Leviticus 20:13, Homosexuality and the Bible, Part I of VIII

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

//The greatest challenge today for the Church may be our struggle to overcome a bias against homosexuality, yet I don’t think I’ve ever put my research down in words here. Well, I’m on a week-long vacation, so I’ve queued up this series to cover me while I’m relaxing. So, here we go, on an eight-day investigation.

In the Old Testament, buried within the Law, in a section called the Holiness Code, lies today’s verse … a warning against homosexuality. Here is where it all starts, and to me, the wording is pretty clear. Readers sometimes argue that it refers only to sex between a man and boy (see tomorrow’s post about pederasty), not between two consenting adults, but I’m not convinced. The Bible says what it says: lie with another man and you should die. See also Leviticus 18:22.

Yet, notwithstanding this one law, plus a warning given by Paul to the Romans, I argue that Christians are called to overcome this old law with a doctrine of acceptance and compassion. I’d like to run an eight-part series on this topic, not with the intent of rewriting the Bible, but instead focusing on what we should be doing with what the Bible says. Let’s start with a reminder of why this is such an important issue today:

“More than 34,000 people die by suicide each year,” making it “the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds with lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth attempting suicide up to four times more than their heterosexual peers.” –thetrevorproject.org

Here is what these numbers mean, as I read it: If, as other studies show, roughly 10% of us prefer same-sex partners, then 10,464 lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth commit suicide every year. This is 7,848 more than would commit suicide if they were straight. This means that 7,848 young people are committing suicide because their sexual preference is causing them distress.

The primary reason for this is our religious teaching. In America, the blame falls squarely on Christianity. Suicides happen because we teach our kids that it is evil or, worse, despicable, to love a person of the same sex. A friend of mine tells how his gay brother committed suicide on the steps of the Mormon church. You may believe that God considers homosexuality a sin, but do not let your religious beliefs hide the truth: If you promote this doctrine, you are contributing to about 7,848 suicides per year among our youth, because of the confusion their sexuality is causing them.

There is no question anymore that homosexuality is not a choice. If you don’t believe the studies, then merely ask any gay person. Moreover, the thousands of suicides each year by gay and lesbian teens is telling; these suicides would not happen if a person could simply choose their sexual preference. The horrible truth is that our beliefs are killing our kids, and this is causing more compassionate Christians to wonder if there is something wrong with our interpretation of scripture.

On this note, let me remind you that the masses are not always right. While it’s true that traditional (conservative) Christianity still believes homosexuality is a sin, we human beings are not infallible. We have misinterpreted the Bible before, using it to condone witch hunts, crusades, and inquisitions. In just the last two centuries in America, the Bible was successfully being used to argue for slavery. So we’ve been wrong before on moral issues.

Yet the Bible seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? Abstain or die. I’d like to examine what the Bible really says over this series, and then compare it to the teachings of Jesus.

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8 Comments

  1. Kevin King

    Thank you, Lee, for being prepared to invite comments on this. I really appreciate your openness, honesty and compassion for others, even though I find it necessary to challenge much of what you say.

    The quotation from thetrevorproject.org no longer exists: but appears to have been based on figures for the year 2007, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Vital Statistics System. But that figure of 34,000 suicides was for all people in the US aged 1 to 85. This means (a) it is unclear how your figures were derived and (b) worldwide figures could be appreciably higher. But, ignoring the questionability of the figures, the claim that the attempted suicide rate for LGB youth is substantially higher than for heterosexuals is certainly a matter for serious concern.

    But you then go on to say, ‘The primary reason for this is our religious teaching.’ As someone who, though now a straight and happily-married Christian, was on the brink of becoming a practising homosexual prior to my conversion, I take strong issue with that claim. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of ‘homophobic’ bullying; and can testify that not one of my tormentors was in any way motivated by religious concerns, nor by any kind of fear of me. They simply took delight in getting at someone who they perceived as more vulnerable than themselves.

    And I was vulnerable. I was increasingly obsessed with sex: but deeply ashamed of the directions in which that obsession was taking me.

    But it wasn’t religious teaching that lay at the root of that shame. Rather, there were 2 main causes. The first was simple biology. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that human beings were designed for heterosexual relationships. The second was the realisation that I, a supposedly intelligent human being, was increasingly being driven by desires of which I did not approve, yet could not control.

    As a budding biologist who believed in natural selection rather than creationism, I saw no mileage in the claim that people were just ‘born’ homosexual. Natural selection works by favouring characteristics that encourage the survival of the species. Yet there is no characteristic, short of those causing early death, that is more certain not to be propagated than homosexuality. So, although it is true that mutations and birth defects can result in trans-sexual characteristics, such cases are necessarily comparatively rare.

    However, natural genetic variation does influence all of us in various subtle ways; and whilst it can reasonably be argued that certain characteristics are more typical of one sex than another, it is my contention that many of the problems encountered by those who call themselves gay or lesbian have their roots in an excessively stereotypical ‘macho’ vs. ‘feminine’ understanding of sexuality. I’ll elaborate on that more another time.

    You then go further and say, ‘In America, the blame falls squarely on Christianity. Suicides happen because we teach our kids that it is evil or, worse, despicable, to love a person of the same sex.’ This highlights the other major source of confusion on this matter. The bible has never taught that it is wrong to love a person of the same sex: it teaches that it is wrong to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex. The problem here is with our English language, which uses the same word for both: whereas Greek, for example, has at least four different words for ‘love;’ with ‘eros’ for sexual love and ‘agape’ as the highest form of self-sacrificing love, which we are actively exhorted to cultivate in all of our relationships.

    David and Jonathan are an excellent biblical example of this. They clearly had a deep and emotional attachment for one another, which the bible records with no hint of criticism. But others have gone on to confuse the issue by claiming that they were homosexual. This is both misleading and harmful because it causes people to question their sexual identity for feeling emotional attachments that the bible portrays as being entirely admirable and proper. Some men are naturally more empathic and emotional than others. Jesus was exceptionally so: and he was the perfect man.

    Finally, you say, ‘There is no question anymore that homosexuality is not a choice.’ That is an overstatement. There are choices to be made: and those choices have consequences that can radically affect our freedom to choose what we really want further down the line. Some of those choices are made for us, some we are persuaded into without really understanding where we are being led and some we make for ourselves. But in the end, as I did, we can find ourselves stuck on a course from which there seems to be no escape.

    But it is when we are ready to admit that we are trapped that the Christian gospel really comes into its own: for Jesus is the liberator.

  2. Lee Harmon

    Kevin, I’m glad you overcame what was for you a liability. I’m uncertain why you attribute this “victory” to Jesus, who seemed disinterested in such matters except to discourage the sort of discrimination you felt. It is too bad that many in our society continue to treat gays in this manner, and surely it’s our Christian duty to follow Jesus in discouraging ANY kind of discrimination, regardless of our religious belief.

    I appreciate your honesty, but I can’t help feeling that if you gave up a life of loving intimacy for a relationship with a woman, though you find her body repulsive, that seems unfair to both you and her. On the other hand, if you do NOT find intimacy with her repulsive, then I think you are not able to put yourself in the situation of real gays.

    This emphasis that Christians today put on controlling people’s intimate moments totally baffles me. I simply cannot grasp why people can’t outgrow this hangup.

    My take on David and Jonathan differs from yours. It seems best to recognize that whatever affection they felt and shared, it occurred before controllers began to tell them that it was a sin. Certainly, the sliding scale of hetero-to-homosexual preference was not divided so neatly as we today prefer to think, as a result of our sexual hangups.

  3. Kevin King

    Hi, Lee. I understand from your discussions on this subject elsewhere, that you yourself do not claim to be gay; but I appreciate your efforts to understand and empathise with what this is like.

    As to why I attribute the victory to Jesus… Even before I gave my life to Him I had been struggling to break free from my sexual obsessions. I had enough will-power to override high levels of pain if I chose to: but was powerless against this. I had tried to distract my thoughts and focus on other things; but once that sense of need got hold of me, there was nothing I could do. I experimented with self-hypnosis: but actually ended up trying to hypnotise myself into an even deeper bondage.

    I didn’t become a Christian because of this, however. Over the space of less than a week I saw evidence that convinced me that Jesus was alive today. And if that was true, then he was who he claimed to be and had an unassailable right to be Lord of my life. So a few days later, I prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked him to take over.

    At the time, I didn’t really think about my sexual problems. Curiously, during the entire couple of weeks I was in the company of that particular group of Christians it never reared its ugly head. But the very night I returned home, and was all alone, it hit me with all the force of a ten-ton truck and I knew I was licked. So I prayed, ‘Jesus, if you don’t set me free from this, I am going to be stuck with it for the rest of my life.’ And then I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, Get Out.’ The effect was probably akin to what the disciples felt when Jesus stilled the storm. Within 20-40 seconds I felt all the desires and compulsions just melt away and I lay there astonished, thinking. ‘What happened?’

    I have been free ever since; though I have been seriously tempted on a limited number of occasions over the years. But I would be a complete fool to suggest that it has been my own will-power that has kept me. Rather, I have learned, when tempted, to immediately turn to Jesus and let Him deal with the problem.

    But although, for me, deliverance took seconds, healing took years. I could no longer face the thought of having sex in any shape or form, and resolved that I would remain single and celibate for the rest of my life. I threw all my attention into building my relationship with God. This was not easy for me, because I also had another problem. When I was younger, I had been teased (and later bullied) a lot as a ‘cry-baby.’ In response, I had hardened myself emotionally to the point that I no longer had any idea what love felt like.

    But God worked patiently on all of that, and about four years later, he asked me, ‘What if I wanted you to get married?’ And I thought about it, and realised that the idea was no longer repulsive to me. And I said, ‘Well, if that was what you really wanted, then OK.’ I thought at the time it was just a hypothetical question. But very soon afterwards God, in no uncertain terms, introduced me to the woman he wanted me to marry.

    There’s a lot more I could say: but let this siffice for now. I have now been happily married for 42 years. I have a wonderful wife. We have enjoyed a sexual intimacy that has gone on getting better and better over the years and I have two sons, a daughter and 3 grand-daughters. Many times, when I have reflected upon what my life would have been in comparison had I been exposed to the same level of pro-gay advocacy that our youth are subject to today I have found myself reduced to tears.

    Jesus did not just come to forgive us. He came to set us free.

    P.S. Regarding David and Jonathan you say, ‘It seems best to recognize that whatever affection they felt and shared, it occurred before controllers began to tell them that it was a sin.’ Yet the Mosaic Law against homosexuality predates them by about 400 years. My point is that neither Mosaic Law nor any other biblical teaching has ever classified a deep and emotional attachment such as theirs as being in any way sinful. Don’t confuse love with sexual desire. Love is the highest of moral principles: sexual desire is a natural instinct which, if used rightly, can be a source of great joy and strength: and, if abused, can destroy us.

  4. Lee Harmon

    Fascinating story, Kevin. I’m happy for you, especially given how hard we can make life for gay folks.

    I do indeed believe in “healing” of this sort. Anyone who has close contacts with A.A. recognizes the strength in relying on a Higher Power. I’m still a little confused about why you felt you needed healing. Given that what the world needs more is tolerance and acceptance, perhaps God could have given you the conviction and strength to stand up for the love you felt toward your same-sex partner? Or are you saying that, unlike many gay couples, you never felt any real love…just lust? If that is so, then I suppose “lust” is something which could benefit from healing, haha!

    Anyway, back to David and Jonathan…critical Bible scholars recognize that the “Mosaic Law” was actually written hundreds of years after D&J lived, probably in the time of exile, and then attributed back to Moses as an authority figure. This understanding contributes to the thinking of an earlier post of mine:

    http://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2012/03/2-samuel-126-was-king-david-gay.html

    • Kevin King

      Hi, Lee! Sorry for the slow reply – I’m snowed under just now. Because of that, this reply will necessarily be brief (as I can make it).

      First, a correction. You seem to be assuming I already had a homosexual partner: but, as I explained in my first posting, I ‘was on the brink of becoming a practising homosexual.’ I had very few friends, none of whom I trusted enough to even discuss such matters with. (I had also been approached by strangers: but did not trust them at all.)

      So, yes, what I was feeling was almost pure lust – at least, there wasn’t any love in it. But again I would stress that sexual desire, of itself, is a natural instinct. It is the way we handle our instincts that is either lustful or wholesome. When we use our instincts as God intended they do us good. When we abuse or allow them to become locked into self-indulgence, they do us harm: and, in the sexual sense, that is lust. Lust doesn’t ‘need healing:’ it needs to be stopped. It is the consequences of lust that need healing.

      Yes, the world needs more tolerance and acceptance: but that is not all it needs, or even its greatest need. For example, I can tolerate and accept the poor: but they need much more than that. If I truly love them, I need to start pointing the way to freedom from poverty: otherwise no matter what I or anyone else says, they will go on feeling worthless and ashamed. The weakness of your approach is that you are proclaiming acceptance without deliverance. And in the end, that is a sticking plaster: not a solution. The inward sense that, ‘Either I am in the wrong body or I am not the person I ought to be,’ may be suppressed: but it won’t go away.

      I’ve had a look at your other article on David & Jonathan, and I’m afraid your argument is seriously flawed. I’ll post a response to it when I have some more time.

  5. Lee Harmon

    Oh, thanks for clarifying, Kevin! Let me clarify something too.

    You say “The weakness of your approach is that you are proclaiming acceptance without deliverance.” Here you are quite wrong. My entire focus, for eight posts, was to help deliver folks who are trapped in religious bigotry. I am not writing to gay people here; they are what God made them. I am writing for those who need help being more Christlike, to help them quit making gays feel “worthless and ashamed” as you put it.

    This was Jesus’ focus as well. In the age of God’s rule, the marginalized need no longer be marginalized, but Jesus didn’t stop with accepting them. He also taught others how to overcome the bigotry which caused some to be marginalized.

    A great example is the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus’ righteous anger was directed toward the system which marginalized others. This is made clear by the next verse in which the lame and blind are finally allowed in the temple. Given that the holiness code in the O.T. which considered homosexuals to be an abnormality also excluded the blind and lame, it’s a small step to imagining same-sex partners finally being allowed in the Temple as well. Makes me proud to be a follower of Jesus.

    re: David and Jonathan, I don’t really recall making an argument, but your concern fascinates me. Why on earth do you care whether or not their love was strong enough for them to want to be intimate? Why this hang-up about other people’s private lives? Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it is how I feel: I hope God is not yet done healing you.

  6. Kevin King

    Lee, We are on the same page when it comes to emphasising the importance of accepting and valuing people regardless of who they are or what they have done. But, unlike you, I do know what it feels like to have that deep inward sense of shame and to feel utterly trapped in it.

    I understand your claim to be seeking to help deliver folks who are trapped in religious bigotry. But in addressing them you are, for the most part, taking the wrong tack; whilst at the same time – even if unintentionally – you are encouraging those who feel potentially homosexual inclinations to pursue that lifestyle.

    Had I been exposed to the kind of teaching that you and others propose, it is quite probable that I would have accepted it and become a practising homosexual. But it is highly unlikely that it would have ever really resolved the problem. And given my experience of how long it took for me to recover, even though I had not become so deeply involved as many and had a miraculous experience of deliverance, I can well believe that, had I done so, I might well have despaired of ever being free and even ended up taking my own life. Meanwhile, I would have missed out on the fulfilment of over 40 years of marriage, plus my 3 children and 3 grandchildren. Would I then have thanked you for you well-intentioned intervention on my behalf?

    Consider Jesus words in Mt 18:6-7:

    “… but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.
    “Woe to the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must be that the occasions come, but woe to that person through whom the occasion comes!”

    Bearing this in mind, both sides of this argument need to be very careful. Those on your side, because you are encouraging others to engage in homosexual activity and those on my side, because we can all-too-easily end up trampling on those who have done so.

    I’m taking issue with you because you (and others of like persuasion) are attempting to alter the plain meaning of scripture. It is neither necessary nor wise to do that: because the scriptures, and supremely Jesus, are pointing to the ultimate solution to the problem. Do this and you will not persuade those who know the scriptures: you will simply alienate them.

    I really like your point about ‘the lame and the blind’ in the temple – that’s a lovely bit of exegesis. But notice too that, having accepted them: he then healed them (Mt 21:14). However, you overstate your case in that this wasn’t the main point of what Jesus did: otherwise, it would have appeared in all four accounts of the cleansing, instead of just Matthew. The primary reason was that they had turned God’s house of prayer into a house of dishonest trade.

    On the matter of David and Jonathan, my primary disagreement is with the claim ‘that the “Mosaic Law” was actually written hundreds of years after D&J lived.’ but, as I said, I’ll comment on that in the appropriate place rather than take up unnecessary space here.

  7. Lee Harmon

    I think we must agree to disagree on this one, Kevin. I feel that yours is an example of religion gone bad.

    If someone comes to you and confesses that he is overwhelmed by shame and wishes for your help in suppressing the desires he has for another person, then I can buy into you providing strength and encouragement. But for you to actively promote a doctrine which causes that shame in the first place, and then pretend to be solving his problem rather than your own, is shameful in my opinion.

    If you like, I can point you to websites with stories and pictures of many among the thousands of young people your doctrine is causing to commit suicide every year. I do recognize that religious beliefs can be deep and hard to overcome, sometimes strong enough to make us callous toward the suffering we cause. 9-11 is a similar example of religion gone wrong, the result of another religious doctrine that accounts for many unnecessary deaths. We can only outgrow this if we recognize where religion is overstepping bounds.

    Promoting bigotry by labeling gays as sinners directly attacks roughly 10% of the population. It’s inexcusable, and hiding behind religious belief doesn’t justify it anymore than it justifies flying an airplane into a building.

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