Monthly Archives: July 2010

Kindle, iPad, Nook & more; will eBooks rule the world? UPDATED

UPDATE:  A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle is now available as an eBook for $8.99.  It is in Kindle version at and also through the publisher’s website.  It is also available in  iPad, Sony Reader, Nook/.epub version through the publisher’s website.

The Amazon Kindle has long been the leader in the eBook revolution, but Apple’s rollout of the iPad in the past few months has heightened awareness of the eBook phenomenon.  For the uninitiated who haven’t been paying attention, eBook reading devices (such as Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.) allow users to read books in electronic format.  Poppycock, you say?  A passing fad?  For better or worse, the answer is a resounding no, and the major publishing houses are scared to death, and recent news items will only stoke their fears. 

I’ll get to that in a moment, but let us pause first and enjoy the musty fragrance of old books.

Louise Erdrich is an accomplished Minnesota author, and her memoir of a trip to the border waters of Minnesota and Canada, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, paints a compelling portrait of the traditional bibliophile.  Conservationist, canoeist, photographer, and lover of books, Ernest Oberholtzer lived most of his 93 years on a remote island on Rainy Lake.  Erdrich’s pilgrimage included a few days in residence in an Oberholtzer cabin preserved by the foundation that maintains the island and offers summertime retreats for artists, authors, and others entranced by Ober’s legacy.

Mallard island Erdrich writes,

I want to stay among what I imagine must have been his favorite books.  The foundation has tried to keep the feeling of Ober’s world intact, and so the books that line the walls of his loft bedroom were pretty much the ones he chose to keep there, just hundreds out of the more than 11,000 on the island.  Heavy on Keats, I notice right off, as we enter.  Volumes of both the poems and the letters.  Lots of Shakespeare … then with kind of a bingeing greed I start, taking one book off the shelf, sucking what I can of it, replacing it … [I imagine a year with these books in which] I am forced to do nothing but absorb Oberholzer’s books.  Every day, I pluck down stacks of books from the shelves upon shelves tacked up on every wall and level of each of the seven cabins on Ober’s island.  Slowly, I go through the stacks, reading here and there until I find the book of which I must read every word.

As an undergraduate at Dartmouth four decades ago, I spent much of my study time in Baker Library, and I preferred climbing into the stacks of many storeys and storys.  Huddling in a corner carrel, surrounded by thousands of hoary volumes, I sensed that I learned by osmosis, that even if I napped, knowledge would seep in through my pores.

For such as Oberholtzer, Erdrich, and me, something will be lost in the phenomenon of the eBook.  But now to the recent news stories that bode an ominous future for traditional publishing. is an ecommerce phenomenon.  Founded in 1994 as an online bookstore, Amazon soon cut deeply into the market share of traditional brick and mortar bookstores.  Today, it is the giant of booksellers and sells far more books than any other entity.  Just a few years ago, it introduced Kindle, a hand held, electronic device that could read digital versions of books.  Here is the first recent news story:

The Kindle e-reader and bookstore have reached a “tipping point,” the company said Monday, with Kindle titles outselling hardcover books on the massive online marketplace for the first time … “even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books–astonishing, when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years and Kindle books for 33 months.”

This report suggests that the much ballyhooed introduction of the Apple iPad into the marketplace has not negatively affected Amazon and Kindle—to the contrary, the increased public awareness of the eBook phenomenon engendered by the iPad publicity seems to have benefited all eBook vendors.

The second news item is that the price for a Kindle continues to drop even as the technology improves.

Amazon has launched a $139 Wi-Fi-only Kindle, hoping to stay ahead of competitors by luring customers with low-priced e-readers that the online retailer is betting will drive digital book sales.

Amazon on Thursday also introduced the third generation of the original Kindle, which has Wi-Fi and 3G wireless technologies. The latter makes it possible to buy digital books from Amazon and download them in less than a minute. Amazon kept the price for the device at $189.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble announced its own marketing effort to push its version of an eBook reader, the Nook:

In September, the chain will begin an aggressive promotion of its Nook e-readers by building 1,000-square-foot boutiques in all of its stores, with sample Nooks, demonstration tables, video screens and employees who will give customers advice and operating instructions.

What’s an author to do?  Much as I might prefer to live in a world of Baker Library stacks and Oberholtzer island retreats, I recognize that I must sell books in order to write them.  My publisher has been working diligently to convert A Wretched Man novel to the various digital formats, and it will soon be available as an eBook through Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and others as well as downloadable from our own website.

Flattering reviews

Two new reviews of my novel, A Wretched Man, came in over the weekend.  Both offered 5 star ratings.  Here are snippets and links.

Leola Harris, aka “Tea”, offered this from “I Love to Read”:

a stupendous novel about Paul, The Apostle …The book is beautifully written full of descriptions of the Holy Land’s landscape and Agriculture … made me read further, stop reading, begin reading and so on throughout the book. My mind was being cleared for new knowledge vs. old knowledge …I questioned and examined myself … I questioned, I discovered, I began to see with a better lighting … birthed in me a desire to know more.

Jess, a student in New York, writes at Spine Creases.  After first posting a teaser comment on Goodreads, calling the book “A phenomenal novel”, Jess wrote the following:

It is well-researched; Holmen clearly has a solid background in early Christianity and religious history. It is also well-written … I felt that I had a more personalized understanding of who Paul was … [Holmen] presents Paul as human. Paul is as subject to human desires, human complexities, and human experiences as the rest of us. The best kind of book, in my opinion, is one that prompts you to think more, to pursue more knowledge. This book definitely incited that curiosity in me. (emphasis added)

I found this book to actually be quite a good accompaniment to my studies of Jesus as a social revolutionary, upsetting the status quo. I felt like I gleaned a new understanding of the early Judeo-Christian world, which is pretty astounding after having taken four years of academic religion classes.

Thanks to the reviewers for their generous comments.

ELCA Rite of Reconciliation UPDATED

 Seven California Pastors The blogosphere and traditional media are abuzz today with news of the ELCA Rite of Reconciliation service conducted yesterday in California.  An associated press article has appeared in traditional media across the country, and the New York Times offered its own report. 

For those new to this blog or unfamiliar with this story, here is a brief background summary.

Beginning in the early ‘90s, slowly at first but accelerating in recent years, a handful of the over 10,000 congregations of the ELCA defied church wide rostering policies that disallowed gay clergy who did not pledge celibacy.  An independent organization called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) came into existence to provide rostering and ordination assistance to such congregations and their extraordinarily ordained clergy.  At first, the ELCA punished these congregations by expulsion.  More recently the penalties have been less severe, but the extraordinarily ordained clergy were not recognized or placed on the active ELCA roster.

ELM joined with Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) and Wingspan ministries to form Goodsoil, an umbrella LGBT advocacy group that has been highly visible at the biennial ELCA Church Wide Assemblies in recent years.  Their efforts came to fruition at the 2009 church wide assembly when the voting members from around the country passed a gay friendly human sexuality statement (a teaching document within the ELCA) and also revised ministry policies to allow ordination and rostering of persons in publicly accountable, lifelong, and monogamous same gender relationships.  Heeding this mandate of the voting members (the ultimate legislative authority of the ELCA), the ELCA church council implemented policies this spring that provided for a “Rite of Reconciliation” that would be the process for previously extraordinarily ordained clergy to be fully welcomed to the roster of ELCA clergy.

The Rite of Reconciliation conducted in California yesterday was the culmination of years of advocacy and the year long process of implementation of policy decisions of the ELCA churchwide assembly.  Prior to this celebratory service, the Congregation of St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco, one of the original dissenting congregations that had been expelled by the ELCA, voted overwhelmingly to begin the process of returning to the ELCA.  So, two momentous events occurred yesterday in California, visible signs that the ELCA has become open and welcoming to all God’s children.

The Associated Press article included the following:

Seven pastors who work in the San Francisco Bay area and were barred from serving in the nation’s largest Lutheran group because of a policy that required gay clergy to be celibate are being welcomed into the denomination, the Associated Press reports.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will add six of the pastors to its clergy roster at a service at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco on Sunday. Another pastor who was expelled from the church, but was later reinstated, will participate in the service.

The group is among the first gay, bisexual or transgender Lutheran pastors to be reinstated or added to the rolls of the ELCA since the organization voted last year to lift the policy requiring celibacy.

And this is from the New York Times:

With a laying on of hands, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Sunday welcomed into its fold seven openly gay pastors who had until recently been barred from the church’s ministry.

The ceremony at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco was the first of several planned since the denomination took a watershed vote at its convention last year to allow noncelibate gay ministers in committed relationships to serve the church.

“Today the church is speaking with a clear voice,” the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, one of the seven gay pastors participating in the ceremony, said at a news conference just before it began. “All people are welcome here, all people are invited to help lead this church, and all people are loved unconditionally by God.”

A local San Francisco newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, reported,

Seven Bay Area gay and transgender pastors were reinstated into the national Lutheran church on Sunday after being barred for two decades from serving in the denomination.

It was a day of mixed feelings for the “Bay Area Seven” – the Revs. Jeff Johnson, Megan Rohrer, Paul Brenner, Craig Minich, Dawn Roginski, Sharon Stalkfleet and Ross Merkel – who saw the event as an act of reconciliation with the church that once shunned them.

“We finally got to the direction we knew the Lutheran church was heading. It just took it longer to get there,” Johnson said.

The blog of LCNA joyfully adds:

And then, in the afternoon, at a wondrous service held in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, seven pastors on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries roster were received onto the roster of the ELCA: Rev. Paul Richard Brenner, Rev. Jeff Robert Johnson, Rev. Ross Donald Merkel, Rev. Craig Michael Minich, Rev. Dawn Marie Roginski, Rev. Megan Marie Rohrer and Rev. Sharon Sue Stalkfleet were received.

Bishop Mark Holmerud of the Sierra Pacific Synod presided. Also participating were Bishop Dean Nelson of the Southwest California Synod, Bishop David Brauer-Rieke of the Oregon Synod, Bishop Emeritus of Southwest California Synod Paul Egertson, Bishop Emeritus Stan Olson of Sierra Pacific Synod, and Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California.

There were 675 people at the celebratory service, 275 more than the sanctuary holds, necessitating seating the overage in the fellowship hall with remote TV screens. Also, hundreds more watched from home via an live online video/audio feed.
The service was one of healing and reconciliation, magnificent music, extraordinary preaching by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, one of remembering those who have gone before, and lifting up the ministry of the received pastors.

Of course, there is ample negativity expressed from the usual suspects.  According to the Times article, Mark Chavez of Lutheran CORE chimed in,

It’s just another steady step taken by the E.L.C.A. to move the denomination further and further away from most Lutheran churches around the world and from the whole Christian church, unfortunately.”

An LCMS blog (Missouri Synod), Brothers of John the Steadfast, that was the cheerleader for the recent LCMS uprising that ousted its existing conservative leadership team for an even more conservative slate, felt compelled to judge according to the following statement,

I was at a wedding reception last night and referred to the ELCA as “apostate.” Not everyone appreciated that determination. I realize it is debatable but to me, the ELCA is beyond being a mixed (heterodox) denomination. I realize there are still believing Christians in the denomination but for the life of me I cannot figure out why they stay. The ones I have talked to have admitted that neither they nor there pastors are doing anything to protest the decisions of the ELCA General Assembly. That makes no sense to me.

Thanks to Pr. Roger Gallup for alerting us to this Associated Press story. It reminds us how far the ELCA has moved away from Christ’s true word and how important it is for us in the LCMS and for all Christians, to beware of adapting the culture to the Christian faith.

And finally, in a rant reminiscent of the now discredited Pastor Thomas Brock of Minneapolis, Pastor Mark Herringshaw of North Heights megachurch of St Paul called down God’s wrath on the ELCA.  After a windy recounting of the tornado that whirled past the 2009 Churchwide assembly, which he contrasted with the absence of meteorological phenomena in San Francisco yesterday, Herringshaw’s invective concluded:

Is God’s silence and seeming consent an even darker and more terrifying judgment. Perhaps he has simply withdrawn his hand. Judgment and discipline is a form of love. But silence… That’s the most frightening judgment! … May God have mercy! And may he again show his mercy in his hand of judgment.

“Have mercy! Lord, do not remain silent! Do not leave the ELCA alone to ferment in their own folly! Act again, in judgment if need be. Just do not turn your face completely and walk away!”

UPDATE:  The sermon was offered by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.  Her own blog, Sarcastic Lutheran, contains several excellent photos as well as text and video versions of her sermon.

I still love Rachel Maddow

This spring, I offered a blog post entitled “I have a crush on Rachel Maddow.”  Last night, she again earned my respect and hopefully that of all open-minded folks when she took on Fox News and Bill O’Reilly for their blatant twisting of the news for political effect.  Maddow said the following to O’Reilly:

your network, FOX News, continually crusades on flagrantly bogus stories designed to make white Americans fear black Americans [emphasis added], which FOX News most certainly does for a political purpose even if it upends the lives of individuals like Shirley Sherrod, even as it frays the fabric of the nation, and even as it makes the American Dream more of a dream and less of a promise.

Is MSNBC biased?  Are Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow opinionated?  Of course, but that’s not the point.  The point is journalistic integrity, and that’s an alien concept to Fox News.  Conservative billionaire Rudolph Murdock owns the network, and he can hire right-wing entertainers if that’s what he wants to do, but accepting falsified tapes and trumpeting them as newsworthy “frays the fabric of the nation’” as Maddow correctly asserts.  Troubled by the fractious political situation in America as exemplified by the tea-baggers?  Look no further than Fox News and their McCartheyesqe, fear mongering falsehoods. 

Here’s the full Maddow video clip.


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

We get letters, we get stacks and stacks of letters

Perry ComoIs it a mixed metaphor to apply Perry Como’s jingle from the fifties to emails?  Who is Perry Como you ask?  Whatever.

My novel, A Wretched Man, has been out for four months, and I’m beginning to accumulate reader’s comments.  One reader even called my cell phone one morning to suggest he had just finished the book at his lake cabin, and he wanted me to know how much he enjoyed it. 

Here’s a sampling of email comments:

Anna said,

I am truly enjoying the novel!  I think you did an outstanding job telling an interesting story.  I am not done, but will keep you posted.

Bob said,

If this story is close to true, Paul surely was a crazy man!  You did an excellent job of introducing the characters slowly, and repeated their relationships.  I am a history/geography minor so appreciate the references to place names and historical characters.  The maps are OK but a scale would have been helpful, especially to novice types.  I am enjoying the plot development very much.  Thank you for using Aramaic and Greek names interchangeably.   It is helpful to me to solidify them in my wee brain.

Mary said,

My husband read your book in three days–he just couldn’t put it down–and enjoyed every minute of it … [a few weeks later she added]  At this rate, I don’t know if I am ever going to get to finish reading your book.  My husband was talking to his brother last week about the book and his brother said he would like to read it.  So this past weekend he gave it to him to read… so now I am either going to have to buy my own copy or wait until my husband gets it back from his brother.

Donna said,

I have just finished the book and found it fascinating.  Like many of your other readers, I  have decided I need to get back to Paul’s writings in the New Testament.  Your book has given me a deeper understanding of how the early Christian church grew – Paul’s role in it and the fierce conflict between Jew and Gentile during this time.
I will recommend this to friends.  Thank you, I love historical novels and this was one worth reading.

Mike said,

I can only imagine the amount of time you had to have spent to gather the data not only on the historical, anthropological and archeological levels but on the climate and seasons and the types of farming, food, plants, insects, butterflies and birds at the various locations.  Maybe being a farm boy, and more attuned to the weather, drew me into the realness of the story line and paralleling Acts which I have always felt is one of the more compelling books of the new testament made the story of Paul more honest at least to me.  I had always thought of Paul as different from the norms of society and if Paul was gay or not doesn’t really change the bible and the good news from my point of view anyway.  I found a great peace settle on me as I read and concluded the reading of this novel.

Nancy said,

I’ve finished reading your book and really enjoyed it! I’m going to suggest our weekly Pauline Epistles Bible study read this during the rest of the summer.  It provides an interesting “review” of events, particularly the founding of the early churches, plus fills in the blanks with interesting possibilities! I really got a much deeper and clearer sense of the actual tensions within the early Church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

Sylvia said,

I started reading the novel and love the short chapters. It reads so well.  I put this book on our church book club for next year.

Yvonne said,

The premise that Paul was gay was extremely interesting, especially with what the church has been dealing in recent time. The story was extraordinarily well written and entertaining.  Your development of the characters was remarkable.  I loved your book.  Thanks for writing it.  I’m anxious to pass your book on to friends and get their opinions.

Add your comments here or send me an email obie (dot) holmen (at) gmail (dot) com.

What is “progressive Christianity”?

A lengthy essay by Brad R Braxton (Baptist minister and seminary professor) appearing in the Huffington Post seeks to answer this question.  Since this blog purports to be about “progressive, religious themes”, we’ll pick up this thread.  Braxton writes:

According to some accounts, the term “progressive Christian” surfaced in the 1990s and began replacing the more traditional term “liberal Christian.” During this period, some Christian leaders wanted to increasingly identify an approach to Christianity that was socially inclusive, conversant with science and culture, and not dogmatically adherent to theological litmus tests such as a belief in the Bible’s inerrancy. The emergence of contemporary Christian progressivism was a refusal to make the false choice of “redeeming souls or redeeming the social order.”

Progressive Christians believe that sacred truth is not frozen in the ancient past. While respecting the wisdom of the past, progressive Christians are open to the ways truth is moving forward in the present and future for the betterment of the world. Progressive Christianity recognizes that our sacred texts and authoritative traditions must be critically engaged and continually reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances to prevent religion from becoming a relic.

During the recent biennial convention of Lutherans Concerned North America, I attended a breakout session for “progressive clergy” (I was a usurper since I’m not clergy), and the threshold question was raised, “what does it mean to be a religious progressive?”  Since time was limited, we didn’t explore all nuances of the question, but we quickly focused on the prophetic.  Braxton also stresses the the prophetic nature of religious progressivism.

Prophetic religion involves a willingness to interrupt an unjust status quo so that more people might experience peace and prosperity … Prophetic evangelicalism insists that Jesus came to save us not only from our personal sins but also from the systematic sins that oppress neighborhoods and nations. Jesus presented his central theme in social and political terms. He preached and taught consistently about the “kingdom of God” — God’s beloved community where social differences no longer divide and access to God’s abundance is equal.

Braxton quotes Biblical scholar Obery Hendricks:

In our time, when many seem to think that Christianity goes hand in hand with right-wing visions of the world, it is important to remember that there has never been a conservative prophet. Prophets have never been called to conserve social orders that have stratified inequities of power and privilege and wealth; prophets have always been called to change them so all can have access to the fullest fruits of life.

Rev Dr. Serene Jones In response to Fox News resident idiot Glen Beck, who foolishly suggested that social justice is not in the Bible, the President of Union Theological Seminary, the Rev Dr. Serene Jones, penned a tongue in cheek response (quoted here from Telling Secrets blog):

Dear Mr. Beck,

I write with exciting news. Bibles are en route to you, even as we speak!

Kindly let me explain. On your show, you said that social justice is not in the Bible, anywhere. Oh my, Mr. Beck. At first we were so confused. We couldn’t figure out how you could possibly miss this important theme. And then it hit us: maybe you don’t have a Bible to read. Let me assure you, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people live Bible-less lives. But we want to help out. And so, as I write this, our students are collecting Bibles from across the nation, packing them in boxes, and sending them to your offices. Grandmothers, uncles, children, co-workers — indeed, Bible-readers from all walks of life have eagerly contributed. They should be arriving early next week, hopefully just in time for your next show. Read them with zeal!

Oh, I almost forgot: we’ve marked a few of the social justice passages, just in case you can’t find them.

What does this mean in actual practice?  How do progressive Christians live out the prophetic call to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Of course, one could cite the progressive march toward full inclusion of the LGBTQ community that is occurring in our mainline Protestant churches.  For instance, seven LGBT pastors who were previously ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries but not by the ELCA will be received as ELCA rostered pastors through a “Rite of Reception” this coming Sunday, July 25.Seven California Pastors

Here’s another example gleaned from today’s blogosphere.  Blog friend Susan Hogan reports that “Pastors for peace head to Cuba” (ELCA critic and WordAlone President Jaynan Clark will likely flip out again in response to this report).

A caravan carrying 100 tons of “humanitarian” aid is scheduled to cross into Cuba today, leaders of Pastors for Peace said Tuesday at a news conference at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in McAllen, Texas.

The [group] has broken the U.S. embargo against Cuba 20 times previously. The embargo includes travel and trade restrictions.

Pastors for Peace is an outreach of the New York-based Interreligious Foundation for Community, which delivers aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

And another from fellow blogger Terence Weldon on Open Tabernacle in an article entitled “Authentic Catholicism”.  While discussing the water relief efforts of an African Catholic diocese, Weldon offers the following indictment of the patriarchal, clerical, hierarchal structures of the Vatican:

To judge from either the most outspoken voices of the Catholic right, or from the anti-Catholic opposition, you could easily think that Catholicism’s most distinctive features are an insistence on blind obedience to the Pope and Catechism, and puritanical sexual ethics.  The empirical evidence from actual research, shows a very different picture … [Weldon cites two reports which gauge parishoner’s own sense of what it means to be Catholic] Once again, I do not see in there any reference to automatic obedience, still less to compliance with “official” sexual ethics. But in both these characterizations of Catholic “identity”, a sense of social responsibility and concern for the poor ranked high (emphasis added)- which is what the Ghana contribution to clean water is all about.

And then there is the silly charge by conservatives that progressives don’t uphold the moral standards of the Bible.  Jesus called his followers to a higher morality that upheld the spirit of the law often in conflict with its letter, to uplift the alien and the outcast, and to love one’s neighbor.  Braxton quotes author Amy-Jill Levine who imagines Jesus chiding a narrow minded, exclusivist Christian who wrongly believes his status is based on offering an appropriate creedal confession:

If you flip back to the Gospel of Matthew … you’ll notice in chapter 25, at the judgment of the sheep and the goats, that I am not interested in those who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in those who do their best to live a righteous life: feeding the hungry, visiting people in prison …  [Jesus continues] I am saying that I am the way, not you, not your church, not your reading of John’s Gospel, and not the claim of any individual Christian or any particular congregation. I am making the determination, and it is by my grace that anyone gets in, including you. Do you want to argue?

Book Review: The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon

Author Robert Gagnon has parlayed his best selling 2001 treatise into a role as theological spokesman par excellence on behalf of the conservative camps within the various mainline Christian denominations concerning LGBT issues.  With bona fide scholarly credentials behind his conservative argumentation (B.A. degree from Dartmouth College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary), he provides the intellectual cover for those who oppose gay clergy and gay marriage within Christian denominations.  What is more, due to his popularity, he has become a virtual cottage industry, and his website promotes his videos, audio tapes, articles, books, upcoming speaking engagements and recommended talking points.

He provides the scholarly support for those promoting a sola scriptura, word alone, “Bible trumps science, reason, and experience”, attitude toward ethical discernment of sexuality issues.  In this, there is extreme irony because his baseline argument is not biblical at all; instead, his views are based on natural law and science (anatomy)—we’ll consider this in detail below.  That’s not to say he doesn’t discuss the oft-quoted biblical passages with great erudition.  Indeed, even those who disagree with his conclusions can learn from his discussion of ancient same gender sexual practices and cultural attitudes.

Gagnon recognizes the difficulty in promoting the oft used and misused “clobber passages” as warrant for conservative Christian policies vis a vis committed same gender partners.  Yet, he is not willing to let go of the traditional arguments either, often expressing a “yes, but” response to consensus scholarship that would dismiss or diminish the relevance of such clobber passages for the current debate over committed partners.  Yes, the Sodom story of Genesis is about hospitality and not homosexuality Gagnon acknowledges, but

what makes this instance of inhospitality so dastardly, what make the name “Sodom” a byword for inhumanity to visiting outsiders in later Jewish and Christian circles, is the specific form in which the inhospitality manifests itself: homosexual rape. p 76

So, while acknowledging that the Sodom story “is not an ‘ideal’ text to guide contemporary sexual ethics” (p 71), Gagnon doesn’t quite surrender it either.  In this manner, he doesn’t directly abandon current scholarship, yet he retains enough wriggle room for his conservative followers to continue to misuse the biblical “clobber passages.”

As mentioned above, Gagnon’s own thesis does not rely on the traditional clobber passages of the Sodom story, or on the Levitical holiness code, or on the Pauline writings of Romans 1 or the vice lists of 1 Cor 6 and 1 Timothy.  Gagnon acknowledges the weaknesses of each of these with  “yes, but” argumentation.

Instead, Gagnon proposes a theory of “complementarity”, which is little more than a warmed-over restatement of ancient  procreation arguments.  Hear Gagnon’s words, which he couches as the “contrary to nature” arguments of the ancients:

Procreation is God’s clue, given in nature, that the male penis and female vagina/womb are complementary organs.  No other sexuality results in new life.  Therefore the only acceptable form of sexual intercourse is between a man and a woman … sexual passion for its own sake [is] little more than unbridled lust void of societal responsibility. p 164

The second main reason why same-sex intercourse was rejected as “contrary to nature” extends from reproductive capability to the anatomical fittedness of the male penis and the female vagina. p 169

Listen now to Gagnon’s “yes, but” argument:

[Yes] Each of the two main arguments contains elements that contemporary assessments of sexuality would find unacceptable … [but] Nevertheless, the core of both arguments remain persuasive in a contemporary context, containing as they do a recognition of the fundamental biological complementarity of men and women, a divine and natural stamp of maleness and femaleness that is blurred by same-sex intercourse.  Apart from Scripture [emphasis mine], the clearest indications of God’s design for human sexuality come from the anatomical fit and functional capacity of male and female sex organs.

Because male genitalia “fits’ female genitalia, we can infer that this reflects God’s creative design.  And since Genesis 1 & 2 are about creation, we can read this theory of complementarity into the text.  Voila!  A biblical argument against same gender sexual activity of any and all kinds!  With a scholarly slight of hand, Gagnon has transformed anatomy into biblical doctrine.  In the end, the erudite Biblical scholar and exegete is reduced to gussying up the simplistic anatomical notions of the ancients in modern garb and by a series of inferences passing them off as biblical truth.

Book Review: The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon

I first read Gagnon’s treatise shortly after its 2001 release, and I read it again a few weeks ago in preparation for leading a workshop at the recent Lutherans Concerned Convention.  He is an accomplished exegete, and his historical-critical Biblical research is solid; however, his conclusions are suspect.  Even as he surrenders the gay-bashing “clobber passages” to contemporary scholarship, he employs a “yes, but” reasoning that reclaims them again.  And, as the darling theologian of the sola scriptura, word alone, “the Bible trumps science, reason, and experience” crowd, there is great irony in that his own thesis is based on his view of natural law and questionable science.

Read more …