I have been troubled for some time about the way Evangelical Christians use Scripture when addressing moral issues. The recent fraught discussions over human sexuality are a case in point.
When we consider how to use the Bible to address contemporary morality, it is crucial that we consider the manner in which Scripture speaks of certain issues when we use biblical texts to address contemporary morality. Christians often cite discrete biblical texts (“verses”) and ignore the communicative situations of which they are part. Doing so turns biblical texts into weapons in the culture war with tragically destructive results.
Sadly, this has happened to biblical texts that mention same gender erotic relations.
I enjoyed a conversation recently with a friend about how to help pastors handle biblical texts like Romans 1:26-27. We talked about the contextual factors that need to be taken into account in understanding how this text could contribute to the discussion.
Because Paul refers to homosexual relations within the context of his overall presentation to the Roman Christians, it is important to take this larger communicative situation into account when Christians talk about issues related to human sexuality. I am referring to the thrust of the entire letter.
I plan to write several posts to elaborate each of these factors, but I thought it would be helpful to lay them all out in advance to indicate where I’m going with this.
- Paul names same-gender erotic relations as degraded human behavior in order to bait a group of Christians in Rome into having an aroused sense of satisfaction in God’s judgment on others (Rom 1:18-32);
- he does this so that he might then round on this group and expose the problem of passing judgment (Rom 2-3).
- This group sees itself as more committed to Scripture than are other Christians (Rom 2-3).
- Paul identifies God in Romans as behaving in a way that scandalizes Christians who think they are more committed to Scripture than are others, and are therefore worthy of judging other Christians (Rom 4:5).
- Paul indicates that when Christians pass judgment on other Christians they turn Scripture into a weapon in the hands of the cosmic powers of Sin and Death that aim to destroy the church (Rom 7:7-25).
- When Christians stop passing judgment on one another, Scripture is no longer a weapon of Sin and Death to destroy the church and becomes the means whereby the Spirit transforms the church (Rom 8:1-2).
- Paul commands the factions in the Roman church to resist passing judgment on one another’s opinions (Rom 14:1-15:8).
- The climactic command of Romans is for Christians of differing opinions about lifestyle practices to offer hospitality to one another, just as Christ has embraced both groups (Rom 15:7-8).
It seems to me that taking the larger thrust of Scripture into account would radically reshape the way Christians speak of human sexuality.