Homosexuality and the Christian

Since I have recently written about sexuality and it has gotten some intense feed back, let me venture into the area of homosexuality. I want to address the moral issue here, not any political agenda about gay rights and such. But since many Christians consider homosexuality a sin let’s discuss it. I will prime the pump, so to speak.

Modern distinctions: There are homosexual/heterosexual orientations (for which people are not responsible), and then there are homosexual/heterosexual practices (for which people are responsible). Homosexual/heterosexual practices which are anonymous acts of self-gratification are different than practices that are expressive of authentic human love between two people. Both homosexual practices and heterosexual practices are judged by the same standards.

The secular challenge to the Christian: “Sex is essential to human fulfillment. To expect homosexual people to abstain from homosexual practice is to condemn them to frustration and to drive them to neurosis, despair, and even suicide. It’s outrageous to ask anybody to deny himself what to him is a normal and natural mode of sexual expression.”

The modern theological challenge: “No where in Scripture is there a clear condemnation of a loving sexual relationship between two gay persons.” “Scriptural authors never deal with homosexual orientation, and when they do treat homosexual activity, they never do so in a context of a loving relationship. They presuppose that they are dealing with a humanly destructive activity in the context of idolatry, prostitution, promiscuity, violent rape, seduction of children or violation of guests’ rights.” John J. McNeill “Homosexuality: Challenging the Church to Grow” in Christian Century (March 11, 1987: 246.).

8 comments:

Bruce said...

One thing I'd like to know is whether all sex (from a Christian perspective) needs to be solely for procreation? Does God allow a man and a woman to have sex just because it is fun to do? Even if they are married but have no intention of having children? Seems to me that if he is OK with this arrangement then he should have no problem with a homosexual relationship either.

Anonymous said...

This is why the Catholic Church bans birth control among married couples: at least they're consistent. They also (I'm pretty sure) forbid any sex act that cannot lead to conception (so this pretty much means missionary position only, you married couples!! No Kama Sutra for you!)

Protestants are more "liberal" ... as long as you're married they don't see anything wrong with doing whatever. This is inconsistent (in my opinion). If sex is for procreation, then that's what should be occurring whether one is married or not, heterosexual or not.

- Todd

Anonymous said...

John,

Coincidentally (or, maybe not) we posted on similar topics today. Here is my post today on apparent references to homosexuality in the New Testament.

Todd and Bruce,

For most if not all Protestants, sex is not purely for procreation. In most Protestant theologies is serves at least two purposes:

1. Procreative, and
2. Unitive.

In other words, it is not just for fun or for children. It is principally an expression of an intimate bond between two persons who have been joined together (a phrase which shares symbolism with the literal joining of the bodies in intercourse). To deny the procreative function of sex is to deny a simple biological fact. Simply put, sexual intercourse between a man and a woman often results (duh) in babies. But to deny the unitive function of sex is to deny the complex emotional/spiritual experience which accompanies most sexual acts.

In most Protestant theologies it is not the procreative nature of the sex which makes it moral, but rather the unitive. It is, in other words, quite possible to have morally impermissible sex which nevertheless results in new life. From the Protestant perspective, however, it is less likely that you have fully unitive sex, that is sex which permanently binds two persons to each other, which is still morally impermissible. I'm sure we could come up with some problem cases, but the Protestant could reply to such case, axiomatically, that they must not have been properly unitive. It is, however, quite difficult to dent when sex is procreative.

Bruce said...

Hey Sandalstraps, thanks for the info. I read your post on your blog. I know that you do not agree that those passages you quoted condem homosexuality. But for people who do think that the Bible condems homosexuality, does the Bible provide any reasons for why homosexuality is bad other than because God says so?

Anonymous said...

Bruce,

Not overtly, in most cases, but you can extract some reasons from the text.

First off, the bulk of the material used to comprise the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality comes not from the New Testament (the passages I dealt with in my most recent post were the four NT verses used to condemn homosexuality - it was, thus, more narrow in scope than a comprehensive treatment of what the Bible says about homosexuality) but from the Torah, especially the Levitical law.

The two passages from Leviticus that speak to male-male sex are:

Lev. 18:22, and
Lev. 20:13,

and read, respectively (in the NRSV):

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

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.

These texts are not binding on Christians because they are found among the purity laws of ancient Israel, none of which are kept by Christians. The purity laws were designed to distinguish ancient Israel from its neighbors, and are seen as a cohesive whole. One is to keep all of them, or one is to reject all of them and stand outside the tribe.

To understand why, as best the text offers it, male-male sex is forbidden here, one must understand the word that is translated here "abomination." This is what Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison concerning that term, in her essay What the Bible Says, or Doesn't Say, About Homosexuality:

Much ado has been made about the labeling of male-male sexual activity as an "abomination." The Hebrew word is to'ebah, and it usually has to do with ritual impurity or with idolatry. Perhaps it was related to the prohibition of participation in fertility cults of other cultures. To keep this label in perspective, it is important to consider what other behaviors are called to'ebah: wearing polyester/cotton garments or eating foods that contain both meat and dairy products.

In other words, this prohibition is connected to a distinctly ancient Jewish ethic, one of total obedience to God and radical distinction/separation. That ethic is not the usual motivator for modern Christians, as much has changed in the last few thousand years.

But, before we get to what motivates Christians to condemn homosexuality, I should note that while this command here is rather arbitary, as part of a set of laws given to ancient Israel (according to their beliefs) by God (that is, these laws may serve a function, but they are not primarily functional - they are not designed to have human reasons, but rather to test human obedience) the rational for obeying them is not "The Bible says," but rather "the LORD says." For these people the revelation from God long preceded any written text. So the text is revered for its connection to the divine revelation. It is not the authority in and of itself, but serves as a kind of communication from the actual authority, object of worship, and holder of all moral claims: God.

The ethic of radical obedience (though not the specific claims involved, such as the prohibition of male-male sex - Jesus makes no mention whatsoever of homogenital sex) is also found in the teachings of Jesus, and thus also in the earliest Christian communities. But Christianity is not just a Hebraic phenomenon. Growing up as it did in the Roman Empire, Christian theology can best be seen as a combining of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets and the Greek philosophers. As such, the Christian condemnation of homosexuality generally rests on a few distinctly Greek developments, especially:

1. An Aristotelean understanding of "nature," and

2. The Neo-Platonic suspicion/reviling of the physical.

But if I fully explain those developments here I will have taken up even more space; far more space than any comment should be allowed. For more, see this post from last year. In the section dealing with Catholic arguments against homosexuality it gets into the Greek heritage involved here.

Suffice it to say, for now, that as I understand it the primary Christian objection to homosexuality is also the primary Western objection, that it is "unnatural." That post should clarify how the use of "natural" has shifted over time.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Sandlestraps. You have a good grasp of the modern theological challenge. I'll let you press that issue with those who don't understand it.

Anonymous said...

WYou shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.....

A gay man doesnt lie with woman kind, so there is virtually nothing they can't do with a man. On the other hand a bi-guy who never goes down on a woman is free to blow as many men as he wants (and who will have him) :-)

Of course, in the context of leviticus, there's another option, male temple prostitutes would often transvestite themselves while being penetrated, it would make a bit more sense. It should be noted that even today toe Torah does not permit cross dressing of any sort (no suits on ladies, if you don't mind).

Anonymous said...

I believe lust can define and destroy what it means to be in intimate relationship, whether it be hetero, bi or homosexual in nature. The gospel message does not allow self-righteous pride for persecution of sinners either, whether it be lust, greed, etc. that one suffers from. Contrary to some popular misunderstandings, God does not condemn those who promote or are successful in their sin - it is just that not everyone wants to be adopted and inherit heaven - it does not appeal to some because the habits they have grown to be successful at here are not allowed with God - exploitation and abuse of others aren't allowed in heaven.