Posted by: mattcolvin | August 23, 2013

Biblically-Inculcated Gag Reflex

In a recent article over at TGC, Thabiti Anyabwile suggested that Christians need to point to the visceral revulsion that many feel at the mechanics of sodomy. This, he says, would be a good way to get the debate away from spurious appeals to “rights” and “equality,” and back to the real issue, which is the morality of certain sex acts.

Other Christians have found fault with Anyabwile’s approach. A St. Louis seminarian named Kyle Keating writes writes:

There was once a “yuck factor” associated with interracial marriage and sex, but I cannot imagine anyone holding that up as part of a God-given conscience. While Scripture affirms that homosexual sexual behavior is sinful, it does not stigmatize that behavior, but rather places it in the context of other types of sexual sin, most of which is heterosexual. So there really is no basis for claiming the “gag reflex” as a type of moral imperative… There are good reasons to view homosexual sexual behavior as sinful, but they are rooted in the testimony of the Scriptures, not in a subjective gag reflex.

Mr. Keating is mistaken. He says that Scripture “does not stigmatize” sodomy. It clearly does. Scripture speaks with words like “abomination” (tonebah, Leviticus 20) and “obscene or disgraceful conduct” (ἀσχημοσύνη, Romans 1).

Mr. Keating is also misleading when he says that Scripture “places [sodomy] in the context of other types of sexual sin, most of which is [sic] heterosexual.” Reading this, one might imagine that it is listed next to premarital sex, rape, polygamy, or prostitution. But the most specific prohibition of sodomy in the Torah is in Leviticus 20. What are the “other types of sexual sin” there? Incest, man-on-animal bestiality, woman-on-animal bestiality, and sex with a woman during her menses. The other main prohibition of sodomy is in Leviticus 18:22. In that chapter, full of incest prohibitions, the law against sodomy is sandwiched between child sacrifice and bestiality. Keating must have hoped that no one would open Leviticus and look at these lists for themselves, for they prove exactly the opposite of what he suggests: they shows that sodomy was considered one of the most extraordinary sexual sins in ancient Israel.

Thus, “stigmatizing” sodomy as a revolting act is exactly what the Bible does. It does it by its diction (“abomination”), and it does it by context (lists of revolting acts). In His wisdom, God used the language of the Scriptures, no less than fear of civil penalties, to make the act of sodomy abhorred among the children of Israel, and to cultivate a visceral (gut-level) reaction against it. While the Greeks, Mesopotamians, and Canaanites round about them were busily sodomizing each other so much that it became normal in those societies, ancient Israel drove sodomy underground or eliminated it.

For the church to attempt to sugar-coat the act of sodomy, or not mention it, or use only clinical, neutral, anatomy textbook language about it — this is to join the unbelievers who think they are holier than God.

It is also a refusal to allow Scripture to shape our own attitudes and reactions. The world doesn’t want us to think about what sodomites do. But if we do think of it, it wants us to think that a man using another man sexually is an act of love. But the language of the Scriptures trains us to be viscerally revolted at the idea. Do we think we know better than God how to prevent sodomy from becoming prevalent and proud?



  1. Good points. I have been discussing this in some detail in the comments of this post, writing as ‘Guest’.

  2. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on why sex with a women during her menses is included in these lists of sins. Why is it regarded as such a serious offence?

    • An interesting question. I have pondered it before, but am not sure I have a good answer. I recall that Rushdoony characterized it as an aggressive act, since it results in all the appearance of wounding one’s wife. But I suspect that the real reason may be that blood, as the source of life, belongs to God, so that just as Israel was forbidden from eating/drinking blood, so their wives were off limits to them because of the flow of blood.

      • I would love to read an in depth and extensive treatment of the meaning of blood in the Old Testament. It is a topic I have often returned to, without finding satisfying answers to my questions.

  3. Yes, you are 100% correct.

    Premarital sex was forbidden in ancient Israel, but it was also expected and managed. The seducer had to indemnify the girl’s family financially, and was compelled to marry her if they wanted him to do so. The Bible does not use the language of “abomination” of such an act. It’s a sin, but it’s not an extreme sin, like bestiality or incest.

    The difficulty is that we live in an age where an 18 year old guy seducing a 14 year old girl is treated as a pedophile in the eyes of the law, no less than a 30 year old guy molesting a 7 year old boy. The Bible is against both actions, but their severity is worlds apart.

    No, not all sexual sins are equal. Bestiality and sodomy are clearly the worst according to Scripture.

  4. I think there is a philosophical side to this issue in that as much as we would like to think that we are all serenely detached rational individuals, but we are often motivated and driven by “baser impulses” which often resists such elevated moral decision making. Stigma is a necessary form of moral discipline for the vast majority of people who are determined by flesh and blood than objective rationalisation as Roger Scruton argues in this article Bring Back Stigma

    Stigma has evaporated in our era, and along with it much of the constant, small-scale self-regulation of the community, which depends on each individual’s respect for, and fear of, other people’s judgment. In consequence, the laws have expanded, both in extent and complexity, to fill the void. Yet as sanctions have been expropriated from society by the state, people feel far more free to follow their own inclinations, to disregard proprieties, and to ignore the effect of their behavior on others and on the common good. For although the law impinges far more on their lives, they experience it as an external force with no real moral authority. In addition, the law increasingly distinguishes the “public” realm, where it is the sole objective authority, from the “private” realm, where it cannot intrude, leaving the private realm less and less regulated, despite the fact that it contains most of the matters on which the future of society depends: sexual conduct, the rearing of children, honest dealing, and self-respect.

    Moreover, there is no evidence that the law can really compensate for the loss of social sanctions. The law combats crime not by eliminating criminal schemes but by increasing the risk attached to them; stigma combats crime by creating people who have no criminal schemes in the first place. The steady replacement of stigma by law, therefore, is a key cause of the constant increase in the number and severity of crimes.

  5. […] have blogged before about the way Scripture opposes sodomy. It does not do so in the same way that the GAFCON primates […]

  6. About the menses. Life is in the blood. The loss of blood was a loss of life, a ‘death’, so to speak. Death, uncleanness, defilement are all fall related. The old covenant was showing the need for an eschatological victory over death and cleansing of the world. In addition, perhaps, the menses is related to the. Lord’s command ‘to be frituful and multiply’. Not this month.

    • Thanks, Fr. Wayne!

      You are operating at the level of a Schmemann or a James B. Jordan. I mean that as praise, but at the same time, I have a fear of flying so high myself, lest the sun melt the wax of my wings.

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