I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time. Somehow, time, energy, effort, or courage has seemed to fail me. But no longer. I have chipped away at this post bit by bit, until I can bring you some articulated thoughts. I want to defend marriage…marriage for ALL consenting adults (because gay marriage and straight marriage are not two separate entities. Kim Kardashian’s “marriage” was not the same as mine, though our civil unions have been designated with the same terms…but I digress).
First, I would like to go over some Bible verses that have often been used to clobber gays and lesbians with. You know the verses I’m talking about: from the Garden of Eden, to Paul’s condemnation of certain behaviors, there are all kinds of verses that Christians have used to defend the man-woman-only stance. I’d like to reopen those for consideration. I want to go beyond a formalist, literalist reading of these verses, placing them within context of the passage, chapter, and book, as well as discussing the reasons for these verses’ inclusion in the Bible at all. Cultural/historical/linguistic contexts matter, too (yes, I am a literary scholar).
Then, after a biblical discussion, I would like to offer a more personal defense: why I, a Bible-following Christian, openly and honestly defend gay marriage, as both a civilian in my country and a member of my church. I will share pieces of my own thought-process, how my own homophobia eventually withered in the face of Christ-centered love.
Part I: For the Bible Tells Me So
Let’s get biblical, shall we? Here are some key texts that have been used to “prove” that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I say “prove,” because I believe that some of these verses have been taken out of context, and that the Bible is not always as cut-and-dried as those of us who follow it would like to think. **A note: I will quoting the New King James Version of the Bible, and many thanks to BibleGateway.com for its assistance with finding passages.**
*Genesis 2 (especially verses 18 and 24): This entails the creation of Adam and Eve, and their union, as proclaimed by God. Verse 18 states, “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Okay. So we’re not meant to be celibate. As of yet, that helper (or in the King James version, helpmeet) has not been described in detail.
If we look at verse 24, it more clearly declares, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That’s not too much of a surprise, either. As Bible-thumpers are quick to note, this is God’s idealized roadmap: marriage between a man and a woman.
But lest we be too quick to stop our discussion here, let’s consider all the ways in which the Edenic model was “violated” after the entrance of sin:
- Different races, cultures, and languages (let’s face it, folks, Jesus wasn’t white, and neither were Adam and Eve)
- Shortened life spans and weakened human forms
- Eating animals
Clearly, sin threw so many things off the idealized balance. Using this passage to decry homosexuality is narrow-minded, and it ignores a much larger picture: we have all of us sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, being covered only in the grace brought about Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 3:22-24). Thus, heterosexual Christian folk are in just as much need of grace as the rest of the world.
*The Destruction of Sodom: here, I’d like to discuss the notion of Sodom, sodomy, and sodomite. This term has today been conflated with homosexual, and thus, all verses with the words “sodomite” have been translated to mean same-sex attractions. I would argue, based on the context where many of these verses take place, it’s a matter of hermeneutics and translation, not at all related to LGBT people.
Let’s start with our first references to Sodom, in Genesis 13:10-13 and then again in Genesis 19. In Genesis 13, Abraham and Lot have amassed so much wealth (that is, livestock), that they have agreed to part company, in order to maintain harmony within their respective camps. Lot chooses the plain, in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are located. All the Bible says in verse 13 is, “But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” It’s a little vague, especially since we aren’t sure just what those sins are.
Genesis 19 becomes more explicit. As the Lord has explained to Abraham that not ten righteous exist in Sodom, and it will be destroyed, two angels come to Lot’s house to warn him and his families of the impending destruction, and remove them from the city. Lot finds these angels, disguised as men, while sitting in the gates of Sodom, and then presses them to have supper and lodging at his house.
Here’s where it gets interesting: “4 Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally. 6 So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, 7 and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! 8 See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”
The heteronormative instinct is to jump on the “carnal knowledge” and say, “Welp, that’s what makes them Sodomites.” But wait…did you notice that Lot offered up, instead of these guests, his daughters? Clearly, what we’re dealing with is not gay sex, but sexuality used in an orgiastic sense. If Lot felt that his daughters were an acceptable substitute (and yuck, I can’t believe I had to type that, but Lot’s family is all kinds of effed up), then these men were looking for sex wherever they could get it, or force it. I read somewhere that when you host a stranger/guest, you must protect him/her at all costs. These men violated the guest code, which is part of what makes them so immoral—they were willing to violate guests of Lot, for their own purposes. If you think about rape, it’s rarely about lust and more often, about the sort of power that comes from physically violating another individual. There’s not a whole lot more we can say about Lot, except that his wife got turned into a pillar of salt, and his daughters got him drunk, so they could get pregnant by him, which, incidentally, is a direct violation of one of the Levitical purity laws that God will later outline in Leviticus 18.
I Kings 14:24 mentions the wicked reign of Rehoboam: “And there were also perverted persons[a] in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.” The footnote clarifies that “perverted persons” in Hebrew actually means “qadesh, that is, one practicing sodomy and prostitution in religious rituals.” Interesting. So does this refer to an LGBT individual? Nope, I think we’re referring to pagan religious practices in the land. The same wording and meaning also occurs, in I Kings 15:12, I Kings 22:46, II Kings 23:7, with an allusion to sodomites in I Timothy 1:10.
Another mention in Isaiah 3:9 is a bit more vague. In describing the fallen state of both Israel and Judah, the prophet alludes to the people’s evils, noting, “And they declare their sin as Sodom; / They do not hide it. / Woe to their soul! / For they have brought evil upon themselves.” Is this literally referring to acts of Sodomy, or is this a more poetic allusion, to forge a connection in readers’ minds? That’s something readers have to interpret. But there’s nothing direct enough that cannot be drawn without interpretation.
It gets really interesting in Ezekiel 16:49, where God (through his prophet) actually chides Israel for being more wicked than both Samaria and Sodom. Ouch! What, specifically was Sodom accused of doing? According to Ezekiel, “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” Keep the word “abomination” in mind. We’re going to talk about that soon.
Jude 7 uses Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of sexual immortality and going “after strange flesh” as an example of experiencing the Law’s vengeance. Now, what that means is not clear, and going through other translations has not elucidated that. Take from it what you will.
*Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20: here’s the Bible-thumper’s mainstay. Leviticus 18 discusses sexual morality at length. Here, God explains to Moses that there are certain lifestyle statutes acquired from both Egypt and Canaan, none of which He wants the children of Israel to engage in.
Verses 6-18 discuss, in detail, not uncovering your relatives’ nakedness. I searched through several commentaries, which seem to interpret this as incestuous relationships. Much time is spent on detailing the mother-son, father-daughter, etc. verboten encounters.
Then we get to verses 19-23: “19 ‘Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity. 20 Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. 21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.”
Bible-thumpers have a hey-day with this, since it seems to clearly outlaw homosexual relations. But notice the other practices that God has outlawed for the Israelites: not having sex during a woman’s period, not sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, not sacrificing your family members to the god Molech, and not mating with an animal. And notice that God does not call any of these a “sin,” but an “abomination,” or, in the case of bestiality, a “perversion.”
This leads me to recommend that you spend some time looking up the word “abomination,” as it has been translated from the Hebrew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abomination_(Bible). Or, for all references and differentiations in translation of “abomination,” here’s a website that does all the work for you: http://www.dragonlordsnet.com/abomination.htm.
Okay, so “abomination” in a biblical sense does not mean the same thing that it does today. Therefore, while I don’t see God explicitly sanctioning same-sex relations, nor do I see Him decrying it as an outright sin. This is where it gets tricky for followers of the Bible, because we don’t want to say, “Oh, well, that means I can go have sex with a gopher,” or, on the other hand, start stoning our neighbors for having an affair. For me, this is where faith comes in.
What God Himself makes most clear, is actually in Leviticus 18: 24-29: “24 ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.”
Because God was trying to set up a nation set apart from the other cultures around it, He outlined a very specific lifestyle for His people to follow, precisely so they would appear unique to the world.
Let me also note that God spends way more time on dietary laws (Leviticus 11), bodily discharges (Leviticus 15), and leprosy (Leviticus 13-14) than He does on gay sex. In fact, He mentions having sex on one’s period in the same passage as gay sex. So…I don’t exactly see Evangelicals going round and putting women in red tents while on their periods (unless, of course, it’s an underground society). Nor do I see the Evangelicals mobbing Red Lobster stoning people for eating or cooking shellfish, lobster, and crab.
Leviticus 20 also makes clear that the penalty for infractions of all sexual immorality laws (which include “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them,” in verse 13) is being put to death. In our contemporary society, the death penalty has become an increasingly polarized concept, fraught with warring ideals. What does this passage have to offer? I can’t comfortably rationalize it away, and I don’t intend to. Rather, I point to the word “abomination,” which implies the breaking of a cultural taboo, rather than a mortal sin.
*Deuteronomy 22:5 declares, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.” I love this verse. In fact, I know church members who used it to tell their teenage daughters this is why they couldn’t wear pants that zipped up front (I’m not kidding), and then forced their daughters to wear jeans that zipped on the side. Using this verse to clobber people seems absurd to me, especially since styles for men and women do have more overlap today. Especially when you consider verse 11: “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” Next Sabbath, I am going to check tags on people’s clothing, because NO ONE should wear polyester and cotton mixed together. It’s in the Bible, y’all (I’m done being cheeky; I had to get that out of my system).
*Deuteronomy 23:17-18. Here, God states that there will be no ritual harlot or a “perverted” son of Israel in the nation, declaring, “18 You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog to the house of the Lord your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.” My footnotes declare that these refer to the qedeshah (feminine of the qadesh)and the qadesh, which again, refers to those practicing sodomy and prostitution in religious rituals. Other translations of the Bible refer to a “dog” as a male prostitute, or a sodomite (which we’ve established in meaning). Revelation 22:15, also refers to a “dog” in conjunction with sexual immorality.
*Romans 1:26-32. The apostle Paul, who can certainly seem like an old curmudgeon, has lots to say. Let’s start with this passage, where Paul decries the ungodliness and unrighteousness of certain unidentified men: “26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”
What’s happening here? At first glance, it seems as if Paul is openly decrying homosexuality. If you look more closely, though, you might see something different. The men are turning away from female partners they already have…their lust has become so enlarged that they have sex with everyone! Another thing to consider: temple orgies. In pagan temples around Europe and the Middle East, where Paul was writing, people were participating in temple orgies, using sexual promiscuity for religious rituals. I don’t think it’s right to say, “God hates homosexuality” using this passage, because I believe it’s just not that simple.
*1 Corinthians 6:9-10: here’s a translation issue at play. Here, Paul declares, “9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” Stop the presses, some might argue—clear-cut proof! Not so fast. The footnote by homosexuals clarifies to mean “catamites.” If you look up what a catamite is (Thanks, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catamite), you can see that it refers to a young, beautiful boy who becomes the companion of a young man, often to be groomed for sexual purposes. That is, a concubine or a male prostitute, something the Bible has already condemned. This text is not referring to an LGBT person, but rather, the grooming of a child (Hello, pedophilia? Is that you?) for an adult’s sexual use/misuse.
*1 Corinthians 7:2-16: This passage refers to Paul’s treatise on marriage, using man/woman language. No surprise here, and in a cultural context, it’s just a way of referring to marriage partners. In my opinion, there’s nothing that outright makes gay marriage unbiblical, nor is this something to be used as a weapon to disprove its civil legitimacy. But interestingly enough, Paul does say, “8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” I don’t have an articulate thought, I just found that rather fascinating…
*What does Jesus have to say about gay marriage, or homosexuality? I can’t seem to find anything specifically on that topic. He does say about the Law, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” which can be interpreted as a binding to the Levitical laws, or even a banishing of those Laws, since He was crucified (and there’s a bit of conflict within the Christian Church about interpreting Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law).
He does briefly mention celibacy (but does not mention it as extensively as Paul does), and categorizes the different kinds of eunuchs: “ For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). So, lest we think that all gay people become eunuchs or celibate, allow for a little compassion, as Jesus does. Not everyone was made to be celibate, nor does that same rule apply to all individuals. Therefore, to those who declare that in order to be in the church, our LGBT members must be celibate, I respond, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone…” (para. from John 8:7). Don’t prescribe what you yourself are unwilling to do!
My findings from the Bible are not conclusive. But that’s actually okay. If I am searching, praying, and dialoguing, then I am engaging with God’s Word. Also: it’s good to recognize the incongruities and contradictions that arise. I don’t think we can lambast gays and lesbians with Leviticus 18, ESPECIALLY if we’re mixing our fabrics, eating meats God declared unclean, and not undergoing cleansing rituals after each period. Nor, if we are to believe that the Law was abolished under the Crucifixion, should we eat all sorts of meat, mix our fabrics, and still expect our LGBT friends to still follow the law that we’ve merrily banished for ourselves. The Bible is not to be cherry-picked!
Finally, one last verse to consider, from Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one in Christ, I would think it’s time to treat each other equally.
Part II: All About Love
I never thought about my sexuality. I just knew that I liked boys. In a similar vein, I grew up Christian without knowing too much about what my beliefs entailed. It wasn’t until I was 15, facing my mom’s cancer diagnosis, that I actually started to take my faith seriously, and took personal accountability for my own spirituality.
It wasn’t till about seven or eight years later that I began to understand the complexities of human sexuality. You see, I’d grown up believing that homosexuality was a choice. But when I thought about it, I didn’t choose my sexuality. I just recognized it, and at a very young age, too. Ergo, how could someone who was LGBT choose, especially if they recognized it early on? A dear friend of mine came out to me in the fall of 2007, which forced me to come to terms with my homophobia head-on. I realized, “My ignorant/hateful behavior could affect someone I care deeply about.” So I set out to educate myself. Learn as much as I could. Take it to God in prayer. Above all, love my friend as that…my friend. Not a project. Not a sinner. A peer. An equal. I have asked honest and frank questions, praying for an open mind and a devotion to God’s will.
It’s not always been easy to be open-minded, or to balance one’s faith community with one’s world community. I struggle with various parts of my identity, and sometimes it’s hard to be open-minded in situations I am unfamiliar with.
But what has demolished the last shreds of my own homophobia has been marriage: the marriage of friends of mine, and my own. To protect their privacy, I won’t mention this amazing couple by name or gender. Witnessing their loving, unselfish relationship and how well-matched they are has shown me what a great marriage looks like. I saw them endure the devastating loss of a child, and then the tremulous hope of parenthood again. Through it all, they strengthened each other, and inspired me to be a better person.
And then, when I married The Chancellor, I understood love for God and for another in ways I cannot explain. Marriage is a divine mystery that I still find myself dazzled by. I am with someone who understands me almost as well (better, sometimes!) as I understand myself.
Why would I let anyone try to mandate that or take it away from me? Why should some unrelated person vote on my marriage? What investment do they have in my personal relationship? Why should someone else tell me that I can or cannot manage my husband’s end-of-life affairs, be part of his insurance plan, or receive benefits that belong to our marriage? Does this sound familiar?
Jesus says in Luke 6:31, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” The Golden Rule is a lofty order: but if I am serious about my faith in God, it’s what I must follow. If I don’t want someone taking away my civil rights, then I must not take away theirs. It’s that simple.
I used to differentiate my stance on gay marriage into civil and Christian perspectives. I’ve merged the two identities, because I realize that I can no longer be silent in my faith community. Gay and lesbian members are increasingly leaving places of worship, because they do not feel welcome. It is going to take a lot of struggle, prayer, and dialogue for churches to work through both doctrine and the very real physical/spiritual needs of their congregations. But I would like to start by having an open dialogue on this forum. I would encourage you to respond, no matter what your stance is (and I would urge you to do so civilly).
In the end, I have been instructed to love God first and foremost, and then to love my neighbor as I value myself (Matt. 22:36-39). That is the highest calling God can offer anyone. Thus, in loving my neighbor, I am learning to put aside ignorance, fear, and hatred. Instead, I ask God every day to fill me with His extravagant love and take action.
One last thought: I just finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis’s wonderful children’s novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. The epilogue finds Mr. Curtis addressing his young readers about civil rights. While geared towards racial equality, I find this passage particularly relevant:
Many heroic people died in the struggle for civil rights. Many others were injured or arrested or lost their homes or businesses. It is almost impossible to imagine the courage of the first African American children who walked into segregated schools or the strength of the parents who permitted hem to face the hatred and violence that awaited them. They did it in the name of the movement, in the quest for freedom.
These people are the true American heroes. They are the boys and girls, the women and men who have seen that things are wrong and have not been afraid to ask ‘Why can’t we change this?’ They are the people who believe that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are. These are our heroes, and they still walk among us today. One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.
One of them may be you. (210)