Comments: Bible and Homosexual Partnerships

Whilst I disagree with a lot of Andrew Goddard's theology, I respect the way he follows a logical argument. For example:

"If someone is treating a non-marital opposite-sex couple more favourably than a same-sex couple then the presumption has to be that there exists an attitude towards homosexual people or a hierarchy of sexual sins that cannot be defended. So, for example, if someone running a hotel refuses a double room to two people of the same sex this can really only be defended from a Christian perspective if they require all couples booking a double room to confirm that they are married. Similarly, within churches, gay and lesbian couples should not find themselves treated differently from unmarried heterosexual couples at any level in the life of the church."

Andrew Goddard acknowledges the truth that many others ignore. If the primary Christian criticism of gay realtionships is that it is sex outside marriage, Then ANY example of sex outside marriage is to receive exactly the same censure if the church is not to be described as homophobic.

It always sems illogical to me that as a gay man in an open covenanted, stable, monogamous relationship it would be clearly impossible for me to be accepted for ordination (for example), despite no clear Gospel teaching against me. Yet I know of two people in the midst of divorce proceedings going through ordination now, despite Christ's own words against divorce (for example in Matthew 5 31)


Posted by simon dawson at Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 5:35am BST

Andrew Goddard has obviously put a lot of thought into this paper and it would be a pity for it to not be acknowledged. It is also extremely hard to "add value" without detracting from the work he has done. My prayers are that the people who most need to read it do so, and that God softens their hearts.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 8:14am BST

It is deeply encouraging to those of us who may be outside the evangelical certainties, not to mention the new conservatives absolutes; to get a privileged moment in which we may listen from the sidelines to the underground conversations on homophobia in communities in which we are, so far, not really welcome. Well. Maybe sometimes welcome as unchurched, or perhaps interfaith (?) visitors? I can still chat with my former evangelical friends, about the weather and so forth, or the off-kilter bus schedule on the way to work in the morning. Rather nice, but all from a considered ethical and human distance, if you know what I mean. They simply had to withdraw, the moment they realized I had come out as a queer man, and an alternate believer to boot. After all, if the traditional framework makes any sense at all, then it must discern that I am either up to no good (a practising homosexual, well - how can any good from what the Vatican still calls intrinsically disordered acts, now widened to instrinsically disordered affections - this new notion of sexual orientation is just that difficult to grasp, it would seem); or I have gone at least temporarily bonkers (he thinks he is gay, but really he is a defective straight fellow). Maybe both? Ah, pilgrimage.

Despite this pro forma wariness, perhaps we still do have an emerging, yet still partly hidden, common ground in terms of just those equalities which Goddard's article, and the evangelical figures he quotes, finally bring up to the light of day and discussion. God bless those evangelicals who have begun to labor in this part of the Great Vineyard.

From my far distance outside being an evangelical believer, I think those communities will find they have a very delicate task indeed. How do you maintain the profoundly negative traditional condemnation of queer folks - because of sex acts which are often included in many heterosexual married couples' lovemaking - without using any of the demeaning, false, and unfair language of the traditional received lexicons? Okay then, let's shift to sexual orientations or persistent patterns of affection. Ooops. One is still always up (straight) while one is always put down (gay). That isn't quite really what we exactly mean, either. Okay then, let's shift to marital status. Only straights can get married, so of course gay sex can never by definition occur in marriage. Ooops. Not all marriages are innately godly, even if they involved straight people. Oh goodness, here comes those new laws about civil unions, civil partnerships, and even in Massachusetts USA, flat out regular marriage. Oops. Can we just stop trying to figure it out, please? The old days were so much easier: gays were perverts, and nobody bothered with the details. One prays that all of these clever evangelical minds, and self-reflectingly prayerful hearts, will continue to muse about that topic.

Posted by drdanfee at Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 3:34pm BST

Simon Dawson writes:
"It always sems illogical to me that as a gay man in an open covenanted, stable, monogamous relationship it would be clearly impossible for me to be accepted for ordination (for example), despite no clear Gospel teaching against me. Yet I know of two people in the midst of divorce proceedings going through ordination now, despite Christ's own words against divorce (for example in Matthew 5 31)"

The point made by Simon is entirely reasonable. Has it been raised with the bishop(s) responsible for recommending ordination of the divorced persons and with Simon's own bishop? I don't want to be glib about this, and I acknowledge the difficulty of comparing Simon's hypothetical situation (apparently recognising the pointlessness of seeking ordination if he felt called to it) with that of people actually going through ordination. However, it is plainly hypocritical for prelates who cheerfully ordain heterosexual adulterers to have a fit of morality about homosexuals.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 7:52pm BST

Dear Alan, that would, presumably, be a useful legal line of attack on the church's prohibition of "actively gay clergy" under equality regulations.. if the issues were exactly equivalent (as many secular courts might rule given a chance). However, in absolute terms "two wrongs don't make a right"! Divorce *is* tolerated in Scripture, both by our Lord and by St Paul, but on restricted grounds (basically the *other* person leaves the marriage - for different reasons). Same-sex sex is *never* seen as anything other than unholy/sin/an abomination to God. Assuming that freedom of religion and assembly continue to have any real meaning, the standard for churches should be what our Scriptures teach - interpreted reasonably, and an eye to the traditional understandings of the Church - not whether we treat all sins "equally".

I do tend to agree with your last sentence though.. and suspect that the Bishops who see little wrong with homosexual partnerships probably also have the least qualms about divorce and remarriage !

Posted by Dave at Thursday, 1 June 2006 at 12:33am BST

>> If the primary Christian criticism of gay realtionships is that it is sex outside marriage, Then ANY example of sex outside marriage is to receive exactly the same censure if the church is not to be described as homophobic.

I am not sure I understand Simon or Andrew on this point. Is it seriously being suggested that churches that, in general terms, would oppose homosexual practice would not bat an eyelid to a heterosexual relationship outside marriage?

I'd be interested to know of some examples since I am pretty sure such churches are consistent, whether you agree with them or not. It's usually marriage or nothing.

I may be wrong but the way I read what both Andrew Goddard and Simon D are saying is to portray such churches (i.e. the evangelical ones) using an untrue caricature on this point.

There may be hypocrisy... goodness, all of us suffer from that disease from time to time, but at least if you are going to level such an accusation - make it a real one.

Posted by David at Thursday, 1 June 2006 at 9:18am BST

Dear David,
Thanks for your query. I've not had chance to check exactly the context of the quotation from my piece but a few thoughts as I hope I'm not being unfair.
(1) Of course evangelicals are clear that it is non-marital sex that is the problem and I hope I wasn't suggesting otherwise and setting up an 'aunt sally'. However, I do think there is a tendency sometimes to treat any form of same-sex relationship as inherently worse (sometimes with appeal to it being unnatural etc whereas heterosexual non-marital relations are at least natural)
(2)In relation to society there is a question as to whether we are more stringent in relation to taking a stand against same-sex couples than against non-married heterosexuals (a much larger group). I referred here to some of the current debate over discrimination in relation to supply of goods and services.
(3) In church in practice I am aware of clergy who would eg baptise and confirm cohabiting non-married couples and even allow them certain ministries eg teaching Sunday school but would probably not do the same for same-sex couples. We can also tend to be more concerned about intimate same-sex friendships among the unmarried than similar 'going out' heterosexual ones.
These were some of the areas where I think we need to explore to what extent there is a good bibilical and moral basis for such distinctions and to what extent they simply reflect a form of 'homophobia'.

Posted by Andrew Goddard at Thursday, 1 June 2006 at 2:21pm BST

Dear Andrew, maybe you need to be a little careful about not falling into the trap of implying that all sexual sins are the same. Before I get accused of singling out same-sex sex, what I mean is that there are different *reasons* why various behaviours are sinful (unfaithful, disordered, irresponsible, abusive, disrespectful etc).

Reducing the arguement to "sex outside marriage" may avoid saying some of the things we are under pressure to shut up about, but I think it has serious weaknesses:

1. It ignores the important fact that even sex within marriage can be sinful (abusive, disordered etc)!

2. As "liberals" continue to highlight the equivalent properties of other sexual partnerships to marriage - and stress point 1. - the arguement is seriously undermined in people's hearts and minds.

Posted by Dave at Friday, 2 June 2006 at 12:02am BST


Thanks for responding so carefully to my query. Having re-read your article, I think my concern was more on Simon's slant on it but I appreciate the effort to which you went.

I would certainly back your call that the church or society at large don't apply different standards to unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Certainly your concern and own experience of clergy affording advantages to unmarried heterosexual couples when they would not do the same for homosexual couples (who presumably may even have more outward commitment to each other through a civil partnership than the heterosexual couple do) is something that should concern us all.

Posted by David at Friday, 2 June 2006 at 9:35am BST


Thank you for your article. By forcing us to look carefully at the issues with ruthless logic (and - don't let us forget - some clear compassion) you have produced a situation where David has written a posting, especially his seond paragraph, which I would entirely endorse.

A little example of that Lambeth listening process in action :-)

Thanks to you to David

Posted by simon dawson at Friday, 2 June 2006 at 2:22pm BST

Yes, I do strongly agree. The questions about exactly what makes same sex relationships / sexual orientations / physical intimacies / bonding so entirely evil needs quite specific answers. And probably quite specific NEW answers.

The old received answers were quite easy. We all probably know at least some of them.

Queer stuff was first of all, innately defective in itself. Next, such queer stuff caused all manner of other defects, and simultaneously resulted mainly from yet other defects. On top of this, queer stuff was innately filthy and dangerous, both to the people directly involved, and to anybody who came into any social, religious, family, economic, or physically proximate association with those people. There seem to be three sides to this huge claim of defectiveness. Queer stuff is innately defective in itself. It is caused by other problems or defects. And it causes other problems or defects. The received views inform us quite solemnly that all three sides of defective human nature / defective human living are innate to all queer stuff.

The key objections we have received theologically mainly have to do with: (1)the unnatural definitions, (2)the not heterosexual definitions, (3) the special rebellion gainst God definitions, and (4)the spiritually damaging effects posited again for both the people directly involved in queer stuff, and anybody who happens to sadly get related to them, at multiple levels or degrees or intensities of connectedness.

All of these definitions are now in some degree of question, even thoroughly disconfirmed in some instances where the data is plentiful enough across domains of investigation. Exactly what pieces of all the received negative knowledge about queer stuff is challenged (because there are formerly unprecedented alternatives to it) or in question (because early in some domain of investigation, already we are starting to get data which disconfirms some piece or favorite negative prediction of the Orthodox Stuff) or nearly impossible to maintain with an honest heart (because it is revealed among us as pretty much sheer prejudice or discrimination) will depend, on the claim that the Orthodox Stuff is making about how awful queer stuff essentially is, the amount and sort of alternative data available, and the domain under our study.

Why? Mainly because we have new empirical data which just happens not to have ever before been available, from best practices methods of empirical inquiry. And because the data is streaming in from many different directions, thanks to the investigations carried out – and still being done - so carefully in biology, psychology, anthropology, ethology, sociology, and even historical studies. Beyond this new empirical data in the various sciences, we also have the unprecedented public examples of so many LGBTQ people who are either living, mainly as well as straight people similar to them in personality, demographic indicators, and so forth; or who are even outstanding examples of human thriving.

It would help our conversations across differences if biblical conservative believers could pick an important domain and deal with it in light of the new data available in that domain, before they immediately turn to quoting their favorite closed reading of privileged scripture. The dilemma is that the biblical reading is supposed to trump all else, and yet we still are getting plenty of news that the flat earth defined as the essence of all queer stuff according to the traditional views simply actually is not easily demonstrated in careful research methods to really exist – apart from the negatively conformed straight minds, hearts, and spiritual allegiances of the believers who most allow Orthodox Stuff about queers to trump data and their neighbors' good, ethical, even thriving LGBTQ lives.

Gay or lesbian couples (for example) are clearly as capable – or not – of the self-giving love that marks an exemplary straight marriage, or not. Period. Yes, one can still work up quite a large cultically based claim that the non-straight bond is still as defective, filthy, or dangerous as it has always been defined to be. But anybody who actually knows that real non-straight couple (with or without children) has to do quite a lot of mental gymnastics to keep the received negative religious body of knowledge superior to real daily LGBTQ life.

In the end, biblical conservative believers are reduced to simply saying that the best the LGBTQ people can do – regardless – is cultically defined in a biblical conservative perspective as filthy rags, because the preferred biblical conservative cultus for atonement and salvation has not been pledged, and after all those LGBTQ people are neither sad and celibate, nor changed into conformed straights. I don’t know how to speak with biblical conservatives who insist that this blind alley with no exit is the total of what is essentially true about their LGBTQ neighbors. Indeed, after a while one grows less and less interested in persuading them to let the positive facts open up their closed worldview. Then it seems best to emphasize agreeing to disagree, and inquire how we all can live together in peace and good will on the same planet, without our differences being conformed in the special biblical conservative religious manner.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 3 June 2006 at 3:22am BST

Dear drdanfee, I think most of us have come to a similar conclusion - that "liberals" and "conservatives" are reaching mutually irreconcilable conclusions because we *start* with mutually incompatible assumptions..

I can show you the consistent prohibitions on same-sex sex in the NT and in the OT and I can show you the Bible's writers consistent understandings of the nature of God, humans and sex, and you will still tell me that current understandings, "positive experience" and issues of "justice" and "equality" and "oppression" make beliefs in the NT "not the final word" (to borrow an Anglican phrase).

On the other hand, you can show me all the positive things about same-sex partnerships and I will still point to the authority of the Christian Scriptures in all matters of faith and conduct*.

The trouble is, as many people are discovering, that there are effectively two different and mutually exclusive religions living under the banner of Anglicanism!


* I [try to] follow this in my own life too though - not doing things that might seem "ok" to me, *just* because they are said to be wrong in the NT [properly interpreted] - and yes I realise that I didn't have to make a permanent commitment to celibacy; only 'til I married. But NO too.. I know a lot of people who have to assume that celibacy is effectively permanent - because they aren't married. Though many would still love to find a spouse, they are often effectively making it almost impossible because that follow what they believe the NT requires and would only marry a Christian - of which there is a dearth in some parts of Europe!

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 3 June 2006 at 5:33pm BST

To Andrew and any who read this posting,

I only just now came across Andrew's article on homophobia. I consider Andrew a friend and appreciate his several favorable mentions of my work. However, I would like to make a point of clarification.

In the longer version of his paper, he states that in the "closing sections" of my first book I am among those who exhibit an unfortunate "tendency" of painting "a very dark picture of homosexual relationships [that] portray same-sex relationships as loveless, promiscuous, disease-ridden, short-term, unfaithful or abusive" (n. 36).

This is unpleasant to bring up, but I do want to be clear about it because I do not want to be either misunderstood or misrepresented here, especially by friends. I have never stated that homosexual relationships are intrinsically or inherently any of the things mentioned above. Indeed, it is impossible to demonstrate scientifically measurable, intrinsic harm for any form of consensual sexual activity of which Western civilization still disapproves. The very studies that I cite indicate, and I repeatedly speak of, disproportionately high rates of scientifically measurable harm.

Note the following comments from the "closing sections" of my first book:

"First, the fact that homosexual unions are sometimes formed in an atmosphere of mutual love says nothing one way or the other about the legitimacy of homosexual intercourse. It merely confirms that caring bonds can and should be established between members of the same sex.... Positive moral conduct in many areas of one's life does not establish the legitimacy of all of one's conduct. Homosexuals do not turn into werewolves simply because they commit same-sex intercourse." (p. 452)

"In short, the rule of monogamy for heterosexual relationships is the exception for male homosexual relationships." (p. 457)

"Exceptions to the rule [that putting two men together in an erotic relationship is not a recipe for long-term fidelity] will always exist but the consistent pattern confirms the divine wisdom of prohibiting homosexual intercourse." (p. 459)

"Doubtlessly, appeals can be made, as counter-examples, to particular cases of same-sex couples who have maintained long-term monogamous relationships and live as stable and productive citizens of society." (p. 482)

Note the use of "higher rates" of negative side-effects to homosexual behavior on pp. 475, 477 and elsewhere.

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Posted by Robert Gagnon at Monday, 1 January 2007 at 11:55pm GMT

To Andrew and any who read this posting,

I think that the remarks cited above make clear that I do not see all homosexual unions as void of love, commitment, and other positive attributes. But none of these attributes are intrinsic to the homosexual sex.

As I similarly state in my second book, co-produced with Dan O. Via (Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003], 103): "Few consensual behaviors always [with "always" in italics] produce scientifically measurable, significant, and lasting harm. It is enough to establish disproportionately high rates."

I further give two main reasons why such disproportionately high rates cannot be solely, or even probably primarily, attributed to societal "homophobia": (1) disparate rates and different types of harm for homosexual males and homosexual females respectively; and (2) persistence of problems even in cultures tolerant of homosexual practice. The chief factor behind these high rates is that a same-sex union is much less likely than a two-sex bond to moderate the extremes of, and fill in the gaps of, a given sex--for the simple reason that a person of the other sex is not present in the sexual bond.

These disproportionately high rates are symptoms of a deeper root problem. Even when homosexual practice is conducted as well as it can be conducted in the context of a homosexual relationship--i.e., in love, fidelity, etc.--it still doesn't eliminate the root problem with homosexual practice, namely, the attempt to merge with what one already is as a sexual being, treating a sexual same as one's complementary other-half, dishonoring one's own maleness or femaleness by entering a same-sex union where the logic is that one is only half of one's own sex.

The same, of course, can be said for adult, loving polyamorous or incestuous unions. They also do not produce intrinsic, scientifically measurable harm; rather, higher rates of such harm. Yet even when such measurable harm is not produced in any given relationship the deeper problem of such unions is not thereby erased. This doesn't mean that the "higher rates" issue is irrelevant. It means, instead, that it must be taken as important indications of a root problem.

I hope that this clarifies my views so that there can be no confusion in characterizing my position on this matter in the future.

Robert Gagnon

Posted by Robert Gagnon at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 12:06am GMT

To Andrew and others,

One additional point of clarification, this time not about my views but on Scripture itself.

The claim that Scripture does not support the notion of different weights of sins, specifically that homosexual practice is a sin worse than, say, fornication, is inaccurate, in my view.

In the Old Testament there is a clear ranking of sins. For example, when one goes to Leviticus 20, which reorders the offenses in Leviticus 18 according to penalty, the most severe sexual offenses are grouped first, including same-sex intercourse. Included at the top of the list were adultery, the worst forms of incest (stand-ins for man/mother and father/daughter incest are given), male-male intercourse, and bestiality. Not all sexually immoral offenses are equally immoral or offensive to God. Of course, variegated penalties for different sins exists throughout Old Testament legal traditions.

It should be noted, too, that only male-male intercourse in Lev 18:22 is specially singled out with the tag to'evah among various sexual offenses (all of which are later called to'evoth in the summary statement at the end of the chapter), designating behavior particularly "detestable" or "abhorrent" to God. In addition, it is not accidental that attempted same-sex intercourse figures prominently in three narratives of the Old Testament that become legendary for cases of great depravity, Sodom (Genesis 19), the Levite at Gibeah (Judges 19), and, as I (and Gunkel, von Rad, and even Nissinen) would argue, Ham's act against Noah (Genesis 9). To suggest, as some do, that these stories are only condemning coercive acts of same-sex intercourse makes about as much sense in the cultural context of the ancient Near East as arguing that a story of a man raping his mother indicts only the coercive dimension of this act of incest. No, the incest makes the coercion doubly offensive, and the same is true of mention of attempted same-sex intercourse in the texts cited above.

Jesus also prioritized offenses, referring to "weightier matters of the law." And he predicated his view of marital monogamy and indissolubility on the two-sex prerequisite for sexual bonds established by God at creation: "male and female he [God] made them" (Genesis 1:27). Surely the foundation on which he based a monogamy principle is more important than the monogamy principle itself.

Posted by Robert Gagnon at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 12:17am GMT

Paul's attitude toward a case of incest in 1 Corinthians 5 makes clear that he too differentiated between various sexual offenses, with some being more extreme than others. This is clear both from the horror in his tone but, even more, from the fact that he has to arbitrate between competing values when he condemns the incest. If there were no ranking of priorities, then how could Paul reject out of hand a case of incest that was monogamous and committed? If the values of monogamy and commitment to longevity were of equal weight with a requirement of familial otherness, Paul could not have decided what to do. Would commitment to a monogamous, lifelong union cancel out the prohibition of incest? Obviously, this was not a difficult matter for Paul to decide. He knew that the incest prohibition was more foundational.

When Paul singles out homosexual practice in Romans 1:24-27, alongside idolatry in 1:18-23, he does so because these are two particularly severe instances of suppressing the truth about God's will for human lives accessible in the material structures of creation/nature. This is consistent with the view taken toward homosexual practice by the whole of early Judaism, namely, as a particularly egregious instance of sexual immorality, superseded only by bestiality and paralleled only by the worst cases of incest.

Now it is true that any sin, including sexual sin, can get one excluded from the kingdom of heaven if merit is the means of entrance. In that specific sense, all sins are equal. And there are certainly other sins, including sexual sins that Paul indicates create a risk factor for the exclusion of Christians from the kingdom of God if they persist in such behavior in a serial, unrepentant way. (Paul mentions in 1 Cor 5-6 incest, adultery, and sex with prostitutes alongside same-sex intercourse; 1 Cor 7 suggests fornication.)

But none of this means that the church should regard all sexual sins, let alone all sins of any type, as basically of equal import or even that God views them as all equally abhorrent in his eyes. I am quite sure, for example, that God does not require the taking home of a company pen as endangering the eternal destiny of Christian believers in the same way that, say, eating and raping children (thinking here of the serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer).

Robert Gagnon

Posted by Robert Gagnon at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 12:30am GMT

The image given above is offensive, I grant, but it hopefully drives home the point that not all sin is equally heinous, either to God or to us.

Now a good case can be made from evidence in Scripture, early Judaism, and early Christianity that among "consensual" sexual offenses only bestiality superseded same-sex intercourse. The case can be made by looking at the severity with which the issue is addressed in Scripture, the foundational character given to the "male and female" character of the sexual bond from creation onward, the extreme deviation from clear material structures of embodied existence given in nature, and comparisons with other sexual offenses made by writers in early Judaism and early Christianity.

Such talk may seem out of place in our current cultural context but, if one is asking what Scripture indicates, this appears to be the most likely view.

I dare say that we still recognize today the same point: not all offenses are equal, including not all sexual offenses. Whatever concessions have been made to fornication and divorce in the church, I still see the mainline churches in the West holding reasonably consistent positions against sexual unions involving more than two partners and incestuous unions of the first order (to say nothing of bestiality, sex with prostitutes, and sex with prepubescent children). Are we being unreasonable in this? Should we not concede these other matters and be more consistently disobedient to the will of Christ? I don't think so. Failing in some areas does not justify failing in more foundational matters.

In saying these things, I in no way desire to excuse fornication or serial polygamy (repetitive instances of divorce/remarriage). On the contrary, the church needs to do a better job in promoting the significance of sexuality promoted by Jesus and the apostolic witness to him, consistent with Jesus' teaching to the adulterous woman: "Go and no longer be sinning (lest something worse happen to you)" (compare John 8:11 with 5:14). But we should not err on the other side and insist, contrary to Scripture, that all offenses to God are in all senses equally offensive to God. Saying so may protect us from some public criticism by making us appear less "homophobic," but it is not more faithful to Jesus and Scripture.


Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Posted by Robert Gagnon at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 12:33am GMT
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