(2 of 3 in this series)
In my last post, I’m Christian, Whether You’re Gay or Not, I addressed the Christian and Biblical position regarding homosexuality. In short, this position is that homosexual activities are sinful (like many other things), but that forgiveness is available and change possible through Jesus Christ. I would like to be able to stop there since it is largely a positive presentation of the Gospel message. However, in the course of discussions with homosexual friends and relatives, I have been challenged on several points by what I will refer to as “pro-homosexuality theology.”
Pro-homosexuality theology attempts to reconcile the practice of homosexuality with the teachings of scripture. Because of this, pro-homosexuality theology is embraced by many Christians struggling with homosexuality and by other Christians who, while not homosexuals themselves, rightly desire to reach out in support and love to their homosexual friends and relatives.
Unfortunately, though it is increasing in popularity, pro-homosexuality theology is a distortion of both scripture and the Gospel message and is entirely based on both factual and logical errors. Often these errors are hard to detect and are passed on in movies, websites, memes, and the homosexual subculture in general. The purpose of this article is to address many of these errors as I have encountered them in conversation and in culture. Several of them are from a documentary called For The Bible Tells Me So (FTBTMS), which unapologetically distorted every fact about Christianity it touched. Other errors are from an article called “Our Mutual Joy” by Lisa Miller published in Newsweek the end of 2008. In addressing all of these issues I will again be writing largely from a Christian standpoint, though some of the logical errors aren’t in explicitly theological arguments. (Note that the following objections aren’t direct quotes; they rather typify common objections to the biblical position.)
“I’m a Christian, loved by God, and I have homosexual feelings, therefore God approves of my homosexuality.”
This line of reasoning assumes that just because one is a Christian and loved by God, one’s actions must be approved by God. This is a non sequitur, because being loved by God is no guarantee that he approves of all our actions – we still sin, after all. Scripture abounds with examples of people God loved (many were Christians) but whose actions he detested. God loved Moses but rebuked him for disobedience in the wilderness after the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. God loved King David and made a covenant with him, but did not approve of his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder of one of his military officers, or his prideful census of Israel. The Apostle Peter at one point hypocritically refused to associate with Gentile Christians, but the fact that he was a Christian did not excuse this hypocrisy. The book of Revelation contains messages from Jesus to seven churches, commending them for some things, sternly rebuking them for others. Thus being a Christian and being loved by God are not justifications for anyone’s actions if they are not in accordance with Scripture. On the other hand, a Christian doesn’t automatically become a non-Christian just because he or she sins.
A very wrong-headed mentality is often connected with this objection. This is not a mentality unique to pro-homosexuality theology, nor does it necessarily follow from such theology. The mentality is demonstrated when asking questions such as, “Can someone be a homosexual and still be a Christian?” This is not the proper question to ask, any more than, “Can I have killed someone and still be a Christian?” or “Can I commit adultery and still be a Christian?” The proper question to ask is, “Does the Bible say homosexuality is right or wrong?” The mentality is one that wants to know how much sin one can “get away with” and still be a Christian. Paul makes it clear in Romans 6 that this type of thinking is a distortion of grace and is futile. However, let me repeat: this issue isn’t at all unique to homosexuality, and we all need to be careful of this way of thinking.
“It’s never wrong to love someone. What is wrong with two people loving one another?” (Love as the universal justifier.)
There are several variations of this argument and so many things wrong with this type of argument that it is difficult to know where to start. The general idea seems to be that if homosexuals genuinely love one another, then their actions are justified. In other words, love sanctifies the relationship. This argument is very misleading because it plays on our culture’s tendency to deify love, to make it an omnipotent force and the final authority on matters of relationships. With as much hate as there is in the world, it is tempting to encourage love wherever it occurs, but this view assumes that love is a sort of universal justifier, so that anything done in the name of love is ok. This is not the case. Love sometimes even gets in the way of doing the right thing. For instance, when our love for someone, even a family member, surpasses our love for God then it becomes sin that can keep us from God (Matthew 10:37). Take for instance King Solomon, whose many wives turned him away from God. If love is what justifies homosexuality, can it also justify pre-marital sex? Adultery? Consensual incestuous relationships? Polygamous relationships? Love cannot justify any of these things and neither can it justify homosexuality. This doesn’t mean I’m equating all of these types of relationships, or even saying one leads to the other. I’m saying that the “love” excuse is insufficient to justify an immoral relationship.
A further problem with the love argument is that it misunderstands the nature of love. Love is not merely a word signifying positive feelings, at least not in Christianity. The kind of love we often mean in today’s society is quite different from the kind that is extolled in 1 Corinthians 13. The love described in 1 Corinthians 13 “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Consequently even if love could be used to justify some things, it couldn’t be used to justify evil or deny truth, both of which occur inherently in pro-homosexuality theology and homosexual relationships. Encouraging one another in sin is not love.
Above the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is the commandment to love God, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. But what does scripture say about loving God? Jesus makes it clear four times in John 14 alone that loving God means obeying him. In John 15 Jesus tells us that the way to remain in His love is to obey His commands. And 1 John makes it clear that loving God means obeying Him, and that obedience to God is the sign of God’s love. Many other scriptures (Old Testament and New) testify to this same principle. By what reasoning, then, could love possibly be used to justify something that is universally denounced in Scripture in no uncertain terms?
“Homosexuality occurs between some animals in nature, therefore it is natural.” (From FTBTMS and elsewhere)
This objection illustrates the tendency to equivocate on the word “natural.” It could mean “something that occurs in nature” or it could mean “according to its nature.” They are clearly not the same or even coextensive; an instance of the first could easily occur without the second also occurring. So the fact that homosexual activities occur in animals in nature (definition #1) does not mean that homosexual desires are natural (definition #2). Of course, one *could* just circumvent all this linguistic analysis by observing that animals naturally do all sorts of things that are inappropriate for humans, including eating their feces, eating their young, killing one another (even within a species), etc. In other words, animals are not role models to be emulated by humans. That leads to the two main problems with this argument.
First, this attempt to justify the homosexual lifestyle is a prime example of what is known as the “is-ought” fallacy – a type of non sequitur. The mere fact that something is a certain way does not mean that it ought to be that way—much less that something entirely different ought to be the same way. The mere fact that animals engage in homosexual activities doesn’t imply anything about whether they should engage in such activities. So technically, even the animals aren’t off the hook, though since they aren’t moral creatures there isn’t much of a point in complaining about it. This leads us to the second issue with this argument.
The second problem is another non sequitur because animals are not moral agents, while humans are. While animals are not morally judged by their actions, humans will have to stand trial before God to give account for their actions. Thus it doesn’t follow from the animal homosexual activity that human homosexuals can be held blameless. In fact, there are many things that animals do that would be disgusting and/or reprehensible if humans were to do the same thing. Just consider; animals often eat their own vomit, feces, and young, kill their old and young, and engage in incest. Should we therefore assume that humans are justified in these same acts? Of course not! Why the special pleading for homosexual acts? Add to these considerations the fact that animal and human sexuality are massively different on many levels (animals typically don’t have recreational sex, develop romantic sensibilities, etc), and the case for homosexuality from the animal kingdom just doesn’t exist.
“Jesus doesn’t address homosexuality in the gospels, therefore it isn’t wrong, and is unimportant for my salvation.”
This argument is illogical and demonstrates the wrong-headed mentality I mentioned above. Why? First, it assumes that the Gospels are more authoritative than the rest of the Bible, but we know that “all scripture is inspired by God.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Second, there are several important doctrines that are not specifically mentioned in the Gospels, such as Spiritual Gifts, Man’s old and new natures, and the priesthood of Christ. In addition to this almost all of our understanding of grace comes from outside the Gospels. Are these doctrines unimportant because we don’t have a record of Jesus mentioning them? Third, there are other things Jesus didn’t specifically prohibit, such as wife beating and incest. Can we thus assume that his silence on these topics indicates Jesus would have approved? Fourth, Jesus himself kept all the Old Testament law and affirmed both the Old Testament law and the prophets, which inherently include a commitment to monogamous male-female marriage and a condemnation of homosexual activity. Thus the issue of homosexuality didn’t need to be discussed because it was already settled; the religious leaders knew Levitical law quite well. Fifth and finally, Jesus explicitly confirmed the standard of male-female heterosexual marriage as established by God “from the beginning” in Genesis 2. So no, Jesus isn’t recorded as having explicitly forbidden every possible way of failing God’s standard, but He did quite clearly affirm the standard and the instructions in place to protect it.
“Paul didn’t actually condemn homosexuality. The words Paul used in Romans one to describe homosexual acts don’t mean ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural,’ but rather, ‘customary’ and ‘non-customary.'” (From FTBTMS)
In this case, an “expert” in the FTBTMS movie essentially stated as a bald assertion that the words Paul uses in Romans 1 were mistranslated. Curious, I picked up my copy of the Greek New Testament and opened to Pros Romaious (the Letter “to the Romans”) where I discovered that, unsurprisingly, the expert had basically made up this objection. The word Paul uses is phusikos, which shares a root with our word “physical,” and, again unsurprisingly, means “natural.” Even in the Greek it is apparent that Paul condemns homosexuality, and he uses terms that emphasize the physical nature of homosexuality… not the emotional or libidinous aspects that relate to temptation.
On a related point, Paul’s wording in the Greek for “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is arsenokoite, and he uses a very similar word in 1 Timothy. While some proponents of “pro-gay theology” have asserted that Paul invented this term, that is really quite irrelevant since there is no doubt regarding its meaning. It is a direct translation of the Hebrew phrase used in Leviticus to say, “lying with a man.” This phrase is the traditional way in rabbinical literature to refer to homosexuality.
“Homosexuality may be called an abomination in Leviticus, but eating shellfish is called an abomination too, just a few chapters back. Clearly we don’t consider eating shellfish an abomination today, so why do we have a double-standard in still considering homosexuality an abomination?”
This is another bit of reasoning implied in FTBTMS. Implied reasoning of this type is common in documentaries and isn’t, in and of itself, problematic. I wouldn’t complain about them not stating the argument explicitly, except that it’s a bad one, and bad arguments are hard enough to detect sometimes even when clearly stated, let alone when they are implied. So what’s wrong with this argument?
It is based on an equivocation, an equivocation I discovered when I again went to the original language in which the passages were written. While there are some English translations where the words are same in both passages, in Hebrew there are two different words with different connotations. In the passage relating to shellfish (Leviticus 11) the Hebrew word shaqets is used. Shaqets carries a connotation of something being disgusting in the sense that many people think eating sheep brains, lutefisk or, worse yet, cafeteria food, is disgusting. All of the uses of shaqets are tied to passages on ritual cleanliness, and the word is never used to describe homosexuality (I checked). In the passages talking about homosexuality and other sexual sins, the word used is to’ebah (where the “e” makes a long “a” sound, and the “b” sounds like a “v”). To’ebah carries the connotation of disgusting in the sense of being reprehensible, morally speaking. Consequently it is no surprise when we find that same word used at the end of Leviticus 18, the chapter on sexual conduct in which we find the prohibition of homosexuality, where the sexually immoral behaviors listed in the chapter are collectively referred to as “abominations.” However, the word to’ebah isn’t used to refer to the food code or ritual cleanliness.
Also discordant between the two passages referenced by FTBTMS are the penalties given for the prohibited behavior. Eating a forbidden animal (shaqets) made you ritually unclean for a period of time, which in general required washing or sacrifice. Committing an act of sexual immorality (to’ebah) carried the punishment of being cut off from Israel.
Why can’t I own a Canadian?
There is really more to the shellfish objection than merely the fact that shellfish are prohibited. It really calls into question several larger issues, such as the relationship of the Old Testament laws to the New Testament, the question of which laws are binding, and the question of what interpretive principles we use when reading scripture. I call it the “Why can’t I own a Canadian?” objection, after the open letter written to Dr. Laura several years ago, although a version of the letter was incorporated into the TV show “The West Wing” at one point. You can read the open letter here.
The “Canadian” objection doesn’t try to directly show that homosexuality is ok with Christianity, but rather attempts to undermine an adherence to Jewish law as absurd. The general point then, is that one can either hold to all of the Levitical law or none of it. Holding to all of it would entail things that offend modern sensibilities (dietary restrictions, slavery, etc), and so the implication is that we shouldn’t hold to any of it. While it might be quite possible to defend several of the points of Levitical law the letter mentions, doing so isn’t necessary because there is a more appropriate response. At the heart of this objection is a dramatic misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law.
Presumably the writer of the “Canadian” letter would consider it hypocritical to hold on to only the parts that one likes (say, a condemnation of homosexuality) but jettison the parts one doesn’t like (owning a slave and avoiding shrimp). And perhaps it would be hypocritical… for Dr. Laura, as an observant Orthodox Jew. That doesn’t mean that she’s wrong of course, just hypocritical. There’s a huge difference.
Of course it’s not hypocritical for Christians, since Christians aren’t under the law in the same sense that Dr. Laura is. The Law (that is, the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant described in Exodus and Leviticus, and recapitulated in Deuteronomy) never applied to Gentiles (non-Jews) to begin with! Even Christian Jews are no longer under the Law. The question is, if we aren’t under the Law, are we allowed to do anything we wish? Paul spends several chapters of Romans responding to this issue, and of course the answer is “no.” We need a way to distinguish what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Is murder ok just because Gentiles aren’t under the Old Testament Law? Of course not! Although we are not prohibited from murder by the Mosaic covenant, it doesn’t follow that we aren’t prohibited from murder. There are universal principles that are reflected in the Mosaic Law but extend beyond it. These are usually easy to distinguish, as the “shellfish” example above illustrated – there was a marked difference between the terms used to describe eating shellfish and the terms used to describe sexual immorality.
Another useful criterion for determining the application of a command is this: if a command is given in both the Old and New Testaments, then it is morally binding – for everyone (like the Ten Commandments). There are several places in both the Old and New Testaments where homosexuality is condemned as sinful, and therefore it’s easy to construct a biblical case regarding homosexual behavior. This case is not susceptible to any of the issues raised in “Why can’t I own a Canadian?”
Next time we’ll continue with responses to a few of the remaining attacks on the biblical view of homosexuality.