Thursday, March 3, 2016

Further Conversation on the Interpretation of Scripture - Pt.2

Finishing the post begun two days ago, I'm looking at the response of Thomas Lambrecht to Donald Haynes. In the first post, Lambrecht gave two rebuttals. In this post we'll look at three more.

Lambrecht accuses Haynes of:

  1. Using the results of scientific inquiry to overturn the teachings of Scripture.
Haynes states that homosexuality is "a genetic sexual orientation." Lambrecht cites the American Psychological Association as disagreeing, saying that there is no consensus about the cause of homosexuality. Lambrecht is correct in saying, "Scientists have identified no 'gay gene.'" Of course there are countless traits that have not been identified by a specific gene that nevertheless are likely genetic. Although the research is disputed, this article gives a quick primer on the possible link between homosexuality and epigenetics (changes to our DNA after conception.)

Lambrecht's science vs. scripture setup is unfair. There are hints even as far back as Augustine that our understanding of Scripture can be altered based on what we glean from science and the world. In the Methodist tradition, One of our foremost Wesleyan scholars, Randy Maddox, says, "And when Wesley confronted an apparent conflict between current science and Scripture, he sought an understanding that did justice to both." In this case, if there is science that suggests that homosexuality is not a choice the door is open to the possibility is reconciling it with Scripture. I would add to Lambrecht's conclusion, "We ground our understanding about morality, right and wrong, in the timeless truths of Scripture" the words, "that have continued to be clarified and refined over the last 2,000 years." We have greater understanding now, and we can embrace that along with Scripture.

  1. Arguing from silence.
Haynes rightfully points out, "Holy Scripture never refers to homosexuality in the context of a loving relationship between two consenting adults whose sexual orientation might be naturally homosexual, and who have a committed, monogamous relationship or marriage." Lambrecht's reply is wholly unsatisfactory.

First, he claims that "historical research has demonstrated that such relationships did exist in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds" and cites Plato and Philo as examples. But Philo merely quotes Plato and Plato wrote roughly 400 years before Paul. Is the best evidence for same-sex relationships really the writings of a person who lived 400 years earlier than the period we are focusing on? Actually, yes. That is the best evidence. And it's lousy evidence. Plato appears to be writing not about real relationships but idealized relationships, so it's unlikely that even he knew about actual loving relationships. Further, in her masterful work Paul Among the People, Sarah Ruden demonstrates that there is absolutely no evidence contemporaneous to Paul of loving same-sex relationships. 

Second, he points out that "Given that every reference in Scripture to homosexual behavior is negative, one would think that the authors would mention the exception that merited acceptance, in order to clarify what the Bible really teaches." But this misses the most basic point - the Biblical authors didn't write about an exception because they did not know there was an exception! They had not witnessed an exception! It would sound as foreign to the culture at the time as a conversation about condoms and birth control pills. How would they even talk about it?

Finally, Lambrecht says, "Arguments from silence are always fraught with uncertainty and not something one can build one's theology on." This is true in and of itself, but it is not reflective of the theology of those of us in favor of LGBT people. We build our theology on the most basic of Christian beliefs, the Love of God. For one example of a positive theology you're welcome to watch a recent sermon I gave on the topic of same-sex marriage.

  1. Ignoring Scriptures that don’t support your viewpoint.
In summary, Lambrecht states, 'Haynes does not explain how the constant thread of heterosexual marriage from Genesis to Revelation supports the affirmation of same-sex relationships." My simple reply is that the Biblical passages Lambrecht supplies support marriage, period. None of them argue against same-sex marriage. They are silent. 

Lambrecht posted part 3 of his blog yesterday. I'll tackle it next week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Further Conversation on the Interpretation of Scripture - Pt.1

Last month Rev. Dr. Donald Haynes wrote an article suggesting that Scripture does not categorically classify homosexuality as sinful. Rev. Thomas Lambrecht of Good News wrote a two part rebuttal. I encourage you to read both as they are good primers on some of the basic arguments for and against full inclusion for LGBTQ individuals, particularly in the United Methodist Church. I don't think either necessarily advances the case for or against beyond more basic understandings. Dr. Haynes suggestions are standard and Rev. Lambrecht's replies are predictable. In hope to stimulate further conversation, I'd like to reply specifically to Rev. Lambrecht's critique point by point. Lambrecht says Haynes is guilty of:

  1. Misclassifying certain verses and/or lumping unlike verses together into a category that can be disregarded.
Lambrecht reminds us that Haynes classifies the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality as cultural instead of universal (comparing them to laws against eating pork instead of laws like loving others as we love ourselves.) He correctly points out that our United Methodist tradition, and indeed most of Western Christianity, categorizes those ancient laws as ritual, civil, and moral. Ritual and civil laws are intended for a time but moral laws are intended to be universal. He then says, "It is plain that laws related to sexuality are not ceremonial or governmental in nature, but moral." 

It is important to note that the distinction that we (and John Wesley before us) make regarding which laws fall into which categories is not entirely clear. One would be wise to proceed with caution at the "It is obvious that..." argument. What is "obvious" to one group or person may not be so obvious to another. For example, Levirate marriage is proscribed in Deuteronomy 25. Today we understand it as a civil law that ensured continuity of the family line and mechanisms for inheritance. But at the time, Levirate marriage would have been seen as a moral imperative. A brother must accept responsibility for his deceased brother's family! Similarly, at the time Leviticus was written one could argue that common sense said that it is a man's moral duty to marry a woman and reproduce so that we can fill the country with people for defense and prosperity. Today the land is pretty well filled with people and common sense (or at least a majority of people in the U.S.) would say that what happens in a person's bedroom stays in the bedroom.

Could the Levitical texts against homosexuality be moral laws that apply still today? Yes, they could. But there is nothing in Leviticus or elsewhere that demands that the answer is yes. 

  1. Misinterpreting and misapplying the biblical and cultural context to nullify the teaching in question.
Here Lambrecht is specifically concerned with how Haynes treats Romans 1. Haynes argues that Romans 1 is likely referring to temple prostitution and Lambrecht disagrees. I disagree with Haynes, too. Lambrecht correctly points out that the entire list of sins in Romans 1 is "a result of idolatry, rather than an expression of idolatry." Homosexuality is listed alongside "envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, [gossips], slanderers, etc." I know a number of "practicing homosexuals." They are not perfect people. But they are also not people to whom I would attribute these characteristics. Matthew Vines and others argue that the entire list of sins depends on our understanding of the word translated as "lust" in v. 24 and 26. Because there was no concept of sexual orientation, a person who desired same-sex relations had excessive (lustful) desire. Thus Paul's teaching is not about homosexuality as a sin; it is about idolatry as a sin - desiring anything (or lusting for anything) above God.

I'll end this post here as Lambrecht did with his and continue with additional points later. But first, one more important note on Romans. Too often we end our reading with Romans 1 instead of continuing as Paul does with Romans 2:1. "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." If we look carefully, we can all find ourselves in the list of sins that Paul lays out in Romans 1. At the very least may we speak and judge carefully, knowing that we are all doing our best and falling short at the same time.