Pushing Agendas through Advocacy Scholarship
There is nothing like a regular supply of half-truths, misinformation and sloppy use of facts in making a case. But that is the regular practice of homosexual apologists. They are quite happy to bend the truth to suit their needs. One expects such tactics from radical advocacy groups, but it becomes more problematic when it is all at tax-payer expense.
I refer to yet another piece of pro-homosexual propaganda which you and I are subsidising with our taxes. La Trobe University in Melbourne has produced a real beauty: The Peers Outsmarting Homophobia (POSH) booklet, designed “for same sex attracted young people, workers, families and friends”.
A proper critique of this work of indoctrination will be forthcoming. But here I want to focus on just one aspect of it. The booklet contains various “myths” that it seeks to refute. The first “false belief” that it tackles is that homosexuality is a sin. The booklet seeks to rebuff this idea, and even argues that Christianity never really opposed homosexuality, but even accepted it, at least in the early centuries of the church. And its main source of information for this? Former Yale academic John Boswell.
There are many problems with using Boswell as a reliable authority here. First, he was a homosexual, who died of AIDS at age 47 in 1994. Thus he is hardly an impartial and disinterested observer concerning this issue. He instead was a very passionate advocate, pushing the homosexual agenda.
Secondly, his main works on the subject have been roundly condemned by many leading academics and experts in the field. The two main volumes he penned on the subject were Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), and The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994). These two works have both been subjected to careful and close scrutiny, and they have been found to be seriously wanting.
Consider a few representative quotes from leading scholars in this area. David Wright of Edinburgh wrote in the important work, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, that Boswell’s work was “influential but highly misleading”. He goes on to say that the Boswell argument “provides in the end of the day not one firm piece of evidence that the teaching mind of the early church countenanced homosexual activity”.
A distinguished scholar of early Christianity at the University of Virginia, Robert Wilken, said Boswell’s writing was simply “advocacy scholarship”. By this he meant that Boswell put his “scholarship in the service of a social and political agenda”. As Wilken notes, “In some cases, Boswell simply invents evidence to suit his argument”.
He says that the whole tenor of his work, especially as expressed in his 1994 volume, is quite unhistorical and anachronistic. That is, Boswell seeks to make the case for the presence of homosexuals in the ancient world, yet he admits that such people (as defined today) did not even exist then. Instead there were only heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual activities. Boswell even admits that the “ancients did not think there was a class of people with sexual ‘preferences’ for the same sex”.
A scholar who is himself sympathetic to the homosexual movement, David Greenberg, wrote a classic work on this in 1988, entitled The Construction of Homosexuality. He shows that the category “homosexual” did not even exist prior to the late-19th century. Before then people did not speak of a class of people as homosexuals. Yet that is the thesis Boswell tries to make in his books. Says Wilken, “Boswell creates historical realities that are self-contradictory, and hence unhistorical”.
One scholar of early Christian history, Robin Darling Young, complains about the way Boswell “struggled to force a group of documents to conform to his conclusions”. She says this about his 1994 work: “Despite its façade of scholarship, the book is studded with unwarranted a priori assumptions, with arguments from silence, and with dubious, or in some cases outrageously false, translations of critical terms. And Boswell’s insouciance about historical accuracy would be unacceptable in an undergraduate paper.”
Another reviewer of his 1994 volume is equally unimpressed: “To sustain his argument, Boswell must constantly tear words, sentences and larger statements out of the social and literary contexts in which they were embedded”. He concludes his scathing review in The New Republic by lamenting Boswell’s “tendentious misreadings of antiquity”.
When Boswell approaches the biblical texts he comes off no better. New Testament scholar Richard Hayes of Duke University says this of his interpretation: it “has no support in the text and is a textbook case of reading into the text what one wants to find there”.
Many others could be cited. Oxford historian and scholar Robin Lane Fox considers Boswell’s thesis “quite unconvincing”.
Boswell simply does not make the case he sets out to. As Richard John Neuhaus says, “what Boswell’s historical scavenger hunt does not produce is any evidence whatever that authoritative Christian teaching ever departed from the recognition that homosexual acts are morally wrong”. Or as Young puts it, Boswell’s “painfully strained attempt to recruit Christian history in support of the homosexual cause that he favors is not only a failure, but an embarrassing one”.
The truth is, Boswell’s works are bad scholarship and crass advocacy, and the fact that La Trobe University has to rely on Boswell to make its case shows just what thin ground it is on.