We are blessed to live in a community where cordial and respectful conversation on this sensitive question can be engaged charitably. Since a portion of his column was directed to me, I would like to respond as briefly as I can.
It is indeed true that Paget and I come from traditions that have historically viewed Scripture differently — but we both would affirm its primacy. At my ordination vows as a priest, I declared that I believed the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. At the same time, in our Anglican understanding, we recognize that Scripture is always viewed through an interpretive lens, including the tradition of the Church and our own God-given reason.
I would strongly disagree with Paget about the simplicity of the exegetical issues involved. Scholars of no less a stature than Roman Catholic theologian Luke Timothy Johnson and the theologically conservative scholar Richard Hays have explored these difficulties carefully and fairly. I commend their work to anyone interested.
Paget cites Leviticus 18:22 as direct evidence that homosexuality is a “detestable sin.” The same Hebrew word used there is also used in Leviticus 20:25 to describe eating unclean animals. I wonder if Paget would thus view the eating of shrimp or pork to be a similar detestable sin based upon the clear evidence of Scripture.
He also cites Romans 1:26-26 as a text without nuance. I’d wonder if he would nuance Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:5 that slaves should practice obedience, a text used for centuries to support the practice of slavery in our own country. Interestingly enough, Paul is talking about people doing what is not natural.
We now know that homosexuality is a natural state for a percentage of the population (both among humans and even among some animals). It is not chosen. Paul is opposed to people rejecting their natural sexual state in the interest of experimentation. If someone is naturally —through no choice of their own — attracted to people of the same-gender, Romans 1 doesn’t seem to apply.
Surely he’d say something about how we are under grace and so the laws of Leviticus no longer apply. Perhaps he’d say that the slavery Paul is talking about in Ephesians is different then slavery as it was practiced in the early years of America. That would sound a bit like a “nuanced” understanding of the Biblical text, however. It’s certainly different than the “plain reading.”
Could it be, perhaps, that what is often called “homosexuality” in Scripture is very different than the faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships that we have seen in or Church? Leviticus is talking about temple prostitution, Paul’s arguments are based upon an understanding of the sex act where a man is always dominant and where the embryo is included in the seed. He speaks strongly against Greco-Roman practices of pederasty and oppression. Can we condemn those with the voice of Scripture and also acknowledge that they are entirely different than two people committing themselves to one another through self-giving love?
One can find all kinds of views in Scripture and one can find throughout Christian history that our understanding of authorial intent, context, history and linguistic matters has led to the development and change of views as the Spirit has guided the church deeper into all truth — just as Jesus promised would happen in John 16. We now disagree with history and say slavery is wrong. Few Christians today would condemn usury (the lending of money at interest) as intrinsically evil, even though that was the clear reading of text and tradition for thousands of years.
Each generation is called to carefully study the texts of Scripture and the traditions of the church and to ensure that we are truly being faithful to the Gospel message. As the member of a tradition that springs from the Reformation, I trust the Rev. Paget knows the importance of being willing to challenge old assumptions in service to the Gospel of God in Christ.
I pray that through dialogue and discussion such as this, all Christians might come to a deeper understanding of the will of God, based upon a careful and thoughtful reading of Scripture, for the world today.
The Rev. Jared Cramer is rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan.