a Christian Gay Ethic
Part 2 of the series: The Spirit and the Flesh
By Bruce L. Gerig
Why is there such disagreement today over what the Bible says about homosexuality? Also, are all Biblical pronouncements meant to be applied to every time and place? If so, what about such NT verses that support slavery, forbid divorce (except for adultery), and tell women not to speak in church, come bareheaded, or wear expensive clothes? Moreover, when one looks at the Bible more closely, one is amazed to find a Divinely-accepted range of sexual expression much wider than what most churches today would approve, that Jesus broke Scriptural rules to meet basic human needs, and that Paul emphasized above all else God’s amazing grace in Christ, which is offered freely to anyone and everyone who will accept it.
In an earlier article contrasting Paul’s 15 “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21) with his 9 “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23), it was noted that the latter (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” NRSV), which the Holy Spirit desires to bring to blossom in all believers, all center on agapē love, an unselfish commitment to serve others (cf. 5:13-14). This wonderful fruit is to replace the ego-driven, I-don’t-care-about-others attitude and related destructive actions which normally flow from fallen human nature and which are exemplified in the 8 social sins against the faith community which are included in the works of the flesh (beginning with “enmities [hatred, ill will],” the opposite of agapē love, and continuing through “strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, [and] envy,” NRSV). However, the first five works of the flesh (“fornication [prostitution?], impurity, licentiousness, idolatry [and] sorcery”), along with the last two (“drunkenness” and “carousing”), all point to believers in Paul’s churches in Galatia (in Asia Minor) who had returned to their old temple feasts, where meat was sacrificed to pagan gods and then was shared by the worshippers, along with heavy drinking, debating and arguing, and sexual activity with prostitutes (Witherington).1 However, most Christians, when they read Paul’s list of “works of the flesh” and then his instruction to “crucif[y] the flesh [sarx] with its passions and desires” (5:24), think immediately that “flesh” here refers primarily to sex; instead, the Greek word sarx in this passage (Gal 5:13― 6:10) actually refers to living a life totally centered on self (Matera).2 Still, as humans we are inextricably connected to our bodies. What should be emphasized here is that all of our physical senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) and basic human needs (to breathe, eat, drink, sleep, have sex, be loved, feel safe, gain approval, etc.3) have been given to us as blessings by a gracious God. The ancient Hebrews understood, far better than most Christians today, that sex is a good gift received from a benevolent Creator, and it is to be enjoyed (cf. Song of Songs). Still, with the Fall of Adam and Eve came human alienation from God (Gen 3); and fear, shame, pain, strife and death also entered human life. No pleasure, of course, should take the supreme place in the Christian’s life which belongs to God alone; yet this does not mean that one becomes more ‘spiritual’ the more bodily pleasures one denies (asceticism), even though a tension always remains between the physical and spiritual realms.
Yet, returning to the “works of the flesh,” some readers are going to point out that even though porneia (“fornication”) is linked here with idol-worship, drunken parties and prostitution (Gal 5:19-21), there are other NT passages that condemn sex outside of marriage in and by itself, e.g., in 1 Thess 4:3. In the larger passage here, Paul appears to be addressing men in particular, since he speaks about ‘earning your own living’ and ‘not depending on anyone else’ for what you need (4:11-12). So the Good News Bible reads: “God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality [porneia = fornication = sex outside of marriage]. Each of you men should know how to live with his wife [footnote: or ‘control his body’] in a holy and honorable way, not with a lustful desire . . . . In this matter, then, no man should do wrong to his fellow Christian nor take advantage of him” (1 Thess 4:3-6a). Now the word “holiness” (hagiasmos, Strong G38) means basically to be “separated” or “dedicated” to God.4 Beyond this, Paul’s concern is that married Christian men seek sexual fulfillment within their marriage vows and avoid lusting after another man’s, or another believer’s, wife (an idea that he also emphasizes in 1 Cor 7:3-5). Of course, this does not address the problem of gay men who married, thinking that then their predominate same-sex desires would simply disappear. Jesus almost never mentions porneia, no doubt because he himself could be and was accused of being an illicit child (cf. John 8:41b); and when he does so, it is usually in a neutral, non-condemnatory fashion, as when he told the Jewish leaders who refused to believe in him that “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will!” (Matt 21:31b, CEV). Yet, in Matt 15:17-19 (NRSV), Jesus declared that it is not what goes into the mouth, but what comes out of one’s mouth and therefore one’s heart that “defiles” a person. Then he explained, “For out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery [moicheia, G3430], fornication [porneia, G4202], theft, false witness, slander” (v. 19). Since “fornication” here is joined with “adultery,” the former no doubt refers primarily to the single man who might deflower a Jewish maiden (Deut 22:23-27), although if the virgin was not engaged (non-betrothed) the man simply had to marry her (vv. 28-29); and in practice (in this patriarchal society) the woman often was condemned while the man got off scot-free (John 8:1-11). Sometimes Jesus issued very hard pronouncements, such as: cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (Matt 5:30); don’t ever swear an oath (5:34); if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other as well (5:39); be perfect as God is perfect (5:48); and sell what you possess and give the money from this to the poor (Matt 19:21). All of these admonitions contain seeds of truth; and yet such ideal and perfect standards are probably best understood as pointing to the profound human need for Christ’s eventual atoning death, rather than to be applied as strict moral law.5 Clearly Jesus cared about the hard life of common people (Matt 9:36), felt compassion toward the sick and suffering (Matt 14:14), identified with the poor and homeless (Luke 9:58), defended the life of an adulteress who was brought before him for stoning (John 8:1-11), reached out without condemnation to a Samaritan woman who had lived with six different men (John 4:7-19ff), and had positive words to say about eunuchs and others who did not fulfill the Divine command to “Be fruitful and multiple” (Gen 1:28) nor the Jewish expectation to marry and raise a family (Matt 19:11-12).
In 1 Cor 6:15-18, Paul condemns “fornication” as it relates to visiting prostitutes; yet at the same time he also recognizes how strong the sexual drive can be (7:2-9). Father Andrew Greeley once described sex as “a raw, primordial, basic power over which we have only very limited control” and he noted that these urges, including “the cravings for sexual satisfaction, for sexual relief, and for sexual union” can “permeate our being and frequently dominate our behavior to the exclusion of all else.”6 Paul urges believers, if they find themselves in such a tormented state, to seek a companion (in marriage), which is better than living “aflame with passion” (7:9, NRSV). Actually, Paul wished that all believers could live a life entirely free from the troubles of sexual passion and be celibate as he was; yet he noted that God gives different ‘gifts’ in this area, and only one of them is celibacy (7:7). Not every person, even who might want it, receives the ability to live a celibate life; nor should this be demanded unless a person believes (independent of outside pressure) that God has given him or her this special gift. As Father Gregory Baum wrote, “[P]ersons who are constitutionally homosexuals must accept this orientation and live accordingly,” expressing “their sexuality in a manner consonant with Christ’s teaching on love.”7 Conversely, persons with strong gay sexual desires who are told by fundamentalist leaders that they cannot accept these nor act on them often become hate-filled homophobes obsessed with “fighting homosexuality” in society and in the church, as a way of trying to keep the lid on their own unfulfilled, restless desires. The problem for gay people relating to NT texts that condemn “fornication” (all sex outside of marriage) is that for them heterosexual marriage would be sexually unfulfilling and a tragic disaster for both partners. One can imagine what would happen if somebody came into a fundamentalist summer camp and declared that it was God’s will for all of the heterosexual young people there to henceforth either make themselves homosexual or live the rest of their lives in celibacy. This would be such a preposterous and unacceptable idea that such a ‘prophet’ would immediately be railroaded off the premises! Yet, this is exactly what fundamentalist preachers and ex-gay leaders demand of gay and lesbian Christians, only in reverse. Moreover, these cultural crusaders have done everything in their power in recent years to deny gay people the opportunity and incentives to form lasting relationships that lead to marriage and thus they actually promote promiscuity among gay people and in society at large. Paul, who sought practical solutions for difficult problems in his churches, along with emphasizing the central message of God’s love and grace, would certainly have advised any gay Christian to try to find another like person with whom to share his or her life, had he known what we know today about homosexual orientation. Here, however, we must avoid the dual pitfalls, of the social constructionists, who think they can explain through ‘social influences’ why some individuals choose such a difficult, against-the-grain, and even persecuted life for themselves to find same-sex love, and the ex-gay ministries, whose warped pseudoscience blames parents for their kids turning out GLBT. The best summary of biological evidence for prenatal factors determining homosexual orientation (often varying testosterone levels in the womb) is now found in Born Gay (2005), written by the British psychologists Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman.8
Yet, what should be our view toward gay people who are ‘promiscuous,’ while they are trying to find someone with whom to share their life? While promiscuity carries health dangers that one needs to guard against, I cannot condemn promiscuity in total because I met my partner in a gay meeting place, which led at first to what I thought would be only a one-night stand. However, Jim later moved in, came to know the Lord, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was given special spiritual gifts. (For a Biblical case where the Holy Spirit fell on other individuals who were not supposed to be accepted within God’s community, cf. Acts 10:44-48.) Thereafter God blessed us in our service for him. Cambridge theologian Norman Pittinger notes that the real issue here is not promiscuity, but inner spirit and intention. No one can predict with certainty that any couple will remain in love forever even in a heterosexual marriage. Of course, one of the jobs of a counselor or pastor ought to be to do all that can be done to keep a relationship in tact, with the hope that it will last. Yet, as Richard Mickley notes, “Not all sex outside of marriage is bad and not all sex within marriage is good.”9 Also, gay couples have many things working against them (such as social bigotry, gay bashing, lack of legal support, and hostile churches) that heterosexual couples do not face.10 Webster’s Seventh New College Dictionary (1969) defined “promiscuous” as having sex “not restricted to one sexual partner.” However, the more recent Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed. 2002) defines “promiscuous” as “engaging in sexual intercourse indiscriminately with many persons … without plan or purpose; casual.” The latter definition is more precise and useful, since it suggests distinctions based on degree (fewer incidents as opposed to many) and purpose (seeking a permanent partner rather than simply random acts). Therefore, a gay Christian may go out with a desire in the Lord to find a committed relationship. As a practical matter, it should also be noted that same-gender sex never results in pregnancy, which can be a serious consequence in any heterosexual intercourse outside of marriage. In 1 Cor 6:16 Paul speaks of a man who has sex with a “harlot” (KJV) as becoming “one flesh” with her (the same language is used in Gen 2:24 where Adam and Eve come together); yet, relating in 1 Cor 6 to a passing encounter, Paul could hardly have meant by “one flesh” the blending of two personalities together (the usual reading given to “one flesh”11); instead he must have been referring to the simple act of intercourse, which can produce “one flesh [a child].” One has to wonder, moreover, to what extent many couples ever become truly “one,” in the light of the disjoint and conflict in marriage that is predicted in Gen 3:16b and the fact that opposites often attract―although two people, as distinct individuals, certainly can come together to share and enjoy a rewarding life together. The point here is that to say that gay people may never have sex outside of marriage is cruel and crippling, and neither compassionate nor credible. As John E. Smith noted, “[P]roblems arise when the ethical standpoint is absolutized and becomes free of any critical vantage point beyond itself [and then] legalism and moralism result. The ethical must be limited by . . . mercy and forgiveness . . . and if it is not, the ethical will absolutize itself with evil consequences.”12
Interestingly, Paul broke so many traditional Biblical rules in his attempt to bring non-Jews into the kingdom of God that the fundamentalist Jews never forgave him for it. He even bent Jesus’ ban on divorce “except for marital unfaithfulness [adultery]” (Matt 19:9, NIV), advising Christian wives in Corinth whose non-believing husbands wanted to leave them to go ahead and get a divorce (1 Cor 7:15, sometimes called the “Pauline exception”13). Today most evangelical churches have come to approach broken and apparently irreparable marriages with a compassion which allows for divorce and even remarriage. Jesus also broke rules to meet human needs. For example, when his disciples were condemned by Jewish leaders for ‘working’ on the Sabbath (plucking grain to satisfy their hunger), Jesus defended them (Matt 12:1-8), recalling how David had obtained food on the run by persuading the high priest to give him “holy bread” from the Tabernacle (1 Sam 21:1-6), even though the Law of Moses specified that such bread was only to be eaten by priests (Lev 24:5-9). Then Jesus quoted God’s word from Hosea 6:6 (NIV), saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 12:7, also 9:13). On another occasion Jesus harshly criticized the Jewish leaders, saying, “Woe also to you lawyers [religious experts and legalists]! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves will not lift a finger to ease them” (Luke 11:46, NRSV). Fundamentalist leaders who demand the renouncing of one’s deep-seated sexual nature and the forcing of celibacy of all gay people may be compared to the steward in Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:21-35), where a slave had a large debt that his king completely forgave; but then the slave turned around and showed no compassion toward another slave who owed him a much smaller debt, which he could not pay. When the king heard about this, in his anger he reinstituted all of the first slave’s debt. Those who are sinners and who have received God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness should not lack compassion for others, who although they may be different from them wish to come God “just as I am” to share also His abundant grace, for God “is rich in mercy” and reaches out in “great love” to all people, that they might be saved (Eph 2:4-5). So Jesus warned, Be careful how you judge, lest God judge you, in turn, with the same harshness (Matt 7:12, cf. CEV).
Still, some will argue that gay sex and sex outside of marriage do not fit into the Biblical view of sexual ethics. Yet, as Walter Wink notes, when one looks at the Bible one finds not a single sexual ethic but a variety of sexual mores (customs), some of which have changed dramatically over the long period of Biblical history.14 In the OT and for over a millennium, the Israelites lived with a Divinely-proscribed sexual ethic that was very different in many ways from what Christians commonly hold to today. For example, an Israelite man could take multiple wives (polygamy; cf. Gen 29:26-30, Judg 8:30, 1 Sam 1:2, 2 Sam 3:2-5) as well as female captives and slaves as sexual partners (concubinage; cf. Gen 16:1-4, Num 31:15-18, 2 Sam 5:13, 1 Kings 11:3). The NT condemned neither of these practices, and in fact Jewish sources show that polygamy continued to be practiced within Judaism for centuries following Jesus’ time.15 A widow could ask to sleep with her deceased husband’s brother to obtain an heir (levirate marriage; cf. Gen 38:8-10, Deut 25:5-10), and Jesus mentions this custom without criticism (Mark 12:18-27). There was no ban in the Law of Moses on an Israelite male visiting secular prostitutes and they seem to have done so on repeated occasions, with prostitutes freely within reach (cf. Gen 38:12-19; Josh 2:1, 6:22; Judg 11:1, 16:1; 1 Kings 22:38; Prov 29:3; Amos 7:17; Jer 5:7; Matt 21:31; poss. John 8:1-11; cf. Luke 15:30). In Solomon’s day, two harlots openly brought their dispute before the king (1 Kings 3:16-28), who treated them with respect like any other citizens. Wink suggests that allowing prostitution for males was probably considered necessary to safeguard the virginity of brides and the property rights of husbands;16 and one proverb notes that visiting a prostitute was to be preferred over committing adultery (Prov 6:23-26, esp. v. 26).17 Poems in the Song of Songs celebrate erotic passion between lovers, with no mention of marriage or procreation.18 In fact, the entire Song of Songs is a ballad in praise of erotic desire, a rapture “as strong as death . . . [which] burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (Song 8:6, NIV). So, what is one to make of this very different sexual ethic found in the OT? Did God not ‘get it right’ the first time around? God could have demanded a more ‘modern’ sexual ethic of Moses and the Israelites right from the beginning, but he did not; and this is probably best understood as an example of Divine “accommodation.” This theological principle refers to God’s adaptation of his revelation to humans in their fallibility and fallenness and in the light of their limitations and incapabilities, with his Word given in thought forms to which people could relate in their specific time and place.19 In fact, many similarities have been noted between customs and laws in the Pentateuch (Genesis―Deuteronomy) and those found in other nations surrounding Israel, although significant differences appear as well (such as the special attention given in the Law of Moses to the needs and rights of the poor and underprivileged).20 I must add that I do not think that prostitution is a good thing; yet this example may show that God sometimes allows the unexpected in the face of the weakness of human nature; hopefully, in this OT case, this would keep the Israelite men from turning to engage in adultery, to deflower virgins, and to visit pagan shrines. Although it may be argued that polygamy and concubinage occurred infrequently in Israelite and Jewish practice, still it must be acknowledged that God’s law clearly ordained ‘exceptions to the norm’ in Israel’s sexual practice.
Yet, certain Biblical passages do appear to condemn homosexuality. Conservative interpreters argue, for example, that Sodom was destroyed simply because the males there had sex with other males (Gen 19:1-29, cf. 18:20), that Levitical law proscribed the death penalty for all homosexual behavior (although only ‘sex as with a woman [penetration]’ is actually mentioned and lesbianism is absent in Lev 18:22, 20:13), that a person who practices any kind of homosexual act will not be allowed into the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10), and that in the end both male and female homosexuality are condemned (Rom 1:18-27).21 However, as Jack Rogers notes, such interpretations often do not reveal a good understanding of the passages’ linguistic, historical and cultural contexts; and they are used inappropriately to condemn a whole modern group of people (“homosexuals”).22 Instead, more astute scholars have noted that: (1) Biblical references to same-sex acts are few, scattered and ambiguous; and homosexuality appears only as a secondary theme in a variety of contexts.23 (2) The ancients knew nothing about homosexual orientation, only about certain kinds of negative, demeaning same-sex acts.24 It simply cannot be said that the Bible condemns all homosexual relationships (Rogers).25 (3) Moreover, all of these passages appear to describe bisexuals, not true homosexuals. For example, Lot offers his daughters to the men of Sodom to try to fulfill their sexual desires, the Levitical ban was directed to Israelite men in general (the great majority of whom were married, so any other sexual activity would be on the side), and 1 Cor 6:9-10 and Rom 1:18-32 were directed to cultures which had established certain same-sex traditions as part of the norm for all (mostly heterosexual) male citizens. (4) All of the passages that condemn homosexuality also involve other clearly negative actions, and so the question remains as to whether these sins, or homosexuality, are or is being judged. For example, the sin at Sodom involved a longstanding ritual of abusing and gang-raping strangers (notice how quickly and methodically the males gather together, Gen 19:4); and there is nothing about love here. The Levitical ban no doubt involved purity interests (e.g., do not mix blood and semen, both vital issues of life, Lev 18:19, or semen and waste, 18:22), a matter that in the NT is essentially replaced by Christ’s atoning death (Acts 15:9-10).26 Malakoi and arsenokoitai (NASB: “effeminate [men]” and “homosexuals”) in 1 Cor 6:9-10, although the precise meanings of these Greek terms are still debated, in their cultural setting probably referred either to the well-known Greek tradition of paiderasty (man-boy sexual liaisons) or to prostitution, which was widespread in Roman times; these cannot be referred in general to “men who have sex with other men” (Martin), as no Hebrew or Greek word existed for “homosexual.”27 Then in Rom 1:26-27 Paul views same-gender sex strictly tied to and derived from idolatry, which cannot be applied to gay and lesbian Christians who have generlally only sought to worship and serve the true God.28
Moreover, as Rogers notes, it must be remembered that the Hebrews and Greeks had patriarchal cultures, where men were held dominant sway over the women.29 Therefore, Lot at Sodom is willing to sacrifice his own daughters to protect two male strangers he has only just met, one should note the gender emphasis in the wording “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman” in Lev 18:22 (italics added), malakoi commonly had to do with effeminacy in males which was considered by many ancients to be a moral failing, and Paul’s reference to “their [the males’] women” in Rom 1:26 suggests that women here were violating gender boundary expectations by taking the active role in their sexual activity.30 As Martti Nissinen notes, distinctions in ancient times were not based on individual identity or sexual desire, but on the basis of one’s gender, gender roles and gender behavior.31 Ancient civilizations, from Mesopotamia to Rome, were polarized cultures, where men were in charge and women were subservient; and sexually men were to be the active, initiating partners and women the passive, receiving partners. Transgressions of these gender role boundaries were severely condemned—although with certain exceptions, since socially-inferior boys, slaves, foreigners, and defeated enemies could become targets of male sexual aggression. However, for a woman or another socially-inferior individual to move up the social ladder with regards to sexual role was considered “contrary to nature,” as the Greeks put it, because this turned the “natural” (patriarchal) order upside down.32 These patriarchal notions are still with us today, seen in the typical male response toward female prostitution (the world’s “oldest profession”) as opposed to male prostitution (viewed with confusion and disruption of social order).33 Yet, do we really want a patriarchal world today, as it existed in OT or even NT times? Among the Israelites, the female was considered under the absolute authority, if not the property, of her father, until she came under her husband’ control (Gen 19:6-8; Judg 11:30-39, 21:20-23). A man could divorce his wife (some rabbis held for simply spoiling his food, cf. Mishnah, Nashim, Gittin, ix.10) at any time (Deut 24:1), while the woman had no legal recourse if her husband abused her. Adultery with another man’s wife was to be punished by death for both parties (Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22).34 Even in NT times, women usually received no formal education, they were not considered competent to act as a legal witness, and they could not even allowed to say a blessing over a meal. Philo advised women to stay indoors as much as possible. When they did go out, they were expected to veil themselves and not speak to men other than family members. Every morning the Jewish male thanked God that he had not been created a gentile, a slave or a woman.35 Is this the kind of view we wish to perpetuate in our world today, where so many women are every bit as well-educated, experienced, and capable as men? Why should they not share an equal place with men in leadership and contribution to society? Why ignore the talents and gifts of half the human race? Such ancient Biblical texts as these may have had certain relevance in earlier centuries, but they contribute little or nothing to the modern world in which we live. Krister Stendahl, Paul Jewett, and Virginia Mollenkott note how some Biblical texts must be superseded by fuller insight that is given in other Biblical texts, such as Gal 3:28, which tells us that “There is no longer Jew nor Greek . . . slave or free . . . [or] male and female . . . in Christ Jesus.”36
In fact, a whole range of cultural and social rules in the NT must be questioned, as to whether they were really meant to be, or should be, applied automatically to every time and place―including directives related to slavery, women’s roles in the church, divorce and remarriage, fashion (hair length and church attire), and certain sexual matters (GLBT people). If we apply NT rules on church attire, for example, a woman should never speak in church with her head uncovered, men should never wear long hair or women short hair (1 Cor 11:5,14), and women should not display braided hair, gold or pearls, or expensive clothes in church (1 Tim 2:9). Jack Rogers, in his ground-breaking book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality (2006), shows how the Church, by continuing to enforce certain archaic cultural rules in Scripture, has actually contradicted the central teachings of our Lord (and of Paul) and at the same time has inflicted great hardship and suffering on various disenfranchised groups. For example, he notes how 19th-century theologians and preachers, seeking to apply the Bible literally (no matter the hurt inflicted on people), used various passages to support SLAVERY (Eph 6:5-8, Col 3:22-25, 1 Tim 6:1-2, Tit 2:9-10). A great controversy erupted as Abolitionists, atheists and others concerned with social justice raised the cry that this practice was absolutely unjust, inhumane and cruel, even though Christian legalists insisted that the Bible justified slavery, God ordained it, and tradition supported it. (Do these arguments not have a familiar ring relating to modern-day homophobic rhetoric?) Even after the Civil War, white Southern preachers appealed to deep-seated fears in their white male congregations, warning that this was ‘a moment of life or death for the church.’37 Rogers notes a similar struggle that ensued over the ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH, legalists again holding up certain Scriptural passages (1 Cor 14:33b-35, 1 Tim 2:9-3:13), in spite of the fact that many women today are in an entirely different place (in terms of training and experience) than Jewish women in the first century. Even Paul seems uncertain here, since in one place he declares (probably in a hyperbole) that “women should be silent in [all] the churches” (1 Cor 14:34, NRSV), while in the same letter he instructs women to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in public (i.e., in church, 11:5); and in Rom 16:1-2 he asks everyone to do whatever they can to support Pheobe, who is leader of the church at Cenchreae (near Corinth). Rogers recalls, however, how through most of the 19th century women were instructed to be ‘silent ornaments of piety’ and not to speak in church or seek any position of authority.38 Where Christian leaders got it so wrong is that they followed marginal proscriptions in the Bible while neglecting the broader, central principles, such as “[L]ove your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18, Rom 13:9, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Gal 5:14, James 2:8) and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7:12, Luke 6:31). They also forgot that Jesus, the central figure of Scripture, always displayed love toward the oppressed and marginalized and sought to remedy their injustice.39 Fortunately more and more Protestant churches today have revised their former unbending stance against DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE, shifting the emphasis away from a legalistic application of Scripture to one which emphasizes the spirit and totality of Jesus’ teaching of love and that is geared to help and care for people.40 Prayerful attention must be given to the written Word to discover God’s saving message in Christ; and yet in applying its rules of conduct one must be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading (even in new directions), utilize the best tools of scholarship, and apply Biblical principles with understanding and empathy, especially in areas of controversy. Above all, one must focus on Jesus’ central two commandments to love God and to love our neighbor.41
Finally, returning to Gal 5-6, how are gay Christians to walk with the Lord and in the Spirit? Paul shows us the way: We should live in a manner that above all expresses agapē love, which is self-giving and which cares about others (5:13-14) and which seeks the good of all, especially other believers (6:10). This is nothing less than the Golden Rule. We should daily “crucify the flesh [our fallen nature] with its passions and desires,” but these last terms are not necessarily sexual terms. Sex is from God and is good, although this does not mean that the Christian is freed for sanctified hedonism (Mickley).42 It is no coincidence that the last “fruit of the Spirit” is self-control, which can save us from many harmful acts, to ourselves, to others, and to the work of God. Instead, we are to “be guided by the Spirit” and our conscience. Yet, as R.C. Mortimer warns, ‘conscience’ should not be thought of simply as a little (infallible) voice whispering in the ear, or the guilt that plagues one when one feels that he or she has done something wrong, or listening to the prejudiced, misinformed and cruel judgments of fundamentalist homophobes. Rather, conscience should be thought of as “an act of practical judgment of the rightness or wrongness of a particular action.”43 Attitudes toward marriage, divorce, women, contraception, and other controversial issues, deeply rooted in the past, often reflect both insight and wisdom and also ignorance and prejudice. Ancient social codes have no absolute significance, but can sometimes provide guidelines, if it is recognized that good reason is needed to evaluate them and sometimes revise them. As Richard Mickley writes, “Christian moral judgment is made by the individual, motivated by love for God and others, guided by the Holy Spirit and reason.”44 Also, sometimes one really has to research an issue before arriving at a sound, wise judgment. GLBT people have witnessed how much wider and farther God’s grace and mercy have flowed in the world than legalists have yet become aware. Such is the magnitude of God’s love. Daily we must trust the Holy Spirit to bring into blossom the beautiful “fruit of the Spirit,” radiating from agapē love (5:22-25); and at the same time we must turn away from those “works [expressions] of the flesh” which reveal themselves in conceit, competition, and envy (5:26). The way to do this is through prayer and yielding to God. This does not mean that believers should not make value judgments about what others are saying and doing (as Paul demonstrated so vividly in his letter to the Galatians). The paradox is that sometimes we need to take a stand on very important theological issues (like the truthfulness of the Gospel message and the recognition that God is working today in the lives of GLBT people and other former ‘outcasts,’ as in Acts 5:33-39), and yet at the same time we are called to love all people and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:43-44). Fundamentalists say that they ‘love’ GLBT people; but they rarely come to listen to their stories, to find out what it means to walk in their shoes, and to discover the awful harm that ex-gay ministries have done and continue to do to gay people. Yet still, the evangelically-oriented Barna research group in one poll found that at least half of regular church goers ages 16 to 29 think that their church is too judgmental, too political, and too negative about homosexuality. And one hears voices such as those of Rob Bell, pastor of the Mars Hill mega-church just outside Grand Rapids, who advises his youthful audience that only those who have gay friends are in a position to judge homosexuality; also, one should not keep a “score card” with regards to sin, because once you’re converted, “you’re loved, you’re accepted, you’re forgiven, you’re in.”45 In the end, Paul tells the Galatians that their (and our) main concerns should be to “bear one another’s burdens” (6:2), to test the genuineness of our own Christian walk (6:4), and to do everything we can, financially and otherwise, to spread God’s wonderful Gospel of love and hope in this burdened and hurting world (6:6-9).
– 1. Witherington Gal 1998, pp. 398-99; Witherington Cor 1995, pp. 191-95.
2. Matera, p. 196. 3. Huitt, online,
pp. 1-2. 4. Vine, II, p. 225. 5. Cf. Yancey
1995, ch. 8, esp. pp. 142-44. 6. Andrew Greeley, quoted in
Mickley, p. 44. 7. Gregory Baum, quoted in Mickley, p. 71.
8. Cf. Wilson & Rahman, passim; Bailey, pp. 50-74; Myers & Scanzoni,
pp. 59-68. 9. Mickley, p. 89. 10. Cf.
Pittinger, p. 76. 11. Cf. Bandstra, B.L., and A.D. Verhey,
“Sex; Sexuality,” ISBE, IV (1988), p. 433. 12.
Smith, John E., “Absolute Ethics,” in Childress & MacQuarrie,
pp. 5-6. 13. Bromiley, G.W., “Divorce,” ISBE,
I(1979), p. 978. 14. Wink, p. 44. 15.
Ibid., p. 38. 16. Ibid., pp. 38-40. 17.
Cf. Patai, pp. 131-33. 18. Cf. Wink, p. 40.
19. Sweet, L.M., and G.W. Bromiley, “Acommodation,” ISBE I (1979),
p. 26. 20. Harrison, R.K., “Law in the OT,”
ISBE, III (1986), pp. 78,84. 21. Dailey, pp. 42,46,53. 22.
Rogers, p. 69. 23. Nissinen, p. 123.
24. Ibid., p. 124. 25. Rogers, p. 70. 26.
Dennison, J.T., “Clean and Unclean,” ISBE I (1979), p. 722. 27.
Dale Martin, in Rogers, p. 74. 28. Cf. Rogers, pp. 70-79.
29. Ibid., p. 78. 30. Ibid., pp. 71,74,78. 31.
Nissinen, p. 128. 32. Ibid., p. 129. 33.
Ibid., pp. 132-33. 34. Cahill, Lisa, “Sexual Ethics,”
in Childress and MacQuarrie, p. 580. 35. Edwards, R.B.,
“Woman,” ISBE, IV (1988), pp. 1093-94. 36. Hugenberger,
G.P., “Woman in Church Leadership,” ISBE, IV (1988), p. 1098.
37. Cf. Rogers, pp. 18-25. 38. Ibid.,
pp. 27-29. 39. Ibid., pp. 29-34. 40. Ibid.,
pp. 43-44. 41. Ibid., pp. 54,62. 42. Mickley,
pp. 19,21. 43. R.C. Mortimer, in Mickley, p. 80. 44.
Mickley, pp. 85-86. 45. Van Biema, p. 60.
FOOTNOTES – 1. Witherington Gal 1998, pp. 398-99; Witherington Cor 1995, pp. 191-95. 2. Matera, p. 196. 3. Huitt, online, pp. 1-2. 4. Vine, II, p. 225. 5. Cf. Yancey 1995, ch. 8, esp. pp. 142-44. 6. Andrew Greeley, quoted in Mickley, p. 44. 7. Gregory Baum, quoted in Mickley, p. 71. 8. Cf. Wilson & Rahman, passim; Bailey, pp. 50-74; Myers & Scanzoni, pp. 59-68. 9. Mickley, p. 89. 10. Cf. Pittinger, p. 76. 11. Cf. Bandstra, B.L., and A.D. Verhey, “Sex; Sexuality,” ISBE, IV (1988), p. 433. 12. Smith, John E., “Absolute Ethics,” in Childress & MacQuarrie, pp. 5-6. 13. Bromiley, G.W., “Divorce,” ISBE, I(1979), p. 978. 14. Wink, p. 44. 15. Ibid., p. 38. 16. Ibid., pp. 38-40. 17. Cf. Patai, pp. 131-33. 18. Cf. Wink, p. 40. 19. Sweet, L.M., and G.W. Bromiley, “Acommodation,” ISBE I (1979), p. 26. 20. Harrison, R.K., “Law in the OT,” ISBE, III (1986), pp. 78,84. 21. Dailey, pp. 42,46,53. 22. Rogers, p. 69. 23. Nissinen, p. 123. 24. Ibid., p. 124. 25. Rogers, p. 70. 26. Dennison, J.T., “Clean and Unclean,” ISBE I (1979), p. 722. 27. Dale Martin, in Rogers, p. 74. 28. Cf. Rogers, pp. 70-79. 29. Ibid., p. 78. 30. Ibid., pp. 71,74,78. 31. Nissinen, p. 128. 32. Ibid., p. 129. 33. Ibid., pp. 132-33. 34. Cahill, Lisa, “Sexual Ethics,” in Childress and MacQuarrie, p. 580. 35. Edwards, R.B., “Woman,” ISBE, IV (1988), pp. 1093-94. 36. Hugenberger, G.P., “Woman in Church Leadership,” ISBE, IV (1988), p. 1098. 37. Cf. Rogers, pp. 18-25. 38. Ibid., pp. 27-29. 39. Ibid., pp. 29-34. 40. Ibid., pp. 43-44. 41. Ibid., pp. 54,62. 42. Mickley, pp. 19,21. 43. R.C. Mortimer, in Mickley, p. 80. 44. Mickley, pp. 85-86. 45. Van Biema, p. 60.
Bailey, J. Michael, “Biological Perspectives on Sexual Orientation,” in Garnets, Linda D., and Douglas C. Kimmel, eds., Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences, 2003, pp. 50-85.
Childress, James F., and John MacQuarrie, eds., The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, 2nd ed. 1986.
Dailey, Timothy J., Dark Obsession (ex-gay booklet), 2003.
Huitt, William G., “Motivation to Learn: An Overview” -- a summary relating to “[Abraham] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/regsys/maslow.html - retrieved 11/8/07
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), ed. G.W. Bromiley, vols. I-IV, 1979-1988.
Matera, Frank J., Galations (Sacra Pagina Series), 1992.
Mickley, Richard R., Christian Sexuality, 1975.
Myers, David G., and Letha D. Scanzoni, What God Has Joined Together: A Christian Case for Gay Marriage, 2005.
Nissinen, Martti, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective, 1998.
Patai, Raphael, Family, Love and the Bible, 1960.
Pittenger, Norman, Time for Consent: A Christian’s Approach to Homosexuality, 3rd ed. 1976.
Rogers, Jack, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, 2006.
Strong, James, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible…, with Hebrew/English and Greek/English dictionaries, 1890, reprinted 1980.
Van Biema, David, “The Pastor’s No Square,” Time, 12/17/07, pp. 60-61.
Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, four vols. in one, 1940.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. 2002.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 17th ed. 1969.
Wilson, Glenn, and Qazi Rahman, Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, 2005.
Wink, Walter, “Homosexuality and the Bible,” in Walter Wink, ed., Homosexuality and Christian Faith, 1999, pp. 33-49.
Witherington III, Ben, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1995.
Witherington III, Ben, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 1998.
Yancey, Philip, The Jesus I Never Knew, 1995.
TRANSLATIONS: Contemporary English Version, 1995. Good News
Bible, 1983. King James Version, 1611. New
American Standard Verison, 1960. New International Version, 1978.
New Revised Standard Version, 1989.
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS: Contemporary English Version, 1995. Good News Bible, 1983. King James Version, 1611. New American Standard Verison, 1960. New International Version, 1978. New Revised Standard Version, 1989.
©2008, rev. 2009, by Bruce L. Gerig
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