In response to a post on Paul and homosexuality from Mike Bird, and a waste-of-time video clip from Ben Witherington, James Crossley fairly asks why bigoted scholarly views are so mainstream. Like James, I don’t normally get involved in these kind of debates, but will make a few observations.
The comment from Deane Galbraith under James’ post lights on the real problem: the inability to treat Paul as a neutral or hostile witness. It’s a mark of double-standard scholarship so often seen in evangelical writings, not to mention the apriori weight given to Judeo-Christian traditions over Greco-Roman. Says Deane:
“If I follow Bird’s train of thought, the idea of ‘nature’ which Greek, Roman, and (‘uninspired’) Jewish literature describes would be ‘very much constructed on the basis of a particular cultural framework’. Which is right. But when Paul makes very much the same appeal to ‘nature’, Bird’s critical ability to discern a cultural construct apparently deserts him. Bird does not ask any critical questions about Paul’s pronouncements on nature. For Bird, once Paul has spoken, he must be defended, not criticised. Paul’s words about the topic of ‘nature’ – no matter how many parallels with contemporary Greek and Roman writers Bird adduces – cannot ever be treated as a social construct. At this point, criticism is abandoned, ‘nature’ is absolutized into ‘the created order of things designed and put into effect by God and which showcases God’s very own glory’, and the question of the how Paul’s words were socially constructed is ruled out of court.
“Bird’s reluctance to penetrate beyond the surface or rim of the question of the social construction of Paul’s categories – in stark contrast to his willingness to plunge hands and feet into the social constructedness of Greek and Roman writers – marks the very failure of any critical project he purports to be undertaking. But it is worse than that: it is criticism used tendentiously, and self-consciously so, and so the abuse of scholarship for certain pre-established claims. Yeah, yeah, we all do it to some extent, I know we all have presuppositions, but it’s one thing to be aware that you have some dirt on your person that you can’t see, another thing entirely to wallow in the mud like a pig in shit.”
That pretty much sums up the problem with folks like Bird, Wright, and Witherington, and Crossley is not being unfair in implying that a certain level of homophobia is mainstreamed in the academy.
Mike Bird retorted to this business by implying that James Crossley represents self-righteous secularism, mostly by fudging over what really constitutes homophobia, but many people (myself included) tend to use the term synonymously with sexual predjudice. To be precise, predjudice is simply an attitude or judgment directed against a social group which involves hostility, dislike, or feelings of moral superiority. It’s a descriptive term and doesn’t account for any of the dynamics or motivations of the predjudice. If those like Bird are using Paul to endorse the idea that homosexual behavior is wrong, unacceptable, or inferior (regardless of what precisely Paul thought about homosexual behavior, which, in partial agreement with Bird I take to be largely negative), then this is indeed a predjudice, and it’s not self-righteous for people like James Crossley to point this out.
With regards to homophobia, Bird says, rather amazingly:
“Now I had always thought that homophobic (= gay-hating) behaviour would be something like setting up a website called ‘Godhatesfags.com’ or else standing outside a gay bar with a cricket bat ready to bludgeon the first man in leather jeans who walks out of it. For Crossley, however, homophobia is exceedingly broad.”
Now I have friends who are Christian (liberal and moderately conservative), Unitarian, Jewish, atheists — and each and every one of them has an understanding of homophobia that is as “broad” as James Crossley’s. It’s simply not true that homophobia necessarily involves inflammatory predjudice. This site is as good a guide as any to the term, and outlines the four basic manifestations of homophobia (personal, interpersonal, institutional, cultural), and it wouldn’t be the wildest guess that one or more of these would apply to Bird. But I don’t know Michael well enough, or his church, to opine beyond this.
If we took a cue from Deane and really explored the social constructs of Paul’s view of the matter, then an argument that Paul, as an honor-shame macho man, hated male homosexuality, but didn’t have much to say about female homosexuality (if Rom 1:26 points to alternative heterosexual behavior instead of lesbianism) has a lot going for it; he was also galled in particular, as a Jew, by the pagan practice of temple prostitution. Perhaps this will serve as the subject for a later post.