Subscribe for email updates on new releases and current projects:


* indicates required

Intuit Mailchimp

Monday, October 12, 2009

What are the biblical arguments?

Audrey, who is a Bible camp compatriot of mine and these days mom extraordinaire, sent me this email.

"I have not looked at it as a Bible issue--mostly because the people for the change have made it a people issue. So my question is--how do you deal with the other side's biblical interpretations? I don't have any examples off of the top of my head--but I know that there are people on the side for homosexuals in the church that use the Bible to prove their point too. Does the Bible say two things?"

This is the question every person who feels hung on the horns of this issue should be asking, but few are. Instead, the pro-change folks in the ELCA have argued exactly as Audrey describes -- they have made it a people issue, and they have framed the debate in this way. "My cousin / brother / aunt / next-door-neighbor is homosexual and he / she is the most wonderful, loving person I know. It's just wrong to discriminate against him / her in this way." First of all, I know many wonderful homosexual people as well, and I agree that it's wrong to discriminate against them. So we don't disagree on that. But that's not the issue.

The issue is whether the Bible has the authority to determine what is sin and what is not.

(This website includes thoughts from one of the world's preeminent biblical scholars in the area of homosexuality both in ancient and modern times, Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I encourage you to follow the link and read his articles if you're looking for a biblical position in this debate. He's a scholar, and the writing can be a little difficult but it is well worth working through what he says if you want to know what the Bible really says about these matters.)

Some who want to change the church, recognizing that there needs to be a biblical debate, make a two-pronged argument in favor of changing the church's standards. This can get pretty subtle, but basically it boils down to these two things. First of all, these people claim, the biblical writers knew nothing about the kind of loving, mutual, committed homosexual unions we have today. Therefore, what the Bible says against homosexuality is speaking against homosexual rape, bizarre temple rituals involving homosexual sex, or abuse of boys by older men. Second, Jesus' basic teaching boils down to "love God and love your neighbor," which means that we should encourage our homosexual brothers and sisters to express their God-given love for each other however they see fit.

Let's deal with these arguments one at a time.

First, some interpreters go to great lengths to show that the biblical passages that specifically mention homosexuality -- there are a half dozen, depending on how you translate a couple different words and which Old Testament passages you include -- are not written against the kind of homosexuality we have today. This argument has about as much validity as saying that I don't have to tithe today because the Bible was written to an economy based on barter, not on electronic cash transactions. The basic premise of the tithe -- my obedience to God's standards -- is still the same. In the same way, the Bible does speak against abuse and pedophilia, very clearly. But those who argue that the biblical world knew nothing of loving, committed homosexual unions have not done their research. There are volumes of Greek poetry written to express the love and passion between same-sex lovers in ancient times. The term "lesbian" comes from the Greek island of Lesbos which was purportedly inhabited by women in romantic and sexual relationships with each other. Many prominent Greek and Roman men had male lovers throughout their lives, and this was well known in their society. As a well-educated Roman citizen, Paul certainly would have been acquainted with this practice.

These interpreters argue about the specific meanings of various Greek words at great length, but it seems they always stumble a little when it comes to Romans 1. In this passage Paul carefully describes homosexual activity as a turning away from God's design, just as every sinful act we commit is turning away from God's design. Not to say that homosexual activity is worse, but that it is simply sin, like gossip and disobedience to parents (also mentioned in Romans 1) are sins.

What about the argument that Jesus' message of love trumps Paul's petty concerns about specific sins? First of all, it's false to set Jesus against Paul as though their message is substantially different. Jesus certainly called his followers to an ethic and practice of love that went beyond anything in ancient times, and beyond what we know today. But what did Jesus mean by love? Did he mean, "Let your neighbor do whatever he wants"? If that is love, most parents are not very loving to their children. Real love has hard edges. Sometimes we talk about "tough love" because love is NOT just about letting the other do whatever they want. When the doctor told me on September 4th, "We're calling a helicopter and we're going to airlift you to North Memorial," part of me wanted to just go home and take a nap, hoping it wouldn't be any big deal. That's what I wanted. But I needed the doctor to love me enough to diagnose my condition properly, and tell me the truth. That's how a good doctor shows love.

So Jesus calls his people to love. Maybe that means telling the truth instead of affirming what we wish was true. How do we know truth? Not simply by our own opinions. Not by majority votes. We know truth by paying attention to "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." We need a source of truth beyond our selves, and the Bible is it. These interpreters who say that Jesus' message of love and his death on the cross remove all concerns about these other matters are placing their own wishful thinking over the Bible, and filtering its words through their own desire. Either they must say that the Bible is a time-bound book, and modern homosexuality is just different that what the Bible addresses, or they must say that Jesus' call to love means that the rest of the Bible's words about homosexuality don't apply.

There is a third option that has reared its ugly head in the last few years. Some teachers and church leaders are saying that "God is doing a new thing" and the Holy Spirit is leading us beyond the Bible. Be careful with this one. It sounds great, but if you start studying history it is easy to find dozens of movements that began with those words and ended up either in meaningless obscurity or in tragic violence. In the early 1520's, a man named Thomas Munzer claimed that God spoke to him beyond the written words of the Bible, and that the written words were dead and foolish. "Bible, Babble, Bubble," Munzer preached. He ended up leading the peasants of Germany in a revolt against their princes and thousands of people died violent deaths in 1525. When we set aside God's written word, our imaginations are very quick to take over the role of the Holy Spirit. And our imaginations are deeply tainted by selfishness and sin. Watch out.

The short answer to the question above is that there is no good biblical argument in favor of saying homosexuality is not a sin. To make that claim, you have to leave the Bible behind in some way. While there are some very subtle arguments out there about the meaning of Greek words and how much Paul knew about homosexuality, no one who has truly studied the issue from a biblical point of view can say that the Bible endorses homosexuality.

One final argument that is often used. Many advocates for saying homosexual activity is not sin argue that Jesus never addressed the issue. It is true that Jesus never specifically mentions homosexuality. However, he does mention "sexual immorality" (Greek is "porneia" from which we get the word pornography -- this is a catch-all term in Greek for any kind of sexual behavior outside God's intention) in Mark 7:21, and clearly speaks to God's created intention for heterosexual marriage in Mark 10:6-9. Jesus affirms the Bible's overall message on human sexuality. Because the Bible's overall message about homosexuality is consistent and clear in the passages that mention it, the burden of proof is on those who would change the church's standards. And over and over they have tried but have failed to make a convincing biblical case. The ELCA's vote, and the ongoing arguments about how to implement these resolutions, do not rest on biblical evidence.

No comments:

Post a Comment