The Bible and Human Sexuality
Introduction by Katy Kiser
Several months ago, I wrote about my experience at Mission U where the United Methodist Women’s spiritual life study, The Bible and Human Sexuality was taught. I remarked that the study was designed to help the church accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than consent and safety.
This concerned me greatly because not only is this new sexual ethic unbiblical, it is particularly harmful to women and children, works counterproductively to ending sex trafficking, and encourages prostitution and pornography. Even more disturbing was my discovery that this teaching comes under a larger attack on Christian understanding of morality and sexuality known as “Sex Positivity”.
But in a day when clear moral teaching is dismissed by “new” interpretations of scripture and a “new” understanding the work of the Spirit, how are we to stake our stand? For many of us it is confusing and difficult.
That is why Renew is happy to recommend to the women of the church, Faye Short’s excellent analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. She takes on the revisionist’s interpretations of our day with biblical scholarship, based on a classic interpretation of the Bible. This provides the reader with the tools to uphold and defend the church’s long held understanding human sexuality and morality.
Faye Short is no stranger to the Renew Network; she founded and faithfully served as President of Renew for 20 years. Nor is Faye a stranger to UMW, having served as a local, district and conference UMW officer in North Georgia prior to founding Renew. She has a keen eye for distinguishing biblical truth from revisionist interpretations that lead to tragic consequences in the lives of us all. Renew is grateful to her for her clear analysis and strong words of warning for the women of the United Methodist Church.
THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY:
CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT
Prepared by: L. Faye Short
Purpose: The purpose of this overview is to capture the major themes of The Bible and Human Sexuality by Ellen A. Brubaker – a study authorized by the national office of United Methodist Women for use at the local, district and conference levels in UMW or Mission U events. This document accompanies a comprehensive analysis of the book which provides support for the Overview.
From the Introduction to the Closing, The Bible and Human Sexuality advocates for a “new sexual ethic” for our time through the technique of creating confusion and uncertainty about what the Bible teaches and what the Jewish and Christian communities embrace. This method opens readers to a revised understanding with the age-old question, “Did God say?”
The text references liberal, progressive, revisionist, womanist and feminist scholars, to advance this new sexual ethic.
By reinterpreting and questioning everything from the creation accounts to the Law codes to the Song of Solomon to the inter-testament time period, the writer sets us up for a redefined understanding of the teachings and views of Jesus Christ.
One blatantly obvious intention of this book, from the beginning, and throughout the entire text, is advocacy for the acceptance of homosexual practice, and a change in sexual ethics by the Church. For example, under the Law Codes Develop section, questions are raised: “Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity?….”
As we move into the New Testament,, the teachings about Jesus Himself are called into question as the author casts doubt on the Virgin Birth, and in essence the Divine Nature of Jesus. She writes: “Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”
Even so, the author postulates that Jesus exemplified and taught a new understanding of love and relationship that would likely embrace the views espoused in The Bible and Human Sexuality.
A selective overview of the birth of the church is given, being careful to avoid Peter’s discourse on the need for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Paul is both extolled, when “he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus,” and dismissed, “on issues pertaining to the status of women and of sexuality.” The author comments: “There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. …Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.”
In regard to Pauline and other writings in the New Testament, cause is found to discredit or discount much that is part of the Biblical text. The claim is made that that some of the letters attributed to Paul and other apostles were in actuality written by others, “Deutero.” Theologian L. William Countryman contributes: “This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there.” Both of these statements are blatantly false.
Chapter 4 goes to great lengths to discount the process of the canonization of Scripture and the teachings of the church fathers, while giving far too much credence to the aberrant theology of Gnosticism. Inaccurate timelines and misrepresentations of Church history are used to call the foundations of the Christian Church into question. The concept is, if you can pull down existing structures, you have reason to construct new ones.
Another theme throughout this book is the promotion of the right of individuals to interpret the Scriptures for themselves—to “take authority” for their own faith and practice. While a full-fledged call is not given to totally disregard the innate authority of Scripture, or the role of the Holy Spirit, or the place for church leaders, or the significance of Church history; with these already called into question, this step seems natural.
The author encourages use of the “tools of interpretation,” particularly Albert Outler’s “Wesley’s Quadrilateral,” which consists of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, these tools are used in a way neither Outler nor Wesley would approve.
The Bible and Human Sexuality challenges traditional Judeo/Christian, Biblical views on male/female relationships, the family, abortion, homosexual practice, and even righteousness. The new sexual ethic this book advocates looks like what the author described in the final chapter: “At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?”
How does the Church answer? We answer as the Church has since its inception. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth, and the single, to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.
THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY:
CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT
Author: Ellen A. Brubaker
Analysis By: L. Faye Short
For decades at every General Conference the church’s stand on human sexuality has been challenged. In fact the United Methodist Church has been brought to a crisis over this issue. It is not the only issue that divides us, but it is the main issue. Much is at stake including our understanding of scripture as well as the future of the UMC.
As a former local, district and conference officer for United Methodist Women, and as the former president of the Renew Network, UMW mission resources are not new to me. Over a thirty-year timeframe, I have read the studies, reviewed the studies, taught the studies and assigned the studies to experts for review.
Of all the UMW studies I have read and reviewed, this study, “The Bible and Human Sexuality” has the clearest agenda. Its purpose is to change the church’s biblical teaching on human sexuality and replace it with a new sexual ethic that is more inline with our culture’s full acceptance of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. I have reviewed this book prayerfully and offer my analysis to guide the reader to seriously consider just what the Bible actually says about human sexuality. ___Faye Short
In the introduction and throughout the entire text, the Biblical, Christian understanding of human sexuality is held up for examination, and doubt is cast upon the traditional view. Instead of holding fast to established truth, the reader is invited to realize, “As this study is being written, we are encountering deep differences in society and within the church over issues related to divorce, gender, abortion, and homosexuality.”
The “good news of the gospel” is appealed to, yet is not identified by repentance, redemption and restoration, but instead seen as a gospel in flux, changing with the times and shaped by cultural norms.
The Introduction begins by stating, “Over the centuries, there have been many interpretations of what the Bible says about sexuality.” The Jewish and Christian community, worldwide, has held unswervingly to the Biblical understanding of marriage, family and sexual practice over the centuries. This Biblical understanding has formed the moral and ethical fiber of the nation and the worldwide Christian community, spilling over into the culture. Only a small percentage of liberal theologians and secularists have advocated for a change in clear biblical perspectives.
An attack is leveled against supposed “literalists” who are really Christians who believe the Word of God to be inerrant (without error in its teachings on faith and practice), or infallible (totally reliable in content).
Yet another inaccuracy, “The Protestant Reformation was in part about the freedom and responsibility of Christians to read, pray and seek the meaning of Scripture.” In fact, the Reformation was a return to the Apostolic Faith of the early church, and the understanding that Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of God clearly and understandably to believers. It was not an invitation to unbridled, uninformed personal opinion. The Bible admonishes us to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.”
Chapter 1: It Was Very Good: The Creation Stories
In the first paragraph, the author shares about her beloved granddaughter’s newly-forming “love relationship” with a special young man in her life. The granddaughter finds the word “partner” as an apt descriptor for their relationship. The author is quick to say this is the word “used often by same-sex couples.” The reader is drawn in this first paragraph to question several things about human sexuality and love relationships—premarital sex, cohabitation and homosexual practice.
In a warm story-telling atmosphere, the author lifts up the creation story, which she indicates is much like other centuries-old oral traditions. According to the author, Biblical scholars are able to determine when these “story traditions” became written accounts, with editors who put the stories together, and “…redactors who added their own interpretations to the material.”
This shot across the bow takes a swipe at biblical authority, divine revelation and God-directed process, so the reader is a bit stunned regarding the formation of Scripture. The author’s explanation places Scripture in the same category as other ancient texts, religious myths or oral histories. To the author’s credit, the “unique relationship of God and humanity” is acknowledged.
The Creation Accounts
Next, the author deals with the creation “accounts” in chapter one and two of Genesis. Most Biblical scholars see the creation accounts as ongoing, the first description in Chapter 1 fitting humankind into the total creative process, and the second narrative in Chapter 2 zoning in on Adam and Eve and their unique, individual placement and roles. The author struggles with male headship (servant leadership) even though the biblical account clearly shows, prior to the fall, a difference in role between the sexes. No doubt, something shifted when sin entered the picture, warping God’s original intention that the man lead in a partnership of equality between the two differing sexes. A hateful hierarchy was no more intended by God than a radical feminism.
The author speaks of how God… “created us as sexual beings for relationship with other human beings.” One must add, ”of the opposite sex,” and “within the context of marriage,” as affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 9:3-8.
Human Sexuality and the Development of Israel
Numerous stories and customs from Israel’s history are recounted. Our observation would be that the authenticity of the Bible is borne out by the honesty of accounts that do not reflect well on Israel, showing their failure to understand God’s intentions and the sinfulness of the human heart after the fall. The author tries to recast the sin of Sodom, claiming it was the failure to show hospitality, rather than sexual perversion and homosexual practice, that brought judgment upon the city. However, the Old Testament account and the New Testament book of Jude make it clear that sexual immorality and perversion was the cause for judgment.
Law Codes Develop
This section begins by rightly defining the heart of the conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites when stating, “The spiritual warfare was over the Canaanite religious beliefs and practices. Leviticus 18 covers unlawful sexual practices, including child sacrifice, homosexuality and beastiality, concluding with God’s warning, “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.”
God speaking His Law directly to the people is acknowledged with the statement, “They were God’s word for God’s people. They served to form the identity of Israel as a nation.” Early on the codes of behavior entailed the punishing of some conduct and the rewarding of other conduct. Let me add, since God is God, the Law was not based on whim or preference—but on God’s judgment of what was best for not only Israel—but for all who would embrace God’s Law. God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
The author then cites yet another theologian who is critical of the “patriarchal framework” that in his mind denigrates women, daughters, wives, mothers, sisters to a subordinate position. Several biblical accounts are shared that cause concern about how the code of law impacts behavior in negative ways for some, and positive ways for others. Jumping from this critical analysis of the code, there is a section in the middle of page 14 that strikes at the heart of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the significance of the Law in the formation of moral, ethical and relational standards. The quotation below is italicized for emphasis.
“Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Literal interpretations of the biblical laws are still practiced in many parts of the world. They may well be taught to our children as they mature as sexual persons. Some of the laws reflect solidarity and a sense of justice for the community, while others cause shame or hardship for individuals without voice or power. At the moment, sexuality is the central biblical background as interpreters everywhere are asked to take sides on a whole host of sexual political questions:
Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity? If women play the submissive role in relationships, what does that mean for men? How do we define sexual freedom or choice, for women, for men? What side is the Bible on? These questions and others arise from our contemporary views of sexuality and the challenges of a changing world with regard to sexual behavior.”
Having dropped this bombshell on the reader, the author then shifts yet again to the biblical accounts of women in the bible and their stories, Although these accounts were not built upon sexual issues, the author asks, “How are we to interpret these Scriptures for our sexuality in the twenty-first century?
At this point our eyes should be wide open to the actual purpose of this “mission” study on human sexuality. The author goes back and forth regarding the biblical witness, yet, in the final analysis, what the God who created and sustains all things spoke is up for questioning and reinterpretation to fit our contemporary views of sexuality. This is not being applied to the culture, which we know places little value on God’s opinion; but this is written for the Church, and specifically for the women of the church! For Christians, do not the matters of faith and practice in all areas of our lives come under the authority of God’s Word?
The Song of Songs/The Song of Solomon
We are aware that the Song of Solomon faced much discussion before being included in the Canon. Once again, the integrity of its inclusion shows that Biblical scholars were not afraid of the sexuality of humankind, but as God declared at the time of creation, found it “good.” In fact, the Song of Solomon fully epitomizes the depth of love that can be realized between a man and a woman. Many felt the book showed the depth of love Christ has for the Church. Suffice it to say it is a part of the Holy Bible.
Despite the absolute clarity that the love expressed in this text is between a man and a woman, the author pulls from the text some far-reaching assertions. She writes:
“Above all else, Song of Songs argues for love that endures all the impediments and frustrations that may exist in the face of love at its deepest levels. …Song of Songs celebrates love relationships in the human community. There is no indication that the lovers are married; it is more likely that they are not….” Then, quoting liberal theologian Renita Weems, “The poet is apparently sympathetic to the lovers desire to plead for their right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices, and to their desire to explore their love….”
This didactic method of interpretation reads into the text what the reader wants to be there, rather than reading out of the text what is there. In this instance, it is yet another way to attempt to find Biblical license for sex outside of marriage, homosexual/lesbian practices, or, the “right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices” (or, apparently, Biblical prohibitions).
The author concludes, “It is important for us to see in Song of Songs how some Scriptures flow from the concept of God’s love, goodness, and grace, just as it is important for us to recognize when other Scripture passages (or particular interpretations of passages) are not helpful to individuals or to the community as each seeks to grow in Christ.” In other words, we pay attention to only those passages that make us comfortable and affirm our lifestyles and sexual preferences. Is it not true that both God’s promises and God’s prohibitions are intended for our good?
Chapter 2: The Human Face of God: Jesus the Christ
Between the Testaments
In this chapter, the author begins by recounting Jewish history following the return of the Hebrew people from Babylonian captivity. She aptly describes the effort by the Jews to maintain their religious purity and traditional practices in the midst of ongoing foreign invasion and rule. Mention is made of the antagonism of the Jews toward the people who had been allowed to remain in the land, such as the Samaritans. The author makes the accurate statement that, “The resulting community practiced a faith that was considered a syncretism that diluted the pure Judaism of Israel.” She concludes this section by speaking of the time of unrest and turmoil into which Jesus was born; a time when Jewish tradition continued to reflect a patriarchal system which placed women in subservient roles.
The Birth Narratives
Not comfortable to refer to God’s gift of His Son, the author begins by saying, “The incarnation is God’s gift of the Son entering into human history that we might know God more fully in human experience.” She is careful in the first paragraph to remind the reader that the virgin birth is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and is not mentioned by Paul or the later epistles.
The author’s presentation regarding the Virgin Birth is so mistaken that one must read her own words to realize how incredulous her assumptions and arguments are. Sections from pages 27-31 of the text are cited below interspersed with comment. The reader would do well to read these pages in their entirety.
It is important to ask why a virgin birth is essential for Matthew and later Luke. The word ‘bethulab’ in Hebrew means either ‘virgin’ or ‘young girl or woman.’ Usually the Hebrew Scriptures make clear the virginal state by adding phrases such a ‘had never slept with a man’ (Genesis 24:16, Judges 11:39, 21:12).
The author does not acknowledge that this is exactly what Mary said when she asked the angel how she could be pregnant since, “I am a virgin.” (NIV); “I do not know a man.” (NKJV).
In cultures in and around Palestine, there were frequent references to miraculous births. There were male gods who impregnated mortal females, given birth to heroes…both mythical and real. There may have been an intention (italics mine) to highlight the birth of Jesus, Son of God, in a notable way. ‘Also, the numerous reports of virginal conceptions of mythological figures…could have motivated (italics mine) Jesus’ followers to have him recognized as the offspring of a god.’”
The author acknowledges that Mary’s case is not that of a male god impregnating a human female, but rather that she becomes pregnant by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s linkage of the Old Testament prophecy to the birth event is, according to the author, “…always a topic for interpretation and discussion.” In other words, not necessarily an accurate interpretation.
In the next part of this consideration of Jesus’ virgin birth, the author conjectures that perhaps the reason the virgin birth was construed as necessary is the “…perceived negative aspects of human sexuality.” She concludes, “There would have been then, as there is now, a sense that God’s divine Son would not be born in such an impure human process.”
Does the author intend to mislead, or does she know nothing of the theology of the Incarnation—when, through a divine act of the Holy Spirit Mary was impregnated with the Son of God—who was born into this world through the natural human process, to become the incarnate Son of God—very God and very Man; human yet divine? She goes on to recite a Catholic theology of Mariology which is not embraced by other Christian denominations. Yet, right in the middle of it she throws in the Biblical, Christian understanding of the Virgin Birth when she writes,
In some Christian traditions, Mary, a virgin, becomes pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She gives birth to the Son of God. Such mythological language (italics mine) would not have seemed exceptional to men and women of the first-century Mediterranean world.
It must be said, nor does it seem exceptional to Christians of the twenty-first century!
“Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”
That is the claim of God’s Word, believed by Christians throughout the ages. Not to believe in the Virgin Birth is to deny the Incarnation.
The Life and Ministry of Jesus—The Misfits
Under this title, the author begins to examine the life of Jesus to determine just how He impacted the Mosaic Law and how He interfaced with people, particularly women. The language and conclusions in this section are difficult to follow for they attempt to formulate a theology of partnership relating to human sexuality which is not inherent in the biblical text.
In actuality, many of Jesus’ actions cut away the practices and requirements that were added by well-meaning, or in some cases, self-seeking, leaders. As God’s Son (very God of very God), He revealed God’s true understanding of and intentions toward humankind.
Brubaker attempts to lead the reader to conclude that human sexuality was not a priority for Jesus but instead He prioritized human wholeness. The author observes on page 31:
While Jesus directly said little about human sexuality and how to live with integrity as a sexual being. It is still fair to conclude that he honored the wholeness of persons, he understood that wholeness to include sexuality.
Jesus did, in fact, address a number of sexuality issues as they came before Him, including the topics of adultery, fornication and marriage. Matthew 19:3-8 is probably the strongest passage showing Jesus’ understanding of divorce, marriage and adultery. In this passage, Jesus affirms that God’s plan is for marriage between a man and a woman and that this relationship is sacred and meant by God to be undefiled and life-long.
The author misstates that “Jesus challenged the family institution in several ways.” What Jesus challenged was that which differed from God’s original intentions. On the other hand, the author uses the Matthew and Mark (10:11&12) passages to affirm that “…women as well as men should not enter into divorce, as the marriage bond is sacred.” A bit confusing as to the author’s standing on these issues.
Our text relates, “Jesus also questions the rigid rules regarding family when he blesses children.” Yet, the Old Testament clearly taught the value of children and the importance of passing the faith on to them. Jesus acted within that understanding, and exemplified the value God places on children by doing so. Other New Testament passages address the significance of children within the family context.
From this point, the text shares biblical accounts in the New Testament relating to Jesus and various women: the woman caught in adultery; the woman who was hemorrhaging; the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, the Canaanite woman and others who were a part of Jesus’ followers. Some of the conjectures from these accounts are off base and stretched to include progressive thinking. In the middle paragraph on page 39, beginning with “Jesus spoke….,” the evaluation of Jesus reads as if He is only human, not divine, hearkening back to the questioning of the virgin birth, and the implication that this doctrine was an attempt to “claim God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (page 31). Instead, ought not we to see the exchanges Jesus had with women as a demonstration of how Jesus, the Son of God, has broken down the dividing wall between us and God, and between one another.
Chapter 3: The Early Church, St. Paul and Beyond
This chapter begins by stating, “Jesus returned the essence of faith to the original vision of creation that was called good.” The author does not speak of the fall and the entering in of sin which was the catalyst of Jesus’ coming—to redeem people from their sin. Instead, our text says, “Through the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus lived and died so that all people (italics mine) might live lives of wholeness….” In actuality, those who acknowledge their sin, ask for forgiveness and accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord are the ones who experience redemption and wholeness. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
The author asserts that, even after the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples did not fully understand his ministry…and that we still have the same difficulty. While there was much the disciples did not understand prior to Pentecost and the infilling of the Holy Spirit—Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 showed total clarity regarding redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection. As post crucifixion, post resurrection, post Pentecost believers, we too understand Jesus’ ministry and mission.
The Birth of the Church – Pentecost
The author fully acknowledges the coming of the Holy Spirit as paramount to the birth of the church. Even so, the part of Peter’s Pentecost message calling for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins is not mentioned. Peter made it clear that repentance was essential before they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming a part of the church body.
The Expanding Ministry to the Gentiles
In this short section, the author rightly describes the process the early church went through to determine the requirements that should be placed on Gentile believers. The Holy Spirit was operating at God’s pace.
The Emerging Ministry of Saul/Paul
The conversion story of Paul is recounted, acknowledging that the Book of Acts is in large part, his story. However, in paragraph 2 on page 44, the author begins to be selective in Paul’s teachings and authority. She indicates that some take Paul’s writings literally while, “Other contemporary Christians dismiss Paul as not authoritative for faith formation, especially as the faith addresses the status of women and of sexuality.” Brubaker writes:
“There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. Perhaps it is important to see Paul as an intense man, caught at times in a battle for a faith that changed not only his life, but also the lives of Gentiles and Jews throughout the world of his day. There are times when he may be inconsistent, falling back on the culture from which he came, and other times when he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus.”
In plain speak, the author is saying that the church is in conflict regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—which is not an accurate statement. While some segments of the church may be conflicted regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—most are not. As John Wesley said in Catholic Spirit regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith, “…we are as fixed as the sun.” Can we then pick and choose where we think Paul is accurate and where he is not, particularly as it pertains to the status of women and human sexuality? If we truly believe in Paul’s conversion and in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in his ministry, we must accept his teaching as inspired and applicable for today on all of the topics he addressed. Yes, we look at them in the context of Paul’s cultural setting, even as we apply the core principles of those teachings to our own culture.
Contrary to Brubaker’s text, neither Jesus nor Paul sublimated the Law, but rather saw its fulfillment and the continued application of the core principles of the law under grace. The Gentiles were not exempted from keeping the basic moral code of the Ten Commandments, as evidenced in Paul’s writings to them, but from the peculiarly Jewish regulations that did not apply to them. Paul rightly did not insist on Jewish cultural norms as authoritative for all cultures of his day or ours, but that in no way negates his writings on God’s plan for human sexuality. Neither Jesus nor Paul ignored the moral and ethical teaching found in the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus expanded the Law’s moral prohibitions to include not just actions but even the thoughts in our heart.
On page 45 we read: “There are other facets of Paul’s views on sexuality that have long been under discussion in Christian communities.” Reference is then made to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 6 where he states:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, not thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
A shorter listing is referenced in Chapter 5 of I Corinthians, including incest.
The author appears to convey to the reader that a statement Paul uses, apart from these specific passages, applies as a “maxim”—a saying that gets at the heart of the matter—“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is obvious within the scriptural context, that Paul is not saying it is lawful for him to do the things listed, but not beneficial for him to do so. It is a huge jump to imply that Paul found “all things lawful.” His statement about “all things lawful” but not necessarily beneficial is made within the context of what we eat and drink. Furthermore, Paul concludes chapter six by saying: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
In the final paragraph in this section, the author makes the statement, “At times, Paul seems to fall back on his old interpretations. Paul was human and like all of us was a person of his culture and context.” She then proceeds to say Paul is able to “…forge ahead with new understandings as God is revealed to him,” and suggests it may have been the women Paul mentions in his letters who had this positive influence upon him. Are we then to surmise that Paul’s theology was unsound, personal and inaccurate when it does not fit a progressive, theological interpretation? Where is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the Apostolic position Paul holds under Christ? Thus again, Brubaker causes the reader to doubt the authority of scripture, in this case Paul’s writing. This opens the door for her to invite a new interpretation, which contradicts the original clear meaning.
Influences in Paul’s Teaching
The author begins this section with the statement, “Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.” The first half is spent recounting the plight of women who have entered ministry—finding it difficult to gain full acceptance partly because of some of the biblical writings of Paul and others regarding the “position” of women within the family and cultural setting. Rather than appealing to the opportunity for women to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus Christ for all, she appeals to the new role of “strong, talented, creative” women to partner with men, “…in working to make God’s vision of justice, peace, and equality a more present reality.” Sadly this has in large part been the case, taking away from those women called into ministry to “preach the Word” without finding it necessary to attack and modify its’ inspired content.
In the second half of this section, the author both accepts and rejects Paul’s teaching, according to her interpretation of those teachings. She refers to Paul’s teaching on the “flesh” and the “spirit” as dualistic like that of many religions of the day. Yet, she fails to see that Paul separates the acts of the flesh from the acts of the Spirit, claiming that they are contrary to one another. By flesh, the author rightly says that Paul includes under the term “flesh,” both sexual and other sins of the mind and body. At the same time, she mentions 1 Corinthians 6:15a and Romans 8, but not I Corinthians 6:9-11 or Romans 1:20-27 which categorizes numerous sexual sins along with other sins of the flesh. The writer concludes that, “…for Paul, life in Christ was the harmony of the body and the spirit. Life in the flesh was made whole by the Spirit, and the Spirit was God’s presence in every aspect (italics mine) of the life of the one who was in Christ.” This is true as long as the flesh is subject to the Spirit and not the Spirit to the flesh…for Paul says, “They are contrary one to the other.”
Deutero-Pauline and Other Writings in the New Testament
This is a “loaded” section, with many claims and interpretations that do not hold to historic, Biblical teachings or the doctrines of the Christian church over the centuries. The opening statement stirs the controversy so evident in this study book.
“It has become clear to many biblical scholars that some of the letters attributed to Paul were letters that bore his name, but were crafted by those who knew and honored Paul’s work. A term for such work…is ‘Deutero.’”
Then Brubaker proceeds to identify at least six of the books bearing Paul’s claim to authorship as likely written by another. This is liberal, progressive, revisionist scholarship—not authentic Biblical scholarship. If these books bear false witness as to the author, then can they be reliable, or “given by inspiration of God” as scripture self-claims? Paul’s authorship is questioned even in the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul claims a unique relationship to Timothy as his “true son in the faith” and then warns Timothy against false teachers who, “promote controversies rather than God’s work.” Is this not what we find in this UMWN study?
Just as several radical statements were dropped into the text earlier, we find another on page 50. It is set apart below in bold print.
“Before we go further in our exploration of the New Testament and sexuality, a word of caution may be in order. L. William Countryman puts it this way, ‘This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there. To those who read the New Testament in the light of modern Western Christianity this will always be difficult to comprehend or accept, for a long history of pietism, both Protestant and Catholic, has made physical purity a major principle and sex a primary concern among us.’ This puts a discussion of the Bible and sexuality in a wider context with the growing church at the center. It is in this light that we examine the latter letters and writings of the New Testament.”
In the above quotation, Countryman is simply wrong to say that the New Testament has little to say about sex. In fact, the Gospels and much of other New Testament writings have much to say about purity and sexual morality. The long history of pietism is based on this clear teaching. Holiness was an integral component of John Wesley’s writing. Thus the reader and the church should reject and not embrace Countryman’s call to reexamine the writings of the New Testament.
Our author next claims that the Epistles of 1, 2 and 3 John, “…reframe family altogether as those who are living in the love of Christ.” While claiming that the New Testament says little about sexual matters, in this case, the author reads sexual matters into a text that is not about sex at all. In regard to 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but with truth and action.” Brubaker states, “The author (John) addresses the church members as children who are righteous and cannot sin if they are filled with the love of Jesus Christ.” The sexual aspect is added in when the author says, “One could do well to build a sexual ethic based on 1 John 4.” One could truly do well to build a sexual ethic based on the comprehensive teaching of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
The latter part of this section skims through various New Testament books, all the way to Revelation, looking at each through the lens of progressive, revisionist, womanist theology. Dating is questioned, authorship is questioned, interpretation is questioned. Statements in these Biblical books regarding sexual practice or male/female relationships are critically examined and discounted. To the author’s credit, a statement at the top of page 53 is a reasonable one, and one that most Christians and orthodox biblical scholars would agree with. “It is essential, perhaps especially when we disagree with certain ideas in some passages of Scripture, that we try to understand the context in which they were written and the point of view of the writer.” A step beyond this statement would be to say how important it is to look at the intent behind some statements about hierarchy, submission, sublimation of passion, silence for women—and to consider what consistent Biblical value might be inherent in these teachings. By removing some cultural baggage from them, we might find kernels of truth for our present circumstances.
In examining sexual imagery, the author concludes, “Revelation is not about sexuality per se; sexual imagery is used to get at John’s meaning. There are those who would interpret that imagery in ways that harm the image of the whole person, created by God as both flesh and spirit, held together by the love of Jesus Christ.” Here is a theological concept that was earlier reflected in the review of 1 John, an understanding that there is no sin in flesh or spirit if we are in the love of Christ. Yet in 1 John 2:15-17 we are reminded that love is grounded in obedience: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
This section concludes with another astonishing quote from L. William Countryman who wrote,
“…modern Christians find it hard to believe that the New Testament writers were, in fact, ethically indifferent to what we would call ‘dirty’ behavior and that they adopted this stance of indifference in response to the demands of the gospel itself. If the gospel is indeed ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16), then it must welcome the leper, the menstruant, the uncircumcised Gentile, indeed all the unclean without exception.”
Again, we are offered a gross misrepresentation of the gospel! The proclamation of the gospel is indeed for all—welcoming them to come to repentance, to acceptance of the sacrificial death of Jesus for their sins and to a transformed life, just as Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, and Paul reiterated in I Corinthians 6 after listing various sinful practices, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God.”
We must also disagree with our author’s claim that many of the New Testament teachings led later to theology that denigrated the sexual aspects of humanity. The New Testament places great regard upon human sexuality within the context of marriage and within the boundaries God established for humankind. It speaks clearly of God’s purpose in Jesus to redeem us from all manner of sin and selfish rebellion—both sexual and otherwise. Additionally, we should not forget that the New Testament makes clear God intended a deep commitment between man and woman that was exclusive to themselves, pure and holy. Because the natural fruit of such a relationship is the birth of children. Fornication and adultery were not permitted. There is no question that the young benefit and are more likely to thrive when raised in a home with both a father and a mother. He sent His only begotten Son to no less than this ideal.
Chapter 4: The Church Interprets the Bible (Chapter analysis by Dennis Short)
“The process of canonization of the New Testament was a long one that continued into the fourth and fifth centuries” is the opening statement of this chapter. In major respects that statement is not true. The major part of the New Testament was accepted, with only minor and occasional disputes, by the end of the first and second centuries. The vast number of the books of the New Testament were agreed upon by usage, authorship and references by the Apostolic Fathers. The church leaders did not “decide” which books to include, but by common acceptance of their value and authority and inspiration they were accorded what later came to be called part of the “canon.”
It is important to note that the church grew not because of the allure of the church to “marginalized” or “disrespected” persons, but because they believed the good news and were born again by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. The disparate backgrounds of various believers was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of the belief systems that plagued the early church were not because adherents of the Christian faith brought them with them in the beginning. Many of them grew out of the ever-changing mix of belief systems that grew up during the time of the church’s growth.
Gnosticism was one of those. Gnosticism was not a “Christian” stream of thought and never has been. It is better interpreted as one of those competing heresies that Christians as early as John the Apostle battled even from the beginning. Gnosticism, unfortunately, grew alongside Christianity and competed with it as a complete system and attempted to subvert true Christian doctrine and teaching as to the nature of absolute reality and the working out of salvation according to the Scriptures.
To refer to Marcion as a theologian is to accord him a respect that most do not give him. “Heretic” would be a more accurate description as the word means “one who causes divisions or factions” among the body of believers. Derived meaning is “one who strays from orthodox teaching.” A more accurate statement than that made in the text is “Gnosticism produced writings that were thought of as Scripture by “Gnostics.” There is a continued attempt to mainline the spurious “Gnostic Scriptures” by many revisionists who seem to expect to personally profit in some personal moral or financial way from promoting the idea that the “canon” was open until the fifth century. Such is not the case. The traditional way of referring to these writings was “pseudipigrapha” or “false writings.” Many of these attributed their authorship to one of the Apostles or other well-known church leaders when such was clearly not the case. Many of them were composed in the 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. timeframe that the author of the text mentions. They did not carry with them “divine authority” and the leaders of that time knew it.
The author rightly attributes authority to those who were closest to Jesus and the Apostles. Such is the case in many human (and divine) endeavors whether political, military or economic. The author states “Despite the unity of authority in Scripture and church leadership, varieties of interpretation of truth persisted.” It would be more accurate and truthful to say “heresies and unscriptural teachings persisted in spite of faithful teaching by church leaders.” The author mentions the “gradual denigration of women” and “the openness that had existed earlier.” Neither was the case! The scriptures are linear in their teaching about the roles of men and women in the church and in society. Difficulties in applying these teachings in various cultural settings have always been present and should bring no great surprise or outrage in our current setting.
Elaine Pagels has done much to popularize the gnostic writings without presenting a balanced and truly scholarly approach to the historical questions they present. There are many much more credible sources that offer reliable scholarship regarding these topics. No recent “discoveries” have really “reopened fundamental questions concerning scripture.” Later comments about the “female aspects to the divine presence” point to the Davinci Code and the perversion of sexuality that belief system presents. Other allusions to such writings are equally flawed. These are spurious writings with internally obvious deficiencies apparent to a person who is conversant with truly “inspired” Scriptures.
Augustine of Hippo
A tour through Christian History is usually thought of as being concerned with Systematic Theology, Salvation, Pneumatology (work of the Holy Spirit) and maybe Eschatology (end things or times) as being questions addressed by individuals in previous times in the church. This section is really a “Sex Tour Through Church History” which emphasizes minor topics (to most people) but of paramount interest to the “gay” church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, who (fortunately) abstained from receiving ordination because he realized his lifestyle was objectionable to most in the Christian community. A few points will highlight the problems with this section.
*Augustine never condemned the sexual act by itself – he offered reflections on some implications.
*There was no “general early Christian prudishness about sexuality” – topics were addressed in an open and frank manner.
*Augustine did not “set in motion beliefs that have continued to equate sex with sin and shame concerning our bodies and our God-created sexuality.” Augustine rather equates the grace of the sacrament of Christian marriage as a remedy for concupiscence (lust).
*As regards Thomas Aquinas – what viewpoint do you expect from a medieval priest who has pledged himself to a celibate life? That marriage is preferable?
*Confirming or agreeing with scriptural statements regarding sex or sexuality is not “negative” unless the author disagrees with the basic premises and statements of Scripture.
*The author is guilty of already determining what the outcome of the study should be when she writes
“However, in the area of biblical insight into human sexuality, it is difficult to see much change in the understanding of sexuality as a God-given gift, emphasized in the Genesis creation stories, a source of joy (which only describes a man-woman relationship), only becoming harmful through willful action to possess, oppress, or hurt another human person. Is every carnal act a sin?” Such concepts were not even remotely addressed in the creation stories!
Arminius and Reformation Theology
The theology of Jacobus Arminius is set over against that of theologian, John Calvin. While Calvin emphasized unconditional election and irresistible grace, Arminius advocated for free-will, salvation available to all and resistible grace. John Wesley was a proponent of free-will. The author speaks of “prevenient grace,” which means the “grace that goes before.” The grace is characterized by the drawing of hearts to God by the Holy Spirit, before they accept Christ as Savior. Contrary to the author’s assumption, “prevenient grace” has nothing to do with the doctrine that denies innate human sin due to the fall. That is called pelagianism, a doctrine from the theologian Pelagius, and considered by the Church as heresy. Wesley believed in what is called “original sin” as a result of the Fall.
Contemporary Interpretations of Scripture
The final section of the chapter, continues to be a problem for the student of scripture and history. There seems to be a current of thought that says since there have been some deficient historical teachings about race, now we can call into question every church and clear scriptural teaching regarding sexual activity. Such an attitude can do just as much harm as the previous misinterpretation! There is no connection between race and a valid examination of Biblical teachings regarding sexual activity. The promotion of “liberation theology” as a valid way to interpret Scripture has and will continue to be problematic, especially in view of the assertion by members of the KGB that they developed it to aid in the destabilization of Latin America. Our salvation is not found by “standing in solidarity with the poor,” but rather in trusting the atoning work of Jesus Christ for our sin. Liberation Theology was rejected by the Catholic Church and should be by all Christians.
The statement is made that “traditional biblical teachings also arise from interpretation.” The author needs to keep in mind that it is necessary to maintain the distinction between teachings about sexuality and clear scriptural statements regarding the proper expression of human sexuality. Confusing this fact, or pretending to do so, will cause great harm to questioning individuals. The author concludes by pointing out the tremendous changes in culture, politics, technology and philosophy that the church has experienced. It is important to remember that the culture does not tell the church how to interpret the scriptures, the scriptures tell the church how to interpret the culture and how to impact it by Godly living through faith in Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5: Take Authority
This chapter deals with discerning the meaning of Scripture. The author rightly speaks of the need for every believer to study the Bible and discern the application of its teachings to our daily lives. Even so, there are principles that apply to interpreting Scripture. These include: the inherent authority of the Word of God as its own witness (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:20); the role of the Holy Spirit in understanding Scripture (John 14:16a, John 14:26, John 16:7-15, 1 Corinthians 2:10-13); the transformation of the believer which enables biblical understanding, (John 7:37-39; John 14:16b; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16); the guidance of leaders (apostles, pastors, deacons, teachers) and the tested witness of the Church through the ages (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 1 Timothy 3:1-15). Add to this the church fathers, the church councils and the body of beliefs that comprise the historic doctrines of the Christian faith since the Church’s inception.
As in all other chapters, the author takes issue with long-held Christian understandings on human sexuality. At the bottom of page 78, and top of page 79, the author states: “Different interpretations of the Bible over the years have both affirmed sexuality as a part of God’s gracious creation and regarded sexuality as the very nature of original sin.” She may be referencing some Catholic doctrine in this statement, but regarding sexuality as the very nature of original sin is not a Protestant doctrine. Original sin was rooted in disobedience, not in sexuality.
The reader is introduced to what has been called “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral”—Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Actually this four-point way of interpreting Scripture is not a formula of John Wesley’s, but one extracted from the teachings of Wesley by Albert Outler, a well-recognized United Methodist scholar. While these four tools can be helpful as we study Scripture, we need to remember that John Wesley claimed to be, “a man of one book.” And anyone who reads Wesley’s sermons will find them to be held together by scripture passages, quoted one after another.
Our author does quote from The Book of Discipline regarding the significance of the Bible as “…both a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.” An excellent statement.
While seeming to acknowledge the statement from the Discipline, the text goes on to say that “These statements indicate that there are many ways to approach the Scriptures…” The author tells the reader to allow the authors of the Bible to, “be as human as we are.” She indicated that, “We draw our interpretation upon the long tradition of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and who wrote what they believed to be the truth.” (Italics mine.)
The author goes on to make application of the components of the quadrilateral in ways that take license with that formula for understanding Scripture. She writes:
We are at the same time encouraged to bring reason to the task. Humanity continues to explore and to learn. Science continues to discover new truth about creation and the universe. Reason aids us in new understandings of ourselves, including our sexuality. Experience shapes us as it has shaped our forebears in new ways. All of these affect our own experience of the Holy Spirit speaking to us and through us, sometimes with a new voice in our contemporary world.
Her last statement seems to indicate that she embraces the notion that the Holy Spirit can lead us to reinterpret scripture to accommodate the culturally accepted behavior of our time – most notably sex outside of marriage including homosexual practice. In this view, the work of the Holy Spirit is revealing new truth, which may contradict truth in the original scriptures. This view rejects Jesus’ own words that the Holy Spirit will “teach us all things, and bring to your remembrance all things” which Jesus has said and taught. (John 14:26).
Most of Christendom differs with this understanding of “new truth” and a “new voice.” The teachings of the Word of God have stood the test of centuries and we still find it to be “…the power of God unto salvation”; and we yet find, as stated in The Book of Discipline, and quoted by our author, “Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.”
Our author mentions the value of the spiritual lives of individuals and communities of Christians over the years in shaping our understanding of Scripture. There is significance in knowing the history, style of writing and authorship as we expand our knowledge of the Biblical text. However, it is equally important to know the source of those study helps. Are they orthodox, conservative, evangelical, liberal, progressive, womanist, feminist or liberationist? This will determine the viewpoint under which you are studying. The theology of the writers must be examined in order to know the outcome that is determined.
The final three pages of this chapter swings back to the same conversation this book revisits over and over…a new ethic for a new day. The determination to alter biblical teaching regarding human sexuality and practices is obviously the intent of this study. Here are quotes from several sources that show this to be so. From the bottom of page 84:
With these tools of interpretation and the desire to grow in understanding of what God is saying to us in the twenty-first century, we need to examine the issues of human sexuality using the Bible as a primary guide in seeking insight for ourselves and for our witness in the world. Given the differing views of sexuality among the many writers and interpreters of Scripture over the centuries, it is difficult to write a rule book for sexual conduct that takes into account that historical diversity and also speaks to the reality most of us experience today.
For followers of Jesus Christ who accept the teaching of Scripture as authoritative for faith and practice, no new sexual ethic is needed. The Scripture informs our experience, not the other way around.
From the top of page 85, quoting Maxine Beach from The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia: Part 2: Interpretation & Authority:
In spite of the long history of diverse interpretations of Holy Scriptures, Christians agree that the Bible was inspired by God. But what does ‘inspired’ mean? The word comes from the Latin for ‘breathe,’ the root of the word ‘spirit,’ and literally means ‘breathed into.’ If we agree the Bible is divinely inspired, does that mean that God dictated every word? Breathed it into the minds and hearts of the writers? Gave it to them in visions? Might it mean that each writer interpreted God based on the inspiration of an experience of the divine? Do we understand that angry, vengeful, or sexist passages are also divinely inspired? Can something divinely inspired be less than perfect? Is Scripture ‘holy’ because it is perfect, or because it contains the faith and practices necessary for salvation?
Ms. Beach both affirms and denies the inspiration of Scripture in her rambling questions. Her suggestions almost ridicule the process used by God (whatever the means) to transmit the Word of God to His people. If we believe the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” and authoritative for faith and practice, then can we not accept the teachings of the Bible and cease looking for ways to falsify or change what God has said?
At the bottom of page 85, Brubaker makes very clear her purpose in calling for the development of a “new sexual ethic.” She quotes from the work of Barbara Lee, a Lutheran who speaks and writes concerning attitudes toward human sexuality in contemporary culture
To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, or all marital status and of all physical capacities (italics mine), have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life giving part of their existence.
There is nothing ethical or moral in this statement. It totally ignores scripture passages where God states what is immoral and unethical. Lee’s remarks quoted here by Brubaker would have us totally dismiss clear biblical teaching about human sexuality.
Page 86 infers that asking “What would Jesus do?” might bring us to a clearer and differing understanding than that which has been embraced by Christendom since the formation of the early church. Drawing Jesus Christ into the equation at this point somehow suggests that the One who died for the sins of the world would have a view of human sexuality and sexual practices that differ from that which is modeled in creation, defined in Scripture and witnessed by the Spirit of God. In the next chapter our author indicates we will be “seeking to form a sexual ethic for our time.”
Chapter 6: Developing a Sexual Ethic for Our Time
This chapter begins in the same spirit of earlier ones with the declaration, “We are aware of conflicting views….” The first segment of the chapter repeatedly asserts that we need to find, “…a sexual ethic for our time.” Why are we in conflict? Why do we need a “new” sexual ethic for our time? Because of rejection of God’s moral and ethical standard and His clearly revealed plan regarding human sexuality?
The author speaks of people who are “marginalized because of their sexual orientation.” All have equal rights under the law. And, religious freedom allows the Church to maintain its Biblical positions on sexual conduct within the body of believers…applied to such practices as adultery, fornication, homosexuality or other related areas. The author asks, regarding sexual orientation, “What does the Bible say to help us navigate these issues of modern-day sexuality?” We would respond that there is no “olden day” or “modern day” sexuality—only human sexuality as created by God and ordered by His Word.
Gender Issues in the Bible and Contemporary Times
The focus in this section is on the roles and relationships between men and women. The author presents her egalitarian perspective, with no distinction in roles, as the superior position. She infers that the Biblical, traditionally held perspective is outdated with comments like, “Some continue to believe that a husband is head of the household.” And, with seeming incredulity, “I attended a wedding where the bride promised to obey her husband in this manner.”
A note from The Woman’s Study Bible (written by women for women), gives insight into egalitarianism:
The dictionary defines an egalitarian as one who believes in the equality of all people. However, in contemporary society many insist that “equality” means that no distinction in roles can exist. The Bible presents equality and role distinction as different but compatible aspects of human existence. There is a difference in who a person is and what a person does…. Each individual stands before God created in His image, yet, at the same time, a sinner in need of salvation (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 3:23). Therefore each person has at the same time both an infinite equality of worth before God and in the midst of others and a total equality of need for Jesus Christ as Savior. Yet, out of the same “lump of clay” called humanity, the Creator has chosen to make vessels of various kinds and for various purposes according to His will (Is. 29:16). Therefore, in contrast to the world’s view, biblical egalitarians should not only recognize the equality of all people but also recognize God’s right to assign to those people different functions and roles (Ezek. 33:17).
This is applicable to men and women.
The author fails to give a clear understanding of the more traditional view which holds to the equality of men and women, both created in the image and likeness of God, yet bearing God’s image in different ways. The excerpt below from The Woman’s Study Bible sheds insight on the traditional, biblical, Christian understanding of the term complementarity—equal but different:
Male and female were created as equal and complementary expressions of the image of God. Both bear His image fully, though in different ways. Their different roles in relationship to each other provide a picture of who God is and how He relates to His people.
Christ Jesus is equal with God the Father, yet submissive and responsive to Him (Phi. 2:6-8). God the Father loves the Son and exalts Him. The pattern is repeated in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ provides loving, servant leadership; the church responds with respect and submission as Christ’s “Bride” (Eph. 5:22-33). Another counterpart to the picture is the relationship between church leaders and local bodies of believers (Heb. 13:7, 17).
Sin has distorted the relationship between man and woman at every level, but believers are called to relate according to the Creator’s plan instituted in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world (Gen. 2-15-25).
While much more could be said on the topic of the relationship and roles of men and women, hopefully the information provided helps the reader see the validity of the traditional, Biblical understanding of men and women and how they are instructed in Scripture to relate to one another. There is no demeaning of women, or men, in this model, and, as Paul indicated, there is a holy mystery within it that we may not always understand—or even want to embrace—yet, it creates a remarkable, undeniable bond.
Body Image and Health
Regardless of your theological viewpoint (conservative/liberal, traditionalist/progressive) all would likely agree that Psalm 139:13-14, opening this section, is appreciated by all, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” All would probably concur that our bodies are a gift from God who created us and called us good.
Even so, we would differ with the author’s point of view that there are no distinctions, other than obvious physical characteristics, between male and female. And we would disagree with her perspective that certain characteristics, endemic to the two sexes, should not be taught to children. The author identifies them as stereotypes, while others see them an innate, God-given traits.
There is mention of the secular, worldly standards by which men and women are judged. Yet, while the church may fall prey to these portrayals, they do not represent a Christian worldview and should be rejected.
The author states, “Both ends of the female continuum suggest a sense of sexual shame.” She claims the virgin may be ashamed of her sexual desires while the loose woman may have a sense of shame in regard to her sexual behavior. The difference between shame and guilt is identified, “Guilt is the conscience telling us that we have done something wrong.” While it is said, “With shame, actions are not the whole story. Our very beings are at fault.”
This all seems to be circular reasoning and quite invalid. In truth, if we commit sinful actions, we are guilty and should experience a sense of shame—unless we are beyond feeling shame or guilt. Guilt produces a sense of shame because our sin is against God. Repentance and forgiveness remove our sense of guilt and takes away our shame.
In the final paragraph, a statement from one of the Social Principles is referenced. “We therefore urge that every effort be made to eliminate sex-role stereotypes in activity and portrayal of family life and in all aspects of voluntary and compensatory participation in the church and society.” The Social Principles are not binding upon United Methodists, and often express diverse viewpoints. It is improbable that most United Methodists would support this social principle.
Relationships and Intimacy
The center point of this section rests in the statement: “Christian faith is about loving relationships with those near to us, with all persons and all of creation.” I found that many statements in this section required an addendum to give the authenticity and truth needed. I will put these additions or modifications in italics for easy identification. For the statement above, a biblically balanced statement would read: Christian faith is about forgiveness of sin and transformation that puts us in right relationship with God, humankind and all creation.
Another statement reads: “We may have differing interpretations of some of the things Jesus said, but the New Testament seems very clear that Jesus put relationships first.” Jesus gives clarity as to what those relationships would entail in John 15 when He said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. …My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you”
Although it seems unrelated to sexuality, the text speaks of the need to “…become as humble as little children who know nothing more than to be true to themselves (Matthew 18:1-5). This teaching encourages us to accept the good gift of our sexuality.” To which we need to add, “as defined in God’s Word.”
Our author writes: “Righteousness has to do with the quality of our relationships—the identity we carry with us into relationship and the new identity that becomes ours in relationship.” To which we respond: “Righteousness is imputed by God to those who are in Christ and who love Him and keep His commandments. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ 2 Corinthians 5:17”
Covenant is lifted up as another way to speak of relationships. “The notion of relationship as grounded in covenant and commitment has come to be a part of a Christian understanding of sexuality and the intimacy shared by two persons, families, and communities.” And to the “two persons” we add, “a man and a woman.” The author references the statement on marriage in the Social Principles and acknowledges that it states that marriage is between a man and a woman. With that said, we move to the next section.
Changing Views of Marriage
Four and a half pages are devoted to this segment, which is a major section of the book advocating for changing the Biblical understanding of marriage, pre-marital sex and homosexual practice.
Our author begins by citing that the weight of sexual purity falls more upon the woman than upon the man. God’s righteous requirements regarding sex apply equally to both sexes. It is the sinful, fallen nature that equates more responsibility to the woman. The man’s abdication of responsibility makes him less than God’s intention for him. It places the woman in the place of having power to say “yes” or “no.” It is the Christian woman’s commitment to sexual purity that calls the man back to his God-given responsibility to a wife and children.
A couple of paragraphs on page 95 merit italics to emphasize their development of a new social ethic on human sexuality.
In the 1960s and 1970s, times changed. Gender and racial equality brought about new opportunities for women and minorities. At the same time what some called the ‘sexual revolution’ changed sexual expectations. More people seemed to opt for living together before marriage. Many people of faith who continued to seek guidance from the Scriptures began to ask new questions. …Marriage for many women and men became more of an equal partnership, each sharing their gifts for building up the other.
The concept of partnership and mutual respect was a concept among Christian couples despite the sexual revolution of which they chose not to be a part. The confused thinking about sexual practices that permeated the rebellious culture as a whole, did not devastate the faithful Christian community. Our author writes:
At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?
The answer is what the majority of people within the United Methodist Church have given for the past 40 years. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.
An appeal is made again to the actions of Jesus in various occasions where He encountered sinful behavior. He never condoned the sin, but moved to deliver people from their sins—often telling them to “go and sin no more.” Robert Gagnon, in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, writes,
Jesus did not overturn any prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic law. He did not regard sexual ethics as having diminished importance in relation to other demands of the kingdom. …Clearly, he did not adopt more liberal positions on other matters of sexual ethics such as divorce and adultery. Instead, he was more demanding than the Torah, not less. …The portrayal of a Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew who was open to homosexual practice is simply ahistorical. All the evidence leads in the opposite direction.
There is an appeal to baptism as being a sealed deal for those living in sexual sin. We are not saved by baptism, but by the blood of Jesus Christ that “cleanses us from all sin.” Baptism is a sign of that covenant relationship in Christ.
Next, the author quotes revisionist theologians Walter Wink and Daniel Helminiak who attempts to discredit and reinterpret Old and New Testament passages that clearly prohibit homosexual acts.
Their arguments are farfetched and hollow and fly in the face of the clear biblical prohibitions against same sex acts. This section ends with the sentence, “Helminiak’s ultimate conclusion is that the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se.”
In answer to these two revisionist theologians, let us consider a few conclusions drawn from the Scriptures by Dr.Robert Gagnon, who offers a comprehensive analysis of the biblical texts relating to homosexuality in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Contrary to Helminiak’s conclusion that “the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se,” Gagnon points out that in the Leviticus 18 and 20 listings of condemned sexual practices, only the act of sexual intercourse between males is designated as “an abomination.” Gagnon writes:
Homosexual conduct was not merely prohibited but also regarded as a supreme offense, a penalty consistent with its description as an ‘abomination.’” Leviticus 18 states that this, along with other forbidden sexual practices, if not dealt with, “…would result in the expulsion of the whole community from the land of Canaan, just as the previous inhabitants had been expelled for such practices.
Gagnon rightly concludes:
“Christians do not have the option of simply dismissing an injunction because it belongs to the Holiness Code (a designation for the O.T. prohibitions against things deemed harmful). The same God who gave the laws of the Mosaic dispensation continues to regulate conduct through the Spirit in believers. …Paul himself, the very apostle who proclaimed salvation in Christ ‘apart from the law,’ clearly believed that there was considerable continuity in the divine will across the two covenants in matters of sexual ethics.”
The commands of God, and not the consensus of the surrounding culture, must shape the behavior of God’s people. The relation of church/synagogue to culture is at least in part, supposed to be reforming rather than conforming. …The position adopted by Paul in the New Testament is not an aberration but is consistent with the heritage present in his Scriptures. The two covenants are in agreement.
On page 89 of the textbook, the section on “Body Image and Health” began with quotations from Psalm 139. As we look at the topic of reproductive health, it would serve us well to quote more extensively from this Psalm.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:11-16
As in previous sections, the author jumps from one assumption to another—some are viable options—others are not. There is a sense of being snatched back and forth between truth and error. By all means, both husbands and wives have a say in family planning, and family planning is an important component in the well-being of children. Studies have shown that the best environment for raising children is the two-parent home. Yet there are times when single parents are either left to raise children alone or opt to do so. This is a viable, and often necessary, option. God, one’s friends and certainly a Christian community can come alongside a single parent and help make their task easier and more effective. Most Christians (and non-Christians) would concur that raising a child in a two-parent home headed by a father and a mother is the best option. Studies regarding the psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being of children support this viewpoint.
The author speaks of contraception, primarily from a Catholic viewpoint, but concludes that family planning is by-in-large a choice belonging to individuals and couples. A Social Principles statement is drawn upon to advocate for “access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information.” It is important to understand that “comprehensive” means including the option to obtain an abortion.
The claim is made that “United Methodist Women and other church entities have addressed the issue of reproductive health for many years.” Sadly, the advocacy of the UMWN (formerly Women’s Division) in this area has been entirely Pro-Choice, never Pro-Life. The WD helped to form the RCAR (Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights), later renamed RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). This agency advocates for abortion rights into the 9th month of pregnancy, for non-parental notification for abortions for minors and for the distribution of contraceptives to children and teens without parental consent or notification. After years of effort, the United Methodist Church voted at General Conference 2016 for all boards and agencies to disassociate from RCRC. The UMWN did so with great reluctance and a letter of apology to RCRC.
While our author continues through a few additional paragraphs with the struggle to address the pro-life, pro-choice issue, would it not be best, in light of Psalm 139 and similar passages, and given the value Jesus placed upon children, to err on the side of Life?
Rape and Abuse
In this section, the author identifies various sexually-related concerns we have in today’s culture, just as were present in past cultures. Rape and child molestation in various settings is reprehensible, destroying the lives of children, youth, women and men. Sex-trafficking is spiraling, as is sexual exploitation of children, women, boys and men through pornography, prostitution and other deviate practices. The Church has not had the impact upon the culture it should have. Nor will we if we continue to wrestle with human sexuality issues as if God’s Word has not provided us with clear answers for ourselves and our culture.
Right down to the end, this study book continues to advocate for a new sexual ethic for our time. It refuses to accept the clear Biblical plan for human sexuality and the family. It seeks to construct something better than what God created, and what is upheld in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
The answer to the sexual ills of our society will not be found in the Church’s accommodation of the sexual revolution, but in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel. The scripture passage referenced in the “Closing,” regarding God’s love has encapsulated within it this passage, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loves us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We must deal with the sin issue—far beyond the social justice issue.
If we believe, as our author states, “…that God has created each of us, loves us unconditionally, and desires that we love others as God in Christ loves us,” will we not hold one another accountable to the truth? Our wholeness and full personhood is not in the sanctioning of sinful practices contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. It is realized through transforming faith in Jesus’ atoning death.
Through the years, I have shed tears over some UMW studies, because of the radical theological content, the secular/progressive worldview and the biased social and political perspectives reflected in materials prepared by UMW National (formerly Women’s Division) for the organization of United Methodist Women.
Reading this study provides a clear witness as to why so many women have abandoned their mother’s and grandmother’s organization. Countless United Methodist Women have called for reform and accountability of UMW National over a 40-year timeframe, to no avail. Consequently, the UMW has been losing members at a rate three times faster than the decline of the United Methodist Church overall in the U.S. How sad that UMW National forges on with its radical theological, political and social agenda with the funds these women trustingly send in for “missions.” Yet, at General Conference 2016, UMW staff and committee members rallied to defeat a petition to, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition was defeated, despite the fact that the theological task for the UMC is, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The failure to adopt the petition at General Conference 2016 to make evangelism a part of our mission goal spoke volumes!
I retired from Renew/Good News in 2008. Yet, I am drawn in once again to address the egregious nature of this book, The Bible and Human Sexuality, because of its bold, audacious attempt to influence United Methodist Women with its revisionist, progressive, radical views on such topics as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth, abortion, the nuclear family and homosexual practice. It is hitting a most significant part of the church—its’ women—broadside, in an attempt to sink their faith, “once for all delivered to the saints.” It is my hope that God has enabled me to sound an effective alarm.
It was challenging for me to prepare this analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. After spending over 30 prime years of my life challenging the radical perspectives of UMWN on political, social and theological issues, I was so done with it. Yet, the impetus that compelled me to get involved in the first place, was the same that compelled me to prepare an analysis of this study—love and appreciation for the women of the United Methodist Church. They deserve better than this attempt to undermine their faith, values and commitment to truth! My prayer is that in some way, this gift of my time to them will enlighten them and provide a resource to help them evaluate the content of this destructive book.
Christian apologist Ravi Zachariah says that Truth is what unifies our diversity. And he concludes, “When the Bible is presented in its beauty and its cogency, it is compelling.” Can I get an “Amen”? –Faye Short
Latest posts by Faye Short (see all)
- A Response to the Rebranding of United Methodist Women to United Women in Faith - May 10, 2022
- The Bible and Human Sexuality - April 1, 2017