Thursday, March 27, 2008

Convince Me

I'll be the first to admit there are some things I just don't understand—a lot of things, actually. I know I'm not the most intelligent of persons, but I would like to think I'm smart enough to make reasonably sound judgments on things. And I'd like to think I'm smart enough to not be arrogant or closed-minded about the things I believe in. I'll be the first to admit I'm often wrong about a lot of things. But there's one thing I can't seem to escape thinking I'm right about, and wishing I were wrong. And that's whether or not God forbids gay sex.

I keep having people tell me that gay sex or homosexual relationships in confines of a committed, monogamous and loving relationship are okay with God. I've been in many conversations with people who support that view who can offer some fairly reasonable and intelligent explanations for why they believe that. But, so far, none of these people have convinced me. Every argument they present, every interpretation of scripture they quote, I've been able to counter. But I'll admit I'd like to believe them.

Now, some of these people have accused me of making the Bible say things it doesn't, or that I make it say what I want it to say. I reject that completely! I wish more than anything I could read the Bible and find something that would cause me to believe that homosexual relationships are okay with God. But when I read the Bible, I read what I don't want to read. I read that all sexual acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman is wrong. And that includes gay sex. I'm not trying to make the Bible say things that I want it to say. I read the Bible and I see that it says something I wish it didn't. And I can't escape that. But I want to hear what other people read. I want to know what you think. If you think gay sex is okay with God, tell me why. I'll listen and consider whatever you have to say. If I'm wrong, I want to know I'm wrong. If I'm wrong, it means I can finally go out and get the boyfriend I've always wanted. So, please, by all means do your best to convince me.

Now, I'm going to try my best not to respond back to any of your comments to this post, because what I'd like to do is respond back in another post. So, don't worry about getting into a back and forth argument with me. I don't intend to get into that with any of you. I just want to hear what you think.

18 comments:

RikFleming said...

The best way to say that the Bible doesn't forbid same sex relationships is to assert that, "...the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexuality as we know it."

If you take any sin and redefine it in psychological terms, make an argument or provide proof that it has some genetic cause, and then assert that the Bible is only referring to a ritualistic pagan form of the act then you can say that the word or prohibition in the Bible doesn't apply to 21st century mutually consenting versions of the sin.

You can do this with anything! Does the Bible forbid alcoholism as we know it? NO! The Bible is only referring to the drunken orgies of temple prostitutes and bacchanalia - the wild and mystic festivals of the Roman and Greek god Bacchus.

But now we know that being an alcoholic is genetic and therefore so long as a person isn't hurting anyone or done in the context f formally worshiping a pagan god that it is perfectly acceptable.

The truth is the entire life of a Christian is to be a sacrifice of worship to God (Romans 12:1-2) and that our bodies are the Temple of God and therefore every sexual act is an act of worship that either defiles the temple (1 Corinthians 6:15-20) or is clean and undefiled because it is within the marriage bed of a husband and a wife. (Hebrews 13:4)

Norm! said...

Wow. That's quite the challenge you propose. The problem is that faith isn't an argument to be won. Ultimately, faith doesn't make sense and can't be explained. If it could, then it wouldn't be faith -- it would be fact.

That said, I can only share my journey and hope you relate. Although I was raised to believe the Bible to the Word of God, I now believe the Bible is a heavily edited collection of first century (and prior) believers' understanding of God and the world. It was certainly written before any understanding of homosexuality, psychology, genetics, and science. And yet, the Bible still contains profounds truths that continue to inspire us 2000 years later.

There is no smoking gun Bible passage that okays gay sex although some do argue that David & Jonathan and Naomi & Ruth are biblical examples of same-sex love -- and are possibly romantic. The passages that supposedly condemn same-sex behaviors are problematic. You're probably familiar with the arguments, so there's no need to restate them. To be honest, I personally lean toward the idea that the authors probably condemned same-sex behavior; however, their understanding was severely restricted by their cultural and scientific limitations.

Is God okay with gay sex? I honestly don't know. However, I know there are many modern values we uphold today that are not specifically Bible supported and yet I firmly believe them to be moral. Democracy, abolition, racial equality, gender equality, environmental conservation, social justice, etc. all seem to me to be ideals of the Kingdom of God.

I could babble on and on, but that's my basic approach for what it's worth.

Brandon said...

I'm not looking to win any arguments. I just want to know what you think, and see if I agree or disagree with what you have to say. If I agree, I may change some things in my life. If I disagree, I'll probably stay the course.

Thanks for commenting, Norm. It's been awhile, I think. :)

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Brandon,
I found this audio file by Boston College professor Peter Kreeft to be very helpful.

You remember what Flycandler said, that you are wrong to say you "suffer from SSA". Well, the truth is I suffer from OSA in the sense that I used to have an uncontrollable lust for women - I still find 99% of them attractive. But after marrying I disabled the desire over the course of several years through prayer.

Will you "get the boyfriend you've always wanted"? Do we ever get the person of desire we always wanted? I don't think so. People just don't fill that kind of rap sheet, do they?

Jesus and the Prophets said our first love should be for God, and we will be fulfilled only by that.
Blessings.

Brandon said...

Jim, thanks very much for the audio file. I enjoyed listening to it. :)

David Roberts said...

I suspect the arguments I might make concerning scripture are those you have heard before. I'll leave elaboration on that to someone else or to your further study. My main suggestion to you would be not to let this consume you, and by all means don't get wrapped up in the ex-gay "change" mess.

If you are gay (that's really not the loaded term for most people that some may think - it just means you are attracted primarily to the same-sex), and you don't think God wants you to be intimate with other guys, well be celibate for now and go on with your life. He has a way of helping you along, and we both know that it would be wrong for you if your convictions tell you it is wrong.

Try to stay away from dogma on either side of the question and live the other 90% of your life. You can still have close friends, even a boyfriend if you find one who understands where you are in this. Enjoy their company and see where God takes you.

I won't lie, I hope that God keeps you from beating yourself up about this and gives you the peace and freedom to be intimate with a good and loving man. It's not good to be alone. But the chances of any substantial change in the way you are oriented is pretty slim at best, which is one reason I say don't get trapped on that treadmill, it has left many in frustration without their faith.

Good luck.

Mikey said...

If you consider the passages used as prohibitions of homosexuality as prohibitions of same-sex prostitution involved in idol worship, then what you are left with are only passages that talk about husbands and wives and opposite-sex marriage. But I think you can't look at the Bible without considering the social context. And at that time, the social norms were different. The Jews, for centuries, had believed that they had to be different from the pagans, and that they had to procreate in order to strengthen their nation. In order to do that, they had to marry and have children. In that context, the thought of committed same-sex relationships, from which you would not get children, were not considered. That wouldn't mean necessarily wrong, just not thought about.

If you use the marriage teachings as a pattern for relationships between two people, couldn't they be any two people, no matter their gender? The chapter on love in Corinthians, used at so many weddings, does not talk about love between a man and a woman, it just talks about love.

I'm one of the ones in the Jonathan/David camp. They made a vow to love each other before God--twice! And that vow was never condemned by God.

RikFleming said...

Mikey,

It is interesting how you want to narrowly apply Lev. 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1,1 Cor. 6:9 to only refer to a ritualistic cultic form of men having sex with other men but then you want to use those texts which narrowly speak of a marriage between a man and a woman as being applicable to same sex couples as well.

You can't have it both ways!

The fact is the Bible states that the life of the believer is an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2) and that what we do with our bodies is an act of temple worship. (1 Cor. 6:13-20) In fact, the NT uses the purity language of the Holiness Code for the marriage bed between a husband and a wife as being 'undefiled" but that all others will be judged. (Heb. 13:4) Therefore the worship context of the prohibition of men having sex with other men DO apply to ALL sexual relationships (hetero and homo) outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.

Stuck in the middle with GOD said...

Gosh, good post. (thanks for your comment on mine)

for me there are 3 areas A: The bible. B: My personal relationship with God. C: Equal Sin

A:
As many people point out and argue, most discussions boil down to marriage between man and woman, most other passages when you look at the original texts have been taken out of context. What I would like to know is if the passages in the original texts discussing "man and woman" actually say that OR do they say marriage between two people and in translation it was assumed it meant man and woman.

B:
I do however believe that God loves me, warts and all. Of course I continue to strive towards his perfection but somethings we will never manage to iron out. Now I'm not using that as a get out clause, and only you know how you and God are and only I know how I and God are.

C:
Now before I start on this, this is by no means a get out clause. But we need to remember that all sin is equal, you don't see every day Christians beating them selves up cause they've let their tongue loose, gambled on the lotto or even because they have a mortgage (home loan). We don't see Christians getting to the point I have because they swore or because the look at another person and lusted after them.

You know I'm in the same struggle as you so I'll be praying dude.

PSUdain said...

There has been some discussion of context, so I'd like to speak to that.

Of course the letter to the Hebrews uses Old Testament language! It wouldn't be very helpful to use some thing that they weren't familiar with. In any sermon (or epistle), either modern or ancient, it only makes sense to speak and teach to a group using the language, idioms, symbols and concepts with which they are already familiar and to use these to teach them about that with which they are not familiar.

Therefore, it makes sense that in a letter to Hebrews, language reflective of the Old Testament would be used.

And in a letter to Romans, we might hear the use of Roman symbols of "debauchery" like drunken temple orgies to pagan gods.

And in a letter to the Corinthians of greece, we might see a reference to the practice of older, married men having sex with young boys. "Arsenokoitai" and "malakoi", respectively are the words that are argued to refer to this practice in that passage in 1 Corinthians. Information about translation and possible philology has been written elsewhere, and perhaps you've already read it. But that brings up another important issue: whenever we read the Bible in our vernacular, we are reading a translation, unless we happen to be native speakers of ancient greek.

But, back to my point of cultural context, both of the latter two passages seem to point out cultural behaviors of the recipients of the letters. If you read the Bible only in a modern cultural contest, then it's possible and even likely that you'll miss out on some of these associations that may have been significant to the original recipients of the letter.

Think, if you will, about this passage, 1 Corinthians 11:6-7:

"but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head--it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil." (NRSV)

Why would this be significant, and why do we not enforce it strictly anymore? Well, as my large annotated CEV Bible puts it, "Paul argues that whenever women pray or prophesy in public they should either keep their hair tied up on their head or cover it in some way, since unkempt hair was equated with adultery and prostitution in ancient Jewish culture."

So basically, in a cultural context, it meant, "Don't look like a whore if you're representing the church." If we'd just read the passage and not looked at the culture of those who received the letter, we'd have missed that (though we'd probably be able to come to that on our own), and instead of a common-sense "rule", we'd have a sort of silly archaic command that was specific to denizens of ancient Greece.

That, as a case in point, is why cultural context is so important when reading the Bible.

David said...

I happened by your blog (sorry - I do not visit terribly often) and this is ... an interesting post. Are you *wanting* to be convinced? Might I suggest that desiring for reality to be one way or the other is a precarious position to be in...

Nevertheless, I have found I am much happier asking questions than giving speeches when it comes to conversing with real-life people. Might I ask a few?

The first would be: What, Brandon, is righteousness?

David said...

Ah, sorry, you said you didn't want a back-and-forth. I assure you though I do not want to argue; I merely want to pursue your worldview through asking questions about your understanding of it and see what it is that is best congruent with how you perceive the world to be. I'd rather start with your suppositions than with mine. But then again I have been reading a certain philosopher a bit too much and fancy that his method of conversing is the best. :)

I shall drop it (or we could do this offline - e.g. off your comments board - if you'd like, but I think your intent was to have long essays, which I'm just not up to on this issue, as it does get so old!).

Brandon said...

Do I "want" to be convinced? Well, I'm not sure how to respond to that. Would I like to believe that homosexual relationships are okay with God? Yes. Would I like to better understand the arguments from people who disagree with me that homosexual acts are sinful? Yes. I think the truth of it is that I'm drawn toward wanting to be with another man. I feel virtually nothing whatsoever of a sexual nature for women. But I believe the Bible says it's wrong for two men to be with each other in a sexual manner. So, I don't have sex with other men. However, I don't want to be alone all the rest of my life. So, I continue holding onto something I feel like I shouldn't have. And meanwhile, I hear a lot of people make somewhat convincing arguments for why homosexuality is okay. I want to know more. Yes, I think I would like to be convinced. I want to believe it would be okay for me to be with another guy--to be in love with another guy. After all, that is what I'm drawn to. It's what I want. I'd like to believe that what I want is okay to have. It's just that so many people seem to believe I have the Bible all mixed up and that I'm wrong in my thinking with this issue. I want to know why they think that. I want to know why they believe homosexual relationships are okay with God. I want to hear them out.

You asked what I think righteousness is. I think righteousness would be following after the Lord with all my heart, loving Him and obeying His commandments and teachings, and applying those teachings to my life. That's what I think righteousness is.

I'm glad that you commented, David. To be honest with you, I sort of had the impression you don't like me very much. I'm sure that's due to my grinding the ax, so to speak, when I first come across your blog. Which I'm sorry I did. But I am glad to hear from you, and I would like to know what you think about this. I am interested in what you think. And no, I don't want any arguments with anyone. I just want to hear more from the "opposition". I guess to sum things up, I'm not convinced by my own thinking.

God bless,
Brandon

David said...

Hey Brandon,

Thanks for the response. So okay, I'll have a go at it.

You say you're not convinced by your own thinking. That is a very difficult place to be in, as it is often (in my experience) almost impossible to pinpoint WHY one is unconvinced and so likewise almost impossible to resolve until one has a clearer picture of what the "problem" is. So I don't know whether any of this will help you in identifying that, but I hope so.

Your definition of righteousness:

"I think righteousness would be following after the Lord with all my heart, loving Him and obeying His commandments and teachings, and applying those teachings to my life."

That is a very good definition. But another question concerns what His commandments and teachings are. "The Bible" can be a first-order answer to that, but we all qualify this - not all the Old Testament rules, even some of the New Testament rules (particularly concerning slaves and some concerning women) nearly everyone says are culturally conditioned. Why is it that we can determine what is or is not a universal command? This to me suggests that hermeneutics is integral in what we understand God's commands to be.

Furthermore, there is the dangling hypothetical question of "what if". What if God hadn't said something or other? That is, is it possible for God to have defined morality differently - that is, to give different commands? Could God have said adultery was fine by him? Could he have neglected to command to serve the poor? My answer, or what seems best to me, is that no, morality could not be different. This leaves me with many unanswered and troubling questions concerning purity laws - I do not deny this. Yet these are almost never the issues the prophets condemn Israel for, nor what Christ spoke against. I think the New Testament ethic for morality is best summed up in 1 Peter 1, as Peter says, quoting Leviticus, "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" Morality is not arbitrarily determined, but it is part of God's unitive aim in mankind: that we be like he is. This does not mean that we are to be omniscient or non-physical or trinitarian but that we are to have the same characteristics as he does, reflected in our own creaturely ways.

I say this not to try to disparage the witness of Scripture, but to suggest that this ought to be kept in mind when trying to interpret difficult passages and looking at interpretive possibilities. Jesus seems to have made similar appeals (Matt 5:48, 15:11).

So on the topic of homosexuality, that is the question: Is this a matter of 'be holy as your heavenly father is holy'? I have never heard this argument advanced - every argument I know of against homosexuality boils down to: God has a rule against it. I don't know why, and you don't know why, but this rule has descended from heaven and crushes men under its weight. This to me seems more in line with the God of Islam... that He reveals His will, and we are to obey whatever it is He has decreed, and it is Not For Us To Know why he has decreed one thing and not another; rather than the God of Christianity, who reveals Himself in order to unite Himself to the human individual, so as Paul says we may "be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Again, I do not say this to toss aside the witness of Scripture. But I want to understand it. So far as commands against homosexuality, I can really only identify three that I think are applicable (Leviticus seems to me a fishy place for a Christian to go to derive morality): Romans 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9, and 1 Tim 1:10. The last two are really a pair, and the issue as you know is over a word. From my own looking at it - and I do hope to spend some time this semester, while I have access to the Classics library, putting together a more coherent look at lexical usage - it seems to me likely that arsenokoites was a word used to apply to pederastic relations. It's too rare a word occurring for the most part in vice-lists (and thus quite free of much context) for me, or anyone really, to say for certain what its meaning was. It does frustrate me though when folk etymologies, rather than the more studious job of looking at linguistic context, dominate this question. The Romans passage on the other hand is part of a decline of the gentiles into godlessness. To universalize this, given the passage, I think it is necessary to say that universally gay attractions are punishment for prior sin - and given the testimony of many gay/SSA Christians I don't feel that is valid. So I don't think this passage can be so readily universalized to all people engaging in gay activities at all times. I do not believe David and Jonathan were lovers, nor Ruth and Naomi. I could rant on that for a while but will spare you.

But if these passages are universal, and we do say that morality means being like God, I see no way of failing to smuggle heterosexuality into God's nature. This makes me very uncomfortable... for a variety of reasons - namely, that we have a trinitarian rather than dualistic God; and that he created creation and is not defined by its (sexual) nature. But I do see that the faithfulness, self-control, love, selflessness, and other characteristics of God (revealed chiefly in the incarnate Christ) can in fact be congruent with a homosexual relationship. And so I don't think the universal interpretations of the above passages are most likely.

So I know it's far too long, but I hope you have at least something to think about from all this.

Peace,

--David

Brandon said...

Thanks, David. You brought up a lot of good things to think about. :)

otrolado said...

Hey Brandon! Thanks for the comment. I will definitely try to read your blog. I have a lot to catch up on though!

JD

wjc said...

Hi Brandon,
I've been thinking about your challenge for a while, and finally have posted something on my blog in response to it. I don't see the approach I use represented in any of the responses you've received, so here's a way of looking a scripture for you to consider:

First, I am going to assume that at issue for Brandon are the Biblical texts that “clearly” prohibit homosexual behaviour.

The first step is to determine the approach we will use to the Biblical text. While I have attended seminary, I am by no means a Biblical scholar. However, I contend that the Bible needs to be understood as the story of the interaction of God and many over recent history. That statement does not concede that all scripture is inerrant. Indeed there are many scripture passages that clearly contain error. A good example of this is the long rants of the friends of Job. While these passage sound like good theology, God himself corrects them by the end of the book. So, taking, say, the first twenty chapters of Job would NOT be a good way to come to some conclusions about the nature of God.

Likewise, we must recognize that there are large chunks of the Bible whose interpretation has been contested for centuries. The books of Daniel and Revelation are examples of this. I have spent much time analyzing the different approaches to interpreting Revelation, and have concluded that anyone who thinks he/she knows what it’s all about is … misguided, to say the least. Every Bible scholar takes some of Revelation literally, and some of it allegorically or symbolically. It seems to me like there is no real pattern or reason as to how to decide what to take literally. My basic rule is that any assertion about what a text with an obscure meaning can only be made by comparing it to a text that has a clear meaning. Thus, Revelation is to be interpreted in the light of Jesus words about what would take place after he “went to prepare a place for us,” and in the light of Paul’s prophetic words about the end times in Thessalonians.

So, with a healthy scepticism about the value of seeing all scripture as inerrant, and a healthy scepticism about taking all scripture literally, I approach Romans 1. For me, this is the most problematic passage that makes any reference to homosexual behaviour. (I do not see any of the Old Testament passages that refer to homosexuality as relevant to a modern discussion, and the other New Testament passages are filled with enough controversy about translation difficulties that I see their meaning as obscure at best.)

The most common way that pro-gay theologians explain away Romans 1 is to say that when Paul refers to natural and unnatural behaviour, he is saying that a person who is homosexual by birth is naturally gay, and therefore it is not unnatural for him or her to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex. I must confess that I have never found this argument convincing. Recently, however, I am realizing that Christian fundamentalists like to take the Bible literally ALL THE TIME. So, for someone raised in the extreme religious right, it seems acceptable to take this passage even more literally than Paul ever imagined. My problem with this approach is that it fails to see the big picture. It’s like being unable to see the forest for the trees.

To take a narrative and contextual look at Romans 1, one gets an entirely different picture. Paul is not at all attempting to say that what is natural is acceptable, or that what is unnatural is unacceptable… this would open up all kinds of immoral behaviour. When we come to Romans 2:1 (and I am indebted to James Alison for these insights), we see that Paul’s intention all along was to get the attention of these self-righteous Roman Christians. To get them going. By mentioning all the corruption around them, by playing on their tendency to judge others, by appealing to their homophobia, he got their attention. He hears them condemning all the miscreants mentioned in chapter 1. And then he turns it back on them, saying “you are condemning yourself…”!

As we continue reading Romans (and I would suggest reading it in one sitting to get the overall picture) we begin to get a picture of a race condemned. None of us are able to live up to the law (chapter 3). We are all without hope – apart from the grace of Christ, through faith (chapter 3 and 4). In chapter 7, Paul emphasizes out freedom from the law, using the example of a widow who is freed from the law of marriage by her husband’s death. Eventually, we come to Romans 8, and the emphatic declaration that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been called, justified, and glorified, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. (“Nothing” in this passage actually means “nothing”. Think on that one!)

Eventually we come to Romans 14, where once again we admonished to stop passing judgment on one another. When I get to this chapter, I am reminded of the issue of circumcision of the Gentiles that was addressed in Acts 13. I believe (thanks to the insights of Jeffrey Siker) that the acceptance of LBGT persons as members of the body of Christ today is a similar issue. To have to be straight in order to be saved would be like demanding the Gentiles be circumcised in order to be accepted into the body of Christ. The whole tone of the letter to the Romans reminds me of Jesus in John 10:16 “I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd” another reference to the Gentiles. Bruxy Cavey in The End of Religion says we need to focus on principles instead of rules and precepts (page 99). Jesus said the same thing when he summed up the law in two commandments, both referring to love.
In summary, my point is that when we read the scripture as narrative, when we see the beautiful story of a God of grace and mercy and hope reaching out to a hurting world of pain that sweeps through the whole of scripture, it is very difficult to see a God who condemns any one group of people. The only requirement for salvation is receiving grace through faith. We are then called to live out our lives not in judgment of others or according to the letter of a law, but in terms of the love and justice of this God of mercy and grace. And I know of no reason why LGBT persons are any less equipped to do this than are any others of God’s people.

Brandon said...

WJC,

Thanks for the insights. I appreciate you taking the time to respond as you did.

...even more to be thinking about.