Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, debated Dr. Michael Brown, author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? on Up for Debate on Moody Radio on June 28, 2014. There was an almost imperceptible pause followed by a brush off that may have slipped by listeners.
I want to highlight it so that people understand more fully why Brown’s inability to respond to Vine’s question is vitally important to the way in which we use New Testament texts in creating sexual ethics for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians.
The traditional assumption for the past 60 or so years amongst non-affirming Christians is that Paul was very aware, and even knew, there was a class of people who were same-sex attracted. The argument continues, that though Paul may not have known the word “homosexual,” he was indeed referring to them. Therefore, the argument maintains, the Bible strictly prohibits any form of same-sex relationship, even those entered into by committed, loving, monogamous gay Christian couples.
I have been researching and writing a book for almost two years. (It will be out next month, whew!) I can state with great confidence that before the turn of the 20th century (yeah, really that recently) people did not have an understanding that there were others who were exclusively same-sex attracted. Same-sex behaviors, of course, existed, but they were always viewed as sexual excesses, lust, or moral lapses. At no time in the history of Christianity before the last 60 years would we have be even asking “can you be gay and Christian?” It was not on anyone’s radar. And, not on Paul’s radar for sure.
What Paul was witnessing, referring to and writing about was people who, in their sexual excess, stepped beyond the ways they normally had sex, which was with women. Romans male citizens could have sex their wives, their male or female slaves, or male or female prostitutes. Romans male citizens did not engage in equal status peer male sexual relationships. There was a strict heirarchy of men-are-soooo-much-better-than-women going on in 1st century Rome. For a man to place himself in the sexual role of a woman was just about the worst thing a man could submit to. The fall in status was not just about sex. The entire society was constructed around patriarchy and the superiority of men over women.
Every, as in all, references to same-sex behavior in the Bible is within a context of: rape, sexual excesses, and lust. To call this similar to the intimate lives of gay Christians, is to take the plentiful rape scenes, incest and adulterous sex acts in the Bible and allow them to form our sexual ethics of male-female unions.
Now to the question Vines asked Brown, “Dr. Brown, can you cite me any 1st century texts that refers to long term, committed, same-sex relationships?” Brown responded, “Look, I am a biblical scholar, this is my field. I did not come in with Greek resources . . .” After the break, Brown, now in mental possession of his one example, responded, “By the way, you can go back 400 years before Jesus and see in Plato’s Symposium male-male relationships.”
BAM. And that is the point of Vine’s question.
If Paul were commenting on equal status sexual relationships instead of sexual relationships based in a positions of power, or in lust, we should be able to read about such relationships in some texts, any texts, of the day. Somewhere, there should be a nice love story between two men that mirrors what we see in same-sex relationships today. And Brown cited, as his proof, Plato’s Symposium (4th century BC). Phaedrus, the main character, in the work, is praising pederasty. Pederasty! A sexual relationship purely based in lust and power between a man and a young boy. (They may have fallen in love eventually, but this was not dating.) Although abhorrent to our modern senses, pederasty was quite common in ancient cultures. Phaedrus does not praise male-male equal status love; he praises pederasty.
The Bible say nothing, neither positive nor negative, about same-sex loving relationships.
Brown, and others have said, “are you telling me Jesus looked into the soul of human beings and sees who we are” and said nothing positive about homosexuality? Yup, that’s right.
Jesus lived in a time and culture where loving equal male-male relationship were a non-issue. (Just like Elvis-sightings) However, Jesus did live in a culture where treating a man sexually as if he were a woman was a disgrace.
Perhaps God’s silence on the issue has left us to struggle with the greater things of the Gospel. There really are things more important than who has sex with whom. Maybe God hoped that His children would obey the command to love others above all things. In doing so, when faced with the issue of “can you be gay and Christian?”, we would seek to understand the purity of what the Word says rather than interpreting through lenses of our own discrimination.
What to with do with the the verses in Romans, I Corinthians, and I Timothy? We have been told, with great assurance, in fact Dr. Brown tells us with “100% assurance,” that Paul was writing about homosexuals. Nope, he was writing about sexual lust and unequal male-boy relationships that were quite common at the time.
We could ride the party line on this issue and continue to force gay people out of churches, tell them they must change orientation, or demand they be celibate in order to see the Kingdom of heaven. Or, we can step back for a bit, and understand the context of Paul’s world.
He did not see equal male relationships. So, when Vines asked Brown to cite just one resource that depicts such relationships, and Brown, self-proclaimed ” biblical scholar, this is my field” cites a work that is about pederasty as his support of Paul’s awareness, that is a wide open door to ask the question again. Was Paul writing about gay people, or likely out-of-control heterosexual people who have rejected God and live lives of excess, having sex with whomever and however that wanted?
Question-asking have long been a dangerous endeavor in conservative churches. But, it’s time.
Another glaring thorn in the side of our traditional “truth” is those “pesky” Jesus-loving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who won’t go away. Their Christian witness has steadily grown since the 1970s. The beauty and holiness of their lives lived in Christ with accompanying spiritual fruits confront the people in the pews to go back to their Bibles and try to fit the pieces together. What do they think they know, and how does that line up with the lives of gay and transgender Christians who should not be. This can cause problems for people in the pews. I was one of them.
Plato did not see long term, loving, same-sex equal status relationships. Paul did not see long term, loving, same-sex equal status Christian relationships. Brown has not allowed himself to see long-term, loving, same-sex Christians relationships. (He has never been to an affirming church or conference yet, he has written two books on the topic.)
I see couples in long-term, loving, same-sex Christian relationships all around me. Check out this link filled with over six thousand churches where you can go and worship with your gay and transgender brothers and sisters in Christ.
Get to meet and get to know some long-term, loving, same-sex Christians couples. Then revisit your Bibles and go through the process to which God has called us to at this time in Christian history.