Frequent commenter in these here parts, Dan Trabue and others brought up the discussion of homosexuality and Scripture. It is said, where two or three or gathered there will be four or five opinions on theological matters and that seemed to be the case. As this conversation too often brings up lots of heat and little light, I’m going to put most of it below the fold.

Dan offers his journey on this matter, writing (I’ve added some small amount of formatting):

  1. I grew up conservative – strongly so. I held to the traditional view on homosexuality for the first half of my life.
  2. I grew away from that position not because I wanted to validate a sin, but because I came to believe the Bible did not support opposition to gay marriage and, in fact, I found support for gay marriage to be the more Godly position. To be honest, this was pretty much against my will, as I was STRONGLY opposed to the normalization of homosexuality.
  3. Like many others, I assumed the Bible was chock full of verses opposing homosexuality. Why else would churches spend so much time and energy opposing it??
  4. When challenged to actually study and see what the Bible has to say on the topic, I was quite surprised.
  5. The Bible has nothing to say on marriage as it relates to our gay/lesbian friends – pro or con. Not one single word.
  6. Jesus has nothing to say about homosexuality at all. Not one single word.
  7. The OT, which I thought was replete with condemnations of homosexuality, didn’t. It has two verses. Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. Both say, “man shall not lie with man.” Chapter 20 goes on to say “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed”
  8. This made me wonder two things,
    1. “If we don’t believe the second half of that verse (kill ‘em), why do we believe the first half?”
    2. Could it be that they’re talking about something other than “just” homosexuality?
  9. The two or three verses that people quote from Paul’s letters (not romans), all have some version of the Greek words, “Malakoi” – which translate to “weak” or “soft” – and “Arsenokoitai,” – which translates to “abusers of themselves” or some equivalent. Hardly a strong case for opposition to homosexuality.
  10. Finally, Romans 1 – which at the time was my one stronghold in THE WHOLE Bible which I could point to and say, “Well, at least THIS passage condemns homosexuality!!” The pertinent verses in Romans says:

For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

For what it’s worth, the verses leading up to this passage are talking about worshiping false gods. Which sorta raised a red flag for me, “this seems out of context…”

In deeper study, I discovered that sexual immorality – boy prostitution, temple priestesses, etc – was part and parcel of the worship of other gods mentioned in those passages.

Furthermore, Romans talks about the men “abandoning natural relations,” and perhaps that verse more than any others (not that there are many others) started the change in my position. “Well,” said Dan, “for gay folk, ‘natural relations’ IS with the same gender…”

Ultimately it came down to the pure dearth of biblical support for such opposition to homosexuality and, even in the handful of verses that folk could point to, the case was not compelling and, in fact, supported folk pursuing “natural relations.”

As briefly as I can put it, that’s my reasoning for why this anti-homosexual kind of guy switched teams.

I’ve a few questions to put to Dan’s point of view, but to be more fair, I’ll lay out my admittedly still evolving position as well.

  • In Fr Honeycutt’s book, which I can’t lay my hands on too quickly so I’ll paraphrase, he recounts a venerable priest giving a homily on sex. That priest asked those listening to raise their hands if they were married. He then in turn asked those who weren’t to raise their hands. He said, the teaching of Scripture and the Church was that the first group could, and the second couldn’t. Simple enough. [as an aside: Bishop Dmitri (of Texas and the South in the OCA) also teaches (quite firmly) that masturbation (solo sex?) is forbidden to both groups.]
  • If you sin be it sexual in nature or not, as do we all (and I for one “am first” in that respect), that is a matter for your counselor, your spiritual adviser, and/or your confessor, often your priest.  Homosexuality is not an exception in this matter. Homosexuality, as with other sins, is essential a pastoral matter.
  • [aside: A note, in the Orthodox liturgy we profess every week, that we participate in the Eucharist as sinners, “of whom I am first”, the first in this matter does not mean that I am the worst sinner in the world, just the worst from my perspective, i.e., from my viewpoint I am the worst, just not a global viewpoint. That is, my sins are not worse than say Saddam’s or Hitler’s … just that to me they loom far larger.]
  • Our culture and civilization currently is awash in sex. This is problematic inasmuch as we participate and don’t hold ourselves apart as resident aliens. A Roman philosopher noted in the 2nd century one of the most striking things about Christians was their amazing sexual restraint. I think this is no longer the case, which is a condemnation we all must bear.

Dan’s argument seems to hinge on two main points, one is that we are inconsistent with our dealing with Leviticus … and that via Romans noted above (and I guess his tradition allows him to cast aside say, Clement, the Didache and other later writers).

The problem with Leviticus is one of “casting aside”. But is it all that inconsistent. In the Anchor Bible series commentary, Jacob Milgrom in a extensive 3 volume series concludes on this matter that the ruling of a death sentence for homosexuals in particular applies only in the Holy Land in the presence of the temple. His argument of that is extensively documented and I won’t repeat it here. The salient point is that the Temple is destroyed and America, for example, is not Canaan. In a nearby verse, the prohibition and abomination of child sacrifice (Moloch worshipers) is called for. Dan, I think, would not cast that aside. So, in deciding to cast both parts (death and the notion that homosexuality is wrong) he is being inconsistent by also wanting to keep the idea that child sacrifice is evil (I don’t know if he would keep the death sentence in that case, I however might).

It is true that Christians cast much of Leviticus aside, but it is not done randomly. For example, we don’t keep the sacrificial system, because Christ was our sacrificial Lamb. We don’t keep the injunction to separate … things such as cotton and flax. Why? Well, examine the reason why that was done. I tend to think the separation laws were a recapitulation in daily praxis of the separation in Genesis 1. That is, a way in daily praxis of calling us daily the theology truths presented in Genesis 1, God separated light from dark, water from earth and so on. God created and on. Separation of dairy and meat can act to remind us of those truths. Do we still need that reminder, or do we have other reminders we keep instead, e.g., fasting on Wednesday and Friday to remember Christ’s arrest and death or attending Church on the day of resurrection and not on the Sabbath. I could continue with some of the other Levitical laws but …

My point is, in order to cast aside the prohibition of homosexuality from Leviticus, it seems to me one first has to confront and understand the theological reasons in the first place of putting those rules there. There are a lot of sexual rules, of which homosexuality is one. Who we can marry within family are included as well. The theological reasons these laws were put in place had nothing at all to do with modern ideas of genetic disease prevention. But, more importantly, the reasons those prohibitions were put in placed should be addressed if you want to set them aside. For my part, I don’t actually have an understanding of why those rules were put there … but then again I’m not casting them aside so I don’t need to do so.

Dan’s reason for entertaining homosexuality as a non-sinful possibility is also one of natural law (and I’m guessing “reasonableness”).  Natural law is a sticky wicket. Dan would use natural law to allow homosexuality but deny it to the paedophile or (here I’m guessing) the polygamist as well. Polygamy was present in the Old Testament in abundance but implicitly if not explicitly rejected in the New. The problem here is that natural law, i.e., people are naturally homosexual is not sufficient (or one might say men “naturally” would like to have sex with as many young nubile women as they can … or be either polygamous or serially monogamous at best). Paedophiles and psychopaths have natural tendencies that are normally viewed as remaining sinful even if they are “natural” to some men and (likely less) women. The question then is how does one distinguish the psychopath’s natural tendency, murder, as sinful but the homosexuals natural one as not. This leads us to reasonableness.

Another common argument, which I’m hoping to anticipate from Dan is that it isn’t reasonable that nice well adjusted loving homosexuals in monogamous relationships be branded sinners for their desire to have their relationship with their beloved blessed by the church and not be “branded” a sin. In the somewhat more secular scientific world, “reasonable” is not a criteria for deciding truth. Physicists do not consider if a theory describing particle interactions or other physical description is reasonable. The scientific consideration is whether it is right. Quantum mechanics specifically (and General and Special Relativity as well) are not reasonable. They are however extremely good at describing the actual physical (unreasonable) universe in which we live. As members of the Christian faith community, we take as a matter of course that the testimony of trusted people carries epistemic freight, e.g., that the witness of the Apostles is true. For 19+ centuries the apostolic traditions of our church have always held the unreasonable notion that the binary equation on sex is righteous, i.e., that married men and women alone may engage in sex without sin. This is not reasonable. So what? It is not reasonable that a man should arise from death on the third day. Reasonable has never been a criteria for either the world or for Christian ethics.

Filed under: ChristianityConservativeEthics & MoralityHomosexualityMark O.OrthodoxProtestantismReligion

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