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Let's talk about it. The Bible says some stuff, and our culture says a lot.
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Why is homosexuality condemned?

Postby Bob Dylan » Mon Nov 12, 2018 11:31 am

Why is homosexuality condemned? I don't see anything wrong with it. And don't give me shit that they can't make a kid.
Bob Dylan

Re: Why is homosexuality condemned?

Postby jimwalton » Sat Dec 01, 2018 7:55 am

The Bible consistently says it’s wrong, in a number of different situations and in both Old and New Testaments. But it never tells us why; it just unequivocally says it’s sin. But why is it sin? What makes it sin? In our era, many people (you included) consider it just another form of a legitimate relationship, and they want to know what makes it so "condemnable".

Some Christians would argue that the sin of homosexuality is one of complementarity: men and women’s bodies were made for each other. While there is a certain and unavoidable truth to that, it’s not an argument the Bible makes when it talks about homosexuality. It never identifies a lack of complementarity as the reason it is condemned. The text most often cited in that regard is Genesis 2.24, but even that text, when hard pressed, is not about complementarity, and it certainly is not discussing the issue of homosexuality.

Other people would argue that it’s “unnatural.” That’s a variation of the complementarity argument, and while Paul, in Romans 1, seems to allude to the unnaturalness of homosexuality, his argument is ultimately connected with idolatry: godlessness played out in our lives—a trading of dependence on God for dependence on other things. But some may wonder why homosexuality is a “dependence” on other things when it is just considered a love relationship. In the case of idolatry, though, and Romans 1, homosexuality is portrayed as a symptom of a spiritual problem of wayward desires that are not founded and grounded in the glory of God.

Still others contend that the sin of homosexuality lies in that it is ultimately not procreative and cannot be, but you don't want to hear that part. While the argument is inevitably true, it’s again not an argument that the Bible makes.

Sin in the Bible is a nuanced word, rather than a monolithic one. Sometimes it’s defined by its causes, sometimes by its character, and other times by its consequences. It can be open rebellion against God as well as quietly avoiding doing what is right. It can be ignorance, inattention, irreligion, iniquity, perversion, or evil. It can be talking about non-conformity to the law of God, a breach of the covenant, or an expression of unbelief. Which of these applies to homosexuality?

In Genesis 19 and Judges 19, the case at hand clearly involves violent sexual abuse, something we all recognize as wrong in all of its many contexts and expressions. In Romans 1, Paul talks about homosexuality as being physically degrading, a moral breach, and an unnatural expression of lustful desires. The context of Paul’s thoughts is the abusive pederastic culture of the Greco-Roman world—again, something we all recognize as wrong in all its many contexts and expressions. The text makes it quite clear that the homosexual world of Paul is a violation of cultural understandings of honor and shame, the expression of ungodly desires, and the unnatural degrading of others.

In Leviticus 18 and 20, homosexuality is listed in the chapters enumerating unlawful sexual relations, couched in a context of incestuous relations and idolatry. Some think it refers to cult prostitution, others to pederasty, and others to casual same-sex relationships. Without particular explanation, we are best to regard it as a general prohibition of homosexual relations, regardless of their source or expression.

In the later epistles of Paul, the terms of homosexuality in the lists of forbidden and sinful activities relate to prostitution and child sexual abuse, again—common in the Roman world.

While it is not clear in the Bible why homosexuality is sin, it is overwhelmingly and uncompromisingly clear that it is. And while some people argue (quite convincingly) that the homosexuality of our culture is a very different thing from what it was in the ancient world, the argument ultimately fails in that the Bible never entertains a nuanced understanding of the sin of homosexuality. In the Bible, it’s always and unavoidably considered sin, no matter what form it takes.

The distinction between sexual orientation and sexual expression—another argument on the table—is a modern one that would make little sense in the ancient world, where the notion of sexual orientation was absent. Most scholars agree that the ancient world thought simply of sexual drives that manifested themselves either heterosexually or homosexually. Paul’s argument in Romans 1 shows no interest in orientation, but addresses homosexuality unambiguously as “excessive lust” and “contrary to nature.” Brownson says, “So here is our paradox: In the ancient world, if a man ceased engaging in prostitution or another sexual vice, he was no longer a malakos (the active partner in a male homosexual act) or arsenokoites (the passive partner in the same act). But in our [modern cultural] context, a person is still gay or lesbian regardless of their behavior.” So a person “being” gay is not something the Bible addresses, only acting out homosexual activity. So is being gay a sin, or just acting out? In a parallel sense, is it a sin to be a thief, or is it only sin when one steals something?

Brownson continues: “It’s also a problem to say that it’s OK to be gay as long as they don’t act out, for the Bible decries impulses to sin as manifestations of a sin nature (James 1.12-15), and not at all neutral (Mt. 5.21-22, 28). If same-sex acts are always morally wrong, then the impulse to engage in those acts is also a manifestation of a sinful inner state. Certainly we must always distinguish between inclination and action, and we are all accountable for our thoughts as well as our actions. Yet we know that impulse and action do not carry the same guilt before God, who searches the heart. At the same time, if an action is wrong, the inward impulse toward that action is also culpable to some extent. Lines get easily blurred.”

The conclusion is necessary: the Bible regards homosexuality as a sin, but doesn't specifically tell us why. The “why” seems to have many dimensions and subtle understandings. While philosophically and theologically the arguments of complementarity, conception, and “unnaturalness” ultimately all fail in their biblical explanations, we must continue to study and consider what the Bible is teaching us and why.

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