Recent events and conversations have compelled me to pause, contemplate and clarify my views on homosexuality and the Bible. It is important for me to communicate why I have come to question the practice of calling homosexuality a sin through study of the scriptures. I am not suggesting that anyone change their minds based on my experience or expecting anyone to do so, but it is important to me that my brothers and sisters know that I didn't come to this conclusion from a place of disregard for holiness or scripture, or because it was a more convenient stance to take. I hope my own views continue to change as I learn more from the scriptures and nature.
I commend and respect the commitment to holiness and the concern that God’s Word would be compromised or diluted by affirming homosexual relationships. My concern is that compassion and acceptance are extended to people just as God made them. Thankfully God doesn’t ask us to choose between compassion and holiness. However, there are multiple warnings to us, as religious people, against becoming too restrictive and calling things sinful which are not. So, I think we had better have a firm and clear directive from God when we call something sinful.
I also think it we tread dangerous ground when we confront something as basic as a person's sexuality. Sexuality is a vulnerable area for all of us. Without an explicit command from God condemning loving relationships between people of the same sex, I believe it is morally wrong for us to condemn them. I am also not satisfied with the explanation that it is not being gay, but acting gay that is sinful. If a person romantically loves another person, the physical manifestation of that love and the commitment to that love are natural consequences. I hope to show you why I believe the evidence of God’s condemnation of homosexuality is underwhelming, at best.
First, it might be helpful to talk about what we call sin. We sin when we
break the commandments of God. The rabbis and scribes have always debated the question "What is the greatest commandment?" because some commandments contradict each other. Take for instance, the Sabbath and compassion for animals. If a donkey falls into a well, which do we consider to be the greatest commandment: have compassion on the animal and save his life or do no work on the Sabbath? Most today would say "Save the animal!" but there were some Jewish rabbis who called the keeping of the Sabbath the greatest commandment and said it would be sinful to save the animal on the Sabbath. The law of the Sabbath is one of the most highly regarded laws in Judaism, but Jesus fulfilled the spirit of that law by allowing work in certain cases, healing in some cases, exceptions to the rule, all an extension of love and each one an announcement of a better way of living without religious bigotry and exclusion.
We readily make exceptions to each rule. Each situation requires special consideration. We can think of instances where it would be acceptable, even virtuous to lie or steal. Even in cases of murder, the "sinner" can be excused, even praised for acting out of self-defense or by virtue of saving lives by taking one.
We judge an act as sinful or just by considering the harm caused by the act and the intent of the actor.
Romans 13:8-10 gives us a standard. Paul says whatever commandments there may be, they can be summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. If we love the way we should, we need no other commandment. Adultery is unloving; it hurts. You don't hurt someone you love; you don't steal from them, lie to them, or get jealous of them. Jesus fulfillment of the Torah taught us that every commandment has an underlying motivation of love. Love is the manifestation of all the law.
So, let’s go to the scriptures. It is so important to understand the cultural context of each verse rather than pluck it out and take it at face value. By doing word studies and history lessons, we aren’t diluting the Word of God but we are giving it the full reverence due, recognizing it as an intricate work and justly applying it to our lives.
Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 - I don't think you'll mind if we exempt these
verses from our discussion. We agree that men who shave, get tattoos, wear cotton/poly blends, etc. aren't an "abomination" to God. An "abomination" was something that was forbidden for the Israelites and was also used to describe unclean foods.
Then, there's the Sodom & Gomorrah story. The reason we associate Sodom with homosexuality is in Gen. 19:5. Judges 19 tells almost the same story, but it takes place in Gibeah, an Israelite city, which for some reason didn't get the same gay reputation as Sodom. I really believe it's because the same-sex act is not the sin in these stories. These men weren't gay, they were predators. In Gibeah, the man gave them his concubine instead of the male visitor and they beat and raped the girl "throughout the night". She was dead in the morning. Is this because they somehow believed that a heterosexual rape and murder was less sinful than a homosexual rape? I cannot consider that to be a possibility. The concubine was sacrificed because she was socially of less importance than the visitor. These passages are not about sexual preference or
relationships, but about status, dominance, violence and abuse.
So, what was the sin of Sodom? There is a reference to Sodom's "sexual
immorality and perversion" in Jude (which is not specific to same-sex acts), but Ezekiel 16:49 says "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." Isaiah 1:10-17 spoke to Sodom and Gomorrah and commanded them to "Cease to do evil. Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Romans 1:18-32 describes a downward spiral that starts with people who knew God, but refused to worship God. They were wise in their own eyes but they traded the glory of God for idols. They traded the true God for a god of their own making. Then, they didn't know how to be the people God created them to be. Men began to crave other men and women began to crave women. I think it's clear that this change to same-sex attraction was preceded by what was "natural" for them, but they exchanged it for perversion. It was all lust, no love.
Paul's audience would have been familiar with the link between idolatry and sexual perversion and would have connected his description to those involved in fertility cults. He makes it clear that the acts were done as a result of idol worship when he says "therefore" and "because of this." But then, Paul then goes on to address a list of vices: bickering, backstabbing, gossiping, bullying, cruelty and murder. Paul doesn't condone homosexuality in this passage, and sexual abuse was a part of his concern, but the point of the passage is not sexuality but idolatry. He calls these unnatural relations shameful, but he uses the same language to describe men with long hair in 1 Cor. 11:14. I believe it is unfair and damaging to use this passage to paint modern, loving, committed same-sex partnerships with the same brush as those who had ritual sex with the priests and priestesses in fertility cults in an ancient culture.
Another word about "natural" sex; homosexuality is extremely common in
nature. We need go no further than the cow pasture to see that it is true.
This is how God created the world. As humans, we are able to reason and
therefore held to a higher standard in that we receive sexual comfort from
another and we are expected to be committed and respectful of that relationship, but to say that homosexuality is unnatural is just not true.
And lastly, there’s the verses referring to the "arsenokoitai" and "malakoi".
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 use the same word, arsenokoitai, and it is interpreted as different things, but usually ends up something like "abusers of themselves with men". The roots of the word are male and bed, and the word was used to describe rape or adultery in a few other ancient writings. Whatever Paul was referring to, it had to be something that was familiar to his audience. Both times he lists arsenokoitai right next to adultery. It was a culturally pervasive practice for a married man to have young boys as sexual partners outside of his marriage. In the 1 Corinthians passage, arsenokoitai is right next to malakoi, which means "soft ones" or young male prostitutes, which further supports this idea that the arsenokoitai was the "John" and the malakoi the prostitute, or slave being used for sexual satisfaction. Once again, I think this has everything to do with exerting sexual dominance over of another person of weaker social status, very little to do with homosexuality and nothing to do with sex in a loving relationship.
So, scripturally, that is the case against physical love between same sex
partners debunked in my understanding. I don't expect it to satisfy every
challenge, but I do think it is enough to be extremely cautious at the very
least. Not long ago, we as a church were dissecting verses like this to
determine whether different races could marry, or if women could speak in church or have short hair. We are quick to explain away the cultural and social exceptions for those types of commands, but what standard do we use that decides which cultural commands of scripture we're still obligated to follow and which we're not? What if we took Paul's gender-specific commands and commands on head coverings and the disgrace and dishonor of having one or not just as seriously?
We could easily make a choice to wear a head covering. However, we can no more change our sexual preference than we can change our height. Consider people of both sexes. Consider males with female chromosomes and females with male chromosomes. If genitalia mark the difference between holy marriage and living in sin, what kind of abundant life can these people hope for? We say God doesn't make mistakes, and when babies are born with defects we say "that's okay, God made them that way" and we understand if a deaf person uses their hands to speak while we use our mouths. We make exceptions for God’s perfect
design because we understand that for whatever reason, God allows some to be born differently. Even if homosexuality is the result of a defect or
abnormality, why don’t we give them the same grace?
We have to hold homosexual relationships against the rule in which all
commandments can be summarized: Is love for another person of the same sex including the physical expression of that love and legal commitment to that love a violation of the command to love God, do no harm to your neighbor and love your neighbor as yourself?
We have to hold ourselves to the same standard when calling homosexuality a sin. Is that violating the commandment to do no harm to your neighbor? Some would argue, yes, that labeling the person’s homosexual desires as sinful, though they were a part of that person at birth, usually causes deep resentment of God and self, which leads to self-abuse, allowing others to take advantage both physically and sexually, and eventually in some cases suicide.
If loving my gay brothers and sisters is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I
accept you, however you are as a beautiful creation made in the image of the Almighty.