This past fall, I read two books that were a huge comfort. The first was God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines. The second was: Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by James V. Brownson. I was very pleased to read these two books because while I only became Christian a few years ago, I have supported LGBTQ+ rights all of my life and since becoming Christian I have remained committed to my support of the LGBTQ+ community. The problem was that while I had points here in there, I did not know enough about the issue to discss the issue as cogently as I’d have liked. These two books, one a more popular version, the other a more academic one, laid out many of the main points in support of same-sex relationships quite cogently. Due to some recent events, I’ve re-visited these books and distilled a summary of the main points to consider while discussing the same-sex relationship debate. I thought I’d share them here:
1. The debate on same-sex relationship traditionally revolves around six verses from the Bible. From the Old Testatment, there are Genesis 19:5, Lev 18:22, and Lev 20:13. From the New Testament, there are Rom 1:26-27, 1 Corinth 6:9, and 1 Tim 1:10. Now, an astute reader will notice that these are complex passages. Genesis 19:5 could as easily be condemning gang rape and a lack of hospitality; the Leviticus passages are listed alongside other Levitical laws that are no longer endorsed; Rom 1:26-27 is in the middle of a passage that discusses the progress of the Fall; 1 Corinth 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 are both passages that deal with the new household codes, which while re-worked by Paul to undermine the Roman ones, also include things we’d be hesitant to endorse today (such as slavery).
2. Traditionally, there have been two frameworks to discussing same-sex relationships–the traditionalist perspective and the revisionist perspective. The traditionalist perspective believes that the passages point towards male and female as the only possible marriage and ordained by God in all times and places. The traditionalist also generally has fairly strict views on what is masculine and feminine. The revisionist perspective says that the passages are outdated, and no longer contain any wisdom we can use today. Both perspectives don’t take into account the social-historical context and therefore the case can be made that they are flawed.
3. This is one of the most important points to me: the social-historical context. I have found in practice that even Christians who support LGBTQ+ rights have a hard time understanding this one because it draws heavily on studies of the politics of sexuality, and such studies are only recently transitioning into the public debate. I will try to explain it well enough to deal with the issues head-on, but know that it might be uncomfortable as it challenges commonly held views of sexuality.
The first thing to understand is the difference between sexual orientation and sexual expression: sexual orientation is constant, highly resistant to change (witness the self-admitted failure of gay conversion therapy techniques), and something we are born with. Sexual expression is how sexuality is expressed, and differs based on social, political, and personal circumstances.
At the time of the Pauline epistles, same-sex relationships were allowed in the Greco-Roman culture, but ONLY in the form of pederasty. Pederasty was a system were adult men partnered with pubescent youth, and the adult men had to be the active partner in the sex act, while the pubescent youth had to be the passive, or receiving partner. Another key component was that the active partner had to be higher in social status. The reason was that the passive role was seen as the feminine role, and since feminine was considered inferior in the Greco-Roman world, only a pubescent youth or someone inferior in social status could be allowed to assume this role. Obviously Paul would have objected to such notions!
The surrounding Middle Eastern cultures were not much help, even at the time of the Levitical Laws. All of the cultures on record had two views of same-sex relationships: the passive partner was feminine, and thus was regulated to an inferior role if he was a man; or same-sex attraction was seen as symptomatic of excessive sexuality. Both Judaism and Christianity saw excessive sexuality as a negative, and while Christianity was more supportive of the feminine that didn’t exactly extend to sanctioning such a power imbalance in the relationship as would have been evident in pederasty.
In none of the cultures at the time was there even the faintest conception of same-sex relationships as we know them today: an equal, loving, often monogamous partnership. If you want an analogous situation, consider slavery. Slavery was the economic basis of the ancient world–nobody could consider a world without slavery. Paul at least had the foresight to argue for individual exceptions to slavery (witness the plea in the Letter to Philemon). But largely, slavery was accepted as a necessary part of the world even by Paul. Similarly, nobody could conceive of a time where same-sex relationships would be an equal, loving, monogamous partnership. It simply wasn’t heard of.
4. Now, we move into the realm of logic. Logic is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one–there is a tendency to make an idol of logic, and that is a huge mistake. So view the following points as something to consider, rather than a firm and solid argument.
One of the main arguments that the anti-LGBTQ+ movement will often use is that it is fine to have same-sex orientation, so long as one does not act on it. One is either to take a wife and make do somehow, or to remain a life-long celibate. The former is obviously problematic as any such attempt is likely to destroy many lives, not just the lives of the husband and wife, but what many don’t realize is that the latter is also problematic. When one looks at the references to celibacy made by both Jesus and Paul, one quickly realizes that celibacy is never mandatory. While both Jesus and Paul view celibacy as positive, it is seen, first and foremost, as a gift. Both of them say that a marriage is perfectly allowed, that sex and sexuality are good, just as long as they’re channeled appropriately. The concept of mandatory celibacy doesn’t have a Scriptural basis at all, and therefore it’s an odd cruelty to force on someone.
One concept I found particularly interesting in my reading was the Fruit Test. This is taking the words of both Christ and Paul, that we will know what is good by the fruit it produces to a practical conclusion. Essentially, if same-sex relationships bad we would expect to see negative fruit: tales and traits of self-destruction, fear, anger, hatred, despair. If same-sex relationships were good we would expect the opposite: joy, love, peace, self-control, etc. Even an amateur in the field of sex studies could tell you that we see the negative fruit produced when same-sex relationships are condemned, and the positive fruit produced when the same-sex relationships are accepted and even celebrated. The fruit test thus points to same-sex relationships being good then.
5. A couple notes to end. First, keep in mind that you can be in support of LGBTQ+ relationhips, while being against sex before marriage and promiscuity. While I personally have a hard time endorsing an absolute proscription on sex before marriage when I apply the fruit test to sex research and sex studies, and consider the advances in contraceptive technology since the days of the early church, I do understand and respect those who do endorse such a proscription. Promiscuity is obviously viewed as a negative by pretty much all Christians, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Second, do keep in mind that while we Christians are perfectly able to hold whatever view we’d like on issues of sex and sexuality, we don’t exactly have a great track record on the subject. Statistically, both divorce, adultery, and sex before marriage continue to be prevalent in the church and with the track record of sexual abuse in the residential school system in Canada and among Catholic priests around the world, Christians long ago lost credibility on this issue in the world’s eyes. So it’s fine to discuss, debate, even advocate but be aware that you’re going to have to prove credibility, not have it handed to you.
6. For further reading, please read the books I mentioned. I have also heard that Torn by Justin Lee is a good read on this issue, though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
Peace and blessings to you all!