A Time to Embrace – part 2

While some may find the arguments from part 1 compelling, for most Christians wrestling through this issue their main sticking points are the texts of Scripture which mention certain homoerotic acts. What follows won’t be a comprehensive review of every Scripture, for that you’ll need to purchase A Time to Embrace, however I will touch on some of the more popular texts. My goal is that by the end of this post you’ll have a feel for how Bible believing Christians (as we say in the South) can interpret old texts in new ways and be empowered to not only love their LGBT brothers and sisters but come to see them differently than say, an alcoholic or someone struggling with a sexual addiction.

On this topic one of the first statements Johnson makes is, “…it should be clear that the biblical passages invoke by prohibitionists have nothing explicit to say about the relationships of mutually and exclusively committed same-gender couples.” In other words, there’s no story decrying the evils of two men or two women who devoted themselves to one another in marital love and quietly served their family, neighbors, and faith community to the end of their days. Instead, what we see is exactly what we’d expect from a religious book centered around love of God and neighbor, a critique of cultural practices that promote sexual promiscuity, violence, and cruelty. This is the crux of the welcoming and affirming viewpoint as it relates to the Scriptures, however it doesn’t preclude us from wading into the text so let’s begin with the controversial story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah

In this story God hears an outcry from the city of Sodom and sends angelic messengers to investigate. Upon arrival they’re taken in by Abraham’s nephew, Lot, but then things begin to go south. The men of the town surround Lot’s house and demand that he offer up his visitors so that they can rape them. As a trade of sorts Lot offers up his virgin daughters instead. In this version God blinds the men of Sodom so both the angelic visitors and Lot’s daughters are saved, however in a parallel story in Judges 19 the women offered up to save the man isn’t so lucky – she’s abused all through the night. Clearly these are dark and violent stories that have thoroughly embedded themselves in the western consciousness and my hunch is that for prohibitionists this story is in the back of their minds whenever the topic of same-gender marriage comes up. Thus, it’s here that many prohibitionists take their stand, arguing that this sexual behavior is clearly condemned by the Scripture, and of course they’re absolutely right. Yet the question must be asked whether the nature of the acts mentioned here are despicable because of their same-gender character or because they’re violently abusive?

In the stories of Sodom and Gibeah I believe it’s something other than the same sex character of the conduct that makes it wrong. Rape is violent and destructive no matter the gender. Growing up in the South I’d always heard the story of Sodom and Gomorah invoked to condemn same-gender love. It was the perfect picture of how we imagined ‘the homosexuals‘ – filled with violent lust, a danger to others, a people completely out of control sexually speaking. The Bible couldn’t have been clearer in it’s condemnation than that story. Which is why I was shocked when I came across this passage from Ezekiel 16:9 which clearly states that the sin of Sodom is… wait for it… “…they did not help the poor and the needy.” In other words, what jumped out to the ancient writer about this text wasn’t the same gender nature of the abuse but rather the lack of hospitality shown to the visitors. Surely Ezekiel was mistaken! Or might the issue be that we have an amazing capacity to read our own cultural assumptions into the biblical text? Two other sets of passages from the book of Leviticus figure strongly in the non-affirming case.

Levitical Passages

Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

Clearly these passages forbid certain homoerotic acts, however the questions we’re asking as people committed to the authority of text is the what and why of the prohibition because these types of questions are always at the heart of interpreting any Biblical text. The reason, and this is something we all readily admit when it comes to other Old and New Testament passages, is that it’s easy to read our own cultural assumptions into the text; thus completely bypassing the cultural assumptions of the writers themselves. In fact, as you’ll see below Johnson argues that prohibitionists, tolerationists, and accomodationists do just that.

Based on what scholars know of the ancient world at this time one of the major reasons for the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 is that this type of homoerotic act was often practiced by one socially superior male on a social inferior; normally a slave or some other subordinate member of the household. The social superior would never have identified themselves as a homosexual and certainly didn’t intend to begin “a romantic relationship” with their social inferior. In fact terms like homosexuality (a medical term that didn’t come into use until the 1850′s) or same gender relationships would have been completely foreign to ancient cultures. Instead the purpose was pure sexual gratification, similar in a way to masturbation, it just happened to be with a person the socially superior person could take advantage of.

A second incredibly sinister cultural practice that is squarely in the sights of these Levitical passages is the mistreatment of prisoners of war. In the ancient world a conquered people were often subject to various forms of torture and humiliation at the hands of their captors. For example, the Assyrians were notorious for impaling their victims on poles and abandoning them to a slow and gruesome death. However, another common practice was to rape (sodomize) the enemy soldiers now under one’s control. Again, this can’t be confused with a few soldiers engaging in some sort of gay lifestyle, rather the purpose was the humiliation of your enemy. The thinking seemed to go that now that they had forced the enemy to submit in physical combat, the enemy should now be forced to submit sexually, thus furthering their shame by turning the vanquished into symbolic women. Obviously, this type of historical background is important to know when approaching the Levitical texts.

Romans 1

Romans 1:27 Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”

1 Timothy 1:9-10 “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Roman 1 passage is coming out of the hedonistic practices of the Roman world and are grounded in certain cultural assumptions about proper male roles There were two incredibly popular, but nonetheless destructive, sexual practices going on in his era: rampant male prostitution and the freedom for social superiors to perform sexual (and often homoerotic) acts on their social inferiors without their consent. Imagine today if employers were not only free to sexually abuse their employees but it was actually expected of them? While it’s an analogous situation, it gives a better feel for the cultural situation Paul is speaking to.

Another pernicious activity was the sexual slave trade of boys and castrated young men. These were often prisoners of war who would be sold into a life of exploitation and abuse. Johnson believes this is almost certainly the context behind 1 Timothy 1:10 which condemns, “fornicators, men who have sex with men, and slave traders.”

The phrase “men who have sex with men” in the 1 Corinthians 6 passage is the Greek term “arsenokoitai” which breaks down into arsen (“male”) and koite (“bed”) which is literally “males who go to bed with males.” Yet again, in the ancient world this word came to be associated with certain hedonistic homoerotic practices that were widespread in the Roman Empire – practices often performed by social superiors on their inferiors or male prostitution. It’s these practices that Paul doesn’t want to see infiltrate his fledgling religious communities built on a love of God and neighbor.

In my final post I’ll cover how Johnson encourages us to move from a place of prohibition to liberation and consecration.

15 thoughts on “A Time to Embrace – part 2

  1. Jon Sauls

    Interesting. So basically, you are making the case that the scriptures were talking about practices of the day that have no relation to committed, gay relationships. I can understand this viewpoint, but for me, in order to use this view as a debunking of current cultural perspectives, one must also assume not saying something is wrong means it is acceptable.

    Let me clarify that cluster of words that barely makes sense to me. So okay, you are saying that scripture is not referring to current gay relationships. So where does that leave us? because scripture also (as far as I know) doesn’t affirm any type of relationship being okay just because it adheres to the guidelines put forth for heterosexual couples as mush as I wish it did). We are kind of in the dark imho. Maybe we should talk on the phone because I am for some reason not able to present this argument in the right way. Lol.

  2. Jacob Huss

    The same verses can be used by both sides to show the cultural context to support their positions. One will look at them on more of a literal viewpoint and the other will try to contextualize it’s meaning into something that doesn’t pertain to “homosexual monogamy”.

    But what about questions on why there aren’t any monogamous homosexual couples that are lifted up within the scriptures? The answer can’t just be because it wasn’t popular within the culture. The laws and traditions that God handed to Israel were all directed at their nation being counter cultural and to look different than the other nations.

    What about design issues? God designed men and women different and the Bible lays out some wonderful descriptions on why those differences are in place and how they are designed to work in balance within a marital relationship. Differences that are both obvious physical ones and not so obvious emotional/spiritual ones. Even a monogamous homosexual relationship is going against a lot of those designed purposes instituted within a biblical marital relationship. The Romans 1 passage needs to be focused on the word “natural”, in my opinion. The verse is clearly saying that women and men were given over to their sinful desires and these desires were not normal to the natural design. That is a completely different issue than the cultural temple practices going on at the time.

  3. Starla Harrison

    As Jon indicated,these intricate, complex, paradigm shifting issues are sometimes very difficult to think clearly thru, let alone put into words. You, Brett have done an excellent job. :) (Thanks !)

    So, I will take a shortcut (or cheat-ha ha!) and “ditto” Jacob’s tho’ts/ questions that were tugging at my core as well :

    “But what about questions on why there aren’t any monogamous homosexual couples that are lifted up within the scriptures? The answer can’t just be because it wasn’t popular within the culture. The laws and traditions that God handed to Israel were all directed at their nation being counter cultural and to look different than the other nations.”

    It seems there really wasn’t such a thing as a gay domestic couple either in the OT or NT that I have come across in my reading. (I have been researching this issue myself.) Some things I read indicated that maybe after a man had married and had children, and then become a widower, he may have established some same-sex intimate realtionships, but it’s possible the culture just didn’t pay much attention to it. The deal was with the ancient Jews, that all men HAD to marry. It was their procreational duty before God. Their marriages were even arranged for them at age 13 in a ceremony that was the ancestor to what Jews now celebrate as the bar mitzvah.

    Women, of course, were also obliged to marry a person of the opposite sex for procreation as well as for their own survival.

  4. Starla Harrison

    More thot’s in response to Jacob :

    ” What about design issues? God designed men and women differently and the Bible lays out some wonderful descriptions on why those differences are in place and how they are designed to work in balance within a marital relationship. Differences that are both obvious physical ones and not so obvious emotional/spiritual ones.”

    Totally resonate w/ those questions, Jacob. Do you have have any tho’ts on the balance/ yin yang thing, as it were, Brett ?

    I have some ideas, but I will hold off a little. Not sure my ideas are valid- just musings at this point. Maybe will expound later.

    Brett, so grateful this is here. This is the only place I could think of to help me work thru some of this myself. Thanks again ! B)

  5. Brett Post author

    Hey Star & Jacob, sorry for the delay in my response – school is keeping me busy.

    Jacob you’re absolutely correct that the two sides use the same verses to support their cultural context. This still happens today with the questions of “women in leadership” as well. That’s something I’ll address in part 3 of this series.

    I can’t be 100% sure why there aren’t any examples of same sex relationships in the Scriptures (Star you had some good thoughts along those lines) however it would be an argument from silence to claim that that’s either a “good” or “bad” thing.

    As far as design issues go, I believe one of the responses that the author (Johnson) offers, and which I assume you’d probably agree with at some level, is that concepts of “male” and “female” are actually much richer than “parts that fit.” If you know any same sex couples you’ll often notice that one seems to be more “masculine” while the other is more “feminine”. Rather than seeing that as some sort terrible deviation from how they’re supposed to be, I think it’s pretty eye opening to consider that perhaps we’ve been too reductionistic with books like “Wild At Heart” or “Captivating” (Eldridge) that sort of ham handedly declare all boys one way and all girls another. In other words, maybe we should use words like “Masculine” and “Feminine” more descriptively (of people with either set of genitalia) rather than prescriptively (people with genitalia x act one way and people with genitalia y act another). Obviously, this is quite a shift in thinking so I offer it humbly as food for thought because it’s something I’m continuing to think through as well.

  6. Kyle Sainz

    What about the plain unnatural aspect of gay sex, sorry to be blunt, but especially for guys, the intercourse is not natural, clearly is not meant to be, and I don’t know, is that not evidence of it not being OK with God and nature?

    But my main thought on the matter is if it is OK with God, then logically there should be gay men and woman who operate in the gifts of the Spirit right? If they genuinely operate in those gifts that would be Spirit evidence that God is OK with same sex relations. But if we cannot find anyone on the earth who is gay and Spirit filled and worships in Spirit and truth, well that would be evidence in pure biblical logic that God is not going to bless it.

    Hope this makes sense. I like to approach this very logically, since I think with much logic.

  7. Brett Post author

    Kyle, checkout the “Arguments from Nature” section from part 1 http://bretttilford.com/2012/09/a-time-to-embrace-order-of-creation-nature-and-tradition/ for your first question.

    As for your second, I’m sure there are LGBT Christians who have experienced the gifts of the Spirit. Honestly bro, this question bothered me a bit because you asked a very similar question on this blog a few months ago (wondering if gay people could “really” be Christians) and a gay Christian man bravely spoke up and introduced himself. Perhaps you didn’t believe him though? Based on 1 Corinthians 13′s emphasis on love over gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues I think a much better question would be, “Do you know of any LGBT people whose lives are characterized by integrity, truth-telling, kindness, and a sincere love for God?” To that I’d answer a resounding “Yes!”

  8. Starla Harrison

    Kyle
    How would one go about searching out people who have been blessed w/ the gifts of the spirit who are also gay ? I know of one women who has been struggling w/ her same-sex-attraction issue for > 30 yrs and who prays and sings in the spirit. She has been in & out of gay relationships, in the gay community (for a short time), but mostly single. I talked w/ her recently, and she didn’t seem quite so convinced that she should, or that God would want her to remain celibate for the rest of her life. Do you think the fact that she struggles w/ the issue, and has not simply given herself over to it (so far) means she doesn’t count as one has both homosexuality and the gifts ?

  9. Starla Harrison

    Brett:
    Re: “Rather than seeing that as some sort terrible deviation from how they’re supposed to be, I think it’s pretty eye opening to consider that perhaps weve been too reductionistic with books like “Wild At Heart” or “Captivating” (Eldridge) that sort of ham handedly declare all boys one way and all girls another. In other words, maybe we should use words like “Masculine” and “Feminine” more descriptively (of people with either set of genitalia) rather than prescriptively (people with genitalia x act one way and people with genitalia y act another).”

    This is the notion I had been pondering. Not sure about this, but this is what I was muddling thru. I myself, have felt pigeon-holed by some models of male / female sex roles. For example, in he book, “His Needs,Her Needs,” by Willard Harley, the author describes the different needs men vs women have in a marriage relationship. He lists the top 10 for each gender, and none of them are the same. I only identified w/ 5 of the women’s needs, but identified w/ 5 of the listed “men’s needs” as well.

    Another phenomenon I’ve come across that supports this notion is the fact that in some cultures, there are considered more than 2 genders. There is a third in India (bio males who live adult lives as women in a sort of colony by themselves). They are called, “The Hijra.” Often (somewhat misleadingly) called eunuchs in English, they may either be born intersex or apparently male, dress in feminine clothes and generally see themselves as neither men nor women. Some of them want & / or have sex re-assignemnt surgery & or hormone therapies to appear more female, and some do not. They have a HUGE beauty pageant every yr. A Hijra social movement has campaigned for recognition as a third sex, and in the past decade, Indian passport application forms were updated with three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch, respectively).Some Indian languages such as Sanskrit have three gender options.

    This is just one example. I have read about 3 or more genders (up to 5 )in other cultures as well.

  10. Starla Harrison

    PS: Paragraph 3 is largely from Wikipedia under “third sex” (I went there to remind myself of the name “Hijra”).

  11. Starla Harrison

    Kyle:

    Re: the apparent physically unnatural aspect of male gay sex.

    I see your point. That bothers me, too. However, I must add that there are some gay men who do not enjoy anal sex, and who refuse to be the recipient of it. (Not sure if there are some who refuse to participate at all). I didn’t realize that until a gay man friend of mine told me that one time. He said that since he didn’t like it, he and his partner did not practice it. They used other kinds of stimulation (as would many lesbians). Additionally, there are also hetero couples who engage in anal sex.

  12. Starla Harrison

    Ok, I’ve been thinking about all this, and I am suddenly fearing I am, “drinking the cool-aid,” as they say, and may be leading some people in the wrong direction. Please know, that as for me, I am just exploring and thinking thru these things. I don’t have the answers.

    Questions for myself and anyone else who might wish to respond ”
    1. What does the word we see in our Bibles as, “fornication,” really mean ? For me, it means any kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage. At least that has been what I was raised to believe. If this is the true definition, then anyone who engages in homosexual activity in the state of Texas is engaging in fornication b/c we don’t have gay marriage here. But, what if we did ? Would a simple change in the state law make gay sex ok in some situations?

    2. What about that ” knowing ” in one’s conscience that gay marriage is against God and nature ? (Is this what is referred to “a priori” knowledge ? ) Is that the God part of our consciousness / conscience, or is it the result of a deeply etrenched idea from our culture (social and religious)?

    Dear Father in heaven,
    Please bless this discourse and let the Your truth shine here. Do not allow me to be a stumbling block for anyone.
    In Jesus most beloved name, Amen

  13. Kyle Sainz

    Brett,

    I understand where your coming from on that I’m sorry if I offended I think the response though misunderstood the evidences I have seen and see all the time, for me it is the reality with which I view the world. The guy who introduced himself seems nice, I believe that he believes what he believes though I think it is possible for one to believe their facing down oppression when their coming up against laws of God that are spiritual reality that are unchanging. If I believe that is possibly what he is doing I would be violating my conscience to not continue to offer my view of Spirit and truth, but more so I want to expound on what I really meant in the first place. It’s just when I think of the gifts of the Spirit I know the basic tenets of palatable gifts, but even Buddhist and others can walk in that amount of gifting, after all we’re made in God’s image and everything that is good originates and is gifted from the Father. I don’t say this judgmentally so much honestly I say this from the reality of the eyes God gave me and when I think of the more serious signs Jesus said would follow believers, I think that is the area I’m looking for. I mean no offense, but my logic would need these signs to accept an inclusion scenario.

    Starla,

    I actually agree with much of the first reply, have you read a book by Julie Lyons called Holy Roller? She struggled with same sex attraction for a long time, she through God’s guidance found her way to an amazing church in South Dallas during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, Brett I think you might enjoy this book too, it is very raw regarding Black Pentecostalism and much more. Julie Lyons is also the former Editor & Chief of the Dallas Observer, I first heard of this on 90.1.

    http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Roller-Finding-Redemption-Forgotten/dp/1400074959

    I do agree on the love, how could I not it’s true, but many religions and people from all areas of life experience love in some fashion, but Nicodemus was obedient to everything he knew and Jesus told him of being born again. no one can really love Jesus like the Holy Ghost, and we have to come to terms with the fact that not all love is created equal, Nicodemus was not without love, but he was not yet born again to experience the incredible love of God through Christ Jesus and that really is the measure. I have not met a gay man that can lay hands on others and heal and be a conduit for Spirit baptism.

    I have met a gay man that works in Oak Lawn at a restaurant and prays with his employees who are gay everyday, the difference being the man that leads that prayer though he still ‘seems fairly gay’ has repented and leads others to freedom. I think his testimony and commenting on this blog would be an valuable thing. What if a man like that of all people who was gay and still ‘carries those mannerisms’ but has repented actually was with love passionately would not be in support of inclusion.

    Peace and love.

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