Note: Yesterday, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, USA, Dr. George Wood sent the following letter to the Springfield News-Leader as a response to the May 2, 2013 letter written by 23 area pastors criticizing my address to the Springfield Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. As yet, the News-Leader has not given a date when Dr. Wood’s letter might be published. In the interest of offering a timely response to the questions posed by Rev. Snider and the 22 other Springfield clergy, I am posting on my blog Dr. Wood’s letter.
Rev. John Lindell of James River Church recently addressed Springfield’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, offering “a theologically conservative viewpoint on the issue of the sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance.” In response, Rev. Phil Snider and 22 other Springfield clergy published an opinion piece criticizing his use of Scripture and encouraging him and his church to “consider affirming the deepest and most authentic biblical values.”
Unfortunately, their response fails to refute Lindell’s argument.
Lindell’s reading of Scripture is straightforward: God creates and commends marriage as the sexual union of a man and a woman (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:18, 22, 24, 25) and prohibits extramarital unions (Exodus 20:14), including homosexual ones (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:25−27; and 1 Corinthians 6:9−11). It is significant that Snider and his colleagues offer no biblical references that affirm homosexual behavior. There are none.
Consequently, they are reduced to arguing from negatives:
They argue that homosexuality is not a “major theme in the Bible” because Scripture mentions it explicitly in “eight verses at most.” This confuses incidence with relevance. It overlooks the fact that marriage is a major theme of the Bible. And it fails to note that the Bible’s prohibitions of sexual immorality implicitly include homosexuality.
Second, they argue that Lindell is inconsistent in his usage of the Bible because he doesn’t advocate various laws: the death penalty for homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), the prohibition of tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), the death penalty for rebellious children (Deuteronomy 21:18−21), and the marriage of women to their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28−29). Also, they charge, Lindell fails to affirm “patriarchy and slavery,” which Paul viewed as “part of the natural order.”
Traditionally, Christians have distinguished three uses of Old Testament law. The moral law tells us what is right and wrong. The ceremonial law outlines the forms of Jewish worship in biblical times. And the judicial law expresses the polity of Israel while it existed in the Promised Land. Of these three forms of law, the New Testament affirms that only the moral law applies directly to Christians today. That is why Paul alludes to Leviticus’s moral prohibitions of homosexual behavior in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, but not to their judicial punishments. Snider and his colleagues can charge Lindell with inconsistency only if they ignore this standard Christian interpretation of Old Testament law and insist on a woodenly literal one instead. Also, it’s unclear how Paul, who advocated celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:7) and urged a Christian master to emancipate his slave (Philemon 1:15−16), could have viewed either patriarchy or slavery as a permanent part of the “natural order.”
Furthermore, the argument from inconsistency itself seems inconsistent. Alongside of its prohibition of homosexual behavior, Leviticus 18 prohibits incest, adultery, child sacrifice, and bestiality. I sincerely doubt that Snider and his colleagues would fault anyone who opposed those behaviors on the basis of this passage. So why criticize Lindell’s opposition to homosexuality on the basis of this passage?
Third, Snider and his colleagues believe that “a more thematic view of the Bible can reveal the divine intent where justice, love and compassion are honored over violence, hatred and insensitivity.” Of course, Lindell and his church already affirm those positive values. Moreover, in his remarks to the task force, he said, “as followers of Christ we do not hate anyone.” And given that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), it’s hard to see how “a more thematic view of the Bible” can ever legitimately overturn specific prohibitions of the moral law.
Snider and his colleagues ask a good question: “are we allowed to pick and choose which Bible verses carry authority, only giving weight to those that support our preconceived biases?” Obviously not! Unfortunately, by failing to cite any Scripture that affirms homosexual behavior, by ignoring the standard Christian interpretation of Old Testament law, and by appealing to a thematic view of the Bible that ignores what the Bible actually says, Snider and his colleagues have shown that they, not John Lindell, are reading Scripture with “preconceived biases.”
George O. Wood
Assemblies of God