Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Robert Gagnon, the Bible and Homosexual PracticeRobert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

At one point in seminary I asked a professor [1] to outline the biblical case for gay marriage. He responded that the Bible did not offer a strong case for gay marriage; it was just the right thing to do. Evangelicals typically focus on his first point while progressives typically focus on the second point. Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice outlines a detailed interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.

Introduction

Gagnon states his objectives as:

“to demonstrate two main points: First, there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Second, there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter” (37).

Gagnon’s conclusion that the Bible treats homosexuality as sin[2] (a theological statement) should surprise no one, but it is not obvious how the church should respond to it (a problem in ethics). Theology is easy because a statement is either true or not; ethics is hard because it necessarily involves trade-offs between multiple theological principles in tension. We are all sinners and stand in need of God’s grace.  This implies that no sin is unforgivable and we are to share the Gospel with everyone.  But, how do we properly love the unrepentant sinner?  And, what is special about witnessing to someone struggling with gender confusion?  These are not hypothetical questions.  Unfortunately, the postmodern church (like the church at Laodicea) has often neglected to teach the doctrine of sin which leaves it with scarce moral authority to provide advice on any particular sin (Rev. 3:14-19).

Homosexuality Contrary to God’s Intent

Gagnon summarizes his book with 4 reasons “why those who engage in same-sex intercourse act contrary to God’s intentions for human sexual relations”.  Those reasons (487-489) are:

  1. “Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of scripture.”
  2. “Same-sex intercourse represents a suppression of the visible evidence in nature regarding male-female anatomical and procreation complementarity.”
  3. “Societal endorsement of homosexual behavior will only accelerate the many negative social effects [serious health problems, greater pedophilic behavior, erosion in expectations of marriage, annihilation of gender norms, and marginalization of those that speak out] arising from such behavior…”
  4. “The practicing homosexual’s own relationship with the Creator will be put in jeopardy.”

Gagnon’s argues these points thoroughly.  For example, in talking about the health effects of homosexual behavior, Gagnon cites[3] an unspecified health condition and lists all the possible negative consequences of this condition.  Reading about this list, one is suspicious that the condition is homosexuality—it is not—the condition is alcoholism.  The health consequences of homosexuality are much worse (471-473), including:

  • “A significantly decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage.
  • A 25-35 year decrease in life expectancy.
  • Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease—infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Inevitably fatal-immune disease, including associated cancers.
  • Frequently, fatal rectal cancer.
  • Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases.
  • A much higher than usual incidence of suicide.
  • A very low likelihood that its adverse effects can be eliminated unless the condition itself is. An at least 50% likelihood of being eliminated through lengthy, often costly, and very time-consuming treatment.” (473)

Having worked in a hospital emergency room, this list is not surprising. I lost a pastoral mentor to AIDS as a young person and personally assisted a number of hospital patients suffering from problems on this list, including HIV, when I worked as a chaplain intern [4].  The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than half a million people have died from AIDS in the United States alone.  Meanwhile, more than a million people are currently infected with HIV [5].  Gagnon’s point is that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is of continuing relevance in postmodern moral teaching.

Pastoral Response

Ironically, pastors and churches that ignore people suffering from gender confusion (or, worse, condone it) are complicit in the Apostle Paul’s assessment in Romans 1:24-27giving them over to their ungodly passions. Gagnon compares homosexuality with alcoholism both because of the medical problems associated (including an addictive character), but also because recovery is difficult.  Clinical studies prior to politicization of the issue reported recovery rates of about 30 percent (28.8%), roughly on par with success rates reported by Alcoholics Anonymous (420-432) [6].  Recovery in this context means we are able to control our responses, not our temptations.

Background on Gagnon

Gagnon is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He has a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary [7]. The acknowledgments section of his book reads like a who’s who of evangelical scholars.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice is written in 5 chapters:

  1. The Witness of the Old Testament,
  2. Same-Sex Intercourse as a “Contrary to Nature” in Early Judaism,
  3. The Witness of Jesus,
  4. The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul, and
  5. The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Biblical Witness (5-10).

The introduction and conclusions are not numbered.  These chapters are proceeded by the acknowledgments and followed by both a topical and a scriptural index.

Church Response

The response of the church to gender confusion is the defining issue of our day. Until the 1980s, no Christian denomination considered homosexuality acceptable behavior; now, many denominations, including my own, are having trouble establishing spiritual boundaries of any kind—the teaching on homosexuality stands out primarily in that it is the most obvious.  As a consequence,  Christians need to be aware of the arguments being made. In this debate, Gagnon’s research is an important resource.

Assessment

Here in part 1, I have given an overview of Gagnon’s argument and highlighted health effects of homosexuality.  Christians more normally focus on scriptural arguments.  So, in part 2, I will survey his review of Old Testament passages on homosexuality and, in part 3, I will turn to passages on the New Testament.

Footnotes

[1] The professor was on the faculty at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

[2] For example: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 ESV)  Also: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27 ESV)

[3] This reference is taken from Jeffrey Satinover’s “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth” (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1996).

[4] The issue of health effects relating to homosexual behavior was in the media only this morning (http://bit.ly/1RqrW7X).

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.

[6] Earlier I reviewed the story of a Lesbian conversion:  Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-wj)

[7] http://www.RobGagnon.net.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Also see:

Fortson and Grams Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1 

Campbell Turns Gender Confusion into Ministry

Rogers Argues for LGBT Equality, Part 1

Webb: Analyzing Culture in Scripture and in Life

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC

Rosario Butterfield
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield [1]. 2012.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.  Pittsburgh:  Crown & Covenant Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is conversion?

In postmodern thinking, conversion is an act of treason.  The modern thinker believes in objectivity—a single, objective reality exists which we can study, understand, and agree on.  By contrast, the postmodern thinker believes truth is socially constructed. There is not one objective truth; there is only your truth and my truth. The interpretative community (the social group) in power determines reality. Therefore, the convert from one worldview to another is accordingly a traitor (or heretic) to the interpretive community (social group) left behind.  Because community boundaries are vigorously defended, conversion can be accompanied by significant costs to the convert.

Introduction

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes about her conversion from lesbianism to Christianity.

Dr. Butterfield’s use of the word, convert, in her title suggests the vast distance that she traveled.  One converts from one religion to another, not from one hobby to another.  Lesbianism is a secular (atheistic) religion with its own philosophy (deconstructionism), cultural markers (hair-style; clothing; vocabulary; 8), public testimony (x), evangelism (8), and social networks (50).  She writes:

When I became a Christian, I had to change everything—my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts.  I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in (26).

A change in worldview requires a world of change.  She refers to lesbianism as a sin of identity (23).  What this means is that when we establish our primary identity in anything other than Christ, we commit idolatry—sin that violates the second commandment [2].  Workaholism is another common sin of identity.

Exploring Sin

In her biblical exploration of her sin, Dr. Butterfield focuses on an interesting passage:

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. (Ezekiel 16:48-50 ESV)

The sin of Sodom was not just immorality but more importantly pridea focus on self, entertainment-driven lust, love of money, and neglect of the poor (30-31).  Does this description sound familiar?

Conversion

The details of Rosario’s conversion experience are fascinating.  Her spiritual journey began with a research project.  She decided to write a book on the hermeneutic (interpretative principles) used by the Christian Right—people such as Pat Robertson.  Her research involved studying the Bible 5 hours a day (12) and led her to begin studying Greek (the New Testament is written entirely in Greek; 7).  A newspaper article that she published critiquing the gender politics of Promise Keepers [3] generated a lot of mail, including a thoughtful letter from a local pastor, Pastor Ken, who invited her to call and discuss the article (7-9).  She called. They began a conversation that extended over a period of years as she pursued her research. But the book was never completed.  From her own study of the Bible (aided by Pastor Ken’s non-anxious pastoral presence and biblical interpretation) Rosario became convinced that what the Bible said about God was true (13, 8).  Baptized and raised Roman Catholic, Rosario began attending and later joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) [4].  She later married an RPC pastor (94).

Leader in the Gay Movement

Rosario’s claims to be a leader in the gay rights movement (4) are not lite fluff.  To see this, just check out her reading list in preparing her proposed book on the Christian Right.  For example, she read Augustine’s Confessions (50), John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (17), and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text? (87-89). These are books that challenge most seminary students—if they have read them at all—and they are required reading in understanding Christian hermeneutics (study of interpretation) and epistemology (study of knowledge).  If you think that English professors sit around reading Emily Dickson all day, you vastly underestimate Dr. Butterfield’s academic bona fides [5].

Subversive Spirit

A key takeaway from Rosario’s conversion testimony is that it was the subversive activity of the Holy Spirit, not a clever evangelist, that led her to Christ.  Like many converts from Islam, her conversion began with study of the Bible [6].

Another important takeaway concerns Pastor Ken’s ability to be a non-anxious presence for Rosario.  The RPC has a strong intellectual grounding in Calvin’s systematic theology.  Systematic theology is holistic which implies that no aspect of life or faith is doctrinally neglected—its strength lies in its completeness.  A non-anxious presence begins with emotional intelligence but requires intellectual rigor.  Lesbians, like Muslims, ask tough questions.  One earns their respect by being able to field the questions credibly, honestly, and humbly without fear.  Pastor Ken’s RPC background helped him keep up his end of the conversation.

Rosario and Augustine

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert reads like Augustine’s Confessions.  As a young man, Augustine also struggled with sexual sin.  And, after converting to Christianity, he played an important role in the monastic movement which encouraged candidates for ministry to practice celibacy.  Augustine’s deep theology particularly influenced a young monk in the 15th century—a certain Martin Luther whose work was at the center of the Protestant Reformation.  Protestants all owe a debt of gratitude to Augustine, who struggled with and overcame sexual sin.  The Apostle Paul writes:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Organization

Rosario’s book is short having only 5 chapters:

  • Conversion and the Gospel of Peace;
  • Repentance and the Sin of Sodom;
  • The Good Guys: Sanctification and Public Worship;
  • The Home Front:  Marriage, Ministry, and Adoptions; and
  • Homeschooling and Middle Age.

These chapters are preceded by a forward and acknowledgments and followed by a bibliography and other resources.

Rosario’s confession is likely to become a classic, in part, because it is timely and, in part, because it can be read on multiple levels.  On the surface level, it reads as a reinvestment story [7]:  there I was; here I am.  For the surface reader, she provides lots of interesting details about her life both as a lesbian and, later, as a pastor’s wife and home-school teacher.  Beneath the surface, however, lies Dr. Butterfield, the intellectual.  What is a presuppositional problem? (8)  What is the ontological fallacy? (13) What does it mean not to believe in objectivity? (14)  I was intrigued and was sorry that Rosario did not write and explain more.  In particular, why did she become a lesbian? [8]

Copernican Revolution

What is conversion?  For Rosario, it was like the Copernican Revolution. The earth went from being the center of the universe to being a planet rotating around the sun.  The Copernican Revolution simplified the mathematics of planetary motion.  It was much the same for Rosario. When she displaced self with the Triune God, her life was simpler, more joyful, and kingdom focused [9].

Assessment

What are the implications for the church?  For the surface reader, Dr. Butterfield’s conversion is incomprehensible and terribly inconvenient for those that have been co-opted by ardent lesbianism and related postmodern philosophies.  For deeper readers, this review only scratches the surface.  Bottom line?  Read and discuss the book.  It is worth the time for those who believe in the resurrected Christ.

Footnotes

[1] http://RosariaButterfield.com.

[2] You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

[3] www.PromiseKeepers.org

[4] RPC adheres to the Westminster Confession which does not permit ordination of women.  http://ReformedPresbyterian.org.

[5] By contrast, her academic specialty, Queer Theory, is a topic that I have no background to evaluate (2).

[6] For example, read or listen to the testimony of Khalil (www.MoreThanDreams.tv/Khalil.html).

[7] See John Savage.  1996.  Listening and Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, pages 82-84.

[8] The only real hint in the book arises when Rosario write:  I had not always been a lesbian.  But once I had my first girlfriend, I was hooked and I was sure that I found my “real” self. (14)  This description reads as if one who, having tasted blood, desired more—an addiction consistent with deconstructionism’s focus on power.

[9] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47 ESV)

Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC

 

 

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