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Dan: Do you think that women should cover their heads in church? Here’s the text. Here’s a part of First Corinthians chapter 11 in English Standard Version: “If a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
“For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering."
It’s right there. It’s in the text, black and white. Do you have an argument as to why this particular command no longer applies in 2019 America? Probably you don’t have an argument, but that might be okay, right? You might think, “Surely some other theologians and biblical scholars have done this work at some point. We aren’t all just ignoring this verse for no good reason.”
The fact is we assume that someone has worked this out because it now seems ludicrous to us to require women to wear hats or bonnets or scarves in church. We trust that the work has been done. And I believe it has been done, by the way. I don’t think that that is an irrational assumption.
But what I, personally, think is going on with the question of Scripture and homosexuality and, relatedly, Scripture and gender roles is that we are simply earlier on in the timeline than we are with the question of head coverings.
The good Dr. Daniel Kirk is going to drop some serious scholarship on us today. But 50 years from now, it might be the case that almost no one even bothers to think about the arguments you will hear today. But right now we need them. It’s still very much a live question.
And this topic is similar to last week’s topic, patriarchy, which will eventually become clear if it isn’t already. I was going to space out these episodes because they were similar, but I put it to a vote on the You Have Permission Facebook group, and this was the clear front-runner. So give the people what they want, I guess.
Our guest today is Daniel Kirk. Daniel’s dissertation advisor was Richard Hays, a very big deal in the world of New Testament studies. I think that Hays has the best, most compassionate argument against homosexual inclusion out of all the arguments I’ve heard. And we will hear Daniel explain that argument, but we will also hear why the student has diverged from the master, so to speak.
Now, this episode is better listened to after listening to the patriarchy episode from last week since Daniel’s central argument revolves around patriarchy in the ancient world. And Carolyn Custis James just gave us so much good context. But you don’t have to listen to that one first. This interview was recorded to be able to stand on its own.
But I want to be clear about one thing up-top: I am, myself, gay affirming in my theology, and I am convinced by the argument that Daniel lays out in this episode. That’s why I wanted to have him on. I do think it’s the best argument among the many that I’ve heard, some of which did not convince me even though I wanted to be convinced of them based on my own intuitions.
But you, as a listener, might not agree with this main argument today. In fact, if you finish the episode and you are not convinced by Daniel, but the Richard Hays argument is something you find compelling, then that’s great. And in my mind, that is serious progress. And I don’t say it’s progress because it’s more liberal, but rather because I think Hays does a much better job with the actual text of the Bible than most of his peers.
Alternatively, you might be kind of agnostic on the issue of homosexuality, or you might be in a church where there’s a variety of views on this issue. Everybody is welcome to this discussion. Personally, I am all for people and groups in churches taking their time with this question and having grace with each other as much as possible.
Now if you, yourself, are an LGBTQ person then there are separate dynamics at play. Your own health and well-being need to be considered as a first priority. And my sincere hope is that this episode will be helpful to you in some way. For the rest of us, which is statistically the majority, let’s just think seriously about this issue while giving each other lots of grace on either side of the question as we do so.
Daniel Kirk, thank you so much for being here. Daniel Kirk is your given name or how people refer to you, but your pen name, your scholarly name in a long and confusing tradition is “J.R. Daniel Kirk.”
Daniel: This is correct. Yes. I always thought that superfluous initials were going to be my ticket to glory.
Dan: (laughs) No. I think it’s a pretty flooded market, man. I don’t think that’s going to –
Daniel: Dang it!
Dan: Yeah, I don’t think you’re going to stand out. So we have a very high –
Daniel: Well, you can’t just go on after that. You’ve just destroyed my world.
Dan: (laughs) Let me give you a few minutes to reinflate your sense of self. So we have a pretty big task today. We are going to try and treat the question of homosexual inclusion fairly fully. Not the arguments from emotion, not the arguments from story or the arguments from – I guess reason and experience will come into it. But we are really looking at the text, and we’re really placing the text historically.
And then we’re using our reason to ask questions about what we want to do with that once it’s properly historically placed. Let’s start out with the problematic and relevant passages of the Bible. We’re going to start with Scripture here. Which passages are we talking about? Which ones do serious biblical scholars actually admit are references to homosexual sex?
Daniel: Leviticus 18: “It’s an abomination for a man to lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” And that’s echoed a couple chapters later in Leviticus in the Holiness Code. And then everyone, pretty much, will say Sodom and Gomora. People used to talk about that, but it doesn’t really matter. And I actually want to say no, let’s just keep that on the table.
Dan: Good. Well, we’ll come back to that. But the reason that people say it doesn’t matter is because later in one of the prophets an explanation is given for Sodom and Gomora, which is that they don’t care for the poor, right? That’s the basic argument?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s part of it. And I think another part of it is just that because it is this situation of violence and rape, that people want to say, “Well, let’s put that off the table because there’s so much that’s going on that’s wrong with that that it’s” –
Dan: Yeah, it’s a complicated situation. Yeah.
Daniel: But actually I think the violence and rape is exactly why we should keep it on the table, and I think it opens up some other issues. So there’s that from the Old Testament. And then in the New Testament there’s Romans 1 where Paul – he’s on this whole thing about people rejecting God, and then he comes to this part where he talks about women abandoning the natural function of the woman – or man.
And then it says, “In the same way, men exchanged the natural function of the woman and burned in their desires toward one another.” I didn’t get that exactly right but –
Dan: We’re familiar. Yeah.
Daniel: Then 1 Corinthians 6 – Paul just has this list of people who won’t inherit the kingdom of God. One of those, the Greek word is arsenokoitais, which seems to translate to “men who screw other men.” And that can either be literal or figurative in ancient Greece and Rome. But people tend to think that that’s talking about some sort of same-sex encounter.
Dan: And the ambiguity there is because he literally invents a word by putting two words together, correct?
Daniel: Correct. Right.
Dan: So it’s not a word that’s common in the Greek lexicon.
Daniel: Right. And then there’s another word after it, malakos, which literally means “softy.” And that has at times been translated as referring to same-sex sex as well. People have sometimes suggested that those two words together mean the active and passive partner, but that’s not agreed. But everybody agrees that’s a passage that you need to deal with.
1 Timothy – there’s a passage that says pretty much the same thing as the 1 Corinthians text. There’s a couple more where, maybe, a word is used or echoed. But that’s really the meat of it. And with all of that, Romans 1, a lot of times, gets more attention because it’s the only one that actually places it within a theological narrative.
Dan: Yeah. There’s an argument in Romans 1.
Dan: Right. As opposed to included in a list of other things that then it gets tacked onto the argument, in Romans 1 the argument is about something, and this is given as a particular example of it.
Daniel: Right. Although, it’s also important to note that in none of the passages is the fact that it’s a problem argued for, right? It’s assumed that same-sex sex is a problem, and it’s used to illustrate other things.
Dan: Right. Which, of course, given the context – I’m sure we’re going to get to this – Paul didn’t need to make an argument because basically everybody was on board.
Dan: Okay, so we’ve got these texts. They do speak with one voice, in so far as they speak with one attitude. There are no passages that seem to say it would be great or perfectly fine. If they ever do speak of it, of homosexual sex, it is in a negative sense. Nonetheless, both you and Richard Hays, your former teacher who is more conservative on this issue, –
– would argue there are a lot of conservative arguments that attempt to use the biblical text to make an argument against homosexuality that actually fail the text. They don’t read the text correctly. For instance, there are arguments that seem to place homosexual sin in a category of its own. In a kind of a high category.
“What we do to the body, we do to the temple of God.” There are a couple verses where you can – it can seem like a hierarchy of sin. And certainly in our Christian culture in America we – many of us have acted as if it is the top of the hierarchy of sin. So can you address those kind of arguments?
Daniel: Richard Hays does focus on Romans 1 as one of his major places, but it’s also possible to read Romans 1 and really highlight the idea this is the epitome of anti-creation. This was bad, so God handed them over. This was bad so God handed them over. And then, as if worshiping animals wasn’t bad enough, then men started porking men.
The argument from nature that sex should only be between a man and a woman is so obvious, that it’s only with the most debased humanity that God has finally given over. I think there’s a way of reading Romans 1 where the idea is this is the culmination of human failure, even though the text itself goes on to say, “So God gave them over to,” and then lists like 40 more things that most of us would be hard pressed to not identify with at least some of.
So 1 Corinthians 6: “These people will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So you are simply not in the family of God at all if you’re engaged in same-sex relations. And Hays was like, “No, of course you can be a Christian and be gay.” For him it’s like – that’s like asking, “Can you be envious and be a Christian?” Yes, of course you can.
That was the example he gives. Can you be Christian and be a member of the church? Hays would say, “Yes.” I mean, can you be gay and be a member of the church? And Hays would say, “Yes,” because this is just part of who we are as humans, even though he thinks it’s fallen humans. Whereas a lot of other people would be like, “No, this is a sure sign that you’re on the outs.”
Dan: Now, of course there is a wide range of spectrums on the left. There are a lot of different kinds of people who come to a gay-affirming theology, and there are a lot of different kinds of arguments. So I don’t want to disparage anybody, but, for me, there are arguments on the left that seem like they try to minimize the attitudes of Paul and the biblical writers and sort of maybe explain them away as, “He didn’t really condemn this stuff. He’s just condemning rape. He’s just condemning sex with men and boys.”
And through my reading, and I believe we share this view, it doesn’t hold up to a close scrutiny of the text. And so, while those things are bad, I don’t prefer that line of argument. Could you speak a little bit about that?
Daniel: Yeah. So there’s a few examples of specific contexts within which male same-sex sex might happen in the ancient world. For instance, a man might have sex with his male slaves. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. In the Greek world, there was a tradition of pederasty, where men would have sexual relationships with adolescent boys, but in the Roman tradition, that was actually frowned upon.
I think it gets a little bit dicey trying to say, “Well, Paul is just talking about these very exploitative relationships.” I think it’s slippery in terms of historical context. There’s also an implicit assumption that I don’t think is valid, which is, “If Paul knew about mutual self-giving same-sex relationships, he’d be all over that.”
Dan: Of course. He’d be [all] okay with that. He just didn’t even know.
Daniel: You mentioned that arsenokoitais is a word that Paul seems to have made up. It probably came from Leviticus 18, where it says in our sin a man shouldn’t have koitais, – “lie with” – another man. He probably smashed those words together. I think Paul sees the action as inherently problematic. We’re going to talk about why he might have thought it was problematic even though he doesn’t tell us.
But I think that he sees the very fact of a man having sex with a man as inherently problematic. There’s a lot that we’re bringing in terms of a modern assumption of what a viable, partnered, sexual relationship is that Paul – probably never crossed his mind in terms of his own frames of judgement.
Dan: It seems like these more liberal arguments, or ostensibly liberal arguments, that want to keep the text intact actually have a kind of a motivation, which I understand, which is like, “Hey, people who have a really high regard for the text, maybe who are even biblical inerrantist who believe that the Bible contains no errors, they might even be able to get behind this if this argument works out.”
I understand that, but I think that, as we’ll find out later, we already reject inerrancy for women and slavery, or many of us do. Well, we all do for slavery, and many of us do for women. And so we’re not actually giving that up in the final analysis, in my opinion.
Daniel: Yep. And part of what we’re going to discover – people will often bring up slavery and women’s issues as parallel issues to same-sex inclusion and debate about how much that analogy fits. I’m here to tell you right now, on this very podcast, it’s not simply an analogy. It is actually the exact same issue, because patriarchy in the ancient world is not just about men being in charge of women.
It is a whole systemic set of power relations about who’s in charge of whom, in what context, and the very places that we reject because their talking about slavery and because they’re demanding women’s submission, those are embodying the very patriarchal system that the ancients used to build their sexual mores on as well. So if you don’t think that people should be slaves to other people, if you think men are equal to women, then you basically have no standing left to simply keep reaffirming biblical sexual ethics.
Dan: Daniel, you’re – how are they going to buy the cow if they get the milk for free, man?
Daniel: Sorry, I keep getting ahead. Sorry.
Dan: It’s okay. So, before we get to your argument, which is the one I happen to agree with, there might be someone listening to this today – I’m sure there will be people who will not end up agreeing with you and I.
Daniel: What? Oh my gosh!
Dan: (laughs) But I would still consider it a benefit for them to hear Richard Hays’ argument because I think it is such a better argument on the non-affirming side, or the traditional side, than so many other arguments. Let’s talk about his argument first, and then we’ll hear where you differ.
So Hays’ argument, to sort of kick it off here for you, as I understand it, is primarily about the concept of idolatry in Romans 1. So Paul is setting up: people sinned, God let them go with free will, he gave them the just fruits of their actions, and this is a particularly vivid example of idolatry is homosexual sex. What else is there to the argument?
Daniel: It is about idolatry, but it’s also more systemic. So it’s not simply that everybody who is having sex with a same-sex person at some point in their past gave up worshiping God and started worshiping something else, right?
Dan: It’s a group disease.
Daniel: Exactly. Yeah. In a way, Romans 1:18, and following, then, is read as an anti-creation narrative. There’s all these echoes of Genesis 1, and Genesis 1 culminates, really, in the formation of, “male and female, God made them.” So instead of recognizing the creator in the creation, you worship the creature rather than the creator, so God gives you over.
The other thing about that is that God giving them over – it’s a judgement almost in itself, where it’s not like a set up for something else. It’s not like, “If you are engaging in same-sex activity, then you will incur the wrath of God.” It’s like, “This whole action is its own anti-reward,” is the language that he uses.
And then the other thing I think is important is he draws attention to the fact that this whole argument takes a turn in Romans 2:1, where Paul goes, “Therefore you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgement.”
So he recognizes that the point of this argument, rhetorically in Romans, is not to tell us what the worst thing is. It’s to get the reader to go, “Oh, yeah. That’s the worst thing,” so that Paul can go, “Oh, hey, Mr. Yeah-that’s-the-worst-thing, you’re guilty of the same stuff, and you need to knock it off.”
Dan: Yeah. He calls it a “set-them-up, knock-them-down move” somewhere in that chapter.
Daniel: Yeah. An exegetical sting operation.
Dan: Yeah. (laughs) That’s way nerdier actually. Yeah, but that’s really important, right? So, Hays is saying that Paul is not saying, “All you good people who mostly do everything right and who have a really good sense of what’s going on in the world, when you see gay people you know something’s wrong.”
It’s more like, “Look. This is a fallen creation. There are all kinds of symptoms of it.” On Hays’ reading of Paul, it’s one symptom among numerous symptoms, none of which any of us skates clean on.
Right? And so that can kind of help mitigate some of the historical bigotry around this particular issue in the Christian community.
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan: There’s a nice quote from him that kind of sums it up. He says, “Homosexuality is one among many tragic signs that we are a broken people, alienated from God’s loving purpose.”
Daniel: Yeah. I think one of the reasons why Hays’ argument has been so compelling to a number of people – if you haven’t read it, you should. It starts with him talking about his friend, Gary, who was a gay man who died of AIDS, and Gary’s story is sort of woven into the chapter. There’s a lot of personal wrestling.
The compassionate conservative. This is as good as you can do in articulating a non-affirming position in a way that keeps it in its appropriate place that gives the maximum affirmation of LGBT civil rights and belonging in the church.
Why is this a tribal identity marker for conservative Christianity? It’s something that’s mentioned six times in the whole Bible, and I honestly think that one of the reasons why is because it doesn’t cost anything. You’ve got empowered men, straight men, who want to not have anything in their life look like serving the poor or avoiding war or the stuff that is completely antithetical to our capitalistic, military-industrial complex.
Dan: Very costly. Yeah.
Daniel: They want to build large corporations and be the CEOs. So what’s going to make us distinct? Well, here’s a thing: this homosexuality thing. Well, that’s the culture out there and God says it’s wrong, so if you want to be a real Christian you can’t have that. It doesn’t cost anything.
Dan: You don’t even have to focus that on straight, white men. It’s just straight people, which is, by all accounts, 95 plus percent of humanity. And so it doesn’t cost the straight women either, unless their kid is gay, right?
I mean, it really doesn’t cost anyone anything unless it’s a family member or, really, a loved one to vault this up. It’s also got a bunch of external qualities: effeminacy. There is a kind of a natural gag reflex that people have towards gender amorphism and gender fluidity.
There’s a lot of things lined up. It’s psychologically powerful and psychologically convenient and economically convenient, right? So it’s a lot of things. And I don’t actually judge people, personally, for those starting positions. I think they are inherited almost entirely.
It’s useful to think about, especially in the context of Hays who says, “Look, there’s not a good textual argument to elevate it.” So we’re elevating it for some other reason.
Daniel: The conclusion begins to drive the conversation and the evidence. And that’s just human, by the way. That’s not a slight. This is what humans do. Read some Jonathan Haidt.
Dan: Now before we get to your argument and your response to Hays, there is a little interlude I like to do about politics. You hinted at it: civil rights for LGBTQ people. This is where all three of us are in alignment. So let’s walk through this through Hays’ argument.
If Hays’ argument is that homosexual attraction and activity are a broad scale result of a fallen world and not, as is sometimes assumed, a particular marker of individual depravity of persons, then why would we as Christians in a pluralistic society with freedom of expression, freedom of religion, force those moral codes on those who do not share them with us? He has a pretty effective and simple argument for, “Look. Gay marriage for sure.” It’s a civil institution. It’s not to be resisted as a particular kind of sin corrupting the nation.
Daniel: And for me the reason – how this became a no-brainer, I was listening to – Miroslav Volf came out to San Francisco. I think it was around 2008. He was being asked about how to engage in politics, and he gave the most crazy answer. He’s like, “Well, this is what I think should guide our politics. We should ask two questions: what does it look like for me to do to my neighbor what I would want done for me, and what does it look for me to love my neighbor as myself?” And it’s like, “What?!”
Dan: That’s it.
Daniel: That’s it. But you really have to discipline your mind to answer that question, because you could answer it in self-serving ways. Like, “Well, if I wasn’t a Christian, I would want the Christians to create laws to keep me from inadvertently offending against the law of God.” You know? Like, “Please, shut down the liquor store on Sundays so that I don’t go drinking rather than heading to church.” No.
I’m a good kosher-breaking Christian, despite some of my Jewish heritage. What would I think about the Muslim-Jewish coalition coming together to forbid the selling of pork products in America, so that the God of Abraham won’t be offended and rise up and cast us out [a lot of] the land? No, thank you. Like, “No, this is not my religious conviction. I don’t want my life driven by yours.”
Okay, so what it means for me to love my neighbor as myself is to free my neighbor to experience all the joys and happinesse and pleasures and whatever else they want to, that the only reason I’m not doing it is because I’m regulating it on a religious basis.
Dan: So, Daniel, we are ready to hear your argument. What is it about Hays’ argument, your PhD dissertation advisor, the servant killing the master. Challenging the master, not killing him. What is it about it that you find uncompelling?
Daniel: The academic Oedipal-complex rises up as I kill my father for… Okay, so there’s a whole cluster of things that I think we need to interrogate about Hays’ argument.
Dan: Let’s get a table of contents here.
Daniel: One of them is even though Paul seems to be alluding to it, do we really use Leviticus to define the morality of the church?
Dan: Right. We mix our fabrics. We combine milk and meat. There’s a lot of things in the Holiness Code.
Daniel: I’m not saying Leviticus is irrelevant. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is Leviticus, okay? So this is my take: as a Christian, we start with Jesus in the New Testament, and we read the Old Testament through that. So Hays would agree with that, and he would say, “Yes. And Paul is bringing this in and affirming it, so we should agree with it.”
But I’m going to question that. I want to interrogate the question, “Why?” Why are same-sex relationships problematic for biblical writers, perhaps? And that’s where I’m going to bring in the – and start asking the patriarchy question.
Which then is going to mean we have to ask the question, “Does Paul” – who’s really our New Testament writer we’re dealing with here – “does Paul give any evidence of sharing in his culture’s anti-female, patriarchal posture in his condemnation of same-sex intercourse?” And I’m going to suggest that the answer is yes.
That if you know what you’re looking for, you can find it. So that’s going to be all suggesting that the exegesis, which just means biblical interpretation, that when you’re just trying to understand what the text says, that there’s more to it than Hays puts on the table. So I’m going to end up agreeing with Dale Martin who says – he’s a New Testament professor at Yale. He’s also gay.
Dan: He’s also been on Depolarize and will be on this show.
Daniel: There you go!
Daniel: He says, “Yeah, Paul thinks that homosexuality is wrong for reasons that we should disagree with.” And I think that he’s exactly right.
Dan: It’s a nice, clear way of saying it. Yeah.
Daniel: Then I’m going to come back around. Hays, in his book, uses three metaphors for tying together the moral vision of the New Testament: community, cross, and new creation. And I’m going to suggest that once we’ve problematized the exegesis of the text – the interpretation of the text – that when we bring back these lenses and we start thinking about what does it mean for us now, given who God is making us in Christ, to wrestle with the issue of same-sex relationships, that these lenses actually push us toward an affirming position, rather than simply telling us, “Well, this is how you have to live with what the church has always said.”
Dan: So if that was the table of contents, what more do we need to say about your first point: Leviticus?
Daniel: Leviticus. Just briefly, I want to say there’s a lot of stuff in Leviticus 18 that most of us would agree is wrong in terms of like, “Please don’t sleep with your mom.” We all feel the gross, right? We all feel the gross.
Leviticus, it also is the same chapter that, with everything else it says, says, “Don’t sleep with your wife when she’s having her period, and you can get stoned for that, by the way.” So you can’t just say, “Here it is,” and leave it at that. You need to make another argument about why we should agree with this particular point in Leviticus. The other thing is that “abomination” language that is language that’s used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to talk about stuff like eating shellfish.
So the idea that it’s so bad or has this huge punishment or whatever, those aren’t arguments that actually hold up in terms of the history of Christians interpret the Bible. “Oh, you get killed if you have same-sex relationships.” Yeah, you also get that for breaking the Sabbath. What did you do on Saturday?
Dan: Right. Yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. It was considered serious, and it was part of their identity marker. The other thing I want to say – and we’re going to get back to this when we come up to the end and talk about community and some of my positive humanistic – is all of these things are how Israel was distinguishing itself through its purity codes as a nation distinct from the Gentiles.
Dan: Yeah. Set apart. Yeah.
Daniel: So the fact that after Cornelius and all of this stuff, the Gentiles in Galatians, Romans – that the Gentiles get to be part of the people of God without becoming Jewish, I think it creates an assumption against priestly purity codes continuing to define the identity of the people of God.
Dan: That’s interesting.
Daniel: This is exactly the part of the Bible that the Cornelius episode is written to make the church wrestle with and say, “Yeah, we can’t keep defining ourselves in those [same ways].”
Dan: Yeah. And all of the stuff that – Paul talking about meat sacrificed to idols and all that stuff is tied up with this. Of these things that had become totally normal for Jews in his age, he’s like, “That’s not the divider anymore.” That purity stuff is not – and Jesus also pushes way back on the purity form of morality throughout the Gospels.
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s bridge to the question of patriarchy.
Dan: Yeah, this is the big one.
Daniel: This is the big one. Right. That passage in Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” This is detestable or whatever. Why not? What’s wrong with that?
Dan: I’m smiling because I love the simplicity of just asking that question. I love it.
Daniel: And it’s a question that deserves an answer. Robert Gagnon wrote a big book. I think it’s called The Bible and Homosexual Practice, and there seems to be a thread in there that assumes sort of a biological argument. Like the parts don’t fit, and biologically this is the wrong thing to do with this kind of body.
Now, it’s interesting that that’s never said anywhere. Well, all we’re doing here is we’re asking questions, and so I want to suggest that the reason why you’re not allowed to lie with a man as one lies with a woman is that, in a patriarchal culture, that would have been considered inherently degrading to a man because you would be treating him like a woman, which means treating him as less than the greater thing that he is.
Dan: Yeah. To be penetrated is feminine, and feminine is bad. Therefore, to be penetrated is bad.
Daniel: Exactly. Well, it’s not bad if you’re a woman, right?
Dan: Yeah. But for instance, in Greek culture – or is it Roman – if it was found out that some man was having sex with other men, as long as he was the penetrator that didn’t give him any stigma at all. That didn’t hurt his reputation. If it was rumored that he was the receiver that was a ding on his social status.
Daniel: Right. So the easiest thing to think about patriarchy is men are better than women. Men get to rule over women. And that’s part of how it is. And if you read – okay, so Aristotle’s great with this. Aristotle’s Politics where he’s telling you how the whole nation-state is supposed to be established, but he starts with the house.
Most basic unit, those that can’t live without each other: husband and a wife, and a master and servant, and parents and children. And in each relation, there is one who rules and one is who’s ruled.
And in every instance, it’ll only go well if the one that’s superior rules those who are inferior. Those who are superior, then he goes on to say, are the ones who have foresight and vision. And then the ones who are under them execute the vision.
So what’s just happened there is – if you know this from the household codes in the New Testament, all those places where it says, “Husbands love your wives. Wives submit to your husbands.”
Dan: Yeah. I was just going to say that. Yeah.
Daniel: So what you’re seeing in the New Testament, it is part of the cultural heritage, and implicit in the New Testament and explicit outside of it is that each of these pairs of relations is talking about someone who’s superior to the other.
Dan: Or in power over the other. It’s like how to set up a good army regiment. It’s kind of like that. If you have the privates questioning the colonel all day long, nothing’s going to get done. This is how you run an army. This is how you run a household. This is how you run a city.
Daniel: Right. But the other thing is if you have a senator serving as a private in the Roman army, that’s wrong too. Why? Because senators are superior Romans than the citizens or the hired mercenaries who are serving as privates. So when there is a power differential, it’s not just because you have a different role to play.
This is exegesis that was invented in the 20th century when people could no longer say that the reason that women can’t teach is because they’re inferior to men. Once people could no longer say women are inferior to men, a new interpretation arose which said, “Oh, they’re not inferior. They just have a different role.” Prior to that, the reason why you have a different role, and you’re not allowed to teach, and you’re not allowed authority is because you’re more prone to be deceived.
Dan: You are simply inferior. Yeah. Straight up.
Daniel: You’re simply inferior in your capacity to reason, in the strength of your body, in whether your body can control your mind or whether you’re enslaved to your passions. This is a hierarchy in every sense of the word.
Dan: Man, you know what I would love right now is some quotes from people that were influencing Paul or around that time. Do you have anything handy that you can read just to give us examples of this reasoning?
Daniel: From Aristotle in his Politics, he just says bluntly – he’s talking about relationship between genders among different species, and he says, “Specifically, as between the male and female, the former” – men – “is by nature superior and ruler. The later inferior and subject.” Just that crassly.
And his teacher –
Dan: No ambiguity there, Aristotle.
Daniel: His teacher, Plato, he’s got this guy in his book The Laws, who’s talking about how different people set stuff up, and he’s like, “You know, some people, their laws don’t even talk to women at all.” And he’s like, “This is a huge problem, that you wouldn’t try to regulate this secretive and crafty sex. Because of its weakness, it should never be left unregulated.”
Then he goes on to say, “You see, leaving women to do what they like is not just to lose half the battle, as it would seem. A woman’s natural potential for virtue is inferior to a man’s, so she’s proportionately a greater danger. Perhaps even twice as great.” So if you don’t make laws that control your women, you are shooting yourself in the foot three times over because they are less inherently virtuous.
Dan: Not only have you given someone a gun, you’ve given someone with bad aim a gun. That’s the reasoning there. Yeah.
Daniel: I’m going to give you a little bit more because that’s Plato and Aristotle.
Dan: Yeah. I was going to say, “Come on. Bring it closer. I could poke holes in that.”
Daniel: Let me just go straight to Philo of Alexandria. Philo, he is a contemporary of Paul. So mid-1st century, from Alexandria, Greek, very steep philosophically.
And why he’s great, besides being a complete patriarchal sexist, he also does a whole bunch of biblical interpretation. So, why was the man made first, and what does it mean that the woman was made out of the rib of the man? Well, first of all, this had to be the case so that the woman would not be of equal dignity with the man.
Secondly, so that she wouldn’t be in the same age, because, you know, anybody who marries an older woman deserves great blame. Third, the design of God was that the husband should take care of his wife as a part of himself, but that the woman should return him with service. She’s like servant, and he’s like the caretaker, ruler.
And, again, he says a little bit later on, “The husband, the man” – talking about leaving and cleaving – “the man himself delighting in his master-like authority is to be respected for his pride, but the woman, being the rank of a servant, is praised because she agrees to live in communion.”
Okay, so there’s that power thing. Oh, but you know why it gets even better? Because if you know the arguments about, like, 2 Timothy where, “The woman, being deceived, fell into transgression,” – from 1 Timothy – listen to this from Philo: “Why did the serpent accost the woman and not the man? Because the serpent, having formed his estimate of virtue, devised a treacherous stratagem against them. But the woman was more accustomed to be deceived than the man. For the man’s counsels, as well as his body, are of a masculine sort, and he can disentangle the notions of seduction. But the mind of the woman is more effeminate, so that through her softness” – we’re going to come back to softness – “she easily yields and is easily caught by the persuasions of falsehood.”
Dan: I love the way you modulated your voice there during those readings, dramatic readings.
Daniel: Oh my gosh! So, I get there’s more. And I hope that you could hear the echoes of the New Testament stuff –
Dan: I did. Yeah.
Daniel: – in all of that. And the point is the New Testament writers are patriarchal too. It’s just the air they breathe. When 1 Peter says, “Husbands, show considerations for your wives, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex,” it means that in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
Dan: Can we really quick note that this actually gives me a bit more respect for Paul in a certain sense because, compared to Philo, when Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives. Lay down your lives for them, as Christ does for the church,” and “Wives, submit to your husbands in love,” he’s outlining something that, I mean, maybe for his time and place was quite progressive. And certainly more egalitarian than whatever you just read me from Philo and Aristotle.
Daniel: Yeah. It definitely has that potential. And this is why, actually, I would say my position on both gender and sexuality is a biblical position because I think that there are seeds of equality that simply haven’t grown to fruition in the New Testament. And it’s making the decision that those seeds are better representations of the Gospel and the redemptive work of Jesus than the patriarchy of the surrounding culture.
That’s the decision that I’m making. And now we’re talking about hermeneutics. How am I going to make decisions to interpret the text when I see conflicts or based on what I think is the core of the story?
Can I just say I came into all of that, like I’d said, while I was doing this work for gender equality, and then I read this book, Roman Homosexuality. What the book tells you, in a nutshell, is who you could have sex with and how you could have sex with them depended entirely on your social rank and where they were in relationship to you.
So, for instance, if you’re a Roman citizen, any Roman non-citizen is basically fair game for sex. Women, men, whatever. If you go to a brothel, there will be men, there will be women, just for whatever you want.
But, like Dan said earlier, if you are a Roman citizen and when you go to the brothel you like to be on the receiving end of that encounter with a male, then you’re in trouble. If you’re a householder and you have sex with your slaves, that’s fine. But if word gets out that you like your slave to play the, quote-unquote, “active role” and you like to be on the receiving end, that’s a problem.
Why? Because you are lowering yourself in your sexual act from the role of the more powerful man and taking on the weak, less dignified, womanly position. That sexism that undergirds the patriarchy also then delineates what is and what isn’t acceptable sexual behavior.
Think about some of the Old Testament laws about sexuality and women. The idea is that a woman is property of some man. Right? Her father or her husband. Therefore, if a woman gets raped, she has to marry her rapist. Why? Because now her father doesn’t have this product that he can get rid of for a dowry, or nobody’s going to take her off his hands because she’s, quote-unquote, “damaged goods.”
Dan: Yeah. The value of daughters in the Old Testament Law stuff is brutal.
Daniel: Yeah. I just want to say again this is not the world that we want shaping our sexual ethics, again, if we think people are equal. So if you look at Romans’ sexual mores with this assumption that this whole patriarchal hierarchy is enshrining a power dynamic that doesn’t rightly honor the personhood of women, then where you end up is, oh my gosh, any Roman who heard me say those things about the equality of men and women – they would have to start building their sexual mores from the ground up.
So here’s the thought experiment. Let’s assume that the ancient Near Eastern writers, the people who wrote the Old Testament, we know that they were patriarchal. How do you know that they were patriarchal? Read the Ten Commandments.
The tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Who is that written to? It’s written to men. They’re just thinking about men. They’re writing for men.
So let’s assume that they hold a similar set of hierarchies regarding persons and gender and inherent worth, not just relative positions of power. And now let’s go back and ask, “Is it possible that Old Testament same-sex sexual mores are reflective of the same sorts of power dynamics that are explicitly articulated in Greco-Roman culture?”
So go back to Leviticus 18. “You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” Why not? Might it possibly be because that would be to inherently debase a man by treating him in this way? Is that the problem? It might be.
You know what? For the priestly writer of Leviticus, things are wrong when they don’t stay in their category. Why can’t you eat shrimp? Because it’s neither a creepy-crawly thing nor a fish. It’s something in the middle. You’ve got to stay in your category and it’s debasing to something – it’s fowl if it gets mixed.
This is why, I think, keep Sodom and Gomora on the table. Because what is rape in this situation of violence against these people? It’s a power play. This man throws his daughters out there instead of his guests. The idea is it’s not a violation of hospitality because it’s a local, and it’s not as bad because it’s a woman rather than a man.
But the whole point of what the people are trying to do is to express superior power by physically penetrating these other people. So all of these things about power and sexuality and strength and rule and leadership, all of it, is mapped onto this patriarchal system structure. So having sex with somebody in the wrong sort of way is a way of telling them, “I rule over you.” This is why people rape each other in war.
Dan: Men raping men in prison to show power over each other.
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Dan: So it’s not like this stuff is so far in the fog of ancient human history that we can’t relate to it.
Daniel: Right. Right. So I say let’s keep Sodom and Gomora on the table because it actually, maybe, is the clearest example of the reasoning behind same-sex activity as we see it throughout the biblical cannon.
Dan: Okay, tracking with you thus far. But there’s more. So let’s keep going.
Daniel: Do we see in Paul’s letters any indication that his opposition to same-sex intercourse shares his cultural patriarchal assumptions that there’s something inherently superior about men and inferior about women?
Dan: Where’s the evidence if we’re looking for it in Paul that – because it’s one thing to say there’s correlation. Right? Okay, people around Paul thought this way, people before Paul thought this way, but how are you going to prove it me that he thought this way? And you’re about to argue for that.
Daniel: I’m about to argue for that. In two places. There’s basically two places where Paul comes in the picture. Romans, first of all. So in Romans 1 where Paul’s talking about men having sex with each other, he says this line, “Men with men, committing indecent acts and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.”
Now I remember being a high schooler during the AIDS crisis. So if you look at my NIV study Bible from high school, I have “STDs” question mark, in the margins. “Receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.” What is that?
Dan: Oh, yeah. We watched Bohemian Rhapsody last night, my wife and I.
And I was surprised that it’s impossible for me to totally separate out Freddie Mercury getting AIDS from Freddie Mercury being gay and having a bunch of gay sex. I don’t want him to have gotten it. But that link was so strongly put into my brain growing up evangelical.
Daniel: Yeah. So I had Pauline proof for that, but I don’t think Paul knew about that. What was he probably talking about? Okay, this is an idea that I got while reading Stan Stowers. He was New Testament professor at Brown. He wrote a book called Rereading Romans. “Men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.” I think that what Paul is saying is that when you receive a penis into yourself, as a man, the very act of being on the receiving end of same-sex sex is itself the shaming penalty of a same-sex encounter.
Dan: The penalty is not the STD. The penalty is the penis itself.
Daniel: Yep. In an honor-shame culture, to be a man treated sexually as a woman is, itself, seen as this inherently debasing thing.
Dan: Yeah. Okay, so that’s the one spot. Give us the other spot where you think there’s evidence that this way of thinking is, in fact, clear in Paul.
Daniel: Yeah. It’s in the 1 Corinthians passage. We talked about that Paul uses two words there. One that he kind of makes up that seems to allude to Leviticus: arsenokoitais, which means “bedding a man.” And then the other is malakos – malakoi, and that means “soft,” – “softy.” Do you know who soft is? You heard it already in Philo.
Dan: [I] did hear it.
Daniel: Women are soft. Malakos is a way to slander a man for being too womanly. Sometimes people will say it’s a way to refer to the receiving partner in same-sex relationships, and sometimes it is.
But if you have too much sex, you’re malakos. Why? Because your manly reason, obviously, is enslaved to the passions of your body. So that –
Dan: Right. You’re not stoic enough.
Daniel: – makes you womanly. Right. If you pay too much attention to your appearance, if you spend too much time fixing your hair, that makes you girly. Malakos means you’re girly, and “girly” only works as an insult if being a girl is a bad thing.
So Paul is participating in – by saying that malakoi won’t inherit the kingdom of God, he’s suggesting that the cultural prejudice against women is something that correlates with God’s own sense of what kind of man is fit to come into the kingdom of God. And so when 1 Corinthians ends with Paul telling the Corinthians, “Be men. Be strong,” in chapter 16, he’s basically saying, “Yeah, there’s some patriarchal norms that I think we should all live up to here if we’re going to make God happy.”
Dan: Man, it’s like a cosmic version of, “You throw baseballs like a girl.”
Daniel: Exactly. Exactly. Which is really unfortunate because there’s a lot in Paul’s rhetoric – and oh by the way, Jesus was crucified which means he died a death by penetration. So there’s a lot in his narrative of the cross and all this that is actually completely antithetical to patriarchy.
But here in this place is –
Dan: You can see Paul actually struggling with patriarchy, but when it comes to homosexuality and women and slavery he was not able to get past it.
Daniel: Right. And in some ways with women, maybe better –
Dan: Yeah. [He does] a better job.
Daniel: If he didn’t write 1 Timothy, which I don’t think he did, then I think you can see a good bit of improvement on women specifically.
Dan: Okay, so let’s connect the dots here then. Here’s how I understand your argument, and then you tell me what I’m missing. Sticking with Paul, if Paul’s rejection of homosexual sex is part and parcel of his unthinking acceptance of the partiarchical, sexist norms of both his day and all 3,000 years prior to his day, in his context, and if we reject that thinking on, say, women or slavery, we ought to reject it for homosexuality. Is that right?
Daniel: I think that’s exactly right. Yeah. And I just want to add to that that this is also why I don’t think that the church’s 2,000 years of history is a reliable guide on the question of same-sex interactions either. This is the same church, grand tradition where we get masturbation is a worse sin that rape because at least rape has the potential for creating life, right? Sex and gender stuff just has not been a strong suit of the church’s theologizing.
Dan: Yeah. That’s one of the arguments that people will give in support of the traditional view of homosexuality, is, “Hey, 2,000 years of, pretty much, unbroken agreement.” But you’re saying, “Yeah, there’s also 18,000 years of unbroken agreement on slavery.”
So you guys know I have this Patreon campaign that is ongoing. It’s five dollars a month. It’s the way that you can support this work financially, and it includes a Facebook discussion group for Patrons only. And it also includes two bonus episodes every month.
And the bonus episode for the second half of February is a conversation with Seth Roberts. He is a musician from San Luis Obispo area, California. I grew up watching his bands play in the Bay Area in California, and I was a huge fan of his band, Watashi Wa. He now plays in Eager Seas; they used to be called Lakes.
And he is also a person of faith, of Christian faith, and I wanted to talk with him about the music industry, the Christian music industry, how that affected him in early life, how he thinks about his teenage years compared with the way his daughters are being raised as they get close to their teenage years. And we also talked about moving from Evangelicalism to now of that an Episcopal church that he and his wife and kids are at. And it was a really fun conversation. Really great. It was fun to reminisce, and it was also fun to just get into some topics I didn’t anticipate.
I also have put together a Spotify playlist for this episode. These are songs of Seth’s that I think are particularly good. There’s a link to that Spotify playlist in the show notes for this episode as well as for the bonus episodes, for those of you who are Patrons.
Here are some clips of my conversation with Seth.
Seth: Or when you get required from a church to do an altar-call. Or when they tell you, “You have to put your lyrics up on the overhead,” or some bullshit like that.
Dan: Oh my gosh. I’ve never heard of the lyrics on the projector. That’s new, that’s a new one.
Seth: Yeah. Oh yeah. We had it all. And the other thing was we started so young that, looking back on it, it’s like, “What?” I know my parents’ intentions for sure. But all these other people around me, I don’t know their – and so looking back on it, there’s some stuff that I’m like, “That felt a little bit off.”
Or that felt like – I was pretty young to be, I don’t want to call it “brainwashed” in that way, but definitely very – there were certain circles where it was very influential on what, I think, we were required to be as a band.
I got to a place where I had to – I got so anxious about trying to really lock down these things that I think were tied to the idea that you have to have things locked down. I remember seeing people, as a kid, being so confident that they had the world figured out, and they had God figured out, and they had it pinned down to evangelical Christianity.
And so I think I got to a point where it was like, “Well, I really do care about thinking about these things, but I know that I want to focus on my time thinking about these things or exploring these ideas not in an anxious way. I think I had to become okay with that I do believe focusing on love is so important in life.
That’s what I believe is most important, is focusing on love. And I think because of that, you see so much in so many different beliefs in ways of life. And if you really look at people and try to understand humans through that perspective, of just focusing on the love, then yeah, you can see God in all kinds of different places.
Dan: Do you think there’s still a tension – in your current environment, both trying to pass on some faith to your daughters, and in your church environment, do you feel that there’s any tension between saying, “I practice this, but I don’t buy the exclusivity claims”? Do you think that if you were honest about that, that it would be harder, or have you found a community where everyone’s like, “Oh, Seth, totally. We agree”?
Seth: I found a different community. Well, I don’t know. Not, “Oh, Seth, totally. We agree.” But, “Oh, Seth, I love you no matter what you believe.”
Dan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
You can just put that into your podcast app, whichever one you listen to. It’ll work on all of them, and they will show up on your phone or whatever device you use, just like this podcast does. Also, the You Have Permission Facebook group is for Patrons only, and it is really getting awesome in there.
People are starting to share resources and kind of crowd source stuff that they’re going through. I’m really pleased to be a part of that. If you’d like to become a Patron, it starts at $5 a month. Youhavepermissionpod.com, click “Become a Patron,” or patreon.com/dankoch. Links to both of those are in the show notes. Back to our conversation with the good doctor, Daniel Kirk.
You mentioned earlier that you were going to go through Hays’ three main things that he does in his book, Moral Vision of the New Testament. He does cross, community, and vision? Is that right?
Daniel: New creation.
Dan: New creation. And he goes through – any topic he’s discussing, he discusses all kinds of topics.
Daniel: Mm-hm. Right.
Dan: So he does this with homosexuality, and we’ve sort of already heard what he came to, but you have another way of using that same tool, that triune tool. So what do you find when you apply those three lenses to what we’ve just talked about?
Daniel: When Richard Hays is talking about community as a paradigm for New Testament ethics, what he’s saying is across the whole New Testament the fact of an identity of the people of God, it’s preservation, purity, and composition is something that the ethics of the New Testament are concerned about, and that fact of God creating a community, it becomes a lens for rereading and reunderstanding Scripture and what the ethical imperatives are for the people of God.
Dan: For people who are familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – which is scripture, reason, experience, and tradition, somewhere between the four, this is where you find the truth – his “community” category is kind of a merging of tradition and experience. It’s like as the church is the church and goes through time and experiences things, individually and corporately, that turns into a tradition. And as that goes, we should look at that, and we should look at the intermingling of those two for clues as what to the Holy Spirit is up to.
Daniel: Mm-hm. Yes.
Daniel: This is what I discovered with “community.” And it can start with something as small as I’m having a conversation with a senior colleague, back when I was out of school, that was not affirming, and we were having a debate about this in our conversation. And he’s like, “Well, you know, in my homosexual sisters and brothers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. In my homosexual sisters and brothers, blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, okay, so hold on. So you’ve called them sisters and brothers. So they’re children of God.
“Yes.” And part of the family of God. “Yes.” So that means, presumably, that they’re going to be heirs of the Kingdom of God. I mean, if you’re calling them sisters and brothers.
1 Corinthians 6: the whole point is who’s not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s what Paul says about that list in 1 Corinthians 6. So my point is if you are willing to say that a gay person in a partnered relationship is your brother or sister in Christ, like Hays is, then the composition of the community of believers has become an interpretative fact that has you in pointed disagreement with Paul already.
Paul says, “Such were some of you,” right? “But you’re not anymore because you’re going to be heirs of the kingdom of God.” But if we’re willing to say that people who are still there are, in fact, our sisters and brothers and heirs of the kingdom, even as that, then we’ve already disagreed with Paul.
And this starts getting us into – Hays is huge on the community as an interpretive key for reading Scripture. He has this whole book on Paul where his argument is that Paul has what he calls “an ecclesiotelic hermeneutic,” which means that the Scripture is moving in the direction of the community that is actually formed around the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.
So what happens when we’re sitting here in a community of people and people who show just as much evidence of being empowered and gifted by the Spirit as I do are in a partnered gay relationships? And so this community piece takes me right to Acts 10. We talked about that before. Acts 10, where what do you have? You’ve got Peter, and he’s sitting there having a dream, and in the dream, God says, “Kill and eat all this stuff that Scripture says you’re not allowed to eat.”
Dan: It says that Peter’s pretty black and white.
Daniel: Yeah, and Peter says, “Never, Lord.” But the response is great. What the voice from heaven doesn’t say, “Hey, that was never actually the crap I cared about; don’t worry about it.” What the divine voice says is, “What I have purified, don’t you make common.”
The idea is that God has done something here. He’s instituted a change, and it’s about the dietary restrictions, but it’s actually about God embracing the Gentiles. So Peter goes and he preaches to Cornelius and the Spirit falls on them and [he’s] like, “Whoa, God showed me that I shouldn’t reject these people just because I used to think they were unclean.”
I think that’s exactly the moment that the church is in now. The best that the church could see and know for the cultures we were in for a couple thousand years, we were trying to be faithful.
And now we have this new fact, which is partnered gay people openly following Jesus in our midst, which, for various sociological reasons, has not been possible before the 20th century. The question for us is, “What does that fact mean?” And I think that that fact means, oh wow, we need to go back and reunderstand what God was up to in the stuff before.
And reunderstand the significance of the ground-leveling work of the Gospel, especially around issues of gender, because it transforms what we say about sex. So I think when you dive into the community question and really take stock of the community as a theologically significant fact, which it always is whether we acknowledge it or not.
The community is a theologically significant fact impacting our biblical interpretation. I think we have to do that with the fact that our gay brothers and sisters are with us, following Jesus, and we just have to humbly say, “We can’t do what Paul said any more.”
Precisely because Paul was right when he wrote Galatians and said, “If you’ve got the Abba Father’s Spirit, don’t you dare let anyone else tell you’ve got to do something else to be a fully functioning member of this body.”
Dan: Okay, so now we’re moving to the cross. So what does Hays mean when he says, “I’m going to use the cross as a lens through which to look at the New Testament”?
Daniel: He means both that the cross does have some sort of atoning or, like, an image of the judgement of God on human sin, and that as an ethical paradigm the cross transforms the ethics of the people of God. So in the Gospel, that’s where Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” There’s this kind of anti-power polemic that the cross becomes a symbol of.
And you see it also in Paul where he talks about the weakness and the foolishness of the cross and how that’s embodied. And Hays even read Revelation as sort of an anti-violence cruciform sort of thing, which that’s a little bit creative. So the point with the cross is it’s not just about what God did for us, but the way that it is this transformative, really, upside-down power [sort of] way of life for the people of God.
Dan: So I can already imagine where you’re going with this. The fact that you’ve now flipped power structures on their head, and God willingly takes the place of lower power, [though] God, by all rights, has all the power. And so, I mean, we could almost fill this in for you, but go ahead and tell us how you’re going to apply that to the patriarchy.
Daniel: Sure. To proclaim the cross as the way that the God who’s all powerful transforms the world, it completely turns the patriarchy on its head. To say that the person who’s conquered is the one who now rules. To say that one who is penetrated, the one who is shamed, rather than honored.
To say that the one who refused to strike back, to say that there’s strength in this death. All of those things – Jesus is, in his crucifixion, is a completely emasculating way to demonstrate the dominance of Rome. So to hold that up as the paradigm of power just completely demolishes the whole patriarchy power system. But here’s the thing: when it comes to ethics – this is where it gets dicey because there’s this call: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
So how is that going to work out when you have a minority community that’s being called to a sexual ethic? And this is what I do for myself. This is how I, in my own internal dialogue, think about the cross as an ethical guide.
In any given situation, a question I ask myself is this, “Am I, in this context, willingly laying down my power and life so that somebody else can find a power and life that they wouldn't already have?” In other words, “Am I playing the part of the crucified Christ?”
Or, in this context, am I demanding that somebody else lay down their life, either to keep me comfortable to give me more position so I can attain for my own, or so that I can sit on the sidelines and watch. In other words, am I playing the role of the crucifying centurion?
And where I think Hays just kind of dances a little bit here is he goes for the atonement stuff. Like God pays for all of our sin and that kind of stuff. And he goes with, “Yeah, and cross-bearing is hard work, and we’re all called to do it in certain places.”
But here’s the deal: if I, as a straight, white person who’s – let’s just take a random thing that could be true of somebody – sits in an endowed professorship at Duke University, and telling somebody else who’s a sexual minority, “Sorry, you can’t do that thing,” – i.e. engage in sexual acts. “Which guess what I get to do because I’m doing it the right way?” That’s playing the part of the centurion.
And that’s exactly what I think this story should upend. I think that the power endemic in those sexual mores just doesn’t allow for that call in the story.
Dan: I appreciate the poetic power of you turning Hays’ interpretive moves on himself as an endowed tenured professor.
But I will just go on the record and say I don’t like that argument style in general. I think that biblical scholars got to biblical-scholar. They got to do their thing, and we got to let them do it. And we can have arguments –
Dan: I think you’re presenting, as you know, a very good argument against him. But I don’t like – and I have a little bit of, not pushback, but I have some questions for you about this that we’ll get to towards the end. I just want to be on the record of saying I don’t like that argument. No offense, Daniel.
I think he –
Daniel: I’m not offended. I’m hurt, but that’s different.
Dan: You’re hurt. [Not offended.] Yeah, yeah. So that’s fine. Okay, so then the last one is “new creation.” So what’s he doing with “new creation” as a lens?
Daniel: Yeah. “New creation” is ways in which the community of believers is really called – what sanctification is is taking hold of what lies ahead in the age to come and bringing it to bear on the present. It’s the “already, not yet” eschatology and trying to make us into what we know the age to come will be.
Dan: So in terms of as a lens, if we have a clear vision from Scripture or from experience or tradition or reason of, “Oh this is the kind of end that God has in mind for the universe. This is the goal to which God is bringing all things,” then we ought to use that as a way to identify stuff we believe now.
Daniel: Right. And so he does a lot with war and peace. So if we know and we believe that the end of the story is that the swords are going to be beaten into plowshares, then pursuing peace and creating communities of peace and finding ways to bring peace to conflict here and now, that is bringing “new creation” to bear on the present.
Dan: Yeah. That’s great. Okay, so now you want to use this to look at this stuff again. So how do you use the “new creation” lens to think about this question?
Daniel: So I want to start with Richard Hays himself in his Galatians commentary. Galatians 3:28: “You’ve been baptized into Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.” So male and female. Richard Hays, in his Galatians commentary, argues what other people have said as well, that Paul switches the cadence from either-or to “male and female” in order to echo Genesis 1.
Dan: Right. “Male and female, he created them.”
Daniel: Right. Male and female, God created them. So he’s using this to argue for gender equality. But it's a “new creation” move. It’s to say that this new humanity that’s being created in Christ no longer has this male and female thing.
And Hays is arguing for it sort of as a differentiated hierarchy, because he’s arguing for the equality point. But you just said, “No longer male and female.” That first creation’s putting humans into this gender binary isn’t what constitutes our identity in the church, as it’s the harbinger of new creation.
Once you’ve said that, how can you tell people that they can only have sex as male and female? It doesn’t work. And here’s the other thing: if we want to talk –
Dan: That’s interesting.
Daniel: – “new creation,” the other places where people sometimes go with sex and new creation, you’ve got the question to Jesus about resurrection. Right? Where they’re –
Dan: I was just going to bring that up. Yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. Like, “Well, Jesus, this woman had a husband. He died. Moses said that her husband had to take her and raise up children, so he did.
“Then seven brothers had her. They all died. In the resurrection, in the restoration of all things, whose husband will she be? For all seven of them had her.”
Notice, first of all, the patriarchal assumption that to have a woman is both a sexual reality and a transactional reality. And Jesus is like, “You don’t understand. You don't know the Scripture or the power of God.” And he’s like, “Well, in the new creation, people aren’t going to marry and be given in marriage.”
So this is a weird one where – well, okay. Most hilarious moment in any commentary ever. Commentaries are not known for their humor.
Dan: Not especially.
Daniel: Joel Marcus, Anchor Bible Commentary: Volume 2 on Mark chapter 12: Quote, “Jesus appears to be suggesting that in the age to come there will not be sex. And one might be tempted to ask, with a heaven like that, what further need would there be for hell?” A just question from Joel Marcus. And so anyway, that’s just to say that –
Dan: But that’s so interesting because I always think of this passage as like – my friend, Joey, who’s on the Bad Christian Podcast, he loves to talk about how much sex he’s going to have in heaven. And so I tend to think of it as a rebut to his obsession with heaven sex.
But now, having just had this conversation with you, I’m also thinking about marriage and being given in marriage through the concept of ownership and service and power. Now, I would say and I hope this is true, that my wife being married to me does not mean that I have ownership over her or power over her. I try to respect her. We have an egalitarian relationship.
But certainly, to the woman in that story who’s being handed off against her will to the next brother, the next brother, the next brother, or probably most people getting married in Paul’s day, if you could accurately poll the women and get their real reactions, they’re not too pumped about that. And it’s a liberating message of, “No. In the Kingdom, you don’t have that anymore.”
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan: Which is complicated because marriage is also so beautiful and sanctifying. That’s hard, but there is that part of it.
Daniel: Yeah. So this is where I think the new creation, the destruction of the gender hierarchy – I think because Hays is right about gender equality in the church, new creation doesn’t allow for perpetuation of first creation hierarchies in sexuality. And it’s only by hierarchy that you end up eliminating the potential for same sex.
Okay, here’s one more thing about “new creation,” and this was something that somebody said at a conference and I had never thought about it, and it just lodged in my brain.
He’s like, “Look. Throughout the whole Old Testament, having children is always talked about as the reason – with sex and marriage, that’s always what it’s talking about. In the early church, from the 2nd century on, it’s the only reason to have sex is because you’re having children.
Guess what’s never talked about in conjunction with sex in the New Testament. Having children.
Daniel: Why? Because “new creation.” People thought that Jesus was going to come back so soon. Right?
Dan: Soon. Right.
Daniel: So there’s this beginning of a reimagining about what sex is good for and what it means and how to hold that in terms of this eschatological tension of like, “the end is right on us.” That’s what eschatology means. And so Paul says, “Have sex so that your body doesn’t burn with passion. So it doesn’t store up.” That’s it.
Here’s another thing to take a whiteout to church history: the New Testament never talks about having children. So if we’re going to talk about the continuity of Jesus in the apostles and the church’s testimony about sex, take whiteout to everything that says sex is about having kids from the tradition, and start to rebuild your theology.
Which, by the way, every protestant has to do anyway because we affirm the use of birth control. Protestants have no pot to piss in when it comes to saying we agree with the church because we use birth control. And having kids has been the only reason for having sex for so many of the church fathers. There’s so much rework that has to be done.
Dan: That’s another example of discontinuity in church tradition, especially as Protestants.
Daniel: Yeah. You can’t just say because you have the same conclusion that the guy before you had that you actually agree with them or that you’re perpetuating the church tradition.
I think that’s actually one of the most lazy arguments of the modern conservative, especially modern, conservative Protestant, or modern Catholic who thinks that birth control’s okay or what have you.
We’re going to do a lighting round here. I’ve got a bunch of things. I’m going to give you one to two minutes to answer them, and we’ll get through as much of it as we can.
Daniel: All right.
Dan: Okay? So, first off, here is a very common concern – and some of these are not going to be hard, so you can just… But I want to get to them now with this thinking. The Bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman. What’s your response to that?
Daniel: The bible doesn’t have a definition of marriage. We create a definition of marriage based on things that we’ve seen.
Dan: Jesus doesn’t challenge the common view of homosexuality from the Old Testament. Therefore Jesus is seen to be tacitly, implicitly, cosigning on that view.
Daniel: I actually think that Jesus probably does agree with the Old Testament view.
Dan: Jesus of Nazareth, the person.
Daniel: Jesus, the 1st century, Jewish human. The reason why Jesus didn’t talk about it, probably, was because he was dealing with Jews his whole life, and they all agreed about this. Paul had to deal with it because he was dealing with Gentiles and there was diversity.
Jesus, the 1st century human, probably agreed with that, just like Jesus, the 1st century human, didn’t know that if you washed your hands, half the diseases he had to cure wouldn't have ever been caught in the first place.
Dan: Right. There is a concern that I have with a lot of liberal thinking, socio-politically, etcetera, that everything is about power relationships. And I think that sometimes that can be reductive.
Power is not always bad. Sometimes power is good, and although I recognize the cogency of your argument, is your argument possibly guilty of narrowly looking at everything in the 1st century and in the Old Testament as being about power, when, actually, there’s a lot more going on?
Daniel: In this case, I don’t think so. I don’t think my argument is actually narrowly about power, although power dynamics certainly help. Because patriarchy – part of what I’ve tried to argue is that patriarchy’s not just about power. It’s about a holistic system of antitheses about things that were assumed to be superior and inferior including mental acuity and rational reasoning skills and body strength and ability to control your emotions and emotions themselves and whether you won a war – I mean, that would be more of a power thing.
But part of what I’m suggesting is that this honor-shame culture, with all of its rankings of things as superior and inferior – yeah, power runs through it, and it does uphold a certain power structure, but it’s this multifaceted reality. And it’s precisely in recognizing all of those facets that you get this coherent picture of what sex was in the ancient world. And you can start to get little snippets of increased understanding of, even, the data that’s on the table. So that’s not my sense of my position.
Dan: Is this a kind of a newfangled reading? A lot of newfangled readings of Scripture, like for instance rapture theology, or, as you mentioned, some strains of complementarian, non-egalitarian thinking, are novel ways of reading the text.
Should we be suspicious of this as one among many novel ways of reading the text that we should give this some more time to see if it bears fruit before we dive in?
Daniel: Well, you know, I think everything takes time to kind of get your head around. What I would commend to you would be just go – you don’t have to read what scholars say about it. But if you can find a bunch of ancient sources about gender relationships, just go read them.
I would say read Roman Homosexuality. It’s not about the Bible. It’s not trying to argue for inclusion of gay people in anything. It’s just explaining how, if you’re a 1st century Roman, this is how you think about sex.
Or not just 1st century, but if you’re in the Roman Empire or Roman Republic, this is how you’re thinking about sex. I think that those are tools that I would commend to everybody and just try it on and walk around in it.
Honestly, if I can convince you in an hour that I’m right, somebody else can convince you in 45 minutes that I’m wrong, so do take your time. But I would say this approach is historical, critical exegesis. This is what everybody claims they’re doing when they put their finger on the text and say, “This is what it means.”
And I’m asking the question, “Might it mean” – and not just, this is a bad thing but – “Might it be showing us, this is a bad thing because men are better than women?” And if so, I think it really presses that question, “Are we going to really be willing to embrace equality as far as it takes us?” And not just because we’re Americans, but because we’re in Christ, and in Christ Jesus, there’s no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.
Dan: Let’s say we are convinced by your argument, but we still think, “You know what? I got to take what Paul says. Maybe he was patriarchical, and maybe people are supposed to patriarchical.” If we were to take that stance, hypothetically, what are the other things that Paul says, specifically about women or slavery, that we would then also need to take at face value to be consistent?
Daniel: We got to bring back the head coverings. We got to get rid of divorce again, unless there’s abandonment or something. We got to tell slaves to stop being so uppity. And, you know, it’s an honest, open question whether people who are working to end slave trafficking and stuff, sex trafficking, would Paul be into that? No.
He wouldn't think that it’s an okay thing to be doing, but if you’re trafficked and slaved, if you can get your freedom, fine. If not, whatever. Paul would be a little bit more “whatever” about that and maybe think that that’s a little bit of a misplaced passion.
Yeah, there would be maybe some other challenges not coming right to mind. Oh yeah! Probably women would need to really have their dads’ permission to get married. That would probably be a thing. So yeah. Those are some examples.
Dan: This is a real worry of mine, not a devil’s advocate question. I feel very attached to monogamy. So I agree with your argument about same-sex relationships, but I worry that I will have shakier ground to stand on for my very strong conviction that monogamy is the most loving way for people to be together sexually and relationally. So is my ground weaker, I guess is my question.
Daniel: I just want to say why do you think that agreeing with the Bible gives you strong ground to oppose polygamy? Or polyamory.
Dan: Wait. Sorry. Say that again. Why does…
Daniel: Why would you think that standing by the Bible in any sort of traditional way would give you strong ground for enforcing monogamy?
Dan: Oh, I see. Because the Bible is so full of polygamy. Yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. I mean, come on. The church is the bride of Christ, but how many people is that?
Dan: Okay, so you’re sort of, in a silly way, saying, “Look. Your arguments for monogamy are not going to come from the text. They’re going to come elsewhere anyway.”
Daniel: Yeah. Yes. I mean, I don’t think that was being silly. But, no, you’re right. That’s exactly what I was saying.
I think that our social convention is the strongest force for monogamy right now, and I think that you could make some arguments about covenant faithfulness that would be biblically, kind of Jesus-centered arguments for monogamy. But it might also be that we just need to take a step back and maybe realize that some of the ways that we haven’t carefully thought about it, or that some of the ways that we thought were compelling arguments maybe don’t hold up quite as well.
And then, maybe, we would also have to be willing to do some honest research into what is actually the most life-giving sort of partnership that leads to flourishing of people.
And being willing to ask that question if the fact that God just made two people at the very beginning isn’t going to be the end-all to that conversation. So, yeah, those are some initial thoughts. I’d be curious – what are the arguments that you think you might have without becoming affirming – or without becoming affirming in the way that I’m suggesting it – that you think you lose if you become LGBT affirming as a Christian?
Dan: I don’t actually have an answer to that. Now having been affirming for some time, I have not come across a good argument against monogamy. At least, against my own moral intuitions on it. But it’s just the kind of thing that I think about, and I imagine other people have thought about it as well.
Dan: There is a worry that though the patriarchy and sexism are bad, that sometimes feminist thought or extreme feminism and other kinds of, sort of, secular humanist thought lead to, basically, just an anything goes autonomy-based ethic. Where it’s like the only thing that matters, really, is that people can do whatever they’d prefer to do with no constraints.
And, in that sense, you could see that kind of argument leading to, “Incest is fine. Anything goes. Polyamory, whatever the hell you want to do.” Do you think that your argument could suffer from that, or do you think it’s a totally distinct argument?
Daniel: Yeah. We’ve been talking about the argument to include LGBT people, and where this conversation has not gone, and what I think has been a general lapse in progressive or inclusive circles, is we haven’t talked about sexual ethics at all. I mean, we’ve talked about [inclusion], right? We’ve talked about why people might engage sexually with people of the same sex, but we haven’t talked about under what parameters is any sex good or bad.
Dan: Right. We haven’t talked about consent or anything like that.
Daniel: Right. So I would say that I think that that is a question that we need to do some serious work on. And that what I’ve said right now is liable to that, just like saying, “Really, only sex between men and women is okay.”
Dan: That’s also liable to me, because then you have people saying things like, “A husband can’t rape their wife.” That’s a ethically very problematic statement that comes from the opposite side.
Daniel: Yep. Right. So, yes, it’s liable to it, but I don’t think it’s some sort of death knell. It just means now – this is actually the easy part – now we have to do the hard work of talking about what is just sex, what is righteous sex. And actually there’s a book called Just Sex by Margaret Farley.
It’s a little bit tough sledding to read, but she has a one hour YouTube video where she outlines her position that is very much worth watching. Again, folks might want to see more, but it’s a really great starting point for thinking about what faithful sex, as the people of God, might look like.
Dan: I’ll link to that in the show notes. Okay, three more rapid-fire questions, and then we’re done, Daniel, with this marathon session. Number one: can Christians, at various stages, must they agree with you and I? Can they withhold judgement? Are there church settings where it would be better for pastoral staff to not make this their primary issue for the sake of allowing a community to change its mind collectively over time, if it’s going to? Are we saying people must do this?
Or are we saying, “Hey, you have permission to do this, and this is what we think, but go at your own speed”?
Daniel: I think there’s wisdom at taking people through process. And, as I say that, you also have to understand that for LGBT people this is – I don’t know why gay people were still in my church when it was not affirming. And they were there, and we went through a process at becoming affirming.
I just consider that their patient gift to us. And I know that I had to go through a long process to change my mind, and as much as I would like the result of everybody being inclusive and included as rapidly as possible, I think that there is wisdom in leading people through a process, especially if you really are on a process and you’re not just stalling. I’m talking to you, enneagram 6s. Don’t just stall forever.
You really need to – if you are enacting a process, and you’re starting to talk about sexuality and deconstruct what everybody thinks their presuppositions are and what they really are. If you’re in that process, I think it’s going to take time. Oh by the way, you will lose members and money, and you’re going to have to fire half your staff. That will happen. I’m sorry.
And you need be able to say to your LGBT people, “I’m for you. I agree with you. I would marry you. You might not want to sit here through this very difficult and painful process, and I will bless you if you need to go someplace to be safe.” So you got to figure out how you can care for these people and tell them that you affirm all of who they are while helping people into that process.
But if we don’t have people who are in process, it’s just going to increase the polarization, and we’ll lose more people along the way. So, yeah, I’m all for good process. Although, that’s also idealistic because we’re going to lose a lot anyway.
Dan: What would you say to a conservative listener of this show who is skeptical about this entire conversation, but understands that you’ve thought about this and I’ve thought about this? What would you want to say to address them?
Daniel: I would want to say, first of all, I really do think that most of us – I don’t know anybody, personally, who holds the biblical position on gender and sex because we agree to this fundamental equality between men and women, and I think that’s critical. And I just encourage you to keep wrestling with that and what that means in a lot of ways.
I would also say I’ve poo-pooed the church tradition in a number of ways today, and I’ve kind of done it on purpose because I don’t think it’s helpful here.
But the other thing I would want to say is listen to the LGBT people who are coming out of the church and who’ve grown up in the church. Yes, there will be some who are just thankful for being kept on the straight and narrow, but it’s destroying people. And even the people who are maintaining their celibacy, it’s destroying them too.
And I think that the pastoral question of, “Is this the life that God, in Christ, wants to give to people?” is an important question to ask. And I don’t start my LGBT inclusion reasoning on suicide statistics. But, literally, if something that we’re saying in the name of God is causing people to kill themselves – Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.” That just doesn’t smell like Jesus to me.
Dan: Last question: if someone’s listening to this, and they are gay, lesbian, queer, maybe they don’t know that, or maybe they have only known that for a little while, maybe they’ve known it for a long time, maybe they’re celibate, maybe they’re not, but this reasoning is new to them. What would you say to that listener?
Daniel: God loves you. (laughs) That’s the first thing I want to say to every LGBT person in the church, is you’re God’s beloved child. And screw anything you’ve heard, or that has told you – made you think otherwise in your life. You’ve heard too much of that.
So first of all, Jesus loves you. God loves you, in Christ. You’re his beloved child. Then, if this kind of reasoning is new to you, welcome. Here’s the thing: there’s a lot of different ways to get at LGBT inclusion.
There are people like Matthew Vines who’s written a book, God and the Gay Christian. And he’s taken a much more almost inerrantist kind of view. Like, “The Bible doesn’t say anything against this thing that we’re doing now.” And read that book, and it might be helpful to you.
It might be helpful to you for a time. It might be all you need. But maybe you’re up against some of these passages and you’re like, “I don’t think so.” And then I’d invite you to read James Brownson’s book, I forget what’s it’s called. But, James Brownson. He’s a professor in Holland, Michigan at Western Seminary. He has a book that’s a lot more nuanced, and that talks about some other interpretive things.
And he also talks about patriarchy and power, but he has a lot of other arguments that – some creative, that I don’t necessarily buy, some that are really great, but it’s another thing to do. I would just say I think that for you, it may be new, but maybe this is the thing you need to start digging into to cultivating peace with God and who you are and your identity as God’s child and as gay.
And, if so, start with Brownson’s book. Follow his footnotes. Search me on the internet. See if I can help put you onto some things. And just keep strengthening that muscle.
But, again, there’s other resources. There’s so many resources now, and something more like Vines might be helpful to you as well. And if that’s all you need, that’s great, if you just don’t want to get into this other thing. So I’m not possessive of ways of being affirming. I’m possessive of LGBT people knowing that they’re God’s children and can do whatever God’s Spirit has empowered them to do.
Dan: Well, that was a bit of a slog for some of us, I’m sure. There’s a lot of content. It’s a long episode. Don’t feel bad if it took you multiple sittings. And don’t feel bad if you want to go back and listen to it again in the future to absorb some of this. Daniel packed a lot in there. It’s basically a book-length argument that he did in under two hours.
These episodes are intended to be resources, especially this one. So please share them. Even with people who might disagree with you. Friends, pastors, parents. I’d love to know how those conversations are going. Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also want to know what you’d love me to cover, who you’d like me to interview, all of that. Again, there’s the Patreon. You get two bonus episodes a month and access to the Facebook group. Patreon.com/dankoch. And there’s some cool stuff in the show notes here from this episode.
There is a clip from “60 Minutes” with Margaret Farley. There is a link to James Brownson’s book. And there are links to Daniel’s Twitter and Facebook, and so check those out. And we’ll see you next week. Thank you so much.