Homosexuality Then and Now, in Theological Narrative Perspective

A lot of progressive Christians argue that the historical context of the New Testament restricts the scope of the so-called “clobber texts” about homosexuality. Jesus and the Apostles, they say, had no concept of the modern development of a loving, consensual, monogamous homosexual relationship. Therefore in places like Romans 1 where they seemed to condemn gay or lesbian practices, the condemnations were really only limited to the exploitative and/or idolatrous practices of the day, not all homosexuality. We can all agree that prostitution, pedophilia, and cultic sex are wrong, and those are basically the only kinds of homosexual practices the New Testament actually forbids.

My experiment here is to grant their argument and run with it. Let’s say that the progressives are right, that Paul and Jesus knew nothing of the kind of homosexual relationships which occur today. Let’s grant that their condemnation of homosexual practices was contingent on their historical context. In that case, our question for today can be framed as follows: in our present historical context, are the kinds of homosexuality practiced associated with something idolatrous or destructive? I think the answer to this question is still, “Yes,” so that even if the biblical condemnations of homosexuality were context-specific, applying biblical reasoning to our own historical context indicts today’s forms of homosexuality as well.

How do I arrive at this point? I place homosexuality then (Bible times) and now in narrative perspective. Where does homosexuality fit into the wider theological narrative of God, man, Israel, Christ, the Church, and the world? For all my disagreements with him, I think Andrew Perriman gets the logic of Romans 1 more or less right, so I will build from a foundation roughly corresponding to his his narrative account.

Why did Paul speak so strongly against homosexuality in Romans 1? In context, the kinds of homosexuality practiced in Greek and Roman civilization was part of the deterioration of Gentile civilization produced by idolatry. Since as early as Babel, the Gentiles had exchanged the glory of the immortal God for other gods, images of wood and stone. They served the creation rather than the Creator. By taking the Creator out of the picture in exchange for created gods, they paved the way for disorienting the use of all created things, human bodies included. They used their bodies in shameful ways to satisfy their shameful gods in open rebellion against the true Creator God. All of this became particularly acute in the Romans world as the height of pre-Christian, Gentile civilization. The Roman committment to false gods led to decadence and gross abuse of human bodies, which had been made to serve the true God. Thus they received in themselves the due penalty for their error, and God’s wrath was a-comin’.

The situation since then has changed. The pre-Christian Gentile world, the world of the pagan Roman Empire, has been destroyed. It was replaced by Christendom, a world order in which the nations confessed Christ as Lord (however imperfect and problematic this order turned out to be). The Church did its best to construct fitting new culture, new worldview, and new intellectual concepts for this order from reflection on Scripture and Christian tradition, and these came to dominate Christendom. So for a thousand years Christendom remained and the nations remained mostly submissive (at least nominally) to Christian thought and ethics.

But all this began to change around the time of the Enlightenment. The causes of the change are mostly unimportant here. What matters is that there was a new wave of rebellion. The old world rebellion began with worshipping false gods and idols, but the new rebellion was based on worship of man. It produced humanism, materialism, atheism, naturalism, and rationalism. Man no longer felt the need to serve a god, whether a true or false one. Rather, man decided he was able to accomplish all things by himself and be all things to himself. This has had to take a decidedly neo-Gnostic slant. The old pagans saw creation and nature as run by gods, Christendom saw them as the work of the one God, and modern humanism sees them either as shackles of givnenness to be broken or as raw material to be reshaped in man’s preferred image.

The transition from old Christendom worldview to the new humanistic one has been slow, but it has come, like the old pagan system, to express itself in sexual deviance. The Sexual Revolution neatly and naturally followed the rebellious, humanistic spirit of the age to assert human capacity and freedom over and against divine authority. The idea is that humanity is grown-up now: we don’t need old rules supposedly from God to tell us how to handle sexual ethics. We’re now all set to do whatever we please. This led to acceptance of contraception, divorce, sexual activity before marriage, and at this present stage the entire LGBT movement. The modern world’s neo-Gnosticism can be seen here, as well: the natural reproductive order was created before our wills, but for humanity to be all in all we must assert our wills over and against this basic physical component to human existence. Biological sex is unchosen, gifted from God, and if we are to escape God’s dominion we must be able to reconstruct and redefine gender and sex without reference to the realities of the body, or to reshape the body around our conceptions of gender and sex.

I think this narrative makes sense of what has been happening in modern history. The first rebellion put Gentiles under the dominion of false gods, and it led to the degredation of the body in idolatrous rites and decadent sexual arrangements. This new, post-Christendom rebellion puts mankind in the West under no one but himself, and thus leads to the attempt to self-transcend and redefine the body for our own ends and impulses. The old order acknowledged the givenness of reality but refused to honor God for it, and so honored false gods. The new order, in its own attempt to escape God, denies the givenness of reality and seeks to give humanity unlimited power over all things, our own bodies included. It is easy to see how the LGBT movement fits into this narrative.

If the narrative offered above is at all, the progressive argument that biblical prohibitions against homosexuality were only about the context-specific forms of homosexuality which plagued the ancient world does nothing to exonerate homosexuality today. On the contrary, a look at our context reveals how modern homosexuality can also be condemned in a context-specific way, as part of the modern rebellion of humanism, which contrasts with the rebellion condemned in Romans 1 of literal idolatry. Then and now, homosexuality is part of a larger human rebellion against the true God. And this (I think) suggests a deeper link between homosexuality and sin, so that homosexual practices would be likely only to emerge on notable scales in contexts of rebellion. But that would be another post.

Homosexuality Then and Now, in Theological Narrative Perspective

Don’t Vote Trump, And If You Do, At Least Frown

I’m #NeverTrump all the way. I will not vote for that man. But I realize many people feel compelled to, even if they don’t like him. Hillary Clinton is, after all, a frightening possibility if you care about things like abortion or religious liberty. If you really feel like Trump’s the lesser evil here, and you think your vote is actually a worthwhile and useful tool, then I won’t stand in the way of your conscience. (And before I say anything else, I should point out that I’m also #NeverHillary and I’m not thrilled with #GaryJohnson2016.)

That said, I would like to offer some considerations for your conscience to digest before casting a vote for Trump. If nothing else, I want to point out that a vote for Trump cannot be, for anyone who cares anything about Christianity, an enthusiastic vote. Compromise with Trump is one thing, but positive support for him is entirely unacceptable.

So, why do I think that Christians should refuse to vote for Trump? A handful of reasons.

  • Trump was pro-choice about 30 seconds ago. Is it really a coincidence that a sexually promiscuous man, people like whom benefit from abortion, only started saying he’s pro-life when he sought the nomination of a predominantly pro-life party? I find that awfully suspicious. It seems more likely that he’s just saying what his target voters want on this issue. If that’s true, we shouldn’t expect much help from him on abortion. More importantly, if that’s true, a vote for Trump is a vote for someone who actually doesn’t mind abortion, which is horrendous. After all, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:14).
  • Trump builds wealth for himself  by exploiting people with sin and vice. It’s no secret that Trump gets lots of money from casinos and strip clubs. These are institutions that Christians tend to oppose, and for good reason. Casinos take advantage of people’s greed and weakness, and of what they know about human behavior, to ruin them financially for profit. Gambling institutions break down families and drive people into bankruptcy. Yes, the people who suffer must take responsibility, but so must the businesses who know these effects and use them to get rich, anyway. The same goes for strip clubs, except instead of ruining people financially they ruin them morally and sexually. Can Christians really say, “I think a man who pays young girls to take off their clothes and parade themselves before lustful men should run the country?” Yet Trump owns and runs both of these kinds of businesses for but one reason (there really is no other reason for these businesses): the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). If Trump will use these kinds of corrupt, immoral, vile, and antichrist methods to acquire money, what might he do for money with the power of the Presidency?
  • Trump is anti-family. Trump, we should recall, is a serial adulterer who has divorced two women so far to marry mistresses. We as Christians believe that stable, traditional families are the bedrock of civil society and were always intended to consist of lifelong faithfulness (Gen. 19:4-6). The benefits of marriages like this are numerous and well-documented. The damage done to society by the breakdown of these marriages is also extensive and well-known. Yet Trump contributes to this very breakdown, putting at the helm of our country someone who actively participates in one of the most destructive forces known to human society. Imagine, my conservative friends, if Trump was married to man. How many of you would vote for him then? Is repeated adultery, divorce, remarriage, and inappropriate sexual comments and conduct any better? To willingly endorse Trump is to give up all right to claim to care about “family values” or traditional marriage. Moreover, if this man cannot be trusted to even keep the most important vows of his life and be faithful to his wives he’s claimed to love, how can he be trusted to keep the oath of office and be faithful to the American people?
  • Trump is, well, morally bankrupt. It’s no secret that Trump has no virtues of any kind, or any redeeming moral qualities. Besides his sexual promiscuity and willingness to break sacred vows mentioned above, he is also cruel, arrogant, selfish, greedy, proud, a compulsive liar (far more than Clinton, who is dishonest enough), sexist, intentionally incendiary, and disrespectful to all people. Maybe charges of racism and xenophobia are exaggerated and misguided (or maybe they’re not), but it hardly matters when he treats all people poorly either way. Every time he has a chance, he proves these traits over and over. He speaks of people he doesn’t like in a way that I would spank my children for. The comments he makes about women are frequently either perverted or painfully demeaning. He bullies and attempts to silence people who disagree with or criticize him. He also uses corrupt, underhanded business practices to enrich himself at the expense of others, as mentioned above. And the disrespect he has shown to veterans and their families is entirely unacceptable.
    As conservative Christians, we have frequently made the character of our political leaders an important issue. Bill Clinton was rightly criticized for his sexual immorality (something Trump is familiar with) as President, and Christians lamented his reelection for, among other reasons, that very reason. He is not the only one to have been subject to this criticism, and rightly so. Character counts. Christians should hopefully realize this more than anyone, for “when the wicked rule, people groan” (Prov. 29:2). As Samuel Adams said, “Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable character.” Noah Webster agreed: “When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God.'”
  • Trump is spiritually bankrupt. To be sure, I don’t think we are obligated to vote only for Christians, much less spiritually mature ones. Nonetheless, I think politicians should be held at least somewhat accountable to the faith which they claim to adhere to. This is, to be sure, a problem for many politicians, and I wouldn’t usually consider it a make-or-break issue on its own. Nonetheless, Trump shows even the worst of the worst here. Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be as fake and nominal in his “Christian” faith as possible. His character mentioned above, plus his casinos and strip clubs mentioned also, prove that beyond a doubt. So do many of his statements from his own mouth about his faith, such as saying early in the race that he had never asked God for forgiveness, and later that he doesn’t plan on having to ask God for much forgiveness. His answer to “Who do you say that Jesus is?” is as shallow and worthless as any cheesy, MTD platitudes. His statements about his relationship with God and the Church reveal a complete lack of interest and involvement, and every time he mentions religion he does it in an obviously self-serving way. Trump is a blasphemer through and through, pure and simple. An honest atheist would take my vote a million years before Trump.
  • Finally, he can’t save America. Even if America is in as precarious a situation as most Trump-supporters imagine, which seems highly unlikely, there isn’t any actual evidence or reason to believe that Trump has any ability to improve the situation, or that any of his policies would be sufficiently better than Hillary Clinton’s to warrant him as a “lesser evil” vote. His brash, unpredictable nature makes for disastrous possibilities in foreign policy, an area which can save or kill thousands or even millions of human lives. His experience in business has hardly anything in common with the Presidential office, no matter what people ignorantly say to the effect that the “government is basically like a big business.” He has no self-control or self-restraint, which will only make our enemies hate us more and our allies like us less. He has a history of bullying and punishing people who criticize him, an awful tendency for the leader of the executive branch of the United States of America. If Congress doesn’t cooperate with him, which is quite likely, he will almost certainly be prone to continue and expand the practice of abusing power through executive orders. His use of torture will only add more blood to the hands of a nation already drenched in the blood of the aborted (speaking of whom, he will likely do nothing to help them, either). The comments he’s made about US borrowing are economically dangerous, to put it lightly, and he has had to be told repeatedly why he can’t just bust out the nukes. He is dangerous, probably moreso than Hillary Clinton (and that’s saying something).

So there is is. This is my own contribution to the #NeverTrump position in Christianity, and I hold to it firmly. If you still feel the need to vote Trump, if your conscious forces your hand, then do so. But at least don’t smile about it. An enthusiastic vote for Trump, I believe with all my heart, is blatant sin, for all of the reasons listed above. To take pleasure in Donald Trump’s run for President is to take pleasure in an abomination before God. Let us never do such a thing. Our kingdom is not of this world, and it will last under the reign of Christ for all eternity, long after America is just one empire among many in boring history textbooks. The stakes are never as high as they seem in the politics of this age, but the stakes for our souls remain always paramount. Trust in God, not men, much less men like Donald Trump. To burn a pinch of incense to Caesar was always wrong, but so would it have been to join the barbarians who took Rome down.

Don’t Vote Trump, And If You Do, At Least Frown

Just War: Thinking Biblically about Military Force (Or, Why I’d Never Vote for Rubio)

The Christian Answer from the Past for Today: Just War

I’ve spent a lot of time this campaign season thinking about foreign policy and war. With all that’s been going on in the Middle East lately, and with the insane Republican debates, this can’t be a surprise. While thinking about all of this, I decided to go back and study war theologically. I wanted to see what respected Bible teachers and theologians throughout Church history have thought. What is a Biblical way of approaching a just war and military force? The results were surprising. There has been quite a lot of agreement in Church history on war. (There have always been pacifists in the minority, but most everyone else agrees pretty decently.) I can’t think of any other topic in Christian theology which enjoys this kind of consensus. So what did I find?

Most Christian answers about war are summed up in what we now call “just war theory.” Just war theory, if you haven’t heard of it, is a set of strict principles for figuring out when war is justified, and how it can be carried out justly, based on Biblical teaching. It can be traced back at least to Saint Augustine, and has been adopted by many others since then. It’s been accepted all over the board by Baptists, the Reformed, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and many others. Given its place as almost the consensus of the universal Church through history, I suspect it’s worth accepting.

Just war theory is divided into two parts. The first part, called jus ad bellum, is about the right to go to war. It gives criteria for when war is justified. The second part, called jus in bello, is about how to go to war righteously and justly. What I’d like to do briefly is go over these criteria, explain them, and see how they apply to modern political debates. Onward, then.

When to Fight a Just War

The principles of when to fight a war are founded on the Biblical convictions that violence is never desirable (Matt. 5:8, 38-41), peace should be the first goal (Deut. 20:10), and that the oppressed must be defended (Prov. 31:9). Here they are, six in all (though the number varies depending who you ask).

Just cause
Any war must have a right reason. Not every reason is okay. Going to war just to claim land, punish enemies, or settle rivalries is evil. Generally, most Christian thinkers have said the only certainly just cause for war is defense of the people, or of an allied people, against a foreign enemy on the attack. Only if innocent lives, homes, and rights are going to be taken away can it be right to go to war.
This criteria on its own is essential, of course, but not enough. A lot of things might be justified by possible threats. So we have 6 more to go go through.
This part means that the suffering expected or already endured must be enough to justify all the violence that will be generated by the war. If you’re not suffering much, it is not right to kill a bunch of people to fix it. For a really simple example, it would not be right to go to war over sinfully high gas prices.
I believe this criteria has a lot to say about the Middle East right now. How many of the interventions we are in now or will be in cause more suffering than was already being experienced by the people we claim to defend?
Proper authority
Scripture teaches that God has providentially put our government leaders into their positions of authority and uses them to carry out justice and punish wrongdoers (see Romans 13). Any war, therefore, must be decided and declared by the proper authorities. You can’t just round up a bunch of people with guns and decide on the basis of the other just war criteria that you’re going to start fighting.
This is also a concern for modern foreign policy issues. The Constitution only authorizes Congress to declare war. The President, nonetheless, has for some time now been able to freely use military force without this authorization. Naturally, this is a problem.
Right intention
Similar to the first people, the rule of a right intention means that the war must be carried out strictly for the purpose of whatever just cause might authorize it. It is not okay to go to war without someone just because you want a resource they have, even under pretenses of national security.
High likelihood of success
There is no sense wasting lives and killing people if you’re not going to succeed. For a war effort to be justified, it must have a significant chance of accomplishing its purpose. People should never have to fight and die for a lost cause.
Even if nothing else did, this rules out the war Saudi Arabia is waging against Yemen. They are destroying the country to no avail at all. Today, they are no closer to success than when they began, yet the U.S. government, especially including Hillary Clinton and Senator Marco Rubio, is supporting them. This also rules out taking any military action to topple Assad. The chances are absolutely huge that our hopes of helping the people will ultimately fail and they will end up under ISIS control (at best).
Last resort
Obviously, war should be an absolute last resort. All other options must be exhausted before resorting to death and destruction. This is the rule which God gave Israel when dealing with most general warfare (Deut. 20:10), and I believe it is also common sense. Do not kill when you still have other ways to deal with a problem.
Again, Marco Rubio is not my friend on this, and same with several other Republican candidates (and Hillary Clinton). Most of them are quite willing to jump to military action at the first sign of trouble, and detest using robust diplomacy (see: opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal).

How to Fight a Just War

Of course, it is not enough just to be justified in going to war. We must also behave righteously during war, and reject all notions that “anything goes.” Here are the traditional principles for a just war’s execution:

It is essential to distinguish between innocent civilians and combatants. It is clearly wrong to attack civilian targets with no military purpose, or to attack neutral places. I don’t think this needs much elaboration, but I should add this also counts against the war on Yemen (and thus Rubio and Clinton), since reports come in by the truckload of Saudi soldiers intentionally bombing civilian targets.
The negative results/collateral damage of a military action must make sense in relation to what is being accomplished. If your plan to block off one road involves killing 100 kids, you should go back to the drawing board (if not the nuthouse). This is another problem with Yemen, since most of the damage being done to the whole nation is the gradual starvation of the civilian population to little military advantage. Cruz is also indicted by this point, perhaps in combination with the first, for his reckless plan to “carpet bomb” ISIS.
Military necessity
Every military action must have an actual military purpose. Never attack without a cause and a clear advantage or goal in mind. This is exactly the opposite of what terrorists like to do.
Fair POW treatment
Sensibly enough, one of the rules is to treat any prisoners of war as human beings with God-given rights, rather than as bugs or pond scum. Do not torture, mistreat, or indefinitely detain them.
No evil means
Finally, there should be no war means used that are plainly evil. Raping and pillaging is unacceptable. Using uncontrollable, indiscriminate weaponry is forbidden (this includes nukes). A particular nuance of this point combined with the point of distinction means that you can never use civilian deaths. If there is collateral damage, it must be a side effect, not part of the plan. You can’t purposely kill innocents to accomplish a military goal (which is why many strict just war theories condemn the WWII atomic bombings).

Wrapping Up

Well, that’s the basic outline of just war theory as traditionally and Biblically taught by the Church’s greatest theologians and preachers. You may disagree with a point or two, I suppose, but if so I would advise prayerful consideration. I feel this is a very Biblical model, and because I think so I cannot support politicians who so blatantly trample on some of its key principles, such as Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and a handful of others. In fact, with just war theory in mind, Rand Paul is probably the only candidate I could like. But anyway, I hope this is helpful or at least thought-provoking for you all.

Further Reading

The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, book 4, chapter 20.

The City of God by St. Augustine.

Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas.

“Bahsen on War” – The American Vision

Just War: Thinking Biblically about Military Force (Or, Why I’d Never Vote for Rubio)