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A father's grief

Books | Michigan professor ‘reimagines’ Scripture after learning about his son’s sexuality

Issue: "Blurred Vision," April 5, 2014

Those who equate current homosexuality battles with the civil rights battles of 50 years ago miss two crucial distinctions. First, discrimination then was against persons, and that seems rare today: I’m not aware of cake makers or photographers refusing to bake cakes for, or photograph, gays generally. They just don’t want to provide goods or services to celebrate same-sex weddings: actions, not identity. Second, the Bible does not make distinctions based on race but does distinguish between holy and unholy actions.

That leads me to a book one long-time WORLD reader asked me to read: She describes herself as “a conservative Bible-believing Christian for 27 years” who has fought her own same-sex attraction. A new book by Michigan seminary professor James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Eerdman’s, 2013), has undermined her resolve, and I can see why. Brownson notes how when his 18-year-old revealed an orientation, “I spent some subsequent time in depression, grieving the loss of the heterosexual future for my son that I had dreamed of. … That dramatic shock to my life forced me to reimagine how Scripture speaks about homosexuality.”

Brownson still loved his son, but initially hated his son’s actions. That bifurcated approach is hard to maintain at times, so Brownson began to “reimagine” the seven biblical passages that condemn homosexual practice. In his book Brownson speculates without evidence that Paul vehemently opposed homosexuality in reaction to Gaius Caligula, the emperor known for incest, rape, and homosexuality who died after being stabbed in the genitals. It’s easier to ignore Paul’s vehemence if we think he was just upset by the daily news. 

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Brownson’s reimagining also leads him to call “sexual orientation … a concept that ancient moralists, particularly those who opposed same-sex erotic behavior, did not recognize or acknowledge.” Hmm. That may be true of ancient Greeks and Romans, but not the rabbis who taught Paul. Talmudic views of sexual orientation eventually found their way into one famous teaching: “A person should not say, ‘I do not desire pig meat, I do not desire what is forbidden.’ Rather he should say, ‘I do desire it, but what can I do? My Father in Heaven commanded me not to partake of it’” (Midrash Yalkut Shimoa Vayikra 20).

Brownson rightly argues the need to go beyond particular passages to explain their context and moral logic, but his book’s fatal flaw is his belief that “recent discoveries about sexual orientation have changed the way we think about the sexual ‘nature’ of individuals. Psychologists now recognize a persistent, non-pathological pattern of same-sex sexual orientation as a natural phenomenon.” Really? Politically correct psychologists come to certain conclusions that trendy journalists trumpet, and that trumps the Bible’s teaching that not all that’s natural is good. 

Brownson sounds like John Lennon when he asks, “Can we imagine a world in which the divine pronouncement at the beginning of creation, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Gen 2:18), might find a range of deeply satisfying resolutions, from heterosexual marriage, to celibate communities, to gay and lesbian committed unions?” Sure, we can imagine lots of things, but that’s not the story God gives us in the Bible, where men love and marry women.

The fatal flaw of  presentism—if only God’s inspired writers knew what we know now—appears again when Brownson accepts another pseudo-scholarly statement: “Modern notions of love and intimacy in marriage arose for the first time in the nineteenth century.” Books from Genesis to Don Quixote testify to the contrary. And at the end of Bible, Gender, Sexuality, Brownson plays the race card: Because many conservative churches were on the wrong side of the civil rights upheaval a half-century ago, they should embrace gay rights. But it would be far better to welcome persons yet oppose unbiblical actions.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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