Trigger warning for rape and violence. The Bible is heavy stuff, kids.
An article by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin started my questioning the Biblical interpretation of homosexual sin. They didn’t intend it, I’m quite sure, but the first place I saw Ezekiel 16:49 was in their series on Childish Homeschooler Syndrome.
The sisters wrote, “When many of us ‘good kids’ think of the sins of Sodom, we think of flagrant debauchery and perversion (no danger of going there, we reassure ourselves). But this is what God actually condemned them for: ‘Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.’ – Ezekiel 16:49” (emphasis in original)
I would come back to this post years after reading it as a teenager. In the meantime, I was looking for answers from Christians about homosexuality.
My first impression was that gay Christians who had gay relationships took the Bible very lightly. One YouTube video, made by a Mormon lesbian, explained that heaven might not be as great for her because she was sinning, but she didn’t want to live an unhappy life. The same explanation was in my university’s production of “Next Fall,” which depicted a gay couple’s relationship. One of the men in the relationship was a Christian, but a very loose one who said it was sin, but it didn’t matter that he was sinning.
That line of reasoning didn’t work for me. I needed proof that a homosexual relationship was or wasn’t sinful, not some excuse for sinning. If Christians should live like their desires are more important than the commands of the Bible, every wrong action is allowed. Besides, some verses in the New Testament went so far as to say certain sins would keep people out of the Kingdom of Heaven, which sounded pretty serious.
I was already convinced that I should accept gay people at the political level and as a friend. What felt disproportionately wrong was how my intuitive convictions and my regular reliance on the Holy Spirit weren’t lining up with what I heard about the Bible.
Maybe, just as the church so often overlooked love as the greatest commandment, it had gotten this issue wrong, too.
So I looked further. I contacted an old friend who had come out as gay since we’d last talked, and got his insights. I watched this sermon, and I read this book. The number of reasons to believe the Bible opposed a committed, loving same-sex marriage began to diminish.
Below is a breakdown of my personal findings. I gathered them from research and discussions, but they are not a representation of all Christians who support committed gay relationships. They are also not the only possible arguments; just the ones I found to be the most clear and convincing.
In the biblical story of the two cities God destroyed for their sinfulness, Gomorrah isn’t mentioned in relation to homosexuality at all. The term “sodomy” comes from the city of Sodom, however, because the story has long been interpreted to mean the city was evil for its acceptance of the atrocious sin of homosexual relationships (among other sins). There are a few problems with this, though. In the story (Genesis 19:1-11), two angels visit Lot, and all the men of the city gather at his door, wanting to rape the angels.
It seems unlikely that the entirety of a city would be gay, if same-sex attraction was the definition of the time for “being gay.” It was also clear that these men weren’t looking for a committed, consensual relationship with the angels, but just wanted to harm them. The distinctions are so polar, it makes no sense to think Sodom’s sin was homosexual relationships. Another similar thing happened in the book of Judges (19:16-24). A group of men threatened a foreigner with gang rape, but were satisfied to be given a woman instead, meaning they weren’t merely attracted to the same sex. Further, there was that verse in Ezekiel (the one I opened this post with) specifically saying Sodom’s sin was a lack of hospitality. Perhaps the problem was that people shouldn’t gang rape foreign visitors, not that they shouldn’t have loving and committed relationships. I moved on.
There were, surprisingly, not many other mentions in the Bible of homosexuality. I thought the topic would be rampantly scattered throughout every chapter, considering how seriously Christians take it. Jesus never speaks against homosexuality in the gospels. Several passages are contextually referring to homosexual practices as a form of pagan idol worship, rather than committed love. These include Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, 1 Kings 14:24 and 15:12, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Each of these mentions refer to idol worship, cult activity, and prostitution rather than a committed, loving, and exclusive marriage. It’s just as odd to compare the activity in these verses to heterosexual marriage as it is to compare them to the modern definition of a dedicated same-sex marriage, for they are so different.
Abandoning God as a Prerequisite
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul rants about the danger of false images of God. He describes what happens to people who have redefined God, and who worshiped things instead of God. Among the results of such behavior are God’s abandonment, and letting such people pursue their evil desires.
For those who have never known a Christian who is gay (or known that a Christian they knew was gay), this seems like the most logical argument against homosexual relationships within the Christian world. Gay people must have turned away from God, and they must have a wrong idea of who God is, and that’s why they have their attractions. If they hadn’t abandoned God, they wouldn’t have the attractions they do.
This misunderstanding may be one major reason Christians believe that being gay is a choice, and that a gay person can become straight through therapy. It’s the same explanation that leaves so many disappointed with an emphasis on a charismatic experience or healing through spirituality. Have more faith, and you or your loved one will be healed, some reassure, when Jesus specifically refused to perform miracles for the purpose of making people believe in him (Matthew 16:1-4). Many discouraged people lose faith because they can’t seem to have enough of it for the vending-machine god of miracles for signs instead of for love and compassion. In the anti-gay church, we’re doing the same to teenagers and young adults struggling with same-sex attractions: have more faith, and your problem will go away.
No wonder so many gay Christians think God doesn’t love them.
If these verses mean what they’ve been interpreted to mean, praying away same-sex attractions would work. It would work because under Christ’s new covenant, pursuit of God is personal. Salvation is not by generational blessing, and curses are not due to a sinful culture. If a sinful culture could make Christians be a certain way, Christianity could never have grown from a minority in a sinful culture, because God would have to cut them off as Romans 1 says. That message is the very opposite of the gospel, which claims redemption for anyone who chooses to take it.
The evidence shows that committed Christians have been unable to become straight. Last summer, Exodus International, which was known as the largest Christian organization providing therapy for gay people to become straight, shut down with apologies for hurting those they’d set out to help. There are countless stories of people who earnestly seek out God who are still attracted to people from their same gender.
Have gay people redefined God? There are two gigantic reasons not to believe this. First, if every person who redefines God at some point is gay, there should be a lot more gay people in the Christian church. Second, this group of verses in Romans 1 deserves a very serious reconsideration when the Gay Christian community is more closely observed. The modern church has many people who define God by personal ideologies and doctrines and teachings, divided by denominations. Articles like this one describe a different picture of gay Christians: they have found love in the face of adversity from the church, and not just an affectionate and romantic love. They’ve spread the love of God, and there is real revival toward Christ’s core message of love.
I must therefore venture to suggest this logical setup and ask a sobering question: Romans 1 says that God lets people turn to their selfish desires after redefining Him. Gay Christians – both those who choose to remain celibate and those who pursue same-sex marriages alike – are turning to a deeper understanding of God, the Bible, and putting into action the command to “love one another,” and are bridging gaps between divisions in belief. The anti-gay church, by contrast, is casting out their brothers and sisters who identify as gay, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Which of these two groups has redefined God? Which of these two groups is turning to selfishness?
When God created Adam, he said that it was not good for man to be alone. Similarly, Paul says that it is better for a man to marry than to burn with passion. This doesn’t apply to all people, as Paul and Jesus were single and Paul admonished singleness. However, if there are gay people, and they long for a lifelong committed partner for companionship, is it then good for them to be alone?
Some may suggest that gay people should turn to God for fulfillment and choose to be celibate. As Justin Lee put it in his book Torn: God didn’t look at Adam’s loneliness and say, “I am sufficient for you.” He made him a suitable companion. As I said in my first post, this doesn’t mean I don’t support gay Christians who choose to be celibate. It does mean there’s a reasonable question about the need for human, committed, intimate relationships.
Procreation as a standard for marriage
During the days of the Bible, marriage was different than it is today. This does not mean God has changed, or that God’s plan has changed, or God’s law has changed. Marriage is never defined in the Bible, it is simply assumed by the culture of the time, and changes with the stories therein. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, is notably the first wife of a man who took a second wife so he could have children. Elderly couples don’t get married in the Bible. In fact, the problem of elderly people being unable to procreate gets Abraham and Sarah into a lot of trouble. There is no condemnation of polygamy in the Bible.
What I am about to say, then, is not in contradiction with a command in the Bible. It is an observation about culture: procreation is no longer the reason for marriage. We no longer need polygamy, for people can adopt children or go without having children, at least as long as others are still reproducing so the species can survive. I think the modern approach to marriage – that is, people marrying for attraction and compatibility and being committed to one person instead of more than one – is more consistent with Christ’s message than the traditions of older cultures. Jesus chose marriage to one bride as a metaphor for his return. Jesus preached against trying to serve more than one master, also a lesson Solomon taught in Proverbs about polygamy. Jesus’ salvation is a gift accepted by individual choice, and modern marriage is by mutual choice rather than being arranged or one-sided.
These were the main arguments I found most convincing as a Biblical defense for same-sex marriage. Once I was able to support same-sex marriage, and more importantly, people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, at the political, relational, and spiritual level, I couldn’t keep silent about it. I prepared with careful prayer, earnest study, focused discussion, and engaging with people who disagreed with me.
Keeping this information to myself and my inner circle wasn’t enough.
Update 2015: Many people are confused about why I’d make a Bible-based case for same-sex marriage when I don’t believe in the Bible as authoritative. I tell that story in this post. Also, a friend who wasn’t convinced by my Biblical breakdown found this book by Dr. Rev. Mel White more compelling.
I will end this series with a video addressing questions and comments, so please leave your thoughts here on my blog, or on Twitter (@cynthiajeub) or Facebook (Insights on Epic Living).