Robert Gagnon’s "critique" of a 2003 article I wrote on homosexual marriage for general distribution continues to gain attention more than a decade later, and I notice that his "critique" continues to appear on page 1 when someone Googles my name. So let me respond briefly so that my continuing silence does not suggest consent to his charges and certainly not fear of the “cogency” of his argument.
1. First is the matter of context. I was invited to write an 800 word article about whether Episcopal priest V. Eugene Robinson, living in a homosexual relationship, ought to be confirmed as a bishop. The article could have no footnotes; it was meant for a popular audience. Obviously, with its space limits the article could not go into many issues. (I find it interesting that Gagnon's "critique" of my 800 word document goes on for 5,748 words!) If someone would like to read a more academic paper of mine on the issue of homosexual marriage, see my article “A Methodist Supports Homosexual Marriage: A Study of Scripture and Tradition,” in Traci West (ed.), Defending Same-Sex Marriage (Praeger Perspectives). You will notice that my arguments about scripture there are based in substantive biblical scholarship, with appropriate footnotes. I do not mention Gagnon.
2. Note that Gagnon states that his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice provides “a thorough rebuttal of every one of Sample's claims” and then states “Sample writes as if he were totally unaware of the arguments employed therein. I honestly wonder if Sample was put off by the 467 pages of heavily documented text.” The fact of the matter is that I read his book– all 467 pages–but I found it so tendentious and so filled with bad logic of the grandest kind that I did not take it seriously, and still do not.
3. Gagnon seems to take offense when I write: “The term homosexuality as we understand that word today appears nowhere in Scripture. In fact, the word was not coined until the nineteenth century. Moreover, there is no evidence that the Scripture addresses the matter of sexual orientation as that characteristic is now understood.”
I understand that there was homoerotic activity in the ancient world, but notice, first, that I carefully couch my comments by referring to Scripture. Gagnon never demonstrates that homosexuality as we understand it today is used in the biblical text. It isn’t.
Notice, second, that Martti Nissen in a study of homoeroticism in Mesopotamia urges caution when discussing homoeroticism in the ancient near East. His review of the sources "demonstrate that same-sex interaction was not unheard of, and that moral reservations could be expressed about it.... It is questionable, however, whether the modern concept of homosexuality is applicable in this context.” (Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, 36.)
Note, thirdly, that he never actually engages my claim about homosexuality as a modern concept but turns rather to things like male-female structural complementarity, the Ham and Sodom narratives, and Plato’s Symposium! This is logic?
Notice, fourthly, his comment about “conceptual continuity.” This is an abstraction. He needs to look at the historicity of the words used around same-sex practices and later, much later, homosexuality. The conceptual continuity he suggests exists in his own mind. He needs to read or reread some good linguistics about concepts and their transformation across time.
4. Watch out for Gagnon when he calls something a fact. He does not seem to understand in his critique of me, that any reading of Scripture–yes, including mine– is an interpretation.
Note, too, how he says things like “Paul was probably aware—as was Philo of Alexandria—of the existence of a lifelong homoerotic proclivity, certainly among some men who desired to be penetrated by other males.” Amazing! Gagnon now seems to know what Paul was probably aware of— no mean achievement. But Gagnon’s problem, and it is the same with the rest of us, is that what we have is the text. Further, It is not Paul's consciousness that is authoritative for the church; it is the Scripture.
5. Gagnon says: “Sample thinks that Paul was not opposed to same-sex intercourse per se but only to forms of same-sex intercourse with an added exploitative dimension such as idolatry, prostitution, or “'some kind of economic exploitation.’” Note that I never make any such claim. He puts words in my text that are not there, and then criticizes me for his fabrication of what I said. While I certainly do not know Paul’s views unexpressed in the text, I suspect that Paul was opposed to the same sex practices he knew. What I do is to address some of the complications of the Pauline texts and to suggest that we have to go beyond them to address issues we confront today on homosexual marriage.
In this connection, watch throughout his “critique” how Gagnon continually makes claims of what I wrote that I did not in fact say. You will look hard and long for fairness in Gagnon’s “critique” of my article.
6. I have dozens of gay and lesbian friends who are Christians and married. Some of these marriages are among the very best I know, and some of these couples are among the most faithful Christians I know. Contrary to Gagnon, these are precisely the kinds of relationships I have in mind when I say there is nothing in Scripture that addresses them.
This is why I turn to the tradition of the church in my article. There are resources
there for understanding and forming good marriages among straight and same sex couples. Here, again, Gagnon demonstrates that he does not handle linguistics well in his critique of me. He states that Christian aims of marriage like the unitive and that of fidelity can be used to support polygamy. Let me say that there is no way that you can take the usage of the terms in the traditions I name to support polygamy. Once again, this is simply bad logic.
7. Notice, he says at the end of his “critique”: “The one and only position of Scripture remains: Love the person with homosexual temptations by reaching out in supportive friendship and caring enough to warn of the eternal risk of serial, unrepentant homoerotic behavior.” (Emphasis mine.) Note that I never defended serial, unrepentant homoerotic behavior. I also do not defend serial, unrepentant, heterosexual behavior. I defend gay Christian marriage. Who in the world is Gagnon talking to here? Not me!
8. Gagnon says I need to read more, and I agree. I usually read only about 40 hours a week. Perhaps he needs to get out more.!
9. I can go on and on, but my purpose here is simply to illustrate the unfairness and the sloppy way Gagnon responded to my paper. I regard his “critique” as like the rant of a Rush Limbaugh of New Testament studies.