Saturday, 16 August 2014

Homosexuality & The Bible


After Christian songwriter Vicky Beeching proclaimed in an interview in The Independent, on Thursday, "I'm gay. God loves me just the way I am", there was the expected kerfuffle in conservative Evangelical circles. Channel 4 News interviewed Beeching and US hardliner Scott Lively together, highlighting the problems.

The way Beeching (like many others) has been treated over the years is clear abuse and religious belief is no excuse for that - although do note that such abuse happens at least as much outside churches as inside, even in the US.

One common thread is the claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Clearly many who make this claim neither know nor care what the Bible says, but hopefully there are some who do care. So maybe a little clarification would be helpful.

There are three main passages that tend to be quoted about homosexuality, although only one, in Romans, is relevant to females:-

The first, rather depressingly, is from the ancient book of Leviticus:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
I say 'rather depressingly' because Leviticus is right at the heart of the Torah, the Jewish Law. If there is one thing that a conservative evangelical ought to know it is that Jesus died to set us free from the Jewish Law, to live instead under God's grace.

Some evangelical traditions undermine that by saying that the Torah contains ceremonial laws, which are not binding on Christians, like circumcision, and moral laws which are. This is pure human tradition and directly contradicts both Jesus - who said that Torah is not to be reduced, not by so much as one jot or one tittle as the old translation puts it (Matthew 5:18) - and Paul - who wrote that those who rely on the Law must do everything written in the Law or be under a curse (Galatians 3:10). There is a choice for 'Biblical Christians': either try to follow the rules of the Jewish Law, and be condemned by it, or live in the freedom of God's grace, without putting millstones around people's necks or heavy burdens on their shoulders.

Vicky Beeching mentions Sodom and Gomorrah in her interview, but the Bible is explicit, in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, that the sin of Sodom was social injustice:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
The second often quoted 'passage' is rather a series of passages: Paul's lists. Typical is the following from his first letter to the Corinthian church (in the ESV translation):
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
There is actually a translation issue here in that 'men who practise homosexuality' attempts to translate two different slang terms of uncertain meaning: roughly 'male bedders'  and 'softies'. Merging two list items into one is poor translation anyway, but anyone using this passage should be aware that the one of the terms was apparently invented by Paul, without clarification, and the other was used in different ways in Greek writings - including softies as young men who have not had an older male lover - and a general reference to male homosexuality is as much assumption as scripture.
[The above paragraph was edited 17/08/14, after some more research]

However, the main point is that these are very general lists, not just about sex. In particular they should be taken in conjunction with Jesus' warning about lust being equivalent to adultery, and anger to murder. Take the lists as a whole and we are all included; none of us are entitled to entry into the kingdom of God ... we all depend on God's grace not our own worthiness. So anyone using these lists to condemn someone else, for sexuality say, is condemning themselves. As Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

Which brings us to the final passage, for now, in many ways the biggie - also the only one which mentions female homosexuality - from Paul's letter to the Romans:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
I must admit I do find this one irritating. It is well known that context is important, and the verses above are a small part of quite a long, structured passage, whose conclusion is:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practise the very same things. ... Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgement will be revealed.
The Bible is absolutely clear: passing judgement on other people for their sexuality is to condemn oneself, not them. We can twist and turn and make excuses, but the point is clear. It is not homosexuality which condemns but legalism and judging others. Live in the freedom of God's grace for yourself, and allow others to do the same.

Finally, a thought from journalist Jonny Freeman, on Huffington Post:
If you're reading this and you believe you're gay, and you have a faith, do not feel ashamed. Life's for living, embrace who you are. The acceptance is growing, and one day, at last, it won't be such a big talking point.
Amen to that.

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