What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality
by Rev. Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce
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'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...
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
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
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.
Most people who are certain they know what the Bible says about homosexuality
don't know where the verses that reference same-sex behavior can be found. They
haven't read them, let alone studied them carefully. They don't know the
original meaning of the words in Hebrew or Greek. And they haven't tried to
understand the historical context in which those words were written. Yet the
assumption that the Bible condemns homosexuality is passed down from generation
to generation with very little personal study or research. The consequences of
this misinformation are disastrous, not only for God's gay and lesbian children,
but for the entire church.
The apostle Paul says, "Test all things and hold fast to that which is good."
By reading this little article, you are taking Paul seriously.
MY SECOND PREMISE:
Historically, people's misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of
suffering, bloodshed, and death.
Over the centuries
people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things.
The Bible has been misused to defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; to
support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to persecute Jews and other
non-Christian people of faith; to support Hitler's Third Reich and the
Holocaust; to oppose medical science; to condemn interracial marriage; to
execute women as witches; and to support the Ku Klux Klan. Shakespeare said it
this way: "Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."
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
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.
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.
|Matson and Mowder|
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."
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
But it's important to hear these stories, because I'm not writing this article 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.
MY THIRD PREMISE:
We must be open to new understanding 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
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 understanding 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.
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.
There are far too many tragic stories of what happens when we fail to study
these texts. Mark B. was a young man who accepted his sexual orientation "until
he became a Christian" and was told on the basis of these texts that he couldn't
be both a Christian and a gay man. Mark committed suicide and wrote this suicide
note to God: "I just don't know how else to fix this." Mary Lou Wallner, one of
our most faithful Soulforce volunteers, was led by these texts to condemn her
lesbian daughter, Anna, who hanged herself. Mary Lou now says, "If I can steer
just one person away from the pain and anguish I've been living, then maybe
Anna's death will have meaning."
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 understanding? 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.
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.
MY FOURTH PREMISE:
The Bible is a book about God -- not a book about human
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.
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
- 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.
I'm certain you don't agree with these teachings from the Bible about sex.
And you shouldn't. 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
Second, what might the text be saying about homosexuality?
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
Are these relationships (or lack of relationships) "unnatural"? There's
nothing said here that condemns or approves the love that people of the same sex
have for each other, including the love I have for my partner, Gary.
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.
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
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
Today, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike do well to
remember that we break God's heart when we spend all we earn on ourselves, when
we forget the poor and hungry, when we refuse to do justice or show mercy, when
we leave strangers at the gate.
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
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.
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.
In August 1997, Abner Louima, a young black immigrant from Haiti, was
assaulted by several police officers after he was arrested in Brooklyn. Officer
Charles Schwarz held Louima down in a restroom at the precinct, while Officer
Justin Volpe rammed a broken stick into Louima's rectum. These two men and the
three other officers involved in this incident and its cover-up were not gay.
This was not a homosexual act. It was about power.
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.
LEVITICUS 18:22 AND 20:13
Let's move on. What do the two verses sometimes cited from Leviticus say
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
We've talked about
the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that are used (or misused) by some people
to condemn sexual minorities. Now let's look at three verses from the letters of
the apostle Paul in the Christian Scriptures that are used the same way.
Remember: First, we'll ask what the text says about God; second, we'll consider
what it may or may not say about sexual orientation.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.)
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.
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.
PASSAGES 5 AND 6
1 CORINTHIANS 6:9 AND 1 TIMOTHY 1:10
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.
exasperated. The Christians in Ephesus and Corinth are fighting among
themselves. (Sound familiar?) In Corinth they're even suing one another in
secular courts. Paul shouts across the distance, "You are breaking God's heart
by the way you are treating one another."
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
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
Greek scholars say that in first century the Greek word malaokois
probably meant "effeminate call boys." The New Revised Standard Version says
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.
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
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
that there were heavens above and hell below, and that the sun
moved up and down.
In 1864, almost 3,000 years after Moses and at least 18 centuries after the
apostle Paul, the German social scientist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was the first to
declare that homosexuals were a distinct class of individuals. It was a big
moment for all sexual minorities. It's our Columbus discovering the New World.
It's our Madame Curie discovering radium used for Xrays. It's our Neil Armstrong
walking on the moon. It may seem like one small step for the rest of you, but
it's a giant leap for us.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 understanding.
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
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
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."
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.
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 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."
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.
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
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
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.
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
Thanks for reading this article. I'm grateful. If you are interested in
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