Prof. Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Dec. 10, 2008 (expanded slightly Dec. 16)
Excerpts from the outstanding response by Dr. Gagnon's article -
More than “Mutual Joy”: Lisa Miller of Newsweek against Scripture and Jesus
Jesus, Love, and Homosexual Practice
Jesus was not “inclusive” about sexual matters. He took an already carefully circumscribed sexual ethic given to him in the Hebrew Bible and narrowed it even further, revoking the license given especially to men to have more than one sex partner (the sayings on divorce/remarriage) and extending God’s demand for sexual purity even to the interior life (forbidding adultery of the heart; Matthew 5:27-32).
New Testament scholar Walter Wink once argued against my first book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001; 500 pgs.), that the Bible has no distinctive sexual ethic but only sexual customs or mores that must be critiqued by Jesus’ love commandment. As I indicated in my rebuttal of Wink (here, pp. 77-80) Jesus obviously had a distinctive sex ethic that sometimes arrived at diametrically opposite results from his application of the love commandment. Jesus taught that we should love all with whom we come into contact, including enemies. He universalized the “love your neighbor as yourself” command in Lev 19:18. At the same time, he restricted the number of sex partners lifetime to one other person of the other sex. Obviously, then, one cannot argue for a sexual union on the basis merely of generic concepts of love; for otherwise Jesus would have had to command sex with everyone we meet or at least with everyone with whom we develop a committed relationship. So it is absurd for Miller to argue, as she does, that since “Jesus taught [us] to love one another,” “what happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this.” The only way to avoid such absurdities is to acknowledge that the love commandment is an insufficient (even if necessary) basis for legitimizing sexual bonds. Sexual relationships must also entail special requirements concerning the formal (structural, embodied) complementarity of the participants. For sexual intimacy is not merely more intimacy or deeper love.
To move, as Miller does, from the fact that Jesus reached out to sexual sinners to the conclusion that Jesus was not really concerned about “what happens in the bedroom" is to misread completely Jesus’ message and mission. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance—and here by sinners Jesus meant those who had egregiously violated the law, including adulterers and economically exploitative tax collectors—lest they be excluded from the kingdom of God that he was proclaiming. Thus he prevented the woman caught in adultery from being stoned—dead people can’t repent—while calling on her to “go and no longer be sinning” (John 8:11). The same line appears in John 5:14, followed up with the warning: “lest something worse happen to you,” in context, loss of eternal life.
One of Miller’s arguments as to why the Bible’s views on homosexual practice should be disregarded—an odd line of argumentation given that she often seems to deny that the Bible indicts homosexual practice absolutely—is: “It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter).” And yet we don’t find Miller rejecting prohibitions of adultery, man-mother or man-daughter incest, or bestiality—other first-tier sexual offenses in Lev 20:10-16 for which a capital sentence is prescribed. The capital sentencing underscores the severity of the offense. The story of the woman caught in adultery suggests that Jesus would have waived the capital sentencing but on grounds of extending the options for repentance and not because he regarded the offenses in question as light matters. In fact, for Jesus something greater was at stake than a capital sentence in this life; namely, eternal exclusion from God’s presence. Therefore every opportunity must be given for the person to repent in this life.
Miller says: “Jesus revealed himself to the woman at the well— no matter that she had five former husbands and a current boyfriend.” What Miller fails to understand is that Jesus is evangelizing the Samaritan woman, first convincing her of the need to believe in him. The obedience to commands will invariably follow, as John 14:15 makes clear: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Without such moral transformation it is impossible to continue to remain in Jesus; one is thrown like an unfruitful branch into the fire (John 15:10).
There can be no doubt about the fact that Jesus took sexual sin with the utmost seriousness. In the Sermon on the Mount, sandwiched in between the two antitheses having to do with sex (adultery of the heart and divorce/remarriage), is Jesus’ warning that, if one’s eye or hand threatens one’s spiritual downfall, one should cut off the offending member for it is better to enter heaven maimed than to be thrown into hell full-bodied (Matthew 5:29-30). Miller doesn’t love homosexual persons more because she extends to them a “right” to be married. She loves them less because she has granted an absolution from a form of behavior that God has not permitted and, in so doing, encourages them to do things that Scripture (including Jesus) teaches will put them at high risk of not inheriting God’s kingdom. Miller is like a parent telling a child who is about to touch a hot stove: “Go ahead and experiment: It won’t hurt you.” Such “tolerance” and “love” turns out to be functional hate.
Meacham stumbles on: “This argument from Scripture is difficult to take seriously—though many, many people do—since the passages in question are part and parcel of texts that, with equal ferocity, forbid particular haircuts.” No, the forbidding of certain hairstyles is not approached in Scripture with “equal ferocity”—nor with equal pervasiveness across Scripture, nor with the same backing from Jesus, nor with the same absoluteness, nor with the same countercultural force. Any attempt to compare Scripture’s stance on a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations with its stance on “haircuts” shows the complete “intellectual bankruptcy” of the formulator of the argument.
A final note: Should believers work to prevent government from foisting the homosexualist agenda on the population? Yes, very definitely so. The withholding of governmental incentives for homosexual practice is as much a civil issue as society's prohibition of incest and polygamy (even of an adult, consensual sort). As Jesus argued, it is the twoness of the sexes that is the foundation for the limitation of the number of partners in a sexual union to two (bringing together the two primary sexes makes a third party both unnecessary and undesirable). And incest is prohibited in Scripture on the basis of the principle that too much structural (embodied, formal) sameness (here, as regards kinship) is problematic for sexual relationships—a principle established by the prior prohibition of sexual relations between persons too much alike on the level of gender or sex. Paul made use of a nature argument in Romans 1:24-27, for those who don’t know (or don’t care) what Scripture says, alongside of an echo to Genesis 1:26-27. Both Jews and Christians in antiquity viewed the prohibitions of same-sex intercourse, incest, adultery, and bestiality as applicable beyond the sphere of God's people (already in Leviticus they apply also to resident aliens).
We know today that disproportionately high rates of harm attend those who engage in homosexual practice (on average, high numbers of sex partners lifetime and sexually transmitted infections, even for those in “committed relationships”; mental health difficulties and short-term relationships, even when society gives its approval of homosexual unions; go here). Moreover, there is some evidence that cultural approval can affect the incidence of homosexuality in a population (for which go here; and here, pp. 30-34, 120-25). Today’s people of God should actively oppose governmental imposition of "gay marriage" and homosexual civil unions (marriage without the name). The alternative is to have government penalize you for speaking out against homosexual practice, hold hostage your children in the school systems to homosexualist propaganda, and coerce businesses to subsidize immorality through mandatory health benefits for same-sex couples and “affirmative action” programs for “sexual orientation minorities” (go here); in short, to have society treat you as the moral equivalent of a virulent racist and attenuate your civil liberties accordingly.