t can be said that the Bible is very clear in its directives on same-sex relationships and by even discussing them the church is giving in to the culture of the age. The church’s relation to its culture is of course an important one and Richard Niebuhr, an American scholar, wrote a very important book entitled “Christ and Culture” in 1951. He outlined five possible Christian attitudes to the question of Christ’s relationship to culture. By culture, we mean the accepted beliefs and values of our age. Is Christ against culture, calling Christians to reject the world entirely? Or is Christ allied with culture as the perfector of all that is good in society? Or is Christ above culture, drawing us out to become what God means us to become as human beings? Or are Christ and culture totally separate, and set apart, until God’s Kingdom arrives? Or is Christ the transformer of culture, rejecting the bad aspects and enabling us to bring all that is good into God’s redemptive love? As the Gospel of John puts it ”˜being in but not of the world’.
The trouble is you can find all these different attitudes to culture in the Bible if you look hard enough. The Bible, for example, sees the created world as God’s handiwork and so is to be cherished, valued and affirmed. When, however, Israel wants to have a king rather than a prophet as its leader, she does so initially because she wants to conform to the pattern and culture of neighbouring nations and against the advice of the prophet Samuel. In spite of that, the institution of kingship was introduced and came to be venerated but individual kings were castigated for their idolatry and mistreatment of the poor and “doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord”. In other words, the culture of surrounding nations changed Israel’s own culture ”“ a culture that was sometimes endorsed and sometimes criticised by the prophets.
In the New Testament, Paul in 2 Corinthians 6, seems to ask Christians to separate themselves from non-believers “Come out from among them and be separated” ”“ do not be infected by the world about you”. Yet he was the apostle, along with Peter, who in the end advocated that Gentiles did not have to become Jews first in order to become Christians, so that purity laws concerning food and circumcision did not have to be observed. That was an affirmation of the culture of the Gentiles ”“ a culture that was alien to Judaism ”“ a view that was eventually ratified by the Council of Jerusalem. St. Paul also urges disciples of Jesus to follow whatever is noble, just and true in the culture around them. The issue of faith and culture is not, therefore, as straightforward as it seems.
What then of our use of the Bible? The few texts we have in the Bible about same-sex relationships are very negative. Yet, it can be argued that homosexual relationships as we understand them in terms of committed, faithful, monogamous, long lasting relationships, were unknown in biblical times and what the texts rail against is sexual promiscuity and experimentation. In 1972 the American Institute of Psychiatrists believed that homosexuality was a mental illness. We no longer believe that to be the case yet, that view was widespread just 40 years ago.
Holy Scripture itself is far more nuanced, subtle and complex than we often realise.
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