turn from natural relations” and “burn with passion.” This is descriptive language. And it would apply today to those who engage in same-sex actions for other reasons than this being their natural attraction (such as political reasons or living on the wild side or for money, etc). But I would argue that if someone who was gay was to have straight sex (even marrying in order to “cure” him/herself), they would be going against THEIR nature.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 20, 2007

  15. I’ve understood Paul to assert that confusion in our understandings leads to confusion in our desires. He clearly perceived social attitudes toward homosexuality to be a manifestation of this. And it’s almost as if he makes these points as a social scientist, based on his observation of societies. The effect is to undercut arguments for change that are based on modern and “deep” understandings of human sexuality. Might our modern understanding merely be deeply confused?

    Comment by Berry Friesen | November 20, 2007

  16. Berry, Paul was observant, and I have no doubt that our society, like his, is deeply confused about sexuality. I have said for years that it seems to me that U.S. culture, if not Western culture altogether, has never had a healthy view of sex–but appears stuck on a pendulum between repression (sex is bad–therefore save it for someone you love) or libertine promiscuity (sex is good–therefore treat it with the same lack of thought that you would for anything trivial!). I just do not agree that a same-sex orientation is AUTOMATICALLY a symptom of sexual confusion and error–but, rather, what we do with the orientation we are given.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 20, 2007

  17. Michael,

    I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at Aric’s “chastisement” of me – I thought that this discussion was actually one of the most irenic we’ve had! So thanks for defending my post as being within the rules.

    Now, first, and I will actually deal with this when you bring it up in a full post, but I don’t think slavery is nearly as related as you make it out to be. We have no places in the Bible that actually call people to enslave others. It simply is written in a time when slavery was assumed to be occuring – and usually by those in other cultures. Additionally, slavery that occurred in the NT era was VERY DIFFERENT from the slavery of early America, both in how it occurred and how it was resolved. And finally, there was not a universal pro-slavery call among all cultures and all times in Christianity, whereas homosexualiity has been universally condemned until after the sexual revolution, and of course is politically and socially expedient, which was surely not the case for slavery. In homosexuality, you are moving with the culture, not against it.

    You said, “The main argument is that we cannot simply take the same view of natural vs. unnatural sex–unless we are prepared to say also (as Catholics do) that all non-procreative sex is unnatural.” And I should have dealt with this head on previously, though I do in my post on my website. First, this argument doesn’t make sense in context. You assert that “natural” in that time carries with it meanings of “only for procreation”, only in a certain position, etc., etc. But the problem with that is that Paul clearly defines what he means by natural in the text. You cannot expand that meaning without eisegeting the text. You must add meaning to “natural” which is outside of the text to get this out of it.

    Here are Paul’s words (NASB): “26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

    The important question here is “What is natural in this text?” “Natural” is defined as “relations with women”. Now what does Paul set as contrary to “Nature”? The men “were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.” Now you have already argued that Paul was speaking of homosexuality, so I do not have to prove that. So, if Paul was speaking of homosexuality, then in this text, he clearly is noting that unnatural means homosexuality. Thus, your arguement is false. You cannot argue that one must accept natural as also being procreative sex since to do so you would be defining the term outside of its context. You can only argue what is meant by the text. Paul never uses the term “natural” to refer to sex that is procreative. Nor is he borrowing the term from Plato to use it in this sense. He defines his use of it and thus we must do so as well.

    Your claim that for Paul natural means a variety of things is moot because 1) you can’t prove it from this text, 2) you can’t really prove it from any text by Paul, and 3) because he defines “natural” narrowly in this text, which is how we must define it as well.

    Finally, this idea that Paul hasn’t condemned homoseuxality because there is not imperative is a grossly juvenile argument. If I talk about a subject as being evil, do I have to say that one should not engage in it in order for others to know they shouldn’t? Of course not! It’s clear that Paul believes homosexuailty is against nature. Thus, it is equally clear that he is against doing it – listing it as sin. And all of the Early Christians believed this. From Tertuallian to Chrysostem, they taught that Paul’s words were a condemnation of homosexuality (and you can find those in the comment section of my blog on this – the link to which is at the bottom of the page).

    As for your comment, “But I would argue that if someone who was gay was to have straight sex (even marrying in order to “cure” him/herself), they would be going against THEIR nature”, that is clearly condemned by Paul. There is absolutely no idea in this text or in any text regarding “one’s nature”. And you know that – that is why you didn’t try to prove this like your friend Dan Trabue did on my blog. The idea that individuals have a separate nature than what God intended is part of Paul’s condemnation here. There is but one nature, heterosexuality – which God intended. You cannot draw out separate natures from this text. It is completely foreign to it!

    BTW, I remembered that I had not posted a link to my exegesis on this passage during this thread, so I want to do that so that those like Aric can see how I interpret this, so here it is:

    Homosexuality and The Apostle Paul: A Study on Romans 1:26-27

    Comment by D.R. Randle | November 20, 2007

  18. […] Romans 1:18-2:1. […]

    Pingback by Index of Posts on GLBT Persons in the Church: A Case for Full Inclusion « Levellers | July 14, 2008

  19. While I do see a lot of effort, I think this argument is terribly weak. Paul is not making a scientific point here, he doesn’t need to know the science behind the desire.

    Addressing the science: I know people are born with proclivities one way or another. The way people prefer blue to green, or steak to chicken. But the fact that someone is born with a natural instinct does not make it a right instinct. To base the argument from this position leave wide open holes.

    Clearly the Scripture say we’re prone to all sorts of sin, and this is our nature. This is the nature Christ redeemed through his resurrection! So the nature I was born with that is violent is gone away with. I was born a liar (surly, children lie as soon as they can talk), yet I’m redeemed from this behavior. More examples will only exhaust the point.

    Modern science may say people are born with desires for one sex or another (or both), but reproductive organs are still only useful for one thing.

    I know I’ve been criticizing your posts throughout, but it’s merely to help buffer your arguments.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | July 17, 2008

  20. You are assuming that sex is all about reproduction. Sex among animals is only about reproduction, but human sexuality is far more complex.

    What Paul is doing is assuming that all same-sex activity is a participation in idolatry and/or generated by an excess of lust.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 17, 2008

  21. Another bit you did not touch on was the inclusion here of female homosexuality. Interested to find contemporaneous findings here.

    I don’t quite understand your argument that because Paul finds same-sex relations to be idolatrous we should dismiss him. Not quite sure why you would want to dismiss that finding, and also not sure why it’s wrong for Paul to suggest as much.

    Surly people who worshiped other gods had true devotion and love for those gods. Should we say it’s OK for them to practice that god-worship because they truly are devoted to it?

    I’m just saying, your argument is terribly weak because it boils down to comparing postmodern same-sex partnerships to first-century orgies.

    It basically sounds like the same argument I’ve been fighting for years against people who say “do not resist evil” doesn’t mean you “don’t have a right to self-defense.” Or “do not lie” doesn’t count in war because “you’re saving lives.”

    Moving the goal posts changes the argument, but it isn’t a very compelling case.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | July 18, 2008

  22. […] Argument (B) Okay, when Hays gets to Romans 1, he argues on the exegetical level for a very similar reading of the text that I give: Paul is describing first the state of fallen Gentile humanity and then the […]

    Pingback by GLBT Persons in the Church: Richard Hays’ Argument (B) « Levellers | July 18, 2008


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