Three Spiritual Conundrums have recently been submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life on the subject of homosexuality. First, from QuestioningMale:
PLEASE shed some light on Homosexuality.
I am a CHRISTIAN – never been abused, molested, etc. who has attended church ever since I was born. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior as a child and have been a Christian for many, many years.
I have also been gay for as LONG as I can remember.
I need some help on this. I have recently met a man, and I truly, truly care for him…
HELP me with this!
Some theological responses I read say that Homosexuality is mistranslated in the Bible and of course we know the opposite.
Thanks for your help…
Then from Cianna200:
Hello Lee, I am Cianna I’m an ex Christian and a Wiccan. I have a question. What do you believe about homosexuality? I am not gay but would like to know. I read a website about someone who claimed to speak to Jesus and he said “People choose to be gay. Homosexuality is because of bad karma and being gay is not okay. It is unnatural and not a creation of God.” I understand that Jesus did not condemn homosexuality in the bible and gay people who had near death experiences were not told that their homosexuality is wrong. Many Christians condemn homosexuality because of a few bible passages while other Christians have a problem with anti gay views. I must say I am a biromantic person and I am made to feel ashamed of it because what if Jesus really said that. Is homosexuality really something unhealthy and abnormal?
And then from Dennis Cobb:
Why do you feel homosexuality is alright with God? Clearly, we should love them, not agree with their lifestyle.
God Bless You
Thanks, QuestioningMale, Cianna200, Dennis Cobb, for your questions.
I am far from an expert on homosexuality.
However, I’ve read enough and experienced enough to know that there is a lot of prejudicial, uninformed thinking that leads to a lot of sloppy Biblical and theological scholarship on this issue. And that causes a lot of needless pain and suffering for many people.
What I can offer is the results of my own thinking on this issue developed over many years, based on:
- my knowledge and study of the Bible
- my knowledge and study of the writings of my favorite theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772)
- my general reading and study on homosexuality and related issues, and
- my experience of gays and lesbians among my friends and acquaintances and in the culture generally.
If that interests you, then settle in and get comfortable, because this is going to take some time! Along the way, I hope I’ll provide satisfactory answers to the questions in these three Spiritual Conundrums.
(Note: For a brief summary of the main points made in this article, please see my answer to this question on Christianity StackExchange: “Why do some Christians believe it is moral to be a homosexual?”)
Where I’m coming from
First, please understand that I have no dog in this fight.
I am a heterosexual male, married, with grown (or nearly grown) children. No one in my immediate family is gay or lesbian. If there are any gays or lesbians in my extended family, either they’re not out or the news has not yet reached me.
Personally, I find homosexuality to be confusing. It doesn’t make sense to me. And I prefer not to think about the sexual aspects of it—just as gays and lesbians probably prefer not to think about the sexual aspects of heterosexuality.
All of this means that for me personally, there’s no particular reason to speak out on the subject of homosexuality. If it weren’t such a big, contested, and painful issue in our society and throughout the world, I would happily ignore the whole issue.
But I can’t do that.
For one thing, people keep asking!
But it’s more than that.
An issue of conflict, pain, and suffering
Current estimates are that somewhere between 1.5% and 3.5% (not 10%) of the population is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. If the 3.5% estimate is closer to the truth, that would amount to over 8 million gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults in the United States alone.
These are all human beings.
Sexual identity may not be such a big deal for the vast majority of people who are heterosexuals. Their sexuality is accepted by society and by all of the major religions.
But for millions of people who are not heterosexual, it is a big deal. They are commonly rejected by society and by the religions in which they grow up because of their sexual orientation and identity. And since our sexual identity is a core aspect of who we are as human beings, non-acceptance of it is very personal. It can be devastating to a person’s life and spirit.
I don’t have all the answers about homosexuality. Far from it. But I cannot in good conscience stand by and remain silent when I see so much Biblical and religious misinformation, poor scholarship, bad theology, and just plain prejudice masquerading as God’s own truth. (There is also some very good scholarship out there.)
Especially not when I see the pain and suffering that it causes for so many gays and lesbians.
- QuestioningMale and Cianna200 are just two of millions of voices rising up from a position both of pain and of hope: pain from the condemnation of so many religious people, often including family and close friends; and hope for some sense of goodness, peace, and spiritual wholeness to replace that pain and suffering.
- Dennis Cobb is just one voice among millions who want to love gays and lesbians, but feel conflicted about it because their religious beliefs say that homosexuality is evil and contrary to God’s will.
- And of course, parents, siblings, and other family members and friends of gays and lesbians commonly feel much conflict about their gay and lesbian loved ones.
Why I’m writing this article
Before writing this article, I spent many hours reading some of the major articles by Christian pastors and scholars who have taken stands in support of or in opposition to homosexuality based on their reading of the Bible. I also spent many hours reading doctrinal papers and articles by Swedenborgian ministers and laypeople in support of or in opposition to homosexuality based on their reading of the Bible and of Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological writings. (For more on this, see the previous article: “What does Emanuel Swedenborg Say about Homosexuality?”)
I learned a lot by reading all of those articles. While some of them were sloppy and prejudicial, others offered solid research and well-founded perspectives on the Biblical and cultural background of the homosexuality debate.
However, I found that I could not fully accept the arguments of either side. Each made some good points. But each, I thought, fell short of fully facing the issues presented in the sacred texts. Both sides seemed too ready to jump at interpretations that favored their own viewpoint. And many of the opponents of homosexuality seemed to have little experience or understanding of the lives of real, live, human gays and lesbians as they actually exist in society.
I also cannot overlook the debate occurring as the United States wrestles with conferring on gays and lesbians the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. Religious doctrine is the primary basis for opposing legal marriage for same-sex couples. So we must wrestle with the Biblical basis of religious doctrine relating to homosexuality.
It is important to understand why we humans are born on this earth. Each and every one of us is meant for heaven. The purpose of our time here is to build our character and grow spiritually in order to lay the foundations for eternal life in heaven. That is why God has created us and put us here on earth. (See “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”) And there is no better vehicle for spiritual growth than the marital relationship between two people. These considerations should shape our thinking about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
And so, not only in response to the people who keep asking, but also to offer an overall picture that I don’t think has been presented anywhere else, I have decided to jump into the fray.
I expect that some of what I say will offend people on both sides of the question. Still, my job is to speak the truth as I best understand it. I only ask that you hear me out. Then you can make up your own mind.
And as long as you’re respectful, you are welcome to express your own thoughts and reactions in the comments section at the end.
What this article will cover
- Homosexuality and the Bible
- The Old Testament
- The New Testament
- Answers to spiritual questions about homosexuality
- Is homosexuality evil?
- Do gays and lesbians go to hell?
- Can homosexuals change into heterosexuals?
- Can gay and lesbian relationships be spiritual?
Fasten your seatbelts, please. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Homosexuality and the Bible
To hear the uproar about homosexuality among conservative Christians, you would think that it is a major issue in the Bible, condemned by lawgivers, priests, and prophets throughout Sacred Scripture.
In fact, there are only five or six verses in the entire Bible that specifically mention homosexuality, plus a few other more oblique references. And the biggest story that’s usually interpreted as a condemnation of homosexuality really has very little to do with it.
There are other issues that loom far larger in the Bible. There is chapter after chapter on the evils of breaking the laws in the Ten Commandments about honoring God and refraining from violence, adultery, theft, and fraud against the neighbor.
In the New Testament, Jesus sums up the entire Old Testament (“all the Law and the Prophets”) by saying that everything written there depends on two basic laws: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34–40). Jesus says nothing at all about homosexuality. But he does say a great deal about loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving your enemies.
In short, the huge focus on homosexuality among conservative Christians is all out of proportion to its scant coverage in the Bible.
However, since those scant few references have become the foundation of a major hullabaloo and condemnation of homosexuality and homosexuals, we do need to look at them.
My consideration of what the Old and New Testaments say about homosexuality, and how it may apply to us today, does draw heavily on articles written by various Christians and Jews on both sides of the question.
And yet, what I found missing is precisely the element that is supplied by the teachings about the Bible found in Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings. Swedenborg offers concepts that help us to read and understand the Bible without either:
- Misapplying to present-day culture laws that were specific to the cultures of Bible times, or
- Rejecting major parts of the Bible as irrelevant to people in today’s world.
I do have sympathy for conservative Christians who attempt to maintain the holiness of the Bible by insisting that everything in it must be followed to the letter. But this is an impossible task. The reality is that no one in any Christian church, community, or sect follows all of the laws in the Bible.
For example, the Bible commands us to sacrifice cows, sheep, goats, and doves at various times and under various circumstances. But no Christian or Jew today sacrifices cows, sheep, goats, doves, or any other animal. Those laws are no longer followed in any literal way.
Every Christian (and Jewish) church, sect, or community follows some but not all of the laws in the Bible. This does not necessarily mean they reject some parts of the Bible as the Word of God. Rather, it means that they reinterpret spiritually some parts of the Bible that they no longer take literally.
For example, based largely on the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, Christians commonly consider the ancient Jewish laws of sacrifice to be symbolic of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all of humankind. So for Christians, the ancient laws of sacrifice take on a deeper, Christian meaning.
With these things in mind, let’s take a closer look at the Bible passages most commonly quoted in relation to homosexuality.
Homosexuality and the Old Testament
There are two, and only two, clear statements about homosexual sex in the Old Testament. Both of them apply only to men and not to women. In other words, both of them ban only sex between two men, and say nothing about sex between two women.
Here they are, first in the King James Version, which is the translation most commonly used by conservative Christians:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
Now, to get as exact a flavor of the Hebrew as we can in English, here is a very literal translation of both passages:
And with a male you shall not lie according to the lyings of a woman. It is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22)
And a man who lies with a male according to the lyings of a woman, they have done what is detestable, both of them. Being executed they shall be executed, their blood [is] on them. (Leviticus 20:13)
This law is not repeated or commented on anywhere else in the Old Testament. Its occurrence in these two nearby chapters of Leviticus is therefore the basis in Old Testament law for all subsequent Jewish and Christian condemnation of homosexuality.
Because these two verses occupy such a pivotal position in the Christian debate about homosexuality, we will look at them closely and carefully, take up some of the common arguments made based on them, and suggest how they can be understood today.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are not about temple prostitution
One of the ways liberal Christians commonly interpret the various prohibitions of homosexual sex is to suggest that the verses’ real target is temple prostitution.
Temple prostitutes, both male and female, were common in the pagan cults of ancient Palestine and the Mediterranean world generally. This practice was prohibited for the ancient Israelites (see Deuteronomy 23:17). So it would be natural to assume that this is what these two verses in Leviticus are talking about.
However, Hebrew has specific words for temple prostitutes: kadesh for male temple prostitutes, and kedeshah for female temple prostitutes. If Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 were about temple prostitution, these words would have been used there. But they aren’t.
The words used in those two verses make no such restriction on the meaning. Further, while female temple prostitutes are prohibited along with male temple prostitutes in Deuteronomy 23:17, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 do not prohibit sex between two women; only sex between two men.
In short, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are not about temple prostitution. They are a general prohibition of a man having sex with another man.
“Detestable” has a specific religious and cultural meaning
When we read in Leviticus that sex between men is “abominable” or “detestable,” it sounds like the Bible is calling it the worst sort of terrible, horrible thing. But consider these other acts that the Bible calls “detestable”:
- Making an idol (Deuteronomy 27:15)
- Sacrificing an imperfect ox or sheep (Deuteronomy 17:1)
- Eating the meat of camels, rabbits, hyraxes, pigs, or any other mammal that does not have cloven hooves and chew the cud (Deuteronomy 14:3–8)
- Wearing the clothing of the other sex (Deuteronomy 22:5)
- A man re-marrying a woman he had divorced who meanwhile had married another man who then either divorced her or died (Deuteronomy 24:1–4)
The Hebrew word translated “detestable” or “abominable” in these and a number of other places is toebah. Based on what is said to be toebah in the Bible, we can determine that it means, not “evil and sinful,” but rather “ritually unclean,” or forbidden by religious customs and decrees.
These customs and decrees varied depending on the particular culture and religion. For example, Egyptians considered it toebah, or “detestable”:
Because Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 say that a man having sex with another man is toebah, and not “wicked” or “sinful,” and because these commandments are part of the “Holiness Code” that prescribes what the ancient Israelites were not to do in the Holy Land, one Jewish interpretation is that the Hebrew Bible forbids homosexual sex only for Jewish males living in the Holy Land.
I think this is a narrower interpretation than what was intended by these laws. Do the other laws in these chapters of Leviticus against such things as incest and sex with animals apply only to Jewish people living in the Holy Land?
However, this interpretation of the text does raise the possibility that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are part of cultural and religious codes that are meant for the people of a particular culture, time, and place.
We’ll return to that in a few minutes. But first:
Why was man-with-man sex considered ritually unclean?
The Bible does not use language haphazardly. Its texts were carefully composed for very specific reasons, to convey very specific meanings.
Why does the Hebrew Bible say in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 that a man having sex with another man is toebah, or “detestable”?
We don’t know for sure. The commandments in these verses are not repeated or explained anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible.
However, based on the general view of sex and marriage that existed throughout the ancient world, here is the most likely explanation:
In Bible times marriage was an unequal relationship
In the ancient world, marriage as we think of it today in the Western world—as a union of two equal adult partners—did not exist. Or if it did exist, it was so rare that it might as well not have existed.
In the ancient world, women were seen as inferior to men, and as subservient to them. This was so ingrained in the culture that people thought of it as the natural order of things. If any doubt had ever been raised about it in ancient Hebrew culture, it would have been sufficient to quote these words of God to Eve:
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, my italics.)
Or an ancient Hebrew could point to the creation of woman out of man, as a helper for him, in Genesis 2:18–24.
(For more on these verses, see “What are the Roles of Men and Women toward Each Other and in Society?”)
In a marriage relationship, the man was seen as the ruler, and the wife or wives as subject to his rule. A wife was not considered a husband’s property, as is often claimed today. Her status was higher than that of slaves, who were property (and who could be the property of a woman as well as of a man). However, according to the thinking patterns of the cultures that existed in the Biblical world, a woman was by her very nature inferior to her husband.
Because of this view of man and woman, marriage was not seen as a union of equals, but as a union of a dominant, ruling partner (the husband) and a submissive, ruled partner (the wife).
In the ancient world sex implied dominance and submission
Note: This part is going to get somewhat explicit. If you’re squeamish, you might want to skip to the next section.
Though it’s somewhat simplistic, it is accurate enough to say that in the ancient world, a man was considered a man because he had a penis, and a woman was considered a woman because she had a vagina.
In Biblical Hebrew, the very word for “female” is nekebah, which comes from a word meaning “hollowed out,” or “having a hole bored in it.” A female, then, is “one who has a hole,” or in more ordinary language, “one who has a vagina.”
The word for “male” in Biblical Hebrew is zacar. Hebrew scholars have proposed more than one derivation for this word. One of them is that it is from a word meaning “memorial,” the idea being that the male is the one through whom the name and memory of his parents is carried on. However, a more pragmatic and more likely derivation is that it is from a word meaning “pricking, piercing.” In other words, the word for “male” is a reference to the fact that a man has a penis with which he can penetrate.
In short, in Biblical Hebrew, “male” was defined as “one who has a penis and penetrates,” and “female” as “one who has a vagina and is penetrated.” These definitions of male and female were not limited to ancient Hebrew, but occurred in other ancient languages as well.
Further, since men were seen as superior to women, the act of penetration was seen as an act of ruling and dominating, and the act of being penetrated was seen as an act of being ruled and being submissive.
This concept of sexual intercourse as a dominant partner penetrating a submissive one was so universal in the ancient world that it applied to virtually all sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
In homosexual relationships in the ancient world, the common pattern was for an older, dominant male to penetrate a younger, submissive male. I mentioned earlier that the present-day Western concept of heterosexual marriage as an equal partnership between a man and a woman was impossible for people in the ancient world to conceive of. For exactly the same reason, the idea of a sexual relationship between two males of equal status was considered unthinkable and detestable. There were laws against such sexual relationships even in cultures that accepted homosexual relationships as normal and good.
In the ancient cultures a true man was defined, not as one who had sex with women, but as one who was the dominant, penetrating partner in any relationship. As long as he was penetrating someone of lower rank—which included women, people of a lower class than his own, slaves, foreigners, and conquered people—he was considered manly and virile regardless of the sex of the one he penetrated. His masculinity was demonstrated by his dominant position in the sexual act.
Ancient Hebrew law made all men equal in status
This whole view of sex and marriage as an inherently unequal relationship is most likely the reason that males having sex with other males was forbidden as toebah, or “detestable” in the ancient Jewish legal code found in Leviticus.
Hebrew culture in the aftermath of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt (which is the time period in the Biblical story in which the main body of Hebrew laws was promulgated) was about as close as you could get to a classless society in the ancient world. Yes, there were slaves. That was universal. And yes, women were considered inferior to men. But every adult Hebrew man able to bear arms was considered equal under the law, and in the eyes of God. In later Israelite history, even the king himself was seen as equal under the law, and in the eyes of God.
For a man to have sex with a man, then, was to reduce the man who was penetrated to the status of a woman. And this was “detestable” because it violated the rules of a society in which every adult male had equal legal and religious status. Both the man who reduced his fellow man to the status of a woman, and thus disgraced him, and the man who allowed himself to be lowered to the level of a woman, and thus be disgraced, were considered so detestable that the only appropriate punishment was death.
Now perhaps a strange turn of phrase in the very literal translations of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 provided earlier will make a little more sense. Here it is in Leviticus 18:22:
And with a male you shall not lie according to the lyings of a woman. It is detestable. (italics added)
“The lyings of a woman” is a euphemism for being the partner who is penetrated in a sexual act.
It didn’t so much matter which orifice was penetrated. What mattered was penetrating vs. being penetrated.
A few loose ends
This, incidentally, is why I don’t accept one theory that says that the “detestable” thing about a man having sex with a man was the mixing of semen with feces. If that were the underlying reason, there would be a law against men having anal sex with women. But there is no such law in the Hebrew Bible.
(Having said that, the principle that a man’s “seed,” or semen, was not to be wasted—as in Genesis 38:9–10—was commonly interpreted to mean that the only acceptable sex was vaginal sex.)
One more loose end:
Why is there no law against lesbian sex in the Old Testament?
For the average inhabitant of the ancient world, “sex” meant “penetrating a person or animal with a penis.” Since women do not have penises, the idea that two women could have sex with each other would sound absurd to most ears.
Of course, what I’ve outlined above is the general picture. As with sexuality in all ages, there are many variations and many exceptions. Still, this concept of sex was the view of the overwhelming majority of the people of the ancient world. The prohibition against men having sex with other men as stated in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 existed in the context of this view of man, woman, and sex.
Does the prohibition of male-with-male sex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 still apply today?
This is where the rubber hits the road.
For Christians, there are a few verses in the New Testament that must be considered in answering the question of whether the prohibition of male homosexual sex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 still applies today. And we’ll get to that.
For now, let’s look at it strictly based on the Old Testament, and whether and how its laws apply today.
As I said earlier, no Christians believe that all the laws of the Old Testament still apply today. The general belief is that since Jesus Christ fulfilled the law (see, for example, Matthew 5:17), most of the Old Testament laws no longer apply to Christians.
Most . . . but not all. Jesus himself affirmed the basic laws found in the Ten Commandments as still binding. See, for example, Matthew 19:16–19.
How do Christians decide which laws are still binding on us and which are not?
That is the $64,000 question!
The reality is that the various Christian churches and sects vary all over the map on which Old Testament laws they consider to be still binding and which they do not.
We don’t have time to go into a lengthy exploration of this question. However, consider these laws that occur in the same chapters of Leviticus as the one against men having sex with men:
- Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period. (Leviticus 18:19)
- When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9–10)
- Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. (Leviticus 19:13)
- Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seeds. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Leviticus 19:19)
- Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27)
- Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. (Leviticus 19:28)
- Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:9)
Is there any Christian in the world who would seriously argue that all of these laws must still be obeyed by Christians today?
And yet, these laws come from the very same chapters in the book of Leviticus that prohibit men having sex with men.
When it comes right down to it, each of us will have to make up our own minds what Old Testament laws still apply to us today. If a Christian quotes Leviticus 18:20 and 20:13 as proof that homosexuality is prohibited in the Bible, feel free to ask whether he or she obeys all of these other laws that go along with that prohibition.
In evaluating laws in the Old Testament, we must consider what role those laws served in the culture in which they were given, and whether they still apply to the very different culture that we live in today.
For example, the commandment not to hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight assumed that the hired worker was a day laborer. If he wasn’t paid that day, he might never get paid, because the same farmer might not hire him again the next day.
Does this mean that every business today that hires workers must pay every single one of them at the end of every single day?
Of course not!
That law was given to protect workers in a very different culture from getting defrauded by their employers. Though that specific law is no longer required to protect the vast bulk of workers in the Western world today, the general principle it was meant to enforce still applies: It is illegal to defraud workers by not paying them regularly for the work that they have done.
Now consider the likely reason, as outlined above, that it was forbidden for men to have sex with other men in the ancient Hebrew legal code. If this law was made to prevent the humiliation of men and the violation of the general principle in Hebrew society that all men were equal under the law and in the eyes of God, then how does the principle underlying this law apply today?
In Western society today, men and women are seen as equal under the law and in the eyes of God. The two partners in a marriage relationship are also seen as equal under the law and in the eyes of God.
This means that the specific harm that the law stated in Leviticus 18:20 and 20:13 was meant to protect men against is no longer an issue in today’s society.
Legally and socially, the partner who is penetrated in a sexual relationship is no longer seen as inferior, and the partner who does the penetrating is no longer seen as superior. (Yes, I’m aware that there’s still a lot of this old style of thinking in the world. But it is old thinking, and it is gradually dying out.) So there is no need to protect a man’s honor and reputation by prohibiting him from being penetrated by another man—at least, not in a consensual relationship between adult men who are equals.
If a law meant to accomplish the same thing were written today, it would go something like this:
You shall not engage in a sexual act that debases and humiliates your sexual partner, nor shall you willingly allow anyone to engage in a sexual act with you that debases and humiliates you. It is detestable.
This would accomplish the same thing in today’s society that the laws given in Leviticus 18:20 and 20:13—not to mention many of the other laws in the Holiness Code in Leviticus—were meant to accomplish in ancient Hebrew society.
The sin of Sodom
We now come to one of the most misinterpreted and misused stories in the Old Testament: the story of the condemnation and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16–19:29.
I have good news and I have bad news.
The good news is that I’ve already written an article about the story of Sodom, so there’s no need to cover it in detail here.
The bad news is that you’ll need to read that article in order to get the most out of this one.
Here it is: “What is the Sin of Sodom?”
Here’s the short version:
The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality. Rather, it was arrogance, self-satisfaction, and horrendous disregard for the needs and well-being of others, leading to horrific acts of violence against them. Here is how the sin of Sodom is described in the Bible itself:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49–50)
To read the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 and conclude that the sin of Sodom is homosexuality makes just as much sense as reading the parallel story in Judges 19 of a heterosexual gang rape in the town of Gibeah and conclude that the sin of Gibeah is heterosexuality.
Is homosexuality evil because the men of a very wicked town tried to gang rape two male visitors to Sodom?
If so, then the only logical, Biblical conclusion is that heterosexuality is also evil.
In short, the use of the story of Sodom to condemn homosexuality is completely illogical, and contrary to the Bible’s own statements about it.
But that hasn’t stopped Christians from using it that way for many centuries. The very use of the word “sodomy” to refer to homosexuality, anal sex, oral sex, and sex with animals shows that the story of Sodom has been completely misunderstood and misused in Western culture.
If you’re not yet with me on this, before you continue here please do go read the article “What is the Sin of Sodom?”
About “sodomy” and “sodomites” in the Bible
The word “sodomy” does not occur in the Hebrew or Greek Bible. The word “Sodomites” in the original languages of Bible simply refers to the inhabitants of Sodom, just as “Bostonians” or “New Yorkers” refers to the inhabitants of those cities.
However, centuries after the last books of the Bible were written (probably starting with the Roman emperor Justinian I in the 6th century) the words “sodomy” and “sodomites” began to be used to refer homosexuality, and in time also to anal sex, oral sex, and sex with animals.
This later meaning of “sodomites” as homosexuals snuck into the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Several times the KJV uses the word “sodomite” to translate the Hebrew word kadesh, which, as pointed out above, actually means male temple prostitute (see Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7). Some other translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version have also used “sodomite” to translate the Greek word arsenokoitai (see below) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
Unfortunately, this use of “sodomite” in various translations has introduced confusion into the Bible by causing readers to think that the Bible is referring to Sodom in several places where there is no mention of Sodom in the original languages.
Homosexuality and the New Testament
Perhaps you can accept the idea that many of the laws in the Old Testament no longer apply.
But I know what you’re thinking:
“Yes, but the New Testament also condemns homosexuality! Doesn’t that settle the question?”
Let’s take a look.
First, there is nothing in the Gospels condemning homosexuality. Jesus never said anything about it. That should give us pause. If the teachings of Jesus Christ are the foundation and source of Christian faith and belief, and if homosexuality is such a terrible sin—as many conservative Christians claim it is—why didn’t Jesus say so?
Of course, the fact that Jesus said nothing about it doesn’t necessarily make it good and right either.
When it comes to the New Testament, Christians who want to build a case against homosexuality don’t look to Jesus, but to Paul.
Paul and homosexuality
Specifically, Christians who want to build a case against homosexuality based on the New Testament look primarily to these three passages in Paul’s letters, once again in the KJV:
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:24–27)
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:9-11)
Paul is not talking about temple prostitution either
Much of the debate about Paul and homosexuality centers around the meaning of two words that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
The Greek word that the KJV translates “effeminate” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is malakoi. The basic meaning of this word is “soft, gentle, mild.” When applied to people, it can mean “effeminate,” as in the KJV, or “careless, remiss.” In this context, most translators and interpreters agree that it has the meaning of soft or effeminate. However, there is debate over whether this is a reference to homosexuals who are regarded as effeminate (perhaps meaning the submissive or penetrated partner), or whether it refers to heterosexual men who fancy themselves up to make themselves attractive to women who like pretty men.
The Greek word arsenokoitai
The Greek word that the KJV translates “abusers of themselves with mankind” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and “them that defile themselves with mankind” in 1 Timothy 1:10 is arsenokoitai. This word occurs only in these two verses in the Greek New Testament. In fact, these two occurrences are the first time the word appears anywhere in Greek literature. It seems to have been a word that Paul coined himself—something he is famous for doing.
What does arsenkoitai mean, and where did it come from?
That depends on which Biblical scholar you ask.
However, there is a fairly obvious answer to the question—one commonly cited by conservative, anti-homosexual Christians, and not so commonly cited by liberal Christians who defend homosexuality. Still, the question is not who said it, but whether it can hold water.
In this case, I think it can.
Remember our old friends Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? As it turns out, when the Septuagint translates the Hebrew prohibition of male homosexual sex, it uses the Greek words arsen, “man,” and koiten, “sleep.” In Leviticus 20:13, these two words appear right next to each other in the Septuagint: arsenos koiten.
Paul may or may not have been a Hellenistic Jew. He himself says that he was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), which was a group within Judaism that among other things focused on observing Jewish law as found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
This means that in addition to his familiarity with Greek language, philosophy, and culture, Paul was also steeped in Jewish law as found in Leviticus and the other four books of the Torah, or law, which together form the first five books of the Old Testament.
All of this points to the conclusion that when Paul coined the Greek word arsenokoitai, he was, quite simply, referring to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and their prohibition of men having sex with men, as translated in the Septuagint.
In other words, just as Leviticus is not talking about temple prostitution, but is a general prohibition of men having sex with men, so Paul in his letters is upholding a general prohibition of men having sex with men.
Paul even makes a possible reference to women having sex with women—unique in the Bible—when he says in Romans 1:26 that “women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.”
Why was Paul opposed to homosexuality?
It seems clear enough that Paul condemned homosexual sex in general. After all, he had grown up a Jew. Even after he became a Christian he was still steeped in Jewish scripture and law, as seen in his letters. So in the absence of any statement from Jesus Christ on the subject, it is not surprising that he adhered to Jewish law on this point. In fact, the various lists of sins and offenses that he sprinkles throughout his writings, such as those in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, bear a strong resemblance to similar lists found in the Old Testament and in other ancient Jewish writings.
For traditional Christians, the simple fact that Paul condemned homosexuality is enough to settle the question. And for people who take this point of view, there is probably nothing anyone can say that will change their mind.
However, for those who wish to look deeper, I would suggest that Paul condemned homosexual sex for the same reasons that the ancient Jewish law in Leviticus condemned homosexual sex, as outlined earlier in this article.
Remember, in the ancient world our present-day Western idea of marriage as the union of two equals didn’t exist. In heterosexual sex, the man was considered dominant and the woman submissive. The man was the one who penetrated, and the woman was the one who was penetrated.
For Paul, a man having sex with another man involved an inequality between men—an idea that was intolerable for Paul, who saw everyone as equal under Christ. Yes, I know, that didn’t quite reach to women being equal to men in all respects, or to slaves being equal to free people. Even Paul had his limits when it came to following his Jewish and Christian ideals of freedom and equality out to their full extent as we see them today.
Here’s another way of saying the same thing:
Paul was addressing homosexual sex as it existed in the Greek and Roman culture that had spread throughout the Mediterranean world in his day. This most commonly meant middle aged and older men having sex with teenage boys and young men. It was also common for men to have sex with male slaves, and for a conquering army to sexually penetrate conquered soldiers and defeated people to humiliate them and show their dominance over them.
The only kind of homosexual sex Paul knew about from his experience of the ancient Mediterranean world and its cultures was sex in which one man dominated another man. And that was contrary to Jewish and Christian values as he understood them.
What would Paul think of consensual homosexual sex between equal partners as found in today’s society? There’s no way of knowing. Most likely he would find it completely perplexing—something that just didn’t fit into any of his ideas or experience of human relations.
As it is, his view of homosexuality, based on his Jewish background and his knowledge of homosexual relationships in Greek and Roman cultures, was highly negative. And the unequal, exploitative, and debasing types of homosexual relationships that Paul saw in the world around him, and condemned, are also condemned by most moral and ethical people today.
Paul’s negative characterization of homosexual relations in Romans 1:24–27 was also written with those types of unequal homosexual relationships in mind.
In other words, the immoral, unethical, unequal, and debasing homosexual relationships that Paul condemned are the same sorts of relationships that moral and ethical people today condemn. Today we condemn both homosexual and heterosexual relationships that involve inequality, domination, and humiliation.
Paul’s writings were adapted to the culture of his day
Most Christians accept the idea that many of the Old Testament laws are no longer in effect for us today. But many Christians still maintain that all the laws stated in the New Testament, including those in Paul’s letters, continue to be just as much in effect today as when they were written down two thousand years ago.
Well . . . maybe with a few exceptions . . . .
Many of Paul’s teachings have stood the test of time—especially those that involve spiritual values such as faith, hope, and love.
However, consider these rules that Paul included in his letters:
- “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9)
- “Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:5)
- “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Corinthians 11:14–15)
- “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34–35)
- “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)
- “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)
Does any Christian today really try to argue that all of these laws and principles stated by Paul are still just as much in effect today as they were when he first wrote them? It is true that some conservative Christians continue to believe that women should be submissive to men. But do these same Christians teach that being celibate is better than being married? And do they believe that Paul’s rules about slaves obeying their masters are still in effect today?
Clearly, Paul was writing for a particular time and culture. This doesn’t necessarily mean that outdated statements in Paul are worthless, any more than all of the laws and commandments given in the Old Testament that we no longer observe are worthless. It means, rather, that we must pay attention to the spirit of his words rather than the letter when the letter is clearly meant for an earlier time and culture. As Paul himself said:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
It would go far beyond the purpose of this article to seek out the spiritual message behind all of those troubling statements of Paul.
But when it comes to Paul’s statements about homosexuality, the spirit of his words on the subject are the same as the spirit of the Old Testament statements on the subject, which, as I said earlier, is this:
You shall not engage in a sexual act that debases and humiliates your sexual partner, nor shall you willingly allow anyone to engage in a sexual act with you that debases and humiliates you. It is detestable.
All of the homosexual behavior that Paul was aware of was debasing to the man who was penetrated, who was the younger, weaker, submissive, effeminate, or conquered one. And that did not fit into Paul’s view of all men being equal in Christ.
Was the concept of homosexuality unknown in the ancient world?
One common argument put forward by those who defend homosexuality is that homosexuality as we understand it today was unknown in the ancient world.
In one sense, that’s true. As I’ve been saying, the idea of sexual relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as a relationship between two equal partners was largely unknown in the ancient world. Sexual relationships were overwhelmingly seen as a relationship between a dominant partner and a submissive partner.
However, the idea that some people are inwardly attracted to sexual partners of their own sex—an attraction that is an essential part of their character—actually did exist in the ancient world.
In Plato’s famous Symposium, the speech of Aristophanes offers a fascinating and highly entertaining origin myth for human sexuality. Originally, Plato’s Aristophanes says, people had bodies that were doubles of ours, fastened together back to back. There were three sexes:
- Androgynous (half male, half female)
Because these primeval humans were getting too powerful, Zeus, the ruler of the gods, decided to chop them in half to weaken them. Ever since, every person has been looking for his or her other half:
- Those who were originally male look for their male partner.
- Those who were originally female look for their female partner.
- Those who were originally androgynous look for their partner of the opposite sex.
People, then, can find love and wholeness only by being reunited with their original partners.
According to this origin myth, homosexuality is not a mere behavior engaged in by people in opposition to, or even in accordance with, human cultural morals and practices. Instead, it is an essential part of those who are attracted to their own sex. It is not just a sexual act. It is an expression of love and attraction that is part of the person’s very soul and nature.
Yes, the speech of Aristophanes is often seen as mere satire. However, the very fact that Plato expressed these ideas shows that there was a concept in the ancient world of people who were by nature attracted to their own sex rather than to the opposite sex—just as in the developing modern concept of homosexuality.
And yet, in ancient cultures that accepted homosexuality as acceptable and normal, it was not seen as an equal relationship, but as a relationship between two people who are “by nature” unequal. Though the concept of sexual relationships between equals was available to them in Plato and perhaps in a few other ancient writers, it existed rarely, if at all, in actual practice.
In short, the idea of homosexuality as an inborn and inherent part of a person’s character causing him or her to feel love and attraction for someone of the same sex did exist in the ancient world.
However, practically speaking, our modern concept of marriage—heterosexual or homosexual—as a relationship between two equal adults did not exist in the ancient world.
Answers to spiritual questions about homosexuality
There can be no conflict between sound science and genuine religion. God created both spiritual reality and material reality, and is the ruler of all things in both realms. This means that genuine religion must make sense when it is applied to the realities that we face in the world around us.
If our interpretation of the Bible flies in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and social realities of human life, it is likely that we have not understood what the Bible is really talking about, and that we therefore need to adjust our understanding of it.
At the same time, our spiritual texts and beliefs have a profound impact on our understanding of material reality and human society. Without some kind of spiritual and eternal understanding of life, it is very difficult to maintain any sense of hope, morality, and purpose in our existence.
Our religious and spiritual beliefs have had a difficult relationship with our growing scientific knowledge and social understanding. And yet, the spiritual and the material have a symbiotic relationship in which each contributes knowledge and insight toward a better understanding of human life as a whole.
With these things in mind, let’s look at some of the difficult spiritual questions about homosexuality raised in the Spiritual Conundrums submitted by QuestioningMale, Cianna200, and Dennis Cobb—and by the ongoing general debate about homosexuality.
Is homosexuality evil?
Is homosexuality evil?
In an abstract, philosophical sense, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Sorry to disappoint you, but as I said at the beginning of the article, I find homosexuality to be confusing. It doesn’t make sense to me. The relationship between male and female seems fundamental to how things work, and homosexuality doesn’t fit into that. And in the Bible, God did create Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
So is homosexuality a part of God’s plan, or is it contrary to God’s plan? Is it created by God, or does it represent a departure from God’s ideal, perhaps caused by thousands of years of humans doing things our own way rather than God’s way?
Once again, I just don’t know.
For reasons explained above, I do not think there is any clear teaching about consensual, monogamous homosexual relationships, positive or negative, in the Bible.
Though the Bible does condemn the unequal, power-based forms of homosexuality that existed in Bible times—and of course condemns homosexual adultery and prostitution just as it condemns heterosexual adultery and prostitution—it doesn’t say anything about homosexual marriage as we think of it today. Such relationships either didn’t exist at all in Bible times, or were so rare that they were not a significant presence in the cultures in which the Bible was written.
Because the Bible does not address the issue of gay and lesbian marriage as a faithful, committed, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults, we’ll have to fall back on more general principles about the nature of good and evil.
What makes something evil?
Why are some things considered good, and others evil?
Spiritually speaking, anything that is from God and according to God’s will is good, whereas anything that is a distortion of the good that comes from God, and therefore contrary to God’s will, is evil.
Unfortunately, as seen above, we don’t have any clear teachings from God about whether homosexuality as we understand it today is good or evil. For Christians, Jesus himself says nothing at all on the subject, and the Bible deals only with the type of homosexual relationships that existed in Bible times, which Western culture today also considers exploitative, immoral, and wrong.
So let’s take another step down to more pragmatic definitions of good and evil:
- Good is anything that contributes to health, happiness, and wellbeing on the physical, social, or spiritual level.
- Evil is anything that destroys health, happiness, and wellbeing, and does damage on a physical, social, or spiritual level.
In other words, good and evil are not just arbitrary categories that God created. God doesn’t say this is good and that is evil on a whim. Rather, everything that God has created that is good builds us up physically, socially, and spiritually, whereas everything we do that is evil tears us down physically, socially, or spiritually.
Evil is evil because it hurts us.
What is the harm in homosexuality?
The question, then, is whether homosexuality is by nature harmful and destructive.
In considering this question, we first have to cut out of the picture all forms of homosexual relationships that would also be harmful and destructive if they were heterosexual rather than homosexual.
Obviously homosexual relationships and homosexual sex can be immoral, exploitative, damaging, and destructive just as heterosexual relationships and heterosexual sex can be. Homosexual promiscuity, adultery, rape, and so on are just as bad as their heterosexual counterparts. The sin of Sodom would have been just as sinful if there were no homosexuality involved.
Here, then, is the question:
Are committed, faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships harmful to those engaged in them, and to society?
Opponents of homosexuality cite various forms of social, legal, moral, and spiritual harm caused by homosexuality. But most of these assessments are tainted by the idea that if we accept homosexuality at all, we must accept promiscuous, adulterous, and exploitative homosexual behavior as well.
If the roles were reversed, and we were considering whether society should accept heterosexuality, would it really be fair to charge heterosexuality in general with all the social, legal, moral, and spiritual ills brought about by promiscuous, adulterous, and exploitative heterosexual activities and relationships?
Of course not.
So let’s focus on a few objections that deal with homosexuality itself:
Homosexuality does not produce children.
An evangelical minister, commenting on the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28), once said, “I have news for you: The earth has been replenished.” Today, limiting our population growth has become a bigger issue than expanding our population. Besides, do we require heterosexual couples to have children?
We no longer believe that the only valid purpose of marriage is to have children, nor do we believe that childless couples are somehow thwarting God’s will. Such a belief would be cruel to couples who are unable to have children.
Homosexuality has many health risks associated with it, such as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Umm . . . yes. So does heterosexuality. Most sex-related health risks come from promiscuous sex and other forms of risky sex. When it comes to monogamous homosexual relationships, if there are any extra health risks associated with them, that would be no different than many activities we commonly engage in, such as driving cars and playing football. As long as a gay or lesbian couple is not putting others at risk, shouldn’t they be allowed to make their own decisions about what risks they do and don’t want to take?
Acceptance of homosexuality brings about change in long-held social and moral values, which causes upheaval and discomfort for many people.
Yes . . . and??? I’ve got news for you: Society is in the midst of massive upheaval and change. Do we really want to stop all social change? I think not. Even if it causes temporary upheaval, change is good if it means leaving behind old evils and old prejudices, and bringing about a more just and caring society.
Allowing people to openly engage in gay and lesbian relationships and marriages is very uncomfortable and distasteful for many people.
I do have sympathy for those who find homosexuality distasteful. However, the same argument has historically been made against acceptance of interracial marriages; against giving blacks and other minorities equal rights under the law, including the right to vote; against allowing women to vote, own property, and have equal legal standing with men; and any number of other things that were contrary to earlier social values. We can’t ban something just because it makes some people uncomfortable.
Homosexuality blurs the lines between male and female, and tears down the foundations of marriage.
If homosexuality blurs the lines between male and female, it is a blurring that has existed at least as long as human history.
Beyond that, are heterosexual men and women any less men, women, and heterosexual just because there are gays and lesbians also? That’s like saying that having cars of any other color besides black and red takes away from the blackness of a black car and the redness of a red car. It makes no sense.
Over 95% of the population is heterosexual, and will form heterosexual marriages if they get married. That’s not going to change if we accept and legalize same-sex marriage.
Homosexuality harms people spiritually because it is against God’s commandments, and is intrinsically wrong.
Well, that’s exactly what the religious debate on homosexuality is all about, isn’t it?
Not everyone agrees that homosexuality is against God’s commandments. Not everyone agrees that the Bible condemns faithful, monogamous, homosexual relationships between adults. Not everyone agrees that homosexuality is intrinsically wrong or immoral.
Why does one group get to decide for everyone else what God commands, what the Bible says, and what is right and wrong?
If homosexuality is against God’s commandments, it would have to be because it causes some sort of harm to the people involved, and to society as a whole.
So far, I simply haven’t seen any credible argument or evidence that homosexuality by itself causes any real harm to gays and lesbians themselves or to society as a whole.
That is why, even though I don’t understand homosexuality and don’t see how it fits into the scheme of creation, I also have no good reason to consider it an evil thing that is against God’s will. If it were evil, it would do some real damage. I just don’t see that damage.
On the other hand, I do see all the contributions gays and lesbians make to society—especially in the creative and aesthetic arts, which add so much richness to our lives.
Do gays and lesbians go to hell?
In light of everything said above, this is an easy one. No one goes to hell just for being a homosexual.
First, as I’ve argued immediately above, there’s no credible argument or evidence that faithful, committed, monogamous homosexual relationships cause any real harm. This means that there’s no good evidence that homosexuality is intrinsically evil, so that it would cause someone to be damned to hell.
Beyond that, it is critical to understand the difference between evil and sin.
- Evil is anything that causes harm—especially spiritual harm.
- Sin is intentionally doing something that we know is wrong and evil.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41). In other words, if we don’t know and believe that something is wrong, then we are not committing a sin when we do it.
Most gays and lesbians who are actively engaged in same-sex relationships do not believe that homosexuality is evil. For that reason alone, they can’t possibly be sinning by engaging in homosexual relationships. And we go to hell only if we persist in sinning.
As Paul states in Romans 2:14–15, those who do not accept our particular beliefs (“Gentiles”) will be accused or excused according to their own conscience. It would be completely unjust for God to condemn people for doing things that they are doing in good conscience. That’s not how God operates.
Conscience is God’s presence within us. When we live according to our conscience, we are showing our willingness to live according to God’s commandments. God accepts that as good even if we may be mistaken about some of our concepts of right and wrong.
Our beliefs about right and wrong can be sorted out in the afterlife. What’s important is our intention to live by what we believe is right and good not just for ourselves, but for others and in God’s eyes.
This means that gays and lesbians who live a good life according to their conscience will go to heaven just like anyone else.
Can homosexuals change into heterosexuals?
Behind the idea that homosexuality is an evil and a sin is the idea that it is a lifestyle and a choice.
However, more and more evidence and experience points to homosexuality being something that is so deeply engrained in a gay or lesbian person’s character that it cannot be changed, and is therefore not a choice at all.
“Conversion therapy” and “ex-gay” organizations
As I was reading various articles by conservative Swedenborgian clergy stating that homosexuality is an evil and a sin, I came across references here and there to groups and organizations whose mission is to help people change from homosexuality to heterosexuality through various types of group and individual therapy, prayer, repentance, and so on. Each time I came across such a reference, I would look up that organization—and find out that it had been discredited, or had disbanded, or had abandoned its claim that homosexuals can and should become heterosexual. Most of these organizations were Christian-based, though some were secular. Some such groups still exist, though none can show any real success at changing homosexuals into heterosexuals.
These groups had every incentive to make their therapies work. Their beliefs required that these therapies should work. Yet when their graduates are tracked after the therapy is over, most of them are found to have returned to active homosexuality. In some cases they have committed suicide in the aftermath of their therapy. A number of the leaders of these groups were found to be engaging in homosexual sex themselves—sometimes with the very people they were supposed to be “curing.”
Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer’s 2001 paper on homosexuality
One of the most common references in anti-homosexual articles written by Christian ministers is to a controversial 2001 paper titled “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” by eminent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer. Based on interviews with about 200 men and women who had undergone “conversion therapy” aimed at changing homosexuals into heterosexuals, Dr. Spitzer reported that these therapies were moderately to highly effective in bringing about such a change. This seemed especially significant since back in the 1970s Spitzer had been a driving force behind removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders.
In 2012, as Dr. Spitzer was approaching his 80s and taking stock of his life, he realized that he had one unfinished piece of business. And so he made the professionally and personally difficult step of retracting the conclusions of his 2001 paper on homosexuality. The evidence, he said, simply does not support the idea that gays can change. You can read about it in this article in the New York Times: “Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure.’”
Here is a video in which Dr. Spitzer himself speaks out on the subject:
Exodus International, etc.
Another major blow to the belief that gays and lesbians can become heterosexual came in 2013 when Exodus International, an umbrella organization for Christian “ex-gay” groups, closed its doors. Its leader, Alan Chambers, issued an apology on behalf of the group. Though many of its local member organizations continued to function, they were now on their own.
I could continue to list “conversion therapy” and “ex-gay” organizations that have disbanded, recanted, or been discredited. However, if you’re interested, you can look into it yourself with a few Internet searches.
Put simply, the evidence is mounting, and has now become overwhelming, that homosexuality is not a choice, and that gays and lesbians cannot change their sexual orientation.
Speaking more personally, some years ago when I was serving as pastor of a church congregation, a gay man who spent a year or two attending the congregation once said to me, almost with tears in his eyes, “Do you really think I would choose this?” His life had been very difficult because he was gay. Gays and lesbians themselves do not experience their sexual orientation as a choice. Rather, it is something that they become aware of at puberty, if not before—and their parents are often aware of it from the time they are toddlers.
Homosexuality is not a choice, nor is it a “lifestyle”
I do not know what causes 1.5–3.5% of the population to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual rather than heterosexual. I’m not sure anyone does. But whatever the cause, it seems to be deep seated, and probably inborn. It resists all efforts at change. Those who do try to change their sexual orientation commonly experience such distress and anguish that the effort to change becomes a threat to their mental and physical health.
In short, both personal experience and overwhelming evidence points to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a choice, nor is it a “lifestyle”—as if gays and lesbians could choose a different “lifestyle.” Pastors, politicians, and other public figures who refer to homosexuality as a “lifestyle” and a “choice” are betraying their lack of knowledge about the realities of homosexuality.
All evidence points to homosexuality being deeply ingrained in the identity and character of gays and lesbians. If that is the case, then the idea that it is an “evil” or a “sin” becomes almost irrelevant.
Calling it a sin implies that gays and lesbians have a choice in the matter, and that they can repent from it and change so that they are no longer sinners. But if the reality is that they cannot change, then from a spiritual perspective there are two possibilities:
- Homosexuality is a spiritual death sentence from which there is no escape, or
- Homosexuality is not a sin, and homosexuals are not required to become heterosexuals in order to live a spiritual life.
Everything I know about God leads me to believe that option 1 would be intolerable to God. Option 2, however, squares with my understanding that God offers spiritual life to all people.
Does this mean it’s okay for gays and lesbians to be actively engaged in same-sex relationships?
This is where we take the final step in considering homosexuality based on the Bible as understood from a Christian and spiritual perspective.
Can gay and lesbian relationships be spiritual?
Some conservative Christians believe that as long as a gay or lesbian person remains celibate, he or she has not violated God’s commandments. Because of the idea that it is homosexual sex itself that the Bible forbids, some people who come from conservative religious backgrounds and realize they are gay or lesbian commit themselves to remaining celibate.
Must gays and lesbians remain celibate to be Christian and spiritual? Or can gays and lesbians get married just like heterosexuals, and have good and spiritual relationships?
As presented in Emanuel Swedenborg’s book Marriage Love, monogamous marriage is—or at least, can be—a beautiful, spiritual relationship in which we humans can experience tremendous spiritual growth. Marriage, Swedenborg says, forms one of the deepest and most intense pathways toward angelhood. That’s because marriage is an expression of the very nature of God.
In a faithful, committed marriage, we form a deep bond with someone whom we love. In a good and growing marriage we must learn to live with that person, care for that person, and love that person day in and day out, through all of the challenges and struggles of life. In the process, we must look deeply into our own soul and root out the uncaring, self-centered parts of ourselves that block us from engaging in such a close and deep union with another person.
In short, a healthy, growing marriage is a powerful crucible for spiritual growth.
Is this crucible of spiritual growth denied to gays and lesbians?
If our sexual orientation is not something that we can choose or change, does God really cut hundreds of millions of people out of the powerful path of spiritual growth that is marriage?
I don’t believe so.
Whatever abstract, philosophical theories we may have about the nature of homosexuality, the pragmatic reality is that if gays and lesbians are going to have access to the challenges and blessings of marriage at all, it is going to be in same-sex marriages.
And as anyone familiar with same-sex relationships and marriages can tell you, gay and lesbian couples face the same personal and spiritual challenges, and have the opportunity to engage in the same kinds of spiritual growth, as straight couples do.
Annette and I support same-sex marriage, or marriage equality, because we believe that the benefits of marriage—personal, legal, social, and spiritual—should not be denied to couples who long for them, regardless of their sexual orientation. We support anything that helps people to grow spiritually and become angels. After all, that is the whole purpose of our life here on earth.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few points related to same-sex marriage.
There is no separate morality for same-sex marriage
Some gays and lesbians argue that since homosexual relationships are an entirely different thing than heterosexual relationships, straight morals don’t apply to gay and lesbian relationships.
I beg to differ.
Perhaps there are some differences in the dynamics of homosexual relationships compared to heterosexual relationships. After all, gay men are still men, and lesbian women are still women—and I think it has been sufficiently established by now that there are differences between men and women that go beyond the merely physical and reproductive.
And yet, I believe that there are universal moral, ethical, and spiritual principles that apply to all sexual relationships. And I believe that if gays and lesbians want to be married, and have their marriages accepted as equal to heterosexual marriages legally, socially, and spiritually, then they must abide by the same legal, social, and spiritual rules that apply to heterosexual marriage.
There can’t be one set of laws for heterosexual relationships and a whole different set of laws for homosexual relationships.
Specifically, people in same-sex marriages—and especially Christians in same-sex marriages—must abide by the same principles of monogamy, faithfulness, and a lifetime commitment to one another that heterosexuals do.
I understand that many marriages don’t last a lifetime. But that doesn’t relieve us of the religious and spiritual obligation to seek, and work for a lifetime commitment to our marital partner.
For Christians who draw principles about marriage from the Bible, I would suggest that all of the Biblical principles that apply to heterosexual marriage should also be applied to homosexual marriages. For those who seek to follow Swedenborg’s spiritual teachings about marriage as found in his book Marriage Love, I would suggest that all of the principles there that apply to heterosexual marriage should also be applied to homosexual marriage.
Same-sex marriage can be a forum for spiritual growth
Most if not all of the spiritual benefits of living at close quarters, day in and day out, with someone we love and feel one with don’t depend on sexual differences or on sexual orientation. Living at close quarters with anyone we deeply love and care for presses us to look closely at our own thoughts, feelings, motives, and actions in order to see where we may be causing conflict or giving pain to the other person.
The reality is that gays and lesbians are not going to engage in heterosexual relationships—or if they do, those relationships will quickly become pale and insipid because the spark of love and passion is missing for at least one of the partners. It is neither good nor fair to force people into relationships that simply don’t and can’t work for them.
But gays and lesbians can engage in mutually loving and passionate same-sex relationships that provide many of the same personal and spiritual benefits that heterosexual relationships do, and that give much of the same peace, joy, and contentment.
I believe that God wants all of these benefits, and this powerful forum for spiritual growth, to be available to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people just as God wants them to be available to straight people. Anything less would mean that God wants hundreds of millions of people on this earth who cannot by nature engage in real, deep heterosexual relationships to simply wither on the vine, and deny themselves some of the most powerful possibilities for mutual love and spiritual growth.
For more on spiritual growth and the purpose of life, see the article, “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”
Gays and lesbians do not have to be celibate
This brings us right back to the original questions asked by QuestioningMale, Cianna200, and Dennis Cobb.
For Christians, loving homosexuals means truly caring about them and wanting them to find their way to heavenly happiness and joy both here and to eternity.
This is not accomplished by denying them equal access to marriage. For all of the reasons I’ve outlined above, accepting and valuing same-sex marriages provides gays and lesbians with a powerful means of engaging in spiritual growth. So if we care about their eternal well-being, we should want marriage with all of its benefits to be available to them.
For gays and lesbians, whether Christian or not, forcing oneself to remain celibate even when opportunities for committed, spiritual marriage present themselves is not the best way to move forward on a spiritual path.
A longing and a drive toward marriage is deeply engraved on the human heart and mind. For over 95% of the people on earth, this means marriage with a partner of the opposite sex. But for those whose orientation is toward the same sex, that longing and drive for marriage is just as strong.
Is it really to anyone’s benefit to block and stymie such a deep part of our psyche? Is it really good and healthy to prevent oneself from expressing a love that is part of our very humanity?
Many people wish homosexuality didn’t exist.
But it does.
Many gays and lesbians wish they were heterosexual instead.
But they’re not.
Perhaps one day God will give us more light on this subject that is so difficult, confusing, and conflicted for so many people.
Meanwhile, Annette and I firmly believe that the best and most spiritual path for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals is to accept and value their own sexual orientation, and to express it in healthy, committed, long-term, monogamous relationships if they so desire.
In other words, when it comes to sex and marriage, the best and most spiritual path is the same both for heterosexuals and for homosexuals. Only the sexual orientation is different.
The decision is yours
Once again, I make no claim to be an expert on homosexuality. In the end you will have to make up your own mind what to think, believe, and do about it.
If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and you are a Christian, or spiritual in orientation, you will have to make a decision about accepting your own sexuality, and about whether to seek out and engage in a good and loving same-sex relationship—or marriage if the laws where you live allow it.
I hope this article helps to dispel for you some of the faulty Biblical scholarship and mistaken spiritual ideas surrounding the issue of homosexuality.
Whatever decision you make, please know that like every other human being, you are created in the image and likeness of God. God loves you very deeply, cares about you, and wants you to experience happiness and joy both here on earth and eternally in heaven.
This article is a response to three spiritual conundrums submitted by readers.
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