From a Christian viewpoint, homosexuality is confusing
Of great concern for many Christians are the passages in both the Old and New Testaments that are commonly thought of as addressing modern-day homosexuality. These passages, along with many other biblical passages, can be difficult to understand.
It's interesting to note that the term homosexuality didn't exist until the 1860's. As homosexuality began to be thought of as a sexual/emotional orientation, rather than simply same-gender sexual behavior, a need arose for a word to describe it. Prior to the 1800's the modern concept of sexual orientation was not widely held. It is commonly believed by biblical scholars that biblical writers had no idea at all of homosexuality as we think of it. It is likely that same-gender sexual behavior between people in the Bible was assumed to be occuring between heterosexual people.
Biblical passages about homosexuality are dealt with extensively on the web, and links to some of those discussions are listed at the left. Read for yourself and take away what seems reasonable to you.
It is also of interest that some rather famous Christian leaders have felt that looking at biblical passages only can be confusing when attempting to sort out controversial subjects, since the Bible itself can be confusing about them. The attitude, "I look to the Bible alone for my direction!" has led many people to adopt attitudes that they later changed. John Wesley, famous for founding Methodism, looked to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as important sources of information when deciding about important beliefs. Not a bad idea!
Reality changes perception
A delightful essay by Rev. Charles Morrow, Jr. points out in a lively way that that the church always ends up going beyond the Bible to include reason and experience as it matures in its understanding of difficult human situations. Click here to read it in its full text. Many of his arguments are included below.
Paraphrased and quoted ideas from "Reality Changes Things," by Rev. Charles Morrow, Jr. (Italicized and indented passages are quotes from Rev. Morrow.)
Over the centuries the church has tended to label people with broad paint strokes...including "drunkards," addicts, "possessed," and those divorced or remarried. These people have been considered unworthy of compassion or support because they made the simple, willful choice to live an ungodly life. After all, the Bible clearly says so!
However, as the nature of these conditions became better understood the church changed its response to these people, changing also its interpretation of the scriptures that had been the basis for condemnation. The average person now understands that alcoholism is a difficult condition, and that children of alcoholic or drug addicted parents have a far greater chance of becoming that way themselves.
It has also become clear to the church that physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment can also be appropriate grounds for divorce. Divorced people are no longer considered to be "all but banned from heaven simply because they failed 'to honor their marriage vows' and keep themselves pure in marital fidelity."
According to Rev. Morrow, "The church has even gone so far as to nearly rewrite the Bible so as to allow for just about every divorced individual to suddenly find heavenly permission to remarry after divorce, in spite of numerous Scriptural admonishments clearly to the contrary. (See Matt. 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12, Deut. 24:1-4, I Cor. 7:27)"
He goes on to make the vital point that "reality changes perception." As the worldview of Christians has changed, the Church has always updated its understanding of the Bible to reflect its new understandings. (See also Lewis Smedes)
In terms of the Church's view of homosexuality, Rev. Morrow writes that the Church...
"...still chooses to define the complex issues of an individual's sexuality, it's expressions and attractions, as being nothing more than a conscious choice to chose evil over good, right instead of wrong, Satan in place of God. No other explanation is acceptable. None other is needed. After all, did not the apostle Paul clearly define homosexuality as being nothing short of unbridled lust and fierce, wanton, godless sexual appetite? (Romans 1:24-27)"
"I, for one, hold no grudge against Paul for his position. That 'brand' or manifestation of homosexual conduct which he was privy to witness and hear of emanating from the filthy palaces of pagan Rome would nauseate even the most liberal of Gay or Lesbian Biblical scholars. But to label all people of one race or ethnicity 'savages' because you grew up in a place where only the most backward, secluded, and uncivilized of their bloodlines' tribes lived is to do a great injustice to an otherwise proud, constructive, productive, and commendable people."
"Why are so many Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender people fighting their way into the churches? Because they are indeed these godless sorts of whom Paul writes? I think not!"
He continues by suggesting that the use of the term "gay lifestlye" is used to stereotype gay people in an way that wouldn't happen if they were taken seriously by the church. We also understand that any attempt to discuss a "straight lifestyle" would be silly...there isn't one.
He closes by saying,
"Sadly, reality is often overlooked by those who must live within it's confines. When finally realized, reality has in times past changed the churches' perception on such complex issues as alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, divorce, and divorce-and-remarriage. With God's help, one day the reality of homosexuality as a natural, innate, biological state of existence for some people will emerge in sufficient evidence to speak to the hearts and minds of even the harshest of homophobic, Bible thumping critics. In that day the Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender soul will no longer have to silently sit week after week in the pews of most churches while the preacher unburdens himself of that same heavy load of misguided and abusive condemnation that their alcoholic, recovering drug addict, mentally ill, divorced, and divorced-and-remarried neighbor once too had to endure. Only then will the wonderful truth of God's grace, manifest in the person and provision of the man Jesus Christ be fully understood and much more fully realized and celebrated."
These comments are powerful. It is clear in the full text of Rev. Morrow's essay that he is not suggesting that homosexuality is an addiction or mental illness. The parallel he draws is that none of the common human conditions discussed above are the result of an immoral choice.
Another example from hundreds of years ago underscores the concept that "reality changes perception." A huge amount of social upset was caused when Gallileo made the scientific suggestion that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than vice versa. The Church rose in fury, and he almost lost his life. After all, didn't the Bible talk about the rising sun? Because of his claims he lived in house arrest for the last part of his life. He was finally allowed a "Christian" burial 100 years after his death, and wasn't removed from the roles of heretics by the Catholic Church until 1992.
Though people say that they are opposed to homosexuality because of what is said in the Bible, that is not the real reason. The Bible's verses may cause concern, but the real reason is fear. Over and over again in these pages it is plain that people are afraid of homosexuality because it is different from what is familiar to them. They feel their way of life is threatened, and they act harshly as a result.
Our understanding of the Bible will eventually change, but that will happen only when we are pushed beyond our fears and become willing for it to change. Eventually we will run out of plausible reasons to maintain our harsh stance, and we will change our views--it will happen.
In fact, it's happened many times in our country. Let's look at just one example.
A critical understanding: How the Bible was used in the past
It's very easy to consider a passage in scripture when everyone agrees on its meaning. However, this is not always the case. There was a time when our country was even more intensely divided over a public issue than it is about homosexuality today. It happened during the Civil War.
The biblical view about slavery was argued from both sides by people who claimed to be speaking God's opinion as revealed in the Bible. It may suprise many people to learn that those who supported slavery, a practice we now consider to be barbaric, argued by quoting chapter and verse from the Bible much in the same manner that chapter and verse are quoted by those who condemn homosexuality today.
Some passages in the Bible about slavery are very harsh. Consider Exodus 21:20-21 (NASB) - "If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property." This verse is not part of a ceremonial code that was abandoned after Old Testament times. It was an instruction that was based on common knowledge...a slave was his master's property, and if his master harmed him without killing him, it was too bad for the slave. There were other limits placed on what a master could do to a slave, but try preaching this passage from the pulpit today and see how biblical you are considered to be!
Those who took the opposing view to slavery during the Civil Was claimed that the themes of scripture contradicted the "plain meaning" of the verses that pro-slavery ministers quoted. They said that it is rather difficult to love your brother as yourself when you own him.
It was a long and difficult public argument, and not just a few churches took the pro-slavery stance, as some have claimed. However, it is clear who won the argument, because you won't find a church teaching a biblical basis for slavery these days. The Church eventually accepted that the specific verses in scripture about slavery were specific to the culture at the time, and not God's ultimate thoughts about the matter.
In the same way, not only do verses about homosexuality in the Bible not address homosexuality as we think of it today, but at best their relevance was specific to the culture at that time, and were not God's final thoughts about the matter. However, they do appear to represent many Christians' final thoughts about the matter!
In fact, if we were to apply broadly the principles of interpretation used by some Christians about homosexuality we would have to move back to a position where men own their wives, polgamy is common, and daughters can be sold into slavery. This sounds preposterous to many, but if you will take the time to read an extra article or two above, it may not seem so silly.
Perhaps the reason we stick with old, very harsh interpretations about homosexuality is because homosexuality is a reality that we find scary and don't know how to approach. We live in fear, and make others suffer as a result. Resistance to ending slavery had to do with fears about race and allowing racial equality. But, as you'll see soon, homophobia has to do with fears about gender.
Otherwise, let's look at another frequent concern...