Wednesday, December 5, 2012
St. Paul on Homosexuality
Continuing my examination of this popular image supposedly refuting a traditional Christian approach to sexuality, I come to the following claim:
The original language of the NT (dealing with the issue of homosexuality) actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, non-committed same-sex relationships. Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.
What I find particularly interesting about this statement is that it presents two contradictory arguments. On the one hand, the claim is made that Paul had nothing to say about homosexuality, but on the other it is claimed that Paul has an antiquated moral world view which should be ignored. This demonstrates the fact that consistency is not usually the primary issue in such discussions. Proponents of same-sex relationships will often throw out every possible argument, even if the logic of various arguments contradict one another. I have heard public moderated debates with advocates of homosexual behavior who first argue that Paul allowed homosexuality, and after being refuted, retreated to the claim that Paul's morals are outdated and irrelevant. I will deal with both of these assertions separately.
First is the claim that Paul's statements about homosexuality are not about committed same-sex relationships. Paul has several statements about homosexuality, but look at the most clear one in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans.
"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:26-27)
The language is pretty straight forward. The text doesn't say anything about prostitution, promiscuity, or non-committed relationships. The men in this text are described as giving up natural relations "with women" for those "with one another." Thus, the issue is one of gender. Rather than sex with women, men have sex with men. It's not that these men exchange natural homosexual relations with more abusive forms of homosexual relations. It may very well be the case that some of these people were involved in rape, promiscuity, or pedophelia, but the primary point that Paul is making is one of gender confusion. This is especially clear because of the creational context in which Paul is speaking. In Paul's argument, sinners invert the purpose for which they have been created. Humans were created to worship God, but through sin that worship is misdirected toward creation itself. Men and women were created for one another, but sin has misdirected sexual desire toward others of the same gender.
The second argument that is made here, which contradicts the first, is that Paul's ethics are irrelevant because he supported the idea that a woman cannot have authority over a man. There are a couple of problems with this argument.
First, it assumes that Biblical morality should be judged by some broader standard. Thus society, reason, cultural change, or some other factor establishes the nature of morality. This moral framework is then placed over Scripture which then judges what is and is not correct. For the Christian, the opposite is the case. The Bible defines moral truth, and the broader societal norms are then judged on that basis. I, as an autonomous creature, do not first decide what the role of a woman should be, and then evaluate the Biblical text accordingly.
Second, the writer misunderstands Paul's meaning when giving authority to men rather than women. Examine what Paul says regarding this issue,
"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
1 Timothy is a pastoral epistle. Therefore, this statement must be placed in its ecclesiastical context. A woman is not permitted to teach or have authority in the church. Or, put in other words, a woman cannot be a Pastor. This does not negate the importance of women within the church. God has simply created men and women for different roles. One is not better than another. Paul was not implying that women aren't allowed any sort of authority in a broader social context. Surely, Paul was aware of Deborah's role as a judge! To argue that Paul's view of gender would disallow a woman's voting rights, hold civil office, or refuse a woman to work outside of the home is anachronistic and irrelevant to Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy.