In 2013, I helped a Christian friend campaigning to push back against the hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community in Georgia, not least from the Christian community itself. Here are the briefing notes that I compiled for him.
- The Old Testament passages in question (Gen 19 ‘Sodom’, and Lev 18:22 / 20:13 ‘abomination’) do not discuss homosexuality as such (for which there was no Hebrew word). Rather, they condemn sexual behaviour that is violent, abusive, non-consensual, unjust, or idolatrous.
- Arguably, Christians do not accept the laws or outlook of the Old Testament as binding anyway, because: a) For example Levitical death penalty for adultery or disobedience to parents is not enforced (!), b) New Testament verses suggest the old ways need to be updated, for example Gal 3:25 “now that the way of faith [in Christ] has come, we no longer need the law [ie Jewish law of the Old Testament] as our guardian.”
- Jesus had nothing at all to say about homosexuality.
- The New Testament passages in question (Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:9) focus not on homosexuality, but on sexual acts that were idolatrous, adulterous, domineering, or hedonistic.
- References to ‘natural sexual relations’ and ‘unnatural sexual relations’ (Rom 1:26-27) are ambiguous; arguably, a writer of that time may well have viewed loving, consensual homosexual relations and a range of sexual identities as ‘natural’. ‘Unnatural’ is more likely to have meant behaviour described in points 1 and 4. The word ‘homosexual’ did not appear until the 19th century – there was no equivalent word in the Bible, and any use of the word in a translation is questionable and anachronistic.
- Objections to LGBTQ are based often on interpretations and modern additions and fabrications to the original text in the Bible, arising from homophobic agendas, and poor or non-existent scholarship in the so-called ‘translations’.
- Healthy LGBTQ endorses nourishing, loving, mutually supportive and respectful relationships between equal same-sex partnerships, and does not endorse the kinds of unhealthy ways of relating that the Biblical texts are concerned about.
- Does LGBTQ threaten Christian fellowship? No. Does rejection of LGBTQ withhold love from those people? Yes – is disrespects difference, abuses, violates, oppresses and isolates the already vulnerable. Does rejection of LGBTQ risk further fragmentation of the Church? Yes. Does rejection of LGBTQ in Georgia alienate the Church in Georgia from much Christian fellowship across the globe? Yes. Is rejection of LGBTQ effectively against Christian teaching? Yes. Are LGBTQs saved who profess Christ as their Saviour and believe in him? Yes. Does God love LGBTQs? Yes. Are LGBTQs more sinful than heterosexuals? Only God can answer that.
Objections to LGBTQ – and how to counter them
Objections within some Christian circles to sexual orientation other than heterosexuality rest on a handful of texts, 2 from the Old Testament (OT), and 3 from the New Testament (NT):
Objection 1: Sodom and Gomorrah
The first OT-based objection centres on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Gen 19, the local men of Sodom wanted to rape Lot’s two visitors (actually angels, whom the locals saw as foreigners/outsiders). Some commentators interpret this passage as one of the key reasons that God chose to destroy Sodom; moreover, those commentators describe the unacceptable behaviour as ‘homosexuality’.
Counter-arguments to Objection 1
However, this interpretation is widely understood by modern scholars to be a thin disguise for homophobia on the part of the commentators. Careful scholarship has revealed that the writers of this story were not showing any disapproval of homosexuality; rather, they were creating a powerful narrative about rape (Lot’s alternative offer of his daughters being seen as the lesser of the two evils), inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality which were so integral to life in the ancient Middle East. It is important to understand the context in which Biblical statements were made about sexual behaviour:
“The single most important concept that defines sexuality in the ancient Mediterranean world, whether we are talking about the kingdoms of Egypt or of Assyria or whether we are talking about the later kingdoms of Greece and Rome, is that approved sexual acts never occurred between social equals. Sexuality, by definition, in ancient Mediterranean societies required the combination of dominance and submission. This crucial social and political root metaphor of dominance and submission as the definition of sexuality rested upon a physical basis that assumed every sex act required a penetrator and someone who was penetrated. Needless to say, this definition of sexuality was entirely male—not surprising in the heavily patriarchal societies of the Mediterranean.” [‘ Tolbert, Mary (2002) “Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: Biblical Texts in Historical Contexts.” Paper delivered at Lancaster School of Theology, published on the web at www.clgs.org]
In other words, the story of Sodom did not condemn homosexuality, but sexual violence (intercourse without consent) and inhospitable behaviour.
Objection 2: Leviticus
The second OT-based objection uses a verse from Leviticus (Lev 18:22, and a variant in Lev 20:13). Using different translations is illuminating:
- King James Bible – “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination [toeivah].”
- New Life Version – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. It is a sinful thing.”
- New Living Translation – “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”
Counter-arguments to Objection 2
Toeivah, translated variously as ‘abomination’ or ‘detestable’, but the word is most commonly used to indicate idolatry. The New Living Translation shows how far interpretation can become inaccurate, anachronistic and distorted by the translator’s agenda – there is no word for ‘homosexuality’ ever used in any part of the Old or New Testaments. Actually, in the context of the ancient Middle East, this Levitical ruling is less likely to be about prohibition of homosexuality, and more likely to be about the Jewish wish to outlaw certain non-consensual sexual relations.
Objection 3: Rom 1:26-27
The first NT-based objection draws on Rom 1:26-27. A close translation of the relevant phrases (using Strong’s Concordance) would be: “God gave them over to degrading lusts; for their women exchanged the natural sexual behaviour for unnatural, and in the same way, the men abandoned the natural sexual behaviour with women and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing disrespectful acts …” Again, it is instructive to read a number of translations:
- New Living Translation – “That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men …”
- New Life Version – “Because of this, God let them follow their sinful desires which lead to shame. Women used their bodies in ways God had not planned. In the same way, men left the right use of women’s bodies. They did sex sins with other men …”
- New Century Version – “Because people did those things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex and began wanting each other. Men did shameful things with other men …”
Counter-arguments to Objection 3
In each official translation, the spin away from the close translation is subtle, but powerful. The Greek does not contrast ‘natural way to have sex’ with women ‘indulging in sex with each other’; it simply talks about what is phusiken ‘natural’ or para ‘aside’ (from natural). Saying that men did ‘shameful things with other men’ is quite different from one man disrespecting another through possibly forced intercourse. Moreover, this passage needs to be put in context. It begins, “Because of this …”, which means that important, explanatory text precedes this passage. The earlier verses show that God let these people suffer the consequences of particular choices, namely to fail to glorify God or thank him, and to worship idols instead. As a result of that, they fell into the particular kinds of acts (including the wrongful sexual behaviour). But there is no suggestion of punishing nourishing, loving, mutually supportive and respectful relationships between equal same-sex partners, which is what healthy LGBTQ relationships are all about. LGBTQ Christians who seek inclusion in the Christian community, and the halt of discrimination against them, do not endorse the relationships described in Romans 1:26-27 – i.e. unhealthy, abusive, addictive relationships (which are just as possible within the heterosexual world anyway).
Objection 4: 1 Cor 6:9-10
The second NT-based objection centres on 1 Cor 6:9-10. Here, first, is a close translation: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who lack moral control (malakoi) nor men who take others in their bed for their own gratification [arsenokoitai], nor thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Many translations interpret malakoi to mean ‘effeminate’, ‘men who act like women’ or ‘passive homosexual partners’. And they translate arsenokoitai as ‘people who do sex sins with their own sex’, or ‘practising homosexuals’.
Counter-arguments to Objection 4
Again, the sleight of hand with the translator’s pen is as deft as it is biased. The idea of ‘effiminate’ for malakoi comes from the fact that the word was sometimes used to describe people who wore rich, soft clothing, in an indulgent lifestyle. There was never any connection to sexuality, but this translation can be enough for modern commentators to assume the writer was thinking of homosexuality. Arsenokoitai is most likely a word invented by Paul, a compound of two words meaning ‘male’ and ‘bed’. The word is found here and nowhere else, but the Greeks had other words they regularly used when they wanted to refer specifically and unambiguously to homosexuality. The modern translations suggest equal power in the sexual relationship, which is not implied by the original text, or likely, given what we know of ancient Middle Eastern pagan practices, from which both Jews and Christians wanted to distance themselves. In the context of 1 Cor 6, Paul is concerned to speak out against prostitution, and these 2 verses may well be a reference to that practice.
Objection 5: 1 Tim 10
The third NT-based objection focuses on 1 Tim 1:10 who, like 1 Cor 6:10 condemns arsenokoitai. Modern translators call these ‘people who have sexual with people of the same sex’ ‘perverts’, ‘practising homosexuals’, the terms apparently being interchangeable for some minds contemporary to us.
Counter-arguments to Objection 5
The counter-arguments here are the same as those given to Objection 4. The problem is that the commentators take no account of the historical and cultural context in which these statements were made, and therefore fail to take account of the status (and therefore power) inequality between the two parties implied by the term arsenokoitai at the time of writing.
What law do Christians follow?
Objections based on the Old Testament have been cited above. However, modern Christians have rejected many Levitical laws, for example, the death penalty for adultery or disobeying one’s parents. Levitical law is not binding on Christians, and there are instances throughout the New Testament where leniency and updating of Jewish laws and practices were suggested. For example, Peter has a vision of being told he can eat non-kosher food: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Jesus was silent on the topic of homosexuality. Why? Perhaps consensual sex between same-sex partners was not a theological or moral problem for him. Jesus had plenty to say about many other kinds of relationship, including the question of divorce, on which he was lenient. It is only in the letters of Paul that we find any mention of same-sex activity, particular in 1 Romans, which is in the context of differentiating Jewish (and emerging Christian) practice from Roman decadence.
In Galatians 3:25, we learn: “And now that the way of faith [in Christ] has come, we no longer need the law [ie Jewish law of the Old Testament] as our guardian.” What is the guiding principle? Jesus himself (Matthew 22:39) drew upon the Levitical teaching (Lev 19:18) of ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – the so-called Golden Rule. The Bible simply isn’t long or detailed enough to provide clear, unambiguous instructions for every life situation, including those that arise in a world where science and knowledge have transformed how we understand the world. Within Christianity (as well as non-Orthodox Judaism), there is no rule book; we are guided by the Golden Rule above all else in order to discern how to ‘do good, and do no harm’. If Christians follow any law, then it must be the law of love.
Is it ‘Christian’ behaviour to reject LGBTQs from Christian fellowship?
The modern quasi-legalistic attempts to condemn LGBTQ with Christian frames of reference seems to fly in the face of Christian teaching.
- Christians are enjoined repeatedly in the New Testament to love. Matthew (23:13-15) cried out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” What would he have to say to those who wish to ban LGBTQs who wish profess their faith in Christ? “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
- Who can sit in judgment on another in the arena of sexuality? “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10) Even if homosexuality were a sin (which, in all conscience, I do not believe), to be free from the so-called ‘sin’ of homosexuality is not to be free from all sin. Who is to say that the sin of homosexuality is worthy of rejection from the Church, while other sins are not? Did Jesus die for all sins except homosexuality? Where exactly in the New Testament is that spelled out?! Would it not be better for those who reject LGBTQ to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”? (Micah 6:8) Advice from Acts 15:11, 19 about Gentiles, and could apply equally to LGBTQ: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they [the Gentiles] are. … It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
- Is rejection of LGBTQ in the interests of the Christian community? “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) If Christian LGBTQs are consistently rejected, then schism is inevitable.
- Who is in spiritual peril, the LGBTQs, or those who reject them? “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 John 2:9-11)
Is salvation in Christ denied to LGBTQs?
On the basis of the New Testament, it does not appear tenable to suggest that LGBTQ Christians are a) not Christian, b) denied salvation.
- LGBTQs are welcome – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) (Romans 10:9-10) “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
- LGBTQs are not condemned – “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:118) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)
- LGBTQs are not the odd ones out: “God does not show favouritism.” (Paul in Rom 2:11; Peter in Acts 10:34) “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) We were all made in the image of God (Gen 1:26).
- Even if LGBTQs are lost sheep (which I don’t think they are) … “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matt 18:12-14)
- Did Jesus die in vain? Did one sin defeat him, the ‘sin’ of LGBTQ? Can Jesus not reach LGBTQs? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
- QUICK RESOURCES
Roy Clements was a Christian minister and leading evangelical in the UK for 20 years, before coming out and resigning his ministry.
- “I believe there are at least three reasons why evangelicals must think again about homosexuality: 1) Because Christian hostility towards homophile relationships rests on an interpretation of the Bible which is in many respects open to question [and there is no such thing as a ‘plain, unambiguous reading of the text’]. 2) Because there is a diversity of opinion among Christians about the issue which will cause division within the churches unless an attitude of greater tolerance and mutual respect prevails [and schism ‘to maintain purity of Christianity’ is no solution at all]. 3) Because current pastoral practice is damaging homosexual Christians and so alienating the gay community generally that evangelism is impossible [and calls for gay people to renounce their orientation or beliefs or behaviour as a cost of true Christian discipleship is itself ignorant, oppressive and immoral].”
- “… homosexual orientation exists. Its origin has not yet been discovered. Numerous possibilities have been discussed including: a genetic predisposition; an abnormal hormone flux in the womb; and remote or over-intense relationships with one or both parents. The jury is still out on this debate, but the psychological evidence unambiguously indicates that orientation is fixed at a very early age and is immutable.”
- “Evangelical churches are faced with a number of searching questions. 1) How certain are they that their understanding of the Bible on this issue is correct? 2) What harm would it do to the doctrine and practice of Christianity if gay Christians were given the benefit of the doubt? 3) Can we, with biblical consistency, relax tradition on the role of women and yet refuse to do so in the case of gays?”
- “The consequences of the current orthodox position on homosexuality is proving pastorally disastrous.”
Bishop John James Jones, President of UK Diocesan Synod (Presidential address, March 2010)
- “Just as the church over the last 2000 years has come to allow a variety of ethical conviction about the taking of life and the application of the sixth Commandment so I believe that in this period it is also moving towards allowing a variety of ethical conviction about people of the same gender loving each other fully. Just as Christian pacifists and Christian soldiers profoundly disagree with one another yet in their disagreement continue to drink from the same cup because they share in the one body so too I believe the day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same gender love with the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation.… This is I believe the next chapter to be written in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.”
- “… for some in the church homosexuality has become the defining issue of orthodoxy; it has become the benchmark on how you interpret Scripture and apply it authoritatively to the modern world. For others in the church, especially but not exclusively for those who are gay, homosexuality and the church’s attitude have become the touchstone of the church’s seriousness in wanting to include in the Kingdom all God’s children.”
- Quoting a statement from the Diocese of Liverpool: “it is wrong for anyone in the community of which we are all part to be victimised, or threatened with victimisation, on account of their race, creed, colour or sexual orientation. We affirm our commitment to work with others to build a community where all can have their place of belonging, feel welcome and live in safety. As Church Leaders, we represent a rich variety of Christian traditions, with different perspectives on some issues, but we stand together in condemning the use of violence and other forms of intimidation against minority groups which are especially vulnerable.”