Homosexuality is difficult for the Church. It is hard to see it, understand it, and to feel comfortable theologically with it. There are some people who it is not a Biblical issue, it is unnatural and perverted and they will never accept it. But we have prejudices in other things too, race, gender, religion, etc. For others, it is not so much the issue of homosexuality as it is a question of faith. Does or does not the Bible condemn homosexuality? For this person, the question is not the issue of sexuality; it is a question of doing what God wants.
Let me be clear, we are talking of homosexuality as being a committed relationship between two people of the same sex. We are not talking about promiscuity, polygamy, polygyny, debaucheries, orgies, casual sex, kink, unbridled lust, or any type of twisted sex act. Those issues pose their own problems in scripture and in society. We want to talk about a faithful, loving, committed relationship that is homosexual.
You look in a concordance and you will find many references in the Bible about homosexuality. These references are found both in the Old and the New Testaments. One can read all of the references but one thing is common in all of them, they all point back to Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 is the origin and to understand Leviticus is to understand and interpret all references.
Many who are opposed to homosexuality will quote Bible stories to support their claim in the sinfulness of homosexuality. Genesis 18 (Sodom story) is the most quoted. It is often used as the defense of why homosexuality is wrong. The argument doesn’t even stand the test of the Bible itself that calls it a sin of “lack of hospitality” but disgusting because those who use this argument never deal with Lot’s willingness to give his daughters (sexually) to the men of the community. I find no story in scripture that is rightfully used to argue against homosexuality.
There are some important facts that have to be noted before we deal with Leviticus 18.
1. Jesus never says anything about homosexuality.
2. In the mist of Roman occupation, Roman societal norms and cultural values, Jesus never is quoted as addressing the problem.
3. All original eleven Apostles are silent on the topic.
4. The only New Testament writer that ever talks about homosexuality is Paul (who was trained as a Pharisee).
5. Everywhere in the New Testament that Paul uses the term “homosexuality” it is always listed with other moral problems ie., (1 Cor 6:9 Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.)
6. Why do we always offer less grace to the homosexual than to the adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, etc.?
Here is the problem with Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 gives a long list of things that we should not do. All of these things are displeasing to God. There are a group of chapters around the 18th chapter that all address the theme “Don’t Look Like The Pagan.” Again we lift out the issue of homosexuality and never talk about the forbiddenness of tattoos, or certain haircuts. They’re all there, and we rarely talk about the other sexual acts that are also forbidden, but of course they are heterosexual problems.
This is what makes it a challenge for us clergy to discern what the Bible is saying. Are these chapters around Leviticus 18 merely telling us that as believers God doesn’t want us looking or acting like the pagans? Or are these chapters just an extension of the laws that God expects of humanity? The ones that choose the latter as opposed to the former, now find that certain haircuts, tattoos, eating certain foods, can get us thrown into Hell.
Then I remember the words of Paul who said, “Everything is permissible for me”-but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor 6:12). What it comes down to is a question of what the Church is called to do or be. Is the Church to be an instrument of grace, or is the Church to be the guardian of the Law?
In thirty-five years of ministry I have seen many in and out of the Church who are homosexual. I rarely have much tolerance for the sexually immoral who sleep around with any and everyone whether homosexual or heterosexual. But I have also come to the conclusion that for those who truly have an attraction for the same sex and desire to be faithful, there must be something in the genetic code. Science has not proven it yet, and who knows when or if they will. If it is a part of the genetic code we cannot blame a person for the way they have been created.
As a student of the Bible I am inclined to believe that Leviticus 18 is part of a collection of things to avoid looking like the pagans. Therefore, it is not about the sinfulness of each single act, but the collection of acts that make us look ungodly. Therefore, I don’t condemn the person who is tattooed because the tattoo is not associated with pagan worship today. The hairstyle is not associated with worshiping idols. It helps me to understand why even when Paul was writing about homosexuality he always included it with other concerns.
Judgement calls on text are always difficult. The issue for God may not be found in what you are, but in what you do with what you are. That judgement belongs to each individual and to God. I always wondered what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was? The Bible never tells us. Even in my own struggles, Paul’s gift to me and perhaps to you, “My grace is sufficient.”