Per our mission of fostering theological conversation, ThinkTheology.org is hosting a conversation between Bill Hoard and our very own Luke Geraty in regards to homosexuality and the Church. This is going to be a six part series where Bill will offer a perspective and Luke will respond. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to join the discussion below. Our authors will do their best to respond.
Bill Hoard’s 1st Post
Luke Geraty has invited me to engage in a conversation (dare we call it a debate?) on the topic of homosexuality and the Church. I am honored and excited to engage on this topic for a number of reasons and I hope that the next couple of weeks will prove profitable for all. Of course there are a million and one rabbit holes this conversation could trip into and many of them are likely to be fascinating but ultimately distracting. That being the case, I would like, at the outset, to narrow the scope of our discussion. Specifically I propose to defend the proposition that as Christians, we have a responsibility to affirm and support Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual persons in their identities and in their pursuit of same-sex marriage within, and with the blessing of, the Church.
I would like to start with a few caveats. First, I am not a Biblical scholar. I hold an undergraduate degree in Bible together with one in the humanities and a masters in the liberal arts; not that I am trying to establish an underdog status; rather I want to be clear that while I have just enough Biblical training to endanger myself, I come at these issues as a generalist and not as a specialist in any one of the many fields which bear on this issue. My approach is certain to have its weaknesses as well as its strengths, but I am happy with it and I hope that you will be as as well.
Second I would like to lay out what I see as the shifting burden of proof in this conversation. I accept it at the outset. Certainly the burden of proof lies with the party challenging the historical and traditional view in any situation, not the least here where the Church has operated for at least 2000 years on the assumption that the Bible proscribes any and all gay sex. But I will only accept the burden to a point. That point, I want to suggest, is reasonable doubt as to the best interpretation of scripture in regards to gay sex. I will attempt to show that it is entirely reasonable to doubt that the Bible conclusively and unambiguously condemns all expressions of lesbian and gay sexuality. If I succeed in establishing that doubt, then I suggest that Jesus’ “Love your neighbor” principle shifts the burden of proof to the challenge of showing how a Christian can justify withholding support from the Queer community.
I hope that none reading this are unfamiliar with Jesus statement that “all the law and the prophets” – by which I take Him to mean “the fundamental point of God’s moral and religious commands” – are summed up in the command to love [agape] the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love [agape] our neighbor. I believe Luke Geraty would agree with me in saying that each LGBTQ person we meet is our neighbor, and doubly so in light of the Church’s frankly shameful history of persecution, flogging, mutilation, and execution of LGBTQ individuals. I am not saying that this history should cause us to ignore truth; and I believe that it is possible to be a good, Christ-like neighbor to LBGT people while simultaneously believing with integrity that the Bible proscribes gay sex; but we would do well to keep our history in mind as the LGBT community certainly hasn’t forgotten, and Uganda looms large in their collective imagination.
So what do I actually have to address?
I have found it convenient to break the scriptural argument against gay sex into three unimaginative categories: Direct NT Passages, direct OT passages,and interpretations of oblique references. Unless I am asked to add any additional passages to the study this would divide the common homosexuality-related texts as follows:
- Direct NT passages: Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1
- Direct OT passages: Genesis 19 and Leviticus 18 and 20
- Oblique references: Porneia as used by Jesus and Paul, Jesus’ comments about marriage, and Jude 1:7
I intend to address all of these passages as best I can and I would like to add to the discussion an investigation into the implications of the “love your neighbor” principle, and an exploration of the ecclesial implications of Peter’s vision in Acts 10. Throughout, I would like to explore the ways in which both Paul and Jesus’ audiences would have understood both marriage, sexuality, and the role of attraction in both cases.
So my parting questions to Luke Geraty:
- Is this a fair breakdown of the burden of proof for this discussion?
- Is there anything representative of your position which I have left out and really ought to address?
- Have I mischaracterized your position in any way?
Luke Geraty’s 1st Response
I’m thankful for Bill’s willingness to have a conversation (discussion? debate?) on such an important subject. I’m also thankful that, from the start, Bill has narrowed the subject to how the Church responds to “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual persons in their identities and in their pursuit of same-sex marriage.” Though the subject is complex and there are a variety of issues related, we’re going to try our hardest to avoid the rabbit trails! Here’s to hoping!
I’m encouraged by Bill’s willingness to acknowledge both his limitations as well as the disciplines involved in a conversation. While I have a fair amount of theological training, I’m sure we both agree that neither of us are specialists and will simply do our best to look to get scholarship and engage ideas and arguments.
Further, I look forward to reading how Bill “will attempt to show that it is entirely reasonable to doubt that the Bible conclusively and unambiguously condemns all expressions of lesbian and gay sexuality.” I agree with Bill that there is a certain level of responsibility upon those who take a non-traditional approach to homosexuality to articulate their arguments. I’m encouraged to see Bill acknowledge this!
As Bill notes, I am 100% in agreement that those who self-identify as LGBTQ are human beings created in the image of God, loved by God, and those I consider my neighbors, whom Jesus commands me to love (and whom I joyfully do!). And even if they were my enemies (which they are not!), I would still be called by Jesus to love them (Matt. 5:44). I have family, friends, and church members who fall under the LTGBQ banner and each of them I love and each of them have unique stories and I am very thankful for them. So thank you, Bill, for acknowledging this.
I also agree that in many, many, many significant ways, the Church has cause to repent of its sin against the LGBTQ community. Having read Crompton’s work, I agree that history, along with the stories my LGBTQ friends have personally shared with me, causes me to agree with my good friend Thomas Creedy when he talks about the need for the church to repent for it’s treatment of people created in God’s image.
Bill has chosen to break down the discussion of Scripture into three areas (the NT, the OT, and oblique texts). I do not have a problem with limiting our discussion to the texts that he has selected as they are the most relevant. That being said, I do have two questions about how this list is put together. Why discuss the NT texts first? Wouldn’t it be more canonical and serve toward an intertextual understanding to begin with the OT? Bill, you already agreed that Jesus and Paul shared a worldview that was significantly shaped by Hebrew thought (not to diminish Hellenism, especially for Paul), so is there a reason for this order or is it just random? Just curious. Secondly, what about including Acts 15? Are you willing to include that list and porneia’s role in the apostolic argument?
Other than those questions, I appreciate, Bill, how you have both not misrepresented my views and I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation. I look forward to your next post as you begin to make your case!
 I also believe that the same affirmation ought to be extended to Pansexual, Queer identified, and Transgender persons but that goes beyond the reasonable scope for this series. Who knows, if all goes well maybe Luke Geraty will invite me into a conversation on those topics as well.
 Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Classical and Middle Eastern History, Anthropology, Psychology, and Philosophy all spring quickly to mind.
 I do not mean to be either crude or flippant in my use of this phrase. It simply seems clearer than “homosexual activity”, which strikes me as vague (when a gay man buys a shirt he is acting as a homosexual individual but few Christians would have any problem with it), while “same-sex sex” just sounds odd.
 See Louis Crompton’s Homosexuality and Civilization for an enlightening if troubling history.
 As I understand it, I would only be eligible for 7 years in a Ugandan prison for my support of the LGBT community while my LGBT friends would be sentenced for life if “caught in the act”.
 It’s entirely possible that Bill and I would be in jail together in Uganda as I would gladly stand alongside him in advocating for the civil-rights of people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Bill Hoard is a high school history teacher, adjunct philosophy professor and a founding editor of Pints & Prose a Baltimore-based creative laboratory.
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org, VineyardScholars.org, and Multiply Vineyard. You can follow Luke on Twitter or Facebook. Interested in having Luke speak at your church, conference, or small group? Send him an email!
Thank you Bill & Luke for doing this.
I like starting with the NT first as it should provide us with the benefit of the fuller revelation of Gods loving kindness in Christ and it will allow us to see the OT better in light of the NT hopefully.
Thanks for engaging in what I’m confident will be an actual dialogue, wink, wink. At some point I would like to hear a conversation on the immediate contextual approach to particular texts vs. the larger biblical theology approach. I think this is in part what gets confusing for folks. For example, excellent work has been done on the affirming side with the particular individual texts but excellent work has also been done by the non-affirming side in seeing a thread connecting these texts together and thus supporting the traditional position on this issue.
I too think the NT should be first, as Christ saw the church through the lens of the new covenant so should we when discussing it.
Thanks, Bill and Luke. Looking forward to following this conversation as it develops.
I really agree. I think the affirming crew, particularly in protestant circles, have focused on “the immediate contextual approach to particular texts” as a reaction to a dated charge (which awesome folk like Luke don’t really make anymore) that they don’t take the Bible seriously. I will definitely be working, in the fifth and sixth posts in this series, to develop the “larger biblical theology approach” which – surprise surprise – I think is actually really robust but is usually not taken that seriously before the exegetical issues relating to the primarily cited specific texts on this topic.
I can’t believe this is even happening. The Bible is clear, sin is sin, and why are we tiptoeing around?? Homosexuality is a sin, like many others condemned in God’s inerrant Word, but it somehow stands apart as something to be indulged and understood differently, even though Scripture could not be more CLEAR. I am astonished and horrified that there should be any discussion at all. Call me whatever, I stand on solid Biblical ground here!
Hey Sherri. Thanks for your sharing your initial thoughts.
We need to engage in conversations like this in order to, quite frankly, explain and/or defend the very view that you seem to hold. Speaking for myself, I believe that the traditional way that Scripture has been understood regarding homosexual activity is the best reading and interpretation of Scripture. Yet there are many New Testament scholars, pastors, and “laypeople” (for lack of a better word) that are raising questions and concerns about whether the traditional interpretation is the most convincing argument.
Those questions and issues need to be raised and addressed. I don’t think it does anyone any good to ignore those questions and/or divergent scholarly arguments. In fact, for many people, upon discovering those arguments, the “conservative” or “traditional” church can feel really shallow. As one who believes that there is a significantly convincing response to be given to those who believe that the homosexuality of today is different than the homosexuality of the ancient world, it deeply concerns me that some would want to ignore those arguments and pretend as if they don’t exist.
It’s one thing to say that all homosexuality is a sin and that God opposes homosexual activity (regardless of whether it is in the context of a committed monogamous relationship) and something altogether different to demonstrate that to be true.
I guess this is to suggest that I too stand on biblical ground when I suggest that dialogue and conversation with opposing views is within the scope of what we, as followers of Jesus, are to do. St. Paul demonstrated this numerous times in the Book of Acts (cf. Acts 17, where Paul engaged with the Athenians at the Areopagus). This might not be everyone’s “calling” or skillset, but for some of us, that’s precisely what we believe that God has called us to do. To engage with ideas that we believe to be untrue, unclear, and/or unhelpful and to explain why.
For many people, including myself, statements like “I just believe the Bible” aren’t very helpful. How do you know that your interpretation is the best option? Have you engaged and weighed all of the other interpretations? Do you understand why other people hold to other views? What shapes your reading of Scripture because everyone brings presuppositions to their reading?
These are important questions and I, for one, am okay with addressing them. I do so as one who is committed to the traditional perspective on human sexuality while also acknowledging that the Church, by and large, has not been very good at loving and ministering to the LGBTQ community.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Luke. I still disagree with encouraging “discussion” where God has spoken clearly. This has nothing to do with honest attempts to understand Scripture, but rather a desperate attempt to justify sinful and perverted behavior. When Paul was talking to the pagans of his day, they certainly weren’t claiming to be Christians. I take great offense at people who claim the name of Christ while shamefully try to undermine His Word.
This is treating the Bible as it were any other sort of text, but I hold that it is truly God’s Word, alive and active, and unlike any other book. Any one who truly knows the God of the Bible can understand what God is saying, especially on matters as clear and obvious as this. I’m not pretending there are not “arguments”–there will always be opposition to the Truth. (not my truth, God’s)
I would defer to a post on Think Theology by Don Bromley http://thinktheology.org/2014/07/28/agree-disagree-disputable-matters-romans-14/ He covers the issue decisively.
Thanks again for your thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time. However, I do think you are under the false assumption that having a conversation about a topic equates to approving of all of the ideas being represented in that conversation. That is, quite frankly, not true.
Furthermore, it is actually wrong to state that everyone who takes an “open and affirming” perspective on LGBTQ issues is a “desperate attempt to justify sinful and perverted behavior.” That statement alone suggests that you probably haven’t actually ever discussed this topic with someone who has reservations about the traditional interpetation (to which I hold). If it were so “clear” to those people, why would they raise questions related to the nature of homosexuality in the ancient world as it relates to current issues? Just because you believe it is clear does not mean that other people believe it is clear. Is the Bible clear on the timing of the Rapture? How about women in ministry? What about what is the best form of church government? People often say that the Bible is very clear on all of these issues but simply writing or saying that it is clear is not the same thing as demonstrating it is clear.
Hence my willingness to engage with Bill on a subject that I believe is vitally important. And I believe my body of work within this blog alone would indicate that I have consistently argued for a traditional understanding of Scripture (cf. that here: http://thinktheology.org/reviews-ken-wilson/). In fact, the very article you references by my good friend Don is the very position I hold to. And one that I think you’ll find articulated in my reviews of ALTMC.
So I guess I’m not sure why you are acting as if I do not hold to a traditional approach to homosexuality. We obviously disagree on whether having a conversation automatically equates to approving on all related positions. That is, once again, a false assumption in my opinion. Of course, you are totally and completely free to have that opinion… 🙂
Ironically, we’re disagreeing via a conversation right now 🙂
Luke, I’m sorry to have made you feel defensive re: your views–you’ve been clear where you stand and I don’t question that you hold to a Biblical view on this issue. So please know that. We are both believers and a conversation between God’s people is often like iron sharpening iron, right? 🙂
I will stand by my statement that you are saying is “wrong.” I also will not accept the “culturally correct” way of labeling people who are trying to justify sin as a “LGBwhatever.community.” If someone is truly in the faith, they cannot read the Scriptures and honestly come up with what this guy is pushing. Not on this issue. Certainly there are issues that can be honestly discussed and debated withing Christianity, but THIS IS NOT ONE.
My issue is your giving him a public platform on your theology site as if his views are in any way Christian or Biblical. They are not. If you feel led/gifted to engage with him on the issue, by all means, do so, mano a mano. But this seems more like throwing open the sheep gate and inviting the wolf in. And setting the table for him!
2 Corinthians 3-4: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
Again, I know you hold to a biblical view on the subject. I just think that giving him this platform gives legitimacy to a very unbiblical position.
As you are likely realizing, I am not a Fundamentalist and I do not believe adhering to Fundamentalist methodology is at all helpful for the Church. What you are suggesting, again, indicates that you are unaware of the different views regarding the subject at hand. As one who is quite involved in engaging people who self-identify as LGBTQ and who has read and studied widely on the subject, I’m afraid that your methodology won’t work for me. Many would simply find arguments as circular and begging the questin. A wide number of young Millennials who are heading off to college or grad school and running into scholarly arguments that cut against traditional ideas concerning sexuality absolutely need to be able to understand the ideas that are foundational to these different views. Hiding one’s head in the sand doesn’t help.
In fact, at the risk of demeaning Bill (which is NOT my intention here), my goal in this conversation is to provide people a resource to evaluate the different arguments related to homosexualty in the Church. I’ve noticed you haven’t actually asked him any questions or engaged with his arguments. Are you afraid of them? Are they weak? Are the strong? What are your thoughts about his position? Why do you believe he is wrong?
I welcome young thinkers (and old alike!) to read our interaction in order to understand where these ideas are coming from and to weigh and evaluate them. We should never ever be afraid of interaction and should lean toward taking the time to gracius provide an answer for the hope that lies within us, according to St. Peter. I have hope that people who identify as LGBTQ can be transformed by the gospel in the same way that I have hope that people like me can be transformed.
We need not be afraid of ideas that we find deeply troubling. I believe that the truth has a way of standing out.
So while I welcome your opinion, I respectfully disagree with you and find that model, which was very popular in American Christian for a long time, to be bankrupt. It doesn’t work. It’s what has led to countless thousands of people abandoning the Christian faith… simply because people are afraid that discussing difficult topics may lead to people changing their mind. But maybe people who don’t take a traditional approach to sexuality will change their mind! Or maybe people who hold to a traditional approach will now understand that their are really good scholarly reasons as to why that’s the best decision (in my opinion).
Furthermore, you still haven’t really engaged what I actually asked you regarding the use of the adjective “biblical” or explaing views as “clear.” I hear people say that the Bible is “clear” on things all of the time when, in fact, the Bible, if anything, ISN’T clear (eschatology, polity, etc.). Is there any nuance to your use of those terms? Do you understand what people like Bill are saying? He isn’t suggesting that the Bible doesn’t speak against “homosexuality.” He is suggesting that the NT has a specific TYPE of homosexuality in mind. Your responses wouldn’t actually engage his arguments and I certainly think we can do better than that.
Again, thank you for your thoughts. As a website, we’ve positioned ourselves to encourage and foster deep theological reflection because if the Church is going to survive (which it will), we need to think deeply. Thank you for making me think deeply on this!