Saturday, June 12, 2010

Romans 1

The sad thing about focusing on homosexuality in this chapter is that we quickly move from considering the role the chapter places as the foundation to the whole of the Epistle to the Romans which is, arguably, the greatest single piece of Christian theological literature ever written. If Romans is the gospel, God's solution of grace to the problem of the human condition, then Romans 1 sets out the problem, 'For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.' (1:18)

One way to look at some issues in the chapter in respect of homosexuality is via a dialogue between two people GSE and GUE! The first is Gay Sympathetic Exegete and the second is Gay Unsympathetic Exegete.

GUE: Romans 1 is a key passage in understanding the Bible on homosexuality. It is the one passage which clearly condemns both gay sex and lesbian sex.

GSE: Just so we are talking about the same words, can you please point me to the condemnatory words.

GUE: Here they are, in verses 26 and 27, 'For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.' Pretty clear don't you think?

GSE: Well, maybe not as clear as you think. What is clear is talk about 'exchanged natural intercourse' and 'giving up natural intercourse'. But, do you not know, that many gay and lesbian people have no nature or natural longings to exchange or give up? They are the way they are made. The passage, I suggest, only applies to people who make sex such an idol that they will have sex with anyone or anything - Paul had probably heard about the party antics of Roman nobility at orgies, and about the Roman emperor who wanted to marry his horse! After all the main wickedness Romans 1 is aimed at is idolatry (verses 21-23).

GUE: Let me get this very clear in my own mind because it is something I have not heard about before. Are you saying that for many gay and lesbian people, the way they are is their 'nature' and being gay or lesbian means nothing is given up or exchanged about their sexual identification?

GSE: That's right. And I am only saying 'many' because I recognise that some gay and lesbian people have been married and produced children, so the question could arise about whether they have 'exchanged' what was natural. But even then, lots of questions exist about why they married, against their true nature. Was there, for instance, a social pressure which led them to go against their natural inclination? In a sense, Romans 1:26-27 could be a condemnation of a heterosexist world in which people feel forced to conform to it, against their natural condition.

GUE: So that's it, then?

GSE: No. There are a few more things to be said. Verse 26, for instance, begins with this sentence, "For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions." But our debate in the church today is not about "degrading passions." It is about whether two people may love each other, passionately, yes; but not with any sense of degradation. When we read verses 26 and 27 against the whole of the chapter, we see Paul condemning what is gross wickedness, not the ordinary things of human life, a family at play, a couple in love, a community enjoying God's good creation. Whatever is going on here, this passage is not a condemnation of two people of the same gender committing themselves to each other for life.

GUE: OK, I think I get all that. But I think I am still left with some questions. Perhaps they will be answered at the Hermeneutical Hui! :) Here are two:

(1) When I read Romans 1:1-3:20 it seems that Paul is writing about the whole of humanity, Jew and Greek (i.e. Gentile), all of us sinners, none of us righteous. Is it straightforward that Romans 1:26-27 is talking about individuals and their natural sexual natures, and then singling out those indulging in licentious sexual idolatry, or is it talking more representatively about abnormal sexual tendencies in human society, measured against norms in creation, resulting from our general rebellion as humanity against God?

(2) Suppose, according to your arguments above, Romans 1:26-27 is, indeed, only focused on naturally heterosexual people pursuing sexual pleasure to a point where they will indulge in what is for them unnatural sexual intercourse, does that not leave us with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 to consider?

GSE: Naturally (!) I do not agree with your (1). And (2) is logically correct!!

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