Morals, boundaries and laws change over time. I don't want to make myself out to be a "relativist" or get into a "situational ethics" debate, this is just an observation. Why do they change? Well, two things pop into my head right away. Knowledge changes and grows, for one thing. And then the needs of people also change as their environments and social structures evolve. What was once an ethic of "be fruitful and multiply"
is now an understanding of the need for birth control. Biblical laws call for the death of a child who curses their parent. "Spare the rod, spoil the child."
is common wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Slavery is everywhere accepted in the Bible. Polygamy is practiced and allowed. We think differently about many of these things today - and our practice has changed.
On the other hand, our values around incest are essentially unchanged. We have strengthened Biblical prohibitions against some behaviors such as rape. Sexual boundaries, morals and taboos are often the first to be labeled as "absolute" by many of us. Yet, these change, too. How close of a relative can one marry? At what age is sexual intercourse consensual? Are there "conjugal rights" or can a man be guilty of raping his wife?
Winding its way through the Scriptures is what I call the "prophetic" stand. What I have in mind here is the prophetic word about God's concern for the "least of these" in our world. The law always needs to be measured against the needs and well being of the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak. The focus in Biblical times was on the "widow, the alien and the orphan."
Protecting the rights of one group can often threaten the rights of another. This is what courts, advocates and appeal processes are for. When one discovers that a disproportionate percentage of individuals on death row are African American one has to question the laws or how they are carried out.
My question relative to the Bible and same gendered relationships is "Does new knowledge or societal change justify moving beyond traditional understandings?"
Placed in the language of the "prophetic strand my question might be, "Have traditional sexual morals had unintended consequences relative to the lives and well being of those who are gay and lesbian?"
Our "new knowledge" is that some people are hard wired to be gay or lesbian. Sexual orientation is not a "choice." It is clear that before we had this knowledge we did indeed burn people at the stake, cast them out of society and hold them responsible for what "we" (as heterosexuals) believed was sexual deviation. We now believe - at least I do - that this was inappropriate behavior.
(But was the Bible wrong?! This isn't a helpful question. The Bible witnesses to the power and presence of God in various times and places. Remember our principles of Biblical interpretation discussed earlier! Christians are people of "the Word" not of "the words." )
Society has also changed. Recognition and social support of relationships are a much more technical matter than they used to be. We need wills, directives to physicians, complex contracts for home ownership and clear lines of relationships to determine who is covered under whose health insurance and the like. Society has grown to offer increased safety, clarity and care for families in such matters. However, the unintended consequence of many such laws has been to excluded same gendered couples and their families. Such things are just as much moral
concerns as are physical sex acts.
So, that's my thought here. The Bible is a book of rules and morals, but both are under constant questioning and scrutiny. It absolutely does not due to be sloppy around issues of morals and values - that's not my point. My point is that the Bible sets the bar high - and the bar is not one of conformity, but a bar of sensitivity and service to the neighbor. Read carefully. This is what it is all about!