© 2013 by Catherine Taylor
In 1935 a bookseller stopped by my grandmother’s home in the tiny, agricultural community of McFarland, California. A staunch member of her family’s Indiana Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, she was a student of the Bible. Not caring much for the seller’s other offerings, her eyes fell on Bible Readings for the Home. My grandmother went through that book, text by text, to see how it compared with her Scriptural research. She did not then, or ever in her life, agree with the “odd” notion of going to church on Saturday. She did find the other studies on Bible texts to be accurate and helpful.
Twenty-three years later, her daughter called for an opinion. Had she ever heard of Seventh-day Adventists? What did she think of them? Would one of their schools be a good place to send a six-year-old? What did she think of investing a rather large chunk of money into a set of children’s Bible storybooks written by an author named Maxwell? My grandmother remembered the decades-earlier visit by an unknown bookseller and told my mother she thought this group’s ideas were generally accurate and thoughtful. As a nurse, my mother had been working with Seventh-day Adventist doctors trained at Loma Linda University. She found them notably more compassionate and dedicated to excellence than other medical personnel in her experience. My mother’s decisions, based on this mix of positive interactions, opened a door for me that changed our lives.
Fascinated by The Bible Story books, I read through them several times. I listened in open-mouthed awe to my teacher, Mrs. Kizziar, as she explained the great controversy between God and Satan to our third-grade class. Revolted by meat from the cradle, I was delighted to be in a school where I never had to eat it—although the analogs of the time were not particularly appetizing. Growing older, I learned how to study and compare texts, falling in love with the way a concordance and Bible dictionary opened up new levels and worlds of meaning. Later, as an adult, I found in the Old Testament metaphors and archetypes, pictures of the grace of God that illumine the New Testament. Being a lay preacher, Sabbath School facilitator, prayer meeting leader, and camp meeting speaker compelled me to research ways of sharing biblical object lessons that could bring clarity and beauty to Heaven’s truths. This lifelong journey has only increased my curiosity about, and desire to search more deeply, the treasures of the Bible.
A few years ago I began to consider several changes that have happened as a result of the sin of our first parents. I realized that some of these changes are condemned in the Bible; some are not, even though they do not meet the original ideal or God’s intent.
In the biblical text there are clear descriptions of what will destroy our relationship with God. Eve’s desire to “be like God,” to have power, knowledge, and immortality, without understanding that “the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love”[i], replicated the fall of Lucifer. She was deceived by the evil one to desire his aspirations of selfish power and honor. Adam’s inability to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) led him to mistrust the character of God and God’s plan for what would happen to fallen Eve. He ate the forbidden fruit because he chose not to trust the way God’s love could intervene in the Edenic disaster.
One of the first relational results of their sin was a conversation of blame and refusal to take responsibility for personal choices. These defensive reactions have caused rifts in human interactions with each other and, indeed, with all of creation for millennia. The entire Bible story provides detailed results of this destructive shift in our nature.
There are, however, some results of sin—changes in our enzymes, brain structure, and neurons—for which no condemnation is mentioned. The amygdala, now the part of our brain in charge of the fight, flight, or freeze response, did not need that function in Eden. Our digestive enzymes changed. The Edenic plan was for us to eat food (seeds, grains, nuts, legumes, and fruit) for which no plants would die. After their fall, Adam and Eve were given “the plants of the field” to eat. Green leafy vegetables were added to our diet. The synapses and neurons of our brain began to grapple with the emotional and physiological effects of grief, something for which we were not originally programmed. Psychological trauma causes a change in the structure of the brain and is responsible for an inability to manage emotionally intimate relationships.
Human beings in the Bible and post-biblical writings have never been condemned because we need to eat green leafy vegetables. Nor have we been condemned for grieving or for being traumatized. We are not condemned when we have a need to use our “fight, flight, or freeze mechanism.” Other questions might arise: What were the skin tones of the original pair? Are other skin colors the result of our fall? Perhaps the need to adapt to different climates or intensity of sunlight might not have been present if we had stayed in Eden. Why weren’t these changes condemned? What about the differences in brain function that have some people right- or left-handed? Which brain dominance would have been God’s original intent? Why were these variations not condemned? What was God’s original intent for the time when the earth became fully populated? Would our reproductive systems have retired? Were there other options in the mind of the Omniscient One?
Becoming Berea: Bible Study Methods
As we study the complicated issues faced by fallen humanity, I believe it is important to struggle for an understanding of which effects of sin will keep us from the Heavenly kingdom and which are non-condemned results of sin or loss of God’s original intent. One of the qualities of the Bible that has confused many of its students for centuries is apparent inconsistency in a variety of contexts. Sometimes one behavior is allowed. Sometimes it is condemned. As a Bible-believing Christian, I believe it is imperative to find those answers inside the Sacred Text. I also believe that the supposed inconsistencies can become clear if we utilize the following foundational methods of Bible study:
1. Have an understanding of the difference between:
a) Biblical principles, which are never changing and eternal.
b) Biblical policies that have shifted depending on the time in history and context in which the policies were developed.
c) Biblical practices that are the ways followers of God have lived their lives. Some of these are condemned. Some are not, even though they did not appear to follow God’s original intent.
d) Biblical present truth. Each age seems to have a specific testing focus, lesson, or truth that challenges believers.
2. Understand the context in which a message, policy, or story was written and the people to whom it was written.
3. Consider the meaning of a word or phrase in the original language and in the context of the Biblical passage in which it is found.
4.Study the object lesson or story illustrating the principle. The Bible uses people, events, places, and rituals to represent spiritual principles. Hebrew is a language that uses concrete words to represent philosophical concepts. Judaism was a culture that clearly understood the meaning of metaphor. One of the great gifts the Hebrew Scriptures give us is the opportunity to gather many levels of truth from structures, events, lives, stories, ceremonies, and holidays.
Many, if not all, of the primary biblical principles were delineated in the Garden of Eden. When God gave humanity dominion over creation, we were bestowed opportunities to experience the way heavenly beings utilize power: to protect, to nurture, and to serve the vulnerable. This principle has been reiterated in such proclamations as the Isaiah 58 sermon; some aspects of the Sabbath commandment; and, most notably, the life and teachings of Jesus. Relationships were given as a way to understand the love, caring, and intimacy shared by the members of the Deity. We were also to use this particular object lesson to learn to understand the way the Deity uses relationship to sustain all parts of creation. Our relationship with God was predicated in our trust in One who had clearly demonstrated infinite care for us. Even in Eden we were to make a distinction between the values of Heaven and the selfish power-mongering of the evil ones. For our protection, no other being was to supersede Yahweh. Diet was meant to nurture our bodies so we could be physically, mentally, and spiritually strong. We were to learn the ways that these three aspects of our being are intertwined. The Sabbath rest was given as a blessing for us, to appreciate the power and care of God’s creation and as a time to particularly enjoy the relationships given to us at Creation.
While there were some policies put in place before our fall in Eden, it is easier to track policy shifts once the plan of salvation was activated. Immediately upon leaving Eden, our diet was changed to include the plants of the field, green vegetables. After Noah’s exit from the ark, humanity’s diet was expanded to include clean animals killed in a humane fashion. During the time of Paul, the discussion expanded to consider whether or not to eat food offered to idols.
In Eden the most intimate relationship between mortals was one between two recently created human beings and was designed to last throughout eternity. Immediately after the Fall it was permissible, and indeed imperative, to marry siblings; and the relationship was to last until death. At the time of Abraham it was permissible to marry a half sibling. In Levitical times policy was shifted to forbid intermarriage between siblings. Then it became an abomination to marry a half sibling. In Levitical times divorce was permitted. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reiterated principles of lifelong marital relationships and later noted that in Heaven there would be no marriages at all. While the principle of relational importance has remained sacred, the policies around it have shifted, depending on context.
Throughout Biblical history there have been various policies put into place regarding the Sabbath: harvest manna in the previous six days, pick up firewood in the previous six days, care for animals and the vulnerable was encouraged, close and the gates of the city were to be closed. Among Seventh-day Adventists today the principle of the Sabbath observance is sacred, but the policies and practices around that principle are culturally based. In some places children are allowed to go swimming. In some places believers are not allowed to ride bicycles. In some places it is permissible take a bath or shower during the sacred hours. In some places it is not.
Biblical policies about how the children of God exercised their dominion have included the killing of animals for clothing and for food, the taking of slaves, the expectation that approximately 25% of one’s profit was to be used to alleviate the suffering of the poor, the encouragement of hospitality to the stranger and foreigner, rest for animals on the Sabbath, rest of the land in the seventh year, usury forbidden, and freedom from debt in the year of Jubilee.
There were, of course, other policy changes. Ellen White describes our Edenic garments as made of light “such as the angels wear.”[ii] After the Fall, God made coverings of animal skins. Later, textiles were developed. In Levitical times it was forbidden to use clothing made of two different materials.
After the Exodus a policy was put into place in which a non-Israelite could not be part of the Hebrew congregation for several generations. After the idolatrous debacle on the borders of Canaan, Moabites (heretofore seen as extended family) were proscribed and made an abomination. During Paul’s ministry, Christian women in Corinth were told to cover their heads to differentiate them from pagan priestesses.
God met people and nations where they were in their spiritual development. The Deity instituted policies that would help fragile mortals in each era in Biblical history to learn eternal principles at a pace they could bear.
For many students of the Bible, some of the most confusing situations or stories described in its pages portray practices or behaviors of God’s followers that do not seem to conform to God’s policies but are not condemned in the text. Here are just a very few examples.
In Genesis 25, Abraham is described as being married to Keturah but still having concubines. I have not found a text where his choice of relationships, at this time in his life, was condemned.
Genesis 38 shares the story of Tamar and Judah. Despite policies that would have condemned her behavior, Tamar sets up a situation in which she has sex with her father-in-law and conceives twins. Judah acknowledges, “She is more righteous than I;” and, instead of being stoned, she becomes an honored ancestor of David and of Jesus.
In Deuteronomy 23:3 Moses says, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.”
Despite this policy, Ruth, a Moabite woman, marries an Israelite (twice) and becomes a member of the community of Israel. Boaz’s choice to marry her is lauded, not condemned. His redemptive transaction with his sandal at the city gates has often been used as an example of Christ’s redemptive transactions. Within three generations, one of her descendants becomes Israel’s most beloved king. Following biblical policies, at a point in Jewish history when he was honored and loved as an heroic son of the people, David should not have even been a member of “the assembly.”
Despite the fact that Hebrew scriptures never approved polygamy or idolatry, Esther chose to enter a polygamous harem relationship with an idolatrous king. Despite her marital choices, and because of her protective ones, Esther and her story are extolled in sacred text. She is lifted up as a deliverer of her people, risking her life to protect their very existence.
In the case of Tamar, the principle of justice for a vulnerable childless widow appears to have trumped the sexual-conduct policies of that day. In the cases of both Ruth and Esther, the courageous, loving, and selfless actions of these women, while not following Biblical policies, leaves them not just “uncondemned” but described in language that could make them object lessons of the Messiah. In the biblical narrative, the principles of trusting Yahweh (in direct contrast to the lack of trust in God that caused the fall of humanity in Eden), demanding justice (in the case of Tamar and Esther), and allowing God to lead their lives as they changed history was more important than even the important policies of the times from which the stories are told. These particular policy-breaking journeyers through biblical history are lifted up in sacred text as heroes.
Despite the fact that God’s character and love, the great controversy between good and evil, and the plan of salvation have remained consistent, there appear to be decision points at various junctures of biblical history that are tests of faith upon which the future religious experience of God’s people are predicated.
- Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The principle involved was trust in God and an understanding of our place in dominion. The test was unique for that time period because it upon it laid the decision of who would rule the earth.
- Enter Noah’s ark. Was God’s creation willing to accept the object lesson of the plan of salvation for that time?
- Leave Ur and follow Me where I lead you. Are you willing to be the object lesson of following God on the way back to Eden?
- Have faith that the promised child (to Abraham and Sarah) will be a miracle child conceived only by the intervention of God. Are you willing to trust in God’s word so you can be the object lesson, based on the needs of this time period, of the miraculous birth of the promised One?
- Separate yourselves from the practices of the heathen people around you. Israel’s incorporation was the intended object lesson of a heavenly people whose trust in God’s method of sacrifice and power; understanding of God’s dominion and care for others; diet that protected physical, mental, and spiritual health; and observance of the principles of the Sabbath would make them an enticement to the people around them to follow a loving God.
- Christ is the divine Son of God. Are you willing to accept Jesus as the Master of the universe, One who will not free you from the politics of Rome or the tyranny of the rich? Do you want the god of power, or will you understand that God’s power is the power that will serve by washing the feet of others and will focus on protecting the vulnerable?
- Jesus will come again soon. Are we willing to accept that we are mortal? To accept that our future life rests on Another? Are we willing to worship Him on the same day as Heaven does, in preparation for living there? Are we willing to trust His word? Are we willing to acknowledge His form of dominion and to understand that our place in it is not to use our power against others but to show such nurturing love that they will be drawn to being ready for heaven?
Along with these basic principles of study, it is important to add one more consideration. We who search sacred pages and form our beliefs and our actions around them often do so with a fervor that criticizes or condemns those whose studies have found meanings other than ours. Yet the Bible clearly says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1,2).
Ellen White elaborated,“The people partook largely of the same Spirit, intruding upon the province of conscience and judging one another in matters that lay between the soul and God. In reference to this Spirit and practice, Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ That is, do not set yourself up as a standard. Do not make your opinions, your views of duty, your interpretations of the Scripture, a criterion for others and in your mind condemn them if they do not come up to your ideal. Do not criticize others, conjecturing as to their motives and passing judgment upon them.”[iii] “Self-exaltation is behind the practice of noting the shortcomings in others.”[iv]
When we pass judgment on someone else’s understanding of the Bible, we are entering a province designated only for our Creator and Redeemer.
I believe that the concepts of working with biblical principles, policies, practices, and lessons of present truth, while refraining from criticism of other students of the Bible, are vital to the study of any spiritual issue. They help us understand God’s priorities. In this paper, I have taken your time and your thought to lay a foundation for discussion of how Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists might look at four of the biblical texts used to condemn people who are in same-sex, monogamous relationships. In what ways do our policies reflect the primary principles given to us in Eden? In what ways do they differ? What are the ways we can institute practices that carefully follow Eden’s principles? What is God’s bigger picture?
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
Leviticus 17:26, 27 describes the purpose of a set of policies designed to insure that the Hebrew people would be distinctly different from pagan cultures around them. In dress, in understanding the meaning of the temple and the sacrificial system, in ceremonial observances such as Yom Kippur and the year of Jubilee, in diet, in relationships with each other and with non-Israelites, in the way Israel expressed their trust in God as they observed Sabbath, and in the way they learned about dominion as they cared for the earth, animals, and each other, Israel was to stand apart from the violent, self-absorbed, child-sacrificing, power-hungry nations at their borders. Israel was to be an object lesson of separateness: nothing co-mingled, no reminders of pagan practices. To strengthen understanding of this goal, prohibitions included: no mingling of seed in the field, no mingling of materials in the cloth, and no practices connected with fertility rites. Israelites were to grow from a people inoculated with the superstitions and values of Egypt and Canaan to citizens of their own nation, living Heaven’s principles.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are part of this Holiness Code, given when Israel was inaugurated into nationhood.
Sexual intercourse between assumedly heterosexual men was forbidden on several counts:
- IT WAS A NORMAL PART OF THE FORBIDDEN FERTILITY RITES. SEXUALITY WAS USED TO GAIN POWER, SATISFY THE LOCAL GODS, AND MANIPULATE LIFE OUTCOMES BY PACIFYING SELFISH DEITIES. ITS PRECEPTS ASSUMED A LACK OF TRUST IN A BENEVOLENT GOD AND A DESIRE FOR POWER INSTEAD OF SERVICE AS A FOCUS OF DOMINION.
- THE CANAANITE PRACTICE OF ANAL RAPE OF CONQUERED OR SUBJUGATED PEOPLES VIOLATED GOD’S PRINCIPLES OF CARE FOR THE VULNERABLE AND REPLICATED THE VIOLENCE AND DENIGRATION ABHORRED BY GOD.
- THE SEED CONTAINED IN SEMEN WAS TO BE USED FOR PROCREATION, NEEDED AT A TIME WHEN ISRAEL WAS A SMALL NATION STILL COMMANDED TO POPULATE THE EARTH. AS PART OF THE SEPARATENESS CODE, IT WAS NOT TO BE CO-MINGLED WITH OTHER SEED OR TO BE SPILLED ON THE GROUND IN AN ACT OF SELFISHNESS. PEOPLE WHO COULD NOT PRODUCE CHILDREN WERE CONSIDERED CURSED.
In this particular policy it is interesting to note that there is no mention of long-term committed sexual relationships between men whose sexual/emotional desires were for each other and nothing at all about same-sex relationships between women.
Seventh-day Adventists are called to be a people who live out Heaven’s principles. We are a people who want to follow the teaching of the Bible seriously. However, in our studies of the sacred texts we have come to understand that some policies given to Israel in the time of Moses are not applicable to us today. Meat-eating Adventists are not commanded to eat only meat killed in the Levitical fashion. Adventist men do not leave the sides of their head unshaven. Adventists are not told to wear clothing made of only one fiber. We have not been commanded to avoid companion planting crops. We do not make slaves of neighboring nations (as far as I know). We do not physically stone those who either do not keep Sabbath or keep it differently than we deem appropriate.
Today, the criteria by which followers of Yahweh are “set apart” are based on non-Levitical standards. Ellen White has written “not until you feel that you could sacrifice your own self-dignity, and even lay down your life in order to save an erring one…are you prepared to help your brother.”[v] When encouraging us to be separate from the world she writes. “That which distinguishes the people of God from worldlings is their sympathy for others, their tenderness, their meekness and lowliness of heart: they reveal they wear Christ’s yoke and are recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[vi]
We have been commanded to follow the practices described in Isaiah 58: “Lift the heavy burdens,… “avoid the pointing finger and malicious talk.” We have been instructed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 and make its detailed description of love a part of our life. We are counseled to learn and follow the meaning of Sabbath rest, trust in God, eat a diet healthy for us, understand that only God is immortal, and know that it is Jesus who, by returning, will rescue the world from the misery, destruction, violence, illness, and death with which we are surrounded. While Ellen White repeatedly mentions the sanctity of marriage, nowhere in her writings does she condemn long-term committed same-sex relationships.
Ellen White does condemn the “strange sin of Sodom” that led to its destruction in Genesis 19. If we follow her practice and see how the Bible describes the nature of that strange sin, we will find in Ezekiel 16:49: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom. She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things.” This text, along with an understanding of how God feels about rape, certainly fits with God’s focus on our mandates of protective and nurturing dominion.
Ellen White wrote extensively on sexual mores, but she did not specifically address homosexual behavior or orientation. What is interesting about her choice not to address the issue is that the concept was well-known in her lifetime. The first papers on sexual orientation came out of Europe in the 1840s and the term was in common usage in America by the 1890s. For many years, some writings of Ellen White were used to justify the church position against homosexuality, but these references had to be withdrawn when further review showed that Ellen White was addressing inhospitality rather than condemning gays and lesbians. In the Seventh-day Adventist Position Statement on Homosexuality voted during the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee on Sunday, October 3, 1999, you will find no reference to Ellen White as a footnote or supporting comment.
Like the children of Israel, Adventists are to be a people set apart, a people noted for their love of and compassion for others, for belief in the mortality of humankind, a healthy diet, keeping the Sabbath holy, and an expectation of the soon return of Christ. Do our policies and our practices demonstrate the principles that have been set before us?
…is a holy diatribe, a remarkable and riveting denunciation of those who have refused to follow Yahweh. Paul begins his epistle by sharing his eagerness to “preach the gospel…. I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God” (vs. 15, 16). With that statement he proclaims his focus and intent to compel his listeners to understand the import of his message. The good news or “present truth” of his day was that the creating, covenant-keeping, selfless, redeeming Deity had appeared in the flesh as Jesus. Paul’s proclamation of this gospel underlined the love of God for all created beings and delineated the methods he had used to reach mortals. “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Men are without excuse” (vs. 20). The rocks have cried out. The lessons of creation have been available to anyone who would listen. The loving Master of the universe used that very universe to give, even to those who did not have access to the Hebrew Scriptures, lessons of salvation. The falling rain and mist rising to the clouds have been lessons of unselfishness. The care animals have for their young have demonstrated the way their Creator cares for us. They are a call to trust the teachings of that Creator, to partake of the character of the Yahweh.
Paul spoke to a Christian congregation surrounded by a city where the cult of Aphrodite was one of the primary sources of worship. Like the Canaanite fertility practices, this cult used sexual intercourse as a way to gain power from the pagan gods in order to influence various aspects of their lives. Despite examples in nature that nurturing and care were the best ways to exercise dominion and, despite evidences that the God of nature could be trusted, those lusting after power or wealth or position would exchange “natural” relationships that would be normative in their lives, for cult prostitutes (either male or female). Sexual practices had become a way to manipulate the gods. These practices hearkened back to the original Edenic sin of mistrusting the honesty and love of the God who created us. This focus on power was a perversion of the way Yahweh has always wanted to show God’s love to fragile humanity.
If we follow the Bible study practice of looking at the context, understanding the principles, and being aware of the present truth for that time, we can understand Paul’s concern and frustration with those who have had the gospel before them in nature and have refused to learn its lessons. The sexual acts Paul mentions are in the context of stubborn and condemned idolatry. It is a condemnation of an inappropriate use of power to “sway” the gods. In a rare tipping of the hat to a stereotype that women are pictured as being loving tenders of home and hearth, Paul notes that even women in Rome participated in idolatrous acts as part of their lust for power. The results are a clear description that is the antithesis of a loving God—indeed, a portrait of the evil ones. “They have become full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are slanderers, insolent, arrogant, boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless” (vs. 29, 30).
Paul is not describing loving, long-term monogamous same-sex relationships. He is describing selfish, greedy, idolatrous worship practices performed with the goal of power reminiscent of fallen angels. No wonder he is concerned, forceful, and vocal.
When we attempt, in order to meet our own agendas, to convince believers that Paul had another focus, we are diminishing the power of his call to follow Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God. We are diminishing Paul’s plea to turn away from all that is a lust for power and to begin to follow a God who chose to be dulos (the lowest strata of house slaves) in order to reach all of us (Philippians 2:6). We are distracting others from the prime message of the gospel.
1 Corinthians 6:9
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor male prostitutes nor malakoi nor arsenokoitai nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Malakoicarries the connotation of softness, those who live luxuriously in palaces where soft living was the mark of the oppressor. Arsenokoitaiis composed of two words, arsen (male) and koite (the term for bed or, euphemistically, sexual behavior). The use of the term seems to indicate sexual behavior that was self-centered or used to exploit others, much like the Greek male tradition of having young boys as sexual objects. Today we would call that behavior sexual abuse or rape.
The New American Bible offers a footnote that might shed some light on the historical context of the time: “The Greek word, arsenokoitai, translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e., boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world. In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamitus. Arsenokoitai refers to adult males who indulged in sexual practices with such boys” (New American Bible). It was a common practice in that men of Paul’s time would have slave “pet” boys whom they sexually exploited.
These terms, along with the other descriptors of those who are selfish, who take advantage of the vulnerable, who cause harm, parallel Old Testament texts describing why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom. She and her daughters were overfed and unconcerned. They did not help the poor and the needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). This focus is reflected in Isaiah 58: “Is this not the fast I have chosen: to lose the chains of injustice…to set the oppressed free…to share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (vs. 6, 7); and in the teachings of Jesus who quoted it. The people described in 1 Corinthians 6:9 are violating God’s principle of dominion. They are living for self. They offer a cup of cold water to no one. Indeed, they cause harm to the vulnerable.
The soft-living motif of the malakoi is in direct contrast to the spiritual goals of Paul. He famously compares the practice of the Christian walk to athletic training and warfare preparation. Living a loving, selfless life calls for a well-honed spiritual constitution. Given the marked contrast between God’s principle of dominion—care for the vulnerable (human, animal, or planet)—and the selfishness listed here in this text, it would make sense that the people who insisted on opportunistic behaviors would not have a place in the kingdom of God.
Again, the textual discussion and condemnation is not about an orientation that leads to lifelong, monogamous relationships. It is a call to return to the principles of Eden: Heaven-like dominion, selfless interactions between humanity, worship of the true God, and acknowledgement of His creatorship. The policies we have read over today are denunciations of idolatry or of the denigration of human beings, in several of its forms.
For Us Today
Ironically, the principles expressed in the verses often referred to as “the clobber texts” are focused on the imperative to trust God, to understand that dominion means service, and to follow a belief that sanctification includes growing into the compassionate, unselfish nature of our loving Re-creator. When we use these texts to denigrate or marginalize those with whom we disagree, we are ignoring the intention of their writers and of the One who inspired those writers. When we use them to judge others, we are entering on ground that is God’s alone. When we use these texts to dismiss heart-filled yearnings to have emotionally intimate and honest same-sex relationships, are we not twisting the meaning of the Bible authors, and thereby, I believe, “bearing false witness” against them? Are we not misrepresenting the character of God?
Some use these verses to insist that gay and lesbian people do not have the same choice offered to heterosexual Seventh-day Adventists: that of making a lifelong commitment to someone with whom they experience deep relational bonding. Some say that lesbian and gay people should seek their salvation by marrying heterosexuals or by being celibate. Imagine the harm to the self-esteem of a heterosexual mate wondering why he or she is not found sexually desirable. Imagine the effect of being forced to live a celibate life when longitudinal research studies demonstrate that people in loving relationships live longer, more contented, and fulfilled lives. Would a God who created a desire for intimacy promote these options? How can people grow to understand the relational object lesson given to us in Eden—the intimacy between members of the Deity—unless we can grow in a relationship with someone with whom we can share the deepest levels of emotional/sexual intimacy? Can we in good conscience deny the opportunity to learn one of the fundamental gifts of Eden?
One of the great gifts of our Seventh-day Adventist heritage is our history of corporate spiritual self-examination. We continuously compare our policies and practices to Biblical principles and have made changes through time. At one point Ellen White told her son not to focus on the work with black African-Americans in the American South. At one point in time we had pork at potlucks. When Ellen White sat for a portrait, now hung in the Review and Herald office, she was wearing a pearl necklace. We have ordained women pastors, not ordained them, and are now considering ordaining them again. We have been saddened by divorces. Contrary to Ellen White’s counsel, after her death we made a policy to disfellowship people who remarried after a divorce. Today, in practice, many congregations ignore that policy, understanding the complicated possibilities for the breakup of a relationship. We are not a church of creeds. Ellen White wrote: “There is no excuse for anyone taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed and that all our expositions of Scripture are without error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close examination.”[vii] We have a history and an encouragement to improve our policies, our corporate practices, and our personal behaviors as we come to better understand God’s priorities.
In a time when the children of Israel believed that all illness or human variations from God’s original intent was caused by sin, a blind man came before Jesus. One of the disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man sinned or his parents. This happened so that the work of God can be manifested in his life” (John 9:1-3).
Could it be, in the issue of dealing with our lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex Adventist “siblings,” that no one sinned? Could it be that “this happened so that the work of God can be made manifest”? Could it be that in following the counsel of Isaiah to lift the heavy burdens, we will develop new ways of interacting with and embracing our church family?
While I clearly have conclusions and opinions, I do not want to ignore the counsel mentioned earlier: “…do not set yourself up as a standard. Do not make your opinions, your views of duty, your interpretations of the Scripture, a criterion for others and in your mind condemn them if they do not come up to your ideal. Do not criticize others, conjecturing as to their motives and passing judgment upon them.”
Special appreciation to Ben Kemena, Mike Lewis, Janis Walworth, Dave Coltheart, Karen Wetherell, Carrol Grady, Jacquie Hegarty, Ruud Keiboom, and Betty O’ Leary who continued to make me think deeper and write more clearly about this issue.
Special thanks to Hyveth Williams whose sermon at the Southern New England Camp Meeting helped me to understand more clearly the concepts of principle, policy and practice.
[ii] White, Ellen G. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 45
[iii] White, Ellen G. Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 123, 124
[iv] White, Ellen G. Review and Herald, May 12, 1896
[v] White, Ellen G. Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 128
[vi] White, Ellen G. The Youth’s Instructor, December 6, 1900
[vii]White, Ellen G., “Christ our Hope,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 20, 1892