Visions of Daniel
A millennium ago, Western society was rather indifferent to homosexuality and even supportive of it. A gay subculture thrived. Clerics and nuns wrote love letters and poetry to one another. All of Europe delighted in the romance of Richard Lion Heart of England and Philip, the king of France . Students at the newly founded Christian universities regularly debated the pros and cons of straight versus gay love. And no law codes in Europe (except in Visigoth Spain ) included prohibitions of homosexual acts.
By the middle of the eleven hundreds, things began to change. Peter Cantor campaigned for condemnation of gay love affairs among the clergy. Contrary to all precedence, he restricted the term sodomy to refer to same-sex acts and interpreted Romans 1:26-27 to refer exclusively to homosexuality. In contrast to the experience of Richard and Philip and just a little more than a century later, Edward II of England was assassinated for his gay relationship with Hugh le Despenser. In 1179, Lateran III became the first ecumenical church council to require punishment for homosexual acts. This change was part of a growing intolerance that was coming over Europe . Order and uniformity became the rule of the day, and volumes and volumes of law codes were promulgated. For the first time in Christian history, Jews and Muslims were persecuted, the poor were regarded as a menace, and in a crusade in southern France and through the Inquisition, "heretics" were put to death. At the same time, gay people began to face violent and open opposition. Thus began a millennium of Christian condemnation of homosexuality.
John Boswell, the late Yale historian, researched that history. He also commented that the Twentieth Century has been the most virulently anti-gay of all. In pre-World War II Germany, the Nazis destroyed Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sex Research, along with its thousands of case studies and massive research library, and began sending homosexuals to concentration camps. In its first twenty-five years, the Metropolitan Community Church , a nationwide, and now international, denomination founded to minister especially to gay and lesbian people, suffered 18 church burnings, including one in New Orleans in 1973, in which 29 people died and which national news media virtually ignored. From January 1999 to June 1999, 43 men and women were murdered in anti-gay hate crimes in the United States . These are in addition to the well known pistol whipping and crucifixion of 21-year old Matthew Shepard and the beating and burning of 39-year old Billy Jack Gaither. Since Anita Bryant's successful 1977 campaign to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County , Florida , the religious right has become increasingly vocal in opposition to homosexuality.
At the same time, however, other recent occurrences have gradually been more supportive of lesbian and gay people. Laws are on the books in many places to guarantee civil rights in jobs, housing, and child care, and companies and municipalities continue to add a sexual-orientation clause to their non-discrimination policies. Programs for domestic benefits, which can apply to same-sex couples, are available in universities, businesses, and government agencies. Gay and lesbian figures are common in the news, movies, TV programs, and entertainment and social reports. Public opinion is gradually shifting toward greater understanding and acceptance of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people.
Slowly the intolerance of the last millennium is being reversed. But debate continues to rage in religious circles. In many cases it is splitting denominations down the middle. And of course, at center stage stands the Bible with its many interpreters.
People quote the Bible to back up their opposition to homosexuality. But others claim the matter is not as simple as that. They also believe in the Bible, but they do not believe the Bible condemns lesbian and gay sex.
This book is to help you form your own opinion on the matter. For the past 25 to 30 years, professional scripture scholars have been studying homosexuality in the Bible. Research is now at a point where we can make a brief and accurate summary that lay people can understand. Such a summary is what you are now reading.
The social sciences indicate that anywhere from two to four percent of the population is exclusively homosexual; that is, they experience romantic attraction only toward members of their own sex. Some further proportion of the population is predominantly homosexual; that is, for the most part they are attracted to people of the same sex. Added together, these two groups make up the well publicized “ten percent” said to be homosexual. But the first group alone, the two to four percent, is a significant number of people. In comparison, recall that the Jewish population in the United States is between two to three percent of the total.
Many of those who are homosexual have been raised to believe in the Bible, and they have been told that it condemns homosexuality. They are really in a bind. Their family and friends, who know they are good people, also feel caught in a bind. It looks as if homosexual people have to give up their religion or else—which seems impossible—give up their sexuality.
That is no small matter. In fact, the scientific study of sexuality, along with psychology, has been underway for barely a century. But it is already clear that sexuality goes to the core of a person.
Sexuality means much more than physical arousal and orgasm. Attached to a person's sexuality is the capacity to feel affection, to delight in someone else, to get emotionally close to another person, and to be passionately committed to him or her. Sexuality is central to that marvelous human experience, being in love—to be struck by the beauty of another person and be drawn out of yourself, to become attached to another so powerfully that you easily begin measuring your life in terms of what's good for someone else and not just for yourself.
Sexuality is part and parcel of the human capacity for love. For we are not just intellectual beings, making calculated decisions to cherish somebody. We are emotional and physical, too. All this is what it means to be a human being, and all this comes into play when human love is on the scene.
To have to be afraid to feel sexual is to restrain that noblest of human possibilities, love. It is to short-circuit human spontaneity in a whole array of expressions—creativity, motivation, passion, commitment, heroic achievement. It is to be afraid of part of one's own deepest self.
This is not to say that sex acts are a necessary part of every human love. This is not to say that people cannot live without having sex. It is only to say that people who are afraid of their sexuality are constantly in hiding from their own selves. As a result, they are handicapped in all their dealings with other people and especially in their capacity to love deeply. All interior growth is stunted when people repress their affection, for heartfelt passion is the engine of human achievement.
So, in a profound and important way, for people to have to choose between religion and sexuality is to have to choose between religion and themselves. As we are coming to understand the matter today, it is to have to choose between God and human wholeness.
That choice seems too hard, and it does not seem to make sense. Mounting scientific evidence shows it is nobody's doing that people are lesbian or gay. There is no reason to believe that homosexuality in itself is in any way unhealthy. And there is no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed nor convincing argument that it should be. The sociological, the psychological, the biological evidence, all more and more surely point in the same direction. The fact is that some people just happen to be homosexual.
Most people are straight but some are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Some people are tall, and some are short. Some are black or brown, others are yellow, red or white. Some are men, more are women. Most are right-handed, but some are left-handed. There is a wide range of individual differences among human beings. Sexual orientation seems to be one of those differences.
According to faith, it is God who creates us. Divine Providence forms us as we are. Our genes, our temperaments, our time and place in history, our talents, our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses—all are part of God's inscrutable and loving plan for us. So somehow God must be behind the fact that some people are homosexual. Then why should God's word in the Bible condemn homosexuality? There must be a mistake in the reasoning somewhere.
Could it be that they are the mistake? That something has gone wrong with lesbian and gay people? That they are inherently flawed? Some would believe so. But then God must be evil or be playing some cruel trick, and that cannot be. God does not make junk. So there must be another answer.
The mistake must be in how the Bible is being read. This is the argument presented here.
This book looks into the matter. The investigation begins with a discussion of methods of interpreting the Bible. That discussion is perhaps the most important part of this book, for how one reads the Bible is the heart of the matter. In perfectly good faith, two different people reading the same text can come up with two different meanings. Understand how different approaches to the Bible can lead to very different conclusions and you have an illuminating perspective on the debates about homosexuality in the Bible or about any other biblical topic.
Chapter Two explains those different ways of reading the Bible. Chapters Three through Seven consider each of the Bible texts that supposedly talk about homosexuality. Chapter Eight deals with other biblical arguments about homosexuality, such as the importance of the Bible's positive teaching about heterosexuality and Jesus' reaction to a same-sex relationship. Finally, Chapter Nine summarizes the conclusion of this investigation.
This popular presentation of the Bible's real teaching about homosexuality should help reverse the hostility of the second millennium and restore a Christ-like opennes to all God's children. Then the charity that characterized earlier Christianity might again color Christianity in the third millennium.