The Bible and Homosexuality – A Faithful Look
By The Rev. Lea Mathieu
Is it possible for a person to love God, love the Bible, and accept the ordination of gay men and women all at the same time? Yes. I do.
Please take a few moments to understand my position.
The church has for centuries prohibited the ordination of open homosexuals for one reason: “The Bible condemns it.” Let’s look at those verses.
Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” The last word in Hebrew is to’ebah and it also describes such “abominations” as women wearing slacks, the eating of lobster, pork, or cheeseburgers, or the sacrifice of an animal that isn’t perfect. These things are among the over 300 prohibitions in the Hebrew Bible, some of which are baffling: for example, “You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together” (Deuteronomy 22:11).
Leviticus 20:13 repeats the same idea: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death.” But wait! There’s more: Earlier in the same book, we read, “All who curse father or mother shall be put to death” (v. 9) and “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (v. 10). You may recall that Jesus taught that “adultery” includes remarriage after divorce (Matthew 5:31-32) and looking at a woman with lust (Matthew 5:28). And back in Deuteronomy 22, right after the wool/linen rule, we learn that if a man finds that his new wife wasn’t a virgin when he married her, “they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house” (v. 21). The list goes on: They must have had a lot of stones back then.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is critical of adultery, lust, and divorce, but he was silent regarding what we now call homosexuality.
The only New Testament writer to condemn same-sex relationships is Paul, who was a devout Pharisee (adherent to Hebraic law) before his conversion. Romans 1, which is often quoted only in part, is his first such mention. To understand what he was getting at, I want to make the context of the condemning verses clear:
“Claiming to be wise, they [unbelievers] became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them [unbelievers] up in the lusts of their hearts for impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them [unbelievers] up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged 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. And since they [unbelievers] did not see fit to acknowledge God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They [unbelievers] were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they [unbelievers] are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. … Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
It is clear that homosexual behavior was only one item in a long list of Pauline shames; maybe the rest of you are 100% perfect, but I recognize one or two faults of my own in there. There is an argument to be made that in this letter, Paul was condemning not same-sex relationships per se, but wanton, unbridled lust – of all sorts. In either case, Paul’s point is that we are all in need of grace. Amen.
In another letter, Paul writes, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, 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 in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The word translated as “sodomite” comes from the Greek arsenokoitai. Unfortunately, it seems to be a word Paul made up, and its exact meaning has been lost. The most literal translation would be something like “abusers of men.” Again, Paul may have been condemning promiscuity and sexual exploitation rather than a specific orientation. But here’s his point, again: We are all saved by Christ.
Speaking of sodomites, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis (they’re destroyed in chapter 19) is about cities full of all kinds of sinners – just before sulfur and fire rain down, wild-eyed men try to gang-rape visiting angels, and our hero, Lot, offers the angry mob his virgin daughters instead (a telling commentary on the relative worth of men and women in that culture). Those same daughters later get their father drunk so they can become impregnated by him. There’s nothing in this awful story that any sane person is going to defend.
That’s it as far as condemnations go. So why has the Bible been used to damn homosexuals for so long? Perhaps for the same reasons that Holy Scripture has also been abused in history to oppress women, slaughter Jews, Indians, and Muslims, and enslave Africans. Thank God we learn (eventually).
Hate is a sad legacy for a book that tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Look, I don’t bother to keep the 300+ prohibitions of Hebraic law, and I’m not going to keep silent and veiled like Paul tells me to, but I try with everything I am and have to follow Christ. And friends, I’m not stoning anyone.
Not long ago, I, a woman, would have been burned at the stake for claiming to be called by God to preach the Word. But I know who I am. And if I err in understanding who my gay brothers and sisters are, may it always be on the side of generous love.