About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

God, Gay Marriage and the Bible

About a month before last November's election I received a letter from an organization called Focus on the Family. It's a Colorado-based ministry led by James Dobson, who holds a doctorate in psychology and has written several excellent books on spousal relations and child rearing. Unfortunately Dobson is also a highly vocal supporter of the Religious Right, and the letter reflected his distorted views not only on the Bible but also on the real threats American families are facing.

The letter opened with a plea for me to imagine Washington DC under democratic control, which according to the good doctor would be a field day for the "radical homosexuals" and their supporters. Same sex marriage would be forced on the states, and kids would be taught that being gay is normal. Worst of all, liberal judges would use their judicial power to shove their hideous anti-God agenda down the throats of the American people.

Fortunately, according to the letter, there was still time to save our nation from this direct assault on the family. I was urged to help get the vote out for those candidates who honor traditional values and would stand up to the sodomites and their allies - all while shooting defenseless, terrified wolves from helicopters, I assume. I think there was also a request for a financial donation, but I'm not sure. I read the letter with a sad smile, reflecting on how much this apparently sincere man and his supporters misunderstand both the Bible and the real threats to America's families.

Homophobia has been used to rally the troops in conservative religious circles for decades. In recent years the prospect of gay marriage has been lifted up like a hideous specter in fundamentalist and evangelical churches across the U.S. All of this causes me concern. But what really gets my blood boiling is when Dobson and his ilk declare that they are fighting for the Bible against those who hate it and its teachings.

Those who think that the God of Scripture is an impassioned homophobe need to take a closer look at the book they claim such reverence for. Search the text of both Testaments and you will find scant reference to homosexuality at all. What's more,
the few passages that do refer to it are notably obscure in their meanings. There is significant evidence that they have been grossly misinterpreted over the centuries to justify prejudice aganst God's gay and lesbian children.

Space and time don't permit me to go into detail on these matters. I refer interested parties to the excellent book "Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality" by Jack Rogers. Rogers is an evangelical Presbyterian minister who holds a high view of Scripture. In the book he shows that nowhere does the Bible condemn loving, committed, monogamous relationships between same sex partners. In fact, he says that such unions should be blessed and celebrated by the church as Christian marriages, a position I agree with wholeheartedly.

The Religious Right cannot abide such a view. In my opinion that it because homophobia is one of their most potent tools. There is a widespread belief among parents that being gay is somehow contagious, and that their kids may be seduced into renouncing their heterosexuality because of contact with gays. Such fears touch on deepset, primal feelings, including the desire for one's line to be carried on through grandchildren.

There is no evidence whatsoever that these concerns are justified. Homosexuality is not contagious. Despite having gay friends I remain straight as the proverbial arrow, for example. Nor is God terribly concerned about the subject, if the Bible is any indication of the Almighty's mindset. America's families have nothing to fear from the likes of Barney Frank and Melissa Etheridge.

The tragedy here is not simply that Dobson and his cohorts have misidentified gays as a threat to the family. For all their alleged reverence for the Bible, they have ignored an issue that is not only mentioned profusely throughout Scripture but is also a major cause of marital strife and family discord. While remaining virtually silent about homosexuality, Jesus and the biblical writers have much to say about greed, and the oppression of poor and working people.

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you."

James 5:1-5

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight."

Luke 16:13-14

" 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

Ezekiel 16:49

"People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness."

1 Timothy 6:9-11

The Bible has a great deal to say about social justice. This includes but isn't limited to giving to charity. It also incorporates addressing unjust economic and social structures, about making sure that those who work receive decent wages, and that the justice system functions without regard to wheather the accused is wealthy or destitute.

But how often does the Religious Right speak up for minimum wage legistlation, for enforcing workplace safety laws, or for universal access to health care? When did Dobson or his sanctimonious friends ever question the morality of letting pharmaceutical firms reap obscene profits off of medicines, while those who depend on those drugs cannot afford them? I've yet to hear them deal with these concerns at all, except to occasionally blame "big government" and laud the virtues of unrestrained capitalism.

The Bible is filled with warnings about greed, with pleas for the marginalized, and with dire warnings about God's wrath falling on those who oppress and exploit the impoverished. Yet despite blatant examples of how these sins are committed gleefully across the United States, those who declare themselves the Bible's chief defenders are silent on these issues, focusing their vitriol solely on two issues: abortion (which will be the subject of a later post) and gay rights.

In doing so they ignore what study after study has shown to be by far the chief cause of divorce and family strife in this country: financial problems. In fairness it must be stated these are often caused by personal irresponsibility, such as out of control credit card use. However, it cannot be denied that the erosion of wages, the destruction of jobs, and the shrinking safety net for the sick and needy are contributing to the breakdown of families across the nation. Why do we not hear Dobson and his organization speaking out on these issues with the same zeal that they show in attacking gays?

Where is the fundamentalist's outrage over the unrestrained greed on the part of Wall Street executives, who have moved jobs overseas to exploit slave labor? Why don't we hear those on the Religious Right preach against predatory lending by the megabanks, and other unethical, greed driven actions that caused the current economic crisis? Where is their moral outrage about the increasing concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, and how that has given the wealthy and powerful undue influence in Washington?

All of those problems are not only threats to marriages and families, they are also clearly in violation of numerous biblical passages. Yet on these matters so-called Bible believing Christians are deafeningly silent.

The hopeful side of me likes to believe that those like Dobson are sincere in their concern for the family and their reverence for the Bible, that they are simply misinformed and in need of gentle correction. But the cynic within, who is all too many times correct, says that their demonization of gays and their neglect of real biblical concerns reveals where their true concerns lie. Perhaps underneath all those professions of love for Christ and for other people is a lust for money and power. I hope that's not the case. But I'm not willing to bet on it.


  1. i came over here from shuck & jive. i like what you have to say :) i'll be adding you to my reader. oh and athens - that's where i started my 10 year tenure with the UU's at UU Fellowship of athens. excellent people there. i was a bulldog for my masters degree.

  2. And a fine school the U. of GA is! Plus the downtown area is unbelievably cool, plenty of weird clubs, great restaurants and freaky little shops. The best thing is how the jocks, alternatives, goths, hip-hoppers, good ol' boys, gays, transvestites and Gospel crusaders all get along. It's the best example I've seen of harmonious diversity. Welcome to the blog!

  3. I stumbled upon your site whilst searching for interesting blogs.
    The Bible is my favorite topic and I am always interested in hearing what others have to say.
    I have read many blogs on various Bible topics and the subject of homosexuality is always somewhat controversial.
    I have been a student of the Bible for the past 40 years and have, over this period, formulated my own views on things in the light of what the Bible, rather than what religion has to say about it.
    I don’t think you could get a more succinct take on the subject of homosexuality than the Apostle Paul’s words at Romans 1 :26-28
    “That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error. And just as they did not approve of holding God in accurate knowledge, God gave them up to a disapproved mental state, to do the things not fitting”.

    There is no ambiguity, it is cut and dried. These appetites are “disgraceful” “obscene”. How do you make the Scriptures say something else?

    Leviticus 18:22 says, “And you must not lie down with a male the same as you lie down with a woman. It is a detestable thing.”….what does ”detestable” mean to you? The KJV calls it an “abomination”

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11…
    “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”

    And God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their homosexual activity about which Jude 5 tells us, “So too Sod´om and Go•mor´rah and the cities about them, after they in the same manner as the foregoing ones had committed fornication excessively and gone out after flesh for unnatural use, are placed before [us] as a [warning] example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.” (See also Genesis 19 1-11 where the men of Sodom were asking to “know” (have intercourse) with angels sent to take Lot and his family out of the city before God destroyed it.)

    So strictly (Biblically) speaking, the argument that the Scriptures contain ‘scant reference’ to homosexuality is not true. If you think these passages are non condemnatory, then I don’t know what Bible you are reading.

    Having said that, I can say with great certainty that God does not hate anyone!

    The Bible is specific about the things that God hates…and I stress that it is “things” not people.
    (Proverbs 6:16-19) It is ‘activity’ that God hates, not those who practice it. He gives all people an opportunity to separate themselves from that activity before he brings them to an accounting.
    To commit a sin in ignorance is one thing, to justify actions that are clearly contrary to Bible teaching, and to continue in such activity, knowing God’s position on it is entirely another.

    I totally agree with you about the greed thing though. Greed drives the world, but when you consider that rulership of the world was handed over to the devil, (see Luke 4: 5, 6. Who ‘delivered’ this ‘power’ and ‘authority’ to satan?) is it any wonder that things are in a mess, politically, morally, spiritually, economically, and every other way?

    I am sorry to post such a long reply but I felt the need to say my piece in view of your comments.


  4. Jemima,

    First of all, thank you for your comments, for you have ably laid out the traditional argument against homosexuality. I appreciate your thoughts and will do my best to respond to them.

    I would start by clarifying what I believe about same-gender relations. After much thought, prayer and study, I believe that there is nothing at all wrong with God’s gay and lesbian children being physically intimate with each other within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship. Such couples should experience the same blessings of Christian marriage afforded to heterosexual couples, in my view.

    The critical question is my mind is this: are gay people able to form the same emotional bonds with each other that straight people are? The evidence says overwhelmingly that they are.

    The Scriptures you cite deal not with persons in love and wholly committed to each other, but rather with lustful, selfish behavior that degrades and dehumanizes all who participate in it. The Bible
    Rightly condemns such activities.

    But nowhere does it directly address the issue of people with homosexual orientations falling in love and seeking to live together as faithful spouses. We do know, however, that we are commanded to walk in love, to not set stumbling blocks before each other, and to not condemn each other. Why, then, should not the church allow and even encourage people to marry who genuinely love each other and seek to build a life together based on fidelity, respect and Christian faith? There seems to be no reason in Scripture or from Reason for doing so.

    Now, to specifics: the passage from Romans that you cite must be understood within its historical context. Ancient Roman society was rife with unrestrained sexual behavior. Prostitution, adultery and even pedophilia were not only permitted but celebrated. In addition heterosexual people experimented with same-gender sex purely for sensual reasons, without regard for the feelings or welfare of their partners. Such actions defile those who engage in them, and Paul is just in his criticism.

    Regarding the verse from Leviticus, I noticed that you said nothing about surrounding passages that forbid trimming one’s beard (19:27), eating rare meat (17:10), or that proscribe killing children who curse their parents (20:9). I must ask why you lift up the one verse that forbids male-male sex while disregarding these others.

    The passage from 1 Corinthians you cite is translated from two Greek words that seem to connote male prostitution specifically.
    I refer you to the comments on this passage on pages 73-75 of “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality” by Jack Rogers. Again, these verses say nothing about loving, committed, monogamous relationships between homosexuals.

    Regarding Sodom, let’s look at what the Bible says its chief sin was:

    “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
    Ezekiel 16:49

    So, according to God, Sodom’s guilt did not lay in the presence of homosexuality within its gates but rather with its lack of concern for economic justice for the disadvantaged.

    That is a theme which is exceedingly common in the Bible, as opposed to the four verses you cite, which comprise about 1/10 of 1 percent of the 31,000 + total verses in both Testaments.

    In short, while I appreciate your honesty, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusions. The Almighty is far more concerned that we care for “the least of these” among us than He is about people with matching genitals wanting to tie the knot. The sooner the Church realizes this the sooner we can devote our full energies to what Christ would have us do, and not what our prejudices say is important. That is the Bible’s stand, and it is mine as well.

  5. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Bill. However, I feel that you are missing the point of why sex was given to the human race in the first place. It was to produce children. The fact that it was enjoyable was a bonus. When humans deny God's arrangement of marriage with its inherent blessing of children, then the whole idea of marriage becomes a sham. Even those in heterosexual relationships, when children become an unwanted by product of their sex lives instead of a joyous edition to the family, then that is not what the Creator had planned for us in the first place.
    You do know what sorts of sexual activity homosexuals engage in, do you not? If that is not totally perverted and unnatural then I'm sure I don't know what you think "going after flesh for unnatural use" means. Anyhow, I guess there is no point trying to convince someone who has their mind already made up.

  6. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Bill. However, I feel that you are missing the point of why sex was given to the human race in the first place. It was to produce children."

    Kindly produce Scripture to prove this. Also, what does this position say to people that are unable to conceive? Should they stay single?

    "You do know what sorts of sexual activity homosexuals engage in, do you not? If that is not totally perverted and unnatural then I'm sure I don't know what you think "going after flesh for unnatural use" means."

    I thought I already explained that.

    "Anyhow, I guess there is no point trying to convince someone who has their mind already made up."

    I know how you feel. Take care!

  7. Bill,
    I've been catching up on your posts because I'm new to your blog. This one disturbs me, not by what it has to say about straight and gay people, but by your mischaracterization of conservative Christians: "their neglect of real biblical concerns reveals where their true concerns lie. Perhaps underneath all those professions of love for Christ and for other people is a lust for money and power." I left formal Christian associations for years, because I could not get over the problem of a good God and such a horrible (for some, not me) existence for his creatures. I returned to "church" when I realized that I was solving no problems for myself or anyone else by screaming out in defiance at the darkness. But I, being a longtime liberal, did not go into a liberal group, but a conservative one, because there is where most (by far) of the charitable work of Christianity is being done on a dollar for dollar basis. It seem to me that (we) liberals cannot give credit where credit is due. That is a sure sign of selfrighteousness, a selfrighteousness we habitually pin on conservatives. There is enough religious animosity already; no need to further it by mischaracterizations.
    Sorry to have to say this, Bill, I enjoy your blog. Bud Stark

  8. I don't see it as self-righteousness, but rather as simply calling it the way it is. I've seen the dark side of church and religious organization politics enough to know what is said away from the pulpit. Underneath the proclamations of devotion to God and love for people is very, very often a selfish lust for power, for money and for position. This is of course not always true, which is why I have balanced out the comments you refer to with others acknowledging the sincerity and good works evidenced by Evangelicals in other posts . I refer you specifically to the one entitled "why I am soft on fundamentalists." thanks for your comments.