Sunday, March 24, 2019

Guild Chat Script: Homosexuality and the Bible

This is a script to the Guild Chat video of the same name. It can be found here.

Many Christian leaders present homosexuality as inherently evil. This results in many Christians treating homosexuals poorly. But what does the Bible actually say about homosexuality? Is it as clear-cut as these leaders present it? Or is it more complicated?

In this lengthy video, I want to investigate these questions.

Before I begin, a few things. First, I’m reading this from a script and I unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth to edit the audio. I’m probably going to make a few mistakes, so I just want to apologize in advance for any flubbed lines. Also, there will be a link to the script in the description, so if you’d rather read this (or if you want links to references), you can check it out there.

Anyway, the first thing I need to do is start with some definitions so that we can all be on the same page.

I want to start by defining “homosexual.” This might seem strange, but it’s necessary because it has become clear to me that there are generally two definitions of “homosexual” that are used. The first is one that describes an individual who experiences same-sex attraction. That is, they are sexually attracted to individuals that present themselves as having the same sex as them. The second definition is that of one who engages in sexual activity with people who are the same sex that they are. Sometimes this gets referred to as a “practicing homosexual.”

I have an issue with this second definition of homosexual, insomuch as I see it as not useful for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. I think it’s an older definition, and I do want to point out that when Christian leaders call homosexuality evil, I believe that this is the definition that they are using.

In this talk, I’m going to use “homosexual” to name the group of individuals who experience sexual attraction to those who present themselves as members of their same sex. This is how I think of the term, and I believe it is the culturally common usage of the word. It also has little to do with actual behavior.

I’m going to use “heterosexual” in much the same way. It describes individuals who are sexually attracted to those who present themselves as a member of the other sex. (As an aside, I dislike the term “opposite sex,” as I don’t believe male and female are opposites—men and women have far too much in common for that term to make any sense to me.)

The next important term to define is “same-sex.” This is used as an adjective or adverb to describe activities or states wherein the participants are the same sex.

I’m differentiating same-sex and homosexual because same-sex activities can be engaged in regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals involved. This is extremely important, and a predominant factor in why I strongly dislike the use of “homosexual” as a descriptor for those who engage in these activities, as I believe it creates far too much confusion.

Common phrases that use the term “same-sex” include:

  • Same-sex sexual activity: This is referring to sexual activity in which the participating members are of the same sex.
  • Same-sex marriage: This refers to a marriage wherein the spouses are the same sex.

As a heads-up, this talk will necessary discuss various sexual activities. I’m not planning on defining any of these, on the assumption that you are aware of what they are.

I have a few final things I want to address before I begin digging into the Bible.

The first is why I’m doing this. I’m a heterosexual male, so what the Bible says about homosexuality (and, more critically, same-sex sexual activity) has little direct relevance to me. However, as I established in yesterday’s video, I have a powerful distaste for baseless rules, and I view all tradition as suspect and worthy of scrutiny to evaluate whether it is still applicable. I assign no inherent authority to tradition or culture, though I do view them as a useful source of information.

I am concerned that the church has been unduly influenced by cultural forces that denigrate sex (which God invented!) and that have painted homosexuality in particular as vile, especially cultural influences that have existed in the past.

I also dislike inconsistent rules. If it is OK for a man and woman to kiss, for example, why not a man and a man or a woman and a woman? Where are the lines? Why are the lines where they are?

If it is wrong for two men or two women to do activity X, then it should logically be wrong for a man and a woman to also do activity X. Or are we making the morality of activities dependent upon who does them in an inconsistent way? And if so, on what grounds?

While there can be clear lines, I argue that they must have valid rationale. For example, the error with sexually engaging with someone who does not consent to such activity—such as children, who lack the understanding to consent to such a thing—is clear. It is a violation of autonomy which causes deep harm.

I am also deeply concerned about the eternal well being of the homosexual community. I do not want the church to push them away by fighting cultural wars. It is my belief that Christianity is not supposed to try to force moral standards upon the outside world. Rather, Christians are supposed to be moral examples that draw people in. If Christians indeed demonstrate their ways to be superior, then people will be drawn to them. The Scriptures are filled with language describing this. I do not see the current interactions between the church and homosexuality as being successful in doing this. In fact, I see them as violating Peter’s instruction that Christians should not be meddlers and Paul’s instruction that Christians should not judge those outside the church.

I have also personally been negatively impacted by disgust towards homosexuality.

In many regards this is a tangential topic that has a lot to unpack, so I’ll leave most of it for a later video. Briefly, the negative view of homosexuality—especially male homosexuality—makes it difficult for men to display physical affection to each other, such as hugs. My primary love language is touch. Thus, I find it difficult to express platonic affection towards male friends due to the still-lingering effects of anti-homosexual sentiment.

But like I said, that’s a deep well of a topic that deserves its own video, and this one will be long enough without going into it further.

Also, if I didn’t make it clear earlier, I don’t really care what cultural or traditional thought on the matter is. Such things are extremely mutable and inconsistent, and thus they are irrelevant as a basis of understanding. However, understanding the cultural situation in which certain Biblical statements were made can inform us as to their purpose. There will be more on this once I start digging into the Bible.

Finally, before I begin examining the Bible, I think it is important to express my general conclusions now. I do not see the Bible as condemning homosexuality according to the definition I use for it. I do see the Bible condemning lust and sexual promiscuity. Both of these are problems for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

As for same-sex sexual activity, I see little direct condemnation, though there are arguments to be made. My general conclusion is that the Bible is specifically against anal sex, as well as uncommitted sexual relationships (such as prostitution or one-night stands). As for same-sex sexual relationships, I am more uncertain, though I lean towards the idea that they fall into the “Disputable Matters” category. For more on what a “disputable matter” is, you can watch my Geekdom of God video discussing the topic.

So, these are my general conclusions. Let’s dig into why I’ve come to them.

There are six broad areas I want to examine that I think are the ways the Bible is commonly used to condemn homosexuality. Three of these come from the Old Testament and three of them come from the New Testament.

These areas are:

  • The Old Testament stuff
    • Genesis 2:24
    • The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah
    • The Law
  • The New Testament stuff
    • “Sexual Immorality”
    • Romans 1:24-27
    • 1 Corinthians 6:9

Let’s just go through these in order, starting with Genesis 2:24, which reads:

Genesis 2:24—That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

I’m going to be blunt: This is, in my opinion, the strongest argument against same-sex couples engaging in same-sex sexual activity. But note that it has nothing to do with homosexuality itself.

Further, I think the argument can be made that this is a descriptive verse, not a prescriptive one.

The difference is that one is an observation of reality, while the other is direction for behavior. This verse is written in such a way that it seems clear that it is explaining why we see certain behavior (i.e. the sex drive) and the result of that behavior (the two become one flesh).

Basically, this verse is stating that (jumping off of 22-23, which you can read on your own), because woman was created from a part taken from man, the two have an urge to reunite in the sexual act.

What I’m arguing is that Genesis 2:24 is similar to The Hero’s Journey. When Joseph Campbell created the Hero’s Journey, what he was doing was describing a recurrent narrative structure found in a wide variety of myths. He was not giving a formula for creating a perfect story, but rather observing a structure. The fact that people took this observation of common plot points and turned it into a formula does not change Joseph Campbell’s original intention when documenting that structure.

When both Jesus and Paul reference this passage, they use it in a descriptive way. Both use it for the “two become one flesh” concept—Jesus when speaking against divorce in Matthew 19:1-9, and Paul when instructing Christians to not have sex with prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16.

Therefore, I think it can be argued that this verse describes the cause of the sexual urge, as well as defining Biblical marriage as a committed sexual relationship between two people, not that it is forbidding same-sex sexual relationships.

So then, let’s look at the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in Genesis 19:1-25. That’s a long passage, so I’m going to give you a summary. You are encouraged to read the entire passage yourself, of course.

This tale actually begins a bit before Genesis 19:1, when, by way of two angel emissaries, God reveals to Abraham that He is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knows that Lot, his nephew, lives in Sodom, so He asks God to not destroy the city if at least ten righteous people can be found within it. God agrees. This is found in Genesis 18, by the way.

Anyway, the angels make their way to Sodom. Lot is at the city’s gate, and when he sees the angels, who looked like men, he insists they stay at his house. Keep in mind that, in those days, there wasn’t really a system of inns or hotels or whatnot. The angels intended to sleep in the town square, but Lot was quite persistent, so they agreed to stay at his house.

That evening, all of the men of Sodom came to Lot’s house and demanded Lot hand the angels over to them so that they could have sex with them. Lot refused, and in an act born of a host’s responsibility to his guests that we would find repugnant today, offered the men of Sodom his daughters instead. The men rejected this offer and tried to kill Lot, but the angels opened the door, blinded the men, and rescued him.

By the next day, Lot had fled Sodom, and fire was rained down upon it and neighboring cities, destroying them utterly.

It is easy for modern readers to think that Sodom was condemned because the men wanted to engage in same-sex sexual acts. But I think such an argument is very weak compared to the argument that it was condemned because all of the men were would-be rapists, given over to lust.

In the New Testament, Jude’s letter reinforces this view. He writes, in Jude 1:7…

Jude 1:7—In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

There are some issues I have with how this is translated (a trend we’ll see when we get to the New Testament sections in general), so let’s look at the important underlying Greek sections of this verse.

The first is the word translated into English as the phrase “gave themselves up to sexual immorality.” In the Greek, this phrase is but one word: έκπορνευω. You can look it up yourself if you want to, it’s Strong’s 1608 (a Bible concordance system).

More literally, this word means: “To be utterly unchaste; to give oneself over to fornication.” That definition is taken from an older Strong’s dictionary that I have. To me, it feels like the idea that one has made one’s life purpose the pursuit of as much sex as possible.

The Greek being translated as “perversion” here is actually a phrase that can be more literally translated as, “chasing after different flesh.” How exactly Jude is using this phrase I am uncertain, but to me, it sounds like the men of Sodom kept pursuing different sexual partners—and perhaps even bestiality, though I have no proof of that.

Anyway, my point is that Jude only confirms my original statement, which is that Sodom and Gomorrah were condemned for giving themselves over to extreme levels of sexual desire and lust. This likely resulted in a lot of rape and other atrocities. Therefore, to claim that this is about homosexuality seems like way too much of a stretch to me.

The final bit from the Old Testament is the Mosaic Law, specifically Leviticus 18:22 and the similar Leviticus 20:13. I think the first of these is more popular, so let’s look at that one.

Leviticus 18:22—Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

First of all, this expressly addresses men. Second of all, it is somewhat specific: It specifically prohibits two men engaging in sex in a manner similar to the way that a man has sexual relations with a woman. Note that this is an action, and therefore it is not about homosexuality.

I think you could argue that this is banning anal sex. If that is indeed the case, it would make sense why women aren’t mentioned.

I have seen statements that this verse somehow magically includes women in it, but I don’t find such arguments compelling for two major reasons.

It is true that the surrounding verses contain many bans on sexual relationships (for example, not having sex with your aunt). Like Leviticus 18:22, these are always presented as instruction to men, not as instruction to women. However, they also include a woman with whom the act is performed, which means that they implicitly prohibit the reciprocal act (e.g. not having sex with your nephew).

However, there is an example where this isn’t the case: Bestiality.

Leviticus 18:23 bans bestiality, and it does so explicitly for both men AND women.

Leviticus 18:23—Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
I find the fact that women are mentioned here, but don’t have a similar prohibition of engaging in sexual relations with each other quite notable. Further, I find it a compelling reason why women engaging in same-sex sexual activity isn’t governed by Leviticus 18:22.

Further, if God is the all-knowing God that we Christians claim to believe He is, then He would most certainly be aware that women would engage in sexual activities with each other. Therefore, I posit that He would specifically ban it if He wanted it banned, in much the same way that He banned bestiality for both men and women.

Two things before I wrap this segment up.

The first is that an argument has been presented that Leviticus 18:22 is specifically banning the practice of men engaging in sexual acts with male shrine prostitutes—which would be a form of idol worship. There is some argument for this, as there are other prohibitions in the Mosaic Law that seem random until you learn that they were prohibiting pagan worship rituals.

The second is that Christians aren’t even bound by the Mosaic Law anyway, which is what Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are a part of.

The subject of whether or not Christians had to obey the Mosaic Law was a matter of intense debate during the early church period, which came to a head in Acts 15. This resulted in a council meeting of church leaders, who concluded that Christians were in fact not required to obey the Mosaic law. There’s a lot more information there, so you can check it out for yourself. The important thing to remember is that the Mosaic Law was given to govern Israel, not Christians.

OK, that’s the stuff from the Old Testament. Let’s look into the things from the New Testament.

The first of these is a recurrent phrase throughout the New Testament that modern translations use: Sexual Immorality.

I hate this phrase because it is nondescript. It’s highly subjective, an empty bucket into which anyone can toss anything they please.

In the old days, it would’ve been translated as “fornication.” It comes from the Greek word πορνεία. I believe the phrase “sexual promiscuity” is a more accurate translation of this word. Of course, people are always going to argue for a more expansive interpretation, it seems, but nevermind that.

The word itself comes from “harlotry.” It seems clear to me that it describes physical sexual acts, given that it is often paired with lust in lists, such as in Colossians 3:5.

Colossians 3:5—Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Homosexuality is not described by sexual immorality because it is not an action, nor is sexual attraction of any kind synonymous with lust. (I would argue that lust is a twisting and perversion of sexual desire, but those are arguments best saved for a later time.)

And that brings us to Romans 1:24-27. Let’s start by reading this thing, then we can dissect some of the original Greek stuff, as that’s most likely going to be necessary.

Romans 1:24-27—Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
There’s a lot to dissect here. The first thing that is worth pointing out is that verse 26 is the only passage in the Bible that I feel can be construed to be about women engaging in sexual acts with other women. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s start with the first half of this.

First of all, this passage is part of an argument Paul is laying out about how everyone is sinful. He starts by pointing out all of the sinful ways of the Gentiles—that is, those who aren’t Jews—then he follows it up by pointing out how sinful the Jews were.

Anyway, the first part of this comes from a section where Paul talks about the Gentiles abandoning God and worshiping idols. Things like the sun, moon, and stars, or the Greco-Roman pantheon. In this part, Paul states that God didn’t stop the Gentiles from pursuing their sinful desires.

This passage may be broadly referring to sexual promiscuity in general, or it may have been specifically referring to sexual practices that were engaged in as part of the worship of pagan deities. We definitely know that the latter of these happened—and for a very long time!

It continues, saying that, “Because of this”—that is, the abandoning of God—“God gave them over to shameful lusts.” I want to emphasize the use of the word “lusts” here, rather than something like “attractions.” The Greek word is πάθος, which means passions. Again, I’d argue that attraction and lust are not the same thing!

Then we come to this sentence: “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.”

This is how the NIV translators chose to translate these words. The specific words “sexual relations” come from a Greek word that refers to the use of the body in a sexual capacity. That is, this sentence is communicating the idea that these women exchanged the natural way of using their body for sex for an unnatural one.

This could be referring to women engaging in sexual activity with one another.

But I’d argue it is even more compelling for Paul to be pointing out that the pagan women exchanged vaginal sex for anal sex. That is also exchanging the natural way of using the body for sex for an unnatural one.

And I would argue that there is a reason to conclude that this is the correct interpretation for this sentence from the culture around us. If God does indeed continue to do this “giving over,” then why would the results be different?

I would not be surprised if most Christians aren’t aware of this, but secular society sees anal sex as highly desirable. This fact is revealed in many ways. As an excellent example of this, consider the Kingsman movies.

I would argue that these movies are pretty mainstream. And I would also argue that they present anal sex between a man and a woman as more desirable than vaginal sex. The second movie in particular presents this idea, as the main protagonist’s girlfriend makes it clear that he gets to have anal sex with her as a reward for saving the world, a proposition that seems to especially excite him.

And I’d argue that these movies are simply reflecting secular opinion—likely the same opinion that Paul was highlighting in Romans 1:26.

The passage continues, saying, “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Frankly, it is ambiguous whether the men abandoning natural relations with women is referring to them abandoning vaginal sex with women for anal sex with women, or abandoning sex with women altogether. Regardless, what is clear is the intensity of the lust that these men experienced. That lust led to “shameful acts” that brought about repercussions.

Again, lust is not attraction! Therefore, this is also not specifically addressing homosexuality, but only lust and actions. (For anyone that wants to argue on this point, keep in mind that I’m using “homosexuality” to mean “has attraction for individuals presenting as a member of the same sex,” as I believe that this is the common usage of the word at this point.)

Further, if these “shameful acts” are indeed anal sex, then doing that without precautions (and possibly even with them) would indeed put one at great risk for contracting fecal-borne diseases.

It is also helpful to remember that the Greek culture that Paul was likely familiar with saw adult men having young male lovers as normal. Further, we know of at least one fertility goddess who had castrated male priests with whom male worshipers would have anal sex. From my research, these acts were often performed during religious orgies that also typically involved heavy drug use. It is extremely likely that heterosexual men engaged in anal sex with these priests!

That brings us to 1 Corinthians 6:9. This verse often gets translated poorly in my opinion. I’ll go into why after I read the way the NIV is currently choosing to translate it.

1 Corinthians 6:9—Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men...
First of all, this begins a list that is concluded in verse 10, the contents of which is irrelevant to this discussion, save for the concluding statement—that those in the list will not inherit the kingdom of God. For what it is worth, verse 11 points out that some of the Christians to whom Paul was writing this letter were those to whom the labels in verses 9 and 10 applied.

Anyway, there are a few things to note in this verse in a more general sense.

First, I want to point out that “sexual immorality” is listed separately from both adultery and same-sex sexual activity in this list. This more reflects on a previous topic, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

But let’s look more at the bit about men engaging in same-sex sex.

This NIV translation actually handles this better than some. The fragment, “men who have sex with men” is actually an abstraction of two Greek words, μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται, which in the Greek list are presented separately.

The first of those, μαλακοὶ, is a conjugation of a word that means “soft” or “malleable.” From what I understand, it was used as a euphemism for the receiving partner in male-male sex acts and also to refer to men who prostituted themselves to other men. The first of these is clearly about anal sex (that’s the most logical thing for the receiving partner to be), while the second is, well, prostitution.

The second word, ἀρσενοκοῖται, can be more literally translated as “one who beds a male.” The first thing I want to point out about this is that it is a word that describes a group of people by what they do. In this way, it is like the word “dancer,” which is a term that refers to people who dance. My point is that it isn’t a word to describe people by what they are, so translating it as “homosexual” (as some translations have done) is incorrect when defining “homosexual” as someone who experiences same-sex attraction.

The word ἀρσενοκοῖται itself is a compound word that is, as I understand it, unique to Paul’s writing. There is some thought that the origin of this word is as a reference to the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 20:13, which is the version of “a man shall not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman” sentiment that includes a punishment.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was created prior to the events of the New Testament and was in widespread use at that time, as Greek was a major scholarly language in those days.

If ἀρσενοκοῖται is indeed an allusion to the Leviticus verse, it may also be referring more specifically to the practice of men engaging in same-sex sexual activity as part of a religious ritual. Or it may simply refer to anal sex, with the use of ἀρσενοκοῖται and μαλακοὶ covering relational differences between social roles.

So, these are the parts of the Bible that talk about same-sex sexual relationships. A variant of ἀρσενοκοῖται shows up in 1 Timothy 1:10, but that pretty much wraps it up.

To recap all of this:

  • The Bible does not condemn homosexuality according to the common definition of “homosexual” as “one who experiences same-sex attraction.”
  • The Bible does condemn lust, sexual promiscuity, and adultery. It also speaks strongly against divorce. However, all of these things apply to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
    • As a corollary, homosexual individuals that have married a member of the other sex should not get a divorce to pursue same-sex sexual partners. Of course, this is taking a religiously based moral stand against divorce in general, so I see no reason to legally enforce it in a secular society, though I do encourage it.
  • The only language the Bible contains that can be seen to explicitly refer to women engaging in same-sex sexual activity can equally apply to women exchanging vaginal sex with men for anal sex with men.
    • I find it hard to assume that an all-knowing God wouldn’t explicitly mention women sexually engaging with each other if He wanted that prohibited, especially given that He does specifically call out bestiality for both men and women.
  • Overall, I think there is a valid case to be made that the Bible specifically condemns anal sex, not all same-sex sexual activity. This would be regardless of the individuals involved, which seems to me to be a more consistent position overall.
    • I feel the descriptions of prohibition (a man shall not lie with another man as a man lies with a women) can be understood as referring to a penetrative sexual act, which anal sex is.

I have heard conflicting testimony from homosexual Christians. There are some who do believe that engaging in same-sex sexual activity is wrong. Sometimes the response is to choose celibacy. Other times, God does provide a member of the other sex that they do experience attraction towards. However, I’ve also seen those who argue that the Bible does not condemn same-sex sexual activity, with the claim that the Levitical passages are specifically in place because of pagan religious practices.

My personal conclusion, as I stated at the beginning, is that homosexuality itself is not wrong, but that same-sex sexual activity can be wrong if one believes that it is wrong. This is a matter where I believe that the homosexual individual must wrestle with it themselves. What the Bible does seem to me to clearly condemn is lust, sexual promiscuity, adultery, divorce, and anal sex.

In the end, what the Bible says about anything should have little direct bearing on secular society anyway. Godly values should affect how Christians live, yes, and the Bible does contain direction on how churches should be run. But Christianity is not meant to rule secular society. Rather, we should be examples of what it means to live lives directed by the Holy Spirit and filled with the love of Christ.

Frankly, I feel that the way Christians have treated homosexuals is shameful and has been driven by cultural traditions. Rather than forming values from what the Bible actually says, too many Christians fall prey to trying to support their cultural, worldly values by twisting Bible verses, often by taking things out of context or separating them from the whole counsel of the Bible.

Christians are meant to be exemplars of grace, mercy, love, and holiness. We are not meant to be judges. We are to spread Christianity by example, not force, legal or otherwise. I do not see how the way Christians have treated homosexuals advances the cause of Christ, which is to seek and save the lost. And that is my primary concern.

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