The discussion of homosexuality; summary and conclusions
In the following I have taken up where Peter Wilkinson left off and I have tried to summarise the debate on homosexuality. The posts and comments are now very extensive and some of the argument has been subtle and nuanced. While I hope I have accurately captured the main lines of argument, I may have inadvertently omitted some relevant comment and I may not have understood all that has been said. However, I thought it was worthwhile to try get an overview of what has been for me a very interesting and lively discussion in which the participants have by and large worked very hard at understanding other points of view and responding to them.
In the original post, Paul Hartigan imagined two people, Jack and Fred. Jack was in a committed monogamous homosexual relationship of 10 years while Fred owned 10 slaves. According to St Paul in Romans 1, Jack incurs the anger of God and is depraved; but about Fred, St Paul has nothing to say.
The case of Jack and Fred poses a dilemma
The dilemma is this: either our strong moral intuition about the relative morality of slavery and homosexuality is wrong or St Paul is wrong
The greater part of the ensuing responses has been to deny the stated form of the major premise
DID PAUL REALLY NOT CONDEMN SLAVERY?
Erlenmeyer suggests that Paul condemned both homosexuality and slavery but only explicitly referred to homosexuality because that conformed with the views of the time whereas there was no similar opposition to slavery and he did not want his message mixed up in politics. Alario says says slavery of those days was not as bad as it was to be in later times. Several people lament Paul’s silence on social issues.
Overall, it seems to be accepted that Paul did not condemn slavery and this implies some moral obtuseness on his part.
DID PAUL REALLY CONDEMN HOMOSEXUALITY?
Alario questions whether there are any committed monogamous homosexual relationships and asks about a homosexual lifestyle of indiscriminate, unprotected sex that has as many as hundreds of different partners in a year. Paul Hartigan responds that homosexual men may be more promiscuous than heterosexual men but lesbians are not more promiscuous than heterosexual women. The difference, is the institution of marriage which socialises the indiscriminate sexual appetite of the male. If there were no such constraint, would heterosexual men be any less promiscuous than homosexual men?
Ivan Latham says the scriptures are clear that all homosexual relationships are barred and that if the scriptures are not observed on this point then the floodgates will open and any behaviour will be licenced. Erlenmeyer says the preponderance of churches consider the bible to condemn the homosexual lifestyle and there are no positive references in the bible to homosexuality. The onus of proof is on those who would condone homosexuality to explain this silence.
SBryan says the over-riding principal of Christianity is love and if homosexual relationships are loving ones they do not fall under the Pauline condemnation. Asserhead does not disagree about love but says that does not deal with sex…The scriptures make clear that sex may only take place within heterosexual union. Ivan Latham says it is too readily assumed that divine love is unconditional.
Erlenmeyer suggests that celibacy is just as unnatural as homosexuality (if persisted in mankind would die out) but Paul is in favour of it.
Peter Wilkinson refers to NT scholars who suggest that Paul is thinking only about pederasty-there was no other form of male homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world which could come to mind ie he would not have objected to ‘a committed monogamous homosexual relationship’. However Ericboemer notes that just such a relationship’ is described in Plato.
Peter Wilkinson also notes that that sexual identity goes to the root of my sense of who I am. Tell me that I must not be a homosexual, and you may be telling me that I cannot be who I am, the person that I never chose to be in the first place, and over whom I have no power to be anything different. How does the church deal with that?
What do the texts really say?
Andrew says it is important to understand what the texts really say and his general position seems to be
Andrew says he is looking for a way to understand homosexuality that recognizes:
i) that it is contrary to creation, as indicated above
ii) that it is (apparently) an unavoidable element of a fallen creation and for many gay people the only way of expressing a long-term intimate commitment to another
iii) that it is not ‘wickedness’, it is not intrinsically harmful to others.
Andrew suggests that while homosexuality will not be found in the new heaven and the new earth, the church is the sign but not the actuality of the new heaven and new earth. As such it contains many who are fallen eg those who abuse their spouses or lie or who get angry or who are unjust, despise the poor- and those who practice homosexuality. The conclusion is that homosexuals should not be denied Christian fellowship. A number of other participants are at one with Andrew on this.
Paul Hartigan questions the cogency of the scriptures quoted by Andrew.
The suggestion that Paul was not thinking of committed monogamous homosexuals in his Romans 1 and other references to homosexuals did not appear convincing to most participants; nor the idea that the love ethic of the NT over-rides the condemnation of homosexuality (though thisidea has not been explored as fully as it might). Nearly all the participants accept that scripture condemns homosexuality, although they interpret the condemnation differently. Some would say homosexual behaviour is wrong and forbidden; but some are ambiguous about this (Andrew?). A number of participants are at pains to understand the situation of the homosexual and do not believe that homosexuals should be denied church fellowship.
SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY VERSUS MORAL INTUITION
Paul Hartigan is inclined to think that Paul’s condemnation would include homosexuals in a committed monogamous relationship but his attitude to the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality does not necessarily depend on what the scriptures say. In Paul Hartigan’s view, St Paul was wrong about homosexuals and equally, he was, at the very least, morally obtuse about the institution of slavery. For Paul Hartigan, this does not pose the dilemma of either rejecting the NT or rejecting his judgement about homosexuality: in his view reverence for the NT does not require it to be inerrant or morally infallible.
Ivan Latham says that once we go down the route of picking and choosing what we believe as authoritative in the Biblical text, then anyone, from thief to psychopath could justify their behaviour by such an arbitrary analysis of the Bible.
Peter Wilkinson suggests that Paul Hartigan’s approach seems to depend on subjective or vague notions of modern thinking.
Paul Hartigan responds that his reasons are neither subjective nor vague and include considerations such as the following
The original post about Fred and Jack essentially asked this question: how do we deal with a collision between
Very little of the discussion has addressed this issue- most of it has focussed on the scriptures and whether there is any understanding of them which in some way acknowledges the position of a homosexuals in a committed monogamous relationship.
Hence I regard the major issue posed in the original post as unanswered. It seems to me that all of us feel the moral force of the proposal that a homosexual in a committed monogamous relationship is more morally opprobrious than a slave-owner. This seems to imply at least moral obtuseness on St Paul’s part because he condemned homosexuals and made no similar remarks about slave owners.