De-Scandalizing Gay Sex?

From time to time I come across folks who claim to have seen the light on the LGBT thing. They “used to believe” that homosexuality was sinful and contrary to the Bible and the Christian faith, but now they have discovered “new scholarship” that corrected their formerly errant thinking and now they are fully affirming and “Faithfully LGBT”

Actually, that sounds a lot like my own path to egalitarianism. Because I rode in the complementarian cavalry for many years, till something came up one morning in my Bible reading that would set me on a course that ultimately led to my complete reversal regarding women and gender roles. And admittedly many folks that embrace egalitarianism ultimately become LGBT affirming as well. 1

But not all egalitarians make that jump. This brother believes the difference lies in why the person became egalitarian in the first place. If a person becomes an egalitarian because their heart tells them that’s the right way to go, and then they go to the Bible and find reasons to support their desired belief, it seems likely they will also follow their heart to a desire to affirm LGBT. And then they will find a way to read the Bible that allows for that as well. But if their first love is the truth and the Scriptures, and they come to the egalitarian position through careful study and honest assessment of what the Bible really says, it isn’t likely they will also embrace the “affirming” LGBT position.

I can say that with a fair amount of confidence, because the Biblical evidence and support of egalitarianism has several very strong points, and it seems to me the arguments in favor of egalitarianism grow stronger every day. But on the other hand, the Bible is overwhelmingly negative when it comes to LGBT, and as far as I can see nothing has changed in the last 35 years.

Take this pro- gay article for instance: The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality by Rev. Justin Cannon. Recently I saw someone say it was the some of the best scholarship they had ever seen on the issue, and I have to agree with them. It is, without a doubt, an example of some of the best reasoning for the gay position that I’ve ever seen. It’s also nonsense. But I agree that it’s the best argument they have. This will be a review and critique of Cannon’s article, but it my comments can pertain to most material in the pro LGBT religious camp. As far as I can tell, they are all the same.

So let’s have a look, section by section:

Terminology

The author makes the point that the terms “homosexual” and “Sodomite or sodomy” are invalid terms, the former term not existing until the 20th century, and the latter being an inhabitant of Sodom and it cannot mean more than that. This is nothing but obfuscation. Both are English words with meanings that can be ascertained with precision in any dictionary. Modern translations use those words to describe the Greek and Hebrew terms found in the Bible because they mean what the translators understand the Biblical text to say.

Looking at the Bible

Rev. Cannon points to “six Bible accounts that have in recent years been used in reference to homosexuality.” As a point in fact, all six passages have been used since the foundation of the church to establish that the Bible teaches against homosexual practice. But Cannon attempts to negate each passage one by one.

The Sodom Account (Gen 19:1-9)

Rev. Cannon rightly points out that God had already decided to destroy Sodom before this chapter.

“Whatever the reason for the city’s destruction it had to do with the sin of Sodom before this event.” – Reverend Justin Cannon

Rev. Cannon is correct. Since that is the case,  why does he focus entirely on what happened on the night described in the passage? His discussion is aimed solely at the rape of Lot’s daughters and the poor hospitality shown to the town’s guests. Yet we know, and Cannon admits, that those were not the reasons for the destruction of Sodom.

God had decided to destroy Sodom long before the events of that night. We are told in the preceding chapter that the Lord said,

“How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me;” Genesis 18:20-21 (NRSV)

The first time we are introduced to the men of Sodom is when they appear at Lot’s door seeking the visiting angels, who they believe are other men, in order to engage in homosexual sex with them.

“[A]ll the men from every part of the city of Sodom —both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Genesis 19:4-5 (NIV)

Are we to believe that “all the men of the city” did not regularly engage in homosexual acts before this night? That this was out of character for them? Of course not. And make no mistake, this story wasn’t told to describe their virtues. We are introduced to them in this way precisely to describe their sinful character. Sodom was filled with all kinds of sin. But the first sin of the people of Sodom described for us in the Bible is the demand for gay sex with what they believed were men visiting their city.

But Rev. Cannon does not mention this part of the story at all. Nor does he mention any of the other Bible references to Sodom that inform us of the rest of the story. He rather focuses on aspects of the story that he had already acknowledged did not pertain to God’s judgement on Sodom, confusing his readers with irrelevant material.

Reverend Cannon wrongly believes at this point that he has thoroughly discredited the Sodom story and established that it has nothing to do with homosexual acts. Thanks to his omission of a few key details, it may seem so, but again, that’s only if you leave out the key facts of the account.

After avoiding important information and averting our attention to other aspects of the story, he then deflects to a discussion of 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe to discredit his selection of “the synn of Sodom” to translate arsenokoites, the New Testament word usually translated as sodomite or homosexual.

Cannon’s complaint is that the sins of Sodom have nothing to do with homosexual acts, but as we’ve seen, his complaint is based on a false premise.  Based on that false premise, Cannon objects to the use of “the sin of Sodom” or “sodomy” to describe homosexual acts.

In addition to the false premise that underlies Cannon’s complaint, another problem here is that Wycliffe believed 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 described homosexual sex and tried to reflect that in his text. But in Wycliffe’s time the word “homosexual” did not yet exist, and the word “gay” didn’t carry that meaning either. So without using “the sin of Sodom”, how was Wycliffe supposed to describe homosexual acts in English? Tell me if you know.

Cannon continues the discussion of arsenokoites into the next sections.

1 Tim 1:10 and 1 Cor 6:9

Here we find the word arsenokoites in the text. Reverend Cannon has established that arsenokoites is made up of two other Greek words, arsen and koite. Unlike Wycliffe, Cannon has no idea what arsenokoites means. But he is willing to guess that it has nothing to do with a proper gay sexual encounter.

He probably knows, but doesn’t want to tell us, that scholars point to Leviticus 18:22 and 22:13 as the source of arsenokoites, and that Paul probably coined the term from these verses. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint these verses read:

“And with a male (arsen) you shall not lie in a bed (koite) as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Lev 18:22)

“If a man lies with a male (arsen) as in the marriage bed (koite) of a woman, both committed an abomination. They shall be put to death, for they are guilty.” Leviticus 20:13

The Septuagint was Paul’s Bible. These were the verses he read and studied. When Paul put the words arsen and koite together to form a new word, he didn’t do that at random.

That’s why the most authoritative lexicon of Biblical Greek, the Bauer Arndt Gingrich, makes reference to Leviticus 20:13, and says that arsenokoites means, “a male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast.” The most authoritative lexicon of the ancient Greek speaking world, the Liddell Scott Jones, simply says that the word means, “sodomite” and also references Paul.

Reverend Cannon doesn’t want it to mean that, and therefore ignores the Greek language lexicons where they don’t cooperate with his intended outcome and attempts to redefine arsenokoites based on context. That isn’t good scholarship.

Romans 1:24-27

This is a very clear text that condemns both male and female homosexual acts. Reverend Cannon would have us believe that Paul here was not condemning homosexual acts per se, but only those homosexual acts done by heterosexuals. To take that to its logical conclusion, one would have to believe that God would condemn a gay person for engaging in heterosexual sex as well, but not for a gay person engaging in gay sex. Fortunately for bisexuals, that would mean God permits them to swing either way. And blessed are the pansexuals!

It is sad that people take this twisting of Scripture seriously. Let’s look again at the text:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:26-27 (NRSV)

There shouldn’t be any question what Paul is saying here. Homosexual behavior is not the natural function of a man and a woman as God made them. They are exchanging natural intercourse of men and women for that which is unnatural for men and women. There is no pederasty or group sex in view here, it is simply men having sex with men and women having sex with women.

Reverend Cannon strains the text to find orgies when none are mentioned, and to connect Baal worship to the orgies he has thrust into the text, in order to miss Paul’s message about mankind’s Godless descent into sin. Because Paul’s message is not what he wants to hear.

Genesis 1 and 2

Reverend Cannon downplays Genesis 1 and 2. Though a book could be written on the implications he overlooks, I will pass for the sake of brevity.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Reverend Cannon attempts to downplay these verses in three ways:

First of all he says, we’re not under the Levitical law, so it doesn’t matter what Leviticus says. He writes several paragraphs and cites numerous passages to “prove” that we aren’t under the law, as if the law has no importance in our life.

But look at 1 Corinthians 5, when the church in Corinth had a moral issue that Paul had to deal with. In this case, a man had his father’s wife. Paul said that constituted sexual immorality. How did Paul know this? Because the Jews looked to Leviticus chapters 18 and 20 to define sexual immorality. Paul was applying exactly the same passage to the Corinthian issue that Cannon objects to as not pertinent to Christians concerning homosexual behavior.3 Therefore, Cannon’s first objection is invalid.

Second, he quotes the verses in an overly literal exactly word-for-word translation and then complains that they make no sense and the meaning is unclear. This is an extremely juvenile and/or deceptive approach. The Hebrew of these verses is not at all unclear, and those familiar with the languages have no problem at all in translating them correctly. To pretend that the meaning of the language in these verses is unclear is either a stunning display of ignorance or an outrageous deception.

Third, and unbelievably, Reverend Cannon appeals to patriarchy. Since the status of women in the culture of the time was lower than men, to “lie with a man as with a woman” would be to treat the other man as a lesser being, “reducing him to property and in effect defiling the image of God, which the man was considered.”

Apparently Cannon believed that defiling the image of God in a woman was quite alright. It is one thing to recognize misogyny in the culture. But Reverend Cannon here ascribes misogyny to God!

But setting that horrendous thought aside, Reverend Cannon would have us believe that this text, given to the Hebrews by Moses, does not prohibit gay sex, but is rather a commandment that gay sex be done well. He is saying that according to Moses, it’s fine if you have sex with the man next door as long as you don’t treat him like a girl when you do. Because that would degrade him. This is a ridiculous, misogynistic proposition that has no historical or exegetical support whatsoever.

Conclusion

Reverend Cannon may believe that he has neutralized the six passages above that speak against homosexual acts, but I have shown he has not done that at all. He has resorted to egregious scripture twisting that has resulted in outrageous and impossible interpretations.

But let’s assume for a moment that the prohibitive passages above were negated. What then do we have? Cannon says:

“Nowhere does the Bible talk about a loving and committed homosexual relationship. The only thing the authors of the Bible knew about homosexuality was that which they saw expressed in the pagan worship of Baal, the temple prostitution, et cetera.” – Justin Cannon

The problem that presents cannot be overstated. As egalitarian, I can point to numerous positive examples of women in leadership and teaching, in church offices and exercising spiritual gifts. My position on women’s equality defies church tradition, but I can show several Biblical cases of God using women in ways that subvert the traditional view and lend credence to my belief that patriarchy is not God’s plan.4 But Cannon admits that the Bible has zero positive examples of practicing homosexuals, and that the Biblical authors knew nothing about loving committed homosexual relationships.

But how could that be? Was the Holy Spirit not aware of the gay population of the early church and the difficulties they faced?

The US national average of those identifying as LGBT is now 3.8%.5 Supposedly our orientation is all genetic, so we should expect about 3.8% of the early church to have been gay as well. What would this have looked like in the early church?

Of the 3000 believers in Jerusalem in Acts 2:41, there would have been 114 gay people. By 4:4, 190 gay people. In 5:14, the church increased by “great numbers”. That happened again in 6:1, again in 6;7, again in 11:21, again in 11:24, and again in 12:24. If the gay activists are correct, by this point there would have to be thousands of gay Christians in the church.

Were none of them in loving, committed gay relationships? If there were, where are they? Either in the Bible or in church history, where are they? Or if none of the gay people were in loving committed relationships, would that not call for some apostolic teaching about how to express one’s gay sexuality in a sanctified manner? But we don’t see that in the Bible. We do see quite a lot about sexual immorality and the marriage relationship, but not one word toward the gay people. If gay practice is a gift of God to be celebrated, yet the Bible is supposed to be sufficient to guide us in faith and practice, it is woefully lacking in regard to addressing the needs of LGBTs.

It makes no sense that a divinely guided book so focused on sexual ethics could completely overlook such a large percentage of the population. The obvious inference is that Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 is directed toward homosexual acts of all types as traditionally understood.

The Bible speaks unquestionably and irrevocably against gay sexual acts. Reverend Cannon makes an extremely poor case to negate that message in order to avoid that obvious fact. And the end result of his negation is a Bible that isn’t adequate to inform all Christians in faith and practice. Good students of the Bible will never buy what Reverend Cannon is selling.

This Brother’s Advice

If you want to affirm Gay Christians, then do it. But don’t say the Bible is OK with that. Just say you don’t believe what the Bible says about homosexuality. That’s a respectable position to have. I don’t agree with it, but I can respect it.

Some feminists do that. They think the Bible is against the equality of women, and the say they don’t believe the Bible, or they may say they don’t believe Paul. I like proving to feminists and others that the Bible is overwhelmingly egalitarian. That the backdrop of the Bible is patriarchy, but that was the result of the fall of mankind, and that Christ came to redeem us from that. That’s a coherent message. It’s a difficult sell, but it’s a coherent message. The truth wins out in the end when people are able to hear it.

But the big problem is when an egalitarian Christian fights for an egalitarian understanding of the Scripture and then says, “Oh, by the way, I believe the gay thing too.” If you say that to someone that knows their Bible, you are done as a Bible teacher. Whatever credibility you ever had about your egalitarian message is out the window.

Complementarians constantly tie egalitarians to homosexuality. I’ve seen them say that over and over. They say that of necessity we are on a slippery slope to gay marriage and full acceptance of gay sex. And they use that tactic against us because it works. It has legs. They can point to denomination after denomination where it has happened. We have to stop that. We have to take that argument away from them.

For women to be restored to equality with men in the church and the home, we need God to raise up an army of egalitarians who don’t compromise on the truth of God’s word with the LGBT issue.

I’m in. Are you?

 

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References

  1. This connection is commonly used as a weapon by Complementarians to oppose Egalitalitarianism. See, for instance, Egalitarianism and Homosexuality: Connected or Autonomous Ideologies? David W. Jones; The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Fall 2003  https://goo.gl/we5yGi
  2. Primary passages are Ezekiel 16:49-50; 2 Peter 2:6-10; Jude 7. Sodom is prominently mentioned throughout the Bible as an example of great wickedness and god’s judgement, e.g. Isaiah 3:9; Jeremiah 23;14; Lamentations 4:6; Amos 4:11; Mathew 10:15
  3. Paul’s knowledge of sexual immorality in this case was informed by Leviticus 18:8 and 20:11. Clearly then Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are also relevant for defining sexual immorality for Christians.
  4. See Marg Mowzcko, “Women Church Leaders in the New Testament” https://goo.gl/kQW2Cb
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_demographics_of_the_United_States