One of my high school teachers gave my class a worksheet, listing about 15 different physical actions, ranging from a pat on the back to hugging to sex. We were asked to think about with what people, at what point in our relationship, we would be comfortable performing each act. Everyone had the chance to examine each action, and draw their own lines.
What would this worksheet look like for homosexuals? It all depends on a single “s”.
I recently had an “Aha! Moment” while reading Ted Grimsrud’s latest writing, “Welcoming But Not Affirming: The Logic of MC USA’s “Teaching Position” on Homosexuality“. Grimsrud is a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, and an author on subjects such as pacifism, theology, and ethics from a Mennonite point of view.
My “Aha! Moment” came when, for the first time, I was exposed to the difference between “homosexual practice” and “homosexual practices”. While it’s a minor spelling difference, the ramifications are not minor.
Basically, someone who specifies “homosexual practice” refuses to acknowledge that there are multiple homosexual practices. The Bible says that one homosexual practice is wrong, and since there is just one homosexual practice, that makes all homosexuality wrong.
To put it another way, if someone who specifies the singular form were to make a worksheet similar to the one my teacher gave us, but for homosexuals, there would be one action listed. Homosexual practice.
I never realized I was making this leap in logic. And what a leap it is.
Let’s, for a moment, turn this around and consider the idea of a “heterosexual practice.” Let’s start with Genesis 19, with the story of Lot and his daughters, and the heterosexual practice of incest and drugging someone to rape them. Following the same logic, we come to the conclusion that all heterosexual practice is wrong, because it is incestuous and non-consensual.
But no, out of that story, the common understanding is that incest and rape are wrong. Consider then, what leads up to that story, in the same chapter of Genesis. It’s the story of the two angels visiting Lot in Sodom, often used as proof that homosexuality is wrong. Where sexuality is ignored in the story of Lot and his daughters, it is often the only thing considered in the story of Lot and the angels. If we take the interpretation and logic we applied to the story of Lot and his daughters, and apply it to Lot and the angels, we come up with a very different understanding of the story. We see it as a story of threatened rape and lack of hospitality towards strangers.
I recently watched Vanguard’s “Missionaries of Hate,” a look at how American Missionaries influenced recent legislation in Uganda making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. The video includes a lot of footage and interviews with Ugandan evangelical leader Martin Ssempa, who has become a leader in the movement against homosexuality.
One tactic Ssempa uses is to show gay pornography and to talk about gay sex. But in a blurring of “practice” and “practices”, he makes his point that homosexuality is detestable by showing extremely graphic things, often involving feces. Never mind that this is likely not a solely homosexual practice, and similar heterosexual videos likely exist as well (sorry, not doing any research here). Or that there are other homosexual activities that aren’t detestable.
So there is a double standard in how homosexuality and heterosexuality are examined by many readers of the Bible. Homosexuality is often all grouped into one box (checked “No”), while heterosexuality is given columns and subheadings and all sorts of differentiation.
And once we remove this double standard, how will that change our understanding of what the Bible says? Will there still be a difference in the worksheet for homosexuals?