Some websites only present one side of the story. That's where we help out...

Richard Bell’s essay on Same-sex Marriage

I came across Richard Bell in mid 2018, in the comments section under an article on a webpage. In multiple entries, he recommended that people read his theological essay about same-sex marriage, to which he provided a link.

And I took the bait.

The .doc file I downloaded was 47 pages long, consisting of an essay titled God’s Moral Law and Same-sex Marriage. A header on each page stated EARLY DRAFT; LIMITED AND CONFIDENTIAL DISTRIBUTION. The final words at the end were
Richard Bell, 9 October 2015.

So I guess the essay had been on hold for 3 years, and was not yet complete. When I googled his email address, I found that he was circulating it back in 2015 too. Since then, others have released similar works as books. But still, his 47 pages is a fair amount of text already. Given his unreserved public promotion of the essay, I feel at liberty to quote and respond to it. So here is what I found to be the more notable elements.

As he sums up at the end, he writes –

Alas, I have offered my foregoing interpretation of Scripture to many conservatives without convincing them. I point out that there is not one text in Scripture that clearly prohibits same-sex marriage. The conservatives point out that there is not one text in Scripture that clearly permits it. The conservatives insist that same-sex marriage is prohibited unless God clearly states or shows by at least one approved case that it is permitted, and so all my reasoning about the Moral Law and the natural order and the ground of Paul’s judgments and so on comes to naught. I insist that a benefit God does not clearly forbid he permits, and that people who find same-sex marriage clearly forbidden are confused. Conservatives and I arrive at this impasse.

So by his own admission, his reasoning has proven to be not very persuasive. But anyways…

In his second paragraph, he summarises his overall argument. Writing of the commandment against adultery –

Here, in a nutshell, is my thesis. God’s will for human sexual conduct is fully expressed in the Seventh Commandment. So, there is one sexual morality for all. Specifically, there is one sexual morality for heterosexuals and homosexuals, and its most general principle is that full expression of sexual desire is permitted only within marriage. God has provided the institution of marriage for all who need to express their sexual desires fully, and God wills that they all avail themselves of marriage. Therefore, it is God’s will that homosexual persons, not only heterosexual persons, marry if they do not have the gift of sexual continency. The Church should implement God’s will by treating homosexual marriage just as it treats heterosexual marriage.

And from towards the end of the essay –

The authors of the New Testament made moral judgments of homosexual conduct. They judged it sinful because it was fornication, a violation of the Seventh Commandment. And they judged homosexual conduct sinful in categorical terms not because it is categorically sinful but because those engaged in the conduct were all (necessarily) unmarried and so fornicators.

So not an unusual argument from a gay apologist. A traditional view, on the other hand, notes that in all the spots in Scripture where homosexual practise is condemned, it never indicates that the problem is that the participants were not married. And in fact in Leviticus and Romans 1 it seems to say the problem with homosexual practise is the gender mix of those involved. Furthermore, Scripture portrays Christian marriage as orchestrated by God and consistently as heterosexual. Jesus seems to portray Christian marriage (Matthew 19) as inherently heterosexual.

But how the author negotiates scripture is unusual. As alluded to above, a central theme of his is, as he wrote –

Do the Ten Commandments express all of God’s moral law for mankind? I submit that they do. That the Ten Commandments are complete is implied by Paul’s commendation of the written law as a reliable basis for moral judgment and teaching.

It still seems odd to me that he regards the Old Testament law obsolete other than the 10 commandments. And it still seems odd to me that he sees the 10 commandments as more important than the New Testament. The author admits that most evangelicals disagree with him, and he spends much of his essay explaining and defending his view.

He says the 10 Commandments are moral law, and –

The rest of God’s commands recorded in Torah are what specialists variously classify as Purity Law, Agricultural Law, Governmental Law, Ceremonial Law, and so on. Call them collectively the Additional Commandments.

He says

I submit that all or most of the Additional Commandments were limited by obsolescence.

And under his framing, he writes –

it is obvious that the Moral Law makes no distinction between male and female, no distinction between techniques for satisfying sexual desire, no distinction between heterosexual desire and homosexual desire.

All of which makes the cynic within me wonder whether his overall construct is simply designed to portray homosexual practise as permissible. He makes almost no mention of 1 Cor. 6 or 1 Tim 1, as though their condemnation of homosexual practise doesnt matter.

When discussing Matthew 19, the author argues that the heterosexuality of Jesus’ illustration of marriage is irrelevant. But then is it relevant that the marriage was 2 people rather than more? Could Jesus’ teaching apply to a woman marrying a sibling? Will they become one flesh? The author’s view of what is relevant and what isnt, simply seems to suit the outcome he wants.

In his Introduction, he describes himself as a conservative evangelical Christian. Although Googling finds that he attends a Presbyterian church. He cites many Scriptures, Calvin and Brownson the modern gay apologist, at various points. He also cites and critiques Gagnon on many occasions. He is also often refreshingly critical of other gay apologetics. At times he delves so very deeply into philosophical meanderings that it’s hard to know whether it is reflective of reality or not. EG “to suppose that morality is all created is to suppose that God created himself”. I mean, who knows whether that’s valid. He cites and dismisses various arguments of those who disagree with him, as ‘implausible’, when I tend to see them as plausible. And he tends to refer to his own arguments as certain truth, when in my view he tends to provide insufficient rationale.

At some points I think he’s plain wrong. EG when he wrote –

Stott is right to infer from Jesus’ comment on the creation story both that marriage is a divine institution and that fidelity in marriage is divine will; Jesus was driving to the conclusion that marriage is an especially thorough and permanent union made by God. But Jesus’ comment does not imply God’s exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.

I would say it does imply that.

Its interesting to consider whether the author is consistent. His footnotes declare bestiality as sinful. But Im not sure why the author regards what Genesis says about that, as still valid, while he rejects Leviticus as no longer valid.

And at one point he writes –

Stott’s understanding of the metaphor “become one flesh” as join in coitus finds no support in the comments of Jesus and Paul.

But then the author contradicts this on the next page –

I would not deny that the biblical metaphor “become one flesh” may be used also for coitus. It seems Paul used it that way. 1 Cor. 6:16.

At one or two points, the author sounds silly. EG his proposal that –

if, as Gagnon says, God told us a story of splitting the adam into two creatures with desire for reunion in “one flesh” just to teach us God’s will for sexual conduct and marriage, then God taught us that any identical twins who want to be sexual partners and spouses are, in his judgment, perfectly matched, homosexual and incestuous though their relationships may be.

This is a ridiculous understanding of Gagnon’s argument. Likewise it’s odd for him to claim that –

The conservative tries to support the conclusion that Jesus taught marriage is only for a man and a woman by making reference to an unexamined collection of Scripture texts that manifest a negative attitude toward homosexual relations.

Having read Gagnon, how can he say that such texts are unexamined?

Towards the end, the author writes –

The conservative has implausibly projected his personal views about marriage on the creation story and Jesus’ comment.

Gosh, I was thinking the same about the author!

One Comment on “Richard Bell’s essay on Same-sex Marriage”

  1. Carl Samans says:

    Very nice summary, thanks for taking the time!

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s