“Homosexuality is clearly condemned in the Bible. It undermines God’s created order where He made Adam and Eve, a man and a woman, to carry out his command to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). Homosexuality cannot fulfill that mandate.”
— Matt Slick
“Homosexuality is a result of the rejection of God (Rom 1:21–25). Gay marriage is the institutionalization of the rejection of God . . . The Bible teaches how Christians should respond to gay marriage. Don’t condone it; no matter how much we may love our friends and want to see them happy, real love is bringing them to a saving relationship with Jesus, not encouraging a sinful lifestyle.”
— Got Questions Ministries
For the good part of thirty years, I held to the belief that homosexuality was a sin in the eyes of God. I was handed this view from my parents and the evangelical church at an age I cannot remember, and they had it handed to them from people and places of which I could only speculate. In all likelihood, they would tell you that their view came directly from the Bible, but I have since learned that really means their interpretation of the Bible.
After all, every single one of us, from the conservative pre-millennial dispensationalist to the liberal Anabaptist, has a hermeneutic. That is to say, everyone has a lens that they view the Bible through, whether they admit it or not. I’ll even take that one step further. Everyone has a lens that they view everything through, and so we can never escape our own subjectivity.
So, when it comes to a Christian’s attitude toward the LGBTQ community, we must keep this humbly in mind and not be cavalier about rejecting these folks, labeling them “sinners” based solely on their sexuality. To the contrary, it’s my strong contention that we actually have a duty to wholly and openly affirm this group.
That Pesky Bible
The strongest “Christian” case against affirming the LGBTQ community comes from the Bible. Duh, right? But let me be clear, even that case is thin in terms of how much weight is even given to the issue. Out of the over thirty-thousand verses in the Bible, you can count on two hands how many cover homosexuality. These are what are commonly known as the “clobber passages.”
This raises the question: why does this topic cause such a stir within Christianity? One would think that Christians would be far more concerned with practicing compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12), loving thine enemies (Mark 11:25; Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27), helping the poor (Matt 19:21; Gal 2:10), the orphans and widows (Js 1:27), showing mercy and grace to the world (Matt 9:13; Luke 6:36; John 8:1–11), and living in the Spirit, whose fruit includes love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22–23). Isn’t this focus the overarching message of the Bible, particularly the New Testament?
Furthermore, one only needs a friendly reminder from the Apostle Paul as to why we should not point the accusatory finger at others: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). So judge not, lest ye be judged (Matt 7:1). This much we should all agree on.
Now, with anything, context is crucial. As Jarrod Saul McKenna reminds us, “A text without a context is a con.” If we miss this, we’ll risk missing everything, including how, as post-postmodern followers of Christ, we should approach the issue of homosexuality.
For instance, does it make any sense for a Christian to pluck Old Testament verses from their original historical and cultural context in order to clobber others, given that we are not under the Law but under Grace? It seems it would be a con to the very faith we proclaim!
Remember, if you add just a little bit of law to the Gospel, you have no Gospel at all (see Gal 1:6–7). If we are willing to clobber gay people with Leviticus 20:13, for example, are we also willing to be consistent when it comes to tattoos (Lev 19:28), eating bacon-wrapped shrimp (Lev 11:2–11), or wearing cotton/poly blends (Lev 19:19)? Do we stone women to death if they are found to have lost their virginity prior to being wed (Deut 22:13–21)? Do we execute children for cursing their parents (Exod 21:15)? Do we execute those who break the Sabbath (Exod 31:14)? Do we execute rape victims who don’t cry out loud enough while being sexually assaulted (Deut 22:23–24)? For the love of God, and I mean that in the sincerest sense, I hope not!
Shifting our focus onto the New Testament . . .
First, allow me to note that Jesus never once explicitly discusses “homosexuality” or “homosexual marriage.” Neither does Paul — not in the way we, in the twenty-first century, would. How could they? These were not classifications present during the first century. Here’s how the Oxford Classical Dictionary begins its entry on what homosexuality was and was not in classical antiquity:
“No Greek or Latin word corresponds to the modern term homosexuality, and ancient Mediterranean societies did not in practice treat homosexuality as a socially operative category of personal or public life. Sexual relations between persons of the same sex certainly did occur (they are widely attested in ancient sources), but they were not systematically distinguished or conceptualized as such, much less were they thought to represent a single, homogeneous phenomenon in contradistinction to sexual relations between persons of different sexes. That is because the ancients did not classify kinds of sexual desire or behavior according to the sameness or difference of the sexes of the persons who engaged in a sexual act; rather, they evaluated sexual acts according to the degree to which such acts either violated or conformed to norms of conduct deemed appropriate to individual sexual actors by reason of their gender, age, and social status … The application of “homosexuality” (and “heterosexuality”) in a substantive and normative sense to sexual expression in classical antiquity is not advised.”
This is not to say that Paul did not admonish against “male prostitution and sodomy” (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10) or men engaging in “shameless acts with men” (Rom 1:27), because he did. He also warned against a host of other immoral acts. Again, though, context is crucial.
As I’ve already noted, the concept of “homosexuality” was not present in Paul’s day, at least not in the modern way we view it. So, when Paul talks about unnatural acts between same-sex partners, it seems reasonable to think that he was speaking of something else entirely, something relevant to the issues he would have been facing as a first-century Christian. John Shore succinctly explains what that was:
“During the time in which the New Testament was written, the Roman conquerors of the region frequently and openly engaged in homosexual acts between themselves and boys. Such acts were also common between Roman men and their male slaves. These acts of non-consensual sex were considered normal and socially acceptable. They were, however, morally repulsive to Paul, as today they would be to everyone, gay and straight.”
Adding insult to injury, because sexual relationships tended to be hierarchical — the penetrated being subservient to the penetrator — being on the receiving end of such a coercive relationship meant one would be stripped of a more desirable social status. Pardon the pun, but it was quite the double-whammy.
So, we must ask ourselves: Is this the phenomenon we are witnessing today? Are gay couples clamoring to have the right to coercively engage in sexual acts with unwilling partners? Are they hell-bent on garnering the legal right to participate in pederasty? Of course not! Using the writings of the Apostle Paul outside of this context in order to create any division is blatantly out of line.As Christians, we should understand this, for it is Paul himself who plainly teaches: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, emphasis mine). In other words, for Paul, there were to be no dividing lines in the Church. In the first century, those lines included whether your table was kept kosher or not, whether you rested on the Sabbath or not, and whether, if male, some of your penis skin was cleaved off or not. Ouch!
But, in the twenty-first century, we could include the modern sociological dividing line of “gay” and “straight,” of which I’d have to guess Paul would emphatically rebuke as part of a false gospel that inevitably only leads to death (Gal 1:6, 2:19). Admittedly, this is speculative, but given the context of Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians, it seems in line with his radically inclusive message.
At the end of the day, what matters most — especially as Christians — is how we love. The writer of 1 John teaches us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Paul sums up the entire law in one sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). Jesus himself teaches us that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor as our self (Matt 22:36–40), and that in order to be his disciple, we must “have love for one another” (John 13:35). This obviously includes those who identify as LGBTQ!
To have love for them is not to condemn them because of their sexual preference. How can that be what it means to “love our neighbor as our self?” Do those who identify as heterosexual have any tacit knowledge of what it is like to be homosexual, for example?
So, do a thought experiment for me. Imagine you are a married, heterosexual person, and imagine your life up to this point altered in only one way, that instead of being partnered with someone of the opposite sex, you had partnered with someone of the same sex. All of your shared experiences are the same. All of your loving moments are the same. All of your times of joy, hope, even suffering, alike in every way save for one. How, then, would it be sinful if the only variable is that you are sharing these experiences with someone who shares your gender? How would you be violating what Jesus calls the greatest commandment: that we are to love God and neighbor?
Questions like these should give us great pause. Once upon a time they forced me to stop and reflect. And when I did, I could no longer stand justified in front of my God and my neighbor in telling any two consenting adults that they couldn’t share their lives together in the same way I was sharing my life with my lovely wife. So, I repented — that is, I changed my mind — and I started practicing how to love my LGBTQ family in the same way Christ Jesus loves them, beginning by openly welcoming them into the blessed community that has no dividing lines.
- ^ Slick, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?” para. 2.
- ^ This quote can be found at https://www.compellingtruth.org/gay-marriage.html.
- ^ These verses include Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:9–10; Jude 1:7.
- ^ Quoted in Hardin, What the Facebook?, 232.
- ^ Hornblower and Spawforth, Oxford Classical Dictionary, 720.
- ^ I’ll note that if Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell is correct, Romans 1:26–27 is (ironically) a portion of the “false teachers’” argument Paul is dead set on rebuking, beginning in Romans 2:1. See Campbell’s The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
- ^ Shore, Unfair, 9. I will also note that in Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, Sarah Ruden makes a strong case that whenever Paul discusses “homosexuality,” it is in the context that pederasty was running rampant in the Greco-Roman world.
- ^ I should note that the dividing line the Church has historically created over this issue has in fact led to mortal violence against the LGBTQ community being justified and even carried out by Christians. Take, for example, the 1999 murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder by the fundamentalist Williams brothers. Or, one year later, self-proclaimed “Christian soldier” Ronald Gay’s slaying of Danny Overstreet in Roanoke, Virginia.
- ^ This claim will no doubt be disputed. So, for a detailed look at how I read Paul’s letters, see the following: Galatians by J. Louis Martyn, and The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul by Douglas Campbell.
Image by Dan Wilkinson using photos from Pixabay.
About Matthew Distefano
Matthew Distefano is the author of All Set Free: How God is Revealed in Jesus and Why That is Really Good News, From the Blood of Abel: Humanity’s Root Causes of Violence and the Bible’s Theological-Anthropological Solution and the newly-released A Journey with Two Mystics: Conversations between a Girardian and a Wattsian. He is also a Regular Contributor for The Raven ReView and ProgressiveChristianity.org. You can find him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.