Debate: Does Christianity Affirm Homosexuality (transcript)
Wednesday, May 30th, 2018
In the beginning, God made man and saw that it was very good, but it was not good for man to be alone. In the sermon on the mount Jesus tells His disciples that if someone asks you to walk with them one mile, you should go two. Tonight, I'm asking you, all of you, to walk with me for one mile. Imagine for a moment that tonight's debate is about a core component that makes you who you are. In all honesty, it is, in fact, a debate about that very subject because it is a debate about whether or not one's very existence is affirmed by God.
Being different is no crime. Being gay is not a sin. And for a gay person to desire and pursue love and marriage and family is no more selfish or sinful than when a straight person desires and pursues the very same things. To deny to a small minority of people, not just a wedding day, but a lifetime of love and commitment and family is to inflict on them a devastating level of hurt and anguish. This is not only abhorrent but antiChrist. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that Christians are called to perpetuate that kind of pain in other people's lives rather our ministry as Christians is reconciliation.
Let me state plainly that I will not be participating in a debate about sexual acts tonight. Doing and being are not the same thing. God-given human sexuality is ultimately about suitable companionship. For the purposes of this debate, I will argue, unambiguously, sexual activity is not required to identify or possess a particular sexual orientation. One does not have to have sexual contact in order to know their orientation or to be homosexual.
I am a gay Christian, so this subject is hugely personal. If Christianity does not affirm homosexuality, then it not only does not affirm my behavior but also my personhood. My opponent in this debate does not identify as gay, and therefore has little personal stake in the matter. I only mention this reality because it is far easier for one with no personal stake in the matter to accept the popular view than it is for one whose eternal existence hangs in the balance.
My original opening began with me kneeling to wash the feet of my opponent. I have opted to extend that invitation to a time following the debate due to time constraints. The reason that this opening resonated so deeply with me is because footwashing is how I define what Christianity is at its foundation - the casting off of one's ego and claims to personal enrichment in order to render service to others.
Christianity is not Judaism 2.0, though I fully acknowledge and embrace the fact that Jesus, the Christ, was a Jew. Even if Christianity were the evolution of Judaism, a stagnant approach to the Biblical texts misses the rich tradition in which the church began. The Jewish tradition is to wrestle with the text, to see it in light of tradition, and reason it in new ways, as it can be seen now.
Though I do no take the whole library of the Bible literally, or as the infallible or inerrant "Word of God," I take it very seriously and hold a high view of what has become Scripture. In Galatians 6, Colossians 2, Paul teaches that the written code has been canceled as it was nailed to the cross. He calls it a "yoke of slavery."
In the Gospels, Jesus describes himself as the fulfillment of the Law, as the very thing the Scriptures were pointing to. God's voice from Heaven spoke in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the Law and Prophets, and said listen to Jesus. "Christ is the end of the law." Hebrews 8:13 explains that the old covenant is now "obsolete," because of Christ. It is not my intention to offend anyone today or to take away the sacredness of the book many of us so dearly cherish. However, I am keenly aware that when one is awakened, it is often a jarring, startling event. Tonight, I aim to wake us all.
A Christian, as I know one to be, simply encompasses all those who are disciples or followers of the way. There are Islamic Christians, Buddhist Christians, Jewish Christians, and, yes, even Atheist Christians. To quote the Christ, "My command is this: love each other the way I have loved you." He elaborates saying, "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. And now I give you a kainos, new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The gospels close with the great commission: Go and make disciples, teaching them what I, Jesus, have commanded you. I think we can agree the most simple definition of a Christian is a disciple of Christ. Our 40,000 denominations exist because we have added to this foundational definition.
Tonight's debate is not explicitly about what defines Christianity, but the discussion of what it affirms cannot be had without at least without a basic understanding of what this term means. I suppose we could add a qualifier to the term Christianity - we could call it Biblical Christianity. The problem with this qualifier is that neither Christ nor His first followers had a Bible. Christianity isn't based on books, its life springs forth from a person, and is written on our hearts by the Spirit. As the Gospel of John records, in beginning was the logos or logic, and the logos became flesh and dwelt among us, taking away the sin or offense of the world. Jesus is the author and the explanation of existence, not the Genesis poem. Jesus' brand of Christianity is the one I choose - the one that affirms love.
For the first 1,400 years of Christianity, there was no printed Bible, but there was the message of Jesus. We should take this seriously. Tonight, I stand before you as a Jesus-ical Christian. My Christianity is based on the teaching and example of Jesus, the Christ. Here's why - Biblical Christianity assumes women are property. Wives were things, not people. For example, in the 10 Commandments, we are told, "Thou shalt not covet the neighbor's wife, house or land, or anything that belongs to thy neighbor."
You see, Biblical Christianity allows men to have as many wives as they can afford, while Jesus-ical Christianity affirms the holy union that happens when the two become one. Jesus is truly a radical among his Jewish brethren. If He were with us today He would surely be plagued by the labels "heretic," and "new-ager." He'd be accused of cherry-picking His Bible. Jesus' sermons directly contradicted the Torah. Teaching things such as "You've heard it said 'an eye for an eye' but I tell you don't even resist. Love your enemies." If that is not a contradiction, surely, it is at least a replacement. Retribution is Biblical, it is allowable and even commanded in the Torah, but it is not Jesus-ical and, therefore, not affirmed by Christianity.
So I submit to you that what many consider Biblical Christianity is not only fully incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus - the Christ, but antiChrist. Anything other than the full affirmation of same-gender, monogamous relations joined by love is also incompatible with Christ. With this in mind, let's look at what the Bible says about the abomination of male-male sex acts. We should recognize that "abominations" are culturally specific - shrimp, lobster, crab legs, footballs. An abomination is not a statement about what is intrinsically good or bad, right or wrong, and that's why numerous things that it's applied to in the Old Testament have long been if not affirmed, at least accepted within Christianity.
In my experience, many use the fact that Leviticus appears to call male-male sex abominable as justification for their personal disdain for gay men. Often, they couple this with Sodom and Gomorrah, and the passage in Romans that appears to call gay sex unnatural. Before I address Romans I want to make mention that the prophet Ezekiel uses "abomination," the very same word from Leviticus, to refer to those who charge usury, we call it interest, even stating that their blood should be upon them and they should surely die. For those that are familiar with Leviticus, that phrasing should be familiar.
Are you aware that here in America, this is America, the interest rates charged to the poor are often 25 to 35 percent higher than those charged to the wealthy? Why does this matter? How is interest relevant in a debate about homosexuality? It is relevant because Ezekiel also the sin of Sodom to be "pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door." Abomination refers to the list of sins that preceded it, not homosexuality.
Jude states that Sodom and Gomorrah "gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion." Gang rape is surely perversion. Offering your daughters up to be raped is surely immoral. There are many forms of sexual immorality and perversion in the "sister cities." That still has nothing to do with the kinds of relationships that I'm talking about. It seems as if Christians are accepting of the oppression of the poor and even the conditions of our prisons which allow many men to be forced into unwanted homosexual experiences? I have yet to see Christians protest Wall Street yet they are known for protesting the loving, monogamous relationships marriage equality offers. Why is this? I call BS and say that this is not Christianity.
Ask yourself which issue actually affects more people? Less than 10% of the population partnering in life with someone of the same sex, or the oppression of the poor, which equates to about 90% of us. Which issue more directly affects your ability to "do Christianity?" To love your neighbor, to show kindness and generosity. To kneel and wash the feet of your opponents? My intention is not to create a list of "what abouts." However, I can not pretend that there doesn't appear to be significant prejudice towards the issue of homosexuality in Christian communities. The only other issue that garners the same type of passion in the Christian world is abortion.
Abortion isn't an issue of life, it's an issue of women's rights. Abortion and homosexuality both strike at the same pillar, the repression and oppression of female sexuality. I submit to you that the root issue Christians have with homosexuality is it femininity - the shame of womanhood. In our culture, lesbianism isn't gross. Women having sex with women is a turn on for many. Even in the church, when sexuality is addressed, five out of six times, male-male sex is the reference, and sadly, often the butt of the joke.
What about Paul? He referenced lesbianism in Romans. Actually, it's probably not about lesbians and modern scholarship agrees that it isn't Paul's voice at all. Even if it were, the fact that there is only one inclusion of lesbianism in the entirety of the canonized text only strengthens my argument. As my time is drawing to a close, allow me to address the use of prosopopoeia in Romans 1. Prosopopoeia is a literary device commonly used in Paul's time. It is a figure of speech in which an imagined or absent person or thing is represented as speaking. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he employees this tool. This assertion is not speculation, this is modern scholarship.
When Paul is accused of being oppressive to women, it is because his voice has been mistaken for that of his opponents by modern readers. This is why Paul chose to pay for a reader to accompany his letters to the churches - so that this technique, prosopopeia, would not be missed. In the case of Romans 1, Paul is making the claim that the gospel is about God, not about our keeping of holiness codes. His audience is both the Jew and the Gentile. Each audience will hear his words very differently. For example, were we to debate the Black Lives Matter movement, those with a Caucasian persuasion would hear in a vastly different way than those whose ancestors arrived to this land in chains. Just as the church views gays as detestable, Jews painted Gentiles in the same light, and though neither Gentile nor gay would agree with this assessment.
Paul's voice reemerges in Romans 2, striking down the accusation of his opponent. He levels the playing field saying that the accusers are guilty of the very things they claim to detest. In other words, as Paul penned elsewhere, "there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, all are one in Christ." Romans 1:18-32 is not Paul's opinion or God's inspired decree. Rather, it is the voice of the false teacher, Paul's opponent, that is speaking.
The final passage I would like to highlight is 1 Timothy. This has been used to condemn homosexuality, but I urge you to look again. The writer does us a huge favor in interpreting what is meant here by linking together similar offenses. He links the lawless and disobedient. His second grouping is the ungodly and sinners, then the unholy and profane, next murders and manslayers. This pattern does not change when we reach verse 10. He links whoremongers, aka prostitutes, and practicing homosexuals, and slave traders, or menstealers in the King James Version, basically pimps. He concludes with liars and perjurers. There is no way for the intellectually honest individual to notice this pattern and conclude the writer had same-gender romantic relationships in mind. The strongest inference that can be drawn from other uses of this term is that it referred to economic exploitation through sexual coercion—possibly involving same-sex activity, but a very different kind than what we are discussing.
In closing, I remind you of one last thing. Sexuality is not a behavior, it is a component of human being. We are not born gay or straight or bi, we awaken to our orientations. Just as no one is born left handed, no one is born gay. We may never find a gay gene, but there isn't a left-handed gene either. To compare homosexuality to "murder, rape, or any other sin" is not only insulting, offensive, and degrading, it is intellectually dishonest. Every other "sin" must be committed. For the homosexual, existence itself is the sin. Whether celibate or repressed, my opponent is claiming my sexual and relational orientation exclude me from Christianity and I do not belong to Christ.
However, if Christianity is not about holiness codes, but instead about a life-giving love. If Christianity is the institution of the One who claimed to be the way, truth, and life; the One who declared the perfecting of the law and prophets; the One who summoned a voice from Heaven that set aside Moses and Elijah and was declared to be the beloved Son of God, the singular voice to be heard. If the One who told the woman caught in adultery that He did not condemn her, and the criminal crucified to His side that he would enter paradise with Him is the One who authored Christianity.
If Jesus is the head of the church, and His singular command is to love as He loved, then my brothers and sisters, we are all affirmed. Christianity is not about what consenting adults do in their bedrooms. Christianity's sole affirmation or decree is love, against which there is no law.