Gagnon, “Justin Lee took me out of context…”

I’m grateful for Holly bringing this interesting article to my attention.

In Justin Lee’s book, Torn, Lee sites “both sides” agreeing that Leviticus 18 as being specifically about gay sex in the context of idol worship. But it appears that he took his one quote from the “other side” (the anti-gay-sex side) out of context. It was a literary ploy to (effectively) mislead his readers (though I doubt intentional deceit was intended) into seeing that “Side A” is really more plausible than perhaps it actually is.

Having said that, it might be noted that Justin’s main point was simply to acknowledge that both sides recognize that specifically in Leviticus 18:22 man-male sex in the context of idol worship was specifically in view. It seems that he’s right about that, but it’s what he left out that is the problem. This seems to be Robert Gagnon’s point. While Leviticus 18:22 has specifically man-male sex in the context of idol worship in mind, the passage is not limited only to idol worship.

Now having said even that, it should be remembered that in this particular section of Justin’s book he is not attempting to give a fair both-sided approach to what the Bible teaches on the subject (I don’t think). It seems to me that he attempts to specifically argue for the permissibility of man-male sex in the Bible in marriage. Furthermore, Justin’s book is more biographical than academic. If he began at the point in the book to change the style of the book and began to write an academic paper on the subject, considering arguments and counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguements with all details and extended quotes, it would have been a different kind of book altogether.

So, I could hear Justin responding with,

“Robert, you do believe, do you not, that specifically in Leviticus 18:22 the author had in view homosexual cult prostitution, (at least partly), don’t you? So in that we both agree. I didn’t go on to quote everything else you said because, frankly, I don’t agree with you. But I did tell my readers that you are a strong anti-gay sex advocate; so if they wanted to know what you did with Leviticus 18:22 before and after admitting the point we both agree on, they could very well check your work. I did, after all, properly cite it.”

But Robert does make one good point in his response to Justin.

I find it puzzling that in your book you say that you were “disappointed” that the Bible didn’t “clearly answer” your question about the rightness or wrongness of committed homosexual relationships between consenting adults (187-88). As it is, I see no indication in your study of the most relevant biblical texts that you ever gave careful consideration to the biblical witness.

That is a fair point. And it is a lasting weakness of Justin’s book. Because after he made his case for the permissibility of man-male sex in marriage Justin goes on to repeatedly assert that the Church should not make this an issue in their churches. The reason why is because for Justin the argument is a matter of theological difference of opinion. But for those on Side B, it most definitely is not. And Justin does not appreciate this point. For Side B, gay-sex is not a matter of theological difference of opinion, it is a matter of sin. If someone attends a church but continues in a same-sex sexual relationship, from Side B’s perspective, this person is in continual, unrepentant sin.

I have a friend who has made the point many times that Christians are not (or should not be) called “sinners.” Christians, like everybody else, continue to fall short and to sin in this life. But the New Testament only applies the word “sinners” to Christians who continue in unrepentant sin (with one notable exception which proves the rule.) The difference is no small matter. For the Bible we all sin and, prior to salvation, we are all sinners. After we are saved a sinner is defined in the New Testament as someone who is in continual, unrepentant sin; “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8 in context, cf. James 5:20, 1 Peter 4:18, et al.).

In Torn Justin tries to remind us that all Christians are sinners, which lightens the blow of what the New Testament has in mind here. If all Christians are sinners, and if man-male sex is a matter of theological opinion, then what’s the big deal (says Side A)? But if only Christians who are unrepentantly continuing in a sin is a sinner, and if man-male sex is a matter of sin, then THAT is a big deal (says Side B).

Update: Justin Lee responds to Robert Gagnon.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • William Birch

    The apostle Paul claimed to be — present indicative, i.e., I am and continue to be — the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

    I think you are spot on in your critique of Gagnon’s perspective: Justin’s book is not an academic treatise arguing for the biblical viability same-sex relationships. I also agree with your comments (as well as those of Gagnon) that Justin’s case for same-sex sexuality is poorly or weakly argued.

    This is no indication that I, personally, did not like the book — quite the contrary, actually. I think Justin’s book needs to be read by all pastors, and not a few heterosexual laymen. But this aspect is merely a weakness of the book, as there are weaknesses in all books and arguments (Scripture notwithstanding).

    • Derek Ouellette

      I think 1 Tim. 1:15 is an exception that proves the rule. After all, in what way was Paul – post-conversion – the chief of all sinners?

      But I agree with you that this is a very important book which pastors need to read.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Holly

    Well, it’s an interesting point to make that Justin’s book isn’t a treatise; because indeed, it has become exactly that for those who already want to believe what he believes. I have friends who use his book to justify changing orientations (mid-life.) Justin says, you see, (they say,) that God does not mind who you love. That whole Bible thing? That’s just about cult prostitution. Treatise or not – that’s how it is accepted to those who won’t study both sides of the argument for themselves. Most people don’t read commentaries.

    Good point, Derek, on whether or not we are sinners. I think that only one who comes from outside of the viewpoint that we all are still sinners would notice that. (And you are Church of the Nazarene, right?) I noticed that too – and that gives me pause. I think to myself – “but I’m not walking in known, unrepentant, willful sin.” When the Lord convicts me of it, I repent and walk a different way. That does not mean I’m perfect, I’m sure there is much more that the Holy Spirit will reveal to me over the course of my life – but frankly, if it is in scripture and I can read it, I already know about it and can’t continue to walk in it.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Holly, aren’t you Nazarene too? Where about’s are you located if I might ask?