Gay Rights Theologians: Remolding Scripture to Suit

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.

Selective Interpretation?
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.

Comments

  1. SteveK

    The matter of homosexuality being a “choice” is a red herring anyway.

    …and…

    Christian theology has always taught that every one of us is born with a sin nature

    I totally agree. The difference between the people referenced in your post and myself is that I desire to rid myself of these inborn traits even though I know that will never happen on this side of heaven. The apostle Paul certaintly knew about this.

    Romans 7
    14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

  2. Franklin Mason

    Tom said: “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.”

    This is the heart of the issue. There are passages in the Old Testament that we all rightly disregard. (Some are morally repugnant, it would seem.) So the question arises: how are we to know what counts, and what does not? You raise this question but don’t even hint at an answer. Even given all that you’ve said, Tom, it seems quite possible that a Christian might answer that question in a principled, non-arbitrary way and find that she can (perhaps must) disregard the Bible’s injunctions against homosexuality.

    No issue has been settled here. At most, we’ve located the hermeneutical point at which the disagreement exists. (Perhaps you didn’t mean to settle any point, but I did think it important to make this just as clear as I could.)

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You’re exactly right, Franklin (nice to hear from you again, by the way!). Much of what I tried to say here does depend on a lot on what I did not try to expound, which is the art and science of hermeneutics.

    I hope that another point or two did come through clearly in spite of that, however. Jay Johnson’s quote sounds like one thing but it amounts to something else entirely. It sounds like he is trying to be very cautious in regard to selective interpretation; but by doing so he virtually gives up any possibility that God himself is able to communicate with us. As I’ve said in other contexts, this says as much about God as it does about us. It says that God isn’t quite as good as we humans are at communicating.

    I hope it’s also clear that this is not a choice between Bible and science, because for all the controversy about what the Bible says about homosexuality, the viewpoint of “science” is manifestly less clear yet. There is no “science” on this, at least with respect to what causes homosexual preferences or whether they can in any case be considered normative. There is only a smattering of data with no causal interpretations possible.

    And I hope it’s clear that whether homosexual practice is “inborn” or not, that doesn’t materially affect whether it must be considered natural or normative, in Biblical terms.

    Here’s my very brief and admittedly inadequate outline of the missing hermeneutics: The Old Testament makes an unambiguous statement against homosexuality. Unlike many other OT precepts, it is not a matter of ceremonial practice or of what is technically (not pejoratively) called cultic practice. It is part of the moral code.

    Furthermore, unlike the Sabbath, circumcision, the sacrifices, the feast and fast days, or the dietary laws, there is no hint of this moral standard being relaxed in the New Testament. On the contrary, it is reinforced in the locations I cited. There is also no hint in any of these locations that this is a standard for only a season, or that it is merely culturally conditioned.

    On those grounds (again, very briefly outlined) I conclude that the conservative understanding on this matter is not a matter of selective interpretation, but is in fact what God intends to affirm through his word.

  4. SteveK

    Earlier I said that, unlike the people referenced in this post, I desire to rid myself of these inborn traits. After thinking about it I’d say my response is too simplistic because I imagine these people DO desire the same thing. It’s just that they think homosexuality is one of those inborn traits that isn’t undesireable.

    I think it’s safe to say that ALL are guilty of desiring that which is undesireable. Even moral relativists are guilty of this – and they are in charge of writing their own moral law! Hmmm…a moral relativist that knows they are not morally perfect…sounds like a contradiction to me, but I digress….

    The bottom line is we all know we fall short. You might say it’s a perception of reality (Hi Tony and Paul) that humanity has known for a long, long time. Christianity’s solution is to allow God to fix something we can’t possibly fix – but you’ve got to want it fixed.

  5. Paul

    Hmmm…a moral relativist that knows they are not morally perfect…sounds like a contradiction to me . . . .

    I don’t see where the contradiction is. Are you referring to a logical contradiction?

  6. SteveK

    Paul,

    I don’t see where the contradiction is. Are you referring to a logical contradiction?

    We are veering into off-topic territory so I’ll try to keep this short. It sounded contradictory to me, probably because how I was thinking about it at the time. I don’t think it has to be a contradiction though. It depends on how the moral relativist constructs his rule book. If I were a moral relativist I would make sure my moral rules kept me from being guilty of any moral wrongdoing – ever. Certainly nothing morally wrong in doing that. I’ve never encountered a moral relativist that has done this though. They all admit to being guilty in some way, which begs the question “Why?”.

  7. Paul

    If I were a moral relativist I would make sure my moral rules kept me from being guilty of any moral wrongdoing – ever.

    Relativistic morals are not arbitrary nor infinitely modifiable. They may be what they are for the benefit of the group, for instance, and they are inculcated into individuals at an early, formative age, all of which means that an individual cannot change their moral sense on a whim, for personal benefit, as easily as one might choose vanilla or chocolate.

  8. Avonwatches

    I do not understand how we can try to rationalize something that God is consistently against throughout the entire Bible. Even from Genesis, we see two things:
    1) God created man, but did not say it was good for him to be alone, and so created a female.
    2) God declared that the man and woman would leave their parents and become one flesh with each other.

    So, before ‘the Fall’, we see that this is how it is meant to be. As you have posted Tom, the anti-homosexuality (note: not ‘anti-homosexuals’) stance of God never changes (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10).

    Christ taught that it was better to heal on the Sabbath than to obey the law rigidly and not lift a finger (as God said in the OT “I shall write the law on their hearts”). Perhaps we should factor in that point of view: what is our purpose in rationalizing homosexuality? Is it for glorifying God, or simply because we desire it (and this is not limited to just this matter, but to heterosexual desire or sin, and indeed all things).

    I do think that the Eden account has tremendous weight in this matter, for it God does not pronounce the creation of man ‘good’ until there is also woman. So in the beginning God pronounced man and woman together good, and blessed them. Throughout the Bible homosexuality is spoken against. There are no ‘qualifying’ points on the subject, no pro-homosexuality words. Anything else is un-Biblical.

    Please note I am not arguing from a perfect standpoint; I, we, are all in equal need of saving, and all saved equally by Christ.
    -Tristan.

  9. nikki

    Christ taught that it was better to heal on the Sabbath than to obey the law rigidly and not lift a finger (as God said in the OT “I shall write the law on their hearts”). Perhaps we should factor in that point of view: what is our purpose in rationalizing homosexuality? Is it for glorifying God, or simply because we desire it (and this is not limited to just this matter, but to heterosexual desire or sin, and indeed all things.

    nikki
    _________________________________________________________
    Just use the keyword “Christian Drug Rehab” as the link in the signature
    http://www.christian-drug-rehab.org

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