A Review of the Arehart-Asher Debate
Jeff Asher, who preaches at the Dumas Drive Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas, met Dr. Charlie Arehart, Pastor of the Metropolitan Community church of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado, in two oral debates this spring on the subject of the morality of the homosexual lifestyle. Both men were unusually well prepared for the discussions and were capable in their presentation. This subject is one brethren need to be informed about. Issues that affect the world and denominations eventually affect us. There are already the first signs among the extreme left wing of institutional brethren of a willingness to fellowship practicing homosexuals. Liberal theologians are trying to achieve biblical justification for homosexuality, claiming that anti-homosexual bias led to mistranslation of the Scriptures. Thus, it is the purpose of this review to present an overview of the debates to give readers a brief introduction to the evidence for and against divine approval of homosexuality.
Qualifications of Disputants
Dr. Charlie Arehart: Dr. Arehart is a practicing homosexual and says he has been gay as long as he can remember. He was formerly a Methodist pastor and honorably transferred to the MCC. Charlie has a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Iliff School of Theology. He is a member of the national Board of Elders of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination that exists for the gay/lesbian community and their supporters.
Jeff Asher: Jeff Asher engaged Robert Williams, the first openly gay Episcopal priest, in a radio exchange on homosexuality on Amarillo radio in 1989 (Williams is now dead of AIDS). Jeff's debate notes, prepared for this discussion, have been printed as a booklet entitled Out of the Closet, published by Faith & Facts. Jeff recorded a series of television exchanges with Dr. Arehart for the program of the Highlands Ranch Church of thirst in Denver. The two debates grew out of these TV discussions.
Debates and Propositions
The disputants first met for debate in the MCC building in downtown Denver April 4-7. The follow-up debate was in Amarillo May 9, 10, 12, 13. I moderated for Jeff, and, since Dr. Arehart elected not to have a moderator, I, in effect, presided over the two discussions. Both men maintained perfect order and stuck with the task of presenting the evidence each believes upholds his position. Jeff Asher affirmed: "The Scriptures teach that all sexual intercourse between human beings of the same sex is sinful." Charlie Arehart affirmed: "The Scriptures do not teach that sexual intercourse between all human beings of the same sex is sinful since they refer positively to gay persons."
Procedure for Review
I shall simply present the major, affirmative arguments each disputant made in the two debates to give the readers a synopsis of the issue. Since I am writing only a capsule summary of the debates, I will not present the replies each disputant made to the other's arguments, but both debaters paid careful attention to the other's speeches. Since Jeff was in the affirmative first, the review will begin with a summary of his affirmative arguments.
I intend to be objective in presenting the material. To help achieve this goal, both Jeff and Charlie have had the opportunity to read the review and to offer suggestions for changes.
Jeff Asher presented five affirmative arguments. We will examine them in order.
First Argument: Homosexuality is sinful because it violates the divine plan for the home (Matt. 19:1-9). Jesus affirmed that human sexuality is under divine authority. This authority over man inheres in the creation (Matt. 19:4-5; cf. Rom. 9:20-21). God is the one who determines who shall be joined (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13-18; Gen. 2:23-25), and Jesus exercises this authority under the New Covenant (Matt. 19:9; cf. Heb. 1:2). Men have not been granted the prerogative of setting the terms of their marriage covenants (Matt. 19:6).
Jesus restricts the expression of human sexuality to biblical marriage. The order of creation is lifetime, monogamous, heterosexual marriage (Matt. 19:5; Rom. 7:1-4; Matt. 19:8). God did not ordain any other kind of sexual relationship involving either humans or animals (Gen. 2:18-25). There is no place here for same gender sexual relationships.
Second Argument: Homosexuality is sinful because it is fornication for the unmarried (1 Cor. 7:1-9). The apostle Paul reveals that marriage is a matter of liberty (vv. 1,6), he restricts sexual intercourse to biblical marriage (vv. 2-3), and he does not offer same gender sexual relationships as an option to the unmarried (v. 2). The argument concludes that Paul condemns all sexual relationships, as fornication and, therefore, sinful (1 Cor. 6:9; 7:2,9).
Third Argument: Homosexuality is sinful because it is adultery for the married (Heb. 13:4). Marriage is precious, i.e., to be had in honor (Ibid.). One holds his marriage in honor by keeping himself pure, being set apart to his wife (or husband) only (1 Thess. 4:3-7). It is marriage that is to be held in honor; and this, by definition, is a man/woman relationship (Gen. 2:24-25; Matt. 19:1-9), monogamous (Matt. 19:5), and for life (Matt. 19:6,9). Since the Hebrew writer says all marriage is to be held in honor, this is universally applicable. The conclusion is, when married men leave their wives to have sexual relations with men, or when women leave their husbands to have sexual relations with women, they commit adultery (Heb. 13:4).
Fourth Argument: It is specifically condemned in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27). Brother Asher offered an exegesis of Roman 1:18-27 in which he showed that the over-all problem of the Gentiles was the rejection of the authority of God, the same sin of which Charlie is guilty. He pointed out that Paul taught that homosexuality is self-abusive (v. 24), disgraceful (v. 26), unnatural (vv. 26-27), vulgar (v. 27), error (v. 27), forbidden (v. 24), and condemned (vv. 18,29). He charged that homosexuals received the very "recompense" of which the apostle spoke (v. 27) in their own bodies. Asher argued that homosexuality was "against nature" (v. 26) in that it violates God's created order.
Fifth Argument: Homosexuality has always been sinful. There was never a time when men were without law from God (Rom. 4:14; 5:13). A survey of biblical history shows this is certainly true with respect to sexual behavior: the marriage law was universal from the beginning (Gen. 2:24-25; Matt. 19:8), the sinfulness of homosexuality is exemplified in every age (Gen. 19; Judg. 19; Rom. 1:18-31; 2 Pet. 3:9), it was condemned under the Mosaic code (Exod. 20:14; Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and was specifically condemned by Christ and his apostles (Matt. 19:1-9; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27).
Dr. Arehart's strongest argument in audience appeal was his own personal testimony. He asserted he was born gay and could not change. He told of being raised a Methodist, accepting Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade, and being called to preach. He concluded, "God called a gay to preach" and offered John 15:16 as a text to prove this calling was a divine approval of his sexual orientation. Arehart retold with pathos his several attempts to over-come being gay including "praying through to victory," an exorcism, and counseling by a "Christian psychologist," a recognized Baptist scholar. He recalled that the psychologist finally told him, "You are homosexual; you are Christian; God doesn't give a damn." From that point on Charlie Arehart has accepted his gay orientation and the homosexual lifestyle. He described his basic theology as the four pillars of Methodism: the Scriptures, tradition, reason and personal experience.
Reliability of Scriptures: Charlie contended we cannot take the Bible as our only source of authority. He asserted that one third of the Hebrew words in the Old Testament need to be redefined as the result of recent tablet finds in Syria, emphasizing changes in vowel markings. Dr. Arehart also argued that there are a great many Greek texts for the New Testament and that widespread and important differences exist between them. He also contended that many biblical words are mistranslated. Charlie asserted that the Bible has errors in it. As examples, he asserted that the Septuagint text doesn't match the Massoretic text, and described the vowel markings below Hebrew vowels, contending they were uncertain and that the disputed differences could greatly affect the meaning of Scriptures. He denied the dictation theory of inspiration. He said the church once condemned Galileo, and, as it was forced to change from teaching an earth centered universe, it would be forced to change on homosexuality.
Cultural Relevance: Dr. Arehart also argued that many passages are no longer culturally relevant and offered 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as one example. He called himself a "Christian evolutionist" and a "process theologian." He said the world is maturing, while God always remains the same, but that God is actively involved in human affairs. He asserted that the human race quickly became non-monogamous, and that marriage in the Old Testament was simply a property rights issue. He asserted the Hebrew Scriptures did not condemn as adultery a Jewish man having sex with another woman than his wife unless that woman was the wife or virgin daughter of another Hebrew. He was described the Bible as a "patriarchal book" which has been used to oppress blacks, gays, and lesbians, but, more than any other group, women. He charged that the Scriptures have been employed to beat women down to chattel and to keep them subservient. He predicted the day will come when female images of God in Scripture will be universal language. He recognized that God is neither male nor female and concluded that inclusive language is in order when describing God. Charlie stated that the purpose of Matthew 19:3-9 was to elevate the status of women, and that Jesus did not intend for his teaching on marriage to be applicable to all. He contended that divorce was the "most Christian approach" for 50% of the marriages in Colorado.
Situation Ethics: He called himself a "situational ethicist" and endorsed the statement by Norman Pittinger: "Sex is good; sex with someone you know is better; sex with someone you love is best."
Wholly of Grace: Arehart contended we are saved by grace through faith alone On. 3:16). He accused Asher of creating a "works righteousness dynamic" in which one has to be good enough to be saved.
Bias Against Gays: Dr. Arehart charged that New Testament passages which seem to condemn homosexuality were mistranslated as the result of the prejudice of the church against gays, a prejudice, he asserted, which resulted from the widespread acceptance by early Christians of the apocryphal book, "The Epistle of Barnbas," a ridiculous work which explains Old Testament prohibitions against eating unclean animals on the basis of the supposed sexual activities of the animals.
Positive Mention of Gays: Charlie produced several biblical examples he contends are positive mention of gays. He is absolutely positive the relationship between David and Jonathan was homosexual (1 Sam. 18:20; 2 Sam. 1:25-26). He also presented Ruth and Naomi as likely lesbian lovers. He argued that eunuchs are passive partners in homosexual intercourse and offered Matthew 19:10-12 as Jesus' endorsement of homosexuality and the Ethiopian eunuch as a positive example of a gay person (Acts 8:26-39). He contended that the word "servant" in Matthew 8:5-13 means "young male lover" and that, when Jesus healed him, he tacitly endorsed his homosexuality.
Brother Jeff Asher defended his position admirably and crushed the arguments presented by Dr. Arehart. I have never seen a debater better prepared for his opponent's argumentation. Dr. Arehart is an able defender of his position. He relies heavily on the book Social Tolerance of Homosexuality by Yale professor Dr. John Boswell, him-self homosexual.
Both of the debates are available on video tape from Rich Hubartt, 3012 Foxfire Cir., Indianapolis, IN 46214, telephone (317) 327-1776, who has produced professional quality tapes. Be careful in viewing them with mixed audiences. Of course, the subject itself is not suitable for young children, and Dr. Arehart used language in the first debate that is not acceptable to Christians and would be very embarrassing to a mixed audience.
The first printing of Jeff Asher's book Out of the Closet has sold out. Faith & Facts will print a second edition which will include Brother Asher's revised debate notes. This includes material that, due to time constraints, was not presented in the debates. This will arguably be the best source book in print for a scriptural study of the subject of homosexuality and should become a classic. John Boswell's book is the main source of the arguments by liberal theologians that passages which condemn homosexuality are mistranslated, and Asher's debate notes thoroughly refute Boswell.
This is must material for gospel preachers. Newspapers regularly carry articles claiming homosexuality is a morally valid lifestyle. American disapproval of gays and lesbians is on the wane. This is now the point issue in the humanistic attack on biblical morals. I recommend that we join this national debate by writing letters to the editors of newspapers, refuting the articles and letters defending homosexuality, and by teaching Christians, especially our teenagers and young adults, the truth. If we do not prepare and act, our young people, who are under heavy pressure on college campuses to accept and even participate in homosexuality, will be lost to humanistic amorality.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 20, p. 6-8