The Bible, Sex, And Ideological Fundamentalism
A DIALOGUE WITH JACQUES ELLUL
JACQUES ELLUL AND SEXUAL "ETHICS": A CRITIQUE
Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks
Proper Use of Scripture for Sexual Questions
8. Sexual Exclusivity and Heterosexual Monogamy
|8. Sexual Exclusivity and Heterosexual Monogamy.
Theologically, any case for sexually exclusive (homosexual) relations or heterosexual monogamy
must be built on the fundamental Biblical continuities and understood as an expression of Christian
freedom, justice and love. African or American Mormon attempts to build a "biblical case for
polygamy" by reading a cultural ideology of polygamy into certain Biblical texts (patriarchal polygamy
in Genesis, the cases of David and Solomon) is not sufficient; neither is a cultural ideology of
monogamy read into other texts (the Creation story, often cited in the New Testament: "the two shall
become one"). Ideological proof-texting from either side is ultimately unconvincing. Sound
psychological and biological understanding of human (and animal) sexuality is also relevant (see the
common belief that males are "by nature" polygamous and females monogamous).
In his brief Appendix on polygamy (1984:302-305) Ellul makes what is perhaps his most significant
critique against traditional heterosexist ideology. He strongly opposes cruel traditional missionary
efforts in Africa to impose their cultural ideology of monogamy and exclude all polygamists from the
Communion Table. However, he seeks to build his theological case for monogamy as the Christian
norm and ideal basically by ideological proof texting; supportive arguments from justice and love will
only convince those who uncritically accept his ideology. Perhaps his most perceptive comment is
the brief footnote (305) explaining the divine command concerning levirate marriage as an
expression of concern for a childless widow in desperate straits and a dead male (the ultimate form
of "weakness," even being left without progeny and heirs).
In broader methodological terms Ellul moves here in the correct direction by pointing us to insights
into Christian evaluation of polygamy that are arising from within polygamous African societies and
churches, rather the "solutions" cruelly imposed as part of their cultural baggage by well-meaning
(but ideologically captive) missionaries from without. Obviously in terms of Christian justice, it cannot
be permissible to grant freedoms and "privileges" to males that are denied to women. However, as
Episcopal Bishop John Spong points out, in some contexts in Africa, for a woman faced with the stark
alternatives of starvation or prostitution, polygamy may represent a necessary temporary provision
(1990:3; cf. 1988:131-132).
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