Homosexuality and Scripture

I understand that the religiously devout often point to scripture as a basis for their beliefs. That is perfectly fine and even admirable to an extent as it is an obvious sign of conviction and strong faith. But when scripture is interpreted to deny rights to another human being that is not divine inspiration. All too often we find ourselves enraptured by the comforting validation of righteousness, forgetting that such relative emotions only damns us to the certain fate of arrogance.

Our personal sense of righteousness has the capacity to consume us. Righteousness is a good thing when controlled by the reins of a rational and critical mind. But when the virtues of rationalism are sacrificed for want of the personal gratification derived from a sense of moral righteousness. The memorization of a scripture might be an achievement to be proud of. But do not let that pride become the center of your being. Do not brandish this skill as an excuse to damn those who do not believe such utterances to be the unadulterated word of God. Disagree but do not crucify and do not shame. For scripture has been used to excuse terrible human excesses and certainly has the potential to do so yet again.

The Book of Philemon for instance was used to justify slavery, when Paul advised that people should not seek to change their station in life because the return of Christ was imminent. The person in question was a runaway slave by the name of Onesimius who Paul instructed to make peace with his master and to embrace his position as slave. While Paul may well have been hinting at a deeper meaning of how this corporeal life is only temporary and therefore insignificant compared to eternal majesty which awaits in the next life, it was nevertheless interpreted as a scriptural basis for instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters.

Scripture was also used to justify the general mistreatment of Blacks in addition to their subsequent enslavement. The Curse of Canaan, as noted in the book of Genesis chapter nine, verses 20-27, describes a situation in which, Ham, one of Noah’s sons comes upon his father sleeping drunkenly in an unclothed state. Noah’s other sons look away but Ham does not. When Noah awakes he learns of what Ham had done and curses him, claiming that the descendants of Ham, including his immediate son, Canaan, will be servants to man. For some, Ham was thought of as the progenitor of Africans. The punishment Noah ordained for him was interpreted as a scriptural, divinely inspired command which obligated men of African descent to serve their White masters. Fortunately, anthropological and archeological research has disproven the rather simplistic interpretation of race according to the Biblical story. As such, any person who would dare use a religious text to justify slavery, today at least, would be looked upon with severe disdain.

Regarding scriptural justifications against homosexuality, I will tackle them one by one. With regards to the first scriptural basis, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, homosexuality, contrary to popular belief, was not the sin for which the city was destroyed. In fact, the city was destroyed for apathy towards the power, a general culture of arrogance, and “detestable things” a term which is not clearly delineated. This is spelled out in Ezekiel 16:49-50:

49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, 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 good.

The second reference of Leviticus 18 and 20 essentially states that no man should lie with a man as he lies with a woman. While this scriptural basis is not ambiguous it is nevertheless a reflection of tribal law as opposed to divine edict. Not every tribe cited in the Bible was Jewish and certainly not Christian, as there were not Christians in the Old Testament. In fact, it is never actually mentioned what belief system the people described in the book of Leviticus ascribed to. To assume they were monotheist shows an obvious lack of consideration for the nuanced belief systems which existed thousands of years ago. If anything, the prohibitions and ascribed punishments for homosexual in these verses, seem to be the machinations of cultural mores than divine inspiration.

The third scriptural reference is Romans 1:26-27:

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

This explicitly mentions homosexual acts as being unnatural but never does it mention them as sinful so to speak. But nevertheless, the verses stand as powerful evidence that may well unequivocally establish homosexuality as a morally reprehensible act. The verses are very convincing when standing on their own. Yet, as most of us know, anything taken out of context can be easily misinterpreted.

Romans 1, generally speaking seems to be a simple summary of the Old Testament, more specifically the event described in Leviticus 18-20. Paul, who is writing in Romans, seems to implicitly reference the Old Testament story of the Golden Calf, mentioned in Exodus 32:4

4 And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: ‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

In Romans 1:22-23 we see this reference explicitly:

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Thus, Paul in an effort to construct his arguments against homosexuality, is using previous examples to validate his general exposition on his desire to obey Christ. Paul is not specifically voicing dissent for homosexuality but is merely recounting past events. His opinions on whether or not those committing homosexual acts are worthy of punishment is never clearly defined. It also must be pointed out that Paul could be providing commentary on the pagan, polytheist belief systems which many Levantine tribes may have embraced. We must remember that the Bible encompasses not one but many events in human history. The narratives which we read are combining elements of multiple events and multiple people combining them into one story. Practices which might have been interpreted by early monotheists (ancestors of Jews, Christians, and Muslims) as homosexual might have been part of the religious or general culture of their pagan, polytheist counterparts. A debate therefore arises as to whether Paul was engaging in polemist descriptions of a different culture not like his own. As such, the wickedness associated with action of those mentioned in Romans 1:26-27

The scriptural basis for opposition to homosexuality is very sparse and spurious at best. All too often, interpretation of scripture has been used to realize devious ends. A more discerning eye would help many of us realize that the opposition towards homosexuality is not divinely inspired but rather rhetorical machination of men who are uncomfortable with their sexuality. It is a subjective sense of righteousness hiding the truly homophobic nature reiterated by a false understanding of scripture. So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Believe as you will but at least consider the perspectives revealed in this exposition.

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Categories: Religion, Social Commentary

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