Introduction: Unlearning Christian Homophobia
Part 1: The Radical Inclusion of the Early Church
What was the biggest controversy during the first few years of the church?
Was it the divinity of Christ? Or was the Trinity? Or maybe it was which books should be included in the Bible?
Actually, it was none of those. The biggest controversy during the first few years of the church created the first big split in Christian history, and that controversy was over who was included and who was excluded.
The first followers of Jesus were Jews. And they had the mark to prove it. One of the most important laws in the Jewish scriptures is found in Genesis 17:10, where the law clearly says, “Every male among you must be circumcised.”
There was no wiggle room. The law clearly said what it said. If anyone male wanted to join the people of God, that male had to cut off part of his manhood. And if they didn’t, they were “Gentiles” and cut off from full participation in the religion.
This law created the first major controversy in Christian history. There were those who demanded that every male follow the law that demanded circumcision. There were others who said that Gentiles didn’t need to follow that law.
Following the circumcision law was a stumbling block for many Gentiles in the first few years of the church. After all, the law clearly says you had to be circumcised in order to be included…but really, who wants to do that?!
Here’s where Acts 10 comes in. The apostle Peter had a vision while he was on a roof. He saw a sheet coming down from heaven with many animals that, according to Biblical Law, were unclean. Peter wasn’t even allowed to touch those animals. But he heard God say to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
Peter was being a good follower of the dietary laws. But God was changing Peter’s understanding of the law.
God said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
That was a shocking transformation of Peter’s understanding of the law. He lived his whole life observing the law, and now God told him that the law was…wrong. Peter couldn’t believe it, so God had to repeat it three times.
When Peter woke up from his vision, he realized that the message wasn’t merely about eating bacon. (Thank God for bacon!) It was about the law and the Gentiles.
After his vision, a group of men met Peter and took him to a Gentile’s house named Cornelius.
When he entered Cornelius’s house, Peter said that it was unlawful for him to be in a house with a bunch of Gentiles, but then he flipped the script of Biblical Law forever, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
This was the biggest controversy in the early church. Many claimed that Gentiles needed to follow the law and get circumcised, or they would be profane and unclean.
But Peter’s vision won the day. Those who insisted that Gentiles had to follow the Law and cut off part of their identity were backsliders because they continued to call Gentiles unclean and profane despite this new vision from God.
They were wrong.
Because God has shown us all that we should not call anyone profane or unclean.
If you identify as LGBTQIA, you do not have to cut off any part of your sexuality or identity to be a Christian or a member of the church. We know this because the book of Acts opens the doors of the church to all people.
You are not profane and you are not unclean. Nobody should call you that because you are a holy and beloved child of God.
Anyone who says that you need to repent and change your sexuality or identity as an LGBTQ person because according to the “Law” you are profane or unclean is backsliding from the Christian message.
That’s because the Christian message, the Good News, is this: You are loved just as you are and just as you are becoming.
Part 2: Sodom and Gomorrah Is Not about Homosexuality
(TRIGGER WARNING – The Sodom and Gomorrah story isn’t about our LGBTQIA siblings. It’s about rape.)
The Sodom and Gomorrah story has nothing to do with homosexuality. It is not about a “homosexual act.” That story is about heterosexual men wanting to gang rape other men.
The story goes like this: two angels enter the city of Sodom. A man named Lot invited them into his house. Lot did the right thing – he showed these strangers hospitality. He gave them a feast and they ate together.
But then all “the men of Sodom, both young and old” surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that Lot open his door so that the men could “know” the two angelic men.
Every middle schooler is aware that to “know” in the biblical sense is to have sex with someone. But what happens in the Sodom story is *not* homosexuality. It is not about two men in a committed same sex relationship based on love.
Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about men demanding to have nonconsensual sex with strangers. In other words, it’s about rape.
And rape is an abomination. It is a violent abuse of power. The men of Sodom had a wicked desire to humiliate these strangers by raping them, thus showing these strangers that the men of Sodom were the boss of their town.
The sin of Sodom was not about homosexuality as we know it in the modern world. The sin of Sodom is much more like modern prison gang rape.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote about the sin of Sodom and her daughter Gomorrah. Interestingly, Ezekiel never mentions anything about sex – homosexuality as an orientation wasn’t even on Ezekiel’s radar when discussing the sin of Sodom.
Ezekiel wrote that Sodom “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” (16:49-50)
The warning of the Sodom and Gomorrah story has nothing to do with homosexuality. The story never mentions two men living in a committed same sex relationship. It’s about the men of Sodom refusing to show hospitality to strangers and refusing to meet the needs of the poor and the marginalized.
Indeed, the story of Sodom is a warning. It tells us that when we unite against vulnerable people we are going against the will of God.
Our LGBTQ siblings are vulnerable. If they are anyone in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, they are the angels in our midst.
When Christians misuse this story as yet another way to unite against our LGBTQ siblings, we are the ones acting like a bunch of Sodomites.
Christians who misuse this story by making it against our LGBTQ siblings need to repent. Otherwise, Christianity will deservedly go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Part 3: What about Leviticus? – Part 1 – Temple Prostitution
Many Christians point to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as evidence that the law claims homosexual acts are sinful.
But as we saw in part 2 with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Bible never has in mind two men or two women living in a same-sex committed relationship in mind when it talks about same-sex acts. The Bible never refers to two people of the same gender living together in a committed relationship. The Bible’s only understanding of same-sex acts are acts that are not done with love behind them, but with abuse.
That’s true for these passages in Leviticus. Take verse 18:22, for example. The verse right before states this, “You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”
In fact, Leviticus chapter 18 begins by warning the people to “not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.”
In the land of Egypt and Canaan, the people practiced male cultic prostitution. Men had sex with men in the temples as an act of worship. God is telling men to not have sex with other men in the Temple.
We actually know from 1 Kings 14:24 says, “there were also male Temple prostitutes in the land. They committed all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”
Here’s the point: We know that the Bible never explicitly refers to homosexuality as we understand it. That is, the Bible never refers to two men or two women living in a same sex committed relationship. The Bible only talks about same sex relationships in one of two ways – either gang rape (as in Sodom and Gomorrah) or as male temple prostitution, as in Leviticus and 1 Kings.
Part 4: What About Leviticus? Part 2: My Bacon Eating and Polyester Wearing Lifestyle Is a Choice
I’d like to make a confession.
I eat bacon. I also eat shrimp. One of my favorite things ever is shrimp wrapped in bacon!!!
And I wear garments made of different materials. (Polyester!?! Oh the shame!)
And, as a pastor, I have even brought these things into the House of the Lord. (Mmm…God…bacon…and coffee…)
According to Leviticus, God does not approve of my bacon eating, polyester wearing lifestyles. I am living in violation of “clear” Biblical teachings.
Oh sure. Sometimes I try to find all kinds of loopholes and excuses to, you know, “justify” my bacon eating and polyester wearing lifestyles, but the Bible is “clear.”
Interestingly, nobody is demanding that I repent from my bacon eating, polyester wearing lifestyle…
Here’s my confession: I 100% do not care about those passages in Leviticus.
In fact, Jesus never quoted those passages in Leviticus. Nor did he quote another passage in Leviticus that many like to bring up to condemn our LGBTQ siblings. He didn’t seem to care about those passages.
Do you know what passage in Leviticus Jesus did care about?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, go ahead. You boldly eat that slice of bacon. You confidently wear that polyester. If you are an LGBTQ person, live proudly into your God-given identity. For God loves you just as you are and just as you are becoming.
I’m off to eat some bacon.
Adam discusses Leviticus in these TikTok videos.
Part 5: Did Jesus Believe Marriage Is Between a Man and a Woman? (Matthew 19)
Some Christians claim that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman because the Bible says so and Jesus backs it up.
In Matthew 19, some of Jesus’ opponents come to him and ask him if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.
The question of divorce was a big issue in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours. Jesus actually was pretty conservative on this point. There were some who said that a man should never get a divorce and others who said a man could get a divorce if his wife burnt his toast.
In a patriarchal society, women were largely dependent upon men for survival. Either a father, brother, son, or a husband had to provide for the women in his family. A husband had to care for his wife, or his wife would be left vulnerable.
Jesus referred to the Genesis creation account to make his point. God made them “male and female,” and “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Some Christians quote this passage as if it is a law for all people and for all time. Thus, marriage is between one man and one woman.
The problem is that the Bible doesn’t treat this passage in Genesis as a law. And neither did Jesus.
Let’s start with the Bible. After this statement was given in Genesis 2:24, some of the most faithful and important people in the Bible quickly decided they didn’t want to follow it. Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon are all heroes of the Bible, but none of them took this passage literally. They did not believe in one man and one woman. They believed in one man and many women. And not all of the women were their wives! They had sex out of marriage with their concubines!
And God never calls that sinful.
But more to the point for Christians is that Jesus didn’t treat Genesis 2:24 as a law. That passage states that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…” If we interpret that statement as a law against gay marriage, then we have to be consistent and treat it as a law for all people. Notice that the verse doesn’t say, “If a man wants to get married, he will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…” There is no conditional clause. It says a man will leave his parents and join his wife.
But there is a problem. Namely, according to the Gospels, Jesus never got married. Jesus came to fulfill the law. But he never fulfilled this marriage law. Why? Because it’s not a law for all people and for all time.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that it is better for men to not get married at all! In fact, you should only get married if you are weak and can’t control your sexual urges. So, if we were to follow Paul’s marriage ethic, marriage would be shunned and only weaklings who couldn’t control themselves would get married.
The Old Testament, Jesus, and Paul knew that Genesis 2:24 was not a law. There are circumstances when men and women shouldn’t marry each other, especially when those men or women are gay or lesbian.
Part 6: Romans 1 Does Not Condemn LGBTQ Folks. But Romans 2 Does Condemn Judging LGBTQ Folks.
If you use Romans 1 to condemn homosexuality, you are wrong and you need to repent.
And you need to read Romans 2.
First some background. Romans was written for two audiences – Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians living in Rome. Romans 1 describes things that Gentiles do. Romans 2 was written to teach Jewish Christians how to react to the Gentiles.
Let’s start with Romans 1. Since many who use Romans 1 as a reason to condemn homosexuality think they are reading this passage “literally,” let’s keep with a literal reading of the text. Paul wrote that Gentile
“… women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
Let’s take this literally. In Paul’s day, there were women and men who gave up *natural* intercourse with the opposite gender for unnatural intercourse with the same gender.
What Romans 1 has to say about homosexuality literally hinges on the word “natural.” What if there are some men and women who *naturally* are oriented to be attracted to individuals of the same gender?
Modern science tells us that there is a variant within nature, including human nature, of males and females who are naturally attracted to members of the same gender. And there are some who are naturally attracted to both genders.
For these individuals to deny or suppress or go against their God-given nature by being with a member of the opposite gender would be to exchange what is natural for what is unnatural.
The message is a warning, “Do not go against your God-given and natural sexuality. If you exchange what is natural for what is unnatural, you will have gone against who God naturally created you to be.”
But here’s the thing: Even if you disagree with this argument about what Romans 1 literally says about nature, you need to read Romans 2. Romans 1 is a massive set up for Romans 2.
Romans 1 was written primarily to the Jewish Christians. It says, “Oh yes, you know that the Gentiles do all of these weird and nasty things. Some of them even give up their natural sexual desire for a woman and go off and have sexual relations with other men! Oh the shame!”
Those who want to condemn homosexuality because of Romans 1 generally do not quote Romans 2, so they miss Paul’s major point. After Paul sets up the Jewish Christians as righteous in comparison with the Gentiles, he writes,
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
The word “Therefore” at the beginning of Romans 2 means that he is about to drop his conclusions about Romans 1. And Romans 2 says that anyone who uses Romans 1 to judge others is condemning themselves.
No matter how you interpret Romans 1, if you use it in a way to condemn others, you need to repent. Because when you use Romans 1 to judge and condemn, you are judging and condemning yourself.
Adam addresses this topic in TikTok videos.
Part 7: The Misuse of Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and the Heterosexual Agenda
How many times did Paul use the word “homosexual”?
The answer is zero. As in 0. Nada. Zilch. Nunca. Never.
In fact, in its original languages, the Bible never uses the word “homosexual.”
That’s because the term didn’t exist at the time. It was first coined in the 19th century.
Many like to quote a modern translation of the Bible that uses the term homosexual. But these translations are not based on a literal reading of the original words Paul used. They are based on the translators’ interpretation. And every translation has an agenda.
For example, the New International Version quotes Paul as writing,
“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).
The original language Paul used was Greek. Again, he never once used the Greek word “homosexual.”
The important Greek words that he did use were “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.”
Malakoi refers to “softness.” A couch can be soft, and apparently, someone from the male gender can also be soft. The NIV translates malakoi as “male prostitutes.” The male prostitute was “soft” because he took the passive role in sexual relations with other men.
Paul made up the word arsenokoitai. It was never used before Paul in any writing of the ancient world. It comes from two Greek words that mean “man” and “bed.” Paul did not define the meaning of this term. It is generally agreed upon by scholars that when it came to same sex activity, the arsenokoitai took the more active role. The NIV chooses to translate this word as “homosexual offenders.”
Conservative and liberal scholars both say there has been a lot of debate about what these words actually mean.
If, in God’s providence, God wanted to make sure that we knew homosexuality was a sin, God would have inspired Paul to coin the word “homosexuality” instead of arsenokoitai. Then God would have clearly defined the word through Paul as “two men or two women living in a same-sex committed relationship.”
But neither Paul nor God defined the term arsenokoitai.
The good news is that we know about certain sexual practices that were common in the ancient Roman world.
For example, and this is no surprise to you, there were men who married women. Today, we would call these men heterosexuals.
Here comes the surprise: these heterosexual men frequently kept a boy in their house to use for their own sexual gratification. These boys were sex slaves. The men who owned these slaves were the arsenokoitai. They took the active role in the sexual encounter.
There were also other boys in the ancient Roman Empire who were male prostitutes and frequently offered their services at Roman temple cults. These boys, along with the sex slaves, were the “malakoi.” They took the passive role in the sexual encounter.
It should be clear that Paul was not at all referring to homosexuality when he used the terms “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” He was referring to male prostitution and to heterosexual males who sexually abused younger males.
What does this have to do with the heterosexual agenda?
Every translation of the Bible is an interpretation. And every interpretation of the Bible has an agenda. Sometimes those agendas are conscious and sometimes they are unconscious. But we need to be clear about those agendas.
A translation of the Bible that uses the term “homosexual” in a negative light has a heterosexual agenda. This agenda falsely interprets the Bible as divine justification to define heterosexuality as good and holy by defining homosexuality as bad and sinful. But the original cultural context and languages of the Bible do not allow for the interpretation.
It’s true that every interpretation of the Bible has an agenda. Our agenda should be the same agenda Jesus had, “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Paul’s agenda was to name the abuse of sexual slavery and sexual abuse by heterosexuals as a sin because it does not follow Jesus’ command to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
To be clear, the “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” relationship had nothing to do with two men living in a committed same gender relationship. Instead, that relationship had everything to do with sexual abuse of a heterosexual male against another male, usually a much younger male. According to Paul, that abusive behavior needed to stop. And a culture that encouraged boys to resort to sexual slavery or temple prostitution in order to survive needed to change.
For Paul, that cultural change was happening within the church. He wanted the church to be a place where people stopped abusing one another and started caring for one another.
I agree with that sentiment 100%.
Part 8: The Biblical Rainbow Is the Perfect Symbol for the LGBTQ Community
The LGBTQ community has every right to claim the rainbow.
Some religious folks are utterly offended that the LGBTQ community has identified with the rainbow. They claim that the rainbow belongs to Christians and how dare LGBTQ folks steal it from us!
But here’s the thing: The Biblical rainbow doesn’t belong solely to Christians. The rainbow belongs to all of humanity, but especially to those who suffer violence.
In other words, the rainbow belongs to the LGBTQ community and they have every right to claim it.
The problem in Genesis is that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). People were killing one another, and the violence escalated to apocalyptic proportions. God regretted making humans because they were violent, so God flooded the earth, killing everyone except for Noah, his family, and some animals.
After the flood, God had a change of heart. People began to populate the earth again, and they continued to act violently. But God promised to never violently flood the earth again, and God set the rainbow in the sky as a promise to “all flesh” to never flood the earth (9:17). The rainbow is a sign that “all flesh” is saved from God’s flood of violence. God will never do that again to any flesh, including LGBTQ flesh.
Tragically, the divine promise of the rainbow doesn’t save us from the violence we continue to inflict upon one another. Even worse, a certain brand of Christianity is relentlessly violent in words and actions toward the LGBTQ community. These Christians need to follow God’s rainbow promise and stop being violent toward any flesh, including LGBTQ flesh.
So, if you identify as LGBTQ, you have every right to proclaim the rainbow. It was made for you.
Conclusion: Living in the Spirit
In Second Corinthians 3:2-6, Paul gives some instructions for how to live in the new realm that Christ inaugurated. He wrote this:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
You are the letter, “to be known and read by all.” This is not a letter written in stone that can never be changed. Rather, it is a letter written on your heart by the Spirit.
The letter in your heart leads to a new covenant. Jesus made a new covenant when he said to his disciples in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.:
Jesus’ new covenant and his new commandment are intimately connected. The new covenant is for all people and it is based on one command: love.
The early church, along with Paul, saw that the new covenant was meant for everyone. Despite what the letter of the law says, Gentiles were welcomed into the early church community as they were – as Gentiles.
To go by the letter of the law would have led to death, exclusion, and killing. But the Spirit of radical inclusion and love leads to life.
That’s the key to understanding not only Paul, but the entire Bible. In this passage, Paul gives us instructions for how to understand not only the Bible, but also God. God is the Spirit and the Spirit only gives life.
When it comes to our LGBTQ siblings and Christianity, the fundamental question we need to ask is whether our interpretation of our sacred texts and our traditions lead to life or if they lead to death. If they lead to death, then we need to reinterpret.
Why? Because the Spirit only gives life.