“So here’s where my quarrel occurs with a strictly historical Biblical interpretation like N.T. Wright’s. Paul did believe that non-heteronormative sex was “unnatural” and that “unnatural” sex resulted in bad spiritual fruit. In Romans 1, he says that when people “exchange natural intercourse for unnatural” (v. 26), they are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice” (v. 29). The reason Paul calls non-heteronormative sex bad is because he thinks it fills people with bad spiritual fruit. That’s the plain meaning of a straightforward reading of Romans 1, which is consistent with the fruit-centered ethical framework Paul exudes throughout his epistles.
For N.T. Wright, there’s only one question to be asked, since we’re supposed to answer twenty-first century questions with first-century eyes: does Paul think non-heteronormative sex is bad? If he does, then we have to agree with him if we’re Christian. Case closed.
But what if it turns out that Paul’s grasp of human biology was inadequate while his ethical instinct was right? Does his biology have to be perfect and timeless for his words to be canonical? What if “unnatural” sex actually means for a gay person to marry straight and have a turbulent, dishonest relationship in which authentic physical intimacy is painfully impossible? What if the best way for gay people to live with good spiritual fruit if they aren’t uniquely called to celibacy is “to marry rather than to burn” (1 Cor 7:9) in a way that is “natural” to their biology?
When I look at the pragmatic pastoral theology Paul demonstrates throughout his epistles, I honestly believe if he were walking around today, he would say, “Let them do what is natural to them and least disruptive to their communion with Christ.” That seems to be a reasonable, straightforward application of Paul’s ethical framework.be no more disturbing
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul reveals where he’s coming from when he’s talking about sexuality. He says to the Corinthians, “I want you to be free from anxiety… I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32, 35). So Paul is not invested in arbitrary restraints. In terms of our sexuality, he wants to promote freedom from anxiety, good order, and unhindered devotion to the Lord. Those three principles are not contingent upon retaining “first-century eyes” when it comes to human biology. They are timeless, and I believe they should be the foundation of our sexual ethics today.”
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