|Thursday, March 26, 2009
Homosexuality and the Bible
The Episcopalians are arguing about appointing homosexual bishops again—or is it still? What I mean by “homosexual” is this: someone who is sexually attracted to persons of the same gender. Why should anyone be hostile against someone having a same sex attraction? It is not as though people can control what arouses them sexually. Certainly all of us must control our sexual behavior, but erotic attraction is pretty much an automatic reaction—built into our genes, as it were.
Someone threatened by homosexuality is called a “homophobe” (fear of one and the same [gender]). Homophobes do not usually fear personal physical harm from those erotically aroused by others of their own gender. What they primarily fear is their “difference.” The homosexual’s different sexual orientation threatens what most regard as the dominant sexual morality of modern American society. The “difference” is seen as an attack the social bedrocks of heterosexual society: family, home, conventional morality, traditional male and female roles, etc. In short, homosexuality threatens the homophobe’s own masculinity or femininity.
Church folk intolerant of homosexuality argue that the “Bible” condemns homosexuality. But the Bible doesn’t say nearly as much about homosexuality as most people think. Only three passages speak specifically on point to the issue of homosexuality: Two in the Jewish Bible, Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13; and one in the New Testament, Rom 1:26-27. Other biblical material, frequently cited in denouncing homosexuality, must be nuanced to fit the argument. In other words when other passages do not specifically refer to homosexuality, they are made to do so by how they are explained.
I have often pondered why religious people would feel the need to be so literal in applying just these three passages, but ignore a literal application of the many other strange moral ideas found in the Bible. For example the Bible also says: You should not wear garments made of blended material (Lev 19:19); Adulterers must be put to death (Lev 20:10); parents should have the city elders stone a stubborn and rebellious son (Deut 21:18-21); women should keep silent in church (1 Tim 2:11-12); only sea life with fins and scales can be eaten –everything else is an abomination (Lev 11:9-17). Oddly this last denunciation is exactly what the Bible says about homosexuality! Eating shrimp and homosexuality are equally weighted offenses and both are denounced in the same strong language! So why ignore the literal application of the religious law related to sea life but make an issue of homosexuality? Homophobes lose the moral edge of the argument when they are selectively outraged over one issue and ignore the rest of the Bible’s frequently quaint ideas about morality.
It is probably significant that only Paul had a problem with homosexuality—Jesus did not. Nothing critical of homosexuality is found among the sayings of Jesus preserved in early Christian literature. Jesus did say, however, that some people castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and he recommended it, although not all are capable of accepting the challenge to be one of the kingdom’s eunuchs (Matt 19:11-12). A related idea is found in Paul’s writings; Paul said Christian people should be celibate (i.e., single, 1 Cor 7:1-8, 37-38). In short, in Paul’s view even heterosexual coitus and heterosexual marriage were concessions to human weakness (which incidentally violates God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, Gen 1:28). Paul condemned homosexuality, but he didn’t think much of heterosexual marriage either.
These three verses condemning homosexuality are used by many churches to restrict a large segment of society from full participation in the community of faith. Jesus, however, thought God’s kingdom (not the Christian heaven, which is something different) was inclusive, and so he invited everyone to participate (Matt 11:28-29). Only those who thought of the kingdom as their own special possession (Matt 8:11-12) were excluded. But there appears to be no particular social status (viz., Matt 21:31) that automatically excluded anyone from the kingdom of God (which is apparently not true of the Christian view of Heaven and the church). Perhaps the Episcopalians (and other religious groups) should be more historically discriminating in how they read the Bible, with an eye to kindness, fairness, and humility.
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 3:41pm
Excellent discussion! We are about to discuss our ELCA Lutheran statement on Sexuality in our adult forum church class next month. Some historical and cultural factors in the debate that might be noteworthy for our discussion are: (1) the abuse of power in such relationships (e.g., king with slave boy) was prevalent in these so-called "unnatural acts" and I don't think the biblical writers saw anything like an egalitarian relationship of mutually-caring adults -- heterosexual or homosexual (2) yes,the purpose of marriage, for the biblicat writers, was to propagate the species (Gen 1:28) and those same biblical writers would have been very concerned about infertile heterosexual couples and probably opposed to any form of birth control or abortion (although the "midwives" were probably familiar with some practice of birth control and even abortion, if necessary). Question: would the biblical writers have really felt the same way about such matters if they were living in our current times? I doubt it.
Actually, could not homophobe Paul be summoned to the defense of gay marriage? Paul was not just against homosexuality, if his two verses in the letter to the Romans (1:26-27) can be taken as his definitive statement on homosexuality; he was against marriage in general, as he makes quite clear to the Corinthians. But, he allowed for a concession: "it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor 7:9). Why should that not apply to homosexuals as well as to heterosexuals? True, it doesn't fit with Rom 1:26-27, since Paul seems to distinguish between acceptable, albeit lamentable and inferior, passions, and "dishonorable" passions. But I'm not sure that defenders of holy matrimony would want to appeal to a militant, and inconsistent, celibate anyway. To judge by the early church, the message of Paul's praise of celibacy was heard loud and clear; read the Acts of Paul and Thecla. I wonder if Paul rolls over in his grave when 1 Cor 13 is read at weddings. Could anything further have been from his mind?
As one, like so many others, who have loved ones and friends deeply involved with this issue, I am grateful for the convictions so effectively expressed and supported. I look forward to sharing your post with others.
Thanks, Charlie, for this post on homosexuality. Perceptive, as usual, biblical, as always.