Sunday, March 28, 2010

Homosexuality and Christianity (And why it's ok)

In today’s world there seems to be a massive conflict between the concept of homosexuality and the popular interpretations of Biblical scripture. There are few things more important, more personal, and more integral to an individual than their faith and sexuality. This has led, in modern times, to much hurt, hatred, and misunderstanding, and regrettably it has also led to many leaving Christianity and/or committing suicide. How can a person live in peace with themselves when they are one way, yet they think that the way they are goes against the very God that made them? 

Much of what we see today in our culture, churches, and personal ideals comes from a period of time beginning shortly before the writing of the King James version (KJV) of the Bible. To better understand this complicated topic we must look into the history of Christianity and how things change over time.

Christianity as a solidified religion didn't really come about until circa 325 AD when Emperor Constantine the Great prompted the First Council of Nicea. And the Bible itself (the 66 books of the Old Testament/New Testament) didn't really come about until 400 years after the Resurrection. The Bible wasn't written in English - in fact the original books were written in three different languages for the vast majority of the text. The majority of the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. Both languages have many differences to English including words with no translations and many with multiple meanings. This makes it imperative to use the original words and their context (at the time of writing) to really understand what the Bible says as it applies to us today.

Historically homosexuality wasn't a concept the ancients really understood, at least not as an orientation. For most of known human history we see examples of same-sex relationships and in many cultures, such as Greece and Rome (from which we get our society today) same-sex relationships had various levels of acceptance all the way up to being an important and expected part of life. There weren't "gay/straight" people, there were just people. In many cases, including Native American cultures, those who had an attraction to members of the same sex were placed in a higher class, usually as spiritual leaders. Being "gay" was not a bad thing, it wasn't unmanly, and most leaders had at least one homosexual relationship. Instead of being in a separate box they were just regular individuals like everyone else.

In many ancient cultures, and some modern ones, it was commonplace to have male lovers, and in order to become a "man" there needed to be some type of homosexual relationship or activity. Homosexuality was a more-or-less normal thing, it was often important in the raising of boys and an integral part of their cultures and religions. The relationships developed lasted for many years, and added a great deal to the emotional maturity of those involved. It was something to be honored. For example, the story of the Sacred Band of Thebes is one that the ancients held in high regard. The Sacred Band of Thebes was a military group of 150 age-structured male couples who fought and died -each and every one together- with great gallantry in the battle of Leuctra (371 BC). I can give pages of positive homosexual accounts throughout the world ranging from 1500 BC all the way up to modern times; however, the purpose of this is to discuss sexuality and Christianity. So with that proven history and context I will move on to what the Bible itself says.

There are many examples of flawed interpretations between the original texts and English/Latin translations. Some were simple mistakes; others were done for the sole sake of personal opinion and politics. Most of the Bible has been translated correctly but in some areas, including alleged texts on homosexuality, it has been greatly perverted by accident and conscious attempts to oppress. The KJV has been used for centuries to oppress, deny and murder many groups - women, divorcĂ©es, blacks, mentally handicapped, homosexuals, physically disabled, intellectuals and dozens of other minorities. This isn't "for the Bible tells me so", but all because of incorrect translations and people’s interpretations based on their own pre-existing prejudices. The error is with man.

So how do we overcome this? By looking at the actual words and contexts, and then letting the Bible speak for itself, free from our own desires, ideas or "it just does" thoughts.
The extremists and most regular Christians often point to the following scriptures as proof of God’s dislike for homosexuality and evidence that being gay is wrong:

1.Genesis 19: Sodom and Gomorrah
2.Leviticus 20:13: man lie with mankind as with woman
3.Romans 1:26-27: men, leaving the natural use of the woman
4.1 Corinthians 6:9: nor effeminate

When reading the Bible many tend to pull out single verses and use them as weapons, all the while ignoring the rest of the passage, chapter, its context and the fact that many words in the KJV do not have the same meaning as they do today. This is a very dangerous practice and the Bible itself warns against it (2 Timothy 2:15).

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is perhaps the most used passage aimed at condemning homosexuals. That fact is somewhat odd in that Genesis is part of the Jewish scripture, written by Jews and most Jews don't see it as having anything to do with homosexuals but with those who are rude, cruel, show no manners and the like.
Before I get into things I want to give you an interesting fact. The names "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" were not the actual names of the cities. "Sodom" comes from Hebrew S'dom which means "burnt" and "Gomorrah" comes from amroah which means "a ruined heap". It's obvious the names were given after the destruction of those cities and so the term 'sodomite' is vastly misinterpreted and would seem to actually mean "those of the burnt".

Genesis 19:3-5
3. And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
4. But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
5. And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

Obviously the controversy centers on the fifth verse. I find it hard to see how people can use this story as a means of condemning a group of people on moral grounds when in verse 8 Lot offers his own daughters, against their will, and without marriage, to be raped by the townsmen. But aside from that blaring issue it is safe to assume that not every single man in the city was gay, to believe that is absurd. The fact that Lot had lived in Sodom for years and offered his daughters up to the men shows that he knew they were heterosexuals. What happened was these men, these heterosexual men, came to these "strangers" and in an attempt to assert their power over them they wanted to rape them. Now, this isn't a foreign concept. In ancient times it was common to rape men and women to show dominance, to humiliate and to destroy whatever desires of action (good or bad) the victims might have had. You see, the men of Sodom saw the angels as strangers and did not know if they were there to do harm, after all Lot did hide them away. These men of Sodom (and the victor armies who would rape the conquered) were not homosexual in the least, they were committing acts of violence and rape, and that is the crime, that is the sin. To be a heterosexual male and then to be raped by another male goes well beyond just a case of rape as it would force them into an act that goes against their very own individual nature and would be a source of ultimate humiliation.

Being homosexual and having same-sex sex are NOT the same thing. Over 90% of men will, at least once, find themselves sexually attracted to another man to some degree, especially during adolescents. It doesn't make them gay. A man can have sex with women, men, pretty much anything that feels good but it doesn't make them a non-heterosexual. This passage mentions nothing about being homosexual; it only talks about same-sex rape and the lack of hospitality. While the physical sin was rape, the greater lesson was that of hospitality. In that time being a proper host was paramount. To violate hospitality laws could result in death. You were to treat guests, strangers, all people coming to your town or home with great honor and respect. You would offer them all you had including protection. When the men of Sodom threatened to rape the angels they broke all codes of hospitality and showed themselves to be exceedingly corrupt, and in the eyes of the Hebrews and by their laws they were vile and worthy of destruction.

Furthermore, in the Book of Jasher in the Hebrew Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a) it recounts two incidents of a young girl (one involved Lot's daughter Paltith) who gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city. When the townspeople discovered their acts of kindness, they burned Paltith and smeared the other girl's body with honey and hung her from the city walls until she was eaten by bees. The Talmud concludes "the Lord said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous, that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry [her screams] that has reached me." Gen. 18:20-21

The 'moral' of the story is that rape is wrong and that dishonor is worthy of death, according to ancient laws. Love and/or sex among consensual people couldn't be a sin. The larger issue of rabbinic law falls upon the lack of hospitality.

Leviticus 20:13
"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."

Most agree that this verse is talking about same-sex sex but again it's not talking about those whose nature it is to be homosexual. Christianity is not about the Old Testament (OT) which Leviticus is in; in fact the OT has nothing to do with the actual Christian faith. The New Testament (NT), the story of Christ (thus Christian) is Christianity, not the Jewish books of the OT. But, for argument’s sake, let us say that the OT is as important as the NT. Many hold that you must believe the entire Bible or none of it - well this produces a problem. The problem arises because many OT verses tell us that much of modern daily life is an abomination. It is a sin to eat pork and certain birds; slavery is acceptable; giving your daughters away is common; and beating disobedient women and children is encouraged. Surely we no longer agree to those things. So how is it that we follow one part (anti-gay, although it isn't talking about actual homosexuals) but not another?

Some would say, because Jesus came to fulfill the law. This is true. But if, through Christ, we no longer have to stone our children to death, why then must we discriminate against gays? The only logical answer is because it fits in with personal opinion only. To be Christian is to worship Christ and Jesus himself never said a single word about born homosexuals. We are not the judge of mankind, we do not know the mind of God, we haven't the right to say one scripture is law and another is not, for to do that is a sin. The OT isn't part of the faith of Christianity, it is its history and it contains many good ways to live your life, to treat others and so on, but it is not equally the law of God unless we are to follow all of it, which we cannot.

Ethics, laws, ideas all change. What doesn't change is the direct word of God (aka Jesus Christ). God may have spoken to Moses (the accepted author of the first five books of the OT) but that doesn't mean Moses was free from error nor does it mean everything within was spoken from God, after-all those books weren't even put on paper until 600 BC, far removed from the time of Moses. It also doesn't mean that what men claim is scripture (as is how the Bible as it is today came to be though a series of councils) is the word of God.

Romans 1:26-27
26. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

Here is a classic example of a word having two different meanings because of changes in society/linguistics and because of misinterpretation. Using the modern meaning of the word "natural" you would think that it's obvious, a man leaving the assumed normal use of a woman and having sex with another man. But it doesn't take into account the question of orientation, something the ancients had no concept of. Having an orientation didn't matter because you simply were who you were; unlike today where we're all forced to live in boxes. We are identified by what makes us different as opposed to the correct way of being identified as humans with the same rights as everyone else, regardless of other characteristics.

A key to understanding this and other NT passages is to remember that Paul, the author of Romans and 12 other books, was (while writing them) in his role as a promoter of this new "religion". During his life Christianity, at the time little more than a sect of Judaism, was illegal and heavily oppressed by the Roman Empire. This led Paul to find ways to separate this new Christian culture from the culture at large and to find ways he could attack Rome at its heart. Same-sex activities was an integral part of many popular Roman cults and so Paul, in an attempt to condemn the pagan cults, decided to deem a part of those cults 'immoral'. The acceptance of homosexual behavior (be it by heterosexuals or others) was not as widespread in Jewish culture as it was in Greco-Roman society, so it was simply another way to differentiate the "Christians" from the "Gentiles". Paul also said women weren't allowed to speak in church but few today support this notion.
This passage was originally written in Greek and the word "nature/natural" comes from the Greek word phusikos which means "instinct" or "governed by ones nature". Thus it is immoral to do that which is against your individual nature. A heterosexual man having sex with another man is a sin because it goes against their nature i.e. their instinct. However, a homosexual male having sex with another homosexual male is not a sin for it is within their nature. Again we see that the sin isn't that of homosexuality but of going against the way you were made. The people it speaks of have left what is natural for them to pursue that which is abnormal according to how they were made. Being a homosexual however is something that is inborn, it is your nature and so there isn't anything wrong with it.

1 Corinthians 6:9
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind...

Once again we have a problem with translating the original Greek into English and from Old English to modern. The term "effeminate" even today does not mean homosexual but one who acts like a woman, "girly", isn't manly etc. The trouble with using that is quite simply that what is and isn't - "manly" changes with every generation. In 2010 it may be considered unmanly to enjoy opera, say "I love you" or kiss another man (regardless of context), wear certain colors and so on, whereas in 1900 is was fairly common for youths to hold hands, grown men express their platonic love for one another and in order to be a true gentleman you would have to enjoy the finer things of life (opera, jewelry, etc). The Greek word used in this passage that has been translated to effeminate was malakia. Malakia means spineless, weakness, and was associated with femininity in men. Thus the passage not only has nothing to do with same-sex sex but also nothing to do with homosexuals. The sin the word refers to is that of being weak, acting like a woman (or man if you are a woman) and a lack of bravery, not standing up for what you believe in. During the time that passage was written homosexual relationships were not considered effeminate and were sometimes considered an integral part of becoming a strong male, especially in Greece.

The phrase "abusers of themselves with mankind", most scholars agree, refers to prostitutes.

It is a sad thing that in our time homosexuality has been so closely linked to weakness, feminine behavior, perversion and so on, but that is the fault of society. The Bible does not make such a connection. In the past being gay was acceptable and looked upon as a decent, normal thing. Today that isn't the case. We have to ask ourselves which society is the correct one - the one that has condemned an innocent group of people for hundreds of years or the one that defended all its citizens, regardless of their personal lives, for thousands of years? There can be no mistake, the anti-gay feeling in modern times, the false teachings of some religious extremists that led to such a feeling - that is wrong, abnormal and goes against the will of God and the very nature of humanity.

Some ask, “if one is born gay and another is born predisposed to becoming an alcoholic, does that mean he should be a drunk?” I ask if you're born straight and another born to drinking, does that mean he should be a drunk? The answer is obvious. Alcoholism goes against biology, it wrecks the body, and it goes against morality because it causes physical and mental harm. Homosexuality causes no such harm; it hurts no one and is even mirrored in the animal kingdom in hundreds of different species. If God made all things then why would he make animals, who are documented in their same-sex behavior (and some exclusively gay) and yet contradict himself by making humans to be against homosexuality but allow many to be born that way? It makes no sense.

You might say that being gay is harmful because of the rates of depression and suicide among homosexuals (namely youths), however the problem isn't that they're gay. The problem is that their families, their country, say they are gross, evil, against God. Being told you're disgusting would make anyone depressed, and having your family and church turn away from you would make anyone think of suicide. It saddens me greatly to think that the most important group of people, our most beautiful resource, children, would be subjected to centuries worth of baseless hate and discrimination just because they have questions, just because they may have acknowledged their sexuality as they were made.

The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and there is no real reason why you cannot be both homosexual and a Christian. If you are gay you were made that way and God doesn't make mistakes. The problem isn't with you, but with those who would act foolishly and hatefully and try to hurt you because of their ignorance, closed mindedness and hate. God is about love and accepts all people who accept him, there is no need for false guilt. Mankind has used the Bible as an excuse for harmful activities (like slavery) from the moment it came to being. Let us hope that after reading the facts the use of scripture for wrongful discrimination against gays and others will cease.

In closing I want to stress that the fault is not that of the faith or the actual words of God but lies with the men and women who try to cause evil. You may have experienced a lot of discrimination at the hands of those who profess to be Christian, but not all Christians are that way. The following is a list of groups/denominations which have a positive message or policy toward homosexuals:

-Generally, the Anglican Church of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, hold the view that there are no grounds to condemn homosexuality as sinful based on the Bible.

-The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran church body in the United States, has a current policy which states that persons who are homosexual in their self-understanding are allowed to be ordained, but must maintain a lifestyle abstinent of sexual relations. Outside of ordination the policy states that GLBT individuals are welcome and encouraged to become members and participate in the life of the congregation.

-The Metropolitan Community Church is an international fellowship of Christian congregations. It is considered by many to be a full mainline denomination or communion. Currently there are 300 member congregations in 22 countries and the Fellowship has a specific outreach to GLBT communities. The acceptance of homosexuality is an important part of its theology.

-The Presbyterian Church (United States) is the largest U.S. Presbyterian body. Gays are welcome to become members of the church.

-Quakers, the Friends General Conference, strongly support equal rights for homosexuals.

-The United Church of Christ, In July, 2005, the 25th General Synod encouraged congregations to adopt wedding policies that do not discriminate based on the gender of the couple and to support legislation allowing homosexual marriage.

If you would like to copy this to another blog, website, send it in an email or to your friends please feel free to. I encourage it.

--Jacob Bogle, 03/26/2010
Revised 1/24/2013