The Bible, Sex, And Ideological Fundamentalism
A DIALOGUE WITH JACQUES ELLUL
JACQUES ELLUL AND SEXUAL "ETHICS": A CRITIQUE
Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks
A Solid Foundation: Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1. Christocentricism, Not Sexual Docetism
Ellul's Solid Foundation: 7 Pillars of Wisdom
2. The Biblical Revelation Dialectically Interpreted
3. Christian Praxis vs. Greek "Ethics"
4. Yahweh as Liberator--Incarnate in Jesus
5. Bible and Science: the Proper Dialectic
6. Ideological Critique: Patriarchy & Nuclear Family Idolatry?
7. Majority Integrative Propaganda: Heterosexist?
Jacques Ellul and Sexual "Ethics": Seven Pillars of Wisdom
"Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn out its seven pillars." (Proverbs 9:1)
In his earlier works (1964/1969; 1975/1976) the late French sociologist and lay theologian
Jacques Ellul (1912-94) laid a solid theological and Biblical foundation for the crisis in sexual
"ethics" facing the church at the end of the 20th century. Fundamental elements in this
foundation are well known to students of Ellul and may be outlined briefly as follows:
1. Christocentricism, Not Sexual Docetism.
As Waldo Beach put it in his Foreward to To Will and To Do: "Ellul is dogmatically Christocentric.
`Everything derives from the fact that Jesus is God'" (1964/69:vii; cf.1969:88). The history of
Christian thought is strewn with the wreckage of sexual ideologies that have sought to build on other
foundations: the "creation orders" of Genesis; cultic cleanliness codes of Leviticus; decontextualized,
obscure expressions and portions in the pauline letters, etc. I cannot here offer a full defense of
Ellul's christocentric starting point, but only express my conviction that if Christian theology is to
maintain any semblance of credibility in sexual matters and make any significant contribution to the
debate that rages, Ellul's Christocentric starting point (similar to Karl Barth's) must be maintained in
the face of all attempts to reduce Jesus' praxis and teaching to some kind of footnote to Paul
(usually misinterpreted), or to exalt the Law over the Gospel. As Paul himself insisted: "For no one
can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11).
One concrete example of the significance of this point is the theological treatments of same-sex
relations. Some 30 years ago even conservative exegetical treatments of the Sodom story began to
notice what Calvin had partly perceived: that the sin condemned in Biblical references to Sodom is
never simply a same-sex act but in context refers to a failure of hospitality and attempted gang rape--
of angels! For centuries Christian sexual ideology operated on the premise that all same-sex acts
were condemned by a consistent barrage of more than 50 "sodomy" texts stretching from Genesis to
Revelation, and including key examples from the Gospels. The quiet removal of the lynchpin in the
homophobic edifice almost went unnoticed. Pulpits were pounded harder when two texts from
Leviticus and three from Paul were misinterpreted to foster hatred, discrimination and persecution
against homosexuals, but no one seemed to notice the resulting heresy: for 2000 years the church
had maintained that trust in Jesus and obedience to his commands was sufficient for salvation; but
for homosexuals suddenly this was no longer considered sufficient. Their salvation, unlike that of
other Christians, was now made to depend on obedience to isolated texts in the Leviticus Holiness
Code (rarely even read, much less obeyed in most other areas) and on three texts of disputed
significance in the pauline letters (none of them actually "commandments").
Feminist theology that failed to free itself from heterosexism was in a particular bind: scientific
exegesis and heavy dependence on hermeneutics were freely employed to make Paul properly
submissive to the legitimate emotional needs and justice demands of modern women; but the much
briefer and dubious pauline texts on same-sex relations were not subjected to similar scrutiny. Since
1 Cor. 5-7 offers us what is by far the most detailed treatment of sexual matters in the NT, insights
from pauline scriptures may play an important part; but (as in the questions of slavery and women)
the proper approach must involve interpreting Paul in the light of Jesus praxis and teaching--not
negating the latter in favor of obscure terms in pauline vice lists or the sermon illustration of
controverted meaning and dubious contextual thrust in Romans 1:26-27.
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