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Does Christianity object to homosexuality?
November 29, 2004 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Ok, so we all saw the hilarity that ensued the last time someone posted a contemporary religion vs homosexuality thread on the blue. My question is strictly academic. Does christianity truly object or is that a more modern concern based on mistranslation?

Points of discussion say one thing and then the other . I, for one, do not have the linguistic background to isolate the wheat from the chaff, and so I ask metafilter. Queer - damnable sin, or something to cleanse yourself of before you go to temple if you're jewish.
posted by Sparx to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total)
 
The words of Jesus as written in scripture are totally
silent on the issue of Being Queer.
Their are theories that Jesus may have been bisexual.
Christianity,of course,is a vast world.
My pastor pointed out the fact that two thirds of the
world's Christians live in Asia and Africa now.
Quite a change from ten years ago.
Obscure Old Testament passages and the writings of
Saint Paul form most the conservative scriptural
support in their case against the GLBT community.
posted by bearybipolar at 3:15 AM on November 29, 2004


One of the big issues (looking at the New Testament stuff; I personally believe that the Old Testament passages just aren't relevant, if we're not going to condemn eating shrimp and wearing blended fabric) is that one of the words Paul uses that's often translated as referring to homosexuality is a word that we don't know the meaning of. It doesn't appear in any Greek writing before his time, and nowhere does he say exactly what he means by it.

Here's an essay from the pro-gay-rights camp on just that. I find the general thrust of the argument plausible, in addition to the argument that even if Paul was condemning homosexuality as it existed in ancient Greece, he had no experience of gay relationships as they exist today. I think he would have had reason to condemn having sex with teenage boys in non-permanent relationships. But, linguistically... the reason people are still fighting about it is that it's ambiguous. It's not going to be resolved.
posted by Jeanne at 3:35 AM on November 29, 2004


Jesus specifically spoke out about OT dietary laws, making all foods clean. He left the OT sexual laws alone.

Jesus did speak about sexual immorality in general. He never spoke specifically about sex with animals either, but it was included-along with homosexuality and other forms of illicit sexual activity-in his proscription against immorality.

Sex, according to the Bible, belongs ONLY in a committed heterosexual MARRIAGE.
posted by konolia at 4:36 AM on November 29, 2004


As far as Judaism goes: In terms of the actual doctrine, homosexuality was one of the reasons Sodom was destroyed, and it is absolutely not okay.

In practice, as in a lot of other cases, things are a lot different, unless you're orthodox.
posted by bingo at 5:18 AM on November 29, 2004


Sex, according to the Bible, belongs ONLY in a committed heterosexual MARRIAGE.

That's true. What's also truw is that cotton-polyester blends, according to the bible, are against god's law. Forgive me if I think it's convenient when people pick and choose the bible parts they personally have hangups about.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:24 AM on November 29, 2004


Jesus specifically spoke out about OT dietary laws, making all foods clean. He left the OT sexual laws alone.

Can you please find the quote from Jesus saying this in the NT? It should be easy to find-- it will be in red text.

The way I read it, Simon preached at a Roman officer's home during a dinner party and had a crisis of confidence about eating in a non-kosher home. He (Simon, not Jesus) heard God say he was okay with it, went and was well-recieved.

Then Saul, after his conversion, started a dialogue with the other early Christians about whether Romans and Greeks needed to adhere to Jewish dietary (and circumcision) laws if they wanted to be Christians. They decided that the gentiles need to give up blood sacrifices and sex in the temple and otherwise they were fine. Naturally, this seems a bit opportunistic because Saul and the elders knew that more restrictions equalled less conversions.

konolia, this is from Acts 14 and 15, which I'm sure that you've read. Again, where does Christ himself ever weigh in on this?

Jeanne is right-- the "take what you want from the OT and conveniently ignore the rest" is the root of religious objection to homosexuality. Christians dislike homosexuals and use parts of a largely ignored text to justify it instead of rigorously following every rule set down in it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2004


If anyone tries to tell me they're against homosexuality on account of Leviticus, I'll start looking through their closets for cotton-poly blends. There's also one time in Romans which may condemn homosexuality, but, based on translation issues and simple context, can also be considered a condemnation of homosexuality as practiced by the Romans -- adulterous affairs with slaves and prostitutes, generally young boys.

I think mainstream Protestantism should be ashamed, frankly, to make such a huge deal out of this while completely and totally ignoring the times Jesus himself says that anyone who divorces and remarries is an adulterer.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:50 AM on November 29, 2004


I think mainstream Protestantism should be ashamed, frankly, to make such a huge deal out of this while completely and totally ignoring the times Jesus himself says that anyone who divorces and remarries is an adulterer.

That's an excellent point, but I don't think you can expect Christians to back down on all moral beliefs just because they (some of them, not all) have backed down on that one.

Some pertinent verses, all New Testament (NIV):

Romans 1:24-27: "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Hebrews 13:4 "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. "

Then again...
1 Corinthians 7:1: "Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. [Or "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."]"

posted by heatherann at 7:12 AM on November 29, 2004 [1 favorite]


Some pertinent verses, all New Testament (NIV)

Yeah, but these are all letters from apostles. I want a quote from the Big Man.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:31 AM on November 29, 2004


It seems to me that when you're talking about two offenses in the same category (sexual indiscretion) from the same perspective, Christians are picking and choosing a lot. Even look at what konolia said, which is what most Christians say: sex only belongs in a heterosexual marriage. If they'd go a step further and say an actual lifelong commitment, which is not even IMPLIED in the term marriage (or even commitment) nowadays, then they'd have a tenable position based on a strict reading of the bible. But a strict reading of the epistles coupled with a dismissal of the words of Christ just means you're using the bible to suit yourself. And the only time I've ever heard a Christian say anything against divorce is to make themselves sound better when I use this argument. Otherwise, their silence speaks volumes.

The epistles themselves are VERY anti-sex, period. They don't say "heterosexual marriage is a wonderful beautiful thing, and that's why anything that deviates from that is wrong," which is the standard line nowadays. They say "Sex is evil, but if you reeeally can't control yourself, marry someone. Of the opposite sex." At least then you can have kids and maybe grow up and stop being so horny. OK, it doesn't really say that part, but that sort of fits in the mindset.

So the reason why you can't use Romans or Corinthians to support something like, say, the Defense of Marriage Act, is because that would imply that marriage is some awesome thing we need to defend. If you asked Paul, he'd prefer a Defense of Celibacy Act. If you asked Jesus, he'd support it -- if it was against divorce.

This is the sort of reason why the church has made itself irrelevant. Very few churches wants to renounce divorce because divorced people are willing to give tons of time and (most importantly) money to people who are willing to say they're good people and what they did is OK. The Catholics in this country would do the same thing if it were allowed, and if it were up for a US-only vote of clergy I'm sure it would be.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:31 AM on November 29, 2004


Does christianity truly object or is that a more modern concern based on mistranslation?

There are actually several potential questions here. First, how does contemporary Catholic doctrine view homosexuality? Second, how does contemporary Protestant doctrine (or the various Prostetant doctrines) view homosexuality? Third, how was homosexuality viewed by the early Christian church? Forth, how was homosexuality viewed by Jesus? Fifth, how was homosexuality viewed by Judiasm at the time of Jesus (this is not relevant in itself, but will likely be useful in answering some of the above questions). And, sixth, how do contemporary non-Christians and very liberal Christians view homosexuality?

Which question do you want answered? I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to clarify for yourself which question you're really asking. Much of the confusion on this issue revolves around the fact that people are really answering different questions.

NT Wright, the noted Oxford historian and Bishop of Durham, has spoken on this issue in the context of the Anglican homosexual schism. You might find this interview helpful.

In response to the claim that Jesus himself didn't directly speak against homosexuality, Wright has this to say. (The interview is long and only one question is directly on point, so I'll excerpt it here for your convenience).

The issue that is most dividing the church in America today and the same in your church is the issue of homosexuality. Some people argue Jesus was silent on the issue. Everybody says he would have been on their side, base on their reading of the Bible. What does the text actually say?

In my view the text is not limited in the way that some people might imagine. The New Testament is actually very clear about all kinds of sexual misdemeanor. And the New Testament simply reaffirms a great deal that was common coinage in the Judaism of its time as to sexuality. Jesus didn't need to speak explicitly against homosexuality for the same reason that he didn't speak against heroin addiction. It was not a problem in the world of his day. Jesus didn't speak about circumcision though that was a very, very important issue for Paul in the churches of his day because Jesus was working with Jewish people and all the men were circumcised. It wasn't a question.

It would be a very trivialized read of Jesus if we imagined that Jesus simply came to give us a set of teachings on every possible subject that we might ever want to know anything about. And that's not how the early Christians saw Jesus at all. There are all sorts of lessons that need to be learned about how you use the New Testament authentically and with wisdom instead of cutting and chopping and picking out bits.

The question is more, when you do the serious historical work and discover what the early Christians thought about why God gave us the gift of sexuality in the first place, and how it reflects who we are as human beings, then the question is more, "Did they know anything about the issues that we face? And if they did, do we have to do what they say?"

It would be a more intellectually authentic position to say, the New Testament says that homosexual practice is not what Christians ought to engage in but I disagree for these reasons. I can understand that position. I can't actually understand a position which says the New Testament is either silent or open on the subject because, frankly, it isn't. The other thing which comes up again and again is people say, well, all they knew about was certain types of homosexual phenomena and not at all the sort of thing that we have, to which the answer is just go and read Plato. Plato's Symposium has a lengthy discussion of homosexual love which includes as one of the options precisely the kind of long, stable partnership that some people now are advocating. This is not new. Modern homosexuality was not invented by Michael Foucault, you know. There's a great deal that goes back through the 18th and 19th centuries with which we're in a continuum. This is a much deeper and harder issue than people have made out.

posted by gd779 at 9:48 AM on November 29, 2004


I think my point was unclear. If you want a definitive, scholarly, orthodox answer on this issue, Wright is probably your man. He's one of the leading scholarly lights in the history of the early Christian church, especially with regard to the teachings of Paul.
posted by gd779 at 9:54 AM on November 29, 2004


Heatheranne - part of the problem with the english quotes is that what has been translated as 'homosexual offenders' has been translated otherwise in other places. There are good reasons to suggest that the term, in the corinthian context, emphasises the 'offender' part -namely, the kind of people who sleep with the male, and often underage, prostitutes mentioned immediately beforehand.

And in the other quote 'men who were inflamed with lust for one another' doesn't sound much like the committed long-term relationships some of my friends are in.

It's for reason's like this that I'm suspicious that homosexuality can truly be lumped in with sexual immorality (and hence why I asked the question). Of course, if you want to take the hardline approach that only married heteros can have sex at all, then you can slap a 'sinner' sticker on me and call me 'onan'.

Also, thanks for the link gd779. It may take me a while to digest it all.
posted by Sparx at 11:14 AM on November 29, 2004


As far as Judaism goes: In terms of the actual doctrine, homosexuality was one of the reasons Sodom was destroyed, and it is absolutely not okay.

That's male homosexuality, to be specific, but it's considered forbidden more because of the specific injunctions in Leviticus than the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Lesbianism, on the other hand, has a few very minor mentions in the Talmud, but, technically, no specific injunctions--the phrases used to discuss it include "mere licentiousness" and "rebelliousness", not "terribly abhorrent behavior that should get you stoned to death". Maimonides even ruled that lesbians are not ineligible to marry Kohanim (priests), because the sex they had with other women is not considered intercourse and thus they're not whores (!). See also Position Paper in Favor of Rabbinic Officiation at Same-Sex Ceremonies by Rabbi Joan Friedman, from 1998, especially the footnotes.

And of course, we don't have to deal with Paul's take on the subject, so there's actually very little discussion of or focus on homosexuality in Jewish law compared to other issues of sexual immorality or cleanliness, such as niddah, or all the kabillion non-sexual laws, like keeping kosher. But, as you point out...

In practice, as in a lot of other cases, things are a lot different, unless you're orthodox.

Yup. There's a surprisingly large number of openly gay and lesbian rabbis in modern American Judaism, including a nice young rabbi at my current synagogue who has an unfortunate tone of voice and manner of delivering sermons that led my husband and I to nickname him "Rabbi Moviefone".

And same-sex marriages are accepted and performed within Reconstructionist and Reform congregations and have been for over a decade. (See also.) A small number of Conservative synagogues are starting to perform them as well, mostly at their rabbis' discretion, as long as both halves of the couple are Jewish, of course, and will raise any kids they may have in a Jewish home--religious continuity taking precedence over the gender issue. (Food for thought: would this have been the case if the Jewish intermarriage rate in America were not so high? I'm not so sure.)

Anyway, my point is that there's a much stronger emphasis in Judaism on other things: be a mensch; don't eat pork (except at Chinese restaurants, which don't count); give to charity; study hard; call your mother, she worries; when are you going to have kids already? Being openly gay may still carry a stigma, but it's not prioritized as some sort of super-sin the way it seems to be in other religions.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:33 PM on November 29, 2004


As heatherann has noted, one of the key texts is 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, where Paul lists ten sins which he sees as especially dangerous for the church at Corinth, including malakoi and arsenokoitai. The precise meaning of these terms is unclear. Some scholars argue that they refer to very specific forms of homosexual activity (e.g. male prostitution and pederasty). Others argue that they represent a more general condemnation of homosexual behaviour.

This is an enormously contentious issue, but most New Testament scholars would probably agree on the following points:

1. The ten sins in Paul's list relate either to sexual issues (e.g. adultery) or to greed and exploitation. This suggests that whatever Paul meant by malakoi and arsenokoitai, he saw them as connected with a desire for power and dominance over others.

2. Many of these sins relate to physical gratification (e.g. sexual immorality, drunkenness). This suggests that whatever Paul meant by malakoi and arsenokoitai, he wasn't just thinking of a state of mind; he was telling the Corinthians to exercise control over the way they used their bodies.

3. As to the words themselves: malakoi carries connotations of 'softness' and seems to refer to behaviour that Paul considered effeminate or unmanly, e.g. allowing oneself to be the passive homosexual partner. The second term, arsenokoitai, is more difficult to translate, but seems to mean something like 'going to bed with men'. The question, of course, is whether this refers specifically to male prostitutes, or more generally to men who have sex with other men.

I'm not going to state my own opinion on this issue, except to say that I respect any Christian who is prepared to engage honestly and thoughtfully with the biblical texts in all their complexity.
posted by verstegan at 3:13 PM on November 29, 2004


homosexuality was one of the reasons Sodom was destroyed

This is an extremely contentious statement. It is not at all clear why Sodom was destroyed (and if I were Christian I would say you were presumptuous for trying to read God's mind); there are many who think the sin of Sodom was inhospitality:
What was the sin of Sodom? Abuse and offense against strangers. Insult to the travelers.

Inhospitality to the needy. These are the points of the story understood in its own historical context. When male-male rape becomes part of the story, the additional offense is sexual abuse—gross insult and humiliation in Lot’s time and in our own.

The entire story and its culture make clear that the author was not concerned about sex in itself, and it was irrelevant whether the sex was heterosexual or homosexual. The real point was the importance of offering hospitality and observing Cardinal rule. In place of his male guests, without a second thought Lot offered his daughters. This proves the point of the story isn’t about sex. The main point of the story is abuse and assault, in whatever form they take. To use this text to condemn homosexuality is to misuse this text.
posted by languagehat at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2004


Jesus was very, very clear about divorce and remarriage being wrong (except, perhaps, in a case of adultery--the Gospels contradict each other on that).

Yet, since Ireland made divorce legal in 1995, every country in the world has legal divorce and remarriage in every case.

Just sayin'.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:27 PM on November 29, 2004


and if I were Christian I would say you were presumptuous for trying to read God's mind

...right...of course, I'm not a Christian either, and in Judaism, a rather high premium is placed on thinking through what it is that God meant by any given act or decree.

As far as polyester blends go...

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

Speaking of contentious, to say that this passage tells us anything about whether we should wear polyester, alone or blended with other fabrics, is pretty ridiculous.

Fabric made from an animal is not to be blended with a fabric made from what that animal eats...and even this interpretation involves a certain amount or arguable extrapolation, but at least it's consistent with the mandate not to 'boil a calf in its mother's milk.'
posted by bingo at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2004


Yes, but that passage rules out beefalo, linsey-woolsey, and many other fine things.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:02 PM on November 29, 2004


Heatherann - part of the problem with the english quotes is that what has been translated as 'homosexual offenders' has been translated otherwise in other places. There are good reasons to suggest that the term, in the corinthian context, emphasises the 'offender' part -namely, the kind of people who sleep with the male, and often underage, prostitutes mentioned immediately beforehand.

And in the other quote 'men who were inflamed with lust for one another' doesn't sound much like the committed long-term relationships some of my friends are in.


Hey, I'm not defending it, this issue is one of the main things that got me to question my faith and eventually leave it. But when I was in Bible college and grappling with this issue, those were the main verses that people threw at me. I realise that the translation is iffy and we're not really sure what the word means, but the majority of evangelical Christians are not aware of that, and condemn homosexuality accordingly.

As for divorce, that's harder to flat-out condemn when you know so many people who are divorced. It's worth pointing out that most of the Christians I know who are supportive of gay marriage are those who actually know gay people. The same principle was in effect last spring when my uncle committed suicide and his fundamentalist Christian brothers and sisters suddenly decided that suicide doesn't send you straight to hell after all. It's easy to condemn a people group who you think of as deviant, it's harder to call your friends deviant and condemn them.
posted by heatherann at 7:26 PM on November 30, 2004


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