Sins of Scripture IV: Homosexuality
Former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong (or is it bishop emeritus?) writes next about the treatment of gays in his book The Sins of Scripture. I agree that the church has treated gays and lesbians unfairly. But I disagree with Spong that homosexuality is no sin. Clearly condemned in multiple places, the sin of homosexuality has become some sort of “super-sin” to evangelicals.
The only “super-sin” is blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Homosexuality, therefore, should be treated as any other sin. The sinner should be confronted about it, and walked through the Scriptures that condemn the practice. If he or she refuses to repent, I don’t think that ostracizing the poor chap is the answer–although a case could certainly be made for it. I think that prayer is the answer, like we would do for any other sin. Of course such a person would be excluded from church leadership, again, the same as with any sin.
Bishop Spong, however, believes that homosexuality is an inborn characteristic and as such is perfectly acceptable. What Spong fails to deal with, however, is that rage and alcoholism are also inborn characteristics. But no one would ever seriously argue that those two things are good, so why is homosexuality any different?
I also happen to believe that we are born with our sexual orientation. It fits perfectly with Jesus’ teaching to deny ourselves in order to follow him. Everyone has sin in their lives that they must deal with. The homosexual person has an orientation that is offensive to God, and he or she must deal with that sin just as the rest of us deal with ours. They shouldn’t get a free pass just because society is coming around to accept homosexuality for the first time in 10,000 years of human history.
Spong deals with three texts of the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality: the holiness code of Leviticus, the story of Sodom, and Paul’s letters. Throughout his treatment, Spong uses emotionally loaded terms like “bigotry” and “homophobia” to describe people that hold to the Bible’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin. He often states that Bible-defenders get angry or upset when confronted with arguments in favor of homosexuality. What he never does is present an argument, or even a concise summary of his opponents’ views.
The first texts that Spong examines are the two references in Leviticus, which is part of the holiness code of Israel. Not surprisingly, the liberal bishop holds to JEDP theory about the authorship of the Torah, a position which is dismantled here. Therefore, Spong believes that the book of Leviticus was written by a priestly writer during the Exile, and interprets the text in that light.
Nowhere in his “argument” did Spong address the issues of what the holiness code represents for Christians today. Briefly, there are three parts to the Mosaic law: Jewish dietary laws, cultural norms, and universal moral precepts. Paul writes that the law isn’t binding on us anymore, and the Torah is written for our instruction (Rom 15:4), and so that means that we are free (in a limited sense) to follow or not follow the elements of the law. The dietary laws are out the window (cf. Acts 10). The cultural norms we follow the spirit of without getting bogged down in the letter of the law (cf. 2 Cor 3:6). The universal moral precepts we should still follow to the letter.
What Spong could do here, but fails to even attempt, is to make some case that the prohibitions on homosexuality refer to either cultural norms or dietary laws. Therefore, we would not be bound to that proscription the same way as a universal moral precept. The early church classified homosexuality as a universal moral precept (cf. Rom 1:26-27), but a cogent case can be made for another classification. Especially if one holds to JEDP theory.
I agree that the story of Sodom makes a poor case for homosexuality being a sin. This is an exceedingly complex narrative with a lot of morally ambiguous things happening. Let’s just move on to Paul.
Spong is wrong in saying that homosexuality is a punishment for sins. It is a symptom, as the text makes clear. Paul is really saying that God gives sinners up to their desires, homosexuality among them. At some unclear point, it will be too late to turn to God; God will have hardened your heart and you will be unable to repent. That is another consequence of sin. This is never done against your free will. A long history of rejecting God is required before the Lord will take this drastic step.
Now, as to Paul’s repressed sexuality, that is between God and Paul. If he is indeed gay, Paul did a masterful job of repressing it and serves as an example to all people who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. He appears not to have ever acted on it.
Homosexuality is unnatural and sinful. It is, for some unclear reason, an inborn trait. God forbids us to act on this, the same as we are better off staying away from certain other inborn traits like alcoholism and rage. For those who struggle with homosexuality and are Christians, help is available at Exodus International or NARTH.