By Stephen Ferguson | 11 September 2019 |
Conservative Christians routinely claim our more progressive members are no longer taking the Bible at face value. The quintessential example often cited is Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” For some, failing to take a strong stand against anal sex is the worst of all our ecclesiastical problems, from women’s ordination, to abortion, to gender relations, to the place of LGBT members. Forget poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, financial corruption and war: if only we could stop consenting adults doing something in the privacy of their own bedrooms all our ills would disappear overnight!
But do conservative Adventists actually read the Bible literally and plainly, or with their own cultural biases?
Fulcrum7 and Adventist Today
This question came to light for me recently when reading the article, The LGBT/WO Connection, written by Jason Smith and published August 21, 2019, on Fulcrum7. For those unfamiliar with Fulcrum7, it is probably the most popular and controversial site among a swathe of new and independent conservative-Adventist blogs. In December 2018, Fulcrum7 gained notoriety for being publicly denounced by the leadership of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for promoting false and inaccurate statements. To adopt and adapt a clever title from Michael Moore, think of Fulcrum7 as a place for angry white Adventist men.
This piece by Mr. Smith was something of a personal and public attack on Loren Seibold, who is also the Executive Editor of Adventist Today and by extension an attack on all readers and contributors to more progressive independent Adventist journals like Adventist Today and Spectrum. What author Jason Smith found particularly egregious was the following statement by Dr. Seibold:
The Biblical arguments for excluding gay people are weak—weaker than the arguments for excluding unkind, gossiping, angry, prideful and hurtful people. But even if those arguments were stronger, I would not accept them, any more than I accept the Bible on stoning and slavery.
Jason Smith’s key retort was that Dr. Seibold wasn’t reading the Bible correctly. Presumably if he had, he would get back to hating LGBT Christians, just like we all used to do in the good old days. According to Smith, we must start taking the Bible at face value again.
The new (liberal) hermeneutic insists we cannot take the text at face value because the text was culturally conditioned and we have to read behind the text the various cultural issues which drove the writer to say what he did… It further allows for homosexuality and gay marriage, doing away with our biblical eschatology based on a rereading of the prophetic passages, and so forth and so on… See what is already happening among the loudest proponents of this new hermeneutic, the Spectrum and Adventist Today crowd and the religion professors at La Sierra University and so forth, namely, those who call themselves Progressive Adventists.
Apart from being a little bit offensive, is their claim true? Have liberal Christians and liberal Adventists invented some sort of new hermeneutic?
Mr. Smith criticizes more liberal Adventists for reading the Bible in light of 21st-century culture, but is he simply doing the same through a 19th-century Victorian lens, rather than the Bible’s own 1st-century context? Is he reading the Bible as literally as he claims? I decided to test that theory myself in the Fulcrum7 comments section with different readers and commentators.
My attempt to discuss the question of homosexuality by taking the Bible at face value—plainly and literally
What ensued was essentially the above discussion, but repeated in a slightly different way with ten different “Fulcrumites” in words to the following effect:
Me: I find it interesting that the Bible doesn’t actually have much to say about homosexuality. Jesus didn’t seem to say anything about it. Why the obsession among conservative-Christians with demonizing LGBT people?
F7: Because homosexuality is a sin and we have to call it out as sin. The Bible is very clear in Leviticus 18:22.
Me: What about arguments the Bible is not in fact condemning anal sex between consenting adults, but rather, say, rape by essentially heterosexual men (which is probably the case in the OT story of Lot and the visiting angels) or perhaps paedophilia (as was common in NT Greco-Roman culture)?
F7: You aren’t reading the Bible literally enough. You are being affected by culture. You need to take the Word of God at face value.
Me: I take it we need to read Leviticus 18:22 literally, so that anal sex is a sin?
F7: Absolutely, anal sex is an abomination. That is what the verse says. Just read it and believe it.
Me: Okay, let us assume for argument’s sake you are correct. What about the studies suggesting a large percentage of gay men, even those in a homosexual relationship, do not in fact engage in anal sex? One study from 2017 suggested it was as low as 19%! Other recent research puts the figure in the low-30 percentile. By contrast, among heterosexual couples, up to 49% have tried it and 13% had done so in the last year alone. If anal sex is the issue, would it be fair to say Leviticus 18:22 does not even apply to two-thirds of men in adult, consenting, homosexual relationships?
F7: You are taking Leviticus 18:22 too literally.
Me: And if anal sex is the issue, I also presume you acknowledge women cannot engage in anal sex with each other. I mean, it is anatomically impossible.
F7: Lesbianism is a sin.
Me: There is not a single text in the entire Bible that deals with lesbianism. Not one—zero. It seems to be a non-issue to ancient minds. Again, that is what a plain reading of the Bible shows.
F7: You are wrong. Romans 1:26 addresses lesbians.
Me: Are you sure Romans 1:26 is dealing with that issue? What it actually says is that “women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” Verse 26 doesn’t mention two women in the same way verse 27 explicitly mentions two men.
F7: You are reading Romans 1:26 too literally.
Me: Just reading Romans 1:26, in the context of 1:27, suggests Paul might be condemning heterosexual women engaged in anal sex—with men! This was how many ancient Christians interpreted the passage. For example, Christian writer Athanasius in the 3rd century commented:
“Clearly they (the females referred to in Romans 1:26) do not go into one another, but rather offer themselves to the men.”
And Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century read the verse the same way:
“But if one has relations even with one’s wife in a part of the body which was not made for begetting children, such relations are against nature and indecent. In fact, the same apostle earlier said the same thing about women, [citing Rom. 1:26] ‘For their women exchanged natural relations for those which are against nature.’” 
F7: You are defining sin too narrowly. You need to look at underlying principles. Jesus said in the beginning, God created man and woman and they shall become one flesh (Matt. 19:4-9).
Me: Now we have gone from reading the Bible plainly to applying underlying principles. What happened to reading the Bible literally? The fact you are now starting to read the Bible purposefully is progress, I guess. Yes, Jesus noted that in the original created order God made man and woman. However, we now live in a sinful, messed up world. Even the SDA Fundamental Beliefs admit we do not always reach marital ideals.
F7: God demands that sex only ever be within the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Any other type of sexual or marital relationship is absolutely prohibited as sin.
Me: Some might claim that to be some sort of theological ideal. However, the Bible is full of examples of “irregular” relationships that were possibly less than ideal but tolerated, including: polygamy (multiple wives, Ex. 21:10, cf. 1 Tim. 3:2); levirate marriage (sex with a dead brother’s wife, Deut. 25:15-17); premarital sex (Ex. 22:16-17); marriage to a pagan (1 Cor. 7:12); marriage to a prostitute (Hos. 1:2); divorce (for the innocent party, Matt. 5:32); and concubines (akin to a modern-day de facto, Judges 19:1-4, cf. John 4:18).
F7: You are just twisting scripture. I know in my heart these homosexuals are terrible, degraded sinners. You and Loren Seibold are both apostates.
Me: Those seem strong judgements. However, the question here is, are we following the Bible or are we relying on emotive arguments? As for twisting scripture, what I have learned discussing Loren Seibold’s article and lesbianism on Fulcrum7 is that no one—neither liberal nor conservatives—reads the Bible plainly.
I think Dr. Seibold may have been right in the statement you criticize, above. I am not suggesting I fully understand what the Bible teaches in relation to the complicated and messy issue of human sexuality. I am the first to admit I may be wrong. However, whether one adopts either a literal or more purposeful approach to reading scripture, the Bible does indeed seem clearer on excluding unkind, gossiping, angry, prideful and hurtful people than gays and lesbians.
F7: You are just making excuses. We need to stand against sin.
Me: You keep saying that, but the point is that the Bible is less than clear about this issue. Much less clear than conservative-Christians often claim it to be. To the extent the Bible is not clear, why presume people guilty rather than innocent (19:15)? Why add additional burdens the Bible itself doesn’t clearly impose (Matt. 23:4; Acts 15:18-22)?
Why are LGBT people such a threat? Why are you so intent on calling people sinners, when even a literal reading of the Bible in fact may suggest no such thing? Why not let God be the judge and worry about yourself (Matt. 7:1-3)?
- I adopt the word “Fulcrumite” here as an adaptation of the word “Spectrumite”, commonly used on conservative Adventist forums such as Fulcrum7. Moreover, to avoid any doubt, the following is a composite of the kinds of arguments raised in numerous discussions on the Fulcrum7 comment board about the article. It is not a verbatim recitation or transcript of what was exactly said, which would be far too large to repeat in full. At times it might also be incoherent to read. Citations have been added for the purposes of this article. However, I have attempted to remain faithful to the thrust of the major points raised in the discussion. ↑
- Benji Jones, “From ‘sex means penetration’ to ‘all effeminate guys are bottoms,’ these are the most common myths about gay sex between men”, Insider, June 25 2019.↑
- C. Brian Smith, ‘“Meet the Sides”, Gay Men Who Don’t Like Anal Sex’, Mel Beta, May 2019. ↑
- “Is anal sex dangerous?”, International Society for Sexual Medicine, citing Journal of Sexual Medicine 2015. ↑
- David J. Murphy Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 138, No. 1 (2019), pp. 221-240. ↑
- Marriage and Desire, 20.35. ↑
- “Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship… Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, a man and a woman who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ through marriage may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church”: Belief #23, “Marriage and the Family”, Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. ↑
Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church.