“If the church has changed its view of divorce…”

March 27, 2014

I’ve blogged at least a few times about the analogy that Adam Hamilton and others have tried to draw between slavery and the ordination of women on the one hand and church’s traditional stance toward homosexual conduct on the other. If the church disregarded or reinterpreted scripture in the former cases, why can’t they do the same in the case of homosexual conduct?

The difference, as I’ve said, is that the Bible itself offers a trajectory away from slavery and female subordination. If every slaveholder in the first century treated their slaves as fully equal brothers in Christ, the way Paul urges Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus, the institution of slavery would be undermined. (If you don’t believe me, read Paul’s crafty letter to Philemon. It’s a short book.) As for women, the Bible is replete with positive examples of women in leadership. We have, for example, Mary Magdalene serving as (literally) the first apostle, commissioned by the resurrected Lord to bring news of the resurrection to the other, male disciples. We have Paul’s praise of female coworkers, including the identification of Junia, in Romans 16:7, as an “apostle.”

And for both slavery and women, we have Paul’s liberating words in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I hope that even my fellow Christians who disagree with the United Methodist Church on female ordination can at least agree that we are making a biblical case. That’s what good Protestants ought to do: the Bible is our primary authority guiding Christian doctrine and practice. The UMC, along with most of the universal Church, doesn’t believe that such a case can be made for acceptance of homosexual behavior.

But what about divorce? Hasn’t the church jettisoned the New Testament’s clear teaching that divorce is wrong? Yet don’t we permit divorce and remarriage all the time?

Even yesterday, in the wake of World Vision’s reversal of its policy on same-sex marriage, many critics complained that the organization hires Christians who are divorced and remarried. Isn’t that hypocritical? In February, Andy Stanley made the same point about Christian cake bakers who refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings. “Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it’s adultery. So if (Christians) don’t have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians?”

Are Andy Stanley and these other critics right?

My first response is, it doesn’t matter. If they are right, it only proves that many people who believe that homosexual conduct is a sin are hypocrites, not that homosexual conduct isn’t also a sin.

Regardless, Robert Gagnon, New Testament professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, tackles the question head-on in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice. I find this very helpful.

(Gagnonwriting mostly for his fellow mainline Protestants, accepts the scholarly consensus that Matthew himself added Jesus’ divorce exception for “sexual immorality.” Since it’s in the Bible either way, it hardly matters.)

For example, on the question of divorce, there are New Testament authors that moderate Jesus’ stance. Jesus’ words were so radical that both Matthew and Paul found ways to qualify them. Matthew allowed for the exception of “sexual immorality” (Matt 5:32; 19:9; agreeing with the school of Shammai), while Paul permitted divorce for believers married to unbelievers who wanted to leave (1 Cor 7:12-16). Of course, one could also point to the availability of the option in the Old Testament (Deut 24:1-4). These kinds of qualification at least provide a basis for further exploration of the issue. Some divorce is permissible for some biblical texts so that one cannot say that the Bible has achieved a unanimous position on the subject. Alternatively, one could argue that the church has become too lenient on the issue in recent years and needs to do what Jesus did: stand against rather than with the culture.

There are other factors that make divorce a very different issue than that of homosexual intercourse. First, few in the church today would argue that divorce is to be “celebrated” as a positive good. The most that can be said for divorce is that in certain cases it may be the lesser of two evils. Second, unlike the kind of same-sex intercourse attracting the church’s attention divorce is not normally a recurring or repetitive action. For the situation to be comparable to a self-affirming, practicing homosexual a person would have to be engaged in self-avowed serial divorce actions. Third, some people are divorced against their will or initiate divorce for justifiable cause against a philandering or violent spouse. Such people should be distinguished from those who divorce a spouse in order to have love affairs with others or to achieve “self-fulfillment.”[†]

Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 442-3.

47 Responses to ““If the church has changed its view of divorce…””


  1. Great post! My post was vvery similar to yours and I would love to hear your thoughts. Here is the link:
    http://www.darianburns.com/2014/03/27/world-vision/

    • brentwhite Says:

      Like you, I can’t endorse what many evangelical leaders said about World Vision’s policy change. And withdrawing support from needy children isn’t the answer. But check out, for instance, Rachel Held Evans’s blog today to see an equal and opposite response from liberal Christians.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree that the Church’s response to homosexuality and divorce/remarriage are “horses of a different color.” With homosexuality, it is obvious on its face that the conduct is scripturally prohibited. With divorce and remarriage, it is not obvious on its face, because there are biblical exceptions, and because the underlying rationale for why there are such exceptions (doctrine of competing principles) may apply in other situations as well (abuse, for example). So, with homosexuality, there is no need to “confer” with the “couple” to ascertain whether the conduct may be permissible or not. With divorce/remarriage, there is. And do pastors have the time and wherewithal to make such searching inquiries every time they encounter the divorce/remarriage circumstance? And do they feel confidently competent that they can “balance the competing principles” each time? No. So, that is the reason for the differing treatment, without being hypocritical.

    (However, in some cases such as engaging in adultery and then divorcing and remarrying the adultery partner, there may be an obvious answer and the Church should practice “exclusion” until there is evidence of contrition and repentance [available also for homosexuals], a la the letters to the Corinthians.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      Also, Gagnon makes the helpful observation that the possibly sinful behavior (in this case divorcing) isn’t likely to repeated. The person isn’t involved in “self-avowed serial divorce actions.”


    • If I may come back here, too:

      That couple, remarrying the adultery partner. How do they show contrition and repentance? If they say they are sorry, but carry on copulating, do they not continue in the same sin?

      If they “remarry” and their copulation is adultery, it would remain adultery. Repentance would require them to separate: it has to include amendment of life.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Clare, you’re making a “tu quoque” argument at best. As if I don’t think divorce is usually tragic and sinful and the church has failed badly in this area! Regardless, if you don’t find the argument convincing, take it up with Dr. Gagnon.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Clare, let me say that at best you are making a “two wrongs make a right” argument. Assuming you are correct as to heterosexual remarriage, that hardly gets homosexual sex or “marriage” off the hook as being prohibited. Perhaps you should start a campaign against remarriage, instead of trying to justify homosexuality.

        On the merits, Jesus said that to remarry when the divorce is not “within an exception,” which it very well may be, is to commit adultery. As far as I can recall, he does not say that thereafter each sex act in that remarriage is also an “act of adultery.” Respecting contrition, it may admittedly be difficult to know if that is “real,” but certainly it is possible to repent of something without being able to “take it back.” Once a remarriage has occurred, it has formed a second marriage. The repentance in that case is not to get divorced again.


      • Not quite “tu quoque” or “Two wrongs make a right” (to English that): it is more subtle. It concerns how we may be together in a Christian community when we are continually falling short. I am glad that you are welcoming remarried couples: that is a step forward. I explain it in more depth in my own post.

  3. pinkagendist Says:

    Why don’t you stand tall and embrace the whole thing? Protest adulterers and fat gluttons? Surely Mc Donald’s wouldn’t have an issue with your picket sings condemning their clients to hell.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Actually, there are “churchmen” who preach against adultery and gluttony. As far as picketing, I doubt Brent is advocating that as a method of trying to bring a sinner’s plight to bear to him. Preaching, teaching, writing, and “one-on-one” counseling are the general methods which at least I would support over picketing.

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Teaching? Is that the forced teaching variety where you’re pushing your religion onto people who don’t want to be a part of it?
        The idea of ‘sin’ is different from one denomination to the next. Anyone who thinks they have the right to not only decide what sin is, but to go a step further and interfere with the lives of free tax-paying citizens is seriously misguided.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Actually that is a very interesting point, having something “pushed on you.” Aren’t you pushing a “pro-homosexual agenda” on me? The Supreme Court has held that free speech should be protected even if we sometimes find it to be offensive in particular instances because of the ultimate benefit to society to have issues “hashed out” in public. So, only your side should be permitted to “speak”?

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Pushing a pro-homosexual agenda on you? What does that mean? Are you being asked to be gay? To get gay-married? To dance to I Will Survive with your arms in the air in San Francisco night-club?
        How does this ‘agenda’ work? People get to live their own lives and make their own choices?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Actually, homosexuals are pushing an agenda. They want marriage benefits to be bestowed on them by the State. They want to have churches ordain them as ministers. They want to force apartment owners who don’t believe in homosexual marriages to nonetheless allow them to be tenants. They sue bakers who won’t provide them cakes for their marriages. So, of course homosexuals are urging an “agenda” against the “conservative” community. What I am suggesting is that “church people” have just as much right to speak out on these issues as the gay community.

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Are you serious? Do you really not see the absurdity of what you’re saying?
        Since when does a landlord get to pry into the private/relationship/sex lives of tenants?
        Do Catholics get to deny apartments to divorcees?
        I think you don’t quite understand the concept of freedom of religion. It means each individual can apply the tents of their faith TO THEIR OWN LIFE.
        A Jew may choose not to eat bacon, but he can’t force you to do the same. And he really shouldn’t start campaigns to ban the selling of bacon because that would interfere with other citizen’s rights to NOT follow his religion.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        But, in fact, you ARE trying to have people live according to rules contrary to their beliefs to facilitate “gay rights.” And you do seek to have extra benefits bestowed because of your position on gay marriages. Before, marriage consisted of “man and woman.” Now you want to say, not simply that gays can live with and have sex with other gays, but that the State has to provide “marriage” benefits for such unions. So, that is a “public issue” that both sides should be able to speak to.

        Also, your view of what religion consists of may be a little off. Christians (or Jews, or whoever) believe that the way Christ (or Moses, or whoever) says to live is the RIGHT way to live, for everybody, not just for adherents to that religion. So, free exercise of religion does mean that they have the right to speak out on public issues according to their beliefs of “right and wrong”–just as you have the right to oppose that.

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Extra benefits? Really? What extra benefits will gay couples get that straight couples don’t already have?
        Are gay families going to get extra-special-tax-breaks? I hadn’t heard of that campaign.
        As for “the RIGHT way to live”- I hope you feel the same way when a Muslim calls a woman in your family a slut because she doesn’t wear the veil.
        How about forced female circumcision aka genital mutilation?

        You’re not for freedom of religion, you’re for making everyone follow YOUR version of religion. And I’m pretty sure you’re not prepared to follow a whole lot of tenets from a whole lot of other faiths.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        To have ANY “marriage benefits” requires a “marriage.” You are arguing society should “revisit’ what a marriage is so that gays can get the benefit of that “relationship.” (And it appears you are succeeding in that endeavor! So your “free speech” is accomplishing your desired effect. Only, you seem to say that anyone who feels differently about that should have to keep silent in public.)

        Your other point about “which religion” is a slightly better one. Of course I don’t want the laws to require things my religion says are wrong. But isn’t that exactly why you and I should have the right to speak on those issues–to persuade others that those agendas should not prevail?

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Society has been revisiting and redefining marriage since marriage began- and just so you know it doesn’t have to perfectly match your version of religion. Marriage changed when dowries stopped being a requirement. It changed when women were given property rights and inheritance rights. It changed when people could choose partners for themselves instead of the parents choosing. It changed when it became popular for women to work outside the home… change, change, change. It even changed when women were given custody rights.
        Catholicism prohibits divorce, and yet the law allows for it. That’s because not everyone is obliged to follow Catholicism. That’s not a question of free speech. It’s a question of individual liberties. You can think whatever you like, but you should stop trying to coerce people to follow your religion and that’s precisely what you’re doing by inserting yourself in the private matters of other people.
        I could care less what sex you had last night or with whom. It’s none of my business. And let me just point out that it’s a rather sick interest to be inserting yourself in the relationships/sex lives of others.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        None of your “change” examples have anything to do with marriage being between a man and a woman.

        Catholics are free to vote their consciences on divorce, and we are free to vote ours against that position. I don’t argue that Catholics should be prohibited from “speaking” their position, and, indeed, I don’t argue that you should be prohibited from speaking yours. I only argue that you should not be permitted to prohibit me from speaking mine.

        Finally, I don’t have to go into anyone’s bedroom to argue against revising the definition of marriage, or to argue that it should not be revised to recognize homosexual unions as far as societal benefits bestowed on marriages is concerned.

      • pinkagendist Says:

        So you get to decide which changes can be made and which can’t be made? Based on what? Divorce became legal, major change. Adultery became legal, another major change.

        Every time any of those changes were made (many quite recently), marriage was fundamentally CHANGED.
        Catholics are free to speak their positions, but what they MUST UNDERSTAND is that no one else has to follow what they say or even listen to them, and they most certainly shouldn’t try to use the law to coerce people into following their religion.

        Furthermore, you don’t pay more taxes than gay citizens. You don’t work more, you don’t necessarily contribute more to society. Why should your relationship get legal/fiscal benefits and not the relationship of a gay doctor who dedicates his life to saving children? Are you labouring under the delusion your family is better? You think we don’t work, we don’t have homes, we don’t pay mortgages or help pay for family members to go to college? We do all that, my friend, and you can squirm as much as you like, but in the end you’re no better than anyone else just because you’re not attracted to people of the same gender.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        This will be my last reply in light of time and our fundamentally different views on this issue. No, I don’t consider myself better than anyone. Yes, however, there are reasons that society can have to give extra “benefits” to some people and not others. Single people, for example, don’t get marriage benefits. You and I obviously will disagree on the point, but the State should have the right (as it has had all along until the current gay movement) to decide that, as a general matter, procreation of children is something the State wants to encourage, and that particularly within a monogamous relationship, so it can bestow some benefits on that relationship that it does not award to others. Finally, the “advances” (if they are that) to allowing for divorce and adultery came about because people “spoke their minds” on these issues and the politicians ultimately acted accordingly. And so it is today with homosexual unions (you seem to be winning). What you don’t have the right to do is to tell Christians they have to keep their views on such issues to themselves and just let the homosexual community win without any debate.

      • pinkagendist Says:

        Stable family units of any variety are good for society. That’s in the interest of every government.
        It’s very probable that there are many LGBT family units that contribute more to society than your own. Keep that in mind.


  4. Gagnon is wrong that the divorcee would have to enter several serial divorces. The divorcee commits adultery each time he makes love with his new “wife”, just as you would say the gay man sins each time he makes love with his husband. In that sense, the cases are comparable.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’ve heard this argument before. It strikes me as highly legalistic (although I realize you’re only putting it forward for the sake of argument). Besides, what would you be asking the remarried person to do under those circumstances? Break or at least violate their current covenant either by divorcing again or refusing sex to their partner. That’s ridiculous, which is why the church has never endorsed such a view. Our Lord is gracious and merciful to us sinners.

      The bigger picture is that sex within the covenant of marriage (by definition between a man and woman) is always preferable to sex outside of it.


      • I would expect the man to stay with his first wife, or be celibate, if I wished to take the Bible literally as a guide for this behaviour. Or, I would admit that some marriages are ill-advised, some divorces and remarriages are sort-of OK, and gay marriages are just as sort-of OK as remarriages are.

      • brentwhite Says:

        That might be true, except married sex is never condemned in scripture whereas the very act of homosexual intercourse is condemned in the strongest terms. Homosexual conduct per se is a sin.


      • The point you are trying to wriggle out of, Brent, is that according to Jesus remarried sex is adultery: no more “married sex” than gay married sex is. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is condemnation in the strongest terms, is it not?

      • brentwhite Says:

        But there is no “gay married sex,” Clare. That’s the point you’re trying to wriggle out of.

        With that, you may have the last word.


      • Thank you.

        According to Jesus, remarriage is no marriage at all.
        According to you, gay marriage is no marriage at all.
        According to Jesus, sex in that re”marriage” is sex outside marriage.
        According to you, sex in that gay marriage is sex outside marriage.

        Therefore,
        if you condemn sex in the gay marriage, but not sex in the remarriage, you are a hypocrite, tithing dill and cumin, making heavy loads for others which you lift no finger to help with, etc, etc.

      • Julia Soler Says:

        Actually Brent, those are exactly the Catholic Church’s orders to persons in a second marriage. “Break…their current covenant either by divorcing again or refusing sex to their partner”. Only, Catholics would not call the relationship with the current partner a “covenant”, as you do. They call it adultery–as did Jesus. If the second marriage has young children they suggest the couple “live like brother and sister”. (I remember well this phrase from my religion lessons in the Catholic schools I attended for 12years.) If no children, it may be better for them to separate (legally divorce) so they won’t be tempted to have sex. The reason for the legal divorce is their civil protection; Catholics would say the second divorce was not a divorce because they were never married in the first place. You may call this “ridiculous”, as you did above, but it is consistent with the word of Jesus. [Of course Catholics have annulments, which can declare the first marriage never took place. They are difficult to get on other countries; in the US they have become much more easy to get, often citing “psychological immaturity” when the marriage was contracted. This is the Catholic concession to the American reality.]. They don’t have to go through the mental gymnastics of saying that, since Jesus made an exception for adultery, he must have meant we can make exceptions for the other bad things that break up a marriage. (The Church did allow abused spouses to live separately from the abusive spouse for his/her safety; but maintained neither could remarry because they were still married to each other. I suspect the Protestants feel this stance ridiculous because they do not valorize celibacy to the extent Catholics do. They tend to exalt marriage more. That is why it is funny to see some Protestants suddenly rediscovering lifelong celibacy when it comes to gays.

      • brentwhite Says:

        More reasons why I’m not Catholic, I guess.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I’m not aware that we Protestants “rediscovered lifelong celibacy when it comes to gays.” Paul exalts celibacy as a viable way for Christians to live. Regardless, sex outside of marriage (by definition between a man and a woman) is a sin, as all branches of Christianity recognized until very recently.

      • Julia Soler Says:

        I’m not a Catholic either. I left for many reasons and would not consider coming back while Catholicism retains its inhumane rules promulgated by celibates–not a few of whom are deeply closeted gays–often denying this even to themselves. Archbishop Nienstedt, of Minneapolis, my home diocese, is a classic example. He worked tirelessly to (unsuccessfully) stop gay marriage in Minnesota and is now credibly accused by seminarians of coming onto them. I’ve watched this all my life–the inability to really talk about sex–even straight sex, let alone gay–such that constantly thinking of babies was the only way to be exculpated from beastly concupiscence.
        Paul recommended celibacy largely because he thought the Second Coming was coming shortly, so why get entangled with things of this earth. Some think he must at some point earlier in life been married because that was required to be in the Sanhedrin. Whatever his personal biography, it is not clear how he envisioned lifelong celibacy, as he figured earthly life wouldn’t go on much longer with the Parousia immanent. Even at that, he says of different states of life–“each had his own special gift..” and “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” To those who say “homosexuals CAN marry-someone of the opposite sex” I suggest you urge your daughters and sisters to enter into such marriages with SSA men to witness to this possibility. But first study the fate of the vast majority of mixed orientation marriages. And note that the number of gay couples raising kids is higher in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi than on the West Coast and in that bastion of gay marriage, the. New England states. How can this be? Because gay kids in the Bible Belt are scared into straight marriage and quickly having kids. Then the “straight”–really mixed orientation–marriage breaks up and the gay parent raises the kids part- or full-time with a gay partner. But despite all this, I look for groups of Christian women to offer themselves for courtship and eventual marriage to SSA men to save them.


  5. […] does this leave gay marriage? Brent White wants to permit remarried divorcees in church, while still telling gay couples to begone. He cites […]

  6. Mary Daly Says:

    YAY Clare Flourish! Here is what I have learned from attempting to engage Reverend Brent White in discussion on any topic: when he says “you may have the last word” it means you have posed a good argument and he has no response. I have argued this exact same point you are making and his best response is, “So I’m a hypocrite on the topic of marriage, but that doesn’t make me wrong about homosexuality.” And to that I say, it certainly discredits anything he has to say in my opinion. The truth is he wants to stir the pot, but in reality far more of his congregation is likely to be divorced than gay so, like many of his contemporaries, he chooses homosexuality as his soapbox. I also find it interesting that he cites a bible verse where Jesus talks ABOUT DIVORCE as one of his main arguments against homosexual marriage, especially since he now is arguing that the two are completely different demons. And it is particularly sad to me that an ordained Christian minister would support an argument that involves new testament authors who “moderate” and “qualify” Jesus’s stance. WOW. Who knew that JESUS CHRIST needed someone to moderate and qualify his stance? And in response to Rev. White’s directive to “take it up with Dr. Gagnon” if you don’t find the argument convincing: YOU REPOSTED THE ARGUMENT. So be prepared to take the heat and stand behind opinions you put forth as valid.

    • brentwhite Says:

      By your logic, then, you are agreeing than homosexual sex is a sin. I’m surprised, Mary.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Mary, I think letting someone else have the “last word” simply means debates can’t go on forever–Brent, like others, has other responsibilities to attend to. I think you are hardly justified in saying there is nothing more he can say. By your reasoning, Clare must have decided she could not respond to my unanswered reply to her last argument since she did not respond.

      There are reasons to distinguish divorce and remarriage from homosexuality as constituting sins, or how we should respond to the two. No scripture supports allowing for homosexuality–it is always condemned, Old and New Testament. Whereas, there are at least two exceptions to divorce/remarriage: (a) adultery by the other spouse, and (b) abandonment by the non-believing spouse. I think these are examples rather than exclusive–they show that there can be “competing principles” which on rare occasions can “override” the permanency of the marriage bond (such as, in my opinion, abuse).

      So, a preacher can always know that he cannot condone homosexual behavior or conduct homosexual marriages, if he is being true to God’s Word. Whereas, it is a much tougher thing to know whether to object to particular divorces or remarriages, and would require, at least, some searching “investigations” to find out, and still might not be conclusive, given the “competing principles” at play. Therefore, since Brent (I am assuming here) says that divorces and remarriages are GENERALLY wrong and should be avoided if possible, whereas homosexual behavior and “marriages” are always wrong, he is in no way being “hypocritical,” as you suggest.

  7. Mary Daly Says:

    errrrm nope. Sorry Reverend, but as you know Jesus says nothing about homosexuality so I’m not sure where you are coming from there. i simply quote that verse in reference to homosexuality because YOU DO. And Tom, Brent is a hypocrite because JESUS says people who divorce and remarry are adulterers. PERIOD. No qualification. Brent chooses to take a very vocal stand on this topic supposedly out of concern for homosexual sinners while choosing not to take a very vocal stand against divorce. Where is the concern for these sinners? But if he were to do that he might offend the wrong people, so I highly doubt we’ll ever hear a sermon series from him about how divorced people should remain celibate rather than remarry.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Mary, I am concerned about your grasp of scripture here. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus very clearly says spousal adultery is a permissible ground for divorce and remarriage. So there is a “qualification.” Also, scripture frequently sets out principles from which one can extrapolate to other instances (such as abuse). This is shown by the fact that Paul sets out another exception (abandonment). Whereas, nowhere is there any exception to the ban on homosexual conduct–forbidden repeatedly in Old and New Testaments. Jesus’ invocation of the Old Testament law is sufficient to cover the particular sin of homosexuality without him having to make specific reference to it (as, indeed, he did not make specific reference to any number of other proscriptions–repeating all applicable laws is not what he was trying to do).

      Unfortunately I am not a member of Brent’s church, so I don’t know what he preaches about whether marred people should not divorce or whether divorced people should remain celibate. But, again, that is a lot “trickier” subject than the absolute ban on homosexuality.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Mary, there are a lot of personal attacks here, which I’ll ignore. Here’s where I believe you’re wrong on substance:

      You say this: “JESUS says people who divorce and remarry are adulterers. PERIOD.”

      As I’ve shown, as Tom has shown, as Dr. Gagnon showed in that excerpt I quoted, this simply isn’t true. There is one exception from Jesus himself in Matthew’s gospel—for “porneia,” translated “sexual immorality.” Paul offers another exception. It’s contrary to my church’s doctrine of scripture (and nearly all churches’) to privilege Jesus’ words over Paul’s. It’s all inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Jesus himself offers one exception: “sexual immorality.”

      So Tom is right: we have two exceptions, and it’s reasonable to assume that our Lord wouldn’t want a wife to be stuck in a marriage in which she were being physically abused by her husband. To say otherwise would be legalistic and ungracious.

      So scripture itself provides a reason to “moderate and qualify” Jesus’ stance somewhat. Nevertheless, given that I have taught and preached and counseled against people getting divorced far more often than I’ve said anything about homosexuality, I do believe that your charge of hypocrisy is off-base. To be clear: in most cases, I believe divorce and remarriage is a sin. I also believe that God is gracious and merciful to forgive. And as I told Clare above—which, she ignored, by the way—I can’t comprehend telling a remarried person that because divorce is wrong, they should therefore divorce again and remain celibate. Call that the principle of “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but it’s true!

      But that isn’t the biggest problem with what you’ve written. This is:

      “And it is particularly sad to me that an ordained Christian minister would support an argument that involves new testament authors who “moderate” and “qualify” Jesus’s stance. WOW. Who knew that JESUS CHRIST needed someone to moderate and qualify his stance?”

      Do you really believe it’s “sad”? If so, then this is what you’re committing yourself to, logically:

      You believe that Jesus believes that divorce and remarriage for any reason is a sin.

      Since you write as if agree with what Jesus believes, then you also believe that divorce and remarriage for any reason is a sin.

      [On a side note: You’ve also said in the past that a remarried couple is living in a state of continual sin—which implies that this would be the case unless or until they break their marriage vow again by getting divorced (see my previous objection to this).]

      You believe that I’m a hypocrite BECAUSE I recognize the sin in the one case (homosexual behavior) and not in the other.

      This implies that while you think I’m right about homosexual behavior being a sin, I’m wrong not to see that divorce and remarriage are sins.

      Of course, if you believe that I’m actually interpreting Jesus’ words about divorce and remarriage correctly (in other words, you AGREE that divorce and remarriage isn’t ALWAYS a sin—that sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils—and the church should be gracious in determining these things), then you can’t say I’m a hypocrite on the subject. All you can say, logically, is that I’m wrong on homosexual behavior.

      But please notice: you haven’t attempted to argue that I’m wrong on homosexual behavior. All you’ve done is make what’s called a “tu quoque” (“you also”) argument. (This is considered a fallacious argument.) It doesn’t have any bearing on my premise: that homosexual sex, per se, is sinful.

      So, if you want me to argue with you, show me where my logic is wrong here.

  8. Mary Daly Says:

    I haven’t attempted to argue you are wrong on homosexuality because I know you have chosen to reject logic on this topic. The best argument you can make is “because the bible says so” (not even Jesus mind you, but the bible. Specifically a couple of verses in the Old Testament and a couple from Paul in the New Testament.). I know you will lambast me for what i am about to say, but you asked for an argument so here goes: it just doesn’t make sense. Pretty much everything else that the bible lists as sinful (that we modern Christians still recognize) makes sense. If sin is something that separates us from God then yes lying, coveting, murdering, gluttony, false idols, sexual immorality, these things separate us from God. But it makes no logical sense to say that two adults who love and respect and are committed to each other are sining in loving each other because of their gender. This just isn’t logical. So i ask myself, why is this? Why would the bible say this? There must be a reason. There are things under the old testament law, and even some things in the new testament that we no longer accept as applicable to us, but even these things make sense if the cultural context is considered. So consider the cultural context of homosexual sex. What did homosexual sex widely signify when the bible was written? Roman men having sex with boys or slaves? This in nonconsensual sex. So yes, that would be damaging and sinful. I have heard you say it is ridiculous to think that consensual homosexual pairings didn’t exist during biblical times. Do you also think that marriage/coupling has always been about “love” and feelings? Surely not. As you are an educated man you must know that marriage/coupling for the sake of “love” is something that has been afforded us by industrialization. But as I said, I know you know all of this and have chosen to reject it in the forming of your new opinion of homosexuality. So I will close with this thought, how may times does the bible mention homosexuality? And how many times does it mention how we should love and treat each other with kindness?

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for a thoughtful reply. Here’s where I disagree and why. I’m not expecting you to agree, but I hope you’ll be kind in response.

      “I haven’t attempted to argue you are wrong on homosexuality because I know you have chosen to reject logic on this topic. The best argument you can make is ‘because the bible says so’”

      From my perspective, it’s not a matter of the “Bible telling me so,” as if the Bible were any other book. Rather, it’s a matter of God telling us so—understanding that we the Church interpret scripture with great humility, using sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles. If it’s true that God has revealed himself through the Bible—including how he wants humans to conduct their lives—it’s hardly “rejecting logic” to order one’s life around what scripture says. If the Bible, properly interpreted, reveals God’s will on this or any other topic, it would be illogical—foolish, in fact—to do otherwise.

      Obviously, it’s an article of faith to believe that the Bible is God’s Word and we ought to submit to what it teaches, but if you take that initial step of faith, it’s hardly “rejecting logic.”

      “(not even Jesus mind you, but the bible. Specifically a couple of verses in the Old Testament and a couple from Paul in the New Testament.)… Pretty much everything else that the bible lists as sinful (that we modern Christians still recognize) makes sense. If sin is something that separates us from God then yes lying, coveting, murdering, gluttony, false idols, sexual immorality, these things separate us from God.”

      I’m sure we’ve been through this before, but this is an argument from silence. Any argument from silence is problematic. But in this case, Jesus’ “silence” is a point in favor of those who believe that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Why? Because we know for sure that homosexual behavior was strongly condemned and rarely practiced in first-century Judaism. We know this not only because of what the Bible says but because of what a couple of extrabiblical first-century witnesses, Josephus and Philo, say.

      Given that homosexual behavior was condemned in the strongest terms in first-century Judaism, in what context would the topic of homosexual behavior have come up between Jesus and his disciples? Or between Jesus and the Pharisees or Sadducees? They were all in agreement: homosexual behavior is a sin. There was no controversy there—unlike controversies associated with marriage and divorce, Sabbath laws, and paying taxes. Jesus spoke about these things because he believed that the status quo was wrong. And he said so. If he believed that the law against homosexual behavior was wrong, why didn’t he say so?

      Jesus doesn’t discuss many things about which we believe scripture’s witness outside of the Gospels is sufficient. Jesus never says a word about incest, for example. Yet incest is condemned alongside homosexual behavior in the same passages of Leviticus that many Christians want to disregard because they “no longer apply to us.” Does the fact that Jesus never mentions incest mean that he thought incest was O.K.? Of course not. Jesus never mentioned incest because he had no reason to. It never came up. But it does come up in 1 Corinthians, because a man and woman in the Corinthian church are engaging in it. Paul condemns it in the strongest terms. For the sake of the souls of the two people engaging in it, he tells the church to excommunicate them until they repent.

      So in the case of incest, we take Paul’s word that it’s wrong, and we assign no value to Jesus’ silence on the subject. This seems exactly analogous to the way we interpret homosexual behavior.

      And you might say, well of course it makes sense that incest is taboo. But does it, really? What if there’s no danger of the woman’s getting pregnant? Then the “logical” reason for rejecting incest—that it leads to birth defects—becomes irrelevant. And two adults—even if they’re closely related—in a loving, monogamous, non coercive, consensual relationship ought to be able to do what they want.

      But even if you think the example of incest is too extreme, what about premarital sex? Is premarital sex an example of “sexual immorality” that the Bible condemns? On what basis does it “make sense” that two responsible adults, who behave in a loving way toward one another, can’t have sex if they’re unmarried? Whom are they hurting by having sex? What answer would you offer that doesn’t sound, on some level, like “the Bible tells me so.”

      While Jesus doesn’t directly address fornication (or maybe he does with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4), it seems unlikely that he would condone it, given that when he talks about sex, he only amplifies the Bible’s teaching on it: for example, prohibiting divorce in most cases and calling lust “adultery.” (Not to mention his words about plucking out your eye, cutting off your hands and feet, etc.)

      Regardless, our culture has decided that the Bible is wrong on the topic of premarital sex. Do you believe the Bible is wrong about premarital sex? If not, what answer would you offer besides “the Bible tells me so”?

      In a different context, referring to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5, contemporary theologian N.T. Wright (first-rate scholar and a bishop in the Church of England, hardly a Bible-thumping fundamentalist) says that if the Bible’s teaching on marriage “seems outrageous in today’s culture, we should ask ourselves: do our modern societies, in which marriage is often a tragedy or a joke, really offer a better model of how to do it? Does the spectre of broken homes littering modern Western culture indicate that we’ve got it right and can tell the rest of human history how we finally resolved the battle of the sexes? Or does it indicate that we still need to do some rethinking somewhere?”

      I agree. Where’s the empirical evidence, in the past 50 years of the sexual revolution, that we’ve somehow improved upon the model of one man and one woman in a monogamous lifelong marriage? I don’t see it.

      “I have heard you say it is ridiculous to think that consensual homosexual pairings didn’t exist during biblical times. Do you also think that marriage/coupling has always been about “love” and feelings?”

      I think you misunderstand me. I don’t care whether couples marry for love or not. The Bible doesn’t, either. What it says is, once married, husband and wife are to love each other. That’s non-negotiable. Love is primarily action, not feeling. Paul commands husbands to love their wives. If love were a feeling, Paul would be unable to command it. I hope feelings develop, but that was never the primary concern.

      “So I will close with this thought, how may times does the bible mention homosexuality? And how many times does it mention how we should love and treat each other with kindness?”

      The Bible never mentions “homosexuality” at all, as you probably know. It only mentions homosexual behavior. That’s what’s at stake in the discussion. Experiencing same-sex attraction isn’t a sin. It’s the acting on it. The church has never said otherwise. The Bible mentions homosexual behavior quite a few more times than my opponents are usually willing to concede, but that requires lengthy exegetical arguments. If even there are a couple of verses in the Old and New Testament, that’s enough given everything else we know about what the Bible tells us.

      As I think I’ve shown above, it doesn’t need to mention it many times: it was well understood that it was a sin.

      As for love and kindness, by all means! But that’s begging the question. If the Bible is right about homosexual behavior then the loving thing to do is to warn people not to engage in it and to repent before it’s too late. And of course there are many other sins to warn about, too, but homosexual behavior isn’t an insignificant one according to scripture. And it’s the issue over which my church is currently dividing.

      I believe that God intends the gift of sex for a man and woman in a lifelong monogamous married relationship, as affirmed by Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ words, and Romans 1, which points back to God’s intentions for his creation. Celibacy is always the rule outside of marriage. When we fail to be faithful in this area of our lives, God remains faithful to us when we repent and turn back to him.

      Even though you disagree about homosexual behavior, surely you agree that our Creator has the right to tell us what we are allowed to do with our bodies—whether what he tells us makes sense to us or not? If Jesus is king of the universe, he hardly requires the consent of the governed.

      To me, being faithful to God’s Word on this or any other issue is a matter of being obedient to our Lord. He’s in charge, not me. I’ve found that life works better that way. So he’s proven himself trustworthy.

  9. Mary Daly Says:

    “If he believed that the law against homosexual behavior was wrong, why didn’t he say so?” Again, this law was not addressing two adults in a consensual, committed relationship. This law was regarding what these people knew of homosexual activity: nonconsensual sex between adult men and children or slaves. So of course Jesus would not have disagreed with this law. And of course Jesus would not have spoken of gay marriages or unions because this concept did not exist to these people. That would have been like telling them not to watch porn on the internet.
    “On what basis does it “make sense” that two responsible adults, who behave in a loving way toward one another, can’t have sex if they’re unmarried? Whom are they hurting by having sex? What answer would you offer that doesn’t sound, on some level, like “the Bible tells me so.”” (Only a man would think this was a logical argument). You are so off base here it’s funny. You must be assuming that because I think God doesn’t condemn gay people that I am also in favor of premarital/extramarital straight sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I can give you a much better reason than “because the bible tells me so.” The proof of the damage done by this type of sex is rampant all over our culture. Women (usually) have sex with men who don’t want to commit to them and lie to themselves and say they are cool with it, they don’t want to be married either, bla, bla, bla. But really they are ashamed and sad and hurting. Damage and sin. Even if both partners are somehow miraculously on the same page here (despite thousands of years of evolution and social pressures that groom women for commitment) and genuinely want to have sex but not be married, this is still not a healthy, Christian relationship. You preach on marriage enough to agree with me that something very profound exists between a married couple that just doesn’t exist between non-married couples regardless of how “committed” they say they are. So sex outside of this bond has great potential to do damage. And yes, Jesus defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but as I said before, why would he have even mentioned same sex committed relationships to these people? They wouldn’t have understood what he was talking about. Straight people have the right to get married. So if they choose not to while still choosing to have sex are clearly NOT committed to each other. And sex in such a relationship IS damaging. And yes, I know the bible in truth does not mention homosexuality. That is precisely my point. The culture of the time only knew sex acts (coercive sex acts) NOT sexual identities.
    But never fear Reverend dear, you will not be hearing from me again as reading what you say only makes me sad and angry. It in no way brings me closer to the Lord and that is verging on sinful. Have a nice life.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Sorry to see you go, Mary. You’ve been a challenging conversation partner.

      Nevertheless, your argument about only pederastic and non-consensual gay sex existing back then is just wrong.

      Most but not nearly all gay sex in the Greco-Roman world was between man and boy. There were also men who were of the same age in stable homosexual relationships, too. Paul and Jesus would have been well aware of that.

      Besides, that doesn’t explain the Hebrew prohibition in Leviticus, since that was long before Greece or Rome. Most ancient cultures tolerated homosexual behavior under certain conditions (having to do with class differences, usually), but Hebrew law was the most “conservative” on homosexual practice by far: it was conspicuously zero tolerance. That’s because it was the sex act per se, and not the nature or quality of the relationship, that was considered sinful.

      Paul also condemns lesbian sex in Romans 1. Lesbians weren’t known to be pederasts in the Greco-Roman world. They weren’t known to have sex with slaves. Their relationships were generally consensual. So why bother including them in Romans 1 if the logic for condemning gay sex were simply because it was non-consensual and pederastic?

      Also, you’ve said with great confidence that Paul (and Jesus) were reacting against pederastic and non-consensual sex, but where do you get that? What is it, for example, about Paul’s argument that suggests that he has that in mind, rather than the sex act per se as contradicting God’s intentions for humanity?

      These are important questions because you’re still arguing from silence: What scripture says is this, which certainly seems to condemn homosexual sex. But what it would say, if only its authors knew about this or that is…

      It seems to me that you should have to show from the text itself that Paul and the other Bible writers were only condemning a certain kind of sex.

      Take care.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Mary, your argument about “committed relationships” cannot be correct, because the OT says, “Man shall not lie with man like a man lies with a woman, it is an abomination.” In other words, that type of sex act itself was prohibited.


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