A Biblical Case for the Support of Same-Sex Marriage

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This guest post was written by Katie van Santen


One of two statements is often heard in regards to an individual’s position on same-sex attraction, which can be paraphrased as:

“I take the ‘traditional’ view because I believe what’s in the Bible”

or

“I take the ‘reformed’ view because of a family member or friend”.

However, both views have the support of biblical interpretation. Those taking the ‘reformed’ view do not reject biblical authority, but have a different interpretation of the texts to those who take the ‘traditional’ view.

Sometimes the context of a passage means the ‘surface’ or literal reading is the least important in terms of truth about God and our relationship with Him. Scripture is authoritative because it is the Word of God, and we must seek what God says through the Bible, rather than what the Bible says: ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6).


History

Views on marriage have changed dramatically over time, and our perception of ‘biblical’ marriage is very different to that of the Israelites or first-century Jews. Only relatively recently have we begun to understand the biology, psychology and sociology that underpins the human condition. The definition of ‘traditional, biblical’ marriage as ‘a covenant between one man and one woman for life’ also raises questions regarding the changing attitudes to divorce and remarriage, which won’t be covered further here.

For most of history women were property (Exodus 20:17). The purpose of marriage was to produce legitimate heirs to inherit without dispute. In Hebrew culture, marriages were arranged by the fathers and were purely civil, with no religious ceremony. Often while still children, a bride-price was agreed, a contract was signed, and the couple were betrothed. The bride remained in her father’s house. Once the couple were both old enough, and the money had been saved, a date for the wedding was set. The groom and companions came to the bride’s home, paid the bride-price, and the marriage was consummated. Thus, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31: ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. The whole wedding party then processed to the groom’s house for the wedding feast, where the bride remained in her husband’s house. The Bible is unclear as to what defines marriage: in the Old Testament wives and concubines held different status, yet Jesus says that once two become ‘one flesh’ God has joined them together (Matthew 19:5-6), and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:15-16) uses the same ‘one flesh’ language for sex with a prostitute as for marriage.

Priests only became involved in Christian marriages the 12th Century and it became a sacrament of the church in the 16th Century. The Reformers declared that marriage was purely secular. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) lists the purpose of marriage as “the procreation of children; a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; and the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other” without reference to love. The idea of romantic attraction and personal choice of partner were raised in the Enlightenment and popularised only by the Victorians. The Old Testament permitted polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:16-17), handmaids (Genesis 16:1-4) and concubines (Genesis 22:24), along with slavery; women had to marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). There are still Christians who believe that 1 Corinthians 7:4 and Ephesians 5:23 permits marital rape as an outworking of the husband’s authority.

Sexuality is a term created by psychologists in the late 19th century. Prior to that there was no concept of sexual orientation, only heterosexual and homosexual practices. From the 14th Century, a ‘sodomite’ was one who performed the act of ‘sodomy’ (anal sex with the same or opposite sex). Therefore there is no concept of our modern understanding of homosexuality in the Bible, nor of monogamous homosexual relationships; the term “homosexuality” was first used in a biblical translation in 1946. As marriage was for procreation and property, there could be no concept of same-sexual marriage until the recent changes in attitudes towards love, women and legitimacy. That there are no examples in the Bible doesn’t stop us driving cars, using plastic, and eating chocolate.

Therefore our ‘traditional’ and ‘biblical’ understanding of marriage, and our ‘traditional’ position on monogamous same-sex relationships has very little historical basis.


Scripture

There are few mentions of homosexual activity in the bible. Those that are presented as condemning homosexuality are discussed here with contextual and cultural background that point to a different interpretation.

Genesis 19:1-10

Gang rape has nothing to do with homosexuality. It is an act of power and violence. In the similar story of Judges 19:22-26, the men were satisfied to rape a woman instead of the man they asked for. In addition to inhospitality, Ezekiel 16:49 says that the sin of Sodom was arrogance, greed, neglect of the poor and needy, and pride.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Some Levitical laws make sense to us today, clearly intending to keep the population healthy and free from disease (i.e. blood, mildew, pork). Other laws were for ritual purity, setting Israel apart from the surrounding nations (Leviticus 18:1-5, 20:23-24). Some we accept as still being ‘applicable’ (murder, theft, incest) while others we have allowed to be ‘of their time’ (cloth made of two fibres, shellfish, sideburns). Some authors put these verses into a temple-prostitution context: the Hebrew tow’ebah elsewhere means ritual impurity and idolatry. Adrian Thatcher (2011) suggests that, in the context of the patriarchal society, it is the phrase ‘as a woman’ that is most informative: treating a man as a woman, therefore degrading his status to that of property, is the catastrophic transgression.

Romans 1:26-27

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome, a place that worshipped a pantheon of gods, including acts of both male and female temple prostitution to confer favourable fertility. Paul condemns men and women who glorify false gods and give up their ‘natural relations’ for shameful acts ‘inflamed with lust’: idolatry, promiscuity, and temple prostitution for self-seeking ends are Paul’s target. If these men and women gave up their ‘natural’ desires they were not, by our current understanding, homosexual.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10

The NIVUK (2011) translates 1 Corinthians 6 as “nor men who have sex with men… will inherit the kingdom of God” with a footnote referencing two Greek terms meaning “the passive and active participants in homosexual acts”. The terms are malakos and arsenokoites. The latter of these also appears in 1 Timothy 1.

Malakos appears four times in the New Testament, of which three are translated as ‘soft’ in relation to fine clothing (Matthew 11:8; Like 7:25). In other Greek texts it is used to mean metaphorically ‘soft’, i.e. spineless in the face of injustice, or lacking self-control, rather than effeminate or homosexual.

Arsenokoites appears only in these two passages. In other Greek literature it references exploitation and abuse of the poor. In 1 Timothy 1 it is sandwiched between pornos, a male/boy prostitute, and andrapodistes, a slave dealer. Therefore arsenokoites (literally ‘male-bedder’) appears in the context of abuses of power rather than a loving, monogamous homosexual relationship. Many believe it refers to ‘pederasty’ – the normal Greek and Roman practice of an older man having a sexual relationship with a younger man or boy, slave, or social inferior, in addition to his wife and/or male and female prostitutes.

Without support from these six scriptures, there is nothing biblically that condemns monogamous homosexual relationships. In the context of the Bible as a whole, these passages are better interpreted as speaking against social injustice, exploitation of power, and idolatry for one’s own gain. Scripture also tells us that it is ‘not good for [a hu]man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18), that not all are called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:9), and that a tree is recognised by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44). 


Celebrating Diversity

Humanity, in its collective entirety, was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27: in the image of God… he created them). God is not gendered or sexual. In the second account of creation (Genesis 2:4ff) God made Adam (2:7), and later Eve (2:21). There is no record of any in-between, yet Jesus mentions eunuchs that were ‘born that way’ (Matthew 19:12). There are individuals who are born with ambiguous anatomy, mono- or poly-sex chromosomes, excess or deficiency in hormone production and/or hormone receptors. Anatomical and hormonal changes can also be acquired. There is a spectrum in sexual desire from asexual to hypersexual, and in sexual attraction from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. There is diversity in human biology and sexuality beyond the simple ‘male’ and ‘female’ dichotomy.

Creation is full of glorious diversity and God saw that creation was ‘very good’. Yet we inconsistently label some of this diversity as ‘good’ and some a ‘result of the fall’. This means that questions of affirming LBGTQ+ identity also must extend to other aspects of diversity: how we treat people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, class, age, wealth, size, health, as well as sexuality. The primary ‘label’ of a human is just that: a human, a person, a child of God. All other aspects of their identity are secondary to the core that they are created loved and lovable.

Over history the Church (as a whole) has acted, in its well-intentioned desire to authentically follow Jesus, to make individuals feel that they are unworthy of love because of their identity. The Church took a ‘biblical’ position on slavery, racism, anti-Semitism, and the inferiority of women until reason and experience prevailed. Then a fresh understanding of the context of the supporting texts allowed reinterpretation of the Bible and consequentially a changed belief.

Dr David Gushee reminds us: “We must cling to Jesus’ example and the way he conducted his ministry… If we do we might notice his warnings about religious self-righteousness and contempt for others deemed to be sinners; his embrace of outcasts and marginalized people; his attacks on those religious leader types who block access to God’s grace…; and perhaps above all his death on the cross for the sins of all of us, beginning with each of us as “chief of sinners.” We must focus tightly on Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. 


Sources/Further reading

Rev KV Alias on biblical marriage
Rev Lindsay Louise Biddle on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Canon on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Gau on Kingdom Values: Mercy
Dr David Gushee on LGBT in church
Justin Lee on homosexuality in the Bible
Adam Philips on homosexuality in the Bible
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Homosexuality
Prof Adrian Thatcher on LGBT inclusion (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher on biblical interpretation (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher (2011) God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley Blackwell)


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Katie van Santen lives in Plymouth with some lego and quite a few books. She has just completed her Certificate of Higher Education in Theology, Ministry and Mission. Currently she is not a marine biologist or science teacher due to disability, but keeps herself busy as a volunteer aquarium host, visiting preacher, and Fairy Godmother.


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Rethinking Christianity

Love, Love, Love: the painfully misunderstood, profoundly simple, earth-shattering message of Jesus

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If someone was to ask me to sum up the message of Jesus in a few words, I would probably quote the Beatles.

All you need is love.

Love. 

Not just shallow, gooey, fluffy, romantic love.

The kind of love that sets people free.

Love that gives of itself endlessly and asks for nothing in return.

Love that fights tirelessly for the needs and rights of strangers.

Love that breaks down barriers, crosses borders, and shatters social constructs and expectations.

Love that sees the beauty in all life and seeks to honour, treasure and nurture it.

Love that treats the outcasts of society as if they were worth more than all the diamonds, gold and oil in the world combined.

Love that brings tangible hope to those who are suffering physical or emotional pain… those who are lonely, lost or terrified… those whose hearts ache with grief… those who long for deeper meaning and significance.

Love that points to a greater reality, a greater purpose and a greater future for the whole of creation.

Love that never, ever, ever gives up.

That is the kind of love that brings transformation.


This is not a sideline to the main Gospel message in the Bible, an optional ad-on that helps to make life more bearable but is ultimately pointless.

This is the point.


Over the centuries, we ‘Christians’ have complicated and distorted this message.

We have added conditions, built walls, piled on guilt. We have embarked upon great, well-meaning excursions in entirely the wrong direction, and fought battles in the name of Jesus without realising it is Jesus himself we are fighting.

In particular, we are still obsessed with the idea of “purity”. We have this deeply ingrained idea that our job is to be the Morality Police, to keep everyone in check and keep standards up. The church’s preoccupation with sexuality makes this all too clear.

Our job is not to make sure everyone meets all of our moral ideals. Our job is to love. That is what we should be known for.

This is far from a wishy-washy, watered-down, ‘easy’ version of the Gospel.

Love is as fierce as a mother defending her children in a war zone. It is as powerful as a tsunami and illuminates even the darkest, most hopeless places.

Love speaks out against the powers of this world that crush those on the underside. It cries out on behalf of those who have no voice. It swims against the tides of culture and refuses to participate in systems and structures that breed inequality and injustice.

Love is transforming this world.

One day love will win.

And in the meantime, Jesus tells us to get on with the dirty, dangerous work of loving against all odds.


There are many things we cannot understand and will never be able to fully explain.

But just imagine what could happen if we ‘Christians’ accepted this mystery, and channeled all the energy we spend arguing about moral issues into unconditionally, selflessly and tirelessly loving our world.

(Note: Moral issues are important but secondary. I suspect if love truly was our compass and our driving force, the moral issues would start to resolve themselves or at least pale into insignificance.)


Love. No ifs, no buts.

Profoundly simple yet radically counter-cultural and earth-shattering.

I wonder if the Beatles knew how right they were.

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Homosexuality and the Bible: An Epic Conversation with my Anti-theist Brother

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My brother, Simon, is a year-and-a-half younger than me and, like me, had a happy Christian upbringing. Through his teens he was fully immersed in our church youth group, (which included being literally fully immersed when he was baptised at 16), played bass in the worship band, and went to Soul Survivor every year. In his gap year before university he went on a mission trip to Nigeria with the Christian charity, Tearfund.

We, along with our parents, have since been through a dramatic deconstruction of our faith. A decade on, I have reconstructed enough that I am still calling myself a Christian, although this has a very different meaning to me now. My brother now calls himself an “atheist verging on anti-theist” (meaning not only that he believes God doesn’t exist, but also that religion and belief in God actually have a harmful effect on the world).

This makes for some pretty mind-boggling family discussions, particularly as we usually somehow end up agreeing on most things.

The following conversation about homosexuality and the Bible took place a few months ago when Simon commented on my post, ‘I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 3): The Way Forward’.

I found it pretty interesting, I hope you do too. Feel free to chip in with your own comments.


Simon:

Hey Sis, apologies but I have just got around to reading your post and I have a bone to pick with all this.

Whilst I admire greatly your attempts to interpret the bible in such a way that conforms and supports your rightly liberal and inclusive beliefs, I just can’t help thinking whilst reading this that you are trying to carve and mould the bible round your own beliefs, rather than as you say, genuinely following the teaching that is within. It appears to me as an outsider, that you and others are desperately trying to modernise the bible to catch up with modern progressive thought, but I struggle to see it as being as malleable as you do.

From my point of view, the bible is a text which overtly condemns homosexuality in a number of places and there’s no way of getting round that! This is alongside the passages condoning slavery, mysogeny, violence and other less-than-humanistic activities.

History is unfortunately on my side: since the adoption of Christianity by the ageing Roman Empire in the 4th century, up until the 1960s (in the UK at least) being gay has been outlawed, punishable for most of that time, by death (burned alive in public being a favoured punishment by early Christian Roman leaders). Prior to the Christianisation of Europe, homosexuality was almost completely accepted and widespread, there are many examples of gay leaders (Alexander the Great being the most famous) and great artists across the Hellenistic world and Roman world.

In short, being gay only became a crime because of Christianity, was a sin punishable by death for over 1500 years, and only became legal because of the rise of modern, secular liberalism (the Catholics are still largely against equal rights for homosexuals, but luckily our secular leaders couldn’t give a crap what the Pope thinks).

So why did God let this happen? Surely if he thought that being gay was alright, why did he allow it to be written in his book, quite explicitly, that it wasn’t? If he genuinely cared for all his children, then why not interfere in some way, rather than let (probably millions of) people over 1500 years suffer, get repressed and sometimes get killed for it?

Sorry, but from my point of view it’s impossible to reconcile this, and Christianity takes most of the blame for anti-gay sentiment across the world today. I truly do admire your attempts to be inclusive, but since the bible isn’t ever going to change, these passages will never disappear, and people are always going to read them and interpret them.

If you want absolute equality, inclusivity and compassion, which you evidently do, I believe the only way forward is modern, secular, rationalism. The church has always been behind in progressive thought (Quakers notwithstanding) so I think it always will be (if you don’t believe me, ask the pope what he thinks of homosexuality, women’s rights to be in positions of power in the church, and contraceptives!).


Emma:

Hey bro! You’re so right, and yet I still don’t end up at the same conclusion as you.

You are approaching the Bible in the same problematic way as many Christians still do: that is to assume it is God’s word written directly to us, an instruction manual for life. I don’t think that’s what it was ever meant to be, and this is where I part ways with many evangelicals.

I see the Bible more as a family history, a library of stories, poetry, folklore, eyewitness accounts. It was written by people over a period of thousands of years, telling of their experiences of God. The writings all reflect the cultures they are from, so of course we now see much of it as backwards and even barbaric. But the overarching theme is God pulling people forwards into greater ways of being human, step by step becoming more loving, more inclusive, more equal, and with a more expansive worldview.

Am I throwing the Bible out? As a rule book from God’s lips to my life – yes. But as a story of God relating to humanity it is infinitely fascinating and useful. This is scary for Christians because it opens up the possibility for change, development beyond the words of the Bible. I think God is revealed in the Bible, and speaks to people today through it, but is not confined to the Bible. And I totally think the Bible gets it wrong sometimes – it was written by people after all.

I think the pattern of ever expanding love, peace and unity was meant to continue, evolving with culture. And I think the literal reading of the Bible is another example of people trying to put God in a cage.


Simon:

OK so we can both agree that we can dismiss the bible as fallible, partly fictional and in no way the direct voice of a divine being, that’s good!

Your explanation doesn’t really answer my fundamental problem with your assertion that god, if real, cares about people who are gay, or if he is, that he is capable of any intervention in human affairs. Simple question: if being gay is OK with god, why did he let all of Jesus’ followers, all following his teaching, oppress gay people for almost the entire history of Christianity? Why only now is he telling a select few that actually, it’s OK?

 To me this can only be resolved by one of three premises:

1) God does not exist and therefore things happen through natural means

2) God does exist and cares about what humans are doing, but is incapable, weak or impotent and is not able to intervene (thus begging the question – what is he for?), or

3) God does exist and can intervene, but is the unpleasant, vengeful, spiteful god of the old testament who doesn’t like gay people and wants them to be punished.

Regardless of the reliability of the bible, there’s no way I could ever respect a being that allows so much suffering in his name, yet does nothing.

Variations on this problem are the main reason why I am an atheist verging on anti-theist.


Emma:

I’d say this is exactly the right response to the claims of Christianity as we were both taught it. You are among many, many people (myself included) for whom the language, concepts and interpretations handed to us from the church simply don’t work anymore. We’ve both had this deconstruction experience; as a result you have embraced humanism and abandoned any sort of faith, and I clung to the few parts of Christianity that still made sense to me, dismantling many unhelpful constructs and worldviews and then reconstructing to the point where I now have a strong and vibrant faith which doesn’t crumble so easily when faced with tough questions.

So your first question: “If being gay is OK with god, why did he let all of Jesus’ followers, all following his teaching, oppress gay people for almost the entire history of Christianity? Why only now is he telling a select few that actually, it’s OK?”

Well, quite. An excellent question, and you can ask the same for all the other horrible things Christians have done and continue to do, using the Bible to justify their actions. To put it simply, I don’t think Christians own God. I think many people who call themselves Christians are not following Jesus, in fact they are often working against him. So equally I think you can be following the way of Jesus, being inspired and led by the spirit of God, whilst not calling yourself a Christian or in fact knowing anything about Jesus. So in the case of the oppression of gay people, I see God at work in the growing acceptance and love despite Christians working against it. The Bible has of course contributed massively to homophobia, but I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t have occurred anyway. God’s spirit has pulled us a long, long way since Biblical times, the problem has been with people clinging to a few culturally-soaked verses as timeless laws to be enforced, and in the process missing the larger point (and crushing people).

The second massive point is about how we see God. In Biblical times as you will know people saw the universe as three-tiered – heaven was literally above the Earth and that is where God lived, and the “underworld” was the place of death and darkness. So all throughout the Bible this is reflected in language – Jesus coming down from heaven, going down to the depths…etc. etc. Even though we now obviously know that is not how things are, we still very often have a view of God which comes from this “three-tiered” worldview. God is up there, we are down here, God sometimes pokes his finger down and intervenes. This understanding raises a ton of difficult questions, one of which you have raised here: if God is good, why doesn’t he intervene and stop bad things happening in his name?

Of course I don’t actually know the answer to this. But I don’t think of God that way anymore. I see God as the breath within us – the life force that creates, sustains, inspires. Language fails of course, but this language works better than a lot of the churchy language I grew up with. Many people have a sense that there must be something more to life – there is some deeper meaning and significance – I call that God. So I agree that things happen by natural means, but I think God is the energy behind it all.

So how do I know this ‘God’ is a conscious, personal being, let alone good? Well I don’t know, but personally when I choose to believe that reality is fundamentally good, that every human being contains a divine ‘spark’ and has infinite worth, and that we are part of a bigger, greater story, life just makes so much more sense. Things click into place and I feel a real sense of peace.

And if you read the Bible without trying to interpret it literally and thus losing the whole point of it, it becomes fascinating and really compelling. Historically the Jesus story is pretty hard to deny – based on the evidence it’s actually quite likely that he lived, died and was raised from the dead – it’s just that believing that has pretty massive implications.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a silly thing to believe. The major themes in the Bible (that we largely miss when treating it as a scientific textbook) are things like challenging domination and power structures which oppress people, working against injustice and inequality, non-violence, working towards peace and unity…the Bible is full of stories of God turning upside-down people’s understanding of how things are and showing them a better way. Which makes it massively relevant today.

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Dear Non-LGBT-affirming Christians, please search your hearts

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I’ve just seen a news article showing the faces of those killed in the Pulse Night Club on Saturday night.

Have you seen it?

Face after face; beautiful, young, LGBT+ people, their eyes full of light and life.

Lives so precious, unique, fragile, sacred.

Each one reflecting the image of their Creator.

Each one a beloved son or daughter. Their loss is a gaping wound, a searing pain, an everlasting ache.


LGBT+ people around the world are feeling the impact of the Orlando shooting deeply. They are mourning the deaths of these people as if they were family, connected somehow by invisible but unbreakable strands.

This is because they know. 

They know what it’s like to be despised for who they are.

They have felt the hatred in the cold glances and suspicious stares.

They know how it feels to have disapproval and disgust pushed down upon them like a suffocating pillow.

They have felt the fear of physical attack.


Non-LGBT-affirming Christian, I know you know this. 

I know you are outraged by this shooting. I know you feel the anguish and pain of the friends and families and are praying for them.

But when you say that you “love the sinner, hate the sin”, or offer condolences with the qualification that you “don’t agree with homosexuality”, do you realise what you are doing?

You are preventing people from being fully alive.

In trying to save people from their sin, you are oppressing them.

You are marring the image of God.

Sexuality or gender is not something we can separate ourselves from. As human beings, it is a vital, intentional, beautiful part of who we are. And it comes in many, many glorious colours.


Non-LGBT-affirming Christian, can you be absolutely sure that your views are not shaped by a watered-down, far less extreme version of the same prejudice that murdered those fifty people?

Because the Bible teaches far more clearly on divorce and remarriage than it does on homosexuality.

If you accept one, what is stopping you from accepting the other?

I will freely admit, I am still prejudiced. When I see two men kissing, it makes me uncomfortable. This is because it is something I am not used to – I am naturally prejudiced against those who are fundamentally different to me in some way.

I am aware of my prejudice. It is an unsightly smudge on my worldview that I am in the process of scrubbing off.

Just because something makes me feel uncomfortable, doesn’t make it wrong. It makes it different.

We human beings are such wonderfully complex creatures, displaying such an array of colours and intricate patterns as to reflect the glory of the divine.

We are made to love one another, forging relationships and journeying onwards together in peace and joy, reflecting the sacred communal dance of the divine.

We were not made to be forced into boxes.

We were never meant to all be the same.


Non-LGBT-affirming Christian, I know you genuinely believe that being non-affirming is the most loving thing.

But I ask you please to spend some time thinking about the effect your views may be having on people. Maybe even people you know and see regularly.

Maybe you could take time to read some stories of Christians who have attempted to change their sexuality, like Vicky Beeching, Kevin Garcia or Justin Lee, or many others Google will happily share with you. These are the survivors, the lucky ones whose stories didn’t end in suicide.


In the wake of this horrifying tragedy, let us search our hearts and seek to make a better world, for all people.

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On Today Of All Days: A letter to LGBT+ people in the wake of the Orlando shootings

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On today of all days, there are some things I need you to know.

You are a remarkable, endlessly fascinating and astonishingly beautiful creation.

Every breath you take, every moment of your life is infinitely precious and you are loved more than you will ever know.

And you are entitled to fall in love with, kiss, hold hands with, marry, have babies with and grow old with whoever you like.


On today of all days, I want the many faces of prejudice to be shamed and ridiculed.

From violent hatred to “love the sinner, hate the sin”, or “I’m sorry for the victims and their families but still don’t agree with homosexuality”… 

I want every hateful word and every thinly veiled prejudice to be exposed and despised.

I want to fast-forward to the day when our descendants will look back on our ignorance in disbelief and disgust.


On today of all days, I am so sorry.

I am sorry that I have been part of a system that may have led you to believe that there is something wrong with you.

I am sorry if you have been made to feel guilty for being who you are.

I am sorry if my ignorance and inaction have directly or indirectly led to your suffering.


On today of all days, I want you to have a voice.

I want you to shout from the rooftops that you have as much right to life, love and happiness as anyone else. In many cases you are probably more deserving of it.

I want you to be fiercely proud of who you are.

I want you to never stop fighting for your rights and your freedom.


On today of all days, I promise to fight for you.

I promise that I will do the best I can to work for real, lasting change in our world.

I will fight on behalf of those who have already been lost to violent hatred or suicide.

And I will fight for those who right now are trapped, lonely, afraid, in danger, depressed or suicidal, so that they may be free to live and love as they were created to.

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I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 3): The Way Forward

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The Bible is part of an ongoing story of God moving towards his people, and human culture moving very, very gradually towards God in an ever-expanding consciousness. Since the very beginning God has been pulling us forward, showing us better and better ways to be human. We’ve come a long way and we’ve got an awfully long way to go, but each breakthrough in equality and justice is a step towards God.

Accepting gay people as equals is the next big step.

(See my previous posts I Think God Makes People Gay and I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 2) for why the Biblical argument against homosexuality doesn’t work.)


What are we so scared of?

I still sometimes doubt if I’m doing the right thing here. I suspect I’m not alone in that.

But what are we scared of? Do we really think that if we welcome, love and accept people in gay relationships, God will punish us? For what, being too inclusive, too loving?

If so, we need to seriously re-examine our view of God.

From what we know about Jesus, it seems to me that God is far more likely to be angry at those who exclude and alienate his beloved children because of their sexual orientation, than at those who find themselves experiencing same-sex attraction.


The standard is love

I know it can feel a bit like we’re lowering our standards. Like we’re letting go of our morals, changing the rules to make Christianity easier to swallow.

But it was never supposed to be about rules, that was the whole point.

We have the ultimate standard: love.

Real, life-changing, earth-shattering, hardcore, sacrificial, Jesus-love.

We stand against that which is harmful, damaging, unjust, unloving, inhumane – that which prevents people from living a full life in relationship with God and others. I can think of all sorts of things that fall into that category that are commonplace in churches. Homosexuality is not one of them.


A New Testament solution to the gay debate

It would be naive to expect everyone to come an agreement on this. If we try to force everyone to think the same, then we are missing the point (and we will fail).

In New Testament times, there were hugely controversial and divisive issues within the church that are perhaps comparable to the homosexuality debate today. There were an awful lot of Christians in the early church who argued that all believers should be circumcised, that they should avoid certain foods and that the Sabbath should be kept holy. Then there were other Christians (e.g. Paul) who strongly believed that Jesus had changed everything, and so these old laws no longer applied.

These issues were a HUGE deal at the time. The Jews had always done things this way (in Exodus 4, God nearly kills Moses for neglecting to circumcise his son!) so it is hardly surprising that people were not taking these new ideas lightly.

Paul’s response is very interesting. He doesn’t try to make everyone think the same as him, but instead suggests that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they feel is right before God:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Romans 14:1-6 NIV (emphases added)

Is homosexuality a ‘disputable matter’ in the church today? Absolutely. So what should we do?

Stop judging people. It’s not our job. If someone genuinely believes that God is happy for them to be in a homosexual relationship, then leave them be. If someone believes God wants them to be celibate, then support them. It’s not our place to judge.

This means that by Paul’s logic, even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, you should still allow people in gay relationships to engage fully in the life of the church, and to participate in the sacraments (Romans 15:7).

(Note: marriage is a sacrament.)

Clearly this cannot be applied to just anything – if someone is doing something that is harmful to them or others, then of course the right thing to do would be to challenge that behaviour. But homosexuality in the church today is most definitely a “disputable matter”: whether it is a “sin” or not is entirely a matter of opinion.


People on both sides of the debate, then, are called to stand down; to stop trying to enforce their opinions on others, and to strive instead for unity. The aim of the church is surely to be a loving community, bringing people into deeper relationship with God and with others. Everything else is of secondary importance.

The church has failed at this spectacularly. I have heard of very few gay people who have felt fully accepted and welcomed in church. The vast majority of the time they are judged, excluded, prevented from fully participating. In many, many cases this will have led to them feeling that if God exists at all, he doesn’t like them very much.


Seriously then…

After teaching his disciples to be like children and to welcome children in his name, Jesus says:

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!    

Matthew 18:6 NIV

I have most often heard passages like this used to support anti-gay arguments. People are terrified that if they condone homosexual behaviour and it turns out to be a sin, they will be subject to divine wrath and punishment.

But Jesus was always welcoming people, loving people, encouraging them into relationship with God despite their many shortcomings. He always leaned towards acceptance, unity and love, and stood fiercely against those who insisted that people needed to meet standards of purity.

So what if we interpreted this passage more like this?

If anyone causes one of my children (gay or straight) – those who want to follow me – to fall away from me, woe to that person! If you exclude them or prevent them from fully entering into life with me, woe to you!

Sobering stuff. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait to see what is worse than having a large millstone hung around my neck and being drowned in the depths of the sea.


When it comes down to it…

For many people, the problem is that they just don’t like the idea of it. The thought of the “act” itself repulses them.

Well if that’s the case for you, you’re probably not gay.

If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Just don’t assume everyone should be like you.


Buckle up, we’re about to get serious.

If we are happy to allow people who are divorced and remarried to participate fully in the church, but exclude people in gay relationships, then our actions are based on prejudice. They have to be. Why else would we accept one and not the other? Whether we are aware of it or not, an underlying prejudice is colouring our interpretation of the Bible. Just as people genuinely believed that certain races were inferior and used the Bible to defend their position, if we prevent people in monogamous homosexual relationships from fully participating in church, we are using the Bible to prop up our own deep-seated prejudices. Prejudices that need to be seen for what they are and gouged out.

(I’m ashamed to say I am not completely over my prejudices, but I’m working on it. I can see now that’s what they are – ugly stains in my worldview that I’ve picked up along the way and that I am in the process of scrubbing off.)


I welcome comments whether you agree with me or not – I’m looking to start a conversation. If you’d like to discuss with me any issues raised in my blog posts but would prefer not to write a public comment, you can email me at musicineverysound@gmail.com.

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I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 2)

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A few months ago I organised my thoughts on Christianity and homosexuality in a post called I Think God Makes People Gay.

Since writing it I have had some more thoughts, so I thought I would write those down too.


I have Christian friends who believe that homosexuality is an abomination, detestable to God.

I also have Christian friends who actively affirm homosexuality, and believe that the act of discriminating against and excluding LGBTQIAP people is an abomination, detestable to God.

I have non-Christian friends who view Christians as judgemental and unloving because of their attitudes to homosexuality.

I think many, perhaps most of my Christian friends are currently stuck somewhere in the middle of these categories. They would love to fully encourage and affirm their gay friends, but they believe the Bible says homosexuality is wrong. Forcing LGBTQIAP people to live repressed and lonely lives seems harsh and unloving, un-Jesus-like even, and yet they can’t shake off the fear that affirming such relationships would be going against God’s will and leading people into sin.

I still sometimes fall into this category, doubting my interpretation of the Bible and worrying that I’m somehow leading people astray. But most days I’m in the radically affirming camp.


So following on from my previous post, here are some more thoughts on the “issue” of homosexuality and Christianity.

1. If I’m OK with people getting divorced and remarried, why not same sex relationships?

This is an obvious one, but important nonetheless. Everything comes down to how I read the Bible. If I choose to interpret the bits about homosexuality as directly applicable and culturally relevant today, I really ought to also be against divorce. More so actually because Jesus talked about divorce a lot, while never once mentioning homosexuality. I should also be against women in leadership, and I should probably be keeping slaves. What makes monogamous homosexual relationships any different?

2. The bible passages most commonly used to argue against homosexuality are probably about something entirely different.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the apostle Paul includes homosexuality in a list of immoral acts. This and Romans 1:26-27 are probably the most convincingly anti-gay passages in the Bible. But Paul is speaking into a culture where it was normal and socially acceptable for wealthy older men to act as patrons to young boys – educating and supporting them, and usually having sexual relations with them. Sexuality in that culture was in the context of unequal relationships that were often abusive and exploitative. Yet these are the writings we have used to condemn monogamous, equal, loving homosexual relationships in our own culture. Are they really comparable?

3. According to Paul, singleness was “God’s best”.

We hold Paul as the highest authority on many issues in the church. And yet if it was up to Paul, everyone would be single and no-one would have sex with anyone.

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1-2)

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)

Paul seems to be saying that as far as he’s concerned, it is best to stay single. For him, marriage is less than “God’s best” (a phrase I hear a lot in reference to homosexuality), but he concedes that for some who lack the necessary self-control, it is better to marry.

Whether or not homosexuality is “God’s best”, is it possible that for some, being in a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship is for them the best and most healthy state in which to live, grow and draw closer to God?

None of us are perfect but in loving one another in healthy, committed, faithful relationships we grow closer to God, learning to mirror the love Jesus has for us. How can it be right to deny some people this opportunity?

4. Sexuality and gender are more complicated than we thought.

I listened to The Liturgists Podcast – Episode 20: LGBTQ twice through even though it’s over two hours long – I found it fascinating. If you’re interested in this discussion you should find time to have a listen.

One of the most interesting parts, I thought, was an explanation of what science has revealed about the nature of gender and sexuality. There are a surprisingly high number of people of do not fit the categories of male or female, let alone straight or gay. These people are forced to fit our cultural moulds or face being effectively cast out from society. People are still today being disowned by their families for not fitting the cultural norm.

For we who call ourselves Christians, how do we imagine Jesus would have treated such people? Is it not more Christ-like to show people radical love, inclusion, affirmation and acceptance than to judge and exclude them?

As with many things, sexuality and gender are simply not black and white. So what if we stopped worrying so much about squeezing people into boxes and concentrated on loving them instead?

5. Where do we draw the line? Are we taking the easy way out and making our faith fluffy and lukewarm in the process?

As Christians we have to hold firm to the central values of our faith. So what are they? Jesus said we should love God and love others. He was radically loving, and outrageously affirming of those whom society had cast out. The only people he condemned were the religious leaders who sought to control people and appear superior by taking it upon themselves to enforce purity laws.

By affirming homosexual relationships we are not saying “anything goes”. We do not affirm anything that is abusive, destructive, unjust, unhealthy or inhumane. Our goal is to love God, love others and help others to love God.

And we’re not talking about a fluffy, do-what-you-want-as-long-as-you-don’t-offend-anybody, nice sort of love. We’re talking about the sacrificial sort of love that Jesus demonstrated when he died on a cross.

There’s nothing lukewarm or easy about that sort of love. That’s what Christians are supposed to be known for.

6. What if I’m wrong?

Does God actually make people gay? I don’t know. No-one does.

All we have to go on are a few lines in some letters from thousands of years ago which may or may not be culturally applicable today. But they are part of a wider story which speaks overwhelmingly of a God who loves people, and longs to draw near to them.

The Bible is not clear on homosexuality, so ultimately we do what we feel is right.

And I find it hard to believe that anyone who arrives at the pearly gates will be condemned by God for being too loving.


As always my aim in writing is to start a conversation. I am no expert, I am simply sharing my own thoughts and experiences and how things appear at this point in my journey. I most certainly don’t have all the answers, and in a few years’ time I may well look back and disagree with myself – so please feel free to comment!

If you’d like to discuss with me any issues raised in my blog posts but would prefer not to write a public comment, you can email me at musicineverysound@gmail.com.

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Next up: I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 3): The Way Forward

 

I Think God Makes People Gay

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Not because He sometimes makes mistakes. Not because He enjoys to watch them live lonely, frustrated, unfulfilled lives. And not to give Christians a chance to practise their praying skills.

I think God actually creates people with homosexuality as part of their identity, and intends for them to fall in love and have happy, fulfilling relationships.

When I was a teenager, being gay was definitely a sin. But if you were unfortunate enough to have such inclinations you could escape hell by simply being celibate. Just take a minute to imagine that when you were sixteen, someone told you that all the urges and desires you were feeling would have to be repressed; you would never be allowed to have a happy, longterm relationship. You had to be single forever, or you would spend eternity in a burning lake of sulphur.

I became less sure about this around the time of going to university. I spent the next nine years not really knowing what to think. I wanted to be OK with it, but those few Bible verses that appear to condemn homosexuality kept nagging at me. Conveniently none of my family or close friends were gay, so it didn’t really matter that I didn’t have a strong opinion either way.


About a year ago, I arrived at the conclusion that it really is OK. God makes people gay. To explain how I got here, I will address some of the strongest arguments against homosexuality and show how for me, they have all come crashing down.

1. The Bible says it’s wrong.

This comes back to the point I made in my previous post about how we read the Bible. If we take it as an instructional manual, from God’s lips directly into our lives, then the conclusion has to be that it’s an abomination. But if you do that, you should also be keeping slaves, killing your enemies with a sword, avoiding pork and only wearing clothing made of single fabrics. If you’d rather stick to the New Testament, then don’t even think about getting divorced and remarried. If you think that’s inappropriate, then you are already admitting that some things that were culturally relevant in Biblical times simply aren’t applicable today.

Here are the main texts Christians use against homosexuality (all NIV), and why I don’t think they condemn gay people today:

Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed.

In this story, God sends two angels disguised as men to visit one of two cities called Sodom and Gomorrah, already known for being particularly wicked. While they are staying with Abraham’s nephew, Lot, men surround the house and demand that Lot bring the men (angels) out so they can have sex with them. He refuses, so they try to break down the door. God then gets really angry, rains down burning sulphur and destroys the two cities.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were immoral, wicked, violent and very inhospitable to visitors. They tried to gang rape angels. Yet somehow, many Christians have interpreted this passage to mean that being in a loving, long-term, monogamous, homosexual relationship is wrong. The word ‘sodomy’, meaning the act of homosexual intercourse, comes directly from this passage. To me that is a gross misinterpretation, and by getting caught up in the specific issue of homosexuality today we are turning a blind eye to all the actual immorality and wickedness in our world.

Leviticus 18:22 – Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
Leviticus 20:13 – If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

You just need to step back a bit and read the chapters surrounding these verses to see that these were laws written for specific people at a specific time and are not applicable today. Leviticus 17:12 says None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood. Bad news for any black pudding fans out there. Leviticus 19:27 says Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Sorry boys. Leviticus 21:16-20 says The Lord said to Moses,“Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 

I think I’ve made my point.

Mark 10:6-8 – But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

Lots of people will happily interpret Leviticus as being culturally irrelevant, but this one is more tricky. You can take it to mean that being in a heterosexual relationship is God’s ideal, and anything else falls short. Or you can take it to mean that this is the norm (which it is – there are far more straight people than gay people in the world and that was presumably the case then too), so it made sense to phrase it in this way. In that case the passage doesn’t necessarily condemn homosexuality – it just doesn’t mention it.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – 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 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul is talking about the bad things people can do that will get in the way of them ‘inheriting the kingdom of God’ (this isn’t just about going to Heaven when they die – see previous post!). He’s talking about people who are selfish, reckless, deceitful, greedy and out of control. Loving, long-term, monogamous, homosexual relationships simply did not exist in that culture – relationships, like an awful lot of other things, have changed over time. I can think of lots of people in this world who are selfish, reckless, deceitful, greedy and out of control; gay people in loving, faithful relationships do not belong in that list.

There is also a passage in Romans 1 about ‘shameful lusts’ which mentions men committing ‘shameful acts with other men’, for which I would argue the same.


2. It’s a choice.

That’s an easy statement to make if you are straight. Think about the number of Christians who try almost anything to cure themselves of their gayness, or the number of young people who are bullied, depressed and even driven to suicide because they are gay, and tell me again that it’s a choice.


3. It’s unnatural.

Animals have been scientifically proven to engage in homosexual activity. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that sexual preference is biological, and even some evidence of an evolutionary advantage. Have a look at this, this, this and this for more information.

It does seem a shame that people in longterm relationships should have no possibility of producing biological children. But if gay people are to be judged for that, we also should be piling the guilt on couples who can’t have children for any other reason. Because clearly, what this world needs is a population increase.


4. It just feels wrong.

That’s hardly surprising, seeing as the church has condemned homosexuality for hundreds, even thousands of years. It was punishable by death for much of history and was illegal in the UK until 1967. There has been a seismic social and cultural shift in a relatively short period of time. So of course it sometimes still feels a bit odd.

If in eighteen years’ time my children turn out to be gay, that means that right now, aged six months and two years, they already are. To be extremely honest, right now I would prefer it if they weren’t. That is because of the culture I have been immersed in growing up, and the prejudices that have been planted deep in my psyche. It will take time for the nasty remnants of homophobia that still lurk within me to be completely shaken out, and the same is true for society as a whole.


5. We don’t want to change marriage.

 

Marriage between a man and a woman has been an institution, an unshakeable pillar of society for hundreds of years. Changing the definition of it is scary and we wonder if we have the right to meddle with something that has stayed the same for so long.

Marriage in Biblical times was a very, very different thing. Marriages were usually arranged by the family; the husband effectively bought his wife from her father and she was then forced to stay with him until one of them died. Divorce and remarriage counted as adultery, and adultery was punishable by death.

It has changed since then, so I think it’s OK for it to change again.


Of course you might still disagree – that’s allowed, I just hope you will at least take some time to think about it.

Imagine for a moment that I am right, that God makes people gay and loves them as much as anyone else. Imagine what He would feel about how the church has treated gay people throughout history.

If I am right, then we need to spend the next two thousand years making it up to them.


If you’re interested in reading more about this whole issue, this is a good place to start.

Next up: I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 2)I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 3): The Way Forward

I welcome comments whether you agree with me or not – I’m looking to start a conversation. If you’d like to discuss with me any issues raised in my blog posts but would prefer not to write a public comment, you can email me at musicineverysound@gmail.com.

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