Monday, May 30, 2005

The Good Book

Graeme posted some excellent exegesis on the passages concerned with homosexuality recently. Apparently it led to some people removing themselves from his readership and from his mailing list. For me this all links up with what I'd been talkng about with the issue of tolerance. It also links back to Jeffrey John's comments on the need to read the WHOLE BIBLE and yet also accept that there is no such thing as THE Biblical teaching on something as the Scriptures are not written by a single human author and therefore not to be taken as a whole without awareness of this. Graeme's words come from an honest and open reading of the text. We need to respect that in anybody, no matter what position they then take. Now I'm sure I won't be losing any readers as you all know I'm liberal (a wussy liberal even, allegedly!) and have had to put up with this kind of thing before but with rather less dispassionate academic rigour. you can follow some of the comments on Graeme's site but here's what he had to say originally:

"Whether we choose it or it chooses us, the issue for our generation is the issue of homosexuals in the church (note, I did not say homosexuals in the kingdom of God - that is God's issue, not ours). For the last few months I have been working on what initially started as an article for a popular Christian magazine and has now turned into a mini thesis on the issue of homosexuality. I have been seriously cautioned to be cautious about making my speculations and ruminations on this topic public - and rather to wait until I have a fully formulated and completely defensible position on the issue. I am beginning to despair that that might never happen, so here is my compromise: some questions that both guide and confuse me in my quest for understanding.

I trust you will find it helpful as you honestly examine your heart and doctrine on this powerfully divisive, yet vitally important issue.

* There are only seven verses in the Bible that deal with the issue of homosexuality: four in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament.
o Can we dismiss the accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah and the identical situation in Gibeah because the issues of their with so much more than homosexuality -- including rape, inhospitaility and violence? (I think so).
o How can we rely on the two passages in Leviticus, when they are interspersed amongst other commands that are clearly not for us today, and/or were restrictions based on cultic practices (e.g. cutting sideburns, tattoos and clothes with more than one thread type), and/or we are not prepared to implement prescribe punishment of stoning to death? (I don't think we can)
o Most scholars agree that 1 Cor 6:9-11 and 1 Tim. 1:8-11 are ambiguous at best, most likely referring to masters and their slaves - thus more concerned about the abuse of power relationships rather than homosexuality as such. And what is the difference between a homosexual and a "homosexual offender"?
o Are we certain we really understand Romans 1:18-27, and are we certain that it is a clear command against homosexuality, especially as it looks as if this is the only verse that really could be used in an argument from Scripture?
* Paul's major appeal in Rom. 1:18-27 is that people have abandoned God to chase idols. God then "gave them up" and allowed them to "exchange" what they had for a perversion. There is a possibility that this is a reference to the cultic laws we discussed above, and that it is the "inflamed with lust" aspect of the act that is the problem. Some scholars argue that Paul's concern was not those people who were born homosexuals (with a built-in homosexual orientation) but rather for those who were experimenting with "unnatural" sexual behaviour. Other scholars have argued that even if Paul had in mind to condemn all homosexual behaviour, that this should be interpreted in the same way that we interpret instructions about women's head coverings, for example, or men growing long hair. In the latter case, 1 Cor 11:14 uses the same argument about being "against nature", and many scholars believe that this should rather be interpreted as "against Jewish culture and accepted traditions". Paul may in fact, have been using an example of homosexuality in Romans to point out to Jews their own double standards in being repulsed by homosexuality that was rampant in the ancient Greek/Roman world, yet not seeing their own cultural sins. Of course, more conservative scholars see these verses as laying out doctrine and rules for behaviour - that has been the historical majority interpretation. My point is simply that there is room for alternative interpretations, without doing damage to the text or the rules of interpretation.
* Are we really convinced that our hermeneutical method is 100% accurate and needs no revision?
* Why would God be repulsed by homosexual love? If the traditional understanding and interpretation of scripture on this issue is correct, there is a great weakness in its ability to explain why homosexuality is an abomination to God.
* Of course, we all believe that God is against abusive relationships of any kind, unhealthy relationships of any kind and experimenting with our sexuality - this much is clear from Scripture. It is also clear that sexual activity is meant for lifelong monogamous relationships, has the highest expression of the bond that exists between two people committed to each other. How much of the rampant licentiousness earned loose living associated with the homosexual community is simply a reaction to the institutionalised hatred/rejection homosexuals feel, and how much is actually inherent in the lifestyle/orientation itself?
* At what point does a same-sex relationship/friendship become a forbidden homosexual one? It would seem to me that the answer to this question is clearly that it only becomes a problem when there is actual sexual intercourse involved. The real issue is therefore not about homosexual orientation, but about sex. And let's be honest, whatever else one can say about the church and sex, we cannot call it healthy, objective or sound. If the church's reputation for clear thinking and sexual issues is so pathetic, how can we be so sure that we have the homosexual issue correct?
* Why do we get all up tight about the biblical commandments on this issue, while completely ignoring a whole host of other the biblical sexual ethics (e.g. having sex with a woman during her period, levirate marriages - having sex with your deceased brother's wife in order to give him a son, concubinage, arranged marriages, etc)?
* Doesn't the whole issue come down to just one question for Christians: is same-gender sexual activity within a committed, lifelong, monogamous homosexual relationship sinful?
* Will the God I serve really send all lifelong, committed, monogamous, born-again homosexuals to hell? Is homosexuality really a deal breaker with God? If so, why?
* If the church has a history of being so wrong on issues such as slavery, apartheid, women being allowed to vote, racism and so many other issues, can we be so sure that we are right on this issue?
* Are we simply going to continue ignoring the elephant in the living room -- the rampant homosexuality of the celibate priesthood?

God may be the same yesterday today and forever, but he is not a static God. Throughout history it has been his way to deal with his people slowly, each generation being required to deal with only a few issues, building up a set of traditions for future generations to start from. Our ancestors dealt with Crusaders, with slave owners, with apartheid and institutional racism, and women leadership in the church (some Christians are still dealing with some of these issues) -- I'm sure that it is our generation who must deal with the issue of homosexuals in the church.

Scripture is vital. Our traditions are important. The Holy Spirit is our teacher. Of these things I am sure. But the questions above haunt me and I have no peace on this issue. I cannot rest until I do. Souls are at stake.

I invite your comments and contributions -- as long as they are honest, constructive and Spirit-filled in intent."

1 comment:

nessa said...

oops i actually left my comment for this post in the more recent 'broad is best' post.

sorry to make your blog messy. :-)