MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BP)–Scripture’s teachings on homosexuality are unclear and must be viewed solely through the words of Jesus, thus allowing the ordination of homosexuals, pastor Mark Caldwell and associate pastor April Baker, a lesbian, of Nashville’s Glendale Baptist Church told a group of college students April 3.
Caldwell and Baker spoke to some 90 students at Middle Tennessee State University, giving their views on the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality. It was part of weeklong “SpringOut!” events for the university’s “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.”
The controversial church faces expulsion from the Nashville Baptist Association for its employment of Baker, a lesbian. The association’s messengers are scheduled to vote on the matter this September.
Glendale claims affiliation with three national bodies — the SBC, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. The later two are comprised of churches and people that separated from the Southern Baptist Convention during or after the conservative resurgence. The Alliance of Baptists supports the ordination of homosexuals.
During the two-hour lecture — capped by questions and answers — Caldwell and Baker gave their views on the Bible. It is authoritative, they said, but it must be viewed as a whole.
“It is wrong to lift … allusions to same-sex practices … from their respective context and then lump them all together and proclaim them to be the biblical teachings about homosexuality,” Caldwell said.
All of Scripture, he said, must be viewed through the “justice” and “love” ethical teachings of Jesus.
“The Bible contradicts itself often,” Caldwell asserted. “… The best thing you can do is to try and shine the example of Jesus’ life on those passages.”
A Southern Baptist seminary professor contacted by Baptist Press said such interpretations simply underscore the need for recent years’ changes within the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Dr. Caldwell’s dismissal of biblical authority is one more example of the need for the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” said Russell D. Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“Dr. Caldwell’s claim that the Bible contradicts itself often is widespread among Baptist moderates, as is his contention that one must ‘shine’ the life of Jesus on erring passages. This is precisely the kind of twisting of the criterion language of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message that has caused concern among Southern Baptists.”
All of the Bible is “breathed out by the Spirit of Christ” and all of it “comes with the authority of Christ Himself,” Moore said. “Pro-homosexual Baptists are interpreting Scripture through the criterion of another ‘Christ’ — the messiah of contemporary liberal politics.”
During his lecture Caldwell gave his interpretation of the verses most often used to oppose homosexuality:
— Genesis 19 (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah). The passage, Caldwell claimed, must be viewed through another verse, Ezekiel 16:49. The sin of the cities was not homosexual behavior, but rather “social injustice and inhospitality,” he said. Furthermore, he said the passages deal with rape and not “consensual relationships between adults.”
— Deuteronomy 23:17-18 (“None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute.”). These verses are talking solely about “temple prostitution” and not about “sexual orientation,” Caldwell said.
— 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (“… neither fornicators, nor idolaters … nor homosexuals … will inherit the kingdom of God.”). First Timothy 1:8-11 (“… the law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious … for … immoral men and homosexuals …”).
Pairing these two passages together, Caldwell said they have nothing to do with “sexual orientation,” but instead deal with a man’s role within the act of sex. Paul is saying “it is improper for a man to take a passive sexual role,” Caldwell said.
— Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 (“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. … If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman … they shall surely be put to death.”).
The verses are simply requiring purity before entering the temple, Caldwell said, adding that inerrantists — if consistent — should demand the death penalty for homosexuals.
He also commented on the word “abomination,” saying the Bible uses the word to describe many items and actions. “No biblical inerrantist that I know of is out there picketing Red Lobster for serving shrimp,” he said to laughter.
— Romans 1:21-27 (“women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural … the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper …”).
This passages “has to be the centerpiece” of any discussion about homosexuality and the Bible, Caldwell acknowledged.
The writer, the apostle Paul, had a view of sexuality that was “archaic at best. … Our understanding of sexual orientation is vastly different from that of the biblical writers,” Caldwell claimed. Paul “was addressing homosexual behavior. He knew nothing of sexual orientation” and he was assuming that everyone was heterosexual, Caldwell said. Caldwell’s view of Scripture is wrong, Southern Seminary’s Moore said, adding that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
“There is no ‘canon within the canon’ with the ‘really inspired’ words in red letters,” Moore said in a subsequent e-mail to Baptist Press. “All Scripture is breathed out through Christ who is Himself the Word of God. The Old Testament prophets were inspired by the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11). Jesus promised His apostles that His Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:12-15). This same Spirit, the apostles claim, carried along men of God in the writing of Holy Scripture (2 Peter 1:16). Thus, every word of Scripture is the word of Jesus. It comes with the very authority of God.”
In his remarks, Caldwell said the Bible “does not endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle” and “has nothing good to say about such behavior” but also does not address “sexual orientation,” he said. “The church must take care not to force the ancient writings to answer questions they never address.”
Caldwell asserted that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality or sexual ethics.
“Jesus taught only a justice love ethic,” he said. “… Christ is the central norm through which and by which everything else — including Scripture — must be judged,” he said.
But this “does not mean that anything goes,” Caldwell said.
“I have serious doubt that the Bible provides a sufficient sexual ethic … to deny gays and lesbians full participation in the church,” he said. Inerrantists and those he called “fundamentalists” are “good-hearted” people trying to “protect” God’s sovereignty and holiness, as well as the Bible. While their motive is “commendable,” he said there are ways to “protect” God’s sovereignty “short of” taking an inerrantist position.
Moore dismissed Caldwell’s interpretations, particularly his views on Old Testament law and Romans 1. Moore added that 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 — ” … the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” — establishes that Paul was speaking the very words of God.
“There is a reason why evangelicals do not picket Red Lobster for selling shrimp,” Moore said. “Acts 10 reveals that the food laws were not part of God’s abiding moral law, but were designed to set the people of Israel apart from the other nations during the Old Covenant. These ceremonial distinctives were fulfilled, Scripture tells us, in Jesus Christ.
“The New Testament takes a much different view, however, of God’s eternal moral law, a law that recognizes, as Jesus says, that ‘from the beginning’ God created sexual union to be expressed in a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman,” Moore added, pointing to Matthew 19:4-6 (“… they are no longer two, but one flesh.”).
“Anything other than this is a cruel and damning parody of God’s good creation design,” Moore said. “This is precisely why, as Dr. Caldwell notes, the Bible ‘assumes we’re all heterosexual.’ We were created male and female by God — a creation God declared ‘good.'”
Caldwell’s belief that Jesus said nothing about sexual ethics and taught only a love ethic also is wrong, Moore said. Moore pointed to Mark 7:20-23, where Jesus addresses “fornications, thefts, murders, adulterers….”
“It is not true that Jesus never addressed sexuality, nor is it true that He only advocated Caldwell’s version of a justice-love ethic,” Moore said. “In full continuity with the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament witness, Jesus rejects sexual immorality as evil.”
Romans 1 is a condemning passage that clearly addresses homosexuality, Moore said.
“It is disingenuous to claim that Paul is oblivious to the concept of ‘sexual orientation,'” he said. “Indeed, Paul does not only condemn the shameless acts of gay sex, but the passions that fuel such things. Paul argues that homosexuality is part of a downward spiral of idolatry, folly and denial of the truth. It is a tragic revolt against the Creator.
“Even so, Paul does not see homosexuality as the end of the road to hell. He proclaims the glorious Gospel that all sinners — even homosexuals — can be justified and transformed by the redemption of Christ Jesus,” Moore added, pointing to the “such were some of you” passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Baker began the event by giving her testimony of her life as a “Christian, lesbian and Baptist.” She chose only two of those labels, she said.
Growing up she always felt “different” but did not have “the vocabulary to talk about it.” After college she met a man and they got engaged, only to break it off when it became obvious she did not love him enough to commit to a covenantal relationship, she said.
Eventually, after reading the Bible with an “open mind,” Baker came to the conclusion that she was a “lesbian,” she said.
She said she gets “angry with people who accuse me of not taking the Bible seriously” and then explained her view of Scripture: “I look for deeper meanings and go beyond the words on the page” as led by the Holy Spirit. “To say that I don’t believe the Bible is just plain wrong. It’s the book that’s had the most influence, and continues to have the most influence, on my life.”
She added that the “church has been one of the strongest perpetrators of prejudice against people in the sexual minority.”
At the beginning of the lecture she read several sentences, asking the audience to consider their beliefs. Among them: “There are occasions when a couple could benefit from living together prior to marriage” and “The Bible is clear in setting forth a Christian sexual ethic.”
She then said that, “[T]here really aren’t any right or wrong responses to these statements” and that there was room “for a variety of opinion. … No one has the truth. We’re all seeking truth.”
The arguments made by Caldwell and Baker are logical conclusions made by those who have already discounted other teachings of Paul, Southern Seminary’s Moore said.
“We should not be surprised to see such arguments used to defend homosexuality,” Moore said. “Key leaders among moderate Baptists have been using identical arguments against the apostle Paul’s writings on, for example, male-female roles in the church and the home. This is why there is an increasingly noisy pro-homosexuality faction within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. If Paul is ‘archaic’ about marriage and the church, then why is he not ‘archaic’ about gay sex?”
Glendale Baptist, and other likeminded churches, offer a message that amounts to “anti-evangelism,” Moore added.
“Baptist liberalism doesn’t just kill churches,” he said. “Sometimes it kills people too. After all, homosexuality is a way that leads only to death. I tremble to think of a young struggling homosexual who may have listened to such preaching. He is given a message of peace when there is no peace.
“He is not offered the transforming word of the Gospel of Christ — a Gospel that can free him from the slavery to his disordered passions. There are millions in such slavery to sin. Do we love homosexuals? If so, we owe them the truth — the truth that sets sinners free.”