Same-Sex Love and the Bible

Kim Fabricius has a rigorous and (to me) reassuring post up at the Faith and Theology blog, “Twelve Propositions on Same-Sex Relationships and the Church”. Highlights:


I take it that homosexuality – and certainly the homosexuality I am talking about – is a given, not a chosen (a “life-style choice”); a disposition recognised, not adopted; a condition as “normal” as left-handedness – or heterosexuality (whether by nature or nurture is a moot but morally irrelevant point). I also assume an understanding of human sexuality that is not over-genitalised, where friendship, intimacy, and joy are as important as libido, and where sexual acts themselves are symbolic as well as somatic….Fundamentally, homosexuality is about who you are, not what you do, let alone what you get up to in bed. This is a descriptive point. There is also a normative point: I am talking about relationships that are responsible, loving, and faithful, not promiscuous, exploitative, or episodic….

[W]e must certainly examine specific texts – and then (I submit) accept that they are universally condemnatory of homosexual practice. Arguments from silence – “Look at the relationship between David and Jonathan,” or, “Observe that Jesus did not condemn the centurion’s relationship with his servant” – are a sign of exegetical desperation. No, the Bible’s blanket Nein must simply be acknowledged. But Nein to what? For here is a fundamental hermeneutical axiom: “If Biblical texts on any social or moral topic are to be understood as God’s word for us today, two conditions at least must be satisfied. There must be a resemblance between the ancient and modern social situation or institution or practice or attitude sufficient for us to be able to say that in some sense the text is talking about the same thing that we recognise today. And we must be able to demonstrate an underlying principle at work in the text which is consonant with biblical faith taken as a whole, and not contradicted by any subsequent experience or understanding” (Walter Houston)….

The first condition is not satisfied. The Bible knows nothing about homosexual orientation, or about homosexual relationships as defined [above]. In the Old Testament, the stories about Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19) and the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19) are about gang-bangs, while the prohibitions against homosexuality in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) are about (a) cultic cleanliness and (b) male dominance (i.e. a man should not treat another man like a woman). While purity concerns are not entirely anachronistic, Brueggemann is surely right to say that if push comes to shove, justice trumps purity….

It is at least noteworthy that Paul deploys the language of dishonour and shame, rather than sin, to describe male-male relationships, which, in any case, are but a specific instance of the universal distortion of desire that enters the world as a result of the primal sin of idolatry….There is also the question of the rhetorical function of Romans 1:18ff. – or rather Romans 1:18-2:5. As James Alison observes (rightly ignoring conventional chapter and verse denotation), Paul’s argument works by condemning Gentile sexual practices – why? – so as to set his Jewish-Christian “hearers up for a fall, and then delivering the coup de grace” (Romans 2:1), such that “the one use to which his reference could not be put, without doing serious violence to the text, is a use which legitimates any sort of judging” such behaviour.

More to the point, again, is the question of the nature of the homosexual relationships being condemned. Are they the kind of relationships defined in Proposition 2? Is, therefore, the first condition of the hermeneutical axiom stated in Proposition 3 satisfied? The answer is No to both questions. The Hellenistic homosexual relationships that Paul condemns, if not forms of cultic prostitution, would normally have been both asymmetrical in terms of age, status, and power (the “approved” form was pederasty) and therefore open to exploitation, as well as inherently transitory. And as Rowan Williams reflects on Romans 1: “Is it not a fair question to ask whether conscious rebellion and indiscriminate rapacity could be presented as a plausible account of the essence of ‘homosexual behaviour’, let alone homosexual desire, as it may be observed around us now,” let alone in the church?

Summing up the Old and New Testament texts as they contribute to the contemporary discussion on homosexuality, the late Gareth Moore says: “In so far as we can understand them, they are not all concerned with the same things, they do not all condemn the same things, and they do not all condemn what they do for the same reasons. Most importantly, they do not all condemn same-sex activity, some of them do not condemn same-sex activity, and none of them clearly condemns homosexual relationships or activity of a kind which is pertinent to the modern Christian debate.”

One thing I particularly liked about this post was that it finds Scriptural support for allowing empirical discoveries in science, psychology and history to change our interpretation of the Bible.

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