Mars Hill Forum #17: Mel White, Former Evangelical Turned Homosexual Activist
John C. Rankin
Imagine someone asking you if you would like U.S. law to require people to be put to death if they engage in homosexual acts. What would be your gut level response? No, of course. But then, how do we deal with Leviticus 20:13?
If a man lies with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
In 1994, I was invited to debate Mel White on the radio. Mel is a former ghostwriter for people such as Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Then he divorced his wife, claiming he was born homosexual, and moved in with a male partner. He also claims still to be an evangelical Christian, and that the evangelical church has sinned against him and fellow homosexuals who live in “committed relationships,” by not accepting them. He reverses the language of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, and says the sins of the Sodomites were a matter of being “inhospitable” more than being concerned with homosexuality. Thus, he reasons that evangelical Christians today who do not accept him as “a stranger at the gate” are, at least by implication, the true Sodomites.
Mel asked me this very question on live radio, saying that if I took the Bible literally, I must believe that homosexual persons should be put to death. I answered by showing how those who would commit homosexual acts in ancient Israel would do so as an act of political treason against Yahweh – a capital offense (among other capital offenses) against the nation where Yahweh is King. If any Israelite wanted to commit homosexual acts, all the pagan nations surrounding Israel would allow it in some form or another. He could leave Israel anytime and go to a pagan nation. In fact, the Law of Moses and the ancient Israelite nation were the only religion and culture that then said a categorical no to homosexuality.
At a deeper level, the nature of a biblical theocracy, as we have already defined, is rooted in informed choice. Moses and Joshua are clear – the Israelites can choose whether or not to serve Yahweh, and Yahweh has proven his goodness ahead of time. The Israelite theocracy exists only in a certain period of time as a political wall of protection against the enemies of the Messianic lineage. That season a) ends with the Babylonian exile, and b) is fulfilled when Jesus comes the first time as Messiah and Suffering Servant. Thus, before anyone chooses to live in or remain in theocratic Israel, he or she has to first agree that the Law of Moses is good, and it is intended for the protection of their lives, liberties and properties.
There are only two biblical theocracies in history – from Moses to Jeremiah, and when Jesus returns as the reigning King. Both theocracies are by definition “communities of choice.”
Thus, our calling as Christians in this age between the two theocracies is to affirm the unalienable rights of all persons equally, including homosexual persons; but none of us can injure the life, liberty or property of another person without being accountable to the law, in all directions. And for homosexual persons, and in all their struggles, we celebrate the preaching of Jesus, repentance and deliverance through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the invitation to citizenship in the kingdom of God.
But if they choose homosexuality over the Gospel, then they will face judgment on the Last Day, as will all people who deliberately refuse God’s Word and goodness. No one is forced into eternal life. Thus, I will defend the unalienable rights of a homosexual person, not because he or she is homosexual, but because we are all made in the same image of God. The good news of Jesus is that he love us when we were his enemies in unbelief, so that we can become his friends in turning to him. We invite homosexual persons to repent and join the kingdom of God, but we force nothing.
Mel said it was the most Christian answer he ever heard, as I articulated it then, and that he and I would burn up the telephone wires debating the Scriptures. But after the radio show, he cut off any further communications.
At the end of the show, I mentioned 1 Corinthians 6:9 in passing, and he deterred it by saying, “No one says that people living in homosexual relationships will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is not in the Bible, old or new, and you know it John.” No, I do not know that. But at the moment, I did not have on hand a recollection of the Greek terms in use, so after the radio show I looked them up, and this brings us to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul’s first concern here is with the folly of Christians using the pagan courts to settle disputes between themselves — a forfeiture of biblical faith. Then he segues into another category of those who forfeit their faith, e.g., those who are idolaters, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy and/or drunks. In this context, the specific issue of homosexuality is addressed.
Those who enter into the various levels of sexual sin which Paul identifies, are those who do not confess their sins and receive God’s grace – they reject both the power to give and the power to be forgiven. As an example of sexual sin, Paul speaks of “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.”
Thus, whereas in Romans 1, Paul makes homosexuality the lead example of depravity, and lists other sins thereafter to address the whole moral context, we see another angle here in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is concerned with the evil of Christians filing lawsuits against each other, and then lists other sins thereafter to expand his concern to the whole moral context, beginning with a range of sexual sins. Thus, again, homosexuality is not any more sinful than other sins in the power to deceive, but its intrinsic nature can prove a deeper or more discernible pit from which people need to be delivered. Here again we see sociological degrees of sin, but no theological degrees in terms of where any sin will lead – no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
The word for “male prostitute” comes from malakos, which means “soft” or “effeminate one,” in the sense of the passivity of a male prostitute who becomes the subject of “an unnatural lust.” Of this there is little dispute, and if this were the only reference here to homosexuality, then Mel would be at least atomistically correct in his belief that intrinsic homosexual relationships are not being referred to here.
But with respect to the second term translated as “homosexual offender” by the NIV, there has been great debate. The word is arsenokoites, and it is the first time the word was ever used in the Greek language. Paul coined it. Thus, what does it mean? Various scholars have traced its later usage from the Didache (ca. 110 A.D.) on forward, and it is used to denote homosexuality. But for Mel White and others, this does not matter. They can argue that such post-biblical usages cannot determine the original biblical definition, and this is an important consideration. When I was musing about this, I thought I would check out the Septuagint (LXX) of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The LXX translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the middle of the third century B.C., and is a great help for understanding the Greek terms in a very Jewish New Testament.
The LXX of Leviticus 18:22 reads: Kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koite gunaikeian, bdelugma gar esti. A literal, if somewhat wooden, translation reads:
“And together with a male you shall not lie down in sexual intercourse as with a woman; it is detestable.”
The LXX of Leviticus 20:13 reads: Kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koite gunaikos, bdelugma epoiesan amphoteroi; thanato thanatousthosan, enochoi eisin. A literal, if somewhat wooden, translation reads:
“And whatever male shall lie down with a male in sexual intercourse as with a woman, they have both done what is detestable; let them die a death, for they are liable.”
What we see is that Paul coined a word from the exact Greek translation in Leviticus. Arsenos is a word for male, and koite is a word for sexual intercourse. Moses says, as the prophet of Yahweh, that an arsenos shall not koite with another man (i.e., with another arsenos). Period. This is the prohibition of intrinsic homosexual acts. When Paul brought both words together into a singular noun, he was coining the term arsenokoites for “homosexual” – to have sex with a member of the same sex. He took it straight from the LXX, thus his Jewish and Greek readers would know exactly what he was referring to – intrinsic homosexuality. The word arsenokoites does not refer to a “promiscuous” homosexual as a distinct idea, nor does it refer to a homosexual prostitute – rather, it stands following the malakos, marking a distinct category and thus applying to intrinsic homosexuality.
Paul is saying that both those who are male prostitutes and those who engage in any homosexual act – even if it can be rendered as a “faithful monogamous homosexual marriage” as revisionists like Mel White would like to do – will not inherit the kingdom of God; and too, in White’s case, he had to rationalize his heterosexual divorce in order to join with his homosexual lover he wants to “marry,” a theological reversal that says destruction is necessary for creation.
After our radio debate, I sent this exegesis of arsenokoites to Mel. Whether he read it or not I do not know. But later he published a pamphlet called “What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say— about Homosexuality,” also reproduced on his website, www.soulforce.org. It is rooted in experiential opinion, is not a work of any serious exegesis, and is worth comparing to my exegesis of the entire subject in this chapter. He does give attention to arsenokoites though, and interestingly comes very close to the pretension of ignorance argument rooted in Cain, the Pharisees and the Roe Court by saying that it has “confused scholars until this very day.” But it hasn’t – all serious scholars know, or will readily agree with the simplicity of the LXX reality, and Paul’s dependence on it. Here is his conclusion on the matter:
“We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the Roman custom of married men (arsenokoitai) hiring hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure Just as they hired smooth skinned young girls for that purpose.”
Mel makes no note concerning the LXX and its true exegesis; arsenokoites is not a mysterious term, but a clear one. Rather he takes a perverted Roman custom that did exist, and forces it into the text to cover both words (malakos and arsenokoites) when it only applies to the first word. The second refers simply to people who commit homosexual acts, period. Of interest too here is Mel’s argument that homosexuality is a genetic given. How then do married Roman men commit homosexual (pederastic) acts with boys if they are heterosexual? In truth, Mel cannot escape the deeper pansexual reality.
In Sodom it was the attempted homosexual gang rape that was the epitome of its sin, but not as though it was distinct in nature from homosexuality in general. We have seen how the tracing of “sodomy” involves the largest range of sins which reject Yahweh and his moral order, and thus, the choice to embrace other gods. This range is also reflected in the lists Paul compiles in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. And as the toevah of male shrine prostitution is linked with the toevah of intrinsic homosexual acts in the Hebrew Bible, so too does Paul link them together in Corinthians. Homosexuality reflects a reversal of the order of creation, and those who have experienced homosexuality who wish to inherit the final reversal of the reversal, cannot do so without repenting of homosexuality and thus depending on God’s grace.
In all this, the ethics and power of informed choice cannot be overstated. It is founded in the choice between the akol tokel (“in feasting you shall feast”) and the moth tamuth (“in dying you shall die”) of Genesis 2:16-17. In Leviticus 20:13, the same ethics of choice warning of moth tamuth is echoed in the literal Hebrew, again with two tenses of the verb “to die” (moth yiymathu – “in death you shall die”) and the literal Greek of the LXX (thanato thanatousthosan – “let them die the death”). Now, this is understood in the covenant community as a sentence of death to be meted out according to due process of law. But, too, there is nothing arbitrary about it. It is rooted in the reality of the active participle of the moth tamuth warning in the order of creation, namely, people who reject life choose death. No imposition of something unchosen. The integration of the reality of only Genesis into the whole biblical canon is relentless. Paul can be said here to have coined a word for homosexuality, and in the Greek language he does. But he has not coined the concept – the Hebrew Bible was the only religious text in antiquity that explicitly said no to homosexuality, and also defined homosexuality as a subcategory of pagan pansexuality.
The good news is contained in v. 11: “And that is what some of you were.” Along with the other sins listed, Paul proclaims complete deliverance for those once entangled in homosexuality – they have been washed, sanctified and justified by faith in Jesus Christ. If anyone claims such a Christian faith, then any identity as a homosexual must be past tense. The pansexual jihad today is militant in seeking to say that homosexuality is fixed and cannot be changed. And the pansexual jihadists have lobbied the American Psychological Associaiton (APA) in the goal to label any counseling intended to help homosexuals change as malpractice. This jihad is embraced by those in the church who claim that homosexuality is “a gift of God.” The Bible is clear, and if those homosexuals who claim allegiance to the church think otherwise, they are free to make their own religion. But to twist the Scripture to their own destruction, and to encourage others to do the same, is as heinous a sin as idolatry – it is toevah.
After all this, Mel was offered generous compensation to debate me at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at Dr. James Kennedy’s personal invitation. But he said no, even though he had protested at Kennedy’s church before, at Jerry Falwell’s church and at Pat Robertson’s CBN headquarters. Even yet, in his most recent email to me in 2004, he said that for some reason he could not help liking me. The truth can be spoken in love, if we are fully biblical.