December 15, 2019

Why I am an Ally – Part 2

A First Look at the Biblical Text

Last week we were introduced to Craig, Steve, Bill, and Geoff, friends of mine that I have interacted with over the years. This was a reminder to all of us that when we enter into these discussions, there are real people at the other end. Craig and Bill have since passed away and I have lost contact with Steve, but Geoff is very much aware that I am writing this series and has give his blessing to reproduce our conversation.

Last week we also heard your stories, stories of family and friends, and in some cases your own stories of how difficult you have found fitting in, in a variety of circumstances. Again, these are reminders that there are real people involved here, even within our own Internet Monk community. I do want to thank all the commentators who respected the commenting guidelines. Your positive contributions is what continues to make this site the safe haven that it is.

I had promised that this week would be the “Biblical Text” post. As I have been working at writing it, I realized that I had far too much to write to limit it to a single post. So I will be spreading what I had intended to write this week over several weeks. I would like to ask again that you limit your comments to the immediate topic at hand. There will be plenty of opportunity for you over the coming weeks to comment on other passages along with your overall understanding of scripture on this topic.

Before I jump into my first text (we are only going to cover one this week), I did want to make one more point. All of us come to the biblical text with presuppositions, assumptions, memory of other passages, life experiences, and lack of contextual knowledge that clouds our understanding of the text. I want to repeat to you a phrase that was drilled into me over and over in seminary, “What does the text actually say?” Try and approach the text with a fresh set of eyes, putting away any presuppositions that you might have.

With that, let’s dive into our first passage: Romans 1 & 2.

The fact is, there aren’t that many “clobber” passage in the Bible when it comes to the topic of homosexuality.  Romans Chapter 1 is one that is frequently cited.

Recently, I was reading Romans 2, and much to my surprise, came to the realization that Romans 2 is the natural conclusion of Romans 1. I say, “much to my surprise”, because any Bible study or sermon that I have ever heard on this topic in my 55 years, has always ended at the end of chapter 1.  This is important because, unless we understand this, it become very easy to miss the big point that Paul is making in chapters 1 and 2.

Let me elaborate. Our English translations are pretty darn good. A Hebrew professor once commented to me that reading the Bible in English, when compared to reading the Bible in the original languages, was like watching a black and white television versus watching a color television. You get the whole picture, though you might miss some of the nuances.

Sometimes, however, a translator’s bias may cloud the picture. In fact, our English Bibles can get in the way of our understanding even by how the text is laid out.

Some of you will know that biblical Greek has no clause, sentence, paragraph, or chapter demarcations. Letters just flow into letters. Chapter divisions in the Bible first occurred in the 13th Century, and divisions into verses were only implemented 200 years after that. While in most cases the divisions make the text easier to read, in some cases it can actually cause difficulties.

A classic example of this is found in Ephesians 5. Note the location of verse 21 when comparing these two translations:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…

Compare that with:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

The Christian Household

21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord…

Quite the different feel based on the paragraph split, isn’t it? Can you guess which version is favored by Calvinist Complementarians? I know that in the church that I grew up in, the reading of this passage always started at verse 22, and missed the part about mutual submission.

Similarly, when recently reading Romans 2, I realized that the chapter split between Romans 1 and 2 masks an important Hebrew literary device: The “inclusio”.

What is an inclusio, you might ask? The inclusio is a literary device where a summary word, phrase, sentence, or thought, bookends a section of related text. Kind of like a preacher giving you his main point at both the beginning and end of the sermon. Often the concluding item will contrast, elaborate on, or parallel the first item. Sometimes the writer will use similar sounding words at the start and end of the passage, a fact that is lost in our English translations.

The Psalms are full of inclusios. Read through the Psalms with the idea of inclusios in mind, and they will start to jump out at you. Psalm 46 for example:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…
( 9 more verses) …
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This example is a special type of inclusio, known as a chiastic inclusio. It takes the form of A B B’ A’, where the first and second thoughts in the first verse are repeated and restated in the last verse, but in the reverse order.

While Paul is writing in Greek, he is trained in Hebrew, and Hebrew literary structures like the inclusio are not uncommon in his writings.  The start of the inclusio is in Romans 1:18:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people…”

This introduction is designed by Paul to get people to sit up and pay attention. Imagine if you heard a preacher thundering this from the pulpit. “The wrath of God is being revealed…” I know my reaction would be “Say what? Why? Who is God’s wrath going to be revealed against? “

Paul then describes the slide into sin. I call it a slide, because Paul seems to indicate a series of actions and results that become more and more serious.

People know about God because he is revealed in creation.
→ Action: While people knew God, they did not thank him or glorify him
→ Result: Their thinking became futile, their hearts darkened
→ Action: They exchanged glory of God and created idols
→ Result: They committed sexually degrading acts (heterosexual)
→ Action: They worshipped idols
→ Result: They committed homosexual acts
→ Action: Did not retain knowledge of God
→ Result: They became “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

By this time Paul’s audience is completely committed. Yes! These people are very deserving of God’s wrath! They deserve everything coming to them!

Most sermons I have heard on this topic end it right there. Some end it a little earlier because preachers don’t seem to be able to handle the listing of disobeying parents being equivalent to, or worse than, homosexual acts.

But Paul doesn’t end his thought there. Now that he has his audience wrapped around his little finger and straining for what comes next, he delivers the punchline, or should I say punch lines:

Chapter 2:1 Do not judge them.

2:1 You do the same things yourself.

2:3 If you judge them you are bringing God’s judgement upon yourself.

2:4 Don’t despise God’s is kindness and patience, as his kindness leads to repentance.

Paul then delivers the kicker in the concluding part of the inclusio. Remember that Paul just said that God’s wrath is being revealed? Well here is who it is being revealed against!

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Do you see what Paul has done here? He baits his listeners by telling them that God’s wrath is being revealed, he further entices them into the story by listing the sins of others, and then says, “Surprise, the people that I am really talking about is you!” This is so, so easy to miss when we end our reading at the end of chapter one.

Let’s look how he uses an inclusio to tie this all together into a single coherent thought.

A: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
B: against all the godlessness and wickedness of people…

B’: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart,
A’: you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Just like the example from Psalm 46, he uses a chiastic inclusio to drive his point home.

When people start using throwing out condemnations and judgements based on Romans one, they need to be reminded of the true target of Paul’s concern, the believers of chapter two.

Jesus had a similar message. His strongest criticism was reserved for the Pharisaical hypocrites who condemned him for hanging out sinners. Take some time and read Matthew 23, and you will see just how strong Jesus’ words are for  religious types who sit in judgement of others.

There were a couple of other things that jumped out at me from this passage. A few years back I was reading Romans 1 in a Bible study, and I had a bit of eureka moment. The passage doesn’t fit! When I think of Craig, and Steve, and Bill, and Geoff, along with others I have met over the years, the pattern described in Romans 1 didn’t fit with what I knew of them at all. Whoever Paul may have been describing in Romans 1, he certainly was not describing my friends. While I cannot speak for all of my friends, I did know that Steve and Bill were earnest God seekers. This certainly raised some questions in my mind. If the passage does not describe them, then is it valid to condemn them using this passage? I hadn’t at that time discovered the connection to Romans 2, but in hindsight, those who are judging of those who are LGBTQ, seem to be much more the target of Paul’s passage that those who are LGBTQ themselves.

So, this is another reason why I call myself an Ally. I believe that some Christians are abusing scripture in order to pronounce a special level of condemnation against those who are LGBTQ. I do not want the Bible to be treated that way. Over the next several Fridays I will looking at other scriptures which I believe have been misused with an incorrect emphasis. You will also hear more about this in my conversation with Geoff.

That being said, I do believe that the Bible condemns homosexual activity.    I take the middle ground in this passage, I think that Paul understands homosexual activity to be sinful (among many other sins listed), but that this is not the primary target of his text.  (*** Edit for clarity ***)Does the Bible/Paul get this right?  I will talk about this more in a future post. (*** End Edit ***)

There are some who hold to the idea that Paul is not arguing against homosexality at all in this passage. Your comments and explanations are welcome There will be others who will argue that the point of this passage is primarily about Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality. Your comments are welcome as well. Others of you may want to jump in on the merits of my arguments, and those of others. Your comments are welcome as well. Again, I ask you to keep your comments to the text of this post, their will lots of opportunity for further discussion in future posts.

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says

    Excellent post, Mike. A couple of things that I’ve found that line up with your thinking…

    1) Regarding your Ephesians example of how differently the text reads if you take out the chapter and verse breaks: I recently led a few studies in Paul’s shorter epistles and decided that we would read the entirety of each letter prior to studying them in-depth. Guess what happens? More to your point, a line like “wives, submit to your husbands” now becomes just ONE LINE of an entire letter, yet so much is made of it!

    2) Yes, Romans 2 must be coupled with Romans 1. It serves as a warning to us believers that if we continue to insist on pointing out the Law to people, we will be judged by that same Law. It reminds us that we can move into a Pharisaical mindset, and I’ll even propose that we can possibly lose His saving grace if we keep hitting people with the Law. Such as…

    Me, at the Pearly Gates: Thank you for the saving grace of your shed blood, Jesus.
    Jesus: Umm, sorry. It would have covered you had you not kept judging others. As it is, I will now hold you in judgment as you held them in judgment.
    Me: Oh, crap.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Well said.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Guess what happens? More to your point, a line like “wives, submit to your husbands” now becomes just ONE LINE of an entire letter, yet so much is made of it!

      And there are preachers who spend MONTHS “expositorially preaching” on ONE verse.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Meanwhile giving no time to THOUSANDS of other verses.

        “”” Some end it a little earlier because preachers don’t seem to be able to handle the listing of disobeying parents being equivalent to, or worse than, homosexual acts.”””” which very much encapsulates the absurdity how this text is so often used.

      • And there are preachers who spend MONTHS “expositorially preaching” on ONE verse.

        Ouch. HUG, I think you nailed it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          When someone spends week after week, month after month “expositing” and analyzing ONE VERSE, they’re well into OCD Country.

          The More-Calvinst-than-Calvin types seem especially prone to this form of OCD.

  2. Iain Lovejoy says

    One thing I have seen pointed out in Romans 1 is that it speaks of homosexual sex in the specific context of idol-worship. The “unnatural desires” are a judgment of God for the worshipping of idols, and Paul is expressly referring to the abandonment of heterosexual behaviour for homosexual – homosexual sex as, as it were, an extra curricular activity for heterosexuals in the context of pagan worship. It is only tangentially related to answering the question if how homosexual people should best live their lives in the service and love of God and neighbour.
    I also read somewhere an article that argued that the whole of Romans 1 and 2 (like much of the rest of the book) is a polemic specifically at Jewish Christians holding gentile Christians in contempt who did not follow the Jewish Law.
    Your quote of Romans 1:18 is actually another example of starting halfway through a passage. It is actually a mistranslation, in that the verse starts in Greek with “gar”, which means “therefore”, and it links to the last phrase of v17, which says “the righteous shall live by faith”, and the “godlessness and wickedness” of people in the next bit of v18 which you leave out is “unjustly suppressing the truth”.
    Vv19-20 talk about these truth-suppressing people having had God’s truth being revealed to them, and v21 starts with ” having known God “. This does not describe gentiles very well, to whom God was never manifest and who have never known God. We then have the ” clobber” passages which describe the abandonment of the worship of God for idols, which includes images of birds and animals, which (I believe) poorly describes Roman deities, who are portrayed as human shaped. This is followed by v32 which states these people knew the righteous judgement of God that what they did deserved death. This once again doesn’t describe gentiles.
    As you point out, chapter 2 goes on to condemn a rhetorical “you” who does these things, claiming to have the knowledge of truth in the law (v20).
    It seems to me that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians claiming moral superiority over non-Jewish through possession of the law, while concealing that the same law describes the Jewish people breaking the law over and over again as Paul describes.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Something about Romans 1 is that it is a Decline Narrative that should have ended with a Rabbinical “For these are the things which the Goyim do” in 2:1. Instead, the Rabbi flips it one-eighty.

    • Dana Ames says

      “It seems to me that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians claiming moral superiority over non-Jewish through possession of the law…”

      This makes sense in Romans, as the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians is an important discussion later in the letter.

      HUG’s point is worth noting as well. St Paul was Jewish, and writing in that context is primary for him (along with the Hellene and Roman contexts in which he lived).

      Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The story of the Prodigal Son has a similar Shymalan Ending:

        A standard Rabbinical ending would have made the older brother the hero, as (unlike his sibling) he kept faithful to ha-Torah. However (like Romans 1- 2:1), that Rabbi from Nazareth flipped the ending one-eighty and celebrated the younger son’s return to make his point.

        • Mike Bell says

          I agree. To really get the whole story of the Prodigal son, you have to understand who Jesus’ audience was (the Pharisees), and the fact that they represented the older son in the story.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Another one I heard along those lines was the situation background at the time of the Parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus (now beloved of Scare-Em-Into-the-Kingdom Hellfire & Damnation preachers).

            At the time, House Annas had a lock on the High Priesthood. Annas, his five sons, and his son-in-law Caiphas would switch off the Holy of Holies with each other like Putin & Medvedev for the Russian Presidential Palace or George Wallace & his wife for the Alabama Governor’s Mansion.

            The moneylenders in the Temple courtyard probably paid to play with House Annas.

            And this was just after the raising of Lazarus, where one of the Gospels stated that there was a hit contract put out on Laz to hush things up. Note the following:

            1) This is the only Parable where a character in the story is actually named: Lazarus.
            2) The Rich Man begs God to send Lazarus back from the dead so that his FIVE BROTHERS do not come to the same afterlife he has.
            3) And is tole “They will still not listen. Even if Someone should rise from the dead.”
            BOOM!

  3. I have found myself ‘suspending theology’ when going about my daily life in the company of homosexual people. I figure there’ll be time later for working out what I think, and currently they aren’t asking me whether I ‘approve’ or not, and I’m not sure that is what God is asking of me either.

    As Newbigin says (in Foolishness to the Greeks): “There is something deeply repulsive … makes only grudging acknowledgement of the faith, the godliness, and the nobility to be found in the lives of non-Christians.”

    He also says that seeking to prove someone is a sinner in order to preach repentance and salvation is repulsive; It is the cross and the grace of God, and the action of the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin: an effect, not a cause.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      … seeking to prove someone is a sinner …

      It certainly does mean one is a Jerk, all theology aside.

      Sin-Assignment should not be what is running through your mind when you meet someone.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        He also says that seeking to prove someone is a sinner in order to preach repentance and salvation is repulsive…

        It also shows you’re trying for more notches on your Bible for brownie points at the Bema.

        Sin-Assignment should not be what is running through your mind when you meet someone.

        But then, how can you PROVE you’re better than that Filthy Sinner?
        “I THANK THEE, LOOOOOOOOORD, THAT I AM NOTHING LIKE…”

    • Ben, you remind me of advice I would give someone recently entering the evangelical wilderness. Take a break from reading the Bible with the exception of using Psalms in prayer life. Spend as much time as possible just hanging out with people outside the evangelical world without thinking about whether they are sinners. It changed my life when I realized I was the sinner, and they were the holy ones.

      • Rick Ro. says

        I think you’re right, Allen. Similarly, my 5-7 year spiritual desert time was actually HURT by going to church, as it felt like the place where I should be getting help just seemed to put me further into the desert.

        And as you suggest, there are some Psalms which speak directly into the wilderness and desert times. Those are helpful. So are books that show other people’s struggles (Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment with God” being a key one for me).

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “I have found myself ‘suspending theology’ when going about my daily life in the company of homosexual people.”

      This was the Holy Spirit guidance moment for me when talking to my bi-sexual sister about it. God basically told me that I was building a wall between Him and her by holding fast to my theology, when all He really cared about was for her to have a relationship with Him.

      My theology goes into my back pocket a lot when dealing with people who need to know Him. I need to build bridges, not walls.

  4. Good thoughts Mike. The “book ends” perspective is very helpful.

    In the past few years I’ve been able to put a term on a thought I had over 20 years ago concerning Rom. 1:18ff–that Paul is using “voicing”, that is giving voice to his critics, especially so in the second half of chapter 1. The term is prosopopoeia;

    “A prosopopoeia (Greek: ????????????) is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object. The term literally derives from the Greek roots prósopon “face, person”, and poiéin “to make, to do”.”

  5. Yes. God’s wrath plays no favourites. Verses 28-32 show that homosexuality springs from the same font as all other sins. There is no excuse pointing out 1 gross sin if you are practising another. All are under wrath. Why is God publishing a “sin list” if He isn’t hurt or moved by sin in Himself ? It is becaause these things destroy the intended communion He designed to have with a transformed humanity. Bad analogy, but how do u treat a dog that continually bites the hand that feeds it ? Whatever sin causes an obstinate heart or couldn’t give a stuff about God’s honour, will be judged. No matter how good it makes us feel.

    And as Christ relates to His body as a “wife”. The church is the “wife” corporately. So sin in 1 member can infect the others. Just check out Achan in the OT. Anything that can destroy the Unity He planned, will be destroyed.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “Whatever sin causes an obstinate heart or couldn’t give a stuff about God’s honour, will be judged.”

      Good thing He did that Cross thing for us, then, isn’t it?

  6. Great points CM. Yes, Rom 1:18-32 is the ‘setup’ for what comes in chapter 2. it must be understood within Paul’s overall argument of Romans. As many have come to understand, in one sense or another, Romans is about Paul defending God’s faithfulness, character, and integrity against the charge that if what Paul says is true, then God has abandoned his covenant people (Israel), been unfaithful to his promises and covenants, and is therefore unrighteous. The heart of the argument starts in Rom 1:16 and the key verse for understanding his argument is Rom 3:2-4, properly translated (as N. T. Wright does) ‘The Jews were entrusted with God’s oracles. What follows from that? If some of them were unfaithful to their commission, does their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Certainly not!’ The ‘righteousness of God’ in Romans is NOT imputed righteousness, it is God’s own character Paul is describing (see Rom 3:25-26). Paul is not attempting to show ‘all have sinned’ in Rom 1:18-3:20. He is attempting to show that Israel has no basis to judge God – it is Israel who has been unfaithful to the covenants, not God! God has remained faithful to his promises and plan all along, as shown by the faithfulness of Jesus (Rom 3:21-26).

    Rom 1:18-32 is the setup to get an ‘amen’ before he turns the argument back on his opponents (those Jews or Jewish Christians arguing Paul’s gospel makes God unfaithful). I have come to the conclusion that it is either 1) a typical broad-brush rant against the ‘pagan’ world one might have heard in any synagogue in the first-century Greco-Roman world (what a great way to get an ‘amen’) or 2) as Douglas Campbell argues (‘The Deliverance of God’) Paul is actually quoting his opponent (the ‘prosopopoeai’ Tom aka Volkmar notes above). Campbell argues that the style, structure, use of alliteration, etc. in this passage are completely foreign to Paul. The ideas and theology are unlike anything we find in Paul’s letters or sermons in Acts (cf. Act 17 at Athens). In other words, this passage may not reflect Paul’s thinking or theology at all. It is also worth noting that the last word in the long litany of sins is ‘unmerciful’ – no doubt intentionally added by Paul to drive home his point – placing his opponents in the same boat as those they condemn.

    So the takeaway from all this for me is that it is probably unwise to base theology (e.g. natural theology) or moral teaching on this passage because it MAY NOT represent Paul’s thinking at all! As Campbell points out Paul certainly knew that Rom 1:19-20 wasn’t true – the only people in the ancient world who believed there was one God, who had these particular views on sexual morality, were Jews and Christians. it was obviously NOT evident to everyone who ever lived!

  7. I had the same eureka moment, though I don’t really recall any one day where it hit me.. That is, there are some gay people who are promiscuous and lustful and obsessed with sex, but the same is true of straight people. The two gay couples I know well and whose weddings I attended are deeply conscientious, hardworking, compassionate people. They are all Christians and two of them spent half of their adult lives trying very hard to be straight because they thought that was their duty, They failed, of course. So when I read Paul the people he is describing are nothing like my friends. No doubt they are such people, some of them clergy, but they seem as likely to be heterosexual as gay.

    • “No doubt they are such people,”

      Typo. I meant no doubt THERE are such people.

      While I am correcting myself, I should add that probably most of us fall under Jesus’s judgment about looking on someone with lust. But I doubt gay people are any more likely to fail in that way, except to the extent that social pressure has forced them into the closet. I remember my teen years. The joke is that a teenage boy thinks about sex about every 15 seconds or so. I don’t remember it as much of an exaggeration. I can only imagine what it would have been like being a gay teenager in a society where homosexuality was considered the worst of sins.

    • That Other Jean says

      Homosexuality in the ancient world was very different from homosexuality today. In the ancient world, at least in Greece and Rome, sex between men was generally a power relationship–the penetrator was more powerful than the penetrated, and could impose his will. Men might mentor boys, with possible sexual relationships between them. There was very little written about actual loving relationships between men (Well, there was David and Jonathan, but that has been interpreted to death to avoid mentioning homosexuality, and the Sacred Band of Thebes, but ancient Greek men’s relationships with women were complicated). By the time the Romans took over, the power relationship was more important than love. Modern homosexuality, with men in loving, sometimes life-long relationships and marriages, was unheard of. How is it reasonable to deny recognition of the modern so relationships between men, based on the entirely different relationships of the ancient Romans?

      • “How is it reasonable to deny recognition of the modern so relationships between men, based on the entirely different relationships of the ancient Romans?”

        Because the plain, surface reading of the text to us must be how the text was always meant to be interpreted; and because God only speaks to us in transcendent, propositional truths, and they by definition can never change.

        Start with those two assumptions, and the standard reading of Romans 1 is quite “reasonable”. How valid those two assumptions actually are, I leave as an exercise to the reader. 😉

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In the ancient world, at least in Greece and Rome, sex between men was generally a power relationship–the penetrator was more powerful than the penetrated, and could impose his will.

        One animal forcing Dominance on another, weaker one.

        Several years ago, radio talk-show type Dennis Prager got in a lot of trouble for an online essay of his titled “Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality”. His thesis was that before ha-Torah, sex was NOT between man and woman/husband and wife but between Penetrator and Penetrated in the abovementioned Forced Dominance Display. And that the sexual taboos in Leviticus were intended to uplift humans out of that Animal Forced Dominance.

        In a lit-crit book whose title I can’t remember, Gene Edward Veith makes a similar these regarding the prohibition on Graven Images and reliance on a spoken/written Torah — that this goes around the all-primate dependence on sight and forces more abstract thinking than “Monkey See, Monkey Do”.

        Both of these echo a theme in the more thoughtful Furry fiction, about uplift from animals to people:
        “Transcending the Animal”

        (Before anyone starts channeling Doctor Moreau or Danny Elfman’s “No Spill Blood”, those represent the DARK side of such Uplift.)

        • Robert F says

          I feel like I’m “Transcending the Animal” every time I use toilet paper; I feel like humanity is “Transcending the Animal” every time I have toilet paper to use.

  8. I’m really glad Mike Bell is back at it.

    Romans 1 and 2 have to be read together. In my RSV, Romans 2:1 says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

    This is true of some of Paul’s other writings: Romans 7 and 8 have to be read together—chapter 7 dealing with Paul’s own sin, whatever that was; and chapter 8 dealing with God’s grace overcoming all sin.

    I wonder if Paul modeled Romans 1 & 2, the “gotcha” technique, after Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, turning the lesson around on his judgmental accusers, right before they stoned him. “And Saul [Paul] was there, consenting to his death.”

    And we should always insist upon verse 21 in Ephesians 5, if they’re going to trot out verse 22. Verse 21, as Mike Bell mentioned, says “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” THEN and only then, “wives to your husbands…” and we must follow up with verse 25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…”

    Power struggles in churches have made me read the bible defensively. That’s a good way to drive a car, but bible? Not fun.

  9. [Second attempt at commenting. I’ve been getting lost lately in mod.]

    I’m really glad Mike Bell is back at it.

    Romans 1 and 2 have to be read together. In my RSV, Romans 2:1 says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

    This is true of some of Paul’s other writings: Romans 7 and 8 have to be read together—chapter 7 dealing with Paul’s own sin, whatever that was; and chapter 8 dealing with God’s grace overcoming all sin.

    I wonder if Paul modeled Romans 1 & 2, the “gotcha” technique, after Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, turning the lesson around on his judgmental accusers, right before they stoned him. “And Saul [Paul] was there, consenting to his death.”

    And we should always insist upon verse 21 in Ephesians 5, if they’re going to trot out verse 22. Verse 21, as Mike Bell mentioned, says “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” THEN and only then, “wives to your husbands…” and we must follow up with verse 25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…”

    Power struggles in churches have made me read the bible defensively. That’s a good way to drive a car, but bible? Not fun.

  10. Burro (Mule) says

    Michael’s interpretative skills are top-notch, which is to say it aligns with my take on this passage almost perfectly. The only issue I can take is Michael;s a priori assumption that there is a class of people who are homosexual by nature. Steve, another commenter here, pointed out the fluid, spectrum-like nature of human sexuality and my opinions on that concord more with Steve’s views that with what Michael appears to be saying. i will make some blanket statements though, just to provide a smidgen of controversy into what is likely to become a center-left mutual virtue-signalling exercise:

    1. Anybody else’s sexual behavior is so far from being My Business that it boggles the mind to think that my opinion about another couple’s sex life matters at all.

    2. The link Paul made between idolatry and homosexuality always puzzled me as well. Not one of the homosexuals I knew made offerings to Kali, and i think this is the kind of idolatry Paul is inveighing against here.

    3. That said, I think that there is a certain decadence to a society that tolerates homosexual practices. The truth if the matter is that there just aren’t that many homosexual practices that aren’t practiced enthusiastically by heterosexual couples, even married Evangelical couples. Many of these practices would receive a stiff penance if confessed to a traditional Catholic or Orthodox priest. I believe Paul is focusing more on this societal tolerance rather than how ebil da homos are, but once again, not My Business.

    4. There needs to be much less gender-policing. Although I find traditionally masculine men and traditionally feminine women much more appealing from an aesthetic point of view, people were not born into this world to provide me with aesthetic pleasure, and the minor notes can provide just as much beauty as the major notes if played skillfully.

    5. In my experience there is no relationship between two men or two women that is improved by the addition of sex to it. Everything that was beautiful and God-honoring in it was there before the sex was added. Sex between a man and a woman in a lifelong monogamous relationship is a protected species in the Christian tradition, with special privileges, because of a mystery in the nature of gender itself which the Church has hitherto not investigated very deeply. I think the time is now to begin

    6. That said, it is not often evident who is a man and who is a woman. This is often Apocalyptic (in Michael’s sense, not Tim La Haye’s)

    7. Most of our problems would go away if we prayed as much as we had sex. Hell, if I prayed as much as I thought about sex, my life would be a friggin’ Paradise.

    • Awaiting Burro’s forthcoming book/DVD/seminar series:
      “Burro’s Drop Dead, Sure Fire God-ordained prescription for FRIGGIN PARADISE……..
      soon to be streaming on YouTube

      • Rick Ro. says

        LOL.

        I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard this kind of sermon before!

        (Southern drawl)…
        “If you PRAYED as often as you thought about SEX, then ALL THIS would be YOURS! Praise Jesus!”

    • Rick Ro. says

      Though maybe counter the beliefs of many here, Mule, you’ve articulated those points very gently and well. Fuel for us thinkers to think about.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Agree.

        Although my sharpest quibble would be with #5 “… because of a mystery in the nature of gender itself …”. I do not believe in any mystery around traditional/orthodox marriage; it seems easily demonstrable, based on how mammals work, that without a special lane for marriage a devotedly Christian world would simply run out of people to inhabit it.

        I do not understand why there is the desire to attach Mystery to this. Seems straight-forward.

        I very much like #4: “people were not born into this world to provide me with aesthetic pleasure”

        • Adam, I think this is Mule’s orthodoxy showing – both in the way he uses the word mystery and the thigns he applies it to. With the capitals intentional, Marriage is a Mystery like Eucharist, and the natural pull to coupling doesn’t invalidate that anymore than people eating bread and drinking wine on does. It has been suggested that there is an importance in the iconic sense of the separateness of the genders involved to, which plays into the general questions about sacramentalness (hence mystery) when it comes to gender, in which it is both interwoven into our tradition’s practices, yet poorly understood.

          Basically, I think there was some intra-league softball in that comment. *grins* Even if unintentional. it is in the air we breathe.

    • Dana Ames says

      I agree completely, Burro. Esp on #1. Please, Don’t tell me about your sex life! I don’t want to know! That a person is LGBTQ+ is not anywhere near as disturbing to me as the in-your-face-ness of some activists.

      There is a mystery in the nature of gender; I believe it’s related to Iconicity. The Church is good at talking about Iconicity as it regards painted images; there does need to be a better way of speaking about as it regards human beings.

      Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That a person is LGBTQ+ is not anywhere near as disturbing to me as the in-your-face-ness of some activists.

        They’re WITNESSING for the Cause.

        Remember the guy I mentioned last week? His “coming out” at age 30 was like a Damascus Road Conversion Experience — after giving no previous indication he was anything but straight, suddenly it was like he accepted Homosex as his Personal LORD and Savior and was compelled to WITNESS and convert everyone he came in contact with.

        For what it’s worth, the LGBT-whatever branches of SF fandom in two cities banned him from attending SF cons in their city because of his soon-acquired reputation as a sexual predator. (Like offering a room share at a con to split hotel costs – not unusual in itself – with a younger male fan after booking a single so they had to share a bed.)

    • Clay Crouch says

      Same here. Everyone knows it’s the Russians.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      2. The link Paul made between idolatry and homosexuality always puzzled me as well. Not one of the homosexuals I knew made offerings to Kali, and i think this is the kind of idolatry Paul is inveighing against here.

      Were there some cults where homosex was a sacrament? Part of their worship?

      Or he could be going back in Jewish history, referring to the goyisha fertility/sex cults which surrounded (and often infiltrated) ancient Israel.

  11. On of the bigger shocks of my journey through adolesence was discovering how little the Bible actually talked about homosexuality and how incredibly alien the ways it did were to my experience. I grew up in a time when it was talked about a lot in church, and I hadn’t thought of it as mattering to me, so I’d kind of glossed, and assumed there was a lot more material there than there was.

    Romans 1 is a big one, because of its gender inclusivity compared to any other mention.

    Reading it before my own sexual maturation, I’d taken it for granted that it was a description of the average gay person. It certainly matched all the terrible things we said about them in church. This effect was so strong that I totally missed a grown cousin of mine being gay, despite his partner being included in our family events and clearly treated the same way any other married-in family member was and that having been true for many years. They just were so far outside this mold that it didn’t occur to me that they could be gay!

    Read after my sexual maturation, it sounded like nonsense, because now it was (from my perspective, on chapter split principles, and based on what I could know at the time) about ME. Except I hadn’t “exchanged” anything… I’d never had any heterosexual inklings, and if trading sexual desires was a thing, I’d have traded for ones that didn’t make me a pariah any day of the week! Nor had I changed anything about my approach to God, my faith, or my religious practice. I definitely hadn’t worshipped idols – we were really soul searching about that in my church, and I’d gone through a lot of scrupulous religious work even to cut out the subtle stuff (my own intelligence, for instance, or desiring sports success, etc).

    I’d just grown up and found out the bullies had been right all along – I was gay. I was a late bloomer, and back then if you didn’t date opposite sex people, it was just assumed you were covering up something.

    I didn’t connect it to Romans 2 back then (that’s now how we read the Bible!), but this did pose a question I’d never asked in my whole life to date: “Why do I believe the Bible and from where did it originate?”

    People are often suprised when I say my first step on the road to the Orthodox Church came by finding out I was queer, but it was exactly at this moment. (Also, it isn’t that weird, I’ve met someone my age with the same story!) Magic Origin-Free Book Theory was just blown up in this moment, and suddenly I needed to -know-. Basing arduous life decisions on a very scant handful of verses seemed impossibly hard already, but harder yet if the text in question doesn’t seem to know what it is talking about, yet is only attested to by self-testimony and circular reasoning.

    It certainly didn’t, in the traditional way of reading this passage I’d been taught, line up with the promise of just a few verses before that the gospel would save all who believe – I’d fervently been believing, and then had this thing dropped on my head. Man, what an earthquake to the foundation of my whole world!

    • Rick Ro. says

      Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your journey, Tokah.

    • Christiane says

      not enough is yet known about why and how gender issues occur . . . . there is too much ‘judgement’ and way too much ‘condemnation’ out there for something that is not fully understood . . . . . . but the worst thing is the ‘contempt’ some people have for that which they cannot know or understand, and that ‘contempt’ is on THEM, and it destroys them because it is a kind of ‘pride’ that they are ‘right’ and those that they hate are beneath them

      maybe someday we will begin to comprehend enough about gender issues to form some humane viewpoint, but as of now, I don’t think our species has come very far in understanding what it must mean to be born a certain way and to have people judge you and torment you

      my eldest son was born with Down Syndrome . . . . it wasn’t anyone’s ‘fault’ . . . . . and in raising him, we felt the judgment and contempt of those who did not understand . . . it’s not a fun place to be . . . . . but it taught me not to have contempt for people who were ‘different’ and had not chosen to be born that way

      Someday we will know more and understand more, but until then, we need to stand with people who are born with gender issues, not turn on them maliciously for being born a certain way . . . we are all of us human enough to know the truth of these words: ‘who am I to judge?’

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I was a late bloomer, and back then if you didn’t date opposite sex people, it was just assumed you were covering up something.

      I was a late-blooming straight, and I got the same treatment.
      It’s called “The School Fag”.

      “Beware Thou of The Mutant.”

  12. Richard Hershberger says

    The abuse of Romans 1 is a classic example of the fallacy of arguing by proof texts. Back in Reformation days, when Luther used “This is my body” as a proof text at the Marburg Colloquy, both sides understood that this was shorthand for a much more nuanced discussion. Proof texts subsequently devolved. The technique became to find a snippet of scripture that seems to support the desired conclusion. That snippet becomes the entire argument. What comes before or after the snippet is irrelevant. Add in kneejerk Biblical inerrancy and the desired conclusion with its snippet of text in support becomes The Word of God. Of course it is possible–easy, even–to find a snippet that supports an opposing conclusion. At that point it becomes apparent that this is not a theological discussion at all, but a political discussion gussied up with some superficial God talk.

    • Exactly, Richard. It’s turning us into lawyers.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The technique became to find a snippet of scripture that seems to support the desired conclusion. That snippet becomes the entire argument. What comes before or after the snippet is irrelevant.

      “I Know I’m Right —
      I HAVE A VERSE!!!!!”

      Add in kneejerk Biblical inerrancy and the desired conclusion with its snippet of text in support becomes The Word of God.

      “Show me SCRIPTURE!!!!!”
      — Raul Rees of Calvary Chapel, every time someone tried to reason with him

  13. Burro (Mule) says

    A yuge post of mine disappeared into Limbo. I don’t know if it was providential or not, but Tokah’s most excellent post renders it redundant.

    • I disagree wholly that your post was redundant, Mule. I think your perspective is more helpful than mine in many cases! I have an insider view, experiences burned into me in marks that weep, that will always be part of my journey and always make certain thing undeniable to me.

      I find it amazing that someone in your position that could handwave it away, nostalgize for “simpler” or “better” time or place chooses to engage as much as you do and with the obvious depth of thought you’ve put into it to come to non-obvious conclusions.

    • Dana Ames says

      Mule,

      There’s something going on within the inner workings of the computer zone with how a comment is posted these days. Most of the time over the last couple of weeks or so, I will hit the “post comment” button, and the screen will immediately display the top of the post, and I can’t see my comment right away. It’s there when I leave the site and then come back, though.

      Guy behind the curtain?

      D.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Same here. In fact, sometimes even when I come back and hit refresh, my comments STILL don’t appear. I have to actually clear my history folder for the site to show the most recent comments.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Same here. Posting is currently wonky.

        • Rick Ro. says

          In fact, after just now posting this, this site reverted back to “32 comments” even though it showed “39 comments” just prior to me posting.

        • Glad it hasn’t just been me…

        • All of this has been happening to me too, but a few weeks ago I completely lost a comment. In one this morning, I hit the back button and was able to copy my message and emailed it to Chaplain Mike in case it had disappeared—but right after that it showed up twice. Wonky is right.

          Oh, and I have to re-enter name an email each time lately, even if I haven’t left the site. But I have cookies, etc, turned off.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Same here.
        Seemed to start the day after Memorial Day — at least that’s when I first noticed it.
        Happens both on my home & work machines, so it’s not any of my local settings or recent auto-Windows upgrades. (Home & work are on different versions of Windows, with different update schedules.)
        I’m leery of posing a long/involved comment, because I don’t know if its going to disappear permanently or just hide out for a while.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          P.S. Most of the time here at IMonk, it does show up eventually (apparently a couple hours later), but I have lost a couple permanently.

          Wartburg Watch started acting up around the same time, so I wonder if it’s something on my end. But both my home & work systems started getting wonky at the same time and others have complained here on IMonk, which argues for something on the server end. But then, why would TWW be affected?

  14. John barry says

    Always good to read thoughtful article from mike bell and I always think he is tolling for me.

    My question is for over 2k years the mistakes in puncuatioon, context. Definition, translation etc when unnoticed
    By the masses of learned, educated church scholars and early fathers of the faith. Was the sociall and cultural norms so ingrained it completely led them down the “wrong” path in interpreting the Bible in this issue.

    Would the scholars of the EO and RCC agree that the interpretation of what the Bible is stating needs to be redone based on our cultural change? Is the natural law outdated? Does the Bible change or does the world change or does how we interpret the word change?

    • Christiane says

      Hello J.B.

      I expect that the message(s) the Holy Spirit is transmitting to us through the sacred Scriptures is/are transcendent.

      OTOH, how we humans ‘interpret’ the sacred Scriptures, especially in the light of such phrases as ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’, is a matter for much needed dialogue among the whole Church.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > …translation etc when unnoticed

      No, but we have chosen to ignore the people who noticed it. Much of Protestantism especially skips or glosses over huge chunks of history: it is basically – early church, middle ages, reformation, NOW. This is a history that drop entire centuries into the ash can.

      > . Was the sociall and cultural norms so ingrained it completely led…

      Where those norms EVER especially “Christian”? I believe whole-heartedly that the influence of Christianity in Western societies is and has been WILDLY exaggerated.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        No, but we have chosen to ignore the people who noticed it. Much of Protestantism especially skips or glosses over huge chunks of history: it is basically – early church, middle ages, reformation, NOW. This is a history that drop entire centuries into the ash can.

        Thus destroying any historical trace, turning their own “Word Of God” holy book into just another collection of myths and fables with no connection to historical reality.

        What results is a “Holy History” mythology “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”, then a LONG “soul sleep” gap of heresy and apostasy until Our Founder Reverend Apostle Joe Soap Finally Got It Right. Coincidentally, the same view of church history as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and (on the other side of the divide) Wahabi Islam.

  15. john barry says

    Love it when I look at my comments and see so many mistakes, bad sentence structure, well really bad everything. I guess I not only write off the top of my head but the bottom of my digestive system. Yes, I am often speaking out of my lower digestive tract.

    They say, whoever they are , to keep your mouth shut and no one will know you are a fool, does that apply to typing on the computer? I hope not. My wife thinks I do not need to confirm anything with my words that my actions speak louder, I think she is in my corner but it is open ended.

    No matter what I do or say I blame public education, nothing could be my fault. Follow the directions and instructions of the Bible! I cannot follow the directions to mirco wave Red Baron pizza but it is their fault, print too small.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I love that nobody on this site has appointed themeleves Grammarian In Chief. Comments are read generously, we can all auto-correct for one another.

      • john barry says

        Adam T.W. , I too am glad no one has been appointed Grammarian in Chief, I am still upset with the Admiral Ackbar appointment as commander of the fleet.

        If nominated for Grammarian in Chief, I will not run. If elected I will not serve ———————————————————————————————————————————–for reasons previously stated. However, I would like to be in charge of the rebel fleet if possible.

      • Given how notoriously quirky my cellphone’s spell check is, for me to call out anyone else’s grammar missteps would be rank hypocrisy. 😉

  16. Behind these kinds of discussions is the implicit assumption that Paul’s views are on this issue are authoritative. This is to also assume that there can be no social progress past the first century of the common era. Every generation takes these texts and recreates them in their own image. Why not be honest? Yes, I think Paul thought that same sex relationships were inherently sinful. I think he was wrong. If you ask me to justify my position I’m not going to the Bible. I will use real world examples of people whose stories are known to me.

    Look I guess what is comes down to is this – I’m a lazy person; judging people is hard work. I just don’t have the energy to be part of the sex police. Just try not to hurt anyone (knowing even the best will at some point) and in the classic formulation, “don’t disturb the horses”.

    • Michael Bell says

      I am going to ask everyone to hold off on commenting on this thought for right now. This will be our primary point of discussion in part 4 or 5. Perhaps we will even use your comment as a starting point. I wanted to get through a couple more posts of what does the Bible say, before getting into this topic.

      • Mike, I hope I’m not going against your request—but in a future post I’d be interested in a discussion of the Sodom and Gomorrah episode and whether that was related specifically to homosexuality or to other factors.

        But not here! Don’t nobody get started on this here!

      • Robert F says

        I’m going to wait for post 4 or 5 b before commenting on this subject any further. I don’t make my ethical evaluations of the rightness or wrongness of all acts or behavior based solely, or even mostly in many cases, on interpretation of Biblical texts. I really don’t look to the Bible as a book or moral imperatives or prohibitions. I’ll wait for the free-wheeling discussion later.

  17. Christiane says

    Hello J.B.

    I expect that the message(s) the Holy Spirit is transmitting to us through the sacred Scriptures is/are transcendent.

    OTOH, how we humans ‘interpret’ the sacred Scriptures, especially in the light of such phrases as ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’, is a matter for much needed dialogue among the whole Church.

  18. senecagriggs says

    “That being said, I do believe that the Bible condemns homosexual activity and I will talk about this more in a future post. I take the middle ground in this passage, I think that Paul understands homosexual activity to be sinful (among many other sins listed), but that this is not the primary target of his text.”

    I would basically agree.

  19. Michael,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughtful perspective and for providing the reasons for your position.

    You and I depart though when it comes to Homosexual activity being a sin all the time. Perhaps I’m guilty of bowing to the to spirit of the times but my experience in walking with others who identify as gay and want to remain Christian has led me to believe that marriage for same sex individuals should be permitted.

    Honestly I am a tad surprised that identifying yourself as an Ally essentially boils done to not condemning individuals that are gay as long as don’t engage in sexual activity. Really if this is seen as a radical position in the Christian community, I’m discouraged. If I have misunderstood your conclusion, my apologies.

    • Michael Bell says

      Randy,

      You write: “You and I depart though when it comes to Homosexual activity being a sin all the time”.

      Reread the post. I have stated my opinion on this yet. Coming in post 4 or 5.

      I will clarify at the start of post 3.

      Mike