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Homosexuality in the Bible
A few months ago, in the heat of the tragic teen suicides that came about from intolerance of homosexuality, I saw a man on television who was apologizing for wishing death on gays from his facebook page. This member of an Arkansas school board was contrite for the violence in his words, but maintained that his values pertaining to homosexuality would remain, as he felt homosexuality was condemned in the bible. This concept, while foreign to me, is interesting, as it used to justify so much judgement and separation in our society. When my daughter came home from school one day saying that a classmate had two mommies, my response was, "Two mommies? How lucky is she?!" What does it actually say in the bible that will cause some people to be upset by my line of thinking?
From Cynthia Bourgeault:
"How you answer this question depends hugely on what you take the bible to be. IF you believe that the bible is a single, timeless, internally consistent teaching on matters of human morality dictated by God himself, then yes, the Old Testament book of Leviticus is definitely uncomfortable with homosexuality. But it is also uncomfortable with menstruating women, shellfish and pigskin. (And for the record, it has some very harsh words to say about lending money at interest, a prohibition that even Biblical literalists seem to find it perfectly permissible to disregard!)
Like most other critically thinking Christians, I see the bible as a symphony (sometimes a cacophony!) of divinely inspired human voices bearing witness to an astonishing evolutionary development in our human understanding of God (or God’s self-disclosure as we grow mature enough to begin to comprehend it, another way of saying the same thing.) The Old Testament, whose 46 books span well over a millennium in their dates of composition, also straddles what scholars call 'The first axial period,' when spontaneously, across the entire globe, human spiritual consciousness seemed to take a huge evolutionary leap forward. In the same time frame that the Biblical psalms were being composed, the planet was also being graced with the Buddha, Lao-Tse, Zoaroaster, and Plato: a quantum leap in human understanding and ethical vision. It simply defies credibility—my credibility, anyway!— to believe that the early Old Testament teachings on animal sacrifice and 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' are at the same level as Ezekiel’s luminous axial prophecy, 'I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh' or Jesus’ stunning 'Love your enemy; bless those who revile you.'
This is not in any way to demean holiness of the Bible, but only to affirm that God reveals Godself in time, through process and dialogue, not in unchanging monolithic statements. This does not make the bible less sacred; it makes it more sacred, for it grounds God’s divine presence in the lived reality of our human experience.
As a Christian I am bound, when I listen to this diversity of biblical voices, to set my compass by the teachings and the path walked by Jesus himself. Where biblical testimony is internally inconsistent (and even Jesus experienced it this way!), I am bound to honor Jesus as my final court of appeal. And thus, the bottom line must inescapably be that nowhere does Jesus condemn homosexuality, and certainly nowhere does he wish harm upon anyone, even those whom the religious culture is so quick to condemn as sinners. His harsh words are reserved entirely for those whose certainty about their religious rectitude causes them to condemn others, or to block the Spirit’s persistent attempts to open up new channels of forgiveness and hope. Jesus is all about inclusion, forgiveness, and empowerment. In the light of his compassionate presence, people are set free to live their lives in strength and hope, regardless of whether they be considered outcasts by those in the 'religious know.'
Thus, as a Christian, when confronted by a tension between a religious certainty which leads me to violate the law of love and a deep unknowing that still moves in the direction of 'loving my neighbor as myself,' I am bound to choose the latter course. Was it not the Pharisees, those so sure that they had 'the law and Moses on their side,' who were the first to condemn Jesus to the grave? And make no mistake: The word Pharisees does not mean 'the Jews;' that utterly reprehensible piece of scapegoating was a product of the early Christian church. Rather, 'Pharisee' names the spiritual sclerotic in each one of us who would prefer the certainty of an unchanging rulebook to the radical open-endedness of God’s ongoing self-revelation in love.
If I really follow what the bible teaches, it seems to me that I need to be constantly laying my human arrogance (and in Latin, this word comes from 'a-rogo,' or 'I have no questions'), upon the altar of God’s constantly demonstrated delight in new beginnings. 'I will be what I will be,' is the name he asked Moses to know him by in the book of Exodus. With that as one line of bearing on my thinking, and the steadily increasing revelation of God’s mercy and compassion as the other, I am compelled by my Christianity to refrain from any behaviors or judgments which arrogantly demean the dignity of another human being, or cause him or her to lose hope."
Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader. She is founding director of the Aspen Wisdom School in Colorado and principal visiting teacher for the Contemplative Society in Victoria, BC, Canada. Her most recent book,'The Meaning of Mary Magdalene,' is now available.
From Michael Berg:
"The Greatest Sin of All.
There are few things worse than people using religion and the Bible as an excuse to denounce, curse or hurt another person. Speaking and acting in this way shows a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of religion, God and the Bible.
Kabbalah teaches that the purpose of religion as we know it is to enable an individual’s transformation from selfishness & ego to a new nature of sharing & compassion. That’s it. The Bible and all its teachings are only a means to assist this transformation.
It’s not a coincidence that one of the most famous teachings of Kabbalah come from a student asking his teacher, 'Teach me the essence of the Bible, while standing on one foot,' and the teacher answering, 'love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary.'
If in a person’s religious practice, study of the Bible or belief in God, he acts in ways that are not in accordance with this spirit, then he is contradicting its entire purpose. That’s why it’s especially disturbing to hear any so-called religious leaders using the Bible as a tool to hurt others.
There are many verses in the Bible, that when read literally, can be misunderstood and misdirected. The kabbalistic understanding is that scripture is meant to be deciphered and interpreted, and anyone practicing spirituality based on a literal understanding of it is, according to the Zohar, 'a fool.'
Every person has a unique connection to the Creator that can never be extinguished, and every person has a great soul that can manifest important things in our world. To make a person feel less than they are because of something inside themselves, be it faith, race, or sexual orientation, is the greatest sin of all."
Michael Berg is a Kabbalah scholar and author. He is co-Director of The Kabbalah Centre. You can follow Michael on twitter, twitter.com/inspiringchange. His latest book is What God Meant.
From Father Vincent C. Schwahn:
"Is homosexuality wrong? This, of course, is an issue that has been disputed for centuries, and perhaps, only some one hundred and fifty years ago the question would have been, 'Is slavery wrong?.' Both of these issues have been disputed for hundreds of years, and yet, it has only been around 150 years that the issue of slavery has been resolved by most Christians. And even so, it has not been resolved by all. What has happened? What has happened, is that what has been very traditional thinking about the issue of Human Sexuality and the Bible has changed, due to what we now know, and didn't know about human beings. For example, that Human Beings are creatures of God, and made in God's image, and that Human Slavery is an abuse to the fact that God is in each and every one of us. How strange that it took so long to figure that one out.
As to Homosexuality, there is also a shift in thinking amongst many Christians in the world, based not so much on what the Bible teaches, for remember that the bible condones, and does not condemn, Human Slavery. It also says that Women are to be seen and not heard in Church ... and we know that that no longer holds true, even less in the Anglican Communion where we have women Bishops, and in the United States even a Woman Archbishop! So what has changed? What has changed is our understanding of the Human Person, as with the case of Slavery. Most 'modern thinkers,' even if they are Christian, believe that Homosexuality is not a choice, but a condition, some say environmentally given, and others that it is genetically inherited. Whatever the case, being a Homosexual is not about choice, but about accepting a part of who you are, who God has created, and made in the same image as God. This is the basic change in thought. If men and women are Homosexual by nature and everything that God makes is good, including sexual expression as God has created it, then of course we are able to share our sexuality out of Love and Responsibility.
When we come to this conclusion, just as more and more people around the globe are coming to this conclusion because they have met and known homosexual men and women who are healthy, open about their lives and their relationships, and even an example for others, I would like to include again Two Bishops in the Anglican Communion, Mary Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles and Gene Robinson, Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. I mention them because it is not easy to become Bishop in the Episcopal/Anglican Polity, yet these loving and honest people are leaders of their churches and examples of Holy Living. I know both of them personally. Included are many ministers, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders in the world who are Homosexuals. The Presbyterian Church and the Lutheran Church in the United States affirms that Homosexuality is no longer an impediment for ordination. Remember that at one time, these same churches would not ordain people because they were 'black' or 'Asian' at one part of their own history.
In conclusion, more and more Religious leaders are accepting the fact that Homosexuality is not a sin, nor is it wrong, but that Homosexual people, like Heterosexual people, are given the opportunity to live their sexuality in wholeness, in integrity, and in a transparent and open manner, and part of the wonderful diversity of Humanity that exists—men, women, people of many different races, ages, and walks of life.
I am proud to say that I belong to a Church that is fully accepting of Gays, Lesbians, Transgender, and Bisexual persons because we believe that God loves all people, no matter what their walk of life is. Of course, there are those who condemn homosexuals and say that they are immoral. There also still exists racism, bigotry, class-ism and hate of those different from themselves. Does this make them right? Only you can be the Judge of that ... or is it God who must be the Judge of that ... what did Jesus say?"
Father Vincent C. Schwahn is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church since 1991 and is Canonically Resident in the Diocese of Los Angeles. After working as a priest in the Anglican Church of Mexico for some 15 years, he is now interim Rector at St. Clements by the Sea in southern California. He is openly gay and is an activist for Human Rights and Sexual Rights.
*Note: We wanted to include as many perspectives as possible on this issue and so we are also including a more conservative voice here below.
Excerpt from Dr. John Stott’s book,
“Issues Facing Christians Today:”
"There are four main biblical passages which refer (or appear to refer) to the homosexual question negatively: (1) the story of Sodom (Genesis 19:1 – 13), with which it is natural to associate the very similar story of Gibeah (Judges 19); (2) the Levitical texts (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13) which explicitly prohibit 'lying with a man as on lies with a woman'; (3) the apostle Paul’s portrayal of decadent pagan society in his day (Romans 1:18 – 32); and (4) two Pauline lists of sinners, each of which includes a reference to homosexual practices of some kind (1 Corinthians 6:9 – 10; 1 Timothy 1:8 – 11).
Reviewing these biblical references to homosexual behavior, which I have grouped, we have to agree that there are only four of them. Must we then conclude that the topic is marginal to the main thrust of the Bible? Must we further concede that they constitute a rather flimsy basis on which to take a firm stand against a homosexual lifestyle? Are those protagonists right who claim that the biblical prohibitions are 'highly specific' – against violations of hospitality (Sodom and Gibeah), against cultic taboos (Leviticus), against shameless orgies (Romans) and against male prostitution or the corruption of the young (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy), and that none of these passages alludes to, let alone condemns, a loving partnership between people of homosexual orientation?
But no, plausible as it may sound, we cannot handle the biblical material in this way. The Christian rejection of homosexual practices does not rest on 'a few isolated and obscure proof texts' (as is sometimes said), whose traditional explanation (it is further claimed) can be overthrown. The negative prohibitions of homosexual practices in Scripture make sense only in the light of its positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage. Yet without the wholesome positive teaching of the Bible on sex and marriage, our perspective on the homosexual question is bound to be skewed. The essential place to begin our investigation, it seems to me, is the institution of marriage in Genesis 2.
Heterosexual Gender: A Divine Creation
Firstly, the human need for companionship. 'It is not good for the man to be alone' (Genesis 2:18). True, this assertion was later qualified when the apostle Paul (surely echoing Genesis) wrote: 'It is good for a man not to marry' (1 Corinthians 7:1). That is to say, although marriage is the good institution of God, the call of God, the call to singleness is also the good vocation of some. Nevertheless, as a general rule, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.' God has created us social beings. Since he is love, and has made us in his own likeness, he has given us a capacity to love and be loved. He intends us to live in community, not in solitude. In particular, God continued, 'I will make a helper suitable for him.' Moreover, this 'helper,' or companion, whom God pronounced 'suitable for him,' was also to be his sexual partner, with whom he has to become 'one flesh,' so that they might thereby both consummate their love and procreate their children.
Heterosexual Marriage: A Divine Institution
Having affirmed Adam’s need for a partner, the search for a suitable one began. The animals not being suitable as equal partners, a special work of divine creation took place. The sexes became differentiated. Out of the undifferentiated humanity of Adam, male and female emerged. Adam found a reflection of himself, a complement to himself, a very part of himself. Having created the woman out of the man, God brought her to him, much as today the bride’s father gives her away. And Adam broke spontaneously into history’s first love poem, saying that now at last there stood before him a creature of such beauty in herself and similarity to him that she appeared to be (as indeed she was) 'made for him':
This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman',
for she was taken out of man.
There can be no doubting the emphasis of this story. According to Genesis 1, Eve, like Adam, was created in the image of God. But as to the manner of her creation, according to Genesis 2, she was made neither out of nothing (like the universe), nor out of 'the dust of the ground' (like Adam, v. 7) but out of Adam.
Heterosexual Fidelity: The Divine Intention
The third great truth of Genesis 2 concerns the resulting institution of marriage. Adams’ love poem is recorded in verse 23. … Even the inattentive reader will be struck by the three references to 'flesh': 'This is… flesh of my flesh… they will become one flesh'. We may be certain that this is deliberate, not accidental. It teaches that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union; it is a kind of reunion…. It is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again…
It is of the utmost importance to note that Jesus himself later endorsed this Old Testament definition of marriage. In doing so, he both introduced it with words from Genesis 1:27 (that the Creator ‘made them male and female') and concluded it with his own comment ('so they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate' , Matthew 19:6) Here, then, are three truths which Jesus affirmed: (1) heterosexual gender is a divine creation; (2) heterosexual marriage is a divine institution; and (3) heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention. A homosexual liaison is a breach of all three of these divine purposes."
Dr. John Stott is Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place in London. He founded John Stott Ministries, the US branch of Langham Partnership International, providing scholars with the materials and opportunities to learn and teach the Bible.