Monday, April 18, 2016

How I Came to Change My Mind on SSU: Part 15. Sodom

The Old Testament story of Sodom and its egregious sin has long been so associated with same-sex behavior that “sodomy” has been used as a synonym for homosexuality. But is that really what the sin of Sodom is about? To answer that, I am again going to refer to an essay by Evangelical theologian and ethicist, David Gushee:

Sodom and Gomorrah, their sin and God’s punishment, became resonant symbols. When cited within the rest of Scripture, even the names of these towns become a byword for total human evil and devastating divine judgment (Dt. 29:23, 32:32; Isa. 1:9f., 3:9, 13:19; Jer. 23:14, 49:18, 50:40; Lam 4:6; Ezek. 16:46-50; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Mt. 10:15/Lk 10:10-12, Rom. 9:29, 2 Peter 2:6-10, Jude 6-7; cf. Ps. 11:6). The starkest way to warn Israel or the Church of impending judgment was to drop in a Sodom reference. But never once in these intra-biblical Sodom references is their evil described as same-sex interest or behavior. In Isaiah 1:9-23 a host of sins are named but mainly related to abuses of public justice. In Jeremiah 23:14 it’s adultery, lying and unwillingness to repent. Ezekiel 16:49 describes their sins as pride, excess food, prosperous ease and lack of care for the poor. In Amos and Zephaniah the issues are pride, mocking and oppressing the poor. Intertestamental works Sirach (16:8), 3 Maccabees (2:5) and Wisdom (19:15) still talk about Sodom and Gomorrah, and still don’t connect their sin to sexuality at all.

The only biblical references to Sodom with any possible suggestion of same-sex behavior are Jude 6-8 and the parallel text in 2 Peter 2:6-7, with their references to unholy interest in “other flesh” (Jude 7). In the context of an interpretation of Genesis 19 that was already convinced the story is about same-sex behavior, these two late New Testament texts were read as confirmation. But look closely. They represent fragments of tradition referring to unholy human interest in sex with angels, a theme derived from the book of Enoch, with reference back to the mysterious Genesis 6 story about the Nephilim.

The story of Sodom is problematic for another reason. Whatever evil the story intends to condemn – breach of hospitality, sex with angels, violence and rape, or even homosexuality as such which seems a stretch to me – there is at least the implication that it would be less evil to gang rape Lot's daughters who he offers to the men of Sodom. I cannot imagine offering my daughters to be gang raped by a mob (see the similar passage in Judges 19-20). The whole text seems a dicey passage to make too much of in terms of drawing moral instruction.

Next: Abomination (i)

Friday, April 15, 2016

How I Came to Change My Mind on SSU: Part 14. The Rest of the New Testament

Jesus said nothing directly on the issue of homosexuality. There are references to same-gender sexual behavior elsewhere in the New Testament. The most important of these is Romans 1. But, as we have seen, it is not clear that what Paul was concerned about in his context is the same thing we are talking about in ours. There are two other New Testament passages where Paul (or in the case of 1 Timothy, likely someone writing in the spirit of Paul) refer to some sort of same-sex sexual behavior. They are 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. A lot of scholarly ink has been spilled regarding just what the Greek words in these verses mean. Rather than rehashing all that myself, I refer you to this written by Evangelical theologian and ethicist, David Gushee:

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul (in the second case, probably a pseudonymous “Paul”) deploys two “vice lists” — a common enough rhetorical strategy in the Greco-Roman world — to communicate to his readers condemnation of sinful behavior. With regard to 1 Corinthians, most scholars agree that Paul is dealing with an especially unruly congregation, some of whom have fallen prey to moral laxity, including in sexuality. Paul writes to correct that, and to make it perfectly clear that the salvation offered by grace does not also offer an exemption from basic moral requirements. Then follow 10 types of people who, Paul warns, will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” In 1 Timothy 1, the context for the vice list is more obscure. It falls under a discussion of “the law,” and the author’s concern about false teachers apparently focusing overmuch on the law. Paul says that the law is mainly intended for the godless. Then follow seven examples of such godlessness.

In both vice lists the Greek word arsenokoitai is used. In the first list, the word malakoi is directly in front of it. A vast, highly contested scholarly literature exists to parse out the meaning of these two odd little words.

Next: Sodom

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Get up I’ve got something for you to do

From the reredos of the Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Fond du Lac, WI

Sermon for Easter 3, Year C, 
St. Thomas, Menasha; April 10, 2016

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia1)

If it’s true it changes everything. 

If it’s not true, we might as well get on with business as usual.

Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Still. He hadn’t yet realized that everything had changed. He was still operating under the old way. The old way is that when what is good and right and true is threatened you meet that threat with counter-threats. What Saul knew to be good and right and true was threatened by these crazy people of “the Way” – the way of Jesus who had recently been executed as a security threat. But the threat had continued with his followers. They had to be stopped. And Saul was going to stop them.

But, on his way, Saul himself was stopped. Surrounded by a flash of light, he fell on the ground. He had been sure Jesus was the enemy of God and of all that was good. But now he is confronted by that same Jesus back from the dead. Under the old way, the way of the world, Saul knew what to expect – he was toast! But, Jesus does not fry Saul. Instead, he forgives him, just as he had asked his Father to forgive those who crucified him. And he says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

Try to appreciate how mind-blowing this is. Saul, who had been sure that what he was doing was right and pleasing to God, discovers he is doing exactly the opposite. Instead of doing the good he wants, he is doing the evil he did not want to do. He is opposing God! How wretched. No wonder everything went black. No wonder a chastened Saul, now Paul, would later write, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). It is a statement of humility that he learned the hard way – by dying to his own comfort and certainty. It is the wisdom of humility we would all do well to take to heart.

But there is more. Saul’s falling on the ground is not just an act of fear, it is an act of humble repentance and conversion. Then, amazingly, in spite of Saul's finding himself, contrary to his best intentions, to be the enemy of God, Jesus reconciles him and says, “Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.” I hope you are able to hear the good news, the grace, in that. I hope it shapes the way you understand God. And yourself. I hope you are able to hear Jesus saying the same to you when you find yourself to have been opposing God in one way or another. “Yes, you’ve blown it. Yes, you are in the wrong. You are right to repent. Just the same, get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

What Saul had not realized was that with the death and resurrection of Jesus everything had changed. Like a Japanese soldier hiding in the jungle long after peace had been declared, Saul was still breathing threats and murder after God had declared the war over  offering amnesty to all comers. The Lamb that was slaughtered is now the sign of "power and wealth and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing." If the Lamb that was slaughtered is now the sign of such things they mean something different. Not power as the world exercises it. Not wealth as the world measures it. Not wisdom as the world understands it. Not honor or glory or blessing as the world recognizes those things. Not the way of the world. No more business as usual. Those things  and all other things – are now measured by the love and forgiveness, reconciliation and peace, humility and gentleness of Jesus. Now that Saul believed in the resurrection, he dared to live the new Way.

“Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.”

Saul’s conversion was sudden and dramatic. Ananias’ was more of a process. He was already a Jesus follower. He knew that Jesus was the Way. But he still needed to live into the Way Jesus is. He had every reason to reject Saul or at least to suspect his sincerity. Saul was one of the bad guys – someone to be suspected and rejected as an enemy. His threats should be met with counter-threats and retaliation. Or at least avoidance. But that is still thinking the old way. That is business as usual. The Way Jesus is is a way in which there are no real enemies, but only potential brothers and sisters. As Augustine preached, “Most of the time, when you think you are hating your enemy, you are hating your brother without knowing it.” That is the Way of Jesus. That is the Way of the Lamb that was slaughtered to absorb all our violence and hate, all our sin and suffering, and transform it into reconciliation, mercy, and grace. Jesus called Ananias to live that way. And because Ananias knew that Jesus was risen, he dared to do it.

Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.

Peter had a similar experience. Like Saul he had done exactly what he did not want to do. He had denied Jesus, not just once but three times. Again, under the old rules Peter had every reason to expect that when Jesus showed up raised from the dead he would be angry, threatening retribution. Peter – and the other disciples – should have been toast. That would be business as usual. But that is not the way of the Lamb that was slaughtered. Instead, Jesus fixes them breakfast – toast included. And he speaks directly to Peter. He addresses the three denials by inviting Peter to affirm his love three times. And he gives him something to do, “Feed my sheep.” And he did it. He did it even after Jesus told him it would get him killed. Because Peter knew Christ was risen, he dared to do it.

Get up I’ve got something for you to do.

We worship the slaughtered Lamb. If we really believe the Lamb that was slaughtered is also risen and at the heart of it all, how might that change the way we live? It seems harder to meet threats to my security, or to things I hold dear, with counter-threats and violence. If the way of the One who is the Way is the way of self-emptying, self-sacrificing love, the way of the Lamb that is slaughtered, do we want to still be about business as usual? If, like Saul, we know ourselves to have received mercy and grace, shouldn’t we be humble agents of that mercy and grace? If, like Ananias, we can see enemies as potential brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we seek reconciliation? If, like Peter, we know Jesus loves us in spite of everything, shouldn’t we love him and, for his sake, love and feed and tend all his sheep? If we believe the Lord is risen can we dare to follow in the way of the Lamb that was slaughtered? Can we dare to live the radical way of love?

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Everything has changed. No more business as usual.

Get up. I’ve got something for you to do.

Friday, April 8, 2016

How I Came to Change My Mind on SSU: Part 13. Romans 1 (iv) Idolatry, self-control, and same-sex sex

Having taken a bit of  a detour, let’s return to Romans 1

Paul’s Logic

In Romans, Paul lays out the dire situation of all humanity in bondage to Sin. Both Jews and Gentiles are caught in that bondage. In Chapter 1, he focuses his attention on Gentiles. From a Jewish perspective, Gentiles are, by definition, guilty of idolatry. Though Paul asserts that there is sufficient evidence in creation for them to know better, they neither honor God as God nor give thanks to him (1:21). Instead, they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (1:23).

Of course, in the ancient world literal idolatry was pervasive. There were statues and images of gods of all sorts everywhere. But, idolatry is more than worshiping images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. We can exchange the glory of the immortal God for almost anything: Family, money/Mammon, Nation/Flag/Patriotism, Political Ideology, Fame/Reputation, Violence, Vengeance,  Race, Security, Pleasure, Sex, the Mirror, etc. When we give such things our ultimate allegiance and allow them to shape our imagination we make gods of them. And that distorts our thinking and disorients us morally.

When people exchange the worship of God for the things God created, they lose moral perspective and self-control (see Wisdom 12:23-13:10 and 14:9-31). They become “futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds are darkened” (Romans 1:21). They are thus subject to “every kind of wickedness” (Romans 1:29).

The sexual licentiousness Jews attributed to Gentiles was part of this. And it was not hard in the Greco-Roman world to see a connection between idolatry and sexual licentiousness. Images of the phallus were ubiquitous (here). And all sorts of sexual goings-on were common in and around pagan temples (see the first comment below taken from “But the Bible says...”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1 by James Allison). The evidence confirming that Gentiles were sexually out of control was everywhere.

Paul points to same-sex sexual encounters as a particular example of this:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

As we saw in the last post, such behavior was evidence of the out of control behavior that results from idolatry. Same-sex intercourse was seen as one extreme example of licentiousness.

But, let’s be clear. Paul asserts that idolatry leads to "every kind of wickedness":

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28-31)

Verses 26-31 should be read as a whole. The attitudes and behaviors Paul lists are all similar in his mind.


So, how might this passage of Holy Scripture apply to us today?

Though literal idolatry is rare in our context, idolatry (as in the examples in the second paragraph above) is no less pervasive here and now than it was there and then. It is just more subtle. Partly because it is more subtle it is easier to fall into and because it is less obvious we can fool ourselves into thinking we are not guilty. But, it still can lead us to accept and do things that are contrary to the way of Jesus and fill us with every kind of wickedness. It is not the point of this series, but I think Christians would do well to take more seriously the temptation of idolatry and the possibility that we are more idolatrous than we would like to think.  

It is also a reminder that in the New Testament and the early Church, self-control was understood as a fundamental mark of faithfulness to the Christian way of life (see, Neglected Fruit of the Spirit). That is about as counter-cultural and scandalous as it gets in a society such as ours with its self-indulgent, consumerist pursuit of more and more money and stuff, more comfort, and more pleasure. 

More specifically, what does this passage teach us about the phenomena of same-sex sexual attraction?

First, allow me to repeat again that every reader of scripture reads with a perspective that includes rules, conscious or unconscious, which determine how they interpret what they read. I laid out some of my basic approach to interpreting scripture here: Some Thoughts on Interpreting Scripture. Among other things, I pointed out that according to the official teaching body of the Catholic Church, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Catholic readers of the Scripture have a positive duty to avoid certain sorts of what the authorities call ‘actualization’ of the texts, by which they mean reading ancient texts as referring in a straightforward way to modern realities. One does not have to be Roman Catholic to find this a valuable guide to interpretation:

Clearly to be rejected also is every attempt at actualization set in a direction contrary to evangelical justice and charity, such as, for example, the use of the Bible to justify racial segregation, anti-Semitism or sexism whether on the part of men or of women. Particular attention is necessary... to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavorable attitudes to the Jewish people”. (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, IV.3)

While there are plausible – maybe even probable – interpretations of scripture “contrary to evangelical justice and charity,” i.e., that endorse slavery, racism, anti-semitism, sexism, etc., they are to be avoided. Interpretations that reflect and reinforce justice and charity are more faithful to the Good News of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that this principle makes space for asking whether or not we should be wary of reading biblical texts about homosexuality as referring in a straightforward way to what we are talking about now.

I believe that, given the logic of Romans 1, we should indeed be wary of 'actualization' of the text as referring in a straightforward way to modern realities. In the previous two posts in the series we saw the importance of self-control for Paul and his contemporaries and the common understanding that homosexual behavior was a matter of out of control sexual desire. Is the reality Paul is talking about necessarily the same thing we are talking about regarding same-sex relationships in our context?

How should we now understand gay and lesbian Christians who are no more idolatrous than the rest of us and give every evidence of faithfully worshiping God in Christ and honoring God as God and giving thanks to him? And who love God and neighbor? And demonstrate self-control and self-denying discipline in their desire to follow Jesus and be formed in his image? Who are not dominated by passions and who build up the body of Christ? And who resist the evils listed in Romans 1:28-31 and elsewhere? And give testimony to their experience of same-sex attraction being different from that described in Romans 1 and elsewhere? And that it is not a matter of their choosing or lack of self-control, but an ingrained part of their personal identity?

It doesn’t work to say that in spite of all that, their same-sex attraction is itself idolatrous. That is not the logic of Paul’s argument. His argument is that idolatry leads to loss of perspective and self-control which leads to out of control sexual behavior among other things. But, what if gays and lesbians demonstrate that they are no more out of control than anyone else and that their same-sex attraction is an inherent part of them?

Another common approach is to argue that indelible same-sex attraction is a product of the brokenness resulting from the Fall. But, that also does not fit Paul’s logic. For Paul, the out of control sinful behavior he is talking about is the result of the prior decision to turn from the glory of God and worship something less than God. As we have seen, the assumption was that homosexual behavior was just such out of control behavior. As such, it was an extreme example of fornication to which all are similarly tempted. We know that gays and lesbians, like heterosexuals, can choose to be licentious, promiscuous, and adulterous. But, given the apparently fixed nature of most same-sex attraction, it is different from those. It is not a consequence of choosing idolatry over honoring God. And gays and lesbians, like heterosexuals, can and do also demonstrate self-control and sacrificial faithfulness.

Gay and lesbian Christians are not essentially idolatrous. If they honor God and give him thanks and demonstrate self-control that leads to love and the building up of the congregation, then it is hard to see how what Paul is writing against in Romans 1 actually applies to Christians who are gay or lesbian. The out of control sexual behavior Paul is talking about is not what we are talking about given how we understand the phenomena of same-sex attraction. It is not what we are talking about when we talk about committed, self-sacrificial same-gender unions that reflect all the disciplines and commitments of traditional marriage. I suggest that that opens space for the Church to rethink its teaching on the matter.

Previous: Looking at Romans 1:

Romans 1 (iv) Idolatry, self-control, and same-sex sex


Monday, April 4, 2016

How I Came to Change My Mind on SSU: Part 12. Romans 1 (iii) Natural and Unnatural Sex

In the last post in this series, we saw that according to the early Church indulging in excess in anything beyond what is necessary was considered unnatural and a fundamental obstacle to holiness. Both the New Testament and the early Church insist that self-control is the foundation of holy living, i.e., communion with God.and one another.

So, eating is good. But eating in excess is unnatural and gluttonous. The things of this world are good. But, accumulating more than is necessary is unnatural and greedy. Anger that empowers us to resist and “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God and the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 302) is good. But, anger toward other people is unnatural and sinful.

In each case, self-control is key, both in the sense of controlling our desires and of channeling them to their proper end which is the love of God and love of neighbor. This was also true when it comes to sexual behavior.

Unnatural Sex and Self-control

It is important to note that a general cultural suspicion of material/physical reality and suspicion of the female, plus Paul’s ambivalence about sex and marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 7) influenced leaders and teachers in the early Church when they reflected on sex and marriage. Most contemporary Christians would likely be more affirming of material reality, more affirming of femaleness, and more affirming of the goods of marriage than were many of our ancestors in the faith. Even so, the scriptures and the early Church have things to teach us. One of those is the significance of the spiritual discipline of self-control. This is true in all areas of life, including sex.

The theme of self-control and its challenges has been central to the Church's thinking in the area of sexual desire. As with gluttony, greed, and anger, out of control or “excessive” sexual desire and behavior – lust – was considered unnatural. One early Church theologian observed that most other creatures only mate seasonally or that their females are only occasionally “in heat.” Only humans copulate year round, day and night. In his view, this is surely evidence that human sexual behavior tends toward an unnatural, out of control obsession.

One of the most important theologians of the early Church, Augustine of Hippo (354-430), wrote at length about sexual desire and self-control. For Augustine, the involuntary nature of physical sexual response is evidence of our loss of control due to the Fall. A man should be able to choose whether or not and when he has an erection. But, the body and its desires do not always respond to the will and sometimes responds against it. Augustine sees this as a serious problem. It is contrary to what is supposed to be our natural state in which our flesh is subordinate to our reason. He is also concerned with the way reason is abandoned in the midst of sexual passion. He compares it with being drunk, which is a surrendering of self-control. Unlike most of the theologians before him, Augustine did believe that Adam and Eve were meant to have sex in the Garden of Eden. But, it would have been controlled and willful, quite unlike most people experience and enjoy it. He argues that sex without the Fall would have been as voluntary as a handshake. And no more passionate or pleasurable. And the only reason for doing it would be for willed reproduction. Augustine argued that marriage (while inferior to celebate singleness or monastic life) could be a good thing characterized by fidelity, procreation, and the sacramental bond. But, he is also clear that even within marriage, sex is only for procreation. Further, given the population of the earth, Augustine believed that the injunction in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply" had been fulfilled and thus even procreation was no longer necessary.
(see City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26; On the Good of MarriageOn Holy Virginity)

Augustine believed that marriage is about more than procreation (the faithfulness each spouse to the other and the sacredness of the unbreakable, 'sacramental', bond), but he was convinced that procreation is the only natural purpose of sex. Sexual desire and pleasure were both inherently rooted in sin – lust. And he was not alone in this.

If a man marries in order to have children, he ought not to have a sexual desire for his wife. He ought to produce children by a reverent, disciplined act of will.
– Saint Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

Do you imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children? He who is too ardent a lover of his own wife is an adulterer.
– Saint Jerome (347-420)

Eve in paradise was a virgin . . . understand that virginity is natural and that marriage comes after the Fall.
– Saint Jerome (347-420)

These are not insignificant theologians and their attitudes are not unusual. They are typical of the early Church and common throughout most of the Church’s history. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) had a slightly more favorable view of sexual pleasure (Summa Theologica II.2.Q153.2, Milhaven, John Giles, Thomas Aquinas on Sexual Pleasure, The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall, 1977), pp. 157-181). But Aquinas was just as emphatic that the only natural end of sex was procreation – thus any artificial birth-control is unnatural and analogous to murder (Contra Gentiles.3.122).

I have argued against completely separating sex from the potential for pregnancy and procreation, but, that it is not the necessary or only natural aim of sex (See here).

I do not share the above to suggest that the early Church theologians were silly or that their teaching is now irrelevant. I write as one who reads, appreciates, and has been shaped by their wisdom. They desired a peace that transcended the agitations and anxieties of this life. And, as we saw in the last post in this series, it was not just sexual agitations and anxieties that concerned them. If we decide Augustine and others sometimes misdirected or misapplied their concern for a life of self-control and deep peace governed by reason, the concern is still a legitimate one for Christians.

But, their suspicion of physical pleasure – especially sexual pleasure – and their suspicion of the female are sometimes at odds with the creeds and much of scripture. Further, it sometimes leads them to flirt with the anti-material heresies of Manichaeism and Gnosticism.

It is instructive to note how differently these major figures of the early and medieval Church understood what is ideal and natural vs. unnatural in sexual behavior and its purpose compared to most Christians today. Most of us would – I certainly would – want to affirm a more positive Christian understanding of sex and sexual pleasure. And of marriage more generally. And it is important to note that in their context these theologians were more positive about both than many non-Christians of their day. And there are others in the Church's tradition – a minority report, so to speak – who have been more positive about marriage and sex.

Our Christian forebears rightly recognized the power of sexual desire and the potential for it to wreak havoc as well as joy in our lives. And, thus, the concern for self-control as a basic virtue. Self-control is a central New Testament virtue (and a fruit of the Spirit) that we should reclaim. And not just in sexual matters. I’ve written more on this here: Self-Control: Neglected Fruit of the Spirit.

Self-control and homosexual sex

The theme of self-control and its challenges in the area of sexual desire was central to the thinking of the early Church (and much of pagan philosophy of the period). Excessive pursuit of sexual pleasure, along with other pleasures of the senses, was considered sinful. And this is how homosexual relationships were understood. The ancients did not think of homosexuality in terms of orientation. Rather, they saw it as out of control, excessive sexual desire – lust. Here are some examples:

Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek physician in Rome first half of 2nd century AD, asserted:

No one readily believes that effeminate or sexually passive men (whom the Greeks call malthacoi) are actually suffering from a disease. For this behavior does not arise naturally in humans; rather, when modesty has been suppressed, it is lust that coerces to obscene usage body parts that have their own specific function, although there is no limit to desire, no hope of satisfaction when their allotted roles do not suffice for individual parts. (Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, Thomas K. Hubbard, ed. p. 463)

Dio of Prusa (Dio Chrysostom), a Greek orator, philosopher, and historian of the Roman Empire (AD 40-115) wrote:

Is it possible that this intemperate race [men engaging in same-sex sex] would hold off from abuse and corruption of males and impose upon themselves the clear and sufficient limit decreed by nature? Wouldn't they rather seek another greater and more illicit form of outrage once they had become in every way sated and full of their unrestrained pleasure with women? . . .  The man who is boundless in such desires finds nothing rare or resistant in that race, despises what is easy and devalues female Aphrodite, since it is readily available and truly altogether feminine. Instead he will cross over to the male side, desiring to commit shameful acts with those who in the near future will be rulers, judges, and generals, finding here a difficult and rarely acquired pleasure. He experiences the same thing as hard drinkers and winos, who after long and uninterrupted binges of drinking don't want to drink any more, but intentionally create thirst through steam-baths and the serving of salty or spicy foods. (Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, Thomas K. Hubbard, ed. p. 448)

In his commentary on Romans, St. John Chrysostom seems to share this perspective:

You see that the whole of desire comes of an exorbitancy [excess] which endures not to abide within its proper limits.
(The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. XI, p. 356)

The assumption is that these men naturally desire women, but, because their desire is out of control and excessive, they “cross over” for new sexual pleasures with other men. It is the excess that is unnatural. This seems to me to be significant. And I believe it can inform our reading of Romans 1. I will return to that in the next post.