There are two primary places in the New Testament where homosexuality is a condemned practice.
Source #1: First Corinthians
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10).
The early Christians built their religion on Scripture—what we call the Old Testament. As I noted in the last post on this subject, Leviticus categorizes homosexuality as a ritual abomination—that is, something that’s bad by definition, not by its nature. Leviticus puts gay sex in the same category as eating a ham sandwich or sowing a field with two different crops.
Christians have rejected all of the Old Testament’s ritual abominations (animal sacrifices, kosher laws, and so on), and they can’t now come back to retrieve a few that they’re nostalgic for.
And it’s not even clear what Paul was referring to. The word translated “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word arsenokoitai, and it’s not certain what it means. Different Bible versions have translate it differently. One source notes:
“Arsenokoitai” is a Greek word that appears to have been created by Paul when he was writing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. No record remains of any writer having using the term before Paul.
The word is a hapax legomenon, a word used so infrequently that its meaning is unclear. (Another example is the Hebrew reem, guessed to mean “unicorn” in the King James Bible but in later versions as “ox.”)
Source #2: First Timothy
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:9–10).
Here again, ritual abominations like homosexuality are mixed in this list with actual crimes such as murder.
As an aside, it may be worth wondering who wrote this book. Though its first line says that it’s from Paul, this book is widely considered to be pseudepigraphical (that is, written by someone claiming to be an important figure). So we have a book of unknown authorship with a wide range of possible dates of authorship. It’s part of the canon, but not much of an authority.
But that’s not all these books say …
If we’re to find moral advice in these two books, let’s look at a few other things they say.
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14:34–5).
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man (1 Cor. 11:8–9).
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim. 2:11–14).
(Yeah, it’s about time we got some old-fashioned Bible values back in society! Let’s correct society’s lax approach toward women.)
Note 1 Timothy’s reference to Genesis. The Garden of Eden story makes clear to this author that women are inferior to men. That doesn’t put Genesis in a good light. But Genesis is where many Christians go for their definition of marriage: “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). (That they skip over all the places where God has no problem with polygamy reveals the agenda.)
Let me suggest another source of advice. Romans 14 recommends that we be flexible about others’ ways. If someone has more or fewer restriction about what he eats, for example, just let it slide. As Ambrose noted, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Maybe Christians can apply this laissez-faire thinking to homosexuality as well.
Sympathy for homosexuals?
I’ve heard some Christians say that we should treat homosexuals with sympathy. This sounds like giving sympathy to those pathetic individuals cursed with left-handedness in society.
The Catholic Church held for over a thousand years that being left handed made you a servant of the Devil and that anything left-handed was evil. (Source)
Sympathy might have been the best response in a world that saw lefties as evil or demon possessed, but society has gone beyond that. Left-handedness is irrelevant. No one cares. We don’t give sympathy because none is necessary. Shouldn’t that be the goal with homosexuals, another of society’s minorities?
While I know this sympathy is meant as a generous sentiment, it doesn’t come across that way. “Hate the sin; love the sinner” may be as distasteful for the homosexual as “I love you, but you’re going to hell” aimed at the atheist. In either situation, being told that you deserve an eternity of torture in hell for living your life in a way that is honest to who you are and that hurts no one else is simply offensive.
Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? The Pharisee and the Levite in the story were ritually clean as they walked past the beaten man lying in the dirt. They avoided him because touching blood or a dead person caused ritual uncleanness. But the Torah didn’t forbid touching such things; it simply stated that you were ritually unclean after doing so and had to cleanse yourself. No, the moral of the story isn’t to help people in need. According to the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, “Jesus, your big hero, was saying that if you have some rule or conventional wisdom that causes you to do harm to people, violate the goddamn rule.”
Jesus broke lots of rules—going postal on the money changers, harvesting grain and healing on the Sabbath. Remember “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”? The prohibition against homosexuality is another that the Christian needs to break.
You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image
when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
— Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/16/12.)