Strengths and Weaknesses of Anti-Homosexual Theology

In part I am responding to a four-part series of posts on the 4 Simpsons blog entitled “Problems with pro-gay theology”. An efficient way to get to the series is to go to his site and click on the “Sexuality” category tag. (If anyone is curious, I don’t identify myself precisely with any of his 3 problematic categories, though I think he’d disagree there. Just as my discussion will reflect my biases, his discussion reflects his.)

I say ‘in part’ because I am not intending this to be a direct rebuttal of the points made on 4 Simpsons. I’m not interested in rehashing previous arguments I’ve put forth that would serve as rebuttals, and I don’t want to start a technical debate after he’s already posted his views and won’t have the chance to respond in the course of his discussion.

I say strengths and weaknesses because the weaknesses are what I’d like to focus on, but I thought it would be interesting to give more thought to what the strengths of the ‘opposition’ (to me at least) are theologically. The end result might be interesting. At this point, I don’t think that the strengths of anti-homosexual theology are very compelling personally, but I will also try to be fair in mentioning some of them. In talking about the strengths of this theology, I am going to be looking at it as someone who thinks and interprets in my own way – these are what I see as strengths, not what other supporters of the anti-homosexual viewpoint would necessarily see. I imagine that other strengths will once again come out in the comments section for both sides.

So, to be super-clear, as always these are my opinions. Your opinions are welcome in the comments section, on your own blogs, etc.

I’m going to limit myself to 3 of each – 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses, mostly because I tend to ramble on and on, and also because I am strapped for time recently (my new job is at Borders, and, well…Harry Potter).

So, here are 3 strengths of anti-homosexual theology that I can come up with:

1. Anti-homosexual theology seems to have Biblical support, in that there are passages which apparently condemn some homosexual behaviors as sinful, or abominable.

2. Anti-homosexual theology draws upon a long cultural and religious tradition of anti-homosexual thought, including the majority of theologians and interpreters throughout Church history.

3. Anti-homosexual theology is rooted in an insistence in the importance of every word of the Bible as directly intended by God in the form(s) we now have it.

Here are 3 weaknesses of anti-homosexual theology that I can come up with:

1. Anti-homosexual theology necessitates ignoring the majority of modern scientific findings in the area of human sexuality.

2. Anti-homosexual theology necessitates ignoring Biblical admonitions about who is part of the kingdom of God in favor of particular passages which seem to single out homosexual behavior (which is possible given adherence to #1).

3. Anti-homosexual theology is rooted in Biblical literalism, and is therefore weakened when the concept of Biblical literalism is demonstrated to be tenuous at best and idolatrous at worst.

On a lark, I might discuss these as well (but they’re not in bold because I’m not dealing with them yet):

Here are 3 strengths of pro-homosexual theology that come to mind:

1. Pro-homosexual theology seems to have Biblical support, in that there are passages which apparently condemn denying others a place in the Christian community based on things that are not under their control – gender, birth status, ethnicity, etc – and which are also not damaging to the community.

2. Pro-homosexual theology draws on modern social and hard sciences and the increasing evidence that sexual orientation is not, in most cases, a choice, but rather the result of a complex of factors in which genetics and environment loom large.

3. Pro-homosexual theology draws on a long history of moral and ethical reflection on human rights and human dignity, as well as on the moral reflection found in Scripture which places the ethic of love above all others at all times. It continues the same line of reasoning (in theology and outside of it) which has overturned “traditional” views on slavery, ethnicity and gender, to name a few examples.

And here are 3 weakensse of pro-homosexual theology:

1. Pro-homosexual theology has to contend with an apparent majority opinion, in the United States at least, that homosexual relations are often, or always, immoral. It is therefore often the minority position, and as such has a greater responsibility to prove its claims.

2. Pro-homosexual theology has to contend with a theological tradition in which the anti-homosexual position has essentially been the majority (“orthodox”) position.

3. Pro-homosexual theology depends a great deal on modern scientific analysis and ethics, and therefore is vulnerable to scientific findings that contradict its position. This also means that the pro-homosexual position will often appear to be weaker Biblically because it draws from outside sources of information and inspiration.

So, that sets the scene, so to speak. Following, I’ll probably have a post on the strengths with a couple paragraphs on each, and then a post on the weaknesses. Then I’ll go back to Googling myself to see who is flaming me on their blogs.

I’m definitely open to changing what I list as strengths and weaknesses if interesting ones come up in conversation. I’m actually doing this to learn more about the opposing position, if possible, as well as to refine my own views a bit where I can.

11 thoughts on “Strengths and Weaknesses of Anti-Homosexual Theology

  1. Note the specification of ‘male homosexuality.’ Everyone knows that lesbians are hot. πŸ˜‰So yeah, that’s my overly flippant contribution to intelligent discourse for the day. God have mercy.

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  2. Bizarre that there aren’t a pile of comments in this thread.I think you’ve basically laid it out correctly – though I already know exactly where Robert Gagnon would assault your presentation.

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  3. It is interesting, isn’t it?Unfortunately, unassailable theological positions just don’t exist. I mean, when you really get down to it, with a lack of concrete evidence, we’re basically talking about our imaginary friend πŸ™‚

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  4. There are unassailable theological positions, but the cost of rendering them unassailable is making your world such a tiny, cloistered eternity that no fresh air from the outside could ever hope to get in and trouble you with its strangeness or its newness.You can cut off all possible approaches to your castle, but in doing so you are left desolate and alone within, with all the whirling world locked out beyond the gates.

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  5. Hi Doug,Thanks for linking to my series. I added a < HREF="http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2007/07/22/problems-with-pro-gay-theology-5-of-5/" REL="nofollow">part 5 to conclude it<> (Yes, I know – part 5 of a 4-part series? I chalk it up to postmodern math.)Re. “icky” – good work, Paul – you distilled the whole natural law argument into a single word!Side note: I don’t see how having clarity on key issues is confining in any way. It is actually liberating to not have to always assume nothing is concrete.

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  6. I think the crux of this position (i.e. pro-homosexuality theology) really lies in the argument that if homosexuality is a genetic or environmental factor, such as race and sex, that it is outside of ones ability to change or choose, and “that there are passages which apparently condemn denying others a place in the Christian community based on things that are not under their control – gender, birth status, ethnicity, etc – and which are also not damaging to the community.”This position assumes two things, in my opinion. One, it assumes that the biblical authors who call such behavior immoral and depraved were saying such things out of ignorance of the complexity of human sexuality though they seemed to have clarity on other issues about which their society and culture felt otherwise. What if they had clarity on issues that our scientists have befuddled? Two, it seems to assume that anything beyond our ability to choose is thereby not sinful. While on the surface, I am sympathetic to such a claim (such as gender, ethnicity, even some cultural assumptions)…I really cannot believe it given my own knowledge of myself. There are many things outside my control about myself that I mourn over and strive against. For example, my nature is very critical, it is my first response to critically examine and take apart things (like this post…sorry). Sometimes this is a strength, but only when used with wisdom and restraint. Other times this is quite sinful, unloving, and unmerciful, and un-Jesus-like to the people I am in relationship with. It is my nature to be selfish, though I didn’t choose to be that way. I still think it is wrong, and I strive against that.It is my nature to remain attracted to certain members of the opposite sex, even though I am married. I cannot help the appreciation, but I can choose not to feed it and to strive against the baby-steps towards unfaithfulness even in brief imaginations. I guess my point is that I am a sinner by nature; I didn’t choose to be made this way. Yet, God says the sinful part of me is wrong, and that I should strive against it and agree with His diagnosis of its wrongness.Whether scientists can definitively show a genetic disposition towards homosexuality or not, I do not think it matters for our theology. “Science” might be able to label and identify many things that make up our individual natures and tendencies, but I do not think that makes them then as benign, in regards to morality, as being a different race or sex. I imagine they could do the same thing to identify sociopaths and murderers and show that there is something hardwired into them that gives them this proclivity. That should not make us change our minds about the church supporting murderous behavior, right?I am not saying we should hate homosexuals. I am not saying we are better human beings, nor less sinful. I am saying that I think we ought to be committed to striving against our sinful natures not making excuses for them. To begin the process of justifying certain sins changes our posture towards God from one of acknowledging His authority on what is good and evil to saying that man has more wisdom on the matter than God. I assume I hold a different perspective on the scriptures than you do (though I do not confuse the bible with God), but I hope you will indulge me in trying to converse here anyhow.I think the more important questions for us are: Are we okay with a God who created us sinful and knowingly brings trials, difficulties, and sorrows into our lives? Are we okay with a God who might give us a homosexual tendency and ask us to strive against it? Are we willing to be a creature made by God and to be subject to His will?

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  7. “I imagine they could do the same thing to identify sociopaths and murderers and show that there is something hardwired into them that gives them this proclivity. That should not make us change our minds about the church supporting murderous behavior, right?”@ ElixirYour comment reflects a very common fallacy in conservative thinking about homosexuality. The question is in fact two-fold. In brief:1. What is homosexuality’s ontological status? That is, what kind of thing is it? A choice? A genetic predisposition? A genetic determination? A combination of environment and genetics and choice? And so on.2. What is homosexuality’s moral status? The very popular example of pedophilia is bandied about constantly, and is the flagship of this kind of fallacy. If the claim is that homosexuality and something like pedophilia have the same moral status, that case needs to be made conclusively. It has not to date, and I’m curious how it would be done. (In your case, I think that examples like sociopathy are even harder to equate with homosexuality. I have no idea how you’d justify that move, honestly. At the very least, you’ve got a lot of work to do.)How would one equate sexual relations between two consenting adults of the same gender with sexual violation of a child by an adult – much less remorseless killing in the case of sociopathy, Those seem morally different no matter how you slice it, unless you’re completely wedded to a particular interpretation of the Bible, which from the standpoint of reason is patently absurd, and from the standpoint of modern (the last 150 years) Biblical scholarship, again, very hard to justify.Until that case can be made, however, your argument is only 1/2 of an argument, and not a very strong one at that.In brief – you need to actually substantiate how it is that homosexuality is sinful or immoral, or both.

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  8. Doug –I want to redirect us back to good communication. I apologize for writing in a way that you could interpret me to be equating homosexuals with sociopaths or murderers. I had no intention to suggest that I don’t see a SIGNIFICANT difference between a homosexual and a pedophile, or murderer. I should have been more aware of how a statement like that might have gone over in a discussion of such sensitive nature.I feel like you have latched onto a statement I made for hyperbolic purposes to expose the error of using a claim of scientific research about the nature of human sexuality to defend the morality of certain behaviors. My point was that science can explain away just about every feeling, experience, and tendency that we have. In fact, they have even found the “God” part of the brain and can stimulate an encounter with God. Perhaps it would have been more direct to just say that I think that is a very poor basis for any theological position. I think the bible should weigh more heavily. That said, let me assure you that I am not a literalist or even a fundamentalist in the traditional sense of the word. I do not believe in a 6-day creation, I believe in evolution, I think that the whole Adam and Eve in the garden story is probably an allegory, I think the book of Job is a morality play and not history, I could go on, but I won’t. I think the bible needs to be read correctly as a collection of books of many genres, written by human authors who had an intended purpose behind what they wrote. Their purpose is what we should seek to understand as I believe that some of those authors had a God-given gift of clarity pertaining to understanding the gospel and the teachings of Jesus. Since we cannot sit at the feet of Jesus, we should try to hear accurately from those who could.You have side stepped my entire critique by focusing on combating a point I didn’t even make. My point was that just because something is a part of us – that we do not choose – it does not make it justifiable. Why do you lump sexual preference with race and gender rather than with selfishness and pride? You ask me bear the burden of proof, when really it ought to be in your court. There are very clear passages against homosexuality in the Bible. There may be some scholarship in its favor for the last 150 years, but there is still plenty against it during that time as well. Do correct me, for I do not know much about your denomination, but isn’t your own modern church scholarship torn over the issue and soon voting to decide if they can remain united in denomination any longer? That said, I will attempt to further sustantiate my position – though I have no energy to do so scholastically.First, as a disclaimer, let me add that I, too, have homosexual friends who are wonderful people. In addition, my father is a trans-gendered individual who is now a woman named Sarah. I am still in relationship with him and love him very much. I share these things to help assure you that my thinking on this matter is not all hypothetical, and that my conclusions don’t come from homophobia.A primary concern is the difference between heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage. I think that marriage is a place where God refines us and reveals himself to us in significant ways. I like Barth’s perspective that humans were created in God’s image as male and female (i.e. it takes understanding the differences – or paradoxes if you will – between the sexes to begin to understand the image of God). Homosexual marriage seems like a lot less work. You are too similar. Marriage would be too easy with one of my girl friends, we would understand each other too well, and fail to challenge each other in significant ways, and ultimately, fail to reveal God to each other as He intended. Not that any relationship with another human doesn’t take work, it does, but you have to admit it is harder in significant ways when dealing with the opposite sex. Now, you could bring up single people, etc. I still think they must wrestle to understand both genders to understand God. So, if a single person can do it, you ask, why not a homosexual? Marriage is a very time consuming project where you are committing yourself to really knowing another person and pursuing one life together. I think it would be hard to add in another person of the opposite sex to really come to know and understand in addition to your marriage. Further…no…I am going to stop. I have already written more than I really have time for, and I am not even sure yet if you are actually interested in discussing this with me. So I will stop. This is probably too hard to do via written correspondence when we do not even know if we respect each other enough to listen. I am not giving up on the conversation though if you are still interested in continuing as I am sure that if you are a fellow God-fearer that you will have much that could profit me, even if we never come to an agreement in this matter. Good night.

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  9. @ ElixirCan I just say “thank God”? I was afraid I was dealing with another person who was going to tell me that homosexual = murderer. I’m happy to continue talking either way, but I’m happier to continue given that we’re closer to common ground – on biblical interpretation, lack of homophobia and so on.So, you’re right, my misunderstanding led me to avoid the point you actually wanted to make – unintentionally because I thought your point was rooted in a fallacy when it doesn’t seem to be.re: MarriageActually, I differ here regarding my personal experience. For my entire life, most of my close friends have been girls/women. I very often find it easier to interact with women than with men, actually. I realize this probably puts me in an odd minority, but I’ve met other people who feel similarly. What I’m saying is that it isn’t *necessarily* true that a different-sexed person would challenge you more in a relationship, though that may very well be the case in a majority of people (until you try marrying someone of the same sex, you’re just speculating either way, right?)We’re also dealing with gender, which isn’t binary, but exists along a continuum. Sometimes gender even seems to contradict sex, as it seems in the case you mentioned with your father/Sarah. So, it is also possible that two people who are married would be, say, same-gendered and different sexes, or same sex but different genders, or much more likely, somewhere along the gender continuum – I would assume slightly different positions relative to each other with each couple.On the other hand, I think that you’re correct in saying that wrestling with differences/paradoxes, including gender, can help you understand God. Given that, though, I wouldn’t count single people, for example, out – perhaps I might say that people in opposite-gender marriages and relationships might have an advantage in that aspect πŸ™‚re: Science and the BibleI would say that basing something *solely* on the Bible is also a very weak theological position. For example, the Bible is very clear that a rape victim should marry her attacker, after the rapist pays damages to the parents. We reject this out of hand because we have many, many extra-Biblical reasons to do so that we feel are compelling. (I personally like the Wesley Quadrilateral – Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience – as four sources of good theology, taken together wherever possible.)We look to other parts of the Bible, perhaps to the Bible as a whole, and find that it is very unlikely that God actually approves of rape or actually wants victims to marry rapists. Again, in less extreme cases, we do the same on other issues (slavery, women’s ordination, mixed-race marriages, etc.)So, you are correct that, by my count, there are two passages in the NT which seem to condemn homosexuality (I accept the opinion of many scholars that the OT passages which seem similar are talking about something other than committed, loving, consensual homosexual relations – though I recognize there is nothing like consensus either way – in part because this agrees with my own study of the Hebrew, modest though that is). There is more to consider, however.There is strong, though inconclusive, evidence that sexual orientation is most often not a matter of choice. This means that it is different from moral sins like pride, for example, because we assume that pride is in fact a choice. If it is true sexual orientation is most often not a choice, that alone gives it differing status morally from sins you mentioned, which I might call sins of volition.The second question is a moral one, but of another kind. Is homosexuality in the class of behaviors (or orientations) which are not a choice but are still immoral? This is where sociopathy and pedophilia fit, and perhaps other things for which there is a strong precondition or powerful environmental factors that we can’t simply say are a choice.This is a large discussion, but I have not seen a strong moral argument to place homosexuality on a list of necessary moral wrongs. There seems no wrong a homosexual can do that a heterosexual cannot, for example.So, my position is that, given:1. At least two passages in the Bible seem to condemn homosexuality and,1.a. We are to take the Bible seriously, but not literally, and should interpret it in light of its own witness as well as other evidence we can bring to bear, and2. Homosexuality seems most often not to be a choice, any more than heterosexuality is, and2.a. The Bible also seems to point us toward eliminating differences which are not a matter of choice but which also have no moral status, such as ‘Greek or Hebrew, slave or free, man or woman’ – as a whole and not only in one or two passages, but2.b. Something which is not a choice can still be wrong, however3. There seems to be no strong argument that homosexuality is necessarily a moral wrong any more than heterosexuality is – that it is human and therefore sinful, but not particularly so –Therefore: we can conclude with some confidence that homosexuality is not a sin.Granted, I know loads of people would quibble with the argument, but that lays out why I believe what I believe in *very* truncated terms. When I talk about moral wrong and sin, they are close to each other in my mind – I unabashedly lean on ethics when I think it applies. Its hard to imagine a sin which is not also a moral wrong, and vice-versa, though I’m not quite willing to equate them.re: The denominationIt is definitely a point of contention in all denominations as far as I can tell. In my mind, it holds exactly the place that ordination of women or slavery have in the past – a break with traditional understanding comes, followed by a few generations of heated conflict, and then the issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the large majority. I believe this is such an issue. I think the anti-homosexual position is weak, and that it will weaken further as we learn more about sexuality and as it becomes more accepted in the culture. Homosexuality will be added to the long list of things that we disagree with the Bible about, and we’ll realize we have a lot of more important things to do.In the meantime, I try to understand why some find it so threatening – if nothing else, there are deep issues of Biblical interpretation caught up in this debate, and those are what we’re really talking about when we talk about homosexuality IMO.So, yeah, I don’t mind this conversation, even over this clunky medium, as it were. I wish you well.

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