Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Part 3)

Introduction

*This post is part of a series dealing with a very difficult topic. It contains some mature language and themes.

In part 3, I’ll be looking at the chapter written by Megan K. DeFranza who offers the second affirming view in the four part book, Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church. She received a PhD in religious studies from Marquette University and is “an emerging leader in the theological study of sex, gender, and sexuality.” (13) DeFranza is also an alumnus of Toccoa Falls College.

Approach to the Topic

DeFranza begins by detailing her own journey with this debate, writing, “I never would have anticipated writing a chapter arguing for a more inclusive theology of Christian marriage in a volume of this kind – not while attending [Toccoa Falls College], or after finishing my master’s work at an evangelical seminary, or my doctoral studies in theology, not even after having completed by dissertation on the complexity of biological sex/gender differences.” (69)

“It was my growing awareness of the complexity of biological sex development that opened my mind to consider the possibility that I could be missing something. I learned that not all people are fully or clearly male or female. While most humans seem to be clearly sexed, there is a significant minority for whom being male and female is not obvious or uncomplicated. Intersex persons with Differences of Sex Development (DSDs; historically, “hermaphrodites”) have bodies with both male and female physical features. Approximately 1 out of every 2500 live births is intersex.”

DeFranza, 69-70

She writes that ancient Christians and Jews were quite familiar with people whose bodies did not easily fit into either a male or female category. In Matthew 19:12 Jesus speaks of eunuchs, saying some have been so from birth, some were made so by others, and some have made themselves so for the kingdom of heaven. DeFranza details her re-examination of Genesis 1 observing, “this was not a comprehensive account of all God’s good creation. For example, amphibians are not named in the narrative.” (70)

She notes that some people argue humans who do not fit easily into one sex category or the other are viewed as a result of the fall. Yet we never hear that argument made about frogs which are also not mentioned. (71) Many read Genesis 1 as representing the idealized male and female. But “when I read Genesis in the context of the whole Bible, at the beginning of a story that later welcomed those who did not fit into either of these categories (such as eunuchs from birth), I began to see space opening up between the two, between male and female, space for others.” (71)

Gender, Sex, and Ethics

From here, DeFranza moves into examining assumptions about sex and gender and how they affect debates surrounding sexual ethics. She seeks to better understand ancient views on sexuality “in order to better understand biblical instruction.” (72)

DeFranza writes that in the time of Paul, 1 in 5 persons in Rome was a slave, and slaves were often used for sex in the ancient world; Eunuchs were especially desired for this purpose. “Many ancient men lusted after the ‘soft,’ effeminate bodies of these castrated males because androgynous features were considered by many to be more alluring than feminine beauty.” (72) She claims, “Paul would have been concerned to address the rampant sexual abuse which affected many in the early church.” (73)

Where many see I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:9-10 condemn same-sex sexuality in general, DeFranza argues the texts may be referring to the sexual abuse rampant in the ancient culture. The Greek words “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” are of particular interest, she notes. “This combination of terms is never used in Greek literature before Paul as a way of speaking about same-sex sex.” (73) The term “malakoi” literally means “the soft ones” but sometimes it is translated as “effeminate.” (73) From here, DeFranza moves to examining masculinity and femininity in ancient culture. She notes it was “considered shameful for a man to be penetrated by another man.” (74) Philo, a first century contemporary of Paul, writes about the practice of pederasty (sexual use of boys by adult men) as a violation of Mosaic law. However, the 21st century reader would find Philo’s reasoning for the violation rather strange.

“Philo worried that such a boy would suffer ‘the affliction of being treated like women…being turned into a man-woman who adulterates the precious coinage of his nature.” (italics mine) Philo believed the adult shares in the blame since he proved to be a “guide and teacher of those greatest of all evils, unmanliness and…effeminacy.”

DeFranza, 74

DeFranza references two Old Testament stories in which men are threatened with being raped. In Genesis 19, Lot thinks it best to send his virgin daughters to be gang-raped by the men of Sodom rather than allow his male guest to be defiled. In Judges 19, a traveler finds refuge in a foreign town. But during the night, a mob of men demand he come out and have sex with them. Rather than “be treated as a women,” he sends to the mob his female servant to be raped all night until she is found dead on the doorstep the next morning. DeFranza writes, “these ancient patriarchal values feel far from Christian ethical sensibilities today.” (75)

*[Last semester, I wrote an essay examining a feminist reading of this passage which may be of interest]

Looking at the Language

DeFranza further examines the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” There is debate about whether these words form a word-pair wherein the passive (penetrated) is the malakoi, and the active (penetrator) is the arsenokoitai in male same-sex sexual acts. DeFranza argues, the one participant is “feminized and softened because he was treated like a woman.” (77) Some “scholars have argued for a more narrow interpretation – suggesting the “soft ones” could be prepubescent boys in pederastic relationships with their mentors – a common practice among ancient Greeks but criticized by Romans, Christians, and Jews.” (77) DeFranza highlights the 2011 rendering of the NIV, “men who have sex with men.” She deems this translation unfortunate because it “suggests adult behavior, whereas the Greek does not specify age.” (77) One would need to read the text as only condemning abusive, (older males with younger males) sexual activity in order to claim it is not condemning same sex actions between consenting adults.

After studying the book of Romans, DeFranza does not find the “clear-cut universal condemnation of all same-sex relations that [she] had expected.” (86) According to her reading, “the passage is meant to describe the depravity of those who have rejected God, not faithful gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians seeking to solemnize their relationships with the vows of Christian marriage.” (86)

“Contemporary readers will recognize the importance of speaking against the vices of decadence, lack of self-control, laziness, and sexual excess associated with (malakoi), but modern Christians should reject the cultural packaging which summarized these evils as femininity or effeminacy.” (80)

A “Biblical” View of Marriage?

Next, the author moves from linguistic study to examining what maleness and femaleness meant in the biblical context. She will argue that 21st century marriage as defined by the Christian church looks incredible different than what is prescribed in the Bible. She will point to Paul’s writings, the old testament, as well as church fathers to make this case. If we have rightfully revised our view on maleness and femaleness in the marriage relationship once, she argues, perhaps we have the space to do it again. This time, instead of revising the Christian view to see women as equals, we should revise it to see marriage as a union which can be shared by gay couples.

DeFranza observes, “the unanimous picture of marriage in the Bible is heterosexual…the consistent witness of marriage is…heterosexual.” (87) She also notes the covenant between husband and wife as the metaphor employed by the prophets to illustrate the relationship of God and his people. However, she goes on in an attempt to show that Biblical marriage is consistently patriarchal, and this is why it works as a metaphor for God and his people, as well as Christ and the church. In this view of marriage, the one half is clearly dominant and superior. She points to John Calvin’s assertion 1500 years after Paul that women are “by nature…formed to obey.” (89) DeFranza writes that Christians are content leaving slavery and monarchy in the past “despite their foundation in scripture” and argues that the metaphor of marriage between unequal partners “does not reflect the biblical teaching that men and women are equally made in the image of God.” (89)

DeFranza believes, “arguments from first century understandings of nature are hardly sufficient to ground Christian sexual ethics.” (82) She warns against the implications of referring generally to what is natural, “more often that not, what we find ‘in nature’ are the social conventions of our own context…despite the obvious condemnation of lame same-sex relations in this passage [Romans 1] some scholars still do not believe that all same-sex relationships are therefore censured.” (83-84) DeFranza argues we have revised marriage from ancient patterns and further, that we ought to do so again to “better honor the humanity of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.” (90)

“Contemporary Christian marriage is not biblical marriage of the old or new testament.” DeFranza thinks an affirming view of same sex marriage can be grounded in a Christian theology of marriage. Her argument is that the church’s current view of marriage (two equal partners) is not the biblical view of marriage, and that this is an addition to the biblical patriarchal view. She advocates for an understanding of marriage which alongside traditional theology “recognizes that humans are made for communion and that our sexuality brings us into particular relationships which, because of sin, need to be governed by public vows (96),” but which also includes gay marriage under the umbrella of what faithful marriage can look like.

Summing Up

DeFranza ends her chapter with a look towards the past and the fences with rough splinters which have divided the church. “Christians have learned to agree to disagree over other weighty moral concerns: just war vs pacifism, women’s ordination, infant vs believer’s baptism…we are finding ways to debate and disagree without adding the pain of persecution, or accusing our opponents of abandoning the faith, or rejecting the authority of the Bible.” (100) She points out that Protestants no longer drown one another over baptismal practices as they did in the 1500s. These fences, she writes have gradually been torn down, and fellowship has been restored across the dividing lines. Some fences still stand, though they are worn smoother as the “painful splinters on these rough beams have been worn smooth. Other beams have fallen and not been replaced.” (101) DeFranza hopes, “we will continue to listen to one another, that we will remain open to the leading of the Holy Spirit,” and that more churches will prove welcoming to gay Christians, both celibate and who seek marriage union.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths

The arguments outlined in this chapter rest on two pillars: (1) the Greek is hard to interpret (we may have gotten it wrong) and (2) Christian marriage now looks very different than it did when scripture was authored. The second argument is the strongest. DeFranza makes brief mention of Calvin’s low view of women “by nature formed to obey.” And she really spares him and many other church fathers here. Origin, Augustine, Luther, Chrysostom, and plenty more had really bad views of women which make us cringe today. It seems clear the views of marriage expressed through the ages, from Paul’s day to Martin Luther, have needed to be updated regarding the status of women. DeFranza’s argument for affirming gay marriage finds its most force here, in arguing for another revision to a Christian theology of marriage.

  • Weaknesses

DeFranza’s argument relies, at least in part, on reading Paul’s writing in a way that does not condemn homosexuality between consenting males. There are many scholars who argue that Paul was fully aware of not only abusive older/younger same sex relationships, but also those between consenting males – and he was condemning both. It seems that to read the texts in way that does not condemn same-sex sexual activity requires hermeneutical acrobatics. Perhaps it is best to trust those who have done the work of giving us our English translations where the language does not seem overly ambiguous. While DeFranza may be able to make a case reading in the Greek, most English readers will not be able to enter the discussion at that level and are left wondering whom to trust.

*more (rather scathing) critiques are leveled in this article.

Final Thoughts

By DeFranza’s own account, it was not until after she received her third academic degree that she changed her mind on this issue. It’s hard for me to see, given the evidence outlined, how the layperson might be persuaded (most of us never write a dissertation on biological sex/gender difference). With that said, I do think many lay readers fail to consider what the implications of our current views of marriage might be when we consider just how different they are than those of Paul’s day. We have moved away from a patriarchal view, where the male in superior in all manners and dominates his spouse. It is alarming to me that the church fathers who have developed so much of our theology and understanding of other teachings held degrading views of women and marriage which make us cringe and squirm. This is why we need theologians in every age, to do the work of helping us work out our salvation, a task which is not easy and where the answers are not obvious.


Homosexuality, The Bible, and the Church (Part 2)

Introduction

*This post is part of a series dealing with a very difficult topic. It contains some mature language and themes.

The second argument I will examine is from Dr. William Loader. Loader is “widely regarded as the foremost scholar on sexuality in ancient Judaism and Christianity.” He received his doctorate in theology from Mainz, Germany and has contributed five scholarly volumes to the academic literature surrounding sexuality in ancient culture.

Overview

Loader is one of the two writers I’ll cover who affirm same sex union in the church. While many affirming viewpoints tend bend over backward to interpret scripture in a way that allows for homosexual practice, such as raising questions about Greek words found in the text, Loader does not take that approach at all. Instead, he applies a rather traditional hermeneutic in understanding Paul’s writing in particular.

Loader’s View

Loader begins by observing

“Not all people are simply male or female. The matter is even more complicated because one’s orientation can change over a lifetime, and for some their orientations is in both directions, homosexual and heterosexual. Most have long since abandoned the belief that any such variations are to be accounted for by deliberate perversion on the part of the individual.”

Loader, 18

He then gives an account of the experience of many gay individuals, “The argument has been mounted that Scripture does not judge a person because of their orientation…it’s okay for them to be gay and have homosexual feelings as long as they do not act on them.” (pg. 19). Loader claims this position is a “softening” of what the text really says, which is that the orientation itself, not just sexual acts, as a symptom of sin.

Loader points to Paul’s chain of reasoning in Romans 1 and claims, “In part it is a psychological argument.” *Here I will quote the book passage as laid out by Loader* Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts [minds] were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22) That is why, explains Paul, they “exchanged the glory of immortal God for images made to look like mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (1:23). Then Paul continues, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts [minds] to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (1:24).

So, Loader argues, Paul is claiming that God gave people over to their perverse passions because they changed the truth of God for a lie and failed to worship God as God. “It is not just that they now had strong homosexual passions and acted on them, but that they had homosexual attraction at all.” So the attraction is seen as a psychological malfunction which is contrary to the created order. These desires are not neutral, to be acted on or refused, they are a manifestation of a state of perversion. According to Loader, Paul’s writing indicates that having homosexual feelings is in fact a result of a perverted state of mind and contrary to how we ought to be.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, Loader deems it a false comfort to urge those with homosexual feelings to simply remain celibate. If his reading of Paul is correct, a perverse understanding of God has led to a perverted understanding of both God and themselves, and this has led to their state of desiring the same sex rather than the opposite. Paul categorizes homosexual passions with other results of a depraved mind, “envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, God-haters, arrogant, boastful…” (Rom. 1:28-32) In his conclusion, Loader sums up by saying, “Paul sees (homosexuality) as sin generated by the sin of not acknowledging God’s true nature. If we are serious about letting Scripture speak for itself and reading it in context, then we will avoid all such attempts from left and right to explain it away, however compassionately motivated our misreadings may be.” (pg. 43)

Three Possible Ways Forward

In the end, Loader presents three possible ways forward, which I will briefly summarize.

  • Repent and Repair

This option asks those who have homosexual desires to repent of their corruption and seek to be “made right” sometimes through the use of conversion therapy or other means of getting gay folks to be straight. The church has largely (almost wholly) rejected conversion therapy as a way forward, thankfully. However, another move in this direction could include “seeking to help them find ways out of their sin and its effects. (pg. 43)” In the end, the orientation must be reversed before gay people can be deemed “normal.”

  • Accept and Refrain

This route seeks to hold together what the scripture seems to be saying and what we observe in real life. This approach is able to accept gay folks the way they are (does not condemn their orientation as sin), but it requires celibacy. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, but sexual expression is not permitted. Of this view Loader writes, “It seems very unfair and inconsistent to tell people that it’s OK to be gay, but not OK to give natural expression to their sexuality. This does not really do justice to gay people.” (pg. 44)

  • Accept and Affirm

Loader’s stance aligns with this third option. He writes,

The reason why Paul argued as he did is that he, like other Jews of his time…, believed that all people were heterosexual, male or female. Given that assumption about human reality, his conclusions make sense.”

Loader, 45

Loader argues homosexuality is one of many areas in which it has become necessary to supplant first century understandings with more contemporary ones. “To do so is not to show disrespect for biblical writers, but to stand alongside them in their commitment to truth and willingness to change as essential to their faith.” (pg. 45)

From Loader’s perspective, Paul in Romans absolutely condemns same sex erotic acts. In fact, Loader claims that Paul is even condemning a homosexual orientation. Many theologians read Paul to be condemning gay sexual acts, but Loader claims Paul is actually equating homosexual orientation (attraction to the same sex) as a result of a perverted mind. According to Loader, Paul’s whole argument is based on humanity trading its knowledge of God for worldly knowledge. The result is disastrous in a multitude of ways, and homosexual acts and desires are part of the consequence. In case it wasn’t clear enough, both homosexual acts and feelings are sinful as they are the result of a depraved mind.

Loader arrives at an affirming view by arguing that we now have a greater understanding, of the world and sexuality, than Paul and other ancient writers of scripture did. Loader writes, “Biblical writers held beliefs and attitudes which for good reason we no longer share.” (pg. 20) And he points to such things as age of creation, the sequence of creation, origin of women, the origin of labour in giving birth, in working poor soils, in controlling weeds, the origin of languages, the world as a flat, the status of women, marriage and divorce, and slavery. “In all of these we have needed to update the biblical writers’ understanding and assumptions and respectfully acknowledge that their witness…was expressed in the language and thought-world of its time.” He then asks if homosexuality is another of these beliefs about which we need to update our understanding.

 He advises us to go beyond what Paul has taught and make space for gay couples in the church.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths

Loader’s argument hinges on the idea that we understand the world more fully than Paul was able to. Scientific inquiry into human sexuality simply didn’t exist when Paul was writing. The word of every author bears the marks of the time period and the culture of the writer. Paul understood the world and the people living in it very differently, and in many ways less fully, than we do today. This is a strong point of Loader’s argument. Loader is also correct in pointing out ways in which the church has deemed some of Paul’s teaching to be culturally specific and no longer applicable (e.g. women in the church). I was raised in a theologically conservative environment, and so I find Loader’s conservative interpretation of the text very familiar.

  • Weaknesses

The weakness of Loader’s argument lies in his view of scripture. It is disconcerting for many (most even) to acknowledge that we’re alright “moving beyond” or that we now understand more fully than those writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The obvious question is if we can move beyond whenever we feel we’ve gained a better understanding, what are we tied to? Still Loader insists we can (and already do) recognize where first century, and much earlier, writings no longer reflect the situations believers find themselves navigating. While Loader is certainly genuine in his view that we can respect the authority of scripture, this does pose a lot of difficult questions and place a lot of authority in the hands of the contemporary reader. Since the Reformation, when the power of interpreting scripture was ripped from the hands of the clergy and given to the common people, we have largely moved away from reading and interpreting scripture in community. Loader’s view of scripture in a context where readers are deriving their own meaning seems to have tumultuous implications.

Final Thoughts

While I am intrigued by Loader’s angle into this issue, it seems significant that there have been no orthodox church fathers (or extremely few) who have taken this position. Loader’s view stands in direct opposition to more than a thousand years of church tradition. It seems most of my classmates were not persuaded by his arguments. I do see evidence of Loader’s claim – we have moved beyond New Testament Biblical teaching in some other areas. And some horrific practices (slavery in the antebellum South) were condoned by pointing to scripture, i.e. slaves obey your masters, which have now been updated. Still, it’s not clear to me this is an area where we can move beyond Paul’s teaching. I don’t know what to do with Loader’s claim that Paul assumes homosexual attraction is evidence and manifestation of sin. Perhaps we could say (as Holmes does in part 1 of this series) that all our desires, gay – straight – and otherwise – are broken and in need of redemption.

Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Part 1)

*This post is part of a series dealing with a very difficult topic. It contains some mature language and themes.

“Listening to the Past, Reflecting on the Present”

Stephen Holmes (PhD, King’s College, London)

I’m writing this series of essays as a way of processing Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, the book edited by Preston Sprinkle, published by Zondervan, and used in my Critical Issues in Theology class (THE-423). (*for more on the why of this series of posts, please see the introduction*)

Stephen Holmes is one of the four theologians to contribute a position to the book, and he holds a non-affirming view of gay marriage in the church. Dr. Holmes has “published widely across the disciplines of systematic and historical theology, and into practical theology, philosophical theology, and patristics as well” (ivpress.com). He is the head of the school of divinity at the University of St. Andrews. His writing here relies on a strong appeal to tradition enforced by scripture and focuses on the ethical argument for a traditional view of marriage.

Augustinian Theology of Marriage

Holmes begins his chapter by acknowledging the pressing nature of the debate around homosexuality in contemporary culture. In spite of the pressure, he sees no reason for the church to deviate from its long-held positions on marriage. He writes,

“I accept without question that the churches of the West have discriminated in demanding a far higher standard of sexual ethics from LGBT people than straight people…I argue that the right response to this is not (primarily) to become more lax in our pastoral dealings with LGBT people, but to become more rigorous in our pastoral dealings with straight people. We need…to recover a Christian understanding of human sexuality as primarily ordered towards procreation, not towards pleasure, and to restate an ethic that takes this orientation seriously.”

Holmes, (168)

Augustine developed his theology of marriage in the 4th and 5th centuries, and it has remained a strong foundation for the Christian understanding in the West.

Augustine (354 – 430 AD) was a bishop, theologian, and philosopher in North Africa.

The linchpin of Holmes’s position is an Augustinian view of marriage in which there are three goods: procreation, faithfulness, and sacrament. Procreation means children are a result of the marriage. Faithfulness “refers to the exclusivity of the marriage union.” Sacrament “refers…to the permanence of marriage.” While it may be argued gay marriage could fulfill the goods of faithfulness and sacrament, it is not possible for procreation to happen. Holmes makes a strong case and urges the church to hold fast (or return) to the Augustinian view.

Broken Desires

Throughout his chapter, Holmes clearly points out his view that all desires of fallen beings are warped. However, he writes, marriage can serve as a vehicle, a journey, through which twisted desires are transformed and redeemed. “Marriage is a school in which our desires are reordered…a place where desires are contained and reordered, where we grow in holiness and continence” (172). He agrees fully with Augustine that the goods of marriage involve procreation. As such, no homosexual union could provide a legitimate space where transformation would be possible and God-honoring.

Many churches, he argues, have erred in their endorsement of all sexual acts within marriage. Marriage must be oriented towards having children, and more to the point, “A relationship not ordered towards procreation may be good and right and holy, but it is not marriage” (189). He urges the church to understand marriage as it has the last 1500 or so years; if procreation is not the primary goal of marriage, we have broken from tradition.

Holmes also has much to say about the brokenness of our desires.

“At the heart of a Christian sexual ethic, and a Christian theology of marriage, is a confession that the erotic desires of every fallen human person are misdirected, warped, and broken. This is true indifferently of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual – and indeed asexual – desires.”

Holmes (170-171)

Holmes sums up his this portion of his argument nicely by saying, “The traditional Christian position…is emphatically not that any and all forms of sexual activity within marriage are permissible and even praiseworthy . . . Marriage is a place where our wayward sexual desires are reordered, not a place where we are permitted to indulge such wayward desires” (175).

A Hypothetical Situation

The hypothetical situation conceived by the author was the most surprising part of his chapter. Holmes imagines a scenario in which science has developed beyond its current understandings to allow a lesbian couple to conceive and bear their own child. He speculates that the DNA from the one woman could be used to fertilize the eggs of the other, thus actually creating a child. Holmes says this would be a case for gay marriage which would have to be legitimately considered since the relationship could fulfill the goal of procreation. I found this argument both consistent and baffling.

Appeal from Tradition

In the end, Holmes spends little words dealing with the prohibition passages in scripture which mention homosexuality. He takes it as a given that the biblical witness is clear as it has been understood and upheld for over a thousand years by the church. Therefore, he writes to urge the contemporary church to realize and return to an Augustinian theology of marriage, where procreation, faithfulness, and sacrament are in full view and understood as the primary goods of marriage. Holmes also points out pastoral accommodations have been made – contraception and even remarriage after divorce in many denominations – he sees these as minor modifications, not rejections, of the Augustinian understanding.

At the end of they day, Holmes is self-aware of his reliance on tradition and is very honest about it. He writes as part of his conclusion, “What if an Augustinian theology of marriage is just wrong? If it is, all my arguments here are irrelevant” (pg. 193). This is not to say the non-affirming position is irrelevant, but Holmes realizes his position is anchored in an Augustinian understanding where the telos of marriage is procreation, faithfulness, and sacrament. However, he feels comfortable resting the weight here because the church (western at least) has done so for a very very long time.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

When we look at the history of the church, the are perhaps few teachings we could point to which are as grounded and longstanding as the Augustinian theology of marriage. I like how concise this theology is in its summation of the purposes of marriage. This traditional view of marriage has been the position of churches in many different climates and ages as it faced a multitude of oppositions. Holmes does a good job of setting current cultural pressures in the context of history. This teaching is not one the church has developed as a reaction or out of desperation; it has long been tried and long been held. Holmes also does a good job pointing at ways in which the contemporary church has strayed from its moorings, and his call to return to a traditional sexual ethic is clear.

Weaknesses

While Holmes finds comfort in the longevity of an Augustinian theology of marriage, one could also point to other views the church has held and only recently come to renounce. We ought to be quite thankful the church has not held to Augustine’s rather low view of women, essentially as lesser forms of men. Likewise, we are glad the church doesn’t use the Bible as a tool to promote slavery as it did a few hundred years ago. If Augustine’s world and its practices look almost nothing at all like the 21st century the church now finds itself in, are his views of marriage still valid? It seems many within the church no longer act as if they hold an Augustinian theology of marriage. If companionship has been elevated to a position equal to or above procreation, it would seem the church is already laying the Augustinian understanding of marital goods to rest.

My Thoughts

Prior to reading, I had no idea the church had so long held to an Augustinian theology of marriage almost across the board (maybe not in eastern traditions), and I have much to learn in this regard. It’s hard for me to reckon with Holmes’s statement that a relationship not ordered towards procreation may be good and right and holy, but it is not a marriage. I appreciate Holmes’ articulation of the fallenness of all desires, gay, straight, or otherwise, and the idea that marriage is the place those desires are transformed, not merely fulfilled. I find his hypothetical situation interesting but not compelling. Perhaps this speaks to my own view of marriage which elevates the “good” of companionship and space to become through sacrifice to nearly equal, at least, with procreation. I get the sense the two becoming one flesh is as important as the two making more flesh.


Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Introduction)

At the end of the semester, we have to decide and defend what we’ve come to believe. Let me explain.

As a college student, there are classes I cannot wait to attend, and there are classes which require a considerable amount of determination to sit through. I’m thankful my experience has been mostly the former and dotted with the latter. This semester, I’m a senior taking five classes: three are related to communication/cultural studies, and two are related to biblical/theological studies. In the I can’t wait to attend vs I would rather be anywhere else dichotomy, I’m 4 for 5. One of the classes I really enjoy is called Critical Issues. We’re working through three books examining traditionally difficult disagreements in the Christian faith under the instruction of Dr. Vena. These are: homosexuality, the historical Adam, and gender roles.

Currently, we’re reading “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church,” a book published by Zondervan which tasks four theologians with outlining their views. William Loader and Megan DeFranza will argue in favor of the church affirming homosexual union, while Wesley Hill and Stephen Holmes will argue for a traditional view of Christian marriage, that is marriage being only between a man and a woman. As students, we do the reading, and someone prepares and presents the current author’s argument to the class. It may sound like a recipe for all out war, but it’s actually been really great so far.

Once we’ve worked through all three books, heard all the positions presented, and been given ample time to mull it over, we write a paper outlining our positions on these critical issues. This will be a very formative exercise for me. I identify pretty strongly with the enneagram 5 (the observer), and as such have the ability to hold opposing views in tension and still live in harmony. Some folks no doubt see this as a defect, but it’s the way we fives are built. We’re prone to do a lot of reading and come away at peace knowing neither position is a definite conclusion. This exercise will force me to acknowledge a position and attempt to defend it.

I don’t know what to think about homosexuality in the church. Nor do I have a hard and fast opinion concerning the historical Adam (whether or not Adam was a real person or an archetypal figure in the creation myth). My third perspective is less of a mystery; I think I know where I’ll come out on gender roles. At its best, higher education in the humanities shows us our place in the historical landscape and gives us the tools we need to think well about the issues at hand. It’s a space in which we are invited to become who we will be. It is not indoctrination – I really don’t know what the professor believes – but a formative process which challenges us to hear and choose, to look and to build.

My goal is to summarize each of the arguments made by the four authors on homosexuality. And I hope this enterprise will help me to think through their positions. If it also helps the reader gain a broader view of the issue (which is not obvious), or to locate herself in the contemporary discourse, that would be good – though not the primary goal. I fear that too often teaching masquerades as the final word instead of one answer gained through one specific method of interpretation.

I can’t wait to dive into these four positions on homosexuality in the church. I trust I will become a better person of the Christian faith for having tangled with the arguments at hand, and I hope, in some way, you might too.

In the meantime, you might enjoy last week’s podcast episode in which we take a look at some positions on homosexuality in the church.

The Water Reviews

In Phoenix this summer, Aleisha and I tried all different kinds of sparkling water. And then we rated them on a scale of 1 to 5.

I recently set up Stripe, so I could use this platform to earn money at some point. The form below is evidence!

You can actually support this unnecessary work by contributing to our beverage fund. That’s cool.

Choose an amount

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Or enter a custom amount

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Wow, that was pretty cool of you. Maybe we’ll do more reviews.


Perrier – Peach

Aleisha: “The shape of the can is cool. It burns a little, lots of carbonation. I love the light peach flavor.” 4 stars

Javen: “Its aroma is nice, very peachy. But it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Peach is faint. A sip is good – a whole can and I’m pretty tired of it. 3 stars


Dasani – Meyer Lemon

Aleisha: “Feels like drinking very carbonated, salty water. Artificial tasting. Nice, hold-able can shape” 3 stars

Javen: “Lots of flavor, very lemon. The 35 mg of sodium is very present, it’s a little salty, but I don’t hate that. It pairs nicely with the citrus tones.” 3.5 stars


Spindrift – Blackberry

Aleisha: “10 calories for water?! The thought of ‘real fruit’ is cool – the blackberry is sour.” 1 star

Javen: “The blackberry has almost no aroma, but it tastes rancid, too sour for the small amount of flavor.” 2 stars


Bubbly – Strawberry

Aleisha: “Smells just like a strawberry when you crack it open. Refreshing, could be stronger flavor.” 4 stars

Javen: “I don’t love strawberry drinks, but this is good. It’s light and fresh.” 3.5 stars


La Croix – Grapefruit

Aleisha: “Well-carbonated. The flavor is not very strong. Mild grapefruit. Little artificial.” 3.5 stars

Javen: “Super-refreshing. Perfect amount of tangy and smooth.” 4 stars


Bubly – Lemon

Aleisha: “The can design is fun. Candy, artificial lemon.” 4 stars

Javen: “Very crisp. Punch, artificial lemon flavor.” 3.5 stars


La Croix – Tangerine

This one is simply amazing. It is the best. Top two at least. – Javen

News Media – Why They Won’t “Give Us the Facts.”

I saw an advertisement yesterday heralding, “Unbiased News from a Christian Perspective.” In the comments, more than a few people pointed out the irony of that statement.

It is the job of news media to make sense of the world. Some networks take a very active approach (Tucker Carlson giving energetic speeches in attempt to persuade his audience), and some take a less active approach (C-Span televising a court room without any commentary). By virtue of trying to make sense of the world, to organize the events of society into something relatively coherent, news networks must choose what to show, how to show it, when, etc. In this, they are imposing their values, their agendas, their narratives, their subjectivity on the world. And this is an honorable undertaking.

“The Media” or “The News Media” is all the rage these days, which makes for an exciting time to be studying mass-media communication. I’m particularly interested in an idea I’ve been encountering frequently: I just wish I could find an unbiased, objective news source. And since that sentiment keeps on raining down, it seems we haven’t found one yet. It’s worth considering what exactly one would look like, should we stumble across it. If bias is presupposition or even a state which is bent towards certain outcomes, we would need a news source with none of these things, no values.

Some argue, of course we can never achieve a state of being objective and unbiased, but we ought to try. And I for one can’t think of anything more horrible or undesirable than that. To achieve perfect un-bias, total objectivity, would require the complete removal of the subject from the process. Any time a news report airs, it can be assumed the subject matter was chosen from a list and the rest of the list discarded. Every time Tucker Carlson or Don Lemon preaches a sermon, the topic has been chosen, and all the other topics left behind. To present one topic and not another is bias, subjectivity. Further, every time something is said, a hundred thousand other things were not said. To live is to choose to inhabit each moment in a way that necessarily leaves behind all but one of the options. The present is manifested by abandoning all but one of the ways forward into the future.

The problem with saying just give me the facts is of course, “which facts would you like?” and “from which perspective?” The facts are literally infinite and would include time tables, train schedules, weather reports from the Amazon jungle, ocean temperatures in the Artic, performance times for concerts in Russia, and any number of conceivable “truths” about the spinning world. In choosing what to say, in choosing who will say it, in choosing when to air it, a network imposes itself upon the world and enters into the task of sense making. If you want a truly unbiased, objective news reporter, I suspect your best bet would be hiring a genderless individual who had grown up in no culture, who spoke no particular language, and had no particular education – you would show “it” footage of the world from space, and it would report your news using binary code.

This experiment would be quite fun. Still, better yet I think, would be to allow a real person, with real values and virtue and goals and talents and experiences and culture, to help you make sense of the world. And if you go roaming through the digital landscape and choose dear Tucker or Mr. Anderson or Walter Cronkite or Shapiro or Bloomberg, good for you. Take comfort in finding a person whose sense making you enjoy – heck, maybe even pick more than one! But don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’ve found a robot who’s just giving you the unbiased, objective facts. No person or group of people could ever achieve that, and no viewer really wants it anyway.

This is not to say all reporting is equal, or all values are equally desirable. Not in the least. And if your values correspond with the values of Fox or CNN, it probably feels better and is more effective at “making sense” when you listen to them. Yet we are further ahead if we can recognize narrative and agenda as fundamentally part of the process. Once we understand the nature of these texts (pieces of news), we can move toward seeing the trajectory of the narratives being imposed. And then we can choose to accept the story/identity offered or to resist it. Or as stated by Helen Fulton,

“Only by understanding the mythic nature of these narratives…can we begin to choose whether to accept the seamless identity laid out for us or to find its contradictions and resist.” – Helen Fulton

There is no unbiased news, and we shouldn’t wish for it. That would present a dull reality to be sure. Making sense of the world is a formidable task which requires our active participation. By understanding the nature, goals, and assumptions of the stories we’re being told, we position ourselves to make better decisions in our accepting and resisting.

“Art, Wearing Masks, and Being Homeless”

Collin and I are both beginning our senior year of college. It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were riding in a silver Ford Focus, I turned toward him and asked, “So are we actually gonna go to college?” And he said we were. 

Somewhere along the way, we both decided to transfer and finish our bachelor’s degrees at Toccoa Falls College – and we also started a podcast at the college radio station where I”m the manager.

Earlier this week we sat in the studio and recorded the first episode of season 3 called “Art, Wearing Masks, and Being Homeless.” We start off talking about the best things we’ve read and watched over the summer. Then we move into talking about wearing a mask, the fall of Eric Metaxes, and how it feels to be a young Christian in the American south. We’ll be releasing new episodes each week on Thursday or Friday.

In this episode I admit how hard this season has been for me as a young person trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian. The best way I’ve been able to articulate my experience is “homelessness.” Collin speaks to this sense as well and lends thoughts to living well in a divisive day.

You can listen by tapping the button below, or by clicking the “listen to our podcast” banner on this site’s homepage, there you can choose where to find it (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or our show’s website).

Trading Up

I recently read an article written earlier this month by Kristina Grob, a professor at South Carolina University, and published in America, the Jesuit Review. In it, she argues for the usefulness of philosophy degrees in the workforce – hence the title “Want a Good Job? Major in Philosophy.” The article comes in the wake of several universities scaling down their philosophy departments, not the least of which Liberty University which dissolved its philosophy program altogether.

A few paragraphs down, Grob speaks from her teaching experience.

Students arrive in my classes believing that if there is not a single “right answer” to a question, then anything goes.”

The article itself is good, but the final paragraph struck me, and I’ve been thinking about it for the past week. Grob argues one of the chief benefits of philosophical training is the ability to recognize wrong answers, not arrive at a singular right answer. It may seem obvious, but this simple maxim is changing the way I think about learning and wisdom.

And this leads me to believe the wisest among us are those who are willing to trade up. Life is too nuanced and complicated to be “right” about much, but not all answers are equal. If we hold the perspective that we are moving towards the truth, or turning towards the light as Socrates says, then we can accept that the answers we have today are better than those we did yesterday and lesser than those we’ll gain. The wise person is always ready to trade a good answer for a better one, and he is compassionate to those fellow travelers as well.

“All technological change is a trade-off.” – Neil Postman

This perspective has further implication: wisdom not is something you amass like a hoard of gold, rather its the product of growth, of trading up. Neil Postman writes about five things we need to know about technological change. and first on the list is “All technological change is a trade-off.” It’s not as if we had 5 technology last year, 7 this year, and will have 10 technology next year. It doesn’t stack on top and grow so much as replace itself. We trade what we have for what we will get, losing some things and gaining others. And not all trades are good ones.

I keep a running list of books I’ve read, and last night I was counting it. Though it seems if this is true, it really doesn’t matter much how many books we’ve read as which ones. Hopefully, by reading good books we’ll make our way to great books and so on, but I think the wisdom of a person is not how much knowledge they’ve amassed as how able (and willing) they are to recognize better answers to the right questions and move towards them. As Billy Collins writes in his poem “Forgetfulness,” we end up forgetting most of the old books we read anyway. Still, they were necessary at the time and helped us along.

“Forgetfulness”

The name of the author is first to go,

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel . . .

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones,

“Forgetfulness” – Billy Collins (Sailing Alone Around the Room)

Might we say the same about belief systems themselves? Most everyone goes to summer camp and ingests a rather shallow, emotionally charged theology, or we’ve basked in the glow of sermons we later realized were quite heretical, sat around campfires solving the world’s problems with answers we are later secretly grateful no one got around to using.

Should we outlaw summer camps? Only let people with a master’s degree teach Sunday school class? Make sure no one at the campfire gets it wrong? Maybe the better answer is to realize we’re all on the same ocean paddling toward the same thing. Instead of being right, clinging tightly to “absolute truth,” it’d be better if we focused on trading up for better answers. The absolute truth is a person, not a canon of beliefs about his life or teachings. True sight emits from the Word, not denominations erected in its honor.

The battles we’ll wage about which answers are better are inevitable. Yet I hope, for myself at least, these negotiations can be done from a place of respect. I’m leaning into the path Christ is taking me down, and hopefully I can believe the same about you. I don’t expect, or want, to be holding all the same beliefs in ten years – I’ll look back and see the stepping stones. I’ll leave behind what I didn’t need and laugh at most of it. And with love for those around, ahead, and behind me, I’ll keep trading up.

Heroes

8-7-20

12:26 p.m.

Phoenix, AZ

Heroes

We are endlessly the heroes of our stories,

It doesn’t seem to matter how tired

We must be getting, or who we’re fighting,

We’ve “fought a million battles, never lost a one,” *

We are Abel, and Jacob, and Abraham,

Never the murderer, tricked, or uncalled,

Noah, Joseph, the children walking out of Egypt,

Not the drowned, the liars, or the Pharaoh,

Defeatedly, the prophets tried to tell us,

And our parents listened and then tried to tell us,

Thousands of voices standing adjacent to our stories,

“The story is true – but that isn’t you,”

We are endlessly the heroes of our own stories,

And out for the blood of naysayers,

Like Christ, pulling out a chair and smiling,

“Come, sit, you poor, tired idiot,”



*Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done – Woody Guthrie (1942)

*Cover photo by Aleisha Bear