Rogers Advocates for LGBT Equality, Part 2

Rogers_review_06162015Jack Rogers. 2009. Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality:  Explode the Myths, Heal the Church.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The single, most important organizational issue facing the Presbyterian Church (USA; PCUSA) in this generation has been the loss in membership. Since the merger of the Northern and Southern denomination in 1984, total membership has declined from 3,100,951 in 1984 to 1,667,767 in 2014 [1]. This is a loss of about half (46%) in 30 years or an average of 1.5 % per year [2]. Because the primary evangelism practiced in the PCUSA is with our own youth, slowing the departure of young people from the church has been an obvious, but unattended priority [3]. So what was PCUSA leadership doing while this was going on? Part of the answer is the subject of Jack Rogers’ book, Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality [4].

What was the biblical warrant for the priority given in the PCUSA  to gender confusion?

Rogers (66) lists 8 biblical texts that get the most attention in debating homosexuality:

  1. Genesis 19:1-29 (Story of Sodom and Gomorrah).
  2. Judges 19:1-30 (Rape of Levite’s concubine).
  3. Leviticus 18:1-30 (law).
  4. Leviticus 20:1-27 (law).
  5. 1 Corinthians 6:9-17-17 (vice list).
  6. 1Timothy 1:3-13 (vice list).
  7. Jude 1-25 (unnatural relations). and
  8. Romans 1 (new covenant rejected).

To this list, Rogers (86,128-136) adds several other passages which he sees as biblical analogies, including:

  1. Acts 10-15 (acceptance of gentiles).
  2. Luke 10:25-37 (good Samaritan).
  3. Matthew 19:10-12 (Jesus on marriage).
  4. Acts 8:26-39 (Ethiopian eunuch).
  5. Isaiah 56:4-5 (Eunuch’s acceptance).

Most authors start a conversation of homosexuality with a discussion Genesis 1-3 because the Bible’s discussion of sexual relations from that point forward assumes monogamous heterosexual marriage is the exclusive model for sexual relationships. This is why, for example, polygamous marriages are never raised up as a Biblical standard (even if tolerated by ancient society) and homosexuality is later condemned as sin (Lev 20:13).

The modeling of monogamous heterosexual marriage in Genesis is obvious and has always been the focus of church moral teaching.  A creator God creates Adam and Eve in His image (Gen 1:27) and immediately tells them to continues His work of creating (Gen 1:28). Heterosexual sex makes this possible (Gen 2:24). Sin arises when the woman believes a talking snake’s word over God’s word (Gen 3:1-6). This story of original sin is followed by stories of intensification of sin—Cain’s murder of his brother (Gen 4:8) and Lamech’s introduction of polygamy (Gen 4:19; Feinberg 1998, 30). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19) can accordingly be thought of one of these examples of intensification of sin.

This intensification of sin is evident both because the story follows a sequence of increasing greater sins in the Genesis accounts culminating in Noah’ s flood where  God brings an apocalypse of water.  Why?  Because of sin (Gen 6:5-7). Modeled on the flood, God then destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah through fire.  Why?  Again, it is sin (Gen 18:20). God’s judgment is reserved for especially egregious sins.

Rogers disputes that Genesis 1-3 lay out monogamous heterosexual marriage as a model (83). Stripping out the biblical model of marriage throws the interpretation of the later passages that deal with homosexuality into confusion.  In general, he tip-toes around the problem of sin.

For example, taking the story of Sodom and Gomorrah out of context Rogers views the story primarily as a problem in inhospitable behavior towards a traveling guest.  He argues this interpretation because “in the ancient world homosexual rape was a traditional way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes” (67) However, this sociological interpretation is contrary to the tradition of scripture.  For example, in Ezekiel we read:

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” (Ezek. 16:48-50) [5]

Two things about this passage stand out.  First, the word abomination stands out here because it normally evokes the Mosaic law (Lev 20:13) where homosexual sin is condemned and subjected to the death penalty. Second, the women of Sodom (as well as the men) are involved in this abomination. The involvement of women is important because Rogers argues that the men  of Sodom were just establishing male dominance in the Genesis account, not engaging in homosexual activity [6]. Because woman do not normally use sex to establish dominance, the usual biblical interpretation is that we are seeing the sexual perversion of both genders in Sodom and Gomorrah. This point is reinforced in the New Testament where we read:

“just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7 ESV)

There is no reason to appeal to extra-biblical arguments, as Rogers does repeatedly, when the biblical text itself is clear.  [7]

In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is important to understand that God himself destroys the cities.  If their destruction expressed a cultural bias, Abraham had ample opportunity to destroy the cities  when he captured them as a prize of war in Genesis 14.  He did not.  In fact, Abraham later interceded with God (an example of prayer) for the cities in Genesis 18:25-33.  Abraham’s behavior is an important object lesson for us.  We are to pray for those caught up in sin and leave judgment to God.

How does Rogers deal with homosexuality in the holiness code of Leviticus?

Rogers cites 3 reasons for the holiness code focusing on the need to maintain ritual purity:

  1. Israel needed to distinguish itself from neighboring nations in order to survive.
  2. Mixing with other people or adopting their customs threatened purity.
  3. Male gender superiority had to be maintained. (68-69)

Rogers sees both Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 fitting into this cultural critique, but the Bible focuses on ritual purity as being modeled after God’s immutable character:

“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev 11:45 ESV)

God’s immutable character also informs Jesus’ comments about the human heart. Jesus said:

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:18-19 ESV)

The expression, “out of the heart”, means feelings and emotions, and it implies that Jesus was suspicious of such motivations [8].  By contrast, Rogers abrogates these verses because they are inconsistent with the double love command (Matt 22:36-40) and—like the holiness code itself—they are an example of culturally conditions laws (69).  Using a general principle (double love command) to abrogate a specific command (prohibit homosexuality as sin) does have biblical warrant, but primary example in Genesis 3:1 is criticized as satanic.[9]  In any case, the church has historically abrogated the ceremonial codes in Leviticus, but not the  holiness codes which form the basis of much of the Apostle Paul’s moral teaching.

Much more could be said about Rogers’ arguments about homosexuality. However, his frequent use of cultural arguments generally focuses not on what the Bible says, but why he thinks the Bible says it. He then questions the motivation of the biblical author and those that disagree with his interpretation. It is hard to reconcile this sort of rhetoric with a high regard for scriptural authority, on which he professes to be an expert (7-8).

Although I disagree profoundly with the argumentation and conclusions of Jack Rogers’ Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, he does a better job than any author I know of chronicling recent changes in the PCUSA. Unfortunately, the changes that he has advocated have led even more rapid decline in denomination membership than in previous years and, as a parent of kids struggling to believe, I grieve the denomination’s insistence on majoring in minors rather than preaching, teaching, and supporting the Gospel.

Nevertheless, in Christ we are never without hope.  I recently ordered new business cards which include this verse:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15 ESV)

This verse is a personal reminder that we all struggle with sin.  The irony is that the church offering the most healing [10] may not sing the sweetest siren song [11].

Soli Gloria Deo

 

[1] Total U.S. population grew from 225 million in 1980 to 309 million in 2010 or 36 percent or about 1.2 percent per year (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Demographics_of_the_United_States).  This implies that PCUSA membership has fallen even as population has increased.  This trend would be considered  a stunning failure in top leadership in any other organization.

[2] The rate of decline in membership in the PCUSA has been accelerating in recent years and jumped from 3.29 percent in 2011 percent to 5.26 percent in 2012 with the passage of provisions encouraging the ordination of homosexuals. See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterian_Church_(U.S.A.)

[3] The aging of the membership underscores this assessment.

[4] Kinnaman (2011, 21) provides a research-based exploration of the dropout of our youth.  He sees the core problem as a “disciple-making problem”.  A distracted church is unlikely to spend the time necessary to make disciples or to commit resources to making it happen.

[5] The parallel between Ezekiel’s characterization of Sodom and Gomorrah and postmodern secular society is most striking.

[6] The rape of Levite’s concubine in  Judges 19:1-30 is a parallel passage.

[7] Solo Scriptura—in God’s economy all knowledge is God’s knowledge, but the only authority for matters of faith in the reformed tradition is scripture.

[8] Elliott (2006, 264) studied the use of emotions in the New Testament and concluded:  “Emotions are a faithful reflection of what we believe and value.”  Jesus’ teaching about the heart and suspicion about emotions suggests that the underlying problem of sin motivated his teaching.  This is why Paul could write: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15:3 ESV)  Atoning for sin was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry both on earth and post-resurrection.  This is why the Gospel requires both truth and grace (John 8:11).

[9] The passage reads:  “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1 ESV)  Satan infers from a general principle (any tree) that it is okay to eat from a specific tree (the tree of knowledge) which is, of course, not what God said.

[10]  Each time we mourn a loss, we have to make a decision.  Do we lean into our pain or do we lean on God?  (Matt 26:36-44) Our identity is defined by the answer we give to this question each and every time.  Healing arises when our identity is in Christ, the Great Physician.

[11] “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4 ESV)

REFERENCES

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Feinberg, Jeffrey Enoch. 1998. Walk Genesis: A Messianic Jewish Devotional Commentary. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books.

Kinnaman, David. 2011. “You Lost Me:  Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…” Grand Rapids:  BakerBooks.

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