This is the second installment in my review of the Brown-Vines debate. (Hence the “Part 2” in the title!) You can read Part 1 here. (You can also view/listen to the debate at that link.) Further, you can read my subsequent interaction with Michael Brown here.
Part two picks up the debate at 10:13 into the debate, just as Michael Brown is in the middle of his opening remarks.
“And it’s a very peculiar idea that the Bible can explicitly speak against something, but if you do it repeatedly in a loving relationship, somehow it becomes good.”
This is another powerful example of rhetorical ammunition at play, an excellent 10 second sound byte for a radio debate. Unfortunately, upon closer examination it seems to me that the point is without merit. Here’s why. Vines agrees that the Bible speaks out against homosexual acts. But he also believes that those condemnations need to be qualified by the fact that those who utter them had no conception of people of a homosexual orientation sharing a covenantal relationship. Surely Brown believes that while the Bible explicitly speaks against sex outside marriage, this is consistent with saying that heterosexual intercourse is good within a loving relationship (whether done “repeatedly” or not). Vines can offer the same rejoinder relative to homosexual covenantal unions.
Next, Brown talks about how the consistent teaching of the Bible from Genesis 1-2 on envisions erotic sexual relationships and companionship as existing between a man and a woman alone. He then adds an appeal to natural law, noting that “[God] did not design a man’s private parts to go into the rectum of another man.”
I have two responses here. First, I wonder what Brown thinks of intersex people, i.e. those who are born with ambiguous genitalia? I have previously blogged about intersexuality as a theological issue here and here.) So far as I can see, intersex identity is nowhere addressed in the Bible. Instead, we have repeated reference only to male and female. But these people clearly do exist. The lesson here is that we have to be careful about making magisterial extrapolations from the Bible. The biblical writers weren’t aware of intersex identity, but we are. So what are we going to do with this information? Vines is arguing the same point with respect to homosexuality.
Second, as I noted in Part 1, the kind of natural law appeal that Brown makes here has value, but it certainly doesn’t settle the issue. I noted that people who accept natural law and teleology (i.e. innate purpose) in body parts (e.g. eyes are for seeing) regularly add new uses (e.g. eyes can also be used for winking). In addition, I noted that heterosexual couples regularly engage in non-coital sexual activities that deviate from any innate teleology. (As you may know, conservative evangelical Mark Driscoll courted some controversy by endorsing male/female anal intercourse in his marriage book.)
Let’s also consider an interesting biblical case of a condoned sexual deviation from natural law. According to the innate teleology of natural law, the female breast is for the nurturing of offspring. But in the Song of Solomon 4:5 we find breasts being treated as erotic objects for a lover. If this is an appropriate deviation from innate teleology, what are the limits or boundaries of such deviations? (Conversely, if one wants to argue that the sexual gratification of a partner is an additional innate teleological end for a breast, then the question returns perforce.)
Next, Brown states:
“And it’s also an emotional complementarity, a spiritual complementarity, men and women are different.”
This is an interesting a priori declaration. It reminds me of the complementarian who declares that men were made to lead and women were made to follow. That’s a nice thought. But what if the evidence supports the conclusion that some women are natural leaders and some men prefer to fall in line? Is that really an offense to nature? At what point does the accruing empirical evidence against a generalized declaration overturn that declaration?
After listing off a few more biblical passages that speak of men and women, husbands and wives, Brown then talks about his love and compassion for Vines and other homosexuals. There is no doubt that Brown is a compassionate and caring individual and for many in an audience a display of kindness will speak more powerfully than any argument.
Having noted the pain and struggle that many homosexuals face, Brown then makes an important point:
“But you cannot judge the message by our response to it. The rich young ruler went away sad.”
Brown is certainly right … to a point. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes negative responses do indict the message and/or the messenger. For example, if you’re an evangelist and you’ve never made a convert, maybe everybody you’ve met is sinfully intransigent. Or maybe you’re not a very good evangelist. (Or maybe there’s a mixture of both.)
With that in mind, it isn’t obvious how we should understand the pain, suffering and alienation that homosexual Christians report experiencing as a result of the church’s traditional prohibition. Brown may be right that it is irrelevant, but he isn’t obviously right.
Gee, I only made it two more minutes into the debate and already I’m spent.
I promise I’m going to pick up the pace as we go and wrap this up after just a few more entries.
And so, here ends part 2 of my review.