Biblical Morality/Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Walter Martin, and John Shelby Spong; ©2004
What does the Bible teach about homosexuality? What should be the response of the Church to homosexuals? Dr. Martin and Bishop Spong disagree on what the Bible says!

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Biblical Morality—Part 2

Dr. John Ankerberg: Our two guests to discuss the topic of biblical morality are:

First, Episcopal Bishop John Spong, who is representing the new morality and calling for sexual ethics which fall outside what is believed to be the traditional moral norm.

Present the other side is Dr. Walter Martin, who is representing historic Christianity and the traditional Christian ethics.

Let’s get into the topic of, “What does the Bible define as ‘moral’ in terms of sexual conduct?” Last time we were talking about the fact of homosexuality and Sodom and Gomorrah, and I would like you to both come back to that, and let’s move on. We’ve got to get into Leviticus and then I think we need to jump over to the Apostle Paul. Let’s see if we can at least deal with some of these biblical passages—and I know you both disagree on it.

Dr. Martin, why don’t you start us off and maybe just give us a quick, a very quick summary of what we said last time, and then let’s move on.

Dr. Walter Martin: I simply pointed out that the concept of Sodom and Gomorrah, interpreted within the framework of Judaism—the Old Testament specifically and in the New Testament as well—you are dealing with vile and detestable practices. It doesn’t mean that the people them­selves are beyond redemption or that we should not have compassion upon them as the Scrip­ture says. It simply means that, from God’s perspective, this is an unnatural behavior pattern.

And I think we have to go to Genesis 1 to establish the fact that God created male and fe­male, and He made them equal—contrary to what the Bishop said last time, in which women are on a lower plane than men in the initial creation—God made them equal and considered them as such [Gen. 1:26-28]. The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to talk about this in mar­riage. In fact, he even said “there is neither Barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, male or female” [Col. 3:11]—one body in Christ.

So I agree the Old Testament is a patriarchal society, but I would also point out that God revealed Himself in a patriarchal society. He would hardly, in a patriarchal society, introduce Himself as “she.” That wouldn’t do. So He uses the term “I Am” and He also uses “He” as a means of communication.

The Bishop made a great deal of noise about the fact that God had to come down to see what was going on. I think if he would go back and read the commentaries of the Jews and of the Christians, even of his own church, he would find out that this is an anthropomorphic state­ment in which God speaks to man in human terms in order to communicate a spiritual truth. It isn’t to be taken literally, Bishop. We don’t take everything literally.

Bishop John Spong: Glad to hear that.

Martin: We have to take it in its proper context and therefore I think that’s what we’re dealing with. But as far as the Old Testament is concerned, the Bishop and I are completely agreed: there is a condemnation of homosexuality.

Ankerberg: Please give me a definition of that “literal” because it has come up before. What do Christians mean when they talk about a “literal” interpretation of the Bible?

Martin: There’s a difference between literalism and letterism. Letterism is taking every single letter, every single word, ignoring context or any form of expression, and taking it just exactly that way.

For instance, this would be letterism—Psalm 91:4—“He shall cover thee with His feathers and under His wings shalt thou trust”—God is a bird with wings and feathers. That would be letterism.

Literalism would be to say, “This is obviously a device of language which means to give the impression that God is overshadowing His children as a hen would overshadow its chicks.” And that’s how a literalist would take it. We do not mean—the Bishop has caricatured us many times in his writings—we do not mean that you take every single thing literally. That’s letterism. The Church has never held this position.

Ankerberg: Okay, before Bishop Spong responds, at least get me into the next two verses, would you, so that we can move on here. Leviticus and Romans, if we could get just a comment on that, and where we’re going here.

Martin: Well, Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Or the Hebrew says, “It is evil.” Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be executed. Their blood is their own responsibility.” Now, those particular passages are very graphic in terms of the death penalty being assigned to it and also specifically because it is carried over into the New Testament in terms of the moral law.

Ankerberg: How about Romans?

Martin: Romans 1 deals with the creation rebelling against God in exchanging God’s glory and relationship with Him for idolatry. So, since they inverted the order, God inverts them, and “abandons them to their own lustful passions and desires so that men burn in their passion one for the other and women left their natural use” [Rom. 1:26]. The key, of course, is the term “natural use.”

That takes us back to Genesis 1: the natural use of the woman is to be the mate of the man. As someone has said, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Bruce.” And I think that that is a very strong position. The Jews hold this position very strongly, though not in those exact terms.

Ankerberg: All right. Bishop Spong, you have gone through these biblical texts in your book, Living in Sin?, and again you have said that “the negativity toward blessing gay and lesbian unions will die and be one more embarrassing relic in the museum of cultural and ecclesiastical prejudices. I look forward to that day. I hope I contribute to its early arrival.”

At the same time, you are a bishop in the Church and you took vows to uphold the Scrip­tures. Comment where you’re coming from right now in terms of these next two passages.

Spong: Well, let me try to do that, but as I say, that is a delicate, highly prejudiced area to be talking in and I’m not at all sure that a television opportunity where you have to sort of deal with things rapidly is the best place to do that.

I am impressed by some studies done at the Cornell Medical Center in New York City about the origin and cause of homosexuality that is breaking new ground. I’m convinced by those studies that homosexuality is something over which people do not have choice. That it is a neurochemical process that takes places in utero, that it is part of the natural order, that it is present among higher mammals in about the same percentages that it is present among human beings; that it is on the wide spectrum of human sexuality.

The vast majority of people—if the statistics are accurate, some 90% of the people—are heterosexually oriented; some 10% of the people are homosexually oriented and there may well be some people who are on the cusp who are what they call “bisexuals” though I tend to have less confidence in the definition of bisexuality than anything else.

My sense is that if these studies are accurate, and if they begin to prove beyond reasonable doubt that homosexuality is a normal part of the human experience, and that it is not in and of itself evil, that we’ve got to change the way we relate to it.

Now, that does not mean that I think all homosexual behavior is good—I certainly don’t. I don’t think all heterosexual behavior is good: I’m opposed to any predatory behavior; I’m op­posed to any kind of behavior that denigrates one’s partner.

But I do think that if we reach the point where the scientific community through its studies basically of the brain—because homosexuality seems to be, at least according to these Cornell doctors, a matter of the way the brain is shaped and formed in utero, if that turns out to be true—as I’m convinced it will—then the historic prejudice against gay and lesbian people will simply die the natural death that our prejudice against left-handed people died, that our activi­ties or definitions of what constitutes a witch died. All of the prejudices I think will finally pass away.

Ankerberg: What I’d like to know is, before the scientific evidence is in—and I do not think the scientific evidence is going that direction—but assuming just for a moment, before we actu­ally cite the scientific evidence, that it’s not conclusive, why have you given up your moral code in relationship to that topic?

Spong: See, I don’t think I have. What I’ve done is to apply my moral code. My belief is that Christian morality exists when two people are in a relationship and both are enhanced, more full, more in the image of God because of the way they’ve related to one another.

Ankerberg: And you understand why that’s logically a fallacy? In other words, what you have just said is, you have made a dichotomy between biblical ethics and absolute norm and you have embraced—and of course you have said this in your book—you have embraced cultural relativism. Is that correct?

Spong: I would say that I have tried to apply cultural knowledge to Christian ethics. I do not think you can do Christian ethics apart from the knowledge that is present in our society. You have to deal with what is the scientific data. The same would be true for the creation story. You’ve got to deal with Darwin. We are post-Darwinian people, whether you like it or not, you’ve got to deal with Darwin.

Ankerberg: Oh, we’re going to dearly deal with Darwin here in a minute! There’s a couple of issues I want to bring up in relationship to that, but maybe just a comment, Walter?

Martin: Dr. John Money, Professor of Medical Psychology and Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, wrote on this subject and he made this statement, Bishop, which I think you’d find quite interesting: “The basic principle is developmental determinism. Whether the determining agents of homosexuality are innate and biological,” as you say, “or acquired and social is beside the point. The point is that they are determinants, no matter where they come from and when they occur.”

The conclusion from a biblical perspective is quite clear: human sin has brought the fall of man to the world, and has forced us to look at a creation corrupted from what God originally intended. We are therefore dealing with determinants constantly, and sin is one of the greatest disrupters of the human condition. I don’t think that you fully deal with this; in fact, I think you redefine sin out of existence.

Spong: I don’t think I do.

Ankerberg: Okay. We are talking about, “Should we as Christians hold to a moral code that would say that ‘Yes, everyone is a human being. And we have heterosexual; we have homo­sexual; but there is certain behavior that we do not allow because it is not part of the creation ordinance. It is not what God would have for us.’”

In talking about the second aspect there of homosexuality, I must throw in three of the scien­tific “gurus”, if you want.

Alfred Kinsey, who everybody quotes, says, “I have myself come to the conclusion that homo­sexuality is largely a matter of conditioning.”

Masters and Johnson: “The genetic theory of homosexuality has been generally discarded today. Despite the interest in possible hormone mechanisms in the origin of homosexuality, no serious scientist today suggests that a simple cause/effect relationship applies.”

Or Masters and Johnson again: “We’re born man, woman and sexual beings. We learn our sexual preferences and orientations.”

Now, gentlemen, we’re talking about the scientific information and, Bishop Spong, in your book you quote a medical doctor in Germany, Dorner, who has had a medical alert put out on him and you yourself admit that he’s been discredited.

Now, the question is, obviously, the scientific evidence is not in. Even if it comes in, why should Christians say to people that find themselves in a fallen world with tendencies toward homosexual behavior, that if the Bible says that God does not want us to be in that behavior mode, why don’t we bring them back to the Lord and ask the Lord to help them and to change them instead of simply saying, “Listen, we’ll just scratch the moral code and what God said, and we’ll just kind of let you go and do your thing”?

Spong: John, I think that anyone who can be heterosexual ought to be heterosexual. The prejudice is so overwhelming, the hostility is so deep, the distortion that comes in a person’s life when he lives or she lives in a society that says some of the words Dr. Martin keeps using— “depraved, sick,” etc.—the distortion that comes in the lives of those people is a very deep and very heavy distortion.

That’s why I do not believe that anyone would choose voluntarily to be what is generally considered loathsome, what is generally condemned in the society. I do not believe that we have that many people who like to suffer that much. There may be some masochists in the world, but they are not at that proportion. That’s the first thing I would say.

The second thing I would say is that I’ve never met a heterosexual person who chose to be heterosexual. Heterosexual people just simply awaken to the fact that they are heterosexual. You don’t wake up one day and say, “Well, I’ve decided now I’m going to be heterosexual.” I don’t believe homosexual people do that either.

I would agree that it is not a matter of genetics. I also do not think it’s a matter of environment. I think that we’re finally breaking through what it is. It took us a long time to learn what caused left-handedness. People thought that was evil. There was a period in the Church’s life when we would not ordain a left-handed person. They were called “children of the devil.” We tied their hands behind their backs and reprogrammed them as best we could. Today, I don’t know that there’s prejudice against left-handed people.

I think in time that the scientific community will establish that homosexuality is also a matter of brain formation. And if that’s even a slight possibility, I would say that that would be enough for us to raise some questions about the way we condemn our own sons and our own daughters and our own aunts and our own uncles and our own brothers and our own sisters.

Homosexual people are not just those people that frequent the bathhouses of San Francisco. They are people that we meet and love and know every day, and I think that we need to wel­come them and somehow say, “I don’t understand it, and I know you don’t understand it, but if that is who you are, we’ve got to find a way for you to live your life out responsibly and in a holy manner.” And we can debate what that is.

Ankerberg: Yes. And I think we need to. What I would suggest is, Walter, that we talk about a couple of things. Number one, that which the Church, via tradition, has done that the Bible has not spoken about and therefore Christians themselves have dragged the Church back to what the Bible actually said in getting rid of some of its prejudices—such as slavery, and such as freeing women. I think that instead of using it Bishop Spong’s way, you could turn that around. But comment in terms of what the Bible teaches. And then you need to comment about this thing he said that, obviously he wishes that everybody could be heterosexual, but if they can’t, then we ought to just embrace that which they do. What do you think?

Spong: I didn’t say that. I never said we embrace that which they do. I think we hold up to them what is a holy model within the limitations that their life seems to have. I’m not willing to embrace what either heterosexuals or homosexuals do.

Ankerberg: But you said you wanted to bless them and give the Church’s blessing to their unions.

Spong: I have said, if there are two people who are beyond any ability to be other than what they are, if those two people form a holy relationship in which they pledge themselves to sup­port, live for, love, undergird, be with each other, that the Church has some obligation to bless that union so that they are not always condemned in life; so that they can form a relationship that is mutually supportive.

Ankerberg: Yeah, I guess that’s what I heard you say, and I wasn’t sure that [what I said] disagreed with you, but Walter, what do you say?

Martin: I think that what we should say to them, Bishop, is “you are in a condition which God in His Word says is evil. And, Jesus Christ is able to redeem you from the situation. He can cleanse you of your sins; He can make you a new creation; He can take away from you these desires which are not patterned after God and not in the original form of the creation. When God created them He created male and female, and it’s very clear that there was supposed to be a relationship between them. He did not create Adam and another man; he did not create Eve and another woman.

But of course, you see, the problem that we have is that the Bishop doesn’t believe the Gen­esis account of Adam and Eve; he doesn’t believe in a historic fall….

Spong: That is correct. I do not believe that that is a literal historic story.

Martin: That’s right. He doesn’t believe it; even though Jesus said it was, you don’t believe it. Spong: That’s correct.

Martin: Now, that’s my point. That’s my point.

Spong: I think that, Doctor, is to misuse Scripture and to abuse this conversation.

Martin: No, I’m not abusing the conversation. I didn’t coin the terms in Genesis and in other portions of Scripture which describe homosexual practices. They didn’t originate with me. They originated with men who were inspired by God. I’m simply pointing out that our job, if we call ourselves Christians in any biblical sense, is to bring people into a saving relationship with Christ.

Before we went on the air, we were tapping the microphone for our sound levels. And you quite properly quoted John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…” And of course, the end of it is, “That whoever believes in Him should not perish”—which means that you are capable of perishing. I think the most loving thing we can do with homo­sexuals is to tell them, for the sake of Christ, that they are perishing; that they will perish in their sins; that they were not constituted that way by God, they became that way. And what we have to do is to love them enough to tell them the truth that they might be reborn spiritually into the kingdom of heaven. That’s our job as clergymen.

Spong: I am completely in favor of homosexual and heterosexual people being reborn spiri­tually into the kingdom of God. I am in disagreement with you about your analysis of homosexu­ality. And I don’t know that there is anything to do but simply state that that’s a difference of opinion.

Ankerberg: But then I would like to follow up and ask, “But, Dr. Martin, what are you basing it on versus what is Bishop Spong basing that stance on?”

Martin: Well, I’m basing the stance on, as Bishop Spong recognized immediately, what Scripture has to say about the subject. It’s very clear in 1 Corinthians 6 that you cannot inherit the kingdom of God if you practice these things: “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, idola­ters, adulterers, effeminates, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers nor swindlers shall inherit the kingdom of God” [1 Cor. 6:9-10]. I base my position on the historic position of the Church, in fact, the historic position of Bishop Spong’s church.

Spong: Well, let me say in response, that there is a wide variety of ways that those verses can be interpreted. And I actually leaned on the scholarship of a Lutheran New Testament scholar when I wrote Living in Sin?, and I think that he is a man of great repute. I just think that there’s some nuances there that you’re not going to find in that, but I don’t think this is either the time or the format in which to try to go into the nuances of what the word “effeminate” means, for example. I think that’s a very interesting translation. It’s not the one I would use.

Ankerberg: Okay, we are out of time, so looking at that, we’re going to hold off and I’m going to come back with some specific questions for you next week. So please join us.

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