First and foremost, this blog is a safe place for all people to discuss the topic of Christianity and homosexuality. That being said, I get a lot of questions about what I think the Bible does or doesn’t say about the topic. Since the “What We Believe” section of the website is one of the most visited pages, I thought it might be constructive to do a 4-part series on the clobber passages—the six passages of the Bible most often used to condemn homosexuals. A portion of the material I will use comes from Dr. Rembert Truluck, simply because I think he does a fantastic job at hashing out these passages. As always, discussion is encouraged!
Romans 1:26-27: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions: for their women exchanged the natural use for that which is against nature. And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural use of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
This little passage from Romans is probably the most frequently used (or rather misused) Bible verse for condemning homosexuals. Admittedly, it was the one I had the most difficult time comprehending in my own research and study. Here, wrapped up in this tight, neat little package of a cherry-picked verse, we have a few assumptions that are unfortunately adopted by many. First, there is the assumption that we 21st century readers understand exactly what Paul meant by the word “natural”. Also, there is the assumption that Paul was referring to homosexuals exactly as we understand them today. Thirdly, there is the astonishingly common belief that the “due penalty” Paul is referring to is AIDS.
These assumptions are the results we get when modern Christians remove Scripture from its historical and cultural context. Yes, the Bible is a handbook of sorts. It can be used to point us in the direction of what is holy; it can be used as a moral compass. However, it must be read in its original context, with the culture and historical background at the forefront. The Bible is primarily a history of God’s interactions with humanity. When it is taken out of context, it loses its beauty and its intent… and it can become downright poisonous.
Allow me to discuss a few key points (some of which are taken from some of my previous articles):
Natural vs. Unnatural. “Natural” means customary to the culture, and “unnatural” means uncustomary (or deviated from cultural norm). Paul uses this same “contrary to nature” terminology later on in Romans, when he discusses how the Gentiles obtain their salvation. “But if some of the branches were broken off, while you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them to share the richness [of the root and sap] of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches and pride yourself at their expense. If you do boast and feel superior, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root [that supports] you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken (pruned) off so that I might be grafted in!’” (Romans 11:17-19 AMP)
Homosexual acts that Paul mentions in this passage refer to pagan idol worship. The Baal fertility rituals were a common practice in Paul’s time. This specific passage is referring to heterosexuals who participated in homosexual acts and orgies to ensure good crops for the season. Paul knew nothing of homosexual relationships as they are today, as they simply could not exist in his ancient patriarchal society.
What is the “due penalty of their error?” …Certainly not AIDS, which I’ll address in the next paragraph. But let’s begin by looking at the letter to Rome in its entirety. From the very beginning of Chapter 1, Paul describes a people who have literally turned their backs on God. They committed blasphemy by “exchanging the truth of God for a lie”. Beginning in verse 21, their many iniquities are listed by Paul: false wisdom, idol worship, lust, greed, malice, envy, jealousy, murder, strife, deceit, treachery, ill-will, backbiting, gossiping, and slander (to name a few). Paul says that these people recognized the identity of God, but refused to glorify and honor Him or give Him thanks. (I know plenty of gay folks who love the Lord with every fiber of their being.) Furthermore, anyone should be slow to judge after reading the first verse of Chapter 2: “Therefore you have no excuse or defense or justification, O man, whoever you are who judges and condemns another. For in posing as judge and passing sentence on another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge are habitually practicing the very same things that you denounce.” Yet, people who use these verses to condemn homosexuals never seem to quote past Chapter 1. HOW did this become a passage aimed at homosexuals?
As for the “due penalty” that Paul refers to… I believe it is the absence of God, plain and simple. These people rejected God to such a degree that there was no room for the Holy Spirit to live inside of them. Darkness, emptiness, hate, hopelessness—this is the due penalty they received in themselves.
And just to debunk the AIDS theory, here’s a link to all other known sexually transmitted diseases… all of which, by the way, are most commonly transmitted by heterosexuals. (Going by this reasoning, then heterosexuals are being punished by disease way more harshly than homosexuals.)
Paul was a product of his time and culture. Aside from Jesus himself, Paul was unarguably the most defining component of the New Testament; the majority of our texts would be non-existent without him! Homosexual practices of Paul’s time were generally implemented as a facet of pagan worship. Paul was also a Jew—a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin. Therefore, he was familiar with the Holiness Code of the Old Testament, which also prohibited homosexual relations in order to ensure the lineage of the Israelites continued. If Paul was living among us today, I think he would be seeking answers along with the rest of us. To be sure, he absolutely knew what it meant to be transformed by the unconditional love of Christ. Once a persecutor of Christ-followers himself, Paul fell before Jesus at his conversion on the road to Damascus. He was the one that God had chosen to preach salvation to the Jews and Gentiles alike. I cannot imagine the flood of emotions Paul must have felt—once a murderer, and now a vessel of God’s inclusive love!
Paul was human. Here is a previous post entirely dedicated to the humanity of Paul. If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to do so. Paul was chosen by God, and he was undeniably anointed… but he was also fully human. Remember the passage in 1 Corinthians 5 when Paul instructs the Church at Corinth to excommunicate an individual who had committed incest? He went so far as to tell them to “hand [the man] over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh.” Yet, in 2 Corinthians, Paul recants. He tells them, “…instead you should console him, so that he might not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow”. Paul changed his mind! His conscience did a 180! There are still congregations who use the former passage to justify excommunication in the Church. Yet, they ignore the latter passage. Can you imagine how different our ideas about faith, mercy, and grace would be if scholars had never discovered Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians?
Reading Paul’s letters is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. Paul’s letters were just that: conversations meant for a specific group of people in a specific culture at a specific time. Each recipient or congregation had its own circumstances. We have no way of knowing the other side of the conversation. We think we know what Paul is saying, but we must guess or assume what the other side has said. Truluck said it best:
“Taking anything that Paul said out its context is like trying to drive a car blindfolded. You don’t know where you are, where you have been, where you are going, or who you just ran over and killed!”
We must not twist Paul’s letters and use them to oppress individuals. History shows us that the Bible (and in many cases, Paul’s writings) have been wrongly used to discriminate against women, children, Jews, African-Americans, religious reformers and the mentally ill. It has been used to defend heinous crimes such as slavery, the Crusades and the Inquisition. As 2 Peter 3:16-18 warns, we must be careful not to misconstrue Paul’s letters, or use them in unhealthy and destructive ways:
“16Speaking of this as he does in all of his letters. There are some things in those [epistles of Paul] that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and misconstrue to their own utter destruction, just as [they distort and misinterpret] the rest of the Scriptures.
17Let me warn you therefore, beloved, that knowing these things beforehand, you should be on your guard, lest you be carried away by the error of lawless and wicked [persons and] fall from your own [present] firm condition [your own steadfastness of mind]. 18But grow in grace (undeserved favor, spiritual strength) and recognition and knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (the Messiah). To Him [be] glory (honor, majesty, and splendor) both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (so be it)!”
Verse 18 tells us to “grow in grace”. I ask you: is discrimination against LGBT people in the Church allowing us to do this? Is it growing in grace when a lesbian is forced to step down from her leadership role? Is it growing in grace when a gay man must suffer in silence because he knows what will happen if he is truthful? Is it growing in grace when countless teens are committing suicide simply because it seems like the better alternative to being gay?
Satan uses this hot-button issue to gain a foothold in God’s Church. When we are all too busy arguing over the topic of homosexuality, we miss out on the important, life-giving opportunities in God’s kingdom. Do you want your Bible in a nutshell? Jesus made it easy for us:
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-40