Many years ago I was asked to speak to a church’s congregation and community members about why gays should not be ordained to the clergy. At that time, reading such Scripture verses as Romans 1:20-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, as well as verses in the Old Testament ostensibly pertaining to homosexuality, I fully believed that gays should not be ordained. I would never make that speech today! Indeed, I’m deeply ashamed that I did give that speech.
When studying anything, let alone Scripture, consideration of context is crucial! 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 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. Moreover, even in the Old Testament, the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, but homosexual gang rape 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 Testmaent References:
- 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 References:
- 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 us!
In a fascinating book, recommended to me by Larry Judkins, 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)
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. 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.
I wish I had had this insight at the time I was asked to make that speech, but I didn’t. Thank God I have it now, and I’m deeply sorry for having made that speech.
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.