What is the burden of proof in the #Methodist #homosexuality debate?

Gay-Symbol-WallpaperIn the American justice system, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt. Defense attorneys do not have to prove their client’s innocence; they just have to find enough holes in the prosecution’s argument to establish that they have not been proven guilty. But in the debate over Biblical interpretation on homosexuality, the burden of proof falls entirely on the defendants to prove their innocence. What if my fellow Methodists who are anti-gay had to provide not only isolated proof-texts and speculative translations of obscure Greek words but a coherent Biblical ethical explanation of why chaste monogamous homosexual partnerships are “incompatible with Christian teaching”? I think that would be a much more just and legitimate burden of proof.

Usually when Christians change their mind about homosexuality, it’s after spending time with gay Christians who are so obviously holy and spiritually mature that it becomes hard to maintain the belief that a chaste homosexual relationship has corrupted them, which all sin is supposed to do to people. I have shared the disorienting experience I had in 2002 when I worshiped in a LGBT Methodist church with people who, other than being gay, behaved exactly like conservative evangelical Christians in terms of their lifestyle, their zeal for holiness, and their love of the Bible.

One of the main arguments Paul makes in the course of the most popular anti-gay proof-text, Romans 1:18-32, is that sin always corrupts human nature and produces other sins. So when you encounter gay Christians who are plainly not “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice… envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness… [and who aren’t] gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, [and] ruthless” (v. 29-31), it seems very legitimate to ask whether the “shameless acts” Paul is talking about in verses 27-28 were sinful for a reason other than the genders involved (like promiscuity, adultery, recklessness, etc), even if Paul mentions their same-genderedness as evidence of the “unnaturalness” of what they are doing, which is a different matter.

If we dig into Romans 1 not for an issue-based proof-text, but for an underlying cause to the sin that is being described, then this sentence is a good summary: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). Every time that we give our worship to something in God’s creation rather than God Himself, whether it be food, drugs, money, or sex, we will be corrupted as a result. That is the basic truth of idolatry. There are many other examples of how idolatry corrupts people that could be substituted for the examples Paul shares in this passage. And it seems like a fair question to ask whether same-genderedness as such makes sexual intimacy idolatrous, independent of whether or not Paul thinks it’s “unnatural,” which is different.

The fact that Paul has a 1st century Jewish view of what “natural” gender relations look like is not the same as a direct prohibition of homosexuality. Paul never directly prohibits homosexuality. He mentions same-gender sexual intimacy as part of a visceral image intended to elicit disgust that is however connected to an argument with an entirely different point.

Furthermore, the rhetorical purpose of Romans 1:18-32 is to set up his listeners for the point where he turns the tables on them in Romans 2:1, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” According to Doug Campbell and other scholars he cites in The Deliverance of God, Romans 1:18-32 is a pretty standard list of Gentile vices that Jewish evangelists would use in their pitch for Torah as the answer to everything. When we pay attention to Paul’s rhetorical strategy, it seems that he is recycling this list as part of disparaging the salvific sufficiency of Torah, so it has at most secondary importance and may only be relevant as a means of taking the listeners for a ride whose real purpose is to establish a repudiation of the law as a means for justification.

Now regarding the other two possible New Testament mentions of homosexuality, there are two obscure Greek words that show up in Paul’s lists of naughty people in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11: malakoi (1 Corinthians only) and arsenokoitai (both places). The NIV has decided (in what I consider an exegetical crime against humanity) to confidently translate these two words as the active and passive partners in a homosexual act. In most translation of words of comparable obscurity, there are footnotes at the bottom of the page that say something like “Hebrew/Greek meaning disputed.” The fact that this is the exception to that rule reveals an agenda that goes beyond an impartial dedication to the text.

Malakos means “soft” or “effeminate.” It can be used to refer to men who are androgynous; it can also be used figuratively to refer to people who are “cowardly” or “morally lax,” meanings which would just as plausibly find their  way onto Paul’s naughty list. So what is the burden of proof here? Is it enough that malakos could have something to do with homosexuality or does it have to established beyond a shadow of doubt that it can only refer to homosexuality in order to translate it as meaning homosexuality? If I were the judge, I would toss malakos from the court record as inadmissible evidence, because of the multiple possibilities for its connotation.

So how about arsenokoitai? Anti-gay Bible scholar Robert Gagnon argues that Paul made up a new Greek word by putting together arsenos (man) and koite (bed) since these two words appear in the same sentence in the Greek Septuagint version of Leviticus 18:22 (Kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos) and its reiteration in Leviticus 20:13 (Kai os an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos), both of which concern the prohibition of “men lying with men as they lie with women,” which I’ll address directly a little later below.

But how does the presence of the words “man” and “bed” in a compound word in the New Testament and in two sentences about sex in the Old Testament prove anything? The fact that arsenos and koiten are back to back in 20:13 isn’t a slam-dunk clincher. Do any two words back to back logically and naturally form a “phrase” with one another? What about the words “back logically” in the sentence I just wrote? Let’s say I write somewhere else, “Let’s get back to logic.” Does that mean that I’ve just made an explicit connection between those two sentences?

I certainly make speculative linguistic connections in my Biblical interpretation all the time, such as most recently connecting the theopneustos (God-breathed) in 2 Timothy 3:16 with the pneuma (wind) in John 3:8, but I would never give these speculations the weight of judging the legitimacy of other peoples’ existence.

The word arsenokoitai is literally “man-bedder.” Koite can definitely have a sexual figurative meaning in Greek, but why is a man-bedder a man-bedder-with-other-men? Why not a man who visits prostitutes or man who has soiled many beds (with women or men)? Even if you want to try to argue that malakoi and arsenokoitai go together (which is only the case in 1 Corinthians 6:9), you would be on much more solid ground etymologically to argue that they are the provider and client in a prostitution relationship than the passive and active partners in the homosexual act. There simply is no way to establish conclusively that the word refers to same-genderedness as such rather than also carrying the connotation of prostitution, promiscuity, or pederasty.

So does the New Testament condemn homosexuality? That depends. Is the burden of proof to establish that these three New Testament references could not possibly be talking about homosexuality or is it merely to establish that the sins they identify could possibly be something else? All that can be established is that Paul considered same-gendered sex to be “against nature” (para phusein). But that is different than a direct prohibition.

Furthermore, this is the same Paul who says, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14:14) and “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny” (1 Corinthians 2:15) and “It is well for [people] to remain unmarried as I am, but… it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

Paul is a pragmatic, ascetic mystic. He wants others to experience the same degree of union with Christ that he has experienced, but he’s a pragmatist about it. He doesn’t want to put impossible burdens on his followers that would more greatly inhibit them in their quest for holiness than living without those burdens. The highest form of sexuality to Paul is celibacy, presumably (per Romans 1:25) because it allows him to avoid any possible worship of creation that would corrupt His body’s capacity to be a temple of worship (1 Corinthians 6:19) for the Creator alone.

While Paul says, “I wish that all were [celibate] as I myself am” (1 Corinthians 7:7), he concedes that “because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (v. 2). Notice that: marriage is not quite a vocation to him; it’s a pragmatic solution for sexual immorality. To him, sexual intimacy even within marriage is “a concession not a command” (v. 6), which would hardly be a popular view in today’s neo-patriarchal “celebrate sex within marriage” culture. Here is Paul’s explanation for his teachings about celibacy and marriage:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. [vv. 32-35]

Free from anxieties. Does that sound anything at all like contemporary evangelical teachings about sex? Does that sound like teenage girls being told to wear knee length XXL t-shirts over their already modest one-piece swimsuits at youth pool parties? Does that sound like counseling boys and girls not to kiss until their wedding day if they’re even allowed to date at all? Does that sound like the obsession with masturbation among Christian men that actually causes it to be an irresistible temptation? Freedom from anxieties sounds like an awfully anthropocentric purpose for sexual ethics.

At the end of the paragraph, Paul talks about promoting good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord, which gives more flesh to what freedom from anxiety looks like in terms of the horizontal and vertical axes of the Great Commandment: loving neighbor and loving God. I would say that these three principles are the perfect Biblical ethical criteria for healthy sexuality within a community.

Even what I do in the supposed privacy of my own home impacts the “good order” of my community, because whatever happens in our sex lives impacts how we treat people outside of our sex lives. If my wife and I like to play sadomasochism games that cultivate demonic personality traits which inherently bleed over into our relations with other people, then it disrupts the good order of my community. If either of us violates our marital covenant by sleeping with someone else, then it’s not only a sin against our partner and any partner the other person has, but against our community’s cohesion as a whole because a whole network of friendships will be torn apart if we split up. Even if all the members of a community consent to being sexually polyamorous with each other, it’s still going to sabotage the good order of the community by stoking jealousy, pride, greed, lust, anger, and all the other degenerative dispositions Paul describes in Romans 1:29-31.

The latter principle of “unhindered devotion to the Lord” concerns the question of idolatry vs. worship. Are we having sex in such a way that causes us to worship creation rather than the Creator, or flesh rather than spirit? Paul’s wrestling in 1 Corinthians 7 expresses a clear ambivalence about the possibility of sex ever being an act of worship rather than idolatry. The Roman church shared this ambivalence until the last century when sex officially stopped being a necessary evil done for strictly procreative purposes. But I believe that I am truly worshiping God with my sex when I delight in my wife as a person instead of consuming her body to fulfill a biological need, because to see the full personhood of my wife in the midst of our closest intimacy is to see the image of God and to gain a foretaste of the ecstatic intimacy with God that heaven will one day be.

So to me, the burden of proof for a Christian who wants to maintain an opposition to homosexuality is to demonstrate why and how monogamous same-gendered sexual intimacy clutters people with anxiety, contradicts good community order, or hinders devotion to God? These are not just proof-texts; they are more than speculative translations of obscure Greek words or mentions in passing of what Paul thinks is “unnatural.” They are reliable ethical principles for a community’s sexuality that Paul presents as such.

The only anti-gay Christian argument I’ve heard that goes beyond surface-level proof-texting is to say that families need a male and a female parent. First of all, many gay partners that I’ve known are partly feminine and partly masculine in a complementary way, though I recognize that orientation and gender are not the same thing. If it were the case that gender complementarity were necessary to parenting, then an unusually effeminate man and a woman would not be a good pair for that reason. In any case, I don’t see any legitimate Biblical basis for the heteronormativity of families.

Sure, the Bible says that man and woman become flesh as the normal way that things work but that doesn’t make the normal normative. Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 prescriptively in a teaching against divorce (Mark 10:1-11), not against same-gendered union, so take that one out of your list of proof-texts. Likewise, when Paul says that men should love their wives like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), his prescriptive purpose is to get men to treat their wives like human beings and not property. It’s doing a whole lot of heavy lifting with very little legitimate exegetical evidence to say that the God’s ordained purpose for marriage is to make every husband reflect Jesus and every wife reflect the church on account of one puzzling verse in which Paul says he is “applying” the mystery of two fleshes becoming one “to Christ and the church” (v. 32).

Now there was a context in which patriarchal heterosexual households were necessary to the good order of the community, and that context explains the one place in the Bible where male homosexual intimacy is prohibited: Leviticus 18:22. This prohibition stands or falls today on the question of whether the sexual boundaries of Israelite patriarchy are the permanent Biblical prescription for maintaining the good order of a community, an order which in ancient Israel involved a very different assumption about sexual agency between genders than our world has today.

Patriarchy was the Torah’s means of ordering the Israelite community sexually and providing for the safety of its weakest members through a set of taboos around “uncovering the nakedness” of another man and his household. That phrase is repeated throughout Leviticus 18, the place where the Torah establishes the community’s sexual boundaries. Why are you forbidden to have sex with your neighbor’s wife? Because it uncovers your neighbor’s nakedness and is thus an act of violence against the social order, whether or not the act was consensual.

The entire taboo system that protects women and children from rape depends upon the preservation of a set of male heads of household who are not uncovering each others’ nakedness. If one of these men uncovers another man’s nakedness by “lying with him as he would lie with a woman,” the whole patriarchal order collapses and the households of both of those men have had their nakedness uncovered as well, since they’ve lost their patriarchal protector. The accounts of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Gibeah in Judges 19 show the Somalia-like “failed state” that an ancient society becomes when the patriarchal taboo boundaries have been breached completely and horny gangs of men rove the streets to rape whatever they find.

Every command given in Leviticus 18 presumes a male readership because men were assumed to be the only ones who had the authority to make decisions about sex. To make Leviticus 18 normative today means adopting this patriarchal view of sexuality in which men decide, women don’t, and fathers protect their daughters and husbands protect their wives from other men. The prohibition of male homosexuality in Leviticus 18 is inextricably linked with the presumed lack of female sexual agency under its patriarchal ethos.

This patriarchal order in which men lose their ability to protect their families when they sleep with other men is the best system for preventing sexual violence when there is no concept that a woman can say “no” to sex. In a social order where there is a concept of female sexual agency, Leviticus 18 becomes an obsolete framework even if most of its taboos happen to carry over to a non-patriarchal sexual ethics for an entirely different set of reasons, such as Paul’s ethical principles in 1 Corinthians 7.

The way that rape is handled in the Old Testament shows the utter lack of female agency in patriarchal sexuality. The solution to the problem of rape (given the approval of the girl’s father) was for the rape victim to marry her rapist, which is precisely what Absalom’s sister Tamar begs her half-brother Amnon to do when he rapes her in 2 Samuel 13. When he grabs her, she says, “Speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you” (v. 13). The violence against Tamar and her lack of the right to say no is irrelevant even to her. Tamar’s concern is her permanent dishonor and ostracism in the community if her father King David is not asked permission for her body first.

Likewise when Jacob’s daughter Dinah gets raped by the prince Shechem in Genesis 34, the way to amend the situation is for her to marry Shechem, which is what Shechem proposes when he decides that he likes her as a person after raping her. There is no way of knowing what Dinah thinks about the whole affair because she is never given a voice throughout the entire story. When Jacob’s sons kill all of Shechem’s people, it is not because their sister got hurt; it’s because she “has been defiled” (v. 28). In other words, it is a question of family honor. When Jacob scolds his sons afterwards (v. 30), he shows that it would have been perfectly acceptable to him for Dinah to marry her rapist. Dinah’s sexuality is entirely a dispute between the men in her life; never once is she asked what she wants to do.

All of this is just to say that the ancient Israelite world was a world in which men were responsible for the sexuality of their daughters and wives; in such a world, a man cannot become “the woman” in a sexual relationship without the collapse of the entire social order. That’s the issue; it is not a question of “how God made us to be.” Homosexuality in a patriarchal context would have resulted in violence against women, because when women don’t have a say in their sexuality, their husbands and fathers and brothers need to be their uncompromised heterosexual protectors.

The world of first century Judaism that the apostle Paul inhabited continued to be a patriarchal world, though not to the same extreme as the Old Testament. To Paul, patriarchy was the “natural” order of things in gendered relations, which he makes pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” While he doesn’t state explicitly whether or not women should have a say in their sexuality, he does say in 1 Timothy 2:12-14, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

Of course, it’s also true that Paul says that there is no longer “male and female… for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). So the question is whether Galatians 3:28 trumps Paul’s pastoral instructions regarding female subordination to men in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, and other places. What level of hermeneutical gymnastics and speculation are you willing to entertain to get Paul off the hook for misogyny in these passages and others (e.g. speculating about some religious cult that Paul was trying to suppress in Corinth) that you’re not willing to entertain for the three much less unequivocal passages that deal with questions of homosexuality? If Galatians 3:28 is a trump card, then what does the lack of “male and female” distinctions in Christ Jesus do to what Paul says in Romans 1:26-27 about men and women “giving up natural intercourse for unnatural”?

If the burden of proof is the same for female leadership in the church and the Bible’s position on homosexuality (and you’re not allowing yourself to play the “cultural context” card), then the stack of proof-texts is much taller for the inadmissibility of female leadership in the church than for the prohibition of homosexuality. This is why the United Methodist Church’s fake “moderate” position in which it ordains women but not gays is utterly incoherent and clearly the product of social pressures and anxieties rather than consistent and faithful Biblical interpretation.

Any Christian denomination that has female clergy has already made the decision to disagree with Paul’s view of the “naturalness” of a patriarchal hierarchy of gender. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit didn’t speak through Paul authoritatively to recognize that he had views that should be expected of an incarnate 1st century Jew which aren’t normatively binding on us today (unless you’re willing to cover your heads in church, ladies, as a public profession of the inferiority of your gender, 1 Cor 11:8-10). I honestly think Paul is smacking his head every day in heaven that he sees us turn his letters to specific churches in Corinth and Ephesus into a new legalistic set of “circumcision” guidelines, analogous to the ones he goads the Galatians and Romans for enslaving themselves to, instead of eavesdropping on his conversations with 1st century Christians in order to gain the wisdom he shares about how to journey into union with Christ.

I agree with Paul that the essential underlying concerns for a community’s sexuality are to minimize anxiety, promote good order, and keep devotion to the Lord unhindered. And it is for that reason that I would not counsel gay Christians to spend their lives utterly alone if it’s going to result in a hindrance to their devotion to the Lord. Paul’s hopes in 1 Corinthians 7 about the potential for Christian singlehood notwithstanding, I know that my marriage actually tremendously decreased the anxiety that owned me when I was single and also became an important means by which God dramatically improved my devotion to Him. If gay people choose celibacy not out of guilt but out of desire for a deeper intimacy with God, then I pray that God would honor their choice by showering them richly with His presence.

Ultimately, I believe that an orthodox Biblical view on homosexuality has the same range of interpretive possibility as other disputable matters that have at least as many and sometimes way more Biblical proof-texts we can throw around like whether or not men and women are equal, what to do with your wealth, whether we can participate in war, when to baptize people, whether or not to lend others money with interest, whether or not to drink alcohol, etc.

You don’t have to agree with everything I’ve said here to concede that it is a plausible (i.e. not exegetically dishonest) reading of scripture. If it is within the range of plausibility, then shouldn’t gay Christian believers discern for themselves whether the degenerative dispositions in Romans 1:29-31 represent what their lives would become in a monogamous same-gendered partnership? We should absolutely study scripture together in community, but there are so many other issues in which we don’t expect to come to an absolute conformity of interpretation.

As Methodists, we furthermore believe in the priority of scripture itself above tradition, which means that it always has the capacity to offer new revelations, regardless of how unanimously Christians in the past have supported things like slavery, imperial conquest, and the subjugation of women to about the same degree that they have opposed homosexuality. We are not burdened with the awkwardness of having to conform our interpretations to the magisterial infallibility of every pope that has ever lived. So if gay Christians discover a plausible interpretation of scripture that doesn’t attack the Bible’s authority but nonetheless allows for them in good conscience to live in committed, monogamous lifelong partnerships, then why should we stop them from pursuing ordained ministry if that’s God’s call on their lives?

Before you respond to this, can you look into your heart and tell me there is no need to prove yourself to any other person by what you say in response? Is there really no trace of worry about who would disown you as a Christian brother or sister if you admitted that a gay-accepting Biblical interpretation was plausible? Can you say that you’ve never questioned someone else’s professed Christianity based on their accepting views on homosexuality? Can you say that you’ve never made decisions about churches to join based on litmus-testing their homosexuality stance?

If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, that’s not any judgment on you; it just means that you’re a more honest human being than most people. And it also means that you have an agenda other than mere fidelity to scripture that you bring to the table in thinking about this issue. I suppose I could be accused of having an agenda because my best friend from high school is gay and I was mothered by a church-full of lesbians when I was in my darkest year in 2002. But I have nothing to gain now by writing this other than my integrity.

Three years ago, I was sitting at a clergy meeting where I told two progressive clergywomen that I had come to Methodism through an LGBT church, but of course I hadn’t dared to write anything about that in my commissioning papers where I described my call to ministry. The look of betrayal on their faces when they expressed their disappointment in me has haunted me to this day. I believe it was a prophetic witness from God, to whom I have prayed for almost a year about the contents of this post before feeling like it was time for me to share it after my brother Craig Adams, a man of integrity, posed a question about it last fall.

I suppose it’s not a wise career move to have written this when I’m going up for ordination this winter. I am willing to honor my denomination’s official stance on this issue until it is changed, which I think will happen when enough Methodist leaders are willing to read the Bible with integrity and thoughtfulness instead of anxiously clutching to a supposedly “moderate” position out of fear that all the deep-pocket donors will walk out if we ever do change.

This is not a question of whether our denomination will we gain the millennials and lose the baby boomers or vice-versa. The question is whether our “Biblical faithfulness” is a superficial posturing with no actual cost to us because it takes the form of scapegoating a category of people who have been made the way they are by a God who loves them and wants them to live fully. Or do we want to prayerfully consider what the Bible really has to say to us today about human sexuality, not just in the form of surface-level Jesus-jukes and proof-texts but in the deeper wisdom that results in healthy, well-ordered communities that are free of anxiety and unhindered in their devotion to God?

91 thoughts on “What is the burden of proof in the #Methodist #homosexuality debate?

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  2. Morgan, I had difficulty getting past your first paragraph. I think you are in error when you label people who sincerely believe that the United Methodist statement on human sexuality “anti-gay”. We simply accept the testimony of St. Paul that homosexual sexual behavior is sinful, and we cannot condone sin. I believe most of us want the best for people, which means we want them to know the blessings that come with living a holy life.

    Secondly, I do not think people who endorse our current standards have “the burden of proof”–it is the minority that has that “burden”. I am glad that you intend to follow the standards of the Book of Discipline, but your thoughtful ardent effort to sway others off the mark causes this elder to wonder whether you should be accepted into conference membership.

    • Paul doesn’t say that homosexual behavior is sinful. He says that it’s “unnatural” (kata physein), which makes sense according to the patriarchal ethos he’s working with which also precludes female church leadership (except for Phoebe and some others). It seems like you’re viewing “anti-gay” as a pejorative label which is a needless distraction. What would be the right term to use from your perspective?

      • Both the unnaturalness of homosexual behavior and the tradition of male clergy can be defended without recourse to Paul, or any other part of Scripture. It is insufficient to try to pin attitudes against homosexuality on an ancient time period when the reasoning relies on objective truths.

        That said, when you say “anti-gay” I take the term at face value, not as a synonym for “homophobe”, and I think that yours is an important perspective in this debate.

        • Air conditioning, cars, glasses, computers, clothes, and refrigerators are unnatural. On the other hand, there is utterly nothing unnatural about two men making love. Everything involved is completely natural. Two men, nothing else.

          • You are mistaken. There is nothing unnatural about cool air lowering ones body temperature, moving from place to place, being able to see, arithmetic aids, modesty (following the Fall), and the necessity of preventing spoilage.

            Conversely, God created the family unit, designed us for it biologically, and models it for us in His role as the Father, and as Jesus is the Bridegroom to the Church.

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  5. It’s important to remember that Jews – both ancient and contemporary – interpret Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as a prohibition on male-to-male anal sex alone. Leviticus doesn’t prohibit feelings – it is solely focused on acts, there was no concept of “homosexuality” until the 19th Century and Middle Eastern men, even to this day, show affection by kissing, hand holding, cuddling and expressing passionate love for each other in ways that aren’t necessarily sexual (as did David and Jonathan).

    Of course, “homosexuality” encompasses many activities other than male-to-male anal sex. Many gay men avoid anal sex altogether and women, obviously, don’t do it.

    So to apply Leviticus, or even the Pauline texts, to prohibit gay relationships is a bit like doing surgery with a machete. It seems based on the belief that gay = male anal sex, period, which shows ignorance of the breadth and depth of gay sexuality and relationships. More recently Conservative Jews, who believe these prohibitions are still in effect, welcome LGBT couples and bless their relationships but ask that men abstain from that one act. Orthodox LGBT groups do the same (http://www.orthogays.org/faq.html)

  6. It may seem a cavil, but your post lost some credibility with me by characterizing biblical scholar Robert Gagnon as “Anti-gay Bible scholar Robert Gagnon…” This is grossly inaccurate and unfair to Gagnon. He is definitely not anti-gay, though his scholarship aggressively counters certain rave perspectives.

    • He was quite an activist in response to Exodus International’s scandals. I’m sorry but he’s gone beyond dedicated scholarship in what I’ve read of his. He’s got a vendetta. Has he studied any other issue in the Bible?

      • The fact that Gagnon is unequivocal doesn’t make him anti-gay, others are too (N.T. Wright, for one). Answer the scholarship without attacking the person.

        • It’s not about his beliefs; it’s about how he’s gone on the warpath as an activist. Anti-gay shouldn’t be a slur anyway. Let’s just name things the way they are, as the Gospel Coalition says.

          • “Anti-gay” is arguably an ad hominem, or at least code. I don’t think it can be cleaned up enough to be a compliment (smile). But that aside, Robert Gagnon is not anti-gay. He is a faith guerrilla (so is Billy Abraham).

  7. Morgan, thank you for this . . . I am glad to have found you through the DreamUMC conversations and always appreciate you and your ideas (maybe it is because being from the Holiness Movement side of the UMC I have Pentecostal leanings as well😉 )! I may not always agree with you (esp. on patriarchy and homosexuality linkage in the OT) but am always appreciative of your study, faithfullness, and willingness to hash out hard topics through the lens of scripture. Also, are you a Dukie (you write like one . . . and as I am one, I meant it as a compliment)?

    • Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad that we can disagree respectfully. Always interested in push-backs and challenges of course whenever they seem appropriate. I am in fact a Dukie. Your name is very familiar. I graduated in 2010.

  8. regarding – “If Paul wanted to be more explicit that it’s not just a “bed-man,” he had other words in Greek to work with.” I agree, but I think this supports the idea that Paul *was* alluding to this precise and otherwise bizarre euphemism “man-bed” from Leviticus. For hundreds of years, they used “man-bed” (arsenokoites in Greek, and zakhar mishkevei) as a euphemism for man who has sex with men, because they (incorrectly in my opinion) thought that was what it meant in Leviticus – in what was for them by that time ancient Hebrew. (think of Chaucer for us). (I apologize if I am going on too much with this, but I think it’s worth considering and the focal point of nearly all the clobber phrases.)

    • For hundreds of years? Anyway, the larger point is that none of this has any coherence outside of a patriarchal understanding of sexuality in which the man cannot be “the woman” because the man is the one who chooses.

      • When I say hundreds of years I mean from (at least) the time when Leviticus was “written” (scholars says it “reached its current form” across a 200-year period from 538 BC to 332 BC) – and probably several hundred years before that, because it was supposedly written by Moses. Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BCE; Jerome gives 1592, and Ussher 1619. So this would have been language of 500 to 1600 years earlier.

  9. It’s not just that people cherry pick Bible verses to condemn homosexuality. It’s also the Bible verses they ignore. I doubt, for instance, that there’s a single person here who hasn’t stored up at least some treasure. If you’ve got a savings account or a job you’re not really doing what Jesus asked us to do. Once we get over the shock of people feeling confident in condemning us to hell and start reading the Bible for ourselves, we can easily see that the condemners can be easily condemned by our picking the right Bible verses. I propose a Reality Show, “Damn ‘Em To Hell.” Contestants could (1) do good works for prizes and (2) participate in debates in which they use Bible verses to damn each other to eternal torment. The anti-gay contestants could make the argument that damning me to hell is a good work, but they’re still pretty much stuck with only six or seven Bible verses. I, on the other hand, have thousands I can use to send them to hell. I would scream at them that they’re misinterpreting the Bible. They would scream at me that I’m misinterpreting the Bible. And meanwhile, young people would change the channel and leave the church.

    By the way, Leviticus is an stunning, intricate, and complex book. It isn’t based in dialogic progression. It is a highly poetic attempt to project the cosmos onto Mt. SInai, the three tiers of Sinai onto the temple and/or Tent of Meeting, and also to project all of it onto the sacrificial animal, which is what animal sacrifice is always about. In that construction it accomplishes wonders. (See Roman Catholic Dame Mary Douglas’s shocking and revelatory book about Leviticus.) Leviticus is a reshaping of primitive animal sacrifice and divination into temple cult that is merciful and mind-boggling. One example: The penalties for sacrilege are corporal. In divination cultures, personal strife could often be resolved by a seer, though this would depend on extremely good diviners. Leviticus solves this problem by making disputing individuals or clans who are arguing over lesser sins to risk stoning if they swear to innocence or accusations. If you are willing to swear that you know exactly what the intent of Leviticus is, then by all means go ahead and risk God’s wrath.

    Jesus himself is intentionally obscure and says so himself. He purposely tells parables to keep apparent meaning from people. And he says so explicitly. I think he does it so that people can’t jump to immediate conclusions and say, “Jesus means this and this only.” In the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, he calls the responsible brother out for doing the “right” thing and following the commandments. Remember, the Prodigal does not come home because he has been born again. He comes home simply because he hopes to be fed. There are many interpretations, obviously. The point is: you can’t say emphatically what the parable means without risking arrogance. Jesus wants us to struggle over meaning.

    People do, however, seem to imply that Jesus’s own parables don’t meet the standards of proper inerrancy. They always assume they understand everything he says, even though his own apostles didn’t. Jesus asks us to do a harder thing: pray, struggle with meaning, and feed the hungry.

    I never have and won’t leave the church. But the only way to stay is to start seeing the hypocrisy of people who believe they understand the Bible and that those who disagree with them don’t.

    As my Aunt Nanny, a simple country woman who went to a nondenominational church, once said to me: “Honey, the Bible is just a book where God tries to tell you hundreds of times that he loves you.” She’d be the first contestant to get thrown off “Damn ‘Em to Hell.”

  10. For me, I changed my mind after 1) annoying preacher in the US goes on and on about it in teh same sentence he goes on and on about how he will not marry couples who are not virgins. 2) I could no longer think of a good reason to be so against it. 3) I did not want to hurt people anymore.

  11. This has been a good discussion. However, burden of proof refers to evidence, not law or rules, which are typically decided by the judge. Having wondered over the years if the slippery slope “problem” were real, I was surprised to discover this article about four people comprising 3 couples. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23726120
    Do we approach human sexuality and the bible to allow everything, unless we can find something offensive on another (non-sexual) basis? This really asks whether the logic behind the culturally dominant permissive stance to gay marriage proves too much.

    • Yeah I don’t think that a polyamorous situation like that is going to pass muster under the rubric I’m drawing from 1 Corinthians 7. It’s a problem for “good order” in the community. The question of whether human gendered identity is a clean binary or a more nuanced reality is a categorically different issue than whether adults should sleep with children or animals or more than one partner or engage in strange violent practices as their form of sexual intimacy.

  12. I am trying to wrap my head around your logic here: So if I understand correctly–you are saying that if a person came to you and confessed gay tendencies and that in denying such desires are causing them great anxiety and hindering them in their relationship with Christ then you would basically say if fulfilling this desire would ease your anxiety and bring you closer in your devotion to God then by all means enjoy! That is what you are saying?? If so that’s a new (albeit sick) approach to an old argument! I just wonder–since when do WE decide which activities/relationships that we engage in or not engage in bring us closer in devotion to the Lord? Could not their anxiety simply be a result of not surrendering to God’s ideas of what enables true fellowship or not?? And then surrendering to Him and obeying Him?? Such logic could even be carried over into an incestuous relationship or even bestiality!! Such perverse relationships we would never condone–but homosexuality was in the line up of these 2 other perversions in Leviticus. We would NEVER encourage anyone to engage in the other 2 but in our arrogant debate over the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality it has removed it from the line up of perversions to something that is even culturally acceptable, therefore the Church should wake-up and follow. Sorry—-just don’t buy it at all–especially the perverted logic that was on display in this article.

    • “Could not their anxiety simply be a result of not surrendering to God’s ideas of what enables true fellowship or not??”

      The point being that if trying to follow a particular principle is doing nothing but causing anxiety and causing one to fall further from God, then perhaps they’re trying to do something God never called them to do in the first place. This is going to be different for every person, and it’s not as simple as pointing to Bible verses and declaring “this is God’s will for everyone that ever will live for all eternity.”

      • While God’s call is “going to be different for every person”, God’s commandments are not.

        Which is not to take a position on whether homosexual acts are sinful, only to say that throwing objective truth out the window and embracing relativity is not the way to settle it.

        • “While God’s call is “going to be different for every person”, God’s commandments are not.

          Which is not to take a position on whether homosexual acts are sinful, only to say that throwing objective truth out the window and embracing relativity is not the way to settle it.”

          What are God’s commandments? Where do you find God’s commandments? In the Bible? Who gets to decide what are commandments? And how is it decided?

          • He’s going to say exactly, that’s why we need a church magisterium and why individualistic Biblical interpretation is suspect.🙂 Right Dan?

          • He’s going to say exactly, that’s why we need a church magisterium and why individualistic Biblical interpretation is suspect.🙂 Right Dan?

            While that’s true, Catholic teaching can be derived logically and does not require an appeal to authority or infallible inspiration.

          • Personally I think that in the Bible they were trying to record what they thought God’s commandments were. Under the best circumstances their perceptions were based on good versus bad results. Unfortunately sometimes they were just based on prejudice, or power of the rich against the poor. So the answer to your question — What are God’s commandments? Where do you find God’s commandments? In the Bible? Who gets to decide what are commandments? And how is it decided? — God’s commandments are revealed in measurable outcomes. By their fruit shall they be known. If having sex without condoms with lots of people leads to HIV and STDs, then use condoms. If it leads to psychological distress for an individual, then that individual should consider slowing down his rate of acquisition of new sexual partners. Etc🙂

          • By their fruit shall they be known. If having sex without condoms with lots of people leads to HIV and STDs, then use condoms. If it leads to psychological distress for an individual, then that individual should consider slowing down his rate of acquisition of new sexual partners. Etc🙂

            You’re making a funny, right?

            The solution to problems arising from promescuity is not committing further sin by contravening God’s design for sexual union by rejecting the possibility of life, but rather rejecting promescuity.

          • God gave them to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus later offered important guidance. All of Christian belief should be able to be derived logically from these few things and from the self-evident natural law inherent in God’s creation.

            If you read the catechism, you will see that it is arranged like a series of logical proofs, starting from these and basic givens (as expressed in the Nicene Creed) and building all Catholic teaching upon them. You don’t even have to accept the Magisterium to recognize the logical inerrancy of its arguments, put forwarded and refined by thousands of years of the greatest theological minds.

      • Why is the litmus test for something that is sinful or not now determined by what causes a person “anxiety”? That’s rubbish. It’s so odd to hear people talking about following Christ, who did not follow his feelings but the will and command of his Father (or else he never would have walked to Calvary) as though it’s all about having your best life now, and yet would no doubt demonize the prosperity gospel. The same Jesus who said pick up your cross, die to yourself, is not the same one who now says, “Oh, if something in God’s Word causes you anxiety, then it’s not from me, you can do whatever you please so long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”

        • You’re cherry-picking out of what I’ve written. There are three things that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. “Anxiety” is not treated by itself. Please read again and respond to all three of those together.

    • And another thing. I think Morgan has laid out specifically above what makes something sinful. Does it destroy intimacy with our Creator? Does it undermine community and friendships (bestiality and incest certainly would)? How exactly does a loving, committed, same-sex relationship hurt anyone else or hurt their communion with God?

      • “You are my friends IF you do what I command you.” ~ Jesus (John 15:14). If it is true that God has commanded that his intentions for our sexual intimacy be between a man and a woman, then the simple act of disobedience is enough to hurt one’s communion with God. A person can think or feel that their communion is just fine, but will one day hear, “depart from me, I never knew you.”

        • It isn’t as straightforward as that. The verse about a man leaving his mother and father and becoming one flesh with his wife describes the normal heterosexual form of marriage, but it’s a descriptive statement rather than a prescriptive. Other than Leviticus’ context of patriarchy, there is no direct prohibition of homosexuality. I’ve explained why I think it’s condemned under patriarchy. You can agree or disagree, but the question is whether my reading is exegetically plausible.

        • “A person can think or feel that their communion is just fine, but will one day hear, “depart from me, I never knew you.””

          You’re no more qualified to judge someone’s relationship with God than I or anyone else. Consider that one’s spiritual walk is unique to them and won’t necessarily look the way you think it should.

          If you’re going to say something about following God’s commandments, how do we determine what those actually are? Read the Bible? Okay, but based on who’s interpretation?

        • If it *were* true.🙂 Jesus’s sotry refers to “anomia.” It means departing from social norms. So now the social norm honors love between men and love between women. If you don’t honor gay people as your equals, you are outside the social norm, and Jesus says he is going to tell you “depart from me, I never knew you.” We cool now?

    • There are three things Paul says about his sexual ethics in 1 Cor 7: he doesn’t want there to be “anxiety” (whatever that signifies for him), he wants “good order” in the community, and he wants “unhindered devotion to The Lord.” All three of those criteria ought to be in play as we think about sexual ethics. Bestiality, promiscuity, adultery, and so forth are all accounted for under this rubric that Paul lays out.

      A binary account of gender just isn’t honest to the messiness of creation even of it’s the norm for 90% of people. There are men who are born with female hormones (sometimes they even have both organs) and they aren’t just “faking it” for attention. Why would you want to be a way that causes you to get beat up and made fun of? I just believe that there is a soundly Biblical way of looking at sexuality that doesn’t say people who are not quite men or women need to “stop faking it” and be what they aren’t. I would be interested in helping people like that find a way to lead lives of holiness that may or may not involve a life partner according to a prayerful discipleship process. That in no way means to throw off all your inhibitions and do whatever feels good as the means of “freeing” yourself to worship God.

    • lyndellhetrickholtz, maybe the problem is that you don’t know what surrendering to God’s ideas of what enables true fellowship, and then surrendering to Him and obeying Him” means.

  13. the debate over Biblical interpretation on homosexuality

    The problem is with that fourth word there, especially when paired with the fifth. Nothing can ever be decided by interpreting texts.

  14. My entire life Christians have been ripping my Bible out of my hands saying it isn’t mine. You have found it, ironed the pages wrinkled by the violence, rebound it with new sheepskin, wrapped it in beautiful, marbled paper, tied brilliantly colored ribbon around it, and handed it back to me saying, “I believe this belongs to you.”

  15. When I saw the title to this post, I thought it was going to be about the latest trial about the performing of gay marriages by ordained clergy in the United Methodist faith. I wondered where you would go with it, as you asked about the burden of proof. In the language of the Book of Discipline and in rulings before, there is a relatively low burden, as I see it (and I can be wrong). The prosecution would only have to prove that the marriages were performed. Ample evidence would be the signatures on the marriage license(s) presumably, along with wedding pictures, videos, etc.

    Looking more broadly at the post you did write, I am brought back to late summer 2004. I was a newly minted law school graduate (I would be licensed as an attorney in October of that year) and starting Disciple I bible study. That was the first time I had read the bible as an adult and the pastor leading the study said that was the first time he had done so with a lawyer in the group.

    Through that study, and my studies since, along with living as an attorney, I am drawn to many piece of scripture where the same problem occurs. Just as in legal research, scholars try to start with an end with the “black letter law”, exactly what the words say. There is no search for the intent of God, for the Spirit within the words, for looking at everything from a true what would Jesus do perspective.

    The Pharisees and scribes in the bible always missed the mark, missed Christ’s point. They were bound by the words of the law. How much easier if we only have to look to the words and to precedent, just as our legal system does to this day. We don’t want to look at historical context, to the nuances of the changes in technology, in science, in our understanding of life, of creation, certainly not of sexuality.

    I think we risk just as much today if we are bound by a narrow reading of any of scripture. It is first a way of looking at the world, to know who and whose we are. Scripture is a way to know more of who God is, though we are incapable of knowing all.

    As for the direct question of your piece, I think we need to have an open mind and not believe any of us have it right.

    I response to the idea of looking for the “black letter law”, I have written several poems countering that thought. Three of them are here. I think they speak to what you were trying to achieve in this post. I applaud you for writing it.

    We need to be careful how quickly
    ======
    A Neighbor – v2

    Looking for definition
    clearly an attorney
    wanting clear language
    the black letter
    the term of art, the bounds
    the legal jargon
    “Who is my neighbor?”
    The plain meaning, legislative intent
    looking for limits, for direction

    An expansive response, a case study
    a fact-based scenario
    rich with details, with meaning
    judging from the circumstances,
    the details deciding the issue
    the spirit of the law
    not the black letter
    Christ expansive, richly,
    in the definition of neighbor.

    Edited August 11, 2013
    “A Neighbor – v2”
    December 10, 2008
    “A Neighbor”
    http://raymondafoss.blogspot.com/2008/12/neighbor.html
    Luke 10:25-37
    The lawyer’s question and
    the story of the Good Samaritan

    =====
    Grace is the Black Letter Law

    The words on the page
    viewed within their context
    the plain meaning of love
    written on the pages

    Grace is the black letter law
    God’s wish for all mankind
    sending His Son to die
    for your life and mine

    August 9, 2011
    John 3:5-6
    John 3:1-18
    Nicodemus and Christ

    =====
    Guided by God’s Love

    Something to hold onto
    in the words of Christ
    the connection of the law
    guided by God’s love
    the black-letter law
    without the spirit
    given true meaning
    in the walk of Christ

    Guided by God’s love
    following his commands
    humble before our savior
    loving our fellow man
    offering our witness
    our light into the world
    doing what we can
    to spread his holy word

    February 24, 2011
    Romans 13:9-10
    Bible Verse of the Day
    http://www.verseoftheday.com/
    February 21, 2011

    ======

    We need to be careful how quickly we accept the use of fragments of scripture, or tortured interpretations out of context, as if the words mean the same now as they did then. It is clear to me that anyone who wants to can pull scraps of the Bible and reach any kind of conclusion they choose. That to me is part of the beauty of using the lectionary; you have to look at more than your favorite scripture and your favorite topics.

    While it may be a necessary requirement for an attorney to be able to argue either side of a question in a legal fight, it is a very problematic thing when viewing things in black and white separates us rather than unites us, especially when it is scripture that is being used to create that divide. God wants us united and God has gifted us differently. God made all of us and God doesn’t make junk. The fact we can’t understand it all doesn’t change that.

  16. Morgan,

    Great writing. Can I push back from one who is open, but still not set on this issue?

    1. I have read books on one side and the other. They always talk about Paul. My hang up comes from Genesis more than anything else in the Bible. The beautiful poem about creation implies God’s original intended state for us was the oneness of male and female. Counterparts and all so to speak. It is also the only relationship where creation is possible. (Notice I didn’t say creation happens) My worry is that we now are confronting God with our own understanding of creation outside of original intent. Can you help me with this?

    2. The position in the UMC is not going to change unless we suddenly abandon Africa. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. My worry is that we are in for a lot of heartache, pain, and general chaos for years to come on both sides of this issue.

    • I guess that concern just seems completely esoteric to me. The question for me is not whether we conform to an abstract poetry of creation. It’s much more pragmatic. Are we doing things that do violence to our community (physically, spiritually, emotionally) or that hinder our devotion to God? If so, then we shouldn’t. That’s the framework Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 7.

      My ethics are very shaped by Jesus’ statement in Matthew 9:13: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” To me, this means that holiness is not conformity to a standard for abstract purposes (sacrifice) but always concerns our sanctification into more perfectly loving creatures (mercy).

      I’m curious to see how things are going to evolve in our Africa relationships after GBGM recently cut off at least one of the conferences over there due to fiscal irregularities (I can’t remember which one). I think we should be honest about our differing cultural contexts and restructure our global polity accordingly. The voting bloc that has been created between the SEJ and Africa wreaks of cultural paternalism.

      • I told someone one time that this is not my issue. I am not passionate on one side or the other. I know I probably should be, but I am not. I have ministered to LGBT peoples, but I have never really finished wrestling with the issue. My ethic is the Jesus creed. I try to love to the best of my ability both God and my neighbor. I am still working out what that means to love my neighbor and not be settled on this issue.

        I don’t think we will ever be able to legislate this issue away. One way or the other. I believe we have to learn that people can be Christian on both sides of this issue and still hold vastly different viewpoints. This is why I don’t see this happening at GC…ever. The only way I see forward is some sort of amicable split where there is sharing of resources.

        But who knows, what we think to be right or wrong doesn’t matter in America anymore because the general population has already decided what they believe.

        • I’m not sure what any kind of “solution” is in terms of our polity. I know that my duty is to engage in prophetic witness based on what I’ve been shown in the witness of the spiritual mentors I’ve had who were gay and the things I feel like God is revealing to me when I read the Bible. So I’ll do my part and others will have to discern what their part is. And I certainly don’t reject any Christian brothers or sisters who come to different conclusions than I do. I only hope that we would all embody Romans 12:2 — being transformed by the renewing of our minds, always testing everything to find the will of God, to know what is acceptable good and perfect.

  17. This is an excellent, bridge-building post. The divide between the camps on this issue is so cavernous and so filled with rhetoric and mutual caricaturization that I find this post especially brave and inspiring.

  18. Hi Morgan,
    I always appreciate your writing, but especially when you engage this topic. I am in full agreement with your views, and grateful for the time you took to express them so well, especially considering the risk this represents for you.

    I have a couple questions for you – playing devil’s advocate mostly because I get asked the same questions and sometimes wonder how to reply.

    1. You hinted at this, but what do you say to those who claim the burden of proof is actually on those who are introducing a “revisionary” interpretation of Scripture that contradicts 2000 years of Christian tradition?

    2. What do you say to those who claim (a la William Webb) that the homosexuality debate is less “disputable” than the women in ministry debate because there is no “neither gay nor straight” equivalent to “neither male nor female” – no hints of a progressive movement on this issue in the Bible?

    3. Did you encounter this discussion much at Wild Goose?

    • Let’s see. 1) With any other issue of Biblical interpretation, we do not exclude from our communion those who have an exegetically plausible reading of a particular scripture even if we disagree with it. The burden of proof is not for someone to establish that their interpretation is the only possible meaning. So I think I only have to establish the plausibility of a gay-affirming reading to be able to say that individual same-gender attracted Christians should discern for themselves what God is telling them to do.

      2) My contention is that men can’t be “the women” in a sexual relationship only under the logic of patriarchal sexual ethics in which males are responsible for female sexuality so “neither male nor female” applies to both gender hierarchy and the gender of sexuality. The anti-gay prohibition stands or falls on the question of patriarchy. Incidentally, the neo-patriarchal movement today is very much in agreement w me on this point and makes the exact same connections I’m making to a different purpose. What’s incoherent is to sort of hedge your bets by being pro-gender-equality but anti-gay as a sort of pseudo-“compromise” position.

  19. I think how Paul uses “natural” (phys) is also interesting, since later on in Romans he warns Gentiles not to get full of themselves since they are “unnatural” branches grafted onto Israel’s trunk. Also in 1 Corinthians, men having long hair and women having short hair is “unnatural.”

  20. Reblogged this on Gestating A Church and commented:
    “So to me, the burden of proof for a Christian who wants to maintain an opposition to homosexuality is to demonstrate why and how monogamous same-gendered sexual intimacy clutters people with anxiety, contradicts good community order, or hinders devotion to God?” – good stuff from Morgan Guyton

  21. I absolutely hate to nitpick here, but since everything else was so grand I just had to pick at this one particular nit since it stood out to me so blatantly.

    About halfway through, you mentioned the concept that participating in BDSM games with your wife would somehow have an adverse effect on your interactions with the outside world. I wanna really challenge you to engage with that idea some more. On its surface, I totally understand the concept kinky stuff can be dangerous. But just as you learned more about the holiness of our LGBT brothers and sisters (and others) by interacting with them, so too should you engage with the broader spectrum of the Queer Christian community. There are some amazing Queer Theology texts that talk about how you can actually find real, true holiness and spirituality through the practice of various kinky behaviors.

    Other than that, totally awesome post. Thanks for digging in so deep.

  22. This was very interesting. I have really not known (and not therefore made a definitive judgement) on what to think about this issue. I really have known very few gay people in my life, so how can I say what is true. But I appreciate your insight and feel it has broadened my mind a little.

  23. What I enjoy most about your blogs is that you do not shy away from controversial topics, especially at a time when accountability for your words is greater, and your compliance is being scrutinized closely. In fact, it makes your witness even stronger. Applying “the benefit of doubt” against “business as usual” at the Bible-buffet is always going to be challenge that few are willing or strong enough to accept in our proof-text culture. I appreciate that you continue to present your comments for/against in the first person as part of your spiritual journey, opening yourself up to contradictory remarks and dismissal rather than rely on the words of others to substantiate your complimentary feelings. This is a great post, Morgan.

  24. Have I ever said how much I enjoy reading your blog posts? You’ve been very helpful to me in my spiritual journey. Sometimes I hear something in church (or something another Christian might say) that doesn’t sound right to me, but I can’t always come up with the words to explain why it sounds wrong. Thanks for coming up with those words to help me understand why it is wrong.

    (of course, I guess it helps that I also see nothing wrong with committed same-sex relationships…)

    Thank you for your writing.

  25. For centuries the Church persecuted left handed people as having the hand of cursing or the hand of Satan. And it had scripture to back it up. Left handed people were persecuted, ostracized, or worse. Even to the last century there was still reparative therapy for left handed people. This is just one example of religious superstition, that when science proves it wrong, the Church is forced to re-examine scripture and adjust doctrine. Scientific research now shows that homosexuality is most likely caused by prenatal maternal hormone levels acting upon a latent gene. God would not create people only to condemn them for the way S/he created them. So we must go back to Biblical Hebrew to discover we have mistranslated and misinterpreted the scriptures. The Methodist Church must address this.

    • Also, what about the recent studies of twins (same genes, same maternal hormones) wherein one identifies gay and the other straight, suggesting that, at the very least, it is sometimes nurture rather than nature?

      • Dan I agree with a lot of what you say. On this issue I think it’s still not settled (and I’m ok with whatever the answer turns out to be). Consider that identical twins arise from a single fertilized egg. If we think of it in an oversimplified way, as soon as that egg splits into two cells, for each chromosome there is the half that came directly from the parent (mother or father) and the half that is a copy. But it’s a little more complicated because of recombination. Maybe a recombined strand that puts one gene from the father into the same physical chromosome with one gene from the mother behaves differently. Or maybe there is a random switch that goes back and forth, allowing the copy to be ever-so-minutely different. There are a good many possibilities, and the basis for sexual orientation may not be the same for everyone. Maybe for some people it is absolutely set genetically and for others its mutable. An example for me – an analysis of my actual DNA says that my eyes are blue, but they are brown. My mom’s eyes are brown so it’s nos surprise phenotypically. But genotypically, the basis for my eye color is apparently a different gene than the two that form the basis for most people’s eye color.

  26. Wow… this is amazing. Especially the part about Paul’s reasoning being “I want you to be free from anxieties.” You have no idea how totally terrified I was of dating, for a long time. The idea that the bible’s teaching about sex can actually give us freedom- wow, I’ve never thought about that before.

    Also this: ” If it is within the range of plausibility, then shouldn’t gay Christian believers discern for themselves whether the degenerative dispositions in Romans 1:29-31 represent what their lives would become in a monogamous same-gendered partnership?” That’s totally how I feel- I’m straight, so… why do I need to have an opinion about gay Christians’ personal lives? I should just support them, no matter what they believe about God’s will for them.

  27. Also, mishkevei (and the corresponding Greek word koites as you note above) means BED. “If a man lies with a zakhar in a woman’s BED…” ? This is the ENTIRE basis for an anti-gay interpretation of anything in the Old Testament, and now we see it is also Paul’s word, the only basis for an anti-gay interpretation of anything in the New Testament as well. And it doesn’t sound like that’s what it means at all.

  28. Personally I think this key phrase, “zakhar mishkevei” is the exact downfall of the entire anti-gay claim. Zakhar is NOT the word for man. The word for man is “ish” and it appears in the sentence. So it does not say “man with man.” It says man with zakhar. As anyone named Zachary can tell you, Zachary means priest. It’s related to the words sacred, sacrifice, and consecrated. In Hebrew, zakhar is the word for memory. Think of the phrase “sacred to the memory of …”

  29. Thanks for this great column Morgan. I’d like to mention one factoid. Paul definitely did NOT make up the word arsenokoites. It is the literal translation from Hebrew to Greek of the the key phrase “zakhar mishkevei” in Leviticus 20:13. The exact words arseno koitai appear in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Lev 20:13 that Paul and all of his readers used. We have been saying for decades that Paul seems to have made this phrase up himself, but that is definitely not true.

      • I apologize, I should not frame it as a correction but as my impression, and something I think deserves at least as much air time as the idea that Paul made up the word without any basis for it. (which gets repeated a lot)

    • Just to push back, it’s still making a compound word out of two individual words. The fact that zakar and mishkivei appear sequentially in Leviticus 20:13 does not make them a phrase any more than “them a phrase” is a phrase; they’re two nouns. Shakav is the Hebrew verb for “lies with.” Koiemo is the Greek verb for lie while koita is the noun for bed. If Paul wanted to be more explicit that it’s not just a “bed-man,” he had other words in Greek to work with.

      • “any more than “them a phrase” is a phrase” — actually I agree with you exactly on this. I think they were NOT a phrase in Leviticus, and that the 72 people who translated it into Greek were wrong when they assumed that it was. Unfortunately, Paul had that same incorrect understanding (it seems to me), and so has almost everybody else maybe all but a few dozen people in all history. I’ll follow up separately with the parsing …

      • As for “making a compound word out of two individual words” – if I understand correctly, there are no spaces either in the Greek version of the Old Testament that Paul and his audience would have routinely used (the Septuagint), nor in the Koine Greek that Paul would have used when writing Romans, 1 Corinthians etc. So two words versus one word would not be distinguished on that basis. Also re: “two nouns” – again IIUC, the grammarians of classic languages did not make much distinction between adjectives and nouns. They were declined the same. “Green truck” was two declinable words smashed together just like “fire truck.” Is fire an adjective or a noun there? It was quite a bit worse in Hebrew because the vowel sounds, some of which might have marked the relationship between the words (case / declension etc), were not included in the “original” Hebrew text that was the basis for the Greek translation that would have been the standard text for Paul and his Greek audience.

        • I think you’re hard-pressed to make your case that zakhar is the word for priest. It does mean “to remember” but it’s used in a whole lot of places where it can’t really mean more than “male.” The explanation that I’ve seen is that the male was seen as the “memorable” gender.

          • That’s fine, we don’t have to agree on everything🙂 So let’s look at the other part of arsenokoites / zakar mishkevei in the text of Lev 20:13. Transliterated from Hebrew it (apparently) says “wuh ish asher yishkab et zakar mishkevei ishah …” translating somewhat literally — “and a man who lies with a zakar lyings woman” … Now we hit that other word – lyings / bed / mishkevei. Besides the two occurrences in the two Leviticus clobber passages, various forms of mishkevei occur 44 other times. In all 44 occurrences, it means basically bed – Usually it is a specific physical place (the “m” prefix on a gerund usually means a place). Maybe a couch, bedroom, palette for sleeping on the ground etc. There are a few (5?) occurrences where it is part of the phrase “to know in bed” which means to have sex with. But the word still means “bed.” That is also how they translated it into Greek – koites = bed. So let’s accept that it means bed. “and a man who lies with a zakar bed woman” … how do we get from there to a blanket (heh, bed blanket) condemnation of sex between men?

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