Letter to the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold
September 30, 2003
Presiding Bishop Griswold,
following remarks were attributed to you in an Associated Press interview
published yesterday (“Episcopal Leader Defends Gay Bishop,” by Rachel Zoll,
AP religion writer).
He said that in biblical times there was no understanding that
homosexuality was a natural orientation and not a choice. “Discreet acts
of homosexuality” were condemned in the Bible because they were acts of
lust instead of the “love, forgiveness, grace” of committed same-sex
relationships, he said. “Homosexuality, as we understand it as an
orientation, is not mentioned in the Bible,” he said.
due respect, if these remarks are correctly cited, you are in error on all
there were many theories in the Greco-Roman world that posited something
akin to modern sexual orientation theory. Philosophers, doctors, and
moralists often attributed one or more forms of homosexual behavior, at
least in part, to congenital factors. And some of the same persons could
still refer to such forms as “contrary to nature”—that is, given by nature
but not in conformity with embodied existence or nature’s well-working
processes. Lifelong, exclusive participants in homosexual behavior were
also widely known in the ancient world. Indeed, Paul's reference to the
malakoi (“soft men,” men who play the sexual role of females) in 1
Corinthians 6:9 is one such instance.
assume that the absence of “choice” regarding sexual impulses absolves one
of moral responsibility for the behavior arising from such impulses.
Numerous sinful desires, sexual and otherwise, are not “chosen” in the
sense of being manufactured willfully. That doesn’t make them any less
sinful—though it can and should inform our pastoral response. Who would
choose to be a pedophile if it were a simple matter of choice? Some people
find it extraordinarily difficult to be limited to a single sex partner;
do they choose their sexual impulses? Some people grow up without an
instinctive aversion to sex with close blood relations and then fall in
love with one such relative; do they simply manufacture such feelings?
Paul describes sin itself in Romans 7 as an innate impulse, passed on by
an ancestor figure, running through the members of the human body, and
never entirely within human control. The very nature of sin is that it
generates biologically related impulses. Why do you think a biological
connection disqualifies an impulse from being sinful? Such thinking is
biblical writers were certainly not limiting their condemnation of
same-sex intercourse to particularly exploitative forms. Non-exploitative
forms were known in Paul’s day and had Paul wanted to limit his
condemnation to exploitative forms he certainly could have done so. The
wording in Romans 1:24-27 is quite clear as regards what Paul found
objectionable about same-sex intercourse: its same-sexness, persons
seeking sexual integration with a non-complementary sexual same, persons
erotically attracted to what they intrinsically are as sexual beings. This
is sexual narcissism and/or sexual self-deception: a desire either for
what one is or for what one wishes to be but in fact already is. The
intertextual echoes to Genesis 1:27 (“God made them male and female”) and
Genesis 2:24 (“For this reason a man shall . . . be joined to his
woman/wife and the two shall become one flesh”) in Romans 1:24-27 and 1
Corinthians 6:9, respectively, confirm that Paul had in view the
male-female prerequisite ordained by God at creation. (Incidentally, so
did Jesus when he appealed to the same two texts from Genesis as normative
and prescriptive texts for human sexual relations [Mark 10:6-8].) The
beautiful image put forward in Genesis 2:18-24 is that of an original
binary human split down the side into two sexually differentiated beings.
If sexual relations are to be had, “one-flesh” sexual wholeness requires a
re-merger of the two constituent parts produced by the splitting. By
“nature” in Romans 1:24-27 Paul meant the complementary structure of males
and females still transparent in material creation—a category of thinking
that transcends issues of love and commitment. The description in Romans
1:27 of males mutually gratifying themselves with other males does not
suggest exploitation. Nor does the mention of female-female intercourse
point us in the direction of a particularly exploitative form of same-sex
intercourse. The language in Romans 1:24-27 of being “given over” to
preexisting desires and forsaking any heterosexual relations certainly
suggests innate and exclusive passions for members of the same sex.
Scripture is clearly condemning every form of same-sex intercourse.
Biblical authors would no more have accepted a committed and loving
homosexual union than they would have accepted a committed and loving
adult incestuous union. Both types of unions are structurally
incompatible: sex with sexual or familial sames.
could be said about each of the points above but what I have written
should suffice for now.
pro-homosex biblical scholars such as Bernadette Brooten and William
Schoedel recognize that “sexual orientation” and commitment would have
made little difference to Paul’s indictment of same-sex intercourse. My
book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon) which has been
out for a full two years, also makes this clear (see especially pp.
347-60, 380-95). See also now my more condensed discussion in
Homosexuality and the Bible (Fortress), just released, and a
forthcoming article in an edited volume entitled Christian Sexuality
(Kirk House), which deals extensively with orientation theory in
really is no excuse any more for making the kinds of false statements
about Scripture that you made in the AP interview. It is especially
inexcusable for a presiding bishop—an office that has guarding the faith
as a chief concern—to be making such inaccurate representations of the
biblical witness. I urge you to read more widely, and more carefully, as
regards recent work on the subject of the Bible and homosexual behavior.
J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament
© 2003 Robert A. J. Gagnon