A Response: Discerning the Bible’s Stance on Homosexuality

This is the first post in a back-and-forth between me and Robert Fuller at A Particular Atheist. I am a firm believer in subjecting ideas to criticism. Atheists are particularly good critics for Christians if they are sufficiently knowledgeable simply because they have no religious obligations to support our ideas. You might even gain a friend out of the ordeal (here’s to my friend Dan in the UK!).

Robert’s first question for me is important: how do I reconcile my beliefs about homosexuality with the Bible? If you haven’t read my stance on the subject just yet, please read A Christian Defense of Homosexuality.

I have seen many attempt to maintain that scripture is infallible while also supporting homosexuality. This line of reasoning goes as such: scripture says <insert some Greek term such as “arsenokoitai”>, which we translate to homosexual, but it really means <insert other term such as “someone who exploits boy prostitutes”>. At the time that I changed my view on homosexuals, this is what I believed. It got me past the theological wall I had to jump in order to start seeing gays and lesbians as they are. There is a varying degree of merit to such a view, so let me cover it for a moment before I get to my objections.

Consider a few excerpts from Romans 1:21-27.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones…. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

The line of reasoning in the pro-LGBT/Biblical-infallibility mindset is that the passage deals with people who trade their natural sexuality for the opposite sort. As it is clear that gay and lesbian men and women are not making any such trade (here is an APA pamphlet to anyone reading who is unclear on this), this passage in Romans didn’t apply. This advice would apply instead to gay men trying out women, straight men trying out men, etc.

But as I considered that passage in Romans more carefully, I realized that Paul is writing his thoughts on how homosexual behaviors come to be. Certainly, the passage is not specifically about the origin of homosexuality, but I have little doubt that, if Paul were to give a more focused explanation of homosexual behavior, it would bear resemblance to what he describes in Romans. I don’t think it makes much sense to try to modernize Paul’s writings.

We must realize that Paul — and all the other Biblical authors — carried with them the prejudices and opinions of their respective time periods and cultures. To pretend otherwise is to make gods of the authors, as though they were not flesh and blood humans subject to all the imperfections of everyone else. To quote the article linked earlier, the authors’ perception of gay sex was “conditioned by cultural perceptions and behavioral patterns too alien to those of modern times to provide an adequate basis for a contemporary ethic of homosexuality as homosexuality is currently understood.”

That’s another way of saying that the Bible just can’t talk about this issue adequately, and whatever it does say is likely wrong, because it has made its judgment based on insufficient evidence.

Many people are uncomfortable saying this. I regularly receive accusations of heresy or something of the sort. Only a few years ago, I would have been uncomfortable, as well. But if we keep in mind that there were several hundred years of Christianity without the Bible as we know it, then it seems no problem to consider Christianity as something other than an entity which derives its existence from correct interpretation of a specific collection of ancient texts.

There are a number of more specific historical details I could cover, such as the formation of the modern literal interpretation of scripture, but I will leave it to the reader to seek out further information. I want to discuss a number of specific details from Robert’s post.

“Your post is an admirable defense of homosexuality, something that shouldn’t even need defending.”

I disagree with the bolded portion: homosexuality would need defending no matter what. It is the natural tendency of humans in general to categorize strange things as “other.” If it hadn’t been Christianity, it would have been another aspect of culture which likely would have stigmatized the LGBT community. Even in increasingly-secular Europe, homosexuals still face significant discrimination, though one might argue that it is fallout from religious influence. Yet even ancient Greece and Rome stigmatized effeminacy to a significant degree and looked down upon adult homosexuality, particularly the passive partner in the relationship. It would seem that minorities in all societies need some defending, and we should not presume to pin this entirely on religiosity.

“My hope for homosexual Christians is for them to leave the religion that follows a book which says they should be put to death.”

Honestly, there are many shameful things in the Bible, especially were we to consider them as having come from the mouth of God. I discussed them to some degree in a previous post. People who take an infallible stance on scripture have far worse problems than merely their stance on gays and lesbians.

Do you think you being a Christian, who I presume quotes & reveres the same Bible as Westboro Baptist Church and the countless hate groups whose names contain the word “family”, lends credibility to them and others who use the Bible to justify their anti-gay stances?

Quite the opposite, actually. If there were no Christians preaching a different message, then Westboro and others would have a monopoly on the Christian message, thereby bolstering their legitimacy. There need to be voices saying that we should not use the Bible in such a manner, and it will mean a lot more coming from a Christian than from an atheist.

Yet this leaves the question of how we should use the Bible if it is not the literal, inspired word of God. How do we use other books? Does their non-infallibility preclude their use? There are many interesting ideas to consider out of the Bible, and I look to them as guidance in my life. Even Romans, which contains some of the questionable comments about homosexual behavior, is an admirable book about the unity of the church. The driving argument — that people of all nations are united as one in the church — is something healthy for us to consider as Christians even today.

It was my understanding of Christian virtue and redemption which led me to write my defense of homosexuality. It is that same understanding which urges me to be a force for restoring good order to the world, even if it is only in a very small way. Rather than set up a series of theological barriers which prevent us from seeing the world, I would propose that the purpose of Christianity is to break down all artificial barriers between us and truth. That requires constant self-analysis and evaluation.

I hope this clears up my position on the subject to some degree, though I am sure there is more to say. With my wedding coming up very soon (!!!), it will be difficult to write further for just a few more weeks, but I look forward to this ongoing dialog!

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About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
This entry was posted in Christian Culture Issues, Ethics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to A Response: Discerning the Bible’s Stance on Homosexuality

  1. Ian says:

    Exellent and fascinating post. One quibble, but it really is one amid the rest of the post I agree with.

    I think you whiffed the point about moderate Christians giving legitimacy to Westbro Baptist Church.

    If there were no “Christians preaching a different message” then the only claim to legitimacy of the bible would be its use by hate groups. The bible would therefore have much the same status as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or Mein Kampf. It is simply not true that it would have more hateful influence if only hate-groups used it. The point of the legitimacy argument is that such a large group of people point to the bible as being authoritative (in some sense) and important and meaningful, then the hate groups can piggy back on that general sense of respect and say “we’re just following what it actually says”.

    Now, of course, you can say that if nobody spoke out against the hateful use and gave an alternative reading, then the situation would be worse: all Christendom giving authority to the bible, and only the hate groups interpreting it. But that’s not the dichotomy at the heart of the legitimacy argument. Your atheist was not encouraging you to stay silent on the bible, but to clearly renounce its authority.

    • I admittedly wrote the section you question as a hurried afterthought as I realized that I had forgotten to respond to his critique.

      Still, the solution I propose is significantly more practical, I would say. People are not going to stop using the Bible. Given the success of changing the general Christian perspective on slavery, which the Bible condones to a significant degree, it seems no problem to suppose that, in the long-run, it is possible to do the same with other issues like this. I would only suggest that moderate and liberal Christians make a more active push to involve themselves in the public square through activism and media.

      • Ian says:

        Yes, I don’t think it is practical to go down that road, either.

        But I do think the problem is not the interpretation of the bible that we have. And the change needed is not to move to a gay-friendly reading of the bible. Because if that happens, then there’s no reason to believe when the next hard-won moral issue is challenging our generation, we won’t be pulling out our bibles to inflict harm on others just as the homophobes are doing today.

        The real challenge is to clearly renounce the bibles moral authority. To make the point, as you are doing here, that Christianity isn’t bible worship, or even following the bible. That the bible, at most, is a resource for Christians, and can be loved and accepted and used when it is useful, but should be unhesitatingly rejected as a cause of immorality. In short, it would be to undo Sola Scriptura, which is the ultimate mistake from which all these other mistakes flow.

        Interesting stuff, but I don’t want to get too heavy on this since it is my first time here!

      • I wholeheartedly agree with you on all counts, it would seem.

  2. pbachmeyer says:

    Hello Chris,

    I appreciate your matter-of-factness in the way you have described your viewpoint.

    Just to be clear, I will start by saying that I am opposed to your ideas here about a Christian acceptance of homosexual behavior. I am Catholic, and I hold to the Catholic Church’s teaching on this subject, all of which is ultimately based on the Bible.

    That said, the first thing I would like to point out is that there is a real problem with suggesting that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God. If the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, then the entire Christian religion collapses because it is based upon the Bible as such. So, if you are trying to form a Christian position that does not honor the Bible as the Word of God, this position will ultimately self-destruct.

    Secondly, since the Bible is the Word of God, then that means that the men who wrote it were inspired by the Holy Spirit in order to write it. The Holy Spirit would have known then, just as much as now, the truths about morality and would not have withheld any of this from the early Christians. So, there is not room to argue that the Bible is simply “outdated” on issues like that of the morality of homosexual behavior.

    As for those today who spread hate supposedly in the name of Christianity – there is no excuse for such hatred. But there will still be those who use the Bible for evil purposes. There will also be some who misuse the words of Scripture because they did not properly understand it in the first place. But in addressing these people, we cannot also throw out the truth of what the Bible does say and what it does mean.

    For the issue of homosexual behavior, the Biblical (and Christian) teaching is clear: homosexual behavior is immoral and is one of many disorders that have come about as a result of the sin of our first parents. The Tradition of the Catholic Church has been constant about this for all of its history.

    -Paul

    • “If the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, then the entire Christian religion collapses because it is based upon the Bible as such.”

      This is the main point at which I disagree. As I point out in the main article, there were several hundred years where this was not the case. What do you make of the time period prior to deciding on the Biblical canon? Where did the church derive its existence and legitimacy? It certainly was not the Bible, as this would have been a historical impossibility.

      • pbachmeyer says:

        On what count is it an impossibility? Sure, the Bible that we hold in our hands today did not exist in the early Christian times – but the texts which make up Bible today did. These texts – letters, books, etc… – would have been very much a part of the Church, including before the Bible was formally established. It was because they were so important that they were formally established into a single collection, to clearly state which texts were correct (inspired by the Holy Spirit) and which were not.

        But I suspect that that is really besides the point. The purpose, as I see it, for trying to undermine the notion that the Bible is the Word of God is so that “Christianity” can be unhinged from its doctrines. As the previous commenter, Ian, so succinctly put it, “The real challenge is to clearly renounce the bibles moral authority”.

        If we can remove the Bible’s moral authority, then we are free to say that Christianity can disregard such things as the idea that homosexual behavior is morally problematic.

        But if we throw out the contents of a complex, living thing, and fill it in with all new parts and all new complexities, so that all that remains of the original is the outer shell, is it still really the same thing as the original?

        I contend that it is not. If we detach Christianity from the Bible, then we no longer have Christianity, but we have something else, something undefined, and something that is ultimately a religion (and a God) of our own invention.

      • These are all important considerations, and if we are to proceed into uncharted territory, we should do so carefully. Yet still, it seems no issue to suggest that Christianity exists apart from viewing the Bible as infallibly authoritative (perhaps it can still be an authority of sorts). The church produced the Bible, not the other way around. If it were a chicken-and-egg problem, we would be certain of the answer.

        You raise a number of interesting points, though, and they merit some investigation in later posts. I’d rather not try to formulate my thoughts in a series of comments.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Since the Bible is the inspired Word of God…” I like how you jump from “I believe X” to “X is true.” Feel free to fill in those gaps with … maybe … evidence? An argument of some kind? Anything.

    • Matt says:

      Actually, the Vatican said Adam and Eve never existed, so the notion of Adam’s original sin affecting us all is nonsense as it never happened. I seem to remember the Pope admitting it was just a story, and since the Vatican endorses evolution (which proves all of humanity can’t have descended from a single pair of humans), it had to come out and say the story of Adam and Eve is metaphorical or allegorical or something like that. So “original sin” is a myth, according to the Vatican. Homosexuality is not immoral because it doesn’t actually harm anyone. It’s not a disorder because it exists in many species, including dogs which I’ve witnessed myself. Why don’t you think about real immoral actions, like murder, rape, violence, theft etc.?

    • Matt says:

      I’d also say that religion is a poor sense of morality in general. Think about it; you’ve surely heard about certain unpleasant religious people saying how atheists are immoral because they don’t fear divine retribution for their bad acts? Well, if you think about that statement, it actually reflects very badly on the person making it. Is he saying that the only reason he DOESN’T do bad things is his fear of god? If so, I sincerely hope he never stops believing!

      Whereas most atheists are simply good for the sake of humanity, not to get a potential reward (heaven). Which also means that some theists only do good deeds to get heaven tickets… hardly the moral high ground.

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