Tag Archive | gay christians

Graded Objectives in Modern Equality

Back in the early 1990s, I was studying for my GCSEs. The year before I sat my GCSE French exams, I sat another set of exams in French: a NISEAC Graded Objective in Modern Languages. The Graded Objective in French was essentially a GCSE-lite qualification. It was a subset of what GCSE French covered. After completing my GCSE in French, I never again used my Graded Objective qualification. It had been superseded.

In 2011, I formed a civil partnership with my now-husband. In 2016, I married him. Although the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are much smaller than the differences between a Graded Objective and a GCSE, the situation is similar. The marriage supersedes the civil partnership.

Has my relationship with my husband changed? No, but the legal recognition of that relationship has changed. The differences between marriage and civil partnership depend on which jurisdiction you are talking about (here are some examples for Ireland, and here are some for England and Wales). For us, the key issue is that we are no longer “separate but equal”; we are now equal. In the eyes of the law, our relationship has exactly the same standing as the relationship between my best friend, Rob, and his wife, Emma. That equality in the eyes of the law is both driven by and a driving force for being seen as equal in the eyes of society.

Marriage and religion

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John and Andrew McFarland Campbell. Photo: Rob Moir

In 2011, we formed our civil partnership. The next day, we married in church. We are both Christian, and as such we wanted to get married in church. That ceremony had no legal standing, but it is the one that we regard as being the official start of our married relationship. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not currently legal, and there is a campaign to make same-sex civil marriage legal. That doesn’t go far enough, as the campaign apparently ignores people in same-sex relationships who want same-sex religious marriage. As well as being an issue of civil rights, marriage equality is an issue of religious freedom. In a country where an opposite-sex couple can choose to get married in a church or other religious venue (if the church or venue wants to marry them) but a same-sex couple can only be married in a civil, secular ceremony, there is still discrimination against same-sex couples, albeit significantly attenuated discrimination.

I believe that one day this discrimination will end completely, but until then we should all be aware that not everyone is allowed to progress beyond a Graded Objective in Modern Language.

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Fencing Around the Gospel

I started learning to drive recently, and I am really enjoying it. There is something magical about controlling 1,500kg of steel with a tiny amount of pressure from my hands and feet. So magical, in fact, that it is very easy to accidentally use a little too much pressure on the right foot, and without even realising it, break the speed limit. So what do I do? When I’m driving, I usually aim to go slightly below the speed limit – say 28 mph in a 30 zone. That way, when I inevitably make a mistake and go too fast, I am still within the speed limit (and, at the same time, I’m not going so slowly that I cause problems for other drivers).  This additional personal constraint means I don’t break the speed limit.

This is not dissimilar to  chumra, a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law. This is also known as building a “fence around the Torah”. You know what the commandments of God are, and where you think you might be prone to breaking them, you put in additional restrictions to help you keep God’s commandments. This is a good idea, as long as you know the difference between your fence and God’s commandments.

People have been building fences like these for thousands of years. In fact, the first fence in the Bible can be found in Genesis Chapter 3. The first recorded commandment of God is in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(NIV)

Eve repeats the commandment in Genesis 3:2-3:

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(NIV)

Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree, but Eve had built a fence around that commandment: she said that it was forbidden to touch the tree. Now, I think it was quite sensible to decide that the tree should not be touched. After all, if you don’t allow yourself to even touch the tree, then you are avoiding some situations where you might be tempted to eat from it. The problem is, Eve forgot that the no touching rule was a human rule, not a commandment of God. It was, as Mark 7:7 would say,  “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)

Living as a Christian is not the same as living under the Law of Moses. We don’t have lists of commandments that we must follow. Nonetheless, there are ways that Christians ought to behave, and many of us build our own “fences around the Gospel”. The trouble is, it is very easy to forget that our fences are only our fences. Someone else may need a completely different fence. I know Christians who refuse to do any work on a Sunday, regarding it as the Lord’s day. That is fine for them. It works for them, but Christians don’t have to take this attitude. As long as we remember the “no work on a Sunday” rule is a personal fence, then nobody is teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.

There is another fence that many Christians put around the gospel, but they don’t realise it. Matthew 19:4-6:

 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”(NIV)

Someone recently said to me, using this passage as proof, “God made only one plan for human sexuality: one man and one woman in a covenantal marriage relationship for life.” Nobody could read that passage and think that God somehow disapproved of one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship, but it is a fence around the Gospel to say that is the only way to live, and it is teaching for doctrines the commandments of men to say that God says this is the only way to live. Paul actively discourages marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, but we don’t even have to leave Matthew 19 to find out that not everybody can live in that way, “but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11, NIV)

When a Christian takes the teaching of Matthew 19 and decides that they are one of those to “whom it has been given” and they will lead their lives accordingly, then that is a good thing. They have built themselves a little fence around the Gospel. When the same Christian decides that their fence should apply to everybody then it ceases to be a fence, and it becomes “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” That is a sin that is as serious as the one that Eve committed, all the way back in Genesis.

Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Revisited

My paper on 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy was discussed on a Facebook group recently. One of the contributors made some interesting points about it, and I want to address them here.

I have read your article, and if I could sum up your thesis in one sentence, it would be, “1 Cor. 6:9-10 is vague and we cannot know with any confidence what it means; thus it is irrelevant to us.” It appears you are effectively marginalizing the Apostle Paul’s teachings on morality.

This is not an accurate summary of my position. The words malakos and arsenokoites, which are used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, are essentially impossible to translate. We cannot know what they mean. This does not mean that they are irrelevant to us, and I am certainly not marginalising Paul’s teachings. In the paper I look at Christ’s teachings as well, and use them to understand how Paul and Christ teach us to behave.

Furthermore, you’ve read a meaning of arsenokoites from the 6th century back into Paul’s writings. The interval of time is not much less than that between ourselves and Geoffrey Chaucer! The alleged dearth of data from the first and second centuries does not make this anachronism any more reasonable.

I haven’t done this. The oldest use of arsenokoites where we can use the context to deduce the meaning is from the Sixth Century. I made it clear in the paper that the meaning of words can and does change with time. Depending on John the Faster for an understanding of what Paul meant when he used arsenokoites is most certainly overstating the case. It is worth repeating what I said in the article:  if we confine ourselves to extant documents from the first and second centuries, we do not have enough evidence to do anything other than guess what arsenokoites means.

The dearth of data from the First and Second Centuries is not alleged. In the paper I referred to a list of all known references to arsenokoites and related words. It is clear from that list that there is no useful data about the meaning of arsenokoites from the first and second centuries.

Furthermore, how can you enter into an extensive discussion of the meaning of NT Greek words without making reference to a standard lexicon (such as BDAG)?

My paper was based on primary sources – the actual extant uses of arsenokoites from antiquity. Lexicons are secondary sources, and are merely distillations of primary sources. They cannot contain any information that was not present in the primary sources themselves.

Andrew McFarland Campbell’s Very Short Guide to Debunking The Six Traditional Clobber Passages

There are six passages traditionally used to say you can’t be gay and Christian: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

Genesis 19 is about gang rape. Anyone who says this has anything to say about consensual relationships has bigger problems than Biblical interpretation.

Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses, which is not binding on Christians. In any case the verses use an obscure Hebrew idiom that is rather unclear (as can been seen in the KJV translation).

Romans 1 26 and 27 does speak about same-sex relationships in a negative light, but then again verses 25 and 25 speak about opposite-sex relationships in an equally negative light. Nobody believes that Romans 1 teaches you can’t be straight and Christian.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 use an obscure Greek word, arsenokoites, which is also used to refer to heterosexual sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also uses the word malakos, which is not a sexual term. If these passages were supposed to be about same-sex relationships, the writer could have used a lot of other, more common, terms.

Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy

This is the text of the talk I gave to the Accepting Sexuality group.

Abstract

There are two passages from the New Testament that are often quoted as proof that you cannot be gay and Christian: 1 Corinthians 6.9–10 and 1 Timothy 1.9–10. The New International Version of the former says “men who have sex with men … will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” If the understanding of these passages was as simple as a superficial reading suggests, then the gay Christian movement would never have started. However, their message is more equivocal, and there are many conflicting translations.

It can be shown that the key words in these passages, malakos and arsenokoites, are not about sex between men, and the latter can even be connected to sex between a husband and wife.

By considering the wider Christian context of these passages, in particular what Christ said about inheriting the Kingdom of God, and allowing this context to guide our lives we can be confident that we have not broken the prohibitions in these passages, whatever they mean.

Download the complete text…

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