Ascending Mount Carmel – One Step at at Time – Part Two

This is the second part of a series examining how pro-gay and ex-gay theologies deal with purgation. We’re looking at Kenneth Leech’s "Soul Friend" and seeing whether the ex-gay ministries act as a classic spiritual director in guiding the disciple down the path of purgation. ———– Leech is not averse to addressing the issue of the interconnection of sexuality and sexual awareness with the spiritual life:

"The area of sexuality is crucial to the entire discussion. The spiritual director is concerned with union with God, and this process of union demands a profound degree of self-knowledge and maturity. Because we are sexual beings it involves the acceptance of our sexuality, and the integration of sexuality with the rest of life. The integration is one of the central purposes of religion. Hence the insistence in the spiritual tradition that the guide should be a person experienced in the passions … One of the most vital tasks, therefore, for contemporary spirituality is to learn from and work through the contemporary insights and understandings of sexuality, and much of the time of any spiritual director may be taken up with this. Nor can such a task be separated from the work of discovering one’s own identity as a sexual being. The spiritual director must be a person who is facing his own sexuality and sexual needs, a person who is on the way towards sexual integrity and wholeness. Spiritual health and sexual health are closely joined, for, as Julian of Norwich wrote, our substance and our sensuality together are in God, and together constitute our soul."

Now of course, when Leech here writes of sexuality he is not referring to orientation, but rather to the whole understanding of a human of him/herself as being a sexual being. This said, the issue of sexual orientation and one’s understanding of one’s sexual being are crucial, for sexual expression and the forms of sexual union are deep spiritual signifiers . The key message of course from the "ex-gay" community is that a true understanding of one’s sexual identity, not the one arrived at through the impact of a fallen world is crucial for any necessary spiritual growth and discipleship. As Joe Dallas writes:

"You’re not called to give up homosexuality just because it’s ‘bad’; you’re invited to a life of wholeness which you can’t attain as long as you hold on to anything that’s second best. Attaining wholeness, though, means growth. And growth cannot come until those things stifling it are abandoned".

Andy Comiskey agrees:

"As I learned so painfully, overcoming broken sexuality requires giving allegiance to a greater desire, desire for deepening intimacy with the Father through Jesus Christ. The struggler yields the cries and yearnings of his heart to the Father. He finds that his Creator has made a way for him through Jesus. Where sin and brokenness have resulted in sexual problems, Jesus enters in and assumes the struggle himself. All the struggler can do is bow down and worship. The creature desires the Creator and now healer of his soul more than he does the lesser objects of illicit sexual desire".

Such language is not alien to one versed in the history of spiritual discipline – it is the language of suffering and engagement, of "purgation" within the darkness that is articulated by the likes of St John of the Cross:

"It now remains to be said that, although this happy night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; and that, although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up; and, although it impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have fruition and experience of all things, both above and below, yet to preserve its unrestricted liberty of spirit in them all. For just as the elements, in order that they may have a part in all natural entities and compounds, must have no particular colour, odour or taste, so as to be able to combine with all tastes odours and colours, just so must the spirit be simple, pure and detached from all kinds of natural affection, whether actual or habitual, to the end that it may be able freely to share in the breadth of spirit of the Divine Wisdom, wherein, through its purity, it has experience of all the sweetness of all things in a certain pre-eminently excellent way. And without this purgation it will be wholly unable to feel or experience the satisfaction of all this abundance of spiritual sweetness. For one single affection remaining in the spirit, or one particular thing to which, actually or habitually, it clings, suffices to hinder it from feeling or experiencing or communicating the delicacy and intimate sweetness of the spirit of love, which contains within itself all sweetness to a most eminent degree."

For St John of the Cross, purgation of the senses, the renouncing of the fleshly desires of the heart is the key to truly entering into union with God. This from The Ascent of Mount Carmel:

"Wherefore the soul that is enamoured of prelacy, or of any other such office, and longs for liberty of desire, is considered and treated, in the sight of God, not as a son, but as a base slave and captive, since it has not been willing to accept His holy doctrine, wherein He teaches us that whoso would be greater must be less, and whoso would be less must be greater. And therefore such a soul will be unable to attain to that true liberty of spirit which is attained in His Divine union. For slavery can have no part with liberty; and liberty cannot dwell in a heart that is subject to desires, for this is the heart of a slave; but it dwells in the free man, because he has the heart of a son. It was for this cause that Sara bade her husband Abraham cast out the bondwoman and her son, saying that the son of the bondwoman should not be heir with the son of the free woman. And all the delights and pleasures of the will in all the things of the world, in comparison with all those delights which are God, are supreme affliction, torment and bitterness. And thus he that sets his heart upon them is considered, in the sight of God, as worthy of supreme affliction, torment and bitterness; and thus he will be unable to attain to the delights of the embrace of union with God, since he is worthy of affliction and bitterness. All the wealth and glory of all creation, in comparison with the wealth which is God, is supreme poverty and wretchedness. Thus the soul that loves and possesses creature wealth is supremely poor and wretched in the sight of God, and for that reason will be unable to attain to that wealth and glory which is the state of transformation in God; for that which is miserable and poor is supremely far removed from that which is supremely rich and glorious."

And again:

"The soul, then, says that, ‘kindled in love with yearnings,’ it passed through this dark night of sense and came out thence to the union of the Beloved. For, in order to conquer all the desires and to deny itself the pleasures which it has in everything, and for which its love and affection are wont to enkindle the will that it may enjoy them, it would need to experience another and a greater enkindling by an other and a better love, which is that of its Spouse; to the end that, having its pleasure set upon Him and deriving from Him its strength, it should have courage and constancy to deny itself all other things with ease. And, in order to conquer the strength of the desires of sense, it would need, not only to have love for its Spouse, but also to be enkindled by love and to have yearnings. For it comes to pass, and so it is, that with such yearnings of desire the sensual nature is moved and attracted toward sensual things, so that, if the spiritual part be not enkindled with other and greater yearnings for that which is spiritual, it will be unable to throw off the yoke of nature or to enter this night of sense, neither will it have courage to remain in darkness as to all things, depriving itself of desire for them all."

What St John, Theresa, Ignatius before them and thousands after them have discovered is that it is the abandonment of those aspects of oneself that are sinful that is the key to any form of development. It is of course the natural response to encountering God, to realise one’s sinfulness and to die to it. When Ignatius was developing his exercises, the pattern of the opening week or so, of encountering and listening to God and then confessing sin was a keen observation of the natural process of the encounter with God, a pattern found clearest expressed today in the "Evangelical" gospel message, but present in all strands of Christianity. An curiously, it is the same path to confession that is practised in "ex-gay" courses such as Andy Comiskey’s "Living Waters". Session 5 of 20 is entitled "The Realignment and Empowering of the Will" and the content reads like a reworked 21st century version of St John’s Dark Night:

"But first, the Spirit compels us to repent, to realign our will with His. The Father asks us to humble ourselves, and to die to our own wilfulness. We face a lot of resistance to this yielding. When we can honestly answer yes to His call for us to die to the mastery of evil in our lives, then we come face-to-face with our utter need for Him. We are prepared to receive His will. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, His will becomes ours, and enables us to stand upright as His sons and daughters. We are in turn equipped to hear and obey the will of our Father … Confession and repentance are inseparable, and needfully so. Having agreed with the Father about the specific ways we have failed to hold fast to Christ, we must release the sin forthrightly to Him. Letting go of longstanding patterns of self-indulgence and protection accompanies the naming of these patterns. The clear call to repent reveals the often divided nature of our desires and loyalties, as well as the weakness of our choice-making faculty, or will".

A similar theme is found in Mario Bergner’s "Redeemed Lives" course:

"The Cross empowers us to put the false-self to death.

  1. The Bible exhorts us to put the false-self to death and to take it off.
    1. Romans 6:6 – For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
    2. Col 3:9b – You have taken off your old self with its practices.
  2. The false self avoid reality through defense mechanisms and rigid coping mechanisms.
    1. Dr James Masterson writes in The Search for the Real Self (p23), "The purpose of the false-self is not adaptive but defensive; it protects against painful feelings. In other words, the false-self does not set out to master reality but to avoid painful feelings, a goal it achieves at the cost of mastering reality".
    2. We soothe our painful feelings with diseased sexual thoughts, food, gooey dependent relationships, alcohol, drugs, romance novels, etc. etc.
  3. The false-self employs a rigid manner of dealing with problems and challenges.
  4. The false-self relates to others as we would wish they would be. We quickly idealise others and then quickly devalue them.
  5. The false-self develops in monologue.
  6. The false-self includes an inflated or a deflated sense of our personal growth and achievements.
    1. We can have an inflated false-self rooted in pride, grandiosity and fantasy.
    2. We can have a deflated false-self rooted in self-hatred and negative attitudes."

And from the next chapter:

"Suffering in a Christian way means asking the right questions and focusing on Heaven … We must be willing to suffer, choose to suffer and choose love in our suffering; all the while practising the presence of Jesus".

This idea of "redemptive suffering" or "purgation" as the classical writers called it is a major strand of classic spirituality and spiritual direction, but is noticeable lacking in large amounts of modern "spirituality". Bergner has noted this is an important article written last year:

"In ages past, spiritual direction was sought as a way to grow the soul in maturity within a specific Christian context–and it worked, too. But is today’s spiritual direction the same as that offered by Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, St. Ignatius or St. Francis De Sales? Some is, some is not. Some of today’s leaders of the modern spiritual direction movement are heavily influenced by C.G. Jung, psychological guru of the New Age and disciple of Freud. The result is Christian anthropology is replaced with a Jungian anthropology that is difficult to detect. This is a serious matter since Jung’s anthropology is incompatible with Christian anthropology … In Anglicanism, the practice of spiritual direction has included training the conscience and the will to collaborate with the Spirit’s work in sanctification. During the seventeenth century, Anglicanism treated Moral Theology and Pastoral Theology as the two sides of the same coin. Training the conscience to ascertain right from wrong is the role of Moral Theology. Such training begins with reading of the Bible and the practice of the confession of our sins. Curing and strengthening the will to choose what is right is the role of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care. Only when the conscience and the will are bathed in Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit do we transition from sinful moral chaos to holy moral order … Classic spiritual direction has long held that Christians share a three-fold pattern of spiritual formation. The first is purgation meaning the application of the Cross of Christ to our soul for the cleansing of our sins. The second is illumination meaning discipleship that teaches Christians to walk in the light of special revelation, namely the Bible and Jesus. The third is union meaning a life lived in union with Jesus Christ in such a way as to be in continual prayer or to Practice His Presence. In the Walking the Labyrinth brochure I read, these three stages of purgation, illumination and union were stripped of their outward focus on the Atoning work of Christ and special revelation. Rather, these became a subjective journey into the self. Purgation was equated with moving inward, a time to cast off, release, let go, discard, divest, unwrap, to quiet and empty the mind. Illumination was equated with centering, a time to be open, emptied, expectant, receptive. Union was equated with moving outward, a time to gain direction, comfort, satisfaction, energy, empowerment. There was no mention of Jesus and no mention of our sin nature … Christians seeking to grow in Christ through spiritual direction will find a great safeguard against spiritualized narcissism in the practices and liturgies of the historic Church and Her Christ-centered calendar. Additionally, the confession of sins and the ministration of Word and Sacrament are sure ways to continually straighten the incurved bent of our fallen nature and direct our focus outside the self and onto Jesus. These are all God-given means for drinking deeply of the living waters He promises to those who follow Him."

———- In part three we’ll start to look at pro-gay literature to see whether this elements find themselves there.

25 Comments on “Ascending Mount Carmel – One Step at at Time – Part Two

  1. I see two serious issues with your premise, here, Peter, one of which arises from the other.

    First, you are assuming (or, at least, some of the authors you reference are assuming) that hetersexual behavior is inherently superior to homosexual behavior. You (they) are arguing from the perspective that gay people are “settling for second-best.” I can see where someone who either IS heterosexual, or has been taught to idealize heterosexuality (such as a homosexual caught up in fundamentalist Christianity or an “ex-gay ministry”), might fall for the idea that homosexual relationships are inherently inferior to heterosexual ones. From the perspective, though, of a lesbian who has recognized herself as such since her teens and is a member of a stable, happy, committed relationship of over 16 years duration, I would have to disagree with this premise. Certainly it leads to a high potential for fallacious extrapolations in the reasoning which depends upon it.

    Secondly, your basis for this argument is found in the writings of Western monastic mystics, and their emphasis upon “mortification of the flesh,” purging of ones “baser desires and self,” etc. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, et al, matured in a religious culture in which the body was seen as “evil,” and in which bodily functions and physical desires were to be denied at all costs in hopes of thus purifying one’s spirit. The approach can be carried to extremes which approach the heresies of Docetism, Gnosticism and Albigensianism. Clearly, John and Teresa did not carry their philosophies to those extremes, but many monastics of their day not only practiced the expected poverty, chastity and obedience, but many extremes of “mortification” such as extreme fasts, wearing of hair shirts, infliction of wounds upon the body by various means, flagellation, renunciation of basic hygiene — i.e., remaining unwashed, not changing ones clothing for months or years at a time, etc. — and a host of other means of attempting to purify the soul by denying the body.

    I absolutely believe that purgation has its place in spirituality, and that denial of self is an essential part of the quest for mystical union. The problem with your use of this argument against gay and lesbian people, however, is that in so doing, you are attempting the mental gymnastic of claiming that engaging in a sexual relationship with a person of one’s own gender will make union of the soul with God difficult or impossible in some way which a heterosexual married relationship will not.

    The catholic church walks a thin line between declaring that the married state is as holy as the celibate state, and that someone with a vocation to marriage is no less capable of entering into a union of the soul with God, no less capable of contemplative prayer and purity of life than a celibate monastic, and, on the other hand, appearing to endorse the idea that celibacy, while not “superior” to the married state, leaves the soul in a place where such mystical union is more possible.

    The church insists that it does not endorse celibacy as superior to the married state, but yet finds a multitude of ways to make this underlying supposition clear to its followers, such as by only allowing celibates access to its primary power structure.

    Clearly, non-celibate persons can and do meditate, pray, engage in contemplative communion with God, and seek (and even find) mystical union of the soul to God. Clearly, non-celibate persons ARE as capable as celibates of engaging in relationship with the Divine Being, who desires relationship with non-celibates every bit as much as with celibate persons. That being the case, clearly sexual expression, sexual desire, sexual relationship, is not something which, in and of itself, needs to be “purged” in order to purify the soul for union with God.

    So what is it which must be purged, then, if not sexual desires and the act of sex, itself? You guessed it: sexual desires and sexual behaviors which in some way interfere with the soul’s ability to commune with God.

    Let’s look at that. If, in fact, the married state is not inherently inferior to the celibate state (while recognizing, of course, that celibates may have somewhat fewer relationship complications to distract them from contemplation and maintaining a state of recollection — although this assumes a great deal, since anyone who is not a hermit is in relationship with others, and all relationship, sexual or otherwise, carry the potential for distraction, as well as the potential for acting out God’s love towards others), then what is it which makes it possible for a person to have sex with another person, experience sexual desire for that person, and not have those feelings and behaviors interfere with the ability to also consummate a deep and unifying relationship with God? The church’s answer to that question would be that sexual union within the marital relationship is consecrated and holy and symbolic of the union of Christ with the Church and of God with the soul. The vows and commitment involved somehow change the nature of the relationship such that its sexuality becomes an expression of God’s love, rather than a distraction from it.

    Therefore, when the great mystics speak of “purging” oneself from base bodily desires and functions, this does not extend to sexual desires and behavior within the marital relationship.

    This is where your first fallacy comes into play: that a homosexual relation is inherently inferior to a heterosexual relationship in its inability to represent the love of God for the soul and the love of Christ for the Church. You believe that a gay relationship cannot be covenantal in nature, cannot be sacramental.

    You have, however, no solid ground upon which to base this assumption. We can go through the blow-by-blow of the ubiquitous “Eight Passages” if you like, but I doubt that either of us will hear anything new. I do not believe that the behaviors described in those eight verses are in any way related to my vowed, covenantal, monogamous relationship with my partner. You do. There it stands.

    Therein lies the rub, Peter. You maintain that gay and lesbian persons are somehow “avoiding” the spirituality of the great mystics because we are, perhaps, afraid that we must “purge” ourselves of our sexual desires and behaviors in order to follow in their contemplative path. I maintain that this is hogwash. We no more need to “purge” ourselves of our desires for and sexual relationships with our spouses than a straight married couple must purge themselves of their desires for and sexual relationships with their spouses in order to seek union with God. There is nothing in the theology of Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross which excludes gay people from the pursuit of mystical union.

    Your statement that gay writers seldom refer to the great mystics (my paraphrase) seems a bit silly. To which “gay writers” do you refer? Are you expecting to see books on “gay spirituality” or “The Gay Man’s Path to Mystical Union”? Spirituality, contemplation, union with the Divine Being, all of these things are no different for gay Christians than for straight Christians.

    If I, as a lesbian, go to school to learn Trigonometry, Calculus or Physics, I don’t seek out textbooks which instruct gay people in these academic subjects. I simply acquire Trig, Calculus and Physics textbooks. If I wish to learn to draw, I don’t study only the works of gay artists. I study the work of great artists of all time, without concern for whether they are gay or straight.

    My life is not defined by my sexual orientation. I am a human being. God wants relationship with me the same as God wants relationship with each and every human being. I don’t have to become straight or “stop being gay” in order to have access to the spiritual guidebooks and other means God has seen fit to provide to assist us in our search for divine union.

    If you are looking for all of the “gay commentary” on the great mystics, then I’d suggest you simply look at ALL of the commentary on the works of the great mystics and keep in mind while doing so that, by extrapolation from historical precedent, a significant number of those writers (probably somewhere between 2 and 10%) are homosexual.

  2. Incidentally, if you believe that gays are truly in some way allergic to the spirit of Carmel and the great mystics of the church, then you need to refine your google searches a bit, my friend. :)

  3. Lorian,

    Fundamentally, it comes down to whether those “8 passages” mean what I (and the huge sweep of Christian tradition) think they mean or what you (and others) think they mean. You make some interesting points about long-term gay relationships, but they all crumble theologically if the “clobber passages” mean what the majority of Christians today and down the years think they mean.

    I also think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of mortification of the flesh. While there are extremes in any group, the 16th/17th mystics weren’t dualist Platonics. Rather, they though that the body was a constient with the soul. Dying to self was far less to do with being spiritually pure and far more to do with the rejection of sin, whether in body or spirit.

    Finally, I think you’re making a confusion over gay practice and gay attraction. I’m not arguing that someone who is sexually oriented towards someone of the same sex is somehow spiritually inferior. The scriptures refer to sexual practice and purgation is to do with dying to the sinful desire, whether it disappears or not.

    In part three I’m going to continue to begin to examine some of the literature of e-xgay / pro-gay writers and you’ll start to see that my argument isn’t just supposition but is actually held out once you examine what people actually write.

  4. Thanks for your response, Peter. Allow me to address a couple of points, if I may.

    Peter wrote: I also think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of mortification of the flesh. While there are extremes in any group, the 16th/17th mystics weren’t dualist Platonics. Rather, they though that the body was a constient with the soul. Dying to self was far less to do with being spiritually pure and far more to do with the rejection of sin, whether in body or spirit.
    “Dualist Platonics,” no. Dualists of a sort, yes. Despite declarations of heresy throughout the centuries, the dualist concept remains an underlying theme in catholicism (and much of Christianity), in which “the flesh” represents all that is evil and “the spirit” represents all that is good. The concept of “mortification of the flesh” is Pauline in origin (Romans 8:13 – “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Colossians 3:5 – “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”).
    I’m not sure what you mean by “constient.” Clearly, Paul’s concern was not so much for the “deeds of the body,” though that is the phraseology which causes much of the difficulty, but rather for the MISdeeds of the body. He names fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness. The NIV translates the verse as follows: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Making the distinction one of “earthly nature” vs. “heavenly nature” is probably less confusing than “flesh vs. spirit” (and also a bit less of a temptation to heresy).
    The monastic writers take this concept of “putting to death the earthly nature” a few steps further than Paul. Paul asks his readers to die to sin. The monastic writers suggest dying to all bodily senses on the premise that they may lead us into occasions which might cause us to sin. I see nothing inherently “wrong” in such systemic “mortification of the senses/body,” if one feels it will be helpful in promoting greater spiritual awareness or if one fears being unable to avoid sinning by any lesser means. I do not think, though, that it is an objective necessity to put all aspects of the body and the senses “to death” in order to be pleasing to God, or even in order to enter into mystical union with God.
    Taking pleasure from one’s senses is not, in and of itself, evil. The monastic writers, founders and rule-writers who advocate complete “custody of the eyes,” for instance, certainly do help their followers avoid many occasions of sin, as well as many distractions from recollection. On the other hand, though, such intense custody of the eyes can prevent one from experiencing the very beauty of the created world which can lift one’s thoughts and spirit to pure praise of the Creator. Aromas are highly evocative, as well, and, from scriptural evidence, God seems to encourage us to take pleasure in this sense, with many references to incense, to “pleasing aromas,” to fine spices and perfumes.
    The point of the monastic writings which is well-taken, however, is that we must attempt to simplify our lives, to reduce the distractions around us, to find quiet spaces in our days in which to contemplate the Divine Being and open ourselves in a state of recollection. This may mean mortifying our desires for distractions – television, computer, noisy environments, chatting with neighbors, rehashing stressful events in our minds, etc. If we are given to bodily sins of the sort which Paul describes (lust, sexual immorality, greed, etc.), then clearly these issues must be addressed, as they obviously distract us from any search for God.
    That said, however, sexual desires and the act of sex, in and of themselves, are neither sinful nor distracting from our relationship with God. While monastics eschew a sexual relationship with another human being with the intent creating more space in their lives for meditation, contemplation, recollection (having financial discussion with one’s spouse or tending to a colicky baby certainly produce an environment less “friendly” to recollection than a silent monastic cell), we must not confuse this eschewal with “putting to death” the sins in our lives which arise from normal bodily desires and pleasures allowed to run rampant (sexual immorality, greed, lust, and so forth, as defined in Colossians).
    You are correct that it DOES fundamentally come down to the “clobber passages,” and whether or not they mean what you claim them to mean. Historical precedent for interpreting these passages as condemning all homosexual relationships, regardless of their nature, means little if it is based upon cultural misunderstandings rather than upon exegetical study of the passages themselves, taking into consideration the actual historical context in which they were written, use of terminology in concurrent literature, etc. Again, I don’t think we need to debate the passages blow-by-blow, as this has been done over and over again in many, easily-googleable (is that a word?) forums.

    The point is that fornication and adultery (sex with someone who is not one’s spouse), and lust (rampant desires for person or persons not one’s spouse which are allowed to cascade into obsession, sexual fantasy, etc.) are the bodily sins which inhibit our ability to be in relationship with God, not sexual desire and sex, themselves. Acted out within the context of a covenantal relationship, sexual desires are as holy and pure as perfect celibacy.

    Peter says: “Finally, I think you’re making a confusion over gay practice and gay attraction. I’m not arguing that someone who is sexually oriented towards someone of the same sex is somehow spiritually inferior. The scriptures refer to sexual practice and purgation is to do with dying to the sinful desire, whether it disappears or not.”

    No, Peter, it is you who is confusing the issue by your distinction between homosexual vs. heterosexual attraction. It is not “gay practice vs. gay attraction.” It is “sexual practice” vs. “sexual attraction.” As I have said, neither “sexual practice” nor “sexual attraction” are inherently sinful. Sexual practice only becomes sinful when it is practiced with someone not one’s spouse or used in other harmful ways (spousal rape, for instance). Sexual attraction is not sinful. The sin comes either in acting on the attraction with someone who is not one’s spouse, or in encouraging the attraction by fantasy, flirtation, emotional unfaithfulness, etc.

    Again, it comes down to that fundamental difference in beliefs: Yours, that homosexual behavior in any context equals sexual immorality, and mine, that homosexual relationships are no more inherently sinful than heterosexual, each being properly expressed in the context of a committed, covenantal relationship. I know that my partner was ordained for me by God just as much as any heterosexually married person knows their spouse to be so. Whether you choose to believe it or not makes very little difference, though I certainly do appreciate your engagement in the topic.

  5. Lorian,

    I’m quite happy to accept your statement

    It is “sexual practice” vs. “sexual attraction.”

    but obviously I’m going to argue that the Scriptures will always prohibit homosexual activity. I don’t think that the “clobber passages” have been interpreted with specific, incorrect, cultural mindsets. For example, we now know accept that the Hellenistic world that Paul wrote and operated in well understood the existence not just of homosexual activity but also gay relationships (for example the writings of Aristotle, the sexual lifestyles of Greek and Roman Emperors). It’s becoming harder and harder to argue that the Pauline Corpus was written in a condition of ignorance about homosexuality.

  6. Whether Paul was ignorant of healthy, committed, adult, same-gender relationships really isn’t the point. He was writing to address specific practices found in Hellenistic cultures — specifically pagan sexual orgies conducted as part of idolatrous temple ceremonies, and sexual slavery involving the use of young boys for sexual gratification.

    Both of these practices are putrid, in my opinion, and I have no problem with assigning them to a status of “sexual practices which must be purged.” I’d sooner gouge out my eyes than be involved in either of them.

  7. You cannot prove from the text that he was writing to only condemn

    pagan sexual orgies conducted as part of idolatrous temple ceremonies, and sexual slavery involving the use of young boys for sexual gratification.

    Such an interpretation is a particularly narrow reading of the meaning of arsenokoitai and malakoi, unsupported both by the Biblical text AND contemporaneous literature and, in my opinion, such an interpretation stems out of wanting to avoid the plain meaning of the text.

    You need to deal with textual issues like the fact that the Pauline texts are the first in Greek literature to use the word arsenokoitai for centuries. The use of the word as a descriptor for prostitution and exploitative sex only occurs at least a century later. This begs one to ask “where did Paul get the word from”. The answer of course is obvious – it’s a compounding of the LXX rendition of Lev 18:23 – arsenos koites.

    I’ve written a piece looking at the similarities between Romans 1:27 and 1 Cor 6:9-11 and I’ll try and post that later this evening.

  8. You are reaching, here.

    First, let me point out that Leviticus 18:23 refers to having sex with animals and has nothing whatsoever to do with arsenos or koite/koiten/koithn. Perhaps you meant Leviticus 18:22, or Leviticus 20:13?

    In any case, the fact that the original (and extremely obscure) Hebrew passage referring to “man” and “bed” and “woman” and “lying” was translated in the Septuagint using the Greek words “arsenos” (male) and “koitEn” (variously translated as “bed,” “marriage bed,” “lie with,” etc.) hardly proves that Paul used the Septuagint as his source for this word conflation. For one thing, it has not been clearly established that the Septuagint was complete by the time of Paul’s writing, or that he accessed it as source material.

    The meaning of the underlying text in Leviticus is obscure to begin with (“and next male do not lie with in beds of woman”). You are assuming that the Septuagint translators understood the Masoretic text (assuming they were actually working from the Masoretic text, which is not clearly established, either) referred to homosexual activity of all kinds — which is not clear, either. You are then assuming that Paul understood the Septuagint translators to be referring to homosexuality of all kinds, and chose their words as some kind of specific condemnation of homosexuality of all kinds. That is a lot of assumption.

    The fact is, neither the Pauline references, nor the Septuagint translation of Leviticus, nor the underlying Hebrew text of Leviticus can be clearly understood to mean “all same-gender sexual relationships are condemned.” The writers, had they meant this, could have been absolutely clear in saying so, and yet, this is not what they said at all. Instead, we have well-documented cultural practices in both the time of Paul and the period in which Leviticus was written involving idolatrous worship by means of homosexual activity with temple prostitutes/priests, and the Greek practice of boy sex-slaves which are extremely likely candidates for condemnation by both Paul and the Levitical author.

    Speaking of contemporaneous literature, there is nothing in the literary context of Paul’s day to support your rendition of his terms. There were many Greek words which clearly referred to sexual relationships between adult, consenting men. He did not choose any of these terms. Had he intended his Greek-speaking audience to understand that he was condemning consensual, committed sexual relationships between adults of the same gender, why wouldn’t he have used an existing Greek term with that meaning, so that there would be no doubt among his readers as to his intention? Why be obscure? Paul doesn’t seem to have any problem being direct regarding other topics.

  9. What happened to the comment suggesting that you should have nothing to do with me and that I would, in a more “enlightened country,” be burned at the stake? It was sweet.

  10. Yeah, it was so touching.

    Sinner provided a false email address so his post was treated as spam. It’s one thing to have conservatives spouting borderline homophobia, it’s another to have revisionist pretending to be conservatives doing the same thing.

    I#m out all morning but will attempt to reply to your points this afternoon.

  11. So you’re suggesting that there are no conservatives who wish to see gays ostracized, homosexuality criminalized, punished by imprisonment or even death? It’s not the first time I’ve heard the opinion expressed, so I’m not quite naive enough to accept your assurances that “sinner” was being disingenuous.

  12. I’m suggesting that I have very good evidence now to suggest that Sinner is a revisionist pretending to be a conservative. He also gave a false email address and on that specific ground I removed his post (and will continue to remove any future comments until he provides a valid email address).

    You and I both know that there are those on the conservative side who would want to see homosexuality punished in the same way that there are those on the revisionist side who would wish to see conservatives view outlawed.

  13. Lorian,

    Firstly, thanks for correcting my typos.

    I think you’re wrong when you describe the Levitical prohibitions on homosexuality as only dealing with cult prostitution. A cursory read of Gagnon would put that idea to rest. To date no-one has refuted his arguments (and see also the address made by Gordon Wenham to the 2004 NEAC gathering in Blackpool, UK, which addressed the prevelance of homosexual activity in the Ancient Middle and Near East.

    The problem with Paul’s words are that, as you say correctly, there are no contemporaneous usages in Greek literature – the words only appear over a hundred years later so we can’t ascribe those later meanings to his writing. We’re then left asking where Paul got his compound Koine words from and the only reasonable explanation is that he lifts Lev 18:22 (and others). That then brings us to what Lev 18:22 actually meant, to which I refer you to the masterful work of Gagnon.

  14. You and I both know that there are those on the conservative side who would want to see homosexuality punished in the same way that there are those on the revisionist side who would wish to see conservatives view outlawed.

    I’m not personally aware of liberals who wish to see conservative views outlawed, though if you say so, I’ll have to trust you on it. Most liberals of my acquaintance are of the “live and let live” persuasion, in that they have no interest in dictating what you should be allowed to believe, as long as you do not impose your beliefs on them. For instance, if you wish to only acknowledge the authority of male priests, then they would have no issue with you attending a church in which the Rector was a man. Nor would they have a problem with you refusing to receive communion from a woman priest. You should, after all, be free to live by the dictates of your own conscience.

    On the other hand, if you actively try to prevent a woman from accessing ordination, then you are not protecting your own beliefs so much as you are interfering with the rights of others to follow their God-given vocation.

  15. I think you’re wrong when you describe the Levitical prohibitions on homosexuality as only dealing with cult prostitution. A cursory read of Gagnon would put that idea to rest. To date no-one has refuted his arguments

    I never said that the Leviticus passages dealt solely with temple prostitution. What I will say is that temple prostitution had a great deal to do with how homosexual acts were perceived and addressed in the culture of the day. Another factor relates to the status of women in society and how sexual intercourse reinforced the social hierarchy, with the rape of a male by a male being the lowest form of degradation and humiliation.

    Your claim that no one has been able to refute Gagnon’s arguments surrounding the Levitical passages is incorrect. There have been many excellent analyses and refutations of Gagnon’s position.

    Here is a piece by Edward Campbell of McCormick Seminary:

    Certainly the references in Leviticus relate to male homosexual behavior of some sort. What Gagnon (and you) fail to prove is that it would be applicable to a committed, adult, faithful union between two men. And what it clearly does not apply to, incidentally, is a committed, adult, faithful union between two women.

    Having, therefore, failed to prove that Leviticus is a blatant and sweeping universal condemnation of all homosexuality, it would be impossible to then extrapolate that Paul’s use of the Greek terms for “male” and “bed” somehow constitute a similarly blatant, sweeping, univeral condemnation of all homosexuality and that such condemnation is justified by his alleged oblique reference to Leviticus because of his use of the Greek words for “male” and “bed.”

  16. Sorry for messing up the link in the above post. I didn’t realize I needed to close the tag, and can’t edit it after the fact. :D

  17. Thanks for the link to the article. For me the problem with it is that it has an assumption that faithful monogamous gay relationships are not sinful and that then guides the rest of the interpretation. There are also another number of speculations made that then become theological justifiers.

    For example:

    Or we may ask what happened at the threshing floor in Ruth 3, or whether Boaz and the nearer kinsman were previously married. Would that mean adultery? Or even incest?

    The problem with this line of reasoning is that the Ruth passage simply doesn’t address that issue (previous marriage etc). Let me give another example:

    The Holiness Code passages are unequivocal so long as we know precisely what is being described.

    Problem here is that no alternative hermeneutic as to what Lev 18:22 mean is given. A doubt is cast but no evidence actually delivered. No contemporaneous documents. Nothing. Here’s another:

    If one reads Genesis 1-3 as focusing not on gender complementarity so much as on violating covenantal faithfulness…

    Once again a theological argument with no support. Is Genesis 1-3 more about covenantal faithfulness (i.e. straight or gay) or not? Any reference to Talmudic / Rabbinic / Patristic opinion that might agree? This is an argument from supposition, casting doubt on doubt without ever presenting any real hermeneutic evidence that backs up the argument.

  18. Certainly what you say is true. The article I linked is by no means exhaustive. The important issue, though, is that the very same problems you describe can be said of Gagnon’s positions, as well. He starts from the presumption that all homosexual relationships are inherently sinful, and this belief guides all of his further interpretations. He can no more prove that Leviticus means what he believes it means than Mr. Campbell can prove his interpretation.

    I have no interest in examining whether Ruth and Boaz committed incest, adultery or anything else. I do think it highly probable that Ruth’s relationship with Naomi was sexual in nature, involving a lifetime bond. Clearly, her subsequent relationship with Boaz was one of duty on both sides (not in any way to minimize the honor and respect they gave one another nor to rule out attraction on either side — we simply do not have enough data).

    I also suspect there is truth in the supposition that David and Jonathan’s relationship was more than brotherly love. These two relationships (Ruth/Naomi and David/Jonathan) are described in terms of romance and devotion surpassed only by the Song of Solomon in Biblical literature. So much so that the famous declaration of devotion from Ruth to Naomi (“Whither you go I will go, whither you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God”) is a standard Old Testament reading for heterosexual marriage ceremonies.

    Regardless, the point is that Gagnon is no more capable of offering definitive “proof” for his antigay position than I am capable of “proving” that my interpretation of the 8 passages is the correct one. That being the case, and gay people being in a much better position to understand the validity of their own experience than someone who is attracted solely to the opposite gender, it would seem a bit presumptuous for straight people to attempt to dictate what gays feel, whom gays should love, whether or not gays are capable of “changing,” or how gays should live their lives (celibate or in relationship). (Let alone declaring us not fit to live at all…but that’s a different thread and you’ve already come down on the side of the angels, there.)

  19. Question: (And I admit that if I read enough back entries on your blog, I might well know the answer to this question already, so please pardon my lack of research! :chagrin: )
    Do you believe in a literal 7-day creation which took place some 6000 or so years ago?

  20. Peter, thanks for the props. :) I agree — it is far better to discuss disagreements courteously and respectfully.

    I like what you did with my name, by the way! You must be a LOTR fan, and have contracted Lothlorien and Lorian into Lothian. As a fan of Tokien, myself, I rather fancy it. ;)

  21. Lorian,

    Just recovered you Creationism question from the spam filter. You really must cut down the number of comments you make here!!

    To answer you, “not sure”. Interestingly I’ve just written a piece for my church magazine on this so I’m going to copy in below the text.

    In the past few issues I’ve begun to explore a number of issues that cause controversy in the church. We’ve looked at women priests, penal substitution and other subjects. This issue I want to have brief look at a topic that causes passions on both sides – the creation / evolution debate.

    This discussion is often cast as a scientific debate. Is there any evidence of creationism? A young earth? Does the fossil record support evolution or not? Some geologist and natural historians would argue “no” to a strict biblical literalism. However, at the same time many highly educated academics, biologists and anthropologists would disagree. Despite the fact that there are many books on creationism that are flaky at best, there are also some highly regarded texts challenging the assumptions made by some evolutionary geologists and natural historians in their interpretation of the evidence.

    I want to suggest that these scientific discussions are good, but science can only go so far. For example, who remembers doing experiments in school science classes? You would repeat an experiment several times to see if the results you got the first time round were repeated. All very well for working out the swing of a pendulum, but hands up who’s got a spare 4 billion years to wait to have a go with a new planet to see if evolution works a second time round. We can see very clearly that the experimental method of science can’t answer questions raised by millennia of natural history.

    We’re left then with looking at the earth and trying to make a best guess at what it tells us. In doing this we make assumptions which dictate our scientific interpretation. For example, modern geology tends to make the assumption of uniformitarianism, the idea that the same natural processes that occurred in the past occur now. Of course, no one can go back in time and confirm this. Similarly, most “Young Earth” scientists (not all of whom are Christians or even religious in any sense) assume that at some point a catastrophe happened (like Noah’s Flood) and that that helps explain why the earth looks how it does today. Both assumptions then interpret the evidence in the light of those ideas and see whether everything fits. As we’ve already discussed though, neither camp can actually go back in time and check to see whether they were definitely right.

    The Scriptures however come to us today from long, long ago, a written tradition that before it was down in script was handed on in aural form. We believe, correctly, that even the earliest parts of Genesis are very clearly the word of God, but exactly what does that mean? Both Jesus and Paul refer to Adam as literal human being, but it’s possible that they do so in a way that we are unfamiliar with today.

    There’s a peculiar quality to the part of Genesis before the account of the Tower of Babel. You get the sense that from the flood backwards you are reaching into the mists of time. You get events that seem to have no historical grounding in the way that from the time of Abraham onwards we can clearly locate all the biblical characters into their contemporary surrounding via archaeology. Before the flood there are “sons of God” taking for themselves the “daughters of men”. There are two creation accounts, one concentrating on the planet and the other on humans, each with distinct linguistic patterns not seen in the other. The whole section reads like something out of an ancient legend.

    The early chapters of Genesis are “mythic”. Now, when we use the word myth we need to be very careful about what we mean. Normally we associate the word with fantasy stories and handed down traditional tales. The word myth is associated with fiction, an untruth paraded as reality to scare our younger brothers and sisters who don’t know any better. In reality, a myth is much more complicated.

    Myths are stories that are designed to communicate truth, regardless of their own veracity. So for example, the parables of Jesus which we are examining this autumn are mythic. On the whole they are not actual events that happened but rather Jesus created them to communicate a truth. In the same way, what is more important about the early chapters of Genesis is what they teach us (God’s concern for creation and our stewardship of it, the universal fall and sinfulness of humanity, the sanctity of life). These things are true regardless of whether there was a literal Adam and Eve at the start of all time.

    We’re not unused to myth in our understanding of Scripture. Often Job in the Old Testament has been seen as mythic, not necessarily literally true but teaching very clear truths about the sovereignty of God in all things. In the same way, the very early chapters of Genesis can be treated as being true in order to derive doctrine from them without actually being literally true.

    Of course you couldn’t expect me to finish this article without nailing my colours to the mast on the subject. Do I or don’t I believe in a six-day creation? Well, while Darwinian evolution claims to have a good explanation of the scientific evidence available, as a Christian I personally have a major philosophical problem with survival of the fittest, an idea that seems to run counter to the grace of God. You also have to explain why God would create things intrinsically fallen if he used the evolutionary process to progress the world, while the Scriptures talk of a perfect Eden.

    Note though that my questions about evolution aren’t scientific ones, they’re theological ones that science itself can’t answer. For myself, while neither evolutionary scientists or young earth exponents can prove their case definitively, I will continue to preach and treat the early parts of Genesis as though they were true, in the same way that Jesus (who after all knew the answers to these questions) did. When I end up standing in front of God, I will ask him whether I can meet Adam, and if he after all isn’t there I will still be content in knowing I proclaimed the word that God sovereignly guided and protected so that we would have it today exactly as he wanted, to know what was true about him and what he has done for us.

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