This past October, Pope Francis publicly declared his support for same-sex civil unions, claiming that LGBT people are “children of God and have a right to a family.” But despite the church’s growing support for LGBT equality, many non-affirming Christians remain adamant that all same-sex relationships are sinful and that people who live the “homosexual lifestyle” should be excluded from the church. And for LGBT Christians across the globe, this dichotomy engenders a difficult internal struggle that can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations; indeed, many studies have shown that LGBT youth are more susceptible to mental health issues than their heterosexual counterparts, and too often LGBT youth are disowned by their parents simply for identifying as gay or transgender.
The purpose of this article is to reinforce the importance of considering historical context, translational ambiguity, and authorial intent when interpreting biblical passages to suggest that loving relationships between two consenting adults of the same sex — homosexuality as we understand it today — cannot be deemed as sinful. Before going any further, I want to clarify that I am not arguing that the Bible explicitly condones marriage equality, nor am I suggesting that Christians should make exceptions for certain sins (e.g., fornication) that have evolved into cultural norms. Instead, the point I wish to make is that none of the biblical passages that reference homosexuality describe loving relationships between two freely consenting adults — and, therefore, that the Bible should not be used to condemn the LGBT community.
With that, here are 10 questions I have for the anti-LGBT Christian:
1) Do you understand that using Genesis 19:1–11 (Sodom and Gomorrah) to condemn homosexuality is the same as using Judges 19:25–28 to condemn heterosexuality — and that using Genesis 19 to condemn the LGBT community is both unsubstantiated and illogical?
2) Are you aware of the fact that many anti-LGBT pastors admit that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are referring to homosexuality in the context of cultic prostitution attributed to the Canaanites by the Israelites — rendering these Levitical prohibitions irrelevant to this debate?
3) Do you understand that even if Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 were somehow proven to be pertinent to this discussion, these laws were implemented to prevent sexual actions that either wasted semen or did not produce healthy children, according to the beliefs of the Israelites — and that this argument necessarily implies we should also condemn (i) heterosexual sex during a woman’s menstrual period (Lev. 18:19, a prohibition that few Christians take issue with today); (ii) non-procreative heterosexual sex; and (iii) solo masturbation?
4) Do you therefore understand that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are not condemning homosexuality as a perverse alternative to heterosexuality; they are about maximizing the reproductive capabilities of the Israelites to protect against their chronic population shortage?
5) Do you recognize that the argument that 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and 1 Timothy 1:9- 10 condemn male homosexuality hinges on the ambiguous etymology of two Greek words — arsenokoitai and malakoi — which many biblical scholars believe translate to “pederasts” and “male prostitutes,” respectively?
6) Do you understand that there were numerous other words Paul could have chosen to use in 1 Cor. 6:9–10 and 1 Tim. 1:9–10 had he intended to condemn loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationships? That the Greek words “arseno” (man) and “koiten” (intercourse) occurring as separate terms in Lev. 18:22 (as per the Septuagint) means that arsenokoitai is referring to the active male partner in sexual relationships, which (in the ancient world) implied either pederasty, sexually rapacious individuals, sex between slave boys and their masters, or male prostitution?
7) Do you recognize that the ancient world’s understanding of homosexuality and heterosexuality was based on patriarchal “passiveness” and “activeness” in sexual acts — irrespective of a person’s sexual orientation — and therefore that the aforementioned Second Testament vice lists are condemning the use of violent sex to degrade vulnerable demographics, not homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality?
8) Do you acknowledge the likely possibility that in Romans 1:26–27, Paul is really condemning two groups within the Cult of Isis: sexually rapacious male priests who could not adhere to chastity and mystery cult priestesses who engaged in non-coital heterosexual activity, a powerful argument set forth by renowned theologist Dr. Robert K. Gnuse and supported by (1) the fact that Genesis 1 alludes to the “birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” that served as theriomorphic images of Egyptian gods in the cult of Isis; (2) Rom. 1:22–23 and the words “for this reason” in verse 26, which clearly connects the homosexual behavior to the idolaters Paul is referencing; and (3) the testimony of 3rd century CE church father Hippolytus, who “links the references in Romans 1:26–27 with castrated priests” in goddess cults (Townsley: 723; Gnuse, 2015: “Seven Gay Texts: Biblical Passages Used to Condemn Homosexuality)? Do you also notice that Paul does not mention that women directly loved other women, and instead refers to “unnatural intercourse,” which in the context of Roman culture could refer to either (i) heterosexual sex during which a woman assumes the dominant position; (ii) non-procreative heterosexual sex; or (iii) solo masturbation?
9) If you condone “religious freedom laws” that legalize discrimination against LGBT Americans, would you also condone “religious freedom laws” that would legalize discrimination against masturbators, fornicators, divorcees, liars, cursers, gossipers, people who get angry, people who feel jealous at times, and coveters?
10) Do you not accept the possibility that homosexuality as a violation of these ancient cultural tenets is addressed in the Bible, whereas homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality is not — and if not, do you genuinely believe that God would intentionally predispose 5.5% of the population to feel attraction to members of the same sex solely to have them suppress those feelings of love, commitment, and mutual faith in exchange for a lifetime of celibacy, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and (in too many cases) suicidal ideations? And if you genuinely believe that the only way for a gay person (who was epigenetically, hormonally, and environmentally predisposed — through no fault of his own — to be attracted to men) to achieve salvation is to cease all sexual behavior, then my question for you is this: do you believe that the only way a masturbator can go to heaven is to cease all masturbation? Tell that to the other 94.5% of the population.
The point to be made is that no passage in the Bible condemns a loving, committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same sex — and, therefore, that the Bible should not be used to target the LGBT community. And I fervently assert that God would agree.
About the Author:
Jason McFadden is a junior statistics major at Dartmouth College. He is also a gay Christian who has struggled for years to reconcile his religious and sexual identities. But after conducting a thorough analysis of both sides of this debate, Jason now passionately believes that there is no passage in the Bible that condemns a loving, committed relationship between two people of the same sex. Jason hopes to someday become a physician and plans to apply to medical school following his graduation from Dartmouth. In his free time, Jason enjoys swimming, running, hiking, trying new foods, and (of course) spending time with friends and family.