Editor’s Note: I’ve been going through some previously submitted articles (I’ve realized a number have fallen through the cracks) and found the following thought-provoking article. It is, I hope, the first of a number of articles exploring the topic of homosexuality and the way of Jesus. For the remainder of August, JM welcomes submissions exploring the question: how should we, the Church, embody Christ to homosexuals? We welcome articles from all perspectives–the goal here is to engage in deep (but respectful) conversation.
[In April] on God’s Politics Blog, Brian McLaren wrote a blog titled “Evangelicals Need to Love Gay People,” in which he states that Jonathon Merritt “may be the most courageous South-ern Baptist in America” for arguing that evangelicals need to love homosexual persons. While the article was positive, it still portrayed homosexual persons as objects in need of affirmation and acceptance from their heterosexual counterparts. Homosexuals, however, are “subjects” no dif-ferent from “straight” persons, and often I cannot believe that still in the twenty-first century our governmental and religious institutions fail to acknowledge that homosexuality is not syn-onymous with disorder, sin, and unnatural.
More powerful was a comment posted in response to the blog from someone who is gay:
What we are dealing with here is identity… I cannot change my identity as a Gay person anymore than I can change my race or national origin. My identity is not evil, nor is it a “sin.” Nor is there a “wrong” or “right” side to it. My identity simply is.
In response to this comment, another individual said:
I do not want to be rigid or mean but I do believe that in the Bible there is definitely at least one Scripture [passage] that specifically calls homosexual behavior disobedience to God, i.e. sin.
The passage is Romans 1:27, wherein it says:
“…and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”
This passage, however, does not condemn homosexual persons. Many biblical scholars agree that Paul, when saying “natural,” does not mean natural order and law, or what is innate. Rather, “natural” connotes behaviors that were customary to Paul and his fellow Jews. Homosexuality was not customary in the Jewish community, but it was in the Greco-Roman context. Further, Paul only knew and thus only spoke of the vulgar pagan expression of homosexuality with its debauched characteristics of rape, promiscuity, and public indecency. Yet, these behaviors – which were also prevalent among heterosexuals of first century Rome – did not represent gay love in the ancient world and certainly does not offer a framework for understanding gay love today.
Citing the Bible to support any position, especially anti-homosexuality, is always risky business, for interpreting this ancient document requires cultural and historical literacy coupled with a de-sire to read the texts in their original language. Also, we all bring our different baggage when reading and interpreting scripture, but our baggage cannot become the only lens through which we interpret the Bible. Nor is our interpretation absolute. We should recall that individuals have cited the Bible with absolute certainty to justify slavery, anti-feminism, and ethnic cleansing. The Bible cannot be put in a box, since this would preclude any possibility of it speaking to us in the future.
Still, homosexuality undeniably presents a special challenge to modern day readers of scripture. Harvard theologian Peter J. Gomes states in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart that
Nearly every…person who acknowledges an aversion to homosexuality does so on the basis of what he or she believes the Bible to say, and in their minds there is no doubt whatsoever about what the Bible says, and what the Bible means.
Gomes continues to point out that it is not only individual Bible readers who contribute to homo-sexual prejudice, but also religious institutions. He argues that “a combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community, and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable.”
As a straight Catholic Latino, I have always found the church’s teachings on homosexuality troubling. To me, the church’s teachings represent an instance of scriptural interpretation abuse. For instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.
This interpretation of scripture is flawed, since many scholars agree that condemnations of homosexuality are nonexistent in the Bible. Still, this wrong reading of scripture may erroneously lead many Catholics and non-Catholics to view homosexual persons as sick and sinful individuals who cannot cure their illness unless they practice repression. This teaching, in other words, oppresses human beings and consequently denies them social justice. In order for the Catholic Church and other Christian churches to continue advocating social justice in the modern world with any credibility, they need to avoid using scripture to advance an unfounded bias against a group of individuals who want nothing more than equal treatment. Will we summon the courage to liberate the Bible and others from further abuse?