What exactly does the New Testament say about homosexuality? Well, wouldn’t the “mystery” be solved if we knew without a doubt?
As I’ve said before, the new perspective I have surprisingly found comfort in is one that embraces uncertainty. I am approaching the Bible with an open mind, determined to learn something new from the pages of the Book I have studied for much of my life. I also understand that there is probably no such thing as an “unbiased” viewpoint, so I ask for grace as I present what could be True of the Scripture that so many people I love hold very close to their hearts.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [Romans 1:18-32]
What we see from the people of Romans 1 is nothing short of disturbing, especially in the Christian community. According to the author, this group of “believers” had absolutely no regard for God, God’s law, or God’s people. They had essentially exchanged every good thing God had given them for idols and unrighteous trash. Not only that, but they were refusing to acknowledge these gifts from God. They were worshipping idols of men, birds, animals, and other creeping things. The author laid it all out there: They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. This community was lost, lustful, and had abandoned God, their creator. The encouraged others to do the same. All in all, this community had become godless.
What if the natural sexual relations referenced in this passage were not exclusively about homosexuals? What if the Bible is arguing against excess and greed by condemning those heterosexuals who begin pursuing those of the same sex out of a lustful desire for excess? God is speaking to a group of people who have exchanged everything good about God for worldly pleasures. Why would this not be one more? Especially during these times, excess in the form of sexual pleasure would involve something more than the normative – same-sex interaction.
LGBTQ+ people did not choose to be LGBTQ+. Do you remember the moment that you decided to be straight? It just doesn’t work that way. What if, my process of “living out loud” as the queer person that I am is more glorifying to God than keeping my sexuality hidden in the depths of my closet of shame? What if a LGBTQ+ person coming out and living as their true selves is pleasing to God? What if dating/marrying someone of the opposite sex is unnatural for some? Many LGBTQ+ folks feel as if they would be living a lie.
Is there a chance, then, that these men and women who gave up their “natural relations” were so far lost in their desire for excess and pleasure that they began seeking sexual relationships outside of their committed bonds? Could it be that what the culture and community determined was “natural” has evolved (and is continuing to evolve) as we learn more about the makeup of the human body? What if the idea of nature in this passage was meant to be built upon; what if this idea that nature exists was meant to be a foundation upon which we built our scientific and spiritual understanding of humankind?
Could nature be the focus because of what we understood about reproduction? Was the focus on theses natural vs. unnatural relations strong in Romans 1 because we believed sex to be reserved for conception? Based on what could be true in the Old Testament, we could argue that the reason it was shameless for a man to have same-sex relations had much more to do with their gender role than their sexuality. Could men have become so consumed with pleasure and excess that they too were seen as unnatural, because men who preferred lavishness and excess were seen as effeminate and not masculine?
There are many different ways to view and interpret this passage, and it doesn’t necessarily condemn same-sex relationships. In any relationship, gay or straight, humans can fall to the temptation of excess, selfishness, lust, idolatry, covetousness, and unrighteousness. The way we steward our relationships determines whether they produce good or bad fruit. When I read Romans 1, I rightfully question my relationships. Are they idolatrous? Are they lustful? Are they envious, malicious, haughty, etc? Do others see them that way? Do others see me that way? If not, then maybe, just maybe, Romans 1 is not condemning that relationship.
Passages 2 & 3
Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. [1 Timothy 9-11]
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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. [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]
The long-held belief about these passages is that it obviously and explicitly states that homosexuality is something that will keep an individual from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Many of the arguments surrounding these two passages are about the Greek translation of the words arsenokotai and malakos. These two words have been at the center of debates regarding homosexuality in the Bible for….forever. What if these words don’t mean what we have always thought?
Growing up, I never had to question the Greek and Hebrew translations of Scripture. I doubt I was even aware that the Bible was not originally written in English. Taking everything at surface-level, it would absolutely seem that homosexuality has once again been lumped into a list of sins that we are commanded to refrain from. Could there be more? For example, why did Paul craft a new word (arsenokotai) to describe homosexuality when there were already words in existence that could have been used? Maybe he was referring to something new. Some scholars argue that Paul may have been referring to a man taking sexual advantage over another person. This typically would involve using young boys as sex slaves, or changing the power dynamic in an adult-relationship by sexual means. It could be instances of rape or purchasing sex through prostitution. It is important to note that this word is never used to describe women in Scripture.
Malakoi is often noted as a reference to the passive man in same-sex activities, because the term malakos means “soft” or “effeminate” or “weak.” Similarly, these folks were considered to be obsessed with excess and luxury. Jesus himself used the word to describe the soft, luxurious, excessive clothing worn by rich people in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25. In regards to gender roles and patriarchy, if a man fell into the malakoi category, he was considered a weak person. Malakoi did not fit into the gender role that was required of men in Biblical times, for reproductive purposes, winning wars, and having power.
So, what if these Scriptures are not about the sinfulness of LGBTQ+ people? Could there be any possibility of this? I think so. Taking time to think outside of the theology that you were brought up with is indeed challenging and uncomfortable. It could be rewarding or detrimental; you get to decide that for yourself. Thankfully, I learned how to study the Bible with a more holistic lens when I was in college. Because of that, when I came across these passages, I was confused. If I came out, was this what people would think about me? I loved God, and I felt that Jesus was the Savior of my soul. As far as I knew, I was not worshipping any “creeping things” or men or birds. I was actively pursuing God to break down various idols that kept me from knowing and embracing the Truth of the Gospel. I didn’t feel like my sexuality really had much to do with that. I was leading Bible studies and discipling students, I was helping facilitate meetings with my campus ministry. I was doing all of these things and everyone thought I was good at it. I was sharing the Gospel with people and leading people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. If all of that is true, how was my desire to have a relationship with a woman unrighteous, evil, covetousness, and malice? How was I full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness? Was I a gossiper, a slanderer, a hater of God? An insolent, haughty, boastful, invented of evil? Did my sexuality cause me to be disobedient to my parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless? Or was my sexual attraction to women a result of those innate characteristics I must already possess?
It is important to note that it’s hard to read Scripture with an open mind if you believe that the Bible is the infallible, pure, and inherent word of God. Consider what it would mean if you no longer believed that it was. Does the Bible still offer Truth and Wisdom?
I do not want to ask you to abandon your faith tradition or the foundations of your belief system. I do want you to consider the joy that could be found from approaching the Bible with a fresh perspective. I kept the idea of God in a box for most of my life. I believed that God began in Genesis and ended in Revelation. What was written was True, and there was no question as to whether or not it could be interpreted differently. Reading the Bible this way caused my hope and faith in God to diminish over the years. I could not understand why God would damn LGBTQ+ people to Hell. I was not sure why God would let entire countries suffer destruction from tsunamis and hurricanes. I was confused as to why Muslim people went to Hell when they were probably more dedicated to their walk with God than many Christians that I know. I found myself wondering about various discrepancies; I was confused as to why we knew some parts of the Bible were cultural and no longer applicable, but some (same-sex relationships) were to remain an abomination.
What is True? The journey I am on has forced me to ask myself these questions and more. Is it possible that everything I have learned is not the Absolute Truth about God? Is it possible that I have been wrong all along? Is it possible that I am wrong now? The answer to all of this is “yes.” I want to trust that God can be and is much larger than the God of the Bible. I want to read the Bible and appreciate the experiences and interpretations made by the authors while feeling the same freedom they had during my own experiences and interpretations of the Creator. I want to believe that even if the Bible is not inherent and infallible, that the messages presented can still bring the same hope and joy to its readers. I want to believe that even if the Bible was written by imperfect and flawed human beings, that the Creator’s Truth can still shine through. I want to be open to the idea that I may be completely wrong about all of this. I want to humble myself as I approach these sensitive interpretations of Scripture so that I can extend and receive grace from those who feel differently than me.
“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.” [Henri Nouwen]