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Sexuality and Christian belief (Was: Homosexuality and the Bible)

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On a train on my way to a screening (Babies, hooray!), and reading Stu's thoughtful comments above with growing consternation ... How am I going to meet my deadlines this week with a growing list of thoughtful queries in this thread to respond to? Looking back, I see I missed comments from Darren and Ryan that I'd like to respond to. Yikes. How am I supposed to have a life with all this going on here? More tomorrow, probably.

I suggest a polite lack of response, and attention to the non-virtual bodies of those you love...

Having said that (!), was just about to post the following to clarify what I'm on about:

At present the teaching I quoted doesn't appear to give clear and straightforward pastoral advice (which presumably is the point of teaching) to homosexuals. Because it kind of says: "Ok, you're not a sinner, simply by having these inclinations or desires. But you are gravely disordered. Unfortuately, the church is here to bring hope to sinners, not the gravely disordered. So... just stay out of trouble, if you can."

Perhaps that's unfair. But it does seem to me to be on a par with the advice I received as a teenager concerning, er, sins of emission:

1. Masturbation is not really a sin... *

2. Still (despite point 1), do not masturbate...

3. But if you do masturbate (despite point 2), don't feel guilty about it (see point 1).

The result of this level of mixed messaging was, of course, the following:

1. Masturbate, since it is not, technically a sin;

2. Feel guilty, having been told not to masturbate;

3. Feel confused about feeling guilty about something that is not a sin.

Then, for the neurotic, a further flourish, as if to prove Nietzsche right about everything:

4. Feel guilty about feeling guilty.

Of course, there is one easy way to escape, temporarily, this predicament:

1. Masturbate, since it is not, technically a sin...

(too much information? sorry...)

* It cannot be, since it is not explicitly prohibited by scripture - I am, or was, protestant.

Edited by stu

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Sitting in screening room ... movie about to start.

Stu, FWIW, my experience as an Evangelical adolescent was much the same as yours. Although James Dobson and Richard Foster assured me it was not a sin, part of me never really believed it, much as I tried to.

I also tried NOT believing that it wasn't a sin ... but I never found a rationale that made sense in the absence of a clear Bible verse. It was not without some hope that I searched out Protestant sources that argued against acceptance of masturbation (I remember an article in Cornerstone that wasn't completely unhelpful), but I could always find the loopholes and it was never really persuasive. Part of me definitely wanted to be persuaded ... I felt, in a way I can't fully explain on my iPhone before the screening starts, that it would be liberating.

As I began to encounter Catholicism, there were many arguments and angles that I did not immediately relish. But when I got my first taste of John Paul II's theology of the body, mediated thru Thomas Howard's Chance or the Dance? (among others), and could finally wrap my head around a Christian sexual ethic that made sense if everything including masturbation and why it was wrong ... Well, it was an almost exhilarating relief. Freedom is a sweet thing.

The Church's teaching on concupiscence, which is vital to the questions you've raised, was also a big liberating "Aha!" moment. More later.

Edited by SDG

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1. Masturbation is not really a sin... *

2. Still (despite point 1), do not masturbate...

3. But if you do masturbate (despite point 2), don't feel guilty about it (see point 1).

The result of this level of mixed messaging was, of course, the following:

1. Masturbate, since it is not, technically a sin;

2. Feel guilty, having been told not to masturbate;

3. Feel confused about feeling guilty about something that is not a sin.

Then, for the neurotic, a further flourish, as if to prove Nietzsche right about everything:

4. Feel guilty about feeling guilty.

This will sound like a tangent, but is not based on the guilty about feeling guilty thing. I must say that this reminds me, in addition to the issue specified above (I'm a little older, there were few to NO "experts" among evangelicals floating theories of masturbation being OK), of my own conflicted inner life over the issue of popular music (then called evilrocknroll). Went through the exact same thing, never resolved until later. This is not tangential because the guilt thing is not always a good indicator, so much as principle and one's beliefs. Guilt can be just as manipulative as the sense that something is "just right". Stephen Lamb, help me out here. Sound familiar?

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For what it's worth, a certain relative of mine who happens to be a Pastor, used to have a book in his study called "Pigs in the Parlor", by Frank Hammond. It was recommended that I read it to become better equipped in spiritual warfare, even though at the time my literary diet consisted solely of Banner of Truth Puritan classics and I felt well-equipped already.

This book had some awesomely sensationalistic claims regarding the dangers of concupiscence (specifically masturbation and oral/anal sex). The most memorable claim was that the author knew immediately when someone had an oral sex demon because the demon would manifest in the person with a "rapidly flicking tongue" expression. I don't recall if the demon of masturbation had a specific manifestation as well but if so ,I imagine it would be instantly recognizable as well. To date that book has sold over a million copies and can sometimes be found in the spinning religious kiosk at Walmart.

This is certainly an extreme example of fringe Pentecostalism. Or is it? If these specific acts (masturbation or oral sex in marriage) constitute what the KJV calls "concupiscence", and if demons gain a foothold in people's lives though these types of "grave, habitual sins", is it that far-fetched to think that demonic oppression/possession could take place?

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FWIW, Greg, "concupiscence" in its traditional Catholic sense means something quite different from the usage you describe. (It does not refer to sinful or sexually immoral acts.)

OTOH, knowing this about your background and family history does potentially put your giggle reaction in a more understandable light.

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Well, I didn't get as much work done as I would have liked, but I'm finally stepping back into this thread...

FWIW, I don't see the relevance of the Kristof article to this thread at all.

And I also kind of wish everyone would stop talking about semen etc., since the whole POINT of this thread -- the news hook that got it going in the first place -- concerned a Christian lesbian, i.e. someone who probably doesn't have to worry about semen in her own life. I know I've made that point already, but still, a part of me doesn't want to stray too far from what got this thread going in the first place. If we're going to talk about homosexuality in the Bible, then let's try to do so in gender-inclusive terms wherever possible.

Side note, inspired by the distinction that has been made between homosexual orientation and homosexual practice: I have sometimes wondered if Jesus himself was what we might call "bisexual", since scripture does say that he was tempted "in every way, just as we are". How far can we push this "in every way" business? I dunno, but it's a thought. At a minimum, I wouldn't complain if a gay Christian who wanted to refrain from acting on his urges looked to Jesus as an example of someone who felt similar urges but refrained from acting on them, too.

Stephen Lamb wrote:

: When the official news broke about Knapp, I immediately decided that I wouldn't read any comments on the CT article, or in similar places, but that I would follow any conversation that developed here.

Wow, I like that.

: A citation of that verse needs, I think, to include the complete thought present there - including "they shall surely be put to death" - instead of cutting of the thought in the middle, which is how I've always heard it used.

Even if you cut it off in the middle, though, you're still left with the word "abomination" and how to define it. That word is used in the Torah to describe a number of things that nobody cares about today, like eating pig or rabbit (cf. Deuteronomy 14:3ff). So why should anything be made of it, today, when it appears in this line from Leviticus? (Not that I want to raise the food-laws tangent all over again!)

mrmando wrote:

: You've already admitted that you do not object to extrapolations per se. Therefore, if you wish to object to an extrapolation that I have made, you'll have to find some basis for the objection, other than the mere fact of its being an extrapolation, or the mere fact that I was the one who made it.

Actually, if your extrapolation was presented as an alternative to a more authoritative extrapolation (and I can't remember whether it was, because this whole tangent has become so abstract now), then the mere fact that you were the one who made the alternative extrapolation might very well undermine its validity. Or at any rate, it might hinder your ability to build a case for it. At some point you may have to answer the question, "Who do you think you are?" And if you're just you, then, well, you're just you.

: : Nowadays, that has changed, as most churches expect Jewish converts to follow Christian customs and not Jewish ones.

:

: Don't some Messianic congregations try to follow both?

Yes, hence "most". My father is very involved with some Messianic groups, for what it's worth; he reads from the "Jewish New Testament", which is basically an English version of the New Testament that, among other things, uses Hebrew names instead of the Greek names that were put there by the original authors. So this is definitely something I think about from time to time.

: : But as far as the "gospel" is concerned, it covers BOTH Jews AND Gentiles, of course. But to say that it covers both of them is not necessarily to say that it's a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Certainly it doesn't seem to have been in the apostles' lifetime.

:

: We can see that clearly enough in the NT. But what about now?

It's difficult to answer this question across church boundaries, because Orthodoxy and Catholicism can both appeal to an ongoing, historical, continuous development (which we share, up to a point) whereas Protestants have been setting the clock back to one degree or another, and re-setting it back, and re-re-resetting it back, ad nauseum, for the past 500 years. Catholicism and Orthodoxy both expect a certain degree of consistency, but they also both allow for a certain degree of variety when it comes to rites and customs; it is probably safe to say, however, that the Jewish aspects of the early Church have been completely subsumed into the Christian rituals (via our singing of the Psalms, etc.) or discarded altogether (no one nowadays would circumcise a convert just to avoid giving offense, the way that Paul -- Paul, of all people! -- did when Timothy came along). Protestants, on the other hand, have to keep reinventing the wheel, as it were.

: Can the gospel be properly understood in the present day to mean different things for different people, in any way that makes a difference to the main topic being discussed in this thread?

Depends what you mean by "mean". And I do, uh, mean that. When you say "mean different things", do you mean on the theoretical/theological level ("this means we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb", etc.)? Or do you mean on the practical level of how we live our day-to-day lives ("this means I have to do my laundry today", etc.)? Note: I am not implying any sort of serious link between those two quotes. But I think the sentences hint at slightly different meanings for the word "means".

My apologies if it seems like I'm obscuring something that ought to be pretty clear, but it seems to me that the early Church had to deal precisely with this issue: how to ascertain the cosmic, universal "meaning" of the gospel while recognizing that it "meant" different things for different people at the level of how they lived their lives, at least within certain limits.

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Actually, if your extrapolation was presented as an alternative to a more authoritative extrapolation (and I can't remember whether it was, because this whole tangent has become so abstract now)...

I asserted (via extrapolation) that "the gospel" and "the new covenant" apply to the same groups of people. I am not aware that this assertion is controversial in any way, and if it is somehow an "alternative" to a more authoritative point of view, then kindly let me know what the more authoritative point of view would be. You've already made it clear that you didn't deny the assertion itself, you merely took issue with the fact that it was arrived at via extrapolation. It's as if I wrote "8 x 9 x 10 = 720," and you're taking exception because I didn't write "2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 5 = 720."

At some point you may have to answer the question, "Who do you think you are?" And if you're just you, then, well, you're just you.

The same goes for you, unless someone made you a bishop when I wasn't looking. Either my assertion is correct or it isn't. If it is correct, I have as much right to make it as anyone else does.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy both expect a certain degree of consistency, but they also both allow for a certain degree of variety when it comes to rites and customs; it is probably safe to say, however, that the Jewish aspects of the early Church have been completely subsumed into the Christian rituals (via our singing of the Psalms, etc.) or discarded altogether (no one nowadays would circumcise a convert just to avoid giving offense, the way that Paul -- Paul, of all people! -- did when Timothy came along). Protestants, on the other hand, have to keep reinventing the wheel, as it were.

It's beginning to sound as though you think Protestants have left themselves no basis for developing a consistent ethic on anything at all, not just particular aspects of sexuality. (Of course, far too many Protestants act as if this were precisely the case, which doesn't help.)

Depends what you mean by "mean". And I do, uh, mean that. When you say "mean different things", do you mean on the theoretical/theological level ("this means we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb", etc.)? Or do you mean on the practical level of how we live our day-to-day lives ("this means I have to do my laundry today", etc.)?

Probably more the latter ... I'd like to think the former is universal, insofar as any of us can know.

My apologies if it seems like I'm obscuring something that ought to be pretty clear, but it seems to me that the early Church had to deal precisely with this issue: how to ascertain the cosmic, universal "meaning" of the gospel while recognizing that it "meant" different things for different people at the level of how they lived their lives, at least within certain limits.

Right, and the contemporary Church, and church, are still dealing with it. For example, to bring us back on topic, some people (including those with a homosexual orientation) are expected to be celibate and others aren't. Given that you don't consider the matter of homosexuality settled by scripture alone, at what point in Church history did it become settled? (The early Church, after all, didn't have the luxury of appealing to the vague and all-encompassing "two thousand years of Church history." They had to go out and actually make the history.)

Edited by mrmando

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A pair of familiar verses at the center of this issue:

Romans 1:26,27

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion

I think most of us involved in this debate are very familiar with the pro and anti-gay interpretations of these verses, so I know this is nothing revelatory-- just an observation.

If you've ever been to a jail, prison or detention center --and I've been to all three... to preach!-- you know that homosexual acts are a daily reality in these facilities. While counseling with prisoners, i was consistently puzzled to find out many had wives and/or steady girlfriends on the outside whom they cared about deeply. They identified themselves as 100% heterosexual in every way. Yet, I would find out over time, they still had "b*tches" (submissive sex partner)or were themselves a "b*tch" to some other prisoner. And these exchanges were frequently aggressive and often contained some element of brutality.

( BTW, I found a similar dynamic also existed among the homeless, in all the years I worked among that population. At the height of that period, when homeless estimates for Miami were between 6,000 - 8,000 people, I worked in an area at night, that was infamous for rape and male prostitution. Completely heterosexual drug addicts would do anything for cash. That "anything" usually meant homosexual sex. There was also sex for protection, like in prisons. But try to call any of these men "gay" and you'd likely cough up some teeth!)

This is from a book called Prison: The Sexual Jungle:

So, while homosexual rape in prison is initially a macho/power thing, slaves are created because a need exists for slaves - a need for a woman-substitute.. The identification is always on a continuum of passive and dominant, weak and strong, with the weak and passive viewed and related to as being 'female.' ...The 'stud' in a homosexual relationship 'does not consider himself to be a homosexual, or even to have engaged in homosexual acts.

The sex there is about conquest, power, control, intimidation/fear and hopelessness. Every time I read Paul's words about men abandoning their attraction for women in favor of male on male relationships, "inflamed with lust", I think of my experience with men for whom such words were stark reality and not some curious theological point to banter around. Those men truly left their innate sexuality and engaged in relationships that were the antithesis of love. These experiences are one major reason I side with those who interpret the Romans 1 passage as referring to pagan temple prostitution and not the issue of innate sexual orientation. I've seen the phenomena Paul explains and it is not the experience of any homosexual person I've ever personally known.

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A pair of familiar verses at the center of this issue:

Romans 1:26,27

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion

[...]

Every time I read Paul's words about men abandoning their attraction for women in favor of male on male relationships, "inflamed with lust", I think of my experience with men for whom such words were stark reality and not some curious theological point to banter around. Those men truly left their innate sexuality and engaged in relationships that were the antithesis of love. These experiences are one major reason I side with those who interpret the Romans 1 passage as referring to pagan temple prostitution and not the issue of innate sexual orientation. I've seen the phenomena Paul explains and it is not the experience of any homosexual person I've ever personally known.

I've been lurking on this thread and have found it quite interesting and valuable. So I'd like to jump in here and bring up one point I've never heard addressed by temple prostitute theorists (and if one is going to be a theorist, why not be a temple prostitute theorist? :)).

To wit, why would Paul mention lesbianism in this passage ("their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones"), given that in the ancient world lesbianism was not associated with domination in the way that male homosexuality was (i.e. sex with slaves, slave-boys, prostitutes, etc.). If the text refers only to coercive forms of homosexual behavior, why the lesbian reference? Perhaps someone would say the text is not really referring to lesbians--but even if that were true, it would hardly support the case for the coercive/non-coercive distinction. In other words, if Paul's chief target of abomination was coercion in sexual relationships, surely the best way for him to fully drive that point home to his audience would have been an enumeration of only male sexual coercions. Surely they would have understood. Was not the pagan culture of that time notorious for male domination, and was not lesbianism opposed by just about all men, including those "inflamed with lust" for other men (however one wants to construe that phrase)? (And so I see here the logic of Christianity undermining that of sexism--men and women are both prone to idolatry.)

Edited by du Garbandier

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I'm convinced Paul is describing the whole seedy underbelly of pagan temple shenanigans in verses 18-31, including the apparent orgiastic girl-on girl practices. It's important to note that wholly unlike the God of Israel, the pagan gods were sexualized and orgies and eroticism were an important component of their rituals.

Lest we think these were simply a group of free-lovin' hippie liberals, Paul focuses the lens to reveal these particular individuals as "murderous" (v.29), "heartless, ruthless" (v.31), showing a clear picture of physical/emotional brutality and utter debauchery. The gory details when taken together, as they were intended, describe a sort of hell on earth; a place not unlike a third world prison.

I recently watched a short documentary on Liberia, where cannibalism between rebel factions, gang rape and unimaginable human cruelty are fairly commonplace. The descriptions in that documentary matched Paul's in Romans 1 to a "T".

On the other hand, they have no correspondence to the gay and lesbian people I know, who struggle, seek true love and desire to find a place of acceptance inside Christ's Community.

Edited by Greg P

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To wit, why would Paul mention lesbianism in this passage ("their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones"), given that in the ancient world lesbianism was not associated with domination in the way that male homosexuality was (i.e. sex with slaves, slave-boys, prostitutes, etc.)...

There is a significant problem for making a one to one correspondence between temple prostitution and what is described in Romans 1. I think the domination issue is largely irrelevant here, if not misleading. Sex in ancient worship typically had mythic undertones, with the aim of reconfiguring gender according to stories about specific goddesses. This reconfiguration was a means of creating sacred space within the cultus rather than simply exploiting given gender codes.

It is very clear that sex was a big part of specific modes of worship in the Greco- Roman cultus, often in the areas that Paul had travelled through several times. A few points of historical interest:

First, there is the argument that lesbianism is not actually being referred to here, but rather male sexual relationships with women that aren't procreative in nature. This is actually a very early application of the text, Clement of Alex. stating: "It is clear that we should reject sex between men, sex with the infertile, anal sex with women, and sex with the androgynous. We should obey nature’s prohibition through the genital structure. Real men discharge semen, not receive it. As Jeremiah said, 'The hyena’s cave has become my home.'" (Here we have the seed of SDG's exposition of the Catholic position on semen.) This argument is compounded by the fact that lesbianism in 1st century lit. doesn't seem as well attested as other male relationships.*

(*Though Brooten's Love Between Women, which is a massive monograph that tracks attitudes towards female/female relationships in the period very exhaustively, argues otherwise. She contends that Paul is referring to female/female relationships here as they manifest themselves in much broader terms than a specific temple prostitution context.)

Much of the reference we do have to perverse sexual practices that are most contemporary to Paul are all the descriptions of goddess worship that are found in Catullus and on that depict castration and effeminate costuming. Hyppolitus even later argued against a Gnostic cult that redefined some of these rituals in loosely Christian terms through a reversal of Romans 1 language. In other settings, these behaviors were also linked to what are very clearly androgynous/male, male/female, and androgynous/female relationships. (Also attested in early Christianity via the Apocalypse of Peter: “These are the worshipers of idols... These are they which have cut their flesh as apostles of a man [castration with the aim of androgyny], and the women who were with them [sexual relationships with these castrated men] . . . and thus are the men who defiled themselves with one another in the fashion of women [homosexual behavior]. ... All idols, the works of men's hands, and what resembles the images of cats and lions, of reptiles and wild beasts, and the men and women who manufactured the images, shall be in chains of fire.”) This is all good evidence that the most natural translation of this verse does have historical merit. It could very simply be translated: “women traded natural sexual behaviors for unnatural ones.” No specific mention of lesbianism.

But second, there is reference to female/female relationships in Judaism that go all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures and occurs in later Rabbinical lit. Not sure where that comes from, but at least in Judaism, there was a recognition that female/female relationships were considered unlawful. This at least corresponds well to the idea that Paul’s meta-narration of the history of sin here in Romans 1 is inspired by his theological heritage, and what we have here is a holistic condemnation of all unlawful sex acts (lesbianism included, as it was patently unlawful and not excluded by Paul’s language here). More importantly, what Paul is describing in Romans 1 is not limited to the 1st century. You can go all the way back to the Sumerians to find reference to anal sex in the context of idolatry. The Hebrew Scriptures are packed with this precise timeline of God-abandonment -> perverse sex in service of worship. Some temple worship in Paul’s day fits this description, but so did temple worship for many, many generations previous in several different cultural systems. Paul isn’t specifically critiquing his society here, he is describing a pattern in history that is nothing new to those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. This section of Romans is about the drama of redemption in broad strokes, not something unique to his audience in the central Roman empire.

This is all to say:

- If you want to link Romans 1 to the specifics of temple worship in his day, you have to reconfigure the text as a critique of 1st century practice rather than a constant historical pattern, which is a misreading of these first few chapters of Romans.

- If you want to link Romans 1 to the specifics of temple worship in his day, you have to be very careful to articulate exactly what behaviors Paul is referring to. Our general conception is that they walked into temples, stripped, and then orgied for several hours like they do in Caligula. This is not the case.

- And as far as early witnesses to the meaning of the text are concerned, you also have to discern between early applications of Romans 1, as we find in Clement and a certain Gnostic community, and actual legitimate interpretations of the text in the context of Romans 1-3. This distinction is very important, and not one I see well-maintained in arguments that this is all about 1st century temple prostitution.

There is a great descriptive power in Romans 1, and we should be careful to wield it properly.

The tough question here is does Romans 1 have anything to do with the kinds of modern homosexual relationships that seem domestic rather than religious? I am not sure we can draw a one-to-one correspondence between what Paul describes in Romans 1, and what is talked about in terms of marriage and health care.

I recently watched a short documentary on Liberia, where cannibalism between rebel factions, gang rape and unimaginable human cruelty are fairly commonplace. The descriptions in that documentary matched Paul's in Romans 1 to a "T".

Again, this is an anachronism.

Edited by M. Leary

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mrmando wrote:

: You've already made it clear that you didn't deny the assertion itself, you merely took issue with the fact that it was arrived at via extrapolation.

Frankly, I'm not sure your assertion was ever clear enough for me to say that much about it. Is "extrapolation" your word for what you did, or my word? No, I don't care enough about this tangent to go back and check the earlier posts.

: The same goes for you, unless someone made you a bishop when I wasn't looking. Either my assertion is correct or it isn't. If it is correct, I have as much right to make it as anyone else does.

And if it's NOT correct...? How would you know whether it was correct or not?

Incidentally, being a bishop is no guarantee of correctness. Even being in agreement with the majority of other bishops at any given meeting is no guarantee of correctness. The Orthodox would insist that it is the ENTIRE Church -- clergy and laity alike -- that has been entrusted with the preservation of the faith. So I stand with the Church on issues like these, precisely because I don't want to be just me.

You might say that I share your egalitarianism, but not what could be construed as your implicit individualism.

: It's beginning to sound as though you think Protestants have left themselves no basis for developing a consistent ethic on anything at all, not just particular aspects of sexuality. (Of course, far too many Protestants act as if this were precisely the case, which doesn't help.)

Exactly. There is no consistent Protestant ethic. Heck, even within denominational boundaries, there is no consistent Anglican ethic, no consistent Baptist ethic, etc. This is why the evangelical movement, for example, presents itself as a trans-denominational thing -- a way of separating the Real True Christians (a term I'm borrowing from Fred Clark's reviews of Tim LaHaye's novels) from all the merely nominal or heretical (as evangelicals define the term) Christians. But even WITHIN the evangelical movement, we can see cracks growing in the pavement, precisely on issues such as the one that this thread is about.

: Given that you don't consider the matter of homosexuality settled by scripture alone, at what point in Church history did it become settled? (The early Church, after all, didn't have the luxury of appealing to the vague and all-encompassing "two thousand years of Church history." They had to go out and actually make the history.)

Hmmm. It almost sounds like you're asking when the Church will have an ecumenical council to settle this issue, much the same way we did on issues like the Trinity or the role of icons in our worship.

But it occurs to me that your question could just as easily be applied to the scriptures themselves. "At what point in Church history did it become settled ... that these 27 books were in the New Testament and all other books weren't?" The church never held an ecumenical council on that issue. You can certainly point to local councils here and there, where local churches in Carthage or wherever agreed to use the same 27 books that St. Athanasius had recommended. But can we point to a specific POINT when it was finally settled that the New Testament would take the form that it now has? Or is it something that grew organically as the Spirit guided the Church? And what do we do with people like Martin Luther who came along some years later and wanted to REMOVE books from the New Testament? Did he have as much right to make that assertion as anyone else did?

Anyway. I see no reason, in theory, why the Church's teaching on sexual ethics should be any more or less settled than the Church's teaching on the canon of scripture. I don't know that looking for a specific moment on a timeline is the way to go here -- though certainly, the challenges posed by recent social developments may compel us to address the issue more systematically at some point, just as the rise of iconoclasm (influenced, perhaps, by the rise of Islam?) forced the Church to settle the question of icons once and for all at the 7th Ecumenical Council.

Greg P

: Completely heterosexual drug addicts would do anything for cash. That "anything" usually meant homosexual sex.

FWIW, if memory serves, a scene in the Billy Graham movie Caught! (1987) touches on this.

du Garbandier wrote:

: To wit, why would Paul mention lesbianism in this passage ("their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones"), given that in the ancient world lesbianism was not associated with domination in the way that male homosexuality was (i.e. sex with slaves, slave-boys, prostitutes, etc.).

Bingo.

: In other words, if Paul's chief target of abomination was coercion in sexual relationships, surely the best way for him to fully drive that point home to his audience would have been an enumeration of only male sexual coercions.

Especially since the scriptures contain no other references to lesbianism, at least not that I'm aware of.

Greg P wrote:

: Lest we think these were simply a group of free-lovin' hippie liberals, Paul focuses the lens to reveal these particular individuals as "murderous" (v.29), "heartless, ruthless" (v.31), showing a clear picture of physical/emotional brutality and utter debauchery.

I dunno, that dovetails with what I've heard about the hippie era. Charles Manson, anyone? :)

But keep in mind that the point of those later verses in Romans 1 is not just to pile up a list of evil pagan attributes, but to instill in the Judeo-Christian reader a dawning awareness that Paul is describing THEM, too.

M. Leary wrote:

: Clement of Alex. stating: "It is clear that we should reject sex between men, sex with the infertile . . .

I can't say it surprises me that one of the Fathers would say this, but still. No sex with the "infertile"? Sigh.

: But second, there is reference to female/female relationships in Judaism that go all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures . . .

Reference?

: If you want to link Romans 1 to the specifics of temple worship in his day, you have to reconfigure the text as a critique of 1st century practice rather than a constant historical pattern, which is a misreading of these first few chapters of Romans.

Definitely agreed. (Great post, M.)

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Frankly, I'm not sure your assertion was ever clear enough for me to say that much about it.

Oho, so you didn't know what the assertion was—but whatever it was, you were against it, apparently.

So I stand with the Church on issues like these, precisely because I don't want to be just me.

AFAIK my assertion does not contradict the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, or any Protestant church whose teachings I'm familiar with. So insofar as my conscience can discern, I'm also standing with the Church[es] on that particular point.

You might say that I share your egalitarianism, but not what could be construed as your implicit individualism.

I affirm the right of individuals to know and understand Christian doctrine, but individuals who apply that knowledge in ways that lead to erroneous conclusions ought to be corrected. If you've formed the impression that I think my assertion is correct merely because it's mine ... well, that's not what I think at all.

Hmmm. It almost sounds like you're asking when the Church will have an ecumenical council to settle this issue, much the same way we did on issues like the Trinity or the role of icons in our worship.

Eh? I thought it was settled. This is very interesting. You would know better than I: Are there significant factions within the Orthodox Church calling for such a council?

(It's worth noting that various Protestant denominations seem to hold "councils" every year wherein they debate various formulations of statements on homosexuality ... a fact which strongly underscores your point about lack of a consistent Protestant ethic!)

But it occurs to me that your question could just as easily be applied to the scriptures themselves. "At what point in Church history did it become settled ... that these 27 books were in the New Testament and all other books weren't? The church never held an ecumenical council on that issue. You can certainly point to local councils here and there, where local churches in Carthage or wherever agreed to use the same 27 books that St. Athanasius had recommended. But can we point to a specific POINT when it was finally settled that the New Testament would take the form that it now has? "

It seems to me that "the fourth century" will serve quite well as a "point in Church history" (or "period in Church history," if you'd rather) to answer that question. It usually seems that way to you, too. After all, this is one of your favorite digressions, and you usually embark upon it to remind everyone that the canon wasn't settled until then. I can't imagine why you'd now want to back away from one of your favorite talking points!

What about the Synod of Jerusalem — does that count as a "point in Church history" or not?

Anyway. I see no reason, in theory, why the Church's teaching on sexual ethics should be any more or less settled than the Church's teaching on the canon of scripture.

Have there been any developments in the Church's teaching on sexual ethics since the fourth century?

I can't say it surprises me that one of the Fathers would say this, but still. No sex with the "infertile"? Sigh.

Must be where that "separate beds after 50" rule came from!

Edited by mrmando

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M. Leary wrote:

: Clement of Alex. stating: "It is clear that we should reject sex between men, sex with the infertile . . .

I can't say it surprises me that one of the Fathers would say this, but still. No sex with the "infertile"? Sigh.

At the risk of insulting 2,000 years of Spirit-guided teaching on sexuality, I second that sigh. Clement offers a fascinating application of Jeremiah 12:9 too.

If you want to link Romans 1 to the specifics of temple worship in his day, you have to be very careful to articulate exactly what behaviors Paul is referring to. Our general conception is that they walked into temples, stripped, and then orgied for several hours like they do in Caligula. This is not the case.
I have no idea how the order of service was structured. My only assumption from the text in Romans is that these practices were centered around idolatry, involved a veritable chinese buffet of sex acts and did not exhibit the characteristics commonly associated with genuine love. (It's interesting to me that the passage you quote in the Apocalypse of Peter also references violence--"cutting" or ritualistic castration.)

But even if you don't believe this passage refers to temple whoredom, you still have the issue of men "abandoning" their innate desires toward women, for the prospect of something perverse. I have explained modern scenarios that fit that description perfectly, i.e. heterosexual men in a hostile environment, turning to homosexual acts. Situational homosexuality, if you will. I think there's some evidence that this scenario has existed-- not just in modern prison populations-- but in violent pagan cultures throughout the ages.

A side note: I just finished reading a magnificent WWII memoir, written by a well-known author and historian. In one passage of the book he describes an instance of sexuality in the trenches (it is so explicit I will not describe it here)that occured immediately after a company of men were blown to pieces before his eyes. He then briefly discusses the bizarre connection between eroticism and violence. I know this could be a whole 'nuther discussion and on the surface it appears unrelated to this topic. The point I'm trying to make is that extreme conditions, particularly ones involving violence, can beget some unique and disturbing perversities.

Edited by Greg P

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A side note: I just finished reading a magnificent WWII memoir, written by a well-known author and historian. In one passage of the book he describes an instance of sexuality in the trenches (it is so explicit I will not describe it here)that occured immediately after a company of men were blown to pieces before his eyes. He then briefly discusses the bizarre connection between eroticism and violence. I know this could be a whole 'nuther discussion and on the surface it appears unrelated to this topic. The point I'm trying to make is that extreme conditions, particularly ones involving violence, can beget some unique and disturbing perversities.

Author, book? Not that having no reference would harm your point, I read and research WWII warfare as an armchair hobby. But to your point. What you describe is not abandonement, nor are your descriptions of homeless life and prison life. Would not abandonment imply foresaking one's true sexual taste for "perverse desires" and slaking those desires without concern for, say, previous desires? Are these hookups more expedience and/or opportunism, rather than abandonement? And by expedience, I don't mean here and there. Doing time keeps one from women. Getting out might mean interaction with women again. Your present line of argument suggests to me that one is veering away from actual statements presented in Rm 1. Or maybe a firm idea of abandonement needs to be established here. I suggest that it is straightforward. By abandonement we mean not dabbling, not curiousity, not conquest because one can or has a perogative due to social status. Abandonement would mean to set aside, for whatever reason, any hetero inclination.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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A side note: I just finished reading a magnificent WWII memoir, written by a well-known author and historian. In one passage of the book he describes an instance of sexuality in the trenches (it is so explicit I will not describe it here)that occured immediately after a company of men were blown to pieces before his eyes. He then briefly discusses the bizarre connection between eroticism and violence. I know this could be a whole 'nuther discussion and on the surface it appears unrelated to this topic. The point I'm trying to make is that extreme conditions, particularly ones involving violence, can beget some unique and disturbing perversities.

Author, book? Not that having no reference would harm your point, I read and research WWII warfare as an armchair hobby. But to your point. What you describe is not abandonement, nor are your descriptions of homeless life and prison life. Would not abandonment imply foresaking one's true sexual taste for "perverse desires" and slaking those desires without concern for, say, previous desires? Are these hookups more expedience and/or opportunism, rather than abandonement? And by expedience, I don't mean here and there. Doing time keeps one from women. Getting out might mean interaction with women again. Your present line of argument suggests to me that one is veering away from actual statements presented in Rm 1. Or maybe a firm idea of abandonement needs to be established here. I suggest that it is straightforward. By abandonement we mean not dabbling, not curiousity, not conquest because one can or has a perogative due to social status. Abandonement would mean to set aside, for whatever reason, any hetero inclination.

Once you get into that level of nuance in a single word, you're entering the realm that should be left to scholars of ancient greek.

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Author, book? Not that having no reference would harm your point, I read and research WWII warfare as an armchair hobby.
William Manchester's Goodbye, Darkness. A gut-wrenchingingly personal account of the Pacific Theater. Tremendous book.

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Once you get into that level of nuance in a single word, you're entering the realm that should be left to scholars of ancient greek.

Of whom we have several on A&F...

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: But second, there is reference to female/female relationships in Judaism that go all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures . . .

Reference?

The first place I would refer anyone is to the section on Jewish reference to lesbianism in Brooten's book mentioned above.

But broadly speaking, rabbinic condemnation of lesbianism goes back to the prohibition against male/male relationships in Leviticus 18. There are various discussions of this in Talmud, but Maimonides has a really clear statement about lesbianism in the Mishnah that he links to Leviticus 18 as a principle that corresponds to all kinds of odd marriage arrangements. Otherwise, there is a prohibition in Deut 23 against cultic prostitution. So looking just at the Hebrew Scripture data, it looks like the prohibition against lesbianism is only made explicit in later rabbinic interpretation. But rabbinic traditions are odd that way. Sometimes they have long retrospective reach.

Edited by M. Leary

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Once you get into that level of nuance in a single word, you're entering the realm that should be left to scholars of ancient greek.

Of whom we have several on A&F...

My thoughts provisionally. However, seeing as most of us come from evangelical backgrounds at least, most of us are familiar with at least word by word English analysis of a text with possible Concordance help. My question is pretty much grounded in wanting to look at the passage, any passage, with at least a discussion of what the text could obviously mean in the language in which it is presently rendered. Not much has been said about the purpose of the word I raise and much of the, shall we say, revisionist argument has not really taken it into consideration. If not intending to dismiss this passage, it would seem that someone with strong opinions on it would have thought of the possibilities with respect to the use of the word in that sentence. Anyone can read a sentence and anyone can deduce what a sentence is trying to say. It is a basic assumption of hermeneutics.

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Not really going to contribute. Just want to say this is so much more fun to read that to be a big part of.

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mrmando wrote:

: Oho, so you didn't know what the assertion was—but whatever it was, you were against it, apparently.

No, I don't know what I was doing any more than I know what you were doing. It's an old tangent that has no bearing on the current discussion, so I have no interest in correcting or clarifying your spin on that tangent.

: So insofar as my conscience can discern, I'm also standing with the Church[es] on that particular point.

But only incidentally? Or do you stand with them because you regard (one or more of) them as somehow authoritative?

: I affirm the right of individuals to know and understand Christian doctrine, but individuals who apply that knowledge in ways that lead to erroneous conclusions ought to be corrected. If you've formed the impression that I think my assertion is correct merely because it's mine . . .

No, I merely think that you think you have "as much right to make [an assertion] as anyone else does." And I think you think this because you said you think this. Although, yes, to my knowledge, you have not yet suggested any specific mechanism by which your conclusion could be corrected.

: Eh? I thought it was settled.

It is, yes. There just isn't a specific point on the calendar that we can point to and say, "Aha, yes! That was when we settled it!", which seemed to be what you were looking for.

: (It's worth noting that various Protestant denominations seem to hold "councils" every year wherein they debate various formulations of statements on homosexuality ... a fact which strongly underscores your point about lack of a consistent Protestant ethic!)

Yeah, and I have covered some of those events as a reporter.

: It seems to me that "the fourth century" will serve quite well as a "point in Church history" (or "period in Church history," if you'd rather) to answer that question. It usually seems that way to you, too.

Um, no. I have never said that the NT canon was "settled" in the 4th century. What I HAVE said is that no one came up with our current table of contents until the AD 360s, and no council seems to have voted in favour of this table of contents until the AD 390s. But those were local councils, not ecumenical ones, and I have no idea when the churches or synods or councils in various other parts of the world might have voted on this issue. It's entirely conceivable that they were still discussing this issue into the 5th century. How much longer than that, though? I have no idea.

: I can't imagine why you'd now want to back away from one of your favorite talking points!

Good thing I'm not doing that, then!

: What about the Synod of Jerusalem — does that count as a "point in Church history" or not?

You mean the synod that took a stance against Calvinism in 1672? (That's what comes up when I Google "Synod of Jerusalem", at any rate.) Well, yeah, obviously, synods take place at particular points in history. But what's the relevance of this particular synod to this particular discussion?

: Have there been any developments in the Church's teaching on sexual ethics since the fourth century?

Possibly, but I haven't studied the issue.

Greg P wrote:

: Clement offers a fascinating application of Jeremiah 12:9 too.

Um, do I WANT look this one up?

: But even if you don't believe this passage refers to temple whoredom, you still have the issue of men "abandoning" their innate desires toward women, for the prospect of something perverse.

FWIW, I have difficulty reading this as a reference to individual heterosexual men who embarked on homosexual relationships. I suspect Paul is thinking along more corporate lines than that; in other words, he's referring to humanity as a whole.

M. Leary wrote:

: But broadly speaking, rabbinic condemnation of lesbianism goes back to the prohibition against male/male relationships in Leviticus 18.

But that's rabbinic INTERPRETATION of the scriptures. The "Hebrew Scriptures" themselves say nothing about lesbian relationships.

: Otherwise, there is a prohibition in Deut 23 against cultic prostitution.

True, but what are the odds that WOMEN availed themselves of these services in ancient Hebrew society? We're talking about a culture, after all, in which single women who were raped were legally obliged to marry the rapist. The genders didn't exactly get equal treatment there.

Oh, and FWIW, Deuteronomy 23 is also the passage that forbids eunuchs and foreigners from entering the Assembly of Israel -- a set of rules that is explicitly opposed by Isaiah 56. (It is also implicitly opposed by the Book of Ruth, which tells us that King David was part-Moabite and should therefore not have been allowed in the Assembly of Israel according to Deuteronomy 23.) And it is Isaiah 56, not Deuteronomy 23, that Jesus quoted when he "cleansed" the Temple. So Deuteronomy 23 represents part of a tension WITHIN the OT that is ultimately resolved in a not-so-Deuteronomic direction by Jesus himself. For whatever that's worth.

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Not really going to contribute. Just want to say this is so much more fun to read that to be a big part of.

Agree! It's riveting.

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No, I merely think that you think you have "as much right to make [an assertion] as anyone else does." And I think you think this because you said you think this.

No, I said that if the assertion is correct I have as much right to make it as anyone else does.

Although, yes, to my knowledge, you have not yet suggested any specific mechanism by which your conclusion could be corrected.

I am sure that if you could find anything wrong with my conclusion, you'd have done so by now. You yourself have suggested that it could be corrected by a "more authoritative extrapolation," so feel free to cite one.

You mean the synod that took a stance against Calvinism in 1672? (That's what comes up when I Google "Synod of Jerusalem", at any rate.) Well, yeah, obviously, synods take place at particular points in history. But what's the relevance of this particular synod to this particular discussion?

I find an oblique reference in Encyclopedia Britannica to the Synod of Jerusalem producing a definitive statement about the Orthodox canon, just as the Council of Trent had done for the Catholic canon in the preceding century. But thus far I find no details.

: Have there been any developments in the Church's teaching on sexual ethics since the fourth century?

Possibly, but I haven't studied the issue.

So on the one hand we have Protestants who can cite chapter and verse to "settle" a particular question, even if in so doing they misapprehend the meaning of one or more of those chapters and verses. On the other hand we have your assertion that the question is indeed "settled," although not in the way the Protestants say it is ... but when it comes to specifying where, when, how or by whom it was settled, you haven't studied the issue. At this point I'm not sure whose argument is more unsatisfactory.

Edited by mrmando

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