I write this in response to Gordon College’s Professor Elaine Phillips’ “A Biblical Lens on Same-Gender Sexual Activity” essay sent to the Gordon College Community. First, I would like to say that I am highly disappointed and expected something much more intellectually honest from a faculty member at Gordon College. This is nothing more than a proof-texted explanation of sexuality and the Bible. It advances an agenda and does nothing to exegetically seek the truth. Especially, her concluding arguments about the Church being different and the “light” in “darkness” is so highly offensive and dehumanizing. The heteronormative conglomeration of evangelical Christians is not the “light” and the inappropriately persecuted homosexual Christians are certainly not the “darkness” that must see and follow the light. That type of “peculiar” people and thinking is the antithesis of true Christianity.
Her tone is such that she does not have any say in how she interprets the scripture, as if they are so clear in their message and we as the church are bound by a divine revelation that is presented to all. The very fact that Dr. Elaine Phillips is allowed to even talk during chapel or about the bible is a reinterpretation of Paul’s direction for women to be completely silent on such matters and receive their instruction from their husbands.
To begin a biblical explanation of human sexuality with the discussion of Adam and Eve their command to multiply is egregious. It completely neglects the reality that even some heterosexually oriented couples cannot procreate. Are we to read that then they cannot enter into the sacrament of marriage because of their inability to procreate? Her interpretation says yes.
Secondly, she moves to a discussion, with coded language of male and female, of cleaving to one another and becoming one flesh in the sacrament of marriage. She quotes, “At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female…“ She seems to be making the argument that the souls of men and women are ontologically different; there is absolutely no basis for this in the scripture. Conveniently, her argument completely ignores Paul’s discussion of this in Galatians wherein he says, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.” So then, cannot two males become one flesh? Two women?
Next, she turns to specific passages of scripture with which one could seriously take issue. She appears to use these to determine the Bible’s message to the Church about homosexuality, given the incomplete and isolated mentions of homosexuality, however, I think that one would find it difficult to argue that there is consistent opposition to homosexuality in the Bible, in any modern sense of the word.
In fact, I would argue that the modern concept of homosexuality is only in the Bible twice, both times it is presented positively: David and Jonathan’s relationship and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple’s relationship. Nowhere is there specific mandates about not participating in a loving, committed relationship with someone of the same genitalia.
It seems as though she picks and chooses the texts from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that she thinks will justify her positions biblically. The first quoted proof-text comes from Sodom, in Genesis 19:1-11. Most Christians know the story. The townspeople wanted to rape Lot’s male visitors and eventually G-d destroyed the city. Aside from the fact that most Orthodox fail to even discuss the fact that Lot, the person G-d was willing to save, was all too willing to pimp/prostitute his underage daughters to an angry mob, who would have no doubt gang-raped them.
The church wants to use this story as justification for condemning homosexuality. Would it not be more appropriate to see this story in relation to power and not homosexuality? Nowhere does the text mention that G-d destroyed the city because two people, who love each other, are committed to one another in a sexual relationship. The story does not address a same-sex relationship, but rather it is about a group of people who want to force a sexual act on an unwilling participant. I wonder if the moral of the story we are supposed to take away is one that states that G-d will not tolerate the dehumanization of the minority (male visitors) by the majority (angry mob) rather than a condemnation of homosexuality?
She then moves to the Holiness Code in Leviticus. 18:22 – 20:13. The text says, “Do not lie with a man as one does with a woman.” The underlying importance of this “Holiness code” is the fact that the Hebrews were trying to separate themselves from the surrounding Canaanites. This is the time when they were “becoming” the chosen people of G-d. The surrounding cultures were very similar and many participated in homosexuality; it was an acceptable practice. It seems to me that the “chosen people of G-d” were simply trying to change their behavior as a way of looking different than everyone else. Aside from that, we must pay attention to the context and read the entire holiness code to make any sense of this passage.
Two passages earlier we are commanded not to have sex with a woman while she is menstruating. Both of these claims have the same force of holiness. In fact, men were supposed to wait seven days afterwards before having sex, mostly because the women were considered ritually unclean and not allowed in the camp during menstruation and seven days afterwards. I think it is difficult to choose one of these commandments to make Christians follow and not the other. The Church needs to either mandate both or neither one of them. Rather, should we not look at this passage as something that served its purpose for that time and it is no longer socially or theologically relevant to Orthodoxy? This is to say nothing of the parts of the holiness code like not eating shellfish or not cutting specific parts of your hair. How can we as Christians pick some of the holiness code and not the others? If you respond by saying that Peter had a revelation and changed the eating habits of the holiness code, please do not forget that Paul had a revelation that he explained to us as well, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.”
In the New Testament, there are primarily three instances of Scripture that are used to justify the condemnation of homosexuality by the Church. The first consists of Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1:26-27, wherein he discusses the “unnatural” and “shameful lusts” of the Romans. During the First Century, there was a practice that many participated in called pederasty. In Greek culture, it was an honorable and accepted practice that society valued very highly. Basically, it was a teaching mechanism used to educate boys—it included an erotic component wherein the men had sex with the boys. It included a specific etiquette and rules from which the participants could not deviate. Those who did deviate from the rules and etiquette were typically outcasts.
The Greek word Paul uses here to discuss those who have violated the rules is the same word used in other Greek texts for this type of man. He uses the same words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 – arsenokoites (male prostitute) and malakoi (lack of Roman masculinity). Professor uses this word, but does not provide the appropriate historical context of the definition of the word. Paul could have used another, easier word but he chose this word. Could we not argue that this is the type of sex and “unnatural” relations about which Paul is talking? He is definitely not talking about two consenting adults in a committed relationship. Could we not see this request as an attempt to convince the Romans to stop violating the real rules of the game, and stop raping the children and stop resisting giving them the educative, spiritual element that they claimed pederasty provided–in a healthy, non-sexual way?
There is no doubt that Paul is aware of pederasty, particularly the stories in Homer’s The Iliad about Achilles and Patroclus. The context of the passage, when understood in light of an uncommon word usage, indicates that Paul was referring to pederasty; this is seen in the fact that Paul spoke of “shameful lusts” and being given over to “unnatural” relations. I see the unnatural aspect to which Paul is referring (when seen in the context of the passage and interpreted in light of other extra-biblical sources that employ the same language) as the deviation that pederasty in particular fosters. In other words, Paul is not saying “stop having consenting-adult same-sex relations,” but rather he is saying “stop asserting your sexual dominance.” It seems to me that Paul was more concerned with the violations of the power differential than he was with the Greek’s cultural expression of same sex behavior.
I am not arguing that the Bible or the Apostle Paul is in favor or would ever support our understanding of homosexuality. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be is not in the Bible. Period! It has not been addressed substantively by the Church or the Bible. Therefore, should we not acknowledge that the Bible is unclear, at best, on what to make of same-sex behavior, particularly for a 21st century understanding of homosexuality? Would not doing so enable the Church to have a constructive dialogue with the LGBTQ community about their role and participation in our faith? This provides us with the perfect opportunity to see that with whom Christians have sexual relations does not dictate the path of or the destruction of our salvation, as it did not with David or Abraham.
What does seem to be a clear about the connection between the Bible and same sex behavior is that we should not see it as an abomination, but rather it presents a message about not exercising sexual power over others. To separate yourself from those that do, and be hospitable to the various peoples of G-d. I cannot help but find it ironic that this is exactly what Professor Phillips is doing. We try to exercise our heteronormative sexual power and authority over others, the exact thing that the Bible is clear about us not doing.
If Christianity does not change its approach to homosexuality, it risks becoming irrelevant just like the Pharisees. It is going to lose the opportunity to share the Gospel. I would like to see Gordon College participate in a constructive dialogue with the LGBTQ community rather than every conversation beginning with their non sequitur that participation in the faith is prohibited by those who are living in sin. If you claim to be a Christian in any form, you are in fact living in sin. Being a Christian is tantamount to being a sinner; the two are inseparable by definition.
Much of my explanation regarding the scriptures and how we should interpret them is taken directly from an article I wrote for the State of Formation.