Because you’ve not read enough posts expressing Christian thoughts on homosexuality this week

As I was expressing relief about the SCOTUS decisions this week (Prop 8 and DOMA, the VRA is another story) I had a friend ask me how I dealt with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Here is my (lightly edited) response:

On 1 Corinthians 6 (and on the issue of sexuality in the Bible, in general) there are a several ways I work with the text.

The first problem is that both of the words in the list (malakoi and arsenokoitai) are really very difficult to translate. The NIV’s translation makes it look clear but the words may or may not be taken that way (the RSV opts for the more ambiguous, “sexual perverts”).

The second would be a time and culture specific argument. If Paul is speaking about homosexuality as we understand it today (which I don’t think he is, I’ll get there in a minute), we have to wrestle with the other things he said (even in 1 Corinthians!) that we do not find authoritative any more. Why is this issue the one we focus on? We no longer find it necessary that women cover their heads in prayer, for example. We also allow women to speak in church (at least in my denomination). Even in the list itself (1 Cor 6:9) we ignore the line about greed which is far more widespread than homosexuality. If we turn to Paul’s other letters, we no longer find the implicit acceptance of slavery in the household codes compelling. In short, there are many places where we recognize that Paul was addressing specific issues that were directed to specific people at a particular time. They are not always timeless truths (I am pretty sure that Paul was not consciously aware that he was writing scripture).

Moreover, when we talk about homosexuality in antiquity, we are dealing with something quite different that homosexuality today. Often homosexual relationships were between men of different power, often men with boys. In this way it was a fundamentally abusive relationship. The one in power took advantage of the one who was weak. This, as with many other sins in the Bible, was about injustice. Today, homosexuality has social and psychological factors that no writer in antiquity would have ever conceived of. I am convinced that Paul was condemning an unjust relationship of power and abuse, something that does not define homosexual relationships today.

Finally, I think that it is not the role of the civil government to enforce “Christian” values. I advocate out of my Christian call, but at the end of the day, the role of the government is to ensure equality and liberty for all. Culturally, homosexuality is not problematic for the vast majority of our citizens. In a democracy we should honor that. At the same time, those places where the majority opinion seems misguided (as in our constant saber rattling and corporate greed) I will continue to speak out against it.

What are your thoughts? What works about these arguments? What doesn’t?



Filed under bible, culture, justice, politics

7 responses to “Because you’ve not read enough posts expressing Christian thoughts on homosexuality this week

  1. Julie Zdenek

    I SO agree with your thoughtful interpretation. I wish the rest of the “Church” were so thoughtful. It’s also important to understand the radical nature of Paul’s letters in comparison to the 21st century mindset. That’s been the hardest thing for us to release people from the notion that Paul’s teachings are the new “Law” handed down from the throne of God. If Jesus were still in his grave, he’d be rolling over at the new “LAW” under which the Church resides.

  2. RelapsedCatholic

    Of the seven different forms of marriage mentioned in the Bible (none of which were condemned), Same Sex Marriage seems to be closest to Genesis 2. Jesus never spoke of Same Sex Marriage for the same reason he never spoke of airplanes, they simply didn’t exist back then. We either limit ourselves to that which is explicitly in the Bible, or we do our level best to judge the morality of new phenomenon.

  3. I wonder whether the misconception of homosexuals being pedophiles comes from this very antiquated version of homosexuality that is based in the power-imbalanced relationship of which you speak.

    I have often wondered where this bizarre belief comes from, and when I read your post it seems to make sense that it came from this same place.

    Thank you for yet another thought provoking article!

  4. David

    So – what point are you making? fewer words please for us non schooled folk… are saying that ssm is “ok” and that Paul (Jesus) was condoning marriage for all – how does Ephesians 5 line up with that?

    • Thanks for the comment, David. I don’t think the Bible is clear on the issue. Modern ideas about sexuality are not directly addressed. We are often selectively reading and interpreting those texts that fit match our predispositions.

      The household code in Ephesians 5-6 is a great example of this. We turn to it to understand how husbands and wives and children are to relate to each other. Yet embedded in the code is a section on how slaves and masters are to relate to one another (see 6:5-9). This setup of the Roman household is quite foreign to us but we appeal to parts that fit our ethos and happily ignore those parts that don’t. We appeal to the authority of the Bible but in reality it is our own authority as we pick and choose what text to follow.

      Does this make sense? What is your reaction?

  5. I wish I could remember where I read it, but there was an article out there about how the majority selectively uses scripture to repress minorities. (There are fewer voices speaking out in defense of minorities.) So it’s okay to get divorced (because there are so many Christians getting divorced) but it’s not okay to be homosexual (because there are fewer homosexuals).

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