I’d love to say that I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and have some valid excuse for not publishing it sooner, but the truth is the idea for it only popped into my head yesterday. Why do I wish I’d been thinking of it for a while? Because the fact that I haven’t means that I have been blissfully unaware of the need for such a post. And why is there a need for such a post? Because, as the amazing LesBeMums wrote on Facebook recently, people from outside the LGBTQ+ community need to be talking about this (see Facebook post below). And, as a Christian, I really need to be talking about this, because we all know how challenging the dialogue between Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community can be!
TL;DR – Too Long; Didn’t Read
As this is going to be quite a long and detailed post, I thought I’d provide a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version. I’d hate to lose you because I was taking too long to get to the point. So here’s the basis of this post, in a nutshell:
Most Christian arguments against homosexuality come from a very literal reading of the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, and seem to ignore the central message of Jesus Christ. Repeatedly throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, we hear about how he taught that love was the most important thing, that he had come for all people, and that he would rather spend time with the outcasts of society than those who stuck too closely to religious law. Personally, I chose to follow Christ because of his teachings, his love and care for others, and his acceptance of all. That’s why I love and support the LGBTQ+ Community.
If you want to know more about all of this, please continue reading the post.
A little disclaimer, before I begin
As I know this is likely to be a pretty contentious post, I just want to make a couple of things clear:
- I am not a biblical scholar or theologian, in fact I’m pretty new to Christianity having only decided to be baptised a couple of years ago. But a large part of my faith journey has involved learning a lot from biblical scholars and theologians, and I shall be quoting them throughout this post. I hope that this will help to add weight to this conversation, rather than it simply being my own personal take on the matter.
- This is obviously just my personal view on this, and I cannot and will not speak for others within the Christian community. Whilst I hope that we can, over time, move towards a more accepting stance as a whole church, I appreciate that we have a long way to go before that happens, and that there will always be disagreement over issues such as this. And I respect the right of anyone to hold their own personal views on this, even when I disagree with them.
- And, most importantly, I am more than happy to have a discussion about this with anyone. But, I am not here to provide a platform for ignorant, angry, or aggressive voices. Comment moderation is in place on my blog, and if you leave a comment that attacks anyone within the LGBTQ+ Community, it will be deleted.
Why are some Christians so opposed to the LGBTQ+ Community?
I thought it would be helpful to get this part covered first, because it isn’t always clear exactly why some Christians are so opposed to the LGBTQ+ Community. I’ve got to admit that even as a Christian I wasn’t 100% sure where it was coming from. So when I started to think about this post I did a bit of research, and found this really helpful overview from BBC Bitesize. There are lots and lots of articles and comments about it across the internet if you want to find out more, but I really don’t want to give too much “airtime” to it within this post. So I’m going to briefly comment on the four main points picked up in the BBC article, providing the context and why I feel the arguments are mostly moot at this point.
1. In Genesis, God made humans, both male and female, in order to procreate.
Okay, so if we take this comment at face value, it’s perhaps easier to see where some of this resistance to homosexuality comes from. But the point is we shouldn’t be taking anything in the Bible at face value.
The Bible is made up of 66 books, written by numerous authors over several centuries, and spanning a wide range of subjects and cultures. Each part was written in a very specific time and place, for a very specific audience. None of it was written specifically for us, as we live our lives today.
This is a point I am going to make repeatedly throughout this post, as it is the basis of biblical literacy. The Bible must be read with the historical and cultural context in mind. That’s not to say that there isn’t great spiritual truth within it, because there is. But you have to work out what that is, given the context, rather than reading it literally. As John Dominic Crossan writes:
“My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”
So, if we choose to let go of a literal reading of Genesis, and look at it instead through a symbolical lens, what might we see? Well, as I’ve said, I’m no biblical scholar, but this is what I see:
There are two creation stories (one after the other, in Genesis 1 and 2), and whilst both have similarities, there are some very clear differences too. In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman in His/Our image (Genesis 1:26-27), whereas in Genesis 2 God creates Adam first and then Eve (Genesis 2: 18-23). As for procreation, only in Genesis 1:28 does is specifically mention increasing in number, because Genesis 2 is more focused on The Fall (yes, I acknowledge that there is mention of pain in childbirth etc, but it isn’t given as a command).
Given that it takes until the 26th verse in Genesis 1 to even mention the creation of man and woman, and that procreation is given such a small part within both creation stories (which are only a tiny part of the Bible as a whole), why are we placing so much emphasis upon this? And even if procreation is taken as highly significant, we need to remember that medical advances have changed this significantly, and not just for homosexual couples. Think about all the times in the Bible when we read about women who were unable to conceive. A male/female couple may struggle just as much to conceive as a male/male or female/female couple might.
And then, of course, there are couples who may decide not to have children. Or those who decide to split up and end up raising children as single parents. When you start to break down this idea that God created man and woman for the sole purpose of procreation, you start to realise just how ridiculous it is to take it literally. The creation accounts were given as symbolic stories of how the world was created. In Genesis 1 God creates lots of variety (light/dark, land/sea, all the animals and plants of the earth etc), so male/female was just another example of the creation of variety upon the Earth.
2. The natural order in nature is for male and female to unite (Natural Law)
This one I find very difficult to even wrap my head around, because there are so many examples within nature that are not of male and female uniting. Just recently I’ve been researching fruit trees for a memorial at my son’s school, and there are several varieties of fruit trees which are self-fertile, that is they don’t even need another tree nearby in order to create new fruit. And then there are many examples of homosexual and bisexual behaviour within the animal kingdom.
This fascinating article gives some great examples of where homosexual behaviour is seen in various animal species. Admittedly, it goes to great pains to explain that very few can be compared to homosexual relationships in the same way we understand them in human terms. But, let’s be fair, there are a multitude of ways in which humans and human relationships are very different to that of animals, so why make the distinction at all? As the article concludes:
“We may never find a wild animal that is strictly homosexual in the way some humans are. But we can expect to find many more animals that don’t conform to traditional categories of sexual orientation. They are using sex to satisfy all sorts of needs, from simple pleasure to social advancement, and that means being flexible.”
So, let’s give up this idea of Natural Law as a way of arguing against homosexuality, shall we?
3. Homosexuality is specifically forbidden in the book of Leviticus
Leviticus 20:13 does indeed state, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (NIV Translation). But are we seriously going to selectively choose small sections of the Bible (even small sections of a single book of the Bible) without considering the context at all?
Let’s look at the context for Leviticus, shall we? Biblica, gives a great overview of the book of Leviticus, but for ease I’ll repeat the main points here. Leviticus follows the Exodus from Egypt, and covers a period of time when the people of Israel were living in the desert. It is filled with a multitude of laws surrounding holiness, specifically in relation to worship at the tabernacle. Leviticus 20:13 is just a tiny part of a book which includes dozens of laws.
Many of the laws written in Leviticus sound absurd to a modern audience, and for a very good reason – they were not written for us! Remember how we talked about reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context? Leviticus was written for a people in exile, trying to live a holy life in a foreign land. Their life, in ancient times, was so far removed from our modern lives that it’s no wonder so many of the laws in Leviticus no longer make sense to us.
A Quick Aside:
Rather than looking at specific laws within the Old Testament, let’s look briefly at what the gospels say about Jesus and the Law. After all, it’s Jesus Christ who we follow as Christians, isn’t it? In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is asked which is the greatest law, and this is what he replied:
“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 neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12: 29-31 (NIV Translation)
I’ve got to tell you, this is one of my favourite verses in the Bible, because pretty much everything hangs off this. The greatest command we are ever given is to love God (in whose image we are made), and to love one another. If we do that, no other command is really necessary, is it? Because if we truly loved each other, we would feel no need to hurt, harm, or condemn another. If I’m attacking two people for being in love, because of some antiquated law that was written for a different time and place, who is really at fault, them or me?
As John Churcher writes in this blog post in favour of gay marriage:
“Attacking homosexuality ‘because the Bible says so’ ignores the fact that the number of chapters in the entire Bible that have anything specific to say about homosexuality can be counted on the fingers of two hands! However, the word ‘justice’ appears specifically in 24 chapters of the Bible and the word ‘love’ appears specifically in 200 plus chapters. So what is more important, justice and love or the condemnation of homosexuality? Cherry picking Bible verses to support personal prejudice and then to claim to have Biblical authority to back it up is the real abomination.”
4. Some of St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament condemn homosexuality
I must admit that this is the one biblical argument made against homosexuality that I struggle to form a coherent argument against. That’s not to say that I don’t disagree with it, it’s just that there are so many differing articles and opinions based on the writings of Paul, and I’m still trying to work my way through them. And as I’m trying to write this post with a mind to biblical literacy and not just my own personal opinion, I want to ensure that what I write has a solid foundation.
But whilst I cannot comment specifically on the verses in which Paul seems to condemn homosexuality, I do want to explain why I personally choose to place more emphasis on the overarching message of love within the New Testament, rather than these small, individual moments in which homosexuality is specifically mentioned (and they are only very small parts of much larger works).
The letters of Paul are some of the earliest New Testament writings, many pre-dating the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. But it must be remembered that Paul never met the living Jesus, and began his own ministry following his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, having a vision of the risen Christ. In fact, Paul’s teaching was often quite different to those who had known the living Jesus, as Diarmaid MacCulloch notes in his epic work, A History of Christianity:
“We know of the tensions between the first Church in Jerusalem and Churches in which Paul of Tarsus became the prominent teacher .. The Jerusalem Church remained closer to the parent Judaism than other Churches did, that secondary grouping of other Churches revered the ministry and then the memory of Paul, who suffered the potential handicap of never having met the lord in his public ministry unlike his contemporaries in the Jerusalem leadership who included relatives of the lord.”
So, for me at least, when I see just a few select verses taken from Paul’s many letters to multiple churches across the diaspora, I take them with a pinch of salt. It’s not that I don’t accept that Paul’s letters were incredibly influential in the development of the early church, and continue to be highly influential to Christianity today, because I do. It’s just that I dislike taking verses out of context, especially in order to condemn others, and that’s what it feels like we’re doing with some of Paul’s writings here.
As Karen Armstrong writes in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness:
“If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, of self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology”.
If we’re taking single verses and using them to harm a whole community, is that not bad theology?
Love, the greatest commandment
Now that we’ve looked at the usual arguments against homosexuality, let’s come back to the idea of love as the greatest commandment, which we’ve already looked at briefly. Two of the gospels describe a scene in which Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, to which he replies to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. The latter part, to love another as oneself, forms part of what is known as The Golden Rule, which exists within all major world religions in some form or another. The short video below expresses this far better than I could.
So if Jesus taught that this was the greatest commandment, how did he live that in his own life? As Christians we believe that Jesus lived a life that was untarnished by sin, so how he lived should surely be a prime example for how we should live. So how did he love his neighbour as himself? Here are just a few examples:
- Jesus treated women as equals, in a society when they were very much not treated as such. Consider how important Mary Magdalene is, as one of Jesus most devoted disciples mentioned in the gospel accounts. And what’s more, some of the women we hear about would have been considered some of the lowest of the low. Take, for instance, his conversation with the Samaritan woman he meets at the well in John 4.
- There are several accounts of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, which was considered unlawful. In Mark 3:4 Jesus asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In Luke 13 he calls people hypocrites for condemning him for healing on the Sabbath. And in Matthew 12:12 he says, “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” All of this is against the teachings of the time, and we are told that the leaders use this to plot against Jesus. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, or in line with the teachings of the day, but it is always good to love and care for those around you, even if it means you put your neck on the line.
- Going against the overwhelming focus on purity and cleanliness in the Old Testament teachings, Jesus not only heals those who would be considered “unclean” but actually touches them, without any hint of repulsion. In Mark 1: 40-45, touches a man with leprosy, and in Luke 8:40-48 a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches Jesus, and his response is to praise her for her faith.
- In one of his most famous parables, that of The Good Samaritan, Jesus takes one of the most hated of peoples (the Samaritans) and makes him more righteous than any of the teachers of the Law. In fact, this parable is told in response to the question about how to be a good neighbour, and carry out the greatest commandment.
Understanding these Jesus stories in a modern context
Now, I am very aware that these are just a few small snippets of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, and I have spent the vast majority of this blog post warning against taking select verses from the Bible and using them without reflection on their wider context. Which is why I have linked to any verse I have mentioned, and I would encourage you to go and read them and look into them further, if you are so inclined.
One of the best ways I have found to do so, is to read books and articles by biblical scholars (or even to watch recordings of talks they have given on YouTube, of which there are many). Two of my favourite biblical scholars, are Bishop John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg. I am going to reflect upon their words as I bring this post to a conclusion, and I hope they will help to give some context for understanding the examples I have given above in today’s society.
First, let’s start with the historical and cultural context in which the gospel accounts were written. As Spong writes (emphasis in bold is my own):
“This point must be heard: the Gospels are first-century narrations based on first-century interpretations. Therefore they are a first-century filtering of the experience of Jesus. They have never been other than that. We must read them today not to discover the literal truth about Jesus, but rather to be led into the Jesus experience they were seeking to convey. That experience always lies behind the distortions, which are inevitable since words are limited. If the Gospels are to be for us revelations of truth, we must enter these texts, go beneath the words, discover the experience that made the words necessary, and in this manner seek the meaning to which the words point. One must never identify the text with the revelation or the messenger with the message. That has been the major error in our two thousand years of Christian history. It is an insight that today is still feared and resisted. But let it be clearly stated, the Gospels are not in any literal sense holy, they are not accurate, and they are not to be confused with reality. They are rather beautiful portraits painted by first-century Jewish artists, designed to point the reader toward that which is in fact holy, accurate, and real. The Gospels represent that stage in the development of the faith story in which ecstatic exclamation begins to be placed into narrative form.”
What is it that you have against taking the Bible literally, I hear you say? Well, you can take it literally if you like, but it becomes much harder to view the Bible as a whole, if you’re hoping to read it literally. There are too many contradictions, too many opinions, too many things which cannot be fully understood or explained, if you try to insist it is literally true. The Bible isn’t history, as we understand history to be today. It is, instead, a collection of writings that express the history of very specific people in very specific times, and their desire to understand and know God.
When Jesus taught in parables, do you think he expected people to think they had actually happened? Or do you think he was trying to share an eternal truth that transcended specific examples? What was he trying to teach his disciples when he taught them of The Good Samaritan? And, in turn, what were the gospel writers trying to teach those who would read their words when they wrote about the life and ministry of Jesus? How and why did they choose to include the accounts that they did? And what message is as important for us today as it was back in the first century?
Well, today we don’t generally consider menstruating women to be unclean, leprosy isn’t something that the majority of us will come across in our lifetimes, and we don’t have Samaria as a neighbouring country. So we need to lose the specifics of the verses including these, and instead find the underlying message within them. How can we love our neighbour in today’s world, in the way that we’re told Jesus did in the gospels? Who is oppressed in our world, and how can we love them?
Given that this post is about the LGBTQ+ Community, I’m really hoping that your automatic response to this is in becoming an Ally. But it might not be. And that’s okay, you may not be at that point right now. But I hope you will be at some point. Because if the gospel accounts teach us anything, surely it is that love is the most important thing, and our LGBTQ+ friends are simply trying to live a life in which they are free to love.
So what’s next? How do you become an Ally, especially as a Christian?
Good question! It’s a tough one, not because it is hard per se, but because there is so much division over this within the Christian Community. But there’s one thing I really wanted to share with you before I give you some helpful links for connecting with the LGBTQ+ Community, and that’s a very short quotation from one of my very favourite biblical scholars, Marcus Borg:
“The Kingdom of God was not about an afterlife, about how to get to heaven, but about the transformation of life here on earth”
Given how much emphasis is put upon the Kingdom of God, isn’t it wonderful to know that it is all about life, right here and right now? It’s not about living a good life for some future reward, but upon living a good life so that the Kingdom of God is felt and experienced here on earth. And what is the Kingdom of God, if it isn’t love and acceptance of all, as expressed in the greatest commandment?
So go out, and give your support to those who desperately need your support. It is not the role of the LGBTQ+ Community to defend themselves against the dominant belief system which condemns them for doing nothing more than loving one another, rather it is our role to demand change from within the dominant belief system. As Marcus Borg writes in The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith:
“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”
Let’s be critics of the domination system which oppresses those who are different, and instead embrace an alternative social vision, in which we accept that love is love, and that’s the most important thing in the entire world.
LGBTQ+ blogs I love, and wider sites within the community
If you’d like to read more from within the LGBTQ+ Community, please consider checking out some of the following: