Q&A with Daniel Helminiak(Dr. Helminiak is a former Roman Catholic priest with a PhD in Systematic Theology and another PhD in Psychology. Daniel Helminiak is the author of What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality)
Q: What was the point of the Bible texts if not to condemn homosexuality?
A: It is not easy to summarize briefly the body of research on homosexuality in the Bible. But these are the interpretations that some scholars are proposing:
• The story of Sodom in Genesis 19 is about offense against the sacred duty of hospitality. That is how Ezekiel 16.48-49 and Wisdom 9.13-14 interpret this text. The attempted male rape only heightens the atrocity of this offense.
• Leviticus 18.22 does forbid male-male sex as an "abomination." But the word simply means an impurity or a religious taboo — like eating pork. As in the case of Catholics who used to be forbidden under pain of mortal sin to eat meat on Friday, the offense was not in the act itself but in the betrayal of one's religion. The ancient Jews were to avoid practices common among the unclean Gentiles.
• Romans 1.27 mentions men having relations with men. But the terms used to describe them are "dishonorable" and "shameless." These refer deliberately to social disapproval, not to ethical condemnation. Moreover, according to Paul's usage, different from the prevalent Stoic philosophy of the day, para physin ("unnatural") would best be translated "atypical" or "beyond the ordinary." So it bears no reference to natural law.
And it can imply no ethical condemnation because in Romans 11.24 God is said to act para physin. Paul sees gay sex as an impurity (see Rm. 1.24), just like uncircumcision or eating forbidden foods. He mentions it to make the main point of his letter, that purity requirements of the Jewish Law are not relevant in Christ Jesus.
See L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex.
• 1 Corinthians 6.9-10 and 1 Timothy 1.8-10 list arsenokoitai among those who will be excluded from the Reign of God. This obscure term has been translated "homosexuals" but its exact meaning is debated. It certainly does not include women but only some kind of male sexual offenders. If it does refer to men having sex with men — which is dubious — it must be interpreted in light of the abuse and licentiousness commonly associated with male-male sex in the Roman Empire.
See Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality.
• Finally, Genesis 1-3 shows Adam and Eve created for mutual companionship and procreation. These accounts use the most standard of human relationships to teach a religious lesson. The point is the love and wisdom of God, who made all things good and wills us no evil. Nothing suggests the biblical authors intended a lesson on sexual orientation.
Q: Hasn't there been constant opposition to homosexuality throughout Christian history?A: Recent and detailed historical scholarship questions that claim. Although one could find some opposing voice in every century, there was no common opposition to homosexuality in Christian Europe until the late 12th century except for a period around the collapse of the Roman Empire. Indeed, for nearly two centuries after Christianity had become the state religion, Christian emperors in Eastern cities not only tolerated but actually taxed gay prostitution. In 7th century Visigoth Spain, a series of six national church councils refused to support the ruler's legislation against homogenital acts.
By the 9th century almost every area in Christian Europe had local law codes, including detailed sections on sexual offenses; none outside of Spain forbade homogenital acts. By the High Middle Ages, a gay subculture thrived, as in Greco-Roman times. A body of gay literature was standard discussion material at courses in the medieval universities where clerics were educated.
Opposition to homosexuality, as in Augustine and Chrysostom, rested on reasons unacceptable today: "natural-law" arguments based on beliefs about supposed sexual practices among hares, hyenas, and weasels; a philosophical Stoicism that was suspicious of any sexual enjoyment; a sexism that saw a degrading effeminacy in being the receptive partner in sex. All-out Christian opposition to homosexuality arose at a time when medieval society first began to oppress many minority groups: Jews, heretics, the poor, usurers. A campaign to stir up support for the Crusades by vilifying the Muslims with charges of homosexual rape also played a part in Christian Europe's change of attitude toward gay and lesbian sex.
See John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.