I have experienced same-sex attraction for most of my life. When I was seventeen years old, I embraced a gay identity. Almost ten years after I came out, I saw the pain that this addiction was working in my life. I sought help from Outpost Ministries, a Minneapolis-based ministry that helps men and women find freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.
“Homosexuality and the Torah,” p.59
Messiah Journal, Issue 117/Fall 2014
This is something of an interlude between my first and second review of Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality. I’ve still got about sixty pages to go (as I write this) in the Michaelson book, but Hall’s article is only eight pages long (nine if you include the endnotes) so I shot through it a few days ago. As it turns out, Hall answers many of Michaelson’s points on homosexuality and the intent of scripture. It’s not a complete hand-and-glove fit, but it’s close. And Hall’s commentary has the advantage of being written by a person who has “been there,” meaning his opinions should have greater credibility than mine since I’ve never experienced “being gay.”
In his article, Hall uses the acronym “SSA” for “same-sex attraction” rather than the more “socially licensed” labels for the LGBTQ community. His footnote for the term (p. 67) states:
I use “SSA” to describe the emotional and physical attraction to members of the same sex. The term “homosexuality” includes the socio-political self-identification as gay or lesbian predicated on those attractions.
Hall says that two years after seeking help, he was “reasonably healed” to where he could begin working for Outpost Ministries and continued for six years to work on his own healing while helping others seeking help from the ministry to do the same.
I know this is going to push a lot of noses out of joint, particularly those advocates for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the church and synagogue, but this is the other side of the coin, so to speak, this is the life that stands opposite those such as Jay Michaelson and Matthew Vines.
I can’t speak for Hall and certainly not for Michaelson and Vines. As I said above, I don’t have a “gay experience”. I don’t know what it’s like to have those feelings or to live that life, in or out of the closet. Like Hall, I don’t have all the answers (p.60), but maybe there is an answer, even if it’s not the one that sells books and makes popular stories in social and news media.
One difference between Hall and other, similar commentators is that he’s addressing this topic from a Messianic Jewish perspective, rather than a traditional Christian viewpoint. The key in all this is that Christianity generally dismisses the Law but in doing so, has also done away with obeying God from a physical/bodily as well as spiritual manner.
I don’t know if I entirely agree since Christians, at least in more conservative denominations, tend to provide strong support for physical purity and marital fidelity, at least on the surface. I don’t see why that wouldn’t extend to purity in the sense of not only marital fidelity but exclusively heterosexual romantic/erotic relations.
I have seen that the church suffers profound confusion about what it means when the Bible says that God created us male and female. I have seen the ramifications of a “freedom from the law” theology.
But the churches Hall seems to be referencing are those on the more socially and politically liberal end of the spectrum.
The ELCA and PC-USA recently approved ordaining openly gay clergy and affirming same-sex marriages. In their debates I saw that the discussions never focused on what the Word says but on the feelings of various groups: “Don’t make people feel unwelcome in the PC-USA” or “I love being Lutheran, but I’m gay — don’t kick me out” were common refrains.
This is more or less the argument in Part One of Michaelson’s book, a focus on feeling rather than the Word. Of course, Part Two of the book does address “what the Word says”, both from a Christian and Jewish point of view, but Hall addresses that as well.
I consider the following paragraph to be the core of Hall’s article:
You may have noticed that in our discussion of homosexuality, I did not mention the Torah’s prohibitions against the behavior in Leviticus 18. I made my appeal not from prohibition but from created intent. This approach helps us see that God’s law is not simply a list of cold rules but boundaries directing us into holiness, righteousness, and life. Why does God prohibit homosexual behavior? Because he is jealous for his image on the earth as reflected in male and female.
Hall’s opinion is similar to my own. Even if we were to completely dismiss all of the apparent Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior, we absolutely do not see a normalization of “loving, monogamous same-sex romantic/erotic relationships” in the Bible. In one of the chapters in Part Two of his book, Michaelson attempts to make a case for such a “normalization,” at least to a degree by citing not only David and Jonathan’s friendship but the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. I’ll issue my response in more detail in a later review, but even Michaelson admits that “sexual orientation” as such was not understood (or experienced) in ancient times, thus using those friendships (and any sexual component implied is highly questionable) in support of normalization of gay relationships in the church and synagogue today is sketchy at best.
Have we then implied that a person experiencing same-sex attraction is condemned by God? Absolutely not! We have, I hope, shown that there is more going on underneath same-sex attraction than either rebellion or genetic predisposition…
…The opposite of homosexuality is thus not heterosexuality but righteousness. The question regarding SSA is not “Can I be gay and a follower of Yeshua?” but rather “Can I disagree with God about who he made me to be and still truly be Yeshua’s disciple?”
So why do gay people experience their sexual orientation/identity as such an immutable quality? From Hall’s viewpoint, it’s just another sign of “brokenness” in the world and in human beings among all the other ways people are broken spiritually. The very concepts, as Michaelson has confirmed in his book, of sexual orientation and sexual identity have been created quite recently in human history. While we have a long record of homosexual sex, what it meant “back in the day” can’t be compared to what we call it in the modern world.
What if we’re seeing a “power surge” of “sexual diversity” not because the people who once would have hidden who they were, maybe for all their lives, are being given permission to “come out of the closet” by an increasingly “progressive” society, but because our world is becoming increasingly permissive of many sins once treated as strict taboos, including sexual sins, and including those sexual sins (at least in their physical expression) identified as sexual “orientation” and “identity”?
Like Michaelson, I can’t really prove my points, but if looked at through a spiritual and Biblical lens rather than with what Hall calls “the fruit of cheap grace,” it makes more sense.
Like I said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are men and women who try for years to change, to become attracted to the opposite sex as their primary or exclusive object of romantic and erotic love, but who continue to fail. For many, that is proof that sexual orientation is innate and immutable in human beings, with some minority human population being same-sex attracted. For others, it’s a sign of just how far we have morally fallen, and perhaps a sign of the “spiritual warfare” being directed at the world as the time of Messiah’s return draws near. The spirit of humanity is so wide open to all manner of injury and damage, that it never occurs to us (and in some circles it is forbidden to mention it) these so-called “normal” and “natural” attractions and behaviors are a sign that something is seriously wrong.
After seven years of working through my issues, choosing to live beyond my same-sex attraction, I do not see myself as a gay man anymore. God brought enough healing to my life that, in September 2013, I was married to a beautifully feminine woman who does not see me through the lens of same-sex attraction. She sees me as a man perfectly made for her.
Hall makes many good points in his small article and I’ve only touched on a few of them here. If you are convinced that the LGBTQ community should be fully included in the body of faith, then nothing in Hall’s article is likely to change your mind and you probably will just become angry at Hall and at me. If you are a traditional Christian or devout Jew, you are likely to praise Hall and continue to condemn Michaelson, Vines and others, even though Hall says God does not condemn them, at least not any more than anyone else trapped in a life that God did not choose for them. I’m not writing this to beat up gay people, whether they’re in religious community or not. I’m trying to understand what God is really saying and doing, and since I’m only human, that isn’t always easy for me.
I’ve struggled with the inherit nature of humans being created as Male and Female, as complementary physically and in many other ways, as helpmates standing opposite one another, and also having a long line of gay people saying that they were born that way, that being gay is natural, normal, and part of God’s plan, and that it’s cruel and bigoted to ask them to change what is unchangeable.
But if they weren’t “born that way,” at least as part of a God-sanctioned process, then what?
How much pain, suffering, and injustice exists in the world today that we seem helpless to change? The list is endless. What’s the cause in a God-created world? Man’s fall from grace at Eden. The world changed in a fundamental way such that the universe actually started operating differently, where disobedience became possible and much more likely than it was previously, and where even death existed in a way that was previously impossible.
What if one of the things that changed is the fundamental way that sex and attraction works? I agree, I’m proposing a big of “what if,” but it makes more sense than God forbidding same-sex sex and then creating human beings who are designed to desire same-sex sex/love. The way people experience sex and love has been twisted into just about anything you can imagine. The list of sexual fetishes we have categorized is astounding. But God also gave the Torah and the whole of His Word, the Bible, not as a cold list of “do’s and “don’ts” but as boundaries and expectations, a plan of God for human beings and specifically human coupling, of being created male and female.
The Bible in no way presupposes the normalization of same-sex love/sex in the community of faith. I’m sure many will disagree with me, particularly because I lack a rock solid alternative for addressing what Hall calls SSA. But I can’t “interpret” the Bible so radically that I see something that is not written on any of its pages. I don’t see modern homosexual relationships, let alone marriages, sanctioned and sanctified by God. I don’t see a path to making them sanctioned and sanctified that can be derived or inferred from the scriptural text.
That’s as far as I can take this little interlude. I’ll publish my review of Part Two in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then on Tuesday, will publish Part Three’s “unofficial” review, and later on, a final conclusion based on Torah study.