We all have it and we can’t ignore it. There’s no denying that each person who attempts to study a subject must wrestle with their own bias on the subject. And when we talk about a subject like homosexuality any student has a hard task before them. For, we all have strong convictions one way or the other about the subject, and being and being objective is difficult. Still some authors are better at defending their positions than others, and Jack Rogers is not good at it. In his book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church Rogers reveals just how much bias can mislead our interpretations.
Rogers was at one time a rather typical conservative Presbyterian. He was raised in the Reformed tradition, and trained at a conservative institution. John Frame told me recently that he remembered going a Bible study that Jack use to host. At one time he held a conservative, traditional view on human sexuality, but he has since changed his mind and he argues that such changes are part of the church’s heritage. For example the church has changed its views on both slavery and women, and we now recognize this as an important transition and one rooted in a healthier study of Scripture. So, he infers that we need to revisit the matter of homosexuality, just as we once did the issues of slavery and the oppression of women.
Much of the first part of the book deals with issues of hermeneutics. How one approaches the text of Scripture will naturally dictate how one understands concepts like homosexuality. Rogers believes that the reason so many in the church today speak of homosexuality as a sin is because they are using a faulty method of interpretation. He writes:
Most Christians have been told at one time or another that the Bible condemns all homosexual relationships. That view is simply incorrect. For hundreds of years the Bible has been used inappropriately to oppress people who are homosexual. The eight passages I noted above are pulled out of their biblical context to justify that oppression. However, as we will see, when we apply the best methods of biblical interpretation…a very different picture emerges. (66)
In chapter four he outlines the “Seven Guidelines For Interpretation” that should govern how we read the controversial passages on homosexuality.
The guidelines themselves are good. Rogers lists them with commentary. They include things like “recognize that Jesus Christ…is the center of Scripture,” ” let the focus be on the plain of Scripture,” “depend on the guidance of the Holy spirit in interpreting and applying God’s message.” He asks readers to pay attention to historical context, cultural context, redemptive context, grammar, doctrinal consensus of the community of faith, and the whole of the Canon itself. We are to interpret individual passages in light of the whole Bible. We are to conform all interpretation to the ethic of love God and love neighbor. These are all excellent guidelines, the problem, however, is that Rogers doesn’t seem to use them rightly when he turns to the specific passages of Scripture.
In chapter 5 he offers interpretations, based on these guidelines, of the seven most common passages in Scripture said to address homosexuality. In all actuality Rogers doesn’t interact very much with the text itself. He quotes extensively from agreeing scholars, offering no new analysis or even personal defense of the text. This is hardly what I expected from a book about “the Bible,” and on the interpretation of difficult passages. It was utterly disappointing on that front.
Furthermore, Rogers seems to completely ignore historical context on a number of fronts, which, you will recall, is one of the seven guidelines for interpretation. For example he states, “The Bible . . . has no concept like our present understanding of a person with a homosexual orientation. Indeed, the concept of an ongoing sexual attraction to people of one’s own sex did not exist . . . until the late nineteenth century” (p. 58). But even in my own amateur study I have found scholars and sources that disagree. There are a number of suggestions that sexual orientation was a realistic feature of ancient cultures (see Robert Gagnon, “Does the Bible Regard Same-Sex Intercourse as Intrinsically Sinful?,” Robert K. Hubbard, ed. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents). There are myriad more cultural and historical ignorances in the book, too many for me to detail. It’s almost as if Rogers read no scholars who disagreed with his own position. He interacts sparingly with Robert Gagnon’s comprehensive volume on the subject, and often misrepresents the author (see his insistence that Gagnon believes homosexuality is a choice, p. 80. This is false). He reveals a general ignorance of ancient cultural backgrounds. Even as an amateur student of the subject I felt frustrated with this author.
In regards to the famous Romans 1 passage which judges same-sex intercourse, Rogers interprets this as applying only to those who worship false gods. He writes, “Paul’s condemnation of immoral sexual behavior is not appropriately applied to contemporary gay or lesbian Christians who are not idolaters, who love God, and who seek to live in thankful obedience to God” (76). This, as an explanation of “The Plain Text” seems so strange as to warrant a momentary pause. This is not the plain reading of the text! For while it is true that Paul makes a connection between idolatrous worship and same-sex intercourse, this should not be understood as a one-to-one relationship. Certainly none of the other vices listed in the passage are contingent upon idolatrous worship. “Murder” in verse 29 is not acceptable so long as it is not done by idolators. Furthermore this hardly seems an accurate reading in light of the whole of Scripture. Would the Levitical code have accepted same-sex intercourse so long as two faithful Jews were practicing it and not idolators. The whole purpose of the code was to make a distinct people for God, homosexuality was forbidden in that culture on those grounds.
There’s much more that can be addressed, but we should speak to one final guideline, that Jesus is the center of Scripture. I wholeheartedly agree with this interpretive guideline but Rogers would use it a way to dismiss any discussion of homosexuality from the relevant texts. Speaking of the eight controversial passages he writes, “None of these texts is about Jesus, nor do they include any of his words” (66). What is the purpose of such a statement? Are we to assume then that these passages are unimportant or irrelevant? He argues that only Romans 1 deals with “some of the central themes of the Bible” (66). It seems that Rogers would have us believe that not only does the Bible not say that homosexuality is wrong, but the majority of verses addressing the subject should not even be regarded with any weight. This low view of Scripture is really what sways so much of Rogers interpretive work. The Bible as a whole does not need to be considered on this subject. Those of us in the Evangelical tradition, however, acknowledge that the whole Bible is the Word of God, “authoritative and sufficient for all matters of life and faith.” We cannot limit our discussion of a subject to only a few passages, we want to take the whole canon of Scripture into view (another point of Rogers’ seven guidelines). It seems that Rogers, despite his contention, is simply not consistent with his own proposed guidelines.
In studying a theology of sex for the whole year I have tried to read plenty of counter-views. I want to do my best to understand the best arguments on both sides of this debate, but Rogers’ is hardly the best. His scholarship is sub-par, and his defenses offer nothing new to this age-old discussion. He interacts sparingly with counter-views, and doesn’t even do justice to the opposed views. Rogers’ own bias has blinded his evaluation of the subject. We are all biased, there’s no doubt about that, but Rogers offers us a bad example of how to deal with that bias.