Thursday, May 31, 2007


Hmmm.... No time to write much on this, though there is a huge amount to say, but was talking about it again last night, in the context of discussing homophobia and stuff and so thought it would be a good idea to record some controversial thoughts on it.

  • No-one goes to hell for being gay.
  • Homophobia (especially a fear of being thought to be gay) is deeply ingrained in large parts of British culture and in large parts of the church
  • To treat homosexual sex outside marriage differently from hetereosexual sex outside marriage seems to be an example of homophobia.
  • Sexual "orientation" is both continuous and fluid, though to varying degrees in different people.
  • To define one's identity by sexual orientation (whether straight, gay, bisexual, 3 on the Kinsey scale, whatever) is unhelpful and flawed. We do not link our preference for sweet or sour foods to our identity - why should we link our preference for sex with men or sex with women?
  • In light of the previous two aphorisms, the concept of orientation itself is in some ways deeply flawed and certainly unhelpful in debate.
  • The Biblical doctrine of sex is intrinsically linked to the Biblical doctrine of marriage. To understand what the Bible teaches on the issue in the light of the new covenant, we need to approach the issue through the doctrine of marriage rather than by arguing over which OT laws do or don't apply
  • A clear distinction needs to be drawn between temptation and sin. Temptation is fine. Jesus was tempted, quite possibly in homosexual ways (e.g. Hebrews 4:15). Sin is not fine.
  • The primary Biblical mandate for how Christians are to act is to love rather than to judge.
  • I see no reason why non-Christians should accept arguments based on "the Bible says..."
  • In the light of that, it seems to me that Biblically, marriage is meant to be heterosexual and lifelong, and that sex belongs inside marriage and not elsewhere.
  • If there are three men talking, then one of them goes away and has sexual fantasies about a woman, another goes away and has sex with a man, and the third goes away and is proud that he has controlled his sex life, Jesus would be most likely to condemn the third one. And the first and second are pretty much morally equivalent if we take Matthew 5:27 seriously.


John said...

I've been pointed to Oliver O'Donovan's thought-provoking article here.

Anonymous said...

Controversial? I wholeheartedly agree with most of them. I would question your 5th point, though. I know people who hold on quite dearly to their orientation as gay, and I wouldn't want to deprive them of that. I suppose the question is how they arrived at their attachment to the descriptor, and whether it was through unhelpful societal and personal processes and/or conditions which were originally a result of human sinfulness, and so would better have not happened at all, thus not giving these people such an attachment?

The obvious follow-up to your points about marriage are "Go on, define a biblical doctrine of marriage". I'm guessing you'll place quite a high importance on Genesis 2, which I admit is basically where I get my views from on this subject. I've heard it argued that the view of marriage contained in Genesis 2 was influenced by homophobia present in Israeli society at the time. Annoyingly, it seems that could just lead into a chicken/egg argument, depending on which 'side' of the debate you start on! What do you think about the idea? That is, the one about homophobia in the author of Genesis 2's society?

John said...

I think we've got to say that if the Bible is authoritative, then Genesis 2 (and the expansions of it e.g. in 1 Corinthians 7) is binding for our understanding of marriage, even if it was written in a society with latent homophobia.

Otherwise we risk getting into a situation where we say "The Bible says this, but I disagree...", which I think puts us on very shaky ground with regards to humility and God and stuff.

Daniel Hill said...

(1) You say 'No-one goes to hell for being gay'. Do you mean for homosexual practice or for homosexual orientation? If the former, what do you think of 1 Corinthians 6:9?
(2) What do you mean by 'homophobia'?
(3) Do you think that the Roman-Catholic Church is homophobic because it teaches that homosexual acts, unlike heterosexual acts (whether within or without marriage), are "intrinsically disordered"?
(4) I define my identity (whatever that means) in part by being married and therefore by being heterosexual (since it's important to me that my spouse is (among other things) female). This seems to me in accord with the 'one flesh' stuff -- there's a difference between this and preference for foods.
(5) Why do you think it follows from the fact that sexual "orientation" is both continuous and fluid that it is deeply flawed? Surely it makes perfect sense to talk about to whom one is attracted, not least in guarding against temptation?
(6) I don't accept that Hebrews 4:15 shows that Jesus could have been tempted in homosexual ways. Hebrews 4:15 doesn't, I think, mean that he was tempted in *literally* every single way (e.g. he wasn't tempted to have an abortion). It would be enough that he was sexually temped without requiring that he be tempted to every possible sexual sin. (Is there any sin to which you think Jesus couldn't have been tempted?)
(7) Helping get out of sinful lifestyles is, of course, an act of love (or should be!).
(8) I don't agree that Matthew 5:28 teaches that adultery and looking lustfully are morally equivalent. I think Jesus is defining a new offence of 'adultery in the heart'. This can be, but need not be, as serious as actual adultery. Proof: actual adultery gives just cause for divorce (Matt 5:31), but it's not the case that looking lustfully in and of itself gives grounds for divorce.

John said...

A quick attempt at a response...
1) I tend to mean orientation, but I'd also mean practice in a slightly fuzzier sense. The reason that people to go hell is for rejecting Jesus; homosexual practice is only wrong inasmuch as it is rejecting God.

2) Something like "irrational treatment of homosexuals differently from heterosexuals simply because of their sexual preference"

3) Nope.

4) Defining identity wrt marriage - fine, accepted. But that's different from sexual orientation. Even if, for example, 90% of your sexual temptation was towards men, that would not change your identity in terms of your marriage to Sarah (hi to Sarah by the way).

5) The way that sexual orientation is treated (as part of identity, as a binary or trinary state, etc) is not consistent with what we know about it

6) Yes it does mean that. As you point out, it doesn't mean that Jesus was necessarily tempted in homosexual ways, but he might well have been

7) yes. Should be. It's like smacking children - if it doesn't cause the parent at least as much pain as the child, it's unlikely to be an act of love.

8) Maybe. But pride is still worse than either.

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks for this excellent response, Custard. (I'm sorry if my post sounded ungracious.) Your (4) is a particularly good point.

One thing I'd like to press you on is your statement that Jesus might have had homosexual temptations. The line of the Roman-Catholic Church is that since Jesus didn't have original sin there would have been nothing for these temptations to 'intrinsically disordered acts' (as they call them) to latch on to. (Temptations to heterosexual acts would be different, since, the Vatican says, these are not 'intrinsically disordered' even if outside marriage.)

Since you don't think the Vatican homophobic on this account, I was wondering why you rejected this line.

John said...

One might assert the same about various other temptations - surely if the essence of sin is lack of faith in God then there would be nothing for any temptation to "latch onto".

In short, I disagree with them over the nature and psychological effect of original sin.

Daniel Hill said...

A temptation has to be in some degree attractive to the tempted in order to be a temptation. For example, I am, thanks to the grace of God, not tempted to have sex with non-human animals: the prospect just doesn't attract me at all. But there are other intrinsically disordered acts to which I am attracted because of my original sin.

Since Jesus didn't have original sin he couldn't have been attracted to any intrinsically disordered acts. How then was he tempted? Well, Satan cleverly tried to attract him to things that were OK in themselves but not right at the time: displaying his power, satisfying hunger, and taking power that was rightfully his. And Jesus was attracted to these, but he refused to act as Satan suggested since either the time or the suggested means (worshipping Satan) wasn't right.

John said...

I think I reject the distinction between "intrinsically disordered" sin and other sin.

All sin is intrinsically disordered, because it's all about lack of faith in God and us seeking to decide what is right and what isn't.

For the Son to go against the Father, would in one sense be more intrinsically disordered than any conceivable event in the universe. And yet Jesus was tempted to do that.

Daniel Hill said...

It's not true that all sin is intrinsically disordered: something can be good in itself but sinful out of the divinely prescribed context. For example, procreating a child is a good thing, but if it is done outside marriage it is sinful. It isn't intrinsically disordered, however -- it's extrinsically disordered.

Jesus wasn't tempted to go against the Father. That is, the temptation part, the bit that attracted him, was to something good (display of power, satisfaction of hunger, taking of authority) -- the going against the Father bit was the hook not the bait (i.e. the temptation). Why didn't the Devil come to him and just say 'Go against the Father'? Answer: Jesus wouldn't have been tempted by that.

John said...

As I wrote above, I think I reject the distinction between "intrinsically disordered" sin and other sin.

We're all tempted to more subtle sin, because the downside isn't as obvious - I don't think it's to do with intrinsic disorder. Lots of people who wouldn't steal a car would happily keep driving after damaging a parked car, for example.