Ask the Editor

With homosexuality becoming such a prominent issue, how does MINISTRY view the subject? What is the Biblical perspective?

J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.


The following is an edited condensation of a recently taped discussion hosted by J. R. Spangler, editor of MINISTRY, on the subject "A Biblical Perspective of Homosexuality.'' Also taking part are Dr. Robert Wilson, chairman of the Department of Social Behavior at Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, Maryland, and Arthur Delafield, veteran minister and author, of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Washington, D.C.

The entire discussion appears in the July selection of Aspire Tape of the Month Club. The single cassette may be obtained by sending $2.50 to MINISTRY, 6840 Eastern Avenue NW., Washington, D.C. 20012.

Spangler: First of all, what opinion do you men have about our source of religious knowledge? What is the basis for the Christian's moral judgments?

Delafield: I think we must recognize that the Lord founded the church and that it is therefore a divine institution. As such, we must receive our instruction from the Author of that church, whom we understand also to be the Author of the Holy Scriptures.

Wilson: As a sociologist I would speak somewhat differently, in this sense: we have to develop a way of arriving at the truth—the truth we will interpret as reality. But when you're dealing with a concept of the Bible you are dealing not with temporary norms of human existence, but rather with permanent, eternal standards. Now, this is the main problem that we have in homosexuality. Do we predicate our judgments on the categorical absolutes of God, or on the temporary norms of man, who is in sin?

Spangler: All of us agree, I believe, that God's Word is the standard on which to base our moral judgments. But what do you do with the argument put forward by Anglican Theologian Norman Pittinger, who thinks that homosexual orientation is an expression of God's intended variety of His creation.

Wilson: This view was expressed in a BBC program on homosexuality some years ago. But you see, if we get into the sort of situational ethic that says, "God has expected me to have variety," then why should I have only one wife?

Delafield: I think, Bob, that the homosexual problem is more than simply the gratification of sensual feeling, and variety. It has to do with the ingrained ability of man to re produce. In the very beginning, when God made male and female, as the Word of God says, He gave them the command to "multiply, and replenish the earth." In other words, sex is related to more than gratification of sensual feeling. It is related to procreation. By contrast, homosexuality is death-oriented; it is not life-oriented.

Wilson: I think there is more than this, even. You see, homosexuality is, in a very real sense, taking what God originally created as a face-to-face expression of communication between a man and a woman in sexual relations and turning it into an almost beastlike relationship. It is a perversion, although I know that after the Wolfington report of the middle 50's they didn't want to call it a perversion anymore. They wanted to use the word inversion, to make it look nicer. But at the same time I am not denying the homosexual's right to seek eternal life through Christ.

Delafield: Yes, I think we ought to make that very plain at the outset. We must never leave the impression that Jesus Christ is against homosexuals, when actually Jesus Christ is against homosexuality.

Spangler: All right, now, let's come back to the Scriptures. Art, you mentioned that the real function of sexuality is procreation. At least that's the primary function, isn't it? I assume, then, that you men believe that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 portray God's original intention as far as human sexuality is concerned, even though some modern theologians believe that Genesis 2 is the older account of Creation.

Wilson: Yes. You see, the argument that some use to defend homosexuality is that Genesis 1, which includes the command to populate the earth, is a later account of Creation, whereas the second chapter, which they see as the older version of Creation, pictures a unity of the flesh, a unity of freedom in which the expression of God can come in the unity of the flesh.

Spangler: What you are saying, then, is that this unity of flesh has nothing to do with the unity of per sons of the same sex, as far as the Scriptures are concerned?

Wilson: Correct. God made a difference, and He did so for a reason. I see this both as an ordained minister and as a sociologist who believes in the Word of Jesus Christ as the basis on which I must predicate all my decisions. God made a difference, because you and I can do something that angels cannot. We can literally enter into the act of creation. That act becomes a per version, however, when one deliberately engages with someone of the same sex in actions that he or she knows are totally unnatural and contrary to the instructions of Him who made the plan for the creation of life.

Spangler: That's very good. I like the way you are explaining this. Now let's come to Genesis 19, where we find the story of the destruction of Sodom. This divine condemnation of homosexuality is challenged by some who would reinterpret the story to mean that inhospitality, not homosexuality, was the point at issue in arousing divine wrath.

Wilson: It is very interesting. As we read the story we see these angels who come to Sodom. And here were a group of men that wanted to "know" them. The reinterpreters say that the Hebrew word Yadha, "to know," means simply, I want to know you. According to this interpretation, the word shows no hostility at all. The men of Sodom just wanted to know who these strangers were, maybe for safety. But if you go further and read the next verse, you see that Lot offered his daughters for them to yadha, to know. He definitely uses the word in the context of sexuality. The whole concept of sexual relations in the Bible is described as "to know," because it is a communicative Jink in the sense that a man and a woman are literally speaking to each other during the act of engaging in inter course. They are communicating. It is not just a passion, but a getting "to know." There is no doubt that Genesis 19 refers to homosexuality.

Delafield: I don't think that the mere lack of hospitality would justify such an enormous act of judgment on the part of God as the destruction of the cities of the plain by fire and brimstone.

Spangler: We want to come, next, to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These are traditionally read as unambiguous repudiations of homosexual acts. The first says, "Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with woman kind: it is abomination," and the second text says that if a man has intercourse with a man as with a woman, they both commit an abomination.

Wilson: I want to come back also to Leviticus 18:22, 23. Verse 23 is very important. It says, "Neither shall thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith." So here the Bible connects the act of homosexual love-making with beastiality. They are similar and both without excuse. According to Leviticus 20:13 those who engaged in either practice were to be stoned.

Delafield: And it's obvious that the terrible penalty of stoning the homosexual to death was for homo sexuality, not for discourtesy.

Spangler: I think that's a good point. The Bible position on homo sexuality is beginning to show rather clearly now, isn't it? Now, gentle men, in Romans 1 Paul talks about homosexual desire and activity and denounces it as shameful lust. What do you have to say about that? In fact, he characterizes homosexuality as abandoning natural relations—the normal heterosexual responses.

Delafield: Here in Romans 1:22-27 the apostle Paul speaks of degenerate men and women who ''boast of their wisdom, but they have made fools of themselves, changing the splendour of immortal God for an image shaped like mortal man. . . . For this reason God has given them up to the vileness of their own desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies, because they have bartered away the true God for a false one. ... In consequence, I say, God has given them up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and their men in turn, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one an other; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such per version" (N.E.B.).* Now, Paul calls it perversion, and notice the very scientific statement that they "are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion." Only a homosexual knows, I'm sure, how true this Bible statement is, that he pays in his own body, mind, and soul the fitting wage of such perversion. The guilt, the frustration, the feeling of rejection by society, the rebellion toward God, the homosexual's inability to relate to the future and to having a posterity of his own all of this seems to be paid to the homosexual by his very practice.

Spangler: This would be a good answer, then, to those people who assert that what Paul castigates here is homosexual promiscuity, not homosexual activity as such, or that God can tolerate homosexual monogamy just as easily as He can command heterosexual monogamy.

Wilson: There is a problem here. Some say that if two homosexuals get married and stay only to them selves, then this is all right because it is love. But it is unproductive. It is noncreative, and it is not love. Love is constructive. Homosexuality is destructive. If you put two men or two women together, instead of one and one making two, you've got one and one making one half.

Delafield: It's very easy for us to be enthusiastic about the Bible's position on this subject. But let me just put in this caution. We must recognize the possibility that some listening to or reading this interview will have tendencies in this direction, or may even be homosexuals. Let us never forget that Jesus died to save homosexuals. There is no doubt in my mind that homosexuality is sin. But the point I'm trying to make is that Jesus died to save sinners.

Wilson: It is certainly true that there is too much smug heterosexuality that is sin, as well. I've heard many kids say, "I'd rather be into adultery than homosexuality." Can you really justify one by saying that it's better to do this than the other?

Spangler: Don't you feel, how ever, that the homosexual act takes a person to a very perverted and extreme conclusion? Perhaps you can't say that one sin is worse than another kind of sin. But homosexuality does seem to do something to the individual who goes that far into sexual perversion.

Wilson: People do much the same thing in the heterosexual realm. They call it "kinky" sex. A man and woman can engage in all sorts of experimentation in which there's no idea of communication or love.

Spangler: Now let me ask this question, Can homosexuals inherit the kingdom? What do we do with 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, where Paul seems to condemn all homosexuals without qualification? He says there, "Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals . . . will inherit the kingdom of God" (R.S.V.). Now how do we interpret that text?

Delafield: However, Paul says after he speaks about this terrible thing called homosexual perversion, "Such were some of you. But you have been through the purifying waters; you have been dedicated to God and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of our God" (verse 11, N.E.B.). Now if I understand this verse correctly, some of the Corinthian members had at one time been homosexuals, but now they were redeemed homosexuals and had ceased their homosexuality.

Spangler: I'm encouraged with this, because I have talked with some psychiatrists who believe that once a person has become a practicing homosexual it's virtually hope less for him to be reached even by the Spirit of God.

Delafield: Bob, we often quote the text in Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Now, do you know to whom this is directed? This is the thing that is missing in our preachers' discussion of this text. This is addressed to "ye rulers of Sodom"—in other words, to homo sexual Israelites back in the days of Isaiah. "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well" (verses 10, 16, 17). Now if it was impossible for these ''rulers of Sodom . . . [and] Gomorrah" to learn to do well, once they had been practicing homosexuality, why do you suppose Isaiah extended to them this invitation?

Wilson: It is a learned behavior.

Spangler: Now that's a point I want to come to, Bob—this idea of homosexuals' not being any more neurotic or psychotic than heterosexuals. Is this true? Is a person born with homosexuality, or does he cultivate it? Wilson: Most of homosexual behavior is learned. And if it's a learned response, it can be unlearned.

Delafield: On this question of homosexuality's being a disease, I think of sickness as a disease—a dis-ease. In other words, the body, mind, and soul of a man is not at ease. Sin has brought this condition on. In that sense we must recognize disease in our analysis of the homo sexual. There is a diseased function of mind as opposed to organic dis ease.

Wilson: There is another aspect of this question as it relates to society. The family is the basic unit of society. The Bible recognizes this fundamental sociological fact. Now, if the family is the basic essential unit for society's health, and if one begins to destroy this unit, which homosexuality does, and as adultery and some other practices also do, the equilibrium and the health of society is also weakened and will eventually fall.

Spangler: Very good. All right, let's go to one last point here. I was reading an Adventist author concerning homosexuality recently. He said, "The thoughtful Christian is committed to the conviction that no one should be blamed, condemned, or even looked down upon for something over which he has no control."

Delafield: The Word of God consistently teaches that a man's will is of vital importance. If man puts his will on the side of faith and action—on the side of God—his will be comes omnipotent. Yet very seldom is the human will discussed in books and classes in psychology. To downplay man's will makes him a sort of machine, a creature of his circumstances and his surroundings with no control over his own destiny.

Wilson: And it makes him subservient to conditional manipulation and behavioral modification.

Delafield: Worse, still, it makes him a mere animal. But in the Bible, man's will stands out as the distinctive feature of the one whom God made in His own image. So I dis agree that there are situations such as homosexuality over which man has no control. When a man wills to do God's will there is introduced into his life the grace of God and the gospel.

Wilson: And this grace is predicated on the faith that is based on the hearing of the Word of God. Here is a frightening thing. As a man who has taught sociology and religion, I am frightened that in the Adventist Church there seems to be a growing lack of predicating our values, our standards, on a direct knowledge of the Bible. We're be ginning to look to theologies and away from a "Thus saith the Lord," and that's where homosexuality gets in and where it's able to make inroads—through the behavioral sciences and the philosophies and disciplines such as that.

Spangler: I think that's well put. Let's base everything we stand for solidly on the Bible.


* Texts credited to N.E.B. are from The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

July 1978

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