CNN, the Seminary Grad, and Errors Galore

September 1st, 2011 by

Jonathan Dudley’s June 21 article on CNN’s Belief Blog, “Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?” has received over 6,000 comments and more than 31,000 Facebook recommendations. Unfortunately, the author has seriously misled his reading audience.

Dudley explains that as a result of his seminary studies at Yale, he cast off the evangelical faith of his youth, including the idea that the Bible clearly condemned homosexuality. He now claims that his “childhood community’s approach to gay rights—though well intentioned—is riddled with self-serving double standards.”  And he exhorts his readers: “So let’s stop the charade and be honest. Opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own.”

Self-serving double standards? A charade? Could it be that Dudley still has something to learn? Could it be that, had he attended another seminary and studied with other scholars, he would have come to different conclusions? At the least, could it be that there is simply another side to the story?

Dudley’s views were influenced by Yale New Testament professor Dale B. Martin (whom Dudley failed to point out is openly gay and well-known for his gay-leaning interpretations), according to whom “today’s ‘pro-family’ activism . . . would have been considered ‘heresy’ for most of the church’s history.” Heresy? Really?

Dudley admits that the Apostle Paul felt that “male-male intercourse” was a sin (for the record, Paul said the same things about female-female relations), but he now believes that Paul was mistaken, meaning that Dudley has not only cast off the faith of his youth but also the faith of Paul. He claims that, Romans 1 is “the only passage in the Bible where a reason is explicitly given for opposing same-sex relations,” and in the chapter, Paul calls them ‘unnatural.’”

In point of fact, the Bible gives numerous explicit or implicit reasons why same-sex relations are wrong, including: 1) God created humankind in His image as male and female, and it is only when the two become one that His image is fully revealed; 2) there is a unique complementarity between a man and a woman, which is why men and women marry; 3) only heterosexuals unions can fulfill the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply”; 4) it is therefore detestable for a man to sexually penetrate another man.

What about saying these actions are “unnatural”? Dudley points out that in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes that nature teaches that long hair is degrading for a man but a glory to a woman. Do we uphold this teaching as well?

Actually, Paul never said that a man with long hair would not enter God’s kingdom, whereas he taught that practicing homosexuals would not enter, so one can hardly compare the two issues. Moreover, Paul used very strong language in his condemnation of same-sex practice in Romans 1, speaking of “shameful lusts” and “shameful acts,” among other terms.

With regard to long hair, Paul was most likely addressing the question of women wearing veils in Christian home gatherings, since it was the normal custom for married women to be veiled in public but not at home. Paul taught that they should be veiled when praying or speaking in the home gatherings, reinforcing his point with the analogy of nature, reminding the Corinthians that it is the common, cross-cultural pattern for women to have long hair and men to have short hair, the reverse being viewed as degrading. That’s it. (Although not mentioned by Paul, his argument is underscored by the fact that for men, baldness is common and not particularly devastating, whereas baldness for a woman is highly uncommon and quite devastating.)

Dudley next tackles the issue of celibacy, claiming that “the community opposed to gay marriage has itself revised the Christian tradition in a host of ways. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, for example, marriage was deemed morally inferior to celibacy.”

Again, this is a gross overstatement, if not downright false. 1) The first followers of Jesus were all Jews, among whom marriage was highly prized and celibacy was the rare exception to the rule. 2) The New Testament actually presumed that a congregational leader would be married, stating that he must be the husband of only one wife. 3) Marriage is said to be an earthly picture of a sublime heavenly reality, namely the mystical union of Christ and the Church. 4) It was only over a period of centuries that celibacy became exalted, and at that, primarily for “clergy” (another later concept), while some parts of the Church protested the requirement that priests be celibate. But why quibble over facts?

Dudley’s case is weakened even further when he argues that “the vast majority of Christian theologians and saints throughout history have not believed life begins at conception.” But debates about when life begins (which were largely philosophical, having to do with the nature of the soul) were hardly the issue (not to mention that many prominent, early Church leaders did claim that life began at conception). The real issue is that, for many centuries, the Church was known for its opposition to abortion (and infanticide, which it helped eradicate), beginning with early second-century documents like the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, which either condemned abortion or equated it with murder. This pattern was continued by the second-third century apologists, numerous church councils, and prominent fourth-fifth century leaders like Basil, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom – just to focus on the first five centuries of Church history. So Dudley has misled his readers yet again.

The only time he is somewhat on target is when he claims that evangelicals have compromised the New Testament’s teaching on divorce. Sadly, there is some truth to this claim, but the solution is not to compromise biblical standards even further by sanctioning homosexual practice but rather to reclaim the high ethical ground of the New Testament when it comes to marriage and divorce.

Perhaps some further study would do Mr. Dudley well, this time in an evangelical seminary?

Michael Brown is host of the daily, syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire, and author of A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.
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