Monday, August 01, 2005

from Robert Gagnon's critique of ELCA's Journey

There are at least seven reasons why the prohibition of male (and implicitly female) homosexual practice in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 has to be taken seriously today.

1. As we have seen, it is part of a broader, interconnected Old Testament witness. This is not an isolated law. There is no case anywhere in the Old Testament for accepting homosexual relations, of any sort; nor, apart from some isolated instances of disobedience in Israel, is there any case for positing something other than revulsion for homosexual relations in ancient Israel.
2. The prohibition is grouped with other relevant sex proscriptions (incest, adultery, bestiality) that we still abide by today.
3. It is treated as a first-tier sexual offense both in Lev 20:10-16 and, by implication, elsewhere in the Old Testament (the creation stories, Ham’s offense, Sodom’s and Gibeah’s offense, the offense of the qedeshim). Engaging in male-male intercourse is not treated as a matter of minor import in the Old Testament but rather as a severe infraction of God’s will for human sexual relations.
4. Also speaking to the seriousness of the prohibition is the absolute character of the prohibition: like the prohibitions of various forms of incest, there are no exceptions for allegedly non-exploitative forms.
5. The prohibition bears the marks of a moral purity issue, not merely a ritual purity matter. Unlike ritual impurity matters (e.g., corpse impurity, genital discharges, scale disease), moral impurity matters such as the prohibitions of incest, adultery, male-male intercourse, and bestiality (a) are not contagious through physical contact, (b) are not rectified by ritual bathing, and (c) treat only intentional acts. See, further, Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford University Press, 2000), 22-34, 41-42.
6. The reason for the proscription of male-male intercourse—making another male a man’s sexual counterpart, putting a male in the category of a woman so far as sexual intercourse is concerned—leads us back to a foundational creation/nature model. Like the prohibition of bestiality, the prohibition of male-male intercourse speaks to the issue of mixing and confusing creation boundaries—though not in a wooden or unreflective way since the former (human-animal) involves an inappropriate merger between extreme ‘unlikes’ and the latter (male-male) an inappropriate merger between extreme ‘likes.’
7. The prohibition is clearly picked up in the New Testament. The term arsenokoitai (“men who lie with a male”) in 1 Cor 6:9 is formulated from the Septuagint (Greek OT) translation of Lev 18:22 and 20:13, which refers to not ‘lying’ (koite) with a ‘male’ (arsen) (note: the same point can be made for Rabbinic term mishkav zakur, “lying with a male”). Paul’s critique of homosexual relations in Rom 1:24-27 also echoes Lev 18 and 20 by using two terms that appear in Septuagint translation of these chapters: akatharsia (“uncleanness, impurity” in Rom 1:24 and Lev 18:19; 20:21, 25) and aschemosune (“indecency, indecent exposure”) in Rom 1:27 and twenty-four times in Lev 18:6-19; 20:11, 17-21. Like Paul’s discussion of incest in 1 Cor 5, it is absurd to argue that Paul’s indictment of homosexual relations did not have the Levitical prohibitions at least partly in view.

Had all seven of these arguments been put forward in the discussion of the Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse, the case for their ongoing relevance would have been sealed. As it was, whoever on the Task Force had a hand in this section cited only points 2 and (partially) point 6, even though all seven points can be deduced from my discussion of the Levitical prohibitions in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 111-46.


Offering Readers an Unchallenged Misogyny Argument and Orientation Argument
Background Essay lists six approaches to the Levitical prohibitions. Hultgren & Taylor rightly criticize the first three approaches on their list, all of which aim to circumvent the biblical witness: (1) “The laws deal with cultic prostitution and are therefore not relevant”; (2) “The laws deal with the critical issue of procreation in the life of ancient Israel, but that issue is no longer a factor” (see my qualification of this point in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 132-34); and (3) “The laws deal with Israel’s purity concerns and are therefore not relevant” (pp. 6-7). They also give a mild, perhaps half-hearted, critique to a sixth approach: “The laws deal with ‘abnormal’ sexual behavior in the eyes of the ancient Israelites, but that does not settle the matter subsequently” (pp. 8-9).
In each instance, their arguments against the approach in question could have been strengthened significantly. However, since Background Essay does not show clear support for these approaches, and I do not support them, there is no point in me adding to what I have already said above or elsewhere (cf. The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 113-22, 129-34; and Homosexuality and the Bible, 63-68, with online notes 38-58).

The remaining two approaches proposed by Hultgren & Taylor (4 and 5) both acknowledge that “the laws deal with Israel’s understanding of creation” (pp. 7-8). However the fourth approach states that this understanding makes the laws “relevant” while the fifth approach states, “that understanding [of creation] need not be normative today.” Which approach of the two does Background Essay adopt? Given the trend everywhere else in the essay it is not surprising that the latter of the two approaches gets virtually no criticism.
As regards the former (i.e. the fourth) approach—“The laws deal with Israel’s understanding of creation and are therefore relevant”—for which they cite my work, Background Essay adds a “counter” espoused by Martti Nissinen and Bernadette Brooten; namely, that “the issue is one of gender roles” and a desire to preserve “male dominance over women” (p. 8). In other words, Israel’s understanding of creation here is so imbued with misogynistic (women-hating) tendencies that it cannot be relied upon today. Hultgren & Taylor offer not a single rebuttal to this “counter.” It simply stands as the last word on the fourth approach.

When Hultgren & Taylor present the fifth approach—“Although the laws deal with Israel’s understanding of creation, that understanding need not be normative today”—that the understanding of creation in these laws “need not be normative today,” they offer no “counter” whatsoever:

According to this view, the complementarity of male and female that is assumed in the laws of Leviticus, based primarily on human anatomy . . . does not do justice to what is known about human sexuality in modern times. The concepts of sexual orientation, heterosexuality, and homosexuality were unknown to biblical writers. In current understanding, however, it is widely recognized that a person’s genitalia are only part of one’s sexual make-up; therefore the “anatomical complementarity” that seems so obvious is not the primary clue to any one person’s sexual orientation, even if it is for most persons. One’s self-understanding as a sexual being is more a matter of the mind than it is of physiological appearances. Accordingly, to absolutize Israel’s understanding of creation in matters of human sexuality and to refuse to consider newer understandings of human sexuality (such as the concept of sexual orientation) is to deny the God-given powers of reason, observation, and experience. As Luke Timothy Johnson has phrased it: “For many persons the acceptance of their homosexuality is an acceptance of creation as it applies to them.” Since the refusal to consider newer understandings is not done in other areas of human inquiry and understanding, the argument goes, it should not be done here either.

Can this way of thinking be accepted? If so, other issues arise. . . . (emphasis added; p. 8)

There follows some questions about what the implications of such an approach might be for biblical authority and how one might discern what is still normative in Scripture today. But there is no “counter” to this approach as a whole. Readers encounter only a conceding “if so” response to the question “Can this way of thinking be accepted?” So while Hultgren & Taylor (here chiefly Hultgren) do not explicitly say, “We prefer this approach to the approach that says the understanding of creation in these laws gives them continuing relevance,” the way in which they discuss the two approaches strongly conveys such an impression to readers.

The truth is that both the unchallenged “counter” to accepting the laws against male-male intercourse and the unchallenged affirmation of the irrelevance of such laws are convoluted.

Against the Misogyny Argument
It is at best reductionistic to surmise misogyny (women-hating) as the sole or even main reason for the Levitical prohibition of a man “lying with a male as lying with a woman.” There are at least six reasons why the misogyny argument misrepresents the witness of the Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse.

First, asserting that concerns for maintaining male dominance constitute the main reason for the categorical rejection of homoerotic behavior by the Levitical Holiness Code is like arguing that its main complaint with incest and bestiality has to do with status issues. It completely ignores concerns for structural congruence and compatibility, avoiding too much likeness (having sex with “the flesh of one’s flesh,” 18:6) and unlikeness (human-animal sexual contact, expressly labeled as an appalling “mixture”).
For example, as regards the incest laws, Lev 18:10 forbids a man to have sexual relations with his granddaughters. Why? The text tells us simply: “for they are (i.e. their nakedness is) your nakedness,” that is, they are structural sames to yourself. If the sex laws in Leviticus 18 and 20 were merely concerned about maintaining status differentiations, then we would expect the text to say that the pater familias (the father or head of the extended family) had a right to such intercourse, since in having sex with them he would be exhibiting his dominance.
With respect to the prohibition of bestiality, if the only issue were establishing higher status, we might expect the laws to permit males at least to penetrate animals since penetration is a sign of dominance over the one penetrated.

Second, I argued above that it is improper to use the prohibition of wearing clothes made of different materials as a justification for disregarding the prohibition of male-male intercourse—and the same could be said about the prohibitions of breeding across species or sowing with two different kinds of seed (19:19). Even so, these prohibitions surely speak more for concerns regarding structural compatibility than for concerns regarding dominance and status. Something similar can be said about the laws against having intercourse with a menstruating woman (18:19; 20:18): they have to do with not mixing a medium and symbol of life (semen) with a medium and symbol of death (menstrual blood) and with respecting the time that nature had given for a woman’s body to be replenished before a new procreative cycle. There is no motif of dominance here.

Third, if ancient Israel’s laws against male-male intercourse had been directly and primarily motivated by a disgust for women as inferior beings, then ancient Israel would have had the most misogynistic culture in the ancient Near East, since it exhibited the greatest opposition to male-male intercourse. But the absurdity of this corollary suggests that the motivation for the prohibitions in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 was something other or more than misogyny.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament one meets women who play significant roles in Israel’s salvation history; for example, Miriam, Tamar, Rahab, the prophetess and “judge” Deborah, Jael, Ruth, the prophetess Huldah, and Esther. Occasionally an inequitable old law is revised to provide greater parity between men and women, as with the law governing the release of slaves (cf. Exodus 21:2-11 with Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Feminine metaphors are occasionally applied to Yahweh in his dealings with Israel (e.g., Num 11:12; Deut 32:11, 18; Ps 22:9-10; Isa 42:14; 49:14-15; 66:13).
Given these women-affirming messages, albeit within a broad patriarchal context, it would appear to be a gross misrepresentation of the witness of Scripture to argue that ancient Israel’s passionate opposition to homosexual practice derived essentially from an unparalleled drive to keep women down.

Fourth, of particular import is Genesis 1-3. As already noted, the creation story in Genesis 2:4b-3:24 ensconces male-female differentiation in pre-Fall structures as the one most essential ingredient for (re)integrating sexual halves into a sexual whole (2:18-24), while relegating a husband’s rule over his wife to the Fall (3:16). The implication here is that gender differentiation cannot be collapsed into gender stratification. The former is prior (in creation, before the Fall) and thus has priority. In other words, sexual differentiation and its implications for sexual pairing antedate the effects of human sin; a husband’s authority over his wife does not.
Likewise, Genesis 1:26-28 stresses male-female compatibility, not male dominance. Male and female combined express God’s image and both are called on to manage God’s creation. The issue here as regards the creation of humans “male and female” is, like everywhere else in Genesis 1, more about creation “according to kind” than about dominance (vv. 11-12, 21, 24-25).

Fifth, had the prime concern motivating Lev 18:22 and 20:13 been the desire to preserve male dominance over women, we would expect the legislators of the Holiness Code to have made subversion of male hierarchy punishable by death, not just the “symptom” of homosexual intercourse.

Sixth, developments in the ancient Near East and in ancient Greece and Rome show various ways in which intense misogyny and strong support for male homosexual practice could readily coexist. Indeed, in the ancient world greater rights for women tended to go hand in hand with greater opposition to male homosexual practice, since arguments for the superiority of male-male love over male-female love were largely based on an ideology of female inferiority.

Why does Background Essay not mention a single one of the arguments given above for rebutting the misogyny theory of Nissinen and Brooten, when the case against it is so strong? This is just one more instance of why ELCA churches cannot rely upon Background Essay for a fair or competent presentation of the evidence. It is precisely because of the strong case against the misogyny argument as an interpretive lens for the Levitical prohibitions that I drew the following conclusion in The Bible and Homosexual Practice:

At issue was not so much status differentiation as sexual differentiation. Males were created by God, anatomically and otherwise, for pairing with an “other,” not a “like,” of the same species. The thinking of the legislators of the Holiness Code was apparently not “Men should not take on the role of women in sexual intercourse because women are inferior beings” but rather “Men should not take on the role of women in sexual intercourse because God created distinct sexes, designed them for sexual pairing, and did so for a reason.” While status inversion and gender inversion are related concepts, they are not identical. The latter, if not the former, is the main concern behind the Levitical laws. (p. 142)

Against the Orientation Argument
Hultgren & Taylor present, without rebuttal, the approach that says that new knowledge about sexual orientation allows us to disregard Israel’s understanding of structural complementarity of males and females. I have already dealt with some of the flaws of this argument in the subsection above entitled “Limited to heterosexuals?” Here I recap some of those points and add others, forming five counterarguments—none of which are noted in Background Essay.

First, as we shall see when we comment more fully on Paul’s view of homosexual practice, it is simply not true that no one in the ancient world had any notion of an exclusive attraction to persons of the same sex or of congenital influences on such attraction. That Hultgren & Taylor could make such a statement when work done by myself, Bernadette Brooten, and William Schoedel (the last two supportive of committed homosexual unions) had already shown that such notions did exist raises serious questions about the care with which Background Essay was produced.
To be sure, ideas regarding something akin to a sexual orientation appear for the most part in works of the Greek and Roman periods rather than prior in the ancient Near East when the Levitical Holiness Code would have taken shape. Nevertheless, if such notions made little difference to Paul’s perspective on homosexual practice—an individual for whom grace was central—then the very same notions could hardly have made a difference for the writers of Leviticus 18 and 20.
Moreover, we do know that Mesopotamian sources regarded figures comparable to the qedeshim in the Old Testament (i.e. male cult functionaries who could serve as feminized passive partners in male-male intercourse) as persons both who had been transformed into “men-women” by the goddess Inanna or Ishtar and whose actions were held in great disdain (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 49). While not a ‘scientific’ view, it nonetheless demonstrates the obvious point that people in the ancient Near East could regard as wrong or repugnant even behavior that arose from impulses over which the perpetrator of the behavior had little or no choice in feeling.

Second, Background Essay misrepresents my views and distorts the issue at hand when it cites my work as focusing merely on an argument of “anatomical complementarity” (viz., the complementary shape of the sex organs male-to-female) and then contrasts this approach with an allegedly more holistic approach that takes into account the mind (p. 8).
When I talk about the main motivation behind the laws against male-male intercourse I do so under the rubric of “gender discomplementarity” and specifically state: “Gender complementarity between male and female is expressed not only in basic sexual anatomy but also in a more holistic sense, as suggested by the Yahwist’s depiction of woman’s creation out of man’s ‘rib’” (which, incidentally, I would now read more broadly as “side”; The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 135-39).
When one understands that the anatomical discomplementarity of male-male intercourse is conceived as merely part of, and emblematic of, a broader discomplementarity of sex or gender, then it becomes much more difficult to dismiss the point as treating only superficial matters. Background Essay says, under the guise of representing one approach (without challenge): “In current understanding, however, it is widely recognized that a person’s genitalia are only part of one’s sexual make-up” (ibid.). To this I would respond: So too in the ancient world.

Third, Background Essay adds: “One’s self-understanding as a sexual being is more a matter of the mind than it is of physiological appearances” (ibid.). To this I would respond: One’s “self-understanding” does not change the reality of the structural features of embodied existence—including chromosomal structures, the dominant male character of male brains and the dominant female character of female brains, and the significantly higher levels of testosterone in males than in females.
We know today, for example, that even highly effeminate male homosexuals still tend to act like males as regards sexual stimulation patterns: more visually stimulated, more genitally focused, less given to monogamous patterns of behavior, and more inclined toward risky sexual practices than are females generally. This helps to explain why male homosexual practice is characterized by a much higher rate of numbers of sex partners lifetime than not only heterosexual practice but also female homosexual practice.
If a human thinks that s/he is a duck, that doesn’t make her or his embodied existence that of a duck. And if a man thinks that his sexual counterpart is another male, or a female another female, that does not make it so. An ‘orientation’ toward a problem behavior—here being sexually aroused by the distinctiveness of one’s own sex and thinking that a person of one’s own sex can complete oneself sexually—doesn’t make the behavior less problematic but only more intractable.

Fourth, to attribute a sexual impulse to God’s creative activity simply because it may be linked to a predisposition and may be judged difficult to resist is to commit a logical and theological fallacy of monumental proportions.
Most intractable sexual urges, like most innate impulses generally, are sinful—even many whose congenital character is beyond dispute. It is manifestly absurd to give equal, let alone greater, heuristic weight for discerning God’s will in creation and nature to the existence of innate impulses and mental self-images than to obviously complementary embodied structures of maleness and femaleness.
Imagine someone making the following observation: “For many persons the acceptance of their pedosexuality (i.e. pedophilia) is an acceptance of creation as it applies to them. The concept of a pedosexual orientation was unknown to biblical writers. We should be open to newer understandings, including some recent APA studies that acknowledge that some adult-child sex appears to produce no long-term measurable harm.”
Or, now that we are aware that some people (in fact, most men) are hardwired for polysexuality (i.e. an inclination to have sex with more than one person) and find monogamy difficult, should we now repeal Jesus’ closing of the polygyny loophole that Moses had permitted men? And if we find that preposterous then why is the church seeking to make optional an other-sex prerequisite on which the ‘twoness’ of sexual unions is based?

Fifth, had Hultgren & Taylor read the whole of The Bible and Homosexual Practice they would have seen that there was no refusal “to consider newer understandings of human sexuality” and no ignoring of scientific evidence. On the contrary, such evidence was carefully assessed and at a much greater depth than the authors of Journey Two and Background Essay display.
Rather, in the light of Scripture, a study of the ancient world, and modern scientific evidence, the following four points can be made. (1) Sexual ‘orientation’ is not like ethnicity or sex (i.e., it is not 100% inheritable and culturally immutable and, of course, it leads to patterns of behavior that show increased risk of harm). (2) The concept of exclusive attraction for members of the same sex originating in a combination of congenital influences and early socialization was already known in the ancient world at some level. (3) The Bible’s witness against homosexual practice is predicated on a more holistic and secure understanding of embodied sexuality than modern pro-homosex fascination with the direction of one’s sexual desire at a given stage in a person’s life. Thus (4) knowledge of a ‘homosexual orientation’ would neither have constituted radically new information for the authors of Scripture nor would it have made a difference to their overall indictment of persons aroused by what they already have and are as sexual beings.

Can Christians Use Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in Formulating Ethics?
In “Other arguments in Journey Two” we saw how Christian disuse of capital sentences for sex offenses did not signify the ethical irrelevance of Levitical laws against incest, adultery, and bestiality. Hultgren & Taylor do not raise this point when they close their discussion on the Levitical laws by asking: “Can Christians use passages from Leviticus in developing ethical positions today?” (p. 9). However, they do rightly note that Christians cannot simply dismiss Levitical laws as having no relevance even as guidelines for Christian conduct.
Unfortunately, Hultgren & Taylor cite only one criterion for discerning whether the laws against male-male intercourse have continuing relevance for Christian morality: reuse in the New Testament (compare the seven criteria that I cite above under “The Need to Spell Out Reasons for Enduring Relevance”). To make matters worse, their last word on the matter reflects the negative stance on the Levitical witness that appears elsewhere in their discussion: While some interpreters see such reuse in the New Testament, “other interpreters have concluded that while the New Testament prohibits certain kinds of same-gender sexual behavior, it is silent on others” (p. 9).
Certainly some interpreters have argued this. But the grounds for doing so are insubstantial.

First, as we have noted (see point 7 under “Reasons for Enduring Relevance”) both Rom 1:24-27 and 1 Cor 6:9 clearly echo the Levitical prohibitions, indicating that the New Testament authors adopt the absolute stance of those prohibitions. Indeed, all the extant evidence from the early Judaism indicates that Jews universally both understood and appropriated the Levitical prohibitions in the same absolute light (see, for example, Josephus, Philo, and rabbinic texts; The Bible and Homosexual Practice, ch. 2 on the witness of early Judaism).
That the early Christian community did so as well is confirmed by the requirement that Gentiles abstain from “sexual immorality” (porneia), found in the “Apostolic Decree” of Acts 15 (see above under “Where’s Jesus”). This requirement clearly harks back to the sex laws in Lev 18 (other elements of the Decree can be traced to Lev 17) and undoubtedly included at the forefront, as with developing Noahide laws in early Judaism, a prohibition of male-male intercourse.

Second, we have also shown above (“Ignoring the Intertextual echoes to the Creation Texts”) that Rom 1:23-27 and 1 Cor 6:9 contain clear intertextual echoes to Gen 1:26-27 and 2:24 respectively. If homosexual practice is being contrasted unfavorably with God’s design for male-female pairing at creation then obviously there isn’t any form of male-male or female-female intercourse that would have been acceptable for Paul. We noted that Background Essay fails even to discuss the contention of intertextual echoes to Gen 1:26-27 in Rom 1:23-27, found in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 289-92. And we showed how the attempt in Background Essay to dismiss the link between “men who lie with a male” in 1 Cor 6:9 and the citation of Gen 2:24b in 1 Cor 6:16 fails on at least three counts.

Third, we shall also see other arguments for the fact that Paul was not limiting his indictment of homosexual practice, including:

• The absolute wording of Rom 1:24-27
• The mention of mutual gratification in Rom 1:27
• The parallelism between the creation argument in 1:19-23 and the nature argument in 1:24-27, which combined allude to the revelatory value of the material structures of creation
• The mention of lesbian sex in Rom 1:26, sexual activity that was not normally conducted in the context of prostitution, cultic activity, or adult-adolescent relationships
• The fact that the conception of non-exploitative homosexual unions was well known in the Greco-Roman world and yet still made little difference to critics of such unions.

The notion that Paul would have found loving and committed adult homosexual unions to be acceptable is as absurd as contending that Paul would have approved of the case of man-stepmother incest in 1 Cor 5 if it had been a committed relationship.


Mwalimu Daudi said...

Shrimp, have you seen the article about the bishop that illegally seized control of an Episcopal church in Connecticut? This article can be found at:

Coming soon to a ELCA church near you. Be tolerant - or else!

Shrimp said...

Oh, I'm there, I'm there. Know all about it.

We can't really talk about the ELCA analogy now because there is this one certain ELCA bishop who thinks CCM gives him some of these same super powers. When it hits the fan it will wake more people up.

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