This is a futile attempt to persuade my conservative friends, that I love and respect dearly, to rethink their position on homosexuality. Regardless of my personal stance on the bible, I will use theirs for a starting point for my attempt at dialogue.
Let’s begin with a little logic. A major argument against homosexuality is that the bible is against it. For a person that holds the bible as divinely authoritative, this at face value is a good argument. However, it quickly falls apart once we look at other things the bible both prohibits and condones. There are many prohibitions such as eating certain foods, a woman’s menstrual cycle, touching a dead body, touching people with skin diseases, women teaching men, blood transfusions, wearing the opposite sexes clothing, farming with a donkey and ox on the same yoke, divorce, not making loans to someone inside their house, and no work of any kind on Saturday, or any type of physical religious imagery such as a cross. You are probably beginning to see the point, yet there are also many things the bible condones such as women viewed as property, the rights of owning slaves, the right to kill children, and adults alike for certain offenses, polygamy, temple prostitutes both male and female so long as they are not from Israel, the killing of animals, child sacrifice, etc.
Many forms of oppression are even justified by some Christian thinkers. This is seen very early on, in account of slavery (Gen 9:20). St. Augustine argued that slavery was justified because of the sin of the person enslaved. One might say that was over 1500 years ago. However just three hundred years ago, Stephen Haynes justified slavery by attributing it as a punishment for sexual sin, and assigning Ham the decedent of Noah as someone of dark skin. James Henly Thornwell in the 1800′s declared that Christians supported slavery and atheist opposed it. Even post Civil war Robert Lewis Dabney defended slavery based on his interpretations of the bible, by saying: “Every hope of the existence of Church, and of State and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of Negro suffrage.”
It would appear another minority group had to suffer even longer and were oppressed even greater at the hand of the biblical text, and in many mainline denominations are still oppressed today. It’s not uncommon today to hear debates going on as to if a woman should be able or capable of pastoring a church or being president of a country. Aside from all the verses in the New Testament that speak of women covering their heads and remaining silent, there is also the Genesis 3 account where women are blamed for the fall of humankind. Christians are ironically hung up on this, although this seems ludicrous since without said event there would be no need of that redeemer they love so much. Moving on, early church theologian Tertullian declared Eve as the origin of sin and women as the devil’s gateway. Cotton Mather suggested that women should only express their views in private that the public realm was reserved for men. Foremost Princeton theologian Charles Hodge not only opposed women’s suffrage, but public education and abolitionism. Theologian Robert Dabney argued God’s curse on Eve was applicable to women for all time. Now we see all of these theologians and pastors although they may have been using the bible, they were using it poorly and hardly perceiving the egalitarian message put forth by Jesus of Nazareth. If nothing else John Calvin got one thing right: “There are many statements in Scripture the meaning of which depends upon their context.”
Using this same logic, it should be obvious that the same thing is happening again to the Homosexual community. However, it would appear once again too many people are not studying the evidence for themselves.
Let’s move away from this logical argument of why we should accept homosexuality and look at the biblical text itself. Perhaps it would be best to go through seven relavent texts chronologically. Let’s begin with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For centuries it has been suggested the reason the city was destroyed was because of its sinful homosexual behavior. This is said to be because the town’s people tried to rape two visiting angels. Yet this is not a story about homosexuality or even rape. Rape was a practice used by one’s enemies to show dominance over that person, to show one’s authority; it’s a reflection of the misogynist society in which the bible was being written. But the real point of the story is about hospitality. It is actually contrasting Gen 18; this is why Lot offers his own daughters. A different version of this story is found in Judges 19, to which when the men are approached about his guest. He replies with “Do not act wickedly since this man is my guest; do not humiliate him” once again the emphasis being upon hospitality and the patriarchal structure of the society. Nowhere in the bible are the sins of Sodom related to homosexuality but rather: greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, and indifference to the poor. Even Jesus in Luke 10 and Matt 10 refers to the sins of Sodom as the refusal of hospitality to travelers.
Now to approach possibly the most common text used when condemning homosexuality and homosexuals: the Dueteronomistic and Levitical codes (also known as the holiness codes). These issues I will deal with collectively, considering they encompass the same passage. It is important to understand how the holiness codes function and their contextual understanding as well. The underlining purpose was to be different from the Egyptians from whom they had just escaped and to not mix with the Canaanites whose land they had now overtaken through mass slaughter of the Canaanite people. The overall purpose was that Israelites should not intermarry with non-Israelites. They understood this as no mixing of any kind, hence why we get passages forbidding two different garments intertwined together. Another point, illustrated by Victor Paul Furnish of Perkins School of Theology, is that engaging in homosexual behavior was punishable by death because it meant a man was being passive rather than dominant, passivity being the role assigned to women. So by mixing genders a cultural boundary had been crossed. It is also important to look at the word typically translated as Abomination: the Hebrew word transliterated as toevah. The word refers to something that makes a person ritually unclean, such as eating shrimp, planting two different seeds, a women’s menstrual cycle, wearing cotton and wool, or having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating. Abomination is a violation of ritual codes, not moral codes. This ritual purity was necessary to distinguish the Israelites from their pagan neighbors and the Egyptians. However this is not what Jesus seemed to be concerned with: “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out”, “What comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart… but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matt. 15). So if we understand Jesus as a fulfillment of the law (Matt 5:17) we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws by means of proof-texting, but to love God and love our Neighbor (Matt 22). People who pick and choose verses from the Old Testament with today standards fail to understand the ancient cultural conditioned code that is not applicable to them today and their circumstances. This error can cause harm to a great many people, such as those with mental and physical illnesses, disability, women, children, and obviously homosexuals.
To move onward to the New Testament one should have a small understanding of linguistics and the koine Greek language. Both in the Greek and in the Hebrew there is no word for homosexual. In Corinthians 1 the words transliterated as Arsenokoites, and Malakos both occur, and in Timothy 1 the word aresnokoites recurs. The word aresnokoites is a compound word of arsen (meaning male), and koites (meaning bed). This would imply a translation of a man who goes to bed, otherwise known as a male prostitute. This does not imply homosexuality. Prior to this the word arsenokoites can not even be found. To say that this compound word means homosexuality is as absurd as suggesting the English word “understand” means being under something and/or standing. Dale Martin, a Greek scholar, after analyzing many Greek texts both secular and Christian, concludes that the term is probably some type of economic exploitation by sexual means such as rape, or sex by economic coercion, prostitution, or pimping. This is supported by the next verse that speaks of slave trading once again exploitation. No one should conclude at face value that this term means homosexual. The word Malakos which is found much more frequently is much easier to understand. It literally mean soft and connotes a type of effeminacy. So to assume that this is in reference to homosexuality is quite a stretch of the imagination. For example, a high school coach may call his young athletes “girls”, “sissies”, “ladies” but none of the boys on the team are these things in actuality. It is to break them down and humiliate them. This is essentially the same thing happening in the text. Contemporary scholars would be rightly embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a moral category today. This is once again merely a reflection of the culture in which the bible was being written.
Now for one last verse in the New Testament to deal with, Romans 1. Once again we find the Pauline writer making statements that seem unfounded when looking at today’s technology and science. Many theologians conclude that Paul’s major concern in this verse is not what is natural to man as we might understand it. Natural, for Paul, is synonymous with unconventional, therefore the writer is not talking about a violation of the order of creation. The Greek word used for nature is physis which is hardly a synonym for ktisis, the Greek word for creation. So when Paul speaks of Natural he is speaking of what was conventional for the Hellenistic Jewish cultural.
Moving onward from the biblical text I suppose it is time to look at some hard science. Many Christians try to hide the fact that in 1993, the Gay gene Xq28 was discovered and 70% of homosexuals carry this gene. This becomes quite problematic for the typical pragmatic argument from Christians and other conservatives that this is a life choice rather than innate. With the discovery of this gene, it seemingly refutes any notion of being gay being a choice. However I’ll play fair and point out that they still leaves 30% of homosexuals that do not have this gene. What would this mean, that all homosexuals should be tested for the gene to see if they actually are sinners or not? The absurdity of this is astounding, but where do we draw the line? I’ll even go a step further and point out that some people who have been tested for this gene do not participate in homosexual behavior and are self proclaimed as heterosexual. However, this hardly seems to refute anything considering many of our genes remain dormant until a certain age and sometimes until death, such as genes associated with cancers and tumors. More awkwardly, for one to conclude that homosexual is not natural is ignoring all the animals in nature that participate in homosexual activities: black swans, mallards, gulls, penguins, dolphins, bison, bonobo, elephants, giraffes, macaque, lions, polecat, sheep, hyena, dragon flies, lizards, fruit flies, etc.
Lastly I suppose I’ll explore the soft sciences such as psychology and sociology. There are several studies done on birth order, twins, the absences of the fathers, antigens, and antibodies on feminization of the fetus, penis envy, that do not classify homosexuality as a disease or mental illness, but as something that is innate to human biology. I will just point out a few psychological and sociological organizations that do not believe homosexuality is a myth or a choice: The American medical association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers. All these groups oppose attempts at reparative therapy and support the notion that homosexuality is not a choice that can simply be changed through therapy.
To tie things up, I’ll leave on a quote of a well know Christian philosopher and theologian: “the bible is the word of god, speaking through the words of human beings speaking through the idioms of their time, and the richness of it is that we don’t take it as literally so.” – Desmund Tutu.
Casey Blaylock is a native of Tennessee and a Lee University graduate with a bacholars of art in Biblical Studies and Theology. He is fascinated with all forms of philosophy including political and metaphysical. He also wields a great passion for both high end craft beer and fine wines.
Currently Reading: Matthew Fox; The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.