Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What the Bible really says about gay and lesbian sex

Plastic figurines depict a female couple and a male couple
Plastic figurines depict a female couple and a male couple

In the penalty phase of the Rev. Frank Schaefer's church trial, the Rev. Paul Stallsworth testified that, according to the United Methodist Church, no standard of its Book of Discipline should be ordained against God's Word.

However, this testimony assumes that Schaefer's officiating at the marriage of his gay son Timothy in 2007 is a contradiction of the Bible, and suggests that the Book of Discipline or the United Methodist Church could never affirm gay marriage.

To make this assumption was as irrelevant to the court's proceedings as the tired and overused biblical passages that we've heard repeatedly spouted to rebuke same-sex marriage.

Simply put, no biblical passages apply to Schaefer's situation. In fact, despite its massive size and scope, the Bible approaches the topic of gay and lesbian sexual expression in just five short passages.

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  • A consideration of the historical context in which each scripture is written has led many faith-filled pastors, biblical scholars, and practicing Christians to conclude that these passages are in no way applicable to modern same-sex relationships, in which adults commit to love each other.

    Two of the several laws within the ancient Hebrew Purity Code shown in Leviticus 18-20 forbid same-sex relations. Other laws within this same set prohibit the wearing of fabrics woven from two different materials.

    Let he who avoids a poly-cotton blend cast the first stone.

    An overriding concern for "purity" drives these texts, resulting in a desire to distinguish an Israelite identity and worship from the Molechite tribes, whose priests may have engaged in sex acts as part of their rituals.

    An appreciation of the context of the passage Romans 1:18-32 is also critical to the interpretation of homosexuality in the Bible. Same-sex relations in first-century Rome are exploitative, expressed as pederasty or male prostitution rather than as mutual, committed, loving relationships, as was evident with Timothy Schaefer and his husband.

    For ancient Romans, a sociological hierarchy is expressed in the sex act: The male dominates and subjugates his partner in the act of sex such that only women or little boys would be accepted as a sexual partner at that time.

    Note also that the passage in Romans is part of a larger statement by the Apostle Paul against idolatry. According to Paul, God afflicts people with homosexual desires if they fall into improper habits of worship.

    However, Paul, and society in Rome generally, had no experience with same-sex relationships in which adults commit to love each other. In his ancient context, Paul understands homosexuality only as divine punishment for exploitation and idolatry.

    The remaining two verses, also from the Apostle Paul, contain specific Greek words, neither of which is rightly translated to the contemporary term homosexuality. The term malakos in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 literally means softy, connoting a Hellenistic concept of effeminate in a cowardly sense. Ancient texts apply the term to both hetero- and homosexual activity.

    Secondly, the literal meaning of the Greek term arsenokoitai in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 is "male intercourse." This term is almost exclusively found within ancient lists of economic injustices, suggesting a reference to the pederasty and male prostitution, which were predominant in the culture.

    Other texts, which are similarly forced into considerations of modern homosexuality, include the creation story in Genesis. Same-sex antagonists have frequently boiled this argument to the whimsical "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

    Nevertheless, this is a text that identifies heterosexuality as a dominant phenomenon among humans, but does not inherently command it.

    Finally, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a horrific story about a gang rape, not same-sex love.

    The Bible provides moral and ethical guidelines, but they are based in a different stage of human existence, just as the U.S. Constitution was written in a very different time and place from our own.

    What does the Bible say about gays and lesbians? Nothing. Its ancient context knows nothing of the sort, and certainly knows nothing of the love between Timothy and his husband, or of Rev. Schaefer for his son.


    Rev. Paul M. Fullmer Lebanon Valley College chaplain
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