Jesus and Sex, Part Three: Holy Homosexuality? Gay and Lesbian Relationships and the Church

Of all the “hot button” issues facing the Christian church today, some of the hottest (at least in the American church) are those related to the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

While the majority of Americans support same-sex romantic relationships (as evidenced by the legalization of gay marriage in 2015), and are becoming more accepting of transgender individuals, most of the church still sees all same-sex eroticism as sinful.

The Bible appears to be consistently opposed to homosexuality. The Old Testament references to male homosexual activity (Lev 18:22, 20:13), as well as Paul’s description of same-sex activity as “unnatural” (Rom 1:25-27), all seem to speak loudly and clearly; and scholarly attempts to limit the scope of these verses to certain cultural practices (pederasty, pagan worship practices, etc) don’t seem very convincing to me.

After much study, I have come to the conclusion that these writers were opposed to homosexual acts in general, for two simple reasons – they don’t lead to procreation (the primary “purpose” of sexuality in both Jewish and Greek culture), and they confuse the gender roles which are so important to patriarchal societies.

This is only half the story, however. When we turn to the teachings of Jesus, we see something very different.

Many people have pointed out (correctly) that Jesus never addresses the subject of same-sex romance directly. But He does say many things that I feel are relevant to the discussion – and we should not overlook these.

While Jesus affirms marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman (Matt 19:1-9), He also teaches that marriage isn’t for everyone (Matt 19:10-12) – which in itself was a revolutionary teaching in His culture.

Jesus speaks of three types of people who aren’t well-suited for marriage. “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth,” He says, “and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matt 19:12).

In the biblical world, any man who didn’t marry or have children was considered a “eunuch.” Thus, the “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others” are men who were castrated; and those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” are men who have chosen not to have a family, so that they can devote themselves more fully to spiritual pursuits.

But who are the “eunuchs who have been so from birth?” People born without functioning genitals would be one possibility.

It was also well-known in the ancient world that there are men who, from a very young age (possibly from birth), have no sexual attraction to women; and there are others who, while having the body of a man, seem unable to carry out typical “male” roles in their culture.

It’s likely, therefore, that when Jesus speaks of “eunuchs who have been so from birth,” He’s including people that we would call gay or transgender.

And it’s interesting that Jesus makes no comment on what such people should do romantically or sexually; He simply tells His disciples, “Let anyone accept this who can” (Matt 19:12)!

In the last post, I noted that Jesus was more concerned with inner purity (the intentions of the heart) than with outward appearances (Mark 7:14-23). Similarly, He tells us that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:43-44).

Teachings such as these imply that Jesus was more concerned about the inner worth of a relationship than its outer appearance or societal function.

This is quite different from Paul, who condemned all sexual acts that don’t conform to the outward “nature” of procreation (Rom 1:25-27).

Since I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, I don’t see any need to harmonize these differences. There are many tensions, and even contradictions, between one part of the Bible and another.

What concerns me more is how church tradition functions in this case. Given that the Bible can be read in many ways, why is it that the church (up until the last 50 years or so) has been almost unanimous in its rejection of same-sex romances?

The traditional answer is two-fold: homosexual activity cannot lead to procreation, and it lacks the complementary “otherness” found in heterosexual relationships.

As I have already argued, sex doesn’t need to be open to procreation to be a faithful expression of Christian love. There are strong biblical and practical reasons for affirming non-procreative sex.

The other argument is a little trickier. Since I have never been in a romantic relationship with a man, I have no direct experience to offer here. I simply do not know if same-sex partners can complement each other in the same way as a man and a woman do.

From what I have observed, however, it appears that many LGBT relationships do have a genuine complementary nature, and involve the same sort of self-sacrificing love as the best of Christian marriages.

We shouldn’t assume that just because two people have similar bodies, that they are therefore a mirror image of one another. People are far more complex than that.

Indeed, no two people are alike; and to reduce this to genitalia is a grave insult against the dignity of the people involved!

It’s my conclusion, then, that gay and lesbian relationships can indeed be a genuine expression of God’s love- provided that they really are about love, and not just lust. (The same criteria would apply to heterosexual marriages).

I could be wrong, of course. But I would rather err on the side of inclusion than uphold a legalistic tradition that shuts out love simply because it looks “queer” to some people.

I know from experience how important romance is; how most of us have a deep need to be loved by another on many levels (including the erotic), and how painful it can be when this need isn’t met.

To say that someone should never be allowed to experience this type of love, simply because their beloved has the same body type, strikes me as cruel and unnecessary.

Though Saint Paul was no fan of homosexuality, he was a very wise and inspired man. I conclude, therefore, with some of his words: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10).

Let us do our best to fulfill this law. Let us affirm genuine love wherever we see it; for this, more than anything else, is what the world needs right now.

 

(Coming Next – Jesus and Sex, Part Four: “Male and Female He Created Them”? Gender Identity in 21st Century Christianity)

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6 thoughts on “Jesus and Sex, Part Three: Holy Homosexuality? Gay and Lesbian Relationships and the Church

  1. I have had this view for awhile now. I don’t really see a problem with homosexual relationships in themselves. Like you said, Jesus is concerned about the motives of the heart. I agree that God made an arrangement in the Garden that is supposed to mirror our relationship with God. Man : Christ :: Woman : Church However, mirrors are imperfect. Sometimes things get flipped around. The tabernacle was supposed to by symbolic of the throne room of Heaven but you don’t see many people worshiping in it (or replicas) anymore.

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  2. I think the connection to procreation in the Hebrew scriptures has a strong element of responding to the particular needs of that community in that era. This people felt their numbers were too small, and so having children was a practical need. This could certainly explain why male same sex activity was so condemned while not a word was said about lesbian sexual activity. They were concerned that men’s semen be used for procreative purposes, which it couldn’t be if used for same sex activities or masturbation or pulling out before you come, all condemned. However, no matter how much same sex activity women participated in, it didn’t affect their ability to get pregnant.

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    1. Do the Hebrew Scriptures actually mention masturbation directly? I can’t remember a direct reference…would be helpful to know for a future post dealing with singles and sexuality.

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      1. Well actually that is somewhat unclear, although it has been a traditional interpretation of Genesis 38, but often disputed today. The key is that he (Onan) spilled his semen on the ground. Whether that was through coitus interruptus or masturbation isn’t clear. And it’s not important for the argument. The point is that the semen did not go into a woman, preventing pregnancy, so he did not do his duty. My thesis is that the waste of valuable semen which could have helped increase the population was a theme which also fits the condemnation of male-male sexual intercourse. The reason for barring 2 males from sexual intercourse, coitus interruptus and at least possibly masturbation is not necessarily a universal moral declaration but could well be something that is more situational in the context of what was felt to be under-population. That the Hebrew scriptures are silent about lesbian sex, which does not have that issue, tends to support the idea that those scriptures might not mean that same-sex activity is inherently immoral in all circumstances.

        Paul is a different issue, and you have to use different arguments to come up with an interpretation that what Paul wrote does not cover non-exploitative same-sex relationships by people with a same-sex orientation. I’ve seen arguments on both sides which are plausible.

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  3. This does not pertain particularly to the subject of homoeroticism, but to your more general discussion of sexuality: I think you would really enjoy the book “Variations on the Song of Songs” by Christos Yannaras.

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