Homosexuality According to Paul
Chris Curran's May 20 column, "The Right Thing for the Right Wing," seemed at first to have a faulty premise. President Bush ever supporting homosexuals? Does "compassionate conservatism" really exist beyond the election? Yet Mr. Curran addressed what Bush should do, not what he would do, and so I agree -- as the moral leader of a nation promising "liberty and justice for all," Bush absolutely should work toward greater inclusion for America's out-groups. I must confess, though, that I still side with Steven Lulich's May 22 comment, "On Homosexual Rights," that "Mr. Curran would be well advised not to hold his breath."
I'm afraid, however, that I can agree with little else Mr. Lulich wrote. In particular, I direct your attention to what the Bible says about homosexuality. Mr. Lulich claims that "the picture is clear," that "any sort of sexual behavior which is not between a husband and wife is sinful." I will argue that a careful reading of Romans 1 places homosexuality outside of the realm of immorality.
We enter the argument as Paul is explaining that God's presence should be plainly obvious to everyone through the wonders of the world around us; thus, those who do not worship God have no excuse and will suffer the consequences (Rom. 1:18-20). Paul then separates the two different offenses (worshipping idols and not worshipping God). Romans 1:21-27 deals with the idolaters, those who "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images " (Rom. 1:23), and who -- as punishment for idolatry -- are turned into homosexuals.
In Romans 1:28, Paul shifts from his discussion of the simple mistake of misdirected worship (idolatry) to the other offense. Put simply, this is atheism, though it can be read as an additional aspect of idolatry, that being the failure to acknowledge the one true God. According to Paul in Romans 1:28-32, this failure to recognize God leads to immoral activity ("wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice envy, murder "). The list continues on, but homosexuality is not on this list. Paul has made a distinction between the mistake of misplacing love for God (idolatry), which leads God to turn one into a homosexual and -- much worse -- the utter failure to acknowledge God (basically, atheism), which leads God to make people (or to allow people to be) immoral. Homosexuality is considered to be a punishment, one that is specifically separate from the list of immoral activities, which is to say that homosexuality is not named as immoral. Unnatural (as shall be addressed briefly below), but not immoral, according to Paul.
The very idea that if you worship an idol then -- Zap! -- God turns you into a homosexual is so ridiculous, that had it not appeared in the Bible, most of us (save maybe Jerry Falwell) would dismiss it immediately. Unfortunately, taking the Bible as the word of God, I can go no further than the above argument, leaving homosexuality in the category of "unnatural." Pressing further, though, I wish to put things in their historical context. Paul, being a Jew, entered the Roman world coming from a society where idolatry and public nakedness were major taboos. We can imagine his shock when encountering both naked men wrestling in the middle of the gymnasium and a multitude of idols erected to a whole pantheon of gods. Connecting the "worship of the creation" to the gentiles' lack of concern in displaying their own bodies at public events (e.g. Olympics) when stumbling upon these two shocking differences at once is an understandable jump to conclusions for him; however, we should not make the same mistake.
I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 are often brought up because they feature a word "arsenokoitai" assumed to refer to homosexuals, yet this word has no known definition beyond its two roots. As we can see even in English though, a word can be more the than the sum of its parts. Take "ladykiller," neither a murderess, nor a murderer who targets only females, but in fact a man who can charm women -- a denotation not suggested by the two words alone. Returning to arsenokoitai, scholars now suggest that it refers to a pedophilia-prostitution ring whereby young boys were bought by old men into sexual slavery. (See Daniel Helminiak's "What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.") This fits with the fact that male-male sexual relations within the Greco-Roman world often involved an older man penetrating a younger boy. ("Natural" sex meant a male with superior status penetrating someone with inferior status -- woman, inferior male, slave, foreigner, etc. Thus, homosexuality, in its most literal sense, is "unnatural" because in male-male situations, one male is in the inferior position, and in female-female situations, there is no superior partner.) The verses list pedophiles, not homosexuals, as immoral. Confusing homosexuality with such sexual perversions is a common tactic used to scare away support from gay rights movements.
Returning to Mr. Lulich's summary of the Bible's view of marriage, I would hasten to cite Paul's actual wishes: " remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry" (I Cor. 7: 8-9). The marriage bond will just be an added complication when the end of the world comes. Paul encourages abstinence, but provides, for the problem of heterosexual lust, the solution of marriage "by way of concession" (I Cor. 7:6). Why not apply the same solution for any homosexuals who might just feel the same degree of physical passion? (Another common attack on gays brands all homosexuals as lustful so as to dismiss loving homosexual relationships.) Marriage is neither Paul's command nor hope, but a solution to our lust while waiting for the end, and it may be a long wait.
Finally, Jesus never speaks of homosexuality in the New Testament. But his mission as portrayed in the gospels was largely one of inclusion, particularly the inclusion of out-group members. When asked for the greatest commandment, he said to love God with all your heart, but he immediately added a second: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Thus, the Christian community that actively follows the example of Jesus must be a more inclusive community, one that is welcoming, loving and accepting of our neighbors regardless of sexuality. We must stop seeking minute verses that will justify our homophobia and instead live by the heart of the message.