An object lesson in testing the spirits

There’s a discussion on YouTube (no great benefit in linking to it) between a conservative Evangelical and a gay pastor also claiming the “Evangelical” label. As you might already have anticipated, the discussion is on the biblical basis for their opposite positions; on the one side that homosexual relationships are universally discountenanced by Scripture, and on the other that loving, monogamous homosexuality has the Bible’s blessing. Those familiar with me will know that I judge the first to be the case (and I start the pastoral aspect from there, which is a topic for another day, perhaps). I will add that what I’m about to describe has more general application to assessing controversial teachings.

Let me start my examination of the arguments that were made, by saying that both parties asserted upfront that they were “following the word of God,” by which it was clear they meant “inspired Scripture” rather than anything more underhand like “Jesus, the living Word,” for example. So the agreed starting position was, “The Bible is God’s arbiter in this matter.”

The conservative (we’ll call him “C”) started by pointing to the prohibition in Leviticus 18: “Do not lie with a woman as one lies with a man; that is detestable.”

The gay pastor (we’ll call him “G”) replied that, in those days, the only context in which gay sex took place was not in loving, monogamous relationships, but in association with idolatry and pagan rituals, as in Egypt. Now, he was quite correct to invoke cultural context, or we might regard the enslavement of POWs as legitimate (why we do not is, again, a subject for another day, even though every modern country, including Britain, does it). After all, even the Bible itself mentions male shrine-prostitutes with disapprobation.

But C rightly replied that the verse condemns homosexual acts not because they are idolatrous, but because they are detestable. And indeed, the whole chapter is about sexual perversions which “defile the land,” so that it “vomits its inhabitants out,” implying offence against nature. There is no mention of idolatry apart from one verse forbidding child sacrifice to Molech, which also must be agreed to have a moral, as well as a cultic, dimension. All the surrounding verses about marriage to close relatives, or adultery, or bestiality, clearly do not relate to temple prostitution.

G again had recourse to historical context as the discussion moved to Romans 1. In this case he repeated the “idolatry” link by pointing out how Paul makes the abandonment of the true God for idols the precursor to homosexual acts – ergo, Paul means ritual homosexuality, not mutual loving relationships. But having been wrong-footed on idolatry in Leviticus 18, G shifted his ground somewhat to point out that, in the Roman world, the commonest pattern of homosexual acts was about male dominance over the weak and powerless. This applied to the secular world, where high-status males were even expected to have sex with prostitutes and slaves both male and female, to prove their manhood. But such oppressive exploitation would apply in any idolatrous context too, for cultic prostitutes were also the low-status victims of coercion.

Once again his general point is correct – the predominant pattern of homosexuality in Roman society was indeed about power. But G overstated the case, for as C pointed out, even if “mutual” homosexual relationships were a small minority, the text would still seem to oppose them, once more because the passage itself refers to “unnatural,” not to “abusive” acts, and indeed Paul speaks directly about consensuality: men were “inflamed with lust for one another,” as by implication were the women who “exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.”

Note, in passing, that if G’s initial claims for both Old and New Testaments were correct – that is to say, that “loving, monogamous homosexual relations” did not exist in the ancient world, but only either idolatrous or exploitative ones, then it’s an admission that the modern pattern is a cultural one, and not an unchanging feature of human nature. In effect, it is an admission that homosexuality is chosen (however many complex factors may influence it) and not inborn. This is in accord with the research that has consistently failed to find a physical or genetic basis for sexual preferences.

Be that as it may, G then pulled his trump-card. Having had to admit that Romans 1 does indeed speak against “same sex consensual acts between adults,” he then said that Paul only says this because he is culturally-conditioned by being part of the Patriarchy, and is therefore in error at this point. Now, you may need a little guidance through this argument, since you might have thought that the fashionable Roman position was more patriarchal, rich old (white?) males maintaining their right to have sex with anything that moved, whatever their wife might think, the very reason being to prove their virility.

But G disabused us of that idea by saying that to accept the behaviour of men taking a subservient, ie female, role, was a threat to Paul’s male dominance. Well, I couldn’t see the logic either. But the real point to note is that G’s position was maintained contextually against whatever Scripture might seem to say, until the point where there was no longer room to manoeuvre round meaning, and Scripture itself had to be relativised, which is to say rejected. Specifically, the teaching of “the word of God” at the pinch became subordinate to a philosophy of man called, I suppose, Critical Feminism (adapted for gays).

Paul, then, is speaking God’s word until the point where he crosses the Postmodern ideological concept of the Patriarchy, at which point the ideology paints him as patriarchal and discards him as the agent of the word of God.

Once this move has been made, let us see where it must inevitably lead. For if Paul is a self-serving patriarchal male in Romans, then Moses certainly must be in Leviticus. And whether or not Moses himself also wrote Genesis, Adam’s precedence over Eve there is undoubtedly tarred by the same brush, so the Eden story must be rejected as the word of God.

But don’t you remember that when Jesus taught on divorce, he cited Genesis 2 by saying, “From the beginning it was not so.” If Jesus did not challenge the overtly misogynistic narrative of Genesis, indeed treating it as the authoritative voice of God on marriage, then he too must be tarred by the same patriarchal brush. It’s therefore his uncritical acceptance of the Patriarchy that made him choose twelve men as apostles. That failing accounts for the fact that his apostles too could chauvinistically call on wives to be submissive to their husbands (1 Peter 3:5-6). As for God the Father Parent, isn’t there something rather suspiciously sexist in his sending of a male Christ? And as the New Adam, and the Son of King David, at that.

So, in effect (as the radical feminist theologians already say and as the Church of England appears to be enforcing) the whole Bible must be read as a product of Patriarchy, enabling one to make any modifications to doctrine required by critical theory, including the woke forms of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, transgenderism and queer theory. For if the Bible gets it so wrong on one aspect of the infallible word of Critical Theory, it must surely be unreliable on them all.

This process is just one example of the recent subordination of Scripture to human philosophy. In my BioLogos days, the acceptance of Darwinian evolution led (by a circuitous route) to a kenotic view of creation (God refusing to impose his will on the world by letting it create itself in self-giving love), associated with a kenotic view of Jesus (Philippians 2 being misinterpreted, Bethel fashion, to say that Jesus ceased to be divine whilst on earth). This, too, leads one to say that Jesus (unlike us, who are objective judges) carried the prejudices of a first century Jew and must have his fallible teaching assessed on that basis.

God, then, being by nature prone to stop being God (???), Scripture too becomes the kenotic word of God, that is the attempt of fallible men, glimpsing something of God, to reach towards him however stumblingly. And so the evolutionists, should they be forced by the current woke pressure to rejoice in sexual diversity, already have the tools to agree with G that God does too, and to convince themselves that they are “following God’s word” even as they ignore it.

Well, knowing the character of readers of The Hump, I suspect that most of you will have followed my reasoning and agreed that the root of all heresy is to hold a non-biblical ideology and insist that the Bible submits to it. There is simply no way that the Bible can be made to endorse same-sex marriage: one has in the end to put its authority below whatever philosophy actually governs one’s belief and practice.

But as I thought through this, it occurred to me that two or three decades ago exactly the same argumentation used by G was used to bring about women’s ordination in virtually all the churches, and notably in most Evangelical denominations. If we reject homosexual marriage, it seems to me we must reject women pastors on the same grounds – or we must accept both. We reap what we have sown.

Back then, tricky passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man”) was first explained as likely referring to a particular local situation where women had become unruly. But when Paul, in a less informal context for another city, spells out similar thoughts at length in 1 Corinthians 11, his argument is quite clearly made from that pesky Patriarchal Eden narrative in Genesis on which Jesus leaned so heavily. The careful reader would already have noticed that Paul uses the argument from creation in 1 Timothy as well.

This rather messes up the argument that back in Paul’s day, women were feckless, uneducated, or otherwise unsuitable for leadership, but that now things have changed. Paul’s argument doesn’t relate to his day at all, but to creation. And so the only recourse is, like G, to say that Paul was an unfortunate victim, or a bigoted perpetrator, of the Patriarchy oppressing, in this case, not gays but women. In reality, Paul’s teaching, following that of Jesus, did more for the dignity of women than anything before or since, as it did for slavery and race relations: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) is indeed a pivotal text – but it does not contradict what the apostle says about leadership.

Why it does not contradict it requires some careful exegetical work which, in my opinion, was either neglected or rejected when the ordination of women was under discussion. Perhaps the overwhelming reason was the sacralisation of subjectivity: just as gays feel themselves to be intrinsically homosexual, and transgenders feel themselves to be of the other sex despite their bodies, so what primarily swayed the denominations was that women felt themselves to be called to priesthood. What is quite clear is that gender diversity in leadership has not, in fact, strengthened the denominations that adopted it, but has correlated with terminal decline and division.

Why it is thought to contradict it (and why Galatians gets absolutised over other scriptural teaching) is for exactly the same reason G rejects Paul’s authority: the church succumbed to the fashionable ideology of feminism, that contradicted both science and experience by suggesting, following Simone de Beauvoir, that men and women are entirely interchangeable in their roles. Jordan Peterson’s psychological insights have popularised the understanding that this is not so, particularly in the prominence of the personality trait of “agreeableness” in women. And the transgender sports nonsense has shown the absolute nature of sex-differences in physical strength.

Why, if at all, those differences might apply in the Christian Church, or whether something more subtle and spiritual underlies the creational distinctions the Bible makes repeatedly, is another question. But accepting authority commits one not only to obeying what one understands, but to obeying (as Augustine would say) until one understands.

But above all, acceptance of the authority of God’s word entails that no human philosophy has the authority to trump it. Even those currently dominating society.

Avatar photo

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics and sociology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An object lesson in testing the spirits

  1. Ben says:

    “Perhaps the overwhelming reason was the sacralisation of subjectivity: just as gays feel themselves to be intrinsically homosexual, and transgenders feel themselves to be of the other sex despite their bodies, so what primarily swayed the denominations was that women felt themselves to be called to priesthood.”

    We are now in a matriarchy.

    It will not be all flowers, sunshine and gentleness.

Leave a Reply