Here is the second post in my “Ask the Pastor” series. As a pastor of a congregation that has a public statement of full inclusion for gays and lesbians, and as a pastor who has officiated at a same-sex wedding, I have been asked (more than once) how I reconcile my views on homosexuality with the Bible.
Please understand that there have been entire books written on this topic. And there is a longer, more thorough essay addressing this question on the Gay Christian Network website. In this post, I will briefly address what are probably the four most common biblical reasons given by those who consider homosexuality a sin.
“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Homosexuality simply goes against the natural order of things created by God.
First, we should consider the purpose of the Genesis creation stories–which is not to give humans explicit directions about sex and sexuality. Second, if Christians are called to reject everything that is not present in the Garden of Eden, we should all be living in back-to-nature nudist colonies–with no contraceptives. We have accepted many “unnatural” things into our lives. And finally, any objective observation of the animal world (both human and non) will reveal that homosexual activity is not really unnatural at all.
“Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for the sin of homosexuality.” You can read the story in Genesis 19.
And once you’ve read the story, you probably understand the problem with this argument. Residents of Sodom are guilty of many sins: extreme inhospitality, assault, attempted gang rape. To claim this story as an injunction against homosexuality, one has to argue that it would have been acceptable for the men of Sodom to demand to have sex with the guests if they had been women. Anyone want to make that argument?
The fact is that Leviticus forbids everything from tattoos to incest to eating blood to reaping to the edge of your fields. Leviticus presents rules for sex and clothes, bathing and worshiping. These regulations were given to a particular people at a particular time in history. We are being unfaithful to the text if we simply choose which rules we would like to follow today and which rules we will ignore. Some people will make an argument that we can disregard the purity laws, but we are still bound by the morality laws. The thing is, it’s always the rules they want to ignore that get put in the “purity” category. Considering the culture from which this text comes, “purity vs. morality” proves a false distinction.
“Because Paul says so.” The New Testament Epistles contain three passages that are sometimes used to support claims that homosexual activity is sinful: Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10. (These letters all claim to be written by Paul, though his authorship of 1 Timothy is doubtful.)
To begin with, there is no word in Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, that translates directly as “homosexual.” Any biblical translation that includes this precise term is putting an interpretive slant on the translation.
There is no parallel word for “homosexuality” because there was no parallel concept in the first century. Same-sex attraction was not understood as an orientation the way it is today. The idea of two men or two women setting up household together in the manner of husband and wife was not even considered. There were, however, two contexts in which same-sex sexual relations were common. The first was temple prostitution. The second was pederasty–a relationship in which an older man would enter into a sexual relationship with an adolescent boy. I simply don’t think Paul was condemning the kind of committed homosexual relationships that exist today. I think he was criticizing idolatry and sexually exploitative relationships.
To say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality is not to say that all homosexual relationships are God-honoring. Certainly not all heterosexual relationships are God-honoring. God’s call to righteous sexual relationships applies to all people. Our relationships must be based in honor, respect, commitment, and love.