Welcome back. Again, as I mentioned previously, instead of offering fully fleshed out essay (either by me or by more qualified people I’m pulling from) my intention is to give you enough variety of Christian content on the matter of same-sex marriage and relationships that to give you something to chew on and discuss with friends, family, and others.
Yes, some of my thoughts are interspersed, but I do not intend to tell you what to believe. That said, it is really hard for me to stay completely objective on this matter, and hopefully, when it comes to where I stand, I have traced some of the steps enough to show you how I got to where I stand. My hope is that maybe this blog series and the sources I offer will help you journey further as well, and that you know more about the complexities of this matter, and, most importantly, where you stand and why.
In the last blog I used the legendary John Stott as an example. If you read the rest of the essay I drew from you’ll notice that, while he does address the biblical prohibitions of homosexual practice, his greater argument – that of marriage – is completely rooted in Genesis 2.
In this blog I will highlight 2 more theologians and authors: Preston Sprinkle and David Gushee.
First, Sprinkle (yes, get it out. It’s peculiar last name.) is someone I find very easy to read. He’s very compassionate, he’s done a lot of research, a lot of thinking, praying, and had a lot of lived experience with people all across the LGBTQI community. He’s written two recent books, one aimed primarily at youth, young adults, and parents of teenagers, and another more adult oriented version. They essentially say the same things, just in different ways, though the only one I’ve read completely is the first one; Living In A Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality.
The reason I want to start with him is because, ultimately he comes to the same conclusions that Stott does about same-sex marriages, but he argues some slightly different points. First off, he does affirm that Gen 2 lays out the basic design for sexual relationships and marriage, but he says that it doesn’t quite rule out same-sex marriages:
“Genesis 2 affirms hetero marriage but it doesn’t necessarily mean all marriages must be hetero.” Sprinkle’s point (something he makes multiple times) is that Gen 2 really only speaks to the predominant norm of societal relationships. He continues, “If I were a judge in a court of law and I was examining the Biblical evidence for homosexual marriages, I don’t know if I would smack my gavel just yet (37-38).”
He continues to argue against Gen 2 as the reason to condemn (and I’m using Stott’s word here. Not sure Sprinkle would use that harsh of language) same-sex marriages. On the grounds that heterosexual marriage is the right and only kind of marriage because that’s how we procreate and populate the earth, Sprinkle asserts that, “perhaps after the earth was populated gay marriages would be allowed (38).”
In Sprinkle’s book he looks at the other prohibition passages too, in particular Lev 18:22 and 20:13:
Leviticus 18:22 New International Version
22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman;that is detestable.
Leviticus 20:13 New International Version
13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Sprinkle (along with Stott, Gushee, and practically every biblical scholar worth reading, across the spectrum) notes that other prohibitions, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Paul’s teachings throughout the NT, are rooted in sexual violence, power, and/or idolatry and pagan worship. But the Leviticus texts are different. They do not involve gang rape, or pagan sexual practices (unless it’s a reference to some of the practices of the Egyptians, which the whole reason for setting up the Law in Lev is really about – separating the Israelites from their Egyptian enslavement and establishing their own cultural identity.)
However, he also notes that there are a lot of other very weird rules laid in Leviticus that condemn eating certain foods that we often eat today, and even wearing two different types of material for clothing, and men trimming their beards. So why should we obey two verses about same-sex relations when we so clearly ignore these other commands?
Sprinkle makes the argument that the fail-proof test is looking at what in the OT is repeated in the NT, and especially what Jesus says: cheating, lying, stealing, adultery, murder, drunkenness. These are all repeated in the NT, but things like animal sacrifices and abstaining from eating pork are not. And, though Jesus doesn’t say anything directly about homosexuality, he does repeat and affirm the model of sex and marriage as it is laid out in the OT (Matt 19:4-5).
This is a compelling point, I think. One worth strongly considering and remembering.
Furthermore, Sprinkle argues that, “If God affirms same-sex couples, you would expect that the Bible would say something (emphasis mine) positive about same-sex relationships (40).”
However, others argue that the only reason the Bible doesn’t say anything positive about same-sex relationships is because there was really no such thing as mutually exclusive and loving same-sex partnerships.
Drawing back on the link to sexual violence and pagan worship found in the majority of prohibition texts, same sex encounters found in the Bible all point to either rape or pagan worship. There literally was no such thing or comprehension of monogamous and loving same-sex partnerships.
Sprinkle even says, “The main reason Jesus never addressed it is because same-sex marriage wasn’t an issue among Jewish people in the first century (49).”
It wasn’t an issue, certainly not to the level it is today, so it makes sense that Jesus wouldn’t address it right? But where does that leave us now? This is what is so hard for most compassionate and loving Christians today.
The other author I mentioned is David Gushee. Gushee’s book, Changing Our Mind is in it’s 3rd edition now, which also comes with a group study guide (here it is here, I would recommend it to be done in group work, especially because it’s formatted to generate more conversation. https://www.amazon.com/Changing-Our-Mind-Definitive-Christians/dp/1942011849 )
Gushee, for a long time (before this book), was considered America’s, if not the Western Church’s leader in Christian ethics. A strong evangelical, Gushee lays out his journey in wrestling with the LGBTQI issue, particularly around marriage and acceptance into the Church. Not only does he share the journey that led him to a changed heart, but he thoroughly exegetes Scripture (that is to study deeply the context and language of the original texts) and makes a compelling argument against the traditional stance, and becomes an advocate for same-sex marriage in the Church.
He takes the issue very seriously, and on the idea of cultural appropriation being behind the push to support and include same-sex couples into the Church he says:
“Do not dismiss whole authors (Paul) or sections (OT) of Scripture as if we good, contemporary folks know that they have little to say to our enlightened modern world…Do not dismiss people who cite the Bible against your view simiply as fundamentalists or some other derogatory phrase…Do not dismiss traditionalist Christian sexual ethics as simply part of an overall anti-body, anti-sex, anti-woman, anti-pleasure agenda…Do not simply point to broad themes of liberation, justice or inclusion of the marginalized as if those important biblical imperatives ipso facto invalidate the need to deal with the texts cited on the traditionalist side…Do not assume that the issue is settled by making claims the being “prophetic.” Only God can validate who is really being prophetic…Do not just say that it’s time for Christians to “catch up with the culture” or stop falling “behind the times.” The fact that a particular culture has moved to a particular point does not prove anything, because cultures are sometimes quite wrong.
The argument over sexuality today is a serious one. It requires serious work. But when progressives default to these responses and refuse to engage the real concerns of the other side, they come across as fundamentally unserious about Scripture – or theology – or ethics – or Christian discipleship.”
This quote shows how serious and how committed Gushee is to being a faithful witness of Jesus Christ through this discussion. I admire him for this.
To paraphrase his entire argument (lol, as big of a task as that it), Gushee goes into great detail about the non-existent nature of monogomous, mutually loving and respectful same-sex relationships in the times and places the entire Bible was composed. He also details the culture of pagan sex worship and sacrifice, which were often homosexual or bi-sexual. He goes into great detail about the Leviticus passages, which to compare to Sprinkle, Gushee notes that the “abomination” of a man laying with another man could be culturally linked to things like “the spilling of the seed,” for instance, which disregards the sanctity of life as it is a waste of potential life (67). It could also be considered that, being this is the Law laid out for the Israelites establishing themselves as their own nation after generations of enslavement in another culture (66), Lev 18 is only addressed to Israelites residing in the Holy Land and no one else, “suggesting a very narrow range of application either then or now (67),” and many more detailed suggestions.
He also notes that Lev 20 calls for the death penalty, in which he lists a host of other OT laws that call for the death penalty, such as cursing a parent and failure to restrain a violent animal, failure to wash hands or feet before entering the tabernacle or altar, failure to stay the full 7 days of the priestly consecration rite, failure to clean yourself properly after sexual emissions and discharges of blood, to name a few. Take all that for what you will.
There’s also a very interesting chapter on the 2 Greek words used by Paul in the NT which both are translated as to mean homosexual; arsenokoitai and malakoi. The first word, arsenokoitai, appears only twice and appears to be a made up word, comprising two existing words that have never been put together before to make a new one (76). And because it’s only ever seen among a list of other sins and never on its own it’s difficult to really know or have conclusive evidence that as to Paul’s source and meaning (77). The ambiguity of the actual meaning, which is translated as “homosexual”, could, in reality, more accurately mean “sex traffickers” or “sexual exploiters” or “rapists” or “sexual predators” or “pimps? (79)” How differently would the Church’s treatment of gay people have been if this is how the word was translated instead?
Furthermore, aside from the translation issue present, the Gushee illustrates and explains how every time homosexuality is mentioned in the NT (which is only a couple times really) it is never mentioned on its own, but in a list of other licentious and promiscuous sexual acts of immorality, often wrapped up in pagan ritual and culture, which Paul (and Moses before him) is trying to steer the Gentiles away from and into a life with God as the Covenant People of God.
I can’t summarize every chapter (of either of these books, but I hope you might engage with both of them) but as an ethicist, Gushee ultimately breaks it down into ethics. He sees 3 ethics present in modern day when it comes to same-sex relationships and their validity to the church.
- Mutual consent ethic – this is what much of modern secular culture would fight for, saying you can do whatever you want to do as long as both (or more) people involved consent to the sexual relationship. You might hear, “as long as no one’s hurting anyone you should be able to do what you want with whomever you want to.”
- Loving relationship ethic – This is to say it’s okay to find a person to love and restrict sex only to that person for the duration of the relationship.
- covenantal-marital ethic – This, Gushee argues, is the traditional Christian marriage ethic, banning all non-marital sex, infidelity, abandonment and divorce (with rare exceptions), making celibacy the only alternative to marriage. It mirrors the faithful covenant relationship between God and Humanity, which is unitive in nature, meaning it brings both together in perfect harmony. (102)
Gushee’s whole point can perhaps be summarized with what he says at the end of chapter 16:
“There are some liberal gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians who want me and other Christian pastor-scholar types to offer unequivocal ‘welcome and affirmation’ to whatever sexual relationship they feel like embarking upon. They will not find it from me…In exploring the LBTQ issue here, I have never asked whether the disciplined covenantal-marital standard in Christian sexual ethics should be weakened to ‘affirm’ whatever casual, exploitative, experimental, out of control, drunk, hookup, polyamorous, sex-while-dating, or follow-your-heart sexual practices are bouncing around American culture, mainly among heterosexuals.
I am instead asking whether devout gay and lesbian Christians might be able to participate in the covenantal-marital sexual ethical standard – one person, for life, faithful and exclusive, in a loving, non-exploitative, non-coercive, reciprocal relationship, that is the highest expression of Christian sexual ethics – which, in fact, a good number are already doing. I can’t find a compelling reason to say no anymore (105).”
What do you think about the conclusions Sprinkle and Gushee each come to?
I really would suggest reading each book for all its worth, and doing the Gushee study in a growth group perhaps.