Tuesday, December 7th, 2010


Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson again hits the pages of the “On Faith” column at the Washington Post, today taking on Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”) and 20:13 (“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”). He begins this way:

The context of these two passages are the holiness and purity codes set down for the people of Israel – rules set forth both to define what was clean and unclean before God, as well as what set the Hebrew people apart from their heathen neighbors who worshiped gods other than the one true God. In a memorable speech on homosexuality at Trinity College in 1992, The Rev. Dr. Frank G. Kirkpatrick put the biblical code in context: This “purity code assumes a ‘normal’ or natural state for things, any deviance from which is abnormal, deviant, and therefore unclean, impure, and polluting. Menstruation is not ‘normal’ for women (since it occurs less frequently than periods of non-menstruation): therefore when women are menstruating they are regarded as unclean. Blemishes [including blindness and lameness] are abnormal, therefore unclean.”

The expression “holiness and purity code” as used by Robinson is an anagram for “outdated passages we can now safely ignore.” It is true that Leviticus 17-26 seems to form a unit within the Torah, and part of that purpose is to define cleanliness and secure Israel’s separation from its neighbors. Saying that, however, says nothing about the moral content of these chapters. There are dozens of commands that are framed in terms of holiness or purity that no one in his right mind would suggest refers to practices that would otherwise be morally acceptable. For instance, the verse preceding 18:22 tells Israelites, “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Somehow I doubt that Robinson would argue that because this prohibition against child sacrifice is in the context of pagan worship, therefore it would be OK as long as it was Christians sacrificing children to Yahweh!

His appeal to Kirkpatrick also achieves nothing. Kirkpatrick’s claim that the holiness code is prohibiting what isn’t “normal,” which is simply ridiculous. For instance, the making of idols (19:4) was perfectly normal for every people in the Middle East at the time; prohibiting idols was a call to Israel to be abnormal. Again, the call to allow gleaning of fields by the poor (19:9) was contrary to accepted practice of the time, and certainly runs counter to our instinct to look out for ourselves first. Circumcision was hardly normal for the times, but was rather a special practice of Israel. And certainly the command regarding the sojourner (19:33-34) was anything but normal, and had nothing to do with cleanliness or distinguishing Israel from its neighbors; rather, it was a command regarding what was right, a kind of Golden Rule instruction based on Israel’s own history of mistreatment when sojourning in Egypt. So talking about standards of “normal” when talking about the commands in Leviticus 17-26 is not only silly, but simply incorrect.

Oh, and there’s a theological problem with all this in any case, which is that it presumes that the holiness code was simply a human invention reflecting limited human knowledge and human prejudices. Clearly, anyone who believes in the inspiration of the Old Testament would reject assumption.

Kirkpatrick further explained: “Men who act like women are abnormal, therefore unclean. Now the assumption here is that to be a man is to desire women. Anything else is acting against one’s nature. Thus when a man lies with another man he is acting contrary to his own nature. It was inconceivable in this context that a man could be genetically or biologically predisposed to desire other men. To be engaged in homosexual activity therefore was to do what one was literally not inclined or predisposed to do. Thus it was acting against one’s own conscience and predispositions. This is what made it unnatural and therefore a violation of nature.”

The fact that ancient Israel knew nothing about modern notions of sexual orientation (duh) cuts both ways. Because they didn’t think in terms of orientation, they also couldn’t and didn’t condemn homosexual orientation. They thought in terms of acts, and it was those that are condemned. What’s more, if we hold to the inspiration of Leviticus, given that God would have known about modern notions of sexual orientation and yet still condemned, not orientation but acts, we can conclude that these two verses reflect His mind, and not just that of the writer.

This is an important point, difficult for the modern day mind to grasp: homosexuality as a sexual orientation was unknown to the ancient mind. Same gender, intimate physical contact was not unknown, of course, but everyone was presumed to be heterosexual. In his book Embodiment, An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology, James B. Nelson wrote, “It is crucial to remember this, for in all probability the biblical writers in each instance were speaking of homosexual acts undertaken by person whom the authors presumed to be heterosexually constituted.” Therefore, any man who lay with another man as with a woman was considered to be a heterosexual man acting against his true nature.

There are a couple of problems here. First, notice how the notion of sexual orientation slides back in under the radar: “everyone was presumed to be heterosexual.” That speaks to orientation, a notion that Robinson claimed in the previous sentence was “unknown to the ancient mind.” The fact is that advocates of accepting homosexual behavior have a tendency to bounce back and forth on this question depending upon what is most advantageous at any particular moment. Those who oppose it have no such problem: we agree that the idea of sexual orientation, as formulated in late modernity, was unknown in biblical times, meaning it was acts that were problematic, not orientation. Keep in mind that the Old Testament, in a passage that Robinson apparently won’t deal with, lays a foundation for sexual ethics in Genesis, which says nothing about what we would call sexual orientation, but makes clear that there is a divine pattern for sexuality and marriage that we are not free to ignore. All of the commands in the holiness code that have to do with sexual behavior are built in one way or another on that foundation.

Second, notice that the quote from Nelson contains a weasel: “in all probability.” Robinson would like for us to jump from that “probability” to certainty, which even scholars who agree with him won’t do, at least not when they are being careful and honest.

In practice, we modern day Christians have regarded most of the injunctions in the Holiness Codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy as culturally bound to the ancient times of the Hebrews–but not binding on us. These same purity codes forbid eating shellfish, planting a field with two different kinds of seed or wearing simultaneously two kinds of cloth. They would prohibit us from ordaining to the priesthood any handicapped person – not to mention women. We cannot, then, isolate these passages about homosexual acts and impute to them the kind of enduring authority which we ascribe to nothing before or after these passages. One has to wonder why the biblical literalists who cite this passage against homosexuality don’t seem to go all the way and advocate for death as the punishment for homosexual behavior! We cannot have it both ways.

Let’s start with a couple of basics:

1) Within the Torah, there are three kinds of law. One is the ceremonial law, and it has to do with worship regulations and ritual cleanliness, neither of which have to do with the prohibition on homosexual behavior. The second is the national law of Israel, which has to do primarily with the penalties that the nation was commanded to impose for a violation of the Mosaic law. The third is the moral law, which has to do with what God has revealed as right and wrong behavior.

2) The Old Testament law cannot be isolated by Christians from the New Testament. It must be seen in light of the new covenant instituted by Christ and authoritatively explained by the apostles.

These two basics are why no one except those seeking to score points rather than make serious arguments use what is sometimes referred to as the “shellfish argument.” By feigning a simple-minded literalism, it asks the question, “why homosexuality and not kosher laws?” The reason, of course, is that these are two different kinds of law that are treated very differently in the New Testament. Because of what Christ has done in His death and resurrection, the ceremonial law–shellfish, anyone?–has been set aside. Paul makes that explicit in his letters, as does Acts in the vision of Peter in chapter 10. (The fact that the kosher law is so specifically dealt with in Acts makes the invocation of it in the context of the debate over a moral issue all the more absurd.) The national law is set aside because the church is not a nation-state, and has no penalty at its disposal save those that involved moral and spiritual suasion. The moral law, on the other hand, still applies to Christians, as Paul makes crystal clear in every one of his epistles.

Please note the weasel in the paragraph: “we modern day Christians have regarded most of the injunctions…” Of course–many of the commands in Leviticus 17-26 have to do with matters such as the calendar of festivals, regulation of priests, offerings, Sabbath, and the like, and other have to do with stuff like redemption of lands and the Jubilee that was specific to the circumstances of ancient Israel. But the use of that word “most” is Robinson’s concession that there are moral commands in the holiness code that we may not blow off (the prohibition on child sacrifice mentioned above would be one, prohibitions on incest and mistreatment of sojourners would be others). He simply refuses to believe that the prohibitions on homosexual behavior could be one of them.

Robinson then goes on to look at what he terms the holiness code’s “bias against women” and “‘science’ of conception,” but to tell the truth I’m really not sure what these have to do with the discussion at hand, other than as an effort to reinforce the “ancientness” and irrelevance of the code to modern Christians. He comes to this conclusion:

Oddly enough, we have relaxed these “rules” against a man “spilling his seed” through masturbation and birth control, yet we hold onto “a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman” as if it were eternally binding on believers. Such an inconsistency simply does not make sense.

Once again, there’s a real myopia here, as he seems unwilling to recognize that there are lots of Christians, maybe most, who would disagree with his dismissal of the prohibitions on masturbation and birth control, much less homosexual behavior. Be that as it may, please note that Robinson himself is guilty of this “inconsistency,” inasmuch as he concedes (that weaselly “most” again) that there are moral commands in the holiness code that continue to be binding on Christians. That fact that there are commands in the code that are not proves nothing.

Given these changes in our modern understandings and contexts, it is no longer appropriate for us to condemn men who have intimate sexual relationships with other men based on this proscription in the Leviticus Holiness Code. Either all of these proscriptions must be tossed out as binding on us, or they all must be adhered to. Biblical “literalists” cannot have it both ways, picking and choosing which proscriptions are still appropriate.

But of course the prohibition on homosexual behavior is not “based on this proscription” in Leviticus. The basis for it is far broader than just this, and includes the Genesis account of the divine plan for sexuality and the New Testament teaching as well. And given that Robinson is unable to say that every injunction in the holiness code is culturally bound and not binding on Christians, the either/or that he sets up in this conclusion is itself invalid, undermined elsewhere in his presentation, in the New Testament treatment of the commands, and even in the exercise of reason.

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Billionaire motormouth Ted Turner, an enthusiastic supporter of population control, would like to see China’s one-child policy–as fine an example of tyranny as humanity has ever devised–extended to the entire planet. He peddled this fish to the global warming bitter-enders now gathered in Cancun, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Climate change and population control can make for a politically explosive mix, as media mogul Ted Turner demonstrated Sunday when he urged world leaders to institute a global one-child policy to save the Earth’s environment.

Mr. Turner – a long-time advocate of population control – said the environmental stress on the Earth requires radical solutions, suggesting countries should follow China’s lead in instituting a one-child policy to reduce global population over time. He added that fertility rights could be sold so that poor people could profit from their decision not to reproduce.

“If we’re going to be here [as a species] 5,000 years from now, we’re not going to do it with seven billion people,” Mr. Turner said.

There’s no point in arguing with this kind of incipient totalitarianism (not to mention the racism and disdain for the impoverished expressed in the notion that poor people–mostly people of color in the Third World–would get paid not to reproduce, presumably freeing rich white people to do so), so I’ll just go straight to the punchline:

Turner has been married and divorced three times: to Judy Nye (1960–64), Jane Shirley Smith (1965–88), and actress Jane Fonda (1991–2001). He has five children.

No one ever said Israel is perfect, but this story reported on by the Washington Post is the sort of thing that makes you wonder if the worst enemy of Israel isn’t within its own borders:

Three dozen top Israeli rabbis threw their support Tuesday behind a religious ruling barring Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews – an indication of growing radicalism within the rabbinical community at a time of mounting friction between Israeli Arabs and Jews.

The action by the clerics – chief rabbis in some of Israel’s largest cities and influential among the devout – fueled charges of racism.

Ya think?

The religious opinion first became a focus of controversy last year when the chief rabbi of Safed – a town in northern Israel that has a large concentration of devout Jews – urged that it be applied specifically to Arabs.

Nitai Morgenstern, an aide to Safed’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliahu, said the town has “a problem of a lot of people renting and selling to Arabs, and that destroys the city’s social fabric.”

In other words, “we can’t have those people coming into our town!”

Mordechai Nagari, chief rabbi of Maaleh Adumim, a large West Bank settlement outside Jerusalem, defended the letter, which he signed. “The rabbinical ruling is that you cannot sell houses to gentiles, and its purpose is to protect the Jewish identity of the state of Israel,” he told AP Television News.

No, it isn’t. The Jewish identity of Israel is not harmed in any way, shape, or form by its own Arab citizens being able to rent or purchase housing wherever they want. Unless, that is, Nagari is an advocate of the idea that Israel should be Arab-free, in which case he’s just as bad as they Palestinians who want the West Bank to be Judenrein. Fortunately, the political leadership is not on board with this nonsense:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the initiative. “Israel categorically rejects these words” against its Arab citizens, Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday evening in Jerusalem. “This must not happen in any democratic nation, and certainly not in the Jewish and democratic state” of Israel.

Darned tootin’. The nutballs on the Israeli, European, and American left are constantly making the charge that Israel is a racist, apartheid state. People like these rabbis seem intent on proving them correct. Thank God there are people in authority to put the lie to the charge by making clear that the presence of racists among the Jewish population doesn’t make Israel racist as a state (or the Jewish population as a whole, either). All I can say is, I hope Bibi and the other leaders of his government will remain vigilant in opposing and doing everything they can to stop the spread of this kind of garbage.

 

The “On Faith” column at the Washington Post has started a series of articles on homosexuality by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. (I’m sure they’ll be having Robert Gagnon do a counterpoint series when Robinson is done. /sarc) The Bishop, of course, is best known as the first gay prelate in the Episcopal Church, so he obviously has a particular point of view on the subject. He also claims to be basically evangelical in his theology. I’m going to follow these articles and offer a critique, beginning with the one that appeared today.

Robinson begins this way:

Let’s begin. But before we begin with any one text, let us ask the most basic question of all: How are we to regard the Bible?

Be assured, I believe the Bible to be the Word of God – but not the “words” of God. That is, I do not believe that the Bible was dictated by God and written down by scribes of one sort or another, unmediated by the scribes’ own life experiences, culture, religious belief and context.

Well, yes, of course. The view he is rejecting is a caricature, held by virtually no one. The one exception is that those who hold a high view of Scripture would say that the Bible contains the “words of God” as well as the Word of God, but that those words–inspired by the Holy Spirit–were nonetheless also the words of men, who brought their own experience, cultural setting and so on into the writing process without at the same time despoiling what God wished to convey. But the truth is that this leads to a far bigger problem for Robinson.

I believe that the Bible is many accounts, by many writers, over a thousand years time, of their experience of the Living God. Their accounts were heard (more often than read) as an experiential guide on how one accesses God (or how God accesses humankind) and discerns God’s will. The Bible is a collection of first-hand encounters with God, as experienced through the faithful (and sometimes unfaithful) people of God – from the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures (somewhat condescendingly referred to by Christians as the “Old” Testament) and the Christian scriptures of the early Church in the “New” Testament.

As such, it is the place we always begin. In reading these holy texts, we learn the ways that people of faith have historically come to know God and God’s will. They are enormously instructive, and over several millennia, these texts have served as a guide for pilgrims of faith in their encounters with the Living God.

What’s missing from this is any sense that the Bible constitutes God’s revelation of Himself (in other words, that it is the “Word of God”). Everything is filtered through human experience, human perceptions, and human limitations. The key is the sentence, “Their accounts were heard (more often than read) as an experiential guide on how one accesses God.” This makes Scripture into nothing more than a devotional manual, or perhaps a guide to spiritual direction. It is both of those, but before it is those it is a record of God’s disclosure of Himself and His truth to humanity. Robinson puts the emphasis in exactly the wrong place, and in the process leaves us wondering “why the Bible, as opposed to any other human manual of devotion or spiritual direction?”

Some of these texts are history, some are poetry. Some are fables and myths, meant to teach an important truth. Some are personal accounts of individuals, and some are communal accounts of a nation. All are set in a particular historical and cultural context. And context is the central key in understanding these texts, and the all-important task of determining whether the wisdom contained therein is applicable to all people for all time.

Context is key, but it needs to be noted that there is more to context than culture and history. There is also theology, and Robinson gives a sign of what theological context he’s using with that last phrase. If you come at Scripture seeking to determine which parts or passages don’t apply to you, you’re going to find them every time, and chances are pretty good that they are going to match up well with whatever sin you are seeking to justify.

So, first and foremost, in reading texts from the Bible, we must ask, “What did these words mean to their author?” and “What did these words mean to the community for which they were written?” Once the context has been understood, then we ask the question, “Is the message of this text eternally binding on all people of faith, or, has something changed in the context between then and now, which renders this text ‘culturally bound’ and not applicable in the same way to our current situation, given the knowledge and understandings of the present time?”

The first part of that is correct, and I’m glad to see Robinson not indulging in the kind of deconstructive nonsense that would allow us to take all of Scripture and turn it into whatever we want it to be. With regard to the second part, we have to be extremely careful.

For one thing, we have a tendency to think that we’re a lot smarter than the people of the ancient world, and that even goes for our understanding of human nature. There are a lot of things that we think we “know” that in fact we don’t know. For instance, if as I expect him to, Robinson eventually makes the argument that we “now know” that homosexual orientation is genetic and unalterable, he will be illustrating my point. We do not, in fact, “know” any such thing, if by that we mean that there is incontrovertible scientific evidence to prove it. There are a handful of scientific studies, all of which have methodological flaws, and lots and lots of politicized assertion. So any attempt to evade the meaning of Scripture by invoking “the knowledge and understandings of the present time” should be looked upon with extreme skepticism.

Second, we must remember that while culture changes, human nature doesn’t. First century Israel is not 21st century America, but human beings are still the same in their nature. In particular, human beings have an inveterate desire to twist the revelation of God into a shape that they can use for their own purposes, including the justification of their favorite sins. That those who do so in order to justify the conclusion they hold a priori regarding homosexual behavior as being approved of by God are among them is a certainty.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that even if the details of a given biblical command do not directly apply to us, there’s a virtual certainty that there is a larger principle at work that does. For example, I don’t worry too much today about food sacrificed to idols, about which Paul had so much to say to the Corinthians. But the principle that he was expounding in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 regarding love for the weaker brother in matters adiaphoristic is highly important to the life of the church, one we can’t ignore by saying, “well, we don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols any more, so this must not apply to us.”

Not even the strictest fundamentalist or Biblical literalist gives the same authority and moral weight to every word of scripture. Few of us would hold Paul’s injunction against women appearing in church with their heads uncovered to have the same moral weight as Jesus’ injunction to forgive our enemies. Few of us are willing to be bound by all the commands given to us in the Biblical text – otherwise, we would give all we have to the poor to follow Christ, redistribute all the land every 50 years, refuse to charge any interest on our loans/investments, share our worldly possessions communally as did the early Church, and refuse to support our nation’s defense budget in accord with Jesus’ commandment not to resist evil.

He’s certainly right that no one gives exactly equal weight to every verse. Even if we say, as I do, that every word of Scripture is inspired by God, that doesn’t mean I don’t spend a lot more time and effort pondering the meaning and application of John 1:1 or Romans 3:25 as opposed to 1 Chronicles 5:12 or Matthew 1:15 (though it can be surprising what even genealogies can say to the right person at the right time). But the commands of God and of Christ are ignored at our peril, even if the literal command may not apply in our case. As Robinson has been saying, context makes all the difference, and if a command was given to theocratic Israel as part of its national or ceremonial law, we abuse Scripture trying to make it apply to a Christian or a church. Christ’s commands have a context as well–for instance, the command to sell all and give to the poor was given to a specific man under specific circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore it, or the law given to Israel, for that matter. Each have something to teach us, each apply in some way to us, and our task is to discern how that is. Interesting thing about the examples he gives, though: every one of them (with the possible exception of the Jubilee redistribution of land, which was in any event a national not personal undertaking) has been held by some Christians at some time to apply to them, and perhaps even to all Christians. So they obviously can’t be, and shouldn’t be, dismissed so easily.

We have come to understand certain things as acceptable in the Biblical culture and time, but not in our own – among other things, polygamy and slavery – which few Christians would promote despite their acceptability in Biblical times. As we approach the Biblical texts about homosexuality, we must not conveniently change our stance to one of asserting that every word of scripture is inerrantly true and universally binding on all people for all time.

If I haven’t already, allow me to make this clear: I do in fact believe that Scripture is universally binding on all Christians for all time, and that what it teaches is true no matter what the date on the calendar is. I also believe that within Scripture there is a principle of “progressive revelation,” that God doesn’t unveil everything at once, but rather reveals His truth in stages throughout the life of His people. And so, for instance, polygamy was acceptable under certain circumstances for the people of the Old Testament, but it is laid aside in the New as marriage is seen in light of God’s original design, rather than in terms of the distortions introduced because of sin (the teaching on divorce works the same way). Slavery, as well, while acceptable under limited circumstances under the old covenant, is never spoken of with approval in the New; rather, masters and slaves were instructed to transform their relationship into that of brothers, even if they made no effort to overturn the societal norm. (As an aside, I’ll mention that slavery is usually brought up by folks such as Robinson because of a tendency to make the American experience, where antebellum Southern Christians sought to use the Bible to justify slavery, normative. In fact, throughout the church’s history, when it has spoken on slavery, it has generally been with disapproval, even if it didn’t seek its abolition.)

Understanding scripture in its contexts is no easy task, and it is fraught with potential misuse. All readers of scripture are subject to self-deception – that is, the temptation to interpret the scriptures in a way that satisfies our own selfish desires and biases, rather than hearing the truth of the passage which may challenge, condemn and call into question those desires and biases. That is why scripture must always be studied and understood in community. The temptation is too great to interpret scripture in our own image to attempt it alone. One must always be subject to the larger community’s understandings to guard against only hearing what one wants to hear.

I think he is correct about this. One thing, though: don’t define your community too narrowly. Our community for biblical interpretation should never consist just of people who agree with us, or with the members of a small group, or our own church, or even our own denomination. Instead, we should see the community in which Scripture is to be read and understood as the whole church in every age.

Part of the community whose voice needs to be considered, is that of the Tradition – that is, what has been said over the years about any given passage of scripture. We, in the present time, are not the only ones who have struggled with these passages, and our own understanding needs to be informed by the larger community of the faithful in the past.

Quite so.

And third, we need to use our own reason and experience in interpreting these scripture passages. Our knowledge of science, psychology, and modern scholarly understandings need to inform our approach to these passages. Our knowledge about common allusions in scripture – from leprosy to demon possession, from conception and birth to race and gender realities – will inform our interpretation based on new findings from the secular realm.

This is a common trope among some Episcopalians and lots of Methodists. The latter even refer to it with doubtful accuracy as the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” There is some truth here, inasmuch as it is inevitable that both our reason and our experience are going to play a role when we interpret Scripture. There’s simply no way for us to avoid some measure of subjectivity. These need to be put in their proper place, however, and that can only happen when we recognize both reason (even in its “scientific” form as it pertains to Scripture) and experience as idiosyncratic. Every person’s mind works a little bit differently, even when he or she is seeking to operate logically, and certainly every person’s experience of life is different. That being the case, neither reason nor experience can ever be put on the same level as Scripture, nor should they be employed to stand judgment on Scripture, as if our highly limited experience and fallible reason can ever be said to be capable of sorting out truth from falsity in the Bible, or to be able to judge what constitutes God’s revelation and what doesn’t.

One final and important note: I do NOT believe that God stopped revealing God’s self with the closing of the canon (officially sanctioned as “holy” and official) of Scripture. Some would argue that God said everything God needed and wanted to say by the end of the first century of the Common Era (a less condescending way of referring to that time since the birth of Christ). They would posit a God who, when the scriptures were “finished” bid the world a fond farewell and went off to some beautiful part of God’s creation (the Bahamas, Patagonia, Nepal?!!), leaving us to our own devices, given that everything had been said that needed to be said. I don’t believe that.

And here is where Robinson completely falls off the turnip truck. It is one thing to say that God continues to speak to His people–that’s certainly true. It is another entirely to say that revelation continues. Not only is that a reprise of the Montanist heresy of the 3rd century, it is the way of fanaticism and ecclesiastical disintegration, not to mention moral chaos. That is especially the case if we have no qualms about saying that God is contradicting Himself, saying that what was previously wrong is now right, which is where Robinson is going.

In John’s Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper [sic], Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven’t done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don’t think for a minute that God is done with you – or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth.”

Robinson rather slickly slides from “all the truth” to “new Truth.” (Why the capitalization? Because apparently the approval of homosexual behavior is the biggest thing since sliced bread, I suppose.) What he means by this sleight of hand is that the Holy Spirit is going to offer up something that contradicts what God has said in the past, now that we are mature enough and have enough scientific knowledge to handle it. Unfortunately, there is no standard by which to measure that “truth,” so what we are left with is nothing more than warmed-over Gnosticism.

The Church used scripture to justify slavery until the mid-nineteenth century, when the Church acknowledged that it had gotten this all wrong, and began to change itself and the culture into a more inclusive community. Was that not the Spirit leading us to a new truth about people of color?

No, actually it wasn’t. The basis for that “new truth” was always in Scripture (for instance, in Paul’s declaration that the walls between Jew and Gentile had come down, or in his statement that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek”). He’s simply wrong about slavery, as the Rodney Stark article linked above shows, and continuing to repeat the incorrect assumptions by American mainline liberals doesn’t make it so.

For centuries, and still to this day in some quarters, scripture has been used to denigrate and subjugate women. But many of us have come to know the error of those ways as we experience the gifts for ministry that women have been given. Is that not the Spirit leading the Church to say “we got it wrong” all these years?

In most of the church, no He isn’t. And to the extent that the American mainline churches (a very small portion of world Christianity) are now ordaining women, they’ve done so on the basis of biblical data that has been there all along. Whether I agree with them or not isn’t the point. The point is that there is a case to be made from Scripture, one that isn’t dependent on “new revelation” or political correctness, that women may be ordained. It’s true that a lot of the supporters of women’s ordination have never bothered to make that case, believing that getting in touch with their inner feminist was more important, but there are those who have, and they are the ones we should be listening to, not the folks who simply take it for granted in this egalitarian age that the church “got it wrong.”

And now, in these times, we are swept up in the holy chaos of asking, “Could we, people of faith, have been just as wrong about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? Might it be the Holy Spirit leading us to a new truth about homosexuality? Do we have the courage to admit we were wrong all these years? Are we open to being led by the Spirit to a new place?

Once again, the answers to Robinson’s questions are no, no, no need to, and not if it means proclaiming a God who contradicts Himself. Once again, there is no “new truth.” There is only carnal desire combined with lousy theology. The Holy Spirit simply is not going to “reveal” something that contradicts the plain message of Scripture. That being the case, it’s going to be necessary for Robinson to make the case that we’ve misunderstood the Bible all these centuries, and that in it God actually approves of, or at the very least does not disapprove of, homosexual behavior. We’ll see what he does with the biblical material in the weeks ahead.