Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality | Reflections & Notes

Jack Rogers. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Westminster Knox Press, 2009. (228 pages)


In what is still the most contentious and divisive of all topics in the Church, Rogers provides in this volume one of the most compelling challenges to the “traditional view,” an inquiry into the epistemic evolution of Christianity and how that has informed our theological teachings and moral practice. This is the hard work that one needs to do before saying “The Bible is clear…” And if more Christians who love their Bible would actually consider the text more carefully in this way, perhaps we could have productive conversations around the future of Christian mores rather than divisive and contemptuous ones about who is “right” and who is “wrong,” yelling matches that we’re all suffering from today.

There are a few statements below that I took issue with, as is noted inline, and his audience is admittedly denominational. His theological and hermeneutical work, however, transcends those more superficial divisions and anyone wishing to engage with the interpretive history behind sexual ethics in the Church would do well to read this book.


Preface to the Second Edition

Something transformative happens when we really get to know someone. We drop our categories and our preconceived notions. (xiv)

Preface to the First Edition

To act unjustly weakens our witness to Christ in the world. (xiii)

1. Studying Homosexuality for the First Time

I would define an evangelical theologically as someone who accepts three propositions: (1) People can and should have a personal relationship with God through trust in Jesus Christ. (2) The Bible is the final authority for salvation and living the Christian life. (3) God’s grace in Jesus Christ is such good news that everyone should hear about it. (6)

I changed my mind initially by going back to the Bible and taking seriously its central message for our lives. (15)

2. A Pattern of Misusing the Bible to Justify Oppression

The issue is not what we now think about slavery and women. The issues, What did American Christians think about these subjects for more than two hundred years when the accepted view was completely different than what we now think? What did Christians believe about these issues when they believed what almost everyone in the general culture believed? How could most Christians for more than 200 years accept slavery and the subordination of women with not a hint that there was any other view in the Bible? Why (17) did good, intelligent, devout Christian people not see what we now recognize as mitigating factors in the biblical record? Why did we change our minds? How did we change our minds? How does a church change its course? Potentially, at least, we can learn something relevant to our discussion of homosexuality by discovering the answers to these questions. (18)

In each case, we accepted a pervasive societal prejudice and read it back into Scripture. We took certain Scriptures out of their context and claimed to read them literally, with tragic consequences for those to whom these verses were applied. (18)


[James Henry] Thornwell developed a form of biblical interpretation according to which the particulars of Scripture take precedence over the general principles: Unless something is expressly prohibited, it can be done. Nothing ought to be done unless there is a specific biblical warrant for it. Thus the presence or absence of particular verses took precedence over general principles, including the gospel of Christ. (21)

To [Robert Lewis Dabney], racial purity was the ultimate value, and racial segregation was essential to protect the purity of the white race. (25)


Men argued (1) the Bible records God’s judgment against the sin of women from their first mention in Scripture (the curse on Eve); (2) women are inferior in moral character and incapable of rising to the level of full white, male Christian civilization (because women were seen as emotional and not rational); and (3) women are willfully sinful, often sexually promiscuous and threatening, and deserve punishment for their own acts (women tempt men). (25)

You are the Devil’s gateway. You are the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserter of the divine Law. You are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image of man. On account of your desert, that is death, even the son of God had to die. – Tertullian

Traditional Christian culture had long portrayed woman as a sexual temptress. She was thought to have little control over her primal sexual urges. Men were constantly warned to avoid women lest they be seduced an brought down by them. (26)

The argument still was that men were rational and women were emotional and therefore unfit for positions of leadership in the public sphere. (26)

Women should express their piety in private. The public realm was for men only. The “female sex” was to complement the male role by its radiant but silent presence. (27)

Marriage is a divine institution ordained by God for His glory and the happiness of men. – Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

While a husband in the marriage ceremony had to promise to be “faithful and loving,” the woman had in addition to promise to be “obedient.” (27)

If women are to be emancipated from subjection to the law which God has imposed upon them; … if, in studied insult to the authority of God, we are to renounced, in the marriage contract, all claim to obedience, we shall soon have a country over which the genius of Mary Wollstonecraft would delight to preside, but from which all order and all virtue would speedily be banished. … There is no deformity of human character from which we turn with deeper loathing than from a woman forgetful of her nature and clamorous for the vocations and rights of men. – Charles Hodge

Another hostile banner is already unfurled, and has gathered its millions of unbelievers for a new attack on God’s Word. – Robert L. Dabney

The PCUS [General Assembly in 1916] answered sharply: “The Scriptures may have their authority discredited not merely by a violation of their precepts, but also by any attempt on the part of ecclesiastical courts to bind the consciences of God’s people on matters of doubtful interpretation.” Thus early in the twentieth century, a PCUS assembly recognized that there was doubt about the correctness of the traditional interpretation of Scripture that limited women’s rights in the church. However, most of the church’s male ministers continued to maintain the rightness of racial segregation and the suppression of women’s rights to full participation in society. (29)


How could learned men like Thornwell, Dabney, and Hodge ignore basic principles of the Bible such as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? And why were their theological arguments accepted so uncritically by others? What were the intellectual sources that allowed people to view customs of the ancient Near East as directly applicable to nineteenth-century America? How could certain theologians and pastors be so confident that they understood the Scriptures, when we now believe that they were so wrong? What were the primary philosophical and theological resources of early America that directed people to think in ways that we now can hardly comprehend? (29)

The answers to these questions can be found by examining the influence of Scottish Common Sense philosophy and the Scholastic theology of Francis Turretin. (29)

Scottish Common Sense Philosophy

…developed in Scotland by Thomas Reid (1710-96). (30)

According to Scottish Common Sense philosophy, people should accept what was the common sense of all humankind–that we know the reality of the world exactly as it is. Everyone can be a scientist by simple observation of the “facts” of nature. Charles Hodge, as an ardent follower of Common Sense, asserted that “the Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his storehouse of facts.” A word in a book was to Hodge a fact, in just the same way as an object was in nature. (30)

| Furthermore, all people, in all places and all times, think alike, at least those of the “better classes” do. (30)

Thornwell, as a Common Sense thinker, had what was, for his time, a “modern” method of proving things to be true. He employed two sets of “facts,” arguing that we must “accept the facts of revelation as we accept the facts of nature.” Both of Thornwell’s sets of facts were fit together in a rational system built in large part on the commonsense assumptions of nineteenth-century southern, white, American culture. (31)

| This rationalistic and literalistic use of Scripture allowed Thornwell to defend slavery. Since the Bible did not explicitly condemn it, and since it was practiced universally, it could be assumed to be legitimate. Texts could be taken from their ancient Near Eastern cultural setting and used as universal laws in nineteenth-century America. (31)

Francis Turretin

By emphasizing “facts” over faith and using natural law to organize those “facts,” Turretin and his followers created a method that allowed social prejudice to receive biblical sanction. If slavery was mentioned in the Bible and if slavery had occurred throughout history, they therefore assumed that slavery must be supported by the Bible and sanctioned by God. (31)

Whatever theory of interpretation people use powerfully affects how they understand Scripture. (31)


We now know, of course, that the Christian abolitionists got it right. Their method of biblical interpretation looked at the Bible as a whole and gave priority to its central themes, especially that Jesus was the central figure in Scripture and the one we should seek to emulate. Their method of biblical interpretation anticipated the adoption a century later of a Christ-centered method of biblical interpretation by the “Christian mainstream.” (33)


When we study the church’s historical positions on race and the role of women, a clear pattern emerges: In each case, leaders in the church claimed that (1) the Bible records God’s judgment against the sin of people of African descent and women from their first mention in Scripture; (2) people of African descent and women are somehow inferior in moral character and incapable of rising to the level of full white male, “Christian civilization”; and (3) people of African descent and women are willfully sinful, often sexually promiscuous and threatening, and deserve punishment for their own acts. (33)

| How did they get it so wrong? They followed Scottish Common Sense philosophy and the theology of Francis Turretin, rather than putting their trust in the teachings of Jesus Christ. (33)

| What is instructive about these examples is that a similar pattern is emerging today regarding people who are homosexual. Those who oppose homosexuality claim that (1) the Bible records God’s judgment against the sin of homosexuality from its first mention in Scripture; (2) people who are homosexual are somehow inferior in moral character and incapable of rising to the level of full heterosexual “Christian civilization”; and (3) people who are homosexual are willfully sinful, (33) often sexually promiscuous and threatening, and deserve punishment for their own acts. (34)

| The church is once again repeating the mistakes of the past. And, as I will show in subsequent chapters, the reason why many people fail to apply Jesus’ gospel to the issue of homosexuality is that they are once again using a “commonsense” method of biblical interpretation and are following the lead of fundamentalist theologians whose methods are similar to those of Turretin. (34)

3. A Breakthrough in Understanding the Word of God


The influence of neo-orthodoxy and the biblical theology movement enabled the church to take a fresh look at oppressive social institutions. … Instead of proof-texting, that is, taking particular verses out of their context and treating them as universal laws, they looked at the totality of the Bible in its cultural context. (39)

In 1950, the Council of Christian Relations submitted its initial report on “Divorce and Remarriage.” The report commented on biblical interpretation in a way that reflected the new PCUS approach, taken since World War II:

Any attempt to build a Christian doctrine of marriage and divorce on a few isolated ‘proof-texts’ will always fail for at least two reasons: (a) the usual proof-texts are open to more than one interpretation, and (b) they fail to give due weight to the implications of Jesus’ total teaching with respect to man’s [sic] personal responsibilities and social relationships.

In the 1950s, both branches of American Presbyterianism took the remarkable step of revising the Westminster Confession of Faith on divorce and remarriage. In both cases, Presbyterians had shifted their emphasis from a public norm to the good of the people involved. The primary purpose of marriage was no longer the benefit of society but the benefit of the people entering the marriage covenant. (44)

How is this relevant to granting equality to gay and lesbian members of our churches? Jesus’ words that divorce is equivalent to adultery are among the clearest statements on a moral issue in Scripture. The Westminster Confession was clear as well, although it did set a precedent for allowing exceptions in the case of adultery or desertion. If we were to take literally Jesus’ teaching on divorce, we would still not be accepting divorced and remarried people as office bearers in the church. Yet church law now asks that we take literally less clear statements regarding homosexual behavior. It is a double standard: current church law permits a pastoral approach concerning marriage and divorce for people who are heterosexual and mandates a legalistic approach toward people who are homosexual. (44)

Jesus did not set forth immutable laws to break people. Rather, he set forth an ideal toward which we all should strive–lifelong faithfulness in married relationships. That ideal could apply to gay or lesbian couples as well as to heterosexual couples. (44)

A Personal Note

Jesus’ statements in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 are not an inflexible law intended to separate sinners from the righteous. Instead, Jesus is showing us an ideal that offers hope to all of us. (45)

The Social Effects of the Confession of 1967

A christological interpretation of Scripture finally overcame the Presbyterian Church’s silence on the sin of slavery and racial segregation. (47)

Our purpose is simply to demonstrate what we believe to be the real issue: Biblical authority. … The Scriptures consistently teach that in the church and in the home women are placed in a subordinate position. No one can read the Bible and not see authority “writ large” therein. Everywhere we meet a chain of command. … Everyone who loves and fears God should acknowledge that the Word of God authoritatively establishes authority–male authority–in the church. – Walter Wynn Kenyon, John H. Gerstner Jr.


Guided by neo-orthdoxy in the 1940s and ’50s, the chruch began to deal responsibly with social issues. Under the influence of a Christ-centered understanding of Scripture, the church spoke out against racial segregation, ordained women, and allowed divorced and remarried people to have full rights of church membership. (50)

| Now, however, faced with the issue of homosexuality, many churches are repeating the mistakes of the past. When chruches meet a new situation where oppressed people are questioning the cultural status quo, many people instinctively become defensive and retreat. To justify their inability to cope with cultural change, they turn to the Bible and proof-text, that is, they take verses out of the context of the whole and make universal laws of them. Instead of reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ life and ministry, many have again tried to make the Bible a law book, which they then apply selectively, only to those with whom they disagree. (50)

In the early 1980s, Presbyterians reaffirmed that heritage and used the principles of biblical interpretation found in the Reformed confessions to formulate principles, or guidelines, of biblical interpretation (50) for use in theological controversies. These guidelines, if followed, will be extremely useful in dealing with the controversy over whether homosexual members of the church are permitted the full rights of membership. (51)

4. Interpreting the Bible in Times of Controversy

Moving beyond Neo-orthodoxy

By paying the closest attention to these human words in their historical and cultural context, the UPCUSA report in 1982 noted, we are helped to understand the divine message that speaks to our human condition, rather than only to a particular historical situation in the ancient Near East. That report concluded, “Openness to the Holy Spirit’s leading, as well as the tools of scholarship, implemented in faith and love, must be operative to yield the application of the message, especially in areas of controversy.” (53)


Let us go to these recommended guidelines for “a positive and not a restrictive use of Scripture in matters of controversy.” [cf. Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture and Biblical Authority and Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, 1992)]

[via: Brief note. The original documented uses the word “nonrestrictive use of Scripture” rather than “not a restrictive…”]

Guideline 1. “Recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture. The redemptive activity of God is central (53) to the entire Scripture. The Old Testament themes of the covenant and the messiah testify to this activity. In the center of the New Testament is Jesus Christ: the Word made flesh, the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope, and the promise of the Kingdom. It is to Christ that the church witnesses. When interpreting Scripture, keeping Christ in the center aids in evaluating the significance of the problems and controversies that always persist in the vigorous, historical life of the church.” (54)

Guideline 2. “Let the focus be on the plain text of Scripture, to the grammatical and historical context, rather than to allegory or subjective fantasy.” (56)

This guideline warns against reading into Scripture what we want it to say. (56)

The “plain text” is “plain” only in its context. That means it always requires responsible interpretation. (57)

New Testament scholar Richard Hays notes that there is not “an exact equivalent for ‘homosexual’ in either Greek or Hebrew.” The Bible, in its original Hebrew and Greek, has no concept like our present understanding of a person with a homosexual orientation. Indeed, the concept of an ongoing sexual attraction to people of one’s own sex did not exist in European or American language until the late nineteenth century. [The first known use of the word “homosexual in English was in 1892. C. G. Chaddock’s translation of Krafft-Ebing’s (1886) Psychopathia sexualis 3:255 referred to a patient: “He had been free from homo-sexual inclinations.”] (57)

[via: I wonder if this paragraph is true. Terms do not necessarily equal understanding of concepts, … or do they?]

Guideline 3. “Depend upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and applying God’s message.” (57)

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a change in our attitudes and actions can be a faithful response to God’ leading. (59)

Guideline 4. “Be guided by the doctrinal consensus of the church, which is the rule of faith.” (59)

We must continue to distinguish between the culturally conditioned practices of the church and the essential teachings of the church found in its creedal statements, which are the “rule of faith.” (60)

Guideline 5. “Let all interpretations be in accord with the rule of love, the two-fold commandment to love God and to love our neighbor.” (61)

When we interpret Scripture in a way that is hurtful to people, we can be sure that we are not glorifying God. (61)

Any interpretation of Scripture is wrong that separates or sets in opposition love for God and love for fellow human being, including both love expressed in individual relations and in human community (social justice). No interpretation of Scripture is correct that leads to or supports contempt for any individual or group of persons either within or outside of the church. [p. 13 of Presbyterian Understanding…]

Walter Wink, professor of New Testament at Auburn Seminary, states:

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period. [Homosexuality and the Bible, from Homosexuality and Christian Faith]

Guideline 6. “Remember that interpretation of the Bible requires earnest study in order to establish the best text and to interpret the influence of the historical and cultural context in which the divine message has come.”

When we move to the question of interpretation, again we have a strong consensus on the central message of the Bible. Scripture has a clear central saving message of creation, fall, and redemption in Christ. (63)

[via: This feels difficult to substantiate. Is this not more an “assumptive” statement?]

Guideline 7. “Seek to the interpret a particular passage of the Bible in light of all the Bible.”

In this final guideline we return to where we began. This guideline affirms that there is a central unifying theme in Scripture–creation, fall, and redemption in Jesus Christ. Scripture is not simply an assortment of quotable sayings. It is a story about a real person. It has a saving purpose. We need to interpret the parts by the whole, the complex by the simple, the peripheral by the central. (64)

When we recognize that all of us, of whatever sexual orientation, are created by God, that we are all fallen sinners, and that we can all be redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, homosexuality will no longer be a divisive issue. (64)

5. What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality

Only Romans 1 deals with some of the central themes of the Bible. Often those who use Romans 1 to condemn homosexuality insert nonbiblical theories to justify their position in ways that subvert the central message of the text. (66)


Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19:1-29
The Rape of the Levite’s Concubine: Judges 19:1-30

These texts take us into an ancient Near Eastern world whose values are very different than ours. The central idea in these passages is the sacred obligation of hospitality for travelers… In a desert country, to remain outside at night, exposed to the elements, could mean death. (67)

…homosexual rape was a traditional way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes. In that culture, the most humiliating experience for a man was to be treated like a woman, and raping a man was the most violent such treatment. (67)

To be penetrated was to be inferior because women were inferior … [an expression of the ] ancient horror of the feminine. – Dale B. Martin

…the critical issue in the ancient Near East was not sexuality but gender,… The hosts do not seem to think of the attackers as primarily homosexual, or they would not offer women for them to abuse. (67)

The Old Testament Laws: Leviticus 18 and 20

First, Israel’s worship practices had to be different from those of the tribes or nations around them. (68)

Second, they could not mix with any other kind of people or adopt alien customs if they were to remain pure. (69)

Third, male gender superiority had to be maintained. We find in Leviticus that actions undermining male gender superiority incur the death penalty. (69)

New Testament Vice Lists: 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10

Martti Nissinen observes that both words appear in lists of vices that seem to reflect general concerns of Hellenistic Jews about the deplorable state of Greek society. [Homoertoicism in the Biblical World ] (70)

…in the patriarchal culture of the time, lack of self-control and yielding to pleasures were both considered signs of effeminacy. Contemporary scholars would rightly be embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a moral category today. (71)

In 1 Timothy 1:10, “the fact that arsenokoitai [the plural of arsenokoitēs, which the NRSV translates as “sodomites”] is followed by slave traders, a group who exploited others, adds weight to Martin’s evidence for arsenokoitai as sexual exploiters of some sort, since the vices in the lists were often grouped according to their similarity to other vices in the list.” (71)

Jude 5-7

In studying the seven texts that are often cited in opposition to homosexuality, we discover a significant body of scholarship that concludes that these texts have no direct application to faithful, God-loving, twenty-first-century Christians who are homosexual. What is more, this scholarly consensus includes many people who have traditionally opposed equal rights for people who are homosexual, such as scholars Richard Hays and Marion Soards. That leaves just one text, Romans 1. (72)


Idolatry, Not Sexuality

Cultural Norms, Not a Theology of Creation

For Paul, “unnatural” is a synonym for “unconventional.” It means something surprisingly out of the ordinary. The most significant evidence that “natural” meant “conventional” is that God acted “contrary to nature” (Rom. 11:13-24). That is, God did something very unusual by pruning the Gentiles from a wild olive tree, where they grew in their natural state, and grafting them into the cultivated olive tree of God’s people (Rom. 11:24). Since it cannot be that God sinned, to say that God did what is “contrary to nature” or “against nature” (v. 24) means that God did something surprising and out of the ordinary. (74)

| Paul is not talking in Romans 1:26-27 about a violation of the order of creation. In Paul’s vocabulary, physis (nature) is not a synonym for ktisis (creation). In speaking about what is “natural,” Paul is merely accepting the conventional view of people and how they ought to behave in first-century Hellenistic-Jewish culture. (74)

Male Gender Dominance

For Paul, transgressions of gender role boundaries cause “impurity,” a violation of the Jewish purity code (Rom. 1:24). Nissinen explains that it is women taking the man’s active role in sex that was seen as “unnatural.” The text does not say that women had sex with other women. They could have been condemned for taking the dominant position in heterosexual intercourse, or for engaging in nonprocreative sexual acts with male partners. The issue is gender dominance, and in that culture women were to be passive and not active in sexual matters. (75)

Control and Moderation in All Things

In Hebrew culture and in Stoic philosophy (which was influential in the Roman Empire, particularly in Greece, during Paul’s time), control and moderation in all things were highly valued, especially regarding emotion and sexuality. Going to excess–whether eating too much, sleeping too much, or giving in to excessive passion of any kind–was viewed as a moral failing. The goal was to make correct “use” of all things. The “natural use” of sex was to be very controlled, avoiding passion. Paul in Romans 1:26-27 would be rightly understood to be talking not about wrongly oriented desires, but about inordinate desires–going to excess, losing control. (75)

The Plain Text

We know of gay and lesbian Christians who truly worship and serve the one true God and yet still affirm in positive ways their identity as gay and lesbian people. Paul apparently knew of no homosexual Christians. We do. – Jeffrey Siker

[via: This statement felt a bit conjectural.]


Natural Law

The contemporary appeal to natural law, by Gagnon and others, has a function similar to Scottish Common Sense philosophy in an earlier era. Both contend that the truth is obvious. Both rely heavily on sensory evidence. Both assume that no interpretation is needed. Both therefore assert common human prejudices as self-evident truths. (78)

1. Sexual Orientation: A Choice?

2. Can People Who Are Homosexual Become Heterosexual?

3. Is Homosexuality Idolatry?

4. Homosexual Relationships: The Worst Sin of All?

Homosexuality an Example of the Fallenness of Humanity?

A Model of Monogamous Heterosexual Marriage in Genesis?

As Old Testament scholar Phyllis Bird notes, the laws and traditions that regulated sexual relations and marriage in ancient Israel never referred to the creation texts as models. Genesis 1, she argues, actually describes how humans are like and unlike God. People are made in God’s image and likeness, so they are separate from and superior to other animals. But in their sexuality, they are identified as male and female, not as husband and wife, or even man and woman. Victor Furnish further reminds us that in contrast to all of the ancient Near Eastern deities, Israel’s God was regard as asexual. Thus in their sexuality, humankind is like every other created species and unlike God. (82)

[via: So, a couple notes to consider. First, the word for “husband” is both “man”(איש) and “husband” (בעל) found throughout the OT. (In Hosea 2:16, we see both uses). Second, the Hebrew word for “wife” is literally “his woman,” (אשתו, as in Genesis 12:5, “Abram took his wife Sarai.”). Last, while it is true that in Genesis 1, the words “male” and “female” (זכר ונקבה) are used rather than “man” and “woman” (איש ואישה) they are used explicitly in chapter 2, specifically v.23-25.]

This notion that a model of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is somehow contained in Genesis 1 is simply not true. It appears to be an artificial construct designed to deny the rights of marriage to those who are homosexual. As David Balch, professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, observes,  where a theology of creation is stressed, as by those opposed to equality for gays and lesbians, “subordination and submission are usually emphasized.” On the other hand, where a theology of redemption, such as Paul offers in Romans 3, is stressed, “freedom, mutuality, and equality are usually emphasized.” (83)

| I think that the contemporary model of Christian marriage is a good one for heterosexual people: one man and one woman should marry for life, and, if they choose, bear and care for children. This model is not found in Genesis, however. Moreover, it took Western society many centuries to come to it,… (83)

Reuniting the Binary Split?

Interestingly, in Plato’s Symposium a similar myth of an original whole being divided is presented by an intoxicated Aristophanes. (83)

The Male-Female Relationship as the Image of God in Humanity?

In his analysis, Barth engaged in the sort of natural theology he usually condemned by appealing to what he referred to as “a little knowledge of life.” By making an argument on the basis of what he considered “natural,” Barth departed from the biblical text and instead inserted his own culturally conditioned opinions. (84)

By making marriage the epitome of co-humanity, Barth places some human relationships automatically under suspicion, excludes some human beings from the possibility of full humanity, and reinforces old stereotypes of male and female, thus failing to help his readers hear the old story with new ears. – Elouise Renich Fraser

The claim that the image of God is rooted int he male-female relationship leads us away from the biblical text. (85)

The gospel, the good news, is that all people can have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We reflect Christ’s presence in our lives by showing love for God and each other. Thus, the image of God is not a capacity embodied only in some classes of people but denied to others. To be in God’s image is possible for all–black and white, male and female, gay and straight, married and unmarried. (85)

| We need to return to a biblical understanding of God, creation, sin, salvation , and love. Those who rely instead on natural law and biased cultural assumptions twist and distort the fundamental message of the gospel. (85)


The Gentiles were ‘by nature’ unclean, and were ‘by practice’ polluted by idolatry. (87)

6. Real People and Real Marriage


A sexual orientation is not a lifestyle. (88)



In 1948, the California Supreme Court became the first state high court to overturn a law barring marriage between people of different races. At that time, forty of the then-forty-eight states banned interracial marriage. (90)


…there is a strong link between opposition to equality between men and women and opposition to homosexuality. (92)

It is important to note that in his work [James] Dobson isn’t defending families, marriage, or the Bible. He is defending male privilege and power. Dobson has said, “God designed man to be the aggressor, provider, and leader in his family. Somehow that is tied to his sex drive.” (94)

As a church, when we include the (94) views and experiences of people of color, women, persons with disabilities, the young, the elderly, and people who are homosexual, we are all wonderfully enriched. (95)

Opposition to Science

In a statement reminiscent of Charles Hodge’s opposition to evolution in the nineteenth century, James Dobson has said, “Science can be a wonderful instrument of good as long as it respects the bounds of moral principles.” Hodge claimed that science was to be ignored when it departed from the Scottish Common Sense philosophy that he espoused. Similarly, Dobson rejects all scientific studies that do not conform to the fundamentalist worldview that he espouses. (97)

Violent Rhetoric

The opposition to homosexuality by religious fundamentalists is not just a matter of differing ideas. The tone of fundamentalist opposition is often crude and violent. (97)

Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. – Coretta Scott King

What danger to straight people is posed by homosexuals? Some say that they are a threat to the family, but none tell us how. Some fear that they might abuse our children, but no facts have ever been adduced to show that they are any more likely to do so than heterosexual people are. Do homosexuals threaten to invade our homes, steal our property, rape our daughters? What we know is that homosexual men are murdered by heterosexual people just for being gay; what we also know is that there is no record of a heterosexual being murdered for not being gay. Why, then, I wonder, in a world of violence, starving children, cruel tyrannies, and natural disasters, are Christian people so steamed up about the harmless and often beneficent presence of gays and lesbians among us? – Lewis B. Smedes

The Irony in the Debate over Marriage

Perhaps the greatest irony in the marriage debate is that self-described born-again Christians, a segment of the population that is often vocal about supporting bans on same-sex marriage, seem to exhibit greater problems with their own marriages. (99)

The current effort to prevent people who are gay or lesbian from getting married is a diversion that makes Christian people feel they are doing something to defend marriage, but it does absolutely nothing to address the real problems of marriage in the United States. (100)



…given the ugly and baseless allegations that are made about people who are homosexual as a class, it is important to point out that these stereotypes are just not true. (104)


7. Recommendations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The purpose of the Bible is not to weld us forever to an ancient culture. The purpose of the Bible  is to tell us the story of JEsus’ life, death, and resurrection. (106)


If you believe, as I do, that homosexuality is not a sin and is not prohibited by the Bible, then the next question becomes, How do we heal the church of this injustice that has divided us? (106)

…it seems to me that the first step is for all of us in the church to apologize, institutionally, collectively, and personally. (106)


The Presbyterian Constitution

Principles in the Book of Confessions

The confessions, like the Bible, should be interpreted by taking into account their linguistic, historical, and cultural contexts. That means that we are not bound by particular ideas in the confessions that reflect the prejudices and limitations of a given culture or time. (110)

1. The Westminster Larger Catechism evidences an ethic that supports a rigid class system in which there are “superiors” and “inferiors.” (110)

2. In 1930s Germany, the German Christian Movement accepted the Nazi party’s demand that Jews, homosexuals, and the disabled be excluded from the church and society. (111)

3. The Confession of 1967, modeled on the Barmen Declaration, calls for reconciliation and the abolition of racial segregation. (111)

As we can see, the trajectory of the confessions, as the trajectory of the church, is clearly in the direction of acceptance and inclusion of all people, based on the love of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, to use an inauthentic statement in the Book of Confessions to exclude thousands of people, despite their faithful commitment to Jesus Christ, is to misrepresent the content and misunderstand the function of this invaluable part of our Presbyterian Constitution. (111)

A Flaw in the Book of Confessions

When Allen Miller and I worked on the translation in 1962, the sexual revolution had already begun. … We believed that it would be well to be more specific in question 87 than Ursinus had been in his day.” In a phone conversation with Osterhaven, when I asked, again, why they chose to insert the phrase “homosexual perversion” when in fact there was no corresponding phrase in the original, he replied: “We just thought it would be a good idea.” (115)

One of the difficulties of translating any text is to use language that is faithful to the intent of the original and yet meaningful in our present cultural context. (116)

Chastity is compatible with “conjugal love” according to the Westminster Larger Catechism. (122)

8. All Are One in Christ Jesus


Let us stop and note: this is all the justification we need for accepting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender as full and equal members of the church. (129)

[via: I find this statement to be discordant with the rest of the book. It feels irresponsible to state this so emphatically.]


The first category–those eunuchs who have been so from birth–is the closest description we have in the Bible of what we understand today as a homosexual. – John J. McNeill

It is clear that Jesus did not see humanity as universally heterosexual. (130)

Jesus consistently subverted the patriarchal religious and social hierarchy and extended egalitarian welcome to everyone, not just the privileged few at the top of the social order. (131)


The term ‘cut off’ is a reference to the curse that was placed on anyone who was exiled, executed by capital punishment, or did not reproduce. (133)


Usually we cannot see what we have been conditioned not to see. But experience can sometimes dissolve mistaken assumptions or dispel prejudices that previously prevented us from seeing deeper truths in Scripture. (136)

Over the years, “black theology” has brought profound new insights about race to our understanding of the biblical texts. “Feminist theology” opened our eyes to the prominent role of women in the Bible. “Liberation theology” focused our attention on the Bible’s liberating gospel for the poor and oppressed. Today, “queer theology” is illuminating our understanding of the role of sexual minorities in the biblical text. In each case, the theological insights of formerly marginalized groups have enriched the whole church’s understanding of Scripture. In the process, these liberating theologies have helped to bring many Christians into a closer relationship with God. (136)

| Once we remove heterosexist assumptions from our reading of the biblical texts, a whole new world of depth and meaning emerges. The more deeply we delve into the biblical world, the more instances we find of God’s radical welcome for all who have faith. | May it be so. (136)

Appendix: Progress toward LGBT Equality in Other Denominations in the United States

Study Guide, by David Maxwell

About VIA

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