Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Clobber Passages

“The issues about homosexuality are very complex and are not understood by most members of the Christian church,” according to Bernard Ramm of The American Baptist Seminary of the West. 

This evangelical authority on biblical interpretation says that, “to them, it is a vile form of sexual perversion condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.” But as Calvin Theological Seminary Old Testament scholar Marten H. Woudstra says: “there is nothing in the Old Testament that corresponds to homosexuality as we understand it today” and as SMU New Testament scholar Victor Paul Furnish says: “There is no ‘text on homosexual orientation in the Bible.” Says Robin Scroggs of Union Seminary: “Biblical judgments against homosexuality are not relevant to today’s debate. They should no longer be used … not because the Bible is not authoritative, but simply because it does not address the issues involved. … No single New Testament author considers [homosexuality] important enough to write his own sentence about it.” Evangelical theologian Helmut Thielicke states: “Homosexuality… can be discussed at all only in the framework of that freedom which is given to us by the insight that even the New Testament does not provide us with an evident, normative dictum with regard to this question. Even the kind of question which we have arrived at … must for purely historical reasons be alien to the New Testament.”

Ideas and understandings of sexuality have changed greatly over the centuries. People in biblical times did not share our knowledge or customs of sexuality; we do not share their experience. In those days there was no romantic dating as we know it today; marriages were arranged by fathers. The ancients, as MIT’s David Halperin notes: “conceived of ‘sexuality’ in non-sexual terms: What was fundamental to their experience of sex was not anything we would regard as essentially sexual: rather, it was something essentially social — namely, the modality of power relations that informed and structured the sexual act.” In the ancient world, sex was “not intrinsically relational or collaborative in character, it is, further, a deeply polarizing experience: It serves to divide, to classify, and to distribute its participants into distinct and radically dissimilar categories. Sex possess this valence, apparently because it is conceived to center essentially on, and to define itself around, an asymmetrical gesture, that of the penetration of the body of one person by the body, and, specifically, by the phallus — of another. …. The proper targets of [a citizen's] sexual desire include, specifically, women, boys, foreigners, and slaves — all of them persons who do not enjoy the same legal and political rights and privileges that he does.” In studies of sex in history, Stanford classics professor John J. Winkler warns against “reading contemporary concerns and politics into texts and artifacts removed from their social context.” This, of course, is a basic principle of biblical hermeneutics.
In spite of all of this, some preachers continue to use certain Bible verses to clobber lesbians and gay men today.


Anonymous said...

‘I am always uptight when someone says… ‘I love the sinner, but hate his sin’. I’m sure you’ve heard that line over and over again. And my response is, ‘That’s interesting. Because that’s just the opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner, but hate his sin.’ Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin. And after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you can begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.” (Tony Campolo)

Steven L. Simmons said...

The description of sexuality as being so absent of romantic feeling in biblical times does not quite fit when one considers the Song of Solomon for example. You may want to restate some of those absolute terms. Abraham mourned and wept when Sarah died. Isaac loved his bride. Doesn't sound like they fit this absolute mode. Sometimes when we look at photographs of people from the 1800s and we think of them as colorless and lifeless with no expression of joy, but we are actually looking at the simple problem of shutter speed and exposure issues for early photography. Just a thought.

Colin said...

"No single sentence"? Surely Romans 1:26-28 is a sentence clearly about homosexuality.
Even a cursory knowledge of history would strongly suggest that openly endorsed homosexuality is a sign of decadence in any age.
Having said that, I still have homosexual friends.
The homosexuality debate may be complicated, but not for any of the reasons put forward here.

Anonymous said...


If you will read the verse you mentioned in its context instead of isolating it you will discover that the passage is about idolatry, not exclusively about homosexual behaviour.

Here is how the passage goes: From the beginning of the world God's nature has been revealed and understood, so humanity is without excuse. Yet humans failed to honour God and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (Idolatry)

Now imagine this: Because they became idolaters "God gave them up" in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. (Idolatry).

For this reason "God gave them up" to degrading passions . . . and then begins a diatribe of everything under the sun which is the result of "God giving them up": a debased mind, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. This long catalogue is the result of "God giving us up" because of our(idolatry).

When you examine the passage as a lawyer would regarding cause and effect it is rather a queer argument (pardon the pun). If taken at its face value there isn't one person on the face of the earth who is not guilty, and that is the whole point of the argument. If homosexuality is a sin, it is no more a sin than any of the others listed, but the fundamentalist preacher overlooks all of the sins of which he himself might be guilty. I can see quite a number of sins that I've either encountered in the lives of my parishioners, or in my own life.

Can you think of officers who were covetous, bore malice, were envious, boastful, foolish, faithless, heartless, and some even ruthless? They were supposedly saved and sanctified, but I can still see the faces of some that would fit the bill.

My suggestion is that in the light of this exegesis, all of us, even those who think they have lived circumscribed lives should take a good look at ourselves (as the men who were about to stone the woman taken in adultery were forced to do, before casting any stones. My verdict would be, that everyone would be silent, and the oldest among us would be the first to take leave.

Grace and peace,

Former, Canada and Bermuda

Anonymous said...

Former Canada and Bermuda

Way to go- nice exegesis and incredibly clear

Former Australia Eastern