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What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?

Answered by Jimmy Creech, former United Methodist pastor for nearly 30 years at the center of the controversy around the blessing of gay and lesbian unions in the church. Apr. 24, 2001

What the Bible says about homosexuality

Q: Dear Mr. Creech:

What is at the heart of the position that the Bible is clear on the subject "that homosexuality is forbidden by God?" I know about Leviticus, but are there similar passages with reference to women? How do you view the Bible's (or God's) position?
Sincerely,
Susan

A: Dear Susan,
At the heart of the claim that the Bible is clear "that homosexuality is forbidden by God" is poor biblical scholarship and a cultural bias read into the Bible. The Bible says nothing about "homosexuality" as an innate dimension of personality. Sexual orientation was not understood in biblical times. There are references in the Bible to same-gender sexual behavior, and all of them are undeniably negative. But what is condemned in these passages is the violence, idolatry and exploitation related to the behavior, not the same-gender nature of the behavior. There are references in the Bible to different-gender sexual behavior that are just as condemning for the same reasons. But no one claims that the condemnation is because the behavior was between a man and a woman.

There was no word in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek for "homosexual" or "homosexuality." These words were invented near the end of the 19th century when psychoanalysts began to discover and understand sexuality as an essential part of the human personality in all of its diversity. Consequently, it cannot be claimed that the Bible says anything at all about it. The writers of the Bible had neither the understanding of it nor the language for it.

There is only one reference to sexual behavior between women, and that is in Romans 1:26. The context of this reference has to do with Gentiles rejecting the true God to pursue false gods; i.e., idolatry. And, the sexual behavior described is orgiastic, not that of a loving, mutual, caring, committed relationship. What is condemned is the worship of false gods.

Sexuality is a wonderful gift from God. It is more than genital behavior. It's the way we embody and express ourselves in the world. But we cannot love another person intimately without embodying that love, without using our bodies to love. And that does involve genital behavior. Sexual love is for the purpose of giving and receiving pleasure with our most intimate partner. It is a means of deepening and strengthening the intimate union that exists. This can only be healthy and good if our behavior is consistent with who we are and with whom we love, and when we are true to our own sexuality and orientation.

In regard to marriage, it's important to remember that the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture that assumed men were in control and women were subject to them. Marriage was not an equal partnership, but a matter of a man owning a woman or women as property. Women provided men companionship, children and labor. Certainly, love between the man and woman or women could develop, but love was not the basis of marriage. Consequently, the biblical concept of marriage is not appropriate today. We no longer accept the inferiority of women and superiority of men. We no longer accept marriage to be a property transaction. The concept of marriage has evolved throughout history. Today, we understand it to be a voluntary spiritual relationship based on love, respect, mutuality and commitment. What really matters is the quality of the relationship, not the gender of the persons involved. And marriage is created not by religious ceremony or civil government. It is created by the persons involved who make their commitments to one another. Whether or not there is a religious ceremony to celebrate the marriage or marriage license to legalize it, the marriage two people make together in private is real and valid and should be honored as such. I hasten to add that marriage should never be understood as a requirement for two people in relationship. Intimate relationships must not always create a marriage commitment. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that not everyone is willing to make or should make. Being single in an intimate relationship is an honorable choice.

How do I view God's position on "homosexuality?" I believe lesbian, gay and bisexual people to be a part of God's wondrous creation, created to be just who they are, and completely loved and treasured by God. I believe God does not intend for any one to be alone but to live in companionship. And I believe God expects healthy loving relationships to include sexual love. The Bible doesn't say this, of course. But neither does it deny it. I believe this to be true not only because of the Bible's emphasis on the goodness of God's creation and the supreme value of love, but because of the greater understanding of human nature that we have available to us today. I do not believe that God intends us to live in the small world of ancient biblical culture, but rather in God's larger evolving world informed by science, reason and experience.

The following books are helpful in better understanding the debate about the Bible and homosexuality:
    • Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith, edited by Debra R. Kolodny (Continuum, 2000);      
    • Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else, by John J. McNeill (Beacon Press, 1995);      
    • The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes (William Morrow and Company Inc., 1996);      
    • Is The Homosexual My Neighbor?: Another Christian View (Revised) by Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (Harper & Row Publishers, 1996);     
    • The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background and Contemporary Debate by Robin Scroggs (Fortress Press, 1983);     
    • Our Passion for Justice: Images of Power, Sexuality, and Liberation by Carter Heyward (The Pilgrim Press, 1984);     
    • Recognizing Ourselves: Ceremonies of Lesbian and Gay Commitment by Ellen Lewin (Columbia University Press, 1998);     
    • Stranger At The Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White (Plume, 1994);      
    • Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian, gay and Jewish edited by Christie Balka and Andy Rose, (Beacon Press, 1989); and     
    • What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D. (Alamo Square Press, 1994).

Thanks for your question. Blessings on you!
Peace,
Jimmy Creech

Creech was a United Methodist pastor for nearly 30 years and has been at the center of the controversy around the blessing of gay and lesbian unions in the church. Creech also wrote the foreword to "Mixed Blessings," a Human Rights Campaign Foundation report about organized religion and gay and lesbian Americans.
April 24, 2001