I CAN’T FIND “EXCEPT” IN JOHN 3:16…
AN OPEN LETTER BY A GAY CHRISTIAN
In my encounters with homophobic Christians, I have found that a lot of people think that homosexuality is a choice, and that the sin is homosexual sex.
They think that homosexual men are men who are attracted to women but are having sex with men. What I have found is that a lot of people do not realize that sexual orientation is a natural part of a person’s biology, and that to be a homosexual simply means to be sexually attracted to the same sex, and has nothing to do with behaviour.
There is a lot of miscommunication about whether or not homosexuality is sinful as people confuse whether or not this means the act of homosexual sex is sinful, or being homosexual is sinful.
My hope for this letter is to explain why neither are sinful.
“A lot of people think homosexuality is a choice…”
“I have always been gay…
When I was thirteen years old I snuck into my parents’ office to look at a medical textbook they had. Turning to a page on homosexuality I read that homosexuality begins to develop in boys at around the age of thirteen. I was thirteen, and two words boomed in my head louder than audible sound: “It’s started.”
I’ve never slammed a book closed so hard in my entire life. At that point I regressed into a serious state of denial for another three years, unable to acknowledge even to myself what I was throughout almost all of high school.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I have always been gay.
And it was never something I consciously chose to be, but was rather something I consciously rejected for an incredibly long time.
What causes homosexuality is a highly contested debate, though the American Psychological Association states, “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation”.
I never woke up one morning and thought, “I’ve decided to find men more sexually attractive than I find women,” and I am sure you’ve never made the same choice, your sexual orientation also being a natural part of who you are.
This begs the question: if sexuality is not something a person chooses, then how can it be anymore sinful than being black, or disabled, or a woman, for example? This, however, leads many Christians to the idea that it is not sinful to be homosexual, but sex between two people of the same sex is still sinful.
It is ok to be homosexual so long as you don’t act on your natural sexual desires. Many have argued that all homosexuals should remain celibate for the entirety of their lives, something that I painfully thought I was called for in the early stages of my coming out.
“I never woke up one morning and thought, “I’ve decided to find men more sexually attractive than I find women,””
“I believed God wanted me to be unhappy for the rest of my life.”
In grade twelve, so when I was seventeen, I hated myself more than anything.
I knew I was gay. I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
And I believed it was a sin.
The fear that one day I might choose sex over God absolutely terrified me; my mantra that I forced myself to repeat all day, every day, was: “it’s better to be good than to be happy.”
I believed this; I believed God wanted me to be unhappy for the rest of my life. And I resented God for that, and I was so scared that that resentment would be the reason I would leave Christianity one day, and then eventually I would end up in Hell.
I didn’t want that, but the pain of hating myself so much was absolutely unbearable. I didn’t understand why God would make me this way, what I had done to deserve such unending punishment that seemed without hope.
It wasn’t until I came out to my older sister, and she showed me what liberation feels like by teaching me that homosexuality is not a sin, that this changed.
Now I no longer feel the need to be celibate for the rest of my life.
When it comes to Christian understandings of celibacy, we can look at 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes it clear that celibacy is a calling or a gift, and is certainly not for everyone.
If we can accept that sexuality is natural then it’s unfair (and perhaps blasphemous) to assume that all people of one sexual orientation must be celibate as a rule, instead of allowing that to be between each individual and God as a calling or gift.
To me, it is not only cruel, it’s as ridiculous as forcing a person to become a pastor – no, celibacy isn’t a punishment; it is something sacred that a person must be called by God to do.
“Tolerance is not enough”
“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”?!
Starting in the Old Testament, let’s begin with the ridiculous catch phrase “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
This statement is based on the belief that the two people in the Garden of Eden were heterosexual, which, you know, makes sense, as a homosexual coupling wouldn’t do the best job at populating the earth.
In my mind, this just makes logistical sense, and doesn’t represent one sexual orientation as more natural or superior to any other.
Using God’s covenant with Noah: “as for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it” (NIV Genesis 9:7), as an argument that procreative sex is the only sex acceptable must also mean that the infertile are just as condemnable as the homosexual.
While many Christians to this day still believe that even married couples should only engage in sexual activities that are procreative, and that activities like oral sex or protected sex are sinful, this is an incredibly conservative view that is generally regarded as unhealthy and oppressive to women.
It’s also worth mentioning that when God said this to Noah and his family it was to encourage them to populate an otherwise empty world, a concept that remained important in the Jewish Tradition, as Jews were a nomadic desert tribe for hundreds of years.
Procreation leads to more people within a religion, thus building a religious society’s size, which in turn eventually leads to more global power. Today, however, with increasing issues in overpopulation, ensuring abundant procreation is no longer a need or priority.
“Leviticus is no longer relevant or to be followed”
“the word homosexuality did not exist prior to 1869…”
The issue of overpopulation is a great segue into looking critically at the four verses in the Bible that supposedly condemn homosexuality. The first two verses are from the book of Leviticus. They are:
Leviticus 18:22 – Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. (NIV)
Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (NIV)
These verses are part of what is known as the Levitical Holiness Code, which is not kept by any Christian group today. The reason for this is that they are no longer relevant.
For example, Levitical laws prohibit sexual intercourse during menstruation, however, today medical authorities no longer view it as harmful. As Tim and Beverly LaHaye explain, “those laws were given 3,500 years ago before showers and baths were convenient, before tampons, disinfectants and other improved means of sanitation had been invented”.
Another example could be the importance of having children to the early Hebrews, which could explain why homosexuality was condemnable to the Levites (a very specific group of priests that this book was written to, therefore it wasn’t written for everybody and its laws aren’t for everybody).
Having children was important due to the need for Jerusalem to grow and for the people of God to populate. As I mentioned earlier, this is now irrelevant as we now have overpopulation concerns.
Other now irrelevant laws in the bible include: not wearing clothing of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11), not eating pork and shellfish (Leviticus 11) (which we can do today due to refrigeration), not allowing women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34), not allowing women to teach men (1 Timothy 2:12), not cutting the hair at the sides of the head and clipping the edges of the beard (Leviticus 19:27), not to have tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) and so forth, the list goes on and on.
“The fact of the matter is that Jesus did not mention it once.”
“Jesus did liberate the oppressed, and he was loving without judgment or reservations and told us to do likewise.”
Moving onto The New Testament, there are two verses to consider. They include:
Romans 1:25-27 – They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 – Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: 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. (NIV)
I think it is important to start by understanding ancient concepts of homosexuality.
Francis Mondimore explains in his book “the natural history of homosexuality”, “the word homosexuality did not exist prior to 1869, when it appeared in a pamphlet that took the form of an open letter to the German minister of justice”. The word was coined by Karl Maria Kertbeny and was an absolutely radically new idea, “that some individuals’ sexual attraction for persons of the same sex was an inherent and unchanging aspect of their personality”
It’s important to note that when Paul was writing these letters to the Romans and the Corinthians (Corinth is a city in Greece), he did not know what homosexuality was because the concept wasn’t even termed, let alone understood.
However, homosexuality, being a natural form of sexuality, did still exist. As Phillips and Reay explain in their book, “the majority of historians of sex concur that in the premodern world there was homosexual behaviour without the homosexual identity”.
So homosexuality did still exist, it was just understood very differently than it is today. When we look at the cultures of Ancient Rome and Greece, this is very apparent. In Greco-Roman culture, as Mondimore continues to explain,
“the concept of romantic love had yet to develop fully, a man did not have to be sexually faithful within marriage to remain honorable”
“Among the ancient Greeks, sexual contact between males of the same social group was scrupulously concerned with status and was played out according to rules that assured that neither party was degraded or open to accusations of licentiousness. The idealized sexual partnership between men consisted of an active older and a passive younger partner.”
So any homosexual sex in Ancient Greece was between adult men and young boys, and it’s likely that Paul is writing against what we understand today as pedophilia and not a consenting relationship between two adults of the same sex.
As Dover explains in Greek Homosexuality, it is clear that the male in the passive sexual role would lose all respect and privileges. This means same-sex relationships between consenting adults didn’t happen in the city of Corinth to whom Paul is writing.
“The sexuality condemned in The New Testament has nothing to do with what we understand as homosexuality today, and more to do with male dominance, social order, and prostitution”
“I’d recommend the documentary ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’”
As to Paul’s letter to the Romans, according to Reverend Piazza:
“A complete reading of these passages, in their original context, clearly shows that what Paul was actually referring to was homosexual temple prostitution, which was performed by various cults (though far more cults used heterosexual prostitution). Again, Paul is not referring to same-sex love, and he clearly has no concept of persons for whom this lifestyle is ‘natural.’”
Another interpretation of this text argues that, “Paul defends the status of the man, […] the man must dominate his sexual partner. Losing this […] he would lose his dignity” (Himbaza et al.). These condemnable acts aren’t an issue because of the homosexual sex, but because they break social order and “natural” male domination of the time.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the book of Leviticus is no longer relevant or followed, and that the sexuality condemned in The New Testament has nothing to do with what we understand as homosexuality today, and more to do with male dominance, social order, and prostitution.
The Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum, and I think it’s always important to consider the original language and culture it was written in, which, especially in regards to homosexuality, was incredibly different from our own language and culture today.
I think we also need to, of course, consider what Jesus said about the issue.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus did not mention it once.
Not once. It never came up.
But Jesus did liberate the oppressed, and he was loving without judgment or reservations and told us to do likewise. Unfortunately, in my experience, I have seen little of this from the many Christians that I have interacted with.
Tolerance is not enough. It is not enough to be welcomed but given less privileges, there is nothing loving about being treated like a second-class citizen. Love is what Jesus calls us to do, and only through love can there be acceptance, healing on both sides, and growth.
I’d recommend the documentary “For the Bible Told Me So” which is available in its entirety on YouTube and is very informative. Below are my Works Cited and a list of recommended reading, these texts can elaborate much more on this topic than I can in this letter.
Thank you for reading, God bless.
LOOKING TO READ MORE?
“Answers to Your Questions For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” American Psychological Association
“Greek Homosexuality” K.J Dover
“The Bible on the Question of Homosexuality” I Himbaza
“Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire” J Wright
“The Act of Marriage” T&B LaHaye
“A Natural History of Homosexuality” F Mondimore
“Sex before Sexuality: A Premodern History” K Phillips
“Homosexuality and Christianity.” M Piazza
“Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity” C Williams
“Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships” J Brownson
“Homosexuality in Biblical Times” T Horner
“Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate” J Lee