Edit: Changed the title to be more clear.
We’re always happy to cause trouble, whether it’s a good idea or not. Five years ago now (wow, we’re old), we published and distributed a resource document in support of LGBTQ ordination. We did this because we support equality, and our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) was once again discussing and voting on the ordination of alphabet-soup folks. That time around, we won, so that was cool. I’m glad we were a small part of that victory, which was a long time in the winning.
Well, our denomination is now once again discussing and voting on same-sex marriage, and once again we are putting out a document. Because that’s what revolutionaries do – electronically distribute subversive PDFs. Fists in the air and all that. We’ll be posting the document in two parts, because this one is even longer and more
pedantic revolutionary than the first one five years ago. Here you go:
TL;DR: homosexuality is not an abomination, and is not Sodomy nor the ‘sin of Sodom’; it is nothing like pedophilia, bestiality, incest or polyamory; homosexuality is natural, safe, healthy; sexual orientation is not a choice, cannot be forcibly changed, does no damage to society or traditional marriage; Paul did not condemn homosexuality, the Bible does not call it a sin; allowing same-sex marriage might make it harder to work with other churches and organizations, but so do a lot of things that are right.
PCUSA Same-Sex Equality Resource 2015
Answering Common Arguments Against LGBTQ Rights and Inclusion
“Homosexuality is an abomination”
The Hebrew word, [toevah], sometimes translated as ‘abomination’ or ‘detestable’, is also applied to eating shellfish in Levitical law, among many other things, and seems to be a ritual-uncleanliness term, sometimes used to describe idolatry. Of course, it is usually not translated as ‘abomination’ when applied to eating shellfish, because abomination is a word specifically chosen in an attempt to paint a particular act as more heinous than the others listed in the same section of law, described the same way. This is the long-standing translators’ bias impinging on the Biblical text and thereby distorting it.
Furthermore, the act described as ‘abomination’ was not describing a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender – which was not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle-Eastern thought. Rather, the ‘abomination’ in question would have been an instance of adultery, and/or having sex with ritual prostitutes. (Elsewhere the word translated as “sodomite” is actually a hebrew word for a temple prostitute, [qadesh])
Other “abominations”: Egyptians eating bread with Hebrews (Gen 43:32); eating camels, hares and coneys, swine, sea creatures without scales, and a large number of birds (Deut 14:1-20); playing football (Deut 14:8); sacrificing a bullock or goat with physical blemishes (Deut 17:1); worshipping false idols (2 Kings 16:3, 21:2, 21:11…); breaking a commandment (Ezra 9:14); any of us, when our friends abandon us (Psalm 88:8); dishonest measures (Prov 11:1); a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that comes up with evil, feet that are swift to do mischief, lies, and sowing discord among brethren (Prov 6:16-19); oppressors (Prov 3:30-32), etc.
“Homosexuality is the ‘sin of Sodom,’ or is ‘sodomy’”
The ‘sin of Sodom’ is inhospitality. Nowhere in scripture is the destruction of Sodom linked with same-sex activity of any kind. In fact, in Jude 1:7, the Greek words used are [heteros sarx], or “strange flesh.” If this passage were referring to same-sex activity, rather than assaulting angels, it would not say “strange flesh.”
The story immediately preceding the account of the destruction of Sodom is of Abraham receiving the three strangers and being hospitable to them. This is contrasted with the reaction of the men of Sodom who seek to gang-rape the angel visitors while Lot protects them under the auspice that they have accepted his hospitality. Ezekiel, in listing the sins of Sodom, lists pride, idleness, greed and inhospitality, but never mentions homosexuality. (Ezek 16:49-50) Jesus himself cites this reason by analogy, claiming that the towns which are inhospitable to his disciples will end up worse than Sodom or Gomorrah. (Matt 10:15, Luke 10:12) The comparison has to do with inhospitality.
The association between Sodom and homosexuality is largely the fault of bad, and biased, translation. The Hebrew word, [qadesh], meaning ‘temple-prostitute’ has often been mis-translated ‘sodomite’ though it bears no linguistic relationship to the city of Sodom. (The five times that “sodomite” occurs in the KJV in Deut, 1 and 2 Kings, always occurs in the context of idol-worship.)
“Same-sex marriage is just like, or will lead to acceptance of, pedophilia and/or bestiality”
Senator Rand Paul and actor Jeremy Irons are two public personalities who have made just this argument and comparison, as have many others, even some in the church. But pedophilia in any circumstances constitutes rape because, by legal definition, a minor cannot be a consensual sex partner. Pedophilia is also a violation by any measurement, because it is forcing sexual activity on someone who is not physically or psychologically ready for it. Love and sex between two consenting adults who are the same gender has nothing to do with pedophilia whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.
Bestiality is a person having sex with an animal – this comparison is offensive, as if a same-gender partner was not even a human being. Love and sex between two people of the same gender has nothing to do with bestiality whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.
“Homosexuality is just like, or will lead to acceptance of, incest and/or polyamory”
This is a much more common argument, regrettably made by many including leaders in the PC(USA).
It must first be noted that the Bible openly approves of polygamy and does not share our modern definition of incest. (Lev 18:7-17) Because of this fact, those wishing to make a purely “Biblical” argument should accept this as a point in favor of same-sex marriage. If there was any rational connection here, the Bible would be evidence in favor of same-sex marriage.
Nonetheless, this argument is false. Incest is very often also rape as well as sexual abuse, and in cases where it is not rape/abuse it risks offspring with severe genetic abnormalities, and unlike sexual orientation, incest is widely accepted as an indicator of mental health issues. Incest is something that, despite the Bible, we have come to define differently and thereby reject over time, even though royal families practiced it well into the last century, and indeed anthropologists and geneticists have concluded through observation that the majority of marriages through human history have been between first or second cousins.
Polygamy is also something that the Bible approves of but which we reject. It is now our assumption that fidelity is best expressed, children best raised, etc. by monogamous parents. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of Americans practice a type of polyamory known as serial monogamy, since very few people only have sex with one marital partner in their entire lives. We continue as a culture, and a church, to recognize the validity of second and third marriages.
“Homosexuality is unnatural”
No matter how we interpret the word “natural”, this claim is false. That homosexual activity is observed in nature among other mammals is incontrovertible. Even if no other mammal engaged in any homosexual activity, there is no question that such activity occurs among humans in all societies, meaning that it is indeed entirely “natural” – more so than living in cities, driving cars or eating fast food.
If the claim is that homosexual relationships are “unnatural” because they do not lead naturally to procreation, then we would have to condemn all sex that is not aimed at procreation as equally “unnatural”, and may have to consider preventing married adults who are not parents from being ordained – not to mention anyone on birth control, anyone who masturbates, etc. We would also have to ban people who are infertile for any reason from being married.
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it is dangerous or perverse, we should bear in mind that there is nothing activity-wise that LGBTQ persons do that straight persons do not do in far greater numbers. It is also the case that every major psychological, psychiatric, and medical organization in the United States has ceased to list homosexual relationships as mentally or behaviorally unhealthy.
Homosexuality is entirely natural by any reasonable definition of the word.
“Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy”
As mentioned above, this argument is nonsensical because there is nothing, no specific sexual activity, that LGBTQ persons engage in which straight persons do not engage in, in greater numbers. If we are going to have sexual-act litmus tests for allowing marriage, we should at least be fair about it. But the above claim, that LGBTQ activities are somehow especially or inherently dangerous or unhealthy, makes no sense whatsoever, because there are no exclusively LGBTQ sex acts for us to consider. The fact is, same-sex romantic relationships are just like opposite-sex romantic relationships, with the exceptions of their legal and religious status in many places allowing discrimination.
Additionally, there is growing evidence that same-sex households are at least as healthy for raising children as opposite-sex households. A well-publicized University of Melbourne study found children of same-sex parents were slightly better off in general health and family cohesion, and were no different from other children on every other measure of health they investigated. This was true even controlling for other factors like socioeconomic status. In other words, same-sex relationships are exactly as healthy as opposite-sex relationships when it comes to raising children, and this is what we would expect if homosexuality was neither especially dangerous nor unhealthy.
“Homosexuality is a choice”
Putting the ocean of anecdotal evidence against this claim aside, there is no scientific consensus supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice in the vast majority of cases. Quite the opposite, no credible American scientific or psychological organization would support that claim. Because sexuality is more than brain chemistry, scientific studies will never tell us all we want to know about ourselves, but the evidence that homosexuality is not a choice in the vast majority of cases is consistent and overwhelming. (NorthShore Research Institute, the US National Institutes of Health, and many others have peer-reviewed studies to this effect.)
“Sexual orientation can be changed, specifically with ‘reparative’ therapy”
Even in cases where “reparative” therapy isn’t simply abuse, this is not true in the vast majority of cases. Some, if not many, “reparative” therapies are abusive and even criminal. Beyond Ex-Gay is one example of an organization and conference for the survivors of these therapies. Truth Wins Out is another, and they are necessary because of the tremendous harm done by attempts to change one’s sexual orientation.
Attempts to change a person’s sexual identity overwhelmingly fail (except in a few rare cases), which leads to an escalation of force used by those who are committed to the false idea that a person’s sexual identity is a malfunction of some kind. This is a view that is not shared by any credible American scientific organization, and should not be encouraged by the church. In fact, organizations including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Counseling Association have rejected these therapies aimed at forcing a change in sexual orientation, as ineffective at best and often harmful.
“Same-sex marriage damages society and/or traditional marriage”
Claims like these are actually impossible to demonstrate or prove, but they are common nonetheless – perhaps for that very reason. There is little question that fighting over homosexuality damages the members of society who are denied equal rights under the law, and are treated as second-class citizens. As for marriage, we don’t think any responsible observer would attribute our current problems with marriage in the US to LGBTQ persons (and in fact, divorce rates are falling, especially among younger adults who overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage). There is no situation where a societal ill can be legitimately laid at the feet of the LGBTQ community, where no other causes or circumstances can be identified. The above argument is essentially meaningless, and is simply an expression of fear, or perhaps frustration, deserving a pastoral response – but not validation.
Furthermore, ‘traditional marriage’ is a recent social construct. Our contemporary romantic ideal of two adults falling in love and being married as equals was a terrifying innovation 100 years ago (especially the ‘equals’ part). For the authors of the Bible, what we now call “traditional” marriage would have been unthinkable. Traditionally, marriage has involved polyandry, polygyny, surrogate pregnancy, concubinage, arranged marriages, marriage between children, and others, almost always arranged by families or clans for most of human history. The Bible approves of at least 8 types of marriage, including marrying war hostages and marrying one’s slaves (Deut 21:11-13), marrying up to 300 women, concubinage, marrying a sibling’s widow (levirate marriage, Gen 38:6-10), marrying one’s rape victim (Deut 22:28-29), and others. Even the least disturbing Biblical and traditional marriages would have been between teenagers, and sometimes younger children, organized by their families, with love and attraction being a peripheral concern. We rightly reject these many forms of ‘traditional’ marriage, and we have long since drastically altered our definition of “traditional” marriage.
“Paul condemned homosexuality”
The passage from Romans 1 popularly cited as the most damning New Testament condemnation of Homosexuality is a warning against the dangers of self-righteousness, not a polemic against Homosexuality. If anything it ought to be read as a strong caution against the belief that we can keep the church pure by keeping the wrong kind of people out. We are all in exactly the same position before the grace of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, we do not support every claim we can cherry-pick from the epistles. Paul also condemns women speaking in assembly or uncovering their hair, and recommends that people not marry if they can control themselves. As a church, our polity should not, and does not, depend on proof-texts lifted out of context. Rather, Paul and the early church consistently defied social boundaries as they welcomed, as equals, many excluded and supposedly ‘unclean’ persons, just as the Holy Spirit is calling upon us to do now.
Looking at Paul’s mention of what many presume to be homosexuality in Romans 1 (since there is no word for ‘homosexuality’ in Greek), what we see is an escalation of idolatry, very much in line with the understanding of [toeva] in the Old Testament as mentioned above. People exchange truth about God for lies, see no value in the knowledge of God, degrade one another, and become filled with greed, depravity, envy, murder, deceit and malice, lacking understanding, fidelity and mercy. None of these things describe the people we are discussing now, people who have committed themselves to loving monogamous relationships and who wish for those relationships to be blessed and acknowledged in the church. To apply Paul’s words in Romans 1 to any same-sex couple is to accuse them of a horrendous litany of evil that would make a cartoon villain blush.
“Blessing same-sex relationships makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world”
The vast majority of churches in other countries, and in our own, do not ordain women. Ordination of women makes it more difficult to work with many churches and denominations here and abroad. Shall we then stop ordaining women? There are places in Africa considering, or passing, laws which jail and even execute alleged LGTBQ persons. Are we able to speak out against those laws, even though it might make it more difficult to work with churches in certain regions? Standing against anti-Semitism (when the church dared to do so) made it harder to work with churches in Europe, north Africa and the Middle-East at various points in history. Surely supporting interracial marriage made churches in Apartheid South Africa unhappy. Even now, criticizing the exploitation and excess of global capitalism makes many churches and religious leaders upset. How much shall we compromise our values?
We are better off, now and always, as a witness to justice, equality and conscience in the world. This is what the church is at our best, choosing the love of God for all persons over the injustices and divisions of world around us. The church has, at our best, been in the business of breaking social barriers, bringing very different people together peaceably, and just like Jesus, eating with the sinners and tax collectors of our day.
“The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin”
This is simply not true. The Bible calls sex with male and female temple prostitutes a sin. It calls adultery and fornication sin. It calls hard-hearted divorce a sin. It calls lust a sin. Same-sex marriage is none of those things. The Bible also, as discussed above, legitimates many things we now call immoral, or even sin. Will opponents of same-sex marriage also demand that rape victims marry those who rape them? Will they call for female prisoners of war to marry their captors? Will they come out and make other accusations that Paul makes in Romans 1 against all same-sex couples? Of course not – because we understand that cherry-picking verses from the Bible is unhelpful, and we also understand that our drastically different context does demand some new interpretations of scripture.
The first instance of the word “homosexual” in English was in 1892, based on a slightly earlier term in German from 1880. (1892, in C.G. Chaddock’s translation of Krafft-Ebing’s “Psychopathia Sexualis”) Sexual orientation as a term is newer still. The idea that men and women are equal is hardly 100 years old in the US (and some still do not recognize it), and is not acknowledged as true in many parts of the world today. Until recent history, homosexuality was found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and was “treated” with things like chemical castration and electroshock therapy. The authors of the Bible could not discuss sexual orientation any more than they could discuss the germ theory of disease or a manned mission to Mars. What we are left with are clues, oblique references, the overall themes and trajectory we see in scripture, and our own interpretation, done in community.