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Pro-Gay Theology Part 2: An Interview with Dr. Douglas Jacoby




GH: Let’s shift our conversation to questions regarding what many call the “clobber passages”: those six scriptures that speak directly to the topic of homosexuality. Consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. In the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, (4) Peter Gomes, (5) former Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School, makes the point that the city of Sodom was doomed to destruction before the angels showed up at Lot’s door. That is, the city wasn’t slated for annihilation because the men of the town wanted to gang rape Lot’s guests. Gomes goes on to claim that there have been 500 years of reputable, critical scholarship in the English language on these texts that show that homosexuality isn’t what was being condemned in Genesis 19. He stresses that this argument isn’t something that has just come up recently by liberal reading of scripture. By the way, as you received your Masters in Theological Studies at Harvard, I wonder whether you knew Professor Gomes.


DJ: Yes, I agree with Professor Gomes that Sodom was doomed before the violent homosexual acting out, but I think he’s missing the point. Homosexuality wasn’t the root issue, only a symptom of deeper issues. Ezek 16:49-50 clarifies: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Here Israel is urged to learn from the negative example of Sodom. Notice what’s highlighted first: arrogance. We also see self-indulgence and apathy. The (unnamed) detestable things aren’t mentioned till the end. Sodomy may have been practiced in Sodom, and that may be what the city is remembered for, but biblically the situation was even more serious. It seems all she cared about was herself.

I also agree with Gomes that intent of Gen 19 isn’t to condemn homosexuality. It is a principle of Old Testament interpretation that Torah is the key to evaluating the morality of actions. Narrative passages (like Gen 19) seldom inform the reader whether actions are right or wrong. That must be discerned through the lens of the Law. But I can’t go along with his comment about “five centuries of reputable, critical scholarship.” He is implying that they saw no problem with homosexuality. More apropos would be scholars’ comments on Leviticus 18 or any of the other passages that explicitly condemn homosexuality.


Yes, I knew Gomes. He was one of my professors when I began my masters program, and we had come some memorable discussion. (This was before he came out.)


GH: While Ezekiel 16:49-50 does tell us that all she cared about was herself, as you say, don’t 2 Peter 2:6-8 and Jude 7 confirm the homosexual nature of these “abominations?”


DJ: Yes, both of these passages highlight the sexual aberrations of Sodom and Gomorrah. Bible commentators who are troubled by the implications for homosexuality usually respond in one of two basic ways.


(1) They admit that these New Testament passages, in agreement with Old Testament law, do indeed condemn homosexual behavior. But then they reason that such laws are relics of a bygone age—we were meant to become more tolerant—or that the Bible gets it wrong. Not all biblical scholars accept the inspiration or relevance of Scripture.


Or (2) they reason their way out of the implications by suggesting that it’s a case of mistranslation, or else an overly strict construction of the passage—i.e. it’s only non-consensual sexual behavior (rape) that is in view. True, both asélgeia, licentiousness (2 Pet 2:7) and ekporneúein, to engage in sexual immorality (Jude 7) are general words, not limited to homosexual sin. Yet many fail to understand that it's not just homosexual acting out of which the Bible disapproves, but all sexual activity outside the context of monogamous heterosexual marriage.


Genesis 19 (the story of the destruction of Sodom and the other Cities of the Plain) clarifies exactly what sort of sexual sin is being censured in Jude and 2 Peter. At any rate, exegetical gymnastics are seldom convincing to those whose minds have not already been made up.


GH: In Leviticus, it is difficult to differentiate between what is a cultural or ritual taboo, like eating shellfish, wearing clothes made of different fabrics, or planting different crops side by side, and homosexuality, all of which call for the same punishment of death. It becomes especially confusing because these verses are altogether, there is no separation in the Bible distinguishing between what is an abomination because it was culturally wrong for Hebrews and what is an abomination because it is morally wrong for everyone. Why is this such a big deal?


DJ: That’s a great question, and it’s closely related to your last question. Actually, none of these infractions against Torah stipulated capital punishment, apart from homosexuality (Lev 11:12; Deut 22:11; 22:9; 22:13). The rules about clothing and farming seem quaint and arbitrary. But I think we need to look deeper. “Abomination” referred to both things that are morally neutral and to things that truly are wicked. Sensitivity to context, history, and above all the Torah will enable us to sort out the issues.


Whatever led to the disintegration of Yahweh’s covenant society—whether by breaking faith with the Lord by violating the covenant or by encouraging the Jews to discard their traditions and blend in with the ambient (idolatrous) culture—was considered a serious threat. And obviously actions that may lead to the erosion or evaporation of a people will be strongly opposed. This attitude also explains why, for example during the 2nd century BC Maccabean Revolution, many Jews chose to die rather than to violate the Sabbath, kashrut (kosher law), or the covenant requirement of circumcision. These were probably the top three cultural identity markers of Judaism.


It is oversimplifying to posit that what is detestable is culturally determined, biologically justified, or only a matter of old vs. new covenant. Even in the New Testament, there are several matters that are culturally expressed, like the holy kiss (Rom 16:20). More to the point, Ezekiel 18 lumps covenantal prohibitions with acts of immorality. Most often I notice that what is “detestable” in scripture is idolatry (1 Peter 4:2, etc). Anyway, it would be nice if the Bible made clearer distinctions among the nuances of “detestable,” but we have to deal with the text as the Spirit has given it to us. It’s easy for us, enjoying the peace and prosperity of a hyper-liberal society, to criticize a benighted people living 3000 years ago for not agreeing with our enlightened values. Probably I should be clearer. It’s not same-sex attraction that the Bible forbids, but acting on that attraction.


GH: Can you offer guidance on how to tell the difference between what is cultural and what transcends culture, impacting Christian theology?


DJ: I agree that it can be confusing sometimes to distinguish temporary or cultural taboos (like kosher law) from other taboos. A good rule of thumb is to check to see whether O.T. laws (found in the books from Exodus to Deuteronomy) are repeated in the N.T. This is one way to distinguish which parts of the old covenant carry over into the new covenant. (See Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:1- 13.) (6)


GH: For Christians to focus on the homosexual passages in Leviticus and not on other passages—isn’t this selective reading?


DJ: If we want to know what the Bible says about worship, we look up the worship passages. If we want to learn more about Egypt, looking up the passages on Egypt is the way to go. To learn more about Abraham, Genesis 12-25 is our primary source. We won’t be faulted for failing to find verses on Abraham in Judges or Proverbs. I suppose in a way this it selective. It makes sense to focus on the relevant scriptures. Of course we select the passages most germane to the issue at hand.


Now it would indeed be selective if preachers addressed only sexual sin—and not the rampant materialism, narcissism, deceit, hatred, bitterness, and other sins plaguing modern society. We aren’t to pick and choose the commands (or sins) that we agree with. Our Lord commands both fidelity and consistency as we obey him.



 


4 For the Bible Tells Me So, 2007: http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org

5 Peter Gomes lived 1942-2011.

6 For more on this, please see the material on Messianic Judaism at https://www.douglasjacoby.com/messianic-judaism-1-why-focus-on-this-movement/.




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