Scriptural Basis for What I Believe about Same-Sex Relationships
I don't normally like to debate Scripture. There are so many different interpretations of any given passage, so many ways to take stuff out of context and use it to suit our own purposes. Even Satan quoted Scripture when trying to tempt Christ. I also am not a Bible scholar (though I am a Bible student... I've read it cover-to-cover many times over, still read it daily, and have done many studies through resources like the HarperCollins Study Bible and with various teachers who are Bible scholars.) I don't read Greek or Hebrew, so I must rely on flawed English translations (as is the case for most people reading this, I'm guessing) and other people’s opinions on what the Greek and Hebrew words might really mean. I am painfully aware of how limited I am, how I am no less likely than anyone else anywhere on the theological spectrum to misinterpret something to suit my own fancy. I’m aware of how likely it is that I'm just plain wrong on any given point. I fall short. We all do. And my view on Scripture isn't going to change anyone else's opinion any more than people quoting a few verses of Scripture at me is going to change mine.
So I don't tend to debate Scripture. But an anonymous responder to an earlier post asked for my position solely from Scripture: "I want to see that your main points come from the word of God first and foremost." I also have had a couple of e-mail exchanges with Daniel McLain Hixon, to whom I am seriously overdue in responding, and that discussion also kind of boils down to how Scripture forms my beliefs, so hopefully this will address both of their questions.
I also get the feeling a lot of conservatives believe theological liberals ignore the Bible or don't read it (not necessarily from either Anonymous or Mr. Hixon… it’s sort of a general impression I get), so I'm going to make this rather long post explaining how my views are rooted in Scripture. It's not really intended to make anyone change their own minds. It's just to show that yes, I do read my Bible and yes, my opinions are based on it, not in spite of it. All quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible.
What the Bible Says About Same-Sex Relationships
First I think I need to start with some of the common Scriptures that are tossed out to defend stances against inclusiveness for GLBT people. Two of the big ones are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
This comes from the Purity Code and is part of the Torah, or Law for the ancient Israelites. There are several things to note here. The law is specifically directed towards males. Females were more property than individuals in that time and culture, so no one really cared about two women sleeping together. But for a man to "lower" himself to "act like a woman" by having sex with a man? THAT was huge. Also, the Hebrew word translated to English as "abomination" meant "unclean." Other things taken from the same passage defined as "abominations" include but are not limited to: sleeping with a woman during her menstrual period, reaping to the edges of your field, eating sacrificial meat on the third day after it was sacrificed, eating pork or shellfish, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers. Punishments for "abominations" varied, but usually involved either banishment or death.
In the New Testament, Paul argued vociferously against applying Torah law to Gentile Christians. Peter had a vision where God specifically nullified the dietary laws as a metaphor for accepting everyone into the church, including Gentiles who did not follow the Torah. Few Christians today keep kosher or follow the purity code. Therefore, I fail to see its stipulations against men sleeping with men as any more binding than its stipulations against eating lobster.
Other Old Testament passages used to argue against men sleeping with men (there are no OT passages that say anything about women sleeping with women, and only one NT passage that does so) really aren't about sex at all. The Sodom and Gomorrah story is a prime example. It's a story about violence and rape and has nothing whatsoever to do with consensual, committed, monogamous relationships. In fact, the real sin of Sodom was actually not sodomy at all, but inhospitality. Jesus himself describes it this way in Luke 10:10-12 (emphasis mine):
’But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.’
Moving to the New Testament, the one and only verse that mentions women sleeping together in the same light as men sleeping together is Romans 1:26-27, but I'll quote 1:18-32 to keep it in context (emphasis mine):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Paul is discussing idolatry in this passage. It starts out saying what the sin is: "exchang[ing] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." Idol worship. The next word is "therefore;" Paul is now talking about things that have happened as a result of idolatry. He's describing temple prostitution, not monogamous committed relationships (something he would have had no concept of in his time).
The entire letter to the Romans addresses tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and argues for the inclusion of all, regardless of their adherence to Jewish laws. He specifically calls those who are scrupulous about observing special days and diets, for example, "weak in faith" while those who are lax in such things are "strong." He argues that the "strong" should support the "weak" by not tempting them out of their "strength," but he certainly does not applaud those who keep the law as more righteous.
Other NT passages that use the English word "homosexual" or "sodomite" (and as noted above, "sodomite" might not have anything to do with "sodomy" at all but rather the violence and inhospitality of the people of Sodom) are Greek words that are vague or which the true meaning is unknown. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek word translated to "sodomite" means "soft." In 1 Timothy 1:9, the word translated to "sodomite" is a compound word unheard of anywhere else in either the Bible or other contemporary Greek scholarship: "malebed." No one really knows what these words mean. It could mean male slaves held for the gratification of their male owners. It could mean temple prostitution. It could mean anything.
So I am far from convinced that the Bible condemns committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.
What Jesus Says
It's interesting to note that Jesus says absolutely nothing about same-sex relationships. He specifically says that marrying a divorced woman is the same as committing adultery (and adultery is covered in the same Purity Code as men sleeping together... punishable by death), and we allow divorced people in our churches. We allow divorced women to remarry and perform those marriages. We're allowing something Jesus specifically condemned but not allowing something he didn't even think was worth mentioning? I find this somewhat inconsistent.
Jesus did have a lot to say about mercy and justice, however.
He criticizes the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his time) for their strict adherence to the Sabbath in Matthew 12:3-8 (emphasis mine):
He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.’
He criticizes the Pharisees for caring more about the letter of the law than about the spirit in Matthew 23:13-24 (emphasis mine):
‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
‘Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.” You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, “Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.” How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
In Luke 10:25-28 he was asked what the greatest commandment was:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
Note that this serves as an introduction to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the purpose of which was to define “neighbor.” Jesus was basically saying even Samaritans, the most hated enemy of the Jews of his time (think “terrorists” today and you’ll get an idea of how repulsive Samaritans were to the Jews of his time), were included as “neighbors.”
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus condemns judging others:
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.’
He goes on in verses 15-20 to describe how we are to discern false prophets:
‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.’
I know too many GLBT people who have good fruit--people who are in beautiful, loving, committed, monogamous relationships with someone of the same sex. I only wish I was as spirit-filled and close to Christ as they are. It also seems to me that the people who most strongly oppose GLBT rights use a lot of hateful rhetoric and quote a lot of false studies. (9th Commandment prohibits bearing false witness.) If I follow Jesus’s advice about looking at the fruit individuals bear, than I have a hard time laying a blanket condemnation down on all GLBT people or everyone who is in a committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship. And I have a hard time supporting those who advocate for laws that would hurt families headed by same-sex couples.
In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), Jesus condemns those who would be unforgiving of others’ sins despite having been forgiven for their own. Verses 32:-34:
’ Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.’
In John 8:1-11, Jesus saves an accused adulteress from being stoned by an angry, self-righteous mob:
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’
Note here that Jesus doesn’t make “go[ing] and sin[ning] no more” a condition for her salvation. He tells her that only after he has already saved her. If sinlessness were a requirement for admittance to either the church or to Heaven, then both would be awfully empty places. Population: 1. (Or 3-in-1, perhaps.)
Erring on the Side of Mercy
Do I expect that these Scriptures, which are such a small and admittedly hand-picked batch will convince others? Not really, no. But these are just some of the Scriptures that deeply impact why I believe what I believe and do what I do. I believe God has called me to work for GLBT rights. I believe Proposition 107 (the marriage amendment) that is on the ballot in Arizona this November is an ugly, mean-spirited, un-Christlike initiative that I must fight if I’m to follow Christ as I understand him. I do these things, not in spite of Scripture, but because of it. And because of Reason, Experience, and Tradition because despite my blog’s title, I am at heart a Methodist.
However, I am well aware that I might be wrong about whether or not same-sex relationships are inherently sinful. I admit that freely. I might be wrong. But since I already know I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of mercy rather than judgment. I’d rather have to explain to God why I was too easy on sinners (I am one myself, after all) than have to explain to him why I barred the doors against others. It’s what Christ did and this is how I (imperfectly) follow him.
HarperCollins Study Bible