A friend recently wrote “an argument among friends lies at the heart of our enterprise as Christian scholars. We each aim to give witness to the truth . . .”
As scientists and Christians we are eyewitnesses to God’s Truth. What an awesome endeavor!
We are eyewitnesses to His truth when we study nature as found in the observable created world, experiencing His reality and catching a glimpse of the holy in the everyday things around us—in a loving touch, in the gift of attention, and in the smile of a stranger.
Yes, even in an argument with a friend.
We are also eyewitnesses to His Truth as revealed in Scripture, which He supernaturally authored. This Truth is without error or misstatements of any kind in all historical, moral and spiritual teachings.
It is with humility that we are to approach the study of nature and Scripture, knowing that we are not God or without error. In fact, our hearts are deceitful above all else, said the prophet Jeremiah. C.S. Lewis (in the Space Trilogy) referred to us as being “bent”—like the trees in the panhandle of Texas that grow in the direction that the wind is always blowing—curved toward corruption.
God’s Word: The Truth and the Authority
Our insights and understandings must always be grounded in the Truth, His revealed Word. This is what is captured by the phrase, “Reformed and ever-reforming.” It is actually a shortened version of the Latin phrase “Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei,” which translated means that “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary (and Biola University graduate) notes:
When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.
Thus, true reformation occurs when we align our values, actions and beliefs with the Word of God – not the other way around. It occurs when we rid ourselves of false beliefs that do not line up with Scripture. The way I see it, it is a reminder to us that Scripture must always counter our bent tendencies that so naturally grow in the direction of the prevailing culture winds.
To remind readers I was asked to participate in this blog because I am a Christian, a social scientist, and I uphold a “traditional” view to the issue of same-sex behavior. In case any may have missed the last decade of unprecedented culture shifts, to actually still believe and advocate for a traditional approach is to go counter to the prevailing winds and risk being on the wrong side of history. However, after much study and prayer and listening to experts, I am convinced that this view is on the right side of God’s Word.
23 Questions about the Truth, Interpretation and Loving Others
By my count David Myers asked 28 questions of me (asking readers to join in as well) in his second blog: Three were about science, one was rhetorical (What shall we make of the gay parenting studies?), one is hard to answer with a 3,000 word limit (Is biology the chicken or the egg?), and 23 were related to the Bible, theology, interpretation, sexual ethics and how we treat others.
As David’s questions remind us, much of our understanding and perspectives, as well as how we treat people, flow from our beliefs and values, from Scripture and our interpretation of Scripture. Because we are committed to the Truth, we both respect and seek to integrate science and Scripture. As integrationists we ask biblical and theological questions because they play a central role in our faith and in our science. With open-eyed wonder and bent-knee humility, we both revel as we get to daily examine that which has been created and authored by God. As David so aptly put it:
As behavioral scientists and Christians, we both begin, I sense, with the assumption that all humans have dignity but not deity. We are fallible creatures. Knowing that some of our beliefs err (we are not God), we hold our untested beliefs tentatively and, when appropriate, use observation and experimentation to sift truth from error. Believing that God has written the book of nature, our calling is to read it as clearly and honestly as we can.
With all do respect and humility as noted above, here is what I believe about same-sex behavior, God’s Word, our interpretations, and the passages that deal with God’s sexual ethics. I will start with one belief that is uncontroversial.
1. Are there any passages or verses in the Bible that approve, affirm or bless same-sex behavior?
The answer is a clear and convincing “No.” There is not a single known passage that approves or blesses same-sex behavior. This is beyond contestation, and it is not controversial.
Author Kevin DeYoung notes:
Even the gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk has concluded that ‘wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it the New Testament adds no new arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem.’ There is simply no positive case to be made from the Bible for homoerotic behavior.
2. Do the Biblical texts that deal specifically with same-sex behavior condemn it unconditionally and call it a sin to be repented of, forsaken and forgiven?
The short answer: Scripture calls us to refrain from all non-marital heterosexual or homosexual sexual behavior, whether loving and monogamous or not.
Any sexual intimacy outside the confines of marriage violates God’s design and is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture, as understood by Christian churches throughout history. We find the biblical teaching of monogamy in the Genesis account of creation, reflected in the teachings of Jesus himself, and maintained consistently throughout Scripture. Hence, sexual intimacy and the sexual union of intercourse between a man and a woman are intended for a purpose—to join one husband and one wife together into one flesh in the context of marriage (I Cor. 6:16). This God-initiated oneness is clearly recognized and affirmed by Jesus in terms of the marital union of husband and wife (Matt 19:4-6).
These views spring from God’s self-revelation in Scripture—grounding and forming our understanding of sexuality and marriage—and thereby shaping us by His purposes through His Word.
Clearly we will each fall short, and it is only by His mercy, grace and forgiveness that we are inspired and enabled (however faltering) to live out His good and perfect design for us. As we commit to following Jesus through the teaching and plan found in God’s Word, we must strive for sexual purity as well as fidelity in marriage, and in so doing able to give witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here are some issues that need more thought
Now to a few of David’s other questions: He asks, “Why do so many Christians seemingly continue to resist the strength and persistence of biological effects on behaviors like sexual orientation?”
There can be many answers to this question. It may be that many Christians seek to avoid a naturalistic fallacy (the erroneous notion “biological” or “natural” implies moral goodness or acceptance.) Perhaps many believe that the innate effects are not sufficient or compelling enough to morally justify any resultant behavior, as many commentators have frequently implied. Perhaps they feel that with this issue it is still too early to draw any causative statements, given the correlational nature of these studies, the relative newness of the research, and the small sample sizes used in most studies.
In a “Would you have guessed it?” twist, some leading gay activists now wonder why the biology of sexual orientation is still such an issue. They are instead admitting that for them it was a choice (see It’s OK to Choose to Be Gay, and I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay)
Why not offer an inclusive pro-monogamy norm?
One can just as easily ask, “Why offer a pro-monogamy norm at all? Why should anyone stay monogamous (or pure or chaste or avoid pornography) when our biological wiring is so innately wired for sexual novelty? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Over the years there are clear and compelling lines of evidence that have converged showing that men are biologically “programmed” to be interested in sexual encounters with novel females (called the Coolidge Effect.)
Psychologist Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. (Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality) ask this:
You want an inconvenient truth? Try this one: Human beings are clearly evolved for sex lives featuring multiple simultaneous sexual relationships. Men, especially, are designed by evolution to be attracted to sexual novelty and to gradually lose sexual attraction to the same partner in the absence of such novelty.
And here is the problem: Concerning innate biological effects – once Scripture is changed to fit the view that Genesis and other passages allow for same-sex behavior, then the sexual ethic of monogamy doesn’t make sense for gay or straight. If God did not design sex for the purpose of uniting one man and one woman into a permanent, lifelong, one flesh union to bear His image together, then Scriptural support for key aspects of this sexual ethic must be jettisoned as well, no longer able to serve as the basis for a cogent argument against monogamy. Says one author:
So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved? . . . Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.
What then can be used to argue against it? Convention? Tradition? A compelling sense that it is simply wrong to cheat on a spouse, whether same-sex or opposite-sex?
And if the Coolidge Effect is so strong and we are indeed biologically preprogrammed to seek out multiple partners, how and why could we expect someone to stay faithful to a spouse? Isn’t this putting a Pharisaical burden on the backs of people? Some gay activists argue that monogamy is an unfair burden, and instead extol the virtues of being “mongomish.” Highlighting an upcoming film on the topic:
The “traditional” values that have shaped our understanding of love, sex, and marriage are losing their hold on our culture. . . But despite all these transformations the ideal of a monogamous loving couple hasn’t changed one bit. It’s as if we are held captive to a certain picture of what a loving relationship must be like, which continues to exert a powerful influence on the popular imagination. But why? Where does this ideal come from? Is it inevitable?
Once we go with a biological effects argument in supporting homosexuality, is not the next step to accept polyamorous affairs within all marriages?
Pharisees and Burdens and No Easy Answers
David asks, “Rather than tie ‘onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry,’ as Jesus said of the Pharisees, why not offer a positive affirmation of monogamy?
Here is what (I presume) is being asked: If, as David believes, Scriptural passages that deal specifically with same-sex behavior only describe immoral acts of gang rape, power imbalances, exploitative in nature, etc., and do not take into account the loving, committed, monogamous acts that characterize today’s same-sex behavior, are we then comparing apples to oranges, and thus must set aside the scriptural prohibitions against homosexual behavior because the biblical authors knew nothing about committed, consensual, lifelong partnerships?
It is clear David doubts that a loving God would compel those with same-sex attractions and orientations to follow a sexual ethic that is burdensome and hard to follow, acts over which they have no control or choice. He seeks instead for Christians to proclaim a “single Christian sexual ethic” that applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals, i.e., marry or be celibate. His assumption (I think) is that we are to follow God’s plan for marriage (permanent, monogamous unions) in every other way, save the “man—woman” notion. Holding any other standard makes you guilty of being unfair at best and Pharisaical at worst.
If I am not mistaken Jesus leveled this particular “woe to the Pharisee” charge against the religious leaders who held their flocks to impossible standards that are not personally followed by the leaders.
Matthew 23:4 says:
They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
So is the solution simply to remove the burden by allowing (fighting, advocating, voting for) marriage for same-sex couples? Biblically speaking, the only way that this can be accomplished is with an eraser and a pen, e.g., to rewrite or reform Scripture.
Those unwilling to do so are presumed guilty of not lifting a finger. Why? Because we are cold-hearted? We are homophobic? Unenlightened and uniformed? Bigoted? Are we, once again, like the ancient religious leaders (Pharisees?) hiding behind false teachings?
Serious and condemning charges are implied here. Is this accurate? Is this appropriate?
If so, nearly every Christian, Biblical scholar, non-believer, other major religious followers, and practically every known culture for almost two millennia believed that marriage is only between one man and one woman.
Are traditionalists placing undue burdens on same-sex attracted and oriented people when we claim that same-sex behavior is immoral, and the only option available for them is chastity, not marriage? Is this demanding too much?
The truth is the New Testament and Jesus consistently call believers to behave in ways that can only be defined as “burdensome” (e.g., “give a blessing for an insult,” 1 Pet. 3:9; “Take up your cross daily and follow Me,” Luke 9:23; and “Do good to those who hate you,” Matt. 5:44) unless we understand that true life and joy and happiness is found in obedience to God’s ways. All of these commands are hard if not impossible – apart from the power of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:13).
Perhaps the best thing I can do to answer this question is to point people to authors like Wesley Hill and Eve Tushnet, both same-sex attracted, who make compelling cases for a traditional view of marriage and dispel the assumption of impossible burdens. I implore you to read Eve’s posts and especially Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. Wesley is a gay Christian who advocates for celibacy because as a theologian he finds the case for marriage between one man and one woman the clear and compelling sexual ethic taught in Scripture.
And the burden is clearly hard for Wesley and Eve and many other celibate Christians. After meeting and speaking with Wesley just one time I found myself both encouraged and humbled, and now pray for him on a regular basis. There are no easy answers. But at least read their story and then decide if these charges of Pharisaical burdens are fair or unfair.
In closing, here are seven pledges that as a follower of Jesus, a social scientist, and a traditionalist I commit to (compiled and adapted from various sources):
- I pledge tell everyone the good news of the gospel: Jesus died and rose again, setting us free from the curse of death and sin, and that Christ is the only way to the Father and eternal life.
- I pledge to treat all Christians as new creations in Christ, remembering that our true identity is not based on sexuality or self-expression but on our union with Christ.
- I strive to be objective and careful when examining scientific findings, when using observation and experimentation to sift truth from error, and when integrating nature and Scripture as clearly and honestly as I can, holding untested beliefs tentatively.
- I affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBTQ persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. I pledge to love my neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about same-sex behavior and marriage. I pledge not to be a Pharisee.
- I pledge to guard the truth of God’s word concerning biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture and confronts the world when it tries to press us into its mold, telling the truth about all sin, especially the ones most prevalent in my community.
- I pledge to ask for forgiveness if I am ever rude, thoughtless, or joke inappropriately about homosexuals. I will extend God’s forgiveness to all those who express brokenhearted repentance, everyone from homosexual sinners to heterosexual sinners, from the proud to the greedy, from the people pleaser to the self-righteous.
- I strive to welcome all those who hate their sin and struggle against it, even when that struggle involves failures and setbacks. I will seek to love my neighbor, regardless of their particular vices or virtues.
In short, I pledge to love the LORD our God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.
I know that to make sense of life we must always ask ourselves how our personal narrative is taken up into that of God’s, how our own story should be reformed within His story, not how God’s reality might fit into ours. Only by doing this can we make sense of our past, present and future, understanding that our desires and behaviors are reordered by the more compelling purpose found in God’s plan and in His Word.