This is the second part of a posting on what the Apostle Paul might have to say to Community of Christ as it gathers for World Conference. Part 1 concerned baptism.
Theologian Walter Wink put it this way in his much-lauded essay, “Homosexuality and the Bible.”
“He [Paul] seemed to assume that those whom he condemned were heterosexuals who were acting contrary to nature, ‘leaving,’ ‘giving up,’ or ‘exchanging’ their regular sexual orientation for that which was foreign to them. Paul knew nothing of the modern psychosexual understanding of homosexuals as persons whose orientation is fixed early in life, or perhaps even genetically in some cases. For such persons, having heterosexual relations would be acting contrary to nature, ‘leaving,’ ‘giving up,’ or ‘exchanging’ their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them. In other words, Paul really thought that those whose behavior he condemned were ‘straight,’ and that they were behaving in ways that were unnatural to them. Paul believed that everyone was straight. He had no concept of homosexual orientation. The idea was not available in his world.”
Wink goes on to say that the relationships Paul describes are “heavy with lust; they are not relationships between consenting adults who are committed to each other as faithfully and with as much integrity as any heterosexual couple. That was something Paul simply could not envision.” The crux of the matter, Wink explains, is simply this:
“…the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.”
The ancient worldview of all Bible writers and editors precluded any distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior, which many of us in the 21st century take for granted. Unfortunately, that worldview is still around and undergirds much of the often-heated opposition to full rights for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
The perceived threat to church unity and even its survival (whether denominational or congregational) related to this issue in some cases is as great today as the issue of slavery was in the nineteenth-century church. Interestingly, slavery proponents had far more biblical passages supporting their viewpoint than opponents of LGBT rights do today.