In a previous post, I spoke about a recent VCAT decision, which ruled against a Christian campsite and for a gay organisation. One of the main issues that I detected was the presiding judge’s comments that homosexuality is a fundamental part of a person’s being. This clearly runs counter to what Christians believe, but I did not give any detailed exposition of scripture to support that position. I mean, is it indeed true that the Bible forbids homosexual practice? I argue that those verses which speak about homosexuality do indeed prohibit it. But even if that is the case, is it possible to conceive of a coherent, integrated biblical perspective on human sexuality – into which any discussion of homosexuality specifically can be placed – rather than quoting de-contextualized bits of scripture to try and quash debate? That is what I aim to do in this post, and offer a theological statement that supports the political hue of the previous entry. Some may baulk at yet another essay that offers an interpretation of the biblical witness regarding homosexuality. However, if I am going to critique a judge’s position on the status of homosexuality, then I should be able to provide a theological warrant.
Let me therefore offer some remarks on the biblical witness, and why it is that Christians (at least those who consider the Bible to reliably convey the wisdom of God) take such a consistent stand against homosexuality. It should be said from the outset that homosexuality is not mentioned all that much throughout the Bible. There are some references to homosexual rape in Genesis and Judges, some Levitical laws that speak of male homosexuality, and a number of scattered references to the phenomenon in the New Testament. Now, space does not permit a full exposition of the relevant passages, so I will focus on just one: Romans 1:26-27. This is perhaps the most widely cited passage of Scripture whenever Christians offer a view on homosexuality, precisely because it sets homosexuality within an explicitly theological context. The condemnation of homosexuality that is found in Romans needs to be seen in this wider context, if the church is going to offer anything more than a proof-texted, piece-meal caricature of God’s ordering of sexual relationships. It is also important at this point in time, since the church’s view of human sexual relationships has been consistently challenged by an increasingly hostile culture.
The Apostle Paul, who penned the letter to the Romans, opens his letter by surveying – with broad brush strokes – the pervasive corruption and sinfulness of the human race. In order to point to the supra-historical nature of this predicament (in other words, the fact that this is a problem that has afflicted all of humanity throughout history), Paul sets his polemic within a creational context, hooking it into the Genesis narrative. By that, I mean Paul deliberately echoes Genesis 1-3, which speaks of God’s creation and man’s fall when offering up a theological explanation for the present sinfulness of humanity. His reference to God as creator in Rom. 1:19-20 is one such indicator. Similarly, his observation that man, though knowing God, committed the primal sin of idolatry and fell into darkness, is no doubt an allusive echo of the fall of the first man (Gen. 3). It seems that Paul is painting man’s present corruption as a kind of recapitulation of the rebellion of the first man. Of course, he will draw the curtain back in Romans 5:12, where he finally states plainly that all who are under sin are, if you like, “children” of Adam. But that is another story.
In any case, Paul begins to outline the pervasively disordered nature of humanity throughout Romans 1:24-32. Having given them up to their own sin, God allows humanity to go its own way. And that way is one of disorder and the frustration of God’s creative intent and design. This is where Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality finds its proper home. He does not use it as an example of human corruption because it is a particularly pernicious act. He does not use because of special hang-ups about sexuality. Instead, Paul observes homosexuality as an especially obvious manifestation of the disordered nature of humanity. We must always bear in mind that Paul’s opening gambit in Romans is hooked into the Genesis narrative. We should also bear in mind that one of the foundational aspects of that foundational narrative is the union between male and female as the proper expression of human sexual relationships (see Gen. 2:23-25); it is this sexual complimentarity that is key. For Paul, then, homosexual practice is a clear reflection of the fallen state of man, since it so blatantly goes against God’s created order. That order is outlined in the first few chapters of Genesis, and Paul uses that narrative to offer a structured, theological explanation for the general presence of human sin, and the particular presence of homosexuality.
It is thus that the Genesis narrative forms a crucial interpretive framework for Paul’s thought. It is not the case that he is simply castigating the sexual excesses of the Roman emperors. Nor is it the case that he is criticizing only one type of homosexual practice – namely, pederasty (of course, the fact that he also condemns female homosexuality tells against this argument). Rather, it is clear that Paul sets his polemic in a wider, creational context, arguing quite strongly that homosexuality – of all kinds – is to be seen as a clear violation of the divinely-ordained boundaries that have been established in terms of human sexual relationships. If I may refer to my previous post briefly, it ought to be clear why any Christian, provided they consider the Bible a reliable reflection of God’s wisdom, would reject the ostensibly normative status our society has seen fit to bestow upon homosexual identity and practice. Indeed, based upon this all-too-brief exposition of a relevant biblical passage, it should be abundantly clear why the Christian Brethren campsite rejected a request from a gay organization to use its facilities.
One final word: this post is not meant to make it even more difficult for those struggling with homosexual feelings and thoughts. We live in a time of sexual confusion, and I can only shake my head in sorrow and dismay when I think of so many people who are caught up in it. With that in mind, it is important to make a distinction between orientation and behaviour. Though both are products or reflections of humanity’s fallenness, it is the practice of the latter and the celebration of the former that are sinful. A young man struggling with homosexual thoughts should not see himself as a lone sinner who has been singled out for special condemnation by the Bible. But what is clear is the biblical witness in regards to homosexual practice. This can never be a point of compromise, even as we lay our lives down to love those who struggle in this area.