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Some Anglican Thoughts

The following text is taken from a "Dialogue on Same Sex Unions" being undertaken by the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster. It is authored by E. M. Humphrey. It was brought to my attention by an email correspondent, who asked me to comment. I have added links to other documents on my WebSite in order to keep my comments here brief. To avoid copyright infringement, I have summarized parts of the document and only quote in green the most pertinent parts. My reactions and qualifications are given in purple. Readers who wish to confirm that my abbreviation and paraphrase is accurate are referred to the original document.

EMH wisely begins by stating that the solution to any ethical problem must be sought holistically:  and that scriptural texts should be understood within the broad context of salvation history. She then points out that God is both truthful and compassionate, implying that there is some sort of a trade-off to be made here. She then admits, regarding homosexuality that "None of the scriptural texts tackle the issue as a topic in itself". This, of itself suggests that homosexuality is not of particular interest to either the human or Divine authors of Sacred Scripture. She then refers to the fact that the texts that she considers to be relevant are of different types and distributed over the whole of the Protestant Bible. She claims that  the Sodom story "(probably) refers to homoerotic activity" but later more or less rejects this claim; that two parallel Levitical texts condemn it; and that it is often understood to be listed twice by St Paul among other vices; and treated by him obscurely in a wider context in Romans Chapter One.

She then claims that "there is no internal tension among the passages that speak of homoerotic behaviour."  This is simply not true. The claim is only made possible by ignoring all passages that just as plausibly deal with homosexuality in a positive light, such as the David and Jonathan story and the story of Our Lord's healing of the Centurion's Boy.  She then claims that "The biblical teaching regarding homoerotic behaviour is not unconsciously coloured by cultural norms."  Manifestly this is not true of the culture that is the context for Romans I: for Paul appeals to the common sense of his readers in this passage. This point is later conceded by EMH.

EMH then turns her attention to the Torah. She first discusses the Sodom story [Gen 18:16-19:29]. She refers disparagingly to the scholarship of Sherwin Bailey [Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, 1955] who argued that the sin of Sodom was not a sexual one, but a breach of hospitality.  This is, of course, as admitted later by EMH, the explicit teaching of Ezekiel, as also the writers of the Books of Wisdom and Sirach, and Our Blessed Lord. She focusses on Bailey's argument that the Hebrew verb yada (to know) does not always have a sexual meaning, claiming that the passage is clearly "to do with sexual intercourse (Lot’s daughters are offered as a substitute)" She neglects to note that  it is not clear that the poor girls are offered up for rape: sacrificial murder is an alternate explanation. She then admits "that gang rape is the intended sin in this story; and not homoerotic behaviour per se", but seemingly condones the fact that "the story of Sodom has frequently been used to condemn" homoerotic behaviour. EMH then asserts without any justification that this condemnation is a "latent" element in the story. She points out that the entirely noncanonical texts: "Jubilees 16:5-6", and the "Testament of Naphtali 3:3-4", "cite Sodom as an example of sexual perversion" but fails to indicate that they make no mention of homosexuality!

....the Lord executed his judgements on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the region of the Jordan, and he burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as [lo] I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh, and work uncleanness on the Earth. And in like manner, God will execute judgement on the places where they have done according to the uncleanness of the Sodomites, like unto the judgement of Sodom. [Jub 16:5-6]

And [Abraham] told [his sons and grandsons] of the judgement of the giants, and the judgements of the Sodomites, how they had been judged on account of their wickedness, and had died on account of fornication and uncleanness, and mutual corruption through fornication. "And guard yourselves from all fornication and uncleanness, and from all pollution of sin. Lest ye make your name a curse, and your whole life a hissing, and all your sons be destroyed by the sword, and ye become accursed like Sodom, and all your remnant as the sons of Gomorrah."[Jub 20:5-6]

"But you, my children shall not be like that .... so that you do not become like Sodom, which departed from the order of nature." [Testament of Naphtali 3:5]
EMH fails to refer to two other passages that belong with the Testament of Naphtali:
"From the words of  Enoch the Righteous I will tell you that you will be sexually promiscuous like the promiscuity of the Sodomites and will perish." [Testament of Benjamin 9.1]
"In the seventh week there will come priests: idolaters, adulterers, money lovers, arrogant, lawless, voluptuaries, pederasts, those who practice bestiality." [Testament of Levi 17:11]
She links these documents with the encounter of the Jews with Greek culture. If it were to be established that this encounter did give rise to adverse reactions to homosexuality, this would suggest that it was fed by xenophobia rather than by Divine Inspiration: hardly a sound basis on which to erect an ethical judgement!  She then implies that the noncanonical status of the documents she refers to is somehow ratified by their sentiments being "probably echoed by Jude 7". [This is our second contentious "probably"] She then asserts "that the Testament of Naphtali links idolatry, homoeroticism and the question of what is 'according to nature' in a manner similar to Paul's treatment in Romans 1." This is mistaken and misleading. There is no mention of homoeroticism in the Naphtali text!  Moreover, the phrase "departed from the order of nature" has no clear meaning. In fact, Romans Chapter One is more or less based on [Wisdom 14:12-27].

EMH then states that "we should note that the Jewish writers Josephus and Philo, along with their contemporary Paul, consider homoerotic behaviour as a pagan and ungodly practice". This contradicts her earlier assertion that "The biblical teaching regarding homoerotic behaviour is not unconsciously coloured by cultural norms; rather, it adopts a decisive counter cultural stand". She continues "The story of Sodom, then, became a colourful illustration of sexual sin among both Jewish and Christian communities, although this is not its main ethical point." In fact, it is not even a secondary ethical point!  She then admits that deriving ethics from narrative is problematic, a welcome note of caution, and further cautions that the Levitical verses are difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, she insinuates that homosexuality is condemned in the same way as incest or bestiality.

EMH then turns her attention on the New Testament. She first asserts that Paul condemns "two types of homoerotic behaviour" [1 Cor 6] before admitting that "the two words for same sex behaviour, malakoi and arsenokoitai .... should give us pause". This is indeed a welcome note of caution: however, the fact that reference was first made to "two types of homoerotic behaviour", rather pre-judges the matter.She then dismisses the scholarship of L. W. Countryman ["Dirt, Greed and Sex", 1988] who argued that the meaning of these words is uncertain.  While the word arsenokoitai is clearly a compound of two simple and well understood words, it is not generally possible to infer the meaning of such compound words from their morphology.  She asserts in particular that that "The term malakoi .... is found in other Greek documents, usually with a slur intended, to refer to those exhibiting various types of sexual indulgence, but often refers explicitly to the passive partner in a homoerotic relationship."  In the Bible malakoi is used by Jesus as a contrast with the character of St John Baptist, without any sexual innuendo or significance.

The treatment EMH offers of Romans Chapter One is more sophisticated. However, she fails to note the significance of the fact that it is based on a passage in the Book of Wisdom, moreover she opines that "God's response to .... senseless idolatry is to 'let go' .... and permit the natural consequences." This is an interesting use of the word natural! She then asserts that one such "natural consequence", is "that human passions are disturbed and the primary created relationship (male and female) is distorted." Where, I wonder, has this doctrine been gleaned from? Note that EMH is obviously conscious of the danger of the doctrine and has carefully qualified "primary relationship" with the word created. EMH then asserts that this "natural" distortion of nature is manifested in homoerotic behaviour. "Though the major emphasis is on bodily disruption, the sequelae are far-reaching ("they received in themselves the ‘anti-reward’ ...." I fear that her linguistic erudition here far exceeds mine, I can only respond by pointing out that the Greek that she translates as "anti-reward" simply means fee.

EMH then asserts that "Paul presents homoerotic activity (including lesbianism) as symptomatic of the primal rebellion against God, alongside other symptoms such as covetousness, murder, strife, gossip, deceit, disloyalty and pride." In the interpretation favoured here, it should be noted that homosexuality is seen more as a punishment for or consequence of sin rather than a sin itself requiring punishment. EMH tries to avoid the fact that St Paul mentions homosexuality and the "other symptoms" quite separately, and in fact does not "present" them "alongside" each other at all. It should be noted that all the "other symptoms" are manifestly harmful to the people implicated, unlike homosexuality.

She asserts of St Paul's treatment of homosexuality that "No doubt he places it first because this condition affects the relationship of the sexes, and shows brokenness in God's creative order going back to the original act of dividing (day from night, light from light, land from sea, female from male) and to the ordained union of male and female." This contention is unsupported by the grammatical structure of the Greek text and based only on EMH's earlier novel idea that "the primary created relationship" is heterosexual.

She argues that this explains why Paul speaks then of those "who exchange what is 'natural' (physike) for what is 'against nature' (para physin)". It should first be noted that EMH has already described such consequences as "natural". Secondly, that 'para' does not generally mean against, but rather beyond or in contrast to the limitations of. There follows a confused argument which I am unable to paraphrase, leading to the conclusion that "Homoerotic behaviour thus indicates a primary breach between the two partners designed for each other. As an act, homosexual relations dramatize the rejection of God's purposes which affects all of us in various ways. It is a pointer, or diagnostic tool, of the human condition." This is to elevate maleness and femaleness to a height of significance directly contradicted by St Paul's statement that "in Christ there is neither male nor female." Moreover, this conclusion gives homoerotic behaviour a special character beyond the nature (para physin) of sin in general. EMH then back peddles on this by saying that "The primal sin, then, is the refusal to thank God and worship: homoerotic behaviour is one of the consequences, pointing back to that first mis-step."

Her intention is, I suspect, to invalidate the question "Am I gay because I am supposed to refuse to thank and worship God?".  Instead of saying that it is the idolatry of an individual that drives that individual to commit sinful homosexual acts, she insinuates that the homosexual propensity of some people is a disorder of their nature, resulting from the Fall and subsequent pagan idolatry. It is, therefore, a particular aspect of universal concupiscence, and constitutes a type of disability or sickness. Hence, the homosexual is disallowed from arguing: "since my sexuality cannot possibly be a result of  idolatry, as I am not an idolater, it follows that Romans Chapter One cannot apply me". It will just be replied: "indeed, not your idolatry, but that of others: just as my propensity to loose my temper is a result of the idolatry of others."

Indeed, a little later in her text, EMH says "Paul's aim is rather to point to the profundity of depravity, shared by all humanity, Jew and Gentile, so that he can go on to establish the utter justice and mercy of God, who has triumphed over sin and death in Jesus. The passage is theological, pointing to God, and not primarily ethical. Yet it has strong words to say about the condition of human beings, in need both of forgiveness and of healing. The fundamental human illness is expressed both in disorder and in sinful acts. Those who have a sober view of their situation, as exemplified in all these signs, are those who can also receive God's medicine." This would be an artful dodge, if the text was sufficiently vague as to allow it. Fortunately, it is not. In this passage, St Paul's language is clear. He explicitly refers to "these men" and "their women" rather than men and women in general.

Some putative consequences of the Fall (such as the loss of preternatural powers) and subsequent idolatry are simply sad rather than sinful. Even if the text were such as to allow EMH's meaning, it would have to be established that homosexual orientation is a positive sinful sickness rather than a mere disability: a mental disorder like kleptomania, characterized by behaviour that is objectively harmful; rather than a learning difficulty like dyslexia. No one would claim that it is sinful to spell words unconventionally! Whereas dyslexics should be offered help to improve their spelling, they should not be vilified for their difficulty! Some people certainly find it more difficult than usual to engage in heterosexual activity and more easy than usual to engage in homosexual activity. Perhaps they should be offered sympathy with regards to the difficulty that they will face in engendering offspring: but why should they be condemned for the love-making that they find to be congenial and mutually affirmative, when no-one is harmed by it?

EMH then allows that "Paul assumes agreement that homoerotic activity is not right because of the way that God has created humanity – what he has to say about a fallen and judged world cannot be followed if the reader does not agree with him here." This would appear to again contradict her earlier assertion that "The biblical teaching regarding homoerotic behaviour is not unconsciously coloured by cultural norms; rather, it adopts a decisive counter cultural stand".

EMH then continues by summarizing her ideas, then notes that "If homoerotic behaviour is sinful; so is a self-righteousness judgement of others by those who are not so tempted, yet are prey to other sins. For Paul, both self-righteousness and sexual sin are to be abjured; fidelity requires holding together God's justice and mercy. All are called to join God's new community of light: to answer that call means to repent and to accept healing, wherever that is needed." These sentiments are typical of theologically based homophobes. They condemn homosexuals to Hell Fire for no sin whatever and then beat their own breasts for real sins that they have no real consciousness of being really guilty of!

EMH then briefly turns her attention to Ecclesial Tradition. She first asserts that "The moral teaching tradition of the Church, from the earliest period .... has been emphatic: homoerotic behaviour is contrary to God's will" before attempting to criticize Boswell's work on the liturgical texts for "brother making" ["The Marriage of Likeness: Same Sex Unions in PreModern Europe"]. The best she can say here is that "In his translated title of these documents, Boswell renders the term adelphopoiesis as 'same sex/same gender unions', which to today's reader would suggest an erotic dimension." It is important to stop for a moment and ask why she wants to say this? After all, the word union does not generally have an erotic connotation! It seems to me that it is the same sex part that is truly significant. If these liturgies were not in some way analogues of marriage, why do they clearly envisage that the gender of both parties is necessarily male? If they are to celebrate "mere" friendship, then why could they not be celebrated by a man and a woman who wished to formalize a significant but non romanto-erotic relationship.

EMH then says that the texts themselves do not refer to physical aspects in the relationship. This is generally true of liturgies for marriage, save for occasional phrases like "with my body I thee worship": itself indeterminate in meaning. Ironically, by a providential coincidence, it is not true of one of the adelphopoiesis liturgies. EMH simply should be more thorough in her research. The Sinai 966 text contains the prayer "that they be joined together more in spirit than in flesh."  This manifestly includes the recognition that some joining in flesh is envisaged.

EMH then notes that "Virtually throughout the centuries" homoerotic  behaviour "has been forbidden, and often (though not always) as a very grave sin, as seen in the relative penances imposed for certain actions (e.g. adultery vs. homoerotic acts)."  Her use of the word "virtually" is surprising. I would love to know what caused her to make this qualification. Nevertheless, she covers a complicated issue here in a cavalier manner, making no allowance for the breaches of clerical celibacy normally envisaged by the severest penances. Moreover, some consideration of the status of Usury is certainly required!

EMH then turns her attention to "Contemporary Scholarship and Experience". She first dismisses the idea that Roman's Chapter One only condemns "those who are not truly homosexual, yet who act homoerotically" by simply asserting that "To introduce two categories, one who acts homosexually according to nature, and one who does so against nature, is to introduce a distinction alien to Paul's point." This continues her assertion that St Paul is talking about all humanity when he says "these men" and "their women".

The idea "that malakoi or arsenokoitai referred to prostitution in particular" is countered by asserting that "there is simply no evidence whatsoever for it .... Paul's problem with homoerotic behaviour .... is its same sex quality .... not the economics of sexual trade"  This is half true. Boswell's arguments here are somewhat contrived, though not obviously false: Paul's statement that "they personally receive the fee for their mischief" must be born in mind. On the other hand, it is plausible that in Romans Chapter One St Paul is only considering a particular and prominent pagan cultus, without mentioning its name.

She then denies "that Paul had only pederasty in mind", asserting that "Had Paul intended to proscribe pederasty .... he had recourse to many other more precise terms." This is once more a cavalier treatment of a complex topic.

She then dismisses the argument that "para physin" as a description of homoerotic behaviour in Romans Chapter One is not manifestly condemnatory as St Paul himself describes God as acting "para physin" later on in Romans Chapter Eleven. It would appear that when EMH wishes a phrase to have one clear meaning it does so, and when she wishes otherwise, it kindly obliges her again!

She then spends considerable effort attempting to establish that there is no complete consensus in the scientific community regarding the prevalence, genetic basis, or status (pathological or otherwise) of homosexuality: or whether it can be changed. Most of this is disingenuous, but no matter. EMH rightly states that issues of prevalence, mutability and genetic or other basis have no obvious relevance to the question of whether a behaviour is sinful or not. On the whole, those who nowadays judge homosexuality to be pathological do so on theological rather than psychological grounds, so any argument based on their testimony is circular.

EMH then betrays her true colours by referring approvingly to the assertion of Richard Hays "that when Paul treats homoerotic behaviour within the context of general disordering, he does not presuppose that sin occurs because we are free moral agents. To the contrary, Paul pictures a situation in which humanity is, in some sense, enslaved by sin [Rom 6:17], so that neither the will nor the passions fall into line with reason. We have a predisposition to corruption and sin [this analysis is Calvinist]: this does not render pathology healthy or sin 'morally neutral'. Alcoholism is now understood to have a genetic dimension, but this does not mean that drunkenness is morally neutral, nor that society 'discriminates against' people who frequently drink too much if it attempts to limit the possible damage through laws about drunken driving, and so forth." Manifestly, the case is dissimilar. In the case of intemperate alcohol consumption, there is a clear and present objective danger to health and public safety. In the case of homo-gender sexual activity, clearly there is none.

EMH then opines that "It is dehumanizing to sum up any person by reference to sexuality". This is ironic, as for her, heterosexuality is a core and definitive feature of human nature, and homosexuality a primary breach!

She then concludes by making use of the hearsay testimony of  a certain Gary who was a "close friend" of Professor Hays. Gary is said to have experienced his own homosexuality as a "compulsion and an affliction" for over 20 years. Only because he was taught to so experience it, of course!  He is said to have found only "wishful interpretation" in every gay positive theological text he read. He finally decided that while homosexuals should not be excluded from the Church, they "should know that it is a place of transformation, of discipline, of learning, and not merely a place to be comforted or indulged". This is obvious, but it does not follow that homosexuality is to be healed or challenged or repented of any more than that it is to be promoted, celebrated or tolerated. The matter to be decided is whether or not it is objectively harmful and therefore sinful, not what is to be done about it if it is!

EMH finishes by saying of Gary that "He held out for the hope that there was truly no male or female, no gay or straight in Christ: and this meant being brought into God's very own life of purity and health. However, life in Christ did not mean for Gary a reorientation towards heterosexual desire. Some Christians today do speak of this kind of healing in their sexuality; this was not Gary's experience, yet he was content with God's grace as he committed to abstinence." On what ground can such a contentment be based? If there is no call to a sexual reorientation: to the establishment of a primary aspect of the natural created order, as our author seems to believe is possible, then why should there be an automatic call to celibacy?.



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