October 23, 2014

Is Jeff Cook on to something here?

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael

I read a thoroughly thought-provoking post by Jeff Cook over at Jesus Creed today.

He suggests (though he is not yet at the point of conviction about this) that the inclusion of Gentiles and the way that happened in the early church might provide guidance for the Church today with regard to our homosexual sisters and brothers.

He writes about certain lessons he has learned from having fellowship with two lesbian women in his congregation. It is the final lesson he writes about that got my attention. I’ll share his words and then we can talk about it.

A final lesson has been about God’s priorities. One of the lesbian women who now serves in our church had a dramatic conversion experience and life change that was unlike anything I have seen before. I cannot think of anyone else who, after encountering Christ, changed so many of her habits, pursuits, and priorities. She is a radically different person and her transformation was unmistakably the work of God’s Spirit. But apparently the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality yet, and I find that worthy of note.

Why would God refrain? According to most of Christian culture her sexuality ought to have been the Spirit’s first target for conviction and repair, but her experience was not unique. I hear from those in other churches that gay men and women coming to faith and clearly stepping into a life of discipleship and sanctification are likewise not experiencing God transforming their sexual preferences. So how should we read this?

In the early church, the Jewish Christians became convinced that God desired to save Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, because they saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Gentiles. The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one needed to physically change—to be circumcised and give up certain foods in order to be acceptable to God. But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.

After seeing the Spirit’s work, they changed the rules of inclusion.

I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if that same lesson is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.

I think if we did, we would not only begin to see God in new ways, we might gain many new sisters, many new brothers—just as the early church did.

Is Jeff Cook on to something here?

Comments

  1. Per the comments, Jeff Cook doesn’t seem to be convincing very many people.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    If I remember right, that event in the Book of Acts later called “The Council of Jerusalem” was a knock-down-drag-out over “Should we let the GOYIM into the Church?”

  3. I’ll ask the same questions here that I did there:

    How would you handle a situation where you know you have a man or woman (heterosexual) who is actively engaging in extramarital sex, or is married but having sex with someone they aren’t married to (again, heterosexual) but shows the fruits of the Spirit in other ways? Would you allow that man or woman to continue receiving communion? Teach a Sunday School class? Be a youth mentor? Be a member and be part of small groups and so on?

    I’d tend to say that the last one would be fine but the others would be questionable. Should we handle homosexuals differently than that?

    • I would absolutely agree here. While my earlier post shows that lean toward homosexuality still being a sin, I do also agree that the other sins you mentioned here are basically the same sin (ie sexual immorality) and thus we should treat homosexuals in the same way. I would also mostly agree with your final analysis that they should absolutely be allowed to be a member of a small group and members of the Church but we need to be careful of the other items where they would be a ‘leader’ of some kind. I’m not quite as sure on the communion part and don’t really have a stance one way or the other. Still thinking that one through I guess.

    • Phil M. says:

      I have a hard time even imagining this scenario regarding a heterosexual and promiscuity in church. It’s not that I don’t believe there are people in churches who are having premarital or extra-marital sex – statistics say there surely are. But I have hard time imagining it being something that is openly known and/or discussed within a congregation. Most churches seem perfectly happy to have a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy when it comes to this sort of behavior.

      • Well, generally you’re right…it’s not openly known because the participants are hiding it actively. But I was part of a church where a man had an affair and left his wife to be with the other woman. Then had the nerve to keep coming to church with his new girlfriend. The church elders confronted him about it and initially told him he could no longer receive communion and that he needed to repent and return to his marriage. When he didn’t, they then actually told him that it was not fair for him to come there and parade his mistress in front of his wife and children and that until he repented and went back to his wife, he was no longer welcome to attend on Sundays.

        I know that’s harsh and the circumstances of that specific situation are more severe than what we’re talking about. But there are certainly situations where the church pastor or elders discover a member committing grave sin and have to confront them. If they refuse to stop or say they’ll stop but then persist in pursuit of this sinful life they are leading, I think such measures are appropriate. I also think that such situations would be analogous to what’s going on with the lesbian couple in the original post.

    • Can we be clear on something here – when we say (or Jeff says) that maybe we don’t or shouldn’t ask same-sex attracted people to change their orientation, what are we asking?

      If it’s “Hey, maybe we don’t need God to make them straight before/when they become converted in heart!”, then I fully agree. I also fully agree we need to tell ourselves, us straight people, that sex outside of marriage is not acceptable and that divorce should be a last resort not another bite at the cherry and that civil divorce and sacramental marriage are different matters.

      Now, this is tough and will require re-thinking on everyone’s part. I don’t think Jeff Cook is saying “Let’s tell same-sex attracted people that living in a sexual relationship with their partner is okey-dokey” and if that is the message, then I have to say “No”. But let’s not chicken out about telling opposite-sex attracted people as well that living in a sexual relationship with their partner is okey-dokey.

      And let’s not make the test of true conversion “Have you stopped finding women/men beautiful and loveable, and turned your impulses towards men/women instead?”

      • br. thomas says:

        I believe Martha’s point here is well-taken. What is any person’s greatest need – to encounter, come to know and live life with the Living God or to modify their moral behavior in such a way as to meet our standards or expectations? These do not have to be mutually exclusive, but “God Does Not Love Us If We Change, God Loves Us So That We Can Change” – whatever that change may be. Theologically, Romans 5:8 is key here – for any of us.

    • Bryan, this sort of thing came up lately. Our church hosts the local Boy Scout troop in our fellowship hall. This makes our pastor a local authority even though he’s not a Scout leader.

      In a discussion about how our pastor should respond to our Area Council of Boy Scouts, regarding their pending declaration about homosexuality (they’ve gone back and forth on this, complicated by the recent vote here in Maine to allow same-sex marriage) I asked the following at a meeting:

      1) What policy do the Boy Scouts have regarding a 17-year-old who is known to be sleeping with his girlfriend?

      2) What policy regarding a 40-year-old Scout leader who has been living unmarried with a woman for 20 years, owns a home with her, has children with her, some of them scouts themselves?

      I was told that the second scenario has indeed happened locally, and the first goes without saying. But I’m concerned about a double standard, and that our church not be involved in one by insisting that the Scouts prohibit homosexuality specifically.

      The current policy on sexuality in the Scouts is vague, something like “good moral character” without getting specific. I was also told that camping trips could be an issue regarding homosexuality because adults are no longer allowed to sleep in the cabins or tents with minors, in order to prevent a more horrendous situation. So homosexuality among Scouts becomes a concern whereas sleeping with a girlfriend is outside of the arena.

      Long story short, our pastor sent a very crisp letter informing the Area Council that First Baptist would not look favorably on a morality that was less than biblical, and hinted that we might no longer provide the building in certain cases.

      But yeah, the double standard should be a concern to us all. The whole world is watching us.

    • Good questions Bryan. I am now in my early 40s, a Christian, have never married, have never had sex (because I’m waiting until I get married).

      I am assuming that the homosexual couples the original post is discussing are sexually active?

      I was just on another blog where someone was arguing that some churches are very judgmental about (hetero sexual) sexual sin, and that may be true in some churches, but the overall tenor I see on Christian blogs and in sermons by various preachers in many churches, is that of, “we know nobody can refrain from sexual activity past the age of 30, we know and expect you will have sex outside of marriage, but that’s okay, God will and can forgive you for it.”

      The same attitude seems to be directed towards homosexuality now. In a rush to be all-inclusive, it looks like Christians are wanting to chuck out any and all biblical mandates or limitations about sex, especially in regards to homosexual behavior.

      I don’t see why so many churches or much of Christian culture appear to be fine with homosexual couples having sexual relations (especially outside of marriage – or just living together), but I (a hetero female, never married) am expected to remain sexually pure?

  4. Some interesting thoughts here but I think it’s important to point out that the OT “Laws” that were dropped for the Gentile believers were Purity/Cleanliness Laws which were fulfilled by Christ and therefore no longer necessary. However, moral laws are not only still valid but Christ preached them to an even more strict degree (eg “do not murder” becomes “do not get angry” and “do not commit adultery” becomes “don’t even think of another woman in that way”)

    So the question becomes, is the prohibition of homosexuality a moral law or a purity law? I think the wording of the verses on this prohibition (that is that it’s a ‘do not do xyz’ as opposed to a prescribed procedure to perform) mixed with Paul’s thoughts on the subject in Romans 1 lean toward a moral law. However I’m open to arguments for it being a purity law that’s been fulfilled.

    As for the Holy Spirit not transforming them upon conversion, I have been a Christian for some time now and did have several areas of my life that were dramatically changed, however there are still several ‘pet sins’ that I struggle with but I don’t perceive that as the Holy Spirit condoning the behavior. I just understand and realize that I still have a ‘flesh’ that wants to turn away from God and I continually choose to pursue Him despite that.

    Just some thoughts from a lowly layperson thinking through this.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I don’t buy the distinction between moral laws and purity laws. This looks to me very much like the sort of argument someone comes up with to explain why he can enjoy his bacon cheeseburger while wearing his cotton/poly blend, while still getting to cluck disapprovingly at *those* people.

      • Furthermore, the Levitical prohibitions against homosexual behavior are embedded in purity codes along with other sexual practices that we today have no problems with.

        • Isaac/Obed says:

          Such as all the prohibition against various forms of incest in the first 18 verses of the chapter (chapter 18)? Or the prohibition against adultury in the 20th verse, or child sacrifice as part of a fertility rite in the 21st verse, or bestiality in the 23rd verse? The only purity code in there is verse 19 (prohibition against sexual activity with a woman during menstruation). Putting aside verse 22’s prohibition on homosexual activity, there’s nothing in the chapter other than verse 19 that we would have no problems with today. The entire rest of the chapter is prohibitions against stuff that we’d all consider reprehensible. Context, folks, context.

          • So which is homosexuality equivalent to?

            Having sex with your mother?

            Or having sex with your wife when she is menstruating?

            Furthermore, the chapter clearly links all these things with “the practices of the nations” and their idol worship. Though we may certainly agree with consanguinity prohibitions for all kinds of reasons, the reasons given here are because these are what other idol-worshiping nations do.

            Context.

          • The New Testament also speaks against homosexuality.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I meant to recommend this essay:
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2010/05/29/sex-money-part-1/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2010/06/03/sex-money-part-2/
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2010/06/11/sex-money-part-3/

          Part one is particularly powerful, because it addresses stuff that American Protestants universally support, despite the Biblical condemnations: extremely valuable reading for anyone who imagines that his church is “Biblical” while clucking disapprovingly at that church down the street which is not.

  5. I obviously have not no words that would easily solve the debate. However I do have a major concern with the post.

    “I cannot think of anyone else who, after encountering Christ, changed so many of her habits, pursuits, and priorities. She is a radically different person and her transformation was unmistakably the work of God’s Spirit. But apparently the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality yet, and I find that worthy of note.”

    It appears that we are now judging what is sin and what is sin based on experience and by what we see? We walk down a dangerous path when we begin to interpret the things of God based on how we interpret our experiences and leave out the teaching of God’s Word.

  6. J.Random says:

    Circumcision is an *eternal covenant*. It says so right in Genesis. How can God possibly include Gentiles?

    The Bible’s take on homosexuality is *inerrant*. It says so right in Timothy. How can God possibly include gays?

    • But the prophets foresaw a time when “those who are not my people I shall call my people.” While Paul lists the church as a mystery, it is a mystery that had prophetic (Word of God) backing. In no sense do we see in scripture God going lax on sexual standards. If anything Jesus makes them more stringent.

      • Phil M. says:

        In no sense do we see in scripture God going lax on sexual standards. If anything Jesus makes them more stringent.

        Not entirely true. Take the example of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Leviticus 20:10 makes it pretty clear that both parties are to be put to death, yet Jesus forgives the woman. Some, of course, point out that the man who she was committing adultery with was not brought before Him, but still, it does seem as Jesus is not as stringent as the Law dictated.

        • Isaac/Obed says:

          And yet he also told her to “go and sin no more.” She’s not told that her adultery is no longer a sin or that it’s OK or that she was in the right because all those guys in the crowd were sinners too. Rather, she was told “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” She’s forgiven, which implies she did something that was an offence. Jesus may not have had them enforce the execution (which was illegal and more of a lynch mob than the Torah’s required court), but he didn’t OK the sin. He forgave and showed mercy, but he did decide that adultery is all good now.

          • Phil M. says:

            I’m not saying Jesus condoned adultery. I’m just saying that this is a chance He had to show that He was more stringent, and He chose to be merciful. Forgiving someone of an offense is generally not looked upon as being stringent. I think it comes down to the fact of whether we view these ethical imperatives as being prescriptive or descriptive. I believe that i Jesus’ case of the Sermon on the Mount, the ethical system He describes is not meant to be another set of boundary markers. He’s not saying, “if you want to follow me, you have to do this…”. He’s saying, “those who follow will look like this…”. Their actions will flow from their renewed heart.

            To be completely honest, if I have to choose sides, I actually am more conservative on the issue. I don’t think there is necessarily good Scriptural support that homosexual sex in any form can be God-honoring. But, I also have to say that I have seen a lot of bad arguments put forth recently arguing that point. I also am distressed at what seems to be the total lack of introspection and empathy in many of the comments surrounding the issue. I believe a person’s sexual orientation is a very complex issue, and there’s a lot wrapped up in how it interacts with their identity and how they see themselves. It’s very easy for me as a heterosexual male to say that Scripture condemn homosexual sex. I have never been attracted to a man at all. But I imagine if I did struggle with that, it would be very disheartening, and I would have to think that I would feel very trapped. Honestly, I think I would be quite angry with God.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

            I’m honestly a bit annoyed with myself that this is the most active I’ve been on this site in a long time. Truth be told, I’m not really all that passionate about the issue itself. I figure that in any real context I’d deal with, this is mostly a pastoral issue. I can say, though, that while I’m not attracted to other men, my default mode is certainly not to be faithful to biblical standards of sexual morals. The struggle with sexual temptation and sin is one that most all of us have dealt with. Is that an apples-and-oranges comparison with the issue at hand? I don’t know, but it’s the closest I have experienced. It’s been brought up elsewhere in the discussion, but I really think Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery is a good place to see his take on the most similar issue we see in the Gospels.

            That said, the reason I’ve been so vocal in this topic isn’t because of homosexuality… it’s all the incredibly poor Scriptural exegesis that has occurred in the discussion! Lots of slogans. Lots of repeating of cliches. Lots and lots and lots of verses being taken out of context. I’d really, really like to see an argument in support of homosexual behavior that uses good exegetical principals.

          • The struggle with sexual temptation and sin is one that most all of us have dealt with. Is that an apples-and-oranges comparison with the issue at hand? I don’t know, but it’s the closest I have experienced.

            I’d say it’s somewhat analogous, but the biggest difference, at least in my mind, is that heterosexual people have an out for which they can actually engage in sexual activity and not have it be considered sinful – marriage. What we’re telling people who are attracted to the same sex is that the only path they can go down and still honor God. Well, it’s either that or somehow become straight. Forcing a life of celibacy onto someone simply seems like a very difficult thing to do. It’s one thing if a person genuinely feels called to celibacy, but it’s another when we’re saying they have no choice.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            I know a lot of single Christian adults who are heterosexual, don’t feel a call to celibacy, but feel the need to keep it in order to be faithful to biblical sexual morality. Even if they want to get married, there are no prospects, and they are somewhat “forced” into celibacy. In some traditions, the teachings against divorce are pretty hardline, and so divorcees feel that they must remain celibate, even if they don’t feel called to it, in order to be faithful to how they understand biblical morality. I know it’s not 100% analagous, but the difficulty of celibacy is not unique to those with homosexual orientation.

            On a similar note, I wonder how much of the difficulty with this is fueled by how overtly sexual our culture has become. Not that previous generations were full of celibate folks, but it’s so open and “no-big-deal” now, especially in popular culture.

          • Phil M. says:

            Again, I do think the things you mentioned are somewhat analogous, but not completely, because in most cases a single person who is heterosexual has some prospect of entering into a marriage relationship at some point. Even if they have no prospects now, they have some hope in the future for doing so if they wish. And to some extent I do think it may be related to making a bigger deal out of sex than we ought, but on the other hand, I think calling someone else to a life of celibacy when I myself am not celibacy is a hard thing to wrap my head around. It’s hard for me to demand someone do what I am not doing. Can’t you see how there’s a big danger of appearing hypocritical on this issue? I at least think that Christians need to show some compassion and patience in dealing with it.

            What I’m sick of is hearing Christians say, “but the Bible says!” and not even having any attempt to put themselves in the shoes of the person their talking to.

          • @ Phil M who said,
            “I’d say it’s somewhat analogous, but the biggest difference, at least in my mind, is that heterosexual people have an out for which they can actually engage in sexual activity and not have it be considered sinful – marriage.”

            There are hetero Christians such as myself who wanted to get married, and who have sexual desire, yet we remain virgins because we believe the Bible does not support sexual behavior outside of marriage. We do not act upon our sexual urges (we don’t get some special grace from God that removes our desires). I’m over the age of 40, btw. I don’t see why homo sexuals would get a pass in this area since unmarried heteros do not.

          • @ Phil M who said, “they have some hope in the future for doing so if they wish”

            Maybe not. I may never get married. I’m in my early 40s and am still not married. Just wanting, wishing, or hoping for something does not make it so.

            Phil said, “What I’m sick of is hearing Christians say, “but the Bible says!” and not even having any attempt to put themselves in the shoes of the person their talking to.”

            I am in their shoes, Phil. I’m a never married hetero Christian woman. I’ve never had sex. I’d like to get married and have sex.

            And I’ve run into others on the internet in the same position as myself: over 35, over 45, Christians who are still virgins. Living without sex can be done.

            Phil said, “I think calling someone else to a life of celibacy when I myself am not celibacy is a hard thing to wrap my head around. It’s hard for me to demand someone do what I am not doing.”

            Just because you view sex like water or breathing (a necessity – which it is not) doesn’t mean you can’t live without.

            I’m over 40, have urges, but haven’t acted on them. The celibate lifestyle can indeed be done.

          • Phil M. says:

            Daisy,
            I have no doubt that people can live a celibate lifestyle. I was actually one of the relatively rare people who was a virgin when I married my wife, so I can understand the celibacy aspect as far that goes. But I think it would have been much harder had I had a desire in my heart for intimacy that I knew would never been able to been fulfilled. I was just at a wedding for a good friend who is 39, and I’m sure she was living a life of celibacy up to that point.

            All I’m saying is that a person who identifies as heterosexual and is celibate is a different from a person who identifies as a homosexual and is celibate. The heterosexual always has the chance of legitimately leaving a life of celibacy. What we’re saying is that the homosexual person does not. To me that seems like a big deal. It is kind of like people who live with dietary restrictions. People who don’t have that restriction might see something like not being able to eat dairy not being such a big deal. But that’s because they actually have a choice in the matter. If you simply can’t eat it because your body can’t handle it, it can be more difficult from a psychological perspective. You don’t really have a choice in the matter.

  7. “I am a liar. I will always be a liar. BUT I have all kinds of really wow events
    and experiences that changed me! I lie… but now it’s in the inclusion of your flock!
    Thank you for being a safe place for me to lie. I always knew god loved me and
    you are the perfect example of love, acceptance and forgiveness and belonging.
    So, raise you glasses full of blood, and let’s “cheers” to jesus!”

    I am a gossip. I will always be a gossip. BUT I have all kinds of really wow events
    and experiences that changed me! I gossip… but now it’s in the inclusion of your flock!
    Thank you for being a safe place for me to gossip. I always knew god loved me and
    you are the perfect example of love, acceptance and forgiveness and belonging.
    So, raise you glasses full of blood, and let’s “cheers” to jesus!”

    I am a child molester. I will always be a child molester… BUT I have all kinds of really wow events
    and experiences that changed me! I still think about sex with children and touch them when I can…
    They trust me… but now it’s in the inclusion of your flock!
    Thank you for being a safe place for me to be a child molester! I always knew god loved me and
    you are the perfect example of love, acceptance and forgiveness and belonging.
    So, raise your glasses full of blood, and let’s “cheers” to jesus!”

    I am cancer… I will always be cancer. BUT I have had all kinds of treatments… and some real wow events
    and eperiences that changed me! No matter where I go, I cause death so that I can live. Without your love,
    acceptance and forgiveness and belonging as part of the body, I would not have life! So, raise your glasses full of blood, and let’s “cheers” to jesus!”

    The Cross is NOT something to claim as “doing the Christian thing right”!

  8. Isaac/Obed says:

    “But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.” ~Jeff Cook

    The above statement is true. However, there are some serious dis-analogous points in Mr. Cook’s analogy with today’s inclusion issues:

    1) The canon of Scripture was not closed in the Apostolic period. Obviously, the NT was not yet canonized. Most biblical scholars would argue that even the OT canon was not yet fully closed at that time. Different sects of Jews had different ideas what constituted inspired Scripture. The Christians were (and are) definitely no further along. Differing ideas as to what were the inspired texts of the OT persisted long after the NT was canonized. Today, however, among all but the most radical of Christian groups, the canon is considered closed. And all consider Scripture to be the foundation for all doctrine. That is, we are not free to make doctrines that contradict the Scripture.

    2) It had always been expected that the Messiah’s appearance would shake things up and change things up. No one disputed that. The Apostles’ belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah meant that there would be serious changes. One of the biggest had to do with how to relate to the Gentiles. Furthermore, one of the commonly-expected roles of the Messiah was that he would somehow bring the Gentiles (i.e. “the nations”) under his rule. Granted, the way it occurred, was not in the expected way, but certainly by the First Century, Yahweh was seen as the creator and ruler of all, and not just the god of the Hebrews. I.e. the Gentiles’ paganism was seen to be an error rather than their proper heritage, and God somehow bringing in “the nations” under his rule was part of the package. All that is to say that the exclusion of the Gentiles from God’s family was not ever expected to be the final word on how God dealt with them.

    3) The biblical condemnation of homosexual behaviour is not just an OT issue. St. Paul’s writings include similar issues, and St. Paul was the biggest proponent of the full inclusion of Gentiles into the Church. A common tactic seems to be to go to the Leviticus passage and say “Well, if you adhere to that Commandment, what about [insert whatever seemingly bizarre OT Law is most effective to the argument]?” But what do you do with St. Paul’s words?

    4) In the article, as in the culture in general, there is no separation from homosexual behaviour and homosexual self-identification. The biblical commands don’t address identity politics; the biblical commands address behaviour. From a pastoral perspective, it then becomes an issue of how do we deal with the reality of ongoing sinful behaviour of all kinds in our churches? It seems to me that herein enters discipleship of our folks, and sometimes church discipline issues. But usually, the way we deal with sinful behaviour is to offer God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ admonition, “Go and sin no more,” even though we know that all of us will end up sinning again, often with the same sins. The unique problem with homosexual sin is that there is a pervasive opinion that homosexual behaviour is not sin, and therefore, there is nothing of which to repent. And that’s where we have a pastoral conundrum. What do we do with serious unrepentant sin? Perhaps a less politically charged example would be with unmarried couples who are engaging in heterosexual sin. I think most of the time we ignore the problem and hope it goes away. The hypocrisy is that we want to harp on one pet sin because it’s a hot issue socially and politically.

    Ultimately, the rationale of “But the Spirit is leading us” can’t be a theologically valid excuse for ignoring clear doctrine and morality in Scripture.

    • Damaris says:

      Isaac,

      Your point #2 is compelling to me. It’s obvious from Genesis on that God is preparing the Jews for the ultimate inclusion of the gentiles. The challenge for the Jews during both OT and NT times was not really how do we interpret the Bible passages on the gentiles but rather how do we deflate our pride to accept what God has been planning all along. I don’t see the same pattern in the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality, though. Nowhere are we prepared by God to accept homosexual behavior as part of his larger plan.

      Scott’s point about the difference between moral and purity laws is a useful one here. I remain unconvinced that the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality implies that it is a purity law and therefore can be relaxed now.

      • Isaac/Obed says:

        Yeah, I considered discussing the distinction between ceremonial, civil, and moral laws in the OT. The Church has historically made this distinction, even though the Scripture is not explicite about them. That is, the distinction is based on our exegesis of Scripture, especially as the NT authors treat the law, rather than a single verse or passage of scripture that declares there being a distinction. Scott apparently posted while I was writing my all-too-long response, and I’m glad he did :)

        It seems that for 1st-century Jewish theology (or at least some of it… it’s a major mistake to assume a monothlithic Judaism of the time), they had assumed that making prosylites of the Gentiles was at least the beginning of how God would bring them in, though the Messiah would probably force the issue militarily. Hence Jesus talking about the Pharisees traveling “over land and sea to make a single convert” and the Apostles asking the Risen Christ “Will you return the Kingdom to Israel at this time?”

        • The issue was not Gentiles. The issue was receiving the Gentiles “apart from the Law,” i.e. without submitting to the boundary markers the Law put in place such as circumcision, food laws, etc.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            Maybe, maybe not. Remember folks who in Acts are called “God-fearers.” They were not converts to Judaism, but had accepted Yahweh as God and even worshipped in the Synagogues. Because they were not full converts, they were not under obligation for the whole Law, but there were also some benifits in which they did not have part (e.g. right to Israel as an inheritance). Today’s Judaism would call them “Noahides” and only consider the “seven Laws of Noah” to be binding. They were certainly not full participants in the Covenant, but they did have a part in the community and a share in God.

            But, really, their lack of full inclusion in the Covenant was not that much different from women’s lack of full inclusion or a slave’s lack of full inclusion. To the Jewish mind, the main way this lack of full inclusion manifests itself is in a lack of compulsion to keep the whole Torah. Hence the part of the Siddur’s Morning Prayer liturgy where Jewish men thank God that he did not make them a slave, a gentile or a woman, and where Jewish women substitute thanking God for “making them as he will” for the last one.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            Not to belabor the point, but the idea of Gentiles “converting” and thus becoming Jews was really not much of an OT concept, but was rather something that developed during the Babylonian Exile. While in the OT you see individual Gentiles effectively converting, there’s no process to do so in the OT. And when the OT prophets speak of the nations coming under God’s rule, it’s not in terms of conversion, but as they are. I.e. they’re not expected to become Jews; rather they’re expected to worship Yahweh as Assyrians, Egyptians, etc. Some passages even show them worshiping in the Temple. Others show them as joining Israel and Judah in the Tabernacles pilgrim feast and other such things. But never is it expected that they will in some way “convert.”

            In this light, it seems to me that what Sts. Peter and Paul are arguing is that the Last Days are here and that the Gentiles are coming to God in the way that the Prophets said, albeit with the unexpected twist that it’s through the Jewish Messiah.

      • Precisely this, as I see it: GOD may have explained HIMSELF more thoroughly in the NT, but this was just a continuation of what HE had started with promises that actually predate judaism. There is no such consistency , or trajectory, with homosexulity: in fact there is a cosistency in the other direction, there is no explicit endorsement anywhere, not once, that I’m aware of, only censure and repudiation.

        The better analogy of category for this issue remains the woman caught in adultery (and this could be any of us… we are ALL caught in something); she is warmly included, but told to go and sin no more.

    • “But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.”

      None of this is true. Christ taught extensively about inclusion of the gentiles, and the Bible existed as the Apostles memory of Christ’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, such as Peter’s dream. The church simply recognized what Christ had taught about the issue. They did not say, hey these sinners are going good works, let’s ignore their sin. That’s nonsensical, and terrible exegesis.

      • Isaac/Obed says:

        Cook was specifically speaking of the only written Scriptures that existed for the Apostles. I.e. the OT. And the OT (or rather, the Torah) was specific as to circumcision, food laws, etc. being part of the Biblical Covenant as the Apostles and their Jewish contemporaries would have understood it. But, as I discussed in my point #1, that’s not necessarily as cut and dry as Cook pictures it anyway, especially since the “memory of Christ’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s guidance” was leading to the NT at that time.

        • But Cook also ignores Christ’s teaching on the issue, which I believe is Boaz’s point

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            I’m just saying that Christ’s teachings are not what he’s talking about when he speaks of the Apostles using or not using Scripture.

          • But whether the teaching was written or not is irrelevant. Scripture’s authority has nothing to do with it’s being written down, it’s authority depends on Christ and the Holy Spirit. The writing provides reliability, but that’s only an issue for us hundreds of years later. The Apostles trained by Christ were reliable interpreters of his doctrine.

  9. Scott says:

    So the question becomes, is the prohibition of homosexuality a moral law or a purity law?

    This person has an intriguing answer to that question, though he divides the law(s) differently:

    http://www.jesusonhomosexuality.com/

    Click on the links on his Webpage to read the many articles in which he sets forth and argues his thesis.

    • Isaac/Obed says:

      It’s an interesting take, but if all sexual taboos falls under the ‘jobs’ category rather than the ‘justice’ category, what do we do with other OT sexual prohibitions, such as incestuous relations, bestiality, etc? It seems that homosexual sex gets a pass only because modern morality has shifted.

      Also, he’s taking Maimonodes (Rambam) out of context. Rambam wasn’t saying that the only real sexual transgressions involve an offence against God. Rather he was saying that all sexual transgressions are really offences against God. I.e. Rambam’s argument was against the “if it’s not hurting anyone and the parties are consentual, it’s not a sin” argument.

      Furthermore, Paul does forbid homosexual activity. He either needs to move homosexual sex from the “jobs” category or revise his thesis.

      • Furthermore, Paul does forbid homosexual activity. He either needs to move homosexual sex from the “jobs” category or revise his thesis.

        That is one of the subjects under debate – i.e., do arsenokoitai and malakoi refer to all [male] same-sex activity, or only to certain kinds of homosexual activity and/or certain relationships between the participants in such activity?

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          Here’s an interesting bit from the Septuagint’s (LXX) translation of Leviticus 18:22. (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” ESV).

          kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten guvaikos bdelugma gar estin

          arsenos – male
          koiten – bed/lying (euphemism for sex in the OT)

          arsenos + koiten = arsenokotai?

          It seems likely to me that with arsenokoitai Paul is making a new word out of the two in an allusion to this text, especially since the LXX was the version the Apostles seemed to prefer to quote.

          • That is what several scholars/authors I’ve read have said.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            It’s certainly not a silver bullet on the issue. And the Romans prohbition is a lot less ambigious than the 1 Corinthians passage. I sometimes think that we could use more LXX in our Greek studies, though. Especially in Protestant circles, we often seem to act as the only source for Koine Greek is the NT. But the LXX is equally valid, and can probably shed some light on difficult NT passages, especially considering that the NT’s authors were obviously pretty well versed in the LXX. Point to our Orthodox brethren, I guess.

  10. Wow, don’t really know where to start on this one. Just a surface reading of Paul reveals that the moral law present in the Old Covenant unequivocally applies to all New Covenant believers; gentile and jew.

    Just a few bits from the Apostle to the Gentiles:

    “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” 1 Corinthians 5:11

    “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” 1 Corinthians 10:8

    “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” Ephesians 5:3

    “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

    • The question then would be: is same sex partnering by nature sinful? Are there any kinds of partnerships between same sex couples that would be morally acceptable?

      BTW, I think the distinctions people are drawing between moral laws and purity/ceremonial laws don’t hold up. To a person under the Mosaic covenant, all 613 laws are God’s laws, not to be transgressed.

      • Phil M. says:

        It does seem to me that if a person wants to say that the moral laws of the Torah are intact but the purity laws aren’t (which, btw, you are correct – no Jew would ever really make that distinction), it seems to me that they’d have to say that the penalties for breaking the moral laws remain intact, too. Leviticus 20 mandates death as the punishment for homosexual sex (at least for men).

        The one thing I will say is that an ethic is different than a law. I do think there is a sexual ethic that we are given and can extrapolate from the NT, but that isn’t completely analogous to what the Torah was doing.

        • Damaris says:

          Phil — You point out that “no Jew would ever really make that distinction” — Didn’t Peter, James, Paul, and Jesus? Perhaps I’m not understanding the issue entirely, but it certainly seems to me that these NT Jews distinguished among the OT laws to give guidance under the new covenant.

          • Phil M. says:

            By Jews, I’m speaking of those who would have been observant Jews at the time of Christ. I’m not talking of those Jews who became Christ-followers. Like Chaplain Mike has pointed out, I don’t see evidence to support the idea that the Jewish faith ever viewed the Torah as something that could be broken up in such a way.

            As far as how Christians handled the Torah, that’s certainly a valid conversation, but I think the main thing is that they saw Christ as fulfilling the Torah and thus in some way making it no longer useful in the way that it was before. That isn’t saying the Torah is bad or against God’s purposes. It’s just that it did what it was supposed to do, and now Christ is the focus of redemptive history.

            As far as what the rules the Council at Jerusalem gave to new converts, I believe these had mainly to do with keeping the peace in the young Christian community than anything else. The fact there was some part of Torah observance in these rules seems as a way to placate Torah-observant Jews who became Christians. I don’t think it was an attempt for Christians to say “this part of the Torah is still good, but the other stuff can be ignored now”.

          • Christ was an observant Jew. The whole point of Christ is that the “observant” Jews didn’t get it. Why would we re-interpret Christ’s teachings on Judaism through the lens of the Jews Christ disagreed with?

            This issue is poison for the church. The more people try to find a way to approve this lust the greater the damage to the authority of Christ’s teachings.

      • “By nature”? I don’t suppose so. Most reasonable people discussing what is sinful about same-sex partnerships are not discussing feelings, but actions – specifically sexual activity. But I could see myriad ways that same-sex pairings could be enriching without crossing that line.

        Secondly, whether you like the semantics or not, the New Testament apparently does make something of a distinction, hence Jesus, Peter and Paul’s affirming of the validity of continuing to regard sex outside of marriage and adultery as sinful while seeing the “ceremonial” laws such as what foods to eat as having been fulfilled in Christ. If they viewed the laws regarding sexual activity as no longer binding due to their “fulfillment” in Christ, then I don’t expect Peter would have had his vision about the foods that were now permissible to eat while continuing to condemn fornication and adultery.

      • Isaac/Obed says:

        The distinction between civil, ceremonial, and moral laws is necessary if we’re going to accept changes in the law that we seen in the NT without throwing out the whole Law. This was a major issue when I was in the Messianic movement. A lot of the Torah-observant moralism that went on in the circles of Messianic Judaism that I traveled in was based on tearing down classical Christian distinction and then trying to save the text from itself by saying such things as “well, to a Jew, non-kosher food isn’t really food, so Jesus declaring all foods clean can’t include the meant of unclean animals” or “Peter’s vision had nothing to do with actually eating, but was just about accepting the Gentiles.”

        The other end of the spectrum says that the Law of Moses is null and void and that the only commandments binding on Christians are those from the NT. Again, this has not historically been the opinion of the Church. Otherwise, why have we always looked to the 10 Commandments as binding on Christians? While I know that abuse of something doesn’t negate the proper use, it’s a small step from this position to Marcion’s heresy wherein the OT god is different from the NT God and the OT is completely thrown out as superstition and error.

        • Phil M. says:

          In a very real sense the Torah is null and void. The writer of Hebrews says it’s “obsolete”. It doesn’t seem it can get much clearer than that. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t moral and ethical truths in the Torah that can still be maintained, but to speak of things being “binding” seems out of place. Does a Christian stop being a Christian if he breaks one of the 10 Commandments?

          It seems that only law that Christians are beholden to is the “Law of Christ” as Paul mentions in Galations 6:2. There’s actually quite a bit of debate of what that all entails, but I think it inherently involves dying to ourselves, putting others needs before our own, and submitting ourselves to God. But it’s not something that can be followed in a legalistic sense.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            Don’t take that out of context, though. It’s commentary on the quote FROM the OT, from Jeremiah 31, leading into a discussion of the sacrificial system. What are the issues being discussed in Hebrews? Primarily they’re discussing the Temple worship system “becoming obsolete and growing old and [being] ready to vanish away” and instead being fulfilled in Christ.

            Besides, violating the commandements did not remove one from being a Jew in the OT. Rather, it put one in impared relationship with God, requiring repentance and sacrifice, as commanded in Torah. This is definitely changed in the NT. But that does not invalidate all of the Torah any more than the Mosaic Covenant invalidated the Abrahamic one. Rather, they were building upon each other. The New Covenant builds upon the OT Covenant, changing stuff here and there, but not changing others. Again, this is why the historic church teaching was to solve the question of “to which OT commandments are Christians bound?” by seeing a distinction between civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.

            Of course breaking the moral laws or the 10 Commandments doesn’t make us cease being Christians. But it does require us to repent if we are to be right before God. In the OT this was accompanied with the appropriate sacrifices. Hebrews is arguing that Jesus’ one-time sacrifice was sufficient and that further sacrifices are not needed. Hebrews is NOT arguing that we are not to be obedient to the Scriptures’ moral code. It is arguing that we are not to be obedient to its ceremonial code.

            The expectation that we keep the 10 Commandments is found throughout all of Christian teaching. For example, in the classical Anglican catechism, the catechist asks the catechumen what the catechumen’s sponsors promised at their baptism, and the answer was to 1) renounce the Devil, 2) believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, and 3) “keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.”

            Then follows the following exchange:

            “Question: Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe and to do, as they have promised for thee?
            Answer: Yes, verily; and by God’s help so I will.”

            After rehearsing the Creed and the 10 Commandments and sumarizing what they mean in terms of duty toward God and toward neighbor, the catechist then says, “My Good Child, know this; that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.”

            So, yes, the 10 Commandments are “binding.” But, yes, we’re expected to fail from time to time and consequentally live lives of repentance and prayer.

            Besides, to say that obedience is not a part of the Christian walk is to ignore a whole heckabunch of what the NT says, especially the Gospels.

          • Phil M. says:

            Isaac,
            I think your use of the word “binding” is different than what I’m saying. If a law is binding, that implies there’s a penalty for breaking it. So in that sense, there is no penalty for Christians who violate a principle in the Torah (although for many of these precepts, you could say that breaking it itself is in and of itself a penalty – it puts the person in bondage to something outside of God’s will). But I don’t see how one can really say the Torah is actually in effect in any real way for Christians. That doesn’t mean it can’t serve a guiding role, but it’s served it’s temporary purpose, and it has been superseded by the New Covenant. Sure you can say the New Covenant was built upon the Old, I suppose, but again, I don’t see what purpose it serves.

            And also, I still am not convinced that’s there’s a clear separation between “moral” and “ceremonial” codes. You don’t see orthodox Jews making such a distinction. And what about things that seem to fall in a grey area? Is getting tattooed a moral imperative? At the time it would be because such practices were associated with pagan idolatry. Today, not so much.

            I’m not saying that Christians should feel free to live immoral lives. Clearly, the Apostle Paul says that doing so would simply be using our freedom to enslave ourselves again. But our motivation for living as a new creation in Christ comes from within, not from an external law.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            The Orthodox Jews wouldn’t make the civil/moral/ceremonial distiction, because in their eyes they see that the ultimate goal is for the restoration of a theocratic, Torah-based, unified Israel monarchy in which all the 613 would be binding at all time. However, they do make distictions. For example, there are certain Laws that they see binding only upon those who live in Israel. For those outside of Israel, they don’t matter in terms of actual practice. Their significance is mostly academic. There are others that are only binding when there’s a Temple. When there’s no Temple, these laws are again of merely academic significance. Their distinctions are based upon the reality of the Temple’s distruction and the disaspora of so much of Jewry. They had to adapt the Torah to deal with what happened to them. Their distinctions in the Law developed accordingly.

            Similarly, the early Church had to deal with the reality of the Messiah coming and shaking things up. Our distiction is based on how the Messiah and his followers teachings were different from the Torah.

            Of course, they expect that the distinctions will disappear as the Kingdom is restored to Israel. We expect that they will remain because the Messiah has changed everything.

            As to the purpose of the Old Testament… well, that’s a huge question. We can certainly quote St. Paul in that it’s to bring us to Christ as it shows us our sin. But that’s not all of it. It gives us our “in the old days” story. It gives use guides and examples. It gives us types and prophecies that we see fulfilled in Christ. It gives us specifics about God’s holiness… the list can go on and on.

            The grey areas… well, our Catholic brethren would say that those are areas of “prudence.” I.e. they’re not so clear and are rather up to the individual’s conscience and wisdom. And that’s OK. The point of the Christian walk certainly isn’t compiling a list of commandments and sifting through the 613. That’s never been the point of Christian obedience. That’s also probably why we classically look to the 10 Commandments and then filter the other stuff through them. Tattoos (to use your example), aren’t really something that fits there, so leave it to prudence, I say.

            At any rate, how the OT applies to faith in the NT is definitely misunderstood, I think it is safe to say. On the one hand, throwing it out is the Marcion heresy, and there are no orthodox Christian groups that officially do that. Nevertheless, the difficulty in dealing with it leads to a practical Marcionism in much of the church. On the other hand, Christian obedience is not about a moralistic or legalistic approach to the faith. We’ve been forgiven and we’re being forgiven, and our failure to be obedient doesn’t change that or change the fact that God really likes us. Perverting the Christian walk into moralism or legalism is just as bad as perverting Christian liberty into licentiousness. I’ve played on both ends of that extreme in the past and I feel a lot more balanced now.

            I can honestly say that I love God’s Law. But, I’m also glad that my faith isn’t ultimately about the Law (moral or otherwise). I wish I could be a sinless, perfect human, and I look forward to the day in the World to Come when Jesus gets rid of all that stuff in me that keeps me broken and sinful. On the other hand, I don’t get too bent out of shape that it ain’t happening now and that the best I can do is to keep my eyes of Jesus while trying my best.

        • JoanieD says:

          Great discussion between you two, Isaac and Phil.

      • I would so love to go with the current flow on secular society on this. My kids accept it without even batting an eye. It is obvious that homosexual inclusion is going to come to pass with or without our approval. A lot of my self-image depends on being the “cool, with-it” Christian who’s in touch with what’s on in the trap, dog, but I can’t go here.

        But for the same reason I cannot accept a female priesthood. Y’all Prots can do what you want, but to the Orthodox, the whole of creation is not literal but iconic. Body parts matter. They point to a reality beyond themselves, and as such, even heterosexual rape, as reprehensible as that is, participates in something that resonates with the metaphorical structure of the cosmos in a way same-sex sex cannot. Homosexual sexual behavior will never create ontological one-flesh entities. Ever.

        Marriage is a mystery. It speaks of Christ and His Church. Do you all really, really, really want to go there?

        All of that being said, I am not the one charged with the guardianship of the Cup. I cannot and must not judge those who offer or those who partake.

        • Christ incarnated as a human. Had he come as a female, then some might wrongly deduce that only females could be saved, as only females would have been involved in the salvation event and incarnation. But he came as a male, born of a woman, so that salvation could be seen to have come through and to both males and females.

          Christ took on human (not simply male human) nature, he suffered human (not simply male human) temptation, he redeemed human (not simply male human) nature from human (not simply male human) sin and the human (not simply male human) sin nature, and he continually intercedes for and comes to the aid of humans (not simply male humans) who come to him and the throne of grace.

          The idea or belief that only males can represent Christ in the function of the priesthood is a throwback to the Old Covenant and denies the fulness and meaning of Christ’s incarnation and salvation and the New Creation and the New Covenant.

          • Like I said. Y’all Prots can do as you please.

            Christ came as a [male] Man because He is the Bridegroom. We have Bridegroom Vespers coming up at the end of Lent. That would become terribly confused if we were to adopt your hermeneutic.

          • Isaac/Obed says:

            Yet the NT uses the metaphor of the Church being Christ’s bride, not husband. Similarly, in the OT, whenever the marriage metaphor is used, God is the husband and Israel is the bride. The gender issues in the marriage relationship and in the metaphor or typeology used in Scripture are not random.

          • Hey, if y’all want to live under and serve types and shadows, go ahead. But the Body is Christ, and Christ’s Body is made up of men and women, and they each have and have received the same Spirit, having been baptized into the same Body. If you want to keep gender distinctions when it comes to the gifts and operations and positions in the church, you’re mimicking types and shadows, not God Who is Spirit and is to be worshiped in Spirit and Truth. Look past the gender of the person up front or leading your church to see the Christ that dwells in her or him and that she or he is hopefully pointing you to in however and whatever way she or he serves the Lord in the assembly.

          • “Christ incarnated as a human. Had he come as a female, then some might wrongly deduce that only females could be saved, as only females would have been involved in the salvation event and incarnation. But he came as a male, born of a woman, so that salvation could be seen to have come through and to both males and females.”

            1 Corinthians 11 touches in this for another reason.

            11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

            “The idea or belief that only males can represent Christ in the function of the priesthood is a throwback to the Old Covenant and denies the fulness and meaning of Christ’s incarnation and salvation and the New Creation and the New Covenant”

            In the OC, the disabled and diseased MEN were not allowed to be priests either.

        • SottoVoce says:

          I’m sorry, I thought I just heard you say that rape, one of the most horrible crimes one human can perpetrate against another and a total perversion of any conceivable symbolic relationship between Christ and the church, is somehow more in resonance with the “metaphorical structure of the cosmos” than a loving and respectful sexual relationship between two people of the same sex. Do you think you could perhaps elaborate on that statement?

          • Even loving, caring, giving, sharing CareBear sodomy, fellatio or cunnilingus is not going to produce one-flesh ontological entities. We can rejoice in whatever love is produced, but this love does not necessitate the above mentioned sexual acts.

            Rape is not good. Sodomy, fellatio, and cunnilingus used to be considered pretty close to rape. What happened. Did I miss a memo?

          • SottoVoce says:

            Your reply does not touch on my question, so let me expand, especially since I am not Orthodox and would appreciate being better informed about Orthodox theology. Apologies in advance because this is a lot to respond to and I should have tried to express some of it in my original reply.
            What is a one-flesh ontological entity and how is sex supposed to create one? Is an ontological one-flesh entity a good thing that is to be striven after in every sexual encounter and why? Is the non-production of an ontological one-flesh entity the definition of sexual sin for you? What is this “metaphorical structure of the cosmos” and why do our actions have to depict it (more specifically, is this the structure of the cosmos as it is or as it should be)? I cannot adequately consider your argument until I understand what you are trying to say.
            See, as an uninformed person I am getting the impression that according to your theology, rape between two people of different genders is still illustrating some truth about the universe (and therefore might be considered to have an element of goodness about it, since in my theology the universe is a good thing created by a good God) while a consensual act between two people of the same gender is not illustrating a truth about the universe (and therefore has no element of holiness even though it is rooted in love, which . . . God is love, love is the greatest of these, etc.). Naturally I am making a good many theological assumptions of my own, but run through my framework, your theology appears to be ascribing something good to an act of rape. If my impression is correct, this is inconsistent with saying that rape is not good and indicates that your theology might have some problems. (And I am limiting this discussion to rape because rape is by definition non-consensual and an inarguable violation of another person’s rights and autonomy as well as a grievous sin.) I am trying to ask you to explain to me why this is not the case because I do not want to make unwarranted assumptions.

          • It would be better to take this off this board. Most of my thinking on this subject comes from non-orthodox sources, although it is congruent with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.

            I especially respect the Catholic panoply of teaching on human sexuality, as stringent as it is. I wish it were more rigidly enforced. There is nothing good about rape, especially for the rapist. Children can sometimes result from it, and this is something that God can bring good into, but it doesn’t redeem the act.

            There is nothing good about sodomy. The love and mutual sharing that partners feel in close same-sex relationships are good and laudable, but they do not require sodomy. It is true that the same level of intimacy between people of different sexes do not require genital sex, but genital sex is permitted in this case.

            Both rape and sodomy are an aping of the Christ-Church metaphor; rape fulfills the physical requirement but violates the spiritual requirement [as does fornicating with a prostitute]. Homosexual “marriage” would fulfill the emotional, spiritual requirement but violate the physical requirement

            Death produces a corpse and a spook from a living person. Rape is the corpse of the living one-flesh entity. Homosexual “marriage” is the spook.

      • Yes, homosexuality is “by nature sinful.” There is no way to engage in homosexual behavior that isn’t sinful.

        • I appreciate your clarity on that, Dan. This is the point over which people disagree.

          Others might, for example, say that (1) marriage between males and females is a unique relationship, ordained by God for the continuation of the race, (2) a certain small percentage of people are homosexual and may form faithful monogamous partnerships, (3) that such partnerships are lawful and subject to the same relational and sexual ethics that apply to heterosexual relationships, (4) that it is not the church’s duty to condemn those who come to them with regard to their homosexuality per se, but rather to welcome them into the life of the church and, in Christ, hold them to the same high standards of love and faithfulness that we teach heterosexuals.

          • Only the first example is Biblical. The third is incorrect because the written Word of God says it is unlawful.

            The only way for people to disagree with the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful is to ignore what is written therein.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Actually, Dan, this is not a black-and-white situation. For starters, folk are not questioning Scripture; they question competing interpretations of Scripture, and for any meaningful conversation to work, we have to acknowledge that these are two separate things.

            This dualistic thinking about the plainness of Scripture and the rightness of your interpretation is just as illogical as if I told you, “If you don’t like the way I make hamburgers, then you just hate beef.” Your natural response would probably be, “I like beef products, but you got that burger all wrong” (unless you’re a vegetarian, then I don’t know how to make the above analogy work).

          • Thank you, Chaplain Mike and Marcus Johnson.

            I am a Christian and a lesbian. I’ve been a Christian for a lot longer than I’ve realized I was a lesbian. Having grown up in the church and served in ministry, it was very difficult to admit to myself that I am primarily attracted to other women, not men, and thus, a lesbian. I’ve prayed about this a lot. God has not made me straight, but he has given me strength to live with integrity as a gay Christian.

            I’ve done quite a bit of researching and reading. Studying the scriptures and people’s interpretations of them, and my observations of the fruit other LGBTQ Christian at my church, and my own experiences have led me to believe that God does not necessarily condemn loving, consensual same-sex relationships between two adults just because the adults happen to be of the same sex.

            I know that people will say that I am biased. And they are correct. Of course I want to believe the interpretation of scripture that gives me hope of someday starting a family and growing old with someone. But even more than I want those things, I want to obey God, so I’ve taken the question seriously and done my best to pursue answers with integrity. I believe that the position that I’ve taken is the most intellectually honest one for me to take.

            And we should not pretend that Christians who take the opposite view of scripture are necessarily unbiased. Changing one’s views on this issue could lead to criticism and even exclusion from other Christians. And it requires a person to acknowledge that the church has gotten scripture wrong in a way that has hurt a lot of people for a long time. Inertia is a powerful force and it usually takes a pretty powerful motivator to overcome.

            I’m not saying that everyone who believes that sex between members of the same sex is always inherently sinful believes that for those reasons. This is a question where there is a lot of potential for honest disagreement. I’d love for us to get to the point where we could acknowledge that the answers might not be all that clear cut and disagree without questioning the integrity or faithfulness of those on the other side.

          • Danielle says:

            It might be noted that the social effect of such a message is profoundly “conservative” in its implications and on those terms ought to provide some appeal to those concerned with preserving “marriage” and its traditional functions. Heterosexual marriage corrals sexual expression into a fairly narrow range of morally acceptable outlets that correspond to such things as lifelong commitment and family building. If we begin to apply the same expectations/opportunities to homosexual relationships, we take something that in all past periods has been “rogue”, and we make it serve the exact same social function. For the first time, homosexual sex gains the potential to be something other than extra-marital. And it takes on the potential for all the self-giving, creative possibilities that Christians currently believe are inherent in marriage. At least in social/psychological terms.

            The only missing element is procreation, which is either a big deal to you or not on a philosophical bases. I don’t follow this argument, because we don’t rigidly apply it to heterosexual sex anyway, and because the moment you are in a community of more than a few thousand people, there will always be children who need adults other than their birth parents to care for them. This work is the real stuff of “parenthood.” If we think about the importance of procreation and child-rearing in terms of a whole society or family network, and not every individual biological entity within the group, then its pretty obvious how non-procreating aunts, uncles, adoptive parents, etc. can play a family-building, child-nurturing role.

            I don’t think this deals with all the Biblical problems, but it is worth noting that Paul was writing in a social universe in which homosexuality was associated not only with pagan religion but with extra-marital sexual expression. The exact social proposal now being advocated has no parallel in his context.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Levi, it is pretty telling that you referred to “a surface reading of Paul.” The degree to which we accept surface-level interpretations of Scripture is really awful. It seems as though we hold ourselves to a less rigorous standard of interpretation for Scripture than for any other text. We don’t accept surface level readings of the American Consitution (if we did, we would have practically no use for appellate courts). We don’t accept surface level readings of fiction or film (if we did, film and literary interpretations studies would be obsolete). Yet put a Bible in front of some folks, and show them a series of verses, and they tend to say, “Well, it says what it says.” What’s the deal with that? Is there a Bible verse that I’m missing that said, “The Bible speaks for itself; don’t think too hard or try to understand its real meaning”?

      I will say, though, that those verses you found do present an interesting pattern of thought. However, Paul never affirmed that sexual immorality was wrong as a violation of the Old Covenant, just that it was wrong.

  11. When I can finally completely and totally obey Jesus perfectly every moment of every day, I will start working on my brothers and sisters sins. Until then, I will point my beloved gay neighbors to Christ and let HIM take care of the rest.

    • Damaris says:

      ****Loud applause*****

    • I would like to agree with you Joel, but I believe there is much room for ambiguity in your statement. Yes, I must be focused on my own wretched sinful life. The Christian life at its core is about continual repentence. It’s not about saying “my sin is OK and your sin is OK.” The line we always hear is…”well, we’re all sinners. My sin isn’t worse than yours.” While this is a true statement, the implication that is usually behind the statement is not true. There is a world of difference between person A who knows he’s a sinner and has/is repenting of his sin and person B who’s also a sinner but is asking everyone else to affirm him in his sin.

      But I do agree that I have more than enough sin in my own life that needs to be dealt with before I condemn anyone else.

      • Agreed Alan. Big difference between person A and B. I wouldn’t want anybody to “affirm” my anxiety and depression and cigarette smoking ( I will quit again like the last 50 times). But I am realistic about the fact that we are ALL human and sinners, yet God still saves us and uses us despite the fact. I don’t think God works any differently in homosexuals, in my humble, sinful opinion.

    • Why should the church teach on sin at all then? Why should anyone say any behavior is sinful? If being concerned about my sin means never saying anything about any other sin, then how on earth do we call people to repentance?

      • “Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.” – Philip Yancey

      • Brendan, I’m not saying we shouldn’t call each other to repentance. Of course we should! We are all in desperate need of Christ as our Savior. If this is a discussion on gay marriage or partnerships, then I’d say that no, this is not what God intends for us. If this is a discussion on homosexuality, then I’d also say no, this is not what God intends for us. On the flip side of this, this is exactly why we should embrace homosexuals in the family of God. Why have we elevated homosexuality into a “super” sin that excludes people God adores. Why does God embrace me despite all of my wretchedness? Jesus is the only One who can convict and change, no matter how slowly, if ever, that change happens in lives. Until then, we need to love and accept people right where they’re at, I think.

        • We don’t have to say homosexuality is a sin at all. It isn’t. The act of sexual intercourse with someone of the same gender is a sin. Suffering from attraction to people of the same gender is a cross to bear, certainly, but not a sin in and of itself.

          • If sin is “missing the mark”, it would seem that sin runs deep in all of us, as deep as the heart, mind, soul. I think, in my own simple opinion, that homosexuality, like depression or anxiety, is the product of the fall. I think that we have inherited these qualities that we cannot help. Is being depressed or anxious or homosexual what God intends for us? I don’t think so. I do agree that how we respond to these inherited sinful tendencies is as exactly as you describe… our cross to bear.

          • I agree that homosexuality is a product of the fall, but I would not classify it as sin. Sin is an act of the will, and I don’t believe homosexual orientation, depression, etc. aren’t acts. The are predispositions, certainly they are crosses to bear. But sin only happens when we make a choice to act in a way contrary to our nature as God’s image-bearers.

          • You are right. Come to think of it, calling depression “sin” sounds ridiculous.

  12. I may be missing something, but the argument that the early church changed its “perception” of gentiles because of the Holy Spirit’s work and that this was somehow in opposition to the OT scriptures seems to be missing the point. It is also pitting the OT against the NT. Did God change His mind? Was he mistaken? The early church changed its mind (if we can call it that) vis a vis gentiles because it came to the realization (through direct revelation) that it misunderstood certain of God’s revelation in the OT, and certainly misunderstood the work of messiah. As an example, see Peter and Cornelius. The early church didn’t unilaterally include Gentiles in the church in opposition to a clear command in the OT. Rather, the early Jewish Christians came to realize that Gentiles were always within the focus of God’s redemptive activity from time immemorial, despite their own prejudices and misconstruction of OT scriptures.

    Also, whatever sin we bring to the Christian life does not automatically disappear (although it can) when we become Christian. Many Christians struggle with all sorts of sin in their lives but would never dream of condoning it, or not calling it sin. Whatever happened to a lifetime of repentance and forgiveness. Luther’s very first of the 95 theses seems apt here: When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

    • Yes, inclusion of the Gentiles apart from the Lawwas most definitely and specifically counter to old covenant laws. This led to the biggest conflict in the early church, a conflict that dominates the pages of the NT. The “traditional” side had lots and lots of scripture on its side.

      • But unless you’re proposing that the canon of Scripture is still open, we have the final word on such matters. The Scriptures they were referring to were incomplete and in fact, were still being written during their time. We don’t live in such an era.

      • “The ‘traditional’ side had lots and lots of scripture on its side.”

        Correct me if I’m wrong but by making this statement you are saying something to the effect – “who cares what the Scriptures say about this.”

        • Not at all, I am simply saying that the argument was not cut and dried in the NT about how Gentiles should be included in the church and that the scriptures that spoke to the issue needed to be interpreted.

          • Granted but when it comes to homosexuality how is there anyway of interpreting scripture to condone this sinful behavior?

          • Most who do point out that the homosexual practices condemned in Scripture were invariably connected to pagan religious practices and/or deviant sexual practices that would be considered immoral even if practiced by heterosexuals.

            For example, in Romans 1, which in my view is the most troublesome passage for non-traditionalists, Paul speaks of men “burning in lust” and committing “indecent acts.” Does that apply to all male homosexual practice? That is the question.

            I’m still working on all of this and appreciate your participation and that of so many on this question.

          • What is the traditional side? The Judaizers? It is safe to say they misunderstood the gospel of Christ, and I’m being charitable.

            I would like to know why it is that the distinction between ceremonial and moral laws is not relevant to this discussion. So what if an OT Jew wouldn’t make that distinction (and rightly so as he was bound by both)? But why should we not be bound by God’s moral law?

          • It wasn’t just the Judaizers. Remember that Paul rebuked Peter at one point for siding with those who restricted Gentiles. Almost every NT epistle deals with this issue to one degree or another.

          • Peter as did the Judaizers compromised the Gospel by separating himself from Gentile believers at mealtime. That’s why he rightly earned Paul’s rebuke.

            It is my humble opinion that we compromise the gospel when we tell sinners (insert your favorite sin here — not only homosexuality) that this or that sin is not really a sin. We should preach the law in all its sternness and the gospel in all its sweetness and let the Word of God kill and make alive.

          • I’m fine with what you say Albert. What is at issue is whether monogamous homosexual partnerships constitute sinful relationships. I understand your point of view, but others disagree.

          • What is really at issue here is whether sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender is sinful. The answer is yes, because sex outside the boundaries of marriage is wrong, and it is ontologically impossible for two people of the same gender to truly be married. We do not get to define what marriage is. God created the sacrament of marriage, and nature and the Scriptures testifies to what marriage is. We cannot simply make marriage into something else.

  13. Kent Haley says:

    But sexual immorality was one of the very things that the early church insisted that the Gentile converts abstain from.

    • That’s correct. And moreover, that was the OT standard as well. Nothing’s changed in that department. If anything, things have gotten stricter not more lax, for example: monogamy, lust of the eyes equaling adultery, etc.

  14. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think a lot of this debate could be settled by defining our terms. By “homosexual”, do we mean “someone who is attracted to people of their own gender”, or do we mean “practicing homoseuxal”; i.e, someone that is currently in a sexual relationship with people of their own gender? Are the people in question penitent or impenitent, acting on their desires to trying to resist carrying them out?

    Likewise, what does the word “inclusion” mean? Does it mean “treat them with kindness and respect”? Does it mean “welcome and accept them as Christians”? Does it mean “admit them to the Lord’s Supper”? Does it mean “accept their lifestyle without equivocation”? I’ve heard the word mean all of those things, and others – if we’re going to have the discussion, let’s clarify what we mean by it.

    The answer to the problem depends on how you answer the questions in the above two paragraphs. And as a brief detour, without commenting on this issue in particular, I’m extremely skeptical in general of using experience to define doctrine. The Apostles were guided by the Spirit in a way that we are not – that’s why they were Apostles. As Christians living after their time, we’re expected to build our life and doctrine around their teachings, which we have in their words – to deviate from them is to resist and defy the Spirit.

  15. I know I’m late in the game here but I do have a question. I’ve known people who have become Mormon, JW, Jewish, Muslim, Straight Edge, who have radically changed their life for the better. Do I credit that to the Holy Spirit? Am I to change theology and scripture to include them?

    • Now that is truly apples and oranges, because all the groups you mention are not orthodox Christians. Sound doctrine and creedal fidelity is not at issue in our discussion today.

      • But the basis of the argument is an attempt to replicate Acts 10, where the work of the Holy Spirit thwarts our understanding of Scripture. Also it is precisely this conversation that warrants many Christians to quest doctrinal and creedal fidelity of Churches who would embrace homosexual relations as being blessed by God.

        • But it doesn’t “thwart our understanding of Scripture” about creedal tenets.

          • Your distinction between the Church’s historical understanding about creedal tenets and the Church’s understanding of the nature of marriage seems arbitrary. There is no doubt that the Church (not just the Church but all of humanity) has always understood the nature of marriage as involving man and woman for the purpose of procreation. So where do you draw the distinction in giving authority to the historical Church with regards to creedal tenets, but not with regards to the nature of marriage?

            I think we are going off base in thinking of homosexuality in strictly moral terms. Homosexual marriage is not a moral issue, it is an ontological issue. It’s not wrong for two people of the same gender to get married so much as it is impossible.

          • Clay, that is why, at this point, I would still classify same-sex partnerships as something different than “marriage.” Marriage is unique, as you have said, and reflects the norm because of its complementary nature and the possibility of reproduction.

            Logically, however, that does not necessarily mean that there cannot be other types of binding partnerships that include sexual activity.

            I’m not sure I agree with that logic, nevertheless, it is a point.

          • The issue still is whether or not sex between two people of the same gender is sin. Historically the Church has always taught that sexual intercourse is an act of marriage. Outside the bounds of marriage any sexual act is sinful. So how could the Church bless a partnership that by definition involved sinful activity?

  16. Matt Purdum says:

    The analogies here are slavery and divorce. The Bible condones slavery and condemns divorce. The 21st-century church does the reverse. When slavery became no longer defensible, and when immorality and spouse abuse became rampant, the church did precisely what it’s supposed to do: PUT LOVE ABOVE LAW.

    We’ll do it again, too. Because an evolving church has an evolving understanding of Scripture. No matter what fundamentalists say or claim.

    • +1

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Also, when slavery became no longer defensible under Scripture, the church did precisely what it’s supposed to do: interpret Scripture. For some reason, the anti-LGBT crowd thinks that they do not interpret Scripture, or that doing so is wrong. I’m not sure where that’s coming from.

    • Not convinced.

      I’m not sure that the church was really putting love above law, more likely they were adapting to the changing cultural mores of the time. Christians tend to believe this rosy myth where we transform society, but it’s more often the opposite which is true.

      The slavery that abolitionists were against had NOTHING in common with the slavery detailed in the OT.

      If the financial crisis continues to roll on and things get a lot worse, I wouldn’t be surprised if people actually start mooting slavery – or something that looks like it – as a solution for saving all the starving people… Which is more ‘Christian’, taking on indentured labour for a fixed term, or letting them starve to death?

      • Or we could just pay people a livable wage and feed the hungry. I don’t think there’s anything “Christian” about any form of slavery. But there is something deeply Christian about working for justice so that people can earn a decent living and sharing our stuff with our neighbors so nobody has to go hungry.

        I’m not sure it’s true that the slavery the abolitionists fought against had nothing in common with the slavery in the Old Testament. Sure, there were rules in place protecting fellow Jews from the worst forms of slavery. But what about when they purchased gentile slaves from neighboring countries?

        I think it’s okay (and necessary) for us to say that the OT laws about slavery were written in and for a specific place and time and culture, and that what we know now makes it quite clear that slavery, in any and all forms, is morally wrong.

        And Jesus always valued people above the law. He healed on the Sabbath, touched lepers and dead people and allowed himself to be touched by a bleeding woman. He hung out with ‘sinners’.

  17. Talk of “the Spirit” supporting this, or “the Church” supporting that it is actually just individuals, in the midst of a wider political or cultural conflict, trying to vest their opinions with a little more authority. But then, heretic that I am, I’d say the same about the creeds. Here’s hoping that Christianity can be made a little more humane, with or without the involvement of the Holy Spirit.

    • (read “supporting that, obscures the fact that it is actually”)

    • I actually agree with this. It’s political posturing at its worst, nothing more. (Though I obviously disagree with your application of this to the creeds.)

  18. Sin is sin Jew and Gentile. The new church was just coming to understand what it means to not be under the old law and inbracing the new. Peter seeing the vision was a big step in seeing that all people are welcome to worship the Lord Jesus. He goes to witness and welcomes the gentiles.

    We are to welcome all people to the Lord. We are to show them the Lord’s grace and truth. The new law is love. The law is now written on a believers heart. If we turn away sinners then we will turn away everyone.

    Jesus died so we are no longer under the law of sin and death. Love is the law. We would could just follow that simple law we would be doing OK. Love the Lord God with all you heart ALL your mind and strenth and love your neirbor as yourself. THAT IS THE HIGHEST LAW.

  19. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    It is late and therefore I can in no way possibly read through all the comments thus far…but have read enough to feel this push within to respond.

    Sin is Sin – a turning away from God – a doing our “own” thing instead of God’s “thing” – eating the apple(apple pie) when God said NO (eating it when we know we are seriously diabetic and could cause serious harm….)Sin is sin – it does not foster life or anything good.

    All of us have sinful inclinations – regardless of denomination or personal preferences in worship – regardless of differing interpretations of Scripture – Bottom line we all sin. We have all committed various types of sins. All denominations have their understanding of what might be considered “minor” verses “major” sin – but the bottom line it is still sin.

    There is no way any one of us can eradicate sin from our own lives regardless what we may try to do. It is impossible for us. Jesus was asked…”how can anyone be saved” he replied “what is impossible for man IS Possible For God!” So why do we human beings keep trying to play the part of ‘holy ghost junior’ and continue endlessly using our finite minds to pass judgement on any other person when there is NO WAY humanly possible for us to know what is inside another persons heart/mind and soul. We cannot even know these things clearly about ourselves. God, the Spirit of God Alone, Knows what is within each person, what they think and what they believe in each given moment, and why they think and believe what they do. God alone knows the total history of each person which has brought them to any given present moment. He Alone can judge justly because He Knows these things.

    Each one of us can look back on our lives and see what has brought us to today, what experiences have helped shaped the persons we are, how we think, our virtues and vices, our strengths and weaknesses; and yet, we still don’t know all there is to know, we still don’t clearly understand ourselves. God does. God works with each person in the way that is best for them; bringing them to become what He created them to be. The grace God gives to you or I in a given moment, to say act compassionately, is not the grace He gives to another. He may be working on their generosity or prayer life. Each of us have light for each day for what each day brings us. Our paths cross but what God may be wanting from say Scott, or Sue, at this point in their lives, isn’t what He is wanting from say Joe or Mary at that same point in time. Yet they all profess to be Followers of Jesus, committed to Him.

    It is God who does the work of changing – He asks us to let Him Love others through us. He asks that we focus on Loving, to become rays of His Warming Light because when a human being truly experiences unconditional love it opens their heart to be able to receive from God. True Love fulfills all the commandments – Love is the greatest of all commandments – Love is the Alpha and the Omega. God is asking each one of us to be vessels of Love – Himself – because when the human soul experiences that kind of love, unconditional, consistently, it tills the soil of the heart, mind and very soul, opening them to receive the seeds of Grace – to receive Gods very Presence within to begin His work of transformation. The by product of focusing each day on loving -of asking God in each moment to love others through us – this opens wide our own hearts, minds and souls to His Presence and fosters our own transformation in to the Image of Jesus. Only God can teach each of us what it means to truly Love another person because He IS Love.

    The more we focus on the exterior realities we see in each person the more our hearts and minds, our very souls become closed to the presence of God; our hardened hearts cannot see Jesus in each human being. We become obstacles to the Creative Work of Grace to those around us as wells as to ourselves. If every christian truly abandoned themselves to the school of God’s Merciful Love this world would be so transformed

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is beautiful.

    • Wow agreed PL. Awesome thoughts Daisy.

    • Radagast says:

      Very humble writing Daisy.

      Former missionary and former Carmelite or former maissionary current Carmelite? The whole contemplative thing is appealing to me (St John of the Cross)…

    • Daisey – You wrote “It is God who does the work of changing – He asks us to let Him Love others through us. He asks that we focus on Loving, to become rays of His Warming Light because when a human being truly experiences unconditional love it opens their heart to be able to receive from God.” Can I respectfully ask how you define love? If someone is engaging in activity that is endangering their soul (such as engaging in sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage), is it loving to tell that person that they are engaging in sinful behavior? I agree completely that God does the work of changing, but he involves the Church in that process, and part of the Church’s responsibility is to help us see what sins we need to be healed of.

      • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

        Clay, great question. First, I’d like to address the reality of “those” who believe they are being asked by God to tell someone their behavior is sinful. If “they” were standing among those who were with Jesus ready to stone the woman caught in adultery would “they” stay and throw the first stone or walk away aware of their own depth of sinfulness.

        Suppose these same people sat in church next to you. You knew each other only as persons attending the same church – there was no personal relationship between you. How would you deal with their pointing out to you your most intimate and deeply personal sin. Just imagine it. What are you experiencing right now while imagining it ?

        If we try to point out to someone what we believe to be sinful behavior, we better be more than certain it is God asking us to do so.

        We can easily deceive ourselves thinking we are acting out of genuine love and humility when in truth we are acting out of a stance of self-righteousness and pride. Why, because if God is the One who wills us to do such, He will also be giving the recipient the actual Grace they will need to grasp what we are saying and receive it. God alone knows the right timing to get us to deal with our issues. He doesn’t have us deal with everything all at once. There is no way we would know what God is working within another soul unless we get to know them, which takes much time. If a person is not spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally ready to deal with the issue we wish to point out, our words won’t be words of life. Words have great power “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Words can build someone up and words can crush and extinguish a life. We best be sure it is God’s timing and that we are truly being led by Him.

        We see two women living together and automatically think – they’re a “couple” – when they could be just great friends. Or perhaps we have been told they are indeed a “couple” so we automatically assume they have a sexual relationship. How do you know? Have you been with them, seen them. It is very possible they have separate bedrooms and a chaste love. We don’t know and shouldn’t automatically judge them sinful.

        If we open our hearts begging God to teach us how to love others as He does we will accept people lovingly as they are and who they are and where they are in their journey. We will ask God to teach us how to best be vehicles of His Grace and His Mercy. This will begin a process of an ongoing relationship with them. Our actions will be kind and gracious. We will look for ways to reach out to them, find out their needs and help to meet them. Simply spending time with them to get to know them. To want wholeheartedly for them to experience they are welcome, that they are precious to God and as such are precious to us. That as human beings they are of great value to God. Now, if someone never experienced truly being loved unconditionally, or worse were abused, the only way they will be able to hear and believe God sees them as precious and valuable is to experience it from another human being.

        We must look for the face of Jesus in each person remembering : whatever we do to the least of these we do to Jesus… Meditate on St Paul’s words describing what true love is – what the act of love looks like – The more we are honest with ourselves and beg God to show us our own sinfulness, the more our hearts will be filled with compassion for others and we will be less prone to judge and be quicker to see and believe the best.
        If we treat others according to who they can become in God the more we enable them to become all they are meant to be in Him.

        • My point was that it is not loving for the church to compromise on identifying sinful behavior. I’m not advocating every individual person going around pointing out sin in other peoples lives. I must see myself as the chief of sinners. But when it comes to the church’s teaching on sin, it is not loving to compromise because sin is destructive.

          • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

            My response to your first comment was addressing your question: “Can I respectfully ask how you define love? If someone is engaging in activity that is endangering their soul (such as engaging in sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage), is it loving to tell that person that they are engaging in sinful behavior?” My reading of your words doesn’t speak of “the Church” as an authoritative position to teach. The image I got from your question was on the more personal level of Christian to Christian or Christian to newbie-Christian.

            I don’t see anything I have said/written stating that the church is to compromise on presenting the Fullness of the Gospel Message and the truths handed down to the Apostles by Jesus.

            It is one thing to have these truths presented in writing, book form, as well as their being made known through Pastors sermons or teachers class instruction. It is quite another for Christians to live out their day to day lives as though such was their responsibility.

            Your example of someone committing adultery…if they are a Christian the Holy Spirit is working in their lives and they know what they are doing is wrong. The Spirit within them will make this known. If they are not a Christian from a pastoral perspective addressing this issue is not the place to start.

            Furthermore, the Holy Spirit also knows the totality of what this person is perhaps going through, what their struggles are. Maybe they’re being abused and are thus very vulnerable and someone comes along to take advantage of this situation. It isn’t all black and white or a simple matter. It becomes a complicated issue with all kinds of varying factors. The act itself we can judge, it is sinful. but, the person we cannot judge… the degree of personal culpability is known only to God. Just to observe this from the outside gives us no authority to say this persons soul is in mortal danger. This is why God alone is the Just Judge who judges justly by His Merciful Love which cannot be separated from His judgement because it IS Who He IS. The Sacred Word tells us we will be judged as we have judged others. Our own sinful tendencies are not all black and white. They too, are embedded in many the layers of our own brokenness.

            The best thing we can do is love them with our actions, and pray earnestly for them. Prayer is powerful. Again, these things will open their hearts and souls to Gods Grace and His conviction where & when needed. It we are meant to intervene directly, whether pastor or friend, God will make such known in due time. Until we are convinced it is God, I believe with all my being the best way to help is to love consistently and unconditionally and to pray.

      • Clay–Where does it say in the NT that we are to point out sin to those still in the world? I see plenty of correction among the initiated but nothing about this concerning the world. Doesn’t Paul say (1 Co. 5:12) that he doesn’t care what the world does as to their sin and regarding judgement?

        • The article that is the subject of this post is exploring the possibility of the Church blessing relationships of people engaged in homosexual behavior. That is what I am responding to. I don’t think the apostle Paul would be in favor of that.

  20. Reading the possible alternate interpretations of the ‘anti-homosexual’ scriptures here, I have to say that I’d be more easily convinced if there was at least one ‘positive role-model homosexual couple’ in the Bible. Or have I missed it?

      • Katharina says:

        That’s a non sequitur, and the even worse non sequitur is when they try to appropriate Ruth and Naomi to the same end. Erasing the context of Judean kinship and friendship norms in order to make some characters into gay poster children is just inappropriate to an extreme, and rather sad.

        Men were allowed to express flowery, sentimental, loving feelings of friendship towards each other in that cultural context, embrrace and weep over each other, with no sexual implications whatsoever. The idea of “being gay” or having a “same sex relationship” was not even on the radar. Even in pagan societies at that time, male homosexuality was based around power, dominance, exploitation, and hierarchy, not loving devotion and friendship.

        Loving egalitarianism may be possible between men today but projecting your 1970s dream of gay utopia onto David and Jonathan is an offensive and disingenuous trick. And this insistence that everyone is secretly having sex with everyone else, and that everything is always sexually loaded and all about sex, is one of the most noxious things about contemporary sexual culture in particular the LGBT-embracing part of it.

    • Homosexuality as it exists today was not around as an idea until the late 19th century. You won’t find any examples of it in the Bible–good or bad.

      • Radagast says:

        Agreed – the masses were more focused on more mundane things like survival and the family unit gave them a better chance at that then other forms of living.

    • How many “positive role model” *hetero*-sexual couples can you name in the Bible? Ruth and Boaz are the only example that comes to mind, but the story stops before giving us any details on their married life. Pretty much every marriage that the Bible _does_ describe in any detail has some rather dysfunctional parts.

      Not that that applies to the larger question that’s being discussed here, except that 1. the Bible really _doesn’t_ provide a lot of guidance about what makes a marriage healthy, (aside from containing an entire book of erotic poetry,) and 2. God seems to be in the business of taking those imperfect, broken relationships that we form with each other and turning them into places where we experience God. God is, as the apostles realized, in the business of taking broken and “unclean” parts of our lives and making them “clean.” Given the overwhelming evidence that “ex-gay” ministries don’t work, the question becomes: how does God “transform” homosexuality into a “clean” state of being? By calling people to celibacy, or by allowing them to be in relationship with the only people they *could* be in relationship with?

      (That’s not a rhetorical question. Anyone who thinks that the answer is obvious is either very naive or intellectually dishonest…)

      • Sorry, I really meant ‘positive’ as opposed to the ‘negative injunctions’ against homosexuality. I guess what I mean is, “a non-negative” reference to homosexuality.

  21. I realize that most of you who “call sin what it is” feel like you’re defending what is clearly in Scripture, but my prediction is that 75% or more of you will change your minds within the next 30 years. My next prediction is that once you have changed your minds, you will look back on your previous position as bigotry akin to that of arguing in favor of slavery. Just a guess…

    • Radagast says:

      Grant,

      I am not so sure folks in the older generations will change their mind. Rather we will die and the next and future generations who are more tolerant of this and relativism in general will probably bring your prediction to fruition. I see it now in the youth, especially over the last few years (I teach religious education classes) where, in their eyes the most important thing is for a person to be happy.

      I also agree with your second comment, (based on how I shaped it above), and also believe it has a good chance of coming true. But I also think, because so many have now decided to abandon formal religious institutions and communities for a more personal faith, shared only within themselves, that within a generation much of the faith that parents have the responsibility of passing on will not be passed on, and the whole “people have a right to be happy” narcisistic mentallity will continue to grow.

    • And how do you know that you will not be changing your mind, Grant?

  22. For those particularly interested in further consideration of Jeff’s reading of Acts 15 at the end (the early church’s decision to welcome Gentiles) and his proposed analogy to gay Christians, I recommend Jon C. Olson’s paper in the Journal of Religious Ethics which examines this analogy through the radical new perspective on Paul (i.e. Paul as a Torah-observant Jewish apostle to the Gentiles). It is called “The Jerusalem Decree, Paul, and the Gentile Analogy to Homosexual Persons” and may be worth consideration. Here’s the abstract (from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9795.2012.00526.x/abstract):

    Revisionists and traditionalists appeal to Acts 15, welcoming the Gentiles, for analogies directing the church’s response to homosexual persons. John Perry has analyzed the major positions. He faults revisionists for inadequate attention to the Jerusalem Decree and faults one traditionalist for using the Decree literally rather than through analogy. I argue that analogical use of the Decree must supplement rather than displace the plain sense. The Decree has been neglected due to assumptions that Paul opposed it, that it expired, or because Gentiles wanted non-kosher meat. I argue that Paul continued to observe the Torah and supported the Decree, that it has not expired, and that Gentile desire for non-kosher meat is not a firm obstacle. Affirming the plain sense of the Decree, I develop the analogy from Acts 15 to homosexual persons.

  23. (Looks like the first time I posted this comment I messed up the italics. Trying again.)

    For those particularly interested in further consideration of Jeff’s reading of Acts 15 at the end (the early church’s decision to welcome Gentiles) and his proposed analogy to gay Christians, I recommend Jon C. Olson’s paper in the Journal of Religious Ethics which examines this analogy through the radical new perspective on Paul (i.e. Paul as a Torah-observant Jewish apostle to the Gentiles). It is called “The Jerusalem Decree, Paul, and the Gentile Analogy to Homosexual Persons” and may be worth consideration. Here’s the abstract (from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9795.2012.00526.x/abstract):

    Revisionists and traditionalists appeal to Acts 15, welcoming the Gentiles, for analogies directing the church’s response to homosexual persons. John Perry has analyzed the major positions. He faults revisionists for inadequate attention to the Jerusalem Decree and faults one traditionalist for using the Decree literally rather than through analogy. I argue that analogical use of the Decree must supplement rather than displace the plain sense. The Decree has been neglected due to assumptions that Paul opposed it, that it expired, or because Gentiles wanted non-kosher meat. I argue that Paul continued to observe the Torah and supported the Decree, that it has not expired, and that Gentile desire for non-kosher meat is not a firm obstacle. Affirming the plain sense of the Decree, I develop the analogy from Acts 15 to homosexual persons.

  24. Sex between two men or two women is sin. It is acted on behavior that is outside of God’s law. it’s wrong and is not helpful to society (procreation).

    Sinners of all sorts are welcome in the Church. But churches are not in, or should never be in the business of affirming sin.

    • Steve, I thought you were ELCA? You’d be on the conservative end in the LCMS with thoughts like that about procreation being connected to the good of sex. We have a hard enough time getting congregations to support pastors who refuse to marry cohabiting couples.

  25. Surely all traditional, orthodox Christians could agree that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is sinful. The natural next question then becomes, is “homosexual marriage” wrong? And it’s here that I think the issue gets muddy. I don’t think marriage between two people of the same gender is so much morally wrong as it is ontologically impossible. Marriage is what God instituted it to be, and I don’t see any reason to believe that God has changed His mind about that. The fact that some homosexual people have experienced transformation in areas of their life other than their sexual orientation does not provide adequate basis for deciding that marriage has become something other than what it always has been.

    With all that said, I see no reason we have to believe that a broken sexual orientation is morally wrong in the first place. It only becomes a sin when acted upon.

    • Very clear and sensible, Clay — I like this. Thank you.

    • Radagast says:

      A few comments on Homosexual marriage…

      I believe you have a religous component here and a secular component. The secular component seems to be leaning towards acceptance, specifically because it would provide the same rights and benefits to a homosexual union that is given to a heterosexual union. It would also (unfortunately) provide all the negatives such as divorce and the litigation that goes with it. The religous component, specifically my faith tradition, sees the marriage covenant as a sacrament ordained by God and rooted in Scripture.

      My suggestion would be to separate these definitions by giving the homosexual community what they seek, equal rights under the law through civil union. Marriage is then reserved for the religous component to be decided by the particular faith expression.

      My issue with redefining the definition of Marriage away from its religous origins is that if it is changed it becomes easier for activists to go after religious institutions that choose not to particpate and label these institutions as intolerant, or worse force them to change their doctrine through litigation. Additionally, once the definition has been opened for change then I believe other groups over time will also petition for a change in the definition based on this presidence.

      • My thoughts exactly.

      • I agree with you Radagast. I’m not convinced activists will be satisfied with civil unions. There are definitely activists within churches trying to change the religious understanding of gay marriage within the churches. That then puts more and more pressure on traditional churches to succumb to the pressure. I think it is going to be very difficult for traditional, orthodox churches to stand firm in the coming years because of this issue.

        • Stephanie F. says:

          ‘I’m not convinced activists will be satisfied with civil unions.’

          Exactly. California has civil unions and Prop 8 is currently before the Supreme court in conjunction with the DOMA case.

  26. Cedric Klein says:

    This is an area where the absence of Michael Spencer becomes VERY noticeable.

    IM Mike may have challenged traditional interpretations &/or how we apply such interpretations, but he always stood with both orthodoxy & orthopraxy. He would have graciously gave other perspectives a fair hearing but finally affirmed what has always been at all times the teachings of the historic Christian faith.

  27. Good discussion. The people participating are the exception to most when this question comes up. Not a lot of individuals throwing flaming balls to get reaction, and little ‘this is how it is, discussion over’ types. The majority of the christian world can’t get beyond the ‘always was, always is’ viewpoint to even consider possible wrong stances; they will wait till their pastor says something different. just reality is all.

    Sometimes I wonder if the ‘sin’ of homosexuality is actually a reflection of the ‘sin’ of idolatry. By placing ‘traditional marriage’ and ‘traditional family’ on such a high pedestal there is much fear of it being knocked down. The last thing most congregants want to hear is that Paul said marriage is if you cannot control yourself, celibacy is a better path. So we make ‘traditional marriage’ and ‘traditional family’ god ordained and the christian ideal, and everyone feels better about their lack of control. But we must hold the homosexual community to a higher standard; you know, the one set out by Paul in the Bible. So, when is the last time you heard Paul’s comments about celibacy used in a sermon with out the idea of ‘but we know that’s not possible, he he’?

  28. If remarriage after divorce constitutes adultery, then why aren’t conservatives protesting the legal recognition of remarriage? Why did they ever agree to even call them “marriages,” instead of “civil unions” or some such? Doesn’t this violate the basic Christian understanding of marriage? If a “remarried” couple come to your church, wouldn’t you witness to the gospel by pointing out their loose morals, and calling them to repent?

    • Radagast says:

      Depends on which faith tradition your talking about…

    • Gerald,

      I happen to agree with this position. I think if the church is going to stand its ground with regard to ‘the gays’, it needs to start being more strict with its heterosexual members, too.

  29. Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

    Granted, the context is divorce, but to answer a question about marriage, Jesus went back to Genesis and set forward God’s intention in creating people “male and female.” Sexual intimacy creates oneness of flesh between two individuals. That oneness is sacred, and it should not be separated, nor should it be entered into outside of God’s original intentions. Paul quotes the same passage in a fearful way by saying that sexual union with a prostitute makes an individual “one” with her.

    The words of Jesus point us to what God did. God made them male and female. God joined them together. God made them one flesh. God intended that no one should separate them. From the beginning, He did this. This goes way beyond “traditional” to the original intent of our Creator. He did not join man with man or woman with woman. We are not wise when we approve of anything apart from this pattern that God HImself created.

  30. JoanieD says:

    My husband was married before and then divorced and I married him. In the definition of adultery, are we both adulterers? Wikipedia says the definition is “sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than their spouse or spouses.’ Well, we are married to each other and not having sex with others so that definition would not make it adultery. UNLESS you say that divorce is wrong and therefore in God’s eyes he is still married to his first wife and therefore he would be committing adultery to have sex with me. Would I be considered to be committing adultery to be having sex with him? For the record, we have been married for going on 34 years. That’s a long time to be committing adultery. Also for the record, I talked to the priest in the parish church that I attend (he was two priests ago at this point) and he said no problem with my receiving communion, etc.

    I realize this is a bit off-topic, but I would like to get it straight as to whether in official Christian circles I would be considered an adulteress.

    Carry on…

    • No, it means your husband is a polygamist. Which is fine, according to the Bible.

    • Phil M. says:

      I think this is good real-life example, Joanie. I doubt most people here would be willing to slap the label “adulteress” or “adulterer” on you or your husband even though technically it may be what is correct. We don’t do that to people because divorce and remarriage is something that is very, very common now. We decided that we can’t let this issue completely define people. Yet for homosexuality we still use that issue to completely define a person. It’s an interesting dichotomy. My personal theory is that we allow this bit of cognitive dissonance because most of us will never be personally tempted to have sexual relations with persons of the same sex, so it’s easy for us to take a hard line against something that there’s no risk of us dealing with personally. It’s becomes much harder to take such a hard line when we’re dealing with an issue that personally affects us.

    • Interesting points Phil. Thanks for posing the question Joanie. Obviously you are not alone and Jesus’ words on divorce have troubled me. I’m in my second marriage as well and believe God brought her into my life to keep me focused on Him. Because without her, I’m not sure where I would be right now. This is just another reason to love and treat homosexuals as ourselves no matter where they are at.

    • Thanks, Gerald, Phil and Joel.

      Gerald, I think to be a “polygamist” in technical legal terms, my husband would have to be married to two women at the same time. He is not; he in only legally married to one woman, so I don’t think he could be considered to be a polygamist.

      • My tongue was in my cheek. But when you say “legally,” you are referring to secular law, which is different from canon law (church law). If the latter does not recognize his divorce, then it may regard him as still married to his first wife. I believe this is the Catholic stance. The Orthodox also oppose divorce, but tolerate it (and remarriage) reluctantly–and if memory serves, the legal loophole by which they do so is that they technically allowing polygamy!

        Okay, reality time: Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount do not lend themselves to practical, humane rules of family law. They are thoroughly impractical and in some cases, inhumane. It is possible, perhaps, to interpret them in some abstract theological way which absolves us from having to actually follow them literally (if you are dead-set on “obeying” Jesus). But as a guide to social principles, the Pharisees were far more sensible.

  31. 1 Timothy 1:8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

    • Here is a good example of what may not be helpful in this debate, depending on the commenter’s intention. Many think that quoting a few verses from the Bible ends the discussion. It doesn’t. It merely begins the discussion. What does this text mean? To what “law” is he referring? “Those practicing homosexuality” is the English translation — to whom do Paul’s words refer in the original languages? What did it mean to “practice homosexuality” in his culture? And even if we come to answers regarding questions like those, then we have to figure out how to apply them in an entirely different context today.

      Jeff Cook’s article is an attempt to advance the discussion beyond simply quoting the Bible. Whether or not you agree with him (and he himself nor I have come to conclusions about this matter), try to appreciate that he is trying to advance the discussion beyond cliches and throwing Bible verses at each other. Those who were unwilling to welcome the Gentiles into the church apart from them submitting to Law-observance had plenty of Bible verses they could quote to show, for example, that no uncircumcised male was to be welcomed into the full privileges of God’s people. A great deal of the New Testament captures the early church trying to deal with laws like that and what they should do about them in the light of the new situation brought about in Jesus.

      Quoting Bible verses is only helpful if one is doing so to advance the discussion, not end it.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I agree. That’s a really annoying argumentative strategy, one which I see in the writing projects of students who drop direct quotes into their essays, assuming that “the quotes speak for themselves.” It is impossible to engage with any text, including Scripture, without some interpretive activity. Stop pretending that this text can be applied to any principle or doctrine as pure and untouched; we have to explore it, and do so in the context of your understanding of the text.

      • I’ve never understood when people simply cut and paste portions of Scripture and leave that as a comment. It’s as if there saying, “it’s right here, and it’s clear – you’re wrong”. Obviously if everything were patently obvious, there would be no discussion or disagreement in the first place. It’s would be like a lawyer simply reading a section from the federal registry and simply saying “I rest my case” afterwards. Do people think that we honestly don’t know what these portions of Scripture say?

  32. What I find interesting about this whole conversation is that the comments are all addressing the issue of whether homosexuality is sinful and totally avoiding the question that the original post raises about how we interpret Scripture – as if the answer to that is so obvious that it doesn’t bear talking about. Or as if our individual understandings of Scripture are so deeply ingrained that we aren’t even conscious of them as something that could be analyzed or questioned.

    I think that’s where the parallel really applies: the early church found themselves facing a dilemma where Scripture seemed to be on one side and the Holy Spirit seemed to be on the other, and the only way they were able to resolve it and move on together was by coming to a completely different understanding of what Scripture is – that it was not a list of rules by which we grow closer to God, but a “guardian” or “tutor” put in charge of us to lead us toward Christ.

    Modern evangelical culture has somehow drifted back into seeing the Bible as a “rule book” that tells us how to live and what is right or wrong. As long as we take that view of Scripture, it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation about finding a Christian response to homosexuality. So in my mind, what we need most is not to try to sort out what is a “ceremonial” versus “moral” law or what Paul intended certain words to mean, since you can really argue either side there with complete intellectual integrity. What we need to do is get back to the questions we keep avoiding: what is the Bible? How should we read it? Why did God give us the Bible? What purpose does it serve in our growth as Christians? How does God speak to us through the Bible? In what sense is the Bible “true”?

    (In a similar vein, having drifted into an understanding of salvation that revolves around Jesus being punished by God on our behalf, we need to ask the same questions about our understanding of salvation: what is sin? What is salvation? What did Jesus accomplish on our behalf? One reason that homosexuality poses such a problem for modern evangelicals is that our understanding of salvation is very different from the most prevalent historical and Biblical views, and as a result we end up so fixated on the question of what is or is not a sin that we can’t get past that to the question of how we should actually live.)

    • Good points, Michael Z. I read your blog post on “Jesus Didn’t Die for Nice People” and I agree with all that you wrote there.

    • I support the gay agenda, but deny the Holy Spirit. (Or more specifically, I am dubious of rhetoric to the effect that “the Spirit” or “the Church” teaches this or that, when in fact it is a matter of opinion.)

  33. One problem I see with the circumcision analogy is that the OT is a lot less univocal and absolute on the place of the gentiles than the NT is on sexual ethics.

  34. I’m a little late to the conversation, but I’m gonna throw in my 2 cents.

    Jeff Cook is absolutely not on to something new. He’s just rehashing an old line of rhetoric designed to blur the lines on what scripture CLEARLY teaches. With all the hermeneutical maneuvering some progressives use on this issue, they literally make it impossible for scripture to condemn a sexual practice they desire to justify.

    Here’s how the analogy breaks down: create a straw man, call that “orthodoxy,” question orthodoxy by showing how cruel and unfair it is (throw in a tear-jerking story about of terrible discrimination), suggest that the church has been wrong (even unfaithful to Scripture) the whole time. I’m a bit tired of hearing this because it sound too much like glorified rationalization. I’m developing an allergic reaction to this type of liberal equivocation that provokes a diarrhea of the mouth (or in this case, fingers). So pardon me while I rant.

    The straw man: “according to most of Christian culture her sexuality ought to have been the Spirit’s first target for conviction and repair.”

    Baloney. According to the Bible belt South, maybe. This has practically become a little cult of its own, being dominated by the Southern Baptists, and is not a valid example of Christian orthodoxy.

    This is a caricature of conservative Christian culture designed to cast us all as uptight, fundamentalist fuddy-duddies incapable of accepting or loving those different from us. I call foul play. I recognize this is a distinct reality for many, but it is a minority report for my experience of very conservative, even fundamentalist, Christianity. Most know how to draw the line between homosexual inclinations and sexual activity quite clearly.

    Gays are not Gentiles. Period. Homosexuality is not as clear cut and black and white as ethnicity. It never has been, never will be. It is a behavioral result of desires which can not be universally accounted for. Unless you want to put all gay people into one small little category: “born this way” or “molested as a child.” For some reason, those rules always have exceptions.

    The church has always had ONE, clear, and consistent teaching on this issue. Jesus LOVES homosexuals. Jesus died for homosexuals. Jesus freely and openly accepts and forgives homosexuals like anybody else. God is not in love with a future, non-gay version of homosexuals. Jesus comes ONLY for sinners. Gay sex is fornication. Scripture and Christian tradition know nothing of “committed relationships,” they are an invention of the 20th century. Sinful man always seeks to come to Christ on his own terms and find the Jesus that condones his lifestyle. Anyone who approaches the text with fear and trembling sees far less wiggle room than the progressive hermeneutic would like. The unclarity of Scripture is NOT why this issue is even “on the table” these days: the demands of progressive society have set the agenda, and it is the job of the Church to speak truth to power, not accommodate it.

    • Miguel, though I respect your considered opinions, remember that the post by Jeff Cook was not written by someone who has the agenda you portray here. It was penned by a conservative Christian who is considering possibilities based on what is happening in his church. He does not have a “progressive hermeneutic” but is trying to think through whether an equally explosive issue in the early church has any relevance to an issue we’re facing today. Scripture was crystal clear for those who could point to passage after passage denying the full privileges of inclusion in God’s people for those who did not submit to Torah observance too. If you don’t think the situations are analagous, fine. But don’t attribute some kind of progressive social agenda to the author. It’s simply not true.

      • Right. I did not mean to attribute this agenda to Cook, but merely that it is the source of the reasoning which he is considering (i.e. I’ve heard it before). But I’m also not comfortable with the “scripture was perfectly clear to the first century Jews” line of reasoning. Either Scripture blatantly overturns its own teachings, or the first century Jews were wrong about that one. I think that while they may have felt they had absolutely “clarity,” the ramifications of the new covenant recalibrate entirely how the old covenant was understood, and they were in the process of working that out. Technically, there would have been correct under the Old Covenant, but there was a paradigm shift to be undergone as a result of the fulness of the revelation of the Gospel in Christ. Also, if we believe the New Testament scriptures to be inspired by God, then we also have a word from God which directly addresses the situation. Neither applies to the contemporary debate. Cook may be waiting on a “clear conviction from Christ” on this issue, but unless he is expecting a Third Covenant to be inaugurated any time soon, I’m not entirely certain where he expects this new conviction to come from. It just sounds like the “God is still speaking” idea where revelation is an ongoing process and the Scriptures are not enough to formulate doctrine. This approach does not proceed from faith in God’s Word, so I don’t think it too great a stretch to question if it leads in a direction away from right belief.

        It is true that more often than not the Christian community has excluded and ostracized homosexuals. I suggest it isn’t because we’ve misinterpreted scripture, but because we’ve failed to consistently understand and apply our own doctrine. We’ve despised the contrite and broken-hearted. However, I also feel that the politicization of the issue has caused the real victims to get lost in the noise: Orthodox believers of homosexual attraction have such a difficult time finding a home in Christianity because one side wants to justify them, and the other would deny them forgiveness. Those who wish to walk in repentance often go quietly un-noticed in the artillery exchanges, as they drift between churches seeking a safe place to be honest.

        • I don’t think it is the “source of his reasoning,” Miguel.

          The Scripture he is considering is Acts 10:28, Peter’s testimony, which says, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

          Note how Peter had to deal with a disconnect between “our law” and “God has shown me.”

          As James McGrath says,

          We can discuss whether this statement is strictly speaking true – but if it isn’t, that serves as a warning that even Peter, and/or the author of Acts, could be persuaded that something is unbiblical when it in fact was not.

          Either way, on the other hand, Peter says that God had persuaded him to contravene what he believed to be the teaching of Scripture.

          The contrast is stark, and today’s conservative Christians would expel Peter from their churches for daring to say such a thing, were he to say it today.

          • Mike, the “source” was a reference to his straw man rhetoric, not his poor exegesis.

            And I think James McGrath is dead wrong with his spin and sloppy to boot. It’s the kind of “loose reading” progressives (which apparently he is) like to use to blur the lines scripture draws when they’d rather expand the boundaries to be more inclusive.

            “Today’s conservative Christians…” nothing like reading your own political axe to grind into the text. Don’t even bother trying to disguise it! But needless to say, it would be right for a church to expel anyone who gets up and says, “the Scriptures say this, but God has told me otherwise.”

            But that is not what is going on in the text anyways. It’s more like, “your tradition says this, but that is not faithful to the Word of God.”

            You cite the disagreement between “our law” and “God has shown me.” The problem with this logic is a faulty equating of terms. “Our Law” becomes substituted for “the ‘clear teaching’ of Scripture,” and “God has revealed to me” becomes suddenly a contemporary appeal. I don’t believe that option is available to us: God isn’t imparting doctrinal prescriptions directly to our craniums in a manner similar to the Apostles. The canon is closed.

            McGrath is also trying to drag the idea of holding to Biblical prescription through the mud by showing how easy it is to get it wrong. But Peter NEVER SAID this was the teaching of Scripture. Case and point, what he says can not be found in the Old Testament. It is Jewish tradition, nothing more. How McGrath could miss this and assume it’s exhibit 1a of the problems of trying to be “Biblical” is beyond me.

            Acts 10:28 is an example of how tradition can wrongly apply the word of God, but Peter’s divine revelation is not a prescriptive example of how we are to do theology. Unless, of course, you belong to the Charismatic tradition and include the title “Prophet” before your name.

            I get that we need humility when arguing about the things of God. But the authority of Scripture IS something on which to take a principled stand. Cook is not making an argument concerning the issue at hand from scripture. He is using the scripture to “prove” that we can be wrong about some things, so therefore we may be wrong about this one as well. He is not addressing what Scripture has to say about the topic in question when that ought to be the primary concern.

          • Remember Miguel, Cook did not bring this up as a settled conclusion, but as a possible analogy. Note that I too phrased the title as a question. We’re exploring possibilities here, not advancing convictions. I would simply urge caution in speaking so forcefully so as to shut down discussion. Some will like the direction Cook is going–mcGrath– others like yourself may think it a non-starter. We can still talk about it.

            BTW you seem pretty sure that Peter was only appealing to Jewish tradition here. Do you feel confident that your understanding of Torah and its requirements is better than his?

          • Something about this issue really brings out my inner grouch, but I reserve the right to be firmly convinced of my own opinion. I’m not against having a discussion, but when historic Christian teaching is being tabled in the name of “conversation,” I want to hear compelling exegetical arguments, not political obfuscation. I just seems this analogy, however well intentioned, leans a bit towards the later. With my limited experience in church work being so full of bad politics, I get squeamish when it seems some would play games with truth. Truth led me out of the wilderness: I hold it sacred.

            And I don’t see in the text that Peter was referring to Scripture (wouldn’t he have said “Scripture” if it were the case?). The Jewish tradition grew out of their application of the Levitical code, but as we see from some of the encounters with Jesus, this often led to missing the forrest for the trees. Could it be that this was another example of that? After all, God did intervene to correct the error. Presumably it wasn’t His own: God’s further revelation did not abolish the previous: it fulfilled it.