Bible Focus part 4 – Romans 1

First published in Benny’s Blog – Oct 2011

Over the last few months we have been looking at the Biblical evidence for condemning same-sex relationships and found that it is not as clear cut as many of us have been told. 

As we have seen, Bible verses taken out of context in Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy do appear to take the same approach as the clerk in Little Britain’s ‘Computer says no’.   But context is vital to understanding Scripture, and usually, when something is prohibited in the Bible, there is a Biblical explanation for why.  The verses we have looked at so far do not provide that.  There are no reasons, no explanation, just ‘Don’t do it!’ – whatever ‘it’ is….

The one exception to this is Romans 1.  Here finally, there appears to be some theology going on – some attempt to explain the purposes of God and the waywardness of human nature.  The central verses are 26 & 27:

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.

The passage is often used to explain why same-sex acts are wrong.  For many Christians, it explains how people became homosexuals – that homosexual attraction is the result of a perversion of natural, God-given attraction and emotion. Such desires are the result of exchanging natural feelings for unnatural ones.  It is the rationale behind ‘homosexual healing’ which seeks to re-orientate homosexuals into heterosexuals by a combination of prayer, confession, forgiveness and self-discipline.

But wait a minute…  Verse 26 begins with the words “Because of this…” – which means that we should ask ourselves ‘Because of what?’  And as we read back in the chapter, we find a very different rationale emerging.

So why had God given them over to shameful lusts? 

In Romans 1:18-25 it is clearly because …

They knew God through creation, but neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him (vs 18-21)

They exchanged the glory of God for images & idols which they served and worshipped (vs 22-25)

In Romans it is idolatry (worshipping other gods) which leads people to God’s wrath, shown here as in so many places in scripture, by God abandoning them to the consequences of their own choices – and the homosexual lusts which Paul is describing are the result of the rejection of God and morality.

But this does not describe the LGBT Christians I know.  They have not exchanged the glory of God for created idols.  They are prayerful, devout, committed Christians, worshipping God faithfully, and giving him the glory. 

I remember the day when this light dawned in me for the first time!  I finally saw what my gay Christian friends meant when they told me that they did not recognize themselves in the Biblical passages which condemned homosexuality – and indeed what I read now was not describing them.

But there is more – as we then read the next few verses of Romans 1, the picture becomes even clearer:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (vs 28-31)

Do gay Christians fit this description?  Have they become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, envy, murder, deceit and malice?   Are they gossips, slanderers, God-haters, inventing ways of doing evil? Are they senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless?

For anyone who has gay Christian friends, the answer is a resounding ‘No!”  This does not describe them, so how can it be that Paul is writing about them?  And if he is not writing about them, then yet again the Biblical proof texts we have been given simply do not apply to the loving same-sex relationships we see today.

So who was Paul writing about? 

The answer of course, is staring us in the face – Rome!  The epistle is, of course, a letter to the church in Rome – the centre of the Roman Empire – the seat of power.  It was also the centre of Roman religion, politics, the Emperors & the ruling classes.  These ruling classes were famous for their ruthless greed, intrigue and debauchery – and it was this pagan society about which Paul was writing.  Roman society and Greek culture were the environments in which Paul saw homosexual activity, alongside all the idolatry of the Greco-Roman world.  It was not born out of love, or orientation, but out of pagan practices, greed, lust and abuse of power.

Needless to say – this is not the same as a loving, faithful, self-giving, same-sex relationship.

It is true of course, that homosexuals can embrace promiscuity and immorality, just like anyone else.  It might even be argued that in the moral vacuum which the Church has created by condemning all sex between homosexuals, we are responsible for pushing the gay subculture in that direction, resulting in some of the more extreme expressions of same sex sexuality.   But heterosexuals are by no means immune from such temptation, as witnessed by the exponential rise in pornography over the last 30 years.  That does not make all heterosexual expression wrong – neither does it make all homosexual expression wrong. 

The Christian faith rightly stands against pornography and debauchery because it impoverishes our humanity, transforming people into mere objects of lust.  But the church has always encouraged and blessed expressions of mutual love and self-giving – the ultimate expression of which is marriage.

Romans 1 does not condemn LGB&T people seeking to give and receive love in a mutual life-giving relationship.  In fact it has nothing explicit to say about it at all, in common with the rest of Scripture.  And if the Bible does not condemn loving faithful, committed same sex relationships, why does the church condemn them?

I began this series with a comment on my blog, calling on me to look at the clear and numerous Bible verses which condemn same-sex relationships.  Having done so, it is clear that what the Bible condemns is not those loving committed relationships which groups like Accepting Evangelicals are advocating.  Simply repeating the mantra ‘Bible says no’ is not an option.  The few verses of Biblical evidence which exist are at the very least unclear, rooted as they are in the context of historical cultures very different to our own.

And yet the church has used these half dozen verses to place a burden of judgment and shame on LGB&T people which the rest of us would find impossible to bear.  If we continue to do so, we will be no better than the Pharisees who Jesus reprimanded. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4)

Where same-sex relationships of love, faithfulness and commitment are concerned, the Bible does not say no – and neither should we.

For the earier posts in the series, click on the links below:

Bible Focus part 1 – Bible says No?

Bible Focus part 2 – Leviticus 18

Bible Focus part 3 – Corinthians & Timothy

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Bible focus part 3 - Corinthians and Timothy | Accepting Evangelicals

  2. This is beautifully written – sensitive, strong and honest. You pay attention to biblical truth and what is said / not said and to Christian discipleship/faithfulness in a less than disciplined and faithful world today.

    I met ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ at Greenbelt this year and have become a member. As a deeply committed Christian of more than 30 years, a theologian and a lesbian (who’s seen 30 years of church horror and exciting changes) I salute you warmly, Benny. Peace be with you.

  3. Dear Benny
    I spoke to you at Sarah’s induction.
    I would love to buy ten copies of your booklet, if you could tell me where to send the twenty pound. In the meantime I will download this article, to counter Christian friends who are anti gays. bye Pat

    • Dear Pat
      Thank you so much for your comment. I am pleased to hear that you have found the AE website useful, and I would be delighted to send you details of how to get hold of more copies of “By their fruit…” I will send you an address separately.
      God Bless
      Benny

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