One day, God willing, there will be no more need to write about the relationship between Christians and the LGBTQ community. Equality and acceptance will be the set position for churches, and the debate will be over. Apologies will be made, contrition offered, even penance performed. A new pattern will emerge, and authentic Christian values and virtues can dominate. As I say, God willing. That many of you reading this opening paragraph will likely doubt me speaks volumes about how much damage has been caused.
It often surprises people when they learn that the subject is hardly even mentioned in the Bible, especially when we remember how much time so many people devote to it, and how many other subjects— justice, peace, the horror of poverty and suffering, for example — are given so much Biblical coverage. The Old Testament is often quoted, but without a thorough understanding and with a painful disregard for its authentic nature. These texts are not history, and certainly not some guide to contemporary living—witness the defense of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the archaic treatment of women. The story of Sodom, for example, is actually about protecting one’s guests, and loving God, rather than condemning gays and lesbians. The homophobic element was injected centuries later by the early medieval church, for all sorts of political and sociological reasons.
When the Hebrew Scriptures do mention homosexuality—and it’s men, and never women, by the way—it also refers to the unacceptability of certain combinations of cloth, eating the wrong foods, or having sex with a woman when she is menstruating. Odd how the only segments of these lists that are still embraced are those disapproving of gay sex. It’s the very cherry-picking of which they accuse others.
Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality at all, and is in fact startlingly unconcerned with the sex lives of those whom he encounters, often criticizing those who do condemn. The central teaching of the Gospels is love and compassion, and if one group does provoke him to anger it’s the puritans and moralists. Omission does not necessarily signify approval, but there may be one incident where Jesus does pass comment. He is approached by a Roman centurion, who explains that his slave, a man he loves very much, is dying. Will Jesus heal him? The servant is cured, and Jesus is amazed at the soldier’s faith.
Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality at all, and is in fact startlingly unconcerned with the sex lives of those whom he encounters, often criticizing those who do condemn
In first-century Palestine, the Jewish people were humiliated by Rome’s occupation, and in an attempt to mock their oppressors would joke that Roman soldiers had sex with each other and with their male slaves. The dark humour of the powerless. Combine this with the specific Greek words used in this story for “love,” which go far beyond “affection” or “friendship,” and it may well have been that this scene was taken as a clear reference to a same-sex relationship.
The apostle Paul does speak briefly about homosexuality, but we ought to remember that the word itself didn’t exist until many centuries later, and Paul was responding not to committed, loving relationships but to heterosexual men using boys for sex—significantly, the Greek word he uses is “exchange.” He is speaking of an abuse of power and of exploitation of the vulnerable, sometimes for pleasure and often as part of Roman and Greek religious rituals. Paul was a sublime thinker, but isn’t really part of the modern conversation around this issue.
Part of this narrative goes far beyond the Bible, of course. Horribly damaging church policies towards the LGBTQ community, and to women, Jews, and Indigenous people, can often be traced to the need to preserve power and control, and have had nothing at all to do with the frequently radical culture of, in particular, the New Testament. There’s a bitter continuum here, extending from abortion to sexual identity to clericalism and the equality of all believers.
But the Bible matters, and along with faith, reason, and experience, should be the foundation of the Christian conscience. I would never argue that it blasts support for LGBTQ people, but equally, when we read this collection of books with knowledge and without malice, I believe that it doesn’t condemn it either. In short, it doesn’t say very much at all. What it does say, and sing and shout and demand, is empathy, kindness, and justice. This should be the overwhelming concern of the Christian, from the most casual congregant to the most senior prelate. And that is something every follower of Jesus should state with—well, with enormous pride.