The Age is not usually known as a journal of theological opinion. Thus one is curious as to why it featured Nicholas Kristof’s piece on the Bible and homosexuality (The Age, 1/11). The subtitle warns of the dangers of “cherry-picking” biblical texts, but he seems to be guilty of just that, and then some.
Indeed, Kristof appears to be extremely selective in the authorities he cites. He simply ignores the bulk of biblical scholarship (both Jewish and Christian) which acknowledges the clear condemnation in Scripture of any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage. The biblical position on human sexuality was elaborated in the opening chapters of Genesis and remained constant throughout all 66 books of the Bible. Thus adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest and paedophilia are all proscribed by Scriptural teaching.
Kristof begins his piece with a theologically dubious presupposition, namely that “God made homosexuals”. Not quite right, Kristof. Yes, God has made every person. But in the biblical worldview, the good creation of God has been seriously affected by what is known as “the Fall”. That is, every person is now born in less than ideal circumstances. Thus some people are born with poor eyesight. Some are born missing a limb. And some are born with a predisposition to anger, overeating, or various sexual preferences. In a fallen world we expect physical, moral and spiritual imperfections.
One psychologist and biblical authority puts it this way: “The Christian church has never taught that all our desires come from God, has never taught that all our desires are good, and has never taught that every desire, even every good desire, ought to be fulfilled. A heterosexual man’s lust for a woman who is not his wife does not come from God and is not a good desire, and should not be indulged.”
These considerations tell us three things. One, from a biblical point of view, the entrance of sin into the world means that we do not necessarily develop the way God originally intended. Two, various predispositions and orientations are not inviolate. God is in the business of changing our fallen humanity. Three, even if we are born with certain genetic bases, they do not fully determine who we are.
For example, a study reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences this month said that there may be a 20 per cent genetic component to homosexuality. But that leaves 80 per cent which is not. Indeed, the scientists stressed that the influence of non-biological factors, such as environment and upbringing, was an important part of the equation.
Kristof next plays fast and loose with the Sodom story. The reality is, we have 3,500 years of Jewish, and 2,000 years of Christian, tradition on this passage. Actually, it wasn’t until 1955 that this revisionist interpretation (that inhospitality was the sin of Sodom) was first put forward by D. S. Bailey.
Kristof is also disingenuous at best and misleading at worst when he repeats the old canard that “Jesus never said a word about gays”. He of course had no need to. First century Jewish culture was 100 per cent clear on the issue as to what were acceptable and unacceptable forms of sexuality. Moreover, arguing from silence is never very wise. Jesus also said nothing about racism, arson, rape or the destruction of the environment. Does that mean he favored these activities as well?
Kristof then raises the fanciful speculation that David and Jonathan were involved in “gay affairs”. Sorry again. The fact that they wept together and kissed each other upon David’s departure is no hidden description of homosexuality. One simply reads into the text any hints of homosexuality. Anyone familiar with social customs of the ancient Near East (or even many modern Near Eastern cultures for that matter) will see nothing unusual in such practices. As one New Testament scholar puts it, “Whatever feelings David and Jonathan had for one another, both were definitely heterosexual in behavior, for both were married and fathered children.”
Kristof concludes by appealing to a vague, content-less concept of love, a ploy that is equally unhelpful. Such an ephemeral term can cover a multitude of sins. The love of God is never out of sync with the holiness or righteousness of God. God comes as a package deal, and we are not free to pick and choose those aspects that make us feel good. To love God entails keeping his commands, full stop.
Much more could be said about the Kristof exercise in theological revisionism. But given the Age’s new-found interest in religion, we welcome the debate and look forward to further installments in the discussion.