Archive for category Politics
This is from my weekly church newsletter, sent yesterday…
Tomorrow is ANZAC day, and we remember those who have served our nation in the armed services. Regardless of what we think about war and peace, and whether it is ever ok for Christians to take up arms, I believe it is right to respect those who, in good conscience, put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation. Having said that, I also know that most young people who enter the armed services have far less altruistic motives in doing so, and the reality of life in the services is usually a long way from saintly. So let’s remember that there have been occasions in which our nations young people have found themselves called upon to make supreme sacrifices – and many of them have responded with what can only be described as heroism. And let’s also reflect upon what we actually mean by heroism…
I wrote here about how our normal human fascination with power for its own sake leads us to cast our heroes in the shape of Superman, who, for all his moral qualities, is ultimately described as ‘super’ simply because of his physical power. In other words, because he’s the biggest boy in the playground. If there is no God, or if the gods are those of the pagans, then that is not only normal, but right. Nietzsche’s logic on this point is fairly compelling – though it drove him to despair. BUT believing in the God of the scriptures is to encounter a God who moderated the law of the jungle – from “If you injure me, I will kill you!” (Lamech – Genesis 4:24) to “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth – and no more than that!” (Exodus 21:24) and then the radical teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-40, directly contradicting this older law with his command to “turn the other cheek.” And then there was Jesus’ own demonstration of this different way of living; living without retaliation. Though, as he said, he could have called down “twelve legions of angels” in his defence, he was more concerned that his followers should do no violence, telling Peter to “put up your sword – those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matt 26:52-53) Jesus submitted to extraordinary indignities for the sake of God’s mission – our salvation. And his life was consistent with his own teaching; he breathed forgiveness for his enemies in his dying moments.
This is not the heroic superman of our culture. He does not overcome violence with more violence, but with self-sacrifice. He trusts God to hold him, even in death, and to bring goodness out of the cruelty and senselessness of the cross. How often are we willing to trust God for justice? How often are we prepared for him to offer mercy to those who harm us – or even to offer that mercy ourselves, in his name? How often are we willing to let go of revenge – even just the satisfaction of being proved right. Paul teaches us that “we proclaim Christ – and him crucified; a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). So it is today, too. Jesus, and his apparent ‘failure’ as messiah doesn’t look attractive to a world that worships technology and wealth and health and power. But those who enjoy these things know also that none of these things satisfies. Many are actually willing, in their quiet moments, to consider the claims of the crucified to offer a better way. We can make him available to them, not by trying to be as powerful, and wealthy, and slick as the world around us, but by living fully in the Spirit of the Jesus we follow. We can make Jesus known to our friends and neighbours by following him more nearly, loving him more dearly, and seeing him more clearly, day by day. We can make Jesus known by knowing him better ourselves. That won’t happen if we attach ourselves to the blinding, soul-sapping idols of the world.
Tomorrow we remember those who have fallen for our sake. Many of them would say to us that the hero they most tried to be like was the one who laid down his life for his friends. Not necessarily the fastest marksman or the hardest fighter. Let us remember them with honour, and let us remember – and love – our Risen Lord with great glory.
This video impacted on me – like a rotten egg on my Sunday morning face. I’ve lived in these cities, and met and enjoyed time with people like those featured here. I’ve seen the industrial waste dumped into the local farmer’s fish-ponds, and I’ve seen farmers turned off the land their families have been working for generations to make way for giant industrial complexes; leaving them with no option but to take new jobs for abominable wages in dangerous conditions. And, yes, I have a cell phone in my pocket.
What’s the answer? Well what about we start asking questions of the current round of ‘free’ trade talks. Because it seems to me that the ‘free’ market means the freedom of richer people to become even wealthier at the expense of poorer people.
How about we start insisting on fair trade, instead? How about we begin the long journey of changing our trade agreements, one commercial sector at a time, so that we only trade with those who offer their employees the same protections we insist upon for our own workforce?
How about we re-establish industries in NZ that have been outsourced (at great cost) to ‘cheaper’ (read ‘more easily exploited’) labour forces, and work to supply our own needs for things like electronics, and shoes, and fruit? What would it be like, if we all went back to eating food seasonally, instead of expecting to have everything available, all the time?
How about we offer favourable tariffs to enterprises that provide worker protections and benefits over and above the minimum standards (often non-existent) of their own legal setting?
Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but what are the alternatives? More of the same? More industrial deaths? More exploitation? Unceasing market ‘growth’ requiring increasing consumption of diminishing resources? More, More MORE?!
Perhaps we need to make a start on a new path. The one we’re on leads inevitably to a terrible cliff, and too many are falling by the wayside as we rush head-long to that drop. Perhaps we need to forget the ‘free’ market. We might end up with fewer consumer choices – but more real freedom. Until all are free, none are.
1 Tim 1
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
and 1 Cor 6
9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
These passages are dealt with together because they use the same Greek word, arsenokoitai (underlined in the text), and because, in both passages, that word appears in a list of vices. Some have made some mileage out of the fact that these ‘vice lists’ are purely rhetorical devices – lists of common social sins that every right-thinking person (i.e. a Hellenistic Jew or a gentile convert to Judaism – the vast majority of the Christians to whom Paul was writing) would condemn, and that he has likely cribbed them from other sources without paying too much attention to their specific content. In other words, while homosexuality is mentioned in these lists, it isn’t the point of the argument, and we shouldn’t make these passages bear the weight of condemning homosexuality when that is not their purpose! There is some reason to this argument; we ought not make homosexuality the primary point of these passages when they clearly have other purposes, but nor can we ignore the fact that they do mention homosexual acts, and it is extremely unlikely that Paul would have included material that he didn’t think truthful in what it condemned as well as what it affirmed. So what is condemned here?
The 1 Timothy passage is an argument for the appropriate use of the Jewish law against those who “occupy themselves with myths, …genealogies, …speculations rather than the divine training” that aims at “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith”. False teachers, says Paul, “desire to be teachers of the law.” He then goes on to say that the law is not for the righteous, but sinners, whom he then lists. He then goes on to give thanks to God for forgiving him his own sin, and making him an example of God’s patience with egregious sinners. Our main interest is in Paul’s list of sins; many have seen there an echo of the ten commandments as a representative selection of the Law. The connection is possible, but unnecessary; certainly it is Jewish law that is referred to here, which part is not specifically important. What is significant for our purposes is the reference to arsenokoitai. Almost all exegetes agree that this refers to those who practice homosexual acts of one kind or another arising out of the Leviticus 18 commandment as it was translated in the Septuagint – the Greek Old Testament.
Pederasty as the ‘normal’ homosexual relationship: The big question here, as with the Old Testament texts, is whether the actions condemned here are those which we are thinking of when we think of homosexual relationships. The debate in this area is strongly defined by Robin Scroggs, who carefully examines what we know about homosexual behaviour at the time the New Testament was written. He argues that the biblical writers would have found it practically impossible to think about homosexual behaviour in any other terms than those of their surrounding culture. The practices of the day were essentially those of pederasty – sexual relationships between men and boys or young men. This relationship was intended to have an element of tutelage to it, and was frequently referred to in highly romanticised terms, much as heterosexual love is today. Scroggs emphasises that the culture was extremely masculine, and that women were thought to be unfit companions for men, thus leading to the idealisation – and sexualisation – of same-sex relationships. Within these relationships the junior partner always served the pleasure of the senior, receiving in return patronage, education and training, gifts, and an introduction to society.
Social Standing in Roman Times
The difference between a free-born man and a freeman or freedman is significant; a free-born is a citizen of the state with legal rights, property, and a voice. The apostle Paul was a ‘citizen’ of Tarsus – see how he uses this status in Acts. The freeman is a slave who has been given their freedom, but is still bound to the household of their former owner or some other patron as a ‘client’ They owe allegiance to their patron, and would not legitimately be able to refuse sexual demands.
Men ‘loving’ a boy was ok, but being the boy was not – especially for an older male. Whilst ‘loving’ a boy was generally thought normal and even lauded, being the boy was more ambiguous. Marc Antony was a cause of scandal as he had been the junior partner of a pederastic relationship in the household of a wealthy patron (who was the same age as himself, but still his social superior at the time). Nero scandalised society by seducing the sons of citizens. Julius Caesar was ridiculed by opponents as “every woman’s man – and every man’s woman”. The Romans banned pederasty involving freeborn boys, and legislated against freeborn men taking the passive role.
Male citizens could use anyone of lower social standing for sex. Jewett, commenting upon Greek/Roman homosexual practices, notes that there was a high demand for boy prostitutes, and goes on to say that “sexual freedom was granted to freeborn males, with regard to all slaves, clients, and persons of lower standing, so that sexual relations were clearly an expression of domination”. The Roman writer Seneca the Elder is quoted as saying “Sexual servicing is a crime for the freeborn, a necessity for a slave, and a duty for the freeman”
Does 1 Tim refer mainly to pederasty? In the 1 Timothy passage Scroggs sees pederasty hinted at by the grouping of the sins in the vice list; each sin is listed with one or two others that go with it. Thus, ‘lawless and disobedient’ go together, as do ‘godless and sinful’, ‘unholy and profane’. ‘Patricides’ and ‘matricides’ go together, and so do ‘liars and perjurers’. But what about “fornicators, sodomites, and slave traders” (or ‘kidnappers’)? Scroggs suggests that these three terms should be seen together as pornos (‘fornicators’) in Hellenistic culture often meant male prostitutes or possibly those despised free-born youths or men who prostituted themselves, He notes also that, as a primary function of kidnapping (andrapodistai) in Paul’s day was to supply brothels with children for use by adults, that the three terms together are likely to be a (stylised) condemnation of male prostitution.
An Alternative Point of View
Grenz (1998, 56-59) rejects those like Scroggs who argue for a specific interpretation of the terms in 1 Cor and 1 Tim, but fails to provide any reasoning for a more general interpretation! Marshall (2003, 12) does better in relation to Romans 1, where he says that “If Paul is thinking of pederasty, it is surprising that neither here nor elsewhere does Paul use one of the several words and phrases in common use at the time to refer to pederasty…” (more from Marshall below). As Scroggs has shown, that’s not completely accurate in this case, but it is true that the words that are used are allusive to pederasty rather than definitive of it; Arsenokoitai and Malakoi probably refer to the senior and junior partner of a pederastic / prostitution relationship, but not necessarily, as the words erastes (lover) and eromenos (beloved) would have done. It may be that the biblical writers are simply being modest in using language that is allusive rather than definitive, or it may be that Paul wants to include this primary form of homosexual behaviour and every other form as well, and so uses broadly general terms.
And again in 1 Corinthians? Scroggs sees the same relationship reflected in the 1 Corinthians passage, where the two words used are malakoi and arsenokoitai. Translated variously as ‘male prostitute,’ ‘homosexual’, ‘effeminate’, or ‘pervert’ the word malakos simply means ‘soft one’. Scroggs says that while malakos was definitely not a ‘technical’ term for the younger partner in a pederastic relationship,
…through the linkage of the metaphorical meaning of “effeminacy,” however, malakos is used to point in a negative way to people who engage in pederasty – not with great frequency, but often enough for it to be clear that this was a convention. While the specific word is not frequent in texts which denounce the free prostitute, the general charge of effeminacy [theludria] is a common pejorative. Thus the use of malakos would almost certainly conjure up images of the effeminate call-boy, if the context otherwise suggested some form of pederasty
His point is that alongside arsenokoitai in a culture that was rife with pederasty, it would be natural and logical for these two terms together to refer to the senior and junior partners in a pederastic relationship, either voluntary or commercial (prostitution).
Does this mean that these passages can’t be taken to refer to other forms of homosexuality? In his conclusion Scroggs questions
…the legitimacy of using New Testament judgements about a particular form and model of homosexuality to inform decisions about the acceptability of a contemporary form of homosexuality, which projects an entirely different model. Since the models are so different, some would say mutually exclusive, it cannot be a foregone conclusion that the New Testament can be helpfully used in today’s discussion without seriously violating the integrity of the New Testament itself.” … “Paul’s judgements may …be eternally valid but can, nevertheless, be valid only against what he opposed. 
Not everybody agrees with Scroggs that the passages should be interpreted narrowly like this, but the question of how we interpret these texts should await our examination of both Leviticus and Romans. As the term arsenokoites almost certainly arises from the Leviticus prohibition of homosexual acts, we should now refer to that text, to discover what its meaning might be.
 (Furnish 1994, 24) (Scroggs 1983, 101 – 104)
 (Scroggs 1983, 83)
 (Scroggs 1983)
 (Scroggs 1983, 17-28)
 “There were important, if occasional, male voices of intercession on behalf of women, as when Plutarch argues for the superiority of marriage over pederastic relationships. Nevertheless, these voices are mostly concessive. One hears them saying, “women are not so bad,” or “they do have the potential of becoming respectable companions”.” (Scroggs 1983, 21)
 (Scroggs 1983, 32-35)
 (Jewett 2007, 173)
 This may or may not be evidence that Julius Caesar took the junior role in homosexual relationships – what it does tell us is that an adult citizen taking these roles was seen as despicable.
 (Jewett 2007, 181)
 (Jewett 2007, 180)
 (Scroggs 1983, 118 – 121)
 (Scroggs 1983, 42)
 (Scroggs 1983, 64 – 65) In this Scroggs is supported by Hays, who writes “[Malakoi] …appears often in Hellenistic Greek slang as pejorative slang to describe the “passive” partners – often young boys – in homosexual activity.” (Hays 1996, 382)
 (Scroggs 1983, 122 & 125), italicised in original.
The Biblical passages specifically referring to Homosexuality
These passages are examined below in their order of importance to us. One commentator has noted that if we focus exclusively upon the biblical texts that seem most relevant to the issue at hand, however, we allow the issue to define our approach; we need to come at the issue not just by asking what the bible tells us about homosexuality, but also what the bible tells us about who God is, what Jesus has done, what the role of the church is, and what we expect to happen next. Please bear these considerations in mind as we examine the specific texts before us, and the debate around them.
Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are the best-known and most frequently referred-to texts relating to homosexuality. As they are both lengthy narratives I haven’t included them here, but the various versions all convey essentially the same facts; in both instances overnight hospitality is offered to a traveller, then the men of the town besiege the home where the traveller is staying, and demand that the guest is handed over so that they might ‘know’ him. In both cases women are offered instead. In the Genesis account (Sodom) the virgin daughters of Lot are not accepted as a trade, and the guests (angels in disguise) render the townspeople harmless for the night by striking them blind. The next day the town is destroyed by God. In the Judges story (Gibeah) the host offers his virgin daughter, and the traveller (a Levite) offers his concubine to the importunate townspeople; the concubine is thrust outside and they rape her until dawn. She is then dismembered and her body used to illustrate the iniquity of Gibeah. This sparks a civil war, leading almost to the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.
While some go so far as to say that homosexual actions are not mentioned in these stories at all, they are not convincing. Usually the argument runs that the word ‘know’ does not imply sexual activity, but refers to the suspicion of the townspeople towards strangers, and their desire to interrogate the visitors. Against this, most commentators set the offer (refused in the one story and accepted in the other) of women as substitutes for the men – hardly satisfactory if the intent was to glean information from them. The abuse of the Levite’s concubine confirms that their intent was sexual violation. It also shows us that specifically homosexual sex was not their objective. Most commentators go on to say that while the attempted rape was homosexual it is not, therefore, a blanket condemnation of homosexual behaviour – any more than the offer to substitute a young woman should be seen as condoning giving up our daughters to sexual violence! Clearly gang rape is condemned, and it is very likely that the homosexual nature of the rape was seen to add to its abhorrence, as homosexual rape was sometimes used to humiliate conquered enemies in ancient near eastern cultures. Very few serious biblical commentators among liberals or conservatives look to the Sodom story or to the Gibeah parallel for a biblical perspective on homosexuality.
Sodom in the Scriptures: This is confirmed by the way in which other bible writers refer to Sodom; Isaiah links Sodom’s judgement to injustice and arrogance; Jeremiah to false prophecy and Idolatry, as does Ezekiel, who also specifies pride, wealth, lack of compassion, and ‘doing abominable things’. Amos talks of her oppression of the poor and needy, Zephaniah of her taunting and boasting, and, in Matthew, Jesus compares her fate to those of the cities who have rejected the Gospel. In Luke he talks of her as an example of the suddenness of God’s judgement. In 2 Peter, Sodom is an example of God’s judgement upon those who are “licentious”, “lawless”, “who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.” In Jude they are again an example of God’s judgement and are described as indulging in sexual immorality and “pursuing unnatural lust” or, more literally “going after other flesh”. As conservative commentator Richard Hays points out, the Jude reference could hardly be a reference to homosexual desire; to go after “other (Greek = hetero) flesh” is precisely what homosexuality is not. Given that immediately before the Sodom and Gommorah reference, Jude alludes to the Genesis 6 story of angels seeking intercourse with human women, it seems more likely that the next verse is a reference to the men of Sodom seeking intercourse with angels – distinctly ‘other’ flesh! Jude also mentions ‘sexual immorality’ and Peter talks of ‘licentiousness’, and ‘depraved lust’, but these terms don’t point specifically towards homosexuality, though they may include it. Similarly, Ezekiel may have had in mind the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (see on Leviticus 18 and 20 below) but neither does he specify it, and probably wanted to imply a wide range of abominations rather than fix upon one. So we can see that the biblical writers only sometimes saw sexual sin as one among the many sins of Sodom, and when they did it was not specifically homosexual sin that was in view.
It is not until Philo, a Hellenistic Jew around the time of Christ, that Sodom came to be associated specifically with homosexual sin, and it was from Philo that the early Church Fathers took most of their cues in discussing both Sodom and homosexuality. This tradition may be venerable, but it is not biblical. We may not take the sins of Sodom to include homosexuality per se. Homosexual gang rape, is condemned, and is clearly a sin, but it cannot be made into the pretext for a blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity any more than the condemnation of heterosexual rape can be made the pretext for rejecting all heterosexual activity.
Deut 23.17-18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 and maybe Job 36.14 all refer to what was probably temple prostitution. There is considerable controversy among the scholars as to whether the prostitution was, in fact, associated with idolatry, and again, more argument as to whether or not it was homosexual prostitution, but all agree that it is prostitution that is referred to. Again, these texts are not especially relevant to our discussion as we cannot generalise from homosexual prostitution (idolatrous or not) to all homosexual relationships any more than we can generalise from heterosexual prostitution to all heterosexual relationships. What is condemned here is prostitution, not homosexuality.
 (Redding 2000)
 If you aren’t familiar with the story, you need to know that God’s destruction of Sodom (and the sister city of Gomorrah) was not specifically because of the actions narrated in the Genesis 19 story, but that he had already decreed it’s destruction because of their many sins. The events of the final night were final evidence of those sins, but not the complete cause of God’s wrath.
 eg (Scroggs 1983) (Hays 1996)
 (Hays 1996, 381)
 “…for Rabbis of this [post-biblical] period, Sodom symbolised evil in general, pride and economic violence most particularly, and, only in one possible instance, homosexual lust.” (Scroggs 1983, 81)
 (Scroggs 1983, 71)
While debate regarding social, cultural, medical and scientific knowledge is informative, and should contribute to shaping our responses, it is not determinative; scripture is. As the church, we do not exist or act primarily in response to changes in human knowledge, but in response to knowledge that is not accessible to humans by our own powers; we are formed by the revelation of God. That revelation is first and foremost the Lord Jesus Christ, and the testimony of the church to Him in the form of scripture. That revelation is experienced in an ongoing way in the life of the church through the reading and preaching of scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the church, Christ’s Body, is to continue to incarnate God’s love by the Holy Spirit’s power, and in this mission the scriptures are an invaluable aid. They are first and foremost the revelation of God himself. Secondly they reveal to us who we are in relation to God, and God’s will for us. In considering this issue, we must attend carefully to what Scripture says.
Key biblical themes: Sex and Sexual Immorality: The Bible is not especially focussed upon sex, but nor is it silent on the matter. The sexual misadventures of numerous biblical characters are part of the record (David, Samson, Judah, Herod) as are the more everyday difficulties (Jacob and Rachael / Leah, 1 Cor. 7) and delights (Isaac and Rebecca, Song of Songs) of sexual relationships. While it includes both dire warnings against sexual excess and rhapsodic poetry about sexual love, overall the bible is very realistic about sexual matters.
Marriage/sexual imagery is used in the scriptures:
In the Song of Songs, Ezek. 16 & 23, Hosea 1 – 4, 9, Matthew 22:1-14, 25:1-13, Eph 5:21-33, Revelation 19.7-9 & Ch. 21. The appearance of wedding feast imagery at the culmination of John’s apocalyptic vision is not just an echoing of Jesus’ parables of the feast of the Kingdom, and the coming of the Son of man being like the coming of a bridegroom, and Paul’s teaching that marriage is modelled on the relationship of Christ and the Church. It is also a recapitulation of the Eden story, renewing the ‘marriage’ of Eden in its spiritual dimension through the renewed relationship between creator and redeemed creation.
Genesis 1: Male and female are the image of God: In the Creation accounts special attention is paid to the sexually relational aspect of human being. The Genesis 1 creation story makes the creation of humanity the culmination of creation, declares that Adam (here meaning human-kind rather than a specific man) is made in the image of God, and then immediately says, “male and female he created them.” It was theologian Karl Barth, in the modern era, who drew attention to the meaning of this fact; that it is in our male/female likeness and unlikeness, separateness and connection that we are human and that we image God; as so often occurs in Hebrew thought the second statement is an interpretation and extension of the first. Just as God is three-in-unity so we are three-in-unity with God. This relational image of God found in our sexual relatedness is what makes images of marriage and adultery so poignant as descriptions of God’s relationships with his people through the centuries and throughout the scriptures. It is therefore of high importance to us.
Genesis 2: Our Likeness and Unlikeness make Men and Women Right for each other: The Genesis 2 creation account is less focused upon the ‘image of God’ aspect of our sexual complementarity, and more upon the human aspect; that we are not fitted for isolation, nor is the companionship of animals enough, it is the one who is ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ to whom we are drawn, and for the sake of which we leave our past in order to enjoy (re)-union with the ‘help meet’ God has provided for us. It should also be noted that the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply” in chapter 1 and the “leaving father and mother, and cleaving to his wife, and becoming one flesh” of chapter 2 occur before the fall of chapter 3. Sex (and the children who come) are commanded and blessed by God, and are neither the cause nor the result of the fall. There is absolutely no biblical warrant for making eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil of chapter 3 into a symbol for sexual relationships. Thus the creation stories tell us that our sexual complementarity has a vital role in imaging the person of God, and that it is in sexual union that we find a completeness without which life can be very lonely.
Genesis 3: The Fall corrupted our sexual relationships as well as those with the Earth and God. Chapter three of Genesis is also significant, as it tells us that sexual relationality was one of the aspects of our life that is ‘cursed’ by the fall; in opting to become morally independent of God (knowing good and evil for ourselves) we find that sexual relationships become competitive and exploitative, and we are ashamed of our nakedness where previously there was freedom and openness. These aspects of sexuality are writ large in the ongoing story of God and his people both at the national and at the personal level as the scriptures in the box above so graphically illustrate. Sexual immorality and guarding against it are henceforth a regular, though not a dominant, aspect of scriptural teaching, found in the law, the wisdom tradition, the prophets, and in the teaching of Jesus and his followers.
Sex in Redemption: Jesus and Sexual Sin What happens to sexuality in redemption? In relation to immorality, believers in Christ are called to imitate his holiness (I will examine holiness separately below), but more positively, it appears that sexual union is sidelined! Jesus was clearly in favour of sexual morality, teaching that immorality should be understood in terms of motivation as well as in terms of actions. He was remarkable for his kindness and forgiveness towards those who were the victims of sexual sin, and just as remarkable for his fury towards those who “do not practice what they teach – they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to help them.” This ‘type’ of person is seen in action in the person of Simon the Pharisee, in contrast to the ‘sinful woman’ whose faith saved her. Jesus appeared to be very compassionate towards those who suffered the tragic nature of everyday life, on the one hand, and very impatient with those who made religious pronouncements on the other. He was no liberal, but neither was he punitive.
Jesus and Marriage: As regards sexuality in general, the only appropriate expression of sexuality in Jesus’ day was in marriage, and Jesus’ presence at the wedding feast in Cana, where he performed his first miracle, has been taken as an endorsement of marriage per se. While this is reasonable, it is also limited. Jesus undoubtedly did bless marriage, just as he blessed the children who are the fruit of marriage. Nevertheless, he also made both marriage and family subservient to a higher goal. Whereas the teaching of the epistles tends to be described as socially conservative, the teaching of Jesus can only be described as shockingly radical. When asked an academic question about the resurrection from the dead, intended to trap him between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he tells them that their conception of the resurrection is totally inadequate because of their assumption that current relationships will continue unchanged. This is not so, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Earlier, in response to another such ‘trap’ question, Jesus evades looking like either a moral liberal who condones divorce, or a biblical illiterate for ignoring Moses’ teaching on divorce, by pointing his questioners back towards the Genesis mandate for marriage and refers to God’s original intention – but then goes on to commend those who don’t marry for the sake of the kingdom of God. Most radically, Jesus teaches that the call of the Kingdom trumps every other responsibility; even, shockingly, those of family – wife, brother, sister, father, mother, and children. So while we can see that Jesus upheld marriage as God’s good intention, and taught against those who treated it lightly, or who engaged in sexual sin, he did not give it an eternal status at an individual level. It is inconceivable that marriage is the only way for us to be in the image of God as per Genesis 1, or else we would be saying that Jesus could not image God as a human being – and he undoubtedly did do so.
The Apostles and Sex: Similarly, Paul was also unmarried, and did not see marriage as the most important social status. At the corporate level, Jesus used marriage as an image of the kingdom to come (as shown above) as did the apostles after him; but, like him, they did not see marriage as the greatest good; Paul, especially, highly commended life-long celibacy, but this was in the context of saying that marrying (or not marrying – or slavery or freedom, or being Jewish or Greek) was not as important as our status in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul regularly lists sexual immorality as a significant evil to be avoided as do other Apostles, and as did the council of Jerusalem. Marriage, according to the writer of Hebrews, is to be honoured, and the marriage bed to remain undefiled for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
An Essential Passage: One of the most significant passages in this respect is Paul’s plea to the Corinthians to separate themselves from sexual immorality, specifically a form of incest. He instructs the church to expel the guilty party, noting that while they can’t either judge the world, or refuse to associate with the immoral of the world, they must do so in the case of those who call themselves Christian. As Paul develops his argument, he lists various ‘sinners’ as types of those from whom the church must be separate. Initially he uses a list of four (5:10), then expands that list, repeating the first four and adding another two items to it (5:11), then climaxing his argument by repeating the list again and including a further four items (6:10) – it is at this point that we see the inclusion of “male prostitutes, and sodomites” (see below on the 1 Cor 6 passage). It is sometimes argued that vice lists such as these are incidental to the point of the passage, being simply stereotyped lists of vices that Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews agreed were abhorrent. However, the inclusion of several specifically sexual sins in this list is quite deliberate, as Paul has a further point to make. If we notice that Paul first addressed a specific situation of sexual sin, and then continued by addressing an instance of economic exploitation (one believer taking another to court) we then see that this list is heavily weighted towards the condemnation of economic and sexual sins. Paul’s expostulation that those who perform such sins are denied entry to God’s kingdom is contrasted with the status of the believers as holy, washed, and made righteous (‘justified’) in Christ and by the Spirit of God (6.11). This echoes the earlier language about holiness (5:6-8) in terms of pass-over holiness, with a reference to Christ’s sacrifice as a pass-over lamb. The culmination of the argument that follows is of high importance to us: 12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. 
The Body in the Apostle Paul’s Theology …soma [body] is a relational concept. It denotes the person embodied in a particular environment. It is the means by which the person relates to that environment, and vice versa. …it is precisely ‘bodiness’ (corporeality, corporateness) which enables individuals as bodies to interact with each other, to cooperate with one another. Redemption for Paul was not some kind of escape from bodily existence, but a transformation into a different kind of bodily existence. …as it is human embodiment which makes society possible, so the church is the means by which Christ makes actual tangible encounter with wider society.
(Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle 1998, 56,61,563-4)
Another View: Bonnington and Fyall (1996, 6) note that modern preoccupation with the body emphasises either pleasure, health, strength, or beauty, whereas a biblical preoccupation with bodily life is “ethical, eschatological, and theological”; “Glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6.20)”
The specific sexual sin targeted here is the use of prostitutes. The significance for us is that Paul, over and against those who see bodily life as irrelevant to the spiritual life, sees our bodily being as an essential aspect of discipleship. Paul was clearly dealing with a form of hyper-spirituality, where some of the Corinthians are saying that, either because there is no physical resurrection (1 Cor 15) or because the resurrection has already happened in a ‘spiritual’ sense (1 Cor 4.8), they are no longer subject to normal restrictions, and bodily existence is purely a thing of this world which is passing away. This explains both sexual immorality in the church, and a push towards asceticism (1 Cor 7:1) as well as the assumption of spiritual superiority because of the more demonstrative spiritual gifts, and the disordered worship (1 Cor 11 & 14). In contrast, Paul says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and our individual bodies are, literally, members of Christ. What we do with our bodies matters, and to use them for illicit sex is to use the body of Christ for illicit sex.
In Conclusion: All this is significant because we must not allow ourselves to simply negate God’s good creation of bodily and sexual human being, but we must see that it is ordered in very specific ways for our benefit, and for the sake of the gospel, and, ultimately, while it can be laid aside for the sake of that gospel it may not be abused without damage to that same gospel. We “wait for the redemption of our bodies” – we are presently part of the redeemed body of Christ, and yet, though we have the “first fruits of the Spirit” we continue to struggle with sexual temptations. Our present task is to strive for holiness by God’s power, and to demonstrate Christ’s forgiveness in our fallenness, rather than pretend to the perfection for which we wait.
Can homosexuals change?
Christians sometimes assume that homosexuality is a simple matter of choice, and that those who engage in homosexual activity should just stop. Others acknowledge the difficulty of living with sexual desires which seem to have no legitimate form of expression, and wonder about how individuals can change their desires. Therefore the research on whether or how people can change their sexual orientation is relevant to our debate.
What do we learn from stories of orientation change?
What should we make of the fact that so many apparently ‘heterosexual’ women and men ‘discover’ or ‘admit’ to their homosexual feelings and adopt a gay identity in mid-life? One thing it tells us is that sexual identity is often not fixed. Against those who claim that homosexuals can never be anything other than homosexual, the anecdotes of people who have lived heterosexual lives (including marrying and having children) and then ‘come out’ as homosexual, tell us that people can move from one form of sexual behaviour to another – and if in one direction then why not in the other? The answer to this is that of course there is far more pressure upon homosexual people to behave like heterosexuals than there is on heterosexual people to behave like homosexuals, so we would expect far more people to persevere in heterosexual functioning despite homosexual desires, than vice versa. The point is valid, however, that people who later identify as homosexual can and do live successfully as heterosexuals. So we learn that people can change their sexual orientation, and that sexual orientation is often not an either-or matter, but can be a matter of degree.
Many homosexual people have tried and failed to change their sexual orientation. We don’t know what ’causes’ homosexuality, and the relative roles of biology, environmental factors, experience, and individual choices in shaping sexual attractions remain vexed. One thing most researchers agree, is that regardless of ‘cause’ homosexual orientation for many people does seem to be set at an early age, and does not change easily if at all. For this reason it is usually (though not always) wrong to regard those who are homosexual as if they made a deliberate choice to be as they are. As many have said, “Who would choose to be discriminated against, a target of revulsion and hate, denied the ability to have children, and at significantly greater risk of violence?” The element of choice does not appear to arise so much at the level of sexual attraction, as at the level of sexual activity, and identity.
The knowledge that homosexual attraction is difficult to change comes primarily from those who have tried and failed to live as heterosexuals despite homosexual feelings. The literature abounds with these accounts, and it is undoubtedly true that a very large percentage, perhaps the majority, of gay people have resented and resisted their sexual attraction to those of the same sex, but eventually found that they could not either repress their homosexual feelings nor adequately pretend or produce heterosexual feelings to the degree necessary to pass as ‘normal’. In these circumstances, it is often a welcome relief to stop struggling and adopt a positive gay identity.
Some succeed in changing: The difficulties of shifting homosexual attraction are also confirmed by the experience of those who provide change services for those who seek it. It is by no means true that homosexuality is always impossible to change – there are many individual stories of people who have achieved some success in their attempts to alter their homosexuality. Anecdotes, however, cannot be generalised. If we are going to seek for truth in human experience, then it is usually best to look at carefully designed research studies to gain a comprehensive picture, alongside personal anecdotes.
A recent study shows that change is possible, and that attempts to change need not be harmful. The best study of the effectiveness of change was completed recently by Jones and Yarhouse . After at least 6-7 years of seeking change through religious programmes:
- 23% of the 61 people in the study reported a successful conversion to heterosexual attractions.
- 30% were living a celibate life, content with their reduction in homosexual attractions.
- 16% had modest decreases in homosexual attractions and weren’t satisfied with their degree of change but were continuing the process.
- 7% had seen no decrease in homosexual attractions but had not given up
- 25% either gave up on the change process without adopting a homosexual identity (5%) or gave up and adopted a homosexual identity (20%)
While the slightly more than 50% of the study participants who reported success in terms of their treatment goals may make the treatment seem somewhat mediocre, ‘curing’ only half of those who seek change through it, these results have to be read in the context of the professional debate within American psychology, where many have held for a long time that change was essentially impossible, and that those who sought to change their sexual orientation were at high risk of harm from the change process. The Jones and Yarhouse study successfully refuted both those claims. The authors of the study agree, however, that change is not possible for everyone, and is easy for none, being “most likely when motivation is strong, there is a history of successful heterosexual functioning, gender identity issues are not present, and involvement in actual homosexual practice has been minimal.
Even ‘truly gay’ people can sometimes change their orientation. It is sometimes said, especially in relation to items two and four of that list, that those who describe changes in their homosexual orientation were never actually homosexual in the first place, but rather were bisexual, and simply eliminated homosexual behaviours from their lives. Because of this possibility Jones and Yarhouse created a sub-group in their study, scoring a 5 or 6 on the Kinsey scale (see box). In an earlier report on their study, 8 of the 11 who reported a complete reversal of orientation were from this sub-group of the study subjects, demonstrating that at least for some definitively homosexual people, such change is possible.
The Kinsey Scale
This is a seven-point scale where 0 = exclusively heterosexual, 6= exclusively homosexual, and 5 = predominantly homosexual with some incidental heterosexual activity. The two main difficulties with using the Kinsey scale are that it is a simple bipolar scale – that is, it assumes that an increase in one thing (homosexual activity) is matched by a corresponding decrease in the other (heterosexual activity) whereas these two things might in fact increase and decrease independently of one another. A better way to show this is to plot the two dimensions on separate axes. Another problem with the Kinsey scale is that it focuses exclusively upon behaviour – which is much simpler to define. A much more ambitious and comprehensive scale is the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which plots seven dimensions: sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, self-identification, heterosexual/homosexual lifestyle.” Jones and Yarhouse did, in fact, use much more complex means of measurement than the Kinsey scale alone.
In conclusion, we can say that while science has found some biological factors that may lead individuals to develop homosexual attractions, the development of homosexual identity is profoundly culturally influenced, and homosexual behaviour, like all human behaviour, is a human choice, significantly shaped by both internal desires (attraction) and cultural factors (identity).
Many succeed in changing homosexual behaviour, but homosexual attraction seems to be much more deeply rooted and difficult to change.
Many people agree that biological factors in themselves do not provide sufficient criteria for moral correctness. This argument cuts both ways. Those who wish to claim that the (admittedly slim) evidence for biological causation of homosexual orientation makes it a morally good or neutral state must also contend with the counter-claim that the human body is obviously designed for heterosexual intercourse. On the other hand, those who point to the biological features of reproduction and heterosexual intercourse as invalidating homosexual activity are then unable to say “we cannot argue from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ as regards biological factors.
The most significant consequence of the above material for Christian reflection is that it should give us pause in providing pastoral care to those who experience homosexual attraction; we should not assume that such feelings can be dealt with simply or easily, and our churches’ advice and assistance must be informed by the best available research, not simplistic pop psychology or wishful thinking.
 One answer, of course, is that many Christians have chosen to accept precisely those conditions in order to follow Christ. People are capable of enduring great suffering for a cause they believe in, and joining with oppressed minorities has always been attractive to people of great idealism – especially the young. We should also remember that people are also quite capable of choosing behaviours that they know to be dangerous, addictive, and expensive; sometimes as part of a desire to ‘fit in’, sometimes simply for the sake of pleasure – or as distraction from pain – sometimes for other reasons more complex. Human choice is always an element in human behaviour, and doesn’t always look ‘logical’.
 (Foust 2009) (Jones and Yarhouse, Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation 2007)
 (G. C. Davison 1978) (Haldeman, Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy for Gay Men and Lesbians: A Scientific Examination 1991) (Haldeman, Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy 2002) (Baklinski 2009)
 (Jones and Yarhouse 2000, 103)
 (Haldeman, Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy 2002, 261)
 (Jones and Yarhouse, 2007, Ch 8)
What does the Scientific Research Mean for Moral Decision-making?
Biological arguments have been used to undercut moral arguments: Suggestions that people are homosexual because they “are born that way” are used in debate to undercut moral arguments that homosexuality is wrong. “How can it be wrong”, people ask, “if homosexual people cannot be any different – this is simply the way they are.” In Christian terms this is often phrased along the lines of “God made me gay, and what God makes is good.”
The Consequences of making biology = ‘good’
Several conservative commentators have argued that if we accept an apparently inborn homosexual desire to be the ultimate arbiter of what is right, then wouldn’t we have to extend the same courtesy to those who experience paedophile or bestial desires (Torrance 2000, 178-180)? The response to this is readily apparent, however, in that those forms of sexual activity are by nature non-reciprocal, with an inherent inequality between the participants. Another argument, that lacks the same emotional force but carries greater validity, is that if a subjective ‘quality of relationship’ criteria (it makes us feel good) was made into the primary or even only criteria for the test of a good relationship, then adultery, polygamy, premarital relationships and other consenting adult sexual relationships could be justified (Coleman 1989, 190), and yet we still see these relationships as improper despite their meeting criteria for being mutual and satisfying. The real challenge comes when we are asked to consider a relationship that is committed (even legally sanctioned), honest, mutual, exclusive of all others, and homosexual.
Moral Conservatives don’t accept that biological facts should determine moral arguments: Biological (or “God made me Gay”) arguments have been an effective tool in public debate, but it is a little short of the full picture. Moral conservatives and gay activists have both taken issue with the idea of biological determinism – the ‘born that way’ argument. While some conservatives have simply denied any notion of biological determinism (and some have even done so on scientific grounds!) in order to maintain that homosexuality is a moral failing, other conservatives have accepted the scientific findings, but tend to say that “we can’t argue from an is to an ought” – in other words, we can’t say something is good simply because it exists. Cancer exists. So does multiple sclerosis. These are biological conditions. We don’t call them good simply because they are biological. People are born with many different forms of disability, and we don’t call their condition good simply because they are born that way. We know that there is a genetic predisposition towards addictions of various forms, and we don’t accept that addictions are natural or right. Further, Christian moralists argue that we are all “born that way” – that is, in sin. The Christian story is not just a story of God’s good creation, but also of that creation twisted out of true alignment by human sin. The doctrine of the fall teaches us that no aspect of human existence is free from the taint of sin, and no individual is born onto a level playing field as a free moral agent; the tragedy of the human story is that the race of Adam is hopelessly enslaved to sin. Homosexual orientation, by this view, is simply one expression in the human race of the tragedy of the fall, no less (and no more) than any other congenital difficulty.
Gay activists are also very cautious about Biological determinism: Gay activists have also been very cautious about research suggesting biological determinism. One reason is concern for human rights abuses; several studies have tended to suggest that homosexual preference is a malfunction of some aspect of neurology or endocrinology, and that children could be identified as gay then ‘fixed’ by medical or genetic procedures – or aborted to prevent the birth of gay people. For gay activists, these options are deeply worrying. Another concern arises out of the fact that most people see a significant role for socialisation in the development of sexuality. This implies some element of choice, and gay activists argue for their right to make ‘choices’ in regard to their sexuality – sometimes at the same time as they argue that they are ‘born that way’! Few of us are comfortable with the argument that we are simply puppets of our genes – or of our hormones, our position in our family, our early child-hood experiences, the size of our amygdale, or the functioning of our hypothalamus.
|Different Forms of Homosexuality in Different Cultures
David Greenberg, a gay rights advocate, has written extensively about the social construction of homosexuality through history. He discovered four general types of homosexual behaviour:
W. P. Campbell (2010, 85)
It is important to distinguish carefully between different aspects of homosexuality: At this point it is helpful to distinguish again between homosexual attractions, activity, and identity. It is clear that there are many different factors that impact upon the development of these three facets of homosexuality. For example, while biological factors may have a strong impact upon the orientation of sexual desire, the notion of homosexual identity, by contrast, is very clearly a cultural construct, as homosexual behaviour is widely diverse across cultures. One often-quoted study of a New Guinea tribe described how all boys are expected to perform sexual acts upon unmarried males in order to develop true masculinity. Once young men are married, they are expected to function in an exclusively heterosexual way. Similarly, a great deal is known about the high regard classical Greek culture held for male beauty and companionship, and the normative expression of this in pederastic relationships. Clearly there is a role for culture and social expectations in shaping homosexual identity, and thus activity. These are the favourite arguments of those who argue for a social constructionist perspective. It should be noted, however, that while these observations have been used to cast doubt on the validity of notions of homosexual ‘nature’, they can equally be used to cast doubt upon notions of heterosexuality as ‘natural’!
Blurring distinctions undermines argument.
This distinction is sometimes blurred in favour of point-scoring; for instance, in the following excerpt, the writer does not distinguish between homosexual desires, and homosexual activities and identity. W. P. Campbell (2010, 85) writes: Geneticists tell us that if homosexuality or any such behavioural trait …were determined by genes it would appear in every major culture. Yet researchers Clellan Ford and Frank Beach found homosexuality rare or absent in twenty nine out of seventy nine cultures surveyed.
Campbell wants to claim that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than an innate (and difficult-to-change) orientation. However, because Campbell ignores the difference between attraction and activity/identity, those who oppose his arguments can easily say that he’s ignoring the possibility that those who are innately homosexual simply suppress their attraction in cultures that don’t provide any legitimate or safe means for expressing it.
The conclusion we should draw from this is not that some aspects of homosexuality are biologically fixed and unchangeable (though that is possible), or that others are merely culturally determined and therefore malleable (though that is likely), but simply that homosexuality is a complex phenomena and one that defies simplistic cause-and-effect formulas.
 The refrain from a popular song linked strongly to gay activism.
 (McNeill 1994, 50) (Lowe 2001, 5)
 (Consiglio 1991)
 (Jones and Yarhouse 2000)
 (Hays 1996, 398)
 The ‘alcoholism’ analogy is often raised by those opposing homosexuality e.g. (Hays 1996, 398); against this Siker says “Most persons with a homosexual orientation do not recognise themselves in the analogy” (Siker 1994, 183), since, as Lowe says, “The evil of alcoholism is readily apparent, but homosexual love is positively good.” (Lowe 2001, 5)
 (Byne 1994)
 (Burr 1994)
 (Guy 2002, 158)
 (the 1981 report of Gilbert Herdt, Guardians of the Flutes, (NY, McGraw-Hill) quoted in (for example) Jones and Yarhouse, 2007, pg 206-7)
 see esp. (Scroggs 1983)
 (Grenz 1998, 13-33)
 In fact learned behaviours can be almost as unchangeable as those that are biologically determined (Byne 1994)