I want to begin this post by saying first that this is not an easy topic to address. If there is one thing Christianity teaches, it is that we are all sinners and the need for God is universal even for those who do not recognize it.
I want to begin this post by saying first that this is not an easy topic to address. If there is one thing Christianity teaches, it is that we are all sinners and the need for God is universal even for those who do not recognize it. Those who teach theology and discuss the Bible should be most aware of how deeply sin resides in all of us and how easy it is to excuse its presence as just being natural. This also means in discussing morality, those who get the Bible’s message know that all of us fail. Ministry inevitably brings many different kinds of people your way, as does life. I have had very competent people, including schoolteachers and others, who were gay contribute to my own life. I am grateful for their commitment to their vocation and the service they gave. I also am aware of many who are not gay who damage their lives by choices that also violate the moral standards God has set. Sin is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate between us. However, none of this cancels out the need to think carefully about morality and how we proceed as a society. I start here on this topic because the first thing that is suggested in being critical of gay lifestyle is that it is discriminatory and reflective of a kind of prejudice. Inclusiveness and nondiscrimination means we should permit anything with regard to marriage and sexual preference. This is certainly the view the Newsweek article takes.
On this topic the Newsweek piece begins by distinguishing between the topic of sex among men, which it says is treated, and sex between women, which “never, in biblical times, raised as much ire.” It cites the Anchor Bible Dictionary as stating that nowhere in the Bible is there a reference to sex between women. This dictionary is commonly used and seen as a trustworthy source, but on this point it is wrong. In Romans 1:26 there is a discussion of women who “exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” Even the NRSV states it this way, “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,” and then the verse goes on to discuss the same acts between men. It is hard to blame a journalist who cites a common reference work to the Bible for the error here, but I do wonder if the writer interviewed any counter-voices so such a mistake could be avoided. Here is a second key area where the evidence from the Bible was severely misrepresented (not noting how Jesus defined marriage was the first area, see the third post for further discussion). As such, this was not a great start to the topic’s discussion.
Next, having halved the field of discussion inaccurately, the article zeroes in on Leviticus and its prohibitions of the practice. This topic is covered along with haircuts, women’s menstrual cycles, and blood sacrifices as things we have left behind (as if they are part of the same sphere of practice and moral weight). Leviticus deals with a variety of issues—some cultural, some cultic, and others moral and societal. The article describes the remarks about homosexuality as “throwaway lines in a peculiar text,” in effect dismissing with a few strokes of a pen issues rooted in design and something many cultures, both religious and nonreligious, over many centuries have judged to be something far more profound. To treat the core case as being rooted in Leviticus ignores what Genesis says about God’s design of humans, a point already made about the complementary relationship between men and women who were made in God’s image, not to mention the reaction in the Bible to circumstances in Sodom, which was not a mere throwaway narrative but is seen as a picture of how severely people rebel against God. The point here is that the challenge to homosexuality in the Bible is about far more than its presence in the cultic and legal code of Israel. It appears where the initial story of humanity’s rebellion against God is told.
The article does recognize that Paul was “tough” on homosexuality although the article tries to drive a wedge between homosexual sex and “self-delusion, violence, promiscuity, and debauchery.” We are told progressive scholars have shown these topics were the real points of the passage. But you have to ask, how can one read Romans 1:26-32 and not see that the description is not limited to those topics? When sexual relations are described as “giving up natural intercourse with women” (v. 27), is it not the issue of same-sex practice that is in view? (Of course, the passage continues to note with even more a sense of shock that not only are such acts performed, but that they “applaud others who practice them” [v. 32]). The Elliot quotation, given as a means of arguing for the “violent” interpretation of Romans 1 and not about the act, ignores completely the descriptions in the text that show the act is in view. Paul is not merely tough on homosexuality; he rejects the practice itself, not merely the excesses the progressives declare are the point because the act itself is unnatural and an assault on the design of God. Part of the frustration for some in this discussion inolves either the ignoring or skewing of the texts from within their own religious tradition. Frustration results when these texts are appealed to in a way that actually distorts what these texts affirm.
From here the article makes the point that Paul argues harder against divorce than he does against homosexuality, while noting half of the United States disregards that teaching. This is a good point to pause and reflect on what is being argued here—that the moral failure that leads to broken marriages should permit another moral failure to exist as well. It is almost as if saying, “You steal, so I can murder.” Two moral wrongs do not make a right. But is the point that Paul argued harder against divorce true? No, he regarded both as moral failures, but when it came time to discuss how Roman society had broken down from the design of God, the example he selects relates to sexual practice. This assessment of how much Paul contends for something is not merely a matter of counting how much Paul talks about something but where and how he does it. Divorce is talked about more because it was more common and accepted.
Only by the kind of distortion this article engages in can we then come to the conclusion the article offers for justice and inclusion, including an openness to gay marriage. The resurrection of the slavery argument, the Levitical penalty of death for adultery, and shelter for anti-Semites as examples that allow us to dismiss the Bible’s moral judgment on this topic ignore one basic fact. Unlike these other areas where counter-tone texts exist that show that these were not absolute practices, there are no counter-tone texts when it comes to homosexuality. Within the Bible on slavery, we can point to how Paul asked for a slave to be regarded as an apostle and even be set free. Within the Bible on the death penalty for adultery, we see how David (and many others) did not go to their death despite their sin. (I am not sure how the Bible is a shelter for anti-Semites, so I am not sure where this claim comes from.) The article’s suggestion at one point that something like a gay relationship could, by imagination, have been part of David’s relationship with Jonathan is nothing but grasping at a straw. Part of reading the Bible in a mature way is to know where laws existed for a certain place and time versus those that transcend setting (and how this distinction is indicated). Part of reading the Bible is appreciating where a case is made consistently in contrast to other examples that do show that time did bring change in practice.
So when the article goes on to claim that “religious objections to gay marriage are not rooted in the Bible at all, then but in custom and tradition (and to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument),” it can do so only by ignoring certain texts and adopting very questionable readings of others that actually do make a religious and theological challenge to the practice. To expose the problem by trying to argue that religious and theological objections are not at the root of the challenge to gay marriage for many has been the burden of these posts. Religious and theological objections are what motivate people to be against gay marriage in many cases although I could easily go on to say that there also is a kind of instinctive reaction among others who are not religious that something is not right about such practices.
With this post, the discussion of religious arguments about the Bible and homosexuality has pretty much reached its end. However, there are other issues the article raises about gay marriage that still need consideration. These include (1) the “natural” argument, namely that a gay orientation is inbred in people, is the most fundamental point and cannot be changed (Meacham’s point), (2) the issue of inclusiveness (where the Miller article ends), and (3) the civil argument, namely that as a nation made up of a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and views and with a separation of religion and the state, we should be careful not to legislate prohibitions of rights.