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As I said in a previous post, I don’t talk or write about my faith or beliefs often. This has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. I want to continue to learn more about this complex subject, and would be glad to talk with you about it.
The best resource I’ve found so far is this article from the site “The God Article”. It eloquently and humourously (multiple Monty Python references!) covers the major Bible citations used to say that the Bible says that homosexuality is sinful. It analyzes the cultural context behind the passages as well as the original language it was written in, examining different interpretations to the words. It has been an excellent resource, though it leaves me with little to add about the passages.
Instead, I’ll mention the Bible as a whole. The entire book must be understood as a continuous story of humanity’s struggle with sin and redemption. In the Old Testament books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy lay the foundation for God’s first laws for humanity, the Old Covenant, including the familiar Ten Commandments. They continue with the books of history, poetry, and the prophets. These in turn lay the path for Jesus and His Gospel (good news), and the New Covenant he makes with all of humanity with His life and death on earth.
So what do we do with the Old Testament? It is our guide to God’s purpose for humanity, and foundational to our beliefs and understanding of God and human culture through history. Because of the drastic differences from modern culture and understanding coupled with the fact it is scripture from before Jesus’ New Covenant is formed, when using OT scripture to illustrate/inform our beliefs it is extremely important to analyze it in historical/cultural/biblical context.
A great example of this is the book of Leviticus. Small portions of it are often lifted and presented in isolation, instead of analyzing the entire book. It contains rules that are timeless and just as valuable today as when it was written, including Lev. 19:11: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another”. However, it also contains commandments not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19), tattoo our bodies (19:28), and lays out detailed accounts of what can and cannot be eaten (pigs are unclean and not to be eaten, 11:7). Despite this, Leviticus 18:22 (“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable”) is often cited as proof that homosexuality being a sin (covered pretty thoroughly in the God Article post).
An important thing to remember about the rules laid out in Leviticus is that they are part of the Old Covenant, replaced by Jesus’ New Covenant. Indeed, Jesus violates several of the rules laid down in Leviticus, and teaches his disciples that there is a new way.
One example is the food cleanliness rules set out in chapter 11. Jesus is very clear about this, as written in Mark 7:14-19:
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can be made ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’
After he left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)
As well, Leviticus Chapter 13 lays out regulations about skin diseases, including when someone suffering a skin disease cannot be touched and must be placed in isolation to ensure contamination doesn’t spread. Yet Jesus touched a leper (Matthew 8:22) in order to cure him.
It is important also to look for the existence or absence of connections between OT and NT passages. For example, Leviticus 19:18 says “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” This message is re-affirmed by Jesus in the book of Matthew:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12).
The issue behind all scripture-lifting is proof texting, or “the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing”. Rev. Marty Levesque (@Martycus) has an excellent blog post on the subject, which includes how proof texting is used as an argument against homosexuality. He writes:
Augustine and the early church fathers believed that isolating chapter and verse was detrimental to the understanding of scripture in general, and in particular could lead to the abuse of scripture and God’s word. They proposed and taught that when reading and applying scripture to life’s many situations one ought to never isolate chapter and verse. Instead one ought to interpret scripture as a part in relation to the whole.
He uses the example of one of the most often used Bible verses to defend the belief homosexuality is sinful, Romans 1:26-32:
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. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were 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 towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
He notes that is an excellent example of why taking scripture out of context can be so hazardous. Romans 2:1-4 continues:
You, therefore, have no excuse, those who pass judgment on someone else, for whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment that those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think that you escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?
In the end, it comes down to our own personal understanding of scripture and the nature of our creator. Though each of our perceptions are constantly changing with new perceptions and awareness, we hold onto a foundational belief. My belief is in a God who is compassion, truth and light. With the understanding that sexuality is not a choice, I believe God wouldn’t create people with a sexual nature he condemns. Jesus created a new and lasting covenant with all of us, one that calls us to be like him. He didn’t speak in condemnation of people who are LGBT, and exhorted everyone to love everyone equally. If there is one piece of scripture to cite and remember, let it be the Greatest Commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
For the last while I’ve been thinking more about my beliefs about human sexuality, different perceptions about what is/isn’t sinful, and whether to be homosexual/bisexual/transgender is a choice or a lifestyle. This has become more intense as I have become more involved in living out my beliefs by participating in Pride London last week, and as the issue has taken centre stage in the United States again as the Chick-Fil-A controversy unfolds.
I’ve been thinking about the theological questions posed about sexuality and marriage from the Bible, and working to speak with/read from different people to explore different perspectives on sexuality. However, I’ll tackle it in a future post, and want to start with the debate if sexuality is a lifestyle choice or a predisposition that is ingrained in who we are.
I’ve tried to read from a variety of scientific publications, and I’ve found strong scientific evidence to support my belief that sexuality of all kinds isn’t a choice. From what I’ve read from organizations like the American Psychological Association and Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists is that there seems to be a strong scientific consensus that not only is sexuality (both hetero- and homosexuality) formed by biological conditions (and therefore a part of who the person is) it is a natural part of human bonding, not an aberration or disease. As well, many studies warn against the prejudice and discrimination that non-heterosexual people face based on negative stereotypes that persist although they aren’t backed by evidence, which harm the individual victimized as well as the society/community as a whole.
This “Submission to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality” by Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2004 states that there isn’t evidence to support the claim parenting/early childhood experiences shape sexuality:
Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.
The RCP also issued this statement:
The Royal College of Psychiatrists holds the view that lesbian, gay and bisexual people should be regarded as valued members of society who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. This includes equal access to health care, the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil partnership, the rights and responsibilities involved in procreating and bringing up children, freedom to practice a religion as a lay person or religious leader, freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.
From this Q&A-style statement by the American Psychological Association titled “Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality”, answering “Is homosexuality a mental disorder?”:
No, lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding.
The article also makes a statement about therapy intended to change sexual orientation:
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Finally, this publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that adverse life events aren’t responsible for sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences…Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.
It also states:
The mechanisms for the development of a particular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.
From these and other scientific reports, I conclude that human sexuality is a continuum, and that there isn’t anything innately “wrong” with any one kind of sexuality. There isn’t scientific evidence to support any kind of sexuality-based discrimination, and evidence that when we do discriminate, not only are we doing terrible harm to the victim, but harm to our entire society.
This also raises serious theological questions: if God creates people along a sexual continuum instead of only heterosexual, what implications does this have for our understanding of God and scripture? I hope to write soon on this subject.