The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

When Religious Leaders Lose Their Credibility: Part 3

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Pastor Oliver “Buzz” Thomas’s article seeking moral justification for homosexuality based on science and the Bible appeared in USA Today (November 20, 2006) under the title “When religion loses its credibility.” He argued that science, like the science that Galileo proposed to support his theory of a restructured cosmos, is overwhelmingly in favor of the claim that homosexuality is genetically determined. Even if we suppose that it is, this does not mean homosexual behavior is morally equivalent to heterosexuality. First, heterosexuality results in the creation of offspring; homosexuality does not. On scientific grounds, a substantial case could be made that homosexuality is abnormal and not beneficial to the species. Second, genetically determined behavior is being claimed for all types of behaviors, and no one I know is proposing that these behaviors (e.g., violence and rape) are desirable as behavior traits.

After attempting to make a scientific case for homosexuality, Thomas moves on to the Bible. He begins by trying to claim that the Old Testament is irrelevant to the Christian and that the New Testament has superseded. He begins by appealing to Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” He dismisses this law because “Leviticus is filled with laws imposing the death penalty for everything from eating catfish to sassing your parent. If you accept one as the absolute unequivocal word of God, you must accept them all.” I’m not sure where the Bible imposes the death penalty for eating catfish, but there are a number of OT laws that when broken can mean the death penalty. This obviously puts them in a different category from eating pork and scavengers like catfish which only results in being declared “unclean until evening.” (Lev. 11:31).

He also brings up the topic of football and handling “a pig skin.” Again, a person would only be declared “unclean,” but since Jesus has declared all foods to be “clean” (Mark 7:19), it’s quite obvious that in the NT this law no longer applies. A pastor should know this. Then there’s the Sabbath question. Thomas writes: “Violating the Sabbath is a capital offense according to Leviticus.” Not that it matters a great deal, but the death penalty aspects of Sabbath observance are found in Exodus (31:14–15; 35:2) and Numbers (15:32–36) not Leviticus.

The death penalty for Sabbath breaking is difficult to understand. Once again, the NT seems to indicate that some changes have been made to Sabbath observation (Gal. 4:10–11; Col. 2:16) and some corrections by example (Matt. 12:1–2, 5, 8, 10–12). The incident of Paul picking up “a bundle of sticks” (Acts 28:3–6) on the Sabbath (Acts 27:33) seems to indicate that the death penalty for some very particular actions no longer applies under the New Covenant.1 Again, as a pastor, Thomas should know these things. In fact, most if not all of Thomas’ objections are related to laws that are clearly dealt with in the NT as being fulfilled in Christ in terms of New Covenant realities.

Wanting to move away from Leviticus, Thomas appeals to Genesis 1:31 where it states, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Thomas comments: “If God created us and if everything he created is good, how can a gay person be guilty of being anything more that what God created him or her to be?” This is sloppy logic. Let’s play fill-in-the-blank: “If God created us and if everything he created is good, how can a pedophile, rapist, murderer, or thief be guilty of being anything more that what God created him or her to be?”

Thomas next appeals to the NT. I should remind him that his comment about the death penalty for “sassing your parents” is found in Mark 7:10–13, and it is used by Jesus against the Pharisees. Thomas writes:

For those who have lingering doubts, dust off your Bibles and take a few hours to reacquaint yourself with the teachings of Jesus. You won’t find a single reference to homosexuality. There are teachings on money, lust, revenge, divorce, fasting and a thousand other subjects, but there is nothing on homosexuality.

Well one of “a thousand other subjects” is the NT application of Leviticus 20:9. Notice that Jesus applies it to adults. How should this law apply today? I don’t know, but I do know that Jesus applied it, so it has some applicability.



Thomas then moves to Romans 1 where he writes: “[T]the writings of the Apostle Paul at first lend credence to the notion that homosexuality is a sin, until you consider that Paul most likely is referring to the Roman practice of pederasty, a form of pedophilia common in the ancient world. Successful older men often took boys into their homes as concubines, lovers or sexual slaves.” Wait a minute! Earlier Thomas argued that in terms of Jesus’ ministry we “won’t find a single reference to homosexuality.” If Jesus is the standard, then how can there be a prohibition today against pedophilia? We won’t find a single reference to pederasty or pedophilia in anything Jesus said, so, to follow Thomas’ logic, Jesus couldn’t be condemning this practice. He can't have it both ways. If he claims that Paul condemns the practice, then Paul's words are just as authoritative as Jesus' words. Paul condemns homosexuality in several places (Rom. 1: 26-27; 1 Tim. 1:10) and shows that those who practice homosexuality can change (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Notice how he frames his argument: Paul most likely is referring to the Roman practice of pederasty.” The text doesn’t say this. Here’s how Paul puts it: “and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Rom. 1:27). He doesn’t say “men with children”; it’s “men with men.” If Paul wanted to say “men with children,” there are a number of Greek words he could have chosen to make the point.

How does Thomas’ argument comport with Paul’s description of the homosexual actions of women who “exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural” (1:26)? Men having sex with men, women having sex with women are described by Paul as “unnatural” behaviors; unnatural in terms of creation, and unnatural in terms of biblical law.

Thomas makes two final points. First, he appeals to Matthew 7:1 and Jesus’ command not to judge. Once again, it surprising for a pastor to quote verse one as if the passage does not have a broader context. In 7:2, Jesus says that judging must be applied consistently. If we only cite what Jesus says in 7:1, then Thomas’ entire article is in violation of its out-of-context application since he is judging those who are judging. Second, Thomas points to Jesus’ command “to love other people as we love ourselves” (Matt. 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) as a new example that we should follow. Jesus did a whole lot of judging and loving, so we can’t assume that love and judgment are mutually exclusive actions. It might also be helpful to point out that the instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself” is found in Leviticus 19:18, the very book that Pastor Thomas disparages as a compilation “of primitive rituals.”

Pastor Thomas seems to want to do the right thing, but he is arguing for it in the wrong way. Before he sends his book 10 Things Your Minister Wants to tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job to the publisher, he might want to consider a rewrite. I would be more than happy to help him with it.

Endnotes:

[1] For a discussion of this and more, see James B. Jordan, Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty: A Theological Investigation (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1986).

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