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Breakfast In Sodom

Homosexuality & The Bible

The Greatest Sin?

Homosexuality evokes perhaps the greatest rage among Christians, but is homosexuality the greatest sin? How does it rate on a scale, say, between spitting on the sidewalk and murder? Being a jerk is a sin, too, and carries an even harsher penalty than homosexuality because Jesus' only commandment to us was that we love one another.  [Matthew 22:37] And yet we openly revile and openly hate the gay community— in direct contravention to our covenant with God.

The greatest sin, the sin that cannot be forgiven, is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit: Matthew 12:31: Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is denying the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. To refuse to repent or even acknowledge our sin is blasphemous of God's redemptive act on the cross and is, by definition, unforgivable— not because their sin is worse than any other but because they will not seek forgiveness. Many Christians do not understand this doctrine, and many black Christians, especially, blaspheme the Holy Spirit on a regular basis, with mean-spirited pettiness and other epidemic foolishness unique to our cultural experience. In my experience the black church is often the demographic least like Christ, and most guilty of His blood because we know better and yet we choose to continue being petty, nasty, ridiculous people. That behavior clearly trends towards blasphemy, and places us in immediate jeopardy, even as we go about the business of branding gays as evil and sending them to hell.

Who Would Jesus Condemn?

It would be ridiculous to assume every word Jesus ever spoke was recorded in the bible. Someone had to make the decision about which of Jesus’ words were worth recording and which were not. We are taught that editor was God Almighty, that the Holy Spirit breathed on the writers and guided their hand, and I believe that to be true. I also believe that, for whatever reason, God chose flawed mortal hands into which He entrusted an ageless truth: the words of His only Son. History and manuscript tradition tell us the gospel of Luke was based largely upon Mark’s Gospel, and that the Gospel of John is at once the most poetic and least reliable of the four Gospels. There were other Gospels as well, notably The Gospel of Thomas and Papyrus Egerton II which we (when I say “we,” I actually mean a council of biblical scholars dead centuries before we were born) chose to exclude either because the manuscript tradition seemed off or the documents could not be independently authenticated.

It is easy for LGBT-Christian apologists to run around saying, “Jesus never spoke a word about homosexuals,” but we do not, in fact, know that to be true. A more accurate claim would be, “There are no recorded words of Christ in our canonized bible making reference to LGBT persons.” Could Jesus have spoken on the subject and those words omitted as superfluous or irrelevant? Maybe. But hanging your doctrinal conclusion on that notion is illogical. If the Gospels as recorded were divinely inspired, by syllogistic argument, the words not in there were divinely omitted. Christ, therefore, remained silent on this issue we now find our church confronted by, which therefore has us looking to Paul and struggling with who Paul was which, in turn, determines the authority of his words. Words which, regardless of the doctrinal authority you invest in them, require a historical and biblical context few of our pastors provide. They just quote Paul at-will, like reading page 22 of an instruction manual without ever mentioning what the manual is for.

What is also not preached: Judah, the divided kingdom of Israel, was a Roman vassal at the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Roman Empire was one of the most profane, hedonistic, idolatrous nations that ever existed upon the face of the earth. Roman orgies, some featuring hundreds of people having hereto, bisexual and gay sex at random with one another, with children, all at the same time, in the same hall, were common behavior. Idols to pagan gods were everywhere. Homosexual conduct was normal and commonplace.

And yet, Jesus sponsored no ballot amendments. Jesus never petitioned Caesar. He formed no political action committees. He conducted no fundraising. Jesus did not petition the infamous bath houses with “Repent!” signs. He did not seek to move the Roman Red Light district 1000 yards from the nearest school. Transforming pagan Rome into a vision of God’s kingdom was not His mission, was not what He came to do. He did not come to force Himself or His will or, frankly, His point of view on anybody. He came offering good news and a free gift. He asked us only to love one another as He loved us, and to share the Good News of this gift. Did Jesus’ failure to mount a political campaign mean He approved of the orgies? Based one what we do know about Christ, I doubt it. Is there even one example of Jesus spewing hatred and judgment at a same-sex couple? Had there been, would the authors of the gospel omitted it? What would have been their motive for doing so? Why would Jesus condemn homosexuals and then the Holy Spirit inspire the writers to omit that record?

I believe there was no record because it did not happen. I believe God cannot lie and God cannot be divided among Himself. Now, does this amount to a belief that Jesus endorses homosexuality? No, I don’t think it works like that. I think that, for whatever reason, God left us alone to figure this out. We should not run around putting words in Jesus’ mouth (or taking them out). We should not twist Paul’s word out of context just to suit us (pro or against this issue). 

Deciding Who Paul Was

All churches, in order to call themselves churches, must be open. There is no excuse—none whatsoever—for turning people away at the door, for showing hatred toward any person seeking to draw nearer to God. The pastor should never point his sermon in condemnation of any specific someone but preach the Good News of the new life in Christ available, unconditionally, to absolutely everyone. Likewise, every church should be accepting. Now, pastor, accepting is not the same as affirming (or agreeing, supporting). Accepting simply means we not only welcome you, but we accept you just as you are. “Just as you are” is a starting point, and we all had to start someplace. This is our biblical model [John 8:1-30]. This is our responsibility.

As believers, our place of divergence, presuming there has to be one, should likely be affirmation: We Support This. Scripture is clear on Christ being both open and accepting, but less so about specific conduct that He affirmed. Most churches, therefore, look to the Apostle Paul, who wrote strong words condemning specific conduct, including homosexuality. The debate then shifts to whether or not Paul’s words are God’s words: was Paul speaking for God, speaking as God? Our response to his words depends on our doctrinal conclusions regarding how we should receive them.

Speaking only if not exclusively for myself, I believe accepting Paul’s words as an unambiguous and universal command from God does both God and Paul’s words a great injustice. The Ten Commandments, as delivered by Moses, had an unambiguous authorship and chain of custody: these were the words of Almighty God. They don’t mention gay people. This issue not in the top ten.

Paul's letters, while certainly God-breathed, are Paul's words, Paul's teaching, often transcribed by others and subject to interpretation and debate. Paul's words cannot and must not be received at face value, but only in their proper historical and theological context. Unlike the Ten Commandments, which was a huge public service announcement to all of God's people, Paul was always talking to someone about something. He did not always include a broader context of what was going on at the time because his letters were personal, addressed to a specific person or group of people, addressing specific situations and events,  and not always intended for all of us. The specific behavior Paul addresses often requires context, while the Ten Commandments do not. Yet, in our tradition, we routinely raise the Pauline Epistles to the same level.

Churches love to treat Paul like Moses, but that is inarguably wrong and really bad doctrine. But this is where the traffic jam lies, not in the Levitical texts which people love to toss around because those same texts address a myriad of behaviors we no longer follow. We no longer stone our daughters for not being virgins when they marry [Deu. 22:13-30], but we condemn gays. We cannot hold up the four canonized Gospels because they are silent on the issue: the issue did not rise to a level of Jesus’ needing to comment on it. And, if you actually believe Jesus did not encounter (or, presumably, bless) a gay person in His 33 years, you’re just kidding yourself.

So, what is left to us is Paul. Determining the meaning of Paul determines the significance of his words. But, even then, our responsibility is to do those words justice by receiving them in their proper context, which requires study and due diligence—diligence we give everything else, including Christ’s teaching on divorce, but investigation which seems suspicious when invested in a sincere effort at forming sound doctrine around this issue.

Is Homosexuality A Sin?

Yes, I believe it is. Sin means, literally, error. a transgression of God's divine plan. Rebellion. Estrangement from a Holy God. The overwhelming evidence before us suggests God's plan is male and female, that there is no real provision for the sustenance of the species based on single-gender relationships. I don't think LGBT-Christian activists get much traction denying this truth. It puts everyone in the room—for and against—on the defensive as we begin arguing theology rather than having an honest dialogue. Was disease part of God's plan? Was war? Were birth defects? Near-sightedness? These questions have no simple answers, and that's a railroad spur that takes us far away from our discussion. By the bible's own testimony, everything that was made was made deliberately, including gays [John 1:3]. In another view, sin entered into the world through the first man [Romans 5:12, I Cor 15:21], bringing with it imperfection. I believe both are true. I believe God's plan was perfection: no glasses. But I also believe God doesn't make mistakes. I am not a mistake. I am not defective. I am exactly who God intended me to be and through the toolkit He's given me I can accomplish His purpose according to His will. And I believe these things about LGBT persons. They are not defective. They are not a mistake.

If you are a LGBT-Christian apologist, you can dig and dig and find scriptures to support your position. If you are anti-gay, you can do the same thing. And we can just clobber one another all day. Neither avenue leads to truth. Truth can only be found when we submit ourselves to God without first taking a position or even having an opinion one way or another. Truth only comes when we banish fear and rebuke hatred. Truth only comes when we get past our own flesh to find it. We could go on all day hitting each other with scriptural evidence of one side or the other of this issue. Debating whether or not homosexuality is wrong is not my purpose here.

God intended for me to see without glasses. God's plan was for children to be born without defect and to walk without crutches. God's plan, in its perfection, was ruined by our sin. By our choice to go our own way rather than God's way. Sin entered into the world by the first man and first woman, and nothing in the world has been perfect since. So who gets the scarlet letter? Near-sighted folks? Attention deficit folks? Do we drown autistic babies on birth? Is that the answer? Or do we embrace them and love them and encourage them towards God and pray for His perfection to be done in their lives?

Do we, as Christians, embrace homosexual practice and gay marriage? I’m going to club myself with a baseball bat for a few rounds and say I’m not there yet, not at a place where the morality of homosexual practice or gay marriage works for me. This is where I make everybody hate me, straights and gays: the Bible has not one single example of a married couple of the same gender. Not one example of even a godly committed couple of the same gender. Not one example of an instance of same-gender lovemaking blessed by God. If homosexuality is, indeed, part of God's plan (as many LGBT-Christian activists assert), then why, in 66 books of the Bible and 14 apocryphal books, is there not even one single example of a God-blessed gay couple?

Additionally, while I agree that reasonable investigation into scripture addressing homosexuality is indeed proper, I can't believe that all scripture on this subject—that every last one of them—have been misinterpreted or mis-translated. That's pretty much what many LGBT-Christian activists insist, that every single scripture that regards homosexuality has been wrongly translated and/or interpreted. I find the odds against that possibility to be pretty high. Mounting reasonable scriptural challenges to difficult passages is one thing. Systematically singling out only the passages concerning homosexuality for excessive scrutiny is fringe thinking. It's just as bad as when Christians single those same passages out for a free pass—taking them completely at face value—while delving into layers of exegesis on the passages concerning behavior they want to endorse—such as divorce. Both extremes are wrong.

If, as many biblical scholars suggest, Paul's “thorn of the flesh” is indeed homosexuality, why would he be struggling with it? Why would it be a thorn? Was Paul a celibate gay man? If he was, does that make his writings any less profound or of any less use to the church? Why shouldn't he be eligible for church leadership? Is a celibate gay person more sinful than a celibate straight person? Is homosexuality a "thorn of the flesh"? Something people must struggle with their entire lives or be delivered from by divine intervention? I'm nearsighted. Early in my life I prayed and fasted and threw my glasses away and did everything the pastor told me to do. Guess what? I'm still blind as a bat without my contacts. That's my thorn. Why am I able to pastor and a gay man is not?

For the reasons stated above, I don’t think God recognizes gay marriage. I don’t think that’s what marriage is all about. Marriage between two people of the same gender was never modeled for us in the Bible, whose continual example is that of male and female. I also believe that, since the state doesn’t (necessarily) recognize gay marriage, that gay marriage becomes intrinsically symbolic and, therefore, somewhat less of a commitment than heterosexual unions which have severe emotional and civil consequences for breaking. In other words, and only from my gut, gay marriage seems like a lofty goal—to have a permanent union blessed by God—but, in practice, it’s much easier to ditch out of a gay marriage than a hereto one, which may make entering into a gay marriage an easier choice since, in the back of your mind, you know you can just skate whenever you want to.

Oh, you're trying to have it both ways, pastor. You bet I am. Few things in life have either/or yes/no right/wrong solutions. Believing homosexuality is sin doesn't give you a license to hate people who are homosexual. Many of us were taught wearing glasses was a sin (and, it is. Being nearsighted is no more part of God's plan than being homosexual. Both were caused by man's sin, not God's imperfection). Women wearing pants in the church was a sin. Speeding on your way to church? Just as bad as engaging in homosexual sex. I can make you a laundry list of sins we routinely ignore. which is not to suggest we ignore the sin of homosexuality but to put it, and all sins, in the proper context of our responsibility to God and God's grace to us. I believe the church, the black church specifically, has gotten this issue all wrong and has been hatefully mistreating people for generations. But I stop short of affirming homosexual practice and gay marriage, much as I do not affirm nearsightedness. Neither are part of God's plan but are consequences of man's sin.

Nearsighted people should use eyeglasses so they can see properly and function properly. But what is the corrective equivalent for homosexuality? Sexual reorientation tactics have not proved effective. Drug and hormone therapy? Dicey at best. So, do we condemn homosexuals to a life of celibacy? To lives of condemnation and spiritual failure? And, seriously, how does our not talking about it help the situation? Who are we helping by not having an LGBT ministry? You do not need to be an alcoholic to minister to alcoholics, but ministers who live with that challenge themselves are better positioned to speak to those still struggling with it. It would seem gay ministers should be a welcome part of this dialogue, rather than discredited and ostracized.

The Big Round-Up

If we’re going to burn gays at the stake for living lives of sin, we’d better be prepared to string up the remarrieds—and the autistic and the cerebral palsy and Spina bifida victims and the deaf and the nearsighted and the blind and the left-handed and those who wear garments made of two different threads and those who can’t whistle and, yes, the freckled and the bunny rabbits—right next to them. It is the height of hypocrisy to spew hatred at gay folks while lounging on your sofa next to your third wife while watching a pirated DVD of the Da Vinci Code—all of which is sinful on so many levels.

Bottom line: I believe everyone needs Jesus and the doors of the church must be open to everyone. Many if not all of us struggle with thorns of the flesh, and I'm uncertain how the kingdom benefits from barring gays from church.

Above all, I am for God and I am against hate. Hate, for us, is simply wrong. No matter how you cloak your hatred in religious conviction or scriptural purpose, hate is still hate. Bigotry is still bigotry. As Christians, especially as black Christians, we of all people certainly understand bigotry and hatred. We, of all people, should be the last to practice it.

Part 4: Homosexuality & Politics

Christopher J. Priest
24 July 2011

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