Thursday, December 2, 2010

Paul condemned homosexuality

The passage from Romans 1 popularly cited as the most damning New Testament condemnation of Homosexuality is a warning against the dangers of self-righteousness, not a polemic against Homosexuality.(1) If anything it ought to be read as a strong caution against the belief that we can keep the church pure by keeping the wrong kind of people out.(2) We are all in exactly the same position before the grace of Jesus Christ and no rule, least of all one as arbitrary as G-6.0106b, can ensure the faithfulness of the body.
Furthermore, we do not support every claim we can cherry-pick from the epistles. Paul also condemns women speaking in assembly or uncovering their hair.(3)   As a church, our polity should not, and does not, depend on proof-texts lifted out of context. Rather, Paul and the early church consistently defied social boundaries as they welcomed, as equals, many excluded and supposedly ‘unclean’ persons.(4)


1. This is even a stance that conservative commentators take.  Paul is not talking about homosexuality, nor is he doing any work in constructive sexual ethics.  He is setting up his readers for the reversal, wherein he warns against hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  Judge not lest ye be judged.

2. For reasons of efficiency, we only dealt with one example, but we now have the space to deal with all of them, at least briefly.  This is done knowing that one can easily find conservative scholars who will disagree and other scholars who will agree, but for different reasons.  The core point is that simply making the above claim is nowhere near enough.  Intelligent, well-intentioned, scholarly people can and do disagree.

Romans 1: 26-27: here, Paul is making the argument we dealt with above, that homosexuality is 'unnatural', but only as part of a long litany of sins, as discussed above, and only as a setup for the turn toward the true point - speaking against hypocrisy.  It is not even clear what [antimisthia] is referring to.  If we have science as our guide, it is referring to...nothing.

1 Corinthians: 6:9: here we have another sin-litany, another list Paul is using as a rhetorical device rather than as a cornerstone of any constructive theology.  He is laying out why unrepentant sinners will not see the Kingdom of God.  Fortunately, homosexuality is not necessarily a sin, any more than heterosexuality is necessarily a sin.  Either can be practiced sinfully.  What prompted Paul here seems to be the problem of Christians taking each other before magistrates, in public, rather than judging or reconciling among themselves.  Paul is lumping in litigation with other acts he feels are more obviously sinful to make a point.

1 Timothy 1:9-10: yet another sin-litany, this time the English translations giving us a taste of the variety of possible translations for the word [pornos].  Once again, we have lesbians unmentioned.  That aside, here the argument is, seemingly, that those who teach doctrine should aim for inspiring love, good conscience, and faith - how different from the seeming fruit of our own doctrinal arguments.  Ultimately, following this 'clobber passage', Paul makes an argument for his own call that LGTBQ persons make for their calling in turn.  Paul has no more evidence of his call than anyone has.  We take him at his word that he has been chosen, justified, and is being sanctified, gifted for service.  We can look at his writings and his actions and decide.  That is exactly what amendment 10A asks Presbyteries and Sessions to do, but without one specific issue lifted above all others and made into a litmus test.

3. While some individuals and congregations have left the PC(USA) for the EPC or the OPC, denominations which do not guarantee the equality of women in their polity, the PC(USA) remains committed to the equality of women as disciples of Christ - something that was part of the early church from the very beginning.  Yes, one can cherry-pick passages from Paul which seem to denounce women in authority.  One can also realize that these brief passages are not part of the core of Paul's argument at any point, and that in other places Paul contradicts these biased verses when he comes to a core aspect of the Gospel - that there is no Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are made new in Christ.

4. "This man eats with sinners!"  Jesus, in his life and ministry, took many opportunities to dismantle the prevailing biases about clean and unclean, insiders and outsiders.  It seems foolish to imagine that he would not be doing the same now - in fact he is, through his Spirit, breaking the short-sighted boundaries we continually construct around ourselves.


Obie Holmen said...


The "reversal" of Romans is a subtle yet persuasive argument that I have presented at workshops. Paul is speaking to Jews about Gentiles, and he sets up the reversal by playing into their stereotypes: Gentiles are idol worshipers, Gentiles have strange sexual practices, Gentiles are immoral. Just as we can figuratively see the assumed listeners nodding, Paul slams them--do they think they are favored by God because of their religious heritage tied up in the rituals and symbols of Torah--no, their assumed boundaries do not apply, and God is a welcoming, inclusive God who takes even unclean Gentiles into his family.

Regarding the "vice lists" of Corinthians and the pastoral epistles, it appears that Paul is using unfamiliar, "made-up" Greek words, malakoi and arsenokotai, and their interpretation is uncertain. Their pairing suggests he may be referring to the Greco-Roman practice of pederasty--a nobleman mentoring a younger man with sexual contact comprising part of the relationship.

Another interesting twist on the Pauline "clobber passages" is the possibility that Paul was himself a conflicted gay man who struggled with his personal "thorn in the flesh", a view promoted by Bishop John Shelby Spong and which is also raised in my work of historical fiction entitled, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle. Click on my name if interested in more info.

Aric Clark said...

Thanks for commenting.

I was aware of the pederasty argument, some people also think he is talking about ritual prostitution, but ultimately I think it is most persuasive to say that whatever he means by his example it is but one of many he uses to make the opposite point that opponents of inclusion now use it for - that God is an inclusive God who despises self-righteousness. People dispute what various parts of scripture say about homosexuality - there is no doubt about what scripture says about hypocrites.

As for the "Paul was Gay" idea, I find it like many attempts to psychologize the text very interesting, fruitful in the way that imaginative exercises like that can be, but ultimately inconclusive. We just don't know who Paul really was, so I probably wouldn't base an argument on that kind of conjecture. And it invites people to respond - "see if Paul was Gay and he argued so strongly for celibacy then homosexuals today should be required to be celibate."

Thanks for the link though, I'll check out your site!