Homosexuality and the Bible

On Wednesday, October 28, the LGBT Community Resource Center hosted a screening of Daniel Karslake’s controversial documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”  Although a prior commitment prevented me from attending the screening, I was able to get a hold of a copy of the film to watch myself.

Diving into the sensitive intersection of homosexuality and Christianity, “For the Bible Tells Me So” is a provocative challenge to LGBT activists and orthodox Christians to face squarely the ideological tension between them.  I found it to be a refreshing departure from the convenient but unsustainable truce that seems to be tacitly upheld between the two communities on campus.

I wish only that the producers had gone further.  Eager to show that it is possible to be both gay and a devoted Christian, they reinterpret biblical proscriptions against homosexuality so as to spare gay Christians from having to choose between a homosexual lifestyle and a commitment to the moral infallibility of the Bible.

This effort is understandable—beliefs run deep on these issues.  But the value of intellectual honesty should never depend on its price.  At the end of the day, it must be candidly acknowledged that attempts to defang biblical strictures against homosexuality are spurious.

This means a choice between a homosexual lifestyle and a belief in the moral infallibility of the Bible is logically inevitable.  I am making a statement here neither on the morality of homosexuality nor the infallibility of the Bible; I am merely pointing out that both cannot be true.  My goal in this article is to highlight the choice between them, not to make it.

Admittedly this choice might be troubling to acknowledge, but a close and honest reading of the biblical text provides no alternative.  Although I would prefer to discuss all biblical references to homosexuality, space allows for an in-depth analysis of only two: Leviticus 18:22 (cf. 20:13) and Romans 1:26-27.**

Leviticus 18:22 reads: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (cf. Lev 20:13).  This oft-cited verse seems clear enough; however, “For the Bible Tells Me So” responds by pointing out that Leviticus also contains strictures against eating shrimp or pork, strictures Christians do not follow today.  It is “selective reading,” one of the documentary’s interlocutors puts it, for Christians who ignore such regulations to turn and demand adherence to the literal dictates of Lev 18:22.

This analysis overlooks the distinction between the ceremonial and the moral components of the Levitical Law.  Ceremonial requirements were by their nature temporary; moral requirements by their nature eternal.  It was this distinction that allowed the early Church to release Gentile converts from the restrictions of the ceremonial law without violating the words of Christ that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law” until the end of time (Matt 5:18).

The documentary attempts to cast Lev 18:22 and 20:13 as strictly ceremonial guidelines by claiming that the term “abomination” (Hebrew: tow’ebah) is associated with ceremonial, not moral, wrongdoing.  In fact, tow’ebah appears throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and frequently refers to activity that is inherently immoral.

For example, in Proverbs 8:7 God states, “…wickedness is an abomination [tow’ebah] to My lips.”  Wickedness is hardly a merely ceremonial transgression.  Another Proverb reads, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination [tow’ebah] to the LORD” (17:15).  Again, moral wrongdoing is in mind.

In the end there is no evidence that the prohibition of homosexuality in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 is merely ceremonial.  But is there evidence in the other direction, namely, that this prohibition is moral in nature?  There is.  The strongest confirmation comes in Romans, where Paul reaffirms the stricture against homosexual conduct while in the same letter arguing vigorously against requiring continued adherence to the ceremonial Mosaic Law.

In Rom 1:26-27, Paul declares, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men….”

Remarkably, “For the Bible Tells Me So” simply glossed over this passage, making the claim that “natural” and “unnatural” should be translated as “customary” and “uncustomary.”  In fact, Strong Concordance’s first definition of Greek root word fusis is “nature…as opposed to what is monstrous, abnormal, perverse.”  “Customary” is not among the plausible translations, as a perusal of the other instances of the word in the New Testament will confirm (e.g., Rom 11:21-24).  The strength of Paul’s language (“dishonorable”, “unnatural”, “shameless”) makes it clear that he considers homosexual activity morally wrong.

Examining the other references to homosexuality in the Bible (Gen 19, 1Cor 6:9-10, 1Tim 1:10, Jude 7) only makes the biblical teaching on the matter more unambiguous: despite the quantity of ink devoted to bending the meaning of these passages, their plain meaning denies the morality of homosexual activity.

Again, I am not arguing that homosexual lifestyles are immoral or that the Bible is infallible.  My thesis is simply that both cannot be true.  In the spirit of “For the Bible Tells Me So” I am challenging the LGBT and Christian communities to face this tension with courage rather than sweep it under the rug.

Doing so requires the maturity to maintain an attitude of respect and charity while having one’s deepest beliefs questioned, even opposed.  But if respect and charity remain at the fore, I believe courage in facing their differences will help the two communities to establish a more open and constructive dialogue on campus.

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