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RESIZE TEXT:

Changing the Theology of Sexuality

Introduction

Most of the current debate on sexuality focuses on the controversial topics of homosexuality and homosex within a religious framework.  Heated debates are found in virtually every church denomination about the moral status of same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexual persons.  Collective voices are heard from various sectors for the normalisation of homosex as a normal variant of sexuality where heterosexuality and homosexuality are seen as the two ends of a linear scale and bi-sexuality as the middle point.

This debate and its outcomes are most important because it has such vital implications for the broader moral debate about sexuality and sexual ethics.  This debate challenges us to reconsider our basic beliefs about God’s authority in our lives, His claim over our lives as revealed in the Holy Book and our very understanding of our natures and identities in terms of the fundamentals revealed in the Holy Book, the Word of God or the Bible, as we usually refer to it.

Since the dawn of time homosexual conduct has had a tabooed character, for nowhere was homosexuality ever a prescribed relationship to be entered into by the majority of a population over a sustained period of time.  Contemporary world civilizations are the first in the history of civilizations beginning at Creation to wilfully institutionalize same-sex relations on par with heterosexual relationships.  Five countries have institutionalized same-sex marriage on par with heterosexual marriage;  Belgium, The Netherlands, Canada, Spain, South Africa and numerous others have institutionalized it as some or other form of domestic partnership with the same political and domestic implications as for heterosexual marriage.

The Bible and sexuality

The creation narratives present indirect references to the issue of homosexual practice.  The narratives do not speak of homosexual conduct or of heterosexual conduct.  We should, however, understand that they do provide us with a general understanding of sexuality because God created not heterosexuals or homosexuals, but male and female He created them.  This implies that we can deduce from the creation narratives that certain principles pertaining to human sexuality were laid down as man and woman were being created.  These principles holds true within the broader context of God’s creative intention and purpose for mankind even today.

We find two versions of creation in the Bible.  The majority of scholars suggest that the narratives are the work of the Priestly (P) and the Yahwist (J) writers.  I will assume this suggestion as valid for the purposes of discussing the creation of humans as male and female.  Both authors suggest a biblical norm, namely heterosexuality although this term is modern and in use only since modern times.  Genesis 1:1-2:4a is attributed by scholars to P and Genesis 2:4b-3:24 to J30.  P’s view of sexuality is linked to receiving and carrying out God’s commands in relation to ruling creation.  Filling and populating the earth with humans is a divine precondition for ruling the earth.  Procreation is a precondition for filling the earth.

26 "Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the air, over all the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, be fruitful and increase in number;  fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Gn 1:26-28).

For P the complementarity and gender differentiation are secured in the divinely sanctioned command of governing creation.  It is quite clear that God’s intention for human sexuality, that is, complementarity as male and female and gender differentiation as man and woman, is firmly imbedded in creation.  Male and female he created them has definite implications for human sexuality.  It is also clear that verse 27 is stating a mere fact;  man was created male and female.

Man, unlike God, is characterized by sexual differentiation.  God created in his image a male (Adam) and a female (Adama).  Both share the image of God.  This image is to be understood in the light of the oneness of God.  This emphasizes man as a unity whilst being biologically differentiated.  The oneness of God is reflected in both the male and a female in their sexual otherness.

Sexuality is not an accident of nature, nor is it simply a biological differentiation.  Instead it is a deliberate, intentional and functional gift of God.  While sexual identity and sexual function are foreign to God’s person, it is nevertheless displayed as part of his will for his image bearers.  Only a man and a woman in a sexual relationship, not a man with another man or a woman with another woman, can portray God’s image and unity.  Both the portrayal of God’s image in the sexual complementary otherness and the procreation  purpose avoid a detachment of sexuality from God’s male-female intend.

In Genesis 2:4b-3:24, humanity is much in focus, more so as in Genesis 1.

21 "So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep;  and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs (or: sides) and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib (or side) he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said, This is now bone and my bones and flesh of my flesh;  she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh (Gn 2:21-24).

In this, the Yawist’s narrative of creation, God did not create another Adama as an independent creation, not a replica of the first Adam, but he made a complementary being from the Adam, because no suitable helper was to be found for him in the creation up to that point in time.  None of Israel’s neighbors had a tradition of the creation of the female.31 Note that it was not the woman herself but simply the raw material that was taken from the Adam.  Femininity was separated out of man’s masculinity, The Adama does not emerge before the creative divine act on the dust is completed;  in similar manner the woman does not emerge until a creative divine act is done on the raw material taken from the side of the Adam.

Only a being thus created from Adam can and ought to become someone with whom Adam could reunite in sexual intercourse (…. They will become one flesh: Gn. 2:21-24) and marriage. A man by himself is not flesh.  A woman by herself is not one flesh.  Another man cannot be one flesh with a man, only the man and the woman can become one flesh.  Masculinity and femininity unite into an oneness, sexually and in marriage, and this creates wholeness. This is impossible where masculinity and masculinity or femininity and femininity unite as one flesh; the very coition or marriage is void of wholeness.

The same argument holds true for two women.  The woman is not just like himself but from himself (…..bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh:  Gn 2:21-24) and thereby qualifies to be the only possible complementary fit to himself.  She is the complementary sexual other to bring the man to his original wholeness.  In verse 23 it is stated she shall be called woman (issa) because she was taken out of man (is).  By forming two people, a male and a female, God made a powerful statement about human sexuality.  These two words, which are so much the same, emphasize their common identity and mutual dependence as man and woman.

The Yahwist does not focus on the procreation goal (childbearing) as does P, but rather on the relational goal as complementary beings (male and female).  The man does not leave one family, his father and mother, to start another family.  The very inclusive nature of the relationship (.. a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,…), excludes relationships of people of the same sex.33 Male and female in their complementary otherness, witness god’s intent and design for human sexuality.  God’s intent for human sexuality is imbedded in the material creation of gendered beings and the fullness or wholeness of God’s image comes together in the one flesh union of male and female in marriage.  A composite being, created through sexual union of man and woman – two complementary beings – in marriage displays God’s image.  It will not do to argue that homosexual marriage will do the same.  Homosexual relationships are not intended nor envisaged in the creation narratives.  Male and female are perfect fits by divine intention, design and blessing.  Male and male, or female and female, are not.

This is born out by Romans 1:26-27, that the natural proclivity of man is not for other men, but for women34.  The natural function of which Paul speaks, is clearly that designed by God as described in the Genesis narratives and the unnatural function is man’s design, a perversion of the male-female norm laid down in Creation.

Jesus showed little regard for the legal issue of divorce;  He rather in His answer immediately zooms in on God’s purposes of making mankind in the form of males and females.  His answer simply concerns itself with marriage and human sexuality.  Jesus without question accepted the model for marriage and sexuality presented in Genesis 1-2.  In his discussion of divorce (Mk 10:1-12) Jesus appealed to both Genesis 1:27 (God made them male and female) and Genesis 2:24 (… for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh).  Jesus also added: … so they are no longer two but one flesh;  thus what God joined together, let no one separate.  He did not broaden the Torah’s (Law of Moses) sexual ethic to make allowance for any sexual union other than a male-female union in a monogamous exogamous lifelong marital relationship.

These statements of the Lord Jesus are of utmost importance.  He acknowledges that marriage was ordained by God from the beginning of creation (10:6) as the union of a male and female, a man and a woman, not of a man and another man, or a female and another female.  There is no awareness, no acceptance and no provision for any other pattern.  The creation texts allowed for only a male-female pattern.  He declared the absolute, intentional and deliberate will of God, expressed in the purposeful creation as related in Genesis 1-2.  Maleness and femaleness – as visual and functional human sexuality – are the evidence of God’s intention that males and females enter into complementary, creative sexual unions that bind them together in a divinely intended and designed new form of life35.

This matter was settled in the Hebrew Scriptures (Law, Prophets and Scriptures) and accepted as such by Jesus.  The authoritative nature of the creation narratives went unquestioned and they were applied as matter of fact to the problem at hand.  The proscriptions of Leviticus 18 and 20 regarding sexual unions of various kinds made it a foregone conclusion that only male-female sexual union in marriage was acceptable.

Considering Jesus’ stance on sexuality there is no place in the Genesis account to make provision for same-sex unions, whether loving and non-exploitive or otherwise.  This one recorded statement by Jesus about human sexuality clearly shows that He understood males and females, not males and males nor females and females, to be created by God for mutual relations that unite and fulfil both male and female in a complementary union that satisfies the physical, spiritual, psychological and sexual needs.  Paul also unreservedly embraces the creation account in his appeal that since the creation of the world His attributes are clearly seen (Rom 1:20).

Natural meant for Paul the creation intent of the Creator God as revealed in the physical embodiment of male and female.  The natural function so vividly displayed as male and female was clearly that designed by God as described in the Book of Genesis and the unnatural function was of man’s design.  Homosexual behaviour was a perversion resulting from a corrupted theology that worships the creature in its sensuality rather than the Creator.

Jesus never married.  This indicated that male and female sexual union is by itself not a necessary condition for human fulfilment.  Yet, Jesus’ teaching is equally clear that heterosexual sexual union in the context of heterosexual marriage is to be the norm for human sexual behaviour.  Both Jesus’ words and actions presuppose that marital heterosexual unions and abstinence from sexual involvement are the options for human behaviour that accord with the will of God36.

Gay sexuality

Gay sexuality as topic refers to how gays and lesbians see their sexuality in relation to Scripture, same-sex relations and opposite-sex relations.  Homosex, gay and lesbian sexual practices, create gay and lesbian identities.  Evidence from research clearly indicates that homosexuals – gays and lesbians – are distributed throughout all geographical areas and socio-economic strata.  In general the homosexual community is made up of two groups;  one overt (open) and the other covert (secret).  Members of overt groups openly admit and practice homosexuality  while covert members attempt to pass of as heterosexuals in their social relationships, including heterosexual marriage.  The two groups are interdependent, particularly because of the need to find sexual partners as well as to provide the gay/lesbian person with social support and the means to legitimize the homosexual life view37.

Thus, gay and lesbian sexual identities are constructed in relation to hetero-social definitions of gender, sexuality, and social roles.  Gays and lesbians seek out other queers to claim their sexual identities.  The gay and lesbian culture is a social network that creates a sense of group identity and values, distinctly sexually constructed in defiance of the dominant culture.  It is alternative in discourse and practice to the dominant male-female sexual culture.  For the gay and lesbian, cultural visibility and cultural flaunting have the potential of becoming a means for cultural change.

Gays and lesbians have created a common language, preferring specific terms with reference to their own sexualities.  The lesbian feminist theorist Penelope said, the attempt to claim words is the attempt to change the dominant shape of relality38.  Queer is for example a term of political dissidence and difference. 39  Queer is an empowering symbol for living sexual differences within heterosexual dominant society.  The word queer has been adopted by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender members of the Queer Nation40.

Gay refers to a homosexual man and lesbian to a homosexual woman whilst gay/lesbian refers to sexual differences between gays and lesbians as well as their experiences common to their sexual preferences within society.  Gay/lesbian also refer to the settled and evolving mutualties, experiences and understandings, between gays and lesbians.

Gay theology is a term which focuses inclusively on both gay and lesbian spirituality whilst feminist theology may at the same time render service to feminists (not necessarily lesbian) and lesbians (nearly always feminists).  Within gay theology the focus in the creation narratives is not on the male-female differences but on the male-female similarities.  Same-sex genital practice deconstructs the biblical understanding of masculinity and femininity as depicted in the creation accounts of Genesis.

The shift is from the physical differences to the affective and connotation similarities and aspects of being and thus, Genesis 2:23 is seen as a picture of sexual celebration and the pleasure and fun of sexual love41.  The focus of Genesis 2 becomes in this view a sexual interaction and not gender differentiation.  It is sexual interaction for the sake of pleasure and not because of procreation.

The exclamation of Adam, this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gn 2:23), is seen as the verbalization of the orgasmic pleasure derived from sexual intercourse.  They can become on flesh because they are alike, not because they are different.  Genesis 1-3 is all about sexual celebration.  Sex is a gift from God to be used in service of one another and meant to be enjoyed.  There is no indication of male-female creational intent, sacramental union or convenantal commitment, but only natural sexual attraction that leads to a commitment42.  The intention of the creation narratives is not to teach that heterosexuality is normative.

Within gay theology the heterocentric assumption that procreation is positively linked and normative to male-female sexual differentiation is abandoned43.  Then precreation becomes a blessing rather than a clearly reported command of God.  The text does not explicitly exlude the possibility of non-procreative sexual acts and therefore homosexuality with its limited procreative potential may also be what God intended for human sexuality.  The fact that homosexuality is not mentioned in the creation narratives poses no problem because sex was before marriage.  Sexuality in the variety of its manifestations as well as sexual desire was created by God.  Marriage came later to be a save place as a protection for this particular aspect of creation.

A gay theology of sexuality understands that the man will leave his parents and cleave unto his wife not because they are a heterosexual couple, but because they are both human.  All other created species are different and not capable of such mutual recognition of sameness.  Same-sex relationships is therefore distinctly possible because persons of the same-sex can find in their sexuality and unions the companionship and mutuality for which their sexuality was created44.  Mutuality creates the lovers as equal, free of stereotypes and gender roles in lovemaking or work, bold and open in expressing desire and as likely to approach or be approached by the other45.  The violation of this mutuality is sin.

Homosexual behaviour is therefore neither unnatural (contrary or the creation order) nor sin46.  Indeed, for the gay person there is nothing unnatural about any shared love in gay sexuality.  Gay men and lesbians are a part of God’s good creation and their capacities for sexual love are not regarded as sinful47.  In gay sexuality the words of God on the sixth day of creation summarize their view of homosexuality:  "And God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gn 1:31).  For the gay/lesbian they are part of what was very good, that I was a good creation.48 God, therefore, created, sanctified and continually celebrates the entire spectrum of human sexuality.  God does not despise anything he created.

It is therefore assumed that God created mankind with at least three major sexual orientations or natures namely, heterosexual, homosexual and bi-sexual dispositions.  This fact was unknown to ancient man, for example Paul, because49:

"… everything the apostle stated in Romans 1 was based upon the mistaken assumption that the human race was created exclusively heterosexual.  The book of Leviticus had left no room for homosexual “exceptions” and it is clear from the verses Paul penned to the Roman Christians that, at that point of his understanding, he had not been enlightened by any revelation to the contrary …. Paul believed homosexual conduct to be outside the will of God."

The logic conclusion in gay theology is that homosexuality is a legitimate variant form of sexual expression and that it is perversion and inversion.  Some gay apologists (Scanzoni & Mollenkott, Boswell, Bailey and McNeill) assert that Paul was castigating homosexual lust, promiscuity and excessive passion in people with heterosexual natures practising homosex against their natural sexual nature, thus an exchange of natures is affected.  While it is ten true that Paul harboured negative options concerning homosexual acts50 because of his culturally conditioned perspective:

"….it is essential to realise that the twentieth-century believer is not bound by the apostle’s private or penned options, but by the basic principles he gave us – principles tat can be relevantly related to the sociological/cultural situation confronting us in  this current sexual controversy."

Against the background that Paul did not know of homosexual natures and therefore made no distinction in condemning homosex, as well as the fact that Paul mentions heterosexuals exchanging their male-female relations, the principle deduced simply states it would be indeed sin if natural homosexuals would exchange same-sex relations for opposite-sex relations.  There is general agreement amongst homosexual apologists tat the Bible at large is not dealing with confirmed homosexuals because the confirmed homosexual was only recognized in the late 1800’s.  The women and men Paul is talking about in Romans 1 is not at the core a homosexual person.  Gay theology therefore asserts that exchanged and given up cannot be applied to confirmed homosexual inverts.

Jesus’ words and actions that marital heterosexual unions and abstinence from sexual involvement are the options for human behaviour that accord with the will of God is seen within Gay theology as symbolic of asexuality, a model for subordinating women and denigrating sexual pleasure51.  This results in misogyny and homophobia as a natural consequence of the asexual reading of the biblical narrative.  Jesus’ perceived celibacy gives way to a reconstruction of his sexuality to counteract the assumed historical asexual reading.  Thus Driver observes52:

"The absence of all comment in them (the Gospels) about Jesus’ sexuality cannot be taken to imply that he had no sexual feelings….. It is not shocking, to me at least, to imagine Jesus moved to love according to the flesh.  I cannot imagine a human tenderness, which the Gospels show to be characteristic of Jesus that is not fed in some degree by the springs of passion.  The human alternative to sexual tenderness is not asexual tenderness but sexual fear.  Jesus lived in his body, as other men do.

"Other writers also tried to change the perceived anti-sexual Christian perspective and to give rise to a sexual Jesus.  Lawrence53 for example commented:

"If Jesus rose in full flesh, He rose to know the tenderness of a woman, and the great pleasure of her, and to have children by her."

To reconstruct a sexual Jesus is important in gay theology because it paves the way to a queer Christ and hence queer Christology.  Queer Christology contrasts traditional ecclesial Christology.  Boyd54 reconstructs a gay-sensitive Jesus for gay Christians in terms of the modern understanding of gayness and raises the question of Jesus’ homoerotic feelings when he says that gay spirit as we have come to understand it, fits Jesus easily.  He also quotes Rev. Robinson, dean of Samaritan College55:

"I never knew how to separate my spirituality from my sexuality…….. Sleeping with a woman was both natural and fulfilling.  It’s unthinkable to me that Jesus could be uncomfortable with my lesbianism.  He understands fully that being lesbian or gay isn’t simply a matter of genital behaviour but is a whole way of being.  Jesus was just as queer in his time as we are in ours.  What a gift."

In the process of claiming Jesus as one of their own the gay and lesbian community has consistently raised the question of Jesus’ sexual intimacy.  There is a widespread common belief amongst gays that Jesus had homoerotic sexual relations.  Williams’ speculation56 goes beyond the biblical narrative when he says:

"Jesus was the passionate lover of Lazarus, a young man who became his disciple.  When the two of them met, there was that electricity we have learned to call limerence, or love at first sight."

Goss57 also comments on another manuscript of Williams, The beloved disciple, in which he reconstructs a fictional story of Jesus and Lazarus with vivid descriptions of lovemaking between Jesus and Lazarus.  This completes the full circle to reconstruct Jesus as gay and sexual.  This is hardly surprising giving the Bible’s negative attitude to same-sex acts and the modern gay’s desire to reclaim Jesus as gay/lesbian-sensitive and thus to validate homoeroticism today as a legitimate expression of sexuality based on the reconstructed queer Christ.

The need is for a Christology that identifies with the struggle for sexual liberation.  The crucifixion, the happenings during Easter, become for gay and lesbian Christians the events at which God made Jesus queer in his solidarity with them.  Easter is seen as God’s promise that sexual liberation will eventually triumph.  The intention is clear;  a gay and lesbian critical reading of the Bible means reading the Bible as their own.  It deconstructs (break down) the traditional reading of homosexual conduct as sinful and reconstructs (built up) an interpretation that can do justice to current queer experience.

And so the lives of gay and lesbian Christians become the text from which they interpret the biblical text.  Their commitments to their gay and lesbian identities, practices and struggle for sexual liberation become the framework for interpreting a particular biblical text.  They reject all readings that either depoliticize or spiritualize the biblical text58.  The lived sexual experience of gay and lesbian people is crucial in shaping a gay theology of sexuality and according to Germond59 this experienced sexuality and the way it is mediated by religious life is the central issue in determining the content of gay sexual theology.

Queer theology is in a certain sense a reaction to what Germond regards as an exclusivist theology of heterosexism rooted in a predominant cognitive body of beliefs about human sexuality60.  Basic to a queer thology of sexuality is the assumption that the Christian church throughout its history has wrongfully and wilfully assumed that heterosexuality is normative and that homosexuality is a perversion.  The correct reading and interpretation that allows for an biblical acceptance of certain homosexual conduct is effected trough a hermeneutics of suspicion where the assumptions of the biblical texts themselves are laid bare, for example a heterosexual bias.

In line with Germond, Johnstone argues that in a gay theology of sexuality61:

"…..the permanent sexual condition of gay people can be seen as both permissible and consistent.  Homosexuality or heterosexuality is neither here nor there;  what matters is to keep God’s commands.  It is not our sexual orientation that is foremost in God’s concern, but the way we express that sexuality within the framework of God’s commands for responsible, loving, sexual behaviour.

A biblical theology of sexuality

It is clear from the expositions above that we have two directly opposing viewpoints regarding what the Bible teaches about sexuality. Which is the correct one?  Both viewpoints claim to be biblical in their understanding and praxis of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.  It is also true that not both these viewpoints can be correct and that one will need to be discarded in the light of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.

There can be no understanding of sexuality apart from the Genesis creation narratives.  The Designer had a very specific pattern in mind and we need to discern what He had in mind before any violations of the divine pattern can be recognized.  The Bible is quite clear on at least the following facts:  that God created mankind as male and female, they were created in the image of God, they were created as sexually complementary beings, that God separated femininity out of man’s masculinity and this resulted in a divine intended heterosexual desire in the male and female to be reunited in as sexual intimate oneness.

The whole Bible makes provision for only male and female relationships.  Not once in the whole of the Bible is there any deviation from this sexual foundation for mankind, a foundation laid down when man and woman were created.  No patriarch, no matriarch, no prophet, no priest, no disciple, no apostle and not even the Lord Jesus corrupted this heterosexual intention of God through homosexual conduct.  They simply accepted, as given in Creation, that sexual identity was heterosexually shaped and humankind therefore presented itself as male and female.  Thus, in all references to homosexuality in the Bible, notwithstanding the context, homosex is regarded as a sin and even referred to as an abomination unto God.  No approval was ever given to homosexual conduct, neither explicitly or implicitly.  It was not even tolerated but always rejected as sin, especially as sinful practice in the lives of the nations and the gentiles where it was normal and acceptable conduct.

A biblical norm is being violated in homosex.  Homosex is illegitimate behaviour according to biblical norms in both natural and special revelation (Rom 1:18-32).  Depravity is depravity and perversion of a biblical norm remains a perversion, notwithstanding the name given to it.  The Bible simply fails to recognize and allow for good homosex and bad homosex.  Such a distinction is illegitimate and unbiblical.  Beginning in Genesis and throughout the whole of the Bible the entire revelation of Scripture describes that the God created sexual function is the male-female relationship.  Homosex originates not from the creative intent of God but from the depravity of man.

All civilizations throughout human history displayed male-female bias.  Not one civilization ever approved homosexual conduct as normal or same-sex marriage as an alternative to heterosexual marriage.  It is only now that such approval is granted62.  Indeed, homosex had been reserved for conquered enemies, rivals and socially inferior people like male children, slaves and men from lower social standing63.  Even cultures that have had no roots in Judeo-Christian heritage, have almost always celebrated the marriage of a man with a woman.