Today’s Los Angeles Times highlights disagreements among Bible students over homosexual “marriage.” Among the various views presented, I strongly endorse this one from a Catholic priest in Inglewood (emphasis added):
“The church says that homosexuals should be treated with love and respect, but redefining the natural and divine institution of marriage is simply something we are not able to do…”
Just a Cultural, Temporary Matter?
And yet some disagree, and claim support for their position – or permission, at least – in the Bible. I used to live in Pasadena, California, and frequented a coffee shop called the Espresso Bar. Through a mutual friend I met Mel White there once, briefly. Then he was a professor at Fuller Seminary; now he is a leader among homosexuals who claim to find support in the Bible. According to the Times,
[Mel] White calls the Bible a living document that must be understood in its historical context – a view shared by reform-minded clergy and theologians from other faiths.
Early Jews and Christians, White said, defended a heterosexual ethic to ensure the continuity of tenuous tribal communities. These religious pioneers, he added, had no way of foreseeing modern advances in psychology and other fields that would reveal homosexuality as an orientation rather than a choice.
“The Bible says as much about sexual orientation as it does about toasters or nuclear reactors,” White said. “We have to grow with the times.”
I’m afraid this cannot fly. Certainly the Bible is a “living document that must be understood in its historical context.” But contextual study is for the purpose of understanding (not changing) its intent. The Bible is also intended to be an enduring record of God’s revelation, his will, and his character (see Matthew 5:17-20, and Revelation 22:18-19). If “these religious pioneers” were unable to foresee “modern advances in psychology and other fields,” does White think God himself was also unable to foresee them?
Biblical injunctions against homosexual practice are clear. First stated in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22), they were re-affirmed in the New (see especially Romans 1:26-27). There is no hint in either passage that the prohibition is culturally conditioned. White’s dismissive remark that the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation misses the point; for the Bible certainly speaks against homosexual practice (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10).
The Bible Against Science?
The Times also says,
Other clergy reject the scientific argument and say homosexuality is a choice.
The “scientific argument,” they call it. Now, which scientific argument might that be? There are scattered claims out there that homosexuality is an inborn orientation, but there is no consensus opinion. See here, for example; many other sources could also be cited. There are some anatomical correlates of homosexual preference, but it’s anybody’s guess whether they are causes or results of behaviors. Scientific research into other correlates of homosexuality (father issues, for example) is often fiercely attacked, with apparently political rather than scientific motivations. (See links from here, especially this pdf.)
The matter of homosexuality being a “choice” is a red herring anyway. Suppose (contra reality) homosexual desires were found to be entirely innate. Christian theology has always taught that every one of us is born with a sin nature, meaning (among other things) that not all our native desires are proper in God’s eyes. We need change from within, through Jesus Christ. What’s “natural” or “inborn” is not automatically right.
So the “inborn” argument fails on two counts:
- It is not an agreed scientific position.
- Even if it were, that would not make it acceptable in Biblical terms.
Another voice in the Times article questions our Biblical understanding, however:
“Everybody without exception reads the Bible selectively,” said Jay Johnson, a theology professor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. “The question is, how do we decide that one portion is critical to our lives while others are not?>
That’s a great question. It’s also an answerable question. There actually are ways to determine which portions are critical. Space limits me from describing the art and science of hermeneutics in depth here. but I ought at least to point out that if there weren’t ways to answer Johnson’s question, then we would have to give up on understanding anything at all in the Bible. We would have no idea what was relevant. We would have to say of God, “He cannot communicate with us; he cannot tell us what’s important and what is not.” I don’t know why someone who takes that position would bother with the Bible at all.
I spoke recently on how men and women down through the ages have tried to re-mold Jesus into someone more amenable to their own likes and dislikes. The same is happening here with the Word of God. Mel White and others like him are trying to re-mold it to suit them. Jesus himself absolutely resisted such attempts, and likewise the Bible cannot be refashioned so.
Love and Respect, But Not Agreement
I must re-emphasize what I started with here: homosexual persons must be treated with love and respect. Those who say the Bible condones the practice, however, are trying to remold the word of God to fit their own desires and convenience.