The Bible and Homosexuality

It has been an extraordinarily long time since I have written a post. This one was supposed to be written after visiting St. Luke’s Episcopal in Long Beach for a session about “The Bible Revealed: God’s Love For the LGBT Community” on June 14. Though I signed up to receive notes concerning the lecture, I haven’t got them. I took a few brief notes during the talk, but promptly lost them that night at The Abbey in West Hollywood. Considering my negligence, these notes mostly summarize some online research into the topic.

There is much more information available on this topic than I can faithfully represent here. Additionally there are now more pro-gay interpretations that weren’t around when I first looked into this topic in 2003. I’d like to point out that given that homosexuality afflicts approximately 10-15% of the population, the Bible is remarkably silent on the entire issue, and has only a few scant passages that mention it.

The clobber passages.
There are about 6 passages that refer to homosexuality in the Bible, these are called the clobber passages. Most of them refer to homosexual acts in a negative manner. I’ll go through them very briefly, outlining the rationalizations used to dismiss them. All of this information (and much, much more) is available through Religious Tolerance, which also provides a very nice summary table.

  • Gensis 19

    The story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    This whole story really refers to inhospitality and/or rape, and doesn’t not specifically condemn homosexual practice.

  • Leviticus 18:22

    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    This is part of a whole prescription of behavior referred to as the Mosaic Code. So many things are abominable (wearing mixed fabrics, eating shellfish, tattoos), that we can safely ignore this passage, as we also safely ignore most of the other 611 proscriptions. The Hebrew word “to’ebah” which is usually translated as abomination, really means “ritually improper” and so it applies to ancient Israelite culture, and not to us.

  • Leviticus 20:13

    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    The capital punishment is today viewed as far to extreme, even if one finds homosexuality detestable. So many things in the Bible call for the death penalty that we can safely ignore this punishment along with the others. J. Nelson interprets the passage by claiming “It is grounded in the old Jewish understanding that women are less worthy than men. For a man to have sex with another man ‘as with a woman’ insults the other man, because women are to be treated as property.” The National Gay Pentecostal Alliance prefers a more literal translation of the passage that uses the phrase “homosexual sex while on a woman’s bed” and so only limits where the act can occur.

  • Romans 1:26-27

    For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    This passage is also the only passage that refers to lesbianism (which western culture has a distinct habit of ignoring). The Liberal interpretation claims that Paul is distinctly addressing Rome, and the reversion to paganism, together with the associated sexual orgies. He’s decrying the inducement (through celebratory wines) of frenzied sexual activity that would go against one’s basic heterosexual nature. This should be viewed as a crime against oneself, and is punishable through STD.

  • I Corinthians 6:9-10.

    Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (malakoi), nor abusers of themselves with mankind (arsenokoitai),
    Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    Here Paul is using the word “arsenokoitai” which he made up for this passage, so we have some translation difficulties. Given that “arsen” means “man” and “koitai” means “beds”, he’s probably referring to customers of male prostitution at pagan temples.

  • 1 Timothy 1:9-10

    Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
    For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind (arsenokoitai), for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

    Again, the word arsenokoitai appears. This time the passage has controversy about whether or not Paul even wrote it, or if it was written 80 years after his death and falsely attributed to him. Either way it probably refers to male prostitution or (at best) the act of male-male sex (orientation is a much more modern concept).

  • Jude 1:7

    Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    Here, the condemnation is on sexual perversion, about which the passage is not specific. It refers to the intent of the mob to rape the angles, which can be interpreted as a condemnation of rape in general or bestial (non-human) rape in specific.

Ok, so most of the (very few) passages that mention homosexuality are dismissable using contextual arguments. The most difficult passage to reconcile is Leviticus 20:13 which I’m willing to toss out by arguing that he Mosaic code applies only to ancient cultures, and that, since Jesus, we have a new (more flexible) contract with God.

I find the phrase “their blood shall be upon them” extremely troubling. I’d translate it as meaning that the executioner is not personally responsible for upholding God’s wish that the offenders be put to death. This is not at all innocuous. As evidence, take the case of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, who were murdered in their home by Tyler and Matthew Williams, who did not consider the killing of Matson and Mowder to be murder, but a “judgement” instead, claiming that they were “obeying the law of God”. In my opinion, religions have got to be more vigilant at policing their own members. Actions like this give me a philosophically hostile attitude to organized belief systems in general, and Christianity in particular.

Take also the fact that many teenagers commit suicide because they find themselves to be homosexual amongst a religious or conservative and intolerant home/town/city/community. Or that many of those who do survive such environments are extremely self-deprecating, or have such low self esteem that they compulsively engage in self-destructive behavior. Religion has much to answer for on this topic, and moreso the longer they hold out. I’m reminded of how many religious zealots used the Bible to support slavery or the laws prohibiting mixed marriage. We all know which way the wind is blowing, so I’m secure in knowing that one day, almost all society will look back on these viewpoints the way that I see them now.

I honestly cannot fathom how an educated person could think that we derive our morality from some ancient book, or even that it would be handed down from on high. I personally find many of the views espoused in the Bible to be patently immoral and unnecessarily divisive. I also can’t fathom why a gay or lesbian person would even want to associate themselves with such an inflexible code of morality. Humans have a remarkable capacity to simultaneously hold what I’d consider to be logically incompatible belief systems that will never cease to amaze me.