Homosexuality & Christianity
By: Ross Blackstone, © 2007
"I'm Christian and I'm gay."
It sounds like something I should stand up and confess in a room full of people. To many, my very existence is oxymoronic. I'm a half-breed -- not usually understood by either community I call my own. Since accepting my sexuality in 1998, I have frequently been asked, "How can you be gay and a Christian?"
I suppose the root of this question for straight people stems from the belief that sexuality is a choice. Why would they think otherwise? For the most part, heterosexuals are just like homosexuals... only they've never been attracted to the same gender. Some may have even had rare fantasies, but those desires were later dismissed or overcome. For them, it makes sense that a person can chose not to be gay. After all, the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and God wouldn't make something innately sinful. God doesn't make mistakes, people do.
I'm not going to get into the nature versus nurture debate right now though. For the sake of moving forward, let's just say that homosexuality is a choice. It's not what I believe, but if you can keep an open mind, so can I.
Once we get past the biological question, we can address the more obvious cause of confusion: the Bible.
As Christians, we believe the Bible is God's sacred word. It is unyielding, infallible and not up for discussion. It contains the words by which we live and "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) Ironically, few of us devote a significant amount of time to study it appropriately. Even fewer speak the language in which it was originally written (Hebrew for the Old Testament and Koine Greek for the New Testament). Today, there are thousands of different versions of the Bible. They have been translated and re-translated countless times over the last 2,000 years. Each version has been presented in a way that could be more easily understood by a particular group during a particular time in history. The King James Version, for example, was written with a vernacular understood by people in 1611. The latest edition of the NIV Student Bible was written for a much more contemporary audience. Are all of these Bibles 100 percent correct? Most people know different languages cannot be translated verbatim. I think it would be naive for us to assume mankind has not made some mistakes along the way. Hey, we're human.
I'm not saying that God is incapable of clarifying His word. I do, however, think we need to put forth some effort to understand it. The Bible says we need to be good "workmen" (2 Timothy 2:15) to truly know what His word says and means. Part of doing that involves research to understand the original words used as well as the context in which the scripture was written. Failing to do so is like blindly accepting the writings of someone from the 1960s who said it was immoral for men to wear long hair. It would be important for the reader to also know that during the 60s, men wore long hair as a sign of protest against military buzz cuts, the draft and the Vietnam War. That totally changes the intent doesn't it?
Likewise, it is important to know what the "eye of a needle" was during Jesus' time to really understand the meaning of His words: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24) Jesus was not talking about the eye of a sewing needle. According to bible.org, Jesus was referring to a small opening in the wall of Jerusalem. The only way a camel could get through the opening was to have the rider get off and push the camel from behind while someone else pulled from the front. It was a very difficult job and few people attempted it. Whereas it would be impossible for a camel to cross through the eye of a sewing needle, it was possible for the animal to cross through the wall of Jerusalem. It was just really hard... as it is for wealthy people to enter into heaven because many place too much value on money instead of God. Capiche? Obviously, the context is crucial to understanding the Bible's message.
Perhaps the biggest part of understanding the Bible, however, is faith. We need to ask God into our hearts so He can help us out. I believe God clarifies His word with the Holy Spirit and through each of us individually every day. Our job is a never ending mission to understand His will for our lives. We must approach the Bible "with an openness to be transformed, not to seek out proof texts for our particular prejudices, cultural bias, theologies or philosophical presuppositions." (Rev. James Walker, White Rock Community Church - Dallas, TX)
The difficult part to accept is that we can never completely understand everything about God. The Lord is way too magnificent for our minds. In his book "The Purpose Driven Life," Rick Warren says that man trying to completely understand God is like an ant trying to understand the Internet. It's impossible. Instead, God gives us each little bits of truth that we are called to share with one another. My sister, for example, has been given a passion to understand Jesus' love for Israel. In turn, she has taught me things about Christianity that I would have not otherwise known. I, on the other hand, believe I have been given the truth about homosexuality. I am writing this now in the hopes of sharing my understanding with you.
Just about all Christian churches have acknowledged they have misunderstood God before. Churches have changed their teachings on numerous controversial issues such as slavery, the ordination of women, people with disabilities, science, divorce and even anti-Judaism. At one point in time, different clergy used the Bible to argue for or against one of these issues. After considering science, vernacular, cultural and historical contexts of numerous scriptures, churches changed their doctrines.
A perfect example is the solar system. In the 15th century, Copernicus argued that the earth revolved around the sun. Later, Martin Luther said, "This fool Copernicus wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy, but sacred scripture in Joshua 10:13 tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth." John Calvin quoted Psalm 93 when he said, "The earth also is established. It can not be moved." It wasn't until 1992 that Pope John Paul II admitted the church made a mistake by not considering outside data in its doctrine. But at what cost? Copernicus was condemned and his successor, Galileo, was declared a heretic and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.
So what, if anything, should the church reconsider regarding same gender relationships? The difficult part about this controversy is that there is much less to work with than issues in the past. "Homosexuality" is only referenced seven times in the Bible and the translations are not clear. (Many people argue there are only five references to homosexuality in scripture.) That's not to say that the Bible is obscure about improper sexual behavior. It frequently mentions acts such as premarital sex, incest and bestiality. If homosexuality is considered part of their category though, why isn't it given equal attention? Jesus doesn't mention same gender relationships at all.
Regardless, the Bible does reference "homosexuality" and those references are negative. Still, that is not the same thing as saying the Bible condemns same gender relationships as we understand them today. Let me explain...
THE ORIGIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY
A couple of years ago God began to educate me a little more about the evolution of His word and what it says about homosexuality. I attended a lecture at an Episcopal church by a heterosexual Biblical scholar from the University of Texas, Austin. L. Michael White explained that there was no word to describe same gender relationships during Jesus' time. (This includes in the Old Testament, New Testament as well as in Jewish, Christian or even pagan writings of the time.) The word "homosexual" was made up by a German scientist named Eddie Kraft in 1869. He intended to use it as a medical term that did not have the religiously loaded connotation as "sodomite" (derived from "sodomy" and the story of Sodom discussed below). What's more, the word "sodomy" was first used by a Monk named Peter Damien who died in 1072 – more than 1,000 years after Jesus.
Besides the word, it is also very important to note that the concept of homosexuality as we understand it today did not exist in Jesus' time. That's not to say that everyone was heterosexual. Rather, the ancient world never considered the possibility that a man would commit his life to another man. Even if he preferred to have sex with other men, there were very good social, cultural and practical reasons to marry a woman.
In fact, Yale professor, Wayne Meeks describes homosexuality as a modern gender understanding. He says we cannot pick out a few references in the Bible about sexual acts and assume they meant the same thing then as they do in our culture today. They don't.
So where do homosexual references in the Bible originate?
ADAM & EVE
Many people believe the Bible's first reference against homosexuality is in its first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn that God created woman for and from man. Here's how the New International Version of the Bible describes the purpose of their relationship:
Genesis 2:24 – "For this reason, man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."
This verse is used to condemn homosexuality simply because Adam chose to marry and have sex with a woman. In all reality, however, it says nothing about homosexuality. The verse simply does not say that man should only marry or have sex with women. That may seem like splitting hairs, but to a person whose salvation is in question, it's an important point.
Once we acknowledge this obvious fact, we can look at what the passage really means. At an elementary level, the story of Adam and Eve is about marriage. (Please note that it does not say all men should marry women. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples that not everyone is meant for marriage – Matthew 19:11.) As for sex, the most obvious lesson is against premarital affairs. The verse says that Adam should make Eve his wife before they become physically intimate, or "one flesh."
If you look further, I think you will find that the passage's greater purpose is to show God's magnificent power. His plan for procreation is an amazing gift and He intended for man and woman to share it – just like the earth. That's not to say that any sexual relationship void of offspring is unnatural or against God's plan. There are plenty of heterosexual couples that cannot have children for medical, age, financial or other reasons. These couples are not considered sinners. Likewise, the story of Adam and Eve does not infer that every sexual experience should produce offspring. Why then are same gender couples damned because they cannot birth their own children?
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Many think the story of Sodom in the Book of Genesis is about same gender relationships as well. For those of you who don't know, Sodom and Gomorrah were two ancient Middle Eastern cities that were destroyed by God. The reason is because of what happened when two male angels visited the city to save a Godly man, Lot. Here's the New International Version of the passage:
Genesis 19:4-9 – "Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.'
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, 'No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.'
'Get out of our way,' they replied. And they said, 'These fellows came here as aliens, and now they want to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them.' They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door."
There's much more here than meets the eye, but let's first look at the obvious. Yes, the author is talking about sexual immorality in the form of homosexual acts. However, the action described is not a consenting, committed and loving relationship between two men. The author is talking about a brutal gang rape. There's a big difference. No one disagrees rape is wrong. The gender of the parties involved is really irrelevant if you think about it.
Still, some believe gender becomes significant when Lot offers his daughters to the townspeople instead. Although virgin women were considered very valuable, the crowd wanted the men. In the next paragraph, we learn the reason is because the out-of-towners had come into the city and judged the townspeople. The men of the city wanted to teach the "alien" visitors a lesson. What you may not know about ancient times is that dominant men often punished inferior men with sexual penetration. In his book Born Eunuchs, Faris Malik says the penetration was "committed for the purpose of profoundly humiliating an adversary or helpless victim. Therefore, sodomy was a crime committed against 'non-gay' men… by 'non-gay' men." Malik says the act was equal to adultery and considered illegal in many ancient cultures.
Coincidentally, a similar scenario is described with a different ending in the Book of Judges. Here, a Levite was traveling through a foreign city with his concubine:
Judges 19:22-25 – "While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, 'Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.' The owner of the house went outside and said to them, 'No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing.' But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go."
In this passage, the townspeople were not specifically looking for homosexual intercourse either. They wanted to show dominance over a foreigner and were content in doing so by raping his wife. (Exerting dominance in a sexual way can be seen in the animal kingdom and even in some cultures still today.) Likewise, the townspeople in Sodom were sinful in trying to disgrace Lot's visitors. However, their behavior was in no way similar to consensual sex between two people of the same gender. It would be irresponsible and incorrect to compare this scripture to a "homosexual" relationship as we understand it today.
The reality is that the Lord says nothing of homosexuality when telling Abraham of his plans to demolish the city in the previous chapter of Genesis. He only refers to Sodom as generally sinful. When we read the Book of Isaiah (3:9), we learn Sodom was really destroyed because its residents boasted of their sins. Then in Ezekiel (16:48-49), we read Sodom "had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was an abomination in God's eyes." While the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Bible, none say the reason is because of same gender relationships. (Jude 1:7 says the cities gave themselves up to "sexual immorality and perversion," but does not mention homosexuality.)
In addition, the original words used in this scripture may have meant something different altogether. For example, the original Hebrew word used instead of "sex" in the story of Sodom is "yada." The word is found 945 times in the Bible and literally means "to know." The tricky part is that it is possible to "know" something in dozens of different senses. Here are some examples of how "yada" is used in the Bible: to have "knowledge," to "find out and discern," to "discriminate," to "know by experience," to "recognize or acknowledge," to "confess," to "be skilful in," to be "revealed," to be "instructed" and also to know a person "carnally." (Source: moseshand.com) While Lot's reaction to the crowd's request indicates "yada" is something negative in the story of Sodom, we can not be 100 percent certain the author was talking about sex.
Also, the Hebrew word used to describe the Sodomites themselves is "enowsh." The word does mean "men;" however, it was also used in ancient times in a masculine-preferred sense. That is to say, it could be translated as "mankind," "persons," or "individuals" in general. (Source: net.bible.org) In other words, it is possible that the townspeople who rushed Lot's house also consisted of women and children.
There are other cases in the Bible where misinterpretation is much more likely than with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Still, the information is worth considering…
HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN "ABOMINATION"
In his lecture, "The Bible and the 'H' Word," L. Michael White does not even address the stories of Adam and Eve or Sodom and Gomorrah. He says the first and only time homosexuality is mentioned in the original Hebrew Bible is in the Book of Leviticus. When studying this book, it is important to note when and why it was written.
Leviticus was added into the final edition of the Torah about 500 years after the Book of Genesis. It was written after the Jews returned from a massive exile and their religion was in jeopardy. Ezra led a priestly reform movement which resulted in very, very strict rules designed to set the Jews apart from the rest of the world and bolster the Jewish faith. The Book of Leviticus was the product of this movement. It contained the rules for the most sacred Jews, the rabbis. The purpose of Leviticus was to ensure temple purity and was never intended to apply to everyone else. Even Jesus said it did not pertain to Christians. Throughout the gospels, we see how He broke the "rules" of the Pharisees.
Still, we should study the two verses in Leviticus that condemn "homosexuality." Here they are in the King James Version:
Leviticus 18:22 -- "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination"
Leviticus 20:13 -- "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination"
Just before and after these verses, the author makes reference to other means of sexual misconduct such as incest and beastiality. In each of those cases, the punishment is death. But not for "homosexuality." For homosexuality, the punishment is "abomination." Why? What is "abomination" anyway? Here are some other abominations listed in the Book of Leviticus:
Growing carrots and potatoes together
Mixing cotton and wool for clothes
Trimming facial hair
Eating pork or shellfish
Webster defines "abomination" as something "disgusting, very bad or hated." The original word from which "abomination" has been translated, however, means something different. LM White says the Hebrew term is "toebah" which means "abhorrent by reason of impurity." When translated into Greek, "toebah" became "bdelygma" which means a "sacrilege," or a desecrating crime against a holy place. In fact, the same word is used to describe the destruction of the temple in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Later, translators converted "bdelygma" to the Latin word "abominatio." This word implies defilement and is the reason we understand and use "abomination" in Leviticus today.
If you'll consider the translations and the fact that Leviticus was written as a rule book for rabbis, you can see that its authors did not say that same gender relationships are "disgusting, very bad or hated." Instead, they said homosexuality should not be performed by priests in the temple. That's a big difference isn't it? The truth is, the act to which they were referring was regarded in the same way as having sexual conduct with a menstruating woman -- both were first described in Leviticus as "toebah."
In addition, LM White says "toebah" is most commonly used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to idolatry. He gives the example of Jeremiah 32:35 in which it was considered "toebah" for people to worship the pagan god Ba'al. The author of Ezekiel says it is "toebah" to "lift eyes to idols" (18:12). To confuse us more, "toebah" has also been translated in today's Bibles to mean "shepard" (Genesis 46:34), "lying" (Proverbs 12:22), "cheating in business" (Proverbs 20:23) and "incense" (Isaiah 1:13). Is burning incense the same thing as a homosexual act? Clearly, we are missing something.
I mentioned the author of Leviticus does, in fact, use another, more harsh, word to refer to sexual impurity. The term "tebel" means "improper mixing" in regards to incest and bestiality. The term is clearly considered much more severely than "toebah." Still, the idea of a sexual act between two men is only referred to as "toebah" and never "tebel." Once writers began to translate the Bible into Latin, they began to blur the words "toebah" and "tebel." Today their translations practically mean the same thing even though they were intended to have strong distinctions.
The problem didn't just occur with references to homosexuality either. The word "world," for example has its Biblical roots in the word "cosmos." "Cosmos" however doesn't mean "earth" as we understand "world" to mean today. Instead, "cosmos" is more accurately translated to mean "universe." Still, the Bible today uses the word "world" instead of "universe" where "cosmos" used to be. While it has far fewer consequences than "abomination," both are still inaccurate translations.
There's one other factor to consider when studying these two verses. After earning a masters and doctoral degrees from a conservative Biblical seminary, Rev. Dr. Mel White explained it best in his booklet What the Bible Says and Doesn't Say about Homosexuality:
"…the Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that the male semen contained the whole of life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the man's sperm contained the whole child and that the woman provided only the incubating space. Therefore, the spilling of semen without the possibility of having a child was considered murder. Thus, spilling the seed made you a murderer and worthy of death.
"The Jews were a small tribe struggling to populate a country. They were outnumbered by their enemy. You can see why it was an abomination to even risk wasting one child, but the passage says nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today."
THE NEW TESTAMENT & PAUL
As Christians, it is important to note that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament and clarify rules such as those in Leviticus. We see an example of this in Matthew 15 when the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples "break the tradition of the elders." Jesus tells the Pharisees that religious teachings "are but rules taught by men" and they keep people's hearts far from God. Is it possible that some of our Christian teachings are also religious "rules" that actually keep us farther from the Lord?
Regarding homosexuality, it is important to note again that Jesus did not say anything on the subject. Considering the Son of God did not say homosexuality is a sin, why then would we think otherwise? Some say it is because of three verses in the New Testament all written by Paul. Obviously, in order to understand these verses, we need to understand the author and the society by which he was influenced.
One major issue Paul faced in his lifetime was a growing Hellenistic culture. The Greeks threatened the early Christian lifestyle and Paul despised everything about them. Whatever they did, Paul encouraged Christians to act differently. Because the Greeks placed a strong emphasis on idolatry, Paul strongly opposed the sin of worshiping false gods. He also focused heavily on controlling all "passions" which he considered to be the disease of the soul. (In fact, the Greek word for "passion" is "pathe," which is the same word for "disease.") Both idolatry and passion are addressed in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 1:22-27 – "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."
Here Paul refers to sexual acts between people of the same gender as "shameful," "unnatural" and perverted. It is important to read the scripture in context though. Paul did not say that homosexual acts caused idolatry. Instead, he said the punishment for idolatry is lust. In other words, men who worshiped false gods will lose "their" women to passion. (Incidentally, this passage is the only one in the entire Bible that even comes close to referring to sexual relationships between two women.) When you boil it down, Paul was really writing about two of the things he disliked most: idolatry and passion. That is also very different than a loving and committed relationship between two people of the same gender. Isn't it?
It is also worthwhile to note the phrase "natural relations" as opposed to the "unnatural ones" which were considered sinful. What are "natural relations" anyway? Considering the phrase comes from Paul, "natural" relations likely referred to sexual relations that produced offspring. (It is well known that Paul did not approve of any other form of sex because he believed it stirred up passion. In fact, he only calls for marriage to curtail sexual passion.) Therefore, "unnatural" relations should be interpreted as any sexual act that does not produce offspring, such as oral sex, anal sex or any form of fornication. If this is the case, Paul was not referring to homosexual relationships as we understand them today. Instead he was writing about general sexual promiscuity between same or mixed gender couples.
We should also consider the time frame in which Paul wrote this letter to Rome. It came just after he toured the Mediterranean region and saw huge temples built to honor Greek gods of fertility, sex and passion. Mel White says, "these priests and priestesses castrated themselves, carried on drunken orgies and even had sex with young temple prostitutes (male and female), all to honor the gods of sex and pleasure." When reading Romans 1:22-27, we must consider the very real probability that Paul's reference to "homosexuality" was really a reference to Greek idolatry and the worship of sex gods.
As I've mentioned before, translation poses one of the biggest challenges in studying scripture. In regards to the study of homosexuality in the Bible, perhaps no two passages have been more poorly translated than those in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. (In this section, I will reference the passage from Corinthians; however, discussion can be applied to Timothy as well considering both verses were written by the same author and say pretty much the same thing.) Here is the New Revised Standard Version of two of both passages:
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers -- non of these will inherit the kingdom of God."
1 Timothy 1:9-10 "This means understanding that the law is laid down… for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching."
Simple enough right? Not really... Where the NRSV uses the words "male prostitutes," other Biblical translations today use words such as "effeminate," "homosexuals," "sexual perverts," "homosexual perverts," "boy prostitutes" and "catamites" (A catamite is a boy that is in a sexual relationship with a man.) And again, where the NRSV uses the word "sodomite," other Biblical translations today use words such as "abusers of themselves with mankind," "abusers of themselves with men," "liers with men," "homosexuals," "practicing homosexuals," and "homosexual offenders." (Translations come from these versions: KJV, NKJV, RV/ASV, Rheims, RSV 1 and 2, NEB, TEV, NIV, NASV, NAB) Obviously there are discrepancies with today's translations because these words do not all mean the same thing. In order to try and better understand what Paul was talking about, we need to take a closer look at the original text.
In Greek, the word used instead of "male prostitutes" was "malakos," which was then translated into the Latin word "mollus." Both words literally mean "soft." The catch, however, is that "soft" was interpreted as one of two ways during the first centuries. It could either mean "soft" as in someone who has no strong sexual control (promiscuous), or "soft" as in someone who was effeminate. More importantly, both "malakos" and "mollus" were used as synonyms for another Greek word, "kinaidos." "Kinaidos" referred to the young male partner in a pedophilic relationship – a "catamite." With this information, we learn that Paul's original words referred to one of three things: femininity, promiscuity, or pedophilia.
To find out what the author really meant, we need to look at the next word in the scripture: "sodomite." In Greek, the word for "sodomite" is "arsenokoitoi." LM White says it was formed from two other words that meant (1) male, and (2) one who has sex with a male. "Arsenokoitoi" was an extremely rare word that really got its meaning from the context in which it was used. When paired with "malakos" as it is here, it can only mean one thing – the active, older man in a pedophilic relationship. Knowing this, we can see that Paul was not referring to femininity, promiscuity, male prostitution or even homosexuality. According to LM White, Paul was referring very specifically to pedophilia.
Besides the moral issues as we understand them today, pedophilia had serious social and cultural implications (even for pagans) during Paul's time. Because the younger males shaved all their hair, dressed in women's clothes and fulfilled sexually submissive roles, they could never grow up and become active, contributing members of society. This was a major problem for early Christians and even Jews who both aimed to grow their populations. (Paul's contemporary, Cynica the Younger as well as Philo of Alexandria both wrote of problematic issues surrounding pedophilia as well.)
Even still, some Greek scholars say we really don't know exactly what "arsenokoitoi" means. Whether it represents a "dirty old man" or not, Mel White argues the true injustice came in 1958. That's when the word was mistranslated for the very first time ever to mean "homosexual."
Later in the 1970s and 80s, the translation changed again. Recognizing that they could not keep homosexuals out of the church, Roman Catholics began to preach that it was okay to be gay as long as one did not practice homosexual behavior. Thus, the New American Bible began to use "practicing homosexuals" in 1 Corinthians 6:9. This is a perfect example of how scripture has changed to reflect modern cultural influences even in our lifetime.
The reality is that religion changes as cultures change. Another example is circumcision. In the ancient world, circumcision was not an identifying factor for Israelites. Most countries in the Middle East performed the practice. Then the Greeks began to gain power and spread beliefs about their gods and mythology. They also tried to end circumcision because they considered it barbaric. In an effort to stand apart, Israelites made circumcision a trademark of their religion. In essence, the actual ritual is not what made circumcision so important to the Jewish faith today; it was opposition to Greek beliefs.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Having said all that, the only guidebook we as Christians have is the Bible. We've got to go with what we've got. The reality is that "homosexual" acts, in some form, are still associated with idolatry, lying, murder, theft, etc. in scripture. That can't be good. But were the authors really referring to "homosexuality?" I don't think so. Remember, they had no concept of same gender relationships as we do today. Their world and their cultures were completely different.
If we're really going to study the Bible and what it says about homosexuality, we need to look at all of the passages that make reference to gay people. In doing so, it is important to pay careful attention to what the Bible says about "eunuchs." What are eunuchs? Good question. As I child, I remember thinking that a eunuch was an angel. Here's what the Bible says:
· In 2 Kings 9, eunuchs help Jehu kill the bewitched Jezebel.
· In 2 Kings 20 as well as Isaiah 39, Hezekiah rejoices upon learning that his descendants would become eunuchs.
· Throughout the Book of Esther, eunuchs are described as servants for queens, concubines and even Ester herself.
· In Isaiah 56, the Lord is quoted as saying eunuchs that obey Him will be given special rewards in heaven.
· In Matthew 19, Jesus says some eunuchs were "born that way" and thus not meant for marriage to a woman.
· In Acts 8, Philip meets an important Ethiopian eunuch who is in charge of a queen's treasure. Throughout the chapter, we learn the eunuch is a person who reads scripture even though he does not understand it. Philip told the eunuch about Jesus and then baptized the man.
The Greek roots of "eunuch" are "eun" and "ekhein" which mean "bed" and "to keep." Together, they formed "eunoukhos" which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, was "a castrated person employed to take charge of the women of a harem and act as chamberlain." A person was not considered a "eunuch" just because he was castrated though. According to the dictionary, the term "eunuch" more accurately described a person's role in society.
In his book Born Eunuchs, Faris Malik says some eunuchs actually had male genitalia. Those that had been castrated were considered "man-made" eunuchs and those who had genitalia were considered "natural" eunuchs. While both groups were distinct, ancient cultures referred to them in the same way. The defining factor for a "eunuch" was the lack of sexual desire for women. Men who had sex with other males were not considered eunuchs, however, because heterosexual men had sex with young boys on a regular basis. Put simply, "eunuchs" were those people who were unwilling or unable to have heterosexual sex.
In addition, Malik says eunuchs "were not considered 'male,' because maleness meant the aptitude to play the male role in procreative sex, which they lacked by definition." While it was considered humiliating and illegal for a male to sexually penetrate another male, it was perfectly acceptable for a male to sexually penetrate a non-male, or a eunuch. That's why Roman emperors often had eunuch lovers. Because of mass castrations from 600 BC to 400 AD, eunuchs were very much a common part of society.
About 400 years after Christ, however, the Catholic Church encountered a catch 22. Patriarchal leaders wanted to abstain from sex with women in an effort to emulate Jesus. The problem, of course, is that eunuchs already refrained from sex with women by their very nature. The priests needed to make sure that their sacrifice was recognized because they claimed it brought them spiritual holiness. In addition, they did not want to be considered "non-male." As a result, the church used its growing influence with the Roman government to change the definition of a "eunuch." Those lacking reproductive organs stayed a "eunuch," but anyone that still possessed male genitalia was now considered a "male." Of course, it was still illegal for males to have sex with males. All of a sudden, "natural eunuchs" were considered criminals and none could make love with another man.
Malik argues that the early church essentially tried to erase the "primeval distinction" that some men are aroused by women while some are not. Obviously, the implication is that the "eunuchs" of the Bible are the "gay men" of today. With this information, we learn that not all references to gay people are bad in scripture. In reality, gay people may have even been regarded with esteem during the time of Jesus.
READING OUTSIDE THE LINES
The simple fact is that the Bible is not clear about same gender relationships. While it may refer to sexual acts, it does not address the commitment two men might make to one another. Therefore, it cannot be used be used to condemn two people who want to make that commitment or someone who simply identifies himself as "gay." As Mel White wrote, "the authors of the Bible are authorities in matters of faith. They can be trusted when they talk about God, but they should not be considered the final authority on sexual orientation any more than they are the final authority on space travel, gravity or the Internet."
While the Bible has had the biggest influence on our understanding of Christianity and homosexuality today, there have been other influences as well. The church itself has played an integral role in spreading the belief that the two cannot mix. I've already explained how the early church spoke against homosexual acts because it felt they represented Greek idolatry of the time. I've also shown how the church has changed the definition of eunuchs and outlawed homosexual acts. In addition, I've explained how the Roman Catholic Church has tried to create a moral distinction between "being" a homosexual and "acting" like a homosexual. This method of teaching is often referred to as "hate the sin, but love the sinner." While I agree with this principle, I do not think it can be applied to gay people. The reason, again, is because the Bible does not say same gender relationships are sinful. It just simply doesn't say that.
Another belief taught by some churches is that homosexuality is caused by spiritual oppression, or demonic possession. With all due respect, my faith calls on Jesus to protect me from evil spirits. I do not believe He would allow me to be affected in such a way.
Personally, I believe the church has intentionally misled the public about homosexuality. While I have not conducted the research myself, I have heard that the Catholic Church has hidden gay iconoclasts from Jesus' time. In addition, I've heard about hidden scriptures indicating that Ruth was a lesbian. Neither may be true, but what if they are? Really. Think about that. Is it possible that the church has tried to suppress homosexuality for some reason? Perhaps condemning homosexuality was all part of a plan to increase recruitment for priests? If gay men felt as though their "lifestyle" was innately sinful, their only option for heaven would be celibacy and a commitment to the church. Is it possible?
I'm not trying to bash the church. Please don't get me wrong. I think it has served a sacred mission and we should all be grateful for its effort to share the Word of Christ. However, the "church" is a worldly institution and thus subject to flaw. It is led by godly men, but how many times have we seen "godly men" go astray? It happens. Still, the church has done the best it could. However, I can't help but feel as though the plight of homosexuals in the last 100 years is very similar to that of early Christians. Gay people are constantly attacked by church leaders who are not unlike Pharisees. Instead of teaching love like Jesus, they teach discrimination. Gay people need the love of Christ, not judgment from humans.
Personally, I think the church itself is partially to blame for the bad reputation and sordid lives within the gay community as well. The reason is because many churches have ostracized homosexuals, calling them an abomination. Most gay people I know do not believe they are welcome in God's house. It only makes sense that they would then go astray without any moral guidance. In fact, I know some who have deliberately rebelled against their beloved church because of the pain of rejection. As a result of their rebellious behavior, the church rejects them more… which in turn makes way for even more immoral behavior. The cycle can be endless.
Please understand that I am not pointing fingers. It is not easy for me, as a gay man, to recognize the stereotype that my community is "immoral and sexually obsessed." Nor is it easy for me as a Christian to recognize the stereotype that churches judge, condemn and turn their backs on homosexuals. Neither behaviors align with the teachings of Jesus. Of course, not every gay person and every church fits these descriptions. Still, I think there is a bit of truth to both stereotypes and it is important to stop them.
Well, I've covered a lot and I won't make you read much more. Still, I think the final step for anyone to understand how I can be gay and Christian lies in how I view myself... which brings us back to the nature versus nurture thing.
As I mentioned, I believe sexuality is biological. While it is true that scientists have not yet isolated a universally accepted "gay gene," there have been several well-respected studies concluding that sexual orientation is genetically influenced. In addition, the American Psychological Association says "human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight." (www.apa.org)
Personally, I've tried to date women and it just wasn't "meant to be." I choose to be attracted to my own gender as much as I choose to have brown eyes. Granted, I could wear blue contacts, but that would not change the way God made me.
If you truly have an open heart and a genuine interest in understanding how I can be gay and Christian, allow yourself to see me the way I see myself, the way God sees me. I truly believe the Lord wants me to be a homosexual man. And you're right... God doesn't make mistakes.
I suppose it would be difficult for me to call myself gay and Christian if I perceived homosexuality as something bad, but I don't. In fact, I actually see it as a gift from God. I think gay people even have a unique ability to help bridge the gap between heterosexual males and females. As a gay man, I can help straight men understand women because I can easily relate to females. At the same time, I can help straight women understand men because I am one. In addition, my sexuality is the reason I will (hopefully) adopt a needy child one day. These are just a couple of the ways in which I see my life as a blessing. Ultimately, I think life is about perspective and we are all challenged to find the good.
I realize this has all been a really long answer to a simple question. I have to admit that all of the points I've made are basically arguments to defend my faith and my sexuality. It's who I am so forgive me if I have seemed defensive. Still, the reality is that none of it is what matters most. I've mentioned this before, but what matters most is that I have a solid PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with God. Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior. THAT is what makes me a Christian. The fact that I'm gay makes no difference to me or to Him. Hopefully it doesn't make a difference to you either.
As my good friend Tommy says, "This joy we have, the world didn't give it to us and the world can't take it away." You can try to understand me if you chose. I believe God can use us in each other's lives if you do. But even if you don't, I will still be blessed.
Research from the following publications was used throughout this article (as well as additional websites attributed within the text).
Rev. Dr. Mel White, What the Bible Says and Doesn't Say about Homosexuality
L. Michael White, The Bible and the 'H' Word
Rev. Dr. James P Walker, Homosexuality and the Bible
Faris Malik, Born Eunuchs
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition - Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. - Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.