Q&A About the Bible & Homosexuality (selections from a brochure by Rev. Durrell Watkins, D.Min.)
Is it a sin to be gay?
“Sin” means to miss the mark (an archery and hunting metaphor). To “be” anything is a matter of ontology (of “is-ness”). So to discover that one is something and to be honest about it can never be missing the mark.
Did Jesus condemn homosexuality?
Jesus condemned precious little. One of the few things that he did condemn was the tendency of religious people to participate in condemnation! Jesus seemed to have a great deal of patience with almost everything other than self-righteous people who tried to enforce religious rules in a way to oppress or control others.
When was Jesus sympathetic to homosexual persons?
First of all, let’s not force a Euro-centric, 19th century view of same-gender love/attraction onto the first century, Palestinian Jesus. The word “homosexual” would not have been part of Jesus’ vocabulary, and our understanding of homosexuality might not have even existed in Jesus’ world! However, you may recall that in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s gospel (and the story is repeated in the 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel) Jesus heals a centurion’s servant. The original hearers of that story would have assumed that the servant was the centurion’s lover. From what we know of 1st century Roman culture, we know that such relationships were not uncommon. And for a person of such high rank to be so concerned about a servant that he would approach a faith healer of lower status and another religion in a desperate attempt to help his servant suggests an intimacy far greater than one would expect between a military officer and his “servant.” How did Jesus respond to the centurion? He praised his faith! His relationship was not condemned or even questioned.
You said there may be a couple of times when Jesus was friendly toward same-sex expressions of love. What is the other example?
In Matthew 19, Jesus defines “eunuchs” in a much broader sense than we normally hear. He says that, there are those who are castrated, which is the usual definition. But he also says there are 2 other kinds of eunuchs. He said some “choose” to be eunuchs (living a life of celibacy) and that others are “born” eunuchs (people who by nature, or from birth, are sexually different). He also said that not everyone would accept his broad and inclusive (and non-judgmental) definition of eunuchs, but he said, “whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” Jesus was giving an example of sexual diversity…He did not suggest that anything was wrong with any of the “eunuchs”, and he certainly did not propose an “ex-eunuch” program. Some of us are “different” from the majority, and Jesus seems to suggest that it’s OK, and that everyone who can accept such diversity needs to accept it! His teaching reminds us of Isaiah 56 where the prophet places these words in the mouth of God, “The eunuch need not say, ‘I am a dry (barren) tree’…I will give them in my house a monument and name which will be even better than having children; an eternal, imperishable name…For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” In any case, Jesus never condemned same-sex love or attraction.
But aren’t there bible verses that say it is a sin to be gay?
Not exactly. It depends on how you read the bible. The people who wrote the documents that in time became our bible were products of their time and culture. They had specific agendas and were writing to particular communities, usually in response to definite events. None of them had any idea that 21st century Americans would be reading their work. In fact, none of them knew there was a North American continent or that the world wasn’t flat. And so, we do read statements in the bible that support slavery, that assume women are in some way inferior to men, that seem to suggest God takes sides in bloody military conflicts. Today, we do not accept that women are in any way inferior to men. Today, we believe slavery to be one of the greatest evils of human history. Today, many of us believe that war is almost never the will of God. Do we read the bible with an awareness of its historical and cultural and linguistic contexts? Or do we cling to isolated verses that seem to support one prejudice or the other? How we choose to read the bible will determine if we believe the bible promotes homophobia.
What About Sodom & Gomorrah?
Some people will suggest that Genesis 19 condemns homosexuality. It is the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, where a gang of violent men threaten to rape two strangers. The strangers happen to be angels (and presumably male), but the obvious “sin” of the story has nothing to do with the genders of the characters. Rape is always brutal, inhuman, horrifying, terrible and wrong. No one could disagree with that. There isn’t any love or even healthy attraction in the story. Degrading or hurting someone by forcing them to perform any sexual act against their will demands our outrage. But that has nothing to do with gay people finding joy in their mutual relationships.
Doesn’t Leviticus say it’s wrong to be gay?
Leviticus discourages certain behaviors, but its writers have no clue that sexuality might be biologically predisposed or that it might be a psycho-social orientation. So, no, Leviticus doesn’t condemn any contemporary notion of homosexuality because it is not aware of any such notion. The book lays out many prohibitions for an ancient community. Those prohibitions include wearing certain types of fabric, eating shellfish and pork, even getting tattoos! Leviticus 19.26 even says it is wrong to eat rare meat! Isn’t it funny that people who think Leviticus justifies their anti-gay prejudices have no problem eating seafood or rare steaks or adorning themselves with body art?
Are there any other biblical passages to consider?
Not many. Out of the entire bible, 66 books (a few more if you’re Roman Catholic) written by many people covering a period of more than a thousand years, we’ve already discussed half the passages that are routinely used to shame, condemn, harass, or terrorize gay and lesbian people! The other three passages come from books attributed to St. Paul in the New Testament (most notably, 2 verses from the first chapter of Romans, which is almost always taken out of context and even misquoted; the context for the Romans 1 passage is idolatry, not sexual orientation). Each of those passages, when taken in their cultural, historical, linguistic, and literary contexts can be deconstructed in ways that are actually quite liberating for same-gender loving people!
The bible is not…meant to condemn love, mutuality, or any life-affirming situation.
© Durrell Watkins 2004, 2009