You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18.22)
Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die (Romans 1.26-32)
There is a simple issue here: why are mainstream scholarly views, which might be deemed bigoted views, mainstream?
N.T. Wright, whose appointment at St Andrews caused a minor media stir because of his ‘creative’ views on homosexuality related issues (see discussion and links here and here), has been well known for his ‘distinctive’ take on homosexuality (e.g. here), including apparently comparing (somehow) the elevation of Gene Robinson to the Bush’s invasion of Iraq. I still remember loitering at the British NT Conference when he gave his now infamous defence of his remarkably optimistic translation of the bit of 1 Cor. 6.9 as follows: ‘…practising homosexuals of whichever sort…’ Given that Wright is big on accepting the biblical witness he obviously believes this to be correct. Perhaps with a polemic against the arrogance of the Enlightenment, I don’t know.
Recently, Mike Bird argued this:
Many today will argue that homosexuality is natural because it is programmed into people’s genetic make-up and that gay dolphins and gay penguins somehow legitimate homosexual behavior for homosapiens. In all of these appeals to nature we must be cognizant of the fact that “nature” is a culturally constructed and linguistically freighted entity; not a self-evident and universal norm known immediately to all. What is more, we should also heed various logical fallacies in applying nature to ethics. First, the deontic fallacy in that it is logically impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is,” so that the gayness or straightness of dolphins proves only that dolphins have certain sexual habits; it does not thereby condemn or legitimate human gayness or straightness. Second, the naturalistic fallacy entails that the qualities of “right” and “wrong” are themselves non-natural entities and are derived from other beliefs, and not deduced from observing empirical phenomena. In other words, it is impossible to derive an ethical prescription from a mere description of natural processes.
If we take Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 7:1-40, 11:1-16 together, then it is clear that sexuality was intrinsic to human bodily existence and that heterosexuality was part of the divinely created order for humanity. Departures from the norm of God’s creation represent defiance against the Creator and foreshadow the divine wrath soon to follow. To suppress the truth about the one God who made the heavens and the earth invariably leads to a rejection of God’s design for sex as a means of partnership and procreation between men and women. Paul’s appeal to nature is not based on the pantheism and natural law theory of Stoic philosophy, but rests squarely in his creational monotheism. Richard Hays puts it well: “The understanding of ‘nature’ in this conventional language does not rest on an empirical observation of what actually exists; instead, it appeals to an intuitive conception of what ought to be, of the world as designed by God. Those who indulge in sexual practices para physin are defying the creator and demonstrating their own alienation from him.”
Mike Bird also adds: ‘Yet for those who are forced to etch out a pre-industrial living in the Amazonian rainforest, they may regard “nature” as an enemy of one’s mortal existence and something that is savage as it is inescapable.’
But I just want to note this in passing: ‘Departures from the norm of God’s creation represent defiance against the Creator and foreshadow the divine wrath soon to follow. To suppress the truth about the one God who made the heavens and the earth invariably leads to a rejection of God’s design for sex as a means of partnership and procreation between men and women.’ I’m not a churchman myself, nor theologically inclined, but I understand that some people don’t believe in the truth about the one God who made the heavens and the earth but have not (presumably ‘yet’) gone around lying with members of the same sex as they should not and are also homophobic. But that’s another issue.
Ben Witherington recently contributed me losing seven minutes of my life I will never see again (I largely blame myself, don’t worry). If you want to lose seven minutes of your life learning about homosexuality, eunuchs and disliking the sin and not the sinner, then please watch this video.
And the doyen of the homosexuality debate on the homophobic (see below) side is Robert Gagnon. If you want to see his hardcore views on homosexuality visit his bizarre site. Maybe it is my Enlightenment influenced arrogance and sheltered upbringing coming through, but I found the section on the email correspondence one of the weirdest things I have ever read. But you might enjoy gems like this:
The consequences of your promotion of homosexual activity are an unnatural dishonoring of the integrity of maleness and femaleness by treating these as only half intact for one’s own sex; an increase in the negative side-effects that accompany homosexual activity (including STIs but also no decrease in rates of suicide ideation)…
You may be in need of structural affirmation as a male but you are not in need of structural supplementation. You are not sexually completed by another male.
I’m saying this out of love for you. You do yourself a disservice by relating to other males as though you were their sexual complement. The fact that you had a long-lasting relationship is like congratulating an incestuous union between consenting adults for lasting 30 years. It’s not a triumph but a long-lasting enterprise of sin and mutual dishonor. This is not to say that same-sex friendships are not a good thing. They are something wonderful. But when you introduce sex into the equation then you dishonor yourself by acting as if you are a half male.
As with Wright, and obviously Gagnon and Witherington, I’m going to assume the above scholars (including Bird and Hays) really believe their exegesis applies to contemporary life. I also appreciate the distinction between hating the sin and not the sinner that goes on in these debates but there is clearly need for a word to cover these ideas about hating the sin, or the same sex ‘practising’ (and presumably those who have had plenty of practice too) relationships. I’m going to go for the following word: ‘homophobic’. If you prefer ‘x’ (or whatever) that’s fine too but homophobic works for me [using this common definition to clear up any misunderstanding: ‘homophobia includes both physical violence and an attitude that sees homosexuality as an unfortunate condition that should not be practised’]
And, to show that I’m nice and tolerant too, I’m not saying anyone should have their voice, writing or anything banned. Everyone can give homophobic arguments in an academic or public setting as much as anyone else, as much as other right wing sentiments are in public settings and so on (you stop one group then who’s next…?). Maybe we should listen to the Rev Ross Kennedy who takes up the mantle of thinking and engaging and so on in defending Wright (or at least this is how he is quoted):
But the Rev Ross Kennedy, a member of the Episcopal Church’s conservative wing, felt Holdsworth’s remarks were unduly harsh. The associate minister at Dunfermline’s Holy Trinity Church said: “It just goes to show that liberal does not necessarily mean tolerant. “Some of us might disagree with aspects of Bishop Wright’s ethical and theological opinions, but he might make us think and re-evaluate our own views and that can never be a bad thing.”
It sounds lovely and intellectual at that general level. Yet I wonder what sort of discussion it would take for me to ‘think and re-evaluate’ my views and (say) start thinking that men shagging men might just mean they really do deserve death? Or maybe I should stay with my view (presumably my Enlightenment influenced arrogance?) that I am completely indifferent?
So what was the point in all that? Well, I think all the above have something in common: they are mainstream, well-established, academic biblical scholars. Moreover, academic biblical studies has normalised their views (even if they are ‘controversial’) and they use the façade not only of ‘reasonable’, ‘irenic’ debate but also dress it up in all that academic language, in academic debates, academic journals, academic publications (forget ‘sin not the sinner’ how about ‘ontological’ versus ‘practising’…that’s philosophy mate!). I don’t get involved in these debates normally because it seems to me that it the same (tricky) question of dealing with the far right. But unlike the far right and overt far right sentiments, the homophobic/right wing view is firmly mainstream in academic biblical studies. I think it speaks volumes about the nature and history of the academic discipline of biblical studies that homophobia, or this aspect of far right thinking, is mainstream.
And I think wonder if some of us might want to ditch the language that these people are somehow ‘brave’ (as one commenter suggested) for espousing ‘controversial’ or ‘unpopular’ (read: homophobic) views. Gagnon claims: ‘There are numerous venues today, including hiring in our guild, where discrimination is suffered not by homosexuals but by those who respectfully and compassionately write against supporting cultural incentives for homoerotic activity.’ Gagnon works in a theological seminary and there are lots of theological seminaries in the academy. Now, do they ever discriminate…? And respectfully and compassionately writing against supporting cultural incentives for homoerotic activity seems to me to be (ideally) on the same level as writing respectfully and compassionately writing against supporting cultural incentives for (say) socks or table cloths: i.e. weird.
And the above people are known people in the academic discipline of biblical studies, some of them very senior figures, one of them once holding a very senior church office with some political influence, all of them having a huge amount of support from likeminded people in the discipline. Gagnon must be very clever and very important because he even responds to criticisms from Eric Thurman (then a PhD student, or, in the words of Gagnon, ‘a doctoral student who is a disciple of the radical postmodernist and deconstructionist New Testament scholar, Stephen Moore’) by saying, ‘Thurman is only a doctoral student and so some of his deficiencies as a reviewer perhaps can be attributed to his inexperience as a scholar… it is my hope that Mr. Thurman will grow in maturity of argumentation as he progresses in his academic career.’ That’s you told student!
You’ll notice that there is no exegesis here. This isn’t about exegesis. The biblical texts may very well be what we’d call homophobic. The issue here is that homophobia is mainstream in academic biblical studies and the hate towards ‘practising’ behaviour (I’m guessing that means shagging or related ‘practices’ but I defer to greater authorities on the things which homosexuals get up to) is patched over with fluffiness, love and academic credibility.