Posts Tagged ‘LGBT’

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 4: Bible translators know more about Greek than we do

June 8, 2015

This is the fourth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” See my three previous posts for more.

In my three previous posts on this subject, I’ve refuted Rev. Purdue’s “argument from silence”: Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, therefore his silence indicates that he approves of homosexual practice in some cases. Next, I turned my attention to his misinterpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, which he used to suggest that Jesus was open to alternatives to marriage between one man and one woman for life.

Today, I’ll look at the way Purdue handles the apostle Paul’s three references to homosexual practice: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

Mostly, he doesn’t handle them, unfortunately. Here’s the extent of his words about these passages themselves:

The Apostle Paul speaks about homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, & 1 Timothy 1:8-10. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NRSV) How do we read those three passages? Some scholars assert that Paul’s word usage connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships. I leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars. However, we must not ignore or proof-text Paul’s teachings on homosexuality. We must consider the three passages in their context and in light of the entirety of Christian teaching.

Indeed, “some scholars” do assert that Paul’s usage “connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships.” Some scholars also deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. What about it? We can always find a fringe of scholars in any academic discipline that assert any number of deeply eccentric ideas.

It’s only been in the past 40 years, however, in the wake of the sexual revolution and cultural pressure to affirm homosexual practice, that even a small minority of scholars believe that Paul is referring to something other than homosexual practice per se. Interestingly, even many mainstream, “gay-affirming” Bible scholars and historians, who’ve written extensively on the Bible and the practice of homosexuality in the ancient world, agree that the biblical witness against homosexual practice is clear and unambiguous. Here are three that I know of: William Loader, Bernadette Brooten, and Luke Timothy Johnson (from my alma mater, the Candler School of Theology at Emory).

In a Commonweal article written by Luke Timothy Johnson several years ago, in which he advocated for changing church doctrine on sexuality, he writes:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

My point is, if Purdue is sincere when he says he wants to “leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars,” he ought to be prepared to accept their verdict: there is no ambiguity in the Bible regarding homosexual practice.

After all, Purdue isn’t very different from me (as far as I know). If he went to a UMC-approved, mainline Protestant seminary, much less an official UMC seminary like mine, and earned an M. Div., he isn’t any better prepared to argue the nuances of biblical Greek and Hebrew than I am, much less with scholars in the field. Our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is limited, to say the least. We are, to some extent, at the mercy of scholars who know much more about ancient languages than we do.

But I’ve noticed that my gay-affirming colleagues in ministry—who, again, have a limited understanding of Greek and Hebrew themselves—often make appeals to the obscurity of these languages as a way of saying, “We can’t know for sure what Paul meant when he said these things that seem to relate to homosexual practice. We can’t know for sure the true meaning of these obscure Greek and Hebrew words.”

I disagree. First, if Greek and Hebrew are really so obscure, how do we know anything about what the Bible says—not just the things in the Bible that make us uncomfortable, but also those scriptures that we happen to like? After all, we rely on the same exegetical and hermeneutical resources to arrive at Christian convictions concerning God’s love, grace, and mercy as we do to understand that the Bible condemns homosexual practice in the strongest terms in both Testaments. Why do we think we know something in the former case but not the latter?

Keep in mind: There was absolutely no ambiguity about the meaning of Paul’s words prior to around 1980 or so. There just wasn’t! By all means, every Christian thinker could have been wrong up to that point, but how likely is that?

deyoung_homosexuality_The truth is, while neither Purdue nor I is well-prepared to argue Greek and Hebrew, we don’t need to in the vast majority of cases. Why? Because our English translations of the Bible are a reliable guide to understanding what the ancient Greek and Hebrew are saying.

In his new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Kevin DeYoung makes this point very well in reference to Paul’s words about homosexual practice in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 (emphasis mine).

The English translations are almost always right, especially when they basically say the same thing. Think about it: each of the nine translations listed above [ESV, HCSB, KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV (2011), NKJV, NLT, and NRSV] was put together by a team of scholars with expertise in biblical scholarship and the original languages. That doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes or that we can’t learn new things they missed. But it does mean that after reading a few commentaries and perusing a couple of articles online you will certainly not know the ancient world or Koine Greek better than they did. If the translators thought a specific word really meant X (as seminary students and bloggers are apt to say), they wouldn’t have translated it as Y. Our English translations, imperfect though they may be, are faithful and reliable translations of the original languages. They do not need decoding.

I’ll continue to examine Rev. Purdue’s argument about Paul in my next post on the subject.

† Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 62.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 2: Complementarity of male and female

June 4, 2015

In the first part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent blog post, “The Bible and Homosexuality,” I tackled the ever-popular argument that we the church should affirm homosexual practice because, after all, Jesus didn’t say anything about it; therefore, it must not have been a big deal to him. As Rev. Purdue puts it, “Can an issue Jesus fails to address be considered essential to Christian faith?”

As I argue in my previous post, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

After offering several examples of Jesus’ talking directly about sex and marriage, Purdue wonders why Jesus would fail to mention homosexuality. I answered this “argument from silence” in my previous post. But I still have more to say.

Specifically, I want to draw attention to one of Purdue’s own examples, Matthew 19, which includes Jesus’ prohibition of divorce in most cases. Purdue’s exegesis is both inadequate and misleading. He begins:

In Matthew 19 Jesus affirms monogamy and condemns easy divorce. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together’. Jesus affirms life-long monogamy and straight marriage. While affirming heterosexual marriage Jesus does not condemn homosexuality.

To his credit, Purdue concedes that Jesus’ words don’t affirm “homosexual marriage,” only “heterosexual marriage.” In other words, he doesn’t believe that the Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, from which Jesus quotes, can accommodate anything other than a man and woman in a lifelong marriage. They don’t apply, for example, to any two adults. He seems to agree with me that the complementarity of male and female (Genesis 1:27) is one prerequisite for the kind marriage that’s described in Genesis 2.

Jesus affirms this as well, Purdue says. But by affirming this kind of marriage, Purdue says, Jesus isn’t ruling out gay marriage. How does Purdue know that Jesus doesn’t rule out gay marriage? Because Jesus doesn’t mention it!

Do you see the sophistry in this argument? The very weakness of the biblical case for gay marriage, from Purdue’s point of view, becomes its strength! The Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, which affirm marriage between a man and woman, alongside Jesus’ affirmation of marriage between a man and woman, somehow bolster the case for gay marriage! What an amazing argument this “argument from silence” is! It’s bullet-proof!

Still, I would challenge Purdue to think more deeply. Jesus isn’t saying, “Here’s one kind of marriage, although there may be other kinds, which I won’t bother to mention now.” He’s saying, “Here’s what marriage is—here’s why marriage is—here’s what makes marriage marriage. And it’s for these reasons that divorce is impermissible in most cases.” As I argued in the second of two recent sermons on the subject of homosexuality, this “two becoming one flesh” only happens through sexual intercourse between male and female.

Why? Because God takes the “side” of the man (likely a larger part of the man than just a “rib,” although it doesn’t detract from my point) to create the woman, and when they come together through sexual union, the man realizes that this woman (only) has this part of himself that he’s missing, and vice versa. Through coming together sexually, the “two become one flesh” again, we might say—a reunion has taken place. That human being that had been divided by the creation of its only suitable “help meet” is now made whole again—through sexual intercourse. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the man says.

It’s fair to say, then, that a man can’t give to another man what that man is missing, any more than a woman can give to another woman what that woman is missing. Complementarity of male and female matters when it comes to sex. It reflects God’s intentions for sexual behavior.

Someone might object, “Yes, but Genesis chapter 2 isn’t meant to be taken literally; it’s figurative; it’s poetry.” For the sake of argument, let’s say that’s true. Doesn’t poetry communicate the truth? In fact, doesn’t poetry often communicate the truth more effectively than a “literal” history or science textbook? And if that’s the case, then what truth is being communicated here? That God intends for sexual activity to be between male and female only—because they complement one another physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The point is, if it were possible for two men or two women become “one flesh” through sexual union, we would need a different Creation story—figurative or otherwise.

I’ll continue looking at the rest of this blog post later.

I don’t understand the “Methodist middle” and other thoughts

May 26, 2015

deyoung_homosexuality_Last week, in the wake of the Connectional Table’s proposal to liberalize the United Methodist Church’s doctrine on marriage and sexuality, a clergy colleague in the infamous “Methodist middle” posted on Facebook that he was, in so many words, too busy doing the work of God’s kingdom to worry about the church’s stance toward same-sex sexual practice.

I responded sharply to this person, was rightly criticized by his friends, and apologized. I need to watch my tone if I want to be a constructive voice on this issue. Ugh. I was having a bad day.

After some give and take with my colleague, though, I realized that he sincerely believed that this was a matter of theological indifference. I confess I don’t understand being in the middle on this issue. For the sake of argument, let’s say the other side is right and the church’s nearly two-thousand-year unanimous opinion is wrong (which I don’t believe for a moment), then, by all means, our present doctrine does hurt people who experience same-sex attraction. That pastor in Alabama is right: we’re all drinking from the “colored water fountains” if we don’t stand up for change.

In other words, I stand alongside the left-wing of the church in believing that this can’t be a matter of indifference. Even my liberal acquaintances who accuse me of being “obsessed” with this issue should appreciate that we have this in common: neither side thinks we should be indifferent about it.

I read Kevin DeYoung’s new book on the subject, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, and he nicely explains why people like me can’t be in the Methodist middle on this subject.

It cannot be overstated how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sensuality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testament than sexual sin.[†]

In the comments section of last week’s post on the subject, a progressive United Methodist pastor (whom I haven’t met, but who is a frequent contributor to the UMC Clergy Facebook page) said the following:

I think gay Christians are owed an explanation why their marriages are sinful. Where is the harm in their marriages? All sin harms somebody. Saying it is somehow against a concept of natural order doesn’t cut it. Where is the harm?

I’ve heard this before, even on this blog. If you agree with me on this issue, how would you respond to his comment?

Here are some of my thoughts: As for the first sentence, “because the Bible tells me so” is a perfectly sufficient answer for me.

If that sounds glib, what I mean is this: If, after we’ve done our best exegetical and hermeneutical work and come to the conclusion that the Bible rules out same-sex sexual behavior per se, and that it doesn’t depend on any quality or virtue of the relationship (i.e., that it is loving, covenantal, lifelong, monogamous, etc.), then in submission to God’s Word, we obey.

And we obey because we believe that God the Holy Spirit guided the writers of scripture to teach us the same-sex sexual behavior is wrong.

Nevertheless, as I pointed out to him, there is logic behind, for example, Jesus’ words prohibiting divorce and remarriage, which also rules out homosexual practice. It’s the same logic that guides Paul’s words about these relationships being “against nature” in Romans 1:24-27. Gay marriage doesn’t exist (regardless what the state says) because two men or two women can’t become “one flesh” in sexual union. Genesis 1 and 2 require as a prerequisite two sexually different human beings in order to create this bond.

I preached about this last Sunday when I talked about 1 Corinthians 6.

Moreover, Paul dismisses as irrelevant the “quality of relationship” argument when he explains why Corinthian Christians can’t sleep with prostitutes, even though from their perspective this is a meaningless physical act: the mere physical, bodily act of a sexually complementary union makes the two “one flesh.”

What we do with our bodies matters a great deal to God, Paul argues throughout that chapter. God has the right to tell us how we use our bodies sexually. We don’t have to “agree” or even understand it; we just have to obey.

Nevertheless, I offered this brief reply to his comment:

As far as the sin of homosexual practice harming someone, we should first approach the question with some humility. Remember Judges? “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”? Besides, to ask where the harm is, as Andrew Wilson says in the linked video, is begging the question, isn’t it? Doesn’t God get to say what is and isn’t sinful and therefore harmful? Why do you resist the idea that God gets to say how we use our bodies, sexually? If God doesn’t want us to use our bodies in this way, then the harm is in our relationship with God—irrespective of any harm on the horizontal plane of human relationships.

Nevertheless, given the vast difference in life expectancies, the transference of diseases (not only HIV), mental illness, suicide rates, and drug abuse between gay and straight men, for example, an unbiased observer might very well say that there is obvious harm that results from doing something that is against our natures.

As to love, if unrepentant homosexual behavior potentially excludes someone from God’s kingdom, then it would be unloving to say or teach otherwise.

Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 74.

A bad analogy in the cake-baking controversy

April 7, 2015
Why bother with logic when you can post a glib meme?

Why bother with logic when you can post a glib meme?

This blog post by Jessica Kantrowitz received approval from at least a few clergy acquaintances on social media today. Glutton for punishment that I am, I posted the following in the comments section of a couple of them:

I don’t believe that this blogger’s analogy is on point. As Paul makes clear in Romans 13, government, including even Rome’s government (especially Rome’s government, given the context) is ordained by God for any number of good reasons. Even the soldiers played a legitimate role in maintaining law and order—however much they might have abused that role. Merely carrying a load for the soldiers (versus actively assisting them in murdering innocent people, for instance) isn’t immoral. 

Someone might object, “Yes, but even by assisting these soldiers you’re indirectly facilitating them in their oppression!” To which I would say, “Yes, and we pay taxes and contribute in other ways to our own government, some of whose policies or actions will kill or oppress innocent people.” By the same principle, Jews could at least assist Romans in doing something that wasn’t immoral, per se.

So, using one’s gifts to “go the extra mile” is promoting something ordained by God. Some Christian cake-bakers—who would gladly sell their services to the LGBT for any number of other occasions—rightly (in my opinion, but it’s not crucial to my argument) believe that in using their skill and artistry to design a wedding cake they are promoting something quite literally sinful—both the wedding service itself and the relationship that it honors and seeks to legitimize.

If I’m wrong about the analogy—not whether I’m wrong to be bothered by gay marriage—please tell me why.