Notes from the sermon preached by Kerry Cockerham
I am preaching today following a discussions that we have had about wishing to become more theologically capable and confident when arguing for a positive and celebratory stance on the issues of sexuality, there are many ways of arguing theologically for inclusivity of LGBTI people and that would probably take hours to cover them all but the things I want to focus on this morning are those passages that seem at first glance to condemn homosexuality. Then to touch very briefly on those passages that seem to offer a more positive view. However, first what I want to establish is that what the Bible actually says about homosexuality is absolutely nothing, the idea that there were a group of people naturally orientated to being attracted to people of either the same gender or both genders was not something that was known about. So those that say that the Bible condemns homosexuality may as well be saying that the Bible condemns iPhone!
Sodom and Gomorrah – This passage rather than being about homosexuality is about hospitality. The men that came to Lot’s door were not wanting to engage in consensual sex with the angels indoors but were in fact wanting to rape them. This passage is about abuse not homosexuality, the phrase “to know” in the Bible often means to have sex with. It may seem shocking as well that Lot offered his daughters in the place of the angels but this was during a very different time and cultural context and this is always important when looking at the Bible and what it has to say today to our context. In the desert area that surrounded Sodom to be left out in the cold all night could prove fatal and so to be inhospitable to someone was seen as a serious sin and Lot did not want to have the angels being abused while under the cover of his hospitality. So this morning’s reading is about the sins of abuse and being inhospitable towards someone and not about homosexuality.
Leviticus – In Leviticus there is the famous verse Leviticus 18:22; You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination and Leviticus 20:13; You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. These are the texts that so often are thrown at Christians and others who are gay as a proof that God finds homosexuality is an abomination. However, what is important to look at the way that the word abomination has changed since its usage in these passages. God also is described in Leviticus 18 as finding shellfish abhorrent so either it has a different meaning to what it means now or God has serious anger issues when it comes to prawns! The word translated that is translated as abhorrent often referred to food, clothing or behaviours that were ritually unclean rather than immoral. These things were carried out to set Jews apart as God’s chosen people and to prevent them from being mixed up with other nations and to set them apart as Yahweh’s people. These holiness rules in Acts were declared by Peter to be necessary no longer through Jesus and yet some of them, two thousand years later seem to be being used still to hit gay Christians over the head with.
Romans – Romans 1:18-32 is another famous text that seems to some to categorically spell out the immorality of homosexuality or at least condemning gay sex. Reading verses 24-32; Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. Now forgive me if I am wrong but this picture of evil and selfish behaviour does not match up with most gay Christian’s behaviour as the passage suggests it should, if it is in fact as some argue homosexuality that is being condemned here. However, translations of the Bible as a result of being translated into English centuries after they were first written, by human beings in a different cultural context, mean that some Bibles have included the phrase ‘practicing homosexuals’ in this passage which is as ridiculous as saying that Queen Victoria condemned watching television! Homosexuality as an orientation was not even known about in the ancient world. It may simply be that Paul saw same-sex intercourse as unnatural because he was a practicing Jew. However, the alternative view is that what Paul meant did not quite have the condemnatory connotations we assume, for starters men were abandoning women for men; going against their own natural inclinations as far as Paul was concerned whereas today we would recognise this as bisexuality or an attempt to suppress the homosexual inclination in one’s self. However, the term that Paul uses that is interpreted as unnatural is para physin which refers to the unusual and the out of the ordinary, this is evidenced by the fact that Paul uses this term to describe God in Romans to talk about what God does through Jesus.
1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians also have verses that seem to condemn homosexuality but the fact that the term ‘sodomites’ is used indicates the fact that this is a reference to abusive sexuality rather than offering an opinion on loving monogamous homosexual relationships.
Positives – Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathon, Jesus and John the disciple, the healing of the centurion’s servant are all seen as positive models of same-sex bonds. In fact sometimes the ‘death do us part’ commitment between Ruth and Naomi is one of the readings used at heterosexual marriage services Seeing the issues through Jesus – Jesus emphasised purity of heart over purity of body and ritual purity, loving God and loving our neighbours are our most important mission and preoccupation. As well as the conversion story from Acts of the Ethiopian eunuch who would now be known as transgendered or asexual. And this in conclusion is for me the most important consideration of all our behaviours as followers of Jesus; whether or not what we are doing is furthering our mission to love God and our neighbour and nothing else matters but we have to accept that means those who oppress us too. And some times that means meeting there prejudice with loving dialogue whilst refusing to be oppressed, to still challenge it.
These are just a couple of the ways in which to engage with the arguments against LGBTI people, the extent to which you find them helpful depends on your own theological views and there are many different views out there and it is something that I have spent a long time studying and exploring as part of my theology degree. I have brought some of the books that have helped, challenged and inspired me over the last ten years to see God loves me as I am and to find where I fit theologically as a lesbian and a Christian, feel free to peruse them over lunch.