Sunday, May 11, 2014


Q&R: Homosexuality

(This morning, in the pre-dawn darkness, I went walking with Oscar Wilde:

‘Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword...’

And thought

‘And some who claim to 'love the sinner but hate the sin'
do it with Bible verses’...)

[ ]


Q: Rowland, go back 40 years: what then did you think about gays?

R: In summary I believed they got that way via unfinished business with their same-sex parent (a la Elizabeth Moberly). And they could ‘get fixed’. In the meantime, ‘Be celibate! And forfeit any desire for a close romantic relationship or Christian leadership.’

What changed your mind?

Listening to their - often painful - stories; studying the experts about how they got to be like that; and revisiting what the Bible says and doesn’t say with a more teachable mind. Roughly in that – chronological – order.

OK, the ‘aetiology’ question first. How did they get to be like that?

We’re now well on the side of nature rather than nurture (probably 100% of peer-reviewed scientists without an ideological bias would agree on that). IOW ‘biologically-based theories for the cause of sexual orientation are favored by experts, which point to genetic factors, the early uterine environment, or both in combination’ []. The gays I talk to tell me being gay was not their choice (‘Why would you?’ they often retort). Those who believe people ‘choose to be gay’ are generally more inclined to marginalize/ostracize them. 

Can they change, and become heterosexual?

According to psychiatric bodies, ‘There is no evidence that such change is possible.’ []   More importantly, if they’re ‘born that way’ why would we not accept them as they are?   [Review of Justin Lee’s Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Vs. Christians Debate:]

So you’re in favour of full acceptance/inclusion of LGBTI people?

In principle, yes, of course.

Which includes marriage equality?

Why not? Sentencing these people to celibacy not-by-choice and enforced loneliness is cruel.

Why do you think there’s no record of Jesus commenting on all this?

Oh, I think he did, by both actions and words. His loving acceptance of vilified and marginalized people – despised prostitutes and tax collectors for example – is our behavioral model. To the Bible people (Pharisees especially, who treated such people as pariahs) of his day he said ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you’ (Matthew 21:31). And Jesus taught categorically that Jewish requirements for ceremonial purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart. [ ] Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion. [ ].

Desmond Tutu said it best: ‘The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing – their race – and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about – their gender, and hence my support inter alia, for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. And equally, I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. For it is so improbable that any sane, normal person would deliberately choose a lifestyle exposing him or her to so much vilification, opprobrium and physical abuse, even death. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was. [ ]

So your emphasis in this whole debate would centre more on the Christian principle of inclusion?

Yes. British Evangelical Steve Chalke summarized it well: Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex, relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ.’ [ ]

Which leads to your affirming same-sex marriage?

Yes. Steve Chalke again: ‘Promiscuity is always damaging and dehumanising. Casual and self-centred expressions of sexuality – homosexual or heterosexual – never reflect God’s faithfulness, grace and self-giving love. Only a permanent and stable relationship, in which respect and faithfulness are given and received, can offer the security in which well-being and love can thrive.’

What do you make of the common phrase about ‘hating the sin but loving the sinner’?

It’s awfully judgmental: and my gay friends loathe it. We are to hate our own sin: which was the point of Jesus’ interaction with the religious leaders who brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to him. He first said to her ‘I do not condemn you’ before he said ‘Go and sin no more’. When I ask conservative folks ‘What did Jesus say to the adulterous woman?’ their first response, 95% of the time, is ‘Go and sin no more’. There’s a moral there somewhere...   

What can we learn about history’s paradigm shifts?

The church around the world is currently wrestling with a complex paradigm-shift: what to do with our LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) sisters/brothers. And so are secular political authorities. But these sorts of macro-issues are not new.

Take divorce for example. Jesus was quite categorical (Mark 10:11) - “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Most Christian denominations have divorced people in leadership, but I’ve noticed we don’t use the phrase about loving sinners/hating sin about these people… [More… , Lew Smedes’ article [ ]

You’ve moved from being conservative to a progressive stance. What’s going on with that way of doing life?

First three apposite quotes: “When the ‘facts’ change, I change my mind. And you sir?” (John Maynard Keynes) . “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” (H L Mencken). “One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.” (Victor Hugo).
Imagine a bell curve…  Radicals are on the left; next to them are Progressives; to the right of them are Conservatives; and on the far right areTraditionalists. Radicals are driven, mostly, by anger at injustices served up by dominant authority-figures and structures to marginalized people and groups.
Traditionalists have fear as their dominant emotion. They’re afraid of change and cognitive dissonance. (For example when I send Traditionalist/Conservative critics to my articles on this subject they don’t bother, and don’t get back to me). [ ]
A little further – important – note: I am critical of Radicals to my left, who won’t allow people to change their opinions at their own pace. And I’m critical of the Traditionalists whose motto on all this seems to be ‘Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind’s made up.’

OK. Let’s look at the so-called ‘clobber passages’ in the Bible. What are they?

Only seven speak directly of same-sex relationships: the first two in Genesis 19; the story of Sodom and its literary echo in Judges 19; the third and fourth in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; the fifth in Romans 1:26-27; the sixth & seventh in I Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. [I am indebted to Biblical scholar and philosopher Dr. Keith Mascord for the gist of this summary:  and ]

The Leviticus prohibitions are about the ‘abomination’ of ‘a man lying with another male as with a woman’.  But Leviticus has laws against eating pork, mixing fibres in fabrics, eating prawns etc. – in addition to a dozen or so specifically sexual offences (like having sex with an animal). Leviticus 21:16-23, is decidedly bad news for the inclusion of any physically disabled people.

Why the death penalty for same-sex ?

Because same-sex relationships deviate from the ‘marriage ideal’ of Genesis 1 & 2? Maybe: but there are other situations in the OT where ‘marriage’ is defined differently – eg. concubinage, polygamy, levirate marriage etc. A better explanation: same-sex relationships, in the ancient world and even today (prisons, the navy etc.), often involve an abuse of power – especially in terms of paedophilia, and rape. But the coming of Christ has given the world a new understanding of patriarchy and the abuse of power – by men in particular. We now know that between 1% and 2% are born with both male and female characteristics (intersexual) for example. Sexuality is not ‘binary’.


God’s judgement on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) is more ‘about the indulgence, indifference to others and social injustice of their inhabitants, rather than a proof text against homosexuality.’ [Steve Chalke]. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night. The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. [ ]

And the NT?

The Romans 1 passage is unique in the Bible: giving us both a rationale for the Levitical prohibitions, and adding female-to-female sexual behaviour. Romans 1 says nothing about loving relationships: rather it describes an immoral outcome of idolatry. And it talks about same-sex behaviour rather than same-sex orientation. And in Paul’s day wild and/or pagan parties (‘symposia’) would be a context where slaves would be subject to all sorts of sexual abuse. Plato described same-sex behaviour as abusive and ‘contrary to nature’. But just as we don’t now accept the Biblical writers’ cosmology in matters of geology (they all believed the earth was flat) and astrophysics (the earth not the sun, is the centre of the ‘universe), we also have reason to question Biblical cosmology in the area of what is considered ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural.’ [ Mascord nt ]. Most biblical scholars now agree these three passages refer to casual same-sex relationships, and promiscuity associated with wild occultic orgies: not stable, mutual, non-exploitative same-sex unions.

‘Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.’ [ ]. And males wearing long hair is an ‘abomination’ [ ? ].  

So the ignorance of ancient world-views have to be factored in to any hermeneutic?

Yes. Some parallels: * Copernicus discovered that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of our solar system, Scripture was used by Luther, Calvin, the Catholic Church and many others to condemn him. Why? Because, while Copernicus’ critics couldn’t see beyond the exegesis of the biblical text, the real issue was to do with hermeneutics. * Another example: the role of women, who, Paul said ‘should remain silent’ in churches. But several women were leaders (Phoebe, a ‘deacon’; Junia, an ‘apostle’) and also they were able to ‘prophesy’ – which is difficult to do silently! * And slavery: the Bible doesn’t condemn it, but Wilberforce and his abolitionist friends did. Steve Chalke again: ‘The Bible does not always speak with one voice. For instance, the New Testament moves the issues of the treatment of slaves, women and homosexual people on from the Hebrew Scriptures: Though slave keeping is still endorsed in the New Testament, slave trading is condemned. Though women are still subordinate to men they benefit from greater freedom. Though permanent same-sex relationships are still not supported, there is no longer talk of capital punishment... Using my hermeneutical lens – the Bible is the account of an ancient and ongoing conversation where various, sometimes harmonious and sometimes discordant, voices contribute to the gradually growing picture of the character of Yahweh; fully revealed only in Jesus. For more insight on this, read ‘Having Words with God: The Bible as Conversation’ by Karl Allan Kuhn, endorsed by Walter Brueggeman.’

And marriage in the Bible is not a fixed binary idea: a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman?

Many scholars now challengethe view that this is the only biblical model.  [eg. Rev. Dr. Bill Loader: ].

And many no longer believe Scripture condemns all homosexual unions, as the Church has traditionally taught. [ Check out Alan Austin’s links, referenced here: ] Professor of New Testament at Melbourne’s Whitley College Keith Dyer believes “mutually enriching same-sex relationships” were known. But not much is known about them: “Such relationships were kept quiet then, as for many today and especially in the Church.” [ ]. See also the book by Anglican scholars...]

 Rowland: have you yourself been marginalized because of your general stance on these issues?

Maybe. I don’t get invited to speak to certain seminaries and churches any more; but frankly I hardly give a moment’s thought to all that: my LGBTI friends have suffered much more, and I’m honoured to ‘bear their reproach ... margins / outside the camp’...

And in summary?

What does real, Christ-like, inclusion look like?

Another commentator, Nigel Chapman’s Summary/Abstract: The argument for same sex marriage between same sex oriented partners, [is here] arranged in three questions: 1) Does scripture address orientation, understood as permanent, involuntary and exclusive same sex attraction? No, Paul makes that clear in four different ways in Rom 1. 2) Do the biblical judgements condemn same sex intercourse in a same sex marriage between same sex oriented partners as immoral and abhorrent? No: There are eleven reasons why same sex intercourse is biblically condemned; eight do not apply to the case of same sex marriage between same sex oriented partners, while the three that apply cannot generate the biblical judgements of immorality and abhorrence without the first eight. 3) Does a same sex marriage between same sex oriented Christians fulfill the biblical ideal of marriage? In every way possible in the permanent absence of heterosexual attraction, yes it does. So, in the absence of any moral condemnation from scripture, it is to be recommended over the expectation of lifelong celibacy. This provides Evangelicals with a new and better response to the biblical and practical problems raised by same sex orientation. [ ]


Here’s a 200-word summary article I sent to the Age newspaper  (14/5/2012). It was published in slightly truncated form:

If the 150 doctors opposing gay marriage do not speak for the AMA, the conservative religionists among them do not speak for me – an Evangelical Christian – either.
Three ‘aha experiences’ have powered my journey away from being Victoria’s media spokesman for the Festival of Light in the 1970s to my current role as national chaplain of the Australian Christian LGBTI group – Freedom2B.
First: hearing the stories of hundreds of LGBTI people convince me they had no choice about their sexual orientation. Who am I, ‘straight’ and happily married, to condemn them to life-long celibacy and loneliness?
Second: the unanimous verdict of groups like the American Psychiatric Association which removed homosexuality from its list of ‘mental disorders’ in 1973.
Third: the near-unanimous consensus among peer-reviewed biblical scholars that the Holiness Code in Leviticus, and St. Paul’s two or three proscriptions against same-sex behaviour have nothing to say to ‘homosexuals’ freely relating to one another as committed partners.
Two excellent recent Australian books are Justice Michael Kirby’s A Private Life and psychologist Dr Stuart Edser’s Being Gay, Being Christian.

(Rev. Dr.) Rowland Croucher

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