I love a good rewrite.

Putting a new twist on a story is a great bit of creativity. As long as your audience appreciate that that’s what you’re doing.

On an unrelated matter ( 😉 ), SBS have launched the webpages for Living with the Enemy with the following header image:

LWTE_Header_gay_marriage

I’m genuinely intrigued by this.

The quote put by my picture (scowling, of course!) is a famous one from Leviticus,

Lev. 18:22 Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Somebody somewhere in the marketing team at SBS have chosen to make this the summary of my position. And have cited “Let me marry him!” as the summary of Greg and Michael’s position. Which is an interesting choice and speaks far more to the story they want to tell than the story they actually saw. Let me take a brief moment to explain.

I raised the Leviticus text only twice during the five days of filming “on my turf”. The first occasion was when I took the guys to one of Australia’s oldest churches to try and have a chat about the way Christianity has influenced our society in the area of morals/ethics. The second occassion was when we had a church service where I preached on the whole subject of marriage and sex.

Now this next bit is really important.

On both occasions I raised the text I noted the following:

  1. It would be wrong to pretend it (and other similar texts) does not exist. We need to deal with the reality of all that the Scriptures say about this subject and not be embarrassed to grapple with them. They’re part of our Biblical sexual ethic.
  2. The Biblical case against same-sex activity is based on so much more than this text and texts like it. I made it abundantly clear that the Biblical position finds it’s grounding and foundation in the positive statements made about sexuality (principally Gen. 2:24) and about the relationship between Christ and His church (classically expressed in Eph. 5:25-26 etc.) and I recall saying clearly that to focus on the Leviticus texts is to miss the point of what is being argued.

So where does that leave us? Well knowing Greg and Michael to the (limited) extent that I do and having heard their position articulated on numerous occasions, the quote “Let me marry him!” while simple is not an abstraction or distortion of their stance.

Whereas having me standing there scowling and quoting Leviticus is, frankly, a retelling of the story of those 10 days with a pronounced emphasis that I simply don’t recognise and any person who’s watched the episode wouldn’t recognise either.

To make the point even slightly clearer, what I’m sure we’d never see is me smiling and saying “I think there are important issues here that need talking about and taking seriously”  and the boys saying with anger “I don’t care, I just want to have my own way!”. Let me tell you, there were very brief moments in the 10 days when it felt exactly like that to me, but to put lines like that up would be a shocking distortion if you were trying to summarise the entire 10 day engagement.

We all have a reponsibility in these tricky and emotive discussions to do our best to represent things fairly. Well we do if we’re more interested in promoting mature debate and proper exploration of the ideas. One of my intentions through this process is to seek to persuade us all to represent each other fairly.

26 comments on “#LWTE Telling the Story or Storytelling?

  1. Hi David. The verses you note are in my view part of a wider mosaic of supportive and contradictory passages dispersed throughout the whole Bible. Surely a Bible based spiritual belief should include all of these rather than be selective to only those that fit your position? What I mean is that the evangelical church has tended to focus on prohibitions against gay sexual behaviour in Leviticus & Deuteronomy, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis and the (in my view) problematically imprecise Pauline verses in the New Testament while balancing these with several verses (two passages you mention above but there are actually several) that reinforce the desirability of heterosexual marriage.

    There is an obvious problem with these verses being used to oppose same sex marriage and that is that the Bible actually has nothing at all to say about such marriages or indeed about loving monogamous same sex relationships at all. It is wrong in my view to take this omission as a prohibition – the logical demonstration of that fallacy can be seen in Amish or Mennonite communities that reject all technologies that are not biblical.

    However there are passages in the Bible that mention same sex relationships without any associated condemnation. The most famous passages relate to David and Jonathan in the books of Samuel. While it is true that it is a strong platonic love that is described between the two, it is notable that similarly described platonic relationships in antiquity are usually taken to also be sexual in nature even though sex is not described. Excluding that possibility out of hand as traditional biblical scholars have tended to do is just inconsistent with non-biblical scholarship.

    A much more convincing passage however is the case of the Centurian and his "servant" described in Luke 7:1-10 and Matthew 8:15-13. Modern translations since the KJV have translated the word "pais" in this passage as "servant". However that it is a curiously inappropriate translation of the Aramaic word "pais" in this context. Pais could be slang for servant, son or boy but was more formally the word for "catamite" – a younger male slave who was kept as a lover by his master. Given the context of the story where the great love of this centurion for his ailing "pais" is so praised by Jesus that he heals him. The story actually makes more sense if the formal rather than slang meaning is used don't you think?

    And that brings me on to my final point. I was brought up with a red letter Bible that gave special attention to the direct word of God and Jesus. The remarkable thing, given the amount of attention the evangelical church gives to opposing homosexuality or same sex marriage, is that Jesus actually says nothing at all on the subject. Even his famed passage about marriage in Matthew 19:1-12 makes clear that this ideal of marriage is not for every man, which is a significant weakening of the ordnance in Genesis you mention above.

    Id be interested in your honest and objective views on the above David.

  2. hi Douglas. Thanks for the response. I agree with some of it but other bits I want to challenge.

    I'm in agreement that focussing on the isolated texts in the Torah is an unhelpful way forward. The argument however is not that they are "balanced" with other verses but that they are consistent with a wider Biblical sexual ethic which is found across the whole Bible. When the show has gone to air I'll publish the entire audio and text of the sermon that I preached at the church service. If you have the time you'll be able to engage with a more sustained version of this argument. But the bottom line is what I state in the OP – that these verses are ancillary, not foundational to that sexual ethic which the Church has seen as not contextual but created – since it finds it's grounds in the Creation narrative.

    Now, as for passages that are "supportive" of same-sex relationships, I'm afraid that the arguments that you put forward are novel – ie they are comporatively very recent (a classic example of proponents would be Boswell). They are considered by many to be classic examples of eisegesis – reading into the text something that's not there. There are more detailed responses to those positions that I'm sure you'd be able to access. You specifically mention the David and Jonathan and the Centurion's servant. Let me try and address them briefly in turn:

    With D&J I've genuinely not seen any argument that explains why we must read the text as supportive of same-sex relationships. The very best tha is managed is exactly what you put forward. The beginning of an answer is that 1 it's inconsistent with the wider and well-established sexual ethic, 2 there's nothing at all in the text itself that demands we read it that way. That means that the burden of proof falls upon those who want to claim that it opens up the possibility. And as yet they have simply failed to do so.

    Similarly with the Centurion. Again, there's nothing in the text itself that even hints that the boy is a catamite. Yes, the word might be used in slang (even though I've not yet seen any linguistic evidence that it is) but the context in which the event occurs, Biblical conservative Israel and Jesus' own clear endorsement of the Genesis sexual ethic and reaffirmation of the Torah (particularly on sexual morality – see Mark 7) again means that the burden of proof falls heavily on those that want to suggest it means something different from the obvious meaning that here is a centurion with a young male slave that he cares for.

    The argument that pais "might mean catamite" is the equivalent of a situation where you have a bunch of English public school boys sitting in Eton in the early 19th century. The school master says "boy!" to one of the lads and a bunch of observers say "look! it's clear evidence that the boy sitting in front of him is not actually a pupil at the school but a black slave because that's how some slavemasters talked to their slaves". The answer to which is "there is nothing else at all in the whole narrative which indicates it so even though that's an expression that might have been used, you really need to work harder to establish your case".

    In terms of your last point with respect to what Jesus had to say I'll point you to this: http://davidould.net/?p=3194

    In terms of "given the amount of attention the evangelical church gives to opposing homosexuality or same sex marriage"I think you'd find that if there wasn't such a large amount of attention by other groups to pushing a change in the definition of marriage then you'd actually hear far, far less from us on the topic. Personally I would rather be talking directly about Jesus. But I also think this is a big issue that needs addressing.

    • okay. here is my response:

      I am a former evangelical who became a Quaker almost 25 years ago – largely because I was becoming frustrated with the inconsistencies in evangelical teaching as I went from my home church in Edinburgh, to mission churches in Pakistan and then Anglican churches in Durham. In each case the ministers/vicars declared the authority of the Bible as justification for what they were saying. And yet on several issues (taxation, the rights of women, pacifism) they were giving directly contradictory teachings based on the same or different biblical texts. It seemed to me when I thought about it that each had a specific theory about the way the world worked and had sought to fit the Bible to that rather than the other way round.

      Now I am not saying strictly that this is what you are doing. When you refer to the “the wider and well-established sexual ethic” I am presuming this is the one first articulated by Augustine and the Abelard but based on the stoic theologians of centuries before. It is true that these ideas and arguments quickly became, by the late medieval period, explicit church teaching that has remained solidly in place across Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions.

      It is not however ever an idea described fully anywhere in the Bible. And the selectivity that Augustine, Abelard and now you, employ to justify the theory from biblical passages should never be confused with “the absolute word of God”.

      Nothing wrong with that as long as you realise that it is a man made theory as much as its opposite (articulated by me above) – both can be justified from scripture but neither can be found as direct biblical teaching.

      I am reminded of the Anglican church in the 18th and 19th centuries England: Traditional Anglican teaching stemmed from the works of medieval scholars and church teaching through the years all backed up with a succession of biblical verses to justify the tolerance of slavery. Quakers by contrast explicitly started from a first principle of human equality and found the church position to be wrong – they quoted the Bible but were clear that their arguments were based on their inner light experience of God’s presence rather than the words of a 2000 year old book . The Quakers assiduously campaigned for over a century before some younger evangelical Anglicans (the Clarkson brothers, Wilberforce, Ramsay and the Sharps) decided to defy the Anglican leadership and call explicitly for the end of slavery in the British empire. This was important because Quakers were not allowed to sit in parliament or lobby MPs, whereas Anglicans could. In the teeth of very fierce attack from the Anglican bishops who called them heretics, humanists and dissidents and accused them of trying to fit God’s words to the fads of the present day despite centuries of solid church teaching and clear and unequivocal guidance in scripture itself. Wilberforce ultimately was able to introduce and pass the abolition of slavery in Parliament and within a generation all the denominations in the British empire had accepted unambiguously that slavery was wrong.

      I believe that this is what is happening to the church today WRT to homosexuality and again the Quakers are leading the way. In the UK now many many evangelical Anglicans support equal marriage and an even larger number are against and even campaign against homophobia and discrimination. Australia is always a little behind the curve on issues like this but I believe that in days, months or years to come evangelicals like you David will thoughtfully reconsider church teaching on this issue.

      • thanks Douglas. Really appreciate you taking the time to engage on this and the manner in which you’ve done so.
        It won’t surprise you to hear that I think your reduction of the conservative ethic to relying on Augustine and Abelard isn’t a helpful descriptor of how evangelicals like myself understand the provenance of our position. It’s easy to critique them (and others too) and, believe it or not, that’s also something that conservative Christian scholars also do.

        But you do helpfully point us to the key issues for those in the church; how we read the Bible, the authority we grant to it and how we understand that contemporary understandings and philosophies interact with or overrule that authority.

        All I note in terms of your penultimate paragraph is that you have accurately identified that it was evangelicals who were at the forefront of abolition and went on to push through the social reforms and protections of the Victorian era. They did this on the basis of what they understood to be a consistent reading of the Bible.

        Thanks again. Would love to hear more from you on the other stuff that I will no doubt be writing about in due course.

    • The evangelicals were not at the forefront on abolitionism actually. The Quakers had been campaigning against it since the 17th century. As I said though they were barred from parliament and so decided in the late 18th century to break with their tradition of separation and seek allies within the Anglican tradition as only Anglicans could deliver political reform at that time (Quakers were barred from parliament, civil service and the universities in England) . So while it was indeed evangelical Anglicans that backed and delivered the final bill, they were building on almost 200 years of Quaker activism on the issue in Europe and North America.

      Same story with women’s rights and suffrage, the treatment of prisoners, pensioners and the mentally ill, ending of hat honour, oath taking and barter (forgotten now but big issues in the 17th century).

      Evangelicals were indeed the progressives within Anglicanism but they were never at the forefront of any human rights (though I hope that can change in the future).

      On gay rights, a committee of English Quakers produced the groundbreaking “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” back in 1962 when it was still illegal to be gay. They argued cogently then for, decriminalisation, legislation against discrimination and even (amazingly) same sex marriage. If you are interested you can read the document here: http://www.worldpolicy.org/sites/default/files/uploaded/image/Quakers-1964-Towards%20a%20Quaker%20View%20of%20Sex.pdf

      Quakers have been at the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality in many countries including both Scotland (my home country) and England. For us it is about reinforcing and strengthening loving monogamous relationships through formal recognition and public celebration. That goal is desirable whatever gender the two partners may be. It strikes us it is both discriminatory and wrongheaded for the rest of the church (and the Australian government) to hold up this ideal for heterosexuals as something desirable for a stable society and yet reject it for same gender couples.

      I understand the argument that there is something special about heterosexual marriage if all you are doing is relying on is what some verses in the Bible says about marriage. Beyond that, the arguments are specious. Children? many many gay families have children now and in the past; inability of gay people to maintain stable relationships? – and how does barring them from the institution of marriage help that? From a moral perspective surely it is better to encourage continence, fidelity and durability to same sex relationships.

      Without same sex marriage, the position of the evangelical church on homosexuality, part of the wider Biblical sexual ethic you refer to above, says to gay people that they cannot have sex outside of marriage but then withholds marriage as an option for them.

      I am assuming you do not believe that sexuality is a choice. I can tell you I never had a choice myself and do not actually know any gay person for whom that was true. And the cases of exgay “conversions” – well I am a former victim of one of these and it patently never worked though I made myself believe it had for several years. The vast number of ex or fallen “ex-gays” just underlines the bogus “cure” that is thankfully being banned across the civilised world.

      So if we accept that sexuality is largely fixed and immutable for most people – it is surely possible then to see this as part of Gods creation? Why would a loving God create a gay person and then (uniquely) forbid them to express themselves? Comparing it to other “sins” does not really work as there are no others so intimately a part of what makes is who we are.

      Martin Halley asserted back in the 70s and 80s that the burden of homosexuality was a special penance that gay Christians had to embrace in a life of honesty and openness but chastity and self denial. His True Freedom Trust was popular for a while and I was briefly a follower of it. But the reality was that all who followed this course were shunned by their congregations when their sexuality was known, rates of depression and suicide were very high and many of us ultimately rejected this course as wholly self-destructive.

      So I went to a different church with a healing ministry. at the appointed time I went to the front to be prayed for. I had been through such healing before where I explicitly told those praying that wanted to not be gay but this time I just told then that I had a great pain that needed to be healed. They prayed over me for a couple of hours and finally the priest told me he had a word of knowledge for me. He told me that I was in pain because I did not accept the way I had been created and that I should understand that if God could love me for who I was then I must learn to do so too. To say I was stunned was an understatement.

      I became a Quaker and came out properly shortly after that and have not looked back at all.

      • thanks Douglas, I feel that there’s so much to respond to here that I don’t know where to begin. My overwhelming sense is that while I might want to take up a good number of things here (and partly agree with you on a number) at this point I simply want to acknowledge that we’ve had some productive dialogue and look forward to continuing it.

        Thanks especially for taking the time to explain yourself without resorting to attacking me or caricaturing my position. I know it’s meant I’ve been much more positively disposed to the whole thing. There should be far more of this.

  3. Why are people concerning themselves with quotes from the Bible? Do you LOVE your neighbour because the Bible says so, or isn't it a fact you love your neighbour because there is a sense of compassion within you?
    There was a time I would be happy to debate scripture and point to the translative inaccuracy of the verse, but why bother when the Bible holds no authority on human sexuality, human psychology and even human history?!
    It is full time people STOP giving religious bigots the idea their Bibles and doctrines are of any worth!

  4. David Ould, I think it lacks credibility to claim that evangelicals only pay a lot of attention to homosexuality because of marriage equality. That is a fairly recent issue, but as long as I can remember (back to the 1960s), all but a few evangelicals have opposed any relaxation at all of the traditional ban on all gay sexual relations in any context whatsoever. One main reason for this reaction has been the change in society. As more and more people get to know LGBT people, the more they realise that the old myths were simply untrue. This clearly enrages some traditional Christians, thus their increasing hostility, which did not occur when we "knew our place" and nearly everybody believed the lies.

  5. Tony Reed hi Tony. Thanks for you comment. While I understand what you're saying I think "lacks credibility" is rather too strong when I know for myself that our engagement on this issue is for exactly the reasons I describe above. I get that you disagree but if you're in any way desirous to listen to me I would let you know that I am not "enraged" nor, I think, hostile – disagreement is not the same as hostility.

  6. David Ould I have experienced hostility from evangelicals for 40 years. You may not consider yourself part of that hostility. Nevertheless the arguments you use in your article are similar to the ones I have experienced, and seem hardline to me. They imply that you are not simply against same-sex marriage, but any display of same-sex sexual affection at all.

  7. What a dreadful age we live in where everything has to be said or handled with kid gloves so as not to hurt someone’s feelings. Interesting to note a reformed gay mans comments l read recently where he said being gay was a choice, not a genetic condition. Leviticus says it all, and l so wonder why we have to debate every jot and tittle. In the same way the Ten Commandments say it all, short sweet and simple. How long before we have to debate that too?

  8. Tony Reed thanks Tony. I'm not sure we will have much agreement but I do want to publicly acknowledge and recognise the rejection and pain that you're describing. I think many of us need to be reminded of it.

  9. David Ould I was not really expressing pain, merely wanting you to confirm or otherwise that your views are not simply opposition to same-sex marriage, but to all physical sexual same-sex expressions. You do not seem willing to do that for some reason.

  10. Tony Reed oh don't get me wrong. I am happy to talk about that issue and why I think it's immoral and I think people in my position ought not to shy away from the difficult stuff – we owe it to those we disagre with.

    I'm just
    1. trying to keep us on topic to the OP
    2. very aware that often those conversations end up with me being called all sorts of names and being described in ways that I simply don't recognise. I just want to keep it productive.

  11. David Ould Thank you David. I think my main point would be that opposition to marriage equality often (though I accept not always) comes from those like yourself, who clearly believe that their religion teaches that all same-sex activity is wrong. So there is in my view little point in discussing marriage, because that is not the real issue, which is a much more basic one, and one that goes to the heart if the identity of all LGBTI people, whether they wish to marry or not.

  12. Tony Reed I realise that's an impression that can come across but there are a broader range of views than simply religious and a broader range of arguments being made. But you're right – the issue goes to the heart of identity and what, ISTM, is really being asked for is state-mandated moral equivalence. Is that a fair statement?

  13. Tony Reed just one more observation – I don't think you can make such a clear distinction between discussing marriage and discussing same-sex activity. For people in my position the underlying question is "what is an appropriate sexual ethic and how is that best expressed?" So the questions of what marriage are and broader examination of the morality of same-sex activity are subsumed into the same basic issue. In fact, for us that's the "real issue".

  14. David Ould I think political and legal equivalence is what one expects from the State. I do not think that the State should be involved in this sort of moral issue, which is basically a religious one based on interpretations of the Bible. When most churches supported decriminalisation of homosexuality, that was the very point they made. I would of course believe in moral equivalence also, but that is not really the point when we address legal issues of discrimination and equality.

  15. And your second point proves mine, that you are not just talking about marriage. But you seem in your answers to confuse Church and State. What you are opposing is the right of same-sex couples to enjoy civil marriage, with all the responsibilities and privileges that carries. Church and State are separate in Australia, and the Church should not be able to dictate the political and civil rights of those who are not its members.

  16. Tony Reed well I think that goes back to my original series of posts – the Church (and every other individual and organisation) has the right to be part of the national debate on this and every other issue. The democratic contract we all have assures us all the right to "dictate" to each other – that's how we're governed. Happy to have that discussion with you over on those threads.

  17. Hi David. I think it was a tad inevitable that SBS would spin it this way, but it's worth pointing it out anyway.

    Furthermore, good on you for interacting in a Christ-like manner with this side of our society. I tend to avoid it, since speaking up brings the same old tide of bad arguments from people who've closed their minds to God. So, I'm glad you're willing and able to put yourself through all the frustration. You're doing a good job of representing our King – keep at it.

  18. hi James. Thanks for your comment. I've had a couple of good conversations with SBS now about this and they've actually removed both the quotes from the banner on the show's homepage. I imagine over the next few days they'll look to put something new up. I'm impressed and grateful that they've taken my comments into consideration. Half the time the problem is that people don't think about what they're doing. We're so locked into our assumptions and paradigms it takes something external to jolt us out if we're even prepared to listen. That's a lesson for all of us.

    Like I say, kudos to SBS for listening and responding.

  19. Marriage is a legal contract, not a religious one and one person's religious beliefs should bear no negative impact on anyone else. Using your religious beliefs to restrict or remove rights from someone else is *not* "freedom of religion".

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