What the Bible really says about gays
Sue Ontiveros, Chicago Sun-Times
Last Modified: Oct 16, 2011 10:40AM
If something is repeated often enough, it can become, well, gospel truth.
Countless times people have told me that as “good Christians” they cannot accept homosexuality because it’s against their faith. “It’s in the Bible,” they’ll explain.
I found it hard to believe that the same Christianity that preaches “love thy neighbor” could single out gays for exclusion. Yet I couldn’t argue because I’m not much of a Bible reader. I figured they knew what they were talking about.
I was wrong.
As I watched a documentary, “Fish Out of Water,” I knew I’d found my ammunition for the next “the Bible told me so” argument.
“Fish Out of Water,” http://www.fishoutofwaterfilm.com, was directed by Chicago filmmaker Ky Dickens, whose friends collectively told her “the devil must have your heart” when she came out.
But as Dickens said during a phone interview this week, she knew from the time she was 7 she was gay. Yet, as a person of faith, the thought that the Bible denounced her was disheartening.
“My faith was an important part of my life in high school and college,” she said.
Dickens set out to find the answers she needed, and “Fish Out of Water” is the result.
Among the things it does is ask everyday people to explain what exactly the Bible says (most replies are along the lines of the barber who answers, “Well, that’s a tough question”).
Then she took the seven Bible passages most mentioned by those who condemn homosexuality and asked ministers and theologians if the passages were being fairly interpreted.
Well, suffice it to say, they are not. (I knew Jesus wouldn’t be down with hatred, I just knew it!) For instance, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about the violation of hospitality; basically, be nice to strangers. (If only the “Christians” who always write such awful things to me about immigrants read this passage correctly. But I digress.)
The neat thing about “Fish” is that it does more than preach to the choir, so to speak.
Instead, the documentary — which is very approachable and non-judgmental — has become popular with community groups, schools and, yes, churches. Audiences have seen it across the United States — including the Bible Belt — and as far away as Israel, South Africa and Korea.
When I caught up with Dickens, she was heading to Tennessee and then southern Illinois for showings. Dickens admits that the film probably won’t change the minds — or hearts — of diehard ultra-conservatives.
But for those in the middle, seeing these biblical experts explain what certain hot-button passages really mean and how they’ve been taken out of context, can be eye-opening and reassuring.
The documentary “is giving them permission to accept,” she said. “It’s telling them, it’s OK to love your gay brother.”
For gay Christians, it has been a comfort as well. Dickens has received letters from people so happy to discover “I can have a faith.”
Wow, faith helping people feel able to give love and be accepted. Of course, that’s really what it’s all about.
Oh dear. Where do I begin. I guess we’ll begin at the beginning, when you say, “I found it hard to believe that the same Christianity that preaches “love thy neighbor” could single out gays for exclusion.” What does this even mean? Christianity, as practiced by serious and orthodox believers, doesn’t exclude anyone. All it asks of everyone is that they take up the cross, like Christ, and stop living a life of sin. Concerning our sexuality, for some of us that might mean we need to stop looking at pornography and masturbating, for others, stop cheating on a spouse, for others, stop having sex before marriage, and for those afflicted with homosexual desires, it means stop giving in to those desires as they are “instrinsically disordered”. But believers are called to welcome sinners to Christ and I certainly know of no orthodox church that “singles out gays for exclusion” — if anything, there are many ministries established specifically to help gay individuals deal with their sin. We all know and cherish the story of Jesus who refused to condemn the adulterous woman brought to him by the Pharisees, but never forget he tells her to “go, and sin no more.” Jesus is never O.K. with sin, but he is full of infinite mercy and forgiveness, which is why he died on the cross and rose again to Heaven for us.
Anyway, here is my next favorite part (well, favorite is not the right word, since I threw up a little in my mouth when I read this): “Then she [the film-maker you are discussing] took the seven Bible passages most mentioned by those who condemn homosexuality and asked ministers and theologians if the passages were being fairly interpreted…Well, suffice it to say, they are not. (I knew Jesus wouldn’t be down with hatred, I just knew it!)”
O.K., remember what I just got done saying about sin? Well try to wrap your brain around the idea that Jesus is in fact, not “down with sin” but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love sinners. He wants us all to repent of our sins and to turn to him for help — he already paid the price for those sins and is there to help us get to Heaven if we are willing to let him help us. But that means understanding what is and is not a sin and that also means reading the Bible honestly and fairly. Remember this key sentence from the “Our Father”: “thy will be done”. Not “my will be done” — which is what most liberal ministers and theologians do who twist themselves into pretzels trying to interpret the Bible to make it seem as if homosexual conduct is not sinful.
So surprise, surprise, those “ministers and theologians” that filmmaker Ky Dickens talks to have no idea what they are talking about (by the way, these folks have been writing their liberal take on Scripture for years, so if you really wanted to defend a pro-homosex viewpoint, you should have just used Google a long time ago — what kind of editorial training did you get at the Sun-Times?) For example, supposedly, they tell Ky that “the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about the violation of hospitality; basically, be nice to strangers.” Once again, I have to direct my readers and you to the foremost authority on this subject in the Western world, Robert Gagnon, and here I’ll quote what he has to say in a brief article on this subject (he has written, much, much more, so check out his website for all the scholarly footnotes and references):
He [discussing a different, liberal theologian] writes off the Sodom episode in Genesis 19 as a text concerned with hospitality, not homosexual practice. This makes an either-or out of a both-and. The episode at Sodom is viewed in early Judaism as a paradigmatic example of gross inhospitality to visitors precisely because the men of Sodom seek to dishonor the sexuality of the male visitors. By asking to have sex with them as though they were females they treat the maleness of the visitors as of no account. The fact that this is done in the context of attempted rape is no more an indication of the irrelevance of the homosexual aspect than is a story about incestuous rape (so, I would argue, Ham‟s act against his father Noah in Genesis 9) irrelevant for indicting adult-consensual incest.
Sue, Sue, Sue — what to do with you?! Let’s close by zooming in on this sentence near the end of your piece: “But for those in the middle, seeing these biblical experts explain what certain hot-button passages really mean and how they’ve been taken out of context, can be eye-opening and reassuring.” You want your eyes opened? Here is some more Gagnon on those crucial “hot-button passages” and what they “really mean”:
Jefferson [the goofball who wrote a piece for HuffPuffandStuff that Gagnon is addressing in this article] dismisses the prohibitions of man-male intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as limited to a particular time and place in Israel‟s history, like dietary restrictions and the prohibition of cloth mixtures. But the prohibition of man-male intercourse is more closely related in its context to the prohibitions of other sexual offenses that we continue to prohibit today: incest, adultery, and bestiality. The Holiness Code in Leviticus (chaps. 17-26) specifically refers to these forbidden sex acts as “iniquity” or “sin,” not just ritual uncleanness (18:25). It does not allow absolution merely through ritual acts (such as bathing and waiting for the sun to go down). It does not treat these sexual offenses as making the participants contagious to touch (unlike some ritual impurity offenses). The penalty applies only to those who engage in these acts with willful intent (whereas ritual purity infractions encompass both advertent and inadvertent acts). Leviticus applies the prohibitions not just to Jews but to Gentiles inhabiting the land. For all these reasons the prohibitions of incest, adultery, man-male intercourse, and bestiality do not look like merely ritual offenses.
The prohibition of cloth mixtures is largely symbolic, since the penalty is only the destruction of the cloth (not the wearer) and since too some cloth mixtures are enjoined for the Tabernacle, parts of the priestly wardrobe, and the tassel worn by the laity (apparently on the assumption that cloth mixtures symbolized „penetration‟ into the divine realm, which was inappropriate in non-sacral contexts). The prohibition of incest is a much closer analogy to the prohibition of man-male intercourse than dietary rules or rules against cloth mixtures, since both incest and same-sex intercourse involve sexual offenses between persons too much alike in terms of embodied structures—one as regards kinship, the other as regards gender.
As regards Paul, Jefferson provides an odd reason for discounting the offender list in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which includes an indictment of “soft men” (malakoi, see above) and “men who lie with a male” (arsenokoitai). His reason is that “these terms are injected along with” other sexual offenders, namely, “the sexually immoral” (pornoi, not limited to fornicators, contra Jefferson), adulterers, and (in context) persons who engage in incest (chap. 5) and sex with a prostitute (6:15-17). “In other words, Paul is addressing ALL deviant sexual and immoral behavior, not just that of a same-sex variety.” To this argument I can only say: So what? Who ever claimed that Christian sexual ethics were opposed only to homosexual practice?
Jefferson then claims that “it is unclear whether [Romans 1:26-27] truly is a condemnation of a specific practice.” This is a bizarre claim. Paul specifically refers to females exchanging “the natural use [i.e. of the male] for that which is contrary to nature”; and, “likewise” to males “leaving behind the natural use of the woman” and becoming “inflamed in their yearning for one another, males with males.” That doesn‟t sound ambiguous to me.
Moreover, there are eight points of correspondence, in the same tripartite order, between the creation text in Genesis 1:26-27 and Paul‟s argument in Romans 1:23-27. This indicates that Paul is thinking of homosexual practice as a violation of the creation of “male and female” in Genesis 1:27. The nature argument is a common one for Greco-Roman moralists seeking to indict homosexual practice on absolute grounds. It seems to me that we should make a distinction between Jefferson wanting Romans 1:26-27 to be unclear and the actual clarity of the text itself.
As I said earlier, there is no doubt that gay individuals are welcome with open arms into orthodox conservative Christian churches — but if they want to live their lives in sin, they will be asked, as all sinners are asked, to repent and turn their sin over to Christ and at the same time recognize that only God can “meet the deepest longings of our heart.”