Joe Salant kindly took the time to interview me for Reconstructionist Radio the other night. First of all, check out the interview for over an hour and a half of worldview and historical analysis, current issues, etc. We touch on social justice warriors, criminal justice, the Right Wing of the Enlightenment, my book The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, biblical law, and much, much more.
At the end of the interview, I promised I would address any remaining unanswered questions from the comments. Turns out, the list is quite brief, and a some of the inquiry has already answered in my writings (see The Bounds of Love) but here we go:
Biblical law and “homosexuality”
First, there was a question following my comments on criminal justice reform. I had mentioned a couple of the more monumental, though badly needed, reforms that would come from biblical law: abolish the prison system, execute violent criminals, end the War on Drugs, etc. The question followed:
I’m fascinated by Dr. McDermon’s [sic] perspective here, and agree with most of it. We should get rid of prisons, and execute violent criminals. But what about things like homosexuality? If biblical law is the standard what do we do there?
The question shows there is either an unfamiliarity with my work on biblical law, or else some kind of attempt at a public objection to it. Not sure which. The question follows the classic pattern of objections by non-theonomists to Theonomy: if biblical law is the standard, what about fill in the blank? Stoning adulterers, witches, burning idolatrous cities, etc. This instance focuses on an issue much in the news, and for which certain critics have taken particular aim at me: “homosexuality.”
The question involves an underlying issue all Christians have to answer. What is the relationship between Old Testament Law and New Testament times? Theonomists believe Old Testament judicial laws can still apply, though different ones apply in different ways. No Theonomist, however, believes that all Old Testament laws still apply and that there is no discontinuity. So which ones apply, and when, where, and how? In The Bounds of Love, I devote space to these questions, and provide a hermeneutic that makes sense of the differences. Regarding this issue, it is my opinion that the civil government sanctions against the act of sodomy between two males was a temporary sanction under the Mosaic covenant only. This sanction no longer applies today. Civil governments should no longer have jurisdiction over sodomy.
So the question, “If biblical law is the standard, what about homosexuality?” must first deal with the Bible’s own categories and treatment of biblical law. Just because there was a law under the OT does not mean it would still apply. It could be ceremonial or temporary for other reasons. In this case, it was.
In regard to this particular instance of this question, I would also caution the inquirer to be very careful in representing what Old Testament law actually says. There is no blanket category of “homosexuality” mentioned in the Law—certainly not as punishable by the civil government. Such a category would include heart sins, dispositions, etc., and also would apply across genders.
The applicable biblical texts (pertaining to civil sanctions in Mosaic law), however, only refer to the act of sodomy, and that only between two males (Lev. 20:13). Even under Old Testament Law, the civil government was given no jurisdiction for a similar shameful act between females.
We should also note that the penalty for the male homosexual act under Old Testament Law was very specific and inflexible: it was mandatory capital punishment for both parties. The Hebrew “shall surely die” is emphatic. The fact that the civil government had jurisdiction in these cases does not mean it could apply its jurisdiction however men liked, including by providing a lesser penalty. This mistake is made by many today who want to take the Levitical texts as some kind of general warrant for “criminalizing homosexuality,” but providing any array of penalties other than that called for specifically in the Law. This was the issue of my recent debate with Douglas Wilson. As I said then, I would simply encourage you to read The Bounds of Love, until I can get out my next, more detailed, book on the matter.
There is much more to say about homosexuality, free New Testament society, and God’s judgment in history, but this question is specifically about criminal justice, and this answer gets the main points of it.
A particular idolatry
The second question came during a discussion of tolerating Kinism (a form of racism), I refer to “poking hard on that idol.” The question was, “So what is the idol that’s being poked in that case?” I have to admit that in reviewing that section, the jumble of ideas was hardly clearly delineated, and the question is warranted. I had just used “idolatry” to refer to “power religion,” and by that I had in mind the tendency to hide behind power structures or relationships when we should come out in the light and repent. When I said, “poking hard on that idol,” however, I was referring to the Kinism itself. I had in mind the exposing of that particular person’s sin in the open light, and the making of a hard case against it publicly, calling others to confront it in the same way. I was targeting that idolatrous view. The entrenchment in protecting that person, however, is in hindsight a bit of power religion in itself, and probably needs to be called by the same name, albeit of a different genus and degree. But that is not what I had in mind at the time.
The church and the “statist” mindset
Finally, the fine folks at Reconstructionist Radio themselves had a question. In reaction to my comments about the church’s complicity in slave law, including reading it from the pulpits, they asked, “Have American Christians bought into this same statist mindset today? To obey man’s laws over God’s law?”
And the answer is an unequivocal yes! While the old chattel slavery laws are gone, we still have the same mindset in terms of much today. The recent flap over the blanket application of Romans 13—“Just follow the law”—is enough to see it, regardless of where you stand on immigration. Christians have a similar mindset when it comes to education, welfare, social security, banking, money, markets, taxation, courts, police powers, executive power, prosecutorial immunity, asset forfeiture, prison, and virtually everything else, including abortion! The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint (Isa. 1:5). It speaks to the need for studying both our history and biblical law, and then bringing the two together no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
This is the reason I have spent the most grueling parts of my career writing Restoring America One County at a Time, The Bounds of Love, The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, and counting. . . .
Thank you to Joe Salant and the folks at Reconstructionist Radio for the interview. I look forward to more soon!