In Part 1, I covered Dr. Daniel Kirk’s pro-gay theology. In this concluding article, we cover the pro-hetero theology of Dr. Robert Gagnon, and draw some conclusions.
Dr. Robert Gagnon’s Hetero-normative Points
1. Core values of scripture
Dr. Gagnon first laid down the principle that some moral and ethical stances are held across both testaments, explicitly or presumed. And those that change in the New Testament do so mostly explicitly.
He then mentions that male/female sexual ethics are held without exceptions, and when they do change, they become more strict. That is, it started with Moses who closed the incest loophole (which necessarily existed so that Cain could have a wife).
Then Jesus closed loopholes that existed in Judaic law, such as those of marriage and divorce, and polygamy (Mark 10:2-9).
2. Jesus’ Sexual Ethics Based on Creation
In addition to being part of a biblical vector towards more rigorous sexual ethics, Gagnon claims that Jesus TRUMPS Moses by going back to creation.
“For this reason” God designed us as a complementary sexual pair that a man may lave his mother and father and become one flesh. (Gen 1:27b, Gen 2:24). The connection is a male/female requirement.
My Comment: This ‘vector analysis’ seems pretty solid, and of course, there’s much more on the other moral vectors in scripture in Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. The appeal to creation appears also in Paul’s writings on sexuality and male/female relations, and for me, is a powerful, if not convincing one. Which is why I am not an egalitarian, but a soft complementarian.
3. The foundation of the sexes in marriage
Gagnon argues that Jesus is limiting the number of partners based on the prior importance and assumption of the duality of the sexes. Neither polygamy NOR serial polygamy (divorce/remarriage) are acceptable because God made two sexes.
The duality of sex becomes the foundation upon which Jesus extrapolates a principle about monogamy, about the duality of number allowed in a sexual union. 45:40
Gagnon mentions a parallel text from Essenes (Damascus Covenant) 100 years earlier, which he claims Jesus was probably repeating or reformulating.
“The foundation of creation is male and female, he created them…and because the animals went into the Ark two by two.” This was used to negate polygamy.
My Comment: This is a very interesting argument. Gagnon is arguing that monogamy is the created way because God created two complementary sexes, and only two. So how could Kirk argue for an ethic of monogamy that includes two of the same gender? He could not if he was going to argue like Jesus.
4. Jesus excludes unions beyond hetro monogamy
Based on Jesus’ teaching on monogamy, it seems that heterosexuality is assumed as foundational. So why did Jesus not speak directly against homosexuality? The OT was clear. As was the Jewish doctrine of the day. Jesus was closing the loopholes and errors of his day.
My Comment: The argument that “Jesus never mentioned it” could support Kirk’s idea that this was because God was going to include them in a future inclusion of gays in our day. However, this is, of course, a bit of an argument from silence, and to be fair, Kirk did not make this argument directly. He coupled Jesus’ silence on this with Paul’s “no male or female in Christ,” the bastion of the egalitarian movement. This coupling, he argues, could be how the Holy Spirit is redefining marriage in our day.
But those who make this statement also have to accept that Jesus didn’t speak of bestiality too, so is that also acceptable in his sight? Or is it more likely that he issued no correction to the condemnation of homosexuality, other than commutation of the death penalty as for the woman caught in adultery, because he considered it still beyond the pale of morality?
5. Jesus reached out to those he understood as sexual and other sinners
Gagnon goes on the defensive here, mentioning that a negative moral stance towards homosexuality does not obviate Christian kindness or evangelism of homosexuals, or any other sinners. In fact, the most despised of sinners, tax collectors, were at greatest risk in Jesus’ teaching, being trapped in riches. Unless they repented, these great sinners would not inherit the Kingdom of God. And yet Jesus specifically spent time with them for that reason.
Gagnon also goes on to broaden the idea of “love your neighbor” to include the context of reproof. He quotes Luke 17:
If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive. (Luke 17:3-4)
My Comment: It is unfortunate that such a rudimentary principle as the balance of love and truth has to be repeated here as a defense against criticisms of being cruel or unloving, but so be it. I guess it is necessary to reiterate that love is not merely being nice, but bringing truth to bear. In these days of imbalance in either love or truth, we must be reminded that love includes reproof and mercy, not one or the other as the caricatures of the respective positions seem to be understood in the minds of many.
6. Male and Female as Image of God
Referring back to the creation narrative, Gagnon states that what you do sexually can deface the image of God. To some extent, being made in the image of God has to do with gender. Man and woman means a PAIR, not just two people having sex, Gagnon claims.
My Comment: At this point, Gagnon is running short on time and saying less about each point, but this point deserves much more exploration. In the debate over gender, we must consider what “being made in the image of God” means (Genesis 1:27). If we limit ourselves to the passages in Genesis, only two possible meanings (both could be true) emerge:
- Being made as image bearers, managers of God’s creation, like the angels (the “us” in “let us make mankind in our image) as discussed in detail in Michael Heiser’s excellent academic book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible).
- The dual nature of male and female (see What is the imago Dei?)
This latter interpretation may be part of Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality as part of idolatry in Romans 1. There may be a link to denying the image of God in ourselves (our gender) and complete abandonment by God:
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. (Romans 1:25-27)
7. Counterpart in Genesis
Gagnon briefly touches on the Hebrew word used in describing Eve, a helper “suitable” for Adam. The word, neged, means corresponding to and opposite to. He remarks:
“Gen 2:21-23 – What is missing from the man, there are two complementary parts – man was incomplete.”
Gagnon argues that the only natural, intended partner for Adam was someone biologically and in all other ways corresponding to him, that is, complementary to him, not like him.
My Comment: I am glad to see that the scriptures reflect what seems to obvious in biology – that male and female are designed for one another. Coupled with Jesus’ assumption about the twoness of human coupling based on gender, this seems entirely congruent.
8. Gentile Inclusion Analogy
Here Gagnon takes on Kirk’s central thesis directly, arguing that the analogy is illegitimate:
“There isn’t really a lot that connects these two issues….The bible does not ground circumcision in creation, it does ground a two sex prerequisite in creation….Circumcision is a Jewish ritual prescription that’s enjoined only on proselytes and affecting the body only superficially, homosexuality is a universal moral proscription enjoined on all gentiles and affecting the body holistically.
Gentile inclusion is about welcoming persons. Homosexual practice is about accepting behaviors. In scripture, being a gentile is only incidentally linked to sin. In scripture, homosexual practice is intrinsically connected to sin.
[For] Gentile inclusion…there is significant OT precedent…and uniform NT support. Homosexual practice has total rejection in both NT and OT.
Being a gentile is about ethnicity, which is 100% heritable, absolutely immutable, primarily non-behavioral, and therefore inherently benign. Homosexual orientation is an impulse that is not 100% heritable…and is primarily a behavioral condition which is structurally discordant with the way we have been created, and so therefore not benign. 59:30
My Comment: The difficulty with Kirk’s analogy is that being a gentile is almost entirely intrinsic, with no specific associated sinful behavior other than unbelief. By contrast, homosexuality, at least as commonly understood, is not entirely or even mostly intrinsic or biological, and is associated with a very specific set of behaviors.
While Kirk is right to report that the Jewish view of gentiles is that they were born outside of the covenant, and so sinners by biology, this was reframed by the Holy Spirit under the ministries of Paul and Peter. Not so with homosexuality.
In addition, Kirk might argue that they did not cease being gentiles when becoming Christian – and so gays who are born again should not be expected to deny their biology.
But this breaks down, because gentiles must stop sinning with foreign Gods and believe, and if we extend the analogy to gays, they too must stop their sins, which biblically speaking, includes same sex relations.
9. Paul and homosexuality
In addressing the Pauline view of homosexuality, Gagnon mentions that when Paul talks of homosexual practice in Romans 1, he clearly has a creation echo in the background, just as Jesus did in his teachings on marriage. Per Paul, both idolatry and homosexuality are about suppressing what we know about God through creation.
Gagnon made a brief indirect counterpoint regarding the idea that Romans 1 is only talking about exploitive homosexuality, by mentioning that lesbianism. clearly condemned on Romans 1, was not exploitative in Rome. He also voiced the other major objection to the exploitation argument mentioning that the gay interaction in Rom 1 is consensual, not abusive.
My Comment: The major approaches to explaining the use of homosexuality in Romans 1 are well known by now, which include the views that Romans 1:
- is teaching that all homosexuality as sin
- condemns pederasty
- condemns temple prostitution
- condemns the forced homosexuality common in Roman armies
Gagnon is not really interested in mentioning these, since his main point is that Paul’s argument is referencing creation like Jesus’. For more on this subject, see Does Romans 1 Condemn Homosexuality?
10. Caring homoerotic unions existed in ancient world
Here, Gagnon again lacks the time to present the pro-gay argument that is probably well understood by most who’ve spent any time in this discussion. The argument is that Paul knew only of homosexual actions, and the people of that time knew little of homosexual orientation or of loving gay unions, only abusive homosexuality in armies and temples.
Gagnon refers briefly to Plato’s symposium (~ 600 BC), as well as second century romances in which such portrayals were popularized, arguing that Paul knew of non-exploitative gay relationships, and that orientation arguments in the ancient world existed. He also mentioned Bernadette Brooten’s work on lesbianism in the first century as more evidence to the end that non-exploitive gay relationships were well known in the first century. 1
Gagnon went on to claim that lost in the pro-gay debate are any understanding of the doctrine of putting the fleshly desires to death. He argued that “innate urges do not validate behaviors.”
Gagnon said that the clear scriptural teaching is that some fleshly desires are to be “put to death” (Colossians 3:5) and that sexual sins including homosexuality fall into that category.
My Comment: Gagnon is addressing a common objection to the exclusionary view of Romans 1, but Kirk is not making this claim, so Gagnon is sort of arguing with arguments not made here. Kind of a waste of time in this context, but of course, Gagnon was probably not sure how much Kirk would cover this. Needless to say, I think this argument stands within the Romans 1 discussion.
11. Problems with same sex relationships
In an interesting turn at the end, Gagnon begins an epidemiological critique of homosexuality, describing its undesirable roots and fruits, including:
- Sexual narcissism – the idea that homoeroticism is merely a form of narcisism, perhaps grounded in poor gender identity formation
- Sexual harm – the idea that men and women are designed in a complementary fashion to moderate the extremes of each gender – in men, promiscuity (he cites more partners among men, and higher STDs), and for women, shorter relationships and higher mental health problems
My Comment: An epidemiological accounting for homosexuality is a valid and good approach understandably avoided by gay advocates, even though they often admit that they have a heightened amount of depression, drug abuse, and physical abuse in their communities. Often, this is blamed on social discrimination factors and the negative pressures of shame and violence, but some studies have come out to control for those factors, such as in Sweden where gay marriage and homosexuality have been celebrated for over a decade (admittedly not that much time in the big picture) and these heightened problems still exist. 2 3 4
What I find interesting about Gagnon’s arguments is that they go beyond statistics to the causal effects – that homosexuality is grounded in a type of unhealthy narcissism, and that the pairing of same sex couples is sub-optimal because it loses the moderating effect of opposite sex pairs. When you add in the biological inability to procreate (even when both people are healthy), this seems like a strong argument from creation, not just biblically, but epidemiologically.
Dr. Daniel Kirk makes a bold, prophetic statement to the Church – God is doing something new in our time, and we better not miss it like many missed the inclusion of the gentiles. He argues that such reinterpretation of scripture has precedent, though I highly doubt we are entering a new New Testament era. But dispensationalists, this could fit into your wheelhouse!
Such an argument has power because it means a type of dynamism in Christianity, and fits into the narrative of progressive moral inclusion and establishment of justice. It also has the advantage of not resting too heavily on scripture, assuming a higher value on the work of the Holy Spirit, just as the canon-less New Testament church had to function.
On the other side, Dr. Kirk’s analogy may fail in that it conflates sexual moral law and ceremonial (though his contention that we ignore menstrual prohibitions makes one wonder about which sexual mores really are enduring), and rests on homosexuality being an intrinsic trait like ethnicity, which is somewhat of a stretch, even if you are of the mind that homosexual orientation is not malleable (though science seems to disagree with that somewhat).
Gagnon presents primarily the strong argument from creation, as cited by both Paul and Jesus in the New Testament. He attempts to deconstruct the gay/gentile analogy, and ends with some historic and scientific evidence to address common objections that are presumably in the mind of the hearers, since those arguments were not made by Dr. Kirk.
- Debate Video, Ordination Standards Seminar 2
- Dr. Robert Gagnon’s Site, http://www.robgagnon.net/
- Dr. Daniel Kirk’s Site, Storied Theology
- Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism ↩
- The Science on Same-Sex Marriage (reason.com) ↩
- Gays More Suicidal – and so are gay married couples (josephscriambra.com) ↩
- Same-sex sexual behavior and psychiatric disorders: findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (nih.gov) ↩