Homosexuality and the Bible

Tragically, the Bible has been misused as a weapon against the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community.  In actuality, the Bible says very little about homosexuality.  The overwhelming preponderance of ethical teaching in the Bible advocates for economic justice, hospitality for the stranger, living compassionate lives, and engaging in loving relationships.  These ethical concerns should lead the church to support full inclusion of GLBT folks in church and society, and the United Church of Christ is a church that does just that.

Much of the anti-gay rhetoric from churches emerges from fear and from misinformation about the Bible.  Regarding fear, the writer of 1st John declares that “God is love” and goes on to say that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” The writer reminds us that we cannot say that we love God but hate our brothers and sisters.  The biblical norm of love calls the church to respond in love rather than react in fear to GLBT sisters and brothers. The first source of biblical misinformation is the belief that the Bible addresses the issue of sexual orientation.  It doesn’t.  The concept of sexual orientation, be it heterosexual or homosexual, did not emerge until the advent of psychology in the nineteenth century of the Common Era.  Sexual orientation per se would have been an idea foreign to biblical thought.  There are however, a few passages (very few) that appear to address same sex behavior.  By and large, these passages have been misinterpreted.

One such passage is the story of Sodom in Genesis 19, a disturbing tale of rape that says nothing about loving sexual relationships, either heterosexual or homosexual.  Some interpretations of this passage claim it is a diatribe against homosexual sex (the word “sodomy” derives from this interpretation).  But the Bible states that the “sin of Sodom” was that it had “pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)  The “sin of Sodom,” therefore, was lack of hospitality and care for the poor, not sexuality.

Here a “man lying with a male as he would with a woman” is described as an “abomination.”  Abomination is a term that connotes cultic impurity (idolatrous behavior) rather than moral behavior.  Few, if any, Christians adhere to the cultic practices identified in the Levitical code, but some conservative Christians seize upon these few verses about homosexuality while ignoring other prohibitions such as eating shellfish, planting fields with different types of seed, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, or the death penalty for rebellious teens!

In the New Testament, what is striking is that there is no recorded teaching of Jesus that deals with homosexuality;  it simply is not a topic addressed in the gospels.  In the Epistles, there are a very few passages.  In 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27, Paul decries women and men who are “consumed with passion,” for the same sex.  He describes this as “unnatural.”  But Paul also thought slavery and oppression of women were “natural.”  Biblical views on slavery and sexism have been rightly rejected as concepts of justice have matured.  In like manner,  biblical views about homosexual acts need to be supplemented by contemporary understanding of sexual orientation.

The Bible says very little about homosexuality; however, what it does offer is guidance regarding human relationships.  The Bible calls us to “do justly, love kindly and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8); it tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39); it implores “be compassionate as your loving God is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). The biblical question, then, is this:  Is the relationship loving, just, non-exploitative, tender, respectful, mutual, and compassionate? These are criteria for healthy relationships, be they homosexual or heterosexual.