2007, a study of Americans age 16-29 found that “anti-homosexual” was the
dominant perception of modern Christians. Ninety-one percent of
non-Christians and 80 percent of Christians in this group used this word
to describe Christians. This beat out "charitable", "good", "friendly" or any other way of describing the church.
Sadly, for good reason.
It's a polarizing issue, with a lot of history and cultural baggage behind it.
Those churches who came out in favor of a certain interpretation of Scriptures originally, and especially in the 1980s with the newer translations' use of "homosexual", explicitly - stated and implied that the very nature of being homosexual was in and of itself corrupting and sinful. This led to an interesting dilemma for this point of view, as it was nonsensical to describe a state of being as inherently evil. Therefore a kind of non-scientific, non-objective thinking was forwarded, that it was a "choice", or a "lifestyle choice". Some even suggested violence in response to this "vice", an approach never even suggested by pastors or ministers or priests with any other sin.
Of course, for reasons which will become apparent shortly, the nature of the criticism changed in more recent years. "Love the sinner, hate the sin". "We love you", so the argument goes, "we just hate any way you would possibly express these tendencies." The advice? Stay single, stay solitary, never act on these thoughts in any way. It's not clear if seeing somebody as an object of pity with a terminal spiritual illness is any better than seeing them as some kind of person simply predestined for Hell by his own nature.
Suffice it to say, absolutely NOWHERE in the Bible, either in the Old Testament or the New, does it ever say that homosexuality as an orientation is sinful.
This is said at risk of offending Jewish readers, not only with the use of "Old Testament", but also by daring to interpret the written word of the Christian version of the text given that name. Any book prior to the New Testament Gospel will only be presented, read and analyzed from the perspective of Christian understanding of those verses as written.
And once again, with that caveat, absolutely NOWHERE in the Bible, either in the Old Testament or the
New, does it ever say that homosexuality as an orientation is sinful.
The classic approach to refuting this is to IMMEDIATELY run to 1 Corinthians 6:9. There, Saint Paul gives a vice list.
- Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Fair enough, excepting that the New Testament wasn't written in English, it was written in Koine Greek. Undeterred, they argue that the words for "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind", μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται - refer to the passive and the active forms of homosexual anal intercourse.
Let's take that at face value. Assuming that that is the case, this does not prove that the state of being homosexual is a sin, or that any form of homosexual expression is sinful, but that two specific halves of a specific act are off limits.
There's one problem. That's all conjecture.
μαλακοι - literally, "the soft", refers most of the time to a form of unmanly cowardice. Socrates, in Plato's Republic, warns about excessive listening to music by soliders, saying it would lead to effeminacy (μαλακια) - "too much music effeminizes the male". In ancient Greece, men were expected to be brave and manly, in no way unwilling to die in battle or commit suicide if the situation warranted. A better translation here would be "coward". To those who point out that μαλακοι has some usage to mean those who subjected themselves to anal penetration - indeed, a man who did so would be seen as being unmanly, and to do so to a man would be to unman him and to seriously upset the gender roles. However, if what Paul was trying to get at was that being used sexually was wrong, the Greek had a much much more obvious word, rather than using an oblique and suggestive term. That word is κιναιδος.
αρσενοκοιται - is a neologism. Paul coined this phrase, and its use is almost exclusively limited to the New Testament uses by Paul to describe the vice of which he speaks. Any and all suggestions as to what Paul meant by this term are completely conjecture. We simply do not objectively know what this word was meant to imply. There is no dictionary definition, no pre-existing Koine Greek usage, nothing. It's a compound of αρσεν- meaning "adult male", and κοιται, which to put it extremely bluntly, would be "f**ker" in modern parlance. Now, some could and do argue that this mirrors exactly the Greek translation of the Levitical prohibition against lying with a man "the lyings of a woman". But then again, if he'd wanted to suggest having sex with males was taboo, he would have used ανδροκοιται. The "andro-" there referring to any such male. In Greek culture at the time, a certain culturally accepted set of homoerotic practices were even considered necessary for the proper development of a rugged, masculine citizen.In fact, there were already many words to express the concept "homosexual", so why Paul choose to coin his own phrase is bizarre. There is a growing school of thought that Paul sought only to condemn this kind of thing in an explicit context.
There's also the context in which Paul said it. It's grouped together with πορνοι - usually translated "fornicator" or "sexually immoral", but whose root comes from the word "to buy". It's often translated "harlotry". Adulterers are also mentioned in the same verse - that was a sin and a social taboo because it involved the use of another man's property (please excuse the inherent sexism in this definition, but it's an explanation of first century morals). So the three sexual crimes in this breath are, you don't exploit a woman by purchasing her for sex, or by breaking a wedding vow. You also don't exploit a man by feminizing him.
As for what is to happen to those who break these rules? They are warned they will not inherit the Kingdom of God - Βασιλειαν θεου. If you look in any dictionary of theological terms you'll find out that it's nebulous what this means. It can and sometimes refers to Heaven, sometimes to a community on earth or a better society. Whether Paul is promising them hellfire or simply enumerating who isn't welcome in the earthly koinoia is also conjecture.
But once again, assuming the worst possible scenario - that would be that Paul has a problem with people who engage in anal intercourse. Many homosexuals don't. Certainly lesbians aren't involved in this conversation one bit, so to translate any of this as saying there's some kind of horrible soul taint from being homosexual is a serious twisting of words.
Next up on the list is Romans 1.
Romans 1:26 gets trotted out a lot because this is one of the few verses that brings women into the picture.
this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women
did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And
likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in
their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is
unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error
which was meet.
Once again, let's dive into the Greek.
The expression "vile affections" is παθε ατιμιας - "passions of dishonour". The word for sin is not that, but αμαρτια.
The word "nature" or "natural" is the Greek word φυσιν. This is not "nature" as we understand something like Hostess Twinkies or the use of GMOs to be against "nature", something abhorrent to biology, but in the sense that every person has a given set of properties, the same way we'd say "well, it's in his nature". Keep in mind God (in this verse) has changed their sexuality on them - making them do things against their own orientation, their own predisposition, their own nature. When reading this verse, translate as "their natural" and "their nature".
"unseemly" is ἀσχημοσύνην - "shame".
So the men leave their natural use of women, which was "dishonorable", and then turned with the same "unnatural" passion towards each other, receiving "shame". Neither term gets even close to describing something as sinful. (Note that few of the men who cite Romans take much stock in the fact that it implies anal sex with women was also not acceptable)
But then again, people who fixate on these verses lose completely the context in which they were said. In as much the same ways as the Corinthian letters were written to a party town similar to modern Bangkok in response to finding out that the locals thought the Christians depraved for marrying their own mothers and their own sisters, Romans was sent to a Jewish population that was considering "hedging its bets" by demanding circumcision and old covenant observances. He uses a rhetorical device. If you read Romans 1 in its entirety, what he in essence says is "there's this group of people, right? And at first, they change their religious observances. What's the big deal with a bit of idolatry? (To a Jewish audience? A lot.) Well, from that flows not caring about what the neighbours think. They slip from the wrong observances to behaviour that is scandalous and dishonorable. And since they've stopped caring what anyone else thinks, well, might as well jump straight to murder, and things that are outright sins."
And yet, what do the first words in Romans 2 say? Having thoroughly disgusted and horrified his audience much in the same way as David was outraged by the story of the family's lamb stolen and slaughtered - he hits with a right hook....
- You, therefore, have no excuse,
you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge
another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do
the same things.
He's setting them up for the real crux of his argument at the beginning of Romans 2:12
- All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
TL:DR, as the youth of today say, Paul used this as a rhetorical device, not as anything in itself, and certainly never describes even the acts as sinful.
Then they go after Jude 1:7 and its "strange flesh".
- In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns
gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as
an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Once again to the Greek:
"sexual immorality" is ἐκπορνεύσασαι. That ties in and has the same root as πορνοι above - but speaks to general sexual immorality, without specifying what kind. What's also called out is "gone after other flesh" - ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας. "Sarkos", σαρκος, is "flesh", as in "human flesh/human body". ετερας, "heteras", is from where we get "heterosexual". It's not talking about a different gender, it's talking about a different species entirely. Remember, the "men" who the mob attacked and wanted to rape (an argument could be made that rape is sexual immorality) were not human, but angels.
Sodom's destruction was because of its inhospitability to strangers. The Bible is very, very clear. From Ezekiel 16:49
- "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were
arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good."
"Abomination" - a word implying a cultural or ritual uncleanliness, as opposed to a moral sin - is ,תוֹעֵבָ֖ה
The final argument that is often made is from Matthew 19:4-6. Though Jesus never mentions homosexuality in any way, ever, it's brought up as an example of how God wants humankind to work. The argument here is that because Jesus doesn't mention two men together, that Jesus understands two men should not engage in this.
- And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,and
said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be
joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
There's only one problem here. Jesus is talking about divorce. This is an explicit response to an explicit question about whether a man can or cannot decide one day to unilaterally dissolve his marriage, write a ticket of divorce, and send a woman on her way? Jesus' response is overwhelmingly progressive - he says that a woman is not property to be discarded, but to be considered the same as oneself, and be treated equally.
Note the response of his own disciples to this: "His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”"
It's a shame that a verse that was designed to show Jesus' compassion and concern for women, that they not be discarded on a whim and left for all intents and purposes helpless and without support in the male-dominated, highly gender roled society - gets twisted into something that advocates a conservative, hateful position.
I'm less able to tackle mentions in the Old Testament, and will leave a greater analysis to someone whose Hebrew is better than my nonexistent understanding. Yet I do know enough to know that the Levitical condemnation of a man lying with another man has roots again in gender roles and not being seen as "unmanning" another man by treating his body like a woman's. And note that the word used and described as "abomination" is "toehbah", which implies a cultural or ritual impurity, as opposed to a moral failing, which is "zimah". The same books describe it as abominable to eat shrimp and yet nobody would ever firebomb a Red Lobster, or seek to exclude or kill a Christian who has not properly ritually cleansed after inadvertently coming into intimate contact with a menstruating woman.
How one chooses to act upon this information is one's own matter of conscience. Some will remain convinced that there is some great wrong and great sin in having anal sex with another man, or strangely expand the definition beyond the New Testament's to include any kind of homosexual action whatsoever, even lesbian, or ludicrously expand that even beyond that to include the thoughtcrime of having the desire to do so. And yet, even if they were one thousand percent correct, they would still fail completely to understand that Jesus' actions on Good Friday and God's love erases all sin and blame, writing a second unforgivable sin that's nowhere present in the Bible. They would certainly fail to understand that a Christian is obligated to love the sinner, and love that sinner unconditionally.
The litmus test, at the end of the day, is are you loving your neighbour as you would want him to love you? Do you trust and love God with your whole heart? There is almost nothing in any scripture to suggest that a non-harmful, consensual relationship is wrong.
There is one final verse, if we're in the business of reading things into verses that aren't there - that might be appropriate to the situation.
It's Genesis 2:18 - "The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone". There is only one man, Cain, whom God cast out with no company of any kind. (And yet he somehow managed to found a city and have children)
Why do any of us feel obligated to do the same?
"God Hates Fags", screams the Westboro Baptist Church. Not so. Not by any stretch. Not by a long shot.