Same sex attraction: a topical blog study & comparison of conservative and liberal interpretations plus a look at biblical household structure
Can we talk about this? I mean really talk about this? Set aside your strong feelings on this topic for a few hours. Listen. Study the word, not what you’ve been told. Consider all sides. Understand each other. Listen.
My goal here is to examine the scriptures together, understand the conservative view and the liberal view, and consider the impact for Christians who are personally affected by this controversy. The tea is hot, I know. This is one of those things that trigger warrior-level responses from those who feel they are defending their faith, and it triggers deep pain from the wounded who are in this community of queer Christians. No one is being attacked here. Let’s take some time to really study same-sex attraction in the bible and in Christian culture.
Before we begin looking at these verses, I want to take a quick minute to remind everyone to look at the Word of God with fresh eyes always. Don’t let preconceived notions filter your interpretations. Be open to revelation and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
These are all taken from the New International Version.
Genesis chapters 18 and 19 tell the story of Sodom and Gomorrah
Leviticus 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.
Leviticus 20:13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.
Romans 1:21-28 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Timothy 1:7-10 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently. But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers—in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching.
That’s it. There are only 6 places in the bible that make any reference at all to same-sex shenanigans. Doesn’t it feel like there should be more given how hot of a topic this is? I have to say I was surprised myself that there wasn’t more said on the topic. Let’s take a look at the different perspectives people have on these verses.
A comparison of both conservative and liberal interpretations
Sodom and Gomorrah
The conservative perspective Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they were gay. God was so disgusted by their sins that he wiped them out, quite dramatically at that. This is a warning to all God-fearing people to not tolerate such things in their nations. Sodom and Gomorrah are examples of what can happen when a nation backslides from God, primarily in the traditional family values of sexual purity and biblical marriage between one man and one woman. S&G are reminders as to why Christians should vote against gay marriage and other gay rights; God may pour down his wrath on such places. We can’t vote in a way that condones sin. It’s better to be biblically correct than politically correct. We must serve God first and above all. We need to fear the wrath of God if our nation strays and becomes like Sodom and Gomorrah.
The liberal perspective Literally nowhere does the bible say that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for anything gay. We’ve all heard the story. We’ve all been told that’s why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. They’ve certainly stretched that scene. To say that an attempted same-sex gang rape of angels who were thought to be men is a blanket statement against all same-sex activities might be a bit extra. Rape, gang rape, and breaking and entering are certainly sinful. Even at that, the incident with the attempted raping of manly angels was not at all why God decided to destroy those towns. S&G were already under judgment when that happened. That’s why the angels came. They were already preparing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.
So, what was their wickedness exactly? There are plenty of places in the Old Testament and the New Testament that reference back to their destruction. Two places that actually mention the reason for their destruction are Ezekiel 16:49-50 and Jude 1:7. In Ezekiel chapter 16, it says Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sins of not helping the poor and needy, being apathetic, being gluttonous, arrogant, prideful, idle, haughty, and did detestable or repulsive things (different translations word it differently, so that sentence is a bit paraphrased/combined translations). That could easily describe America today. Are we not neglecting the poor and needy? Are we not gluttonous? Are we not unconcerned or apathetic? In Jude 1:7 it says Sodom and Gomorrah gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion (NIV), gave themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh (KJV), gross immorality and went after strange flesh (NASB), and a few other translations put it different ways. In the Greek, it says they were coming after different flesh. If this was about homosexuality, wouldn’t it be the same flesh rather than a different type of flesh? Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed for gaying it up. It appears that Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins were more a matter of character than sexuality.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
The conservative perspective There it is. It’s straightforward. Men aren’t supposed to sleep with other men. It’s a sin. It’s detestable. It’s an abomination. It’s such a grave sin that it was punishable by death. Yes, this is the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean it’s not still relevant. We’re talking about morality here, right from wrong. God doesn’t change his mind on ethical matters before and after the cross. What I was taught (and I no longer agree with this) is that the Old Testament had moral law, ceremonial law, and penal law. The penal law, which was the penalties for sin, was abolished with the cross. Jesus took the punishment for all our sin. Ceremonial law is a thing of the past because – well just because it’s weird and nobody wants to live like that. But moral law: that’s still God’s heart. Even if he didn’t talk about it in the New Testament, we know that he laid the foundation of right and wrong in the beginning. It’s plain and simple: Leviticus clearly says that being gay is a detestable abomination.
The liberal perspective First of all, that whole moral law still applies thing is an unbiblical yoke that churches use to manipulate people into legalism. There is nowhere in the Old Testament that even insinuates the law is divided that way. And Jesus + Paul were both clear that we are no longer under the law. You can’t pick and choose random verses from the Old Testament because it fits your culture or your personal biases. If you’re going to bring back the Leviticus lifestyle, it’s a package deal.
Secondly, we don’t live by Leviticus. We are New Testament Christians living under a new covenant. Leviticus is not for us to follow. Praise Jesus for that!
There is also some speculation as to why Leviticus condemned men being with other men, but said nothing of women being with other women. Note that both of these verses very specifically say not to be with another male in the same way as they’d have sex with a woman. Some feel that this was about gender roles, not same-sex attraction. For a man to be put in a woman’s position of being dominated was extremely unacceptable in a highly patriarchal society. Men and women were not equal. Men were far above women. They were in charge. They ran the household. Everyone beneath them was to be submissive and respectful. For a man to ‘assume the position’ of being beneath another man was degrading. For a group that wasn’t even allowed to have period sex (also condemned by Leviticus), this type of sexual activity was far outside acceptable realms. There are also some who feel that “men with males” was a reference to pederasty. Interestingly enough, some languages do translate it to say boys or young boys instead of males.
Romans chapter 1
The conservative perspective It’s extremely obvious that it is unnatural, sinful, and just plain wrong for someone to be romantically involved with another person of the same gender. It’s shameful. It’s impure. Don’t do it. If you desire it, don’t act on it.
The liberal perspective There are a few valid ways that people can interpret Romans 1. A.) It’s a sin for men to be with other men and women to be with other women. This is a general statement banning homosexuality. B.) This passage is about lust and promiscuity rather than a general statement about same-sex attraction. C.) Keeping with the context of the chapter being about idolatry, this is about sexual idolatry. D.) Historically, this was in reference to the shrine prostitution that was common in ancient Rome. You don’t have to pick one. You may feel that all of those are accurate. You may feel that B & C make sense, but A does not. There is more than one way to interpret that.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:7-10
The conservative perspective Homosexuality is a sin. Period. These verses are clear.
The liberal perspective These verses didn’t say homosexuality before 1946. The word homosexual wasn’t even a word in the English language until the 1800s. These verses are about pedophiles and child prostitution and sex trafficking.
[Dear conservatives reading this, hear this out. When I first heard liberals say this was translated wrong, the conservative evangelical ingrained in me like yeast immediately disregarded it as blasphemy. They were not only twisting the word of God, they were denying it completely. I wouldn’t even consider it a valid interpretation. It angered me. Then it jolted me. Determined to prove it wrong, I knew how I could easily do that in a matter of moments. All I had to do was reference an older translation. I usually use NET or NIV, sometimes referencing the AMP or NASB. I’m not an old English fan. I’m definitely not a King-Jameser. Nevertheless, good old King James would surely say it how it is. Yet it didn’t. King James said nothing about homosexuality. The word homosexual isn’t even used in King James. So, I looked to other older translations. When things became inconsistent and foggy, I turned to an interlinear bible to read the Greek for myself. I blinked at it repeatedly in disbelief when I realized that the original word of God himself was not referencing homosexuality or same-sex attractions/relations. This was my game changer. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the bible does get translated inaccurately especially in the less literal translations. This is one of those cases.]
Given the controversy and the variety of translations (and the fact that the translations have changed drastically in the last 75 years!), let’s get back to our origins. These letters to the early churches were written in Greek. The exact meaning of the Greek words used in both of these passages is debatable. Let’s learn some new vocab, shall we?
In 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 9 we have what is translated to fornicators or sexually immoral, idolaters, and adulterers. Then we have a variety of ways the next few words are translated: effeminate and abusers of themselves with men/mankind, passive and active homosexual partners, men who practice homosexuality, homosexuality, sodomites, or sexual perverts. That’s quite a variety isn’t it? There’s a pretty big difference between perverts and a consensual, committed relationship between two adults of the same gender.
Likewise, in 1 Timothy 1:10 this is now translated to homosexuality, sodomites, whoremongers, sexually immoral, for them who defile themselves with mankind, or specifically to men who practice homosexuality.
Let’s take a look at this in the Greek and the literal translation in English.
1 Corinthians 6:9 (types of sinners who will not enter the kingdom of God) pornoi – paramours (definition: a lover, often a secret or illicit lover), fornicators (generally thought to be a broad reference to extra-marital sex) eidOlolatrai – idolaters moichoi – adulterers malakoi – soft ones, effeminate, catamites arsenokoitai – sodomites kleptai – thieves pleonektai – more-havers, greedy ones methusoi – drunkards loidoroi – say-spearers, revilers harpages – snatchers, swindlers, extortioners
1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 10 (another vice list of sins) pornois – paramours, whoremongers arsenokoitais – sodomites
Malakoi and arsenokoitai are the two words of interest here. Malakoi means soft. It is defined as a softness or weakliness. It was often translated to effeminate. It could mean soft clothing or it could mean soft morally (weakness of character, spineless, lazy). It really depends on the context. It’s been less than 100 years they’ve been translating it to mean sodomites or male prostitutes or homosexuals. Malakoi being paired next to arsenokoitai is thought to reference the ‘soft’ young ones known as catamites. A catamite is a boy kept by men for sex. It’s the practice of pederasty. Sadly, this was not an uncommon practice in early church times. It’s still practiced in the Middle East today. Arsenokoitai is the word that is now being translated to homosexuality. Is that what is really means though? 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are the only two places in scripture that use that word. Many believe Paul made it up as a combination of words. Therefore, the exact meaning has always been a little unclear. It’s a combination of the words arsen (male) and koites (bed). Quite literally male-bedders.
It makes sense in context and historically for this passage to be about pederasty. It’s doubtful that after over 1,800 years the meaning suddenly changed. What’s also interesting is that other languages – both old and modern translations – translate this to be about child molesters or pederasty, not homosexuality in general.
Other verses of relevance
When studying marriage and acceptable relationships for God’s people, there are other things we have to look at. God made them male and female. All instructions and acknowledgement of marriage in the bible was male/female(s).
God gave instructions to reproduce. The extent of that instruction has been debated for years. Until the 1900s almost all denominations believed that contraception was a sin. Many churches have taught that sexual activity which cannot lead to reproduction is sin, even masturbation has been labeled sin. For married couples to choose not to have children is often considered to go against God’s design for the family. Infertility and childlessness are seen as a shame. Many gay folks have been told it’s a sin for them to be together because it’s unnatural that they can’t have babies. Yet they are still able to adopt or foster if they want to. Also, celibacy was biblically accepted.
The biblical structure for family and household
Biblical marriage . . . What were the instructions? What was acceptable? What was forbidden? How can we Christians today who strive to be godly model our marriages after the bible (while keeping our freedom as women)?
One man + one woman = biblical marriage. This is what is often stated when conservatives are opposing gay marriage or same-sex relationships. It is true that one man and one woman is a biblical marriage. The problem with this approach is it completely ignores the other types of marriage and household structures that were accepted in the bible.
Polygamy was common practice. Men could have multiple wives. There is zero biblical stance against it. It’s not sin. It’s not forbidden. There’s really no reason for polygamy to be illegal in America.
Concubines were biblical. If you aren’t familiar with combines, they’re additional wives who have a lower status. Their purpose was childbearing. Basically, a modern version of that would be The Handmaid’s Tale but with a commander permanently owning a handmaid.
In the Old Testament, men were supposed to marry their brother’s widow. Soldiers could take women as their wives after raging war. Rapists had rights to marry and own their victims. Those were all biblically accepted marriages. None of us want to bring any of that back.
Also biblical: Women were property. They were given in marriage. Consenting to the marriage was not always a thing. Women had no rights, no voice, and very little value in society. Their job was to serve their husband and family, make babies, and make dinner.
Another aspect of the biblical household was slavery. We’d be lying if we said God’s people never owned slaves. We’d also be lying if we said the bible forbid slavery or ever called it sin. Slave owners were also allowed to assign male slaves a wife.
Marriage and home in Old Testament times and in the early Christian church times was highly patriarchal. Male dominance was fierce. Women had no rights, and hardly any identity outside of future wife or current wife and mother. Women often did not have the right to choose who to marry. Dating wasn’t really a thing at all. All things being considered, it’s understandable why women weren’t allowed to be with other women. Ladies couldn’t do what they wanted. Men couldn’t easily be with other men either because that meant one of them would be lowered to the status of a wife. Gender roles were stringent. Equality was barely a dream.
What about culture? Reflecting upon the biblical household in ancient times makes me immensely grateful for women’s rights. We have equality now, at least in America. We can choose who we marry if we even want to marry. We can even legally divorce. We have the right to consent. We can speak freely in public. We can teach and sometimes even preach in churches, although a woman’s role in church is still fairly controversial. American women are free. Women in the bible are not.
Slavery is also a thing of the past. Well, in America anyway. No one is advocating bringing back slavery because the bible allowed it.
Interestingly enough, polygamy is illegal in America. It’s taboo in our culture.
Now what about gay people? Times have changed. Much of the oppression of women and minorities has or is fading into history. We have freedom. If women are legally equal to men and that’s accepted by Christians, should same-sex couples still not be allowed to be together? The biblical condemnation against same-sex couples is sketchy at best. It’s not a clear case. Even if it were, we are still supposed to have separation of state and church. If it can be accepted that slavery is unethical, why can’t it be accepted that banning all things queer is unethical? Why is it culturally acceptable to completely disregard all the above types of biblical marriage except for one man + one woman? If the other types of marriage can be cut out for being oppressive, can same-sex marriage not be grafted in to eradicate their oppression (inability to be together)? Can God’s people not change their family structure over the thousands of years? Clearly, we have changed a woman’s role. Is it that different to change gender roles and restrictions?
What the bible doesn't say
I’d like to ask a question of those who believe same-sex relationships or even attraction is a sin. Firstly, I’m not angry at you for believing that. I believed the same for many, many years. It doesn’t bother me one bit when people believe something is a sin. It’s the way you treat people that matters. Think it’s a sin, but still treat people with respect and kindness? Cool. That’s the way Christians should treat sinners. I only have a problem with the people who are mistreating others, criticizing, bullying, protesting, screaming at, kicking out of churches, spiritually abusing (ex. God doesn’t love you because you’re gay), etc… That’s the kind of behavior that is problematic. Here’s my question: Do you believe that homosexuality is a worse sin than other types of sin? If so, why? You see, churches and Christians have stigmatized sexual sin and even more so homosexuality. Christian circles treat homosexuals like they are absolutely one of the worst types of sinners out there. Some take it to such extreme to say people can’t even be Christian if they are gay (because their sin is too significant for the cross to cover it? If it were a sin…). I can understand why you interpret it to be a sin. I don’t understand why abundant grace is given to the other types of sinners on those vice lists, but harsh condemnation is given to homosexuality. Are they worse than fornicators, adulterers, those who are divorced lest for marital unfaithfulness, those who remarry after an unrighteous divorce and thus commit adultery? Biblically, there is no division. So, why is there in the church? Why do you give so much grace to fornicators but so much condemnation to gays? Imagine if anyone who had sex outside of marriage were publicly treated the same way the church treats the queer community. The church would crumble.
The bible says to love one another. The bible says that by our love for one another people will know we are disciples. The bible teaches the fruit of the spirit. It teaches hospitality. It teaches grace. It teaches mercy. Above all, it teaches love.
You know what it doesn’t teach? Hate. The bible doesn’t teach us to criticize each other, tear people down, and attack. It doesn’t teach us to bully or harass. It doesn’t teach us to discriminate. It doesn’t teach us to publicly call people out on what we think their sin is. It doesn’t teach us to treat people as lesser than if they sin differently than us. It doesn’t teach us that it is our responsibility to police other people’s purity and relationships. It doesn’t teach us to degrade people. It doesn’t teach us to strip people of their dignity because they love or live differently than we do. It doesn’t teach us to destroy queer people simply for being queer. Those things are not of God. Those actions and heart matters are sin. I’m sure the devil loves it when Christians do his job of pushing people away from God and away from church. The devil must love it too when Christians twist scriptures to use as weapons against God’s own children.
The betrayal is deep. The wounds bleed. The scars are permanent. The damage is done. We’ve all been lied to. Cultural stigma and the word of men have infiltrated the church passed off as the word and will of God. An entire community of God’s people have been out-casted, criticized, harassed, bullied, killed even, persecuted around the world, politically oppressed, and are still battling legal inequality. These people – these Christians who love God – have been pushed out of churches and Christian circles. They’ve been told that the way God made them is sin. They’ve been told God doesn’t love them as they are. They’ve been told to suppress, deny, pray away, repent of, and give to Jesus this thing about them that is so much part of who they are. Impure. Unclean. Unholy. Ungodly. These are lies. This is not scripture. This is not what God says. This is what people say.
Nobody chooses their orientation. People don’t choose to be gay or bi any more than people choose to be hetero. People are born with an orientation. They are made this way. It’s not a sin.
I’ve gone from ultra-conservative to progressive and affirming. Why? Perhaps, the depths of that transformation are for another blog. All my life, I’d been told that it was wrong. I heard the whispers. I saw the condemnation. I remember the way LGBT people were treated 15-20 years ago in my youth (times are so different now). It was wrong. It was sin. The bible says so. Yet I was atheist until I was 17 and free to be supportive of what felt natural to support. Becoming Christian, the vast umbrella of sexual morality, ethics, purity, self-restraint, and right from wrong (knowing that I didn’t know God’s word well yet) was steeped in purity culture and shame; I didn’t know what to believe. What I was told felt wrong to me, but my flesh was sin. God was holy and righteous. His word was pure truth. I listened to the seasoned saints. I believed their interpretations. I trusted them to guide me in truth. And yet they twisted scripture and condemned the hell out of people that God loves. This was always the one topic I struggled with most – the one thing the bible called wrong (or so I thought) that I simply could not fully accept, even more so than issues of a godly woman’s role. It felt so wrong to me to say same-sex attraction was wrong. Yet I called it my flesh speaking, and the word of God won’t always feel comfortable to me. That’s why they call it conviction. Every bone in my body wanted to be affirming. So, I went out of my way to drill it in to myself (and consequently the world, through blogging and social media) that homosexuality was a sin. Marriage between a man and a woman was pure and holy, all that should be desired. Anything else was sin, a godly Christian keeps far away from sexual sin. I studied the scriptures as I had been taught from the conservative perspective. I disregarded anything and everything that had even a little liberal flavor to it because that was worldly and not of God. Don’t poison your mind, I told myself. Year after year I struggled with keeping this conservative stance. And I couldn’t any longer. Within the last year, I’ve begun to explore other perspectives and listen to the human experience. And I just can’t. I can’t say that it’s wrong. I can’t find the crystal clear condemnation in scripture like I’m ‘supposed to’. It's not the way we've been taught it is. I can’t, because I feel it in my bones and in my spirit and in my core that love is love. And I can’t keep quiet anymore. I won’t be silent. I don’t care what people think. I know half the church won’t talk to me. I know people think I’m backslidden. I know people are disappointed at my change in religious and political perspectives. I know the ultra-conservative evangelical identity that I once held loud and proud is no longer who I am – it was never who I really was anyway. People change when they grow. Praise God for that. So, yes, I am affirming. And I believe God is too.