David at Resolving Realities makes one of the more thorough arguments I’ve seen for why same-sex love is compatible with Biblical authority. I particularly appreciate how he goes beyond reinterpretation of specific verses to lay out a theory of Christian sexual morality. As the comments thread demonstrates, he wisely refrains from claiming that his is the only plausible reading of the text, merely that the pro-gay reading is one reasonable interpretation and therefore should not be a litmus test for whether you take the Bible seriously (as it has become in the Anglican Church’s present schism). Some highlights (boldface emphasis mine):
It is stunning to me that some Christians are willing to site Levitical mandates as a source of morality. If one desires to give Old Testament law, there is simply no way around justifying the commands, for we see even our Lord declaring, contra the Mosaic code, that “nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean”. Both Christ and his apostles explicitly freed us from the law. Some people try to distinguish between ‘moral’ and ‘ceremonial’ laws, but a clear test for determining members of each category must be presented, for the Torah itself makes no such distinctions. Because of the textual evidence (or lack thereof), and because I am uncomfortable adding distinctions where Scripture sees none, I do not buy the theory that there is a moral/ceremonial distinction to Mosaic law, and I have yet to hear a strong case for such a view. The breaking of any of the myriad laws is lawlessness. If these Levitical commands on male intercourse are binding, so is the Levitical command against menstrual intercourse, and all the other commands on any subject. I cannot explain all of the Mosaic code, and indeed much of it puzzles me, but I do not believe that it was not meant to be a static law given to all people for all time, and as people under Christ we are not to run to it as our guide.
If [Romans 1:26-27] is to be used to condemn homosexuality (or homosexual behavior, pick your lingo), one absolutely must accept the verse’s etiology (i.e., cause) of homosexuality. Paul clearly states that not only the actions but the desires of the people he’s talking about exists because of idolatry and (apparently) heterosexual immorality. For verse 26 begins, unambiguously, with the words ‘because of this’, directing the reader’s view upward to the actions described before. In fact, this brief stint on homosexuality is part of a passage that has nothing to do with sexuality, but a spiral of godlessness in the context of idolatry. To insist by reason of ‘face-value’ interpretation that this passage condemns all people engaging in homosexual sex, and yet not to accept the verse’s face-value cause of such a thing – that is, idolatry and immorality – is the height of selective biblical literalism. And those of us who are gay can tell you that we have not (most of us) engaged in idolatry nor in immorality leading up to the discovery of our orientation. It just is….
If we wish to interpret Romans 1 as condemning all gay people unambiguously (rather than those who, in worshipping idols and engaging in sexual immorality are given over to all sorts of sexual behavior, both natural to them and unnatural), we must also insist that every gay person is the way they are because of idolatry and immorality. You cannot claim Romans 1 condemns homosexual behavior, without recognizing that it also condemns the desire, and you must abandon all thought of biological or even psychological causes of sexual orientation outside of the context given in this passage. To be sure, Paul has nothing positive to say about the matter, and the thought of sanctioned homosexual relations probably did not occur to him, but when we come to Scripture we must come to it in context.
[Another] thing we must understand in developing a sex ethic is what principles we are basing our morality on. There are a lot of rules in the Bible, but what does the Bible have to say about the principles guiding morality?
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:37-40)
Here, then, is the source of all morality. But what about all the rules given, and what about our understanding of law and righteousness?
“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’
“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”(Galatians 3:10-13, 23-25)
This is the Bible’s morality: love. And do not think it is a light thing, or that it is a good feeling one may get at the end of the day. Love is summed up in Christlikeness.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10)
So our call to love – at whatever the cost to ourselves – is the ultimate source of all ethics. As both Paul and Jesus say, all the law is summed up in the command to love. If we wish to put forth a regulation to God’s children, we must first be sure, absolutely sure, that this regulation flows from the law of love, which lies – vast, mysterious, wild, untamed, and unknown – at the very heart of God.
Strangely enough, I have heard people say, and even tell me to my face, that the Biblical injunction against homosexuality has nothing to do with love: that love does not enter into the question, but it is just a matter of design, or what God has intended for human sexuality. Can there be any less Christian reasoning for a law? How does this reconcile with the New Testament as a whole? Simply put: it does not. This is an argument from man’s religion, and it is opposed to the grace of Christ and the New Testament understanding of law.
Where then does that leave me? What is in bounds and what is out of bounds? This is tough, but before I go on to enumerate my sex ethic more clearly, let me return to the question so often posed: what about bestiality and pedophilia?
We saw that sex is a unifying experience, and if this is true, bestiality and pedophilia are not only logical contradictions but also lack the love I spoke of earlier. Because sex is unifying, it must unite two beings that are capable of being united. Both members must be able to contribute and receive from the relationship on all levels of intimacy. This includes mental, emotional, and sexual ties. A child does not know what sexuality is, and neither is a child capable of relating mentally or emotionally on the level of an adult, and so pedophilia takes two objects which are by nature not relatable and attempts to unite them. Pedophilia also, in its true form, loses the desire for its object of affection once it matures, and thus violently and necessarily breaks the command of love. I do not speak of particular age limits (three thousand years ago quite large age gaps between a husband and wife were much more accepted, and Scripture passes no condemnation of it), but of the pathological desire to sexually have that which is helpless and immature. Though it is a hazy line, and different cultures assign that line to different ages, it does nevertheless exist. A man may teach a child, for that is what the child needs, and so love the child, but a man may not love a child as a spouse, for the child
is not in nature comparable to an adult.
Bestiality is much the same, for a man can, after a fashion, love his dog, but he cannot expect his dog to fathom the rich sublimity of Chopin or his favorite well-versed poem or a story contemplating the divine. The union that runs between souls must necessarily bring together two beings that can relate along the varying levels of understanding that run within the other. To the human, containing the very image of God (though corrupted), nothing short of human will do. Otherwise the two are unable to relate. Both the perversions of bestiality and pedophilia are self-contradictory, and reduce the ‘lover’ to a mere seeker of personal passions, and the ‘beloved’ to an object or toy; they are naturally predatory. Reciprocity, and thus oneness, is lost, and sex is reduced to a collection of stimulated neurons, beginning somewhere in the nether regions and terminating somewhere in the brain.
But with two human beings, it is indeed possible for the two to sharpen each other, to sustain each other through a broken world such as ours, and to come to a deeper understanding of humanity and each other and the nature of self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. For this is where sexuality leads us: to love, which we see exemplified in Christ – a love that puts its object of affection above itself and before itself. And so far as the relational, emotional, and intellectual unifying of two beings into the creation of a new and communal One, there is nothing lacking inherently in homosexual couples that their heterosexual counterparts have. The ‘complimentarian’ nature of heterosexuality is simply (and wonderfully) a physical difference, and not necessarily a spiritual or relational one, unless we begin to claim that the souls of women and men are fundamentally different before God. No two people are the same – we are all somehow Other to all our neighbors – and it is the working of Otherness into Oneness that is where the difficulty, and the triumph, of union lies. I am not trying to indicate that such a union is easy, nor that it is always a simple matter to turn one’s thoughts and actions to Christ in the face of a seemingly overwhelming and more immediate spousal relationship, but I am presenting the goals and ideals of such a union, its functionality and appropriateness, and the path which it can ideally take in the sanctification of the two.
The stipulation I have set on my sex ethic is that it must take that drive which seems inherent to nearly all of humanity and raise it from a simple biological response to something holy before God and beneficial to its participants. And like all things, it is holy when it brings us closer to God. Simple acts of pleasure (sex) are not enough for this, and neither are simple acts of pain (abstention). It is following the earthly pleasure straight along that path of worship to its source in that infinite fountain of all pleasures that makes earthly pleasure worth anything at all. And it is following the earthly pain straight along that path of loving obedience to its termination in that infinite treasure-store of grace and freedom that makes earthly pain worth anything at all. We must not focus exclusively on the former and ignore the giver for his gifts. But we must also be careful not to focus exclusively on the latter and become ascetics, for any pleasure that God created (like sex) he created to be enjoyed and received with thanksgiving. I am convinced that any other view – a view which denounces pleasure for its own sake – presents a twisted view of God, and is even demonic. Pleasure is inherently a good thing, as it is inherently a godly thing: we must forget these silly notions of an austere and harsh Father in heaven, and instead realize that at his side are ‘pleasure for evermore’. ‘He is a hedonist at heart.’ My ethical dilemma is not whether pleasure is to be enjoyed, but in this world where indulgence and worship of the gift so easily exceeds our worship of the giver, in what context is it that the pleasure can be enjoyed without making an idol of it?
As I’ve already noted, sex by its nature forms a bond between two beings: it creates a oneness from what once was two. But the two were not wholly compatible before their union, both from their individual propensities to sin, and from neutral personality traits and conflicting interests. This is where pain comes in: that pain of altering and denying the Self for the sake of the Other, and in the closeness of union it can be quite intense. But thank God that within union a most intense intimacy is also forged by and through its pleasures (such as sex). It is in this context – the fires of a union between two bodies and two souls, and not in mere pleasure – that sex finds its redemptive and sanctifying value. It spurs the two toward a self-forgetful and self-sacrificing lifestyle, and so makes us into a clearer image of Christ, for his selflessness and his humility were the greatest the world has or shall ever see. Many of my heterosexual friends have said, after being wed, that ‘marriage is the greatest sanctifier’, and I have no reason to doubt their words. Within the pains and struggles that being in a union with another corrupted (though by no means worthless) soul, and in the continual difficult surrender of Self, it is the love and intimacy in which sex plays a part that redeems the act from good to holy.
If we continue to condemn homosexuality, it must be on one of two grounds. The first is an arbitrary rule, based either on nothing at all or ‘because I say so’. This gives us an arbitrary view of morality and an arbitrary view of religion, both of which are wrong and unhelpful for learning the nature of God. The other option is to lift genital differentiation to an almost transcendental realm, a realm where we begin to worship the penetration of a woman by a man simply by virtue of what it physically is. This is not to say heterosexuality is not (or should not be) normal – it most certainly is, and appropriately so. But to esteem it is almost paganistic sex worship. So the claim of moral superiority of heterosexuality rests either on arbitrary values derived from some inscrutable source independent of love, or it is a sort of worship of the physical act itself.
Read the whole article here.