Disadvantaged Background Essay On Biblical Texts

It’s important to understand that this prompt is not testing you on how religious you are. Pepperdine University is a Christian school, but it is also inclusive to students of all religions. Pepperdine welcomes diversity of faith. What this essay is asking you to do is to show that you’re interested and committed to having conversations about faith in which you discuss the role it’s played in your life.


Leverage Personal Experiences

If you’re a devout Christian, you could write about your experiences serving at your church or a moment during a summer camp that changed the way you perceive faith.


Remember, this prompt isn’t necessarily asking for a manifesto on your religion; instead, the prompt is looking for how faith has impacted your decisions. So don’t just quote your favorite bible verse in your essay — talk about how, because of that bible verse, you realized that serving underprivileged populations is critical and how this drove you to start a canned food drive at your school. Alternatively, if you’re a practicing Muslim, you can talk about how practicing your faith actively by praying five times a day helps you center your priorities on a consistent basis.


Analyze Religious People or Ideas

You don’t have to come from a traditional faith background to write an excellent essay for this prompt. For starters, most people, regardless of how religious or non-religious they are, have had encounters with religious people and ideas.


For example, you could write about how faith has driven many Catholic saints to create vastly positive impacts on the world. If you have met or come into contact with a religious group, for example, the LaSallian Brothers or Sisters of Mercy, you could explain how their faith inspires them to dedicate their lives to education and service. You could even delve into what it means for an individual to choose a life of faith and, especially, how faith can compel people to choose lives of “purpose, service, and leadership.”


Incorporate Intellectual Support

Within your essay, it should be obvious that you have wrestled with questions about faith and religion. It could be that you had a spiritual crisis after your grandfather died suddenly, or that you, an atheist, always have spirited arguments with your religious friends.


These examples show essay readers that you have seriously considered your faith from an intellectual lens and that you have thoughtful points to add to the conversations about faith at Pepperdine. If you haven’t considered faith or religion in your life, you may want to consider reading classical texts, such as “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl or “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton, to provide more context for what “faith” can mean.


Regardless of your faith — or lack of faith — including your perspective is the most important thing about this essay. Detailed anecdotes about times in which your beliefs were shaped or challenged will make this essay shine. The best way you can contribute to a conversation about faith on campus is by being you. Your unique perspective, and your unique voice, is what applications readers are looking for.


With these tips in mind, writing Pepperdine University’s supplemental essays will be a breeze. And if you still have questions, CollegeVine is here to help!


Be creative and confident. Don’t be afraid to challenge perceptions and explain your ideas.


Happy Writing!


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Ted Grimsrud

[Versions of this essay were published in C. Norman Kraus, To Continue the Dialogue (Cascadia Publishing House), and in Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation, Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality (Herald Press)]

In seeking discernment concerning the controversy over intimate same-sex relationships among Christians, we must learn better to understand points of view different from our own.  This essay represents my attempt to do so.  I will be describing the main arguments of several recent scholars who, in general, may be seen as reflecting two different understanding of biblical teaching.

I use terms for each of these viewpoints, “restrictive” and “inclusive,” that I hope are essentially value neutral.  By “restrictive,” I mean views that support restricting the participation in the church of gay and lesbian Christians who are in intimate relationships.  By “inclusive,” I refer to those who support inclusion with no restrictions based related to homosexuality per se on the participation of such Christians in the church.[i]

The “Restrictive” Case

Thomas E. Schmidt. Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1995.

In Thomas Schmidt’s view, the basic message of the Bible stems from and elaborates on the teaching of the creation story in Genesis one and two.  Our understanding of appropriate human sexual expression should follow from Genesis.  The creation account makes four crucial points regarding sexuality.  (1) Reproduction is good.  (2) Sex is good.  (3) Marriage is good.  (4) Male and female are necessary sexual counterparts (43).

Same-sex sexual relationships, according to Schmidt, are problematic in a fundamental way.  They reflect an implicit rejection of the very order of creation – and in doing so they reflect a rejection of God.  Same-sex sexual relationships undermine the sanctity of opposite-sex marriage.  They declare that a different expression of sexuality outside of the God-created intent for human beings is good (48).  Such a rejection of God’s will has to be unacceptable for all Christians who accept the authority of the Bible.

The biblical teaching against same-sex sexual intimacy in the rest of the Bible all presupposes the Genesis portrayal of normative marriage and is consistent with that portrayal.  The main reason the Bible speaks so clearly about sexual activity which does not occur within the context of opposite-sex marriage is, in Schmidt’s view, because illicit sexual activity is understood to be a threat to the very social foundations of the Bible’s faith communities.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 give us the most direct teaching in the Old Testament proscribing same-sex sexual relationships.  These two verses have normative force, even though they are surrounded by other commands which present-day Christians no longer consider binding.  The normativity of the anti-same-sex sexual intimacy verses follows from their rootage in the creation story.  The sexuality commands have the force of abiding moral law, not simply temporal purity regulations that Christians understand to have been superceded in Jesus (90).

Paul’s writings reflect the creation ordering of human sexuality.  A key text is Romans 1:18-32.  This passage begins with a reference to idolatry as the root cause of the immorality that the verses that follow address (53).  Paul points here to an inherent connection between idolatry and homosexuality.  He singles out same-sex sexual activity because he seeks a vivid image of humankind’s primal rejection of the sovereignty of God the creator (67).  Since God’s intent for opposite-sex marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual relationships, the denials of the exclusivity of this context implicit in same-sex relationships means rejecting God.

Schmidt understands Paul to be teaching in Romans one that “homosexuality” is a paradigmatic case of human being’s sense of their identity being distorted due to idolatry.  Living in a same-sex relationship is to be in revolt against God.  When people live in revolt against God, inevitably their lives will be corrupted, with the consequent consequences of alienation and brokenness (85).

Paul’s teaching against same-sex sexual intimacy also found expression in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.  Paul uses a term here that he likely coined himself in condemning same-sex sexual intimacy.  The Greek word arsenokoites clearly comes from the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22 that Paul would have used.  The Leviticus verse uses two words (arseno = “men” and koiten = “lies with”) which are combined by Paul, presumably to evoke memories of the teaching of Leviticus that forbids “a man laying with another man as he would with a woman” (95-96).

Schmidt concludes that the biblical teaching is being confirmed in our present day as we observe the self-destructiveness of same-sex sexual activity – which is what Paul’s teaching in Romans one would lead us to expect.  Idolatrous behavior is invariably self-destructive as God “gives up” idolaters to the consequences of their rebellion versus God (100-130).

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso, 1996.

Richard Hays admits that the Bible rarely refers directly to homosexual behavior; however, he asserts, we must recognize that each of these rare references is totally negative and needs to be taken seriously.  The two references in the book of Leviticus (18:23; 20:10) establish the basic tone.  Their. unambiguous prohibition of same-sex sexual intimacy founded the universal rejection of such relationships in Judaism (381).

Hays focuses most of his attention on pertinent New Testament texts, especially Romans 1:18-32.  Romans one plays a special role in Christian sexual ethics because it is the only place in the New Testament that explains the Christian condemnation of homosexual behavior in an explicitly theological framework (383).

Underlying Paul’s theology here is his reference to God as creator.  This reference grounds Paul’s discussion of sexuality in the story of creation in Genesis one and two (i.e., the portrayal of male/female sexuality as the norm, 386).

The practice of same-sex sex may be understood as a type of “sacrament” for the contra-faith of those who reject God as creator and ruler of the universe (386).  Faith in God includes, by definition, an acceptance of the order God has created.  To blatantly deny the exclusive normativity of male/female sexuality, hence, is par excellence an expression of the refusal to honor God as God that Paul sees as the core problem with pagan idolatry.

When Paul writes that same-sex sex is “against nature,” he means it goes against the order of creation, as “nature” for Paul means the created order.  Those who engage in sexual relations with people of the same sex are acting “against nature” in defiance of the Creator (387).

Why does Paul single out homosexual intercourse here?  According to Hays, Paul does so because it so graphically reflects the way in which human rebellion against God is expressed in ways that blatantly distort the way God created things to be.  When rebellious human beings “exchange” their created sexuality for same-sex intimacy, they manifestly show how sinful human beings have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25, 388).

The created order, the “natural” pattern, points toward the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage as the context for appropriate sexual intimacy.  The entire Bible supports this understanding.  This normativity of heterosexual marriage provides the context for the Bible’s univocally negative explicit mentions of same-sex sexual activity (390).

The fact that some human beings might feel a strong sexual attraction toward people of the same sex is not to be understood as necessarily good and trustworthy.  That these desires and impulses happen to be involuntary is not evidence that they are appropriately acted on.  Due to the depth of the power of sin in the human heart, even our involuntary impulses may well be corrupted (390).

Stanley J. Grenz. Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998.

Stanley Grenz’s position rests on his interpretation of biblical texts of two sorts, the handful of texts that he understands directly to address the issue of same-sex sexual intimacy and the overall understanding the Bible gives of marriage as rooted in the creative intent of God.  He believes that the fundamental issue in the debate ultimately boils down to how much respect one is willing to give to the teaching of the Bible.  For those who uphold the authority of the Bible in the church, Grenz asserts, rejecting the moral validity of all same-sex sexual intimacy is the only option (89).

Grenz understands Old Testament morality concerning sexual relationships to be reducible to one basic principle.  The overarching focus of Old Testament sexual ethics is to defend family and married life.  The Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-26 argues that any sexual activity outside of the context of heterosexual marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage and hence is an abomination (46).

The extremity of the punishment in Leviticus 20:13 for same-sex sex reflects the seriousness of such a violation of God’s intent for human sexuality.  Even if we do not use the death penalty for such offenses any more, we nonetheless should recognize the seriousness of the violation that evokes it in Leviticus.  The prohibition remains normative for us today, even if the punishment does not (47).

Turning to the New Testament, Grenz argues that in Romans one Paul echoes the concerns of the Levitical Holiness Code in rejecting same-sex sexual intimacy as contrary to God’s intentions for human beings.  For Paul, only the model of male/female marriage as the one legitimate context for sexual expression is natural and fits with the Creator’s design.  Sex outside of this context is “against nature” and brings upon itself God’s anger (56).

In responding to claims by inclusivist thinkers, Grenz rejects the idea that understanding the core Christian ethical criterion to be love should lead the church to affirm same-sex covenant relationships as expressions of the ultimate Christian value – love.  For Grenz, love must be understood in the context of the overall biblical message of God’s intentions for human social life.  If God’s order is being violated, it is not a loving response to condone that violation.

The creation account in Genesis provides us with crucial information in relation to these questions.  Our direction as human beings may be seen in the fact that God created human beings as male and female (Genesis 1:27, 103).  Furthermore, Genesis 2:18 tells us that simply as male, the first human being was incomplete.  To be complete, human living must include both sexs, different from one another yet complimentary.

Grenz understands the creation stories to provide the normative model for marriage – male and female, complimenting each other, completing each other.  From this portrayal, he concludes that sexual intimacy is meant only for people in an opposite-sex marriage.  Sexual intimacy is meant to address our incompleteness – the incompleteness that God resolved by creating women to join with men (104).

Sexual intercourse has profound symbolic meaning for Grenz.  It is always a symbolic act, with three central messages at its core.  (1) Sexual intercourse symbolizes the exclusive bond between husband and wife – reflecting the biblical confession that the person of faith has an exclusive bond with God.  (2) Sexual intercourse symbolizes the mutuality of the marriage relationship – each partner finding pleasure in the intimacy and seeking for foster the other’s pleasure.  (3) Sexual intercourse symbolizes the married couple’s openness to new life emerging from their relationship through the birth of children (108).

Grenz argues at length that same-sex covenant relationships simply cannot share in the richness of this symbolism.  He believes that legitimate sexual intimacy must always be symbolic in these ways, and that the institution of marriage is meant to foster such rich symbolism.  In doing so, marriage serves as a crucial element in the life of the faith community.

For Grenz, probably the most fundamental reason same-sex covenant relationships among Christians should not be affirmed is that they devalue marriage (141).  He understands monogamous, male-female marriage to be the foundation for Christian communal spirituality.

Willard Swartley, Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003.

In his introductory chapter Swartley asserts that unlike issues he has written on previously (such as war, male/female relationships, and slavery), with homosexuality there is clarity and uniformity in the biblical witness that do not allow for movement away from a more “status quo” view towards a more “liberative” view.  “Homosexual practice is not related to grace-energized behavior in a single text” (18).

The three main points Swartley draws from the Old Testament in developing his case for opposing same-sex sexual intimacy are: (1) Genesis one portrays God’s intention with creation being that sexuality is a good gift, with great power and subject to misuse (27-28).  The only appropriate context for sexual intercourse is male/female marriage.

(2) The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is rightly understood as focusing on threatened rape as an expression of inhospitality, not on “loving homosexual relations.”  Nonetheless, it is significant that in Genesis 19 and Judges 19 “it is precisely (homo)sexual lust that precludes hospitality” (31-32).

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