Yesterday, I was watching a debate between Christian apologist James White and Barry Lynn, a lawyer, United Church of Christ pastor, and Executive Director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The debate addressed the question, “Is homosexuality compatible with authentic Christianity?” Barry Lynn argued “yes,” while James White argued “no.”
Overall, I would say that James White had the edge when it came to biblical exegesis. Barry Lynn knows things about religion and the Bible, but he admitted that he was no biblical scholar. In my opinion, White offered better arguments about Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6:9.
Moreover, I learned something from James White’s presentation that I did not know before. A while back, I blogged through John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Boswell’s book has been influential among gay Christians. One argument that Boswell made is that the Greek word arsenokoites in I Corinthians 6:9 (where Paul says that certain sinners will not enter the Kingdom of God) does not necessarily refer to homosexuals but could mean a male prostitute, who sleeps with men and women. The word literally means “man bed,” and the debate is over whether that means that the man is sleeping with people (male and female), or if the term concerns men sleeping with men. Boswell leans towards the former point-of-view, which distances the term from homosexuality, and thereby distances I Corinthians 6:9 from being a condemnation of same-sex activity. (See my post here about Boswell’s argument.)
James White, however, was arguing that Paul invented the word based on the Septuagint of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These are passages that condemn men lying with men. In the Septuagint for both passages, we see the Greek word arsenos for “man,” and also the word koiten for “bed.” These are the very words in Paul’s term arsenokoites in I Corinthians 6:9. Did Paul have in mind the Septuagint of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 when he invented the word arsenokoites? If so, then Paul in I Corinthians 6:9 was condemning men lying with men. Barry Lynn was not able to refute James White’s points about Boswell’s scholarship, scholarly critiques of it, and biblical languages.
Lynn still did manage, however, to make good points, or at least to ask good questions. Leviticus 18:22 states that men lying with men is toevah, an abomination, and, as James White noted, the end of the chapter says that God drove out the Canaanites from the land for sins such as this, indicating that Leviticus 18 is authoritative, not just for Israel, but for all people. But, Lynn noted, Deuteronomy 24:4 says that a man putting away his wife and then remarrying her is toevah and causes the land to sin. Would the religious right consider divorced people remarrying each other to be sinful and incompatible with authentic Christianity, as it does with homosexuality?
Lynn also interrogated White about whether White agreed with Leviticus 20:13’s statement that men who lay down with men should be put to death: Did White believe that society today should do that? White’s answer, in my opinion, was rather muddled. White denied that he supports an Old Testament theocracy in America. He said that he does not trust current politicians to do that, and he noted that the Old Testament theocracy was headed by godly men. Lynn asked if White would support execution for homosexuals if godly men presided over the government. In the course of the conversation, White appealed to Romans 13 as evidence that the New Testament supports the secular authorities carrying out the death penalty. I guess that, where White landed, he was against America executing homosexuals, but his manner of defending that thesis was muddled, a far cry from his usual precision.
Lynn also questioned some of White’s political and health arguments. White referred to a gay manifesto (I presume it is this) that called for the lowering of the age of consent, and Lynn denied that this manifesto reflects the views of all gay people. (Note: Reading the manifesto, it seems to me that it is against making age 21 the legal age of consent for gay people, while straight people have a lower age of consent.) White also cited statistics about homosexuals dying earlier than most people due to health problems, and Lynn inquired what the minority of healthy homosexuals are doing that keeps them healthy. Lynn did not make this point, but some have argued that the very stigma attached to homosexuality encouraged a number of homosexuals to have more reckless sex, in secret, and that contributed to the spread among homosexuals of sexually-transmitted diseases.
You can watch the debate here. The sound quality was bad for the first hour, but it was better in the second hour-and-thirty-seven minutes.