How to Ask Churches to Accept Homosexuality as Normal

The problems with my site were linked somehow to the original version of this post. One issue was that no comments could be made on it. So I am reposting it with a new URL, and deleting the old post. Hopefully this will fix the problem.

I am reposting here, with permission, a comment on my post Why can’t we tolerate post-gays as well as gays? This comment is by “Iconoclast”, who comments here regularly but anonymously:

I am not certain that it is the case that churches ‘fear’ homosexuals so much as fearing sanitising something that up to quite recently, was universally regarded as sin.

If you are asking the church to accept homosexuality as being quite normal for some people and acceptable for christians (so long as it is monogamous and faithful), then you have to appeal to wider themes of love and tolerance and give them precedence over what is specifically said about homosexuality in the Bible. You may even need to go so far as to introduce a new doctrine of marriage.

Rather than just using specific texts, the male/female motif of sexual expression as being normative is overwhelming throughout the Bible and when homosexual expression is mentioned then it is invariably negative. The other approach to take is that the biblical prohibitions regarding homosexuality are culturally determined and we can largely dismiss them today. One problem here is that the more liberalising , concessionary and less restrictive tendencies say towards slavery and women, that is found in the New Testament as compared to the Old, is not reciprocated in the case of homosexuality which continues to be viewed in the NT with strong disapproval.

Do we now consider ourselves to be sufficiently enlightened in the 21st century that we can confidently disregard such strictures? If so, then how can we be sure we can do this?

I am not scared or fearful of homosexuals, but I do fear strongly that the church may sanctify something that God regards as sin. If this is the case, then it must surely have implications for the church as a whole and as with the seven churches in Revelation, we may find our ‘lampstands’ being removed. And that is a fearful prospect indeed.

I think Iconoclast has hit the nail right on the head here, except that I prefer “churches” to “the church” as there is nothing like a united view on this among Christians. The very word “homophobia” implies a charge that those guilty of it, or suffering from it, are afraid of homosexuals, and that this is a psychological condition. But, at least in the case of most Christians, this is a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

To summarise Iconoclast’s comment, if you want churches to accept homosexuality as normal, you have to persuade them to reject the apparently clear biblical prohibitions. And that is never going to be easy in any church which accepts the Bible as authoritative – even if they accept N.T. Wright’s words, as linked to in my post yesterday:

the notion of the ‘authority of scripture’ is a shorthand expression for God’s authority, exercised through scripture.

Such churches, ones which consider themselves in any way evangelical, will accept homosexuality as normal only if they can be persuaded that word of God as found in Scripture does not contradict this. Now arguments can be made, and have been, that the small number of Bible passages which appear to prohibit homosexual practice do not apply today. In this post I am not trying to decide whether these arguments hold water. Rather, my point is that the only way for the gay community to win over evangelical churches is by convincing them with biblical arguments.

CAUTION SLIPPERY SLOPEIn comparing homosexuality with slavery and the status of women, Iconoclast seems to allude to the “slippery slope” argument, that accepting equality in one area will surely lead to accepting it in others. This came up at the same time in a different thread on this blog, in comments on my post A Breakthrough on Paul and Women (1 Timothy 2:8-15), where I wrote:

Sometimes it is hard to know where to stop, and it can look as if we are setting off down a slippery slope. See some comments I made five years ago about A Solid Rock Ledge on the Slippery Slope. But I guess I am not as confident now as I was then that there is an identifiable solid rock ledge that we can hold on to. Underneath is the solid rock, for sure, but perhaps it is all covered with slippery wet grass, and we have to choose and make our own footholds where we believe it is appropriate for our situation. Well, perhaps – more discussion needed.

Perhaps the gay community, or at least the gay lobby, in fact wants the church to fear them. They make threatening accusations against Christians to frighten them into changing their teaching. But if they looked at church history, or even at the current situation in countries like China and Iran, they would soon realise that such tactics of persecution are usually counter-productive, tending in fact to strengthen the church and reinforce its distinctive doctrines. The reason is simple: true Christians refuse to fear any human beings as much as they fear God. And rightly so, for turning against God is, in Iconoclast’s words, “a fearful prospect indeed”.

6 thoughts on “How to Ask Churches to Accept Homosexuality as Normal

  1. With regards to slavery, isn’t this still kind of present in modern western society, in the form of factories? While some are better than others, there does seem to be some similarities. I guess the major difference is that people today are not necessarily ‘bound’? And was there a technical difference between a servant and a slave in biblical culture?

    What methods does one use to assess the validity of their beliefs and practices? The reason I don’t consider myself aligned with the Catholic Church, for example, is because many of their teachings are not to be found in scripture alone. So I find it somewhat ironic that some people would argue from an opposing viewpoint. That is, even though a certain teaching is to be found in scripture, it could be purported that it only had temporary significance, which could be understood if the situation in question is “culturally” discerned.

    Apart from sexuality and the status of women, other positions in scripture have been challenged as to their validity for today’s context. For example, many conservative believers firmly believe in the cessation of certain giftings of the Spirit. Perhaps apostleship is one of them.

    This is an excellent post. My pragmatic question with regards to all of this is: How certain are you that a particular teaching in scripture is not relevant for us today because “times” have changed? Choose any teaching/prohibition you want from the New Testament and inform me that you are entirely certain that it is not applicable to us today. But, remember, in the final analysis, we have but One to answer to.

  2. Robert, I’m glad you were able to comment on this post at last.

    You ask, “How certain are you that a particular teaching in scripture is not relevant for us today because “times” have changed?” The answer is: not at all certain. Christians come to different conclusions on many of these matters, and I don’t think one is objectively right and the others objectively wrong.

    In practice each of us finds our own footholds on the slippery slope. I’m not sure that is a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing if we use it as an excuse to break Christian unity or start condemning others for choosing different footholds. Paul outlines the principles of the strong and the weak, and I think they may well apply here.

  3. Robert’s pragmatic question raises the important point as to how we should apply cultural analysis into what we read in the Bible.

    In my view, the starting point in discerning a truth- value as expressed in the scripture is to determine as far as possible how the truth would have been understood by those to whom it was written.

    We then need to discern what is the culturally- unbound ‘theological principle’ in the text and see how it corresponds to the teaching of the rest of Scripture and be relevant to both original and contemporary audiences. This is best illustrated by example.

    In I Cor 8 the Apostle Paul is giving advice to the Corinthian church concerning the eating of food offered to idols. The Apostle makes it clear that this is not a problem for him and that idols are of no consequence (v.4) yet he recognises that the eating of such food may be a stumbling block to other Christians on the grounds of their weak conscience (v12). In our contemporary culture ‘eating meat sacrificed to idols’ is not an issue for Christians do not do this – at least not in the UK! So what is the theological principle here? It is not acting in a way that would cause my fellow Christian to stumble. This theological principle is thus culturally invariant although it can be applied to particular circumstances in different cultures.

    The book quoted by Phil Groom “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” by William J.Webb, expounds a hermeneutic of cultural analysis which attempts to distinguish between the cultural values of the original culture in which the Scripture was written, those of our contemporary culture and what Webb terms an ‘ultimate ethic’ to which the scripture move normative cultural values to.

    Webb terms this a ‘Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic’ (RMH) and it can be used to determine from a scriptural point of view what are culturally bound values and those which are intrinsically ‘Kingdom’ and are thus culturally invariant. In his exposition he uses the examples of slaves, women and homosexuals and shows that in the case of slaves and women, then the RMH to much more freedom and equality whereas in the case of homosexuals it is much more restrictive. Webb argues that to use a RMH to discern which values are culturally bound and which are scripturally driven and thus ‘Kingdom like’, we must characterise them using following principles

    Use a balanced perspective:
    By this, Webb asserts that we must resist the perspective which is one sided in so far as it views the biblical evolution of cultural values in the ancient world as a ‘betterment’ which then becomes static in our modern culture. An unbalance can also be generated from a modern secular perspective where the ancient text is rejected as being primitive or repressive based on modern notions of morality. The former focuses primarily on the isolated text of scripture while the latter though also using isolated text, fails to appreciate its redemptive power. In both cases an unbalanced perspective usually approaches the text with a preconceived agenda which is philosophically driven and may be denominational, rationalistic, feminist or atheistic in origin.

    Use a Cultural/Transcultural assessment:
    Here Webb refers to the application process in hermeneutics which as well as distinguishing features in the text which are culturally bound and those which are not (or trans- cultural) also asks the question as to what aspects of the text we should continue to carry over and which aspects we should consider to inapplicable due to differences between the original culture and the modern one. In the example given earlier of eating food sacrificed to idols then the cultural/transcultural assessment informs us that we are no longer faced with this issue but the aspect of the ‘weaker conscience and causing a fellow Christian to stumble should be carried over and applied in a modern cultural context.

    Discern the spirit of a text:
    This considers the how the biblical text sounds within its social context. In the Bible, the social contexts are that of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman (ANE/GR) and that of the Israelite/early church. Webb argues that the question that needs to be asked is what changes or improvement is the text making in the contemporary community? Webb also states that we must distinguish between the redemptive spirit in the text and the underlying principle. The principle relates to what Webb calls a ‘ladder of abstraction’ between cultures by which in terms of application more abstracted ideas are found at the top of the ladder and more concrete expressions at the bottom. Differences between cultures pushes the level of abstraction up the ladder while similarities push it down.

    According to Webb, the hermeneutical objective is to get the level of abstraction high enough so that the essential principle is maintained while the surface perceptions of the text are sifted in a way that brings out the redemptive spirit of scripture which avoids undue literalism and text isolation and at the same time does justice to the spirit of the text. This is not trivial to do but can be achieved.

    You really need to read Webb’s book to see where he is coming from but in my view he offers a much more robust method of deciding what kind of behaviours are acceptable for Christians across time and culture than simply proof texting.

  4. Iconoclast, sorry to be slow responding to your comment. I have had a busy week and wanted to give some thought to this.

    Thank you for unpacking a bit more what I was getting at about the strong and the weak. Food may not be an issue today, but acceptance of homosexuals is, and indeed the principle is “not acting in a way that would cause my fellow Christian to stumble.”

    Thank you also for the outline of Webb’s arguments. I am wary of too much abstraction through the ‘Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic’, but I guess I need to read the book to appreciate this argument properly.

    But to go back to the original subject of the post, if the gay lobby were to promote approaches like Webb’s, rather than simply shout “homophobia” at Christians, they might get somewhere.

  5. Pingback: Jim West on Heterophobia and Homophobia - Gentle Wisdom

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