Let me start out with a few qualifiers for what is about to come.
- What I’m about to write will make a lot of people mad (if they read this). I am going to write it anyway, not because I enjoy making people mad, but because I am convicted much is at stake in how the Church responds to the current controversy.
- This is a three-part series. In the first two, I intend only to argue the matter from the hermeneutical perspective (or biblical interpretation). In the third part, I will try to articulate what I think is a legitimate Christian response to the issue of homosexuality in our culture today.
- No, I am not writing this in response to the “Chick-fil-a” blowup. That recent incident once again illustrates the high emotions and propensity for irrationality on both sides. Predictably, the latest high profile cultural conflict regarding homosexuality is just around the corner. I am not being reactive. If anything in particular has inspired this blog post, it is my recent reading of Slaves, Women and Homosexuals by William Webb.
With these qualifiers out of the way, let me proceed to explain what I believe is at stake regarding the Church’s response to the homosexual and gay marriage movement in our culture. It isn’t primarily about culture wars. There are a number of posts circulating decrying the response from many Christians concerning the Chick-fil-a appreciation day. You can read a good one here– http://ow.ly/cMN9X.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that gay marriage is on its way to becoming law in our country. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for Christians defeat the momentum of the homosexual agenda without waging an ugly war involving power plays that ultimately compromise the Christian witness. My heart just isn’t into it, because even if we “win,” we still lose.
What I am concerned with, however, is how the Church interprets her Bible and whether or not the authority of Scripture will survive for future generations of Christians. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to claim some behavior is biblical or anti-biblical. Apparently, because some have harnessed the Bible as a weapon to pound people into submission, many have become paranoid of anyone who articulates a “biblical position.” What I think well-meaning believers are missing is that if there is no biblical position on anything, then there is no authority of Scripture.
Some might respond that the Bible is not a collection of positions, but the story of God and his redemptive pursuit of this fallen creation. I completely agree, but that is still a position! It is naive to think that such a story–and it’s the greatest story–would not result in ethical consequences (i.e. biblical positions) for the people of God.
Does the Bible have a position on sexuality in general and homosexuality specifically? Not long ago the answer was obviously affirmative to both the serious scholar and the casual reader of Scripture. Now, however, many interpreters have muddied the waters so to speak, blurring previously strong and clear parameters for the biblical norms of sexuality.
It was once taken for granted that the Bible categorically condemned all homosexual behavior in both testaments. Texts like Lev. 18:22 and Rom. 1:18ff left little wiggle room on the issue. The rest of Leviticus 18 makes clear that it was not only homosexual behavior that was outside the lines from God’s perspective, but so was incest and bestiality. When people argue the Bible isn’t really clear on the homosexual issue, they certainly don’t say the same about those other two. Interestingly, no one even seems to say the Bible was unclear about sexual boundaries between heterosexuals (sex within marriage only). It is only homosexuality that suddenly so many people seem to think the Bible is not really definitive about.
Some argue that since we see many examples of polygamy in the Bible that we really can’t say the Bible is dependable for a definitive view of marriage (and therefore, homosexual marriage may be okay after all). However, the examples of polygamy or even toleration of polygamy by God is not an endorsement of it. Jesus clearly rejects it as an aberration from God’s original design in the Garden (cf. Matt. 19:4–Jesus is responding to a question about divorce, but his response would also rule out polygamy). Besides, it is simply a non sequitur that tacit approval of polygamy means the Bible has no definitive stance on homosexual behavior.
Another argument concedes the Bible does condemn homosexual behavior, but only the promiscuous kind. The Bible is open to monogamous homosexual relationships, and so the Church should grant the blessing of marriage to such couples. I intend to do deal more directly with this argument in part two of this series.
For now I am simply introducing the problem, but also making this important point. If we cannot articulate the biblical position for sexual ethics (and/or other issues), then the concept of the authority of Scripture ceases to have any meaning in our generation and the generations to come. There is much more at stake in the current debate over homosexuality than our stance on a single issue. The very role of the Bible’s traditional place in determining faith and practice is at stake.
It is my contention that the Bible does say something definitively about what God deems as acceptable sexual behavior. In my next blog post, we will take a closer look at what Scripture actually says. In the third post, I will address what our response should be in light of what it says.