Another grumpy post? This one about marriage and mutual submission in Ephesians

July 11, 2011

John Updike said one time that he started reviewing books (in addition to writing them) because it helped him deal with his sense of indignation. I feel like I’ve often been indignant on this blog recently—like I’m always disagreeing with people and being argumentative. I apologize if I’m coming across this way. It’s true I like to argue, but it’s not just that: Talking about the Bible, and trying passionately to communicate its relevance to our world today, is a large part of my calling, my life’s work. I believe what I preach! That people in our day underestimate how truly good and powerful and relevant the Bible is—even though, our secular-minded age notwithstanding, they have been indelibly shaped by it—is an understatement.

So I tend to get a little worked up even by seemingly innocuous little posts such as this one, by a seminary professor in the United Church of Christ named Greg Carey. He contends that for all the fuss that the church makes about marriage, the Bible actually says very little, and what it does say is often wrong or, ironically, unchristian. Here’s his payoff paragraph:

Christians will always turn to the Bible for guidance—and we should. If the Bible does not promote a clear or redemptive teaching about slavery, that doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from Scripture about the topic. The same values that guide all our relationships apply to marriage: unselfish concern for the other; honesty, integrity and fidelity; and sacrificial—but not victimized—love. That’s a high standard, far higher than a morality determined by anachronistic and restrictive rules that largely reflect our cultural biases. Rules make up the lowest common denominator for morality. Love, as Paul said, never finds an end.

I don’t even disagree with this. I mean, I do agree—mostly. Christ-like love isn’t about following rules, and the New Testament’s demand to love in this way transcends cultural biases. But I don’t think he does justice to what the New Testament actually says about marriage. Although we have to do a lot of reading between the lines to get at its message, what it says is richer and more challenging than Carey appreciates.

I especially didn’t like this paragraph:

One other passage frequently surfaces in weddings but rarely in mainline Protestant churches, the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodists and United Church of Christ congregations that invite me to speak. Ephesians 5:22-33 commands wives to obey their husbands and husbands to love their wives. Conservative Christians may try to explain away the offense of this passage, but there’s no escaping its ugly reality. Ephesians calls wives to submit to their husbands just as children must obey their parents and slaves must obey their masters. See the larger context, Ephesians 5:21-6:9.

Yours truly did preach on this Ephesians passage a while back, and, far from feeling embarrassed by how offensive it is, I think Paul is making a radical statement about the equality of partners within a Christian marriage. (And as for Paul’s words about slavery that follow these words on marriage, I believe that he subverts that institution in a similar way.)

All that follows I’ve said this before, but it deserves repeating. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, along with Colossians and 1 Peter, includes a common feature of Greco-Roman letter-writing known as “household codes.” Traditionally, these are instructions given by moral teachers to minority members of households: wives, children, and slaves.

Paul is adapting this convention for Christian households in nothing less than radical ways. That he is addressing most of his words to husbands in the first place is an important clue. Take Ephesians 5:21-22 (from the NRSV), which, according to Carey, is an example of the “ugly reality” of the Bible’s teaching on marriage:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.

This is not exactly what Paul wrote in Greek. If you have an NASB Bible (a more literal translation than the NIV or NRSV), you’ll see that “be subject” in v. 22 is italicized. This means that “be subject” (or “submit”) doesn’t appear in v. 22. What Paul actually writes in these verses is the following:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands as you are to the Lord.

Do you see the difference? Of course the “be subject” is implied in v. 22, but notice that Paul is literally carrying over the verb implicitly from v. 21. In the most literal sense, the submission Paul is asking of wives in v. 22, he is asking of all Christians in v. 21. In other words, v. 22 isn’t saying anything that isn’t said by v. 21. It’s redundant. If all Christians are to submit to one another, well then of course wives are to submit to their husbands, just as—by that same logic—husbands are to submit to their wives.

Maybe we’re not out of the woods yet. Because then there’s v. 23a: “For the husband is the head of the wife…”

“For the husband is the head of the wife.” If we were husbands living in and around Ephesus in the middle of the first century, and we heard these words, our reaction would be, “Of course the husband is the head of the wife! Why are you telling us something that we already know, Paul? Nothing could be more obviously true. Look around… women are powerless, little more than property.”

But then Paul continues with something far more radical: The husband is the head of the wife, “just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.” Again, if we were husbands living back then, we would feel Paul stepping on our toes. “We’re supposed to be the head, just as Christ is the head? I’m not so sure about that!”

How exactly is Christ “the head,” after all? What is the cross, if not the most dramatic act of submission for the sake of love in human history? Husbands are being held to that same standard of submissive, other-directed, Christ-like love! Think about Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet in John 13. Why does Peter object to this foot-washing? Because he knows that Jesus, his Master and Teacher, shouldn’t submit to him in such a humble way. Foot-washing is what slaves are supposed to do. Jesus reversed the roles with his disciples; he reversed the traditional understanding of what it means to be in charge, to have power. Somehow, a husband’s love is supposed to look like that?

In a Bible study on Ephesians, which I created for the Board of Ordained Ministry in 2009, I wrote the following:

Jesus, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, also reversed roles in the most dramatic way of all: He willingly set aside his own interests, his own safety, his own security, his own reputation, his own position, and his own well-being in order to die a humiliating and shameful criminal’s death on a cross. And he did so out of love for us we can’t fully comprehend. What wouldn’t Jesus do for us out of love? “Husbands,” Paul implies, “are you prepared to love that way?”

Paul challenges husbands here because he knows that that’s not the way husbands typically love their wives, and he wants them to change!

Among other things, Paul is not saying that when a husband and wife disagree about something, the husband gets to assert his authority to say, “I’m the head, so what I say goes.” Doing so would contradict the Christ-like love by which Paul says husbands are to love their wives. Loving with Christ-like love, agape, is a very high standard of love that applies to all of us Christians. And I suspect that for most of us most of the time, loving one another the way Christ loves is still very difficult.

My favorite part of this passage, which our United Methodist wedding liturgy alludes to, is Ephesians 5:31-32.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

What exactly is this “great mystery” that Paul is “applying to Christ and the church”? Here is a subtle but powerful turn in Paul’s argument: Paul was leading us to believe that he was using Christ’s love for the church to say something about Christian marriage, but that’s exactly backwards: he’s actually using Christian marriage to say something Christ’s love for the church (tying it into the broader theme of his letter).

In other words, the incarnation of Christ is nothing less than a love story: Because of a man’s love for his wife, “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Similarly, because of God’s love for the world, God the Son, left his Father in heaven, in order to unite with our flesh, to become one with us, his creation—and

though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

18 Responses to “Another grumpy post? This one about marriage and mutual submission in Ephesians”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I like this, and particularly the “shift of emphasis” from “lording it over” to “sacrificially serving.” I don’t do enough of the latter. One caveat. Love isn’t always so much a matter of “being chums” as “looking out for the best interests.” Thus, clearly in the instance of our children, scripture teaches that parents are obliged to “chasten” them. While we don’t “chasten” our wives in that respect, sometimes we do have to be the “final decision maker” in case of conflicts. While Jesus did serve, he is also Lord in the sense of being the one who makes the rules whereby his Bride is supposed to conduct herself. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus says. So, a servant’s heart and attitude and actions, certainly, which, as you say, is big news to some and a timely reminder to me, but we can’t set aside the “other aspect” of submission which I feel the Bible also teaches as between wives and husbands.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I hear you, Tom, but I’m not sure how this “final decision maker” role is supposed to play out in an actual marriage. If each couple is committed to loving one another with Christ-like love (which may be impossible, but you know what I mean) when or how often would it be the case that one partner would say, “This is the way it’s going to be”? Honestly, I don’t see it. Arguing can be good and constructive and ultimately lead a couple to unanimity on a particular decision. Right? Marriage seems strictly bilateral to me.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, I agree that when everyone is fully acting in a Christlike manner, there should be agreement, so no need for a “final decision-maker.” But we don’t always have full Christlikeness, as you know. Consequently, God did have to put in some “hierarchies” for decision making, as in governments/subjects (Romans 13), parents/children, bosses/employees. Sometimes after “constructive discussion,” the matter may still be left unresolved. Frankly, I can’t say I always do opt for me to have the final word in such scenarios, but there has been a time or two when I have had to say, “No.”

  2. Jay Says:

    Brent, really this is most torturous exercise in deconstruction that I have ever read, and the least convincing. I am amused that you are able to make this Biblical passage say precisely the opposite of what it actually says just because you don’t like what it says. I don’t like what it says either, but it seems to me that it is simply saying what was widely believed at a particular time in history. However, you swallow whole much more ambiguous passages about homosexuality.

    • brentwhite Says:

      From the person who sent me the link to an article about Jesus’ gay relationship with the beloved disciple in John! Deconstruction works both ways, my friend! Thanks for reading!

      • Jay Says:

        That’s my point. You dismissed a very scholarly article about homosexuality by a respected theologian, yet you offer a ham-handed, utterly ahistorical exercise in wishful thinking as though it were serious exegesis when it comes to a very clear passage about the subjection of women.

        You just think God shouldn’t say that wives shouldn’t be subject to husbands, so you run around in circles trying to convince yourself that Paul didn’t really mean what he so plainly wrote. Since you agree with what Paul apparently wrote about homosexuality (I say, “apparently” because there are questions of translation and historical context), you resist any attempt to deconstruct it.

        Your clumsy exegesis of Ephesians simply twists the Bible to make it say what you want it to say. I happen to believe in egalitarian marriage, but it is embarrassing to see you practice this kind of reductionism. More important from my perspective is that it beautifully illustrates the subjectivity of your reading of the Bible. So much for fidelity to the text. You and so many others are faithful to the text only when it suits your prejudices.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Do you think that I can’t marshal the resources of scholarly articles by respected Bible scholars to support my point of view? Or are Bible scholars only respected and scholarly if they agree with you?

        Jay, I’m very sorry you’ve been hurt by the church. I don’t want to make it worse. I hope you’ve found a loving and supportive community of faith.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I think Jay makes a good point in part (though a bit strong on the rhetoric). We do have to have a consistent exegesis of passages even though we may not prefer the conclusion it may lead to. Present day thinking does pretty much “buck” the idea that wives should be “submissive” to their husbands when it comes to ultimate “decision-making.” Your point that this is not authority for “lording it over” is certainly correct, as also clear from, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.” But, to be consistent in accepting what Paul said, love does not always mean “equality” on every front. Thus, certainly the Church has to be “submissive” to Christ. Likewise, when it comes down to an “impasse,” after all “negotiating” in a friendly and kind fashion cannot resolve the matter, I think Paul teaches the husband has to cast the “deciding vote.” I don’t think that conclusion can be avoided consistently with what Paul says. As Jay also points out, if we don’t “stand firm” on such a point because society rejects such “antiquated views,” then we don’t have much warrant in opposing homosexuality on the basis that “the Bible says so.” (Which, in disagreement with you on that issue, Jay, I think the Bible does pretty clearly say homosexuality is wrong, both per Paul, Romans 1:26-27, and other scripture writers, see Jude 7 (“strange flesh” per the King James and New American Standard as being a preferable reading over simply “perversion” per the NIV; also, since it is Sodom and Gomorrah which Jude references, clearly in the Old Testament account it was homosexual sex which was being sought).)
    Tom

    • Jay Says:

      Tom, there are lots of scholarly work that shows that the apparent references to homosexuality in the Bible do not refer to what we understand about homosexuality today.

      But since I think it is a grave mistake, indeed a form of idolatry, to take the Bible literally I really don’t care about details of what a single passage might or might not mean. The message of Jesus’s ministry is one of love and acceptance. It is not one of prohibition and narrowness and debating about how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle.

      But my larger point is simply the inconsistency of people who use the Bible. They find in the Bible what they want to find. When the Bible countenances slavery, well, that is explained as a kind of historical anomaly. God, we are told, really wasn’t in favor of slavery (except of course during the American civil war when for many people in the South, God certainly was in favor of slavery). Jesus was very explicit about His objection to divorce, yet that does not stop most mainstream religions from accommodating divorce or “Christian conservatives” from voting for divorced people like Ronald Reagan or, God forbid, Newt Gingrich.

      For most people, Biblical “interpretation” is merely, as in the examples I pointed to, a matter of making the Bible agree with one’s own prejudices. If I think homosexuality is sinful, I can marshal evidence that seems to say so in the Bible. If I believe that marriage should be egalitarian, I can perform an exercise of deconstruction and show, lo and behold, that Paul did not really mean what he said. If I think divorce is an option, I can find lots of ways to stop short of condemning divorce.

      The Bible is a large and contradictory compilation of texts written over a long period of time. It should be approached as a historical document, the product of
      particular times, as well as one that has been translated in various ways over the years and has been subjected to wildly contradictory interpretations.

      • brentwhite Says:

        But, Jay, why bother with it at all? You led me to believe on Saturday that you believed that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexual behavior, if only we understood it properly—and, in so many words, that I’m a complete idiot (not to mention a homophobe) for interpreting it as I do. In fact, my idiocy is a recurring theme with you. (You might consider working on your people skills if you want to change people’s minds.) Even the argument from silence (Jesus didn’t say anything about it) is an argument from scripture. Not a good one, but it at least takes scripture seriously.

        What you know and love about Jesus comes from the Bible (mediated through the Holy Spirit, your experience, your community of faith). Your belief that Jesus was all about love and acceptance comes from the Bible—the same Jesus who often said go and sin no more, etc. Be that as it may, it’s not clear to me that you really believe that the Bible is as hopelessly a hodgepodge of relativistic and contradictory writings as you say.

        I don’t even care much that we disagree over what the Bible says, but if it doesn’t really matter anyway, it’s as if we’re speaking a different language.

      • Jay Says:

        This is a reply to Brent’s reply to me below. I don’t know whether it will post under his reply or not.

        In any case, I don’t believe that the Bible should be taken literally. I admire the scholars who have made very interesting arguments about the few, scattered passages that seem to condemn homosexual behavior, and even the case that Jesus himself loved John the Beloved Disciple in a very special way that we today might call gay.

        But ultimately, however interesting such arguments are, I think it is a mistake to read the Bible as a set of prohibitions or to reduce the message of Jesus to so crabbed a view as conservative Christians usually do.

        Even if all the Bible passages that have been (mistakenly in my view) really were condemnations of homosexuality, they are few in number and do not include any comments by Jesus himself. What is amazing is that these few passages have been cherry-picked and given such huge power in Western culture, leading to executions and imprisonment of homosexuals for centuries, and continue to license brutal mistreatment of gay people, when much more central ideas in the Bible have been relatively ignored or (as in the case of wives being submissive to husbands) “interpreted” out of relevance.

        But my point is your utter inconsistency in reading the Bible. You take Paul’s comments about homosexuality as plainly evident, yet when Paul says something you don’t like, you engage in a tortured reading to make him mean something that he certainly does not say. You are willing to engage in a deconstructive argument that turns his words on their head when it comes to the question of whether wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands, but you dismiss out of hand the more persuasive argument of Theodore Jennings about homosexuality in the Bible.

        It is true, of course, that most of what we know of the life of Jesus comes from the Bible. So what? I never said that the Bible was unimportant. I said it should not be taken literally or read as though God was speaking directly to us about everything, such as whether we should sell our daughters into slavery or eat shellfish, etc.

        The fact that the Bible contains the good news about Jesus does not gloss over the host of contradictions, plain errors, and absurdities that the Bible also contains, and can only be swallowed by most people by considering them “myths” or parables or metaphors or otherwise excused.

        By the way, I don’t consider you an idiot, and I am mystified that you would think that I do. Do you think that anyone who disagrees with you thinks you are an idiot?

        (As to your statement that I need to improve my “people skills” if I want to change people’s views, I must emphasize that I have no desire to change people’s views–I am entirely non-Evangelistic. Just because I reject your views and have attempted to tell you why, does not mean that I am trying to change your views. I suspect that you have a lot invested in your views and are not likely to change them as a result of anything I say. And vice versa.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      Tom,

      Where we differ is over the question of how Paul’s words apply today. How does the kind of “spiritual headship” work itself out? You’re talking about “casting the deciding vote,” etc., but that’s not in Paul’s words. But if that’s how you think it applies, that’s fine. In practice, I can’t imagine it makes much difference. The danger is reading these words through a modern lens rather than reading it in the context of the Greco-Roman world.

      Wives were already treated as little more than property in the first century. That was a fact if life. In “christianizing” the household codes, how is Paul changing the nature of the relationship between Christian husbands and wives? I do believe he’s changing it in nothing less than radical ways, as I argue in the post. In context, the command for husbands to love their wives was really saying something. And historically, that message was received. It’s not for nothing that Christianity spread rapidly among women, slaves, and the poor.

      On our side of history, some of us read these words and say, “How quaint!” But Paul’s original readers wouldn’t have experienced them that way.

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    Jay, I certainly agree with Brent that without the Bible, we have no Jesus, so to argue for Jesus without accepting the Bible is building one’s house on sand. However, I do recognize that many have “misused” the Bible over the ages (and some still do–in my opinion, some charismatics and “faith healers,” as well as some “end times” prognosticators). Also, I agree with Brent that understanding what scripture means should take into account the historical context in which it is written. Bottom line, however: Once we ever understand exactly what the Bible does mean by what it says, that’s the truth. Now, as a caveat, I do not mean necessarily every historical event recounted has to be “word perfect,” as some understand it. But they weren’t “making things up.” They spoke as those moved by the Spirit, as Peter says. And all scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction in righteousness, as Paul says. It is not “the morality of their day and we have moved FORWARD to the morality of our day.” Such changes go BACKWARDS instead.

    Now, that does not mean I have some quick and easy response to every “problem passage” or “theme” that you can throw at me. I readily admit not understanding some of scripture’s moral imperatives, or why they are so. But, first, “Let God be true, and every man a liar,” or mistaken, including myself. Second, sometimes some proscriptions and prescriptions WERE intended for “certain times,” and not “always.” But lest this seem to allow for the exception to swallow the rule, I think scripture itself gives strong clues as to when and why such “limitations” are in view. For example, Hebrews shows that quite a lot of Old Testament practices are no longer applicable or binding because they were “prefiguring” Christ and what he would accomplish, and now that he has actually done that, those rules have “accomplished their purpose” and are no longer binding. And I think there are other exceptions like that. The New Testament says we are under a “new covenant.” So, some of the problematic passages may in fact not actually be problematic. But I am not trying to duck the issue that there are still some that are.

    Finally, I still disagree with both you and Brent as to the precise questions at hand. The New Testament itself gives clear proscriptions against homosexual behavior, so we don’t have to go back to Genesis or Leviticus. It would take some pretty fancy footwork indeed to get around the plain language of the Romans 1 passage I mentioned. I also find it hard to believe that the homosexuality of Paul’s day was in some way fundamentally “different” from what it is in our day. As far as being “part of temple worship,” I just don’t see such a limitation in Romans 1, nor any for “committed relationships,” etc. You can’t interpret completely out of the language itself and still claim to be true to scripture with respect to that particular belief. Brent, I do recognize that Paul did deal with a different society from us with respect to the treatment of women. Again, however, it is really a difficult job to get around Paul’s telling women they have to be submissive to their husbands. His whole teaching may be a “step up,” but it is only to a “certain rung” on the ladder, and we can’t ignore that limitation either. I used my “deciding vote” analysis simply to show an example of what “submission” most likely means in practical effect, as opposed to a “literal exegesis.” But, Jay, castigating people about these differences is very unlikely to persuade people.

  5. Jay Says:

    Tom, I really don’t know what you mean when you say “castigating people about these difference is very unlikely to persuade people.” Is it castigating someone to say you disagree with them or are not convinced by what seems to me to be a strained argument and and an inconsistent approach?

    I disagree strongly with your approach to reading the Bible, and I think historically this approach has had disastrous consequences and has caused great suffering.

    I am glad that you at least recognize that some people have “misused” the Bible.

    I would submit that you and Brent (or less personally, conservative religious groups) also misuse the Bible in using it to condemn homosexual behavior and authorize discrimination against gay people.

  6. Tom Harkins Says:

    Jay, I am posting this as a new comment just because of how “narrow” the fields are for “replies to replies,” but mainly am responding to your latest statement under a reply to Brent (which I think includes some responsive to mine). In any event, I don’t agree with you that everyone “picks and chooses” what scriptures to accept as governing. I think there is a substantial body of exegesis and commentary which attempts to ascertain, not what parts of the Bible to “accept,” but what the biblical authors meant, including whether they meant the prescriptions and proscriptions to be binding in the “Christian age.” For example, you mention types of food. The N.T. clearly states in two instances that the O.T. dietary laws are no longer binding (one by Jesus). God very well may have had a purpose to create a “picture” of separation of “clean from unclean” by the O.T. rules in that regard; or, hygiene could have been substantially different in the two time periods. I don’t know. However, I think some of the examples you focus on are not really so problematic.

    As to slavery, that is certainly more “problematic” than what to eat. However, I don’t think the slavery passages (and I am open to correction) are encouraging slavery, so much as giving rules and PROTECTIONS to slaves respecting the slavery system that was “in place” at the time. Also, I don’t think God intended the Bible to give a “detailed analysis” of every possible moral issue that could come up, or to state all the issues to be considered in dealing with a particular topic. And, I have to come back to the fact that just because we feel we have a more “enlightened” understanding nowadays on certain points of morality does not prove that we actually do. Whatever God actually says the rules are, those are the rules.

    I just got your latest response while I was writing this one. No, I don’t consider someone disagreeing with me to be “castigating me.” I am happy to hear arguments contrary to my positions at all times. I might say, however, and in any event this is more to the point I would make on the subject, I don’t like to have my “intelligence” questioned just because of the difference in viewpoints. Or that I haven’t read other authors sufficiently, and the like. I don’t think my view of scripture’s forbidding homosexual behavior to be “strained” at all, but rather simply a straightforward reading of the words themselves. I would say there are at least ten different passages in combination between the O.T. and N.T. (and completely consistent throughout) which simply say that men having sex with other men is contrary to God’s law. There is no limitation anywhere to the effect that, “I’m limiting this proscription to temple prostitutes” or “only rapes” or “except for committed relationships,” etc. I think I would have to say that any “strained” charge has to be on the “other foot.” Really, all “conservative Christian groups” (or Brent and I) are saying is, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” You will just have to take up that subject with the “author,” if you choose to disagree with it.

    However, that does not prove that just any and every response to any type of proscribed behavior is justified. Jesus essentially “forestalled” the stoning of the woman taken in adultery, even though the Mosaic law said stoning was the “penalty.” And he told James and John that they “did not know what manner of spirit (‘Spirit?) they were” when they wanted to call down fire from Heaven, as Elijah had done. There is certainly some aspect of the “age of grace,” as it were, which suggests that O.T. punishments are not necessarily still the best way to handle such “disobedience.” Nevertheless, it is likewise clear that Jesus told the woman, “Go and SIN NO MORE.” The rule as to “what is right and wrong” was still the same, and adultery was still proscribed. Respectfully, what many homosexuals seem to want is not simply, “Don’t mistreat us,” but, “Agree with us that what we are doing is not wrong.” I can agree with the first, but not the second. Just going by what the Bible says on that.

    Well, this is too long, but, bottom line, I don’t believe I am being inconsistent in how I look at scripture, and I also believe that scripture is absolutely binding as to what is “right and wrong,” once we understand what it says in the context of what was written. Throught the entire context of all of scripture, homosexuality is clearly stated to be contrary to God’s law, and it is those who say otherwise who are taking a “strained” view. How shall we DEAL with “sinners”? That’s a tough question. But we get at least a clue when we hear Jesus say, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone,” but followed up by, “Go and sin no more.” So, I’m not throwing rocks at you, but, consistently with Christian concern for anyone who I believe to be doing what is wrong (including myself in that number), I think we have to acknowledge that what we are doing is disobedient, and make an effort to bring our conduct “in line” with what the Bible clearly says is “right and wrong.”

  7. Jay Says:

    Tom, homosexuality doesn’t even make the top ten sins prohibited in the Bible, yet Christians have used the (debatable) Biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality to license capital punishment for homosexual acts in most of Europe throughout the eighteenth century and in England well into the ninteenth century, and draconian prison sentences for homosexual acts in many countries around the world.

    In the U. S. some states had laws that prescribed a life sentence for homosexual acts as late as 2003, when the US Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. These laws even when they were not widely enforced nevertheless labeled homosexuals as unindicted felons and profoundly hurt people.

    These laws were the direct result of Christian belief. Christians weren’t just on the sidelines when these laws were enacted and enforced. They were enacted and enforced because of Christian agitation.

    Given this history, your handwringing about “How shall we DEAL with sinners” seems far from Christian to me. Shall we execute homosexuals or would a life sentence in prison serve? Or should we just deny them civil rights?

    That seems to me to be the problem with reading the Bible in the way you and Brent do. It leads to the belief that these Biblical injunctions that you find should be imposed not just on yourself but on other people as well.

  8. Tom Harkins Says:

    Jay, as far as the Ten Commandments are concerned, I think “Thou shalt not commit adultery” can reasonably be read to encompass all sex outside of a marriage relationship, and, given the other texts, certainly men’s sex with other men qualifies. Be that as it may, Christian support for “draconian penalties” for homosexual behavior comes precisely within my question as to what is the proper response to such sins. The FIRST issue, however, is simply whether the conduct is a sin or not. I’m saying, there just can’t be any question on that point. So, the only issue is, how to respond to the commission of such a sin.

    There are plenty of instances where capital punishment or life imprisonment are “consistent with” biblical laws. Murder is a chief example. I think we might both agree that rape should result in a major punishment. Or maiming. Or child abuse. Etc. So the question is whether homosexuality is the “type of conduct” which the state should similarly punish or not. What I am simply saying is, I’m not totally sure what the answer to that question is, but it strikes me that some past responses may not have been correct. There is no question that Christians have acted wrongly in the past in one fashion or another, such as executing people who were of another denomination, as an easy example. I am not trying to justify all past (or present) acts simply because some Christian people engaged in them.

    But by the same token, I don’t think you can avoid the question of whether homosexuality is “morally right or wrong” simply by pointing the finger at some who may have gone “overboard” in their responses to such conduct. I think that is the point you and Brent and I have been trying to discuss–is homosexuality right or wrong because the Bible says so. How society should deal with the matter is a separate question, and you should not let the answer to that question “let you off the hook” in determining whether homosexual conduct is right or wrong in the sight of God.

    • Jay Says:

      It is big of you to think that it might not be right to stone homosexuals to death. I guess that counts for progress. It sounds like murder to me.


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