Christianity and Homosexuality

October 26, 2008

I have to begin by stating that although this article attempts to actually look at homosexuality from a Christian perspective, one thing should be clear: even if I came to the conclusion that homosexuality is undeniably “wrong” from a Christian perspective, this does not mean it should be stated as wrong and reacted to as such by the political, secular and multi-cultural world. Because, even if a Christian can irrevocably “prove” such a thing based on scripture and its modern interpretations, it must be remembered that not everyone is a Christian and this country has no official religion, therefore laws and public treatment of  “moral” issues must be created for and proper to  all people, regardless of sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
Okay, so moving forward, what does the Christian faith actually have to say in regards to homosexuality? Scripturally, the stance of anti-homosexuality stems from a few select passages. A few in Leviticus that condemn ‘man laying with man, woman laying with woman,” (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13)  a verse in Romans that speaks of the people being handed over by God to their desires in which they did things that “were not proper,” ( Rom 1:26-28) and the following verse from 1 Corinthians, 6:9-10:

“  Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

It’s worth noting that different translations substitute different words where “homosexuals” is located, this particular verse is from the King James translation. Of course, homosexuals are lumped in with drunks, swindlers ad thieves here, so it appears that would make it a sinful condition according to this Old Testament passage. But are drunks and scam artists railed against as heavily in conservative churches as gays are? I don’t see that homosexuals are listed in a separate, “worse” tier than the typical “fornicator.” I would also suppose that “fornicator” would apply to anyone having pre-marital sex as well, and if we think briefly about the statistics that state the average person in America loses his/her virginity by the age of 19 and the average age of marriage in America is much closer to 30, well I guess a lot of us are “fornicators.” Also, I don’t think “homosexuals, drunks, etc.” will inherit the kingdom of God, but neither will Baptists, Episcopalians, Unitarian Universalists, overweight, underweight, war-mongering or pacifist people will either–once we die and “inherit the kingdom of God,” I would think that all of these adjectives would fall away from us and we would enter as only a child of God, not a label. Anyway, of the verses describing homosexuality in scripture, there is much debate. When an admonishment of homosexuality is followed by a chastisement of “spilling your seed” (masturbation), many scholars point out that both admonishments were place and time specific, that in the context the writer was urging God’s people to procreate and have as many children as possible because their people  were dying off. In the “Sodom and Gomorrah” story Jewish scholars for centuries declared the sin to be “inhospitality” rather than homosexuality. The point is, there are a few select passages that are debated ad-infinitum, most of which are rooted in Old Testament law. Old Testament law also had laws for how women are to behave, how slaves and slave masters are to interact, and strict dietary laws. Once again, very culture orientated, very time and place specific.

A huge factor to remember is that many issues like homosexuality are dependant on a person’s position on scriptural interpretation. It’s impossible not to bring this into the debate; the subject of “inerrancy” and scriptural interpretation is incredibly weighty, so I’ll discuss it as briefly as possible. There’s a strong movement in Christianity dealing with “Inerrancy.” It’s followers maintain that the Bible is infallible, 100 percent accurate and almost always meant to be read literally. The strongest supporters of this viewpoint leave little room for ideas such as “cultural context,” evolving social mores and norms, allegory and non-literal approaches to scripture. It’s easiest to break this argument down this way: for some, the Bible is seen as an unchanging, constant and literally accurate book of history and prophecy containing rules, laws and  a detailed guide on how to live our lives– it never changes, there aren’t areas of greater importance in relation to other areas. It’s all true, all equally true, and to dispute any one area of it is to dispute all of it, like pulling a card from a card house. For others, the Bible consists of dozens of books collected over time into one tome, and each of these books are different in tone, style and intent. Some are history, some are poetry, some are allegory, a few are letters and so forth. These books are collectively known as the Bible, and although they are inspired by God (as Christians believe), they have been translated and passed down throughout long periods of history by man: thus, God-inspired, man-written. For Christians taking a non-literal approach to scriptural interpretation, there are many important lessons in the Bible, the moral center and intent remains and we can learn a lot by reading it. But since generations of mankind have translated and written the Bible (with their own feelings, beliefs and perceptions), it’s not a word-for-word literal book on which to base all of society’s rules and laws on. Christ’s teachings, life and message are what remains most important for non-literalists, not quibbling over the details in the historical books of the Bible that are very rooted in the time, place, culture and feelings of the transcriber who translated each bit at each given time. Unless God literally spoke to each and every transcriber, there’ s no way a verbatim account could be passed down for centuries,  but it is possible for the message and meaning to remain true and relevant.

We have to consider the overall importance of issues. It’s hard for literalists who take a “flat” approach to scripture and spirituality to approach moral issues in terms of relevance.  In the overall scheme of things, shouldn’t compassion vastly outweigh most other things? Reaching out to someone rather than pointing a finger at them, tolerating other viewpoints and lifestyles rather than passing judgment– these sort of things seem to be more in tune with Christ than much of the prejudices passed by the anti-homosexuality crowd.

What the root of homosexuality is should also be considered before anyone makes a sweeping, moral judgment. Despite what many vehemently anti-gay crowds want to believe, the majority of homosexuals are not gay due to experiences of childhood abuse, exposure to other homosexuals or as a result of a whim or sudden choice. Most evidence in the scientific and sociological communities point to the fact that people are born gay. Realistically, if someone wasn’t naturally attracted to the same gender, why would they actively choose to be gay and face the added challenges and potential hardships such a choice is liable to provide them with? Even though many areas of the country and the world have made great strides in regards to tolerance, equality and acceptance, a lot of places haven’t. In a lot of places a homosexual will have to face openly angry and sometimes violent actions by prejudiced people and environments. Even in some of the more progressive environments gays still are fighting for equality and the same basic rights all of us deserve, from hospital visitation rights to marriage rights. Common sense is enough to know that a large majority of homosexuals would not choose to go through such things if they were simply “choosing” to be gay.

I know that what I’ve written in this article doesn’t successfully argue the point to literalist and inerrantists that there is room in Christianity for tolerance of homosexuality. First of all, by stating that much of the Old Testament is entrenched in it’s cultural environment, time and place, I lost anyone who feels it’s blasphemous to ever view scripture from any viewpoint other than complete acceptance as the deciding tool of moral dilemmas. But, if any of you with such a viewpoint are still reading, let me try to sum up my overall argument as politely as I can. Christ never spoke of homosexuality directly. Christ spent much of his time teaching and speaking of social justice issues rather than “moral” issues. He was more concerned with helping the downtrodden–he urged his followers to concern themselves with feeding and clothing the poor, treating the sick, and helping the persecuted. Love, kindness, and our love of God and neighbor were much more important than a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. So even if you interpret the Bible literally, you must realize that there is much debate over just a few verses, and that even if those few verses did condemn homosexuality, they did so mostly in relation to it in perversions—as prostitution, as wild random orgies, as rape and misconduct.  Now, even if you want to stretch this out to be a broad indictment of all homosexuality, do you think Jesus would spend much time actively condemning gays? Why have “pet sins” in many churches, where it’s okay to rail against homosexuality, abortion and “negative” popular culture but other sins–like greed, apathy, heterosexual misconduct, racism, and inappropriately passing judgment  are left alone?  Why actively persecute an entire group rather than love and reach out to them? Churches all over America have fought over this issue, and in many you can now find openly gay members, workers and ministers, while in others you will find open condemnation of the gay rights movement. While it’s fine to dispute moral issues in churches, it’s more important to actively work to make this world a better place–a more loving, more peaceful and more tolerant place. I recently heard of a new documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which explores openly gay clergy and church members, their families and much about the modern views on these topics, so I recommend it to anyone wanting more on this, I plan to watch it soon as well.


One Response to “Christianity and Homosexuality”

  1. David Gilkey said

    I completely agree with this. I would say that you forgot to mention that many fundamentalists make the arguement that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle’ of sin which makes it different. But it would still be no different than a lifestyle of alcoholism, or prostitution, or many other ‘sins’. Holding on to pointing out these sins for fundamental Christians makes it hard to see people as other than criminals. And when you look at someone as a criminal it is hard to love them. That’s why Christ did not look at people as criminals.

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