Modern-Life, Observations, Religion.

The Bible Tells Me So, continued

A reader responded to my article The Bible Tells Me So, a short discussion of Matthew Vine’s recent video about the Bible and homosexuality:

Good on you for attempting to provide both sides of this debate. I like also how you finish your post with a question – which side [sic] would Jesus have made? The question reflects how it’s difficult to be certain of these things. But at the same time, I suggest that reasonable guidance in response to that question is not impossible to find. There are some that claim that Jesus is not recorded to have spoken on homosexual relationships. While technically true, I think that suggestion is also misleading. In passages such as early Matthew 19, and Luke 14:26 Jesus is recorded as referring to relationships, and I think we can obtain guidance from those passages in regards to whether he would support homosexual relationships. A few responses to the hour long video at the top of your post are now cropping up on the web, and are worth a look for those who are interested, for example this detailed critique here.

-Oregon Scribbler,

Oregon Scribbler.

I have looked at a few of the responses to Matthew’s video (it is how I came to know about it in the first place), including the one just mentioned above, and find them to be more of the same.  As the reader points out, it is difficult to be certain about these things, which is in keeping with my overall feeling about this subject. Amongst those who chose to interpret the Bible as disapproving of homosexuality, the emphasis is on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, and the conclusion is that it is either clearly proscribed, or implicitly proscribed.  Some go as far as to say that Christ will not allow homosexuals into the Kingdom of God!

With all of the careful parsing of the Bible, the combing of the verses to find the right interpretation, there is usually added extra-Biblical arguments: Homosexuals are more promiscuous, can’t be trusted with our children (and are destroying our family values), they are Godless, they behave unnaturally (after all, a same-sex couple cannot make a baby), that homosexuality is a choice, and on the more extreme side, World War II was caused by the homosexual Nazis, and so many more arguments as to be unlistable.  It is difficult to summarize the Christian anti-gay  attitudes, and it is neither my intent or desire to spend countless hours trying to make sense of them.  Having looked at the issue closely for the first time in my life, it is clear enough to me that the Bible itself is evidently unclear on the subject.

The argument that homosexuality threatens family values seems particularly obtuse.  The worst problems which beset heterosexual families have no discernible link to an external homosexual lifestyle:  High divorce rates, representing families creating unhealthy strife, lowered marriage rates among younger heterosexuals, and troubling rates of abusive treatment of children by heterosexual parents are much bigger issues for those concerned about the institution of the family than the bogeyman of homosexual couples.

Many anti-homosexual arguments appear to have the “icky” factor.  For many heterosexuals, the idea of touching another of their own sex in an intimate sexual way is viscerally repugnant.  But isn’t this is just another way of understanding that heterosexuals are not attracted sexually to their own sex?  A related argument, that homosexuality is unnatural because no offspring can be produced is true to a degree, yet this is a narrow understanding of the complexity of human sexuality.

The vast majority of heterosexual Christians, as well as non-Christians, have used contraception to avoid creating offspring, so that they can experience intimate sexual pleasure without the attendant biological consequences, whether it be some form of the rhythm method, that is deliberately avoiding sex during fecund periods, or various other physical and pharmaceutical methods.  There is a massive amount of sexual congress for the sole purpose of intimate sexual pleasure, heterosexual or homosexual.

Another common argument is that homosexuality is a choice.  Besides emerging studies from psychologists and medical researchers that suggest that it is more likely to be an innate condition, there is the obvious point that choosing to be a homosexual is to choose a painful life of rejection and ridicule and reduced rights.  I remember as I was growing up, the scorn and abuse, verbal and physical, that was heaped upon any boy who might seem effeminate or who was timid or liked things that weren’t thought to be masculine or disliked things thought to be masculine.  It is hard to reconcile this kind of a life with “choice.”

So, in the face of the lack of Biblical clarity regarding same-sex relationships, what does a person choose to emphasize?  Several of my relatives and some of my co-workers are LGBT: Do I treat them as second class citizens, do I deny my approval of their life choices, based on a set of painfully nebulous Biblical interpretations? Do I make them feel unloved because I choose to emphasize the most unloving interpretation?

It seems to me that the overarching message of the New Testament, the one message that is not clouded, the one message that the thousands of Christian sects don’t argue over, is one of love: Love one another; God loves all of his people, and offers them all unconditional love.  That is, no matter how sinful, by accepting the mediation of Jesus, one is welcomed into the family of God, and that only God knows the heart of a person, and only God judges the fitness of the person to be accepted in God’s family.

-CC-BY-2.5, Golbez

Slavery, moral or immoral? What does the Bible say? US Slavery Map, 1858. Attrib: Golbez, CC-BY-2.5. Click to view enlarged picture

The rest of the arguments regarding the immorality of homosexuality seem secondary.  We live our lives on a moral basis, whether derived from Christianity or myriad other sources. (note 1) We create laws and establish cultural mores based on such moral thinking.  We can do no other, in order to live together on this crowded earth.  These mores change over time, as superstition gives way to accumulated knowledge, as coercion gives way to liberties; accompanying Biblical emphases have changed with them.

For example, in Western civilization, slavery is now widely condemned as immoral, but was for many centuries an accepted and moral institution easily justified in the Bible; in the United States, Christians in slave-holding regions unsurprisingly argued that the Bible allows slavery, less than 200 years ago.  It can be argued that the Bible makes a stronger case for the toleration of slavery than its abolition. (note 2) Why is a radically different Biblical interpretation the dominant one today by Western Christians, that slavery is immoral and should be against the law? It seems to me that the emphasis in this area has shifted to the idea that slavery violates the most important precept:  Love one another, which arguably underlies the idea that all men are created equal, at least under the law.  Slavery was doing harm to the enslaved, at the hands of other people, and the enslaved were doing no harm to their owners; the situation called for a reversal of law to rectify obvious inequalities.

There are many other examples of changing mores that have been supported by changes of interpretation of the Bible.  A good part of Old Testament law was wiped off of the books by Jesus for varied reasons, to include those above; in any event, hundreds of Old Testament laws are routinely ignored, or broken if you will, because they are no longer culturally relevant, even by those who insist on the inerrancy of the Bible.

On another front,  the suppression of heresy and the destruction of heretics and its counterpart, religious freedom, have both been exhaustively justified by Biblical interpretation; for most of Christian history, it was acceptable and legal to exile, imprison, torture, or burn someone at the stake because their beliefs differed from orthodox Christianity (itself a moving target), behavior that in Western Europe and its American colonies continued well into the 18th century, but which today is no longer considered moral or legal.  Perhaps laws and moral codes that endure are ones that proscribe behavior that harms others:  Murder, rape, theft, bearing false witness, etc. Mores regarding homosexuality are changing in Western cultures, too, it would appear for similar reasons.

Same-sex loving relationships do no harm to society as a whole, and can be argued in fact to be of some benefit, so society does harm in condemning and making illegal such behavior, or making homosexuals lesser citizens.  It is no surprise that we are moving, with halting steps, towards a more loving and Christ-like embrace of homosexuals as one of us, with full and attendant rights, to be loved, to be welcomed by society as a whole.

 

Notes

1. Cris Campbell suggests that “the earliest moral-ethical precepts were not religious.” He points out that there are many societies throughout history where morals and ethics are not inextricably linked to religious practices or beliefs, from the Code of Hammurabi, which pre-dates the major organized religions of today, to various native tribes around the world, to include the Lakota Sioux in North America. He suggests that the “conflation of morality with religion is a relatively recent development in human history, and it is limited to certain peoples in certain places who practice certain religions.”  Beyond the obvious observation that many mammals are intensely social, he points out that there is some evidence that humans are biologically predisposed to social behavior and cooperation in keeping with the “golden rule”, for which morality provides formal and informal rules.  Additional thoughts by Campbell on this subject can be found here.

2. Leviticus 25: 44-46: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”; 1 Timothy 6: 1: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed.” Solomon had many slaves, mentioned but otherwise unremarked upon in the Old Testament. More here: Exodus 20: 20-21; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3: 22. These and other verses have been used by Christians to justify slavery in the past.

2 thoughts on “The Bible Tells Me So, continued

  1. Thomas, If you are comfortable with me doing so, Id like to comment on some of the thoughts in the above post –

    “only God judges the fitness of the person to be accepted in God’s family.”
    I suppose there are various possible meanings to ‘God’s family’ in this sentence; those who are welcomed into heaven in the afterlife, or those who wish to bear the label ‘christian’ on earth or those who are considered part of a local congregation. In terms of the latter of the definitions, I suggest that churchmembers are in fact Biblically mandated to make moral decisions on this very question. 1 Corinthians chapter 5 indicates that sincere Christians should not associate with those who call themselves Christians but who are seriously corrupted by sin, including sexual sin. And in Revelation chapter 2, the indication is that Christians are required to not tolerate teachers who lead others into sexual sin. Sexual sin seems to be regarded as a more serious sin than most in the Bible. Those who are dogmatic in their interpretation of scripture risk error, but likewise those who sit on the fence on this issue likewise risk ultimately being found non-compliant. I suggest that if you take all the scriptures broadly about relationships, sexual sin, and specifically about homosexuality, and then weigh them all up, a reasonable yet cautious conclusion about the Christian position on homosexuality can be made.

    “Do I make [GLBT people] feel unloved?”
    Well if you are a sincere Christian, then no, setting out intentionally to make them feel unloved is not an option. As you note, love is a key goal in Jesus teaching, whether one believes that homosexual sex is sinful or not.

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