As of May 29, 2019, all of the staff members of The Reformation Project, besides the executive director, have been terminated or resigned. That’s all half dozen staff, leaving only Matthew! It’s people who had worked there for years. That’s an implosion, big time.
And why did this happen, you ask? Well the exited staff explain it here. And Matthew’s perspective is available on his website, interestingly, rather than as a page on the Reformation Project website.
Some external voices have taken sides –
Personally, from reading the two explanations, I see problems with –
- a policy of secrecy
- dictatorial leadership
- silencing of subordinates
which raises the question, to which degree have these traits permeated the ideology that the Reformation Project disseminates? And to what extent, does it explain the flaws in their theology?
Anthony Venn-Brown is a former high profile Australian AOG evangelist and preacher, who in the 1990s resigned and left his wife, to lead a gay lifestyle. He subsequently wrote a book named A Life of Unlearning which details his life story, including time in ex-gay therapy and over 2 decades of trying to live as a straight man. He is well networked with LGBT activists in the church in the USA and elsewhere, who enjoy each others insights, especially in relation to ex-gay ministries and their decline in prominence, as he writes a new book on this topic. These days he presents himself as an ‘ambassador’ and consultant for the LGBT communities, to both the church and the secular world. He is semi-regularly featured in Australian secular magazine presentations on the intersection between faith and LGBT matters.
As you might expect, he is generally articulate and well measured when he talks about his area of expertise; ex-gay ministries and the fact that Christian men who experience same-sex attraction, will generally always experience same-sex attraction. He is not well measured though, when talking other topics.
EG when he talks about interpreting the Bible, when the Scripture is about sexual matters. This is evident in his articles Homosexuality, Christianity and the Church and part 2; What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, examined below.
A Poor Start
In the introduction to this article, he writes-
… my intention is not to quote scripture and tell you exactly what it says or means but to show you the variety of interpretations that exist amongst scholars today, raise some questions and allow you to come to your own conclusions.
But he doesnt really follow through with that promise. EG telling the reader that the reference to an “honoured slave” in Matthew chapter 8, which Christian tradition regards as simply an honoured slave as stated, actually “meant only one thing — a slave who was the master’s male lover.” (underlining mine).
And he even seems to contradict himself. On page 3 of part 1, he writes –
There is no Hebrew or Greek word for homosexual as we know it today. The word didn’t come into use till the late 1800’s.
But he wrote part way through Part 2 –
If Paul wanted to refer to homosexual behaviour, he would have used the word “paiderasste.” That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual behaviour between males.
In Part 2, Anthony encourages us to look at the Bible through a new lens, in order to see what the Bible ‘REALLY’ does or doesnt say about homosexuality. By way of example of looking through a better lens, he claims that Matthew 5:39 tends to be misunderstood. In that verse Jesus says “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Anthony rightly says that most regard this as Jesus teaching his followers to be meek and compliant. But Anthony says that if you look into Jewish culture at the time, you find that this isn’t what Jesus intended! Anthony says turning your other cheek was a way to avoid being hit further. However, Anthony’s advice about resisting, is counter to what the Bible plainly states in the first sentence of same verse (Matthew 5:39). “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” The Bible says not to resist. Furthermore, the verse that follows (verse 40), likewise says to submit to your abuser (rather than resisting) – “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” It should be noted that Anthony’s stated source, Walter Wink, had a reputation of “challenging orthodox interpretations” (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/20/us/walter-wink-theologian-who-challenged-orthodoxy-dies-at-76.html). A renegade is generally not the best source of material for an analogy!
Anthony’s advice in this illustration, is based on the idea that Jews of the time would only hit you with their right hand and not their left. This idea is not commonly stated in Bible commentaries. It’s true that Jewish religious culture had a preference for using the right hand (http://www.talmudology.com/jeremybrownmdgmailcom/2018/6/10/zevachim-62-to-the-right-always-to-the-right). But it doesnt seem that it generally matters which hand is using for eating (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1097194/jewish/The-Right-and-Left-Way.htm). So Anthony seems to be mistaken.
Sodom & Gomorrah
When it comes to the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, Anthony raises the question of whether most Bibles are mistranslated. But how likely it is that almost all translations got that wrong?? Why wouldn’t those who translate Bibles, use the best translators? His argument sounds like conspiracy theory. You can see this list of comparisons of translations, that there is a very high degree of consistency in translation for the verse concerned.
Anthony claims that “In all the Old and New Testament references to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, homosexuality is never condemned only inhospitality and idolatry.” Anthony then lists various references including Jude 7. But does Jude 7 confirm his claim? In the NIV translation, Jude 7 states “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” And the NRSV words it – “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Those popular translation suggest that Anthony is wrong.
Anthony asks whether it’s okay to sin, since we are saved by faith. No it’s not. Read all of Romans 6. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” In fact, read the whole Bible.
In a section titled “Is this about temple prostitution”, Anthony writes
In Deuteronomy 23:17 we find the main concern of the Hebrews toward homosexual acts “None of the Israelite women shall become a temple-prostitute, nor shall any of the Israelite men …”
Yet Anthony offers no substantiation for this claim that this is the main concern. So was it the main concern? Probably not. His claim is very obscure.
In a section about Romans 1, Anthony suggests that the passage is about heterosexuals. He writes that the passage is irrelevant to gay and lesbian believers today. But the passage talks of men lusting after men. Heterosexuals dont do that. If a man lusts after a man, he is homosexual. The passage is relevant to homosexuals!
In a section entitled Why didn’t Paul use any homoerotic words that were popular in his day, Anthony argues that “If Paul wanted to refer to homosexual behaviour, he would have used he word “paiderasste.” That was the standard Greek term for sexual behaviour between males.” Well others have responded to this common objection, by explaining that “this term more accurately refers to adult male relationships with minor-aged boys” (https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/43977-the-apostle-paul-and-homosexuality-answering-homosexual-objections-part-1?showall=1&limitstart=).
At one point, Anthony writes that the Bible verses which are commonly thought to refer to homosexuality being sinful –
… are speaking about male prostitution, pederasty, exploitative relationships. If you spoke to your average gay man and tried to explain these to him he would have a hard time understanding the relevance to him.
But there is nothing in 1 Timothy 1:10 or 1 Corinthians 6:9 for example, to indicate the reference to homosexuality involves prostitution, pederasty or exploitative relationships.
In a section entitled “Did Jesus heal a Centurions male lover?” (sic) Anthony writes an elaborate argument that amounts to a claim that because a centurion referred to his slave as ‘honoured’, this meant they were lovers. Frankly the only people who argue this, are gay activists. It’s an argument that has been around for a long time, but has no credibility. If they were lovers, then English translations of the Bible would state that, because “honoured slave” would be misleading.
If you want to know what the Bible says about homosexuality, there are better sources than this. EG https://what-does-the-bible-say-about-homosexuality.com/
This 52 minute documentary relates the experience of a young lesbian woman coming to terms with her sexuality and faith, as she interviews various (somewhat) Christian experts on the subject. Much of the documentary is comprised of contemporary commentary on relevant Bible passages, from Sodom & Gomorrah, to Jesus and beyond.
The young woman’s face is not identified and her name is never provided, even in the credits. She interviews numerous people; some highly educated, others presumably not, some conservative, but most “Progressive”. Or at least it’s the ‘Progressive’ interviewees that get the most screen-time. Unofficial representatives from both extremes; Fred Phelps and John Spong, appear regularly throughout. The interviewees speak independently rather than responding to each other, meaning their opinions don’t tend to be critiqued. The editing is fairly fast and furious, and at times someone might speak only a single short sentence before it cuts to someone else speaking. The result is numerous opinions being expressed. And often the opinions are flawed. For me to respond to each and every point, would render this a verrrry long response, so instead I’ll focus on certain highlights.
Genesis: Sodom & Gomorrah
Some elements of what is said about Sodom & Gomorrah, are fair. But on the other hand, interviewees repeatedly say the story is about hospitality. That advice contradicts Ezekiel 16:49-50 –
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
Leviticus 18 and 20
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
The interviewees say this passage is really about ownership of wives rather than homosexuality. But that advice doesnt line up with verses such as 18:10 or 13 or 17 or 18 or 19 or 21.
The interviewees also say we cant be selective about which passages from Leviticus we follow. But Jesus was selective. He affirmed some elements and rejected other elements.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
The interviewees say that when the author, Paul, wrote that gay sex is ‘unnatural’, he meant culturally inappropriate. But there is little or nothing in the text that indicates that Paul was intending to be culturally specific. He seems to be speaking for God. If his words about homosexuality were to only apply to one culture, is the same true for other principles in Scripture? EG is murder only sinful for some cultures and not others?
Another point made by the interviewees is that if God made someone in a certain way, God must approve of it. But it’s a common theme throughout the New Testament that Christians are supposed to turn away from their natural inclinations!
1 Corinthians 6 & 1 Timothy 1
do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
Several interviewees claim that a loving homosexual relationship between equals “never would have occurred to Paul” and that “Paul never understands” that people might enter loving homosexual relationships. This is conjecture without a firm basis. Homosexual activity at the time was not entirely abusive. Pederastic relationships of the time were regarded by some as altruistic. Sure homosexual practise at the time may have often occurred between non-equals. But that doesnt mean that Paul couldn’t have conceived it happening between equals or as it being a loving relationship.
At one point, an interviewee claims that Paul said “don’t get married.” This is a misleading oversimplification. Paul said it’s better not to marry, but in the same statement, said that it’s okay to marry if needed (1 Corinthians 7).
At another point, the documentary displays text stating that 98% of male pedophiles are heterosexual. This is contradicted by https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00926239208404356?journalCode=usmt20
At another point, the host says “… people can debate any aspect of the Bible. But it is almost impossible to debate the central themes presented by Jesus’ ministry.” This just isn’t reality. In many churches today, whether they realise it or not there is much debate about what it means to “love your neighbour”. Many feel that it means welcoming refugees and sanctioning gay marriage, while others feel it refers instead to specific types of love that Jesus mentioned, such as supporting the poor, eg from Matthew 25:42-43.
At another point, it’s asked what did Jesus said about homosexuality? An interviewee responds “absolutely nothing.” But again, this is an exaggeration. See details here.
At another point, John Spong claims “…you cant be the Christian church and exclude people.” But of course you can! Jesus said many would be excluded from heaven. Jesus said that if people didn’t meet some conditions they are not fit to be his disciples (Luke 14:27).
It’s interesting to Google some of the names mentioned. I only did a few. But there is a section of photos depicting ‘murdered’ LGBT people, towards the end, making them sound like vulnerable victims. But details I found on the last one, indicate that he was teasing and inciting his murderer. And the photo of him doesnt reflect the descriptions of how he tended to present himself. Googling the name of one of the most common faces in the documentary, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, reveals that she doesnt even seem to identify as a Christian, but rather as a Jew (https://divinity.vanderbilt.edu/people/bio/amy-jill-levine).
One Thomas Grover recently pointed me to a webpage here where he had sought to advance the idea that homosexual practise might not be sinful. I read through the web page, but didnt find it compelling. Annoyingly the webpage doesnt have a facility for feedback available, so here is my 6-point reply to him –
1. Near the start of the page, you wrote –
“No where in the Bible is there a word equivalent to homosexual. Neither Hebrew, Greek, Syric, or Arimaic. Hebrew, Arabic, and Modern Greek still do not. No language did until the 19th. Century. Obviously there are ways of alluding to things with out actually giving them a specific name. But can a concept exist with out a name and in this particular case it is doubtful if the concept of homosexual behavior as a class existed.”
However, this seems to me to contradict what is written towards the end, IE
“… the idea that homosexuality represented a congenital physical characteristic was widespread in the Hellenistic world …”
Huh? Weren’t you arguing that the concept didn’t exist, and now your referring to elements of it being widely regarded?
2. When reviewing the story of Sodom, you extensively cite 14 references to it, from throughout the Bible. But you emit a key verse; Ezekiel 16:50. Why oh why omit something so fundamental? Amazingly you then surmised in the absence of the contradictory evidence of verse 50, that “Nowhere is there any reference to (even obliquely) to homosexuality?”, despite also your two prior sentences, which cite Jude 7 to say “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. …” The article doesnt put those two words in bold as I have, but … how could you not see that?
3. You suggest that lack of hospitality may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, resulting in the destruction of Sodom. This is mere conjecture. The straw that broke the camels back, may just as likely been homosexual practise.
4. Part 3 begins “Saint Paul, whose commitment to Jewish law had taken up most of his life, never suggested that there was any historical or legal reason to oppose homosexual behavior: if he did in fact object to it, it was purely on the basis of functional, contemporary moral standards.” Im not so sure. In 1 Corinthians 6, he talks of barriers to inheriting the kingdom of God. Is that not about holy standards rather than contemporary moral standards? And we should note also that St Paul’s word ‘arsenokoites’ has been said to be drawn from parallel Greek terminology in Leviticus (http://www.kotipetripaavola.com/arsenokoitesmeanshomosexuality.html). Yes, from a book of Jewish law.
5. You claim that ‘arsenokoites’ was originally defined as male prostitute. But no proof is provided.
6. In part 4, you argue that Paul’s condemnation in Romans 1, was that those depicted enjoyed heterosexuality, but also indulged in homosexual behavior. But Romans 1 says the men lusted after each other, so doesnt this line of thinking mean that they were bisexual? Surely if the men were lusting after each other, they couldn’t be simply straight. So are you saying that bisexuality is immoral?
This post is a review of the Kindle version of the 2019 book named THE HANDBOOK: A Quick Conversation Guide to What the Bible Does and Does Not Say About Homosexuality, By Will Horn, Copyright 2019 Weeping Willow Publishing.
This book claims that the Bible does not reference homosexuality, and that “… every time you see the word “homosexual” in the Bible, it is a mistranslation!” The claims in the book are often based on exaggeration, unsubstantiated conjecture presented as fact, and on turning a blind eye to inconvenient details. EG from chapter 11; “… Paul did not understand that there were people who had an innate sexual or affectional attraction to the same gender …”
The book examines the key relevant texts of Scripture one by one.
When looking at the Sodom & Gomorrah story, it focuses on Ezekiel 16:49 which lists various reasons why the towns were destroyed. But the book omits verse 50, and so gives a misleading summary. When later evaluating Jude 1:7, the author dismisses it. This dismissal is contradictory to other advice he provides about giving context due weight.
When examining the relevant passage in Leviticus, the author says it’s about temple prostitution and idol worship rather than about homosexuality. But if you read the whole of Leviticus 18 for yourself, you see that the wider context is inappropriate sexual partners, and that the author is turning a blind eye to this. The author of the book also says that we no longer follow Leviticus, eg we now eat shrimp. But he omits to mention that the reason we eat shrimp, is because Jesus said that it’s fine to do so, unlike homosexual practise.
When interpreting Romans 1, the author tends to obfuscate, and say we “must” admit that “we don’t really know for sure what Paul is talking about”. He suggests that “a contextual reading of the passage generally leads us to one point of view and this is that Paul was not speaking about homosexuality at all.” Well many use a contextual reading to conclude that Paul was speaking about homosexuality. The author’s conclusion is odd.
When looking into 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, the author translates the first passage as being about catamites rather than homosexual adults. And although this is a possible translation, it’s not the only possible translation. The text itself does not specifically state it’s about catamites.
When examining what Jesus believed, it’s not balanced for the handbook to claim that Jesus is “… conspicuously silent on this topic.” I like how the book says in chapter 3 that context is important. But the author seems to disregard his own advice. Jesus had context. Jesus arrived in a Jewish context. The Jews believed that homosexual sex was sinful. Historians will tell you that. Leviticus will tell you that. If Jesus didnt mention homosexuality, this would imply that he agreed with the status quo. And we do know that Jesus said that sexual morality was important (Mark 7:21). And we know that Jesus presented 1 option as an alternative to lifelong heterosexual marriage – the life of a eunuch (Matthew 19). Many see this as implying not marrying at all. Yes Matthew 19 is open to interpretation, but its not “silent” as the handbook claims.