Rev. Mel White has written an article in an attempt to explain that the Bible passages condemning homosexuality have been misunderstood at best and misrepresented as worst. The problem is that many Christians mistreat homosexuals and treat them awful as if they are the worse sinners ever and that God hates them. I agree with Rev White that this is wrong and not Biblical at all but that does not mean that homosexuality is right and pleasing to God. And there is no reason to re-interpret scripture so it says what it does not say. Like anything we do outside of God's perfect will for us, God can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Let's look at what Rev Mel White has to say.
LIKE YOU, I TAKE THE BIBLE SERIOUSLY!Many good people build their case against homosexuality almost entirely on the Bible. These folks value Scripture, and are serious about seeking its guidance in their lives. Unfortunately, many of them have never really studied what the Bible does and doesn't say about homosexuality.
We gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians take the Bible seriously, too. Personally, I've spent more than 50 years reading, studying, memorizing, preaching, and teaching from the sacred texts. I earned my master's and doctoral degrees at a conservative biblical seminary to better equip myself to "rightly divide the word of truth." I learned Hebrew and Greek to gain a better understanding of the original words of the biblical texts. I studied the lives and times of the biblical authors to help me know what they were saying in their day so I could better apply it to my own.
I applaud Rev White for having such a high view of scripture. If I understand him, he agrees that we must follow the Bible because its the Word of God and binding on all of us. Therefore the question at issue is what does the Bible say?
I'm convinced the Bible has a powerful message for gay and lesbian Christians -- as well as straight Christians. But it's not the message of condemnation we so often hear.
I'm not expecting you to take my word for it, though. I ask only that you'd consider what my research has taught me about the passages used by some people to condemn God's gay and lesbian children. Then decide for yourself...
I totally agree that God's message of to all of us is not one of condemnation. We can be free through Jesus Christ. We should not condemn gay and lesbian people. We do not condemn liars and other sinners the same way. We are to condemn sin and not sinners. Jesus came to save sinners - which describes all of us.
MY FIRST PREMISE:Most people have not carefully and prayerfully researched the biblical texts often used to condemn God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
As you may know, biblical ignorance is an epidemic in the United States. A recent study quoted by Dr. Peter Gomes in The Good Book found that 38 percent of Americans polled were certain the Old Testament was written a few years after Jesus' death. Ten percent believed Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Many even thought the epistles were the wives of the apostles.
This same kind of biblical ignorance is all too present around the topic of homosexuality. Often people who love and trust God's Word have never given careful and prayerful attention to what the Bible does or doesn't say about homosexuality.
For example, many Christians don't know that:
- Jesus says nothing about same-sex behavior.
- The Jewish prophets are silent about homosexuality.
- Only six or seven of the Bible's one million verses refer to same-sex behavior in any way -- and none of these verses refer to homosexual orientation as it's understood today.
The apostle Paul says, "Test all things and hold fast to that which is good." By reading this little pamphlet, you are taking Paul seriously.
I agree with the first premise - mostly. But I think that there is an unexpressed presupposition that if you deeply study the scripture you will get the same conclusions that Rev Mel White gets when his interpretations has only recently been expressed and not all exegetes agree with him. I don't think that Paul would agree and I just don't buy that sexual orientation is not covered by the scant verses that discuss homosexuality.
MY SECOND PREMISE:Historically, people's misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of suffering, bloodshed, and death.
We'd like to believe that no person of good will would misuse the Bible to support his or her prejudice. But time and time again it has happened with tragic results.
In the 16th century, John Selden pointed at two Latin words carved into a marble wall in an ancient church in Rome: "Scrutamini Scripturas," which means search the Scriptures. "These two words," Seldon said, "have undone the world."
In one way, John Selden was right. Misusing the Bible has drenched the planet in blood and tears.
But in another way, he was wrong. Most people who misuse the Bible DON'T search the Scriptures. They simply find a text that seems to support their prejudice and then spend the rest of their lives quoting (or misquoting) that text.
Agreed! The things is do people who understand that the Bible condemns the lifestyle and practice of homosexuality distort scripture or not?
The way certain Bible verses are used to condemn homosexuality and homosexuals is a perfect example of this.
On September 22, 2000, a 55-year-old man named Ronald E. Gay, angry for being teased about his last name, entered the Back Street Café in Roanoke, Virginia, a gathering place for lesbians and gays just a few miles from Lynchburg. Confident that God's Word supported his tragic plan of action, Mr. Gay shouted, "I am a Christian soldier, working for my Lord." Claiming that "Jesus does not want these people in his heaven," he shot seven innocent gay and lesbian people. One man, Danny Overstreet, died instantly. Others still suffer from their physical and psychological wounds.
In July 1999, Matthew Williams and his brother, Tyler, murdered a gay couple, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, in their home near Sacramento, California. Speaking to his mother from the Shasta County jail, Matthew explained his actions in this way: "I had to obey God's law rather than man's law," he said. "I didn't want to do this. I felt I was supposed to. I have followed a higher law... I just plan to defend myself from the Scriptures."
There is no defense from the Bible for Matthew Williams' action.
After Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, a pastor in North Carolina published an open letter regarding the trial of Aaron McKinney that read: "Gays are under the death penalty. His blood is guilty before God (Lev. 20:13). If a person kills a gay, the gay's blood is upon the gay and not upon the hands of the person doing the killing. The acts of gays are so abominable to God. His Word is there and we can't change it."
Most of the people I know who say "the Bible condemns homosexuality" would never condone these acts. Most Christians have no idea that the people killing gay and lesbian persons go around quoting those few verses of Scripture as justification.
One of the most clear example of scripture twisting. The Bible does not say that we can kill homosexuals. The scripture tells us that homosexuality was a capital offense in ancient theocratic Israel but it does not tell us that we should do it today.
But it's important to hear these stories, because I'm not writing this little pamphlet as a scholarly exercise. It's a matter of life and death. I'm pleading for the lives of my lesbian sisters and gay brothers who are rejected by their friends and families, fired by their employers, denied their civil rights, refused full membership in their churches, and kill themselves or are killed by others -- all on the basis of these six or seven verses.
Those verses are being misapplied. There is no reason to deny a person life, liberty, or civil rights. However if the homosexuality is a sin, then I would like to know is it okay to have a pastor or a person in authority living a life where they sin habitually - say lying or stealing? I'd say "No." If homosexuality is a sin then why should people who reject God's authority be allowed to serve in church leadership? I'm not saying that they should be mistreated, imprisoned, or persecuted. They need to be in church, experiencing unconditional love of Jesus Christ so that God can bring them to Himself.
MY THIRD PREMISE:We must be open to new truth from Scripture.
Even heroes of the Christian faith have changed their minds about the meaning of various biblical texts.
It took a blinding light and a voice from heaven to help the apostle Paul change his mind about certain Hebrew texts. A sheet lowered from the sky filled with all kinds of animals helped the apostle Peter gain new insights into Jewish law.
Jerry Falwell believed the Bible supported segregation in the church until a black shoeshine man asked him, "When will someone like me be allowed to become a member of your congregation?" Through those simple words, the Holy Spirit spoke new truth about the ancient biblical texts to the Rev. Falwell, and in obedience he ended segregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Even when we believe the Scriptures are "infallible" or "without error," it's terribly dangerous to think that our understanding of every biblical text is also without error. We are human. We are fallible. And we can misunderstand and misinterpret these ancient words -- with tragic results.
I agree that our understanding of Scripture is not infallible and we can grow and learn - improve our understanding. But the questions is does the Bible tells us that homosexuality is a sin and not? Equating accepting homosexuality with Paul accepting Jesus as Messiah and being able to prove it from the Old Testament, Peter understanding that the Gospel wasn't just for Jews but everyone, and Falwell realizing that he should desegregate his church is a mistake. These insights made these men more like Jesus. Their change of mind made them see truth not overturn or change scripture.
Almost 1,000 people believed Jim Jones was a faithful interpreter of God's Word. They died with him in the jungles of Guyana. I studied Jones and leaders of other cults while writing the book and documentary film, Deceived. I found that the only people who were able to break free of the dangerous influence of such Bible-quoting cultic gurus were the ones who took the Bible seriously enough to study the texts themselves and make their own decisions about their meaning. The others "leave their bones in the desert."
What if someone asked you, "Is there a chance you could be wrong about the way you've interpreted the biblical texts sometimes used to condemn homosexual orientation?" How would you respond? What does it say about you if you answer, "No, I could NOT be wrong"? I am asking you to re-examine these texts -- carefully and prayerfully. Lives hang in the balance.
I totally agree we must be humble enough to say "I could be wrong". We must be serious enough to say even if I'm wrong the Bible is not. We need to search it out to see what where we are wrong and fix our thinking and attitudes to line up with God. So again what does the Bible say about homosexuality?
Like anything and everything, only God can fix us. We are all broken. Jesus came to make us whole.
If heroes of the Christian faith could change their minds about the meaning of certain biblical texts, shouldn't we be prepared to reconsider our own interpretations of these ancient words when the Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts to new truth? That's why we study the Bible prayerfully, seeking the Spirit of Truth, God's loving Spirit, to help us understand and apply these words to our lives.
Agreed!!! Keep in mind, Paul was not a Christian when he changed his mind. Peter's epiphany was about who can enter the Kingdom not just that it's okay to eat pork. And no where does the Bible say it's okay to discriminate against another because of their gender or skin color.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples he was going away from them for a while, but that the Father would send them a "Comforter," an "Advocate," the "Holy Spirit" who would "teach them all things."
I believe with all my heart that the Holy Spirit is still teaching us. When we reconsider the texts that are used by some people to condemn God's gay children, we must fervently seek the Holy Spirit's guidance, or we risk being misled by our own prejudices.
I agree that the Holy Spirit is still teaching us. But He isn't going to teach you anything contrary to what the Bible teaches and He isn't going to teach you something diametrically different than what He teaches me.
MY FOURTH PREMISE:The Bible is a book about God -- not a book about human sexuality.
The Bible is the story of God's love for the world and the people of the world. It tells the history of God's love at work rescuing, renewing, and empowering humankind. It was never intended to be a book about human sexuality. Certainly, you will agree.
God cares about human sexuality. It is important. He gave it to us. Why would He want us to misuse it? You must agree that it's possible to misuse it. The Bible tells us how not to misuse it.
In fact, the Bible accepts sexual practices that we condemn and condemns sexual practices that we accept. Lots of them! Here are a few examples.
- DEUTERONOMY 22:13-21
If it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, the Bible demands that she be executed by stoning immediately.
- DEUTERONOMY 22:22
If a married person has sex with someone else's husband or wife, the Bible commands that both adulterers be stoned to death.
- MARK 10:1-12
Divorce is strictly forbidden in both Testaments, as is remarriage of anyone who has been divorced.
- LEVITICUS 18:19
The Bible forbids a married couple from having sexual intercourse during a woman's period. If they disobey, both shall be executed.
- MARK 12:18-27
If a man dies childless, his widow is ordered by biblical law to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir.
- DEUTERONOMY 25:11-12
If a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife seeks to rescue her husband by grabbing the enemy's genitals, her hand shall be cut off and no pity shall be shown her.
Why? Rev Mel White claims to have a high view of scripture. We cannot cavalierly toss out parts of the Bible just because we don't like them. There are reasons why certain parts of the Bible are not binding on a us today in a non-theocratic society.
The list goes on: The Bible says clearly that sex with a prostitute is acceptable for the husband but not for the wife. Polygamy (more than one wife) is acceptable, as is a king's having many concubines. (Solomon, the wisest king of all, had 1,000 concubines.) Slavery and sex with slaves, marriage of girls aged 11-13, and treatment of women as property are all accepted practices in the Scriptures. On the other hand, there are strict prohibitions against interracial marriage, birth control, discussing or even naming a sexual organ, and seeing one's parents nude.
Prostitution is never condoned. Neither is polygamy. Deuteronomy explicitly says the Kings of Israel should have one wife. No age is given in the Bible for when girls can get married. Women are never told that they are property and slavery was not anything like what we think of today. I can think of no scripture that says you can't talk about sex organs and there was nothing against interracial marriage as we know it today. It had nothing to do with skin color but with culture and religion. There is no proof that Ancient Jews did not have the same skin color as their neighbors.
There was no condemnation for them marrying Egyptians and there are non-Jews in Jesus' genealogy. And Ham's sin against his father, Noah, was not just that he saw him naked but that he disrespected his father causing his son to be cursed. I have to admit that for someone who claims to take scripture seriously I detect much liberal interpretation and twisting.from Rev White.
Over the centuries the Holy Spirit has taught us that certain Bible verses should not be understood as God's law for all time periods. Some verses are specific to the culture and time they were written, and are no longer viewed as appropriate, wise, or just.
Everything in the Bible is just and wise. I agree that due to culture and time things change in how we live it out. For example we no longer need blood sacrifices for sins, but that does not mean it is okay to keep sinning.
Often, the Holy Spirit uses science to teach us why those ancient words no longer apply to our modern times. During the last three decades, for example, organizations representing 1.5 million U.S. health professionals (doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and educators) have stated definitively that homosexual orientation is as natural as heterosexual orientation, that sexual orientation is determined by a combination of yet unknown pre- and post-natal influences, and that it is dangerous and inappropriate to tell a homosexual that he or she could or should attempt to change his or her sexual orientation. (See Recommended Resources, p. 23-24.)
How is that different than any other sins? We are all born enslaved to sin.We can't help it. We can't change it. We all deserve to go to hell. Jesus is our only way out. How is homosexuality different? Our hearts are filled with lust and greed. God has to regenerate us - make us alive. Just because homosexuality isn'r one of my issues does not mean that I don't need deliverence in many other areas. I do.
While there are some people now living in heterosexual marriages who once perceived themselves to be gay, there are millions of gay and lesbian persons who have accepted their sexual orientation as a gift from God and live productive and deeply spiritual lives. The evidence from science and from the personal experience of gay and lesbian Christians demands that we at least consider whether the passages cited to condemn homosexual behavior should be reconsidered, just as other Bible verses that speak of certain sexual practices are no longer understood as God's law for us in this day.
Okay, Let us consider it,
MY FIFTH PREMISE:We miss what these passages say about God when we spend so much time debating what they say about sex.
If the Bible is the story of God's love for the world and not a handbook about sex, then that should shape how we read the Scriptures. So as we take a look at the six biblical texts that are used by some people to condemn homosexuality, let's ask two questions about each of them:
First, what does the text say about God that we need to hear but might be missing?
Second, what might the text be saying about homosexuality?
That is fair.
THE CREATION STORY
Let's start "In the Beginning..." What does the creation story in Genesis 1-2 say about God?
I'm so tired of reading signs carried by protesters that say: "It's about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." In fact, the creation story is as important to Adam and Steve as it is Adam and Eve. Gays and non-gays alike need to know and celebrate the truth at the center of this story.
This creation story is primarily about God, a story written to show the power of God who created the world and everything in it. It teaches us that ultimately God is our Creator, that God shaped us, and that God said, "It's good." Isn't this the heart of the text?
Now what does the creation story say about homosexuality? Because the text says it is "natural" that a man and a woman come together to create a new life, some people think this means gay or lesbian couples are "unnatural." They read this interpretation into the text, even though the text is silent about all kinds of relationships that don't lead to having children:
- couples who are unable to have children
- couples who are too old to have children
- couples who choose not to have children
- people who are single
So I believe the creation story says a lot about God's power and presence in the universe -- but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.
I agree that Genesis 1 and 2 is not primarily against homosexuality but it is about marriage and what marriage looks like. Jesus himself used this very text to teach about marriage - one man and one woman. God told Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply". How does a homosexual couple do that? Can a couple who is "too old" have children? Ask Abraham and Sarah. In ancient times people did not choose not to have children. You were expected to have children. Even homosexuals in Greece and Rome were expected to have children by their own societies. Single people are out of scope because Adam was not created to be single. Some people are but Adam was not.
THE STORY OF SODOM
Now let's consider the second biblical text used by some people to condemn God's gay children. You remember the ancient story of Sodom. First, what does the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 say about God?
When Gary and I arrive at a college or university to speak, there are often protesters carrying signs that read, "Mel White, Sodomite." (Has a nice ring to it.) Actually, I'm not from Sodom. That city was buried beneath the Dead Sea centuries ago. I'm from California -- but perhaps that just confirms their suspicions!
Once again, this story is not primarily about sex. It is primarily about God. Some people say the city of Sodom was destroyed because it was overrun by sexually obsessed homosexuals. In fact, the city of Sodom had been doomed to destruction long before. So what is this passage really about?
Jesus and five Old Testament prophets all speak of the sins that led to the destruction of Sodom -- and not one of them mentions homosexuality. Even Billy Graham doesn't mention homosexuality when he preaches on Sodom.
Listen to what Ezekiel 16:48-49 tell us: "This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God's eyes."
I admit, there are a lot of gay folk who are Sodomites (and a lot of straight folk as well). Sodomites are rich and don't share what they have with the poor. Sodomites have plenty and want more. While millions are hungry, homeless, and sick, Sodomites rush to build bigger homes, buy bigger cars, and own more property -- putting their trust in safer stock portfolios and more secure retirement accounts.
Whatever teaching about sexuality you might get out of this passage, be sure to hear this central, primary truth about God as well. God has called us do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Creator. Sodom was destroyed because its people didn't take God seriously about caring for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, or the outcast.
I agree that Sodom's sins were many - lust and greed were only two of them.
But what does the story of Sodom say about homosexual orientation as we understand it today? Nothing.
It was common for soldiers, thieves, and bullies to rape a fallen enemy, asserting their victory by dehumanizing and demeaning the vanquished. This act of raping an enemy is about power and revenge, not about homosexuality or homosexual orientation. And it is still happening.
Yeah, it still happens. But that isn't what the men of Sodam said to Lot what they wanted the men he was harboring for.
Agreed, but that does not fit what happened in Sodam.
The sexual act that occurs in the story of Sodom is a gang rape -- and homosexuals oppose gang rape as much as anyone. That's why I believe the story of Sodom says a lot about God's will for each of us, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.
This is what the men of Sodam said they wanted from Lot. There was no sexual act in the story. God put a stop to it.
3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. - Genesis 19:3-9
It seems pretty clear. If it was only about intimidation and power, why didn't they take Lot's daughters? (By the way, God wasn't glorified or desiring either turning either the young women or the angels over to the rape gang). They wanted to have sex with the men because of the lust and the desire for sexual gratification in their own hearts.
LEVITICUS 18:22 AND 20:13
THE HOLINESS CODE
Let's move on. What do the two verses sometimes cited from Leviticus say about God?
Leviticus 18:6 reads: "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. It is an abomination." A similar verse occurs two chapters later, in Leviticus 20:13: "A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed." On the surface, these words could leave you feeling rather uneasy, especially if you are gay. But just below the surface is the deeper truth about God -- and it has nothing to do with sex.
Leviticus is a holiness code written 3,000 years ago. This code includes many of the outdated sexual laws we mentioned earlier, and a lot more. It also includes prohibitions against round haircuts, tattoos, working on the Sabbath, wearing garments of mixed fabrics, eating pork or shellfish, getting your fortune told, and even playing with the skin of a pig. (There goes football!)
So what's a holiness code? It's a list of behaviors that people of faith find offensive in a certain place and time. In this case, the code was written for priests only, and its primary intent was to set the priests of Israel over and against priests of other cultures.
I would argue that it is true that some of the Holiness codes are indeed only for a certain time and place. Some people are allergic to to shell fish, pork, and wearing garments of mixed fabrics. Sounds like God was doing them a favor. As for tattoos, round haircuts, and several other laws I agree they were to make a difference between Israel and their neighbors. True enough. I think that tells us about God's character. We must be holy and set apart for God's purposes.
At the age of 10, I signed a holiness code written by the Women's Christian Temperance Union that said I would never taste beer, wine, or liquor. I thought signing it would please God and my grandmother. That's a holiness code. When I was in high school we evangelical Christians had an unwritten holiness code that went like this: "I don't drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do." Now I know what you're thinking. That last part about "girls who do" proved especially easy for me. But the point is that I obeyed this evangelical holiness code because my parents said that breaking these rules didn't please God, and I knew it didn't please them.
We had another evangelical holiness code while I was in high school that prohibited dancing. I was student body president, yet I refused to go to the prom because I had promised not to dance. I did this to please God and my mother -- whose mother had made her sign a holiness code that she wouldn't go to dances either.
Equating these holiness codes to the ones God gave to Israel is problematic. They are not on the same level and go against scripture itself. For example, there is no scripture prohibiting dancing.
What about this word abomination that comes up in both passages? In Hebrew, "abominations" (TO'EBAH) are behaviors that people in a certain time and place consider tasteless or offensive. To the Jews an abomination was not a law, not something evil like rape or murder forbidden by the Ten Commandments. It was a common behavior by non-Jews that Jews thought was displeasing to God.
Jesus and Paul both said the holiness code in Leviticus does not pertain to Christian believers. Nevertheless, there are still people who pull the two verses about men sleeping together from this ancient holiness code to say that the Bible seems to condemn homosexuality.
I have to disagree. By upholding marriage from Genesis and what Paul wrote in Romans 1, there is no reason to conclude that the prohibition against homosexuality does not apply to Christians.
But wait, before we go any further, let's ask: What does this text say about God? Even if the old holiness codes no longer apply to us as Christians, it's important to remember that in every age, people of faith are responsible for setting moral and ethical standards that honor God. But we people of faith must be very careful not to allow our own prejudices to determine what those standards should be.
Instead of selecting one item from an ancient Jewish holiness code and using it to condemn sexual or gender minorities, let's talk together about setting sexual standards that please God -- standards appropriate for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, standards based on loving concern, health, and wholeness for ourselves and for others.
So we become the standard for acceptable sexual practices and not scripture? I don't think so.
Now what do the Leviticus passages say about homosexuality?
I'm convinced those passages say nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today. Here's why. Consider this single Bible passage that was used for centuries to condemn masturbation:
"He spilled his seed on the ground... And the thing which Onan did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also" (Genesis 38:9-10).
For Jewish writers of Scripture, a man sleeping with another man was an abomination. But it was also an abomination (and one worthy of death) to masturbate or even to interrupt coitus (to halt sex with your spouse before ejaculation as an act of birth control). Why were these sexual practices considered abominations by Scripture writers in these ancient times?
Because the Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that the male semen contained the whole of life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the man's sperm contained the whole child and that the woman provided only the incubating space. Therefore, the spilling of semen without possibility of having a child was considered murder.
I agree that Genesis 38:9-10 does not condemn masturbation because Onan displeased God because he didn't have to do Tamar like that. If you believe that Genesis is the word of God then it doesn't matter what the ancient Jews thought about where babies came from. The point is Onan disrespected himself, his Father, his brother, and Tamar.
The Jews were a small tribe struggling to populate a country. They were outnumbered by their enemy. You can see why these ancient people felt it was an abomination to risk "wasting" even a single child. But the passage says nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.
Genesis 38:9-10 says nothing about homosexuality or masturbation or birth control. But Rev White did not finish his discussion of why Leviticus 18:6 is not really binding today.
NATURAL AND UNNATURAL
What does Romans 1:26-27 say about God?
For our discussion, this is the most controversial biblical passage of them all. In Romans 1:26-27 the apostle Paul describes non-Jewish women who exchange "natural use for unnatural" and non-Jewish men who "leave the natural use of women, working shame with each other."
This verse appears to be clear: Paul sees women having sex with women and men having sex with men, and he condemns that practice. But let's go back 2,000 years and try to understand why.
Paul is writing this letter to Rome after his missionary tour of the Mediterranean. On his journey Paul had seen great temples built to honor Aphrodite, Diana, and other fertility gods and goddesses of sex and passion instead of the one true God the apostle honors. Apparently, these priests and priestesses engaged in some odd sexual behaviors -- including castrating themselves, carrying on drunken sexual orgies, and even having sex with young temple prostitutes (male and female) -- all to honor the gods of sex and pleasure.
The Bible is clear that sexuality is a gift from God. Our Creator celebrates our passion. But the Bible is also clear that when passion gets control of our lives, we're in deep trouble.
When we live for pleasure, when we forget that we are God's children and that God has great dreams for our lives, we may end up serving the false gods of sex and passion, just as they did in Paul's time.In our obsession with pleasure, we may even walk away from the God who created us -- and in the process we may cause God to abandon all the great dreams God has for our lives.
Wait?! Is he saying that we can stop God from doing something He has determined that He wants to do? That's not what the Bible says. When we go against God there are consequences.
Did these priests and priestesses get into these behaviors because they were lesbian or gay? I don't think so. Did God abandon them because they were practicing homosexuals? No. Read the text again.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.- Romans 1:21-27
Notice that Paul talks about homosexual lusts. How else can he not be talking about homosexual sex.
In our Soulforce video, There's a Wideness in God's Mercy, the Rev. Dr. Louis B. Smedes, a distinguished Christian author and ethicist, describes exactly how the Bible says these promiscuous priests and priestesses got into this mess. Once again it has nothing to do with homosexuality:
SMEDES: "The people Paul had in mind refused to acknowledge and worship God, and for this reason were abandoned by God. And being abandoned by God, they sank into sexual depravity."Thank you, Dr. Smedes. (To get a copy of the video featuring Dr. Smedes, There's a Wideness in God's Mercy, visit www.soulforce.org.)
SMEDES: "The homosexuals I know have not rejected God at all; they love God and they thank God for his grace and his gifts. How, then, could they have been abandoned to homosexuality as a punishment for refusing to acknowledge God?"
SMEDES: "Nor have the homosexuals that I know given up heterosexual passions for homosexual lusts. They have been homosexual from the moment of their earliest sexual stirrings. They did not change from one orientation to another; they just discovered that they were homosexual. It would be unnatural for most homosexuals to have heterosexual sex."
SMEDES: "And the homosexual people I know do not lust after each other any more than heterosexual people do... their love for one another is likely to be just as spiritual and personal as any heterosexual love can be."
Dr. Smedes misses couple of key points. Paul is not saying that not all homosexuals deny God outright. However if God says homosexuality is wrong and we continue to do it, then how else can it be described other than refusing to worship God as God deserves to be worshiped? Obedience is better than sacrifice after all. Paul is also not singling out homosexuals among sinners but is pointing out that homosexuality is a punishment on society. He is outright denying what the passage itself says.
Getting to know a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person of faith will help you realize that it is unreasonable (and unjust) to compare our love for each other to the rituals of the priests and priestesses who pranced around the statues of Aphrodite and Diana. Once again, I feel certain this passage says a lot about God, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it.
We don't compare homosexual love with the priests and priestess who conducted orgies and idolatry. Paul isn't just talking about them. He has made it clear what he is talking about. To say otherwise is twisting scripture into things its not.
You'll also note that Romans 2 begins with "Therefore, [referring to Romans 1], you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself..." Even after he describes the disturbing practices he has seen, Paul warns us that judging others is God's business, not ours.
Agreed. But pointing out sins and calling people to repentance is not the same as judging.
PASSAGES 5 AND 6
1 CORINTHIANS 6:9 AND 1 TIMOTHY 1:10
THE MYSTERY OF "MALOKOIS" AND "ARSENOKOITAI"
Now what do the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 say, first, about God, and then about homosexuality? These are the last two places in the Bible that seem to refer to same-sex behavior. We can combine them because they are so similar.
Like any good writer, Paul anticipates their first question: "Well, how are we supposed to treat one another?" Paul answers, "You know very well how to treat one another from the Jewish law written on tablets of stone."
The Jewish law was created by God to help regulate human behavior. To remind the churches in Corinth and Ephesus how God wants us to treat one another, Paul recites examples from the Jewish law first. Don't kill one another. Don't sleep with a person who is married to someone else. Don't lie or cheat or steal. The list goes on to include admonitions against fornication, idolatry, whoremongering, perjury, drunkenness, revelry, and extortion. He also includes "malokois" and "arsenokoitai."
Here's where the confusion begins. What's a malokois? What's an arsenokoitai? Actually, those two Greek words have confused scholars to this very day. We'll say more about them later, when we ask what the texts say about sex. But first let's see what the texts say about God.
After quoting from the Jewish law, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that they are under a new law: the law of Jesus, a law of love that requires us to do more than just avoid murder, adultery, lying, cheating, and stealing. Paul tells them what God wants is not strict adherence to a list of laws, but a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that isn't phony.
That's the lesson we all need to learn from these texts. God doesn't want us squabbling over who is "in" and who is "out." God wants us to love one another. It's God's task to judge us. It is NOT our task to judge one another.
First, I agree that God does want us to have pure hearts and good conscious. Second, given our fallen and sin-sick human natures trusting our conscious is simply not enough. We are called to obey God, We show our love through our obedience to the One who called us, chose us, and empowers us.
So what do these two texts say about homosexuality? Are gays and lesbians on that list of sinners in the Jewish law that Paul quotes to make an entirely different point?
Greek scholars say that in first century the Greek word malaokois probably meant "effeminate call boys." The New Revised Standard Version says "male prostitutes."
As for arsenokoitai, Greek scholars don't know exactly what it means -- and the fact that we don't know is a big part of this tragic debate. Some scholars believe Paul was coining a name to refer to the customers of "the effeminate call boys." We might call them "dirty old men." Others translate the word as "sodomites," but never explain what that means.
In 1958, for the first time in history, a person translating that mysterious Greek word into English decided it meant homosexuals, even though there is, in fact, no such word in Greek or Hebrew. But that translator made the decision for all of us that placed the word homosexual in the English-language Bible for the very first time.
In the past, people used Paul's writings to support slavery, segregation, and apartheid. People still use Paul's writings to oppress women and limit their role in the home, in church, and in society.
Now we have to ask ourselves, "Is it happening again?" Is a word in Greek that has no clear definition being used to reflect society's prejudice and condemn God's gay children?
We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the married men who hired hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure just as they hired smooth-skinned young girls for that purpose.
Responsible homosexuals would join Paul in condemning anyone who uses children for sex, just as we would join anyone else in condemning the threatened gang rape in Sodom or the behavior of the sex-crazed priests and priestesses in Rome. So, once again, I am convinced that this passage says a lot about God, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.
It's wrong to think that all homosexuals are child molesters or gang rapists. But trying to argue that we don't really know what arsenokoitai and malakois mean seams really desperate,
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men - 1st Corinthians 6:9
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.- 1st Timothy 1:8-11
The translators of the NIV and every major English translation doesn't seem to have a problem translating those words.
MY SIXTH PREMISE:The biblical authors are silent about homosexual orientation as we know it today. They neither approve it nor condemn it.
We've looked closely at the six biblical texts used by some people to condemn homosexuality. But we must also remember that Jesus, the Jewish prophets, and even Paul never even comment on the responsible love a gay man or lesbian feels for another.
Um, no, I don't think Rev White managed to prove that conclusion in the slightest.
The Bible is completely silent on the issue of homosexual orientation. And no wonder. Homosexual orientation wasn't even known until the 19th century.
The discovery that some of us are created and/or shaped in our earliest infancy toward same-gender attraction was made in the last 150 years. Biblical authors knew nothing about sexual orientation. Old Testament authors and Paul assumed all people were created heterosexual, just as they believed the earth was flat,
that there were heavens above and hell below, and that the sun moved up and down.
So the writers of the New Testament believed some things that we know now aren't true so that means they must have been wrong about what God intended for all people sexually? Is Rev White trying to suggest that God officially created some people to be homosexual while prohibiting homosexual expression at one point in the past although he claims the prohibition is no longer in place? That seems like what he's saying. And that would mean that God had purposely set them up for frustration. Of couse White could argue that if the laws were only for Jewish priests that God would have not allowed Jewish priests to be born that way, but if that was true why state the law at all? While I would take issue that Paul and the other writers of the Bible thought that the earth was flat (save it for another time), I've got to ask what difference does it make? How does one infer the other.If Paul was wrong about homosexuality was a sin, then how do you know that 1st Corinthians 15 is correct? If it isn't we are still in our sins and there is no power in Christianity - yet Rev White still claims to be a Christian.
Ulrichs assured the world of what we who are homosexual already know in our hearts. We aren't just heterosexuals choosing to perform same-sex behaviors. We are a whole class of people whose drive to same-sex intimacy is at the very core of our being from the very beginning of our lives.
Although the word homosexual was not used for the first time until later in the 19th century, Ulrichs recognized that homosexuals had been around from the beginning of recorded time, that we were "innately different from heterosexuals," and that our desire for same-sex intimacy and affiliation is intrinsic, natural, inborn and/or shaped in earliest infancy. According to Dr. Ulrichs, what may have looked "unnatural" to Moses and Paul was in fact "natural" to homosexuals.
Just like it's natural for any sinner to miss his own sins while condemning someone else. It may be innate. It may be core - but so is lying, cheating, and stealing. Are these sins alright just because we have a propensity to perform them? I don't think so.
So this is my sixth premise. The Biblical authors knew nothing of homosexual orientation as we understand it, and therefore said nothing to condemn or approve it.
I don't think this premise holds because it is just not true. The Bible is clear on the notion of sin. One cannot become a Christian without admitting they have a sin problem that needs to be fixed. Homosexuality is just one more sin to be delivered from - no worse than any other.
The authors of the Bible are authorities in matters of faith. They can be trusted when they talk about God. But they should not be considered the final authorities on sexual orientation any more than they are the final authorities on space travel, gravity, or the Internet.
If the Bible addressed space travel, gravity, or the Internet then we would have to consider it the final authority. The Bible does discuss matter of sexuality and it should be our final authority - that is if you take it seriously.
Since the writers of Scripture are not the final authorities on human sexuality, since they didn't even know about sexual orientation as we understand it today, since Jesus and the Jewish prophets were silent about any kind of same-sex behavior, I am persuaded that the Bible has nothing in it to approve or condemn homosexual orientation as we understand it.
So, when I study history, scripture, and every resource that I can, I come to a different conclusion. The Bible condones monogamous, heterosexual sex in the context of life-long and committed marriage and in no other context.
MY SEVENTH PREMISE:Although the prophets, Jesus, and other biblical authors say nothing about homosexual orientation as we understand it today, they are clear about one thing: As we search for truth, we are to "love one another."
We may not be able to use the Bible as our final authority on sexual orientation. But as we search for the truth, we can and should use the Bible as our final authority on how we should treat one another along the way.
Rev Mel White does not want the Bible as our final authority of sexual orientation that is why he doesn't think it is. He is right, the Bible does define how we should treat one another.
A young Jewish scholar asked Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?" Quoting the prophets, Jesus replied, "The great commandment is this... to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second command is like it, to love your neighbor as you love yourself."
"This is my commandment," Jesus said, "that you love one another, as I have loved you." On this the Bible is explicitly clear. Even if we disagree about what the Bible seems to say about homosexuality, we can agree that above all else we are commanded by the Scriptures to love God and to love one another.
Agreed. The Bible does tells we must love one another. However, letting you destroy yourself and not telling you, is not love.
Since God is the God of truth, since Jesus himself told us that the truth would set us free, one way that we love God and love one another is by seeking the truth about sexual orientation wherever we can find it.
There is a growing body of evidence from science, psychology, history, psychiatry, medicine, and personal experience that leads to a clear verdict: Homosexuality is neither a sickness nor a sin. Unfortunately, the church has always been slow, if not the last institution on earth, to accept new truth.
"New Truth"? If you take the Bible seriously, shouldn't "new truth" that outright contradicts the Bible bother you? If the Bible is the word of God then that means if "science, psychology, history, psychiatry, medicine, and personal experience" lead you to other conclusions then there is a serious problem. Someone is wrong and it's not God. Sin is ingrown and innate. Just because a behavior, attitude, or propensity may be innate doesn't make it right. What sin isn't a core part of the person's heart indulging in it? They all are. That is why Jesus came and died. He came to free us. Would you tell the thief that he/she should keep stealing because they were born that way? Would you say that God made them that way although stealing is sin? If you are going to be consistent that is exactly what you have to say. It doesn't make sense and cannot be supported by the Bible or common sense.
In 1632 the scientist Galileo (who was a man of faith) dared to support the radical 15th-century idea of Copernicus that all planets, including the earth, revolve around the sun. Immediately, Galileo was proclaimed a heretic by the Pope who quoted Scriptures in his attempt to disprove what science was proving.
Earlier, Protestant heroes had joined in quoting Scriptures condemning Copernicus. These weren't evil men. But they couldn't admit that the Bible was a book about God, not about astronomy -- just as good men and women today have trouble admitting that the Bible is a book about God, not about human sexuality.
Martin Luther said, "This fool Copernicus wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture in Joshua 10:13 tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."
So Luther and a lot of well-meaning men of God made a mistake. So what? The Bible does not tell us that the sun revolves around the earth. Does it really make sense that because people tried to use the Bible to refute science that we should throw out what the Bible is saying to us today? I don't think so.
John Calvin quoted Psalm 93 in his attack on Copernicus. "The earth also is established. It cannot be moved." Calvin added, "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?"
Melancthon, one of Luther's closest allies, used Ecclesiastes 1:4-5 to condemn Copernicus. "The sun also rises, and the sun goes down and hurries to the place from which it came." Then he added these dangerous words: "It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to obey it." In other words, believe what the Bible says -- even if science disproves it.
Calvin was fallible. The Bible isn't. Ecclesiastes was not literal. The Bible can use metaphor and similes as well as plain facts. A good hermeneutic allows you to know the difference. That is what studying the Bible is supposed to teach you. Science may be able to show that homosexuals are born and not made but that doesn't make it any more right than lying and stealing.
Because Christians refused to let their understanding of God's Word be informed by science, Copernicus was condemned and Galileo was declared a heretic and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. In 1992, 359 years later, Pope John Paul II finally admitted the church had been wrong to ignore science and to interpret the Bible literally.
The Church was wrong. The church is wrong a lot. That doesn't mean that White is interpreting the Bible more correctly than those who understands the Bible to be saying that homosexuality is a sin.
The Pope said something we must never forget: "Recent historical studies enable us to state that this sad misunderstanding now belongs to the past." Unfortunately, the apology came too late to relieve Galileo of his suffering. What if the biblical scholars of Galileo's day had said to Galileo, "We don't agree with your Copernican theories, but we love and trust you. As long as you love God and seek God's will in your life, you are welcome here."
Imagine the suffering that could be avoided if the church could say this to their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children: "We don't understand your views about sexual orientation, but we love and trust you. As long as you love God and seek God's will in your life, you are welcome here."
I agree that is exactly the attitude the church should adopt but that does not mean that the church needs to legitimate and recognize those views as correct and tossing scripture out. Being a Christians mean repentance. We all have plenty to repent about.
Instead, well-intentioned Christians are driving their own children away from the church, using Scripture passages that may not even pertain to sexual orientation as we understand it.
So, I guess the point is that we understand sexual orientation today better than the writers of the Bible did. If the Bible is the word of God and you believe that it contains the very words of God then you set your understanding above what the Bible says. That means that you become the authority over scripture. You can love people inspite of themselves - choices and life style - without condoning what they do. You can help and support their move towards Jesus.
MY EIGHTH PREMISE:Whatever some people believe the Bible says about homosexuality, they must not use that belief to deny homosexuals their basic civil rights. To discriminate against sexual or gender minorities is unjust and un-American.
Please consider one last thing. I love the Bible. I read God's Word in it and hear God's Word through it. But the United States is not a nation governed by the Bible. Our nation is governed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Our laws were created to protect an individual's right to disagree. If the Bible (or someone's view of the Bible) replaces the Constitution as the law of the land, we undermine the great foundation upon which this country was built.
When I was a guest on a talk show in Seattle, I saw what might happen to me and to millions like me if a genuine literalist gained political power over this country. The other guest on the show was an independent Presbyterian pastor. When I told him that I was gay, he said without hesitation, "Then you should be killed." A Christian brother sentenced me to death, guided only by his literal understanding of Leviticus 20:13.
I asked him, "Who should do the killing, you church folk?" He answered, "No, that's the civil authorities' job. That's why we need to elect more good men of God into government." I sat there in stunned silence, until he added, "I know it must be hard for you to hear it, Dr. White -- but God said it first and it's our job to obey."
I hope we can agree that all of us must stand together against those who would replace the Constitution with biblical law. That's why, when I lecture on a university campus, I carry a Bible in one pocket and a Constitution in the other.
I regret that there are some people who are so blinded by the need to feel more holy than others that they think its okay to kill those they think are less holy. All our righteousness are as filthy rags.We are not called to kill homosexuals. We are called to love them and I agree they deserve the same rights to personhood as heterosexuals but as Christian we are not called upon to pursue our own happiness but to follow Jesus where ever he leads. We are blessed that God does want us to be happy but we can only be happy on His terms not ours.
Can we support full civil rights for all... even if we disagree?
In this last premise, I'm asking you who disagree with my stand on homosexuality to support my stand on full civil rights for all people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
Agreed and keeping in mind that no ones' civil rights supersede anyone else.
I hope you'll agree that we are family, all sisters and brothers of the same heavenly parent. We may be different, but we can still live together in peace.
Thanks for reading this pamphlet. I'm grateful. If you are interested in learning more, I've listed a few resources on the next few pages. You can also find resources online at our Web page, www.soulforce.org.
Yes we can live in peace but only God's terms. Unfortunately given that the Bible is not the final authority in the lives and practices of many people there will always be tension and conflict. Sadder still, many of those people who refuse to follow the Bible and obey what it says still consider themselves Christians. No one is hitting it 100% of the time, but we should be trying.
What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality