Here we see another example of (what I have termed) a “Facebook Polemic.”[i]
Obviously this polemic asserts that Jesus didn’t “say anything” about homosexuality.
Is this an argument? One way to lay out this complaint in argument form would be as follows.
1. If Jesus does not explicitly mention an activity, then that activity is permissible.
2. Jesus never mentions homosexual sex.
3. Therefore, homosexual sex is permissible.
There are a number of problems with this argument. I will list three.[ii]
Number one, Jesus never mentioned a number of other, obviously morally wrong acts. For example, Jesus never mentioned torturing children.[iii] However, it would obviously be unacceptable to conclude, from this observation alone, that torturing children is thereby permissible.[iv] The mere fact that Jesus never mentioned homosexual sex is therefore insufficient reason to conclude that homosexual sex is permissible.
Number two, no reasons have been given to think that what Jesus does not say should be given priority over what other biblical authors, for example Paul, did say.[v] In other words, why should a Christian limit his or her consultation on moral matters to the recorded words of Jesus? After all, Christians have historically held that the entire Bible is a reliable (if sometimes obscure) moral guide.[vi]
Number three, it is arguable that Jesus did indeed mention homosexual sin after all.
Firstly, Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah in various passages (e.g., Matthew 10:15, 11:23ff, Luke 10:12, & 17:29). If “Sodom and Gomorrah” is, as is traditionally understood – an allusion to homosexual sin, that is, sodomy – then these references would plausibly be sufficient to deny the assertion that Jesus “never said anything about homosexuality.”
Secondly, Jesus explicitly endorsed the definition of marriage, first set forth in the book of Genesis,[vii] as an arrangement between a man and woman. According to Jesus “[A]t the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female [Gen. 1:27].’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh [Gen. 2:24].’” Hence, we might ask, “Why should Jesus need to (redundantly) forbid what he has already excluded in virtue of his definition of marriage?”
[i] For an explanation of this term, see: http://bellofchurch.blogspot.com/2012/06/facebook-polemics.html.
[ii] A more subtle worry than those discussed above lies with the first premise. A person who advocates the permissibility of same-sex sexual behavior likely favors a principle such as that which constitutes premise 1: “Whatever is not explicitly forbidden [in Scripture or by Jesus, etc.] is permissible.” However, selection of this sort of principle – called a “regulative principle” – needs to be justified. Insofar as the reason for the selection is simply the desirability of a particular conclusion, the principle seems to be ad hoc. The opponent of same-sex sexual behaviors might adopt a different regulative principle. For instance, why not prefer: “Whatever is not expressly commanded [in Scripture or by Jesus, etc.] is forbidden”? (For more on regulative principles, see Robert C. Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1986, chart 42.)
The choice of regulative principle is, plausibly, at least as controversial as the judgment regarding the permissibility of same-sex sexual behavior activity.
[iii] Jesus does not explicitly mention suicide either. Many (although probably not all) Christians would be sympathetic to the view that suicide is sinful. However, this judgment arises out of such considerations as the Bible’s overall respect for human life, emphasis upon the sovereignty of God in all matter and prohibition of taking life without just cause – chiefly with the aim of preserving life (as in extreme cases of self-defense).
[iv] I anticipate, at this point, that a hostile interlocutor will want distinguish between “harmful” and “harmless” acts, in such a way that that homosexual sex will be considered “harmless.” I have treated this at greater length elsewhere. Suffice it to say, here, that on the historic Christian view, a human being is possessed of both a body and a soul. “Harm” then can come to either the body or the soul, or both. Jesus himself warns: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”, Matthew 10:28, NIV.
However, plausibly, “sin” can be defined as (something like) “a transgression of God’s law that harms the soul.” If so, then if homosexual sex is a sin, then homosexual sex harms the soul. But if that is so, then it will not be the case that homosexual sex is “harmless.”
It must first be shown that homosexual sex is not a sin before it can be shown that engaging in homosexual sex does not “harm.” For the historic Christian can merely rejoin: Homosexual sex is sinful. Whatever is sinful is harmful. Therefore, homosexual sex is harmful.
As an aside, penetrative anal sex is also arguably harmful physically. “…Anal intercourse is the riskiest form of sexual activity for several reasons, including the following: The anus lacks the natural lubrication the vagina has. Penetration can tear the tissue inside the anus, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter the bloodstream. ...The tissue inside the anus is not as well protected as the skin outside the anus. Our external tissue has layers of dead cells that serve as a protective barrier against infection. The tissue inside the anus does not have this natural protection, which leaves it vulnerable to tearing and the spread of infection. The anus was designed to hold in feces. The anus is surrounded with a ring-like muscle, called the anal sphincter, which tightens after we defecate. When the muscle is tight, anal penetration can be painful and difficult. Repetitive anal sex may lead to weakening of the anal sphincter, making it difficult to hold in feces until you can get to the toilet. ...The anus is full of bacteria. Even if both partners do not have a sexually transmitted infection or disease, bacteria normally in the anus can potentially infect the giving partner. ...Oral contact with the anus can put both partners at risk for hepatitis, herpes, HPV, and other infections. ...Even though serious injury from anal sex is not common, it can occur. Bleeding after anal sex could be due to a hemorrhoid or tear, or something more serious such as a perforation (hole) in the colon. ...The only way to completely avoid anal sex risks is to abstain from anal sex. ...”. “Anal Sex Safety and Health Concerns,” WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/sex/anal-sex-health-concerns and http://www.webmd.com/sex/anal-sex-healthconcerns?page=2.
Incidentally, this would of course apply equally to heterosexual as well as homosexual instances of anal sex.
[v] Paul wrote: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 9-10.)
[vi] We could replace the phrase “the entire Bible” with other phrases like “the New Testament,” “Church doctrine” or “Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition” in order to generate other competing principles which we have also been given no reasons to disfavor.
[vii] Chapter 2, verses 22-24.
Note: I have no clue as to whether or not Stephen Colbert actually made the remarks seemingly attributed to him in the picture-text. For all I know, the ascription is erroneous. Nothing in my reply turns on this point.