Scriptural objections to accepting gays and lesbians
For those who would object to homosexuality in the church, the core of this passage is verses 26 and 27. “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and 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.”
To see this as a blanket ban on homosexuality ignores the context in which the passage occurs. The longer passage begins at verse 18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” Paul is here talking about Gentiles and how the Truth of God is available to them in their hearts but they ignore it. Because they did not acknowledge, honor or give thanks to God, their minds were darkened and their thinking futile and so they turned to idolatry. This was the reason God gave them up to the “degrading passions.” This also lead to a whole list of other sins listed in verses 29-31. This is not a talk about homosexuality in general, but about the effects of idolatry. Some people interpret this passage to refer to ritual prostitution as practiced by some of the religions at the time. Even if you discard the ritual prostitution argument, it is a stretch to make this cover all gays and lesbians. The clear meaning of this passage is that some people rejected the voice of God in their hearts, turned to idolatry and then, not being satisfied with following their natural sexual inclinations, turned to other ways of finding sexual pleasure. This may be true of some people in the first century CE and it may be true of some people today. It does not address those people who are not idolaters, who are faithful Christians, who are engaged in a life of seeking faithfulness to the promptings of God in their heart and who are also gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
If anyone is tempted by this passage to condemn anyone for any of the failings mentioned in these passages, and this is not just “degrading passions” but also being “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” Paul pulls them up short. His next words in Chapter 2, verse 1 are: “Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge are doing the same things.” We have the word of scripture explicitly saying, do not use Romans 1:18-32 to judge anyone or you will come under judgment. So we have both the clear reading of the words in their context and the direct word of Scripture to say that this should not be used to condemn gays and lesbians. But also the whole thrust of the first 3 chapters of Romans is the futility of the outward law so it is ironic to see it being used to recreate a Law of Paul instead of looking to the freedom of the Gospel that Paul advocated.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The context of this statement is a criticism of the Christians in Corinth for taking one another to court. Paul says the saints are to judge the world and angels, so why are they taking their disputes to unbelievers. Is there no believer who can help settle the dispute? Why not rather be wronged or defrauded than bring a suit? Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do you not know that God will handle it? So once again we have the irony of a passage that is saying “do not judge, leave the judgment to God,” being used as a basis of issuing judgment.
The Greek word malakoi, translated here as male prostitutes and translated in the King James as “the effeminate,” literally means soft. In a moral context it implied general moral laxness or self indulgence. This word was understood through most of the history of the Church to refer to masturbation. Recent scholarship has favored applying this to mean male prostitutes. Whatever it's meaning it does not refer to homosexuals in any general sense of the word. After all, we do not understand condemnation of female prostitution to be condemnation of heterosexuality.
The Greek word here translated as sodomite is arsenokoitai. It is rendered by the King James translators of “abusers of themselves with mankind” and by the New International Version as “homosexual offenders” This letter is the first time the word appears in Greek. It does not appear in any of the discussions of homosexuality in Greek from the first several centuries of the Common Era. It is mostly found in similar lists of sins, many of which may be quotes of Paul. There were other words Paul could have used to unequivocally to refer to homosexual behavior. The fact that he did not use them would indicate that he might have had something else in mind. One of the few places where this word appears in a different context is in reference to the rape of Ganymede by Zeus. This causes some people to think that it refers to men who take sexual advantage of other men. The placement of this word in the list at the juncture between sexual sins and economic ones leads some people to conclude that it refers to men who frequent prostitutes. If that is the case, this passage could be referring to male prostitutes and their customers. In any case, the meaning is ambiguous but it does not appear to be a blanket condemnation of homosexuality. Even if the words supported such a condemnation, the context of the passage is that such a judgment should be left to God.
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” NRSV.
Here again the word translated as sodomite by the NRSV is arsenokoitai. The New International Version here renders it as perverts. This merely highlights the ambiguousness of the word. Perversion only exists relative to some accepted norms and it can cover any number things. The location of the word fits with the idea of men who frequent prostitutes. Neither the word nor the usage here supports a blanket condemnation of gays and lesbians.
Sodom and Gomorrah
These cities have become so associated with homosexual sin in the common mind that the word sodomite has come to refer to one who practices homosexual sex. As common as this view is, it is not the biblical view of the sin of Sodom. In Ezekiel 16:49, the sin is specified as: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” In Isaiah 1:10, the prophet speaks to the leaders of Judah and refers to them as rulers of Sodom. Later, in verses 16 and 17 he lays out what the have to do to repent, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” This again implies economic sins and a lack of justice and not sexual sins.
Jude 7 is sometimes used as an indictment of homosexuality. It says, “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” There are many who contend that this “unnatural lust,” or what the King James referred to as “going after strange flesh,” referred not to homosexual acts but to having sexual relations with angels. There was a common belief at the time the letter of Jude was written that the women of Sodom and Gomorrah had sought to have sex with angels, just as had happened before the Flood. This view is reinforced by the context where. The preceding verse says, “And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day.” So this looks like a balanced reference to the angels and the humans who would have sought to have sexual relations. It should also be remembered in this light, that Lot's guests, as described in Genesis 19, were not men but angels.
My goal in these last three posts was to provide a Biblically based argument in favor of providing full acceptance to gays and lesbians among all branches of Friends. I wanted to provide a framework that would allow people to change their view of the place of gays and lesbians in the church without having to give up the Biblical basis of their faith. I also wanted to provide a framework whereby the acceptance of gays and lesbians fits the requirement that new revelation not contradict scripture. I have given very short accounts of some of the arguments here. I do not follow Barclay in that regard. He would have gone on much longer. I do not expect anyone to change their mind just by reading this. I do hope that it causes people to think more about the issues raised and to see where God leads them.
Blessings to all,