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A Tragic Necessity (Part Two)

Why the Realignment of Anglicanism is Sadly Necessary

Part 4: The Bible: Relevant or Irrelevant?

by the Rev. David A. Handy, Ph.D.

The first three parts of this series have set forth some of the many reasons why the dramatic realignment now underway in Anglicanism is so sadly necessary. In this, the fourth segment, I will begin to drive home my main thesis: the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture and Tradition must not be set aside and overturned on the basis of dubious and conflicting evidence from reason and experience. In other words, my central claim is that by giving official approval to the notion that homosexual behavior is not sinful, the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada have flagrantly violated both Scripture and Tradition in a way that is completely unwarranted, totally unjustified. As a result, the Primates have rightly rejected these scandalous actions and they have properly made provision for orthodox bishops, clergy, laity, and parishes to realign themselves with the orthodox majority of the Communion.

Up to this point, I have taken for granted the validity of the initial part of my main thesis, namely that the condemnation of homosexual behavior in both Scripture and Tradition is “clear and consistent.” But given the importance of this point, I will now point to some of the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the truth of this claim. While it is true that homosexuality is a minor and peripheral matter in Holy Scripture, there is a good deal more in it that is relevant to assessing the morality of same-sex behavior than is often recognized.

Once again, Robert Gagnon has provided the fullest and most adequate treatment. For instance, as he demonstrates, the familiar story of the gross sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 can’t be dismissed as irrelevant. After all, this story is the reason why homosexuality is called “sodomy.” Although the story indicts the inhabitants of those two wicked towns for conspiring to brutally rape Lot’s guests, the fact remains that the gang rape they intended to carry out was the rape of what they thought were other men (though actually they were angels). That clearly compounds the heinousness of the crime in the eyes of the biblical writer (just as in the similar story in Judges 19).

As Gagnon has also pointed out, the enigmatic story of the cursing of Ham for his vaguely described crime against his father Noah (in Genesis 9:20-27) makes the most sense if it is likewise taken as a story about homosexual rape, this time compounded by incest as well. This helps justify the extreme severity of the curse on Ham, the mythic ancestor of the flagrantly immoral Canaanites. Moreover, while all the above passages are attributed by scholars to the so-called J source (the putative Yahwistic writer), the same completely negative attitude toward homosexual behavior is implicit in the many references to male “temple prostitutes” in the Deuteronomistic or D tradition (see Deut. 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). These men were not so much “prostitutes,” however, as symbolic representatives of the god of that shrine, and their sexual services were as much for religious purposes as for financial gain. As we know from other ancient Near Eastern documents, these qedeshim (Hebrew) were religious professionals who served other men, not women, as part of pagan religious rituals of union with the shrine deity. Such pagan orgiastic rites were an unthinkable abomination for those in covenant with the unique God of Israel, who alone among the ancient gods had no divine wife and allowed no such obscene practices. Thus the D tradition also was intensely hostile to homosexual practice, especially because of its pagan associations.

Finally, of course, there are the absolute prohibitions of homosexual behavior in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, representing the priestly tradition (the so-called P and H sources). These two legal passages have been subjected to much sneering criticism by liberals who scoff at the absurdity of the ritual laws in Leviticus in general. Thus the laws about prohibited sexual behaviors are commonly lumped with obscure parts of the priestly purity system such as the prohibition on wearing clothing made of more than one kind of fiber (Lev. 19:19). William Countryman and Dan Via are particularly outrageous examples of this modern bias. It seems to be conveniently forgotten that the great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) comes from this same part of Leviticus (falling midway between 18:22 and 20:13). It is found nowhere else in the Old Testament. Thus the J, D, and P traditions are united in their vehement rejection of homosexual behavior, condemning it unconditionally as a pagan practice.

But liberals conveniently downplay the fact that the New Testament makes a firm distinction between the laws about sexual morality (which were kept) and the ritual laws in general (which were not). Thus the Jerusalem Council decided to prohibit Gentile converts from practicing porneia (Greek, “sexual immorality,” Acts 15:29). This passage seems to be based on the ancient rabbinic understanding that the Mosaic laws in Lev. 17-18 (including 18:22) were originally part of the so-called Noahic covenant that applied to all the descendants of Noah. All four of the things prohibited in Acts 15 are likewise proscribed in Lev. 17-18, where the laws specifically apply to resident aliens as well as Jews. Moreover, our Anglican tradition makes the same distinction between the moral and the ceremonial laws, upholding the former (see Article 7 of The 39 Articles).

Furthermore, the fact is that the emphatic rejection of homosexual behavior in Scripture and Tradition is absolute and unconditional. As Gagnon has shown, it would likely make little or no difference to St. Paul, for example, that two men (or women) were involved in a long-term consensual relationship and that they both sincerely believed that their powerful attraction to the same sex was innate, or beyond their control. Paul would still regard it as reprehensible and “contrary to nature,” in the sense of being clearly contrary to God’s intentions in making us male and female in his image. Contrary to modern sensibilities, Paul insists that although we are all subject to innate sinful impulses that are beyond our control, we are still accountable for sinning by giving in to those seemingly overwhelming impulses (see Romans 5 and 7).

Liberal scholars (including Wink, Booten, and Via) are increasingly willing to recognize this reality (albeit grudgingly). At least as a matter of biblical exegesis, when trying to discern the original meaning of the text (a matter of historical criticism), there is growing consensus among liberal and conservative biblical scholars alike that Paul was against all forms of homosexual behavior, consensual or not, even if same-sex attractions are not freely chosen. The question remains, of course, whether or not Paul was right.

That is, the disagreement is now mostly about whether or not this complete condemnation in Scripture and Tradition is binding on us today (a matter of “hermeneutics” in the narrow sense). The real dispute, in other words, is not about what the biblical writers meant, but about what it means today, i.e., how it applies to our present situation. The same issue arises when it comes to weighing the significance of the Tradition of the universal Church. There is no denying that a strong abhorrence of homosexual behavior has been characteristic of the moral teaching of the Church from the start. The issue is the contemporary relevance of this relentlessly negative tradition.

There are two main ways that Liberals attempt to write off that totally negative biblical teaching as simply mistaken, but both are seriously flawed. First, they frequently claim that people in ancient times were simply unacquainted with the idea of “sexual orientation.” But this is historically untenable, as Robert Gagnon has amply shown. Of course, the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Jews, lacked our modern psychological sophistication, but they were certainly aware that a certain minority of men (and even less women) were habitually attracted to their own sex. Indeed, the malakoi (Greek,“soft men”) Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 6:9 are very likely examples. There is widespread agreement now among scholars that malakoi probably refers to men who habitually took the female role in sex (of being penetrated), just as some gay men do today. If, as we know, Philo of Alexandria was well aware of men with a virtually exclusive attraction to other men, it is highly likely that his younger contemporary Paul was aware of this also. After all, he was a cosmopolitan Jew too.

Second, it is often claimed that the forms of homosexual behavior known in the ancient Mediterranean world were abusive and inherently exploitative. Pederasty was indeed common among the Greeks, but committed relationships among adults were by no means unknown. There were several well-known examples in Greek history and literature of famous gay lovers, who had very much the same kind of long-term “commited” loving relationship that gay advocates like to imagine is a modern innovation and a credit to our enlightened age. Moreover, Paul’s scathing denunciation of homosexual behavior in Rom. 1:24-27 actually stresses the mutual culpability of both partners. Likewise, Leviticus calls for the death penalty for both parties. Thus, the much-repeated liberal assertion that the Bible simply wasn’t addressing homosexuality as we know it today is just that, an unfounded assertion. It glosses over too much ancient evidence to be convincing. It is an example of what C. S. Lewis aptly called “chronological snobbery.”

To borrow the language of the popular Alpha Course, is the clear and consistent teaching of the Bible on homosexuality “boring, untrue, and irrelevant?” To quote the indignant reply of St. Paul to similar questions, me genoito! That is, “No way!” A Tragic Necessity

Part 5: Homosexuality: Natural or Unnatural?

In this final segment of the series I will seek to drive home the truth of my thesis: the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture and Tradition must not be set aside and overturned on the basis of dubious and conflicting evidence from reason and experience. In the previous installment I attempted to substantiate the first part of this thesis: namely, that the teaching about homosexual behavior in Scripture and Tradition is “clear and consistent.” I also insisted that it is overwhelmingly negative and, more importantly, that it is by no means irrelevant today. What then of the second part of my main thesis? In what ways are the liberal grounds for setting aside and overturning this clear and consistent biblical and ecclesiastical tradition completely unjustified because they are based on “dubious and conflicting evidence from reason and experience?”

First, as I argued in parts 1-3, the liberal arguments are undermined by the fact that they depend on a highly selective and biased interpretation of modern experience, namely the experience of unrepentant gay men and lesbians, while ignoring the contrary experience of the growing number of ex-gays whom God has miraculously healed. There is no logical reason why we should pay more attention to the experience of Louie Crew and Gene Robinson than to that of ex-gays like Alan Medinger and Mario Bergner. That is, at the very least, the argument from experience is based on conflicting evidence.

Secondly, as noted especially in part 1, the purported scientific evidence that is commonly thought to indicate that a homosexual orientation is innate and immutable is actually quite weak. In fact, the scientific tide seems to be turning. A few early studies that seemed to point toward a biological origin for a homosexual orientation have not been replicated. The search for the hypothetical “gay gene” has failed, as is increasingly admitted by geneticists. Instead, scientists with differing biases are acknowledging the bewildering complexity of this matter. It is likely that multiple influences, not all benign, shape our sexual identity and behavior. That is, the supposed scientific evidence for an innate homosexual orientation is dubious at best. It is certainly unproven.

Third, there is now irrefutable evidence that, at least for some homosexuals, perhaps most, there is real hope for such profound healing that first their gender identity and then even their orientation itself can be divinely transformed. I’ve seen this miracle in the lives of my brother-in-law, Joe Hallett, the founder of Outpost, an ex-gay ministry in Minneapolis, and several friends I know. Ministries like Desert Stream in Anaheim, California (and the popular Living Waters Course designed by its founder Andy Comiskey) and Redeemed Lives in Wheaton, Illinois (led by Episcopal priest Mario Bergner) have helped hundreds of Christians struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions and behaviors to overcome them. Of course, not all are healed, any more than all the people we pray for to be healed of cancer are healed. But that doesn’t mean we should stop praying fervently for their healing. After all, we don’t conclude that since many cancer patients aren’t healed, therefore cancer can’t be so bad.

Fourth, there are several undeniable facts that stubbornly stand in the way of the liberal attempt to justify homosexual behavior as simply the natural thing for a certain minority of people. One is the fact that several identical twin studies have shown that it is rare for both twins to be gay. Since identical twins share exactly the same genes, if a homosexual orientation were primarily genetic, then we would expect both twins to be the same, either both gay or both straight. Yet the most recent and most reliable studies show that only 10-15% of the time are both identical twins gay. This strongly suggests that whatever biological influence there may be, other factors are even more important.

Another such stubborn fact that liberals overlook is the indisputable fact that the actual incidence of homosexual behavior varies enormously among cultures. In some cultures, ancient and modern, it is virtually unknown (as for example among the ancient Jews). In other cultures, ancient and modern, it is much more widespread (as among the ancient Greeks). Greenberg’s massive cross-cultural study of this matter, The Construction of Homosexuality, provides ample evidence of this highly significant fact. Once again, this is very difficult to account for if homosexuality were mostly genetic, but much easier to explain if environmental influences outweigh whatever genetic predispositions there may be.

Finally, while the genetic studies may seem forbiddingly complex to scientific amateurs (like myself), the facts of human anatomy are obvious to all. The plain fact is that the great majority of homosexuals are men, and the primary way they engage in intercourse is by penetrating the anal canal. Unfortunately for them, anal intercourse is extremely unhealthy, because, unlike the vagina, the anal passageway is thinly lined. Thus frequent penetration of the anus leads to the extremely high rate of serious infections that afflict gay men. This is an indisputable medical fact that any doctor who treats a significant number of gay patients can confirm. The truth is that the medical risks of homosexual behavior are not by any means limited to AIDS and STDs.

If you will pardon a graphic reminder of some crude biological facts, the reality is that the frequent bruises and tears in the anal passage caused by their sexual behavior make gay men highly vulnerable to any germs that invade their bodies through that route. Of course, given that the purpose of the anal canal is the elimination of waste products from the body, this means constant exposure to toxic elements. Condoms do little to prevent this bruising and tearing. This helps explain the disturbingly high mortality rate among gay men, even when AIDS is completely discounted. The average lifespan for gay men is only 49, a shocking fact that is one of the best-kept secrets of the gay community. To condone such an extremely unhealthy practice as anal intercourse is not the way to show love to our gay neighbors! Indeed, it is quite the opposite. All this clearly shows that Paul was right all along. Homosexual behavior is indeed “contrary to nature” (para physin, Romans 1:26-27). Thus, even apart from the clear and consistent condemnation of it in Holy Scripture, the practice of such an unnatural and unhealthy lifestyle is extremely imprudent. It violates the way our human nature is constituted as male and female, and it puts gay people at great risk. It is not simply that, to put it crudely, the vagina was designed for sex and the anus wasn’t. Rather, the politically incorrect reality is that men and women were designed to complement each other in many ways, including emotionally as well as physically. It is no accident that so many relationships among gay people are very short-lived. This is not primarily because social taboos and laws make it impossible for gay men or lesbians to be married. Rather, it is what any reasonable person who is well-informed on these matters would expect. Gay relationships are inherently defective because of their imbalance between the masculine and the feminine dimensions of our common humanity

The fundamental theological problem with same-sex intimacy from a natural law perspective is that it involves the futile attempt to find sexual completion in someone who is sexually the same, rather than a sexual opposite. In a real sense, psychologically speaking, it is pursuing the fantasy of sexual narcissism (or conversely, an unreasonable fear of one’s gender opposite, or aversion to it). The profound and moving creation stories in Genesis 1-3 emphasize this male-female complementarity very strongly. “It is not good for the Man to be alone.” Therefore, the Creator forms Eve to match Adam, and the well-known conclusion of the story in Genesis 2 establishes an implicit norm for sexual relations: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Both Jesus and Paul affirmed this without the slightest reservation or qualification.

All this shows that the attempt by liberal revisionists to overthrow the clear and consistent teaching of Holy Scripture and the consensus of the universal Church for 2,000 years is totally unwarranted. The approval that the Episcopal Church has recently given to the revolutionary notion that homosexual behavior is not sinful after all may be politically correct, but it will never be theologically or morally correct. It’s not even pastorally correct. It is not only wrong, it is provably and catastrophically wrong.

Theoretically, of course, both Scripture and Tradition could be wrong. But before the Church could validly overturn its traditional unconditional reprobation of homosexual behavior, both Scripture and Tradition would have to be proven wrong. This is such a momentous change, they would have to be proven wrong beyond a reasonable doubt. And that is far from being the case Not only is there “reasonable doubt” about the correctness of the revisionist position, there is very substantial doubt. Indeed, the revisionists can’t even claim a preponderance of the evidence. The liberal case is actually much weaker than most people suppose.

The evidence from reason and experience that the revisionists have so far put forth to overturn Scripture and Tradition is both dubious and conflicting. The clear and consistent teaching of Scripture and Tradition must not be set aside in such a cavalier manner. Therefore, the dramatic realignment of Anglicanism is, alas, a tragic necessity.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Handy is in the Diocese of Southern Virginia as a non-parochial priest. His license has not been renewed by Bishop David C. Bane because his theological views are considered too narrow.

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