Sunday, September 25, 2005

Paul Speaks to the Romans About Sex

Although there are other passages in the Old Testament that some consider to speak on homosexuality, they seem to me more about prostitution, which whether male or female have nothing to do with gender orientation (see Male Temple Prostitutes for a more complete discussion on this, as well as, in reverse order, previous postings on my foray through Biblical references to homosexuality My Rigid Take on Homosexuality in the Bible, Expressing My Freedom of Religion, and Same-Sex Marriage.)

So I turn now to the New Testament. It's interesting to note that Jesus never spoke specifically on this topic. Some state that this is because it's covered under "love thy neighbour," but love in Jesus' vocabulary did not mean accepting all behaviour. And he also said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill....Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19) He's referring to the laws in the Old Testament, including the ones I've covered in previous discussions.

Unfortunately, I don't have the Gospels sufficiently memorized to be able to identify and dissect which of Jesus' teachings may pertain to homosexuality, and so I'll just discuss those passages from the rest of the New Testament that are easily identifiable as referencing homosexuality.
"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:24-27)
This passage appears in the section of Romans where Paul notes what happens to people when they turn their backs on God, after knowing God. It is a variation on the Prodigal Son, in that God does not run after those who turn their backs on him. Instead He leaves them to their own devices, or in Paul's words, "[gives] them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity." Paul's point is that when deliberately choosing not to honour nor thank God, but instead deciding to worship idols and images (and probably in today's world goods and celebrities), then moral confusion follows. And once moral confusion sets in, God stands by and allows confusion and the resulting immoralities to take control and run their course. (But also like the Father in the Prodigal Son, God receives with open arms the returning sinner.) Setting aside the why does He do that?! question, the references to homosexuality appear in Paul's listing of immoral behaviour.

The thing is though, it's not clear if he is referring to homosexuality as we know it, that is, people who are oriented from birth to the same sex, but rather homosexual sex practice by heterosexuals, both male and female.

He writes, "exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural." According to the notes in the HarperCollins Study Bible NRSV, the word "exchanged" is the key. When a person switches from worshipping God to worshipping idols (which today could be the mansion next door and all the things in it and accumulating all those things for oneself), then that person exchanges the thoughts and behaviour that flow from worshipping God for the thoughts and behaviours that flow out of worshipping idols. And so, while worshipping God means following the teachings in the Bible, worshipping an idol gives one permission to contort those teachings and diverge from the kind of life God had intended. Thus, women and men start to believe that engaging in sex with the same sex is OK, when they are naturally oriented to the opposite sex.

Others have interpreted this passage as Paul condemning sex between men and boys. I don't see this in the translations that I have. It's men with men. Thus homosexuality.

It's interesting the phrases Paul uses: degrading passions, consumed with passion, shameless acts. These all smack of people who are not thinking, who are not in tune with the love and thoughtfulness of God, but who have tossed off their frontal lobes and are using only their limbic systems. The condemnation I see here is of people who wilfully ignore the teachings of God, stop using their noggin, give in to their appetites (kind of like the sexual equivalent of an emotional eater gone mad), and no longer respect themselves or the people they are with. There is no mention of gender orientation, just sex. That may be a subtle distinction, but it's there. The question then becomes what is God teaching us of gender orientation in the Bible? That's what I'm trying to figure out!

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2 comments:

James Bow said...

Good post. I've been thinking of a similar lineup myself. As moderate Christians ignored by the fundamentalists, it's time we said it: homosexuality is not a sin.

talk talk talk said...

I'm not sure the fundamentalists are ignoring moderates...well, I guess it depends which ones you're referring to. From the Anglican Communion perspective, I think they're upset by the holier-than-thou unilateral action some bishops have taken, who have also pissed off their congregants in the process. There's a distinct lack of thinking and reflecting going on in these bishops minds on how their actions will affect ALL of their flock, here and in the developing worlds. The Communion, in the good old-fashioned Anglican way, have decided to defer the discussion, while trying to keep the African bishops from blowing their stack. We cannot teach them the difference between Jesus' teachings and culture if they do not respect us, and they will not respect us if we take unilateral action that affects and disrespects them (basically saying the only thoughts that count are ours).

If you decide to do something similar, I'd be interested in reading it!