The Biblical God’s View of Homosexuality: Part I
I believe in the Bible. But more than that, I believe in the God of the Bible. I follow the Bible. But more than that, I follow the God of the Bible. I have learned over the years that God and the Bible are not synonymous and sometimes don’t even agree.
Adam Hamilton recently wrote about this in his book, “Making Sense of the Bible”. Hamilton refers to the three-bucket approach to Scripture. Much of the Bible can be placed in one of three buckets. The first bucket refers to the ‘timeless will of God’. The second bucket reflects ‘God’s will in a particular time’. This includes much of the Mosaic ritual law of the Old Testament and some of Paul’s advice to churches in the New Testament. The third bucket reflects ‘the culture and historical circumstances in which they were written but never reflected God’s will.’ This includes slavery, which is found throughout the Bible. It also includes the genocide found in passages like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and Joshua 6:20-21. Genocide and slavery are biblical, but do not represent God’s will.
As we study the Biblical God’s view of homosexuality, we have to determine which Scriptures are God’s timeless will, which do not represent God’s will and which do not apply to what we understand to be homosexuality today.
First, we’ll look at the passages of Scripture that some use to claim that homosexual practice is a terrible sin. These are used to support the United Methodist Discipline’s view that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” These passages are called the “clobber verses” because they are used to “clobber” homosexuals.
The first passage in the Bible that includes a reference to homosexual practice is the story of Sodom. This is where we get the words ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomite’ to refer to homosexuality. The story is found in Genesis 19. It is about two angels who visit the town of Sodom and stay with Lot, the nephew of Abraham. The men of Sodom surround the house and demand Lot turn over the angels, so the men could have sex with them. Lot offers his two daughters to be raped by the men of Sodom, rather than give up the strangers he’s just met. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. The story goes on to say that God destroyed the whole city to punish the men of Sodom.
Some have said this proves that homosexuality is a terrible sin that demands capital punishment. This is supported by another Scripture found in the Old Testament law. Leviticus 20:13 says, “It’s disgusting for men to have sex with one another, and those who do will be put to death, just as they deserve.”
If these two scriptures taken at face value represent God’s will then it would be the responsibility of every Christian to make sure that all homosexuals go to the electric chair for their terrible crimes.
Instead these Scriptures should be placed in a different bucket than God’s timeless will or they do not refer to what we know to be homosexuality today.
What is the sin of the men of Sodom? The story indicates that the main sin was the gang rape of two strangers. This is different than homosexuality.
Additional answers to that question are found by looking at other Scriptures. Scripture can interpret Scripture. The Old Testament prophets refer to Sodom four different times. The sin that the prophets mention by the men of Sodom is never homosexuality. Isaiah (1:10-17) says the sin of the Sodomites was injustice and not rescuing the oppressed. Jeremiah (23:14) says their sin was adultery. Ezekiel (16-48-49) says their sin was not aiding the poor and needy. Zephaniah (2:8-11) says their sin was bullying and boasting.
Therefore the passage in Genesis about Lot and the Sodomites is not about homosexuality at all.
The passage in the Law of Moses about putting homosexuals to death belongs in the third bucket marked: “Never reflected God’s will.”
Another verse in Moses’ law that refers to homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) is a part of the Purity laws. According to the New Testament authors, these laws are in the second bucket marked, “God’s will in a particular time.” Peter learned this in Acts 10.
It’s important to note that Jesus never mentions homosexuality at any time. Jesus does say that men should leave their fathers and become one with their wives (Mark 10:7-8). Some interpret this conversation to be about how heterosexuals are on God’s chosen pathway, instead of homosexuals. But Jesus is talking in this passage about divorce. Jesus is clear about not approving divorce, but he says nothing about homosexuality.
Paul refers to homosexual practice in three places: Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10. The references to homosexuality in these places probably refer to either the ritual prostitution practiced in some of the pagan temples or pederasty, the practice of older men taken young boys as lovers. It doesn’t refer to the type of homosexuality we understand today between two lovingly committed equal partners.
Paul makes mention in these verses that this practice is not natural. He says we should not go against our nature, the way God created us to be. Today, we understand homosexuality to be the way we were born, not a choice. Paul is encouraging the Romans to act according to their nature, to the way they were born.
In other words, we might apply Paul’s words to our situation this way: If you’re born homosexual, than God wants you to live with and have sexual relations with someone of your own sex. If you’re born heterosexual, than God wants you to live with and have sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex.
The Biblical authors are clear that homosexuality when it involves gang rape, temple prostitution and child abuse is wrong. None of the Biblical references mentioning homosexual practice refer to two people of the same sex sharing their lives in a committed relationship. Therefore, it’s clear the Bible does not declare all homosexual practice to be sinful, just like it doesn’t declare all heterosexual practice to be sinful.
This leads me to reflect on what the Biblical God does think about homosexuals. I’ll talk about this in my next post.
The Biblical God’s View of Homosexuality: Part II
The last post made it clear the Biblical God does not find all homosexual practice to be sinful. There are biblical references that indicate homosexual practice involving gang rape, temple prostitution and child abuse are wrong. But a loving relationship of two committed same sex people is not immoral or sinful in the eyes of the biblical God.
This post will take a positive look at homosexuality from a Biblical understanding of God’s will. We start again in the book of Genesis. The first chapter of Genesis concludes with the creation of human beings (Gen. 1:26-31). The author says that God created humans “in His image” to be like Himself. The final verse of that chapter says, “God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good.”
The creation story was written to remind us that all of God’s creation is good. Each of us is created good. “God doesn’t make junk.” Whether we’re black or white, male or female, Chinese or American, homosexual or straight, left-handed or right-handed – we’re all created good in God’s image.
Homosexuality is not a choice. It’s a unique gift given by God to certain people and not others. It is good in God’s sight.
The rest of the Creation story emphasizes the diversity of God’s creation. God could have made things to look alike. All plants could have looked alike. All trees could have looked alike. There could have been only one insect, only one bird, and only one fish. Instead, God chose to create the world using an amazing diversity. We’re incredibly diverse as human beings as well. We realize there’s diversity in our sexuality as well. God created us both homosexual and heterosexual. We can celebrate that diversity.
Let’s move to the New Testament.
We’ll start in Acts 10. Here Peter has a vision that he is supposed to eat food he thought was unclean. Then God tells him to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. Gentiles were considered unclean, sinful people to be avoided by Jews. The vision and the visit awaken Peter to his mission to reach out to the unclean people: the Gentiles. He realizes Gentiles can be Christian without following all the Jewish purity laws.
Who are considered by some to be the unclean, sinful people in our day? Homosexuals, people in the LGBTQ community. What does Peter’s vision and visit have to do with us? We are called to reach out to those who are considered unclean. They can be Christians without following heterosexual practices. God’s grace and acceptance are for all, not for the chosen few (the clean, the Jew, the heterosexual).
Later, Paul writes a letter to the church in Colossae. The Christians in that town have gotten caught up in rules that go beyond God’s intentions. It is similar to the problem some of the Pharisees had during the days of Jesus. The Colossians had rules about what they could and couldn’t eat, rules about what they could and couldn’t touch and detailed rituals and festival practices. They taught that one had to keep all of these rules to be a part of the church.
Paul told them this was wrong. He said that Christ died to set them free from rules like those. He said in 2:20-22, “You died with Christ. Now the forces of the universe don’t have any power over you. Why do you live as if you had to obey such rules as: “Don’t handle this. Don’t taste that. Don’t touch this?”… So why be bothered with the rules that humans have made up?”
Later people referred to the problem in Colossae as the Colossian heresy. It’s been a problem we’ve seen throughout the centuries. We find it in rules that some churches hold on to today such as priests who cannot marry and women who cannot be church leaders. As a youth, I was a part of a church that taught that movie theaters, billiards, alcohol, playing cards and swimming with persons of the same sex were all sinful and forbidden. I’ve read about how intermarriage between the races fits the same category. It’s the Colossian heresy still with us.
One rule that is a part of the Colossian heresy today is the rule against homosexual practice. Paul’s words to us are still helpful: “Why be bothered with the rules that humans have made up?” In the next chapter Paul goes on to tell what it should be about instead of those rules. “Love is more important than anything else.” (Col. 3:14)
The difficult question is this: How do we know what is part of the Colossian heresy and what is God’s will? How do we decide and discern God’s will for us today?
The answer is found at the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ.
We ask the question: What would Jesus do?
We ask the question: What would Jesus do?
How do we know what Jesus would do?
We have to study the four biblical gospels of Jesus to best know what Jesus would do. We have to look at what Jesus said and what Jesus did. Let’s look at Jesus in light of the present rules people have placed against homosexuals.
The most important thing Jesus lived and taught is found in Mark 12:28-31. Jesus was asked a question by one of the teachers of the law of Moses “What is the most important commandment?”
Jesus answered with two commandments: love God and “love others as much as you love yourself.” Jesus said, “No other commandment is more important than these.”
In other words, the Son of God says love trumps human laws. Love is the essence of God’s true law.
What does it mean for us to love LGBTQ people?
Loving a person means we value and respect them and do not treat them as second class Christians. Loving homosexuals as much as we love ourselves means we allow them as many rights and privileges as heterosexuals. We allow them to love a partner and get married just as heterosexuals are able to love a partner and get married. We allow them to provide leadership in our churches just like heterosexuals.
Jesus reveals what this love for all looks like by his stories and his life. Jesus has a special passion for those who are not treated as first class citizens. He reaches out to help the outsiders. He welcomes in those who are excluded and oppressed. This can apply today to the LGBTQ community who are often excluded and oppressed and treated as second class outsiders.
The stories about how Jesus welcomes and includes the outsider are many. Jesus tells the story of a banquet in Luke 14:15-24 in which the host tells the servant to go out into the streets to bring in everyone to the party who is poor or crippled or blind or lame. Jesus heals an “unclean” leper in Luke 5: 12-16. Jesus reaches out to women in Luke 7:36-8:3. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 25-37. Jesus reaches out to a tax collector in Luke 18: 9-14 and 19:1-10. Jesus welcomes the children in Luke 18: 15-17. All of these people were considered second-class by the people of Jesus’ day. They were all excluded and oppressed. But Jesus loved them and treated them as equals.
Jesus had strong words for those who focus on the supposed sins of others. He talks about this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-5. He emphasizes our need to deal with our own problems and sins. He would not want us to “judge gays”.
The biblical God loves homosexuals and people in the LGBTQ community. The biblical God calls for everyone to love homosexuals and those in the LGBTQ as much as they love themselves. This means we are compelled to advocate for their equal rights and equal treatment.
Lord, help us love.