Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
May 27, 2018
This year we’ve been studying the issue of “Open & Affirming” and the church, as it relates to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. How welcoming should Christians be? Aren’t we already welcoming of all? Or, should we make a specific invitation to a group that the church at large has often ostracized and condemned?
I believe there’s great benefit in a congregation focusing on one issue for an extended period of time. I know we can grow weary of a topic, but it is a great way to learn, grow and be stretched. I know of churches that take an-issue-a-year to focus on. Their goal is to study the issue thoroughly in a variety of settings and then see how they can make a difference as Christ-followers.
The other advantage of an issue like this is we learn a lot about the Bible, especially when it comes to how to read and interpret the Bible.
One of the things we notice when it comes to the issue of Homosexuality and the Bible is that in large part it comes down to interpretation.
The conservative/traditional view on the subject simply says this: the Bible says what it means and means what it says. So when the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong that’s the end of the discussion. No more needs to be said.
Others say, not so fast. There is an issue of interpretation and it’s this: what did the passage mean when it was first written? Did the term “sodomite” mean homosexual or did it refer to a male pagan temple prostitute? What did Paul have in mind in his pronouncements? What type of same-sex relationships was he aware of?
Last Sunday we heard a message on the story of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ robe (Mark 5:24-34). According to Leviticus, the woman’s touch would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean, unable to enter the temple. But God’s Larger Story was more important to Jesus.
The point is we easily dismiss the restrictions about men having no contact with menstruating women, while many still cling to two verses in Leviticus about homosexuality.
But Leviticus also has restrictions against:
- Having tattoos 19:28
- Eating rare meat 19:19
- Wearing clothes that are made from a blend of textiles 19:19
- Bans sowing a field with mixed seed 19:19
- Prohibits eating pigs, rabbits and some forms of seafood, 11:6-10
It’s important that we understand that the Bible is a divine book and a very human book.
Divine part – salvation, grace, forgiveness, discipleship, prayer, having a relationship with God, the Trinity and much, much more!
Human part – allows for slavery, male domination, polygamy, homophobic statements, hang-ups about some food & blood, the “four corners of the earth,” a literal six day creation and more.
Commandment #4 of the Ten Commandments is a good example: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. (Exodus 20:8-11)
The Divine part is obviously God’s call to sabbath-keeping. But the human part is that slavery is not denounced. If God had literally written the commandment in the form we have it, God would have added another commandment prohibiting slavery! So you see a divine command but it was spoken to a culture that allowed slavery. That’s the human element creeping in.
Let’s look at the following hand-out.
The Bible & Homosexuality
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.
NOTE: Paul knew nothing of the modern psychosexual understanding of homosexuals as persons whose orientation is fixed early in life or perhaps even genetically in some cases. For such persons having heterosexual relations would be acting contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up,” or “exchanging” their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them. In other words, Paul really thought that those whose behavior he condemned were “straight,” and that they were behaving in ways that were unnatural to them. Paul believed that everyone was “straight.” He had no concept of homosexual orientation. – Walter Wink, Methodist Biblical Scholar
I Corinthian 6:9-10
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
NOTE: “In this text, Paul uses two Greek words – malakoi and arsenokoitai – that likely refer to some forms of male same-sex behavior, but not the modern concept of homosexuality. The predominant forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were sex between masters and slaves, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, and prostitution. In all those cases, men used sex to express power, dominance and lustfulness, not self-giving love and mutuality. Committed same-sex unions between social equals represent very different values than the type of same-sex behavior Paul would have had in view in I Corinthians 6. – Matthew Vine, evangelical author
I Timothy 1:8-10
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching
NOTE: Sodomite denotes properly a male temple prostitute, one of the class attached to certain sanctuaries of heathen deities, and “consecrated” to the impure rites of their worship. – International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915 Edition (Note the date, 1915. This is not a new interpretation to fit modern sensibilities!)
“The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. . . . . Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period. Our moral task, then, is to apply Jesus’ love ethic to whatever sexual mores are prevalent in a given culture. This doesn’t mean that everything goes. It means that everything is to be critiqued by Jesus’ love commandment.” – Walter Wink
“The homosexuality Paul would have known and to which he makes reference in his letters, particularly to the Romans, has to do with pederasty and male prostitution, and he particularly condemns those heterosexual men and women who assume homosexual practices . . . All Paul knew of homosexuality was the debauched pagan expression of it . . ‘Sodomite’ as we now know, refers almost exclusively to a male prostitute, and is not a Pauline synonym for ‘homosexual’ as we understand that term.” – Peter Gomes, American Baptist preacher, Christian Ethics Professor at Harvard
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 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. – Rev. Jimmy Creech, United Methodist Pastor
Below is an article from the New York Times. I have tried to be balanced in my presentation, but obviously I do lean heavily toward the progressive perspective. This article presents both sides. – RBK
The debate over gay marriage is not just taking place in the nation’s courts – it is also a subject of intense discussion in the nation’s churches.
Matthew Vines, an openly gay, evangelical Christian and the author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships,” has been actively encouraging conservative Christians to re-evaluate their beliefs about homosexuality. He has engaged them in private conversations, in public talks and through the organization he founded, the Reformation Project.
He was recently invited by the Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach, lead pastor of Discovery Church in Simi Valley, Calif,, to talk privately with a small group of evangelical leaders to discuss what the Bible says about gay relationships. Mr. Kaltenbach is the author of the forthcoming book “Messy Grace,” which is about how he reconciles his conservative Christian convictions with his experience as the child of gay parents.
After the session, they were each asked to interpret some of the most cited verses relating to homosexuality in the Bible. (Text from the New International Version, 1984 edition.)
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
In this passage, Paul, who was quite familiar with biblical and secular views of sexual orientation, says that having sex with someone of the same gender is a sin. Some interpret this passage as a reference to heterosexuals who exchanged their natural sexual orientation for that which was not natural to them. The word that Paul uses for “natural” is not referring to what is natural to a specific person, but rather what is natural in light of God’s intent for the sexual design of humanity. Ultimately, the passage serves as an introduction to verses 28-32, where Paul lists many other general sins that ultimately show our need for the Gospel.
Paul is explicit that the same-sex behavior in this passage is motivated by lust. His description is similar to the common ancient idea that people “exchange” opposite-sex for same-sex relations because they are driven by out-of-control desire, not because they have a different sexual orientation. And while Paul labels same-sex behavior “unnatural,” he uses the same word to criticize long hair in men in 1 Corinthians 11:14, which most Christians read as a synonym for “unconventional.” Christians should continue to affirm with Paul that we shouldn’t engage in sexual behavior out of self-seeking lustfulness. But that’s very different than same-sex marriages that are based on self-giving love, and we shouldn’t conflate the two in how we interpret this text today.
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
God’s prohibition always has positive intentions. While no longer under the Law, Christians see the Law as a moral compass with principles for holy living. The Bible doesn’t have middle ground on same-sex relationships, monogamous or not. God reserves sex for marriage between a man and woman, because sex is a unique foundation of intimacy. Imagine all the evils, struggles and pain that could be avoided in relationships if we really followed God’s principles. When sex is only seen as a benefit for individuals rather than a foundation of social structures, it becomes selfish and manipulative.
Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the new covenant rather than the old one. Consequently, this verse has never applied to Christians. For a man to lie with a man “as with a woman” violated the patriarchal gender norms of the ancient world, which is likely why Leviticus prohibited it. But the New Testament casts a vision of God’s kingdom in which the hierarchy between men and women is overcome in Christ. So not only is Leviticus’s prohibition inapplicable to Christians on its own, the rationale behind it doesn’t extend to Christians, either.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Jesus says that marriage is between a man and a woman by quoting Genesis 1:27. He affirms that God created sexual distinction between man and woman and this distinction serves as part of the foundation for marriage (helping to make Adam and Eve suitable partners). Spiritually, this distinction ultimately points to Jesus and the cross, where Jesus (the bridegroom) would pledge his love for his church (the bride) on the cross. As Jesus’ words are binding for today, remember that there was no individual in the Bible called to be celibate that was not honored by God, including Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus himself.
Jesus responds to a question about divorce by emphasizing the permanence of the marriage bond. He was asked about a man and his wife, and he responds accordingly, by referring to male and female. Same-sex marriage wasn’t on the radar screen in the biblical world, so it’s not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the biblical writers addresses it. Therefore, Christians today have to ask whether gay relationships can fulfill the core principles of Scripture’s teachings about marriage. Based on Jesus’ teaching here and other texts like Ephesians 5, the essence of Christian marriage involves keeping covenant with one’s spouse in order to reflect God’s covenant with us through Christ. That’s something same-sex couples can and do live out today.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
These words are found in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 (which is what Paul would’ve used as a source when writing this letter). His phrase “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. It’s a compound: arseno means “a male,” and koitai means “bed.” The word means “male bed”—or homosexuality. Though what Paul says might be offensive, he never intended to impose these values on non-Christians. In the current debate of same-sex marriage, there’s an imposition of a meta-narrative being imposed from non-Christians to Christians. Should we violate our conscience and teachings of Scripture because of an agenda that labels us narrow-minded? That seems like an unfair expectation to me.
In this text, Paul uses two Greek words—malakoi and arsenokoitai—that likely refer to some forms of male same-sex behavior, but not the modern concept of homosexuality. The predominant forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were sex between masters and slaves, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, and prostitution. In all those cases, men used sex to express power, dominance and lustfulness, not self-giving love and mutuality. Committed same-sex unions between social equals represent very different values than the types of same-sex behavior Paul would have had in view in 1 Corinthians 6.