Videos of clergy inciting anti-homosexual sentiment have reinvigorated the push for gay rights in the US in the past few months. In Part 1 of this series, I outlined that intolerance toward homosexuals is able to survive in ideological pockets in America, and that groups of prejudiced citizens take comfort in the false security provided by an illusory moral consensus in their respective communities. However, in Part 2 I will attempt to explain that the primary justification for such intolerance lies within Biblical scripture.
Our greatest failure to those facing persecution is the refusal to publicly recognize and single out religious organizations as the major source of discrimination against homosexuals. For millions of well-intentioned religious followers who both vehemently fight for equality and deny that God’s intent was to discriminate against this group, unfortunately the claim is very strongly justified in scripture. Consider the following three passages (of several) taken from the widely used New International version of the Bible:
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” [Leviticus 20:13]
This passage is obviously pretty damning toward gays, and it will be difficult to convince any Christian taking a literal interpretation of the Old Testament (OT) otherwise. For those seeking to win sympathy for the gay rights movement, this cluster of fundamentalists is likely a lost cause.
Many Christians, however, do not strongly adhere to OT scripture. In several parts of the New Testament (NT) and upon God’s instruction, the apostle Paul freed Christians from adherence to the lengthy list of rules found in Leviticus and elsewhere, and stressed that salvation is found in embracing Jesus Christ. In Colossians 2:13-14 it was written “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Several other passages go on to describe the old law as obsolete.
Furthermore, in 50 A.D. the Council of Jerusalem was tasked with settling many serious debates within the church. They decided that Gentile converts to the religion would not be held to some of the standards of Mosaic Law (essentially, the laws laid out in the OT). This is why Christians are not required to be circumcised, or have not retained some of the bizarre dietary restrictions described in the OT. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the two OT verses that deal with homosexuality should be applied to Christian teaching, while all the other verses that set rules for beard trimming or a woman’s menstrual cycle, are not. Although this effectively renders Christian anti-gay arguments based on OT passages unusable, it does not erase the contempt felt for homosexual behavior at the time.
Yet the Bible’s anti-homosexual teachings continue even in the NT by arguably the most significant of Jesus’ apostles, Paul:
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the creator…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.” [Romans 1:25-27]
Paul was writing this letter to a church that he had not founded himself; he was attempting to enlist the support of the Roman church for some of his planned missionary activities around the region. In the preceding paragraph to this passage he was preaching a brief history of human sin and described how some people had turned their backs on God, and that in turn, God let them decay into sin. It is evident that among these sins is homosexual behavior.
Despite the clarity of the above text, some brave Christians disagree. Through a culmination of years of study, Matthew Vines has constructed a brilliantly eloquent defense of biblical scripture, in which he scrupulously insists that inciting anti-homosexual sentiment was not the intent of several Old and New Testament passages.
Vines argued that the concept of homosexuality in Paul’s world was not the same as it is today. Homosexuality was not viewed as an identity or an orientation, rather it was seen as an embrace of excess lust. Vines stresses that Paul invoked these behaviors with the intent of singling out those who turned against God to embrace excess. He also calls into question the meaning of “natural” and “unnatural” in Paul’s time. He suggests that nature refers to social custom as opposed to what is intrinsically right.
However, if writers of the day were referring to excess as a sin, there would be no need to describe the men and women separately (as the passage does), since they all engaged in the same excess, which is turning against natural (customary) practices. It seems more likely that these practices were written separately because it was not excess that was appalling, rather it was the physical acts themselves that were detestable, as evidenced by the adjectives continuously used by Paul to describe such behavior. Consider another NT passage believed to be written by Paul:
“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…will inherit the kingdom of God.” [Corinthians I 6:9-10]
This passage transparently states that homosexuals shall not inherit the kingdom of God. To refute this passage Vines turns to the translation of an earlier King James version of the Bible from 1611 A.D., which predates modern texts by 400 years.
King James version: “…nor effeminate [malakoi] nor abusers of themselves with mankind [arsenokoitai]…”
New International version: “…nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…”
The difference between words used these passages is striking. Vines and others claim that none of the Bible’s original languages (Hebrew, Greek, or the early Christian spoken language Latin) had a word that represents “gay.” They call into question the use of a “highly modern” concept such as of homosexuality in Paul’s world. Through etymological study, evidence suggests the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai have been mistranslated. These arguments are quite compelling and despite my disagreement over Vines’ Romans argument, I was persuaded to agree with him on his defense of Corinthians.
In short, there is high probability that some of these passages have been tweaked from their original form by contributing clergy. But exploration of this dim chapter in Christian history has led to the inevitable conclusion that personal biases have molded the Bible from its inception, and its message will be subject to metamorphosis as more biblical authors are added, as language changes, and as new interpretations are desired.
This serves only to prove that the Bible is not the word of God, but the word of man trying desperately to make sense of philosophical quandaries in this life. And while there is nothing wrong with philosophical exploration in itself, Christians are limited in scope of thought because scripture is considered to be divine and as a consequence, absolute. Thus, few are able to think past the restricting doctrines outlined in the Bible.
So when a divine book is re-translated over centuries in order to persecute a group of minorities, whether translated correctly or not, this poses a major societal problem that must be addressed. In what has amounted to decades of open fighting for equality, one principle remains consistent: biblical scripture has been a major philosophical justification of anti-gay sentiment around the world, and given that Christians are the predominant religious demographic living in the US, this highlights prejudice stemming from biblical teachings as the primary obstacle to attaining equal rights for homosexuals.
Biblical scripture has been a major justification of anti-gay sentiment around the world, and gay tolerant Christians have largely swept this problem under the philosophical rug.
Article published by ology.com on 5/16/2012
By Brian T. Murphy
Roots of Prejudice, Part 2:
The Origins of Intolerance