Guest commentary by Jack Rogers
Editorial note: Several months ago I received a kind email from Jack Rogers. In it he wrote, “Today I got a new home computer. In reviewing items to be removed from my desktop, I discovered the attached article that I wrote after the last GA. It was meant for Outlook, but I never sent it. I believe deeply in the content. It is still quite relevant. If you can use it at any time in the future you are welcome to it. I have no other plan for it.” In thanksgiving for Jack Rogers’ life, ministry and countless contributions to the church, we share this article with you now. – Jill Duffield
The Presbyterian Church should never change its position unless it can do so on biblical grounds. Recent actions of the General Assembly regarding a new openness to same-sex relations by Christians will convince some conservatives that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has abandoned Scripture and, using the slippery slope argument, that we no longer believe in Christ and his saving work. This is roughly the same argument that many of the congregations that have left the denomination for ECO or EPC have used to justify their actions.
The great tragedy of such arguments is that they are false. The PC(USA) has not abandoned Christ nor Scripture. The trouble is that we have not used the specific evidence in Scripture for same-sex equality, but have only turned away from the false tradition based on a half dozen texts that contemporary biblical scholarship has shown not to apply to Christians with same-sex orientation. We remember that slavery of Africans was justified, and subordination of women was practiced, based on a few biblical texts that were endlessly preached, taught and believed that almost no one now would use in the same way.
We, PC(USA) Presbyterians, have done well at referring to the central principles of the Christian faith such as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan with its reference to Deuteronomy 6:5, that we should love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and the deep meaning of Leviticus 19 that we should love both the alien and the neighbor as ourselves. We have not done a good job of digging out specific texts that could illumine our thinking about homosexuality.
In recent years, the General Assembly authorized three studies on Christian marriage. All three simply repeated the tradition based on the same half dozen texts that most scholars agree do not apply to Christians with same-sex orientation. Then the committees gave up and declared that they could not agree. There has not been a hint of the vast amount of contemporary biblical scholarship that can lead us beyond that worn-out tradition into a fertile field of data which enables us to understand same-sex relationships from a biblical point of view.
For example, there is Matthew 19. Some Pharisees came to Jesus and asked his views on heterosexual marriage and divorce (the only kind they knew). Jesus replied that there should be no divorce unless the wife commits adultery by having sex with someone other than her husband. Some conservatives pounce on this and say it proves that only male/female sexual intercourse is legitimate because Jesus said that “the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’” and that they should become one flesh.
Jesus’ disciples complained to him of his too-strict view. Jesus did not reinforce his statement by referring, as many contemporary conservatives do, to the so-called “physical complementarity” of men and women. Instead he expanded the discussion and taught his disciples that there are people who are unsuited to heterosexual marriage. He said: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs [like Jesus] who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
Any discussion of homosexuality that cites Jesus’ views and ignores his teaching that some people are born eunuchs is irresponsible. Those who claim that no one is born homosexual and that it is either a sinfully chosen “lifestyle” or that they are “broken” people, have ignored Jesus’ plain teaching: Some people are born eunuchs! “Eunuch” is the biblical word for people who are incapable of procreating or chose not to do so because they have no sexual desire for people of the opposite sex.
There are at least 48 eunuchs mentioned in Scripture, most of whom are covered up by translators who refer to their vocation, or function, rather than use the word “eunuch” in the original Hebrew or Greek. Jesus’ statement that some people are born eunuchs is simply ignored by many people who claim to be following Scripture and yet teach the opposite of what Jesus taught.
Jesus knew the biblical tradition’s clear teaching in Isaiah 56:3-5 where the inspired prophet reports that those “eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me, and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” In ancient Israel, most people felt that there was nothing better than sons and daughters. Indeed, failure to procreate was reason enough to cause some people to be “cut off” from their nation. Not so for Isaiah.
Those who are willing to examine the New Testament application of this teaching can do so at Acts 8:26-39. There, the Holy Spirit guides the apostle Philip to interpret Isaiah to an Ethiopian eunuch who then shows faith in Jesus. The eunuch asks Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” They go down into nearby water and Philip baptizes him. No questions asked!
I have read many commentaries on this passage. They uniformly ignore that the man is black, African and a eunuch. The commentators seem primarily impressed that he was the queen’s treasurer. He was likely the first gentile convert to the Christian faith. The eunuch is said to have returned to his homeland as an evangelist.
This is only a small part of the huge amount of biblical data that could inform us as we discuss matters like same-sex marriage. For example, two new books have been available since the 2014 General Assembly: “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines and “The Bible’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage” by Mark Achtemeier. Both authors have unimpeachable credentials as theologically orthodox Christians with a high view of Scripture. They have both done the work of researching a huge amount of scholarly work that is readily available. They both began by opposing all same-sex relations. And they both were honest enough to change their minds when presented with the evidence that sexual relations between loving Christians with same-sex orientation is biblical and beneficial.
Let us inform our new era of openness to same-sex relationships of Christian people with a renewed study of the Bible, in depth, in order to discover what the Spirit has to reveal to us in God’s written Word.
JACK ROGERS was professor of theology emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary and was moderator of the 213th General Assembly.