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?
“Because Leviticus says so.” Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13, to be precise.
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.
14 thoughts on “Ask the Pastor . . . About Homosexuality”
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very good and concise.
Thank you for writing this. I’ve read longer discussions on this, but I like what you say for making the point clearly and quickly.
Thanks James. I popped over to your blog and it looks like you are doing some great work for GI rights. Blessings to you.
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I’m not a member of any religion but found a link to this on a Facebook post of a Mennonite acquaintance of mine. I have often wondered, however, how anyone could possibly think that he or she knows what the Bible “says”, in regard to any issue. If I can have a conversation with my husband, for instance, in the same room, at the same time, in the same language, we might still have two very different ideas of what’s been said (and that’s not even considering tone of voice). So it’s not possible to determine with certainty what any ancient text “says” or “means”.
Thank you for this. I’d like to keep it for easy access to proof of that point.
Interesting post. I do have some problems with your exegesis. I hope that the rest of my reply does not seem to be only combative. I find that a lively debate/discussion is a good way to explore an issue.
1 __Adam and Steve__
You assert that, “…the purpose of the Genesis creation stories…is not to give humans explicit directions about sex and sexuality.” However Jesus’ teachings on divorce and marriage, do state that the creation directions and a model for sexuality and relationships. Mark 10:6-9,(also Matt 19,4-6 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
2 __Sodom and Gomorrah__ I agree with you on this one.
The division between “purity” and “moral” and “dietary” can a bit too simplistic and convenient. I think we even dismiss some of the dietary or clothing rules, that we should look for abiding principles in.
The second passage you reference, Lev 20:1-20, does refer to purity as a consideration. The two lists cover child sacrifice, bestiality, incest, homosexuality, and consulting mediums. Besides sex between two men, what else on the lists would you condone or even officiate for? (I don’t think sex between women is listed.)
The 1 Corinthians 6 passage does discuss temple prostitution (mostly hetero), and ‘active’ and ‘passive’ homosexual relations wich might include peterasty. Although the term “homosexualty” might not have been used, Romans 1 clearly talks about desire and sex between men and between women. That idolatry and exploitative relationships are condemed in the context of homosexuality, (and in other types of relationships in other context) does not inply that homosexual relationships might not also be viewed by Paul (or whoever wrote Timothy) as ‘unnatural’ (Rom 1:26), or ‘shameful’ (Rom 1:26, 1:27).
“God’s call to righteous sexual relationships applies to all people. Our relationships must be based in honor, respect, commitment, and love.” To which I say, Amen.
Dowlan, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a thoughtful and respectful response. For me, the bottom line question is whether God, through the biblical writers, condemns all forms of same-sex intimate relationships–including long-term, monogamous, loving relationships. Based on the total witness of scripture, I believe the answer to that question is “no.” Obviously, many people disagree.