A response to David Gillett ‘Does the Bible Really Say that… Same-Sex Love is Wrong?’

In the latest article in the Via Media.News series ‘Does the Bible Really Say that…’ the former Bishop of Bolton, David Gillett, addresses the issue of whether the Bible really views same-sex love as wrong.[1]

Bishop Gillett’s argument

The starting point for his article is his conviction that ‘unlike in the ancient Near East, we understand that God creates us with different sexual orientations.’ As a consequence, he says, ‘we now approach the Bible with a broader and different set of questions than believers and scholars of former ages.’

Bishop Gillett then suggests that we should not begin looking at what the Bible says about same-sex love by looking at those ‘6 or so verses in the Bible where certain same-sex activities are forbidden in differing cultures, contexts and religious situations,’ in the same way that we would not begin a study of heterosexual love by looking at those forms of sexual activity prohibited by the Bible.

In line with this approach he begins instead by looking at the biblical accounts of Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan. What these accounts show, he writes, ‘is a quality of commitment and relationship which is part of our God-given humanity.’

He next goes on to argue that in spite of the fact that the Church has frequently surrounded sexual activity with ‘prohibitions, cautions and caveats’ it is nonetheless the case that ‘sexual relationship is part of the very essence of God’s good gifts to the whole of humanity.’

Because this so, he contends we should pose a fresh question to the creation narrative in Genesis 2 which is How will a gay Adam whom God has made discover the partner ‘fit for him’?’ The answer, Bishop Gillett says, is that:

He will naturally discover the answer for a wholesome, enjoyable and intimate sexual relationship with another man. It is a denial of God’s creative purposes to prohibit sexual expression to same-sex couples in their relationship while encouraging it between two of the opposite sex, as all are equally part of God’s good creation.’

Understanding that some people are created as gay also means, he argues that we now need to read passages such as Romans 1:26-27 in a new way. In Romans 1, he says, Paul is not:

‘… issuing an apostolic evaluation of the permanent faithful same-sex loving relationships which we see with many of our LGBT+ friends. Rather, he is condemning salacious sexual experimentation, domination of slaves or minors, promiscuity and pagan cultic practices and prostitution.’

Finally, Bishop Gillett concludes his article by appealing to three New Testament texts which he thinks show how the Gospel calls Christians to accept all people equally, regardless of their sexuality.

The first text is Acts 10:15 What God has called clean, you must not call profane.’ In this verse Peter ‘sees that what God creates as clean and acceptable must not be categorized as unclean or unacceptable, even if the law or religious tradition claims otherwise.’ For us this means:

‘… we must abandon the unjust and unjustifiable categorization of LGBT+ people and their relationships as somehow less than fully wholesome. They are an equal part of the diversity of God’s good creation. Same-sex love is as natural, good and wholesome for gay and lesbian people as are male-female sexual relationships for the rest of us.’

The second text is Ephesians 2:14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.’ What this tells us is that ‘the loving action of God in Christ’ breaks down the division between those who are gay and those who are straight and so ‘For us to seek to build such walls and treat others as ‘outsiders’ is to put the Gospel into reverse.’

The third text is Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ In this verse Paul:

‘… makes clear that all the inherited divisions within humanity which have marred our communities and given power to one group over another have no place within the community redeemed by Christ.’

This means that:

The Church, if it is true to its very essence, must be at the forefront of treating LGBT+ people and their relationships with total equality. Where this is denied, the Gospel itself is diminished and robbed of its power, making the good news ‘bad news’ for many.’

According to Bishop Gillett, the message of ‘full acceptance and inclusion’ contained in these three verses

‘… affirms the value of same-sex couples. It forms the basis of how we can support and celebrate same-sex relations and equal marriage as an outworking of God’s will for the whole of his creation in all its wonderful diversity.

It is something which, without fear of disregarding the bible’s authority within the Church, we can proclaim as just, equitable and worthy of celebration!’

What are we to make of this argument?

The first issue raised by Bishop Gillett’s argument is on what basis he thinks we now know that some people are created by God for a sexual relationship with those of the same sex as themselves. There are two possible ways we might know this, through what we can observe of the way God has made the world and through God’s revelation of his creative intention in the Bible.

If we begin with what we can learn from the way God has made the world we discover that God has made human beings in a particular way. To quote the American writer Christopher Tollefsen:

‘… our identity as animal organisms is the foundation of our existence as selves. But fundamental to our existence as this animal is our sex. We are male or female organisms in virtue of having a root capacity for reproductive function, even when that capacity is immature or damaged. In human beings, as is the case with many other organisms, that function is one to be performed jointly with another human being; unlike the digestive function, no individual human being suffices for its performance.

Accordingly, reproductive function in human beings is distributed across the two sexes, which are identified by their having the root capacity for one or the other of the two general structural and behavioural patterns involved in human reproduction. In male humans, this capacity is constituted by the structures necessary for the production of male gametes and the performance of the male sex act, insemination. In females, the capacity is constituted by the structures necessary for the production of oocytes and the performance of the female sex act, the reception of semen in a manner disposed to conception.’[2]

What this means is that human beings are designed to have sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex. This is how God has created human beings to be. That is also why in Romans 1:26-27 Paul says that sexual relations between two people of the same sex are ‘unnatural.’ The point that Paul is making is that the very structure of the human body shows that men were designed by God to have sex with women and vice versa. To have same-sex sex is thus to disregard what the created order teaches us about the will of God for his human creatures in the same way that idolatry involves disregarding what the created order teaches us about God’s nature and existence. [3]

The biblical accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 affirm and supplement the witness of the created order. Genesis 1 declares that God has created human beings in his image and likeness as male and female and has given them the mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:26-28). Genesis 2 likewise declares that the proper partner for the male Adam is the female Eve and that God has ordained marriage between a man and a woman as the proper context for sexual union and hence the means by which the mandate to have offspring is meant to be fulfilled (Genesis 2:18-24).

Bishop Gillett’s suggestion that we can read Genesis 2 as saying that the proper sexual partner for a ‘gay Adam’ is another man involves setting aside the very point that Genesis 2 is making, which is that by God’s design the proper sexual partner for a man is a woman.

What all this means is that neither nature nor Scripture support Bishop Gillett’s contention that God has created some people to have sexual intercourse with members of their own sex. It follows that we therefore cannot say that this is something that we now know.

Moving on to the second point that the bishop makes, the biblical stories of Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan do indeed show qualities of ‘commitment and relationship’ which are an important part of our God-given humanity. However, what neither story suggests is that such commitment and relationship can find its legitimate expression in a same-sex sexual relationship. Neither story hints at any such thing.

It is true that both stories show that love between two people of the same sex is morally acceptable, but love and sex are not the same thing. The stories affirm same-sex love, but they do not affirm same-sex sex.

The bishop’s third point, that we need to read Romans 1 in a new way, is equally misleading. There is nothing in what Paul says in Romans 1:26-27 that suggests that Paul is only rejecting particular forms of same-sex sexual activity. As we have already noted, the point that Paul is making is that all forms of male-male and female-female sexual intercourse are wrong because they go against the way God created human beings to be. There can be no exceptions because there are no human beings whom God has created in a different way.

This brings us on to the bishop’s fourth point, the claim that we must regard same-sex sexual relationships as ‘wholesome’ because they are ‘an equal part of the diversity of God’s good creation.’ There is nothing in Scripture to support this claim and, as we have seen, it is also unsupported by the witness of nature.

The bishop’s final point is that what is said about the inclusive nature of the Gospel in Ephesians 2:14 and Galatians 3:28 means that the Church must accept gay and lesbian people and their relationships. The problem with this part of his argument is that it confuses acceptance of all types of people and acceptance of all form of behaviour. The New Testament is clear that all types of people, whatever their race, sex, or social standing are to be welcomed into the Church on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ (this is the point that Paul is making in Galatians 3:28). However, it is equally clear that becoming part of the Church brings with it an obligation to abandon certain forms of behaviour.

In his letter to the Ephesians, for example, Paul insists that Gentiles are part of the Church just as much as Jews, but he also tells his readers that they must no longer engage in Gentile forms of behaviour:

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds;  they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.  Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Among the forms of behaviour which are thus off limits for Christians are all forms of same-sex sexual activity.

The New Testament builds on the condemnation of male homosexual activity in the Old Testament law (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) by declaring that both male and female same-sex relationships are symptoms of the way human beings have turned away from God (Romans 1:26-27). They are one of the sinful ways of life from which God has rescued Christians (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). They are examples of conduct which is contrary to ‘sound doctrine’ and the ‘glorious gospel’ (1 Timothy 1:10-11). In addition, the New Testament also includes same-sex sexual activity when it says that Christians must avoid all forms of porneia or sexual immorality (see for instance Mark 7:21, Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and Hebrews 13:4).

What this means is that while Christians must welcome both those with same-sex attraction and those in same-sex relationships, they also have a duty to make it crystal clear that all forms of same-sex sexual activity, like all forms of sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage, are contrary to the will of God.

Conclusion

We have to say, therefore, that none of the points put forward by Bishop Gillett in his article are persuasive.

We do not now know that God created some people to be Gay or Lesbian. We cannot rightly read Genesis 2, or the stories of Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan, as supporting same-sex sexual relationships. Romans 1:26-27 sees all forms of same-sex sex as contrary to the way God created human beings to be and we have no basis for saying that same-sex sexual relationships are regarded by God as ‘wholesome.’ Finally, while Christians must welcome all people, the New Testament is clear that there are certain forms of behaviour that are off limits for those in the Church and that this includes same-sex sex.

M B Davie 10.6.19

[1] David Gillett, ‘Does the Bible Really Say that, ‘Same-Sex Love is Wrong?’ at https://viamedia.news/2019/06/06/does-the-bible-really-say-that-same-sex-love-is-wrong/.

[2] Christopher Tollefsen, ‘Sex identity,’ Public Discourse, 12 July 2015, text at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/07/15306/.

[3] For this point see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), pp.254-270.