The King James Bible, does it tell us more about Jesus or King James?
The theological argument around Christianity and homosexuality has been a point of contention for generations now (especially in the US but also in Anglicanism). At best, in my opinion, the Bible is unclear about homosexuality. If anything the comments relating to homosexuality in the bible are more a reflection of specific moments in history when scripts have been translated than any original understandings of homosexuality. The gay Christians who interpret the Bible as being pro-homosexuality (other than in a broad equality sense) are as guilty of this as those who wish to exclude homosexuals from the Christian faith altogether.
As the argument claiming homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity is the most prominent, this blog will predominantly focus on these arguments. There are two passages in the Bible as well as the often stated story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) that people commonly quote in relation to homosexuality. Corinthians 6:9 and Timothy 1:10 have both been taken to mean that ‘homosexuals’ have no place in the Kingdom of God. Both stories can be better understood as an issue lost in translation. The words interpreted as ‘homosexual’ are much more likely to translate to something closer to ‘loose’ or ‘wanting self-control’, possibly ‘unrestrained’ than they are as “homosexual”. The modern inclusion of the word “homosexual” is much more likely to be a reflection of sexual norms at different periods of modern history. To interpret these stories as referring to homosexuals is dubious to say the least. These passages though, have been interpreted by many to deny homosexuals any role within Christianity.
The most over quoted passage in relation to homosexuality remains Genesis 19 which deserves a slightly closer look as it is based less around translation issues and more around interpretive understandings of morality. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a story that aimed to highlight the morality around hospitality; the sexual undertones are minor, if there at all. The argument goes that Lot was giving hospitality to an unknown stranger, and the men of the city gathered to ‘know’ who this stranger was. The argument that this can be understood in term of homosexual relations is weak; to imply that God destroyed Sodom for this reason is weaker still. This story is also later referred to by Jesus (Matthew 10:14 15) where he implies the story has more to do with hospitality that homosexuality. He said “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town”. It is worth thinking thought the cultural legacy hundreds of years on how we still use the term “sodomy”.
The status of hospitality over sexual morality is highlighted by the fact that when Jericho was destroyed by the Lord, the one person spared was a prostitute, despite prostitution being prohibited in Leviticus 19:29, because she offered hospitality. It would suggest therefore that the homosexual understanding of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has more to do with modern and post-modernist understandings of sexual morality than it does with the story itself, which is based predominantly around hospitality. If we did choose to understand it in relation to sexual morality we have trouble explaining the climax of the story with Lot being seduced by his two daughters.
This does not stop homophobic politicians using the “teachings” of Christ to justify prejudice legislation. Indeed, despite the focus on America, it is clear that the UK introduced a series of homophobic measures that were justified in a traditional Christian moral basis. While homophobic legislation spread in pre-Clinton America it gained considerable support through the Thatcher premiership. Throughout the 1987 election campaign the Conservative party campaigned on a heavily homophobic stance with electioneering posters holding titles such as ‘Young, Gay and Proud…labour’s idea for good education for your children’. It was only in the early 1990’s that sodomy was legalised in the UK
Whilst the official discourse in the West is moving towards an acknowledgement of gay rights, the public opinion is struggling to keep up. This is resulting in an official acknowledgment of homosexuality, combined with a common disregard for it being there. It is worth considering when looking to further gay rights that we are moving from a very recent history of extreme homophobia, a lot of which is based in modern Christian moral rationale.
We have to stand up against those who blindly quote the bible to justify their own beliefs.
Do not use Christianity to justify your own homophobic prejudices!