Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Bible's Mixed Message on Sexuality (?) Part 4

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I thought I should finish my critique of Jennifer Wright Knust's article on cnn.com called The Bible's Surprisingly Mixed Message about Sexuality. In this article, Knust presents a fairly typical, liberal argument on what the Bible says about homosexuality. So far we've covered the supposed dual creation account, the bizarre theory of original human androgyny, and the sexuality of David and Jonathan. Today we'll look at the way in which Knust explains away the several clear passages of Scripture in which homosexual sex is expressly forbidden.
It’s true that same-sex intimacy is condemned in a few biblical passages. But these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific sex acts and specific persons, not to all humanity forever, and they can be interpreted in any number of ways.

The book of Leviticus, for example, is directed at Israelite men, offering instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners so long as they are living in Israel. Biblical patriarchs and kings violate nearly every one of these commandments.
Leviticus, part of the Torah, contains a record of the covenant entered into by YHWH and his people Israel, the newly-freed slaves from Israel. This covenant takes the form of a typical Ancient Near Eastern covenant and contains certain stipulations by which the people of Israel must abide. If they fail to keep these stipulations (also called "commands"), then they will experience certain curses, which are also outlined in the covenant. Knust rightly points out that "biblical patriarchs and kings violate nearly every one of these commandments", which of course is why Israel was finally sent into exile in Babylon in 587-6 BC.

Knust is half-right when she says Leviticus is directed at Israelite men. It is also directed at Israelite women, and anyone who would like to join the Israelite community. In fact, the covenant lays out the distinctive nature of what it means to be a member of the people of the one true God. It's not simply "the law of the land", as Knust seems to indicate; instead, it outlines how one gets into, and stays within, the people of God. In other words, it defines the people, not the land.
Paul’s letters urge followers of Christ to remain celibate and blame all Gentiles in general for their poor sexual standards. Jesus, meanwhile, says nothing at all about same-sex pairing, and when he discusses marriage, he discourages it.
For Paul's full treatment on the topic of marriage, you should read 1 Corinthians 7. When you consider Paul's background as a Pharisaical Jew and his respect for Torah and belief in the strict sexual standards found there, it's no wonder he thought of the Gentiles, with their temple prostitution (particularly in Corinth), rampant adultery, pedophilia and homosexuality as having poor sexual standards. Similarly, the reason we don't have a record of Jesus mentioning anything about same-sex intimacy is because his most vocal opponents were those who held a very high view of Torah and Tradition, and who strived to keep both with every fiber of their being.
Only a little more than a century ago, many of the very same passages now being invoked to argue that the scriptures label homosexuality a sin or that God cannot countenance gay marriage were used to justify not “biblical marriage” but slavery.

Yes, the apostle Paul selected same-sex pairings as one among many possible examples of human sin, but he also assumed that slavery was acceptable and then did nothing to protect slaves from sexual use by their masters, a common practice at the time. Letters attributed to him go so far as to command slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands as if they were obeying Christ.

These passages served as fundamental proof texts to those who were arguing that slavery was God’s will and accusing abolitionists of failing to obey biblical mandates.
Anybody who supported African slavery was a total fool who had no understanding of either history or Scripture. Roman slavery was not at all like American slavery. Tim Keller addresses this in his excellent book The Reason for God. The slavery argument is a dead-end for the Bible's perspective on homosexuality.

Knust relies on questionable sources and bad exegesis to build her argument that the Bible supports homosexual practice. The simpler, clearer perspective is that the Bible means what it plainly says about same-sex intimacy; that is, it is one of many sexual practices that are out of bounds for those who want to be a part of God's people.

There is one reason, however, that Christians don't need to condemn homosexual practice. Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 5:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
Indeed, it is not the place of the Christian to judge or condemn those outside of the church. It is when sin is brought inside the doors of the church that we must judge it. We are not to judge, nor disassociate from, "the world". God, who judges everyone, will be the one to judge those outside. Our task is to tell them that he has lovingly offered a way out of the condemnation that comes from his judgment--that is, through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians must confront homosexuality and all sin within the church, but we need not condemn it in the world.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Most of the homosexuals I know go to church and would consider themselves Christians. What are your thoughts on that?

andy said...

Henri Nouwen, a beloved Christian author, revealed that he was homosexual, but he never acted out on those internal sexual impulses. Using modern parlance, he had an orientation but denied the practice of that orientation. Being oriented toward homosexuality and practicing homosexuality are two different things (and I'm often guilty of blurring the two). The former is neither good nor evil, but should serve as a reminder of human frailty and personal brokenness, much like Paul's "thorn in the flesh". The latter, however, is an unacceptable behavior for Christians. God considers it a sin. Many people might have a problem with this distinction, but that's okay. Not sure that helps much...

Eric said...

Here is a recent interview with the author of Unprotected Text that aired on NPR's Fresh Air today.

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/10/133245874/unprotected-texts-the-bible-on-sex-and-marriage...