Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

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 “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity: A Summary.”)

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:

  1. Misapplying to present-day culture laws that were specific to the cultures of Bible times, or
  2. 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)

And:

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:

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”:

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 the 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.

You see, Paul, being a Greek-speaking Jew (some scholars say he was a Hellenistic Jew), commonly used an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint.

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:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. 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 considered homosexuality to be 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 the intended victims had been female rather than male.

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 96% 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.

Why not?

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:

  1. Homosexuality is a spiritual death sentence from which there is no escape, or
  2. 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 96% 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.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Sex Marriage Relationships
49 comments on “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity
  1. Cianna200 says:

    Thank you so much Lee for such great insight, I have a heavy weight off my shoulders now. I also am confused with homosexuality and bisexuality but I remember someone thinking that homosexuality helps with population control or homosexuality is a divine attribute created by God, which you can really learn to love your own sex. There exists homosexual animals I know as well.

  2. Dennis Cobb says:

    God is Life. There is no life from homosexuality. God never changes. We do.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dennis,

      Thanks for your comment, and for your original question. Each of us can only speak the truth as we understand it. Only God is truth and has the full truth. Everything we humans can know is partial, and adapted to our ability to receive and understand it.

  3. Doug Webber says:

    I don’t know what to say Lee. Why is the Church waffling on this issue? It is strictly forbidden. It is classified as an abomination against marriage love between a man and a woman. The laws aren’t there to condemn, they are there to lead one to the happiest form of a relationship. The Church should be there to protect the marriage relationship.

    What I will say, is that the west – especially the U.S. – has become quite permissive. No one honors marriage any more, in many areas married men always look at other people’s wives. So its the opposite: American culture wants the revelation watered down. And if everyone is going to say “Its OK”, of course no one is going to change. Consent leads to permissiveness.

    One point that Swedenborg said was interesting, is that he stated God allowed Islam to come for those who could not reject polygamy. Marriage love between one man and one woman is the relationship reserved for Christianity. In other words, a lower revelation is given to those who cannot accept or are not ready for a true relationship of marriage love. There was another vision where the further the society got away from marriage love, the further away they were from God. For a true spiritual relationship is that where there is a union between love and truth, best fulfilled on earth between one man and one woman.

    I can say more about dreams and visions, concerning those who delve into such relationships – both homosexual and lesbian – and the warning there is similar to the warning that Swedenborg gave concerning adultery. The timing of your post is a bit of a synchronicity here.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your comment. I can only suggest that you re-read this article and the companion article on Swedenborg and homosexuality. It is nowhere near as clear-cut as conservative Christians and conservative Swedenborgians would have us believe.

      If there were any real evidence that homosexuality is a choice, and that gays and lesbians can change, perhaps it would be different. But the evidence is overwhelming in the other direction. A certain percentage of the population is homosexual. That’s unlikely to change any time soon. Nor is accepting homosexuality going to make any difference in the percentages. Over 95% of the population will still be heterosexual. And the same ideal of faithful, monogamous, heterosexual marriage holds for that 95%+ of the population regardless of whether the remaining much smaller percentage of the population is wired differently.

      It does no good to bury our heads in the sand and cling to old ideas and attitudes that simply can’t hold water.

      Meanwhile, there are so many clear and often-repeated commandments about loving our neighbor, loving our enemies, engaging in useful service to others, and repenting of our own sins! When there are far more pressing issues in our society and in our own spiritual rebirth and regeneration, why do we expend so much effort and so much energy on something about which the Lord himself gave us no commandment, and that is only mentioned a handful of times in the entire Bible and in all the voluminous works of Swedenborg? Why do we selectively focus on that scarcely-mentioned issue, and not pay attention to far greater issues of evil and injustice in our society, in our world, and in our own prejudicial hearts?

      There are far better and far more clearly commanded things for Christians–including the Swedenborgian variety–to focus our time and energy on.

    • mzzhang says:

      “What I will say, is that the west – especially the U.S. – has become quite permissive. No one honors marriage any more, in many areas married men always look at other people’s wives.”

      I come from a culture that was not permissive about marriage. My dad used to abuse my mom physically and emotionally at every opportunity, by calling her stupid, having an openly adulterous relationship, stealing her identity, beating her, and throwing her against the wall so hard that it made a hole in the wall. She didn’t divorce him, because she really believed in the sanctity of marriage and thought divorce was shameful. So for 20 years, she endured the abuse, thinking it was her only choice.

      I’m very thankful that the permissiveness of Western society allowed this abuse to stop, but it was 20 years too late. Forbidding or stigmatizing divorce may artificially drive down divorce rates, but at the cost of forcing spouses to endure abuse and children to watch it, often for decades.

      • Lee says:

        Hi mzzhang,

        I’m so sorry to hear about the terrible abuse your mother had to endure and you had to watch for so many years. I hope she is free of it now. It takes a long time to heal from that, and the scars are always there.

        I don’t believe that marriage is deteriorating. Instead, I believe that what marriage has been like for centuries, even millennia, is finally coming out into the open where everyone can see it. And although the sight is not pretty, this is precisely what has to happen for us to finally face and overcome the corruptions and abuses of marriage and sexuality that have been with us since time immemorial.

        Due to this perspective on the issue, even though marriage superficially seems to be at a low ebb, I am actually optimistic that all of this upheaval is leading to better attitudes toward marriage in our society and in the world generally, and to better marriages than have existed for thousands of years.

  4. Dear Lee, I didn’t stop by for some time, having been rather overwhelmed with teaching lately. As one reads and hears so many short-sighted, self-righteous and cruel things on this subject, I was attracted to read your article. I really enjoyed this one. Of course many people would not even bother to understand what the bible says today anymore, discarding it as something from the past. Still your careful reading and interpreting manages to not only speak to Christians, I think, but to those I just mentioned too, as you show that Christianity’s traditions in one way or the other affect how people think and judge on this topic in Western societies. I specifically liked your care a) in taking historical conditions into account in making use of ancient texts like the Bible, b) in your assessment of the need of a dialogue between science and theology, and c) to always try to respect and do justice to a wide variety of potential readers. These are things that one would want to be commonly accepted among writers and speakers on religion. Thanks for your efforts!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Angela,

      Good to hear from you, and thanks for your kind words. It is good to know that what I was working to achieve in the article does come through to at least some readers.

      I also appreciate your thoughts on engaging with the Biblical text. Being a Christian, of course I am going to engage with the Bible. However, as you say, or at least imply, even those who do not look to the Bible as expressing the thoughts or will of God do well to take the text seriously, if only because 2.2 billion people, or nearly 1/3 of the earth’s population, do look to it as the Word of God.

      Christians of varying branches and sects give the Bible different levels of authority, and interpret it with varying levels of literalism or deeper nuance. However, for a great many Christians, if they believe that the Bible says one thing or another, they will consider this to be the final word on the subject because this, they believe, is the truth and the will of God. In many cases this will trump all science, reason, logic, history, and even basic human decency and respect.

      Given the powerful sway that the Bible continues to have on such a large percentage of the world’s population, it is essential not to cede that ground to those who interpret the Bible in ways that cause oppression and demoralization of various groups of people–in this case, of homosexuals.

      This may seem a tactical approach rather than a truth-based one. However, I believe that the most fundamental message of the Bible boils down to God being a God of love. That fundamental message is the basis of Jesus’ summation of all the Scriptures as teaching love to God and love to the neighbor. The second most fundamental message of the Bible as I see it is that God is a God of truth. If, then, we find our interpretation of the Bible contradicting love for our fellow human beings, and contradicting the truth as it presents itself in God’s creation, then we must adjust our understanding of the Bible and its message.

      This is what drove me–rather reluctantly, I must say–to adopt the position and interpretation that I have with regard to homosexuality and the real meaning of the Bible’s statements about it. My hope is that others will also come to understand these things, and that the oppression and vilification of people who are doing nothing more than living according to their basic, unchangeable nature will in time disappear from human society.

  5. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Very well said Lee.

  6. Lightrays says:

    Reblogged this on God is not a bully and commented:
    This is an excellent well thought and well researched and balanced approach to what the Bible says about homosexuality. It is about time. This needs to be read by everyone.

  7. Anne Mitchell says:

    Fabulous, Lee. You really should publish this somewhere, to get it out there for a broader audience. Please.
    I too think that homosexuality has genetic basis. I also think that the theory of evolution is on the right track, and a key part of that theory is variation in the genome. While homosexuality does not (usually) contribute to the birth of new humans, it constitutes a very small percentage of the population leaving plenty of others to take care of that — we have no shortage of population. This is to look just at science. Clearly, I understand the value of any human life as one that has potential to love and regenerate and contribute to the welfare of all.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Anne,

      So good to hear from you! And thanks for your thoughtful comment. So you don’t think that waiting for the world to beat a pathway to my door is a good outreach strategy? 😉

      As the taboos and social shame traditionally surrounding homosexuality fades away, and acceptance becomes mainstream, I expect that there will be much more research into the science and psychology of homosexuality. Then maybe we’ll finally get some real answers about its genesis and function within the human race.

      Meanwhile, we’re all humans here!

  8. I shared part of this post on my facebook page and linked to it because I am curious to see how Christians answer your question:

    “How do Christians decide which laws are still binding on us and which are not?”

    That truly is the big question. My answer is that what they are taught in their culture as well as what they want to do will automatically cause them to reject certain 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.”

    I am very happy that those laws are not followed anymore because I think about it from the animal perspective. Of course I am still bothered by the animal slaughter and abuse that happens today which has nothing to do with religious teachings.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chandler,

      Thanks. Let me know if you get any interesting responses.

      Yes, I’m glad we no longer sacrifice animals for religious reasons. And I look forward to the day when animals are no longer abused nor raised for slaughter in terribly inhumane conditions. However, it seems that we humans have a lot more growing to do (spiritually speaking) before that day arrives.

  9. Richard Neer says:

    Hello Lee,

    As a heterosexual person who staunchly believes in religious freedoms and who supports equality regardless of sexual orientation or belief, I am so sadly embarrassed to live in the state of Indiana where the conservative population is so extremely right-wing they will tromp across anyone who doesn’t fit their mold, even in light of the fact it will have significant negative economic impact. (A serious conflict of interest, there!)

    Today, our governor, rather than showing support for equality and exercising his ability to veto, chose to sign into law a bill that will allow any business to turn away customers based upon sexual preference orientation, under the guise of “religious freedom”.

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/25/politics/mike-pence-religious-freedom-bill-gay-rights/index.html

    I just can’t believe that, in this day and age in our society, there still exists such bias and discrimination that is supported by government rather than being abolished by it. And what’s worse, using “religious freedom” as a pawn position to pass into law bills supporting either side of the issue.

    From my point of view, religion really has no bearing on this, and separation between church and state should be just that – SEPARATION!!

    Rich

  10. Mark says:

    Another great article.

  11. Demetri says:

    Hey I want to thank you on responding to my last question it was very helpful but I have another. I am a Christan who also supports marriage equality I think that love can reach all types of people and isn’t only to male and female but my question is what does God judge you on? I believe that he judges you on your heart not your belief or sexuality but my mom keeps saying different saying something from the Bible but that doesn’t really answer my question, if homosexuality is a sin why don’t we have a choice in whether people want to do it or not? People keep saying it’s a choice and that’s mean to gay teens so my real question what will be judged on?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Demetri,

      Glad to help. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read through the above article (I know it’s a long one!), but if not, your questions about homosexuality should be answered there.

      This may sound surprising, but I don’t think God judges us at all. At least, not in the sense of sending us to heaven or to hell.

      Yes, God knows us thoroughly and down to every single thought and feeling we’ve ever had, and everything we’ve ever said or done, and why. But God’s effort is always to lift us out of evil, falsity, and misery, and up to love, understanding, and joy, no matter what we’ve thought, said, or done. That’s because God loves every one of us with an infinite love that wants only our eternal good and our eternal happiness.

      If we go to hell, it will not be because God sends us there, but because that’s where we want to be and insist on being through our own choices to live from selfishness and greed rather than from love, compassion, and a desire to serve our fellow human beings.

      So really, we judge ourselves not so much by our beliefs, but by how we live based on our beliefs. The “judgment” that takes place after death is simply a matter of making clear what our true character is behind the social masks we put on, and sorting ourselves into the eternal home where we belong. This could be in heaven or it could be in hell depending on the choices we’ve made for or against loving God above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves. For more on how this happens, see the article, What Happens To Us When We Die?

      Short version: We are judged, or rather, we judge ourselves, by the character we have developed and the life we have lived based on the choices we have made in life, whether to love only ourselves or to love others as much as we love ourselves. For the big picture on what our life is all about, see: Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.

      • Demetri says:

        Thanks again you answered pretty well. I think we put too much power in the Bible to me it’s not something that should be taken literally which is why Jesus spoke in parables. I think the lessons from the stories he told should be what we base our life on because the problem with the Bible is that it spans thorough generations and was written by 40 diffrent men all with different opinions and viewpoints on life. That’s why whenever I read the Bible I really just study to see how they dealt with things back in their time but I really don’t base my life on it. It’s my life I base it on the people I meat the way I treat others the blessings I recieve and my morals and my heart that’s what I follow and base it on. Just because it’s biblically right doesn’t it mean it’s 100% right

        • Lee says:

          Hi Demetri,

          Glad you liked the article. I agree that much of the Bible is not meant to be taken literally. Jesus’ parables are a great example. However, the very idea of taking the Bible mostly, or entirely, literally is a fairly recent one. For most of Christian history, up until the time of the Protestant Reformation, it was generally believed that there were deeper meanings in the Bible.

          For a deeper view of the Bible than is commonly found in Christian churches these days, please see these articles:

          At its deeper level—and in many places even in its plain literal meaning—the Bible is all about how we treat others, the blessings we receive, and the morals in our hearts.

  12. I also follow Swedenborg’s teachings and am a gay Christian. I am fairly new to Swedenborg so I was wondering if anyone could read my essay at: http://www.isa56.com/thekreitzeredition/essay.html and let me know if you think I have strayed from solid Swedenborgian theology in my presentation on homosexuality. I would prefer to edit anything out that is not spiritually sound i.e. not Swedenborgian. If you are able to help thank you for your time! With brotherly love, -John

    • Lee says:

      (Edit: For some reason this 4:26 pm comment is appearing after the 6:43 pm comment above. It is meant to be read first.)

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment and link. Your essay and supporting material at the link are quite extensive, but I did read through the entire page (except for all the references at the end). In doing so I learned some things I hadn’t known before, which is always good. I do not consider myself an expert on homosexuality and related issues, and am happy to gain greater understanding when the opportunity presents itself.

      At the same time, I don’t have much of an axe to grind in either direction, so I don’t always go for the arguments on either side of the question, both of which at times seem more designed to support their pre-existing thesis rather than to discover the truth.

      For me, it’s basic that people living according to their consciences will not go to hell. So the idea that gays and lesbians will go to hell simply for being, and acting, gay or lesbian (including engaging in homosexual sex) is a non-starter. Any arguments that do start from that premise are, in my view, inherently flawed because those who make them do not understand how evil, sin, and hell work.

      Once automatic hell for practicing homosexuals is off the table, that frees the mind to look at things a little more objectively, and to interpret the Bible from a more spiritual and less literalistic perspective.

      That is what I aimed to do in the above article, and also (in relation to Swedenborg’s writings) in the companion piece: What does Emanuel Swedenborg Say about Homosexuality? I realize that these are long articles, but if you have not read them in their entirety, I would encourage you to do so. In these two articles I have presented in organized fashion my collected thoughts on the subject of homosexuality and Christian spirituality, including, in the other article, a refutation of all of the main anti-homosexual arguments made by conservative Swedenborgians based specifically on Swedenborg’s writings.

      In the course of writing the above article on homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity, I read a number of articles by Christians both against and for acceptance of homosexuality. And while I certainly did learn a lot from them, an overarching conclusion was that as long as there is a perceived need to have the Bible support one’s view, whether pro- or anti-homosexual, there seems to be a high likelihood of attempting to make the Bible say what the writer of the article wants it to say in order to support the position taken.

      In other words, I thought that both pro- and anti-homosexual articles played a bit loose with the text and the facts in order to make the Bible say what they wanted it to say.

      From a Swedenborgian perspective, this is a fundamental error in interpreting the Bible.

      I recognize that for those who don’t have Swedenborg’s deeper understanding of the nature of the Bible, it may be necessary to make such arguments, despite the inherent error of the approach. When talking to a wider, non-Swedenborgian audience, it is very difficult to maintain a position as “Christian” when there are plain statements in the Bible contrary to that position. I therefore have a certain amount of sympathy for both pro- and anti-homosexual Christians whose articles make, in my view, arguments that really can’t be sustained. They are doing their best to be faithful to their Christian belief in the Bible while supporting a position that seems to them to be essential to genuine Christian belief and practice.

      In the case of gays and lesbians and their friends and supporters, this is particularly poignant in that if the Bible is believed to condemn homosexuality, then they themselves, or their friends and family members, are being condemned in a way that cannot be avoided, because a gay or lesbian person cannot “repent” of homosexuality. It is part of their nature.

      And that, incidentally, was the final reality check that made it impossible for me to believe that homosexuality is inherently sinful, as I was probably inclined to think in when I was young and even more foolish than I am now. I do not believe that a just and loving God would allow a person to be born such that his or her inherent, unchangeable nature would condemn him or her to hell. And if a gay or lesbian person has no ability to change his or her sexual orientation, as has by now become abundantly clear, then the idea that being homosexual condemns one to hell simply cannot be true if, as Swedenborgians believe, God is universally loving, wise, and just to all of God’s creatures.

      That, in a nutshell, is why I simply cannot accept the idea that homosexuality is a sin, and is punishable by eternal death in hell.

      But back to the various articles and arguments on both sides of the question, I find nearly all of them, even if they are informative, to fall short of fully engaging with the issues that need to be dealt with in order to gain a clearer understanding of the spiritual issues involved in homosexuality, and in order to read the various statements in the Bible related to homosexuality with more objectivity on the literal level, and a greater understanding of what those statements do and don’t mean for us socially and spiritually speaking.

      More specifically, it is critically necessary to understand that the text of the Bible is culturally relative, and that the various laws, strictures, and events recorded there do not represent pure divine truth, but rather are divine truth clothed in human, cultural forms. This means that much of what is said in the Bible cannot be rightly read and interpreted as some sort of absolute divine truth, but must be seen as accommodations of divine truth to the particularities of human culture and cultural practices, some of which are, when seen objectively, actually opposed to genuine divine truth and divine principles of justice.

      Traditional Christians generally have a horror of recognizing this, since they think that doing so would throw the whole Bible into chaos, and make it false and untrustworthy. But that fear of seeing the cultural relativism of the literal meaning of the Bible is based on a literalistic and materialistic view of the Bible.

      Unfortunately, without Swedenborg’s teachings about the nature of the Bible, it is nearly impossible for Chrisitans not to engage in that sort of literalism and materialism when reading the Bible. For those in that mindset, the alternatives are either to make the Bible say what they want it to say, or to reject the Bible altogether.

      However, from a Swedenborgian perspective, neither one of those alternatives is necessary. Once we understand the true nature of the Bible as divine truth in human, cultural clothing, we can let the Bible say what it says within the context of its culture, but recognize that to gain real spiritual truth from the text of the Bible we must look beyond the human cultural clothing to the deeper divine truth within it. And sometimes that deeper divine truth is exactly the opposite of what it says in the literal sense of the Bible.

      I say all of this to put my particular reactions to your article in context, and to provide an overview of why I believe that a Swedenborgian approach to this whole issue is distinctly different (and better) than any of the usual approaches, both in the pro- and anti-homosexual camps. But since this is getting long, I’ll put my more specific reactions in a separate comment.

      Meanwhile, for an at least mildly entertaining presentation of some of these points about the Bible, please see my article: How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.

    • Lee says:

      (Edit: For some reason my first comment in response is showing up second. This comment was meant to be introduced by the comment I left at 4:26 pm on the same day, which is currently showing up below this one.)

      Hi John,

      Now for some more specific responses to your article, as you requested.

      But first, it is clearly a well thought out and well-researched article. None of what I say below is meant to take away from that. However, in reading it I did find a few things that might run afoul of Swedenborg’s teachings, and also a few things that I just don’t happen to agree with based on my own reading, study, thought, and experience.

      Still, what I do agree with is that non-heterosexual people of all sorts can be good Christians and go to heaven according to the same criteria as everyone else: loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. That, and not legalisms about the particular way we have sex, is what causes us to go to heaven and not to hell. So even if I may see things a little differently than you do, in the end you and I reach the same general conclusion, I think.

      Now on to the specifics—starting with ones specifically relating to Swedenborg’s theology.

      All-male and all-female?

      You say, “No soul is actually all male or female” (with further expansion on that idea). While there is a sense in which this is true, there is also a sense in which this is not true. I’m still figuring it out myself, quite honestly. But here is a statement from Swedenborg’s Marriage Love #32-33 on the other side of the question:

      A person may be male or female, and the male and the female are so different that one cannot change into the other. . . . In fact, there is masculinity in every part of the male, down to the smallest part of his body, and also in every idea he thinks of and every spark of affection he feels; and the same is true of the femininity of the female. Since therefore one cannot change into the other, it follows that after death the male is male and the female is female.

      In terms of the body, we know that every cell of a male body has XY chromosomes, and every cell of a female body has XX chromosomes, so that quite literally a male is male physically down to the least details of his body, and a female is female physically down to the least details of her body. It is true, of course, that some people have other variations in their gender-determining chromosomes. But even for them, the same pattern is repeated in every cell of their body.

      So although in one sense there are male and female characteristics in both men and women (for example, both male and female characters in the Bible symbolize aspects of the spirits of both men and women), in another sense a male is totally male, and a female is totally female. So it’s good to be a little careful about making statements that males and females are somehow on a curve as mixtures of male and female. In terms of character, that certainly does seem to be true. But in terms of essential maleness and femaleness, the vast majority of men are entirely male, and the vast majority of women are entirely female. The relatively rare exceptions of intersex people, XYY males, and so on, don’t obliterate the general principle that applies to the majority of people.

      But once again, this is a very complex issue—as is everything gender-related—and I’m still figuring it out myself.

      The souls of intersex people

      Related to this, you say:

      He [God] has created an infinite variety within the intersex population. Likewise the soul of these people must be both male and female since the soul is supposedly assigned at conception / fertilization which is the start of life. There must be varying degrees of the male and female soul in each one of the intersex individuals.

      It is true that Swedenborg says that the soul is present at conception. His view of how the soul comes into being doesn’t quite square with present day genetic science (he believed, based on Aristotle, that the soul comes from the father and the body from the mother). However, his overall theology still does require a human soul, or at least a proto-soul, at conception, which then builds the body to its specifications, presumably through the physical mechanism of genetics and so on.

      Having said that, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the body will be built perfectly to the soul’s specifications. The soul must work in and through physical mechanisms and conditions, and as we know, those physical mechanisms and conditions can be vitiated in various ways. For example, if a pregnant mother is a drug addict, that can heavily affect the development of the embryo and fetus, causing various health problems and birth defects. This does not mean that the soul has those defects; it only means that the soul’s work in building the body was damaged by physical conditions.

      What this means is that we can’t draw a hard-and-fast conclusion that people are born intersex because the soul is intersex. That may be true. But it may also be a case of some physical conditions bringing about changes in the physical development of the embryo and fetus, resulting in an intersex child.

      So although it’s not necessarily wrong to say that the soul of an intersex person is intersex, that’s not a conclusion that can be drawn solidly from Swedenborg’s own statements about the relationship between the soul and the body. And it should be added that Swedenborg himself saw souls as either male or female. There isn’t anything in Swedenborg, to my knowledge, to indicate the possibility of an intersex soul.

      Once again, this is a highly complex subject. I say the above mostly to urge caution in drawing any hard-and-fast conclusions, since based on Swedenborg’s theology as he wrote it, there’s a greater probability that he would say that an intersex child is the result of particular physical conditions rather than the result of an intersex soul.

      (I would also point out that gay men are still males, and lesbian women are still females. Though intersex people certainly are highly relevant to the overall issue of gender identity and sexual orientation, intersex people are a far smaller percentage of the population than are homosexuals, and they are not the same as one another.)

      Eunuchs

      I found the analysis in your article of the various kinds of eunuchs mentioned in Matthew 19:11-12 to be helpful. However, there is a bit of a quibble from a Swedenborgian perspective. You say:

      . . . as stated in Matthew 19:11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” The last classification here was of men who decided not to marry of which many did so to enter the priesthood which being a male and not marrying was looked down upon, . . .

      That is a respectable view of the final type of eunuch from a traditional Christian perspective. However, it is quite suspect from an ancient Jewish perspective, since Jewish priests were not celibate. And Swedenborg rejected celibacy altogether as a desirable state for Christian men and women to be in. He believed that celibacy in the priesthood, as well as celibacy among monks and nuns, rather than making them more spiritual, actually made them less spiritual.

      Instead, he interpreted “eunuchs” as people who were spiritually chaste in the context of a culture in which the very concept of marriage was materialistic and unchaste. So his spiritual interpretation of “eunuchs” involves, not abstaining from sex, heterosexual or otherwise, but abstaining from impure sexual relations. And since he viewed essentially all sexual relations in the corrupted ancient churches as being impure, the term “eunuch” took on an air of spirituality because it involved not engaging in a form of “marriage” that was very impure, but was the norm in the ancient cultures through which the Bible was written.

      Here is a statement to that effect, from Apocalypse Explained #710.28 (with apologies for the rather harsh statements about the ancient Jews):

      The reason why the Lord afterwards spoke concerning eunuchs, was that the disciples said, “If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry;” and since marriages among the Jewish nation, which was a nation hard in heart because in falsities from evil, were not marriages, but, understood in a spiritual sense, were adulteries, therefore also that nation was called by the Lord an adulterous generation. This is why the Lord spoke concerning eunuchs, who mean those who do not desire to enter into marriage, that is, to be conjoined with affection for evil, because by that means the understanding of truth and good would be perverted and dissipated. Thus eunuchs mean both the married and the unmarried, in whom the understanding of truth and good is conjoined with affection for truth and good. They are called eunuchs, because they have no lasciviousness such as those have, who, from hardness of heart, in which the Jews were, have married more than one wife, and divorced them for every cause.

      He goes on to speak of the spiritual meaning of the three types of eunuchs mentioned in Matthew 19:12. If you’re interested, you can find it online here by scrolling down to subsection 29.

      This, too, is a highly complex issue. None of this necessarily means that anything you said in your article is incorrect. I bring it up to point out that Swedenborg had quite a different view of the “eunuchs” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 19:20 than either the traditional Christian view or the view represented in your article.

      Those were the three main issues I saw in which there might be some conflict or tension between what you wrote and what Swedenborg wrote.

      However, as I also point out in the article, What does Emanuel Swedenborg Say about Homosexuality? Swedenborg really doesn’t say much, if anything, about consensual, monogamous homosexual relationships as we know of them today. So the three points above are really just things from Swedenborg to keep in mind in exploring these issues.

      I’ll add a few of my own additional reactions in another comment.

    • Lee says:

      Hi John,

      Now for a few more reactions based on my own study, thoughts, and experience related especially to some of the issues in Bible interpretation that you raise in the article.

      Women as property

      First, I take issue with the assertion commonly thrown around today that in the Bible women were property, virtual property, and so on. Certainly women had a much lower status than men in the cultures of Bible times—and they continue to have a much lower status in many of the cultures in that region of the world even today.

      However, women were not property in Bible times, and they did have a number of rights—even if not as many rights as men.

      A woman could be property . . . and so could a man. It was called slavery.

      But non-slave women, though subject to the authority of their fathers or their husbands, were not the property of their fathers or husbands. And they often had considerable clout. For more on this, see my recent article: Is the Bible a Book about Men? What about Women?

      “Eunuchs” and the OT ban on homosexual sex

      As I said in my previous comment, I found the discussion of eunuchs in your article to be helpful and enlightening. However, most of it is based on cultural conditions in New Testament times, when the culture of the Holy Land was heavily affected by Greek and Roman culture.

      In Old Testament times, that was not the case. Greece and Rome had little or no commerce with or effect on early Hebrew culture, which was distinctly Middle Eastern in character.

      So although the analysis of “eunuchs” may be quite relevant to their place in society in New Testament times, it seems to me not to be very relevant to the Old Testament prohibitions on men having sex with men.

      This is an area where I think homosexual-friendly Christian scholars have gone overboard in attempting to make the Bible agree with their position. And although a reasonable argument can be made for that with regard to the few (three) New Testament statements that speak directly of same-sex sexual activity (which, however, I still don’t entirely go for), I don’t think those arguments hold much water at all when it comes to the Old Testament prohibition of men having sex with men in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.

      As I explain in the above article, I simply don’t think the pro-homosexual arguments about the Levitical ban on men having sex with men being about temple prostitution or about heterosexual men having sex with other men, and so on, have much basis in the text or in the culture of the times.

      The language used in those two verses is plain and straightforward. It doesn’t use the Hebrew word for “temple prostitute,” and it doesn’t make any fine distinctions about whether a man is a “male” or a “eunuch.” It simply says that any man who lies with another man as with a woman is an abomination, and is to be executed.

      I think that’s exactly what those passages mean. And I think that is not an actual divine command, but is an example of cultural views and taboos becoming part of the text of the Bible because it is part of the human cultural “clothing” through which the divine truth had to be expressed to fallen, materialistic human beings.

      There are many Old Testament laws that Christians no longer observe because they recognize that these were abrogated by Christ in the New Testament. I understand why pro-homosexual Christians attempt to make the argument that the condemnation of men having sex with men in Leviticus was somehow conditional and doesn’t really mean what it appears to mean. But I think those arguments are weak, that the prohibition does mean what it appears to mean, and that it simply doesn’t apply anymore, because it was a rule of that culture for reasons relating to that culture, not a universal divine law.

      But I’ve explained this more fully in the article above.

      Arsenokoitai

      Finally, though homosexual-friendly Christians would prefer not to see it this way, I think that the origin of Paul’s coined term arsenokoitai is quite clear, based on the fact that he made heavy use of the Septuagint in his quotations of (Old Testament) Scripture. I’ve covered that in the article above, so there’s no need to repeat it here.

      Once again, none of this is meant to take anything away from your article, which provides some good and needed information and perspective on the whole issue of Christianity and homosexuality. However, since you asked for my reactions, I’m giving you my thoughts on some areas where I don’t quite see eye to eye with your arguments, even if you and I are very close to one another in our conclusions about homosexuality and Christianity being perfectly compatible.

      I hope these thoughts and reactions of mine are helpful to you.

  13. Mark says:

    It’s a real pleasure to witness the Christian community finally “growing up” in large numbers, spiritually, on the issue of homosexuality. Here are the views of three well-known Christians on the subject:

    Kristin Chenoweth: “If Jesus was to walk the Earth today . . . (he) would be horrified. Those people saying they’re doing it (denigrating gay people) in the name of God? No no no no no. It is very anti-Christian of them . . . It is the antithesis of what I believe. It is the antithesis of what you should believe if you believe in Jesus. . . It’s not what he taught, it’s the opposite of what he taught.”

    Carrie Underwood: “I’m in favor of acceptance. And I am a Christian person, and I do love the Lord, and I feel no matter who you are, what you believe, how you live your life, it’s not my place to judge. As a married person myself, I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t marry somebody I love, and want to marry. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love.”

    President Carter: “Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things – he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.”

    The number of churches who now fully accept gay people into their folds and perform gay weddings continues to rise each and every year. And other religions, as well, are climbing out of the dark ages on this issue, as evidenced by this poll: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/04/22/3649935/poll-american-muslims-supportive-sex-marriage-white-evangelical-christians/

    And the times, they are a’changin’, All the best!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the great quotes and the link!

      Yes, times, they are a’changin’. Just today while sorting through some old papers I came across a couple of position papers from the late 1970s written by ministers in my denomination (The Swedenborgian Church of North America) providing support for acceptance of homosexuality. At the time, that was hugely controversial in the church, and the writers of those papers were considered flaming liberals (pun intended). Today in the church (our branch, anyway), it’s hardly even an issue anymore.

  14. Tyler Tree says:

    Hey Lee! Thank you so much for your thoughtful articles. A very old copy of ‘The True Christian Religion’ has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and yesterday I decided to pick it up. I was immediately captivated by Swedenborg. Being gay, I became curious about his views on homosexuality and found your site via a google search. I am so happy I did! I have been gay for as long as I can remember and am also very devout in my Christian faith. Deep down I have never felt like I am going to Hell, but do find myself questioning whether my lifestyle is ‘wrong’ at times. You articles have given me peace of mind.

    I do have a question. My partner is open to the idea that God MIGHT exist but seems to have turned his back on Christianity because he feels judged by the Christian community (for being gay). Do you have any advice on communicating to him that it is possible to be both gay and a Christian? I think it would be awesome if he read your articles in full, but that seems a bit out of character for him since he lacks an interest in Christianity and reading.

    Although my partner does not identify as being a Christian, he is one of the most benevolent and caring people I have ever met. I don’t want to bombard him with my beliefs or the beliefs of other people. It would just be great to help him kindle a relationship with God 🙂 Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks again for the wonderful articles!!!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad these articles are helpful to you!

      I am probably the least likely person to write them, since homosexuality has never really been a big issue for me. But seeing all the awful “Christian” stuff out there about homosexuality, and with the encouragement of my wife, I just had to write these articles to set the record straight (no pun intended!)—at least from my perspective. I simply don’t believe that being gay or lesbian is some great evil that will send a person to hell. It’s not as though gays and lesbians had any choice in the matter. And I certainly don’t believe that God would send us to hell for something that we don’t even have a choice about. But all of that is covered in the articles.

      About your partner, my first suggestion is to relax! If, as you say, he is one of the most benevolent and caring people you have ever met, he is in a good relationship with God even if he doesn’t realize it. After all, caring and benevolence come from God. People who have these things in their heart, mind, and life have God in their heart, mind, and life. Even if they don’t realize this during their lifetime here on earth, after they pass on to the other world they will see and have a conscious relationship with the divine Source of all that caring and benevolence.

      Here are some further articles you might find helpful along these lines:

      And there are more where these came from!

      If your partner lacks an interest in Christianity and in reading, that’s not necessarily the end of the world. He has you, and your interest in Christianity and in reading, to complement his warm and caring heart. And through his relationship with you, he has a connection with your Christian faith as well. The greatest thing you can do for him is to show him by the way you live what it truly is to be a Christian—and that Christianity is not about condemning and shunning people. So perhaps my most effective advice on communicating to him that it is possible to be both gay and a Christian is for you to be both gay and a Christian.

      If Jesus does come up in conversation with him, you can at least tell him that Jesus himself never said a word about homosexuality. If it had been so important for Christians to condemn homosexuality, why didn’t Jesus do so?

      Even the statements in Paul related to homosexuality are not as clear as many Christians think they are. And the fact that there are only five or six places in the entire Bible that mention same-sex relations should be a clue that homosexuality simply isn’t as big an issue as many conservative Christians make it out to be.

      In fact, there is one story in the Gospels in which it seems likely that Jesus healed the male lover of a Roman officer. It is told in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. I didn’t include it in the article because it’s somewhat speculative. However the different Greek words used for “servant” or “boy” in the Matthew and Luke accounts suggest that this might actually have been a young man that the Roman officer kept as a lover—something that was very common for upper echelon Romans in those days.

      Further, Jesus commonly associated with all sorts of people, wealthy and poor, socially acceptable and outcast. If Jesus had meant for Christians to shun and shame people of the “wrong” type, he certainly didn’t provide a very good example by his own actions! I do not believe that the Christianity Jesus taught and exemplified in his life had anything to do with condemning people who are considered morally suspect by the main body of society.

      Yes, Jesus did sometimes lay down fairly stringent rules, such as his sayings about divorce. But when people who broke those rules were in his presence, his approach to them was not one of condemnation, but of mercy, love, and reconciliation. Based on his example, that is how I believe we should treat people whose particular “lifestyle” we don’t happen to agree with.

      About the only people Jesus had really harsh words for were the religious leaders of the day—the very ones who hypocritically preached messages of intolerance against all who didn’t meet their strict standards of behavior while living in luxury, pride, and self-indulgence themselves. I believe that the Christian leaders today who so vociferously condemn homosexuals are our modern-day Pharisees. Some of them have even been caught patronizing gay bars and consorting with male prostitutes themselves.

      Perhaps these thoughts will be helpful to you in your relationship with your partner.

      But most of all, I would suggest relaxing about it and not putting any kind of pressure on him to adopt your Christian beliefs. That will only cause him to put up defensive walls. Love him and respect him as he is. If he is, as you say, one of the most benevolent and caring people you have ever met, then he is close to the heart of Jesus even if his head doesn’t recognize that.

      And about True Christian Religion, if you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      • Tyler Tree says:

        Wow. You are awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I will relax and continue to love my partner for who he is. I wish everyone would read your articles. I look forward to exploring your site further and also the writings of Swedenborg. Thanks a million!!!!!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Tyler,

          You are very welcome. It gives me joy to know that these words of mine, and Swedenborg’s teachings, are giving real help to you and others who are just struggling along in this often difficult and confusing life here on earth.

  15. Son of Carbohydrate, Spaghetti Monster says:

    I was wondering, if God says it’s bad remember we said it was bad a few decades ago… This is our society vs God right? Because society before us believed homosexuality was okay, same as beastiality and pedophilia. So doesn’t it come down to what we think is acceptable vs Gods standard? This brings us to choose God, obviously, but this either supports homosexuality IS bad and wrong and should be suppressed because that is Gods standard or God/religion/bible are wrong OR perhaps the bible is obsolete written for certain people before our time.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Son of Carbohydrate,

      Do I detect a Pastafarian?

      About your questions (assuming you actually want answers):

      Various cultures over history have had varying beliefs about homosexuality, etc. It would not be correct to say that they “used to be okay,” but rather, that they have been acceptable in some cultures during some time periods, but not in other cultures and during other time periods. In other words, we humans have been and continue to be all over the map in our beliefs, morals, and practices.

      However, the fact that we humans change, and that our beliefs about God’s nature and God’s will change, does not mean that God actually changes. Only that our conception of God changes. Saying that our changing views of God change God is like saying that the changing patterns of clouds in the sky changes the nature of the sun.

      Most of this change in human beings can be attributed to God creating us with free will, so that we can choose what to love, believe, think, and do. And when we choose beliefs and life pathways that are contrary to or at least in some tension with the sort of beings God created us to be, that puts us in opposition to or in tension with the nature and will of God.

      Of course, God could just wave a hand and bring us back into compliance with the divine will. But that would violate the very freedom that God gave us, and turn us into robots rather than humans. So God won’t do that, because it is contrary to God’s own design and purpose for the universe, and for us humans in it.

      So . . . God has to deal with us as we are, not as God wishes we would be sensible enough to be. And that means talking to us in our contrary and conflicted state. In order to do that, God has to use our own language, concepts, culture, and customs so that we can have some hope of understanding what God is saying. In this way God can move us gradually away from our worst stupidities and evils, and move us closer to more sensible and good things.

      In other words, we humans are a work in progress, and God’s reaching out to us and turning us away from evil and toward good is a long-term process, not an instantaneous event. That’s why the Bible is written the way it is.

      For more on this, see these articles:

      And there are plenty more where these came from! In short, there are good answers to your questions, if you’re interested in hearing them.

  16. Ashley says:

    I would like to know what you think about swinging (open relationships) or polyamorous relationships. Two couples agreeing to have other relationships. I have seen this kind of relationship work well in the Pagan community. Some people like homosexuals just aren’t meant to be monogamous. Is it really adultery if both people agree to it and it draws them closer as a couple? If we are to love, can’t that mean we can love more than 1 person in a sexual manner? I would love a biblical perspective.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      For reasons I explained in this comment on another article, due to major differences between the cultures of Bible times and today’s culture, it’s tricky to draw conclusions about marriage and relationships today based on the descriptions of and statements about marriage in the Bible. Not impossible, but tricky.

      And as I explained in this comment on the same article, the Bible has a general arc from monogamy at the beginning to polygamy throughout much of its Old Testament storyline and back toward monogamy in the New Testament—though in Western, Christian cultures, monogamy was not firmly established until several centuries after New Testament times. In the early centuries of Christianity, Christian kings, especially, resisted monogamy because they were concerned about limiting their chances to sire a male heir if they could have only one wife.

      However, as I also mentioned in that comment, “polygamy” in the Biblical context really meant polygyny, or one man having multiple wives at the same time. Polyandry, which is one woman having multiple husbands at the same time, simply wasn’t practiced in the Biblical cultures. By the same token, polyamorous relationships, in which multiple people of various genders are involved in a collective romantic and sexual relationship with each other, would not be acceptable from a Biblical standpoint.

      The most that can be clearly supported based on the Bible is monogamous heterosexual relationships and polygamous relationships involving one man and more than one wife.

      My own view—and the view of the overwhelming majority of Christians—is that for Christians today, only monogamous relationships are allowable. For more on marriage from the perspective of Emanuel Swedenborg’s theology, see: How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

      As I said in the above article on homosexuality, I believe that Christian homosexuals should be held to the same standard of committed, monogamous, faithful marriage as Christian heterosexuals are. There isn’t one rule for heterosexuals and a different rule for homosexuals, in my view.

      Having said all that, in this day and age in the West people can, of course, choose to have a different type of relationship if they wish. There is no legal sanction or support for polygamous or polyamorous relationships in any Western country that I’m aware of. But people can (and do) informally form polyamorous relationships if that is their desire and belief.

      These relationships would be considered adulterous both legally and by most Christian churches and other religious groups in the West if any of the participants are married. Western governments recognize only monogamous marriages, and that stance is supported by the dominant religious groups in Western cultures.

      If no one involved in a polyamorous relationship is married, it would not be considered adultery legally or religiously, but it would be viewed religiously as “fornication” or “promiscuity” by all of the regular, established churches and other religious institutions in the West, and would also have no legal status.

      My own view is that polyamorous relationships are not the ideal, and will tend to be unstable and short-lived. Though many human cultures in the past and even some today practice polygyny, I believe that polygamy is characteristic of a low spiritual state, in which marriage is treated more as a physical relationship, and as useful primarily for pleasure and for childbearing, than as a spiritual relationship. As the spiritual level of a culture goes up, its people move toward monogamy—which I believe is a far more spiritual relationship than polygamy or polyamorous relationships, for reasons explained in the article on marriage and spiritual life linked above.

      One example I would give comes from the history of The Farm, a former hippie commune, and now an intentional community, in Summertown, Tennessee, founded by Stephen Gaskin (1935-2014) and his followers in 1971. In the early days, Gaskin was involved in a “six marriage” of three men and three women. Some of his followers also had similar group marriages, usually “four marriages.” However, as time went on, it became clear that these group marriages weren’t working. None of them lasted more than five or ten years. (You can read more about it in this section of the Wikipedia article on The Farm.) Stephen himself settled down into a monogamous relationship with his wife Ina May, and the whole commune moved decisively toward monogamous marriage.

      I believe that monogamy is the ideal spiritual romantic and sexual relationship. There is a closeness and union between two spiritually and physically married people that is not achievable when romantic and sexual relationships are spread out to multiple partners. As Swedenborg describes it, there is a oneness of soul between two married partners such that in heaven, at a distance they are seen not as two angels, but as one angel. In heaven, married couples are often referred to as a single angel. Many couples here on earth who have a true spiritual marriage have the same sense of oneness. That’s the source of the common saying that one’s spouse is “my other half” or “my better half.”

      Group marriages tend to be shifting and unstable as various members move in and out of the relationship. A commitment to one other person can form a much deeper and longer-lasting bond, which becomes a forum for deep and searching spiritual growth as the relationship itself grows and deepens over the years.

      That, believe it or not, is the short answer. It’s a great question! Stay tuned. I might just turn it into a whole blog post of its own! 🙂

  17. Rohan says:

    Excellent analysis Lee. Lots of teachings and misconceptions that I had never thought about before. I think every christian should read this article before forming an opinion on homosexuality.

    And I am not sure why the church focuses so much on homosexuality and puts it on a pedestal given that it is prevalent with only a very small proportion of the population. If it was all about protecting the sacred union of marriage then the church should be equally vocal about premarital sex, divorce, emotional abuse and adultery. I even read some statistics the other day of the divorce rate of christians being almost identical to those of non-christians in America.

    In fact I feel the church should instead focus on promoting and advocating practices that lead to stronger marriages.

    P.S. Saying that I feel you could have provided some more context on what God sought to achieve through marriage/heterosexual relationships. I feel these verses give us the most context:

    Genesis 2:18
    The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

    1 Corinthians 11:9
    Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

    Proverbs 18:22
    He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the LORD.

    Mark 10:8
    and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

    I feel a lot of this can be traced to the biological, emotional and chemical effects of sex between a man and woman.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      Thank you! I’m glad the article was enlightening to you. And I’m inclined to agree with you that every Christian should read this article before forming an opinion on homosexuality. 😀

      There are other articles here on the blog about marriage as a spiritual relationship, so I didn’t feel the need to cover that subject more generally in this one.

  18. Korie Carter says:

    Lee,
    I just want to thank you for the time and effort you put into writing this article. I am a gay Christian and often struggle with a family and society that believe I have chosen this, or that it is horribly wrong. My family will not even meet my partner in person. In any case, I know what I believe and I know that the heart of God is big enough to love all of us perfectly. I just wish very much that I could find a church where people believe as you do, and respond as you do, and where my partner and I can attend without worry or shame. That would reflect the heart of Christ, I believe.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Korie,

      Thanks for your comment and for your good words. I’m glad the article is helpful to you. We still have a long way to go as a society when it comes to acceptance of LGBTQ people, but at least we’re making progress. I’m sorry to hear about your family’s resistance. Do you live in a conservative area? In some places there are gay-friendly churches.

  19. Justin Schorran says:

    Hey Lee,
    This is a great article! Thank you for taking the time to write something so well thought out and clear. My only doubts with your argument are these; is the cultural context of the Bible (Old Testament in this case) a valid approach to disprove the common (conservative) belief that homosexuality is a sin?

    Are there spiritual implications to these Biblical passages that may suggest otherwise?

    Is there a different lens through which we can view the Old Testament (or the entire Bible for this matter) that would suggest that homosexuality is in fact a sin?

    What are your sources for the information concerning the cultural context of the Old Testament?

    *Important note* I have read “The Sin of Sodom” and “What Does Emanuel Swedenborg say about Homosexuality”

    I’m merely playing the conservative devils advocate because I tend to agree with your argument but I do find it important to explore every aspect of this issue. I must add that the only issue withholding me from truly accepting homosexual marriage is the fact that Swedenborg describes true marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. This makes it hard for me to consider homosexual marriage as something that is spiritually permissible. How does one go about justifying homosexual relationships and marriage if marriage itself is described as between a man and a woman?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions. I’m glad these articles are helpful to you in sorting out your thoughts on homosexuality.

      As for all of your questions, yes, of course there are arguments on the other side. Before writing these articles I spent many hours seeking out and reading every Swedenborgian article I could find on both sides of the question, and also reading key non-Swedenborgian articles on both sides of the question. I’ve also engaged in online debates about homosexuality with various Swedenborgians and non-Swedenborgians for many years. In “What Does Emanuel Swedenborg say about Homosexuality?” I dealt with every major argument made by Swedenborgians against homosexuality. So are there arguments on the other side? Yes. There are always at least two sides to every question. I simply don’t find any of the counter-arguments I’ve heard so far to be very convincing. And most of them are just plain sloppy and ill-informed.

      Of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind. I would encourage you to seek out people and articles expressing different points of view, listen to what they have to say, and evaluate them for yourself. If you come up with something I haven’t dealt with in any of the three related articles on homosexuality here, feel free to leave further comments. I would be happy to hear about it. If there are major holes in what I’ve written here, I want to know. Some issues have been brought up in the comments sections, which I’d also recommend that you read if you haven’t already. I do think that between the articles and the comments sections, the subject has been covered fairly exhaustively.

      About the cultures of the Bible, I don’t have any specific sources to point to. What I wrote is based on many years of reading and studying the Bible and various books and commentaries about the Bible.

      Here is a key passage in Swedenborg’s writings about the culture of the Bible and its relationship to the literal and spiritual meanings of the text:

      There is a secret that has been unknown up to now in the fact that Moses broke the tablets that were the work of God when he saw the calf and the dancing, and in the fact that Moses, as commanded by Jehovah, carved out another set of tablets, on which the same words were then inscribed, so that the tablets were no longer made by God but by Moses, though the writing was still God’s writing. The secret is that the literal meaning of the Bible would have been different if the Bible had been written among a different culture, or if the particular culture in which it was written had been different than it actually was. The literal meaning of the Bible is all about that culture because that is the culture in which it was written. This is clear from the stories and prophecies in the Bible. . . .

      Since therefore the literal sense of the Word came to be what it was because of what those people were like, the tablets that were the work of God were broken and others, as commanded by Jehovah, were hewn by Moses. But since they nevertheless had the same holy and Divine content within them, the same words as were on the first tablets were inscribed by Jehovah on them. (Secrets of Heaven #10,453:3-4)

      In other words, the literal meaning of the Bible reflects the particular cultures in which it was written, but the spiritual meaning and message remains the same regardless of the particular cultural clothing in which it is expressed.

      This is the basis in Swedenborg for the idea that the particular human culture and customs reflected in the literal meaning of the Bible do not in themselves represent universal divine truth but rather particular human attitudes and perspectives, within and through which universal spiritual and divine truth is delivered.

      Another image that Swedenborg offers is the Bible (“the Word”) as a clothed human being. For example:

      Some of the truths in the Word’s literal meaning are apparent truths rather than naked truths. They are like similes or comparisons taken from earthly situations, which are therefore accommodated and adapted to the grasp of people who are simple or young. Nevertheless, because they are correspondences they are still vessels and dwelling places for genuine truth. They are vessels that contain genuine truth the way a crystal goblet contains fine wine or a silver plate holds palatable food. They are like garments that clothe, like a baby’s swaddling cloths or a young woman’s beautiful clothing. They are like facts our earthly selves know that also involve our awareness and love of spiritual truth. The naked truths that are enclosed, contained, clothed, and involved are in the Word’s spiritual meaning. There is also naked goodness in the Word’s heavenly meaning. (True Christianity #215)

      And:

      You can draw a complete body of genuinely true teaching from the Word’s literal meaning. In that meaning the Word is like a clothed person whose face, forearms, and hands are exposed. All the teachings that relate to our faith and life and therefore our salvation are exposed there. The other teachings are clothed. Even then, in many passages where the teachings are clothed they are still visible, as a woman with a thin piece of silk over her face can still see objects in front of her. In fact, as the truths in the Word are multiplied and organized by our love for them, they shine out and become more and more clearly evident. (True Christianity #229)

      The basic teachings we need to in order believe in God, live a good life, and be saved are present in the plain, literal meaning of the Bible, like the hands and face of a clothed person.

      Other teachings that are less critical to our spiritual life and salvation are covered more or less thickly in the “clothing” of the particular cultures through which the Bible was written. These require deeper study and interpretation of the meaning of the various people, objects, and events in the context of that culture, not to mention various universal meanings, all of which affect the figurative, or correspondential, meaning of what is described in the literal meaning. Swedenborg often comments on the role of various people or actions, such as King David or the sacrifices in the Temple, in the culture of Bible times, and how this affects the spiritual meaning.

      A detailed explanation of all this, with examples, would require at least a book, if not many volumes. But I’ve covered the basics, with some examples, in the article, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”

      As for homosexuality in particular, I do think it falls into the category of issues that are less critical to our faith and salvation and that are therefore clothed in the particular attitudes of the cultures in which the Bible were written. Those cultures clearly took a dim view of homosexuality. But as explained in the article, those cultures didn’t have anything like our present-day concept of monogamous, consensual homosexual relationships between equal partners. The types of unequal and often exploitative homosexual relationships commonly known and practiced in the ancient world—such as grown men having sex with teenage boys, and the homosexual rape of conquered soldiers—are also condemned in liberal Western society today. In other words, what the Bible condemns we also condemn today. The Bible simply doesn’t deal with the types of homosexual relationships that are considered acceptable and good in Western society today—which are precisely the ones that in many countries today are socially accepted in the form of legal same-sex marriage.

      About whether homosexuality is a sin, I would suggest that you re-read the parts of the above article starting with the subsection titled, “Is homosexuality evil?”

      I realize this doesn’t answer all of your questions. As I said earlier, you’re going to have to explore these issues for yourself, based on the various arguments pro and con, and make up your own mind. I would encourage you seek out such arguments, and also to re-read the three articles about homosexuality here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life with your particular questions in mind.

      Meanwhile, I hope these additional thoughts are helpful to you.

  20. rosebudx0 says:

    So I ran into this article today that I think does bring up some points you’ve made or at least reminded me of one of the articles you’ve written on homosexuality..

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/june-web-only/why-matthew-vines-is-wrong-about-bible-same-sex-relationshi.html?start=1

    Matthew Vines expresses one of the things you’ve said (correct me if I’m wrong) about how back then, Paul etc. didn’t understand homosexuality or any relationships other than straight can be of committed and monogamous relationship. They also mention the view that you’ve expressed about how if one is engaging in sexual relations with the same sex, (for example, 2 males) it doesn’t reduce the male being penetrated to a woman and doesn’t make the man doing the penetrating any more superior. However, Christopher says that Matthew isn’t taking the Scripture into account and presents quite biased interpretations that don’t link with the Scripture. One thing I am relieved of though is that they don’t agree with ‘curing’ or ‘therapy’ to try and turn those that are not straight, straight.

    My apologies if what I said didn’t make sense. The article I linked explains it better than I can. I, as a Christian, also want to avoid letting bias get in the way of understanding what God is trying to say. I want to learn all that I can before I die and Wisdom is so valuable to me. I pray that I will understand things, especially when it comes to this.

    • Lee says:

      Hi rosebudx0,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the linked article, which I did read. Though there is some overlap between Vines’s views on homosexuality and the Bible and mine, I don’t accept all of the arguments he makes. I come at it from a different perspective than he does. For one thing, I am not gay, nor are any of my children, siblings, and other close family members gay or lesbian, so I don’t come at the issue with a need to support a pre-existing point of view driven by my personal situation and relationships. I actually agree with the author of the linked article that some of the arguments made by pro-gay Christians are driven more by a desire to show that homosexuality is biblically okay than by good biblical scholarship.

      However, the article is somewhat disappointing in that it doesn’t engage deeply with the arguments themselves, and with their biblical basis, but spends more time “shooting the messenger” by saying that the arguments are invalid because they’re made from a biased (pro-gay) perspective that doesn’t properly value the Bible. It seeks to devalue the standing of those making the arguments rather than solidly rebutting the arguments themselves.

      As I said in my own article above, I do not entirely accept the arguments of either the Christian pro-gay or Christian anti-gay apologists. And I view the Bible from quite a different perspective than does traditional Christianity. The arguments I make in the above article require this different perspective to hit home for those reading and contemplating them.

      Needless to say, I believe that what I have written is a sound analysis of the Bible’s few statements about or related to homosexuality. And I don’t see those arguments refuted in the article you linked. However, if you have any specific questions about anything I or these other authors have said, please feel free to ask.

  21. Tori says:

    But you said once that people won’t be punished for things they cannot help, right? So with that logic, a gay person wouldn’t go to hell because they can’t help it?

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