I hesitate to contribute anything on this subject, discussion of which tends generate more heat than light. But perhaps if only to demonstrate that there is a way of seeking to be faithful to Scripture which does not amount to a homophobic rant, I offer the following.
I remember that when I was at school in the 1960s, our class was informed that about 10% of the population was homosexual. (Of course, with a class size of about 30, each of us silently wondered who those three boys were!). This figure would have been derived from the 1948 Kinsey Report, which was based on research which is now recognised to be of negligible value.
In more recent years, a figure of around 6% has been assumed.
But in 2010 it became evident that both these figures are serious over-estimations. An official report, prepared by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and based on a sample of nearly a quarter of a million people, revealed that just 1% of the population is homosexual, and 0.5% bi-sexual. Even in London – described by Gay London Pride as ‘home to Europe’s largest gay and lesbian population’ – the number of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual people amounts to only 2.2%.
It may be that people have been working with different definitions of homosexuality. And, in any case, statistics do not determine what is right or wrong. But they do affect public perceptions, and they also influence public legislation. Regarding the former, it is only to be expected that people’s attitudes will be affected by a sense that ‘everybody’s doing it’. Regarding the latter, it was much easier for the government to pass legislation on civil partnerships (in 2005), when it could assume that 6% of the population is homosexual.
Based on this article by Rod Badams
There are commonly recognised to be six passages in the Bible that speak directly to the issue of homosexuality. However, the web site Would Jesus Discriminate? adds several others, claiming that these too are relevant to the discussion. The following summaries quote from that web site. I accept some of the interpretations offered (for example, that on Sodom and Gomorrah story), but find others unconvincing, at best. I have commented in more detail on most of these passages in my Bible Study Notes:-
Genesis 19:1-10; Jude 7 – ‘The Genesis 19 account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story of attempted gang rape of two “outsiders.” It says nothing about loving gay relationships, and actually condemns the sort of violence sometimes done to gays and lesbians. Jude 7 talks about a first century Jewish legend that the women of Sodom had sex with male angels. Since it is about heterosexual sex between angels and humans, it clearly has nothing to do with gay relationships.’
Leviticus 18:20; 20:13 – ‘The chapters that contain these verses are clearly identified as speaking against practices involved in cultic idol worship. The entire passages are generally accepted as not applying to modern Christian life.’
Ruth 1:14 (compare Genesis 2:24) – ‘The same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve (and how spouses are suppose to feel toward each other) is used in Ruth 1:14 to describe how Ruth felt about Naomi. Her feelings are celebrated, not condemned.’
2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘At Jonathan’s funeral, David declares that he loved Jonathan more than any woman.’
Matthew 8:5-13 – ‘The Greek word that the centurion uses in this passage to describe the sick man – pais – is the same word used in ancient Greek to refer to a same-gender partner.’
Matthew 19:1-12 – ‘Jesus refers to “eunuchs who have been so from birth.” This terminology (“born eunuchs”) was used in the ancient world to refer to homosexual men.’
Romans 1:26-27 – ‘In these verses, Paul condemns idol worshippers and God haters. According to Paul, these “God haters” experiment with gay sex only as a way of seeking new thrills or in cultic worship. Clearly, he is not speaking about innately gay and lesbian people, who love God and want to honour God while living with integrity as who they are.’
1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10 – ‘The words often translated “effeminate” and “homosexual” in these passages are obscure and difficult to translate. The first word identifies someone who is morally weak, and has nothing to do with nellie gay men. The second word probably means “people who use power to obtain sex,” though the word is so rare that a confident translation is impossible. Neither word refers specifically to gay men or lesbians.’
1. We are all human beings. However much we may disapprove of homosexual practices, we are not at liberty to dehumanise those who engage in them.
2. We are all sexual beings. Angels may be sexless, but humans are not. Sexuality is basic to our humanness. Moreover, we all have a particular sexual inclination.
Kinsey’s famous (1948) report on male sexual behaviour has been widely (mis)quoted as stating that 10% of America men are homosexual. However, this was his figure for men who are predominantly homosexual for up to three years between the ages of 16 and 65. His figure for lifelong and exclusive homosexuality was 4%. More recent studies put the figure even lower. Surveys carried out by the US National Opinion Research Centre between 1970 and 1990 indicated that the number of men who had ever had a homosexual encounter was 6%, while the percentage of the population adopting a consistently homosexual lifestyle was 0.7%. A 1990-91 British survey gave similar results.
3. We are all sinners. Depravity affects every part of us, including our sexuality. Dr Merville Vincent, of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, sates, ‘In God’s view I suspect we are all sexual deviants. I doubt if there is anyone who has not had a lustful thought that deviated from God’s perfect ideal of sexuality.’ There can be no sense of moral superiority, then, in any discussion of the sexual attitudes and behaviour of others.
4. We are all Christians. At least, discussion amongst Christians assumes acceptance of the lordship of Christ. This gives us common ground.
1. At least since the Wolfenden Report of 1957 and the resultant Sexual Offences Act of 1967 we have learned to distinguish between sins and crimes. Adultery has always been a sin, but in most countries it is not a crime. Rape, however, is both.
2. We distinguish between a homoseuxal inclination and homosexual practices. ‘We may not blame people for what they are, though we may for what they do. And in every discussion about homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between the “being” and “doing”.
3. We should distinguish between homosexual practices which are casual acts of self-gratification and those which are (claimed to be) as expressive of authentic human love as is heterosexual intercourse in marriage. Few Christian gay people would defend the former, but many (especially in the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) argue that heterosexual marriage and homosexual partnership are equally valid alternatives. Denmark became the first country to legalise homosexual marriage (1989).
The following biblical texts are particularly relevant to the discussion:-
Genesis 19:1-13 – Sodom
Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 – which prohibit ‘lying with a man as one lies with a woman’
Romans 1:18-32 – which portrays decadent pagan society of the day
1 Cor 6:9f; 1 Tim 1:8-11 – which include homosexual practices in lists of sinners
Family and Marriage in the Bible
1. Heterosexual gender – a divine creation. Marriage provides for companionship, Gen 2:18, although this is qualified by Paul, 1 Cor 7:1. We are social beings, with the capacity to love and be loved. In this, we are like God, who is love. God provided the man with a ‘helper suitable for him’, and this ‘helper’ was also to be his sexual partner, with whom he was to become ‘one flesh’.
2. Heterosexual marriage – a divine institution. In the creation of the man and woman, the sexes were differentiated. The man and the woman were complements to one another. Having made the woman, God brought her to the man, much as today the bride’s father gives her away.
3. Heterosexual fidelity – the divine intention. The Genesis narrative teaches that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union: it is a reunion of two persons who were originally one. It is more than a union of bodies: ‘it is a blending of complementary personalities through which the rich oneness of human beings is experienced again.’
But in order to become ‘one flesh’ certain preliminaries are necessary, which are the constituent parts of marriage:-
(a) ‘a man’ – note the singular; marriage is an exlusive union between two individuals)
(b) ‘shall leave his father and mother’ – a public social occasion is in view
(c) ‘and cleave to his wife’ – a loving, heterosexual, permanent commitment or covenant.
(d) ‘and they will become one flesh’ – marriage is to be consummated in sexual intercourse.
Jesus underscored this teaching, Mt 19:6. He did indeed teach that singleness is a divine vocation for some, Mt 19:11-12, refer to his new community as his ‘family’, Mk 3:34, and warn that loyalty to him must take precedence over loyalty t our natural family. But both he and his apostles insisted that Christians have a continuing obligation to their natural family, Mk 7:9-13,Eph 5:22-6:4.
We should not single out homosexual intercourse for special condemnation. Every kind of relationship that deviates from God’s revealed intention is displeasing to him. This includes
(a) polygamy and polyandry (which violate the ‘one man, one woman’ principle;
(b) cohabitation and clandestine unions (since these have involved no decisive public leaving of parents);
(c) casual encounters and temporary liaisons, adultery and many divorces
(which conflict with ‘cleaving’ and with Jesus’ prohibition ‘let man not separate’); and
(d) homosexual partnerships (which violate the statements that ‘a man’ shall be joined to ‘his wife’)
This is the last in a short series of post on this subject. I’m summarising John Stott’s discussion in Issues Facing Christians Today.
Contemporary Arguments Considered
The argument about Scripture and Culture
This can take two forms:
(a) it is claimed that the biblical authors were addressing very different circumstances to our own. The Sodom and Gibeah stories were concerned either with hospitality conventions or with the practice of homsexual gang rape. In the Levitical laws the concern was with antiquated fertility rituals. Paul was addressing himself to the practices of Greek pederasts. What the biblical writers had to say about these ancient culture-bound practices is irrelevant to our own situation.
(b) conversely, the biblical writers did not address our questions. They knew nothing of a ‘homosexual orientation’ and it never entered their heads that two men or two women could fall in love with each other and develop a deeply loving, stable relationship comparable to marriage.
But the Bible does not only contain texts prohibiting certain practices that may or may not be indulged in today. It also teaches the institution of marriage within God’s created order which is universally applicable. True liberation is not found in departing from God’s created norms, but in accepting them.
The argument about creation and nature
People sometimes say, “I’m gay because God made me that way.” Others argue that homsoexual behaviour must be ‘natural’ because in many primitive societies it is regarded as fairly acceptable; because in some advanced societies (e.g. ancient Greece) it was even idealised; and because it is said to be quite widespread in animals (this latter point is intensely debated amongst zoologists).
But these arguments depend on extremely subjective views of what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. We must not judge what is ‘normal’ by what is thought to be ‘usual’; nor may we allow animal behaviour to set norms for human behaviour. God has established the norm for sex and marriage by creation. Paul appeals to the God-given natural order of things in Rom 1,2:14,27,11:24. What Paul was condemning was not the perverted behaviour of heterosexual people who were acting against their nature (John Boswell), but against any any human behaviour that is against God’s created order (so the standard commentators such as Barrett, Cranfield).
Some argue that the early church distinguished between primary and secondary issues, citing circumcision and idol-meat (and homosexual behaviour) as examples of the latter. They sometimes add that some parts of the modern church have declined to rule against women’s ordination, but has recognised both positions (for and against) to have integrity. But, once again, the recognition that heterosexual marriage is a creation ordinance sets it apart from these other issues.
The argument about quality of relationships
‘The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement borrows from Scripture the truth that love is the greatest thing in the world (which it is) and from the “new morality” or “situation ethics” of the 1960s the notion that love is an adequate criterion by which to judge every relationship (which it is not).’
The 1963 report Towards a Quaker View of Sex stated, ‘One should no more deplore “homosexuality” than lefthandedness,’ and, ‘Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters.’ A 1979 Methodist report argued that homosexual activities ‘are not intrinsically wrong,’ and that ‘for homosexual men and women, permanent relationships characterised by love can be an appropriate Christian way of expressing their sexuality.’ In the same year an Anglican report gave a more cautious, but still positive, account of homosexual relationships. Stott summarises the argument: ‘Surely any relationship characterised by mutual commitment, affection, faithfulness and support should be affirmed as good, not rejected as evil? It rescues people from loneliness, selfishness and promiscuity, and can be just as rich and responsible, as liberating and fulfilling, as a heterosexual marriage.’
But, firstly, the concept of lifelong, quasi-marital fidelity in homosexual partnerships is largely a myth. The National Gay Men’s Survey of 2001 found that 73% of gay men surveyed had more than one sexual partner during the previous year. This compares with 30% of heterosexual men. ‘There seems to be something inherently unstable about homosexual partnerships.’
Secondly, the sexual practices of gay men put them at a high level of risk. Both the degree of promiscuity and the nature of the practice mean that gay men are at risk from all kinds of STDs, including AIDS, as well as hepatitis, rectal cancer, various infections and a decrease in life expectancy. In the US the estimated number of deaths from AIDS from 1998-2002 was just over 500,000. Of these, half were men who had sex with men. Incidence in this group has been gradually declining not because of behavioural change but because of increased effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy.
In our theological response to AIDS, we must remind ourselves that we reap what we sow. Although AIDS may not be God’s judgment on an individual, we cannot regard it as an accident. Just as gluttony has consequences, so does sexual promiscuity.
In our pastoral response, we must reach out to those in need, and thank God that Christians have been in the forefront of care for people with AIDS.
In our educational response, we must combat ignorance, prejudice, fear and promiscuity, and promote God’s wise and loving standards of self-control and faithfulness.
Thirdly, love needs the law. The moral law has not been abolished, Jn 14:15 Rom 13:8-10. For example, a man does not have the right to break his marriage covenant with his wife on the ground that his love for another woman is stronger.
The argument about justice and rights
Desmond Tutu has argued that the homosexual question is a simple matter of justice. Just as we may not discriminate between persons on grounds of gender, colour, ethnicity or class, so we may not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. Now that slaves, women and blacks have been liberated, gay liberation is overdue.
But from what are gay people seeking to be liberated? What rights are they being denied? If they are being despised and victimised, then they have a grievance which must be redressed. If, on the other hand, the ‘wrong’ or ‘injustice’ complained of is society’s refusal to recognise homosexual partnerships as a legitimate alternative to heterosexual marriages, then talk of ‘justice’ is inappropriate, since human beings may not claim as a ‘right’ what God has not given them. The analogy with slavery and racism is misleading, since neither of these can be justified from Scripture, whereas heterosexual marriage is clearly a creation ordinance. True freedom is not freedom to do as we please; it is freedom from our self-willed rebellion.
The argument about acceptance and the gospel
Surely, it is urged, it is our duty to accept one another. ‘The whole point of the Christian gospel is that God loves and accepts us just as we are’ (Norman Pittenger). But this is a very confused understanding of the gospel. Indeed, God loves us and accepts us as we are, but his acceptance means that he fully and freely forgives all who repent and believe, not that he condones our continuance in sin. Similarly, it is true that Christians must accept one another, but only as fellow penitents, not as fellow sinners who are resolved to persist in our sinning. Michael Vasey makes much of the fact that Jesus was ‘the friend of sinners’. But he welcomes us in order to redeem and transform us, not to leave us alone in our sins.
(Much of the above is based on John Stott’s helpful discussion in Issues Facing Christians Today)