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ss nucleus - winter 1998,  Straight and Narrow-Minded?

Straight and Narrow-Minded?

In the face of recent furore on the church's attitude to homosexuality, important questions need to be answered. What are the issues at stake? What does the Bible teach? How should we as Christians respond? Mark Pickering enters the fray.

Anglican bishops hit the headlines in August with a controversial ruling on the church's attitude to homosexuality. After much debate, liberal (mainly Western) bishops, were defeated by a huge majority at the ten-yearly Lambeth conference. Whilst having no legislative authority, its rulings are important for the world's 70 million Anglicans and for the message it gives to the world.

The resulting motion affirmed that:

  • sexual orientation does not affect God's love for a person, nor the possibility of them being full members of the body of Christ
  • lifelong heterosexual marriage is the only place for sexual activity
  • homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture although irrational fear of homosexuals is to be condemned
  • same-sex unions should not be blessed, nor those involved in them ordained[1]

Liberal bishops felt betrayed. The Right Rev Richard Holloway saw 'a new prevailing attitude to scriptural interpretation which I do not recognise as Anglican'.[2] David Jenkins, the ex-bishop of Durham, said that the ruling was 'moved by fear' and would 'force us to atheism'.[3]

Why is there such conflict in the church? Until recently the Bible has always been seen to forbid homosexual acts:[4] how can Christian leaders not do the same? In short, they must either deny its authority, or give new meanings to the passages concerned. We will take a brief look at how they achieve the latter.[5]

Biblical revisionism

The story of Sodom (Gn 19:1-29) is a case in point. Firstly, it is said by the revisionists to condemn gang rape, not homosexuality itself. Secondly, the Hebrew word yada' rendered 'have sex with' in the NIV, or 'know' in the KJV (v5), is labelled a mistranslation. We are told that the men of Sodom suspected Lot's guests of being spies, simply wanting to interrogate them. In other words, their sin was inhospitality rather than homosexuality.

Similarly, Paul's references to homosexuality in Romans 1:24-27 are dismissed as not addressing today's issues. His references to 'unnatural' acts are said to prohibit going against your 'natural' sexuality, be that heterosexual or homosexual. Alternatively, it is said that he was only condemning certain practices prevalent at the time, such as male prostitution and pederasty (sex between men and boys). By this interpretation, loving monogamous homosexuality is not forbidden.

Positive support for homosexuality has been sought in the friendship of David and Jonathan, whose love was 'more wonderful than that of women' (2 Sa 1:26). Even Jesus and John, 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (Jn 21:20), are not exempt.

True to the Bible

The above interpretations are unacceptable for several reasons. Firstly, there are no positive references to homosexuality in the Bible. In the two friendships quoted above, there is no suggestion of homosexuality, unless of course you need to find it there.

Secondly, the Genesis account of creation is crucial, yet often ignored. In it, we see God creating first male and then female from male. The two were originally one, so that in this wonderful description of marriage, they were not just united, but reunited (Gn 2:20-25). When this is understood, marriage and sexual love within marriage are no longer just sociological phenomena. They are gifts given by God with a purpose. In marriage, we re-enact creation and the original unity of male and female. Paul also links marriage with redemption (Eph 5:25-33). Therefore, homosexual behaviour is a distortion of God's purpose and a misuse of his gift.

Thirdly, this reinterpretation does not do justice to the passages under scrutiny. In Genesis 19, yada' is used to mean sexual intercourse in v8; there is no reason why it should not have the same meaning in v5. Paul's references in Romans cannot be sidestepped so easily and clearly forbid homosexual behaviour. Readers are referred to a far more thorough treatment of the subject.[6]

How then should we live?

If we choose to stand against the rising tide of homosexuality, we are in for a rough ride. We will be accused of homophobia, unloving attitudes and a medieval mentality. It is our responsibility to see that we are loving in our firm response and that there is no irrational fear of homosexuals in our rejection of their practice. Sexual sins are no worse than others(1Cor 6:9-10; Ezk 16:49-50) and we are all guilty, even if only in mind(Mt 5:27-28). We should keep up to date with what science is really saying[7] (not just what some would like it to say) and study the relevant biblical passages, in order to give informed, intelligent answers.

'Homosexuality throws down a gauntlet to the church. It invites us to understand people who are often misunderstood and to reflect on the integrity of our own sexuality. It requires us to be informed in an atmosphere of ignorance and misinformation. It bids us to speak the truth at the cost of incurring the wrath of the politically correct, and it challenges us to offer unconditional love and care to those who suffer.'[8]

  1. summarised from Gledhill R. Times 1998, 6 August:1,2
  2. Gledhill R. Times 1998, 7 August:12. Rev Holloway's attitudes to Scripture have been quoted before in Nucleus (Bishop Blames 'Homophobic' Bible. Nucleus 1998, July:11,12).
  3. Letters to the editor. Times 1998, 7 August:21
  4. The relevant passages are: Gn 19:1-29; Lv 18:22; 20:13; Jdg 19:1-30; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:10; Jude 7
  5. An excellent account of biblical revisionism is given in Schmidt TE. Straight and Narrow? Leicester: IVP, 1995:25-38
  6. Schmidt TE. op cit, chs 5-6
  7. see Saunders P, Pickering RA. Homosexuality - the causes. Nucleus 1997; October:18-28
  8. Saunders P in Beer D (ed). Christian Choices in Healthcare. Leicester: IVP/CMF, 1995:210
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