Book Plunge: Born This Way?

What do I think of J. Alan Branch’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you debate any with people and homosexuality is brought up, you will find people saying that they are “born this way.” In the movie Religulous, Bill Maher interviews someone who is a Christian saying that there is no gay gene. In the middle, we get a cut to a scene of Maher asking Dean Hamer, “Have you found a gay gene?” “Yes.” That’s it. No context. Nothing more. It was settled.

Are homosexuals really born this way? J. Alan Branch takes us on a tour of psychology and science to see what can be found out. He starts off with looking at the minds that have fundamentally shaped the debate for us all. The first starting place is Freud and seeing what he said, which wasn’t really as much as one would think.

We get a lot more when we get to Kinsey. Today, Kinsey is seen as one of the greatest authorities, but in reality, his work was significantly flawed. In fact, it was so flawed that one could even see it got information from those who had to be guilty of child molestation. Kinsey accepted information from volunteers, interviewed people in prison, and other such problems. Kinsey himself was quite clear about his goals in doing away with Christian morality.

Finally, what happened with psychology and psychiatry in the 70’s? The truth is, not a lot of science but a whole lot of politics. This cleared the way for normalization and then for opposition. The movement already had an agenda in mind with the publication of After The Ball which they played perfectly.

From there, we move on to the possible scientific explanations for someone being born homosexual. This area is often dense in scientific thought so it can be hard to understand. That could be the unavoidable nature of the beast. Still, Branch is conversant with the literature and knows what those arguing the position are talking about.

One area he looks at that many people will be pleased to see is about animals. He does say that animals do sometimes engage in homosexual acts, but this is not a new discovery. Our ancestors knew about this long ago and the only reason it’s a shock to so many today is that we are far more cut off from nature. Branch points out that if we went by this, then we should also justify people eating their children since animals often devour their young in the wild.

After looking at all manner of studies, Branch then takes on a more pastoral position. How are we to help people in the church who legitimately struggle with same-sex attraction? They are indeed there. We don’t need to think they’re lying. We don’t need to treat them like a disease. One great way is that men need men who are friends with them and can say they love them, but not have it be sexual. Likewise, women need similar with women.

Branch concludes that homosexuality is likely caused by a multiplicity of factors and no one factor can settle the deal. This is also a predisposition to behave a certain way. It does not necessitate that one act on that impulse. One can choose to be celibate or one can choose to marry someone of the opposite sex and form a loving relationship with them.

Christians wanting to understand the debate will want to read this book. Branch is thorough and at the same time, more brief than you would think as the book has just a little over 150 pages of content. It will be a helpful addition to anyone’s library who cares about this issue.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships.

What do I think of Brownson’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ll say at the start that of Christians trying to write from a position that is affirming of same-sex relationships, Brownson’s is the best that I have read. I think if you want to tackle a position that is affirming, this is the best one to read. He deals with a lot of the critics of his position and tries to pay attention to relevant scholarship.

And still, it just falls short.

Let’s start at the beginning. On page 9, Brownson tells us that we do not interpret rightly any Scripture until we locate the text within the larger fabric of the Bible. To an extent, I understand, and my disagreement could be what Brownson would agree with as well. I think a text can be understood on its own. If I read a Psalm about David drowning his couch with tears, I think I understand that alone. I think a deeper understanding for a fuller Biblical understanding could be found by comparing that with all of Scripture. I doubt Brownson would disagree with a point like this.

On the next page, he tells us that often, people have had to go back to Scripture when changes take place in society and culture to see if they were wrong. Again, I have no problem with this. It could have been that in the case of the passages seen as espousing the traditional view of homosexuality, that our interpretation was wrong. We should always be willing to go back to the text and examine it.

It’s when we get into the arguments that I start to wonder. For instance, Brownson on pages 29 and 33 wants to say marriage is not trying to get back to the primordial garden. There is some truth to that. Marriage also looks forward to the new creation found in the new Jerusalem. It is used at the end of Revelation and in Ephesians 5 with this in mind.

What I disagree with him on is that marriage is simply a kinship bond. Of course, marriage establishes a a new kinship bond. Brownson says that what is important in Genesis 2:24 is the kinship bond and that does not necessitate male and female. I find this a bit problematic. When Jesus speaks of the passage after all in Matthew 19, he refers to the male and female component which he didn’t need to do at all.

Second, with regard to kinship bonds, if all this is is about forming new relationships, I have to wonder why it is that this is supposed to be an exclusive kinship bond. Why limit it to one person? Why, unless the sexual union does a bit more than that? Of course, some Jews did not do that, but Jesus held to the strict interpretation and said male and female are joined together and what God has joined together let no man separate.

Third, Brownson thinks physical differences cannot be in view since this passage is used to describe Christ and the church and obviously, that church is composed of men partially. I do not think that this is a convincing argument. The same could be said of God and Israel, but the point is that the man is in the giving position and the woman in the receiving in the paradigm. It’s using the patriarchal system of the past to make the point and it does not require a one-to-one correspondence. In relationships with God, we are all on the receiving end and we receive the life of God in us.

Finally, it looks like sometimes the Bible has a problem with kinship bonds becoming too close. That’s why we have prohibitions against incest and lo and behold, when we get to the list of sexual practices that are condemned, we find homosexual practice right there. Of course, Brownson has something to say on that and we will have something to say in response.

Now to be fair on the patriarchy point, Brownson does rightly point out that one sees exceptions to patriarchy. He is indeed correct. You have Deborah in the book of Judges, Huldah at the time of Josiah, and of course women like Ruth, Esther, Rahab, and others being glorified. We also find right in the beginning that male and female are created in the image of God. When we get to Jesus, Jesus regularly associates with women openly. When we get to Paul, Paul has women in the church in positions of authority like Phoebe and Junia. In the house rules in Ephesians 5, it is true women are to submit, but men are given a much longer list of what they are to do.

When it comes to slavery, we find something similar. Slavery is a sort of necessary evil in Bible times, but as we keep going, we find a change going on. Compared to the society of the time, ancient Israel was quite progressive. Philemon can be seen as the Emancipation Proclamation of the New Testament. All of this can be found in William Webb’s excellent, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. What do we find with homosexuality?

We find no homosexual couples looked at as examples in the Bible. We find no change moving along those lines. We find the New Testament is even stricter on sexual matters than the Old Testament is, such as polygamy is not really an issue in the New Testament and Jesus ups the ante of adultery to not even looking at another person’s wife with lust. On a traditional interpretation, matters are exactly the same. While there is a line for slavery and women moving towards more freedom and dignity, the line on sexual practice is getting tighter.

In fact, Brownson realizes a danger. On page 83, he tells us that when we get to Romans 1, he realizes that if it refers to lesbian intercourse in the passage, then his interpretation of patriarchy would be ruled out. He will argue he finds this unlikely. I will argue that I find it very likely.

On page 91, Brownson tells us that divorce is essentially the severing of kinship bonds and the obligations that come with them. I find this still odd. Why is it then that we only find divorce going on with marriage? Do we find siblings divorcing one another or parents divorcing children or vice-versa? It looks like divorce refers to one thing specifically. Brownson thinks that this is confirmed in the Jesus tradition, but again, I frankly don’t see it. When Paul talks about one flesh, he talks about sexual union between a man and a woman. When Jesus talks about one flesh, he references Genesis 1:27 with it.

While I am disagreeing for now, I want to say that on page 103 he quotes Rowan Williams before he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have to quote the passage in full. It is a passage about the sexual bond and it is simply too beautiful so that paraphrasing would not do it justice.

“Any genuine experience of desire leaves me in this position: I cannot of myself satisfy my wants without distorting or trivializing them. But in this experience we have a particularly intense case of the helplessness of the ego alone. For my body to be the cause of joy , the end of homecoming, for me, it must be there for someone else, must be perceived, accepted, nurtured. And that means being given over to the creation of joy in that other, because only as directed to the enjoyment, the happiness, of the other does it become unreservedly lovable. To desire my joy is to desire the joy of the one I desire: my search for enjoyment through the bodily presence of another is a longing to be enjoyed in my body. As Blake put it, sexual partners “admire” in each other “the lineaments of gratified desire.” We are pleased because we are pleasing.”

I also agree with Brownson’s commentary on this:

“Sexual desire, on the other hand, requires another person, and if sex is to achieve what the body most deeply longs for, one must enter into deep communion with the other — the kind of communion that the Bible speaks of as a one-flesh union. In that union, one relinquishes self-determination , and one’s own happiness is bound up in the happiness of the other.”

I often tell men who are about to get married that they certainly desire sex, but they really don’t have a clue. You don’t know how much this experience will change you until it happens. Once you get caught in the world of another person on this intimate level, life is never the same. Brownson is right on 104 when he says that the language of the body cannot be avoided. Our faithfulness as Christians depends in part on how we use the bodies that God gave us. We will either use them to speak love or use them to speak destruction.

When we get to Romans 1, Brownson’s argument is that the passage condemns excessive lust and this excessive lust leads to homosexual practice. I do not see how this can come from the text. Paul does not really speak about excessive desire anywhere else. Where in a passage like 1 Cor. 7 do we see “Now you married couples, do not be getting it on too much in the bedroom. Your desires don’t need to be excessive!” In fact, he says they should come together and the only reason they should avoid it is by mutual consent and then only for a short time and then only devotion to prayer. If someone in the church is burning with desire, he doesn’t say to shut down the desire. He says to get married. Keep in mind all of this is also without mention of procreation.

If anything, it also looks like Paul is condemning the result of what has happened and if it is excessive lust he’s saying “Do you see where it gets you? It gets you to homosexual practice.” A Jewish audience would look and say “Yep. Sure does. Our Scriptures are crystal clear on that. You tell them Paul!”

Brownson also wants to see this as an indictment of the emperor at the time. Again, I don’t see how this follows. Paul is writing about the whole of the Gentile world and not one small segment, even one as important as the emperor. In fact, as people like Gagnon and Sprinkle have pointed out, the language of Romans 1 several times mirrors Genesis 1. You have terms like creator, creation, male and female, and the idol descriptions match the descriptions of creatures in Genesis 1. Paul is making a contrast with creation. What he is saying is that when we look at the creation, it is apparent that there is a creator, but mankind in wickedness chose to make images of created things rather than honor the creator, which is a disruption of design on the vertical level. They then did the same on the horizontal level and the clearest example of this is homosexual practice.

For the lesbian issue, Brownson points to “their women” and says that the women are being thought of in relationship to men. Unfortunately, there is no interaction with someone like Bernadette Brooten who has shown that yes, female same-sex eroticism was indeed a part of the world of the New Testament and it was known about. I can’t help but think that Brownson approached the text wanting to find what he found and then found it.

When we get to a passage like 1 Cor. 6:9, on page 271, Brownson says that attempts to link the word translated to refer to those who practice homosexuality to Lev. 18 and 20 is speculative. Really? Let’s take a look. Here’s the Greek word.

αρσενοκοιται

Now let’s go to Leviticus 18. When we get to verse 22, what do we see?

και μετα αρσενος ου κοιμηθηση κοιτην γυναικος βδελυγμα γαρ εστιν

And when we get to 20:13….

και ος αν κοιμηθη μετα αρσενος κοιτην γυναικος βδελυγμα εποιησαν αμφοτεροι θανατουσθωσαν ενοχοι εισιν

Yep. That’s speculative alright. You don’t have to be a Greek scholar to see that relationship. By the way, I also find the idea of Leviticus 18 and 20 not referring to homosexual practice but cult prostitution also highly speculative. Am I to think that the writer of Leviticus would have no problem with bestiality or incest or child sacrifice if they were done at home instead of in a cult? (Sprinkle has also called into question that cult prostitution was around.) I also question that it has anything to do with pederasty since from what I understand, that was a later Greco-Roman practice.

In conclusion, Brownson has made the best case that there is, and yet he has still fallen short. If you want to tackle a case for same-sex relationships, this is the one to tackle. I still walk away convinced that those who affirm same-sex relationships are reading something into the text.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Homosexuality and the Bible — Two Views

What do I think of this book published by Augsburg Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dan Via and Robert Gagnon come together in this book to discuss the view of the Bible on homosexuality. Via I have not known of prior to this, but I did know of Gagnon and I have to say that in this area, Gagnon is a force to be reckoned with. There is a reason people like Matthew Vines do not want to debate Robert Gagnon. Thus, when I saw that he was involved in a book debate on the topic of homosexuality and since I’m doing a research project on that in Romans 1 now, I thought this would be an excellent one to go through.

Unfortunately, if there’s a criticism I have of this, it’s that it is way too short. The book could be read in a few hours which I found troublesome. This is a serious topic and it deserves more time in the press than something this short. In fact, Gagnon had to restrict a lot of what he wrote because it was too long and so throughout his essay, he links to notes on his web site where readers can go to find a fuller treatment. I would have recommended that while Gagnon could have written something too long that Via would be asked to give a more engaging essay of greater length rather than just have Gagnon cut his. There are plenty of things that could have been said.

Much of Via’s arguments are exactly what you would expect along the lines of what was going on in Sodom and matters of that sort. Gagnon’s responses thoroughly show the weaknesses, though not at times as much as one would like in the book format and again, this is because Gagnon has a fuller treatment on the issue on his web site. Perhaps it would have also helped to have had other readers who were commentators on this debate. It might have even been better to have Via and Gagnon discuss separately the major Biblical passages on the topic in separate chapters.

This is also an issue the church needs to pay attention to as it has become the shibboleth of the day. Increasingly for Christians, it will become a major issue as many of our young people who are deciding what truth is more based on their feelings and experience than reason and Scripture are being thoroughly confused on all matters relating to sexuality. Sadly, few of them will pick up a massive tome like Gagnon’s and go through it and unfortunately, few of them will probably go to his web site to look at the in-depth research that he has done. It’s sad to think that we live in the information age but people today want all the information catered to them and are not interested in doing any work.

While short, I must say that it is good to see Gagnon demolish the opposition in this one. Those who are wanting to see a debate on the topic in book form can start here and hopefully more will follow and as this increasingly becomes more of an issue, I am sure that more will follow. I am also thankful that we have as astute a scholar as Gagnon on our side in this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters