STRAIGHT & NARROW by Thomas E. Schmidt. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity
Press, 1995. 180 pages, index. Hardcover; no price shown.
This book stands in opposition to Daniel A. Helminiak's "What the Bible
Really Says About Homosexuality," published in 1994, on which I
have previously written in the file GAY2.TXT. As with my previous
writing, it is more a collection of notes than a book review; I mean
it to have some of the attributes of both.
Helminiak's book presents the thesis that homosexuality is not proscribed
by Scripture, even if one subscribes to an inerrant Bible. Schmidt
dissents from this, and adds other (secular) views on the issue.
The author is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Westmont College
in Santa Barbara, California.
The book is recommended for reading by people on either side of the issue.
The issue, for me at least, is very simple: If an adult person is committed to
the view of a stable, lifetime, loving, monogamous relationship with another
adult person, should he/she be denied ordination in my church (PCUSA)
because that relationship happens to be male-male or female-female rather
A second way of expressing the issue is: Does God view homosexual activity
as sinful, if that activity is carried on exclusively within the structure
of an adult, stable, lifetime, loving, monogamous relationship?
The issue does not involve promiscuity, n-way relationships where
n = 3, 4 or more, political questions, and so forth, but only the
narrowly defined questions above.
To begin with, Schmidt's book is heavily footnoted; thirty-eight pages
of the "small print" follow the main text; another eighteen (!) pages of
bibliography (I estimate 300 to 350 references) follow that. Then there is
a one page subject index, two pages of an index to scriptural references,
and finally one page with specific references to nearly fifty other
ancient writings. It is clear that the author did not just "toss this off
as a quick summer project," but has, indeed, taken a great deal of time
and effort in order to do a professional job.
Chapter 1. About me, about you.
Written on a personal level, the author seeks to gain rapport with his
target audience, which he defines (pg 15) as the "moderate to
well-educated, morally conservative Christian community" in order
"to deepen the understanding and sensitivity of those who question
or disapprove of homosexual practice." But he goes on, saying (for
example) that (pg 16) "I hope I serve another purpose for those who disagree
with my conclusions -- that is, to demonstrate the possibility of
disagreement without stupidity, without hatred, without slogans. Argue
with me, but do not put me in a box, do not make a caricature of me
in order to dismiss my conclusions. Allow me a face."
Schmidt goes on to define that "face," which he calls "an evangelical
face." He does a good job doing so. For instance, he does not think
all evangelicals have a "common stance" on many issues. Listing a few
of these, he says (pg 17) "It happens that I hold minority views in
most of these areas myself, and I am free to do so without having to attend a
church for the doctrinally disabled. On the issue of homosexuality I
happen to hold the majority view, but even then I would never call my
position 'THE Christian position,' or even 'THE evangelical position.'"
The next section of this chapter is Schmidt's view of how "evangelical"
is to be understood in the perspective of this book. In summary,
1. The centrality of Jesus as the only Son of God.
2. The primacy and finality of the Bible's authority for faith and practice.
3. The primary task of Bible Study -- seeking intended meanings of its authors.
4. The ongoing relevance of Biblical morality.
5. The Bible is a unity, inspired by God's spirit.
6. The world is both under God's care and God's judgement.
7. People matter, one at a time.
He concludes chapter 1 with a discussion of word definitions, choosing to
use the convenient terms "homosexual" and "homosexuality" with the advance
acknowledgement that these may be controversial for some readers.
As one who is still "on the fence" on the issues (see above), I found
the start promising.
Chapter 2. What the fuss is all about.
This is a dishonest book. Now I say not that the author is dishonest, but
only the the book is, itself, dishonest. Not in a "fatally flawed" sense,
else I would not recommend it. But here, in this chapter, Schmidt uses
one of the oldest tricks of argumentation, that of "persuasive definition."
It is here he decides for the first time to label his opposition as
"revisionists." It is an accurate word, it is an honest word, but it is also a
word that carries much baggage with it -- and its constant use as the
book progresses begins to wear badly. As the pro-life person can gain the
upper hand in abortion debates if the term "murder" is agreed to; as the
white/black conflicts in our nation were necessarily shaped by the common
uses of "white" to mean "good" and "black" to mean "evil;" as the
pro-choice person has much to gain by constant harping on the "religious
right;" so it is here.
Schmidt's clear tactic is to constantly point out how the church has, for
centuries, labeled homosexual acts as "sin," and it is the "revisionists"
who want to upset everything. He introduces this as an ostensibly neutral
term (pg 29), never pointing out, as he might have, that those who
argued for a heliocentric solar system were "revisionists," those who fought
for an end to slavery were "revisionists," and the list goes on. Yes, even
God, when he told Peter to "kill and eat" was a revisionist! But the term
is a negative; it colors all that comes afterwards in the book.
Schmidt also has some absolutely terrible logic at the chapter's beginning,
where he (pg 26) hopelessly confuses legality and morality in argumentation too
chaotic to ever unravel. He correctly (IMO) however identifies a key issue
(not scriptural, but possibly speaking to scriptural issues) as being that
of choice -- is the gay person gay by nature, by nurture or by choice?
Putting off this discussion until much later (chapter 7), Schmidt then makes
a good attempt (pages 29-37) to present the opposition's arguments as fairly
as possible. It is too bad Helminiak's book was unavailable when he wrote
this one; the arguments cross one another. It is difficult to present
your opposition's arguments well, but, IMO, it is an essential step
in understanding. I'll give Schmidt a "B+" for his attempt. Not bad; he
could have done better. I think. I note in passing he refers (in the notes)
to over twenty-five books and scholarly articles published between 1975 and
1994 which argue the opposition's case. What a lot of research!
Schmidt also discusses how the debate is taking place in some denominations;
not in others. He thinks all will have to confront it -- in time. His
chapter conclusion is well put: "Whatever the stage of discussion in a given
denomination, individual Christians are responsible to think, to evaluate
new viewpoints, to discern right from wrong and true from false, to
disagree with respect." I'll endorse that.
Chapter 3. Sexuality from the beginning
Oh dear! The author has chosen a weak word where a strong one is what
he really means! He also argues that the pattern of his opposition is like
that which he has chosen in chapter 2 to represent them! Bad argument!
The second one first. "Chapter two showed that the pattern in revisionist
approaches is to list the apparent biblical prohibitions... ." (pg 39).
argumentation approach; it is not at all the only one. Schmidt has set
up a strawman.
The first: "...the pervasiveness and reasonableness of an affirmed
activity: heterosexual marriage. I will maintain ... that the Bible,
reason and tradition combine to tell us what is good and how to
understand departures from that good."
The "weak" word here, of course, is "good." The "strong" word would be
"sin." The biblical texts affirm heterosexual marriage as a "good." And
most gay persons, I think, would affirm that their sexual activities
are a departure from that "good." But that departure may, or may not,
equal "sin" in God's eyes! To argue a "departure from a good" without
addressing the sin question is misleading, another "persuasive definition."
Nodding your head "yes" to Schmidt's statement is simply following the
lead of your friendly automobile salesman; say "yes" often enough and
next thing you know you've bought the salmon and plum colored Sludgemobile
he's been trying to peddle for the past six months! < G >
Schmidt then argues (well) the expected things:
1. Reproduction is good.
2. Sex is good.
3. Marriage is good.
4. Male & female are necessary counterparts.
He then argues that homosexuality, not measuring up, is "not good." At this
point he quotes from some very outspoken gay activists, apparently
not Christians, one a self-proclaimed pedophile. He then discusses other
issues, including mostly acts of paraphilia, such as incest, pedophilia and
other sexual perversions, and I lost interest in his essay flow as it did
not have any bearing on the issue of interest to me. It seems clear (to me)
that while there are some weird people arguing for a stance where the
word "perversion" has disappeared from the human language, that scripture
does not support that position and none of them are arguing from within
the Christian church anyway.
But I like to end this chapter review on a positive note. On page 63,
Schmidt writes (italicized) "...there is ultimately no argument against
pedophilia or any departure from heterosexual monogamy if Scripture
is taught be individual experience."
I'll endorse that. But Schmidt is spending too much of his effort
attacking arguments and causes I don't care about -- or agree with him about.
Chapter 4. Romans 1:26-27. The Main Text in Context
Schmidt deals here with the arguments of Boswell and Countryman (and others)
as he dissects these verses. His arguments here are persuasive. But they
are complex (as are the opposition's) and far beyond the ability
of a non-Greek-scholar to evaluate. To one who has already made up his
mind, perhaps the arguments (from either side) will prove useful. For
me, who has not, they simply re-establish my "don't know" status.
Chapter 5. From Sodom to Sodom
Schmidt deals here with the story of Genesis 19. I found Helminiak's
arguments here much more persuasive than Schmidt's. Don't know as I
can offer more; Schmidt does a credible job of making his case. But it
does appear that were this section of scripture the only one around
to appeal to, his case would hardly be worth writing about.
He works with the Leviticus passages also in this chapter. As well as
several others. Again, his arguments are persuasive, but mostly to those
who have already chosen his position.
Chapter 6. The price of Love
Schmidt goes to great lengths to argue that there are very few
homosexuals (in the U.S> at least). I'm not sure why -- if there are only
two, the problem remains anyway.
He also argues that only a few of these few are in adult long-term
committed monogamous relationships. Same comment applies.
He compares promiscuity among homosexuals with the same thing among
heterosexuals. Same comment.
He argues the health issues. Same.
Chapter 7. The Great Nature-Nurture Debate
Schmidt argues well that "nobody knows." He proposes a model of his
own, which may have some validity, though it's hard to figure out how
to test it. One of the better chapters (readable and thought-provoking)
in this book.
Chapter 8. Straight & Narrow?
A very good summary of the author's main thesis occur on pages 161-163.
Schmidt concludes his book with "a letter to a friend." It is pretty good.
Worth reading, even if you don't agree with him.
John W. Burgeson