Thursday, March 26, 2009

Homosexuality and the Bible

Read/Post Comments (5)

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
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

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.

Charles Puskas
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Posted by Charles Puskas on 4/13/2009 at 9:12am

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?

Arland Jacobson
Moorhead, MN
Posted by Arland Jacobson on 4/9/2009 at 2:07pm


While I love the fact that you have written this piece which reiterates what many of us have been saying about this sadly lingering religious prejudice, I must offer at least one criticism. In your opening paragraph you say that homosexuality is defined by "attraction" and that no one can be held responsible for their attractions. I'm afraid that much of the conservative world would not agree that this is the definition they use. It is not the attraction, it is the behavior which they condemn. Bishop Gene Robinson, the only openly gay Episcopal bishop, is not simply "attracted" to men, he is in a long term committed relationship with a man, having divorced his wife to pursue this relationship.

Many conservatives accept that there are many gay people in the world but their counsel is to be "tempted but do not sin." That is, "Yes, we know you are gay in your attraction to same sex partners but you must live a celibate life." Which is, of course, the issue for most of Catholic clergy for the past 500 years. Gay men enter the priesthood both to hide their sexual orientation and to find the discipline and support for a celibate life. Most of the priests whom I personally know give up on celibacy pretty quickly and accept that they must live a dual life, openly affirming the church's teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin while privately seeking same sex sexual partners. A member of my church, for example, had a long term committed relationship with a priest. They kept a home together in Springfield while the priest served congregations around the region.

What we are looking for here is an end to the prejudice entirely. Gay men and women should be allowed to be who they are fully without having to even try to remove their sexuality from their thoughts and character. The hiding and the lies and the prejudice have created a world full of irresponsible sexual conduct and people whose self concept is so broken that they end up giving vent to very perverse inclinations. We want to promote health, spiritual and mental health, which is never achieved through lies and prejudice.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min.
Community Christian Church
Springfield, MO 65807
Posted by Roger L. Ray on 4/6/2009 at 9:24am

Hi Roger,
I generally try to refrain from making replies to postings so as to leave the discussion to take its own course. But your perceptive comments have focused on a perceived gap after the period to my next to last sentence of my first paragraph and imputed a character to the last sentence that is off base. When I say “all of us must control our sexual behavior” I intended to bring under that statement both homosexuals and heterosexuals: No one is to be excused for inappropriate or criminal behavior (i.e., behavior that takes unwanted sexual liberties with another person) . I was not referring to marriage. So let me now address the issue of marriage that you raise.

If one concedes that people cannot control what arouses them sexually (just as they cannot control their dreams, as Buddy Shurden rightfully points out), then one must admit same sex attraction is normal. Hence there is no reason to prohibit same sex marriage. The argument against same sex marriage holding that the purpose of marriage is to propagate the species (Gen 1:28) simply “does not hold water” as an argument against same sex marriage. There are heterosexuals who are unable to propagate. Should they too be prohibited from marriage since they are unable to propagate? The answer is of course “no”! There are other reasons why we humans marry: for example love, close companionship, intimacy, etc. We humans are very social animals and we need such close relationships—something beyond “just good friends.” To put the matter theologically in language that conservative Christian folk may understand better: Some people are “made” to have a same sex attraction and they are just as “normal” as those who are “made” to have a cross gender attraction. If one believes that God is the great designer, then it seems to me that this statement of the situation should be accepted. Not accepting it is an admission that God, the great designer continues to “goof” in the creation of homosexuals (or heterosexuals)! For my part I see homosexuality as a natural given of our world, and “what God has joined together should not be put asunder.”


Posted by Charles Hedrick on 4/9/2009 at 12:02pm

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.

(Edward R. Smith, Lubbock, TX)
Posted by Edward R. Smith on 3/30/2009 at 4:33pm

Thanks, Charlie, for this post on homosexuality. Perceptive, as usual, biblical, as always.

I like your point that people cannot control what arouses them sexually. Wonder how many homophobes have had anything like a homosexual dream of some kind? Dreams are really uncontrollable.

Hope you are well, that life is good, and that you live with lots of reasons for gratitude.

Posted by Walter Shurden on 3/28/2009 at 8:05am