I missed gay ex-fundie Mel White, author of Religion Gone Bad, when he was in town, but I did visit his Web site. There I found Walter Wink’s fascinating article, “Homosexuality and the Bible.”  Wink teaches at Auburn Theological Seminary, and he argues that while the Bible has nothing good to say about homosexuality, it puts forth so many long-gone sexual customs (polygamy, stoning of adulterers, categorical prohibition of divorce, and 13 more) that we don’t need to sweat the specifics.

“There is no Biblical sex ethic,” he writes. “Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. . . . The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, culture, or period.”

That sounds like a book I could live with. More than one version of Wink’s article is on the internet, though, and while trying (and failing) to figure out which was the most recent, I ran across Wink’s exchange with Robert A.J. Gagnon (PDF) of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the Christian Century, and Gagnon’s 53-page takedown (PDF) of Wink’s argument in Horizons in Biblical Theology.

Gagnon is deeply conservative, but he’s no ignorant literalist who regards the Bible as some kind of lawnmower instruction manual; he knows that its teachings change over time. The question is, do the fundamental teachings change? He reckons that the most fundamental of the sexual teachings cited by Wink is divorce. Wink writes that Jesus categorically forbade divorce, “yet we ordain divorcees. Why not homosexuals?”

But even today, as Gagnon observes, the cases aren’t analogous. Mainline churches may not stigmatize divorcees as in the past, but they “do not regard divorce as an act to be celebrated and repeated. They regard divorce as a sin to be repented of and not repeated. If it is repeated, repentance rather than self-affirmation is again expected. Serial unrepentant divorce is viewed as a grave problem that has serious consequences at least for holding ordained office.” In other words, “the appropriate parallel [to ordained divorcees] is the ordination of a homosexual person who may have engaged in same-sex intercourse in the past but who in a spirit of repentance does not intend to repeat such behavior in the future.”

Ouch! There’s much more on both sides — read the whole thing. It’s not technical but you do have to pay attention. (Paul Whiting has blogged on this as well.)

Of course, if the Bible is anti-gay (taken as a whole and interpreted reasonably), then one of two conclusions follows: either it’s bad to be gay, or the Bible is a great literary work lacking in moral authority.