Ben Wallis has argued that the Christian response to homosexuality should parallel our response to slavery. By this he means that we should free both slaves and gays from the biblical chains that supposedly hold them in bondage.
The words that I offer in response are my own, but they carry with them an endorsement from the Christian Studies Department as a whole.
In the case of slavery, it is true that the Church eventually supported the emancipation of slaves, even though Scripture explicitly permitted slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. The basis for this theological move was the trajectory of biblical theology. Any thoughtful reader of the Bible could see that the status of slaves improved remarkably as one moved from the Old to the New Testament, and that slavery itself did not square so easily with texts like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”
By emancipating slaves, Christians were merely tracing the Bible’s theological trajectory to its natural conclusion, something that the apostle Paul did when he asked Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus.
This kind of theological argumentation, which uses Scripture’s implicit trajectories to move beyond its explicit judgments, is nowadays fairly common in Evangelicalism.
Central to this theological approach is the venerable concept of accommodation, the idea that God sometimes “plays along” (as Dr. Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen has expressed it) with humanity’s more problematic cultural institutions. This will mean that God did not err when He permitted slavery in Scripture; He merely accommodated Himself to our social institutions in order to subvert them-and subvert them He did.
Accommodation is a very old conception that shows up in the theological work of the Church fathers and of the Reformers, especially John Calvin, so I have no fundamental theological debate with Wallis on this point. But we part ways on the parallel that he draws between slavery and homosexuality, for it seems to me that in the eye of Scripture these two things are apples and oranges.
Whereas strong biblical currents move against the institution of slavery, there is no corresponding current that moves in favor of homosexuality. Although there are only a few biblical texts that explicitly discuss homosexuality, they are remarkably consistent in their opposition to same-gender sex (Lev 16:6-18; 20:11-21; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10).
Moreover, in assuming this posture on homosexuality, Scripture was standing against the views that prevailed in the ancient Near East and in the Greco-Roman world. Equally or even more important is the fact that Scriptural norms assume and assert that the proper context for sexual expression is the marriage between a man and woman (e.g., Gen 1-3; 1 Cor 6:12-7:40).
In fact, according to Scripture, it is in the unity of marriage that we find creation’s closest metaphor to the divine image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
This canonical case against homosexuality is only strengthened by the traditions of the Church, which have conformed to these biblical perspectives without fail for two millennia.
I would add as well that, according to the now mounting social-scientific evidence, the causes of homosexuality appear to be more nurture than nature. In sum, we may say that Scripture, Church tradition and the created order point us in the same direction: homosexual behavior is not a healthy Christian behavior.
If we must choose between despising homosexuals and accepting homosexuality, it seems to me that that first error-so prevalent among evangelicals-will be worse than the second, even if same-gender sex is ultimately wrong. However, these two options are not the only options on the table. We can love and embrace homosexuals, and let them know that the Lord who heals does as well.
Dr Kent Sparks
In last issue’s editorials, the hot topic for many was Mr. Andersen’s praise of rising gas prices. But my concern is that Ben Wallis’ editorial, which declared homosexuality a hurdle for the church to jump on the race to enlightenment, is founded on assumption.
Science has yet to conclude that homosexuality is genetic. Psychologist Anna Bissi sees lesbianism as a matter of psychological conditioning. Science cannot legitimize homosexuality as “unchangeable.”
In regard to the alleged contradictions in the Bible: In Ephesus there was a sect of women claiming men an inferior species, hence the stern rules about women talking. Paul tells the Corinthians that woman’s authority varies elsewhere, but he does not nullify their customs (1 Cor. 11:1-16).
Slaves in Paul’s day could buy their freedom and run for office, a far cry from the dehumanizing practices of the pre-Civil War era.
The “pillars of the earth” verses found in Job and Psalms are expressed in a poetic context.
The quote that in Christ there is neither “male nor female” refers to salvation, not sexual orientation.
Mr. Wallis argues that the Bible only speaks against lust and that love makes same-sex unions okay. But in Romans, Paul says that uncontrolled lust followed disobedience (1:22- 24). Christ’s commands against lust condemned it and its results. Mr. Wallis’ claim is ridiculous.
Also, it assumes that there was only lust in previous homosexual relationships and not affection. Monogamy does not excuse the action. God set down his standards for marriage at the beginning. Marriage is partnership for life, all of life, and sex is not the sole end of it. Friends of the same sex can be willing to live and die for each other, but this does not mean they must share a bed.
Assuming that Christians must adapt to their culture, that we must be of the world, not only in it, is baseless.
Throughout the Bible, God’s way is counter-cultural. Christ promises controversy, not peace, with nonbelievers (Mt. 10:34, 35). To say that Christians must cater to their culture is pure bulk.
Sexual desire begins within a person and is directed outward. As Christians, we are called to self-control through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). To say we are at the mercies of our passions rather than under the grace of God’s work in the Holy Spirit is not pursuing an “enlightened” view-It voids sanctification and proclaims our God powerless.
Dear Editor, I was disappointed with the Waltonian the article entitled “Acceptance of Homosexuality a Hurdle for the Church: Let’s Jump It.” I did not find that the article came to any clear conclusion concerning the acceptance of homosexuality, and I found that some of its statements did not have sufficient evidence behind them. The article stated that homosexuality is not a new issue in the Church; however, homosexuality is a relatively new issue. Throughout Church history there has not been as much upheaval as there has been in the recent century, never before was there a question of homosexuality’s sinfulness before attempts to scientifically render it as “not our fault that we are like this.”
The truth is there is a grave danger with accepting homosexuality as a lifestyle that is just as sacred as a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. I do not find that progressive revelation is still active. The canon is closed, we know all that we need to know of God’s character, and we know that He does not change (Heb. 13:8). The thought that progressive revelation has stopped tells us that God would not reveal His support of the homosexual lifestyle after more than 2000 years of church (and synagogue) history. But wait; take the same principle that God would “change His mind” towards what is sinful and what is not sinful to other areas. After all, why show partiality to a particular sin; why not get rid of all of them, or at least the “smaller” ones, like lying? The assumption that God would change His mind considering any of the sins is preposterous to even think about, it simply goes against all biblical precedence that the Truth of God does not for one moment become relative in order to echo what society says is an “okay”.
However, there is more than just the acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle at stake here, there is a deeper issue. As we redefine for ourselves what is sinful and what is not, we inadvertently redefine the Love of God, and even God Himself. As we reinterpret biblical passages in order to rid our own personal guilt, we begin to say more and more that we are not as much in need of the Cross and its redemptive act as before. To redefine what is sin is to redefine what is forgiveness or redemption, it is to redefine what it was that happened on Calvary, or what it is to depend on God for the liberation from bondage to decay (Romans 8:18-21).
Yes, the Bible is offensive, and yes, it proves me to be a wretched man with my lying, envy, anger, lust, impatience, and laziness, but the thought of rewriting Scripture that I might be sinless is disgusting (see Romans 1:25). I stand against homosexuality as a lifestyle, and please do not assume that I am not in connection with “gay” people; I still talk to two gays who were in my youth group growing up. I am a full advocate for “love the sinner, hate the sin,” thus I do not think the Church should ever stop accepting homosexuals into her arms, but I also do not think that that the Church should be accepting of the homosexual lifestyle. I find the Bible to be very unambiguous when it talks about sin, even though the same Bible makes me guilty of so very much. All we can ever do is plead the Blood and help one another to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mathew 5:48)
Let us not forget the deeper issue as we consider any of the sins, the relation of who God is to us in the midst of these sins. He is the only one who can save us from a condition we wish we could ignore. But please, I hope that my point is seen, that if there is the simple acceptance of even one little sin as somehow becoming righteous and/or sinless, it destructively reverberates throughout the rest of our Christian theology. This is because the foundation of our faith, the Gospel, the very anchor and rock of our souls, is being shaken and cracked. And thus, like the great house built on sand in Mathew 7:24-27, the beautiful cathedral that is the church as we know it will crumble with us inside singing praises to a God that we chose to define for ourselves.
By John Chaffee
Ben Wallis responds:
I am very appreciative of all the responses to my article, both positive and negative. Open dialogue is exactly what this controversy needs.
I plan to articulate a full position on the subject which will be more lengthy and require a different forum than the Waltonian.