Besides the hideous treatment that many Christians inflict upon those who openly express their homosexuality — which I simply cannot understand and which I cannot tolerate as Christian behavior, perhaps the next “baddest” thing is that Christians treat the Bible as if it were a law book on moral behavior. So this post examines the context of what the Bible says about homosexuality.
The Bible is not a law book or an encyclopedia of answers to which inquiring judges can go in order to determine who is right and who is wrong. The Bible is the Book of God’s Covenant with Humans — with Israel and the Church — and its purpose is to guide God’s covenant people. There are two major contexts then for discussing homosexuality: covenant and sexuality in general.
First, what the Bible says about homosexuality (which isn’t that much) finds itself in the covenant behavior context. The fundamental category for moral behavior in the Bible is not “here’s the law, now do it!” but “God has rescued the people, and out of gratitude, these behaviors mark redeemed, covenanted people.” God calls Abram; he forms a “covenant” with Abram; Abram becomes Abraham; the Law of Moses is the Covenant Behavior of Israel first and foremost. It is because God has redeemed the people that God grants them the Ten Commandments (or Commitments): Exodus 20; Deuteronomy. Redemption leads to covenant behaviors.
It is in the context of a covenant relationship with God that the Law is expressed. It goes on and on: David and then Jesus and then Paul and Peter and John and whoever else you’d like to list. Christian “ethics” are not Kantian deductions from human nature and social behavior, nor are they Rousseau-like contracts with one another by vote, but Christian ethics are behaviors expressing fidelity to the Covenant God has made with his people and these behaviors emerge from God’s Spirit and grace. Nor are the behaviors for Israel constitutional rights or simply laws governing the Land: they are, instead, covenant responsibilities for rescued people who are summoned to live in the community of faith.
(We could explore if national laws can possibly be brought in line with covenant behaviors. There is an important distinction here, and I’m not sure it is always maintained.)
The second context for homosexuality pertains to sexuality in general. Here is a huge issue for contemporary Westerners. Sex is primarily seen as an act for pleasure. But in the Bible there is an inextricable connection between (1) marriage, (2) sex, (3) childbearing, (4) childrearing, and (5) the community of faith. The instant sex is separated from marriage and childbearing/rearing in the context of a community of faith, sex becomes not a covenantal responsibility but exclusively a sensual pleasure. To the degree Christians permit such a separation of sex from marriage and children in the community of faith, they have lost all right to speak about any kind of sexual immorality.
In other words there are levels of responsibility inherent to sex: personal, spousal, familial, and communal. It is all tied together. To invade the Bible for laws and to rip covenant behaviors, covenant sexual behaviors, from these connected dimensions of responsibilities is to miss what is saying.
This context raises the bar: if sex is about marriage and childbearing and childrearing (no one wants to say exclusively for childbearing), then adultery and divorce also find their proper context. Adultery and divorce are problematic because they separate sex from marriage and they separate childrearing from marriage.
The context for what the Bible says about homosexuality is right here: until we embrace sex as something for marriage designed by God for childbearing and childrearing, which is accompanied by pleasure but not designed solely for pleasure, there is simply no rationale for a traditional Christian belief.
Next post: Context 3 and 4 (sin and which biblical text to focus on)