Here’s a list of the explicit mentions of homosexual activity in the bible. Notes follow.
1. Genesis 19:4-5 — The story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
2. Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. — The laws Moses gave to Israel.
3. Romans 1:26-27 — Paul says that, because people didn’t worship God, God ‘gave them over’ to same-sex attraction.
4. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 — Both lists of various evils that the unrighteous commit.
And, that’s it. There are other passages one could say are pertinent to the discussion (David and Jonathan – Gay love or Bromance?), but nothing explicit. So I want to give a rundown of these passages and how some Gay Christians I know get around them, and how I understand them.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Gay Christians: This story isn’t about homosexuality. It is about lack of hospitality. It is a relatively late interpretation that Sodom is about sex. Early commenters don’t make that claim.
I say: I agree, the story doesn’t appear to be told about homosexuality. In fact if you read it as being about sexual morality at all, then Lot just doesn’t make sense. How can he be the righteous one when he wants to give over his daughters to be raped? But, that’s as true as it is disingenuous, while the sin of Sodom isn’t primarily homosexual behavior, it is pretty clear the writer is using the threat of gay sex as illustrative of the depravity of the Sodomites. I read the writer as bringing in his bigotry on the issue in service of his narrative. But given that this didn’t actually happen, so what?
Gay Christians: This is part of a whole detailed code that God gave to Israel to follow. Christians see that code as typical (i.e. it is the concepts behind it that are important, not the specific prohibitions) and understand it has been fulfilled in the holiness of Christ. Therefore Christians understand it is no longer binding.
I say: Please. This passage comes right after an extended and detailed description of who you’re not allowed to approach for sex. Not only is gay sex punishable by exile or death, but so is having sex during a woman’s period, and eating black pudding. So come on, let’s get a sense of how batshit insane it is to base any morality on this crap.
Gay Christians: This is an interesting rhetorical trap, Paul is reciting a stereotyped list of all the things Jews typically thought were terrible about non-Jews, with the aim of springing it at the start of Romans 2 by saying that those without Christ are just as bad. The passage shows nothing more significant than Paul’s cultural assumptions.
I say: Okay, that’s a nice theory, but look at the rest of the list. No, there’s a better way to deal with Paul. Just remember this is the Paul of women being silent. The Paul who thinks it is a sin for women not to cover their heads. The Paul who thinks slaves should return to their master and submit to them. There are only tiny numbers of Christians who don’t understand we can throw out Paul’s instructions around women and slaves. So let’s not get hung up when he is a raving bigot on other subjects.
1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy
Gay Christians: The word used here for ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ is found first in Paul’s letters, and only became common in later Greek, and only much later did it become synonymous with gay sex. If Paul wanted to talk about gay sex, there were perfectly good ways of saying it.
I say: Don’t buy it. It is odd that Paul uses this word, it probably does mean he had some interesting reason. And probably the forger of 1 Tim used it to sound more like Paul. But please, the Greek is really obvious. If Paul had used this word to mean something else, he must have known a large number of his readers would have understood it as being about men having sex with men. If I write “and those sinners, were so bad, they were murdering and manhumping, and stuff”, its pretty clear what I mean. You may correctly assume I had some reason for using that bizarre term, but it wouldn’t be ambiguous what it meant. Just because someone 550 years later writes “what a sick guy, he was even manhumping his wife”, wouldn’t make it any less obvious. No, both Paul and the writer of 1 Timothy meant gay sex. And (see my comments on Romans above), so let’s just say they got it wrong.
This post was motivated by a discussion with my mother-in-law on the subject. Who despite claiming to be a bible believing Christian, was eager to stress that her church would ostracize slave-holders and welcome women preachers and remarried couples.
I really believe the best thing Christians can do in this discussion is challenge the pretence that other Christians follow the commands of the bible. Christians have been selectively ignoring inconvenient passages in scripture since the early church (half of the New Testament epistles is one big argument about exactly that). What the bigots need isn’t fancy hermeneutics or word studies, but a history lesson.