On 19 January, Dr James Dobson interviewed Franklin Graham on his Family Talk Radio Show. You can listen to the show here – and you really only need to listen to first two minutes to hear my complaint.
I know that many of my friends and family don’t agree with my view on homosexuality. But even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, you cannot support Dr Dobson and Dr Graham’s views. And you should definitely speak out against their views. You cannot remain silent in the face of homophobia and fear-mongering. I am being serious about this statement – the church cannot be seen to either hate or fear gays, nor can it be seen to exclude homosexuals from churches.
Here is what Franklin Graham said:
“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.
“What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to affect the others in the church and it is dangerous. So, I am going to encourage the church to take a stand for Christ, and for righteousness. … “
Is he serious?
Does Franklin Graham think his Gospel is so weak that having gay children attend his church would undermine the faith of the Christians who are already there? Did he really mean to say that church is a club for saved saints, and that sinners should not be allowed to attend? Is he genuinely concerned that homosexuals and their “lifestyle” are more powerful than his gospel and his God?
We have dealt with Romans 1 thoroughly, but there is one final set of ideas to consider. These come from largely evangelical theologians, who take the Bible seriously as God’s Word, but nevertheless have real concerns about the traditional interpretation of Romans 1. There are seven ways to interpret Romans 1 that do justice to the text, but show that Paul would not be against same sex marriage today:
Paul was a man of his times, and must be understood as such.
Paul is concerned about idolatry, and especially about Cybele, Rhea and the Earth Goddess. And same gender exploitative sexual activity is an effect of idolatry, not a cause.
Paul did not know about loving homosexual relationships or a homosexual orientation as we understand it today. His concern was about abusive and excessive sexuality. He also did not have the scientific understanding we have today of homosexual orientation.
Paul’s issue, in Romans and his other letters, is specifically with pederasty, and not with homosexuality in general.
Paul was wrong. Just plain wrong.
Paul was concerned about Heterosexuals engaging in homoerotic acts, not people born with a homosexual orientation.
Paul is quoting someone else in Romans 1, and will refute this view in Romans 2. From the literary context, it is possible that Romans 1:18-32 is actually a well-known discourse against Gentiles taken from Jewish writings, or at least a well recognised list of sins the Jews accused Gentiles of committing, that Paul pulls into his letter.
There are enough valid interpretative options for Romans 1 that we need to be very careful to not just continue applying the traditional interpretation. You can support same sex marriage without giving up the Bible.
We have spent a lot of time in the book of Romans in this study. For many Christians, Romans 1 is the key passage against same gender sexual activity, so we need to cover it thoroughly. In the last three posts, I believe I have clearly shown that we misinterpret Romans if we believe that we can use it today to argue against same sex marriages. A summary of the key points is:
Paul is not really concerned about sexual issues in Romans 1 – his main concern, which is evidenced by the flow of the whole letter, is the divide between Jews and Gentiles in Rome. The sins listed in Romans 1 are used to show that “all have sinned”. But Paul also points out that some things people think are sinful are just cultural preferences. The issue of homosexuality is similar to that of circumcision for Paul: a cultural preference that should not be used to judge fellow Christians.
Romans 1 cannot be understood alone – Romans 2 and the rest of the letter make it clear that Paul is using homosexuality as a set up for the Jewish readers, and will go on to show them the error of their thinking. Homosexuality is not a sin. The Jewish disgust for homosexuality was a cultural preference, as was the Gentile disgust of circumcision and Jewish eating issues. Paul tells both Jewish and Gentile Christians to stop judging each other.
If you haven’t read the detailed explanations behind those highly summarised points yet, please follow the links above.
In this last section on Romans 1, I want to shift focus and look at a few additional ways in which some revisionist interpreters have approached Paul’s writings. There are varying degrees of revisionists. Some simply abandon the Bible and say it’s no longer relevant. But others believe that we can retain our belief that the Bible is God’s Word and remains relevant, while still at the same time acknowledging that we need to change (revise) our understanding of certain parts of it. We’ve seen many examples of this over the course of this study already, so there should be no conceptual problem with looking at alternative interpretations and evaluating each on its merits.
I have created a YouTube Playlist (here) that includes almost all the songs below, and is a great way to listen through these songs.
The lists were last updated on 1 January 2016 – you will see this is an unfinished task. I’ll come back to this later in 2016 (I normally do a Christmas in July), but please do add your comments below anyway – I will see them.
To get into these lists the songs and albums need something distinctive, they are musically excellent (even if I song particularly like the style), they must not be cheesy (so, no Boney M then), and they must capture the Christmas spirit (festive or reflective). I also favoured variety (so that my top ten albums didn’t dominate the individual songs list too much). The final criteria is that I included not just popular musicians, but Christian artists and worship albums as well – it is Christ-mas, after all.
These lists are going to be updated regularly, and change as I get suggestions and come across new songs and albums (and get slapped down for my initial choices). I’d love to hear your suggestions for these lists, and any songs or albums you think are better than the ones in my lists below.
Please remember that it’s actually impossible to create a “best of” list of Christmas songs. It’s actually better to be clear on what musical styles you prefer, and then get the best Christmas album in those styles. It’s also a good idea to select the best version of each Christmas song you like. That’s what I’ve done below, knowing full well there is not one chance that any list of “best Christmas songs” will ever be satisfactory. There are just too many musical genres competing for attention.
As we have seen, Paul’s purpose in the letter to the Romans is to encourage Jewish and Gentile Christians to be more accepting of each other, and to be careful not to judge each other based on issues that are merely cultural preferences or in built bias.
The purpose of Romans 1:16-32 is to outline a typical Jewish critique of Gentiles, with a progression from abandoning God and turning to idolatry, which leads to socially unacceptable behaviour, which slides downwards to sinful, wicked actions and eventually ends in complete moral collapse.
Romans 1 cannot be understood without Romans 2, where there is a radical shift from the third to the second person (from “them” and “they” to “you”), and a direct and specific command not to judge others on the basis of the content in chapter 1. This is a central theme of the letter, and from the context of the whole letter it’s clear that Romans 1 cannot and should not be used to condemn homosexual activity.
Similar writings that would have been well-known at the time of Paul’s letter help to strengthen this view that Paul is using Romans 1 to highlight the faulty thinking of the Jewish Christians in Rome.
Even so, the flow of this passage is clearly framed in the context of idolatry, cultic temple practices and Roman pagan activities in which same-gender sexual activity played a major part, and does not apply to loving, lifelong homosexual relationships today.
To add to this reading of Romans 1, it is vital to remember that the “sin of homosexuality” – if it is a sin at all – is only in the sexual activity itself. Those opposed to homosexuality can only be opposed to the actual sexual activity, rather than to any “orientation”, feelings of love, and even lifelong commitments of companionship and fidelity. Knowing this, when we read Romans 1 it’s obvious to see that Paul is concerned about sexual activities that are excessive and out of control. He’s not talking about loving, faithful gay relationships.
This is the third part of this series that looks at Romans 1 (Read the first section here, and the second here). This part of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is the most significant set of verses used to oppose homosexuality, and so it’s worth spending some time on. Thus far, I’ve shown three problems with the traditional reading:
A plain reading of the text makes it clear that Paul is talking about people who are filled with lust, sexually out of control and who are descending into moral bankruptcy. This is not relevant to God-fearing, loving gay couples.
There are sins – evil and wicked actions – listed in Romans 1. But there are also certain activities that Paul calls “culturally unacceptable” – these are not wicked actions and God is not opposed to them. In Romans 2, Paul will talk about circumcision in this way, and he’ll return to this theme over and over again in this letter, using many different examples, including observance of holy days and food sacrificed at the temples. In Romans 1, he talks about male homosexuality and women who have sex for pleasure alone (“unnatural sex” in the Jewish worldview), and says that some Christians find these socially unacceptable. But they are not evil or sinful. Do not call anything unclean, when God has not called it unclean.
The purpose of Romans 1 is Romans 2 – you cannot read the first without the second. It is clear when you do so that Paul’s main point is that we should NOT judge other people on the basis of the actions he listed in Romans 1.
I want to go even further in this part of the series and summarise all the points I’ve made so far by showing you that Paul has a progression in mind: These people have abandoned God, and started worshipping idols. As God abandons them to this, they slip into a lifestyle that spirals ever downward until it is characterised by “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (verse 31). The progression, as we will see below, is from socially unacceptable behaviour to morally wrong actions, to complete loss of humanity. Paul is going to show the Jewish readers that they have a similar progression of issues that other people could point to as signs of them not being committed to God enough. This completely changes how we should read the verses on homosexuality, and makes the most sense of Romans 2, and, in fact, the whole letter. I will then show again – at the risk of repeating myself too much – the importance of Romans 2 (and the rest of the letter) to understanding how we interpret Romans 1. This is a vital key to identifying how we have so badly misinterpreted Romans 1 for so long.
On 9 October 2015, I participated in a formal public debate with Dr James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries. It was organised by TruthWalk, and the venue provided by Gracepoint church. Dr White is an accomplished debater and professional apologist (see his ministry website here), and took the traditional position against homosexuality and same sex marriage.
I took the affirming position, attempting to put in debate format the work I have been doing on this blog over the past few months.
The purpose of the debate, in this format, was to put forward the for and against views in as dispassionate a way as possible, so that each position could be given fair treatment, and the observer could understand the logic of each. I believe we achieved this, and that the debate was fair.
The full debate has now been uploaded on VEOH.com and is available below or on that site. The introduction has been slightly edited for length, but the debate itself is presented unedited and in full.
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul refers to men and women going “against nature” and committing “shameful acts”.
In Jewish thought, “unnatural sex” was any sexual activity that could not result in insemination. The Old Testament references Paul could have been referring to were about having sex with a woman during her menstrual period, but could also have referred to oral or anal sex, or to masturbation. Lesbian sex would also have been “unnatural”. Paul considers all of these to be cultural issues (for the Jewish readers of his letter), and are not moral judgements.
To add to this interpretation, Paul uses a word for “sexual activity” that specifically references the function or purpose of sex. And when he talks of same gender sex he uses the word “shameful” rather than “evil” or “wicked”.
For Paul, the “shameful acts” and “against nature” sexual activities were Jewish social conventions and not moral categories. In other words, Paul was saying that same-gender sexual activity of the Gentiles was something that Jews did not like. He was not saying that these activities are morally wrong.
Paul’s concern with male homosexual activity has to do with excess, licentiousness and being “filled with lust”. These, too, are culturally unacceptable and in some circumstances may cross the line to sinful activities too. But this does not apply to loving, homosexual couples who are not out of control in their sexual activity.
The point of Romans 1, and the whole letter to the Romans, was to tell Jews to stop judging Gentiles on the basis of these personal preferences; and likewise to tell Gentiles to stop judging Jews on similar cultural grounds.
Paul is not invoking a so-called “creation ordinance” in these verses.
These verses do not condemn same-gender sexual activity, let alone lifelong, monogamous, covenantal same-gender relationships.
NOTE: This section was significantly updated on 20 October 2015
In the previous section of this series, we showed that the letter to the Romans only makes sense as Paul’s treatise to Jewish and Gentile Christians to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and not to let their various cultural practices get in the way of this. Paul shows the Jews that although they are God’s chosen people and believe that they have a special status in eternity, actually they have failed God just like everyone else. Paul’s intent in Romans 1 is to set the Jewish believers up a bit, by caricaturing Gentile sinners, and sucker punching Jewish readers in Romans 2.
But this does not deal with the fact that Paul lists a lot of sins in Romans 1, and clearly indicates that these actions are evil. That Jews and Gentiles have both sinned does not reduce the impact of the list of sins in Romans 1. But does Paul really say that homosexuality is sinful? He says it is shameful. He says it is against nature. But is this the same as being sinful? And what exactly are the sins (and shameful things that are against nature) that Paul is concerned about?
The main traditional argument against homosexuality misreads Romans 1. It sees it as Paul’s condemnation of the Gentiles on the basis of their rejection of God and especially what is often called “creation order”. The traditional view is based on the view that God created man and woman, making them suitable for each other and that this is the only form of marriage allowed in Scripture. It argues that Jesus Himself (in Matthew 19 and Mark 10) appears to affirm that issues related to marriage hinge on how God created humanity (although Jesus was actually answering a specific question about divorce – we’ll deal specifically with Jesus’ comments later in this series). Therefore, the traditional argument says, the sin of homosexuality is the giving up of natural desires and engaging in unnatural acts, which are defined as any same gender sexual activity.
But this is not what Paul actually says. As we have to do with all Biblical passages, we need to look more closely at the words and phrases used and see if they’re as clear in the original language and context as we imagine them to be in our own. When we do this, we find immediately that they are not. “Shameful” or “degrading” practices are clearly linked to cultural preferences. And going “against nature” does not mean something that is inherently evil, but rather something that is against accepted practice. When read in the light of this understanding, we see a clear progression in Paul’s description of a descent into moral decay, from idolatry to culturally unacceptable behaviour to sinful actions to moral decay to the complete destruction of humanity (we’ll come back to this in the next section in more detail). Homosexuality falls into the culturally unacceptable category, and is not considered sinful and evil.
But let me not get ahead of myself here. Have a look for yourself.
Romans 1 has traditionally been used to show homosexuality as a descent into immorality, and a sign of God abandoning people to sin. This is a misreading of these verses.
The plain reading of Romans 1 makes it clear that Paul has in mind people who have taken their sexuality to excess and gone against nature, descending into sexual depravity. This does not describe LGBT people seeking a lifelong, monogamous, covenantal relationship.
If a defining feature of homosexuality is indeed that God has “given them over” to depravity, then how would we explain the significant number of gay people who profess Jesus as their Lord and Saviour? We’re either misreading Romans 1 or misunderstanding Romans 10:9.
The flow of the letter to the Romans is such that the the list of sins in Romans 1 is used by Paul to set up his Jewish readers and create a counterpoint which he will use against them in Romans 2 and 3. The list of sins is therefore more about what Jewish people found repulsive in Gentiles than what Paul did. We cannot use this list to focus our attention today on a specific group of “sinners”.
A good summary of Paul’s opening chapters and, in fact, the whole letter to the Romans comes
in Romans 14:13-14 (similar to 2:1): “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”
The only issue Paul raises that can be transferred to the modern day issue of same-gender sexuality is an appeal to “the nature of things”. We will deal with this in the next section of this study.
So, eventually we get to Romans 1. When looking at the Biblical verses that speak against homosexual practice, this is the most important. I am going to take four blog posts to deal with this passage, because it is so significant for the issue of whether God affirms same gender marriage.
We’ve seen already that the other Biblical verses that have traditionally been used to show that God is against same gender marriage and sexual activity are actually talking about specific abusive and cultic sexual practices. If you’re just joining the conversation now, you might want to go back and catch up on the parts of the series you’ve missed. Romans 1 is important because it appears to do more than this – it seems to say that homosexuality is “against nature”, and therefore a direct affront to God. It also implies that homosexual desires are actually a curse from God and a sign of the moral degradation of society. This is what many Christians believe – and Romans 1 is where they go for Biblical proof.
If we’re going to change the church’s traditional view on homosexuality, we’re going to have to show that Romans 1 does not actually say what most Christians have believed it says for the past 2,000 years. But that’s precisely what I am going to do.
I’m going to do this in a few different ways.
In this post, I want to start by actually looking at the plain reading of the text, but through the eyes of a gay person committed to living to a godly life. I want you to see – without any detailed analysis of the text – that actually the plain reading of the text is not what you think it is. It talks of people consumed by lust and sexually – and morally – out of control. This is not true of most gay couples.