“Homophobia” in the Bible – What to do about it?

“Homophobia” in the Bible – What to do about it? September 16, 2019

Editor’s Note:  When this blog post first appeared on the Rational Doubt blog over four years ago, it caused quite a stir among readers.  While the Bible hasn’t changed, and never will, attitudes about homophobia and many other things are changing.  This is thanks to the new leadership in the US, which depends greatly on support from religious fundamentalists. This merits another look at the ongoing issue of homophobia –in the Bible and in our lives. /Linda LaScola, Editor

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By “Andy”

While preparing for presentations I’ve made in various ecclesiastical settings (both Catholic and Protestant), I had to figure out what to do with the ‘homosexuality texts’ in the Bible. From my liberal perspective, I saw a simple choice of two options to use when discussing these texts with different types of religious believers.

1) The first option is simply to discard the texts the way most Christians disregard biblical references to obvious cultural prejudices from the past.

The proscription of homosexual behavior is no more valid than that against jewelry, or mixed fabric, or long hair on men.  All these things are condemned in the Bible. Mary Douglas, for example, in her book Purity and Danger, does a good job of relativizing biblical rules along this line.

2) The second option is to take the texts seriously—especially when dealing with more conservative Christians—by pointing out that the kind of same-sex behaviors that are being condemned in these texts are all relationships involving one person dominating over another, whether it be a pederastic monopoly over boys or some form of sexual slavery.

Robin Scroggs, in his book New Testament and Homosexuality, has demonstrated through his meticulous research that the kind of loving and mutual relationship between equal partners of the same sex we are fighting for today has no parallel in the culture that generated the New Testament. In other words, the texts cannot be used to excoriate contemporary same-sex relationships because the texts don’t speak to consensual relationships. They speak only to inequality. One might even make the case that because the texts condemn domination, they really support—in a sense—gay marriage. To deny rights to those who have mutual love for one another is a form of domination.

I pick and choose between the two approaches, depending on my audience. When dealing with people who are more liberal, the first approach works well. Liberals are already familiar with the notion of cultural relativity and need only to see the homosexual bias of scripture in that light. When dealing with people who are more conservative in their interpretation of scripture, the second approach works better. These people will typically cling to the presumption of biblical authority, and must be addressed in a way that assumes it. Accordingly, it is better to appear to agree with homosexual bias, but argue that the bias is really against inequality—in any relationship–not homosexuality.

This is how one modern unbeliever and heretic—ME—deals with the texts, and I have had some moderate success with both approaches.

**Editor’s Questions** 1. How do you feel about Andy changing his approach based on his audience? 2. How have you seen attitudes about homophobia changing during the Trump administration?

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Andy,’ a former Southern Baptist Minister, is currently a Pastor in the United Church of Christ. He plans to retire in the church, despite his rejection of metaphysical speculation (God, salvation, heaven, etc.). His life has been an evolution from traditional theism, to non-theism (via Tillich and Spong), to agnosticism (via linguistic philosophy), to ‘incipient atheism’ (via secular humanism). He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from a major American university.

>>>>>Photo credits   By Jean-Baptiste Roman (1792-1835) – Jastrow (2007), CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2729461

“Sodoma – Aldegrever”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sodoma_-_Aldegrever.jpg#/media/File:Sodoma_-_Aldegrever.jpg


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  • ThaneOfDrones

    Next in the series:

    “Shrimpophobia” in the Bible – What to do about it?

  • Ann Kah

    From the editor: “While the Bible hasn’t changed, and never will“….

    OK, how many different versions are there of the Bible already? Do you want to rethink that statement?

  • Linda LaScola

    thought about that at the time. There are many versions, but the content hasn’t changed, since the Catholic/protestant thing centuries ago.

  • Linda LaScola

    would that it were so easy to change your sexual orientation.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “how have you seen attitudes about homophobia changing during the Trump administration?”

    I have read lots of stories about Fundie God botheres and pols who will rant and rave about DaEeebilEeebilGayz , right up until they personally get caught with a rentboy…

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “Down with FIGS!”

  • Jim Jones

    IMO there are no good translations. All mislead, one way or another.

  • Fundies that I know are vocal as they have been for awhile, but there seems to be an additional tone of confidence that I don’t recall prior to the Trump administration taking over.

  • ElizabetB.

    I admire these two very good approaches, but I am thinking that updating analysis of the audience might be good.

    I’m reading “Doing Theology in the Age of Trump,” by fellows of the Westar Institute, and was just tonight surprised (tho with a shock of recognition) to read that for “Foxangelicals,” “the Bible’s increasingly irrelevant.” Conservative Christianity is becoming conflated with the thought world of Fox & Friends, such that, for example, “gun ownership trumps the biblical teachings of respect for strangers, love of enemies, and welcome of aliens, as in Deut 10: ‘Love the foreigner, for you were once a foreigner in Egypt.’…. Foxangelicals, now freed of the evangel itself, may be fully shielded from biblical debate….”

    I am deeply sad to feel compelled to add — I’m afraid the appeal to “non-domination” may get less traction now as well. Our president’s narcissism and authoritarian leanings are affecting the whole nation (& world), so that there is a famine of empathy… even an admiration for someone so rich and famous that in the case of assault, women “will let you do it.” Everyone agrees that our president is not the cause of these attitudes, but a potent result of their growth in our national life.

    I am truly not sure what approach to take, what kind of appeal to make. It’s like our country is sick. In last week’s Democratic debate, it was refreshing to hear concern for the poor, etc, and to behold a gay candidate with sterling character, wisdom, and compassion…. themes that have been increasingly missing or overshadowed in our national conversation. But how to help move us forward to actually embodying the ideals of our constitution — I’m uncertain.

    But determined to try : )

  • Andy

    Most of the time I dismiss the biblical commands as relative to a distant culture; hence the so-called anti-gay verses are no more than a commentary on what an ancient culture thought–strange perhaps, but irrelevant.

    The book you site is interesting; however, I wonder if the Foxangelicals would readily admit they allow gun ownership to trump the Bible. The Bible can be twisted in so many ways it is seldom recognizable! After all, the Bible alleges that God directed the Israelites to slaughter the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham by God. That at least involved spears, I suppose 🙂

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Andy

    Yes indeed. I have long believed that many fundamentalists voted for two things–the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Trump, and McConnell, gave them what they wanted–at least potentially–in a stacked court.

  • Andy

    That’s true 🙂 All translation involves some manner of interpretation. There is no such thing as absolute objectivity.

  • Andy

    One of the distinctions I have found helpful in any assessment of biblical authority is the difference between the Bible as authorized, and the Bible as authorizing. Which came first? Originally, in the first four centuries of the Christian church, it was actually the Bible that had to be authorized, i.e., its books had to be collected and certified by human authorities (bishops, et al), as to their appropriateness. However, once the church got used to having its sacred Bible, the ‘age of inspiration’ was declared to be closed. From that time, the Bible was no longer to be authorized by humans; humans were to be authorized by the Bible. (from authorized to authorizing)

    How ironic that what once had to be judged by us, has now become our judge! Ironic–and sad.

    (And yes, I have openly advocated before my congregation that the Bible has been our worst enemy–of both the church and our society.)

  • Jim Jones

    They should, IMO, have kept several of the Greek words like agape to make it clear what sort of love (etc.) was meant.

  • ElizabetB.

    Many thanks! I agree… I thought the better example of trumping those particular biblical teachings would have been border policy. As for gun policy, I think the writer might have better counterposed Jesus’ turn the other cheek, etc. — and returned to her earlier quote of Amy Sullivan’s WWJND — “What Would Jesus NOT Do?” But, as I say, Evangelical support for this administration has me despairing of turning to the constructive parts of the bible for arguments.

    The “sad irony” above is so well stated. Do you talk about sources of moral judgments? …or consider each issue individually, drawing in many sources? … or….

  • Andy

    Thanks for the question. In very general terms, I address ethical theory as the domain of reason, not revelation. Beyond that, I cut my teeth on David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, although I would guess modern ethicists consider him outdated. The point is simply that we have to work out individual and collective ethics through the application of reason. Hume makes a case for values based on what we consider good and useful for ourselves and for others. I have found his reasoning to be solid. (Irrelevant aside: I had the chance recently to visit his tomb/mausoleum in Edinburgh, Scotland, so I loitered a bit and hoped some of his wisdom might wear off!)

    One thing for certain–any reasonable approach obviates the need to cite a chapter and verse alleged to have been given by God!!

  • I do admire Andy for his patience and perseverance. For a while after I’d left the ministry in the later 1970s, I gave speeches at churches on the theme, “Is the Bible Really Anti-Gay?” But I see grew weary of the endeavor. Always—and I do mean ALWAYS—it got the questions about Leviticus and Romans 1. “Right there, RIGHT THERE, the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong.”

    It was so tempting to stop my presentation and propose reading aloud, together, ALL of Leviticus. “So, good Christian folks, what percentage of this book do just ignore, totally?” Or we could have read aloud ALL of the apostle Paul’s teaching about heterosexual behavior. There would be nearly unanimous disagreement with Paul, the fanatic asexual moralist.

    So, I gave up giving the speeches. “Why in the world should I try so hard to persuade Christians to be Christian?” It would break their brains to do some research on human sexuality? Back in the 1970s the United Methodist Church said, basically, “We’ve got to study this some more.” And yet, now with so much more data about sexual orientation, they seem more committed than ever to anciently rooted prejudices. Not that Christianity is to blame. Homophobia is deeply embedded in Islamic, Chinese, and African cultures. But…the appalling homophobia of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, for example, was dreadful. They had no grasp whatever of how much DAMAGE they did. How much pain and anguish they caused.

    But more power to Andy and those who do the work he does.

    Fully disclosure, here, by the way: I am gay—which I realized when I was a kid in a super religious rural Indiana town—and have been with my husband for 41 years. When I finally came out to myself as an adult (which is different that realizing it as a kid), I read and read and read on the topic. Yes, there is plenty of homework for Christians to do, if they can someone escape bibliolatry.

  • mason

    “Biblical Authority” … wow … now that’s a colossal oxymoron!

  • mason

    “It’s like our country is sick.” Yeah, because it’s very sick and has been with it’s very inception that was so deeply infected by cultural biblical evils of pro slavery, equality hypocrite, hatred and bigotry about homosexuals, LGBTs and women.

  • ElizabetB.

    Thank you very much! Hume has been just a name to me, but Stanford’s online sketch cites his influence on Adam Smith, Kant, Darwin, others, and recognizes him as an inspiration for cognitive science. Can see why you loitered in Edinburgh!! I especially like his including the “useful for others,” as well as for oneself in figuring what’s ethically good, in contrast to a strict “self interest.” Thank you for the introduction!! In seminary, our ethics prof was working on “the church as a community of moral deliberation” — but in RL, it’s seemed that there hasn’t been much deliberation — just top-down instruction!

    Maybe I should be thankful that (what I consider) the helpful parts of the bible are having less persuasive power now…. Maybe that means Foxangelicals are increasingly swayed by the cultural revolution welcoming people who are lgbtq, and the biblical support can serve to tip the balance and assure the conscience : )

    Thanks again so much for your work!

  • ElizabetB.

    This book, “Doing Theology in the Age of Trump,” agrees with you — zeroes in on white Christian Nationalism and stresses the point that “great” does not lie behind America, but is a future aspiration — Make America Great(er)! …….from McCain’s farewell statement —

    “We weaken [our greatness] when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

  • John Lombard

    There are Christians who are anti-gay…and there are Christians who are very supportive of homosexuals.

    The problem to me is that regardless of their attitude, it is still based on the concept of “Biblical authority”, and/or a morality dictated by God. Ultimately, it’s not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ because of an objective, rational examination of the issue; but based on what you think God is telling you is right or wrong.

    So long as people are having their morality dictated to them by a non-existent deity (or rather, by the interpretations of their religious leaders), there is a fundamental problem.

  • Andy

    Right you are John!

  • Andy

    Thank you David. It is indeed hard to argue (in speech or sermon) that the homosexuality excoriated in the Bible is more akin to sexual slavery, not the same as the loving relationships couples like you have. I tire of it as well. The older I get–and closer to retirement–the more I just ask people to disregard the Bible on that, and many other topics–like dashing the heads of Babylonian children on the rocks (Psalm 137)!!!!!! Reason–not revelation.

  • Andy

    Thank you, as well, for your reflections. Yes, you are right to admire Hume. Easy to say, since I like him so much!!

    I like your notion of the ‘helpful parts of the bible’. I’m a picker and chooser myself. It’s never been all or nothing for me. I like some of the texts in the same vein I like some of MLK’s speeches and writings, and other modern poets and prophets. I don’t take it as revelation; I just think those helpful parts align with human reason.

  • See Noevo

    Linda,

    Why was my comment not approved?