Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Romans 1

Here's another question:

How do both parties respond to homosexuality as mentioned towards the end of Romans 1?

In my last response to this morning's post, I alluded to the reality that people can read the same Bible and come to dramatically different conclusions. I was thinking of President Lincoln's second inaugural address when I mentioned that. Regarding the deep divide in America during the civil war, Lincoln said:

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."

Lincoln understood, and so do I, that people read the same Bible and come to dramatically different conclusions, even while praying to the same God. What are we to make of this? As I stated in a previous post, hermeneutics isn't a "hard" science, with easily testable hypotheses. We get into trouble when we think that, through the exercise of our intellect alone, we can arrive, regarding every single passage of scripture, at a bombproof interpretation.

This breadth of interpretation is seen nowhere more clearly, perhaps, than in the first chapter of Romans, especially towards the latter half of the chapter. Men are burning with lust towards men, and women are burning with lust towards women. It's clear that this kind of behavior (there are others as well, no doubt far more convicting for most of us, which is why we tend to skip them and focus on same sex issues), is evidence that God's voice has been rejected. That's the point of the passage; the kinds of behaviors described are a thermometer of one's relationship with God.

I'm sitting in the woods as I write this, so have access to none of my resource books on ethics, etc. Perhaps its better that way. I can simply generalize. I'll begin by articulating the standard evangelical party line. It goes something like this:

"There it is, right there in Romans 1 - gays hate God. They're out there burning in their lust for one another, and Paul has just declared, unequivocally, that they're behaving this way because they hate God. Don't tell me that you can love God and be gay. That's not what MY Bible says."

This kind of thinking violates nearly every hermeneutic principle I set out a couple of days ago. This is the kind of teaching that leads to hatred instead of love and objectification instead of relationship. Using the scriptures to incite fear and hatred can only be described as heresy.

A significant contextual question must always be, "what would these words have meant to the original hearers?" I can promise you one thing; of all the possibilities available for speculation about that subject, the one thing that would never have entered the mind or heart of Paul was that he was condemning people living committed same sex unions. Here's why:

1. men with men, women with women, was the common phrasing for homosexual promiscuity, such as was common throughout the upper echelons of the Roman Empire. Did know that Julius Ceasar was known as, "Every woman's man" and "Every man's woman". Senators and interns back in the Roman hey day make the Governor of South Carolina look like a saint. I could write more with resources at hand, but in the forest, you'll have to trust me. When the original hearers absorbed those words, they most likely thought of the homosexual equivalent of our Mardi Gras festival. Yes, that is in fact, a sign of depravity. Any times sexuality objectifies another, using them for gratification without living in the reality of a comensurate commitment, it's depravity, gay or straight.

2. Paul wasn't condemning committed homosexual covenant relationships because they didn't exist, and of course, nobody condemns or forbids things that aren't even a possibility.

These two problems with the standard evangelical party line as it relates to Romans 1 are why I went to great lengths in a previous post to explain why I don't think someone who has same sex desires is inherently living in sin, any more than someone who has heterosexual leanings towards promiscuity and objectifying the opposite sex. Paul is going to great pains to show, in this particular instance, that the problem is the promiscuous behavior, not our longings.

So that's how I read these texts, at least that's how I read them when I'm in woods with nothing but a Bible in my hands. I know people will read them differently, people who love and pray to the same God. There are two kinds of good dialogue that can come from this.

The first is intellectual. Challenge my hermeneutic. Let others challenge yours. That's important. It's how our convictions are refined.

The second is more personal. I'm wondering how this dialogue sets with people, gay or straight, believing or not. If you're going to share something personal though, I hope it will be rooted in following the entire thread of the past few days.

thanks for your engagement in this discussion...


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