(I recently gave a sermon on this topic. You can listen to it here or watch it here.)
Here are some of the most important reasons I welcome those who are gay into the church I pastor- Jesus, Genesis, and Paul.
Jesus does not mention homosexuality in the Gospels.
Some Christians believe that Jesus did, however, when the Pharisees asked him his stance on divorce (divorce, not same sex marriage). They believe this for two reasons:
- Because Matthew 19v9 contains the word porneia, and
- Jesus appeals to Genesis 1v27, which points out the obvious fact that human beings are male and female.
The original Greek of Matthew 19v1-12 includes the word porneia, often translated “sexual immorality,” as grounds for divorce. Mark 10v1-12, the parallel of Matthew 19v1-12, does not include the word porneia. In fact, in Mark 10, Jesus gives no exception to his prohibition of divorce. Matthew adds that exception of porneia, which most or all English translations understand to mean adultery, having sex with someone other than the spouse.
This difference, alone, between Mark 10 and Matthew 19 causes problems for proponents of biblical inerrancy, especially those who believe that God is the source of every single word in the Bible. Either Mark contains an incomplete quote from Jesus, or Matthew adds clauses that Jesus did not give.
Some Christians believe that because porneia probably includes same sex acts in the Bible, and Matthew has Jesus using the word porneia, therefore Jesus speaks against same sex acts. If it is true that Jesus has same sex acts in mind by the use of porneia (only in Matthew, as the word does not occur in Mark as ground for divorce), then Matthew 19 means that Jesus would permit a man to divorce his wife if she engages in lesbian acts.
In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, the religious experts ask Jesus a specific question, hotly debated in their time. Here are the actual questions they asked (Matthew adds a clause at the end):
Mark 10v2, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Matthew 19v3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?'”
Notice all of the specific scenarios we connect with marriage and divorce that are not listed in this question- domestic violence, neglect, emotional abuse, same-sex relationships, and, of course, there is no mention of a woman divorcing her husband!
Jesus does not address any of the above questions that 21st century Americans might have about marriage and divorce. In other words, Jesus does not speak to the many contemporary issues surrounding divorce, including a woman divorcing her husband.
Monogamy had become the cultural norm for marriage by the time of Jesus. In addition, famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai debated the grounds for divorce that could be used by Jewish men. Hillel gave the more permissive interpretation that a man could divorce his wife for trivial reasons. Shammai gave the interpretation that a man could only divorce his wife because of adultery. A woman was not permitted to divorce her husband in Jewish law, although Roman law did permit a woman to divorce her husband (Mark 10v12).
In Mark 10, Jesus’ answer is even more strict than Shammai. In Matthew 19, His answer is in agreement with Shammai. Matthew adds the phrase, “for any and every reason” in the question and “except for porneia” in the answer. Mark contains neither of these clauses.
The question is, (poorly paraphrased), “Jesus, what is the minimum reason I can give to trade in my wife for a younger model?”
Jesus’ answer and appeal to Genesis 1v27 is to committed monogamy. Jesus answers (poorly paraphrased) “You’re looking for a legal loophole that permits you to commit adultery. God intends for marriage to mean more than that.”
Genesis Chapter 1v27
By appealing to Genesis 1, Jesus’ answer is in favor of a committed, monogamous relationship versus a man divorcing his wife for a trivial reason. Neither the question nor the answer addresses homosexuality, domestic violence, neglect, or even the right of a woman to divorce her husband.
Genesis 1v27 is used as the biblical support for the slogan “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” I hesitate to say that marriage in biblical cultures was seen as between one man and one woman, because the bride was most likely a teenage girl.
In cultures of both the Old and New Testament, most marriage was an arranged between a 25-30 year old man and a girl who would now be a freshman in high school. The typical monogamous marriage in biblical cultures was between a man and a teenage girl (this probably true of Mary and Joseph, as well).
To be precise, current politicians who want to use the Bible in its cultural context to speak about same sex marriage could say, “Marriage is arranged by the parents and is between one man and one teenage girl.” That doesn’t make for a very good political slogan… and it would require a very large bumper sticker.
Polygamy was common in the cultures that produced the Old Testament. Abraham enters into a polygamous marriage with his slave(!), Hagar. He then divorces her and leaves her to die with their child. Paul commends Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4v3. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His polygamy is not criticized in 1 Kings 11v2,9-11, but his idolatry is. Polygamy was quite common and uncriticized in the cultures in which the Old Testament was written. Genesis 1 was not used to criticize Abraham or Solomon.
Of course, Genesis 1 is true, that God created human beings as male and female. It’s also true that a small percentage of human beings are born intersex, literally both male and female. That alone creates a question for thoughtful, compassionate people.
Of course, male and female marriage and complementary genitalia makes male-female marriage the statistical norm for the human race. At the same time, we know that there is a percentage of people who do not naturally fit into this mold and are attracted to the same sex. What do we do with those persons whom God has also created?
So far, the standard Evangelical answer to persons who are gay has been, “Either marry someone you’re not attracted to, or live the rest of your life alone, without romantic companionship. If you choose companionship with someone you’re attracted to, then you’re an abomination, a reprobate, and you’re bound for hell… but… God loves you!”
I believe that Paul saw same-sex relationships in a monolithic way that, in Greco-Roman culture, included pagan worship, same-sex prostitution, pederasty (pedophilia), violence and exploitation. We know that the same sex relationships commonly practiced in Greco Roman culture were disgusting to Paul. All of the practices I just listed are rejected by contemporary Americans as well.
If Paul saw same sex relationships in this light, it is understandable why he condemns them the way he does. So would most, if not, all Americans.
For me, the question becomes, “When Paul condemns same sex relationships as sin, does he have in mind two loving, consenting adults, some of whom want to worship Jesus and want to commit to loving monogamy?” I don’t think he does.
The Greek word Paul uses to describe sexual relationships in Romans 1, “natural,” is the same word he uses to insist that short hair for women is unnatural and long hair for men in unnatural in 1 Corinthians 11v1-16. Do we agree with Paul that men wearing their hair long is unnatural and a disgrace and that long hair for women is a covering for her to show male authority over her (1 Corinthians 11v14-15)?
If so, what qualifies as short hair or long hair? Do we need to use a ruler to measure? Furthermore, do you want to live in a society where we measure men’s and women’s hair to determine if its natural or unnatural? Regardless, for people who have been attracted to the same sex for as long as they can remember, their attraction is natural to them.
Ephesians 6v5 instructs slaves to obey their slave masters, and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encourages slaves to be content in their slavery. Paul commands women/wives to wear veils in worship as a sign of male headship in 1 Corinthians 11v1-16.
Someone in the church I pastor actually challenged me by saying, “Have you ever considered that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad then?” I was so dumbstruck that I didn’t know how to respond. When someone asks such a thoughtless, uninformed question in a sad attempt to defend their view of the Bible, where do you begin? How do you explain that there is no such thing as “not so bad slavery?” The person was unwittingly supporting one of the worlds most heinous evils in the Name of Jesus.
I actually had to explain to this twenty-something person in 2013 America that slavery is always wrong, always evil, without exception. By the way, Greco-Roman slavery involved the exploitation of human beings, abuse, rape, generational poverty and everything else that comes with enslaving other humans.
Paul never imagined that slavery would be made illegal. That did not happen for another 1700 years. The best he could do was encourage slaves to be obedient, stay out of trouble and keep their heads up. This is precisely the point. Paul’s statements are firmly rooted in his culture, and they are clearly out of place in the 21st century developed world.
I believe that Paul’s comments on slavery (Ephesians 6v5, 1 Corinthians 7) and women wearing veils in worship as a sign of male headship (1 Corinthians 11), would be much different if he were writing in the 21st century U.S. with a 21st century understanding of slavery and women. His comments are firmly rooted in Greco-Roman culture.
In the same way, I believe that Paul would write about same sex relationships differently if he had a 21st century U.S. view of orientation and two consenting adults who are only attracted to the same sex.
So again, for me, the pressing question is this, “There is a percentage of human beings who are not attracted to the opposite sex. How do we respond to them?”
Do, we quote passages to them that may or may not specifically address their situation and tell them to live alone for the rest of their lives without companionship of someone to whom they are attracted? If they enter a romantic relationship with someone to whom they are attracted, do we condemn them, bar them from church participation and consider them bound for hell because of their choice? For me, the questions are too great to make such heavy pronouncements.
Sexuality and The Great Commission
According to the polls I have seen, as American Christians have morphed in their interpretations of Bible passages on slavery, women’s rights, and science, Evangelicals are slowly but methodically morphing in their interpretations on passages regarding same sex relationships. For the past 30 years, Evangelicals have been told, mostly by politicians and televangelists, that same sex relationships must be opposed at all costs. Many Evangelicals I know personally are realizing that they religion has been used against them by politicians to get their vote.
I can’t support slavery or women wearing veils as a sign of male headship or condemn people who are gay as sinners. I think American Christians were right to morph their interpretations on those issues, and I think it is the correct choice on same sex relationships as well.
In addition, after 30 years of the “God, Guns, Gays” political strategy, Americans are increasingly rejecting the Religious Right’s demonization of people who are gay. This strategy still appeals to a percentage of Americans who believe guns are safe and gays are dangerous, but this is a minority of Americans. The view that same sex relationships are sinful is being increasingly viewed as prejudice in the same vein as racial segregation.
That was my point behind the section about Great Commission in my sermon “What Does the Bible Teach about Slavery and Sexuality?” on October 20, 2013. Unchurched and dechurched people do not hear the Gospel as good news if they see Christians as prejudiced.
This is not only true of America, but it is true of the entire Developed World. Countries who have a record of valuing human rights are increasing the rights of people who are gay, while countries with a dubious record on human rights are continuing to execute or imprison those who are gay.
So for the sake of the Great Commission in the Developed World, Christians need to bring our best and most responsible thinking to this issue.
(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 2”)