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The Same Sex Controversy:
Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality
Sex, controversy and the Bible
By W. James Antle III
Modern American political liberals don't just claim that the U.S. Constitution authorizes their agenda; they maintain their agenda is virtually mandated by it. In doing so, they don't just appeal to differences in interpretation or arguments about original intent. They appeal to a "living document" that runs counter to what Joseph Sobran has described as "the common, explicit, unchallenged understanding of the Constitution, on all sides, over several generations."
Theologically liberal Christians frequently endeavor to do something similar with the Bible. In their efforts to reconcile Scripture with the progressive notions of the time, they engage in revisionism that is not limited to the many age-old debates about the meaning and proper interpretation of any number of Biblical teachings. Often, they present a version of the Bible that is contrary to how it has been historically interpreted not just by the church and various Christian denominations, but also by people who don't believe in Biblical Christianity at all.
One such area, argue authors James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell in their book The Same-Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality, is the contentious issue of sexual orientation. Human sexuality, at once so intimately personal and yet so integral to the basic foundations of society, is always an emotional topic. Since the beginning of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, sexually charged issues have been debated in government, politics, culture, the academy and even the church. The latest front is the debate over homosexuality, with its attendant controversies surrounding same-sex marriage, gay adoption and gays in the military among other issues.
White and Niell are pastors by trade; most of their published writings focus on Christian apologetics written from an unabashedly evangelical perspective. Their approach to the debate over homosexuality is confined to what the Bible says about it. Readers who do not accept the authority of the Bible will not find their arguments especially persuasive, but the book is not meant for them. It is meant to challenge those revisionists who claim that the Bible does not actually prohibit homosexuality.
Proponents of the revisionist viewpoint use several arguments to advance this claim. First, they argue that the relevant Biblical passages in both the Old and New Testament have been misinterpreted. For example, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were inhospitality and idolatry, not homosexuality. Second, they make distinctions between homosexual behavior - especially as practiced by heterosexuals - and innate homosexual orientation. Third, they argue that the explicit prohibition of homosexuality contained in Leviticus is no more binding than the book's dietary restrictions. The general thrust of these and other arguments is to present anything unfavorable to homosexuality in a narrow, transient cultural light while using transcendent moral principles centered in love and contemporary understandings of sexual orientation to reconcile the Bible and homosexuality.
Even within the church, there has been widespread disagreement over how to deal with homosexuality. Many Roman Catholic theologians are beginning to make distinctions between homosexual behavior and homosexuality as an orientation. Mainline Protestant denominations have moved toward greater acceptance of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. Evangelical and fundamentalist churches continue to hold to the orthodox teachings on sexual issues, but many are seeking a more compassionate tone in their expression through outreach and ministry.
White and Niell quote extensively from authors who argue against the traditional church teachings regarding homosexuality and build a careful case against revisionism based on language, context and tradition. Rarely can it be said that they are constructing straw men out of their opponents' arguments. Rather, they attempt to debate them point-by-point.
Some of the differences inevitably boil down to first principles. White and Niell operate under the premise that "all Scripture is God-breathed" and maintain that divine inspiration transcends the human and cultural limitations of those who wrote the books that comprise the Bible. Most, though not all, of those they argue against hold to a more malleable, historical interpretation of the Bible that seek to understand it within the context of the culture in which it was written. However, it is worth noting that for too many theologically progressive Christians, this interpretation often fits in with the preferences of early 21st century liberalism all too conveniently.
In addition to challenging the arguments and interpretations of the revisionists, White and Niell point to the Biblical limitations placed upon sex in general and the heterosexual nature of marriage to bolster their case. The authors present their arguments quite effectively, making the revisionist case seem like a theology of wishful thinking by the time they are done. At the very least, the burden of proof ought to be on those who argue that Christians throughout many generations have been wrong on this issue.
The main failing of The Same-Sex Controversy is its evident lack of empathy. To be sure, the authors several times note the importance of compassion and avoiding self-righteousness. But nowhere do they seem to appreciate the gravity of what they are saying to homosexuals. White and Niell of course have an outlet for their sexuality that is compatible with their faith. Moreover, it does not seem to occur to them that homosexuals might actually love each other or having feelings similar to those heterosexuals share. Indeed, their rebuttals to love-based arguments seem to question the authenticity of such love. If they wish to reach out to homosexuals and persuade them of the error of their ways, as they claim, it seems odd that they would be so alien from their experiences. Other Christians have managed to hold to traditional moral teachings on sexuality with greater empathy - one prominent example is Rev. Tony Campolo, but there are other far less well-known examples.
The Same-Sex Controversy won't end the debate over homosexuality in either the church or society, but it is a strong statement that the conservative Christian position isn't going to be abandoned anytime soon.
James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.
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