What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality

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					                  What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?
                                       by George D. McClain
                                from Social Questions Bulletin 83:2-3

         The Bible figures prominently in discussions about the place of lesbians and gay men in the life of
the church. Most commonly, it is assumed that “biblical morality” or “a biblical standard” automatically
supports the conclusion, as currently stated in the United Methodist Social Principles, that “the practice of
homosexuality is contrary to Christian teaching.”
         The Methodist Federation for Social Action rejects that position and urges the elimination of this
condemnatory clause.
         As part of this critical ongoing debate in the church, I offer the following observations on the issue
of homosexuality and the Bible. – George D. McClain

                                Not a Major Biblical Issue
         Commentators of various persuasions tend to agree that homosexuality is not a
matter of grave concern to the biblical writers. The number of references to homosexual
acts is exceedingly small.
         Furthermore, there are no passages which address homosexuality as we know and
understand it today – as a sexual identity based upon a life-long attraction toward people
of the same sex, fixed early in life (Hilton, 64.) The concept of homosexuality was first
given its name by the Hungarian K.M. Benkert in 1869, writing in the German language.
         The references in Scripture are to homosexual acts, performed by persons who are
presumed unquestionably to be heterosexual in orientation and are therefore considered
to be acting in ways contrary to their “nature.”

                               The Holiness Code: Lev. 18:22, 20:13
        These references to same-sex acts are part of the priestly “Holiness Code” which
was promulgated to ensure clear and unequivocal separation between Hebrews and
Babylonians at a time when the independent survival of the Hebrew people was
threatened. Many barriers were erected, as against eating meat and milk together, sowing
two different crops together, or the roles of men and women. Men must act like men in
their sexual relations, not like women – that is, passively in the sexual encounter. To do
so would be to confuse the roles of men and women, and thus homosexual acts were
        What the Bible offers us today is broad ethical themes (“love your neighbor as
yourself”), not specific ethical rules. If our approach to Scripture were to try to follow all
its behavioral rules, the Holiness Code would present enormous problems. Would
anyone agree to the Levites’ prescribed punishment of stoning for adultery or for cursing
one’s parents?
        The Holiness Code 1)is not about homosexuality but about maintaining purity,
2)is uninformed about homosexuality as an identity formed early in life, and 3)is
superseded in Christianity by a larger understanding of love and grace: “Owe no one
anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”
(Romans 13:8).

                                    Romans 1:18-32
      In this often-quoted passage, Paul’s subject is human rebellion against God. He
borrows from prevailing Hellenistic morality a list of human failings to describe what he
believes to be the behavioral consequences of human rebellion and sin. His reference to
“unnatural intercourse” may underscore the cultural assumption of that day that all people
are heterosexual, for whom same-sex relations would be “unnatural” or that only certain
positions in intercourse are “natural” (Scroggs, 114). It was only considered “natural” for
men to take an active, dominant position in sexual relations, and a woman a submissive
role; anything else was held to be “unnatural.” This passage is not a thoughtful
theological discourse on sexuality, but a list, borrowed from Hellenistic culture, of signs
of human sin. It has no rule-book authority for today.
        Bruce Hilton points out (p. 73) how the conclusion of this passage is the
exhortation, “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 thing” (Romans 2:1). How ironic that the foregoing passage is used
precisely in order to heap condemnation upon an especially vulnerable portion of the
church and society.

                          I Corinthians 6:9-10 & I Timothy 1:9-10
        According to Robin Scroggs, the references in these passages are extremely
ambiguous. He suggests that the items in Paul’s list in I Corinthians 6:9-10 “might well
be partially, at least, memorized from a traditional stock of evils” (p. 102). He concludes
that arsenokoites (NRSV: “sodomites”) refers to the active partner in pederasty and that
the malakos (NRSV: “male prostitutes”) refers to an effeminate call-boy used in this
        Scroggs argues persuasively that the only form of homosexuality that New
Testament writers had in mind was Greco-Roman pederasty, with the sexual use of a
young boy by an older male. This practice, espoused by Plato and widespread in Greco-
Roman culture, was much in dispute among Greco-Roman moralists because it involved
human denigration, misogyny, and crass exploitation (p. 84).
        In Scroggs’ discussion of I Timothy 1:9-10 pornos (NRSV: “fornicators”) means
a male prostitute, used by arsenokoites, and kidnapped or/and managed by the
andropodites, literally a “kidnapper” or, as in the NRSV, “slave traders” (p. 120).

               Passages Mistakenly Applied to Homosexual Relationships
        Genesis 1:26-28 is a culturally-bound account, explaining the origin of strong
attraction of the sexes for each other and placing it within God’s good creation. It is not
intended to prescribe particular relationships and should not be used to argue for an
exclusive hetero-sexuality for all humankind or to oppose a homo-sexuality which could
not even be conceived of at that time.
        Nor should the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-29 be used to
condemn homosexuality, but rather to condemn rape and inhospitality, as made explicit
in Ezekiel 16:49 (denial of aid to “the poor and needy”) and by Jesus’ words in Luke
10:10-12 (See Scroggs, pp. 73-74).

                                   Some Conclusions
        Karl Barth cautioned that “The Bible cannot be read unbiblically.” To reject
loving same-sex relationships on the basis of a supposed “literal sense” of Scripture flies
in the face of the enormous medical and historical gap between then and now. These
considerations are decisive for me:
         1) In the New Testament context the known form of homosexual activity was
pederasty, an inherently exploitative, temporary relationship between an active older man
and a passive youth.
         2) Ancient sexology, based on fear of wasting male semen, goes far toward
accounting for biblical prejudice against any male homosexual acts.
         3) The Bible is essentially disinterested in the matter of same-sex relations.
References are strikingly few and remarkably ambiguous (Scroggs, 101).
         4) The Bible should not be read as morally opposing something which could not
then even be conceived of, namely loving, egalitarian, same-sex relationships.
         5) However, the Bible does address sexual relationships in important ways. I can
only affirm the conclusion of Bruce Hilton in Can Homophobia Be Cured?:
         God’s love and grace, reflected in the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and
spelled out as major themes of the Bible, tell us what we need to know about loving
relationships. There is a growing belief in the church that the test of such a relationship
is not the gender of the partners, but its nature.
         If it exploits, abuses, imprisons, it is wrong, whether in involves a long-time
monogamous marriage or not. If it is truly loving, affirming, supportive – reflecting the
grace of God – it can be a holy union, whether the church and society see fit to recognize
it or not (p. 76).

Bruce Hilton, Can Homophobia Be Cured?, Abingdon, 1992.
Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, Fortress, 1983.

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