There is nothing in Scripture that prohibits full acceptance of GLBT people, and ordaining their unions as sacraments in the Church. Since the Bible is used to justify homophobia, I want to deal with this issue from a biblical perspective, fully recognizing, as with the civil rights issue for Afro-Americans, that the battle, though partly political, is primarily religious and will eventually prevail on that ground. It is inappropriate to translate many ancient customs to contemporary times. For example, we don’t discriminate against women wearing slacks; this practice was quite unusual, and considered as “cross-dressing,” as recently as 50 years ago. Jesus as human was the consequence of fornication and whoredom, and He had in His lineage a murderer. The prophet Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute. (Hosea 1:2) The prophet Isaiah was told by God to walk around naked for three years. (Isaiah 20:3) Can you imagine what the Church world, the Vatican, and we ourselves would make of all these events today? The Vatican decreed that homosexual relations were “intrinsically evil.” Nowhere in Scripture are monogamous homosexual relations condemned. Jesus specifically condemned divorce and remarriage, calling it adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32) Yet, there are ministries to divorced Catholics in the Church. However, Jesus never spoke about homosexuality; homosexuality isn’t even mentioned in the Ten Commandments, although bearing false witness is, yet the Church has demonized it. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are viewed as easy and safe targets to persecute! What the Catholic Church and much of the church world have done, enmeshing their prejudices on selected parts of the Bible, is help further exacerbate a climate of hate throughout the world against these already persecuted minorities. Scripture must always trump “natural law” and tradition, if Christians are to live up to the commandments Jesus taught: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. All people are our neighbors, who must be embraced, not merely tolerated or, worse, demonized. I am ashamed and angered at what the Vatican and much of the rest of the organized Church have done in oppressing GLBT people, as they seemingly utilize their view of “sin,” born of cultural and personal prejudices to, in effect, tell GLBT people that they have no place in the Church. Rather than take the lead in living the law of love, much of the organized Church world has become culpable in the demonization of GLBT people. In a society living on the edge, where people were to “be fruitful and multiply,” homosexual relations, regardless of motive, were condemned. However, if we bring back that condemnation then, to be consistent, we would have to stone to death those caught in adultery, stone to death recalcitrant children, and even offer our virgin daughters to a howling mob to protect strange visitors, if need be. The Church is obligated to come down on the side of love, mercy, compassion, grace, and inclusiveness, rather than on the side of being judgmental and excluding GLBT people and their relationships from full fellowship in the Church. The misuse of the Bible as a hammer to oppress others is diametrically opposed to Jesus’ life, ministry, and commandments to us to love and embrace each other. The Gay Scapegoat is a convenient and safe target to persecute from both outside and within the Church! His or her very existence is condemned deep within the psyche of many, given the self-righteous legalists and perfectionists in our midst, many of whom have ascended to leadership positions within much of the organized Church, and whose utterances against GLBT people are diametrically opposed to the biblical mandates to love others and seek to remove yokes of bondage put upon others by the modern-day Pharaohs and Pharisees who seem to monopolize the media and pulpits throughout America and the rest of the world. The legalists, who have always been in the Church, are still trying to vitiate the grace (unmerited favor) of God by substituting in its place their own idols of self-righteousness, laws, and assorted do’s and don’ts that have had the impact of having many GLBT people living lives filled with self-loathing, guilt, and self-condemnation. These legalists have caused untold suffering to people who have been viewed as “safe” targets to persecute. It’s the legalists, not members of the GLBT communities who put their trust in God over and above their trust in others and life-circumstances, who are out of the will of God and misuse the Bible to oppress others to our collective shame! They must be withstood to their faces! (Galatians 2:11) What many GLBT people don’t realize is that their being excluded from much of the Church and from mainstream society serves a vital psychological and social function. First of all, hate is a great energizer! It enables one to feel superior to another and thereby feel more affirmed in a world that he or she seeks to twist to be in accordance with his or her own perceived self-interests. Moreover, marginalizing and demonizing certain groups of people amplifies in-group cohesion, and the embracing of established ways of doing things that are, again, perceived to be in the in-group’s self-interest. Emile Durkheim, a famous nineteenth century sociologist, said that when you have a threatening “out-group,” the “in-group” unites to protect itself against it. There are people who have a vested interest in creating out-groups, because by so doing they cement in-group solidarity, even based on such banal slogans as “family values,” “recapturing the soul of America,” and “preserving the sanctity of marriage.” The in-group, safely representing between ninety and ninety-eight percent of the population, can share emotions and fellowship being bonded by this one, and perhaps only, common bond: their stated sexual orientation. Creating out-groups becomes for many within the in-group their god, and many are unwitting worshippers of this god which they created out of their psychological and social self-interests and perceived needs. Most people who marginalize and demonize gay people are xenophobic in that they reject people with whom they feel they cannot relate, as they don’t see gay (or Black, or Mexican, or immigrant, etc.) people as their brothers and sisters. Those who refer to the Bible to worship their god of exclusiveness misread Scripture to fit their own prejudices. These people listen to “lying prophets,” as they did with the issues of slavery, segregation, and the subjugation of women, who bring themselves and their followers to ruin and perhaps spiritual death. (1Kings 13) Many GLBT people have either committed suicide, or commit suicide on the installment plan through guilt, self-condemnation, alcohol and drugs, due to those who do precisely what Jesus told Christians not to do. It should come as no surprise that gay youth suicide is estimated to be significantly higher than non-gay youth suicide! Once it is recognized that stereotyping, marginalizing, demonizing, and excluding people and groups is non-biblical, but serves a very useful social function by creating greater solidarity among the in-group, and serves the psychological function of falsely-based self-affirmation, Christians will be likely to finally heed the counsel of God. No person or ideology is to supplant the God of inclusiveness, unconditional love, and salvation to those whom He has, by His unmerited favor, chosen out of the world, before the worlds were formed (Ephesians 1:4), to be His own possession. One even can’t appeal to tradition to justify exclusion of gays and their marital unions. In a fascinating book entitled, Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe, by the historian John Boswell (Vintage Books, Random House, 1995), he delineates how some same sex unions were even blessed by clergy in the Church. There are many same sex unions that are delineated in this book, but I’ll just quote one passage to give you a flavor of the topic.
“ the church of Saint John of the Latin Gate, in which some Portuguese some years before had entered into a strange ‘brotherhood’. Two males married each other at Mass, with the same ceremonies we use for our marriages, taking Communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together. Roman experts said that since sex between male and female could be legitimate only within marriage, it had seemed equally fair to them to authorize these ceremonies and mysteries of the church.” (p. 265)
The context of prohibition against homosexual behavior in the Old Testament was that people were to be fruitful and multiply; the Messiah would come through the fruit of procreation, though be born of a virgin. In the New Testament, the context of prohibition is against any behavior that supplants God as an object of worship. The Apostle Paul was most likely addressing male cult prostitution and sexual intercourse as homage to various pagan deities that existed in the Roman world at that time. There is no evidence to indicate that he was referring to loving, monogamous relationships between people of the same sex or that he was even referring to, or cognizant of, sexual orientation. (As is well known, there is no word in any of the biblical manuscripts that can be translated “homosexual” as the word wasn’t coined until the late nineteenth century.) Moreover, even in the Old Testament, the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but idolatry, mistreatment of others, and inhospitality. In our era, we don’t see the importance of hospitality. However, in the harsh environments that existed in the ancient world, hospitality was essential, as it could be a matter of life and death, and if it was denied, it was a grievous matter. Moreover, when Sodom is discussed in Scripture, homosexuality is never mentioned as its sin. Here is the evidence of that fact, for which I’m indebted to the web site christianlesbians.com:
Old Testament References The Sins of Sodom Mentioned
Deuteronomy 29:17-26 Idolatry and images to false gods
Deuteronomy 32:32-38 Idolatry
Isaiah 1:9-23 Murder, greed, theft, rebellion, covetousness
Isaiah 3:8-15 Mistreating the poor
Isaiah 3:11-19 Arrogance
Jeremiah 23:10-14 Adultery, lying by priests and prophets
Jeremiah 49:16-18 Pride of the heart
Jeremiah 50:2-40 Idolatry and pride
Lamentations 4:3-6 Cruelty and failure to care for the young and poor
Ezekiel 16:49-50 “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.”
Amos 4:1-11 Oppression and mistreating the poor
Zephaniah 2:8 Pride
New Testament Reference The Sins of Sodom Mentioned
Luke 17:26-29 No specific sins mentioned
2 Peter 2:6 Living after ungodliness
Jude 1:7-8 Fornication after strange (“other”) flesh. (Could be related to Genesis 6:1-2)
“Jesus declared that He hadn’t come to do away with a portion of the Law but to fulfill all the Law (Matthew 5:17-18). Paul in Romans 10:4 says that ‘Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to all who believe’ and in Romans 7:6 tells us that we have been released from the Law and are dead to that which had us bound. If a portion of the Law remains in effect then all the Law must remain in effect.” (christianlesbians.com)
Paul was writing to the believing Jews of Rome and in Chapter One of the book of Romans he is describing the progressive descent into sin of the unbelieving Gentiles. You can’t look at Chapter One without relating it to Chapter Two where Paul admonishes the Jews that if they pass judgment on even these behaviors, they are in fact condemning themselves. Paul’s purpose was to show us all from which Christ redeemed Christians! As Professor Peter J. Gomes wrote in his excellent book, The Good Book: Reading The Bible With Mind And Heart, in reading Scripture we must take account of what it says, what it means, its subtext, its context, what we bring to the text, and what we take out of the text; biblical principle must always trump biblical practice. Our cultural lenses and personal prejudices frequently blind us to what Scripture is saying, much as they blinded those who used Scripture to justify slavery, segregation, and subjugation of women inside and outside of the Church. It is essential to realize that text without context is error! Although GLBT inclusiveness is in part a political matter, it is primarily a religious one, in that even homophobes who have never even set foot inside of a church frequently claim to speak for God on this matter. One may be a homophobe, but he or she cannot appeal to the Bible to justify his or her prejudices. It’s high time that Christians actively stand up to the legalists, the haters, and hate-mongers both in and out of the Church, as perverters of the Gospel message of love, grace, faith, mercy, compassion, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness. There is not to be, nor can there be, “unity” at the expense of social justice! There cannot be a meeting of the minds when those who have a tenacious and vested interest in misusing the Bible, God’s love letter to His children, stridently condemn others, thereby helping to create and foment a climate of hate that results in the suicides and killings of GLBT people, many of whom, due to this hateful rhetoric, lead lives consumed with shame and self-loathing. Christians must reclaim the Gospel of grace and the Bible of forgiveness, to show forth the God of love. And we must use every venue possible to show others that Christianity is antithetical to ignorant, erroneous, oppressive, and hateful biblical exegeses. In reclaiming the Bible from those who would seek to hijack it, and who have distorted it, for their own religious, materialistic, and political agendas, we must all battle for full civil and sacramental rights for GLBT people, as by so doing we are battling for the very soul of the Church. And, therefore, we are ultimately engaging in this battle for God’s sake!
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.