40 Questions for Affirming Christians Part 2

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Image Source: Benson Kua, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rainbow_flag_breeze21.jpg

Continuing to tackle some questions aimed at affirming Christians.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

Most translations render porneia as something broad like “sexual immorality.” Some older translations like the KJV use “fornication” which doesn’t really carry moral weight in modern English. Sometimes it is translated as “adultery” or “sexual unfaithfulness”, which is probably the best option, but the term in and of itself is not particularly specific.

I’ll admit to having not run through a Greek concordance, but as far as I could find with quick Google work, Jesus only uses the word twice, Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:9 (and parallels). The saying in 19 is really just a shorter version of 5, which says:

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’[a]32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness [porneia] forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (CEB)

So, context: the only reason that a man is justified in divorcing his wife is porneia. As I talked about in the last post, this is a message about the importance of that lifelong covenant with another human being that we call marriage. It seems like adultery is definitely the main thing Jesus is talking about here, but we don’t know exactly what else it might contain. There’s no reason to assume that the cause for divorce is because she went and entered a consensual covenant relationship with another woman, which wouldn’t have been possible for two reasons: 1. She was already married to you, 2. Same-sex marriage wasn’t an option in the Ancient Near East.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

Among a big list of other sins related to idolatry, Paul mentions how men gave up their natural desires and had sex with men instead. So, 1. We aren’t talking about people whose natural desires are men (otherwise they aren’t giving something up), and 2. the context being idolatry gives strong suggestion that he was referring to pagan temple prostitution, where you would “exchange” payment for sex with the prostitute and hopefully the favour of the god in question.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Yes, with the qualification that Heaven is primarily about the way of life that is in line with Jesus and his Kingdom. I don’t believe that sexual sins have a special place where committing one means you burn in Hell for eternity. I do believe that sexual immorality is one of many ways in which we are capable of not looking like Jesus.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

The 1 Corinthians text uses the word arsenokoitai which isn’t an easy word to translate. Literally it is something like “man bedders” but we don’t have a lot of other ancient uses for it to know its use. Before the mid-1900’s, we translated like the KJV’s “abusers of themselves with mankind.” The argument for this being against gay sex is that arsenokoitai means the one penetrating and the accompanying word malakoi means the one being penetrated (literally something like “soft ones”, translated in KJV as “effeminate”).

Even if we make the huge assumption that it does mean these things, we still have to consider the context. Like Romans, the context is tied into pagan worship. So, does God have a problem with pagan worship, including temple prostitution… or did Paul feel it important to completely detour from his main point to also make sure it was clear that all sex between two men was wrong? The former makes a lot more sense.

I haven’t studied the Greek quite as much for the Revelation text, but even the CEB (which translates the Corinthians text as “both participants in same-sex intercourse” so they’re not afraid of a conservative statement on the topic) translates the point in question as “whoremongers”. In other words, the problem pointed out here are the pimps and johns who see women as products for male pleasure. I definitely can get behind calling that a problem. Interestingly, it doesn’t identify the prostitutes themselves as a problem, probably because they usually didn’t really have a choice.

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Up until fairly recently in history, most people in the West thought that being attracted to the same sex was because of an overflow of sexual desire that couldn’t be satisfied enough by just your spouse(s). The concept of an actual covenant relationship didn’t cross their mind until we started to learn things like that some people actually are naturally attracted only to the same sex.

We’ve also had significant shifts in the last few years away from seeing marriage as a business contract to produce babies into something that actually involves the choice of both partners.

In their context, I can’t completely blame them for speaking poorly of gay people. I think they were wrong, but their cultural bias gave them reason to be. It’s similar to how cultural bias has impacted other decisions like slavery.

That answer is without diving into each of their context’s like Augustine’s well-established hatred of sex or Calvin’s super-legalism or Luther’s anti-Semitism. Just because they provided some important ideas to the Church doesn’t mean they were right about everything.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

Aside from pointing out the fact that some of those places are only so vitriolic toward LGBTQ people is because of American Evangelical influence (e.g. Uganda’s death penalty), I’ll steal this answer from the Unfundamentalist Christian answer, citing 1 Corinthians 13:9-12:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

None of are anywhere near perfect. We don’t have a monopoly on truth. Cultural biases blind us, both “liberal” and “conservative.” Consequently, there are many things that Christians in Africa, Asia, and South American can teach the Western Church because of things we are blinded to. Off the top of my head, I can think of the greater emphasis on experiencing God, living in real meaningful community, and caring for the poor while we mostly settle for theological discussion about God once a week. We’re best off when we’re dialoguing with each other about these questions, and a lot of Christians in those parts of the world actually understand that better than North Americans.

Similar to a previous question, I’m always going to err on the side of grace. Humanity tends to divide and hate and find ways we are better than each other. To me, it’s more likely that the people playing judge – repeatedly spoken against in Scripture – are the ones who are biased in this case and are missing out on God’s grace breaking into the world.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

I think they were influenced by their cultural context and the desire to get elected. And I’m not entirely sure why they are my standard for moral deliberation anyway.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.