Response to Jason: Are Christianity and Homosexuality Reconcilable?

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Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I really enjoyed this essay and it reminded me of the argument we had waaaaay back in December:

    http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2009/12/the-manhattan-declaration/

    The way I’ve always seen Romans is in the form of an argument.

    Chapter 1 is written to the effect of “While it’s true that so-and-so does X, Y, and Z…” in order to set up Chapter 2 and 3 which says something to the effect of “BUT YOU DO A, B, AND C!!!”

    The problem is that people who are doing A, B, and C point to Chapter 1 as proof that X, Y, and Z are bad. “There it is, in scripture. X.”

    And pointing out A, B, and C to these folks is like telling them that they are acting a lot more like Pharisees/Sadducees than Jesus. It makes no sense. They have no frame of reference whence to process that data.Report

  2. Avatar willybobo
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    says:

    Will it be in the way that Jews oppose eating shellfish? Or will it be in the way that Muslim fundamentalists oppose cartoons of Mohamed?

    As an aside, can someone explain why Christians don’t oppose the eating of shellfish or visual depictions of Jesus and God? The scriptures seem as clear on those to me as they do on homosexuality, but I’m not well-versed in Christian theology or hermeneutics (I’ve read the Bible several times and read early Christian philosophers, that’s about it). How did it come to be that the Church reconciled eating shellfish and making graven images despite specific commands prohibiting these? Why is homosexuality different?Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to willybobo
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      @willybobo, for an explanation of why Christians don’t oppose representations of Jesus, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconoclasm#Second_Council_of_Nicaea_787

      For an explanation of why Christians don’t oppose eating shellfish, see: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%2015&version=NASBReport

      • Avatar willybobo in reply to David Schaengold
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        says:

        @David Schaengold, Thanks, David, very helpful and interesting. So it seems like the leadership just gathered and decided that it better for the Church if images could be made, for these could glorify God, and the Church, and spread the Gospel. Seems then that the Church could make similar arguments about recognizing love between two people of the same sex. Also seems one could make a Christian argument that the specific passage in Acts 15:29 that seems to absolve the prohibition against eating shellfish also absolves the prohibition against intramatrimonial homosexual sex. No?Report

        • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to willybobo
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          says:

          @willybobo, not exactly. the notion of images is grounded in the teaching of the Incarnation. If God became human (as Christians hold), then the created order (particularly artistic depictions of the human form) can be an appropriate vehicle to point towards the inexpressible. So long as one never confuses the art for God. In Orthodox theology this is the difference between veneration (holding an image in respect) and adoration (which alone belongs to God). The prohibition against images becomes understood in the sense of prohibiting one from mistaking the image for the thing itself (i.e. God).

          As to the kosher laws, this has to do with the place of the Gentiles in the Jesus movement. Jesus was Jewish, his ministry (best as we can tell) was almost entirely if not exclusively to Jews and all his followers were Jews. So when these Gentiles show up showing signs of repentance (see Acts 10-12), what to do with them? Do they need to become Jews in order to be in the family of Abraham (as Paul will put it)? Some Jewish Jesus followers said yes (e.g. James brother of the Lord). Others no (Paul). Others seemed to have some modified view (Peter?) whereby Gentile Jesus followers would hold to the Noahide commandments which were understood by many Jews to be the commandments inculcated upon all beings. Acts of the Apostles/Luke seems to possibly advocate this position.

          Overtime (i.e. 300-400 years) as Jewish Christianity eventually ends up dissipating and Christianity becomes Gentile-dominated, the Pauline view wins out. The Pauline view is that since Gentiles came to worship the God of Israel through belief in the risen Jesus, then they do not need to take up the Jewish law because that is not how they entered into the faith.

          There was a school of Jewish thought that said in the messianic age Gentiles would come to the Temple in Jerusalem, throw off their idols, and worship the God of Israel as Gentiles.

          The Pauline tradition seems to follow in this line of thought. They can worship God with their own cultural tradition, says Paul, since the age to come has now been initiated.Report

          • Avatar willybobo in reply to Chris Dierkes
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            says:

            @Chris Dierkes, Thanks for this, Chris. If you might indulge further clarification, in the Pauline view why is it that kosher (dietary) laws were seen as “Jewish” and could therefore be ignored by Gentiles, while prohibitions on homosexuality (or is it just male anal sex?) transcended Jewish tradition and would continue to apply?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to willybobo
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              says:

              @willybobo, I imagine that “traditions” have much to do with it.

              In the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus drops a nice detail about how the Prodigal gets a job feeding hogs. This tells us that there were Gentiles who kept hogs. Going to these Gentiles with the Gospel would fall on deaf ears if you told them “hey, you’ll also have to stop eating the animals you’ve spent the last X generations eating.” Everybody in that town had been eating hogs for as long as anybody could remember and it wasn’t even trivial. It was just lunch.

              Homosexuality, on the other hand, was considered icky by tons of folks… so, it seems to me, that Paul came out and said “the stuff you think is trivial is, in fact, trivial! The stuff you know is sinful? Guess what? God agrees!”

              (Compare to circumcision.)Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to willybobo
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      says:

      @willybobo, This seems a bit funny in a juvenile way in this context, but I believe the appropriate verses would be:
      “To him who it is clean, let him eat, and to him who it is unclean, let him not eat.”Report

  3. Avatar Francis
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    says:

    Alternatively, Christians could be as full (or, frequently, much more full) of biases, neuroses and prejudices as the rest of us, and seek (and find) justification for their beliefs in their holy book.

    Some years ago I heard an interview on NPR of a religious leader. The interviewer pointed out that Christians had in the past held the belief that the Bible supported slavery. The interviewee agreed that those Christians were wrong in their belief. Couldn’t it be the case then, the interviewer asked, that you are as wrong in your belief that homosexuality is contrary to Christian teaching as those Christians were wrong about slavery being supported by the Bible?

    Oh no, the interviewee responded. On this I am sure. I just know.

    Not much room for debate there.Report

  4. Avatar JH
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    says:

    I mean if Jason is right and there is no way you can both be a Christian and accept/love gays and lesbians as they are in their actual lives

    Is that what is at stake here? It seems to me the question is whether homosexual acts are in-keeping with the Christian understanding of sexuality; this standard is difficult to comply with whether a person is gay or not (e.g. masturbation, pornography, contraception according to many Christians, fornication, etc. are all viewed as a misuse of the sexual faculty). Is your argument that Christians do not love anyone who commits any of those acts?

    It seems to me that you are conflating love with acceptance; everyone we know and love does things that we think are wrong in one respect or another. Does acknowledging this imply that we do not love or accept them? I think that the actions of many Christians towards gays are appalling; but it seems to me that they (and you) both implicitly assume that homosexual acts are some special class of act that constitute a complete divorce from the Christian community. That seems ridiculous to me; a cultural hang-up that needs to be discarded. I’m not as convinced, however, that Christianity has been all wrong about sex all along; and I don’t think treating gays and lesbians, and fornicators, and adulterers, and masturbators, and people who cheat on their taxes with respect, love, and acceptance requires renouncing Christianity.

    Also, just as a side note, I think your commentary on Romans is too reductionistic as it discusses homosexuality without reference to any other facet of traditional Christian sexual ethics. I mean, it’s not like Romans was written, then 2,000 years later some guy in Kansas picked it up and started hating on gays. Perhaps your view is that the entire Christian tradition is completely wrong about sex; that’s a perfectly sensible view, but it seems to me that this is the case that needs to be made, rather than a (well done, btw) proof-text of Romans as it relates to homosexuality. Please forgive my tone; in a bit of hurry, but I enjoyed the post and wanted to respond.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to JH
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      @JH, Not acceptance or lack of love in a general sense. I meant in the specific sense of denying these people whom I love their families, their religious lives, and their existence. Concrete love in the way of their life. That I think is a make or break relative to my religion.

      As to the Romans piece I don’t think I proof-texted at all. In fact I think did the opposite of proof-texting. I showed the backdrop, theological worldview, and context (within the letter itself) of the passage in question, usually proof-texted.

      I simply made (a non-objectionable factual) point that there was no such thing as adult committed monogamous gay relationships in the ancient world. And now those exist and the question is is that reality part of the Biblical injunctions against homosexuality or not?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris Dierkes
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        says:

        @Chris Dierkes,

        Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful response.

        You’re aware, I’m sure, that many people today will say that there is “no such thing as adult committed monogamous gay relationships in the [present] world,” I’m sure, so we can skip that point.

        I have to wonder, though, if God gave moral advice to the society of that era, and if that advice must be read in the context of that era above all, then what are we to make of other forms of moral advice? Is some idol worship okay now, because it’s not an idol of Zeus? Where does this practice of making exceptions by cultural context end?

        In a way, I would actually be more comfortable with the purely private and ritual, rather than moral, rejection of homosexuality by Christians. There’s an observant Jewish branch to my family, and I feel quite comfortable around them, although I don’t remotely keep kosher. It seems to me that this might be a way forward for Christianity and gays that will actually work, because it’s based on a model we’ve seen work before.

        I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, Chris, on the common claim among Christians that we are all sinners in different ways — you have your way of sinning, and I have…. homosexuality.

        What do you say about that one? It seems your post comes just short of discussing it.Report

      • Avatar Endevour to Persevere in reply to Chris Dierkes
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        says:

        I simply made (a non-objectionable factual) point that there was no such thing as adult committed monogamous gay relationships in the ancient world.

        Except, of course, you are wrong.

        The Sacred Band of Thebes, Hadrian & Antinous, Alexander & Hephaestion, Sappho of Lesbos, Nero and Elagabuls took life-long male lovers,a version of same-sex marriage is mention by Martial in his Epigrams, etc, etc…

        I’ll grant you that it wasn’t a widely discussed topic but it did exist.Report

  5. Avatar Rob Coiler
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    says:

    As a Christian, I attempted to reconcile this a while back. While my textual interpretation may not be as thorough as that of Mr. Dierkes, this is what I concluded. Pardon the large amount of theological theorizing, but it gets to the point eventually. (And as a caveat — I’m no theologian. Personally, on a gut level, I find it fairly easy to reconcile homosexuality and Christian faith. This is simply a more cerebral attempt at harmonizing them.)

    As a preliminary matter, one should examine the concept of sin itself. Sins are not some pre-approved list of what is and is not bad. Sin is what corrupts you, and more specifically, what keeps you from connecting with others, and, in some cases, what you do that harms others. The concept of Heaven is another way of saying that we will one day be capable of interacting with God on some higher level than we are capable of right now.
    However, the soul would have to be in the right shape to actually make that leap. You’d need a soul that is capable of being transformed, and that, as an initial step, is capable of connecting with something higher than oneself. The things that we call sins are those things that corrupt us, that keep us away from that. This isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game, where you do the wrong thing once and you lose the chance forever. That’s the weakness of the “debt” metaphor that underlies a lot of Christian teaching (i.e., Jesus died to pay for our sins) – rather, the issue is that the process of continually doing the things that put you at odds with your fellow men and women is corrupting to the soul.
    In this respect, sin is very much like things that are physically bad for you. In and of itself, a cheeseburger or a beer or a cigarette is harmful for your body, but one of them isn’t going to kill you. There’s not even a number of them that you can guess that will be bad for you, but there is a point where you’ve had so many that your circulatory system is shot, your liver is overrun by cirrhosis, and your lungs are cancer-ridden. By the same token, there are some things (like a speedball of cocaine or handle of grain alcohol) that might just kill you on the spot in one sitting.
    So what are those things? What are the sins? First off, the things that harm others are probably the equivalent of the speedball. Theft, murder, rape – these are all things that cut you off from others, that elevate your own self-interest above someone else’s (to put it mildly). Those crimes are in direct opposition to what one would consider one of the fundamental messages of Christianity, i.e., “Everyone else is more important than you.” That’s why you give to charity, that’s why you help a wounded stranger on the side of the road, that’s why you forgive someone when they’ve wronged you. Crimes that harm others are immoral because one of the things you should be doing as a Christian is to help others.

    Other sins are those things that don’t necessarily hurt anyone else, but they do keep you from connecting with other people. If you’re an unrepentant alcoholic, then you’re less able to deal with the real world – hell, you couldn’t even drive that wounded stranger to the emergency room. If you’re obsessed with pornography, then you’ll lose the ability to see women as anything other than objects. If all you live for is money and acquiring material possessions, then your primary interest in people is as a means to your own financial gain. Merely drinking or occasionally getting drunk isn’t the problem; observing the naked female form as part of an art sculpture won’t do it; wanting to be successful won’t automatically corrupt you. It’s when these things cut us off from others that they corrupt us.

    Given such a view of sin, the Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality can be discarded without having to struggle mightily with the proposition that God might change his mind. At the historical point in time where many Old Testament prohibitions on homosexuality where set down, certain actions that were detrimental for the Israelite community could legitimately be considered sins. However, once the harm to that particular community was no longer a risk, then the behavior itself wasn’t a sin. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that God chose the Israelites as his people. (Depending on your point of view, you could say he chose them out of the entire universe, out of all the world, or even, maybe, as the starting point for a monotheistic religion that would supplement other belief systems.) If such a God enlists a small community as his messengers, whose survival as a nation is central to a divine plan, then the act of procreation becomes paramount. In a world where the Israelites were God’s only standard bearers, any act that deprived the Israelite nation of the chance to survive would arguably be a harm to the community. (While the exact cite escapes me at the moment, I believe there’s another passage in the Old Testament that prohibits sending childless men to war, which also supports the idea that the Old Testament laws were geared toward preserving the Israelite community over the long term.)
    So in a context where life was short and homosexuals had no means of procreation, homosexuality was the wrong thing for that community, because it reduced the chances that the community would endure. But in a modern context, where the Jews are (at least according to Christian theology) no longer the sole agents of God on Earth, and where knowledge of God comes by volition rather than birthright, the “community of God” isn’t imperiled when one of its members cannot have children. (Notwithstanding the fact that current medical technology actually gives homosexuals that ability to have children if they so desire.) If you view the prohibition on homosexuality as a drastic but necessary instrument to ensure the fruitful reproduction of a select group of people, then by extension, once the potential harm to the community becomes moot, so does the prohibition. And by that measure, homosexuality, which might have been a sin in a different social context 6000 years ago, is no longer a sin today. And the task of reconciling Christianity with homosexuality becomes infinitely easier.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus
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    says:

    Chris- it’s late here and I’m tired, so this won’t be brilliant.

    But, I’ve always felt like the Gospels make sense in one image- Jesus on the cross praying to God for the forgiveness of the men putting him to death. The idea that having that level of love and forgiveness for one’s fellow men is essentially spiritual perfection is unique and striking. So, in light of that image, it never made sense to me that I could look at my neighbors and hold much of anything against them, much less how they have sex.

    But, you know, maybe I’m trivializing the Scriptures here. I don’t know.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus
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      says:

      @Rufus

      I’m Jewish, and that image speaks even to me. He was a great rabbi, a worthy successor to Hillel. That his message got perverted into thousands of years of persecution of his own people is one of the things that makes me reject the existence of a wise, just God.Report

  7. Avatar Endevour to Persevere
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    says:

    Except of course that god is not real and the bible is just another in a long line of primitive mystical rantings no more epistemically or morally applicable to the real world than the vedas, the eddas, or spiderman.

    I find it very sad that an otherwise intelligent person throws away so much emotion, time, and intellectual effort on such absurdity.Report

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