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Responses to Kent Van Til

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David G. Myers, Ralph Blair, Marilyn Paarlberg

In his forthcoming book No Condemnation! (Wipf Stock), Lutheran scholar Gary E. Gilthvedt observes that “there is nothing about homosexuality in the earliest ethical codes of the Hebrews, the Ten Commandments; nothing in the Prophets; nothing in the sayings of Jesus in the four gospels of the New Testament; nothing in the great majority of New Testament Epistles. Integrity suggests appropriate regard for the fact that, simply put, ‘Homosexuality is not a prominent biblical concern.‘”

Kent Van Til (“Singleness and Celibacy: A Response to David Myers,” December 2012) would surely respond to this, as he did to my similar observation (“The Church’s Future in a Gay-Supportive Age,” August/September 2012), with his argument that “it may be true that the context for these biblical references was not a long-term sexual partnership, but his inference is not justified on the grounds that Scripture only explicitly mentions homosexuality seven times. The importance of an object or belief in the Bible is not gauged by the number of times it is mentioned.”

But surely the Bible’s thousands of mentions of poverty, the poor, and justice should have some bearing on what belongs on the church’s radar screen, notes Gilthvedt: “What we can call the rule of proportion helps us comprehend the relative importance of a biblical author’s particular subject matter as compared or contrasted to other topics within the same written work. By proportion is meant the prominence that an author chooses to give a subject in relation to other subjects. What the author includes, emphasizes, excludes, or minimizes helps to disclose the author’s purpose and the mission of the written message. . . . Thus, when proportion is considered it affirms that homosexuality is not a prominent biblical concern.”

Social psychologist David G. Myers is an ordained elder in the Reformed Church in America.

Kent Van Til (“Singleness and Celibacy: A Response to David Myers,” December 2012) argues that the infrequency of texts used against gays is irrelevant. Indeed it is, especially when any such use is anachronistic, as Van Til concedes: “it may be true that [the context of these few verses] was not a long-term sexual partnership.” He attacks David Myers’s (“The Church’s Future in a Gay-Supportive Age,” August/September 2012) “implicit denigration” of enforced singleness and celibacy for gays but then admits that his own experience of “singleness and celibacy well into [his] late twenties, before marriage,” was extremely difficult. Yet his (temporary) experience is what he says all gay folk must be forced to suffer throughout their entire lives. He says he finds no “scriptural support” for everyone’s having an opportunity for marital bliss such as he himself enjoys. Well, for starters there’s the Lord God’s decree, “It is not good for the human to be alone,” and Jesus’s summing up all the law and the prophets in calling us to treat others as we want to be treated. Van Til says gay folk should settle for nonsexual relations such as his own enjoyment of his children—as though that has no connection to his sexuality and his marriage. He complains that Myers fails to say why it’s “harsh” to forbid samesex marriage. Does Myers have to supply what’s supplied by Van Til’s own short-term experience of celibacy? Strange how it took a humble Jewish fisherman so little time to extrapolate from a fresh insight on shellfish to a fresh insight on goys like Cornelius, while Van Til still can’t extrapolate from his own sexual experience to that of gays.

Ralph Blair is the founder of Evangelicals Concerned and lives in New York City.

I agree with Kent Van Til (“Singleness and Celibacy: A Response to David Myers,” December 2012) that it’s pointless to rank the importance of biblical principles by the comparative number of times they appear in the pages of scripture. While I value the importance of seeking biblical guidance for the challenges of living together in faithful community, all too often the current debate about LGBT inclusiveness or same-sex marriage seems to descend into verse-volleying at best, bibliolatry at worst.

However, I think that most Christians would agree that a few iconic scriptural passages rise above others as ethical standards for all who seek to live a godly life, no matter how frequently they appear. Jesus himself lifted up one such passage. Its essence is, Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. The three are interconnected—we love God better when we love others as ourselves.

An aspect of Van Til’s response f lies in the face of that biblical imperative. In refuting Myers’s statement that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is immoral, Van Til implies that his ability to resist his own sexual desires until after marriage proves that celibacy is likewise possible for those with same-sex desires. The double standard here is deeply hurtful to young people who know themselves to be homosexual or bisexual and who, like Van Til, may have been taught by the church that sexual activity should only be an expression of vows made in marriage.

The twenty-something Van Til succeeded in “not indulging” within a cultural context in which marriage was an option for him. Presumably, he knew that if he were to fall in love with a woman, the church would regard their marriage as a normative and sacred fulfillment of their emotional commitment and, yes, sexual desire. Remaining celibate before marriage may have been difficult for Van Til, but let’s be honest—he knew it was temporary. That is not the case for same-sex couples who also believe in sexual restraint before marriage.

Matthew Vines, a young gay Christian, describes the predicament:

I’ve always believed in abstinence until marriage. But I also have a deeply-rooted desire to one day be married, to share my life with someone, and to build a family of my own. . . . But according to the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from that possibility. . . . My only choice would be to walk away, to break my heart, and retreat into isolation . . . and that will happen every single time that [I] come to care about someone else too much. . . . To deny to a small minority of people, not just a wedding day, but a lifetime of love and commitment and family is to inf lict on them a devastating level of hurt and anguish. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that Christians are called to perpetuate that kind of pain in other people’s lives rather than work to alleviate it. ( transcript)

I cannot imagine the emotional and sexual burden of such a reality, nor can I imagine compounding it by asserting that it’s possible for same-sex couples to remain celibate because, after all, heterosexuals are able to do it before they marry. How can that possibly be consistent with what it means to love God, others, and self?

Marilyn Paarlberg is the executive director of Room for All, an organization whose mission is to support, educate, and advocate for the full participation of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of the Reformed Church in America.