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An Analytic View of Homosexuality and Christian Ethics


An Analytic View of Homosexuality and Christian Ethics

There has been a lot of debate on whether homosexuality is a viable ethical Christian lifestyle. While debates from ancient times completely outlawed homosexuality, contemporary debates have shifted in a significant way. There are those who claim that homosexuality should be accepted as an ethically viable Christian lifestyle and that homosexual partnerships or marriages should be solemnised by the church. These are liberal scholars referred to variously in this paper as homosexual lobbyists or apologists. This paper will explore the arguments of these lobbyists and do so in the unfailing light of the revealed teaching of Scripture. This paper examines the lobbyists against Scripture because it upholds the conviction that the source of Christian Ethics is scripture, accordingly, it asserts Christian ethics is prescriptive and not merely descriptive. Further, the paper will seek to define terms like homosexuality, gay, lesbian, among others. It will then explore the contestations made by liberal scholars who seek to accommodate such homosexual practices. Finally, the paper will seek to demonstrate the faulty exegesis applied by this camp to the highlighted passages of scripture as it seeks to defend and uphold the truthfulness of such critiqued passages of Scripture in their collective and consistent condemnation of homosexuality.

According to Grenz (1983:200) “the first use of the term homosexuality is attributed to K.M. Benkert, a Swiss doctor, in 1869”.  Further, Grenz argues that the term is defined in contemporary discourse not with particular reference to “acts of homosexuality” but in terms of what he calls “not as specific acts” but “refers to the preference for sexual partners of the same sex or to the situation in which erotic feelings are nearly exclusively triggered by persons of one’s own sex” (:201). Thus women who are attracted to women are called “lesbians” while men who are attracted to men are referred to as “gays”. The subject of this paper is to investigate whether such a lifestyle is an ethically viable Christian lifestyle.

The homosexual lobbyists, in trying to convince all and sundry that homosexuality is an ethically viable Christian lifestyle, appeal to both what they consider as scientific proof and biblical texts highlighted below. On the so-called scientific front, they hold to the claim that just as there are acceptable and unacceptable heterosexual behaviours, the same applies to homosexual behaviours as well. They therefore argue that not all homosexual expressions are discredited by scripture. Further they claim scientific evidence that proves that some are born homosexuals and hence they cannot change who they are, thus their expression of homosexuality is not “unnatural”. Hughes (1983:172) captures this clearly: “the militant apologists of the homosexual movement claim that homosexuality belongs to the very constitution of their being, that this is the way they are made, and therefore that their homosexual disposition is perfectly natural for them, even though it may not be for others”. However, as this paper will show later such claims are insufficient “to explain sexual preferences” and hence homosexuality is seen as a “learned preference” than a biological one; homosexuals and “made and not born” as postulated by Lawrence J. Hatterer in 197(Grenz 1983:202-3).

Besides using the unsuccessful scientific approach, these apologists seek re-interpretation of various scriptures from the entire Bible, that the church has over the years based its teaching on ethical Christian sexual conduct. We begin by giving a hearing to those biblical arguments. Various Old Testament and New Testament texts are re-interpreted to disprove their original understanding, arm-twisting them to support the homosexual crusade. We explore these below.

To start with, the Sodom and Gibeah narratives (Genesis 19v1-13 and Judges 19, respectively) are some of the key biblical texts the liberal scholars seek to re-invent as basis of biblical teaching to affirm the homosexual practices. The traditional view of these texts have always been that the sins of these communities were of a homosexual nature, among other sins. This is affirmed by one distinguished Christian luminaries of antiquity, St. Augustine: “Those shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished… the law of God, which has not made men that they should use one another in this way.” (Lovelace, 1979:18).

Recent pro-homosexual scholarship has made frivolous attempts to seek re-interpretation of these narratives. Such scholarship disputes the fact that the group of men in these two narratives sought to sexually abuse the angels (Sodom Story) and the stranger (in the Gibeah story). According to Stott (1990), Bailey argues that the word:

“know them” does not necessarily refer to having sexual intercourse, “for the Hebrew word for ‘know’ (yada) occurs 943 times in the Old Testament, of which only ten occurrences refer to physical intercourse, and even then only heterosexual intercourse. It would therefore be better to translate the phrase as ‘so that we may get acquainted with them’” (:339).

So scholars like Bailey on the basis of the preceding arguments challenge the traditional view of these passages. Thus as far as they are concerned, the sin of Sodom was invasion of Lot and his visitors’ privacy and this is why the Lord punished them. This is the similar meaning rendered to the story of Gibeah as recorded in Judges 19. Thus it is argued that God punishes the two respective sets of men for their flouting of one’s family privacy and inhospitable behaviour. Such an interpretation of this text is a result of erroneous exegesis, as shall be demonstrated later. Further, to buttress their position, these liberal scholars contend that lack of allusion to the sin of Sodom being that of homosexuality elsewhere in the OT suggest that the reading of homosexuality is an imposition of the NT writers on the text. However, as we will show later such a conclusion is far from compelling.

Secondly, the Levitical prohibitions of same sex intercourse are yet group of scriptures that come under scrutiny. The specific prohibitions are found in Leviticus 18v22 and 20v13. Liberal scholars dismiss these as referring to ritual sex and not loving homosexual relationships. Such practices, they claim, are no longer prevalent now and as such these prohibitions are outdated and irrelevant to the homosexuality debate. This is eloquently emphasised by Stott when he says that “the homosexual lobby argues therefore that the Levitical texts prohibit religious practices which have long since ceased, and have no relevance to the homosexual partnerships today” (1990:341). This paper will contest this position as it does many of the defective and shoddy exegetical work done by these scholars.

In the New Testament, “Paul’s portrayal of a decadent pagan society in his day” (Stott, 1990:339) in Romans 1v18-32 is yet another passage whose traditional meaning or reading by the church has been challenged by the homosexual lobbyists. Several thoughts are smuggled by the homosexual lobby group into Paul’s argument including the distinction between what these scholars call “inverts” and “perverts”. The former are those who are born with an inclination towards homosexual relationship while the latter are those who are born with a heterosexual inclination but get involved in the homosexual relationships or intercourse. Thus Paul, according to this lobby group, is condemning the latter because despite their natural heterosexual tendencies they engage in what should be unnatural sex for them. The “inverts” cannot be realistically condemned by Paul because they are born like that. Thus they argue that “…both orientation and expression itself and acts that express it are natural” Grenz (1983:203)

Paul is condemning a “…libido-conditioned disregard for one’s neighbour, in other words a particular way of homosexual behaviour” according to Bailey as quoted by Lovelace (1979:24). As long as they are in “committed, loving homosexual partnerships” (Stott 1990:342), they are not condemned by this Pauline text. Via, a pro-homosexuality scholar’ screams: “homosexual practice among homosexually oriented, committed couples should not be regard as sin” (Loader 2010:7). This paper will provide a rebuttal of this argument also below.

Finally, there are two Pauline lists of sins found in 1 Corinthians 6v9-10 and 1 Timothy 1v8-11 in which homosexuality is included. It is interesting to follow the arguments of the homosexual lobby in relationship to these two New Testament texts. According to Stott (1990:342), the Greek word used to describe “homosexual offenders” in the first Corinthians list is the same word used to refer to “perverts” in the second list in the Letter to Timothy. This word is arsenokoitai. This paper suggests that the testimony of the New Testament is clearly that homosexuality is exclusively and uncompromisingly perversion; it is a submersion of the natural will of God for human sexuality.

Bailey, one of the leading lobbyists, contends as he does with the earlier Pauline reference, that these texts deal exclusively with “perversion, not with inversion, so that in effect the biblical witness is irrelevant to what he would consider responsible and loving homosexual conduct” (Lovelace, 1979:35). Thus Bailey puts the “loving homosexual relationship” at par with the “loving heterosexual relationship” that the church has traditionally believed in. This paper will critique such a supposition of a “loving homosexual conduct” below.

We will now provide a brief rebuttal to the arguments raised by the homosexual lobbyists above. To start with, we need to look at God’s created order. The claim that some are born homosexuals seems to accuse God for creating them that way. The creation narratives are very clear in how God created human beings and how he sovereignly ordered life for them and their posterity. The Levitical prohibition of homosexual behaviour is informed by God’s purpose for humanity as revealed in creation; “such acts violated the created order of male and female and…they are an idolatrous affront to the integrity of the deity” (Grenz 1983:205). Further, the whole argument of God honouring heterosexual relationships collapses when viewed under the scrutiny of the “one-flesh-perspective” of Genesis narratives on marriage. The biblical teaching is clear that marital union is “…heterosexual monogamy… the sexual union of a man with his wife, whom he recognises as ‘flesh of his flesh’” (Stott, 1990:346-347). There is therefore no place for homosexual unions in God’s original plan; they are a deviation from God’s design.

To deny that in both the Sodom and Gibeah passages cited above there is clear indication of the men’s homosexual intent is to be intentionally blind to the natural reading of these two narratives. The alternative offer of Lot’s daughters and the men’s concubines respectively is enough to suggest that the usage of the word yarda in that context is to refer to sexual intercourse, and more specifically anal penetration. One can agree with Loader (2010:10) that what happened there is not only sin of inhospitality but “…violent inhospitality through attempted male rape”. Further, John Stott (1990:339) further argues that while the word yarda occurs 943 times with only ten (10) times referring to sexual intercourse, six of those occurrences are in close proximity to the Sodomy narrative, hence the natural reading of the word “to know” to mean “having sex with” is more faithful to the context.

Further, the attempt to discredit the Levitical prohibitions on same sex marriage is a demonstration of these lobbyists’ unwillingness to accept the authority of clear biblical teaching. Hughes weighs in to support the argument that the Levitical text are very clear in their prohibitive tone of same sex practices when he argues that: “the biblical condemnation of homosexual acts is indeed quite unambiguous…is forbidden and denounced as ‘an abomination’” (1983:173). The lobbyists seek to convince us that homosexuality is allowable from these texts as long as it is not for cultic purposes. This paper argues in tandem with Hughes that “a moment’s consideration of the context shows that it is not only homosexuality that is stringently prohibited, but also incest, adultery, child abuse, and bestiality. If the homosexuals’ argument applies to one it must apply to all these practices, a hardly conceivable possibility” (:173). Thus by implication, if non-cultic homosexual practice is acceptable as these liberal scholars would have us believe so should non-cultic incest, bestiality, adultery etc. Such selective reading of the context is a sign of desperate exegesis of the text if not outright eisegesis.

The Pauline text in the” New Testament bear a consistent witness against homosexuality in agreement with the afore-mentioned Old Testament texts. So does the Jude’s epistle. To discredit Jude’s testimony brings to question the lobbyists’ commitment to upholding the integrity of the scriptures. Further, Pauline understanding of what is “natural” is heterosexual unions’ not homosexual unions. To be “natural” is to be consistent with the creation order. This has been the understanding from antiquity. For instance, Plato contends that “when a male unites with a female for procreation, the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature” (Thompson 2011:131). Such would have been the understanding of Paul’s audience not the lobbyists’ recent reconstruction of this indictment against their debauchery.

Further, from the evidence supplied by the cited New Testament texts we assert that “the plain position of the New Testament is, in short, that homosexuality is contrary to nature, contrary to law, and contrary to sound doctrine” (Hughes, 1983:175). So both the “invert” and the “pervert” are categorically referred to as sinners in need of God’s grace. Paul would find it incomprehensible that those who commit such sins as pagans do (from which Christians are to repent) would claim to be Christians and cry for acceptance as Christian Homosexuals or Homosexual Christians. This is supported by Richard Hayes’ assertions below:

“it is highly improbable that the apostle had in mind the life histories of a certain group of his contemporaries who had moved from heterosexuality to homosexuality. Rather, his purpose was to offer a corporate indictment of pagan society. The story he narrated is that of humankind; he offered a general sweep of the corporate downward spiral into an even deeper pit of sin. Humankind has distorted even the basic sexual identity which had been given in God’s created order s indicated by the Genesis story” (Grenz 1983:202)

As already asserted, for the lobbyists to contend that the condemnation is not for the inverts but for only perverts and pederasty is to miss Paul’s point by a wide margin. According to Loader (2010:23) “… Paul’s formulations, especially ‘for one another” (1.27), suggests mutuality rather than exploitation and so apparently envisages adult-adult sexual relations of mutual consent”.

The church’s response by way of aggressive polemics and apologetics is not sufficient in dealing with the issue of homosexuality in our contemporary society. We may win the argument but lose the souls. The church’s response needs to go beyond that. Grenz (1980:219) suggests that it must be tripartite ministry response of “prevention, support and ministry within the church”. Prevention seeks to strengthen parenting in giving the right sex education and modelling of right sex behaviours; while support seeks not to condemn those struggling with this area of sexuality but to support them. Support helps take care of them and finally, welcoming these individuals into church. All the preceding responses are anchored on the Christian’s call to love those in homosexual struggles. John Stott (1990:359) argues that “at present we are living ‘in between times’, between the grace which we grasp by faith and the glory which we anticipate in hope. Between them lies love”. The best we can do to reach out to the homosexually inclined people is to love them.

This paper has sought to argue that homosexuality is not an ethically viable Christian option. It falls short of God’s standards as revealed to us by the Scriptures; the same scriptures which lobbyists seek to arm-twist to buttress their insecure positions. Such arguments as highlighted by this paper have been found to be deficient as basis of proving that homosexuality can be an ethical viable Christian lifestyle option. This paper has also highlighted the need not to single out homosexuality as “the only sin” but to appreciate that sin is sin and God is against it no matter what that sin is called. This therefore should lead us to be compassionate in dealing with those who struggle in this area of their Christian pilgrimage and share God’s love with them, without compromising the revealed will of Scripture, that of heterosexual relationships.



Reference List

Grenz, S.1990. Sexual Ethics- A Biblical Perspective. Dallas: Word Publishing.
Hughes, P E.1983. Christian Ethics in Secular Society. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House
Loader, W. 2010. Sexuality in the New Testament- Understanding the key texts. London: SPCK.
Lovelace, R F.1979. Homosexuality And the Church- Crisis, Conflict, Compassion. London: The Lamp Press.
Schrage, W. 1982. The Ethics of the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Stott, J. 1990. Issues Facing Christians Today- New perspectives on social and moral dilemmas. London: Marshall Pickering.

Thompson, J W.2011. Moral Formation according to Paul- The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academics.
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