The Bible condemns homosexual prostitution, homosexual promiscuity, and homosexual rape. However, the same misconduct is condemned when committed by heterosexuals. Is homosexual conduct always sinful?
Aside from some remarks of Paul promoting celibacy for some people, the Bible nowhere universally condemns (or approves) sexuality of any kind. A Biblical position on the "status" of homosexuality is impossible to discern, since the very concept of "sexuality" seems absent from Ancient Greek and Hebrew language and culture.
There are at least two instances where arguably lesbian and gay romantic attachments are described favorably by the Bible: Ruth and Naomi (see Book of Ruth, esp. 1:16-17) and David and Jonathan (First Samuel, Chapters 18-20, see esp. I Sam. 18:3: "Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.").
Thus, while the Biblical stance regarding "bad" homosexual conduct is clear, the possibility of "good" homosexual relationships is equally clear.
Religionists and religious terrorists (by which I mean the "God Hates Fags" crowd, not religious conservatives in general) tend to cite six (6) passages to deny the possibility of "good" homosexual relationships, oppress homosexual people, and deny them a place in either the Church or in the clergy: Genesis 19:4-5; Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:9-10. None of these passages prohibits homosexual romantic relationships or prohibits same-sex marriage. Christians should note that none of these passages includes remarks of Jesus.
"...the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.'"
This is the story of the angels who visit the man called Lot in the city of Sodom. What precisely the mob has in mind for the angels visiting Lot is not spelled out, but the modern term "sodomy" comes from this passage. God then destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with "sulphur and fire". Gen. 19:24.
Let us stipulate that, when the men in your city gather in a mob and bang on your door, demanding to rape your guests, that there is something very wrong with the state of society. However, aside from the suggestion that the men were not interested in Lot's daughters (Gen 19:8-9) the passage says little about homosexual conduct and tells us nothing about same-sex marriage.
Moreover, according to the great prophet Ezekiel, Sodom and its suburbs were destroyed for their failure to adopt a progressive social welfare policy, despite their great wealth:
This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. Ezekiel 16:49-50.
Surely the story of Sodom carries a message for contemporary America, but the message is that our cities will burn if we continue to mistreat the poor and the strangers in our midst, and indulge in the haughty notion that we created our wealth without the help and providence of God.
Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13
"You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination." Lev. 18:22.
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is on them." Lev. 20:13.
The difficulty in this passage is not with the condemnation of homosexual conduct: that is unambiguous. The difficulty is whether this law is obsolete, like so many of the laws stated in Leviticus.
Leviticus contains many rules and prohibitions that are now universally ignored (how to sacrifice animals, how to sell your daughter into slavery) and some that are ignored by everyone except Orthodox Jews (what to eat, how to wear your hair and beard). Certainly the punishments are outmoded. It is no longer permissible to stone people.
One might divide the rules of Leviticus into two categories: rules regarding a distinct Jewish culture and worship in the context of a Temple priesthood --which are clearly outmoded for Christians-- and rules derived from the two Commandments which are still binding on Christians: love God and love one another.
I find it impossible to reconcile oppression of homosexuals with the Great Commandment to love. Rather, I believe that the writer(s) of Leviticus identifed homosexual conduct, and in particular male prostitution, to the idolatrous religious and cultural practices of non-Jewish people of the eastern Mediterranean. Temple prostitutes were common in Eygptian, Syriac and Greek cultures. Leviticus instructs Jews to avoid these practices. This interpretation is also consistent with Paul's teachings in Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.
"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions. Their women exchanged the natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
For what reason did God do this? Because, although God's power and divinity was made evident to humanity from the beginning (Rom. 1:20)
humans chose instead to worship images "made to look like men and birds and animals and reptiles". Rom 1:23.
Because of this idolatry, to "worship and serve and serve the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom. 1:25), God gave humans up to "degrading passions" (Rom 1:26) and also a long list of sins. (Rom. 1:29-31).
There are two basic approaches to this passage. Religious terrorists fasten upon the characterization of homosexual behavior as "unnatural", to "prove" that the Bible condemns homosexuals as bad and perverted. I find this interpretation highly implausible. Paul uses the word "natural" to describe the Jews, as God's people "by nature" (using a metaphor of grafting branches onto an olive tree). Rom. 11:24. If homosexuals are "going to Hell" because they are "unnatural", then so are all non-Jews. In fact, neither passage can be correctly interpreted as sweeping condemnations of whole classes of people.
A more plausible interpretation, in light of the context of verses 1:26 and 1:27, which is a critique of idolatry, is that subverting sexual relations to religious worship, by the then-common practice of temple prostitution, is an "unnatural" expression of sexuality. Jews, Christians and Moslems don't worship God with sex.
A broader interpretation of Paul's message is possible. One should avoid elevating romantic relationships to the point of worshipping the beloved in God's place: love God first, then love your neighbor. But that is beyond the scope of this writeup.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
"Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers --none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God."
1 Timothy 1:8-11
"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and the disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father and mother, for murders, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which is entrusted to me."
Both of these passages present a question of translation. What do μαλακοι (malakoi) and αρσενοκοιται (arsenokoitai) mean? Do they mean "homosexuals" in general, or do they refer only to those who lead a promiscuous or meretricious sex life? The translation quoted above (the New Revised Standard Version) suggests the latter. "Malakoi" literally means "soft" (KJV says "effeminate"). "Arsenokoitai" literally means "male-bedder" (KJV says "abusers of themselves with mankind") and appears to be a coinage of Paul.
The next verse in the First Letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:11, "And this is what some of you used to be ...") confirms that Paul was talking about misconduct, not classes of people. Paul goes on to warn the Christians of Corinth against sex with prostitutes. Similarly, in the First Letter to Timothy, the topic is the Law
Paul does not suggest that promiscuity and prostitution are permissible for heterosexuals, and in light of sexually transmitted diseases, this seems good advice. It does not, however, support a ban on same-sex marriages. To the contrary, it suggests that gays and lesbians should be encouraged to enter into a committed relationship, just like straight people.
Bibles: All quotes NRSV. For Greek, and KJV comparisons, I consult The Interlinear KJV-NIV, Parrallel New Testament in Greek and English (Zondervan, 1975) ed. Alfred Marshall
Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse: http://www.truluck.com/
In response to RoguePoet
, who explicates the two stories I merely allude to, I don't think the fact that someone had a wife or husband precludes a same-sex relationship. Nor does a great difference in age. In Classical Greece, men had both wives and homosexual lovers: generally much younger men. They read the classic story of the Iliad
to be a story of the love of one man, Achilles
, for another man, Patroclus
, at 180a,b-- though one of Homer
's plot devices is that Achilles is fighting with King Agamemnon
over a female slave, Briseis
, a dispute not entirely dissimilar to King David's dispute with his captain over Bathsheeba. Yet by your argument, Achilles' anger over having Briseis taken from him "proves" Plato is "wrong" about the warriors in the Illiad
In the same way, contemporary gays and lesbians can read the stories of Jonathan and David or Naomi and Ruth and see things quite differently than you do, RoguePoet. Consult my sources (esp. truluck.com) if you don't believe me.