by The Rev. Dr Peter Toon

Lecture delivered at the Cost of Conscience/Reform Seminar

 Imperial Hotel, 16th September 1997

Amongst Christians (i.e., persons baptized in the name of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit) we find that both those who support active
homosexuality and those who oppose it appeal to the Holy Scriptures
in support of their position. What do we make of this appeal? Is it
the case that the one Bible apparently teaches two opposing moralities?
Or is it the case that the one Bible is read by two groups from different
perspectives -- with differing mindsets, paradigms or principles of
interpretation -- thereby yielding two different messages?

One side is convinced that all forms of fornication are wrong, whether
between male and female, female and female, or male and male, and
are condemned by the righteous and holy God. The other side agrees
that fornication is wrong, but argues that faithful, loving relationships
between same-sex partners do not constitute fornication and thus as
such may have the blessing of God and of his church.

When the two sides, with their differing paradigms, meet they tend
to talk across each other if they are looking at scriptural passages,
texts and themes. This is because their differing principles of interpretation
of the one Bible produce differing and contrasting results concerning
the meaning of the sacred text and thus by inference what is the will
of God.

The only possibility of fruitful conversation between the two sides
seems to be when they are prepared to share with each other their
differing paradigms and approaches to Scripture. When this is done,
it becomes apparent sooner or later just how widely they are apart
on very basic doctrines of the Christian religion, particularly of
God as Creator and Jesus Christ as God made Man. There is a chasm
between them which seemingly cannot be bridged, unless one side changes
its premises or both sides adopt a new premiss.

The contrasting perspectives and paradigms

1. The orthodox or traditional approach involves the confession that
there is one true and living God, the Creator, Redeemer and Judge
of the cosmos, and He is a Trinity of Persons -- the Father, the Son
and the Holy Ghost. The One Bible (with Two Testaments), treasured
in the Church, is the Word of this Triune God and is written in the
words of men. This Scripture witnesses, say the orthodox, to the Word
of God Incarnate, the Son of God made Man; further, the way in which
this written Word has been read and understood within Judaism and
the Church over the centuries has to be taken seriously if we are
to understand it today. On this basis, the orthodox then proceed to
state that the will of God, Creator and Judge, revealed in the Old
Testament and confirmed by the New Testament is that one man and one
women be joined together as one flesh for life in marriage and that
only within this one flesh union is there to be sexual intercourse.
And while such intercourse has a uniting and bonding effect for the
couple, its primary purpose is that of procreation, of sharing with
the Creator in the holy work of creation. To break this God-ordained,
one-flesh union through adultery and fornication of any kind is sinful,
contrary to the will of almighty God.

2. The liberationist (homosexual) approach usually does not confess
Trinitarian Theism for it is usually committed to modern Deism/Unitarianism
or Panentheism. Thus it is ready to address God as Mother and speak
of this God[dess] as continually birthing the world. Further, it is
hesitant to admit that Jesus Christ was fully a male man, preferring
to state that he was really a human being. The Bible is treated with
respect as the collection of the sacred, primary and foundational
documents of Jews and Christians. Thus it is to be received as the
primary witness to the experience of God claimed by Jews and Christians
in the period covered by the Two Testaments. From this perspective
it can be seen in its true light as a message of liberation, of Exodus,
of deliverance of peoples, groups and individual persons. However,
the collection of books, while revered, is not without serious flaws
e.g., it has little to say about women’s experience of God, it is
committed to patriarchy, sexism and androcentricism, and it has no
knowledge of modern psychological insights into the workings of the
human soul/mind (e.g., having no understanding of sexual orientation
and no comprehension of pure relationships based on intimacy ). Further,
the Bible has to be studied carefully by experts in terms of its cultural
and religious context, before its apparent straightforward teaching
can be received. On this basis, the liberationists proceed to claim
that, while the Bible certainly approves the permanent marriage of
male and female and condemns adultery and fornication, it has nothing
whatsoever to say against faithful relationships between same-sex
couples, because its writers were not familiar with this phenomenon.
What is condemned is homogenitality and homogenital acts (which were
Canaanite practices) but not homosexuality, which is first a sexual
orientation before a sexual act. And they add that there are principles
of freedom and love in the teaching of Jesus the Christ, which actually
make room for faithful, loving, same-sex partnerships as honouring
to God (which need not be for life but like heterosexual relationships
can involve serial monogamy ).

Each looks at the other

A. As the liberationists look at the orthodox paradigm of interpretation
of the One Bible, they make several basic points:

(1) They say that it involves a pre-critical (or a literalist or fundamentalist)
approach to the Bible, more suitable to the 17th century than to the
20th. The claim of the orthodox to be reading the plain sense is seen
as avoidance of taking seriously the contextual approaches of the
modern historical-critical method, developed within the universities
over the last century. In short, there is no recognition of the human
limitations of the text by the orthodox, say their critics, and so
they read such verses as Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:17ff.,
(not to mention the account of Sodom in Genesis 19) without real understanding,
not paying attention sufficiently to the (hidden to common sense)

(2) They claim that changes in the mentalities and institutions of
human society are ignored by the orthodox. In particular, they do
not face the fact that marriage as a social institution has varied
widely over space, time and culture. Wives, for examples, have often
been seen as the legal possession of their husbands, and daughters
of their fathers (as in Bible times). In fact some claim that the
Bible condemns adultery and fornication because it is the effort of
the patriarchy to secure patriarchal lineage and legitimacy of offspring.
This being so, and since the Bible is written by males, about males
and for males, it has little or nothing to say to our present sexual
behaviour in a non-patriarchal society.

(3) They assert that the orthodox do not take seriously the historicity
and social construction of our gendered realities, desires, sex roles
and understanding of what is natural and perverse.

Further, the orthodox take the flawed position known as essentialism,
grounded (they say) in biology, which claims that men are from Mars
and women from Venus, and that there is a complementarity so that
one is permanently instrumental (a top) and one is responsive (a bottom).
This attitude represents modern white middle class understanding and
practice of sex roles even though it has been disproved (?) by modern
scientific study which sees sex and gender as being more fluid than
traditional and outdated essentialism can allow.

(4) They fail to see that relationships, not genital acts, are at
the very centre of marriage. What has been discovered in modern times,
it is claimed, is the ethic of intimacy wherein each person opens
himself or herself up to the other for the purpose of self-affirmation,
self-realization and self-enhancement. Marriage (or partnership )
as a RELATIONSHIP is thus freed from the age-long association (in
the Bible and in culture generally) with reproduction, kinship and
the generations. As a relationship (of male and female or of same-sex
partners) it aims to be pure and noble as it exists without external
supports and developed solely on the basis on intimacy.

Therefore, they find that the orthodox position is hopelessly out
of touch with where they are and where they believe the divine Spirit
(Zeitgeist, spirit of the age?) through modern psychological and sociological
study has led them.

B. The orthodox respond to the liberationist approach by pointing
out that:

1. What they believe, teach and confess from their reading and use
of the Bible has a continuity with that of the Church through the
centuries, and that they are aware of the cultural and religious context
in which the biblical statements for one-flesh marriage and against
homosexual acts are made. And using scientific exegesis they believe
that they can show that the positions taken by the liberationists
in, for example, their exposition of Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 and Romans
1:17ff., can be shown to be erroneous. That is, these texts do actually
condemn homosexual acts.

2. They admit that the social form of marriage has changed and that
women have greater social and civil liberties than they had formerly.
Even so, they claim, marriage for Jews and Christians has always been
ideally that of one woman and one man for life together. Further,
they point out that the relation of Yahweh to Israel and of the Lord
Jesus Christ to the Church is presented in Scripture in terms of the
Bridegroom and the Bride, as the model to imitate. Thus the relation
of man and woman in marriage is seen as sacrificial, permanent, wholesome
and beautiful and of mirroring and symbolizing God’s own perfect love
for the redeemed creation.

3. They agree that the very recent distinction (since the 1970s) between
sex and gender developed in the West is not known or contemplated
in the Bible or in the life of the Church over the centuries. Further,
they ask whether this distinction and the use made of it belongs more
to an ideology than to practical reality and relations among human

They proceed to point out that there is a serious tendency within
gender liberationism to deny the fulness of the reality of the physical
creation or to pretend that it does not exist. The point out that
the modern gender types are similar to the ancient gnostics in their
common denial of the created order. In fact they can be divided into
two types of modern gnostics the ascetic who emphasize the holiness
of loving relationships and the libertine, who demonstrate their contempt
for the body by abusing it with multiple partners.

It follows, say the orthodox, that if the gender people are against
the biblical doctrine of creation, they are also against the Incarnation.
The doctrine of God in male human flesh is too horrible for them to
contemplate and so they seek to find ways of denying or relativizing
Christ’s male body and nature. So what begins as an apparently moral
question (are faithful, loving same-sex relationships right?) turns
out to be a deeply theological question concerning Creation and Incarnation.


4. They point out that marriage is not a relationship of autonomous
individuals within an ethic of intimacy (as understood by the liberationists),
but is a relation of order between persons and within God’s creation.
While there are important dimensions of mutuality, caring, friendship
and of self-knowledge in marriage as a permanent relation of order
in God’s creation, its primary purpose is to be the means of bringing
children into this world and of nurturing them in the knowledge, fear
and love of God to maturity.


Since What the Bible says about Homosexuality is so dependent upon
the mindset of the reader of the Bible, it would appear that merely
quoting the Bible is not a sufficient means to make people believe
that homosexual acts are always wrong. Only where there is a full
teaching of the dynamic content of the orthodoxy Faith in terms of
answering such questions as, Who is God? Who is Christ? and Who is
man and what is his salvation?, is it possible to show God’s will
for human sexuality. In fact, it may be claimed that it is only within
the full biblical doctrines of God the Father almighty Creator of
heaven and earth, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Incarnate as male
Man, and of the Church as the Bride of God/Christ, is there a proper
response to the modern, gnostic claims of homosexual liberationists
to be found.

Where the question is that of the homosexual orientation or compulsion,
then the response based upon Scripture has to be from within the pastoral
care and fellowship of the church, providing whatever spiritual and
practical help is needed to enable all to live in chastity, knowing
freedom, joy and peace in the Lord.

(The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon [D.Phil., Oxford] is the President of the
Prayer Book Society of the Episcopal Church, USA, and the author of
over twenty books.).