A response to Professor Elaine Phillips “A Biblical Lens on Same-Gender Sexual Activity”

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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.

An Open Letter to President Lindsay of Gordon College

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The recent ruling from the Supreme Court pertaining to the Hobby Lobby challenge to specific forms of birth control has caused quite a stir. The ruling was intended to be narrow in scope; however, anyone with basic political science training knows that incrementalism would open the door to further challenges and religious exemptions.

Therefore, I am compelled to write this after President Lindsay of Gordon College, my alma mater, provided his support to a letter that was sent to President Obama. In this letter, President Lindsay asked, by way of religious exemption, to be excluded from the mandate that federal contractors not discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. Are individuals, workers, or employees completely reduced to their sexual behavior, which as anyone knows is such a small portion of that person’s life.

I sent a message to President Lindsay through twitter and received no response. Moreover, in a seriously cowardly move, he was ‘unavailable for comment‘ when the Boston Globe reached out to him. There are some arguments that people espouse that need to have a response, whether or not anyone ever hears or understands that response.

President Lindsay paints a masterful picture of a simple request for religious liberty, the common good, and national unity as the justification for his exemption from treating people with basic dignity. I guess they forgot to address, in the letter, the religious liberty of those whom they have already decided they aren’t going to hire. As we all know, excluding a minority group from basic civic life because of their rather normal behavior is the pinpoint of a society’s common good and national unity. I hope you caught the sarcasm there.

President Lindsay’s support for this exemption is so disconcerting for our country and our political discourse that we should all be concerned, not just as alumni of Gordon College but as citizens of the United States. This is not a small and isolated incident. This ‘exemption’ has the potential for lasting consequences and the path dependency of civil rights in America. This ‘religious’ exemption is not innocuous. This letter is not about a College’s decision to adhere to its ‘sincerely held religious belief,‘ but rather a decision to contribute to the solidification of discrimination policy or the destruction of progress.

Allowing discrimination on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is so dangerous to the public good. The ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is not based on fact but rather belief. This is exactly what the Hobby Lobby case determined. This entity can completely believe that a form of contraception is an abortifacient despite the fact that science says it is not. There is no end to what can be sincerely held. For instance, the discrimination of African-Americans in the Mormon Church is a good example.

I completely understand the nuances of the important legal concepts of ‘compelling interests’ and ‘least restrictive means’ that play a crucial role in this discussion. However, when each religious organization gets to choose which beliefs it sincerely holds and can exercise over those subject to their belief and actions, I think the State not only has a compelling interest but a moral, ethical, and constitutional responsibility to intervene for the true common good.

What is this sincerely held belief that Gordon’s President thought would further the public good? Hetronormative sexual behavior? Is Gordon going to regulate the sexual behavior of every other employee and potential hiree? How would one do that? I guess there could be questions on the hiring application: Do you masterbate? When you climax, where do you put your seed (Genesis 38:9)?

Along those lines, what is ‘appropriate’ sexual behavior that does not violate religious expression? This is to say nothing of who’s religious expression?

How about in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 wherein Paul says that men control women’s bodies during sex and women control men’s bodies during sex or that neither can ‘deprive’ one another from sexual intercourse. Imagine the look on the face of the interviewee when asked this, “Have you asserted your biblically mandated sexual dominance over your partner?”

How about in Matthew 5:28 wherein the Gospel writer says that if men look after women with lustful intent that they have already committed adultery? Should Gordon College’s lustful college age men and women gouge out their eyes, as required by the next verse? In my experience, there would be many blind people at Gordon.

How about in 1 Timothy 1:10 wherein Paul completely equates lying with homosexuality? It is not sexual behavior but reiterates my point. Again, how about in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein Paul again compares homosexuality to greed and thievery and drunkards. Once more in Galatians 5:19-21 he makes similar comparisons with anger and envy and jealousy. See my article at the State of Formation wherein I discuss how Paul is not really condemning homosexuality in the way that people think.

Is Gordon College going to enforce these beliefs? Or are they going to pick and chose which ones are more in line with what they want? Those that are spiritually convenient or politically expedient? Those that mobilize donors? The answer to these questions leave me to believe that Gordon College’s decision to just regulate the sexual behavior of the LGTBQ community is a decision on a political matter, despite what they said. If it is not a political choice then it is simply bad systematic theology, which completely undermines their entire mission statement. I definitely expected more from them. I know for a fact that my exegesis professors taught me to be more intellectually honest than that.

We, as a society, have encountered a similar situation during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Some business owners in the South maintained that they were able to refuse access to the services they provided. They argued that their private establishments were not subject to government intrusion or regulation. This approach allowed for a drastic and systematic discrimination and dehumanization of many African-Americans. They had legal precedent to do this in many of the states.

Congress purposefully and deliberately corrected this potential for discrimination. They justified their action by the Constitutional clause that enabled them to regulate commerce. Congress has the power and authority to force a small business owner to allow specific people to frequent their establishment. Congress, through the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) has the power and authority to make Gordon College treat people equally. Gordon College definitely receives federal dollars and is therefore under the power and authority of Congress.

The Supreme Court confirmed this regulation and approach to ending discrimination by unanimous decision. They outlined the law in the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.  This case, under the umbrella of the ‘Commerce Clause,’ established the promise of civil rights to potentially marginalized American citizens. The current law and U.S. policy force those to act more civilly when they inappropriately and unjustifiably use their prejudices to discriminate against others. This action is not a mechanism of government intrusion but rather an instrument of equality with regard to our citizenry. The civil rights of the LGBT community are at stake.

Imagine the Civil Rights Act getting passed if businesses in the south asked for a ‘religious exemption’ to not hire African-Americans? Imagine if those in the southern establishment had a Supreme Court decision to justify their discrimination on the basis of religious belief?

President Lindsay does not represent every person that goes through Gordon College. I believe, as do many of my peers from Gordon College, there is a path to salvation for those who are LGTBQ — just as there is for every other human being in the world. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be now is not in the Bible. 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? 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. It most certainly does not say that Christians can legally discriminate against LGTBQ community in hiring.

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.

Without such action, one has to ask where the discrimination ends? Can we justify nearly everything and anything as religious expression? So, now bakers are not going to bake cakes for gay weddings? Photographers are going to decided not to take pictures at gay weddings? Christian schools are not going to hire gays? What about the many gays that currently work there? Are you going to have an inquisition or witch hunt to find them and fire them? How about a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy? Are we able to frame our most disgusting and vile xenophobias as religious virtues and hope that the Court will find a First Amendment justification for our actions?

Thankfully, the State has successfully argued that it has a right to regulate religion and religious expression if it has a compelling interest in doing so, particularly when that expression is harmful to the civil rights of other citizens or if that expression is some action that the government would usually regulate (Employment Division v. Smith), like discrimination on the basis of intrinsic characteristics. Moreover, and most importantly, the Court has argued that the government is able to make a differentiation between the ‘belief’ of a religion and the ‘action’ of the religion.

President Lindsay and Gordon College are constitutionally protected in their belief that homosexuality is contrary to G-d and the Bible, however, exegetically weak and anachronistically ignorant it may be. However, they should not be permitted to act on that belief and take away the civil rights of the LGBT community in their hiring practices. The minority rights of the LGBT community must be protected if we are to exemplify, in society, the principles our Constitution and our Christian faith embodies. We cannot let the offensive and anti-Biblical religious views of some dictate.

 

——- Portions of this article appeared on this blog in 2012 and at http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/10/religion-gays-and-a-nice-little-b-and-b/

and at

http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/03/homosexuality-a-microcosmic-electronic-post-to-a-virtual-wittenberg-church-door/

 

Images are taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.”

The images are of LGTB Flag by Sparrov and D Michael Lindsay.

“a date which will live in infamy”

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My Uncle Truman was a WWII U.S. Navy veteran. Today is a day to reminisce about him and those like him. I hope we all can come to know and appreciate the values he embodied. In my mind, he was and is an American hero and a leader worthy of emulation. He served on the USS Murphy during WWII. After answering his country’s need and call to service at a moment of historical proportions, he returned home and raised a family. He often told me stories about his experience at Normandy, for the D-Day invasion, wherein he provided support for those trying to get onto Omaha Beach (For those of you who don’t know history, think “Saving Private Ryan’s” opening scene). He said that his life was forever enriched by his service to his country. I am unable to think about his stories, or him, without pausing to ponder the honor, the courage, and the commitment such actions would require. They and he are truly inspirational. Needless to say, this particular uncle was very influential in my life, which, unfortunately, I did not fully comprehend until I was older. He often talked to me about the importance of education and familial responsibilities. Later, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college; his life and his values challenged me to change the family pattern and pursue excellence. Let us remember his generation today.