Homosexual Love anf Gay Marriage 2019

The current debate in the Anglican Communion over gay marriage is one more example of people who want to be faithful to the Bible and to the teaching of Jesus, but who assume that the Bible is against any sexual expression of homosexual love. The main purpose of this piece is to examine the Bible texts to check the basis for this assumption.


The Hebrew Scriptures do speak against certain expressions of homosexual behaviour, just as they speak against certain expressions of heterosexual behaviour, but there is nothing in them that can be used to condemn any and every expression of homosexual love.


There is the terrible story of Sodom (Genesis 19) which describes a mob seeking to rape two strangers to whom Lot has given hospitality. Rather than betray hospitality Lot offers to hand over to them his two virgin daughters. The story is a condemnation of rape, both homosexual and heterosexual, and betrayal of the law of hospitality. The same issues are highlighted in the even worse story of the Levite (Judges 19). A mob wanted to have sex with the Levite. Instead they were offered his concubine whom they raped till she died. Neither story is about homosexuality verses heterosexuality. There is also the proscription against cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18).


The only other passages that refer to homosexual behaviour are found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18:22). ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them’ (Leviticus 20:13). The word ‘abomination’ occurs 116 times in the Hebrew Bible and covers a range of behaviours (see for example Proverbs 6:16-19). Since no context is given for the condemnation expressed in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we must ask what behaviour are the authors calling an ‘abomination’?


Despite in our society the prevalence of pornography, and the abuse of power in sexual relations revealed by the #MeToo movement and the The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, we largely believe sex should be about committed adult love.  The culture in the Greek and Roman worlds was very different where love and commitment came a very distant second behind dominance in seeking pleasure. It is generally accepted that unlimited male sexual license was characteristic of this world. The Leviticus texts are part of Jewish disgust at the widespread and decadent sexual behaviour, both heterosexual and homosexual, that they saw as typically Gentile. There is no evidence that the Leviticus texts envisage a situation in which two male adults as equals express their committed love and affection sexually. They may not have imagined such a possibility. Furthermore there is no discussion at all of homosexuality as a physiological-psychological sexual reality.


When we turn to the Christian Scriptures we find that Jesus has a lot to say about love, about patience, about respect and forgiveness – values that are basic to any committed love. There is no record of Jesus ever addressing the subject of homosexuality. Paul touches on the topic in three places. In two letters he includes homosexual behaviour in lists, but without comment. Again we need to ask what behaviour was he condemning.


The first text is in Paul’s First Letter to the Christian community in Corinth, a port city renowned for debauchery. The word korinthiazesthai (to live like a Corinthian), was part of everyday Greek, and meant to live a debauched life. Things may have been worse in Corinth than in other places, but if so it was an extreme example of the kind of sexual decadence that was widespread in the Greco-Roman culture. Paul includes among those who ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’, prostitutes (Greek: pornoi), adulterers (moichoi), catamites (malakoi) and sodomites (arsenokoitai)’ (1 Corinthians 6:9). To whom is Paul referring when he speaks of catamites and sodomites? Since Paul simply lists these sins here we should assume that he is repeating common Jewish condemnation of the debauched and decadent sexual behavior for which Corinth was renowned. When Paul writes against catamites (malachoi) he is most likely speaking against the behaviour of the young men, quite obvious in cities like Corinth, who dressed themselves up and offered themselves for money for the sexual gratification of other males. When Paul writes against sodomites (arsenokoitai) he is most likely referring to those who take advantage of the young men. On what basis can people conclude from this list that Paul is condemning mutually sensitive and committed adult homosexual love?


In the First Letter to Timothy (1:10) Paul lists among those who behave in ‘ways that are against sound teaching’, prostitutes (pornoi), sodomites (arsenokoitai) and slave traders (andrapodistēs). The third group may well be referring to those who take slave boys into brothels for purposes of prostitution. As with the list in 1 Corinthians, there is no justification for jumping to the conclusion that Paul is condemning the sexual expression of committed adult homosexual love.


In the only other text in which Paul refers to homosexual behaviour he goes beyond a simple listing: ‘Because idolaters exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator … God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error’ (Romans 1:25-27). This text is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it is one of only a handful of texts from the time that mention female homosexual behaviour. Secondly, Paul uses the expression ‘unnatural’, used by Greek moralists of the day in their condemnation of male homosexual gratification that was separated from real affection, and where the younger man was treated as a commodity for sale.


Given that Paul was writing to Christians who were living in a Greco-Roman milieu it is reasonable to conclude that he is condemning the exploitative, corrupting or injurious homosexual relations that he witnessed, as in other places he condemns such behaviour among heterosexuals. He includes women to demonstrate the universal degradation from which human beings need redemption. To propose that he was speaking against adult consensual intimacy between male or female homosexuals in a committed relationship is to extrapolate well beyond the context of the times. Paul may never have envisaged the possibility of such sensitive intimacy.


We should note that everything Paul says about love, sensitivity, mutuality, and the sacred nature of sex, is relevant to the discussion of homosexual behaviour as it is for heterosexual behaviour. What we cannot do is take these few texts from Paul and use them to claim that the Bible condemns any and every form of homosexual relations.


If we are want to act in a Christian way we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, who revealed in everything he was and said and did that God is love. In every scene in the Gospels we see him loving people. He rejoiced in their goodness and when people were behaving badly he knew to embrace them in love, knowing that only love can offer us the space to change when change is needed; only love can attract us to find our deepest self and grow in the unique expression of love that each person must find.


Though homosexuality is not mentioned in the Gospels, it is surely obvious that our sexual identity is at the heart of who we are. Jesus pleaded that we love others as we love ourselves. If we are heterosexual surely we should rejoice in the amazing gift to us and to society of people who are homosexual. If we are homosexual we should rejoice at the amazing gift to us and to society of people who are heterosexual. Our hearts should be filled with gratitude as we rejoice in our differences. As regards our sexual identity it will take us all our life to learn to express our identity in ways that are only beautiful, and we will need everyone’s help on this journey. People who are homosexual need special sensitivity because they are in the minority and they have suffered a long history of ignorance and conscious or unconscious prejudice. If we believe that God is love, and if we watch the way Jesus respected and loved everyone why do we not love each other across our differences? Should not Christians be the first to embrace our own sexual identity, and join people who identify as heterosexual or homosexual in joyfully celebrating their love in a marriage commitment?


I should acknowledge that my own position on these issues has evolved. I had an Opinion Piece in the Canberra Times (3rd May 2013) in which I expressed my respect, indeed my admiration, for homosexual men and women who express their love in a life-giving and committed relationship. I was then of the opinion that, because heterosexual union and homosexual union are different, it would be a good idea to find a word other than marriage to speak of homosexual union. However, I came to see that while it remains true that there are obvious differences in the sexual expression and consequences of heterosexual and homosexual love, at the level of love, commitment, fidelity and, indeed, spirituality, both are called to be beautiful expressions of love. Because of the long history of prejudice some homosexuals want these values to be expressed by their union being called a ‘marriage.’ Out of respect for them I joined those who voted Yes in the postal plebiscite in late 2017.