I know before I even write a word that many will look at the title and become a little nervous. That’s OK. I also know that you may not agree with the author’s premise or my sentiments. That’s OK too. I believe this book is worth a read by people on all sides of the inclusion/gay marriage debate. While I know it won’t convince those who do not wish to be convinced, I hope it will raise a few questions and bring about a more positive conversation.
In the book Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, Jack Rogers speaks candidly about his journey through the Presbyterian Church (USA) and his experience at a local and national level dealing with the issue of inclusion of LGBT folk in church life and practice.
I bought this book (Kindle edition) out of curiosity more than anything else. All my life I have heard numerous arguments both for and against inclusiveness, some quoting Scripture and some not. But I must admit I have never heard the inclusion argument so clearly stated with sound biblical support as I have by the author of this book.
He starts with a history of his own denomination from the 19th century on and its dealings (reflecting those of other churches) in the slavery debate, the recognition of the status of women, and then the fight against segregation. At first, I got bogged down in the historical part, until I understood the part it played in setting the scene for what follows.
Jack Rogers writes about the arguemnts which many noble and honourable Chriustians used to support the importation and use of African slaves in America in the 18th and 19th centuries: God had cursed them for all time because of their ancestor’s sin, made them subservient to other races, that they were morally inferior to the slave-owners, and were themselves accused of being rebellious sinners themselves.
Likewise, addressing the subservient and non-privileged status of women, the arguments used by many Christians (and still used in some circles) strongly supported the view that they were cursed because of God’s curse on Eve in early Genesis. They further claim the Bible’s support for keeping women in subjection to men in all areas of life–private and public.
Then segregation rears its head (and we are already one-third way through the book) and, once again, the Bible is used to condemn integration and to declare the inferiority intellectually, morally, and spiritually of non-whites.
All this to point out that the fierce battles of bygone days, the tactics and arguments used, and the promotion of the cause as just and right by God’s word are the same that are being used today in the LGBT inclusion and gay marriage debates.
Jack Rogers continues, debunking the ‘biblical’ arguments that are raised against LGBT folk and their inclusion both as church members and ministers. His arguments are scholarly and insightful. He quotes a wide range of historians, theologians and scholars as he sheds light on the foundations of the argument from Scripture.
Certainly the future history of the Christian Church will show (I am convinced) that this is another of those issues like slavery and segregation where, in the end, common sense and an appeal to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ prevails.
Here is a short piece from the book:
The Old Testament stories most often cited as opposing homosexuality are (i) God’s judgment on the men of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-29 and (2) the parallel story of the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19:1-30. These texts take us into an ancient Near Eastern world whose values are very different than ours. The central idea in these passages is the sacred obligation of hospitality for travellers (and the ways in which sinful people often violated this sacred obligation). In a desert country, to remain outside at night, exposed to the elements, could mean death.
In both stories, a host invites travelling men into his house. Later an angry mob of townspeople surround the house and demand that the host turn his guests over to them. Foreigners are clearly not welcome, and the implication is that they may be raped or killed. Daniel Helminiak, professor of psychology at the State University of West Georgia, points out that in the ancient world homosexual rape was a traditional way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes. In that culture, the most humiliating experience for a man was to be treated like a woman, and raping a man was the most violent such treatment. As Dale B. Martin, professor of religion at Duke University, says, “To be penetrated was to be inferior because women were inferior.” It is an expression of the “ancient horror of the feminine.”
In each of the stories, the host attempts to placate the threatening gangs by offering women of his household for the mob to abuse instead of his male guests. Notice the cultural emphasis on the superiority of men over women. As Old Testament scholar Martti Nissinen of the University of Helsinki notes, the critical issue in the ancient Near East was not sexuality but gender, and it was important that the superior position of men over women be maintained. In that culture, the hosts felt that it was more important to protect male visitors in their house than to protect women, even their own daughters or common-law wife! The hosts do not seem to think of the attackers as primarily homosexual, or they would not offer women for them to abuse.
The best available scholarship shows that these texts have nothing to do with homosexuality as such. C.L. Seow, professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, points out that the sin of Sodom is mentioned several times elsewhere in the Bible, but never in connection with homosexual acts. In Old Testament references to Sodom, the sins of the city are variously described as greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, indifference to the poor, and general wickedness. In the New Testament, when Jesus referred to the sin of Sodom, as recorded in Luke 10:12 and Matthew 10:15, he was passing judgment on cities that refused hospitality to his travelling disciples. A focus on the supposed homosexual aspect of the Sodom story comes only later, in nonbiblical literature, Phyllis Bird, professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, notes: “Israel is enjoined not to follow the practices of the Canaanites who preceded them in the land…. The previous inhabitants, through their ‘defiling’ actions, caused the land to become defiled so that God punished the land, making it vomit out its inhabitants.”
In contrast, Israel was to be faithful to God, so that they would prosper on this land. Second, they could not mix with any other kind of people or adopt alien customs if they were to remain pure. Practically, this meant no intermarriage with non-Israelites. However, the Israelites generalized this aspect of the code to mean no mixing of any kind. Thus the Holiness Code forbids such things as sowing a field “with two kinds of seed” and wearing a garment “made of two different materials” (Lev. 19:9).
Third, male gender superiority had to be maintained. We find in Leviticus that actions undermining male gender superiority incur the death penalty. A child who cursed his parents could be put to death, for such an act threatened the social order in a patriarchal society. Adultery was similarly punishable by death, because it was an unlawful use of a woman, who was a man’s property, and therefore jeopardized lines of ownership and inheritance. Engaging in homosexual acts was punishable by death, because a man took a passive role and was penetrated, which was the role assigned to a woman. Victor Paul Furnish, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, points out that a man penetrated was thus impure. By, in effect, mixing genders, he had crossed a cultural boundary, and that could not be tolerated.
It is against this background that Nissinen, Bird, and others interpret the statement, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). The Hebrew word toevah, translated as “abomination,” refers here to something that makes a person ritually unclean, such as having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating. Ritual purity was considered necessary to distinguish the Israelites from their pagan neighbours.
Jesus was concerned with purity of heart. In Matthew 15 he said to a crowd, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matt. 15:10-11). Later he explained to his disciples: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matt. 15:18-20).
When we see Jesus as the fulfilment of the law (Matt. 5:17), we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws, but rather, with Jesus, to love God and love our neighbour (Matt. 22:36-40). When these texts in Leviticus are taken out of their historical and cultural context and applied to faithful, God-worshiping Christians who are homosexual, it does violence to them. They are being condemned for failing to conform to an ancient culturally conditioned code that is not applicable to them or their circumstances.