Tag Archives: Marriage Equality

Why Does the Supreme Court Get to Define Marriage?

I wasn’t going to write about the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationally, but I read something on Facebook that changed my mind.

Actually, it was something I wrote in response to another person’s post, plus a few other comments I’ve seen crop up in the religious blogosphere that prompted this particular “meditation.”

What is marriage?

Oh gee, is that all. How do we define marriage?

Rather than go into a complex set of situational, societal, moral, and religious variables, let’s stick with whatever it is that gives SCOTUS the right to define same-sex marriage as a right.

After all, there seems to be some online conservative push back that wants “the State” to keep out of our marriages. What gives the State the right to poke their noses into the state of matrimony?

At the level of two individuals committing their lives to one another, the answer is “nothing.” Any two people can approach the clergy-person of their choice and ask to be married. The kicker comes in when you include a marriage license.

Why does something sanctioned by God need to be licensed by the State?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

Taking that quote in isolation, it seems to send a pretty clear message. The “institution” of marriage is sanctioned by God. Couples, in the context of the Bible in general and Matthew 19 specifically,  are made up of one man and one woman, are joined together by God and no person (or presumably human institution) should separate that union.

supreme court
The Supreme Court Justices

So if God joins two people together, why does anyone need a marriage license issued by the state where they are to be married?

So that the state, and the nation (and really, the world) will legally recognize that marriage.

Why do we need that?

Well, for tax reasons for one thing. Haven’t you made decisions about tax exemptions based on whether or not you’re married and how many kids you have?

What about making someone who was once a stranger legally into a family member. This has terrific advantages if you get into an accident and are hospitalized, since your legal spouse, but not someone you’re just living with, has rights as far as visiting you in such a medical setting.

And if, heaven forbid, the marriage doesn’t work out and you two don’t see eye-to-eye about things like alimony or child support payments, the fact that you were in a legal marital relationship allows the court to administer said-relationship’s dissolution and issue orders for the caretaking and well-being of the financially disadvantaged spouse (if necessary) and any dependent children.

If you remove the state from all that, then you may have a marriage sanctioned by God, but you’ll have a heck of a time managing or even acquiring anything close to the legal rights you have relative to each other as a married couple as well as those to your children (although, even if you aren’t married to your partner, if you have biologically created a child with that person, you automatically have parental rights to said-child under most circumstances).

gay marriageAnd so we come to the matter of opposite-sex marriage vs. same-sex marriage as a legal entity.

This really has nothing to do with how God sees things and what combination of human beings He sanctions to be joined within marriage. SCOTUS doesn’t get to say “boo” about what God desires and what He allows. A select group of five lawyers (the five Supreme Court Justices who voted to legalize marriage equality) are only empowered to decide how marriage is legally defined in the United States. It doesn’t determine how marriage is defined morally or religiously to the slightest degree.

So in reality, Gay and Lesbian couples could have gotten married in an emotional and relational sense (and even a religious sense given the number of liberal churches and synagogues available) for years or even decades (or longer) in this country (or anywhere).

It’s only the matter of the State (big “S”) granting gay couples the same legal rights that opposite-sex married couples often tend to take for granted that is the issue.

The United States of America has become the 21st nation on the planet to legalize same-sex marriage with no variation within its individual states, provinces, or territories. If we want to determine the social consequences of legalizing marriage equality, including the long-term results of same-sex parenting, we might want to see if any of those other nations can be compared to us.

I am more than aware there is what amounts to a collective panic attack within various religious spheres relative to “Sodom and Gomorrah” being legalized (and just exactly what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that deserved a divine death penalty isn’t, at least Rabbinically, as straightforward as you might have been led to believe).

I’m also aware that of all the things Paul the Apostle addressed in his epistles, he never directly complained that idolatry and homosexuality were sanctioned within the Roman Empire.

He did preach against sexual immorality among the body of believers, but he never tried to change the laws of the prevailing society and culture in which these disciples lived.

Of course, there was no such a thing as “loving same-sex couples” or “marriage equality” in the Empire. To the best of my understanding, a Roman citizen could have a same-sex slave or non-citizen as a sexual partner as long (forgive me for being blunt) as the citizen was the “penetrator” and never the “penetratee”. Turns out these “relationships” were more about dominance and power and less (if at all) about love and affection, at least as far as the historical record is concerned.

Apostle Paul preachingSo if the matter of homosexuality was ever on the Apostle’s radar, it was only in terms of those individuals making up the ekklesia of Messiah. For the Jewish members, it probably was already a well-known norm and Torah commandment. Paul most likely only had to deal with those non-Jews coming out of paganism whereby same-sex sex may have been involved as part of the local cultic temple practices or some such thing.

Given Paul’s example, do we need to start a revolution and overthrow our government in order to stop the national “sin” of marriage equality? Rome fell (and if homosexual practices were part of the Empire’s downfall, I have no way of telling), and no doubt at some point, so will the United States. I don’t think we can stop it.

As much as that might be a heartbreaker for you or for me, the only nation that really matters to God as far as being eternal is Israel.

SCOTUS has made a ruling involving the legal definition of marriage for our nation as related to the rights and responsibilities of married and divorced (or divorcing) couples in terms of each other and their children.

Anyone who desires to become legally married is really wanting to enter into a contractual relationship with another human being to gain certain financial advantages and other rights. In that sense, any two reasonable human beings should have that right, since it primarily is a right they acquire relative to each other and to the government (remember tax exemptions). It’s also a legal entity that is designed, however imperfectly, to protect children should one or both parents decide they don’t want to behave responsibly.

I am aware that are a lot of other collateral issues that legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide brings up, but I’m not going to address any of them. Plenty of other bloggers, news writers, and social and religious pundits can, will, and probably have already done so.

I just thought the little but important detail of what marriage is legally as separated from its relational, romantic, moral, and religious reality needed to be teased out and brought to the forefront for a little bit, just so we could take a look at what SCOTUS did in context.

Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson

I’ve reviewed such books as God and the Gay Christian and God Vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality, and while I had to agree, based on what I read, that the “anti-Gay” message of the Bible isn’t nearly as definitive as Evangelical Christianity seems to believe, I also found no presumption for God’s sanctioning the marriage of “loving same-sex couples” within either the covenant people of Israel or the ekklesia of Messiah (body of Christ).

If two secular same-sex people want to get married, legally, in any state of the union, there’s nothing to stop them, and in most circumstances I can imagine, it has very little to do with we religious folk on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, if two same-sex people claim to be Christian or Torah-observant Jews and desire to become legally and God-sanctioned married, I still think there’s a problem, at least based on how I read the Bible.

Married same-sex couples are not represented or even presupposed in the Bible. I won’t speak to all of those secular gays who are married or who are going to become married. There are plenty of other laws in the U.S. I chafe against for various reasons, and some of them have more to do with my life as a believer and just plain human being than marriage equality.

All I will say, is that if you are Christian or a (an Orthodox) religious Jew, you’re gay, and you want your religious institution to sanction your marriage (believing God is sanctioning it, too), then I just don’t see a Biblical case for it. That’s out of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. God will have to make that judgment.

Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out already, then prepare to be inundated with all things rainbow in celebration of the SCOTUS decision. And I promise you that those rainbows have absolutely nothing to do with God’s covenant promise to all living things never again to flood the Earth.

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God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality: My Review of Part One

Why our fundamental values support, rather than oppose, equality for sexual minorities.

-Jay Michaelson
Introductory text for Part One of his book
God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality

I would suggest that you read the book “God vs. Gay by Jay Michaelson.” He’s a Jew and does a great job of exegeting the Hebrew scriptures.

-from a post on Facebook

Michaelson’s book is divided into two parts. Part One derives some basic principles from the Bible, such as love, fairness, compassion, and justice, to create a framework by which one can integrate people in “loving same-sex relationships” into the overarching intent if not the actual narrative of the Bible. Part Two is more about the “nuts and bolts” of the Biblical passages that speak of homosexuality, particularly those that appear to prohibit or condemn homosexual practices.

Today, I’m reviewing Part One.

First of all, I commend Mr. Michaelson as a writer. He’s clear, concise, easy to access, and even entertaining. If I were reading his book with an uncritical eye and had no particular viewpoint on the issues involved, I could see myself becoming convinced by him within about the first thirty pages or so of his book. I definitely can see those people who already possess attitudes like his or who tend to be sympathetic to the matters he raises being convinced pretty much right away. After all, who could possibly be against caring for vulnerable and injured human beings and standing up for the underdog?

On the other hand, to paint the proper portrait of the Bible establishing principles that support and even demand that same-sex partners in loving relationships belong in the Church and be accepted by Christianity (and also by Judaism), requires that he read and interpret Biblical passages from the broadest possible perspective.

Loneliness. “It is not good for the human being to be alone,” God says in Genesis 2:18. In context, this is a shocking pronouncement. Six times God has remarked how good everything is: light, heaven and earth, stars, plants, animals — all of these things are “good.” The entirety of creation is “very good.” Yet suddenly something is not good. Suddenly, God realizes there is something within the world as we find it that is insufficient, something all of us experience in our own lives and strive to transcend: the existential condition of being alone.

-Michaelson, p.5
Chapter 1: “It is not good for a person to be alone”

Michaelson’s treatment of scriptural quotes follows a pattern throughout the chapters in Part One of his book in that they are read from an overly broad viewpoint and often given an unusual or unique interpretation. After all, can God really be surprised? Did He not plan to form a counterpart for Adam from the very beginning? All of the created animals were created male and female. Were not human beings planned to be male and female as well? It seems rather odd that God should create Havah (Eve) as an afterthought and more odd still that, from Michaelson’s point of view, Eve, except for the part having to do with procreation, could easily have been replaced with a male. It’s a terrific stretch to say, as Michaelson seems to, that Genesis presupposes homosexual humanity.

What some folks don’t understand about the closet is that it’s not just a set of walls around sexual behavior. It’s a net of lies that affects absolutely everything in one’s life: how you dress, who you befriend, how you walk, how you talk. And how you love. How can anyone build authentic relationships under such conditions? And if you’re religious, how can you be honest with yourself and your God if you maintain so many lies, so many walls running right through the center of your soul?

-ibid, p.7

Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson

This is the other argument Part One presents. It’s not based on the Bible particularly but rather on the presentation of pain, isolation, and loneliness and the desire for companionship and community, including religious community.

On top of that, Michaelson declares “Sexual diversity is real” (p.10), and accesses some scientific evidence to establish that it is natural and normal for various creatures in the animal kingdom and for human beings to display said-diversity, inferring that since sexual diversity is (supposedly) in-born, it must be an intended creation of God’s and thus part of God’s plan for human beings.

However, this requires a tremendously skewed view of the Biblical text along with infusing popular opinion and modern progressive values on sexuality, both as it was considered in the ancient world and today, in order to come to this conclusion.

But he may have shot himself in the foot by stating the following (p.11):

…as I have remarked already, our current sexual categories are of relatively recent coinage.

It seems rather strange that all of recorded human history just “missed” this “coinage” and that “loving same-sex relationships” haven’t, in some sense, been the norm across all cultures across all time, but the terms and concepts associated with the modern LGBTQ community are only decades old (if that, in some cases). While, as Michaelson says, we have visual and textual evidence of homosexual practices in our history, their function, purpose, and meaning is hidden from us, or if not hidden, at odds with the current conceptualization of same-sex relationships being completely comparable to opposite-sex relationships.

But if Genesis is any guide, and if our conscience is any guide, then we must see that having people in love with one another, building homes and perhaps families together, is religiously preferable to its absence.

-ibid, p.12

Except I cannot derive this from anything in Genesis unless I read the chapter in the broadest and most allegorical sense. Certainly no literal or semi-literal reading of the text renders such a meaning, and no accepted exegetical praxis can automatically come to the conclusion Michaelson presents in his above-quoted words.

I could condense the next two chapters into the following statements and quotes.

What about Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians? Love demands that we read them narrowly, just as we read narrowly the commandments to stone rebellious children to death, or to sell people into slavery. They are already marginal texts — homosexuality never appears in the teachings of Jesus, or the Ten Commandments, and love does not erase them. But it does limit them.

-ibid, p.27
Chapter 3: “Love your neighbor as yourself”

oppressionThere are exegetical and logical errors in the quote above but it communicates Michaelson’s understanding of how to read the Bible and find acceptance of LGBTQ people in the community of faith. Here’s one more:

One New Testament scholar has written that “any interpretation of scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable.” This is a crucial point. If we approach “the question of homosexuality” as a legal, academic, or hermeneutical enterprise, we will get nowhere religiously. All the arguments work, and the anti-gay ones are just as clever as the pro-gay. No — to be responsible members of a faith tradition, we must first open our hearts, allow them to be broken by the heartrending stories of gays who have suffered from exclusion, plague, and self-loathing, and uplifted by inspiring stories of integration, love, and celebration.

-ibid, pp.28-29

I suppose I should add:

“All you need is love.”

-Lennon-McCartney (1967)

Sorry if that last bit sounded cynical, but Michaelson isn’t saying anything different from what I’ve read before. You’d think he’d want to bring out the “big guns” in the very beginning of his book to “hook” his doubting audience and cause them (us, me) to believe that the Bible has been so grossly misinterpreted due to cultural prejudice against gays that the “truth” has been hidden until now.

Unfortunately, he throws exegesis right out the window or at least replaces the complex matrix of interpretive methods we apply to the Bible with “all you need is love.”

If God doesn’t want people to suffer and we, as believers, don’t want to be unjust and cause needless suffering, then we must allow ourselves “to be broken by the heartrending stories of gays who have suffered from exclusion, plague, and self-loathing, and uplifted by inspiring stories of integration, love, and celebration.”

I’m sorry. I don’t want to be mean, cruel, and unfair, but the only thing Michaelson has established for me so far is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the Bible and how gay people experience their own identity and sexuality.

Chapter 3 ends with:

No religious tradition tells us to close our eyes, harden our hearts, and steel ourselves against the demands of love. Though it may occasionally offer us shelter in an uncertain world, rigidity of spirit is not the way to salvation. On the contrary, our diverse religious traditions demand that we be compassionate, loving, and caring toward others, even others whom we may not understand. The Golden Rule demands reciprocity and compassion, and basic equality. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; give them the same privileges, civilly and religiously, that you would want for yourself. These are core religious principles, found over and over again in the Bible and in thousands of years of religious teaching. Compassion demands that we inquire into the lives of gay people, and discover if the “other” is like us or not. Look for the truth, and you will find it, indeed, it will find you.

-ibid, p.29

BibleAs I said, Michaelson is a very talented, clever, and convincing writer. He also takes some general principles one can glean from the Bible and applies them to an arena that no Biblical scholar, saint, or tzaddik would have done at any point in the past. Where in the classic Christian commentaries or the judgments of the Talmudic sages is God’s intent expressed in the same manner as Michaelson’s? I can feel him attempting to tug at my heartstrings, but when I look back into the Bible or even into the secular historical record, I don’t find “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “loving same-sex monogamous relationships” written anywhere on any of their pages.

Then, starting in Chapter 4: “By the word of God were the heavens made,” Michaelson throws something new into the mix.

Homosexuality is normal. The sentence is simple, honest, and supported by science — and yet, to many religious people it may seem surprising, even blasphemous, at first. Yet sexual diversity is part of the fabric of nature, and if we believe that fabric to have been woven by God, then it is part of the mind of God as well. Same-sex behaviors are found in over one hundred species, from apes to elephants, guppies to macaques. Put in stark religious terms, sexual diversity is part of God’s plan.

-ibid, p.30

If it weren’t so tragically wrong that paragraph would be almost laughable. According to this “logic,” if something, anything exists in the world, it must be part of God’s plan and part of the “mind of God.” Really? What else exists in our broken and damaged world? War, rape, child abuse, robbery, prostitution, birth defects, divorce, death. Did God intend all of that when He created the universe?

No.

Our world became broken the first time a human being disobeyed a commandment from God, and it’s been broken ever since. In Christianity, it’s called “Original Sin”. Judaism has no such concept, but it does have Tikkun Olam, or “Repairing the World.” The idea is that the world is imperfect and requires that people participate in its perfection. It is accompanied by the idea that only the Messiah will be able to complete the task of fully perfecting the world, even though each and every one of us has a part in the “repair job”.

Either way you slice it, the world we live in isn’t the world God intended. It’s the world we created by human disobedience and human ego. You cannot say that God intended everything that is “natural” because death and suffering are natural, and are also the result of people, not God. Yes, God permits it, but only because we’ve earned it. We’ve got free will. We can screw up a free lunch. Thus Michaelson’s argument of “if it’s natural, it’s part of God’s plan” is dead wrong.

Dennis Prager in his article Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality paints human nature with very different brush strokes:

It is probably impossible for us, who live thousands of years after Judaism began this process, to perceive the extent to which undisciplined sex can dominate man’s life and the life of society. Throughout the ancient world, and up to the recent past in many parts of the world, sexuality infused virtually all of society.

Human sexuality, especially male sexuality, is polymorphous, or utterly wild (far more so than animal sexuality). Men have had sex with women and with men; with little girls and young boys; with a single partner and in large groups; with total strangers and immediate family members; and with a variety of domesticated animals. They have achieved orgasm with inanimate objects such as leather, shoes, and other pieces of clothing, through urinating and defecating on each other (interested readers can see a photograph of the former at select art museums exhibiting the works of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe); by dressing in women’s garments; by watching other human beings being tortured; by fondling children of either sex; by listening to a woman’s disembodied voice (e.g., “phone sex”); and, of course, by looking at pictures of bodies or parts of bodies. There is little, animate or inanimate, that has not excited some men to orgasm. Of course, not all of these practices have been condoned by societies — parent-child incest and seducing another’s man’s wife have rarely been countenanced — but many have, and all illustrate what the unchanneled, or in Freudian terms, the “un-sublimated,” sex drive can lead to.

Dennis Prager
Dennis Prager

Prager attributes Judaism and God’s insistence on monogamous male-female romantic/erotic relationships with the creation and sustainment of Western civilization. We don’t often think of heterosexual monogamous marriage as “revolutionary” but compared to what all of the pagan cultures before and after the establishment of Judaism and Christianity were practicing, it certainly was.

From Prager’s perspective, what is natural is actually contrary to rather than in compliance with the plan of God for humanity.

More from Chapter 4 of Michaelson, p.33:

Still other scientists have observed that, in animal species close to our own, sexuality performs many functions other than reproduction. Bonobo apes, for example, engage in sexual behavior to build all kinds of relationships, to establish power, and, apparently, for fun.

That’s supposed to counter the Christian/conservative argument that sex is exclusively or primarily for reproduction. Of course, most of us won’t argue that sex is also “fun,” but did God intend for us to imitate Bonobo apes? Sex to establish power is often called rape. In the Roman culture of time of the apostles, male Roman citizens would participate in same-sex sex, but only as the “penetrator” in order to establish power and control. Only non-citizens and slaves were to be the “receivers” of the “contact” with the Roman males.

Yes, sex can be used to establish all sorts of relationships as science and history testify, but this can hardly be mixed into God’s intent for human intimacy. Michaelson scrambles science and religion in a way that looks like a hot pan full of “failed omelet.”

Michaelson’s reliance on science includes results of various studies but what he fails to mention is that given the current political and social bias toward support of normalizing the LGBTQ community in western culture, no one is going to fund any scientific research that could even potentially come up with a result other than the desired one (that is, desired by social progressives). No scientific funding will ever be provided to discover why a small percentage (about 3 to 5 percent, although Michaelson says the figure could go as high as 10 percent) of the general human population is gay, including the possibility that this is not a “normal” and expected variance in human sexuality.

On page 40, Michaelson compares the diversity of human (and animal) sexuality to the differences in the colors of flowers. Just as God created flowers of different colors, He created people with different sexualities, which seems to be an extremely loose and dubious comparison.

In Chapter 5: “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” a Biblical statement prohibiting lying under oath in a legal proceeding, Michaelson grossly generalizes the scripture to being “in the closet,” a state in which all gay people must lie about every aspect of his/her life. Basically, being in the closet violates the word of God and “coming out” upholds being a “true witness”.

In the Jewish tradition, there’s a concept called “chillul hashem” — the profanation of God’s name. Anytime a religious person does something odious and it becomes public, it’s a chillul hashem: rabbis committing adultery, religious Jews convicted of bribery, and so on. Having spent a decade of my adult life in the closet, and a decade out of it, and having spent many years witnessing the effects of religiously justified hatred of gay people, I feel certain in my heart that the anti-gay distortion of religion is a great chillul hashem.

-ibid, p.43

It’s an interesting piece of logic. If lying or deceit is a desecration of God’s Name and truth sanctifies God’s Name, and if coming out of the closet is telling the truth, then “coming out” sanctifies God’s Name. Moreover, religious traditions that have historically contributed to the “bludgeoning, burning, and torturing of gay people, literally and figuratively for centuries” is a desecration of God’s Name.

Michaelson paints the reader into a corner, or he tries to, such that if the reader, for any reason whatsoever, is not completely supportive of the LGBTQ community being normalized within the local church and synagogue, then they are automatically committing “chillul hashem,” whether that is actually true from God’s point of view or not.

justiceDon’t get me wrong, I’m hardly supporting the “demonization” of gay people and certainly not contributing to verbal and physical harassment and injury of people based on sexual orientation, but I don’t think that the only other possible alternative is unconditional acceptance of all gay people everywhere into the ekklesia of Messiah without so much as a “by your leave.”

In most states, gay people can be fired from their jobs or denied housing because of their sexual orientation.

-ibid, p.48
Chapter 6: “Justice — justice you shall pursue”

True as far as it goes, but what does that have to do with religion and God? Well, as a principle, and especially in denominations and religious movements that emphasize social justice, it’s a call for Christians and Jews to support LGBTQ equal rights by advocating changes in the political arena, locally, statewide, and nationally.

Michaelson builds one concept upon the other so that, if the reader is convinced by his arguments up to this point, then as a kind and good person and a person of faith, they must take the next step and vote with their conscience, which means voting in support of all pro-gay initiatives.

After all, aren’t we to “love the stranger and not oppress him” (see Lev. 19:34)? Except the “stranger” or “ger” being referenced in that passage of scripture is the non-Israelite who, along with the widow and orphan, did not have an affiliation to a tribe and thus had few if any rights in Israelite society. It is a specific legal status that no longer exists as Israel is no longer tribal, and thus cannot be applied as Michaelson is doing.

He does make a good point on page 50 that, if we shun gays based on the Bible, why don’t we also shun people who are divorced for any reason other than marital infidelity (see Matt. 5:32)? It is true that Christians tend to treat “homosexual sin” differently than any other kind of sin. It would be better to be a convicted murder, have done your time, come out of prison and go to church than to be openly gay.

But having reached the end of Part One of Michaelson’s book, I hope you can see my problem with it. This author’s arguments are hardly iron clad and in fact, most of them are ephemeral and gossamer. Does this mean I hate gay people and want them to suffer? No, of course not. However, compassion does not presuppose unconditional acceptance of gays into the covenant community nor ignoring the fact that, even if Michaelson can possibly prove beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that the Bible (and thus God) never, ever condemns homosexual erotic activity, he may never be able to establish that the Bible directly supports marriage equality, at least beyond “establishing” some exceptionally broad principles from various scriptures taken very far out of their original contexts.

I’ll write my review of Part Two once I’ve finished reading Michaelson’s book.

Addendum: I know from reading Michaelson’s book that like most (or all) other gays and most of their “allies,” he strongly opposes what has been called “reparative therapy” also called “conversion therapy,” which is designed to assist a homosexual individual change his/her sexual orientation to heterosexuality. This therapy is considered by the LGBTQ community to be at best useless and at worst torturous, shaming, and potentially lethal (driving some gay people undergoing the therapy to attempt suicide). I can’t argue against their perspectives and the apparent negative effects this treatment has had on numerous gay people, but then again, if sexual orientation can never be changed, what do I do with people like this one?

Also, in anticipation of Michaelson’s arguments in Part Two of his book, I’m saving a link to my previous blog post Leviticus, Homosexuality, and Abominations here.

What Does God Want From Gay People?

BOISE — After a roller coaster of court rulings, the wait is over for same-sex marriage supporters.

The Ada County Courthouse issued the first licenses to Andrea Altmayer and Sheila Robertson minutes after 10 a.m. Wednesday, to cheers from those waiting in line.

Altmayer and Robertson were among the four couples who brought a lawsuit challenging Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 9th Circuit Court ruled Monday that marriage licenses could be issued in Idaho beginning Wednesday morning. The order was the latest in a roller coaster of court decisions.

-Katie Terhune, 2:34 p.m. MDT October 15, 2014
“Same-sex marriage begins in Idaho”
KTVB.com

Love doesn’t always look like love.

When I published this blog post two weeks ago, I was prepared for some people to applaud it, and for others to condemn it. That’s what happens whenever you put an opinion out there.

I was fully prepared for the waves of both support and hostility that accompany any vantage point on anything, especially a controversial topic like sexuality.

What I was not prepared for in any way were the literally hundreds and hundreds of people who have reached out to me personally to thank me for bringing some healing and hope to their families. Parents, children, siblings, and adults have confided in me (some for the first time anywhere), telling of the pain, and bullying, and shunning they’re received from churches, pastors, and church members — from professed followers of Jesus.

Scores of people from all over the world have shared with me their devastating stories of exclusion and isolation, of unanswered prayers to change, of destructive conversion therapies, of repeated suicide attempts, and of being actively and passively driven from faith by people of faith.

-John Pavlovitz, Rogue Pastor and Writer
Posted 10/16/2014 1:20 pm EDT, edited 1:59 pm
“Distorted Love: The Toll of Our Christian Theology on the LGBT Community”
The Huffington Post

I don’t have a lot of use for the Huff Post. I read some of their articles, but because they are just as skewed to the left as Fox News is to the right, I can’t see any particular advantage of choosing one over the other, so I don’t consider either reliably credible sources of information.

But given that “marriage equality” has come even to Idaho, and since the Huff Post article was posted to Facebook by someone I admire and respect, I am once again revisiting this topic.

Oh, I’ve been here before. I’ve reviewed Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian,” criticized controversial Pastor John MacArthur on his abysmal advice to parents of gay children, and otherwise commented on the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community within their/our midst here, here, and here (and that’s only a partial list).

michaelsonIn my continued attempt to see what other people are seeing and how they resolve the apparent conflict of cleaving to the Bible as the Word of God and yet accepting actively gay couples into the community of faith, another in a long series of books as been recommended to me: Jay Michaelson’s God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. I don’t high hopes that Mr. Michaelson will be any more successful at showing me what I seem to be missing any more than anyone else has. All of the argument for supporting the acceptance of marriage equality within the Church and Synagogue must either drastically re-write (or at least radically reinterpret) the Bible or baldly insert what isn’t actually there.

I can’t find “loving gay couples” in the Bible, certainly not within the covenant community, nor is what we now call “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” even faintly presupposed in the Biblical text. I can purchase a used copy of Mr. Michaelson’s book for less than a dollar on Amazon, so I risk little in buying and reading what he wrote (and I risk even less because I just discovered his book is available at my local public library).

The core of every gay Christian’s (or ally’s) argument in support of gays participating in the Church while in same-sex romantic/erotic relationships (legally married or otherwise) is that “Jesus is love”. OK, I’m grossly oversimplifying the argument, but stripped down to its nuts and bolts, that’s it.

Pastor Pavlovitz’s article focuses on the damage done to various gay individuals when rejected by their churches and told that their actions and even their desires are sinful (which, by the way, was also a large part of Matthew Vines’ argument). The readers are meant to feel compassion for human beings who were born to desire members of their own sex rather than the opposite. The fault in all this is either God’s or in how we interpret the Bible.

I’m willing to accept the latter argument if you can convincingly show me where the error exists. I’m an advocate for (in theory) taking our understanding of Biblical exegesis “back to formula” and building it up from scratch, since two-thousand years of Christian and Jewish tradition have skewed how we define “sound doctrine” and obliterated how the original writers and readers of the Bible would have understood the message contained therein.

But what I see instead is the desire to not correctly understand the message of the Bible and then conform our lives to a behavioral standard set by God for humanity, but the requirement to fit the Bible into the current societal standards set by progressive cultural and political imperatives.

Besides the recent tide of Federal judicial decisions ordering various states to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Houston (Texas) Mayor Annise Parker and her administration’s subpoenas of the sermons of several local Pastors in relation to a lawsuit regarding the so-called “HERO” (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance ) legislation complicates the “war” between religion and the political structures supporting LGBTQ desires.

Parker
Houston Mayor Annise Parker

And I don’t know what to do with the overwhelming flood of anecdotal reports from people who say they were “born this way” and have never known any other way to relate romantically or sexually. I can’t say “no, that’s not how you feel” or “you are giving in to sinful impulses” when I have no ability whatsoever to experience that person’s reality. On top of that, most religious people who have the concept of sin know, at least on some level, when they’re sinning. But if what straight Christians consider sin is experienced only as love (or maybe sometimes just desire) by gay Christians, what am I to say to that?

I’m looking for an answer one way or the other. Unfortunately, Pavlovitz ends his article only with this:

We are losing credibility to those outside organized Christianity, not because we’re “condoning sin” but because when the rubber meets the road, we really don’t know how to “love the sinner” in any way that remotely resembles Jesus, and our “God is love” platitudes ring hollow.

Church, this is our legacy that we are building in these days to the LGBT community and those who love them, and I assure you it’s not a legacy of love.

I don’t know what the answer is for you, and I can’t tell you how your theology gets expressed in the trenches of real people’s lives. I only know that we as Christ’s church can do better, regardless of our theological stance. We have to do better.

This is where our faith is proven to be made of Jesus-stuff or not.

This is where the love of God we like to preach about is either clearly seen or terribly distorted.

I don’t really care about whatever credibility or lack thereof those outside the religious community see in Christianity since we are supposed to please God, not people. Also, in suggesting that Christianity doesn’t know how to “love the sinner,” he is at least hinting that there’s some sort of sin involved in homosexuality, though I doubt he meant to send that message.

While I agree that “demonizing” gay people is not how the Church should respond to them, I do agree that Jesus didn’t die to excuse or cover up sin but rather, to forgive it (once the sinner has sincerely repented). And again, I crash headlong into the issue of sin vs. (presumably) in-born orientation and behavioral expression of said-orientation.

If we are to respond to all sins as being “the same” with no one type of sin being better or worse than another, then I get it. We can’t react to a gay person in the Church any differently than a bank robber, embezzler, or drug abuser in the Church. Gay sin isn’t any more “icky” than embezzlement sin.

But that’s not the issue from Pavlovitz’s perspective or anyone else who supports wholehearted acceptance of the LGBTQ community within the covenant community. The issue is love equals acceptance and that being gay isn’t a sin, it’s a life. It’s built-in, and that being the case, God must approve since God made the person to be gay even as he made me to be straight.

But there’s no “smoking gun” in the Bible, and to the best of my knowledge, Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, Solomon, Jesus, Peter, and Paul…well, none of them were gay nor were any of them in a “loving same-sex relationship”.

Despite the vast number of laws and commandments, both biblical and rabbinic, the rabbis insist that sometimes we are beholden to an even higher standard. This is the idea of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, beyond the letter of the law. The sages recognize that one can observe the commandments and still engage in deplorable behavior, and they call one who does this naval b’reshut ha-torah, a scoundrel within the bounds of the law.

-from Walking with the Mitzvot, p.27
Edited by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
and Rabbi Patricia Fenton
Published by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
aju.edu (PDF)

So who is observing the commandments and still engaging in “deplorable behavior” as far as the current debate goes, the Church or the gay Christians in it? I suppose that remains to be seen.

flag

I’m going to the library in a few minutes (as I write this, I’ve already started the book as you read this) to check out the Michaelson book. I’ll try again. I want to be fair. But more than that, I want to do what God wants me to do. I’m pretty lousy at that sometimes, but I’ve got to keep trying.

John MacArthur: What’s the Biggest Danger to the Church?

Famed pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, recently reacted to denominations that have taken more liberal approaches to gay marriage, among other issues, telling The Blaze that “they have no allegiance to the Bible.”

MacArthur, author of “Being a Dad Who Leads,” said that these denominations — like Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently voted to allow same-sex nuptials — and their associated seminaries have been skirting scriptural tenets for decades.

He patently described them as “false churches” that fail to teach biblical truths.

-Billy Hallowell
‘They Are Satan’s Church’: Famed Pastor’s Tough Message for Christian Denominations Condoning Homosexuality, Jul. 14, 2014
The Blaze

I guess you could say that John MacArthur is at it again. Nearly a year ago, he held his infamous Strange Fire Conference where he and a group of like-minded Pastors took Charismatics and the Pentecostal Church to task for their various failings as MacArthur sees them.

Now, he’s come up with a new label: “Satan’s Church.”

In this case, that appellation is used to describe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) specifically because of their support of and advocacy for gay marriage in their churches. I wonder if there is another conference in MacArthur’s near future to be closely followed by another published book? I suppose he could save himself the trouble, since Michael Brown recently wrote his own book on gays and the church called Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality. Coincidentally, this book was released very soon after Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships which I reviewed a couple of months back. I have also addressed other commentaries on this topic including a brief article describing MacArthur’s advice to Christian parents with gay children.

But believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about gays in the church (or gays at all) in this “meditation.” I’m not super-duper concerned about some liberal churches offering inclusiveness and equality to disenfranchised populations such at the LBGTQ community. If I have anything against the PCUSA church at all, it has to do with their current strategy of disinvestment from Israel. You know, Israel, where there’s currently a war going on (I picked that story from Arutz Sheva just because it is the most recent one published as I write this)?

It seems as if MacArthur’s reputation, what I know of it anyway, is built upon who or what he is against rather than who or what he supports. This is a pretty common tactic and I run into it all the time in the religious blogosphere. Actually, some of the more “notorious” blogs within my awareness have been rather quiet lately. Maybe people are learning that continually engaging in controversy and fomenting “us vs. them” arguments within the community of faith doesn’t really serve the cause of Heaven (but then, what am I doing now?).

Seems MacArthur hasn’t gotten the memo on this yet.

Frankly, if I had to choose between being upset because a church advocates for marriage equality or a church advocates throwing national Israel and the Jewish people under a bus, I’d get upset over the latter. If MacArthur wants to impress me (and I’m sure he doesn’t since my existence would be less than nothing to him…thankfully), he can stand up in support of Israel’s struggle against terrorism.

So I became curious. What does MacArthur think…not of the final destiny of Israel in God’s plan, but of Israel as she exists today?

It wasn’t easy to find out, at least in text form. I finally found a short video (two minutes, eleven seconds) where “Mac” put his opinion in a nutshell.

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

Basically he says that national Israel today is vulnerable, in constant danger, and the Jews are an abused and beleaguered people. Why? Because of God’s Divine judgment against Israel for rejecting her Messiah.

I hate to sound snarky but I sometimes wonder if MacArthur ever reads the Bible. I know he must because MacArthur is a staunch advocate of reading and studying the Bible (though I have issues with some of his study recommendations). It’s one of his strengths and he encourages every Christian to read the Bible frequently:

Bible study begins with reading. Yet, quite frankly, a lot of people never get to that point. At best, they nibble at the text. They may read books about the Bible or devotional materials loosely based on it, but they don’t read the Bible itself. Good Christian books and magazines that supplement your Bible reading are fine, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture.

Which makes it all the more difficult for me to understand where MacArthur got the crazy idea that God would ever judge or punish Israel for rejecting the Messiah. The Torah is replete with the conditions Israel must meet to obey God and the consequences for disobedience. Over the many years I’ve been reading and studying the Torah and the rest of the Bible, I have never found even a single verse where God directly addresses Israel stating that they would be exiled, abused, punished, judged, beleaguered, or anything else, specifically for rejecting the Messiah.

In fact, the Torah, the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) really, barely addresses the Messiah, particularly in terms of Israel’s acceptance or rejection of him. There are no blessings for recognizing and welcoming the Messiah and no consequences for failing to recognize or rejecting the Messiah.

Period.

So Israel’s exile from her Land nearly two-thousand years ago, the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, had nothing to do with “rejecting Jesus.” Orthodox Judaism tends to believe the most recent exile was due to the baseless hatred of one Jew for another although there are other opinions. If you want a more Biblical approach, study Torah Portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) and read a few commentaries for good measure. If you find anything in the curses about rejecting Jesus, please let me know.

IsraelWhile MacArthur’s opinion about the reason for Israel’s exile can’t be supported by the Bible, he also believes Israel continues to exist because God is going to save Israel. In the above-mentioned video, MacArthur states that just before all the nations of the Earth turn against Israel and go to war against her, God will save Israel by having them accept Jesus as the Messiah. Once they do and the worldwide attack against the Jewish nation begins, God will defend Israel:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves.

Zechariah 12:10-14 (NASB)

In searching for material regarding MacArthur’s views on the modern state of Israel, I came across a 2009 commentary by Russell D. Moore called Should We Support Israel? which says in part:

Dispensationalists have served the church by pointing us to our responsibility to support the Jewish people and the nation of Israel through a century that has seen the most horrific anti-Semitic violence imaginable.

We need not hold to a dispensationalist view of the future restoration of Israel (and I don’t) to agree that such support is a necessary part of a Christian eschatology (and I do).

Novelist Walker Percy pointed to the continuing existence of Jewish people as a sign of God’s presence in the world. There are no Hittites walking about on the streets of New York, he remarked.

There does appear to be a promise of a future conversion of Jewish people to Christ (Rom 9-11). The current secular state of Israel is not the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham; Jesus is.

That seems to be more or less what MacArthur is saying. There’s nothing “special” about current, secular Israel and its only unique quality is that God made an eternal promise to that nation above all other nations and God will fulfill His promise by redeeming Israel in the eschatological future. He seems to miss that Israel’s existence at all is a miracle of God and the beginning of His fulfillment of His promises to restore national Israel and return the Jewish exiles to their Land. In fact, less than a week ago, 400 Jews made aliyah from France even in the face of the current hostilities with Hamas. Those French Jews returning to their homeland are a dramatic indication that God, even now, is making good on His prophetic Word to Israel.

But along with Moore, MacArthur appears to think that all of the Jewish people will turn to Jesus, that is, convert to Christianity (though they’ll remain ethnically Jewish) and only then God will save them from their enemies.

JerusalemThat’s hardly the way I’d put it since such a viewpoint devalues current Israel and all Jewish people living today, and also replaces the Jewish people as a distinct entity with “the Church”.

Based on MacArthur’s video, he likely sees the current battles between Israel and Hamas as just another expression of God’s Divine judgment against an unbelieving Jewish nation. That would make the vicious terrorist organization Hamas an instrument of God’s judgment against the Jews, the latest in a long, long list, according to how a lot of Evangelicals see Jewish history. The Church can be very hard on Israel. More’s the pity.

In Sunday school class recently, when Charlie was asking for prayer requests, I asked for prayer for Israel. Apparently citing Psalm 122:6, he said we (Christians) are commanded to pray for the peace of Israel. You don’t hear about Christians being commanded to do very much typically, particularly in a Church setting. It was refreshing.

Yes, we should pray for the peace of the only nation that has had God as their King, the world’s only fully functional theocracy, and the only nation that is the direct object of all of the New Covenant promises of God.

MacArthur needs another windmill to tilt at and this time he’s chosen the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of their views on gay marriage. Will gays in the Church be a big focus of God’s as His redemptive plan for Israel and the rest of the world continues to move forward? How many prophecies are there regarding homosexuality within the covenant community vs. how many are there about the New Covenant, the Messianic Kingdom, and the redemption of national Israel? I’ll let you do the math.

For me, at the end of the day, it’s not that I’m against PCUSA, but rather that I stand with Israel because God stands with Israel…and He will take care of her.

“And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NASB)

Book Review: God and the Gay Christian

My core argument is not simply that some Bible passages have been misinterpreted and others have been given undue weight. My larger argument is this: Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. Instead of accepting the divide between moderate and progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it, this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters — without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible.

-Matthew Vines
“Reclaiming Our Light — An Introduction,” pg 3
God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines is an openly gay Christian speaker and LGBT activist, known for the viral video “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” on YouTube. Vines grew up in Wichita, Kansas, having interests in performing arts, speaking and writing.

-from Wikipedia

Note: The featured image at the top of this blog post will make more sense when to get to the end to this article.

Vines is an Evangelical Christian who is seeking to not only establish that the Bible does not actively condemn loving, monogamous, homosexual relationships, but actually supports them, and he’s going to try and do that using a high view of the Bible.

I’ve seen other resources, primarily online, from various progressive churches that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community by taking a low view of the Bible, that is, by not accepting that the Bible is inerrant and ultimately the authoritative Word of God. It’s more of a set of “guidelines” and therefore, the sections of the Bible condemning homosexual behavior are not to be taken literally or, they were social norms that were once valid in ancient societies but have no application in the modern world of faith.

Vines, by contrast, embraces the full authority of the Bible but believes it has been misinterpreted and misapplied, resulting in the Evangelical Church’s long condemnation of homosexual behavior and of gay people, including the gay Christians in their (our) midst.

The approach Vines uses has an unanticipated parallel with what I’ve been trying to do. In my world (if you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know what my perspectives are), I believe that the Evangelical Church has misinterpreted Scripture and mistakenly concluded that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” rendering it obsolete for both Gentile and Jewish disciples of the Master, replacing Israel with the Church. My purpose has been to attempt to convince Evangelicals of this misinterpretation and to see that both ancient and modern Jesus-believing Jews were and are still in covenant relationship with God through the Sinai covenant as well as the emergent New Covenant (I should note that based on my reading of his book, Vines seems to be a classic supersessionist, but for the purposes of my review, I won’t hold that against him *wink*).

But the parallel in our attempts to convince Evangelicals to reconsider how they view the Bible breaks down almost immediately. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at the reasons Vines believes Evangelicals should re-evaluate how they read the Bible relative to LGBT Christians:

  1. First, we saw that a categorical rejection of same-sex relationships has been deeply damaging to gay Christians.
  2. …we saw that the concept of same-sex orientation did not exist in the ancient world. Prior to recent generations, same-sex behavior was widely understood to be the product of sexual excess, not the expression of sexual orientation.
  3. …the church has an established tradition affirming that lifelong celibacy should be voluntarily chosen, not mandated. Maintaining a condemnation of same-sex relationships would require us to revise that teaching.

TorahSince point two is most applicable to an actual examination of Scripture, I want to focus on why Vine believes (and I agree with his perspective here) those portions of the Bible condemning homosexuality do not address sexual orientation as we understand the concept today.

Vine says there are six major Bible verses used by Evangelicals to support the condemnation of Homosexual behavior: Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10. One by one, Vines addresses each of these points but he might as well have saved himself the trouble because of a few details that make those arguments moot.

As we saw in Chapter 2, same-sex relations in the first century were not thought to be the expression of an exclusive sexual orientation. They were widely understood to be the product of excessive sexual desire in general. This understanding, I want to stress, cannot be reduced to a mere misconception. It was a reflection of widespread cultural practices that differ greatly from modern ones.

-Vines, pg 106

Vines expands on this matter greatly in Chapter 2: “Telescopes, Tradition, and Sexual Orientation.” Dating back to the days of Moses and extending up through the first century CE, the available Biblical and historical information indicates that any same-sex behavior we witness in these records was related to issues of ritual idolatry or status. Homosexual and heterosexual temple prostitutes were part of many pagan rites in the ancient near east and we can certainly see Leviticus 18:22 applied to that context, particularly since many of the prohibitions listed in the Torah have to do with warning the Israelites away from worshiping “foreign gods.”

Homosexual acts as sexual excess and establishing status relate specifically to anal penetration with the individual doing the penetrating having the higher status. Vine establishes, and again, I agree, that in each of these cases, the men and women involved in homosexual acts were also participating in heterosexual acts. This wasn’t a matter of sexual orientation whereby the homosexual person has no choice about being attracted to same-sex people. These were people who indulged in pleasurable sexual (and other) activities for the sake of pleasure and perhaps status (Master vs. slave, Older male vs. younger male), but who had heterosexual relationships/marriages for the purposes of procreation (see Prager’s article Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality).

So how did we get to where we are today? The modern understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation began to develop among an elite group of German psychiatrists in the late 19th century. Prior to 1869, the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality didn’t exist…Even then, while some doctors began to think of same-sex attraction as an exclusive sexual orientation, that understanding didn’t begin to gain wide acceptance until the middle of the 20th century.

-ibid, pg 42

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

The heart of Vines’ argument is that none of the Bible passages in question could possibly have to do with sexual orientation or a “loving, committed, monogamous” same-sex relationship because, as such, the concept of sexual orientation didn’t then exist and was not the focus of the Biblical sexual prohibitions.

As far as that goes, Vines makes a good case, but the best he can say is that the Bible is silent on sexual orientation. Of course, we have no idea if human beings experienced homosexuality as an exclusive sexual orientation in ancient times. We only know that such experiences don’t exist in our historical record, nor do they seem to be presupposed by the Bible. Each and every marital relationship described within the context of the covenant people of God was heterosexual, that is, between a man and a woman (or between one man and several woman in the case of men like Abraham, Jacob, and David). There are no normative examples of romantic and marital relationships between two men or two women within the covenant community.

I stress that point because Vines not only wants to discredit the condemnation of homosexuality oriented people based on the Bible, he wants to establish that the Bible can be used to support marriage equality. While he does well in his first argument, he flounders in the second.

Addressing whether or not same-sex couples can become “one flesh,” Vines states:

In Ephesians 5:31-32, the phrase “one flesh” is said to be a mystery that relates to Christ and the church. The relationship between Christ and the church does not involve sexual union or anatomical difference…Not only does Ephesians 5 never mention gender-determined anatomical differences, it focuses instead on the fact that husbands and wives are part of the same body.

So according to Ephesians, gender difference is not necessary to become one flesh in the Bible’s understanding of those words. What is necessary is that two lives are joined as one in the context of a binding covenant.

-ibid, pg 149

In my opinion, Vines is playing fast and loose with his Biblical hermeneutics and sinking into eisegesis, or projecting what he wants to see in the lines between the Bible verses. Stepping back and taking a longer view, as I said above, the Bible never presupposes same-sex couples in a normalized marriage within the covenant community of Judaism or later, the early Christian ekklesia. The overarching template of sanctified marital relationships in the Bible is one man and one woman.

On the one hand, Vines says that the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality do not apply to sexual orientation and thus the validity of modern same-sex bonding, but on the other hand, he attempts to force the scriptures to sanction modern same-sex bonding based on how those scriptures define marriage, including Ephesians 5. I don’t think he can have his cake and eat it too.

What about Vines’ other two points?

holding handsIn Chapter 3: “The Gift of Celibacy,” Vines challenges Evangelical Christianity’s “answer” to gays in the Church: life-long celibacy. Vines believes it is cruel to force a gay person who is devoted to Jesus Christ and who loves God to remain sexually unfulfilled for their entire lives, deprived of the same love and companionship that straight couples in the Church enjoy. He says that orientation is not a choice and Vines as well as all other gay people cannot simply change who he is/they are attracted to. Celibacy is unsustainable in a human existence, and Vines provided compassionate stories of gay Christians whose lives were tremendously and negatively impacted by attempting to follow this Church “policy.”

Vines correctly points out, using a number of heartrending examples, how Christian families have been torn apart by a gay child coming out, which has led to gay Christians leaving their churches and their faith, parting from their families, abusing drugs and alcohol, and even committing suicide. All this because the Church demands they either change something about themselves they find impossible to change or to deny that part of themselves by remaining celibate and alone forever.

But I think Vines’ argument comes down to the following:

Instead of asking whether it’s acceptable for the church to deny gay Christians the possibility of sexual fulfillment in marriage, we should ask a different question. Is it acceptable to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a God-reflecting covenant?

-ibid, pg 161

Vines began his book by saying he intended to provide evidence to support the supposition that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as an orientation and does not condemn loving, monogamous same-sex relationships, and I think, based on how we understand the history of homosexuality in the ancient world, he makes a good case. But his evidence for Biblical support of same-sex relationships based on sexual orientation up to and including marriage equality is much weaker and seems to come down to whether or not the Church thinks it’s being fair to gay Christians.

He cannot, in my opinion, make the Bible support same-sex marriages within the Church, but he can make a credible appeal for compassion and even mercy. I don’t deny his love for God, nor can I deny his experience, or the experience of myriads of other gay people who say that they have no choice in the matter, they are attracted sexually and romantically only to members of the same sex. Further, I can be compassionate about the struggles of forced celibacy (the New Testament generally treats celibacy as voluntary and even as a “spiritual gift”).

So, what’s the answer? I don’t have one. Relative to writing a book review, I don’t need to produce one. All I have to do is render an opinion whether or not the author successfully made his case. I must admit, I have been challenged in terms of the Biblical statements regarding homosexual behavior as addressing excesses in indulgence rather than orientation as such, but still see no active Biblical support for acceptance of marriage equality within the Christian Church.

Does that mean I’m being mean or cruel? Vines separates Christians into either those who affirm homosexuality or the non-affirming group. I guess I’m still in the latter category, which is too bad.

BiblicallyI have a confession to make. I was hoping Vines would deliver a devastating argument that I would find impossible to refute Biblically, a real “game-changer” that would permit me in all clear conscience based on sound scriptural exegesis to accept that homosexual orientation and monogamous same-sex bonding was sanctioned or at least permitted by God. It would resolve a great deal of dissonance between my current Biblical perspective and my desire to be compassionate and accepting.

So where does that leave me? Can I accept that a person can be gay and authentically a Christian, in “right relationship” with God through their faith in Jesus Christ? How can I hold a person accountable for something they experience as out of their control, as inseparable from their identity and personality? I don’t know. I don’t know if our understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation existed before the late 19th century. There’s no evidence it did, but who writes the history books?

On the other hand, who wrote the Bible? If God intended same-sex couples to be normalized within the covenant community, why isn’t there any indication in the Bible?

As far as my understanding of how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant and the continuance of the Torah mitzvot as an obligation for ancient and modern Jewish Jesus-believers, I find a great deal of Biblical and scholarly evidence as presented by many New Testament theologians. Vines has virtually no Biblical evidence of support for marriage equality, and his only scholarly source, and it’s a good one, is Dr. James Brownson. Dr. Brownson’s son came out as gay at the age of eighteen, resulting in Brownson authoring the book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships.

I mentioned before that the best I can say about Vines’ book is that the Bible is silent about how it views same-sex attraction as an orientation, since the concept didn’t exist Biblically and historically. I don’t know what that means for gay Christians, but I think it’s premature to say that it is a “requirement of Christian faithfulness” for believers to “show that supporting LGBT people is not at odds with being a faithful Christian.” (pg 183)

To learn more about Matthew Vines, please go to his website. You should also visit The Reformation Project which…

…exists to train Christians to support and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Through building a deep grassroots movement, we strive to create an environment in which Christian leaders will have the freedom to take the next steps toward affirming and including LGBT people in all aspects of church life.

-from their About page.

One last thing. I purchased this book through AbeBooks.com but the actual seller was Housing Works. According to the bookmark included with my purchase:

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.

AdvocateWhile this doesn’t have a direct relationship with Vines’s book, it does serve as a reminder that there have always been disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and vulnerable populations among us that for one reason or another, we demonize, marginalize, or ignore. The Bible is God’s revelation to human beings in written form, a record of God’s interaction with His greatest creation: people. What it shouldn’t be is a straitjacket that binds us so tightly that we fail to act with compassion, kindness, and mercy. We all are, after all, created in the image of God.

God’s image does not have a sexuality or sexual orientation, but it does provide us with the ability to choose who we are in relationship to God and to each other. We can also choose to behave lovingly and with respect to all others who have the same image, including people who experience grave disadvantage, sometimes just because of how we choose to interpret the Bible.

So far, I know the Bible doesn’t automatically condemn LGBT people. Beyond that, I’m still learning. The one thing I do know though, is that it’s no sin to care about someone, even if they aren’t the same as you. If that’s a mistake, I’ll choose to err on the side of compassion.

Preparing to Review “God and the Gay Christian”

“God and the Gay Christian is a game changer. Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith. With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace. Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Faith Unraveled”
found at Amazon.com

This isn’t the sort of book I’d normally read, and especially the sort of book I’d pay for, but I found a book review on this text, and it’s quite compelling to consider that someone would say there’s supportive data in the Bible for “loving same-sex relationships”. A surface reading of both the Old and New Testaments would seem to suggest otherwise, but the debate continues to rage regarding the accuracy (let alone “truth”) of this matter. One such debate can be found in the comments section of The Christian Post article Evangelicals Review Matthew Vines’ “God and the Gay Christian” Book, while LGBTQNation.com has a very different viewpoint.

Whenever I’m concerned that my conservative religious, social, and political bias is overwhelming my ability to fairly view an issue like this, I check in with my daughter who is supportive of marriage equality and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. Given her perspective, she continues to think that equality in secular society is one thing, but that it’s a step too far to say that the Bible actually supports and endorses homosexual behavior.

That’s been my perspective as well (for a representative but not exhaustive list of my blog posts on this matter, click on this link). I haven’t reviewed a book like Vines’ before, but I have reviewed a series of reviews of a book called Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe written by the late John Boswell. My conclusion of the author’s supposition that the Church performed same-sex marriages in antiquity and thus, the modern Church should perform same-sex marriages today, is that it was pretty much wishful thinking on Boswell’s part.

I will agree that the Bible generally does not speak of same-sex relationships in a negative light when they occur outside the community of faith. However, for those who are joined to God in a covenant relationship (i.e. the Jewish people) or those of us (i.e. Gentile Christians) who are grafted in and enjoy certain covenant blessings, the story (in my humble opinion) is different.

But I can’t get ahead of myself and I want to be fair. My concern is that this book will be reviewed almost exclusively along emotional, political, and social lines rather than based on an evaluation of the author’s research in comparison to scripture. That is, if you are a liberal Christian or Jew, you’ll love the book. If you’re a conservative Christian or Jew, you’ll hate it. It’s a knee-jerk response from either side of the aisle. You almost don’t even have to read the book in order to render a strongly held opinion.

I’d like the opportunity to look at Vines’ work while minimizing my “visceral response”. I should say that a lot of how one reviews such a book depends a great deal on the interpretative matrix used to understand the Bible. Evangelical Christians will use proof texts from the Old and New Testaments to speak against homosexuality while simultaneously saying the Old Testament laws (which by definition should include those laws that address homosexuality) are dead (for details about a Jewish viewpoint on homosexuality, read Homosexuality and Halakhah).

Liberal Christians and Jews won’t necessarily speak against the literal words of the Bible, but they will reinterpret them in ways that some of us might consider “creative” in order to say that the plain meaning of the text isn’t the true meaning of the text.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Leviticus 20:13

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

Strictly speaking, the New Testament doesn’t address homosexuality or homosexual behavior. It does address sexual immorality in a number of verses (Matthew 15:19, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Revelation 21:8, for example), but it’s a matter of opinion if the intent of the New Testament authors included “homosexuality” as a sexually immoral behavior, although according to this article:

Nearly every major Greek lexicon includes “fornication” as at least an aspect of the meaning of porneia. In addition to premarital sex, this term would also include such things as homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, et al The first definition given above sums it up well as “every kind of extramarital, unlawful, unnatural sexual intercourse.” We would also do well to remember Christ’s words from Matthew 15 which state that it is not only the actual intercourse that is prohibited, but also the sinful affection which lies behind the action (relate to Matthew 5:27-30). (emph. mine)

No doubt, the reviews of Vines’ book, pro and con, are going to be surging forth in the blogosphere, at least in the short run (public opinion is fickle and attention spans are limited), but I feel compelled to add my voice to the din because (hopefully) I can attempt to view what Vines wrote while restricting my reflexive response. If he can make his case based on scripture while avoiding an emphasis on emotional appeal, he should be heard out.

I just ordered the book. It will take some time to get here (five to fourteen business days), but I feel honor-bound to actually read Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships before reacting to it in any definitive sense.