Sorry I haven't posted in a while! I've been pretty busy these last few weeks. While I do enjoy writing this blog, there will be periods when I won't be able to devote a lot of time to it. With that said, I'm steering away from the main focus of the blog in this post.
Through my use of Twitter, I have had the privilege of getting to speak with some atheist/anti-theist people. (If I haven't said so before, they are actually part of the reason I started this blog.) We have been able to have some good debates regarding matters of belief, God and the Bible. We've even found some common ground outside of our religious beliefs or lack thereof.
I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that the discussion sometimes turns to the matter of the Church's treatment of gay people. This topic seems almost unavoidable when speaking about matters of faith in God. I've asked myself the question "Am I supposed to hate people who are gay?" before, and I was forced to ask it again recently. I'm hoping that I will be able to present this in a way that will make everyone look at this issue in a different way than you have in the past.
Let me say this, first thing. I love gay people. I don't subscribe to the belief that homosexuality is somehow a greater sin than any other sin, and I completely reject any mistreatment of people who are gay. (Did I just hear some religious feathers ruffling?) I'll even take this a step further. God loves gay people. Jesus loves gay people. (Now I know I've made someone mad!) Don't stop reading, though!! Hear me out!
I guess the most logical place to start this discussion is in the Old Testament, since that is what each side points to first. In Leviticus 20, a list of laws is presented, and the penalty for breaking these laws was death. Verse 13 in the NIV states, "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." Most people involved in the debate about gay people focus on this verse and forget about the rest. Other practices punishable by death also addressed in this chapter include: sacrificing children to the god Molech, children cursing their father or mother, adultery in any form, having sex with animals, etc.
Why is the tendency to fixate on verse 13? This is only part of a long list of acts contrary to this portion of God's law that were punishable by death. I don't think that one can be considered any worse than another. The punishment was death for everything listed, so I would think they are all pretty bad in God's eyes.
Something else to note, earlier in this chapter, God commands the method of execution be stoning. It seems logical to assume that this type of execution would be carried out for everything else listed. However, notice in verse 14 (NIV), "If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you." It seems that marrying a woman and her mother required a more visible method of execution. (Stoning would only be witnessed by those present; the smoke from burning would be seen for miles.) If we were to assume that one sin was worse in God's eyes than another, it would seem that this sin would be worse based on the punishment.
All this seems pretty harsh to us, but God demands righteous perfection. He set the rules and the punishment for breaking those rules. He will not tolerate sin indefinitely. Not just one particular sin. ANY sin.
Before I continue, there is a word used to describe homosexual acts in some translations of the Bible that a lot of people really seem to react strongly to, and that word is abomination. Some definitions of this word include: anything greatly disliked or abhorred; a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc. A couple of synonyms are hatred or corruption, depravity. Note: Some will point at the synonym "hatred" and say that this proves God hates gay people. Before we jump to that conclusion, think about what a synonym is. It is a word with the same meaning as another word, right? With this in mind, abomination could be an action showing hatred. In this case, showing hatred toward God. ("...it is abomination," or "...it is hatred")
One more thing about the word abomination. I would encourage you to look it up on a Bible study website like www.biblestudytools.com. You will see that it is used many, many times (at least in the King James Version) and relates to many, many acts in the laws of the Old Testament. Never is homosexuality singled out and placed on a pedestal under a blinking neon arrow.
Now, let's move to Sodom and Gomorrah. This is another favorite part of the Old Testament that both sides point to to prove that God hates homosexuality. Here is the short version of the story: God's tolerance of the sin in Sodom and Gomorrah ran out, and He decided to destroy them. Abraham's nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom, so God sent two angels to take him and his family to safety. The men of Sodom came to Lot's house that night and demanded his guests be given to them so they could be gang raped. The angels struck the men blind and took Lot and his family out of the city. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with burning sulfur. You can read the whole story in Genesis 18 & 19.
Is this a cut and dried story of God destroying two cities because they were full of homosexuals? I don't think it is. Did you read the story? If so, you probably noticed in Genesis 18 that Abraham pleaded with God to spare the cities if fifty righteous people could be found. God agreed. The problem was that there weren't fifty righteous people to find. God allowed Abraham to talk the number down eventually to ten righteous people. God agreed to each number Abraham threw at Him. If there had been only ten people who followed God, He would have spared the cities. Unfortunately, the inhabitants had completely turned from God.
To further show that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of homosexuality, we can read in Ezekiel 16: 49-50 (NIV): 49 "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." This sheds a little more light on what was going on in these cities prior to their destruction. They had completely abandoned God and His commands.
Do you want to know my take on this? Sure you do! I'm not sure what happened in this passage of the Bible is even about homosexuality. Sure, people assume it, but think about this. The men of the city wanted to gang rape Lot's visitors. I could be wrong, but there typically aren't groups of gay men going around raping people I've never heard of that, at least. All the stories I've heard about this type of rape are related to prisons, and in that context the rape is not about sexual gratification. It's about domination and control. I think this is exactly what was going on here. This effectively removes the account of Sodom and Gomorrah's demise from the gay debate, at least in my view.
Now, we'll fast-forward to the New Testament. There are a couple of passages to which both sides like to point. The first is Romans 1: 18-32, but again people tend to fixate on verses 26-28 (NIV): 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.27 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. Sounds like gay people are being singled out, huh? Well, not really. If you continue reading (like you always should!) you'll see a much longer list of what sins people were committing against God. This is another example of how people tend to focus on one part of a much larger picture in an attempt to single out a particular sin.
The second example comes from I Corinthians 6: 9-10 (NIV): 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Here, Paul lists some types of wickedness commonly found in Corinth (and the whole world for that matter). He is stating that people who ignore God and devote their lives to the pursuit of these sins will not go to heaven. Again, this does not single out any particular sin.
One other point is often brought up in this debate. The occurrence of homosexuality in nature. It is my understanding that actions perceived to be same-sex, sexual acts have been recorded in many different kinds of animals. From what I've read, though, it seems that no one is totally sure what is really going on when these things happen, but for the sake of this argument we'll assume that they are truly sexual acts performed out of a desire for the same sex. Many people point to these acts as proof homosexuality occurs in nature, so it is natural and therefore OK.
I'm not a scientist, but this rationale seems flawed. If animals were to engage in strictly homosexual relationships, it seems that they are effectively removing themselves from the gene pool, since they would be unable to procreate and further propagate the species. This would ultimately lead to extinction, which from a naturalist point of view would be a very negative thing. I'm not of the opinion that humans are just more highly-evolved animals anyway, so this argument holds very little weight with me.
Alright. Back to my original question. Am I supposed to hate people who are gay? My conclusion is ABSOLUTELY NOT! They are people struggling with sin in their lives just like me. I don't hate myself, so why would I hate them? If someone claims to follow Jesus and preaches hatred toward anyone, it would be easy to assume that they have not read their Bible very closely. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." If someone is following this command, there is no room to hate anyone.
Speaking for myself, I'm just as messed up as everyone else, and I'm in no position to pass judgement on anyone. I love gay people! Always have; always will.