"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" - 1 John 4:18 (New Internationalist Version)
There are many reasons why different people have different views on what the Bible says about homosexuality and trans issues. These include the issues of how the Bible should be interpreted, whether scripture can be taken out of the context of a particular society and applied to another, and whether the Bible is literally the word of G-d, or whether it was influenced by the views of the authors. It is important to remember that the Bible tells us to question its legitimacy and how it should be interpreted with an open mind:
""All Scripture is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof and instruction in righteousness." - 2 Tim 3:16 (King James Version) [note: unless otherwise stated, the passages quoted will be taken from the New International Version]
The Christian church is a broad church, which represents a broad section of society. The source of Christian knowledge is the Bible, as well as personal communication with G-d through prayer; and yet some churches condemn LGBTQ people, and others welcome them with open arms.
LGBTQ inclusive churches in Bradford include the SoulSpace and Bradford Cathedral. Soul Space is just across the road from the University in the Desmond Tutu House. The Revd. Chris Howsen puts on SoulSpace on Sundays as well as JustChurch on Tuesdays, for active discipleship focusing on peace and human rights, as well as the interfaith party SoulJam. The Desmond Tutu house, as well as being home to the Victor Jara Liberation Theology Library whish has a special section on queer theology.
It is possible to read the Bible from a liberal perspective and find that the Bible isn't all 'fire and brimstone' as so often supposed. Indeed, two of the authors - Matthew1 and Paul2 are alleged to be gay. Out of the thousands of passages in the Bible, only 5 or 6 are traditionally said to address homosexuality.
1. “So G-d created man in his own image, in the image of G-d he created them; male and female he created them. G-d blessed them and said to them, be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." - Genesis 1:27-28
The Creation story of Genesis is used to criticise homosexuality as it is argued that G-d created them Eve from Adam’s rib to be his helpmate, the woman being complimentary to the man, and thus G-d made woman for man, man for woman, and it is then argued that same-sex relationships are in violation of this divine order. This argument can be simplified to 'G-d made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve'
The authors of Genesis were attempting to answer the question of how we were created, and it must have seen obvious then as it is now that the only plausible answer is from the sexual union of a man and woman. The Creation story does not pretend to give judgement on any other form of relationship; it does not mention friendship, or the possibility of remaining celibate and single, and we do not condemn friendship or singleness. Simply because it does not mention homosexuality, does not mean that it is condemned.
Another argument is that G-d gave Adam and Eve the instruction to 'go forth and multiply' - to "be fruitful and increase in number". Critics argue that because people in a same-sex relationship, they cannot procreate naturally and are because of that condemned.
This passage is all about recognising that heterosexual coupling is normative in most societies and leads to procreation; it does not expressively condemn same-sex relationships. The argument against homosexuality due to lack of procreation falls apart when we examine heterosexual marriages which do not lead to procreation, that are not condemned also. The lack of children doesn’t invalid these relationships nor does it devalue them. Neither should it for same-sex couples.
2. The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19
This passage is often used to criticise homosexuality. It has been so often used that 'Sodomite' and 'Sod' has become an insult to throw at gay, lesbian, bisexuals and the wider queer community. 'Sodomy' was refered to in UK law as the act of anal sex, associated with gay males. But is Genesis 19 really a condemnation of homosexuality?
The actual sins of Sodom are provided throughout the Bible;
- The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah include the making of false idols, Deuteronomy 29:23-263 and Deuteronomy 32:32-38 234
- Making false sacrifice, murder, greed and rebellion against G-d, Isaiah 1:9-235
- Arrogance and Pride, Isaiah 3:8-96
Jude 1:7 is often used as to argue that the sin of Sodom and Gommorah is homosexuality - “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."7 The fornication and 'strange flesh' referred to here could either a condemnation of promiscuous adultery, as condemned in Jeremiah 23:148 or, more likely, a reference to the fact that the visitors were angels of G-d9 and their flesh was literally 'strange', coming from the Greek heteras which, ironically, is the source of the word heterosexual. The phrase more accurately translates as 'other flesh'.
The main sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality. In Gen 19, Lot, and immigrant to the city of Sodom, welcomes two strangers through the walls of the city and into his house. The townspeople are suspicious of Lot and the two strangers, being them all outsiders. All the men of the town gather outside Lot's house demanding to have sex with the men. Now, let’s make this clear, not all the men of Sodom were gay, the presence of women and children in the city tells us that. The fact that the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the men was nothing to do with sexual enjoyment, but about their assertion of power. They intended to let the strangers know who were in charge by gang-raping them. Modern psychology tells us that the main reasons for rape are through anger and to assert power10 Sodom was destroyed because the townspeople were violently inhospitable to the visitors. To put it in context, because in Biblical times, towns and cities were separated by vast swathes of harsh desert, hospitality was more than just good manners, it was about saving lives. This view is backed up by Jesus’ later quotes on Sodom and Gomorrah, in Matthew 10:13-1511
and Matthew 11:20-24.12
3. The Holiness Code
The Holiness Code of Leviticus is one of the most often quoted passages to criticise male homosexuality. Firstly, let’s look at the historical context of the Holiness Code.
The Holiness Code concerns itself with recording the laws and culture of Israel. To be a Jew at that time meant belonging to a distinct group of people, being separate from other nations at that time. Leviticus draws a line in the sand, makes a distinction between the Israeli culture and the culture of other nations. Any behaviour of other cultures that is not overtly present in its own culture, Leviticus views negatively, a consequence of viewing the world though the lens of 'us' and 'them'.
When the Jews had been enslaved by Egypt, keeping a sense of national identity was not a problem. It is unlikely that Israeli-Egyptian unions would have taken place, and a shared sense of being oppressed heightened the sense of being separate from other nations. After the exile from Egypt, the Jews would have come in contact on a daily basis with other nationalities, so there was a need to maintain a strong national identity in order for the Jewish culture and nationality to survive. The need for a distinction between Israeli and Gentile nations is apparent in Leviticus 18:3-513 and in Leviticus 20:22-2414
Within the Torah, there is only one instance of the forbidding of homosexual acts outside the Holiness Code, found in Deuteronomy 23:18 - "You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both". Both male and female prostitution is banned from the temple. This is seen to be a result of Gentile nations in contact with the Israeli’s having male and female prostitutes operating from their pagan temples. The prohibition of homosexual acts in Leviticus 18:22 - 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable' and Leviticus 20:1315 were an attempt to make a greater distinction between the practices of Gentiles and Israeli’s. It is arguably not about homo-erotic behaviour in itself, but about abstaining from behaviours that appear to mirror Canaanite rituals to their pagan gods, and not to the G-d of Israel. Leviticus does not condemn homosexuality in the modern understanding as an orientation, just anal sex by specific people at a specific time. Leviticus does not say anything about other homoerotic acts, such as oral sex or mutual masturbation. In terms of purity, it is more likely that Leviticus condemns unprotected anal sex (leaving both participants 'unclean'). In a practical sense, the use of a condom stops bodily fluids mixing, and thus keeps the participants 'clean'.
It is interesting to note that Paul later in Romans 14:1416, and to a lesser extent, Romans 14.2017 discounts what the Torah says about cleanliness and purity, where true uncleanliness is a representation of oppression and exploitation18.
You may find this article on homosexuality and Leviticus, concerning issues of purity, useful.
4. Paul's letter to Rome
Most people take Romans 1:26-27 - "Because of this, G-d gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion" out of context when viewing homosexuality. It is necessary in this case to read the whole chapter of Romans 1.
Firstly, let’s provide a bit of context:
At the time of writing, Christianity had begun to grow in Rome and was comprised of both Gentile and Jewish believers. Paul wishes to visit the church, but in the meantime he sends this letter to the church in Rome that lays out Paul’s theology and the great themes of the Gospel. Most would consider the Book of Romans to be Paul’s most complete theological statement.
In the first three chapters Paul makes a strong case for the need of all people, both Jew and Gentile, to establish their faith in Jesus Christ. In Chapter 1 Paul speaks to the Jews of the sin of the Gentiles which they seem to have initially reported to him that resulted in this reply. Chapter 2 - Paul turns highlights the sins of the Jews. Chapter 3 - Paul reaches the conclusion that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24). It then becomes clear that Paul's intention in writing this letter was to assert the need of all people to experience salvation by the Gospel message and the availability that Gospel to all, Gentile or Jew, male or female, slave or free. It is unlikely that Paul knew that his words would be being viewed by the whole world 2000 years later, and his words take out of context.
In committing idolatry19 the Gentile people had dishonoured G-d and in response G-d turns them over to dishonour themselves20 The people actively chose to engage in one sin, that being idolatry, but from that point on it was G-d who gave them over to other sins as a penalty for the original great offense.
Let us examine the verses 21-31 chronologically:
The Sin: For although they knew G-d they did not honour him as G-d or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal G-d for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)
The Penalty: G-d gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the dishonouring of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:24)
The Sin: because they exchanged the truth about G-d for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25)
The Penalty: For this reason G-d gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)
The Sin: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge G-d… (Romans 1:28a)
The Penalty: G-d gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of G-d, and insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. (Romans 28b-31)
Paul and his contempories are often seen to view passion as uncontrollable, and therefore negative. In his eyes, it was always dishonourable. Paul saw idolatry as the cause of homo-eroticism, not sexual orientation or human choice.
This passage does not speak of gay, lesbians and bisexuals within our culture, but only to the culture of Gentile idolaters; as it similarly does not address homo-eroticism within the Jewish community. The Romans letter is not a blanket condemnation of homosexuality, due to the implication that idolatry causes homosexuality. Most Christian LGB people today will have never practiced idolatry, and so this letter is not in reference to them.
If you don’t accept the above, perhaps viewing Romans 1.24 in the same light as Leviticus 18.22 might be helpful.
These passages are an issue of translation. If in either passage you see the word 'homosexual' than you can tell your Bible had been written after 1946, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible, quoted in the footnotes.
Prior to 1946 Edition of the Revised Standard Version, words that were used in place of 'homosexual' included; boy prostitutes, effeminate, those who make women of themselves, sissies, the self-indulgent, sodomites, lewd persons, male prostitutes, and the unchaste. All those words were assumed to be translations of the Greek malakoi and arsenokoitai, which until the 16th century was thought to mean 'masturbators'.23 Indeed, when early Greek-speaking Christians such as John Chrysostom and Clement of Alexandra the words malakoi and arsenkoitai were never used, nor was the passages in 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1 mentioned.24
The problem with translating the word arsenokoitai is that it has not been located in any other material before Pauls use of the word, or at a similar time to Paul’s writings. The only instances of use of arsenokoitai are recorded to be after Pauls use, and dependant on Paul’s usage of the word. About 500 years after Paul’s death, Jerome translates arsenokoitai to be 'male concubine', with no distinction to whether the concubines were involved in hetero- or homo-eroticism. There were many common Greek words at the time of Paul, however that more accurately and distinctly references homosexuality, and yet he chooses not to use them.
Malakoi however has more recorded use before and after Paul uses it. Jesus is recorded to use the word Malakoi to describe soft clothes in Matthew 11:825 Traditionally, church tradition has referred to Malakoi as a term to describe moral weakness, in ancient Greek culture it was used to describe effeminacy, and occasionally as a descriptive word for eromenos (the passive partner in a pederastic relationship). It was, however, more often used in a broader sense to describe men who bathed often, presented himself as effeminate to attract women, wore aftershave, shaved, or ate too much.
Because of the complete ambiguity of the words Malakoi and arsenokoitai, it is inaccurate and misleading to translate the terms as meaning as homosexuality.
Perhaps one of the most telling passages in the Bible about homosexuality are Matthew 8:5-1326 and Luke 7:1-1027
In this passage, a Roman Centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his servant28, and Jesus says he will go to him. At the time it was common for wealthy soldiers to take a young male lover as a 'servant' (in fact, going to war was a great way for gay men to avoid getting married), and in this case, it is most likely that it is the Centurions 'boyfriend' who is ill, is actually his lover. It is especially interesting that Jesus praises the Centurion, and respects his privacy by not insisting on going to heal his lover in person. The Centurion is then praised for building a synagogue in Capernaum29.
There are indeed instances of Jesus and the apostles condemning homophobia; Matthew 5:22: "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin (council). But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."(KJV) The term 'Raca' is almost never properly translated. Many Bibles call it an 'Aramaic term of contempt' others translate it as 'fool' or 'idiot'. Raca (Greek: raka Aramaic: reyqa') is more appropriately translated into English as 'faggot'30
Trans Issues and the Bible
"G-d does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but G-d looks on the heart" -
1 Samuel 16 v 7
There are some negative comments about cross-dressing in the Bible, Deuteronomy 22:5 - “A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your G-d detests anyone who does this." Firstly, let us examine just how strangely this verse has been translated over years:
- Attributed to Rabbi Eliezar ben Ya’akov (c226) " . . A woman must not wear instruments of war or go to war."
- Ibn Ezra (medieval) "womankind is not created for anything other than procreation, and were a woman to go with a men to war she would fall into prostitution en route"
- Mathew Henry (c1710) declares "Here are several laws in these verses which seem to stoop very low, and to take cognizance of things mean and minute…some think it refers to the custom of the Gentiles: in the worship of Venus, women appeared in armour, and men in women’s clothes… probably this confounding of garments had been used to gain opportunity of committing un-cleanliness, and therefore forbidden." The assumption here is that the verse is used to condemn people who cross-dressed in pagan rituals, and committed sexual impropriety. This can be taken in a similar context to that of the Holiness Code (above), which condemns behaviour that is used in Gentile pagan rituals out of fear that the Jewish cultural and national identity would be eroded.
"For some are Eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have made themselves Eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." - Matthew 19: 12
In the Bible, the closest thing to being trans was being a Eunuch. Of course, back in antiquity, gender reassignment surgery and post-modernist, post-feminist concepts of being genderqueer did not exist. The term 'eunuch' was the only way to describe someone living between genders, as well as describing intersexuality. The above passage in Matthew 19 tells us that Jesus accepts trans and intersex people as equal. The term, 'if they were born that way', is particularly interesting to trans people who believe they were trans from birth, and can be seen as an OK for transexuality.
Isaiah 56:3-5 also may be of interest: "Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely exclude me from his people." And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree." For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant- to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off."
The only passage in the Bible that could be seen to be anti-trans is Deuteronomy 23:1 -"No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD." This can be seen in the same context as the Holiness Code (see above), to create a distinct national identity away from pagan Gentiles who used to crush men's testicles in deference to pagan gods.
Indeed there are many references to Eunuchs in the Bible; all of them (besides Deuteronomy 23) can be seen in a positive or neutral light. The neutral, historical accounts include 2 Kings 20:1831, Jeremiah 29.232 ;34.19;33 41.1634 25.5235. The positive accounts include 2 Kings 9:32-3336 where 2 eunuchs throw Jezebel down at Juhu's command, Jeremiah 38.7-13, where Ebedmelech (a eunuch) saves Jeremiah from imprisonment37, Daniel 1 shows Daniels love for Eunuchs in the court of Nebuchadnezzar and how the eunuchs help Daniel stay ritually clean. Acts 8:26-39 shows Phillip baptising an Ethiopean Eunuch, and bringing them into the church.
The words of Genesis 1:27 - "So G-d created man in his own image, in the image of G-d he created them; male and female he created them." are often perceived to be anti-trans. Let’s take a look at what the scripture really says here. Firstly, it tells us that G-d is androgynous, the image of G-d being both male and female. It tells us G-d made us in his image; it tells us G-d made us both male and female, though not necessarily one or the other. If G-d *him*self is androgynous, how can he condemn a human for being do too?
The term 'eunuch' is often misleading in translation. The original Hebrew/Greek may have a similar meaning to what we understand as the Indian concept of 'third gender', a group that comprises of gender variant people, including gays, bisexuals and lesbians.
Queer and Feminist Biblical Theology
There are lots of resources on feminist theology around, but I thought it would be nice to include it here due to their close links to queer theory and due to their common enemy of patriarchism. I’m not going to go through much of the sexuality or gender issues (read the above!) but focus more on what the Bible, especially the New Testament, says on patriarchy and other sexual minorities.
Right from the start, the New Testament subverts the practice of Old Testament’s habit of listing long, patriarchal genealogies of important characters, by including women in the genealogy of Jesus38Not only that, but Matthew lists the names of scandalous women such as Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute,39 Rahab who was probably a sex worker40, Ruth the Moabite who seduced Boaz, and Bathsheba who married an adulterer after her first husbands’ death,41 to further subvert the patriarchal norm.
Questions on the sexuality of Jesus and the nature of his relationship with John the Apostle have been raised, using the evidence of John 13:2342, John 2143 and evidence from the Secret Gospel of Mark, which states that Jesus showed the secrets of G-d to a half-clothed youth (perhaps John) during the night, which has been argued by some to be a sexual encounter.
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to G-d." - Romans 15:7
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement - Encourages fellowship, friendship, and support among individual lesbian and gay Christians and supports lesbian and gay Christians subjected to discrimination.
Quest - Laity-led group for lesbian and gay Catholics in the UK.
Dignity - American support group for lesbian and gay Catholics.
Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians - "The important things for us are our faith as Christians and the knowledge that God loves and values us for who we are. We therefore firmly believe that there is no contradiction in being both gay and Christian."
Metropolitan Community Church - A liberal denomination with a welcoming attitude towards LGBT Christians.
SisterFriends Together - A LGBTQ women's site, but with resources on men’s issues as well.