Sunday, September 7, 2008

Conforming or Transforming, Part 2

The first leap, I suspect, begins with Jesus’ summary of the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Since we are talking about harming another human, and Jesus seems to consider all humans neighbors, I am guessing that those who believe that homosex behavior is blessed by God would argue that the second part of the summary is fulfilled by homosex behavior. If homosex behavior does no harm to another human and in fact does good, (providing close, loving, lifelong companionship in a sexual relationship as does heterosexual marriage), then homosex behavior in a consensual, lifelong relationship could be considered loving one’s neighbor.

This passage, of course, is a bit far afield from the various passages that most believe speak of homosex behavior in one form or another. But it does have the advantage of using Jesus’ summary of the Law. If all God’s commands can be reduced to loving God and neighbor, and homosex behavior does no harm to neighbor, in fact loves neighbor, then one could argue that homosex behavior is blessed by God.

There are a couple problems with this argument. The first is Paul’s writings and for that matter some of Jesus’ sayings. The New Testament makes commandments concerning several activities stronger, that is more restrictive than the Torah. The Torah forbids adultery. Jesus forbids thinking about having sex with someone else’s wife. If we accept that Paul in Romans and 1st Corinthians says that homosex behavior is wrong (and as I said in my first post I am more than willing to have the discussion/debate on what Paul intended to say), then, if we believe Scripture is inspired we have to say that homosex behavior does not show love for God or neighbor.

Here we reach a significant issue in the debate. Should we say that the words of Jesus (or the lack of them) trump the words of Paul? This depends on how one thinks the Bible was written. If we believe that the Gospels were edited by people who sought to apply the good news of Jesus and his teachings and actions to the needs of their particular communities then we have to say we simply don’t know if Jesus ever said anything about homosex behavior or not. We can say that if he did the editors of the Gospels, (if they knew of a saying by Jesus on the subject), did not think it necessary to record it. Arguments from silence are inherently dangerous.

A second issue is whether the Gospels are somehow more inspired than the letters of Paul. I think not.

More important is the question of whether sexuality is a significant theme in the Bible, or more particularly in the way Christians use the Bible. To put it another way: what is the central saving theme of the Bible? Most Christians would say the central saving theme is the good news of salvation that begins with the call to Abraham and Sarah and finds its completion in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Sexuality is not a central theme in the Bible. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. It is, in fact, attached to the central theme by the simple fact that some sexual behavior is sinful and must be repented of and forgiven.

To finish on the question of whether one can argue from the Bible that homosex behavior is blessed by God I think that the general Law, loving God and others, is further defined by specific commands or statements such as Paul saying that homosex behavior is wrong.

Just in case anyone is wondering I think all the other behaviors listed by Paul in 1st Cor. 6:10-11 are also sinful.

So we move to the second question concerning science. I think in the PCUSA there is pretty close to general agreement that the writers of the Bible spoke out of the worldview of their days. When inspiring the Biblical writers God didn’t tell them to correct the scientific misconceptions of their days. There was no firmament but God didn’t tell the writers that because debate over whether there was a firmament or not was not the point in the writings of the Old Testament. Genesis 1 is a radical statement that the gods of the Babylonian oppressors were not really gods at all but were simply things that God had made. Correcting the science would have confused everyone.

So we can and should think that the universe is not shaped the way people of Abraham’s or Jesus’ day thought it was. Neither should we think that the intestines are the seat of feelings as suggested in Greek words used for feelings. Feelings, that is, emotions, come from brain chemistry, not where we may feel the feelings.

So does modern science, by showing that homosexual desires are extremely difficult to change, (no matter what their cause), suggest that science should overrule Scripture on this particular issue? If we assume that modern scientists know more than the ancients about homosexual desire should those findings determine how we think about homosex behavior as Christians?

The first, as I noted earlier, is that some ancients believed in a kind of sexual orientation for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. They didn’t have scientific proof that sexual orientation is extremely difficult to change, as far as I know, because they weren’t doing surveys.

The key question is this: did the Biblical writers know and believe that sexual orientation existed? And the answer is: we don’t know. The closest we come to an answer is in Romans 1 and it is difficult to draw such a conclusion from that passage. When it says that God gave them up to unnatural passions does that mean that their passions were fixed as in orientation or not? In this case I think we have to say that the Bible doesn’t say.

It seems to me that the question is backward. Christians should use the Bible to decide whether the product of modern science should be used or not. I’m writing this on a computer. Are computers good? I think that depends on what one does with the computer. But are chemical or nuclear weapons good? I think we can safely say that the Bible, while it doesn’t mention them, has themes that argue against the use of weapons of mass destruction.

So does the current level of study on the subject of homosexual orientation tell us something that would suggest that homosex behavior can be a good? If we use the Bible to examine the science we have to say, first, that the Bible clearly sees sexual feelings as strong motivators for both good and bad behavior. Acting on sexual feelings is not always good. Certainly David acting on his desire for Bathsheba was not good. David’s orientation, at least in this case, was heterosexual but his acting on his orientation was wrong in this case.

So should we apply the same standard for acting upon homosexual orientation? If one’s sexual orientation is either fixed or extremely difficult to change should we apply the rules for heterosex behavior to homosex behavior?

This, I think is the strongest argument of those who say that homosex behavior can be good. In my mind, however, it does not overrule the Bible. Until it can be shown that the ancients did not believe that sexual orientation in some was fixed one cannot argue that modern science overrules the Bible. If we have to argue from silence I’m going stand with the Bible.

An argument either way is an argument from silence. To say that Paul didn’t know about homosexual orientation is an argument from silence just as is the argument that he did. Therefore, as a Christian, I think the Biblical position must rule.

Homosex behavior conforms to this world. One may not be transformed to a heterosexual orientation but one can choose one’s behavior.

One last comment. It is frequently said that we should not discriminate against a whole class of people, namely those whose sexual orientation is homosexual. It seems to me that this argument stands on shaky ground. There are many who are single who desire to be married yet who never marry. Should we then say that they, as a group, are discriminated against because the Church believes heterosex behavior should only happen within marriage? There are also those who were married but are no longer married either because of the death of a spouse or divorce. These people do not always have the opportunity to remarry. The argument for homosex behavior it seems to me is equivalent to an argument that single people who do not have an opportunity to marry should be able to act on their sexual desires with others. I think neither argument can be sustained.

Be transformed. Being transformed doesn’t always mean our desire to sin goes away. It does mean that we need to repent and with the help of the Holy Spirit change our behavior.

Pastor Bob

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