In this article, I continue my response to Michael Brown’s response to my review of his book Can You Be Gay and Christian?
For starters, here is the link to the third part of my review of Brown’s book. In this section of my review, I explore the position that I call, for lack of a better term, the Weak Harmony Thesis (WHT). According to the WHT, the Bible neither explicitly condemns monogamous, committed same-sex relationships, nor does it explicitly commend them. Rather, the WHT claims that counterfactually had the biblical authors been aware of innate same-sex attraction and committed same-sex relationships, they would have approved of them.
That’s a quick summary of the challenge I raise in the article (though there is more to my response which I’ll address below). Here is Brown’s response to this argument on his show The Line of Fire:
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Same-Sex Attraction in the Ancient World
In his response, Brown argues that the ancient world was aware of innate same-sex attraction and committed same-sex relationships. As a result, one cannot dismiss biblical — and specifically, Pauline — prohibitions by claiming that innate same-sex attraction and committed same-sex relationships are a modern phenomenon of which the biblical authors would have been unaware. This is, in fact, demonstrably false.
While Brown doesn’t offer a reference in this brief radio excerpt, I can provide one here. See this article by Robert Gagnon beginning on page 140. In the passage, Gagnon summarizes several ancient Greco-Roman theories that offer a biological basis for same-sex attraction. This survey provides excellent evidence that these concepts of innate same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships were widely known in the Greco-Roman world in which Paul lived.
It seems to me that Gagnon and Brown are correct on this point. However, that does not end the conversation because in my original part 3 article, I also raised a deeper objection to which I now turn.
Imperfect Biblical Wisdom?
While Brown provides a good reason to think that the biblical authors (most importantly, the Apostle Paul) would have some awareness of innate same-sex attraction and monogamous same-sex relationships, he doesn’t address my final point. What of those who might concede that Paul may well have rejected same-sex relationships as we understand them, but in that case, Paul would simply be wrong?
I present the outline of the argument in the section “Would God allow the biblical authors to offer less than perfect advice?” In that section, I point out that Christians widely reject the Bible’s teaching on corporal punishment. While several biblical authors endorse the wisdom of physically beating children, Christians today widely reject that teaching. And in cases where they purportedly accept it — as with Focus on the Family’s qualified endorsement of spanking — they are nonetheless still rejecting the much more severe beating endorsed by biblical authors. (For further discussion of these points, see my review of William Webb’s book Corporal Punishment in the Bible.)
This leads us to the following progressive challenge: just as the conservative rejects biblical teaching on corporal punishment based on evidence that physical beating is wrong and harmful, so the progressive rejects biblical teaching on same-sex attraction based on evidence that a categorical prohibition of same-sex relationships is wrong and harmful.
Note that if the conservative replies that the progressive is effectively abandoning biblical inerrancy, the progressive can reply that the conservative has already done the same, at least as regards corporal punishment. And if they are open to abandoning it in one case, then they should be open, at least in principle, to rejecting other aspects of biblical ethical and prudential teaching as well.
If one concedes that much, then the focus would shift to evaluating evidence for the claim that the biblical prohibition on same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships is indeed false and harmful.
As I said, Brown doesn’t address this argument in his rebuttal. This is unfortunate, because it seems to me that here lies the deeper and more daunting challenge to the traditional prohibition of same-sex relationships.