What the Bible Really (Doesn’t Say) About Homosexuality
By John Roemhild, North Central University (MN)
26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans chapter 1, ESV)
These words of the apostle Paul, which have been abused almost as much as those they’ve been used to bash, are a painful reminder of the incredible importance of context. Ignorant Christians and religious homophobes often see these verses as a fail-safe in debates on the morality of homosexuality, a supreme and impervious bible blow when recited—at which point everyone might as well go home because there’s nothing left to be said.
However, I really don’t think this trustiest of all homophobe weapons is the right one to bookmark. Opponents who investigate will quickly find out that the chapter it’s taken from is a lot less about homosexuality than it first appears. Yes, the subject is mentioned, and I do think Paul is deeming it a sin, but that isn’t his point. To say that Paul is here writing to the Romans about homosexuality is like saying Rapunzel is a story about a tall tower. There is certainly an important discussion to be had about the morality of homosexuality, but there’s a different discussion that must happen first, and it’s not about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, or transgender individuals. It’s about Christians. Start by looking before verse 26 and asking, “For what reason, Paul?”
21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Paul is talking about people he refers to as wicked and godless. The “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” are probably more fitting of that time and culture, but you could certainly substitute money, sex and fame for it to keep its meaning today. In verses 26 and 27, Paul explains why God let them do as they please and elaborates further on what actions the people took. As the passage continues, Paul restates for the third time: the reason that God gave them up was because they chose not to know him (not because they were practicing homosexuality).
28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
I’m just really glad that everyone always includes that part to clarify that Paul is actually condemning hateful, prideful, completely evil people. Oh wait… they don’t. And if I’ve so rarely heard verses 28-30 admitted to the bashing party, I’ve sure as hell never heard a homophobe cite the following verses that begin chapter two.
1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Paul doesn’t have to know whether or not they were practicing homosexuality to inform them of their utter stupidity in condemning others for sexual immorality. If so much as lusting after a woman is considered adultery in Jesus’ eyes, no one should be pointing fingers. Everyone screws up more than that. If we want to eliminate the things that disgrace God in order of magnitude, then evil and malice, envy and deceit, gossip, slander, boasting, ruthlessness, faithlessness, heartlessness and—in particular—hypocrisy are much more appropriate topics of discussion.
John Roemhild is a columnist at The New Student Union. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.