What does God think about homosexuality?

9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – NRSV

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:26-27 – NRSV

13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Leviticus 20:13 – NRSV

The Australian rugby player Israel Folau has been in trouble with his employers over tweets that ‘Hell awaits’ ‘Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters’. He’s been condemned by many for views that aren’t representative of ‘the values of the sport’, but as often happens when these issues hit the headlines, he’s also been described as a ‘devout Christian’ and no-one seems to have challenged whether his views are a fair representation of the views that informed and committed Christians should have on these issues. It’s for that reason that I feel the need to open up the issue of Christians and homosexuality, on this occasion more by way of commentary than sermon. (Click on the title to read more)

Maybe the first thing to point out is that the Bible has incredibly little to say about the issue of homosexuality; so little in fact that it wouldn’t be difficult to make the case that God has no opinion at all on the matter. The three verses I’ve quoted above are, to all intents and purposes, the only verses in the entire Bible that address the issue directly and Jesus has nothing to say about it at all. The verse that Israel Folau has chosen to paraphrase comes from 1 Corinthians 6: 9. He’s used the word ‘homosexuals’ to translate the rare Greek word arsenokoitai; the NRSV uses ‘sodomites’, the Revised English Bible uses ‘sexual perverts’ and Today’s New International Version uses ‘practising homosexuals’. When translations from the original Greek into English vary so widely, it’s a huge clue that the translation is itself mired in difficulty.

As is often the case, we need to probe what St Paul’s first readers would have made of his comments. In this connection we have to bear in mind that he would have been completely unaware of the existence of loving, supportive and faithful homosexual relationships. They simply didn’t exist in his world. The contemporary Roman law ‘Lex Scantinia’ underlines this; it made homosexual acts illegal unless they were acts with non-citizens or slaves. It’s extremely likely, therefore, that the only homosexual acts that St Paul was aware of were those of an exploitative, abusive nature. St Paul has a great deal to say about all kinds of behaviour in his writings, but if you take care to interpret what he says and reflect on it, mostly what he condemns is behaviour that treats others as less than God’s deeply and equally-loved children, or behaviour that gets in the way of others’ well-being, or faith. We also have to know about the community to which Paul was writing: first century Corinth, where he’d spent 18 months on one of his early Mediterranean journeys.

One of Corinth’s most famous landmarks, high on the hill above the town at Acrocorinth, was the Temple to Aphrodite where, claims one contemporary historian, more than a thousand prostitutes of both sexes were ready to ‘welcome’ the crews of visiting ships to the ancient port below. Corinth was one of the most notorious of all maritime destinations, and also one of the busiest, as it stood at a crossroads between east and west. When Christians today say to other Christians that St Paul’s letters should be treated as God’s holy law, valid for all times and all places, there are occasions when I imagine that I can hear the venerable saint shouting ‘No, that’s not what I meant! I was writing to address questions that I’d been asked by the fledgling Christian community in one of the most immoral places in my world!’

So what do we make of the Old Testament references? I think it’s easy to deal with these: we don’t, mercifully, still discriminate against the disabled, as is directly called for in Leviticus 21:16-23. We don’t stone people to death, even for the worst of crimes, let alone for love of someone of the same sex, nor do we observe the Old Testament laws against wearing clothes made of two different types of yarn. We don’t give these things a moment’s thought; why therefore do we agonise and obsess over the issue of a man lying with a male?

So much for Biblical arguments, but there’s something far more important to say about this subject that’s for so many years threatened to pull the Church of England and many other Churches apart. A great deal is written and said about Christ’s sayings, even those where there’s scant evidence that the sayings actually came from Christ himself.  Much less is debated about his actions. It’s impossible to read the gospels without reaching the conclusion that Jesus, scandalously for his day, and in a way that almost certainly contributed to his death, chose to seek out the marginalised, the rejected and the ‘untouchables’ of society. He chose to spend as much of his time as possible with those who were least acceptable to his culture, and in a way that cut across many of the Jewish laws that he’d been brought up with. I propose to cover some of these stories in future blog posts; they simply can’t be ignored when we look at the treatment of the LGBTQ community. Why would we now accept as full and equal members of our society, the disabled, gentiles, the ‘demon possessed’ (ie mentally ill in our time), those haemorrhaging blood, lepers, those from Samaria and many others who were outcasts in Jesus’s time, but not those in stable, loving, faithful, long-term, same-sex relationships?

The Church of England’s current position on this issue is illogical and unsustainable. It sets a higher standard for those ordained, claiming that: ‘Because of the distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration the clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships.’ Surely there can’t be any safe or fair standard for clergy other than equality with the people in the pews and a commitment to see themselves as sinful people ministering to other sinful people? Anything else surely is doomed to fail? Surely attempting to place clergy on a moral pedestal is in danger of feeding narcissistic tendencies and thus increasing the risk of abuse by those of superior ‘status’?

I’ve left my most important points to last. It’s suggested in research that homosexuals account for 50% of young male deaths from suicide in this country. It’s impossible to hear this without feeling the deepest sadness and guilt, if you’re a Christian. The thought that those whose calling is to love and care for others, might have contributed to this statistic is appalling…….’First, do no harm’. Some churches persist in trying to ‘cure’ those who feel attracted to people of the same sex, despite a growing body of scientific evidence that such treatment can be deeply damaging psychologically. The assumption that’s made by many putting the opposing view is that homosexual attraction is a life choice. Anyone who’s ever spoken to an LGBTQ friend will have heard loud and clear that their feelings of attraction to those of the same sex started at a very young age. And if, as some scientists now claim, sexual attraction is actually pre-determined in the womb, surely it has to be God-given? And if it is God-given, it must surely be treated as a gift, not something about which to feel shame, still less something that needs to be ‘cured’!

Surely no-one should grow up thinking that they’re less loved by God than others? What kind of a God would do that? Certainly not the one I worship and try to serve!

In early 2014 I wrote a critique of the so-called ‘Pilling Report’ – another of the Church of England’s attempts to find a solution to the issue. In it, a ‘dissenting voice’ – the Bishop of Birkenhead – said this:

‘It cannot be pastoral to affirm a form of relationship which is contrary to God’s voice’.

To which my response is this:

‘It cannot be a Christian act to commandeer God’s voice in order to denounce others’.

So what do I believe God thinks about homosexuality?

I think he looks on those who claim to represent him here on earth, as they loudly denounce some of the most excluded and vulnerable people in society……and weeps.

11 thoughts on “What does God think about homosexuality?

  1. As ever a well reasoned analysis James. The method you use to to place the passages from the bible in the context of their time of writing, place and contemporary social structure is one that I thoroughly enjoyed during my time in bible studies group with you. I totally agree with what you say here but I also reason that if you use this methodolgy tear apart one issue it will serve as well to tear apart many other issues. Then suddenly the certainty many people feel that the bible is a document of black and white word of God will fall apart for them and some will just be hopelessly confused and feel it means it is NONE of it is truth……If only there were more public space and attention given to the sort of logic you apply here then perhaps the idea that the bible is a mosiac of human history and divine truth mixed may be found more acceptable to all?

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    • It’s such a shame that some people are taught this ‘all or nothing’ approach to the Bible. The Bible contains a veritable mountain of truths and a few small molehills that need to be considered in their historical and cultural setting

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  2. I have heard arguments along the lines of the levitical prohibitions falling into different categories: e.g. moral (the sexual prohibitions, incl homosexuality), hygiene (such as not eating shellfish), and cultural (such as cloth not being made of two different fibres) – which I hadn’t come across when I did my own explorations into the topic…the argument then following that some (eg hygiene and cultural prohibitions) could be happily altered with time or changing cultural contexts, but those that are part of the moral code should remain immovable for all time. And I can see the merit / logic in that – wish I had come across it and explored it more as a concept at the time… but first-hand experience of seeing the damage done when people have lived a lie in terms of their sexuality tells me that life is not that ‘neatly packaged’ – we are (all) the people God has created and called us to be, each of us marred and less than perfect – & I’m not at all sure that my imperfections are better or worse that someone’s supposed ‘imperfection’ of being same-sex attracted. Thank you James as always for a thought-provoking piece.

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  3. I do have a further important thought here that really instead of the focus being on whether a relationship is homosexual or heterosexual I feel that the question should be entirely confined to whether it is abusive or not. There are so many heterosexual relationships that are truely and certainly abusive, coersive, violent and non consensual that it staggers me that people are so sure that Gods idea of perversion needs to be connected to or levelled particularly at any form of homosexuality. I am sure that God cannot be happy with the abuse that often occurs within (supposedly legitimate) heterosexual child marriage. I do not see the same violent spate of biblical backlash against that sort of extra-ordinary arrangement. One could give many other examples……

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  4. Amazing,James.How good it was to read a mirror of my own thoughts.How can we attempt to share the love we feel for God,and not include those in turmoil over their God-given sexuality.

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  5. I thoroughly agree with Janet Hammerton’s second comment. There are many outwardly ‘happy’ marriages (within every religion, culture and creed) that hide horrific abuse and desperate unhappiness. Why do some people waste valuable time and energy judging homosexuality instead of reaching out to those who are crying out for help regardless of their sexual orientation?

    In response to her first reply I offer the following:

    It’s a STORY
    We’re telling news here
    Keeping alive an ancient epic
    The grand narrative of paradise lost and paradise regained
    The greatest “Once upon a time” tale ever told
    The beautiful story which moves relentlessly toward—
    “They lived happily ever after”

    Never, never, NEVER forget that before its anything else it’s a story
    So let the Story live and breathe, enthrall and enchant
    Don’t rip out its guts and leave it lifeless on the dissecting table
    Don’t make it something it’s really not—
    A catalog of wished-for promises
    An encyclopedia of God-facts
    A law journal of divine edicts
    A how-to manual for do-it-yourselfers
    Find the promises, learn the facts, heed the laws, live the lessons
    But don’t forget the Story

    Learn to read the Book for what it is—
    God’s great big wild and wonderful surprise ending love story
    Let there be wonder
    Let there be mystery
    Let there be tragedy
    Let there be heartbreak
    Let there be suspense
    Let there be surprise
    Let it be earthy and human
    Let it be celestial and divine

    Let it be what it is and don’t try to make it perfect where it’s not
    This fantastic story of—
    Creation
    Alienation
    Devastation
    Incarnation
    Salvation
    Restoration
    With its cast of thousands, more Tolstoy novel than thousand page sermon

    It’s a Story because we are not saved by ideas but by events!
    Here’s a plotline for you: Death, Burial, and Resurrection
    Yes, it’s a story — not a plan, not ology or ism, but a story

    And it’s an amalgamated patchwork story told in mixed medium
    Narration, history, genealogy
    Prophecy, poetry, parable
    Psalm, song, sermon
    Dream and vision
    Memoir and letter

    So understand the medium and don’t try so hard to miss the point
    Try to learn what matters and what doesn’t
    It’s not where and when Job lived
    But what Job learned
    In his painful odyssey and poetic theodicy

    It’s not how many cubits of water you need to put Everest under a flood
    But why the world was so dirty that it needed such a big bath
    Trying to find Noah’s ark
    Instead of trying to rid the world of violence
    Really is an exercise in missing the point

    Speaking of missing the point—
    It’s not did a snake talk?
    But what the freakin’ thing said!
    Because even though I’ve never met a talking snake
    I’ve sure had serpentine thoughts crawl through my head

    Literalism is a kind of escapism
    By which you move out of the crosshairs of the probing question
    But parable and metaphor have a way of knocking us to the floor
    Prose flattened literalism makes the story small, time confined and irrelevant
    But poetry and allegory travel through time and space to get in our face
    Inert facts are easy enough to set on the shelf
    But the Story well told will haunt you

    Ah, the Story well told
    That’s what is needed
    It’s time for the Story to bust out of the cage and take the stage
    And demand a hearing once again
    It’s a STORY, I tell you!
    And If you allow the Story to seep into your life
    So that THE STORY begins to weave into your story
    That’s when, at last, my friend, you’re reading the Bible right

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  6. Cheers James, very interesting read, and input from others, on the original source for the piece, in the last day’s Paul says that people will be lovers of themselves. People are desperate in these times to berate and judge others, whilst getting their 15 minutes of fame, they fail to look at the plank in their own eyes, they fail to see hurt in comments whilst missing another point, ‘those that are without sins, should cast the first stone’. Come back Jesus I say,…..before it’s too late!

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