Guest Post: A Biblical Case For The Support Of Same-Sex Marriage

This post was written by Katie Van Santen and originally published on Emma Higgs’ site.  Reproduced here with permission


A Biblical Case For The Support Of Same-Sex Marriage

One of two statements is often heard in regards to an individual’s position on same-sex attraction, which can be paraphrased as:

“I take the ‘traditional’ view because I believe what’s in the Bible”

or

“I take the ‘reformed’ view because of a family member or friend”.

However, both views have the support of biblical interpretation. Those taking the ‘reformed’ view do not reject biblical authority, but have a different interpretation of the texts to those who take the ‘traditional’ view.

Sometimes the context of a passage means the ‘surface’ or literal reading is the least important in terms of truth about God and our relationship with Him. Scripture is authoritative because it is the Word of God, and we must seek what God says through the Bible, rather than what the Bible says: ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6).


History

Views on marriage have changed dramatically over time, and our perception of ‘biblical’ marriage is very different to that of the Israelites or first-century Jews. Only relatively recently have we begun to understand the biology, psychology and sociology that underpins the human condition. The definition of ‘traditional, biblical’ marriage as ‘a covenant between one man and one woman for life’ also raises questions regarding the changing attitudes to divorce and remarriage, which won’t be covered further here.

For most of history women were property (Exodus 20:17). The purpose of marriage was to produce legitimate heirs to inherit without dispute. In Hebrew culture, marriages were arranged by the fathers and were purely civil, with no religious ceremony. Often while still children, a bride-price was agreed, a contract was signed, and the couple were betrothed. The bride remained in her father’s house. Once the couple were both old enough, and the money had been saved, a date for the wedding was set. The groom and companions came to the bride’s home, paid the bride-price, and the marriage was consummated. Thus, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31: ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. The whole wedding party then processed to the groom’s house for the wedding feast, where the bride remained in her husband’s house. The Bible is unclear as to what defines marriage: in the Old Testament wives and concubines held different status, yet Jesus says that once two become ‘one flesh’ God has joined them together (Matthew 19:5-6), and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:15-16) uses the same ‘one flesh’ language for sex with a prostitute as for marriage.

Priests only became involved in Christian marriages the 12th Century and it became a sacrament of the church in the 16th Century. The Reformers declared that marriage was purely secular. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) lists the purpose of marriage as “the procreation of children; a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; and the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other” without reference to love. The idea of romantic attraction and personal choice of partner were raised in the Enlightenment and popularised only by the Victorians. The Old Testament permitted polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:16-17), handmaids (Genesis 16:1-4) and concubines (Genesis 22:24), along with slavery; women had to marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). There are still Christians who believe that 1 Corinthians 7:4 and Ephesians 5:23 permits marital rape as an outworking of the husband’s authority.

Sexuality is a term created by psychologists in the late 19th century. Prior to that there was no concept of sexual orientation, only heterosexual and homosexual practices. From the 14th Century, a ‘sodomite’ was one who performed the act of ‘sodomy’ (anal sex with the same or opposite sex). Therefore there is no concept of our modern understanding of homosexuality in the Bible, nor of monogamous homosexual relationships; the term “homosexuality” was first used in a biblical translation in 1946. As marriage was for procreation and property, there could be no concept of same-sexual marriage until the recent changes in attitudes towards love, women and legitimacy. That there are no examples in the Bible doesn’t stop us driving cars, using plastic, and eating chocolate.

Therefore our ‘traditional’ and ‘biblical’ understanding of marriage, and our ‘traditional’ position on monogamous same-sex relationships has very little historical basis.


Scripture

There are few mentions of homosexual activity in the bible. Those that are presented as condemning homosexuality are discussed here with contextual and cultural background that point to a different interpretation.

Genesis 19:1-10

Gang rape has nothing to do with homosexuality. It is an act of power and violence. In the similar story of Judges 19:22-26, the men were satisfied to rape a woman instead of the man they asked for. In addition to inhospitality, Ezekiel 16:49 says that the sin of Sodom was arrogance, greed, neglect of the poor and needy, and pride.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Some Levitical laws make sense to us today, clearly intending to keep the population healthy and free from disease (i.e. blood, mildew, pork). Other laws were for ritual purity, setting Israel apart from the surrounding nations (Leviticus 18:1-5, 20:23-24). Some we accept as still being ‘applicable’ (murder, theft, incest) while others we have allowed to be ‘of their time’ (cloth made of two fibres, shellfish, sideburns). Some authors put these verses into a temple-prostitution context: the Hebrew tow’ebah elsewhere means ritual impurity and idolatry. Adrian Thatcher (2011) suggests that, in the context of the patriarchal society, it is the phrase ‘as a woman’ that is most informative: treating a man as a woman, therefore degrading his status to that of property, is the catastrophic transgression.

Romans 1:26-27

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome, a place that worshipped a pantheon of gods, including acts of both male and female temple prostitution to confer favourable fertility. Paul condemns men and women who glorify false gods and give up their ‘natural relations’ for shameful acts ‘inflamed with lust’: idolatry, promiscuity, and temple prostitution for self-seeking ends are Paul’s target. If these men and women gave up their ‘natural’ desires they were not, by our current understanding, homosexual.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10

The NIVUK (2011) translates 1 Corinthians 6 as “nor men who have sex with men… will inherit the kingdom of God” with a footnote referencing two Greek terms meaning “the passive and active participants in homosexual acts”. The terms are malakos and arsenokoites. The latter of these also appears in 1 Timothy 1.

Malakos appears four times in the New Testament, of which three are translated as ‘soft’ in relation to fine clothing (Matthew 11:8; Like 7:25). In other Greek texts it is used to mean metaphorically ‘soft’, i.e. spineless in the face of injustice, or lacking self-control, rather than effeminate or homosexual.

Arsenokoites appears only in these two passages. In other Greek literature it references exploitation and abuse of the poor. In 1 Timothy 1 it is sandwiched between pornos, a male/boy prostitute, and andrapodistes, a slave dealer. Therefore arsenokoites (literally ‘male-bedder’) appears in the context of abuses of power rather than a loving, monogamous homosexual relationship. Many believe it refers to ‘pederasty’ – the normal Greek and Roman practice of an older man having a sexual relationship with a younger man or boy, slave, or social inferior, in addition to his wife and/or male and female prostitutes.

Without support from these six scriptures, there is nothing biblically that condemns monogamous homosexual relationships. In the context of the Bible as a whole, these passages are better interpreted as speaking against social injustice, exploitation of power, and idolatry for one’s own gain. Scripture also tells us that it is ‘not good for [a hu]man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18), that not all are called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:9), and that a tree is recognised by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44). 


Celebrating Diversity

Humanity, in its collective entirety, was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27: in the image of God… he created them). God is not gendered or sexual. In the second account of creation (Genesis 2:4ff) God made Adam (2:7), and later Eve (2:21). There is no record of any in-between, yet Jesus mentions eunuchs that were ‘born that way’ (Matthew 19:12). There are individuals who are born with ambiguous anatomy, mono- or poly-sex chromosomes, excess or deficiency in hormone production and/or hormone receptors. Anatomical and hormonal changes can also be acquired. There is a spectrum in sexual desire from asexual to hypersexual, and in sexual attraction from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. There is diversity in human biology and sexuality beyond the simple ‘male’ and ‘female’ dichotomy.

Creation is full of glorious diversity and God saw that creation was ‘very good’. Yet we inconsistently label some of this diversity as ‘good’ and some a ‘result of the fall’. This means that questions of affirming LBGTQ+ identity also must extend to other aspects of diversity: how we treat people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, class, age, wealth, size, health, as well as sexuality. The primary ‘label’ of a human is just that: a human, a person, a child of God. All other aspects of their identity are secondary to the core that they are created loved and lovable.

Over history the Church (as a whole) has acted, in its well-intentioned desire to authentically follow Jesus, to make individuals feel that they are unworthy of love because of their identity. The Church took a ‘biblical’ position on slavery, racism, anti-Semitism, and the inferiority of women until reason and experience prevailed. Then a fresh understanding of the context of the supporting texts allowed reinterpretation of the Bible and consequentially a changed belief.

Dr David Gushee reminds us: “We must cling to Jesus’ example and the way he conducted his ministry… If we do we might notice his warnings about religious self-righteousness and contempt for others deemed to be sinners; his embrace of outcasts and marginalized people; his attacks on those religious leader types who block access to God’s grace…; and perhaps above all his death on the cross for the sins of all of us, beginning with each of us as “chief of sinners.” We must focus tightly on Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. 


Sources/Further reading

Rev KV Alias on biblical marriage
Rev Lindsay Louise Biddle on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Canon on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Gau on Kingdom Values: Mercy
Adam Philips on homosexuality in the Bible
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Homosexuality
Prof Adrian Thatcher on LGBT inclusion (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher on biblical interpretation (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher (2011) God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley Blackwell)


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Katie van Santen lives in Plymouth with some lego and quite a few books. She has just completed her Certificate of Higher Education in Theology, Ministry and Mission. Currently she is not a marine biologist or science teacher due to disability, but keeps herself busy as a volunteer aquarium host, visiting preacher, and Fairy Godmother.

10 Bible Passages That Teach a Christian Perspective on Homosexuality

I found a superb article online recently at the Sojourners website.

10 Bible Passages That Teach a Christian Perspective on Homosexuality was written by Layton E Williams in June 2017. It is a wonderful response to Christians who refer to those verses commonly known as the ‘clobber passages’. This is an excellent resource and well worth a read. We can’t reproduce it here so I’m posting an offsite link.

In Layton’s introduction she states:

‘Here are 10 Bible verses that emphasize the value of love over the law, the God-belovedness of all people, and the special affirmation of those who have been historically rejected as unclean or unholy.’

Layton E. Williams is the Audience Engagement Editor at Sojourners. She also writes about the intersections of faith, justice, politics, and culture with an emphasis on sexuality and gender. You can follow Layton on Twitter

Please do check this article out it’s absolutely brilliant

Scottish Episcopal Church Approves Equal Marriage

Luke Dowding – 12th June 2017

Great joy mixed with great sorrow; that is how I feel about the recent decision made by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church earlier this week (June 2017).

Firstly, great joy for those represented in our family in Christ in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Great joy that it was with overwhelming majority of both Bishops and laity, and a comfortable majority from clergy, that the vote to allow same-sex marriages in the Episcopal Church of Scotland was passed. This vote will ensure that a fundamental change in canon law will occur, in which it will no longer say marriage is a lifelong union between man and woman. It will also make provision for those in employed and volunteer positons to decline involvement in same-sex weddings based on decisions of conscience and different theological interpretation. This brings Scottish Episcopal churches to the same position that Baptist churches within the Baptist Union of Great Britain are in (because of our different Ecclesiology and recent decisions of the BU Council).

Secondly, deep sadness for the strife and bitterness caused by the continued dialogue of opposing sides regarding human sexuality. This is not limited to the Anglican Communion but it is deeply entrenched within our Baptist family as well. While Bishops within the Church of England cut ties with their counterparts in Scotland, and “missionaries” are being sent to reconvert those they consider “lost”, so behind so-called “mutual respect” there are those within the Baptist Union who continue to close doors, frustrate productive engagement and undermine those who have an inclusive vision of Kingdom building.

The news from Scotland is one to thank God for, but it also serves as a frank reminder of all that we have still yet to achieve.

Luke Dowding is Co-Director of Affirm

Book Review – ‘119’ by Jaime Sommers

Book Review

119: My Life As A Bisexual Christian

Jaime Sommers

Darton Longman Todd

In 1991 The Church Of England published ‘Issues In Human Sexuality’. It’s true to say that much Christian thinking has come a long way in the years since that document was published, but the title of this book refers to clause 5.8 of that document and the 119 words that were devoted to the subject of bisexuality.

In Christian life today, more so in progressive Christian life, many of us have come to understand that a person’s sexuality is a part of their identity to be celebrated rather than condemned, although this remains a hot topic in evangelical circles.

However bisexuality often seems to be the silent partner in the LGBT+ arena, possibly less well understood than ‘L’, ‘G’ or even ‘T’. So Jaime’s book is a welcome and compelling read.

This book is a beautiful, inspiring and at the same time disturbing autobiographical portrait from a wife and mother of twenty plus years with a happy family life whose bisexuality resulted in her being bullied and abused by the very organisation that should have been there to offer support.

I won’t spoil the story for you as it’s well worth a read, but Jaime’s journey through college and the charismatic Christian groups of the early ‘90’s through to training as a reader in the Anglican church reveals someone whose Christian faith was integral to her life and it becomes a tragic tale as we read of how the church responded to her sexuality with a disciplinary regime that brought her to a place of judgement and isolation. As someone who works as an advocate for the LGBT+ community within the Baptist church I found ‘119’ an informative and enlightening resource

Andy Long

This review originally appeared in ‘Progressive Voices’, the magazine of PCN Britain and is reproduced here by kind permission.

 

Don’t tell me to choose between being religious and being gay, I can’t

DON’T TELL ME TO CHOOSE BETWEEN BEING GAY AND BEING RELIGIOUS, I CAN’T

Please take the time to read this blog post by our good friend Joey Knock

You can read the post in full over on Joey’s site

In this post Joey responds beautifully and eloquently to a piece published on the Gay Times website which was titled ‘if you’re gay and religious don’t you think you ought to consider giving one up?’.

Joey takes time to talk about how he considered both those choices n the past and why he is unable to give up either. He also talks extensively about churches around the country that are becoming increasingly affirming in their stance and mentions the Soho Gathering as an example. He raises the point that religion is not going away anytime soon and concludes that he is proud to be both gay and religious.

Joey closes the post in this way

“We need to keep hearing and keep telling stories. I’m a white male Anglican. Coming out as gay in the national church was easier than most people’s faith-based experiences. BBC Three’s new online series Queer Britain started last weekend by asking ‘Does God Hate Queers?’. Unlike Andy’s* ‘hot-take’, it went beyond the clickbait title and was a sensitive, snappy insight into faith in the lives of young queer Brits.

Andy, please listen to all our stories. Watch Queer Britain. Join us for a chat at Stonewall, or Christian Aid, or Soho Gathering. We’ll listen and question each other. I’ll probably be challenged to be even more gay and even more religious.”

*refers to the author of the original article

A report from Baptist Assembly 2017

Baptist Assembly 2017

Affirm members were well represented at this year’s Baptist Assembly held in May in Harrogate.  This is the Annual Meeting of the Baptist family in the UK and includes the AGMs of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission.

Under the title Beacons of Hope, encouraging stories were shared of successful and challenging initiatives, both in this country and in other parts of the world.  Times of worship with singing led by an excellent multicultural music group complimented an eclectic choice of Workshops considered topics from “Mission in a secular world” to “Lessons from Asia” to “How to apply our Christian principles as we vote in the General Election” to “How to be a Baptist evangelical and be true to our history and principles.”

Ministers and missionaries who had died in the last year were remembered and a long list of newly accredited ministers, including our own Dawn Cole-Savidge, and mission personnel were recognised with a handshake from the President, Dianne Tidball and the two General Secretaries, Lynn Green and David Kerrigan.

We were able to update many friends with details of our new website and other developments in the network and hold a good number of one to one conversations spreading knowledge of the work of Affirm.  A few more people wore the “elephant in the church” badges.  We do however lament the fact that the Assembly is now only one day, so there is much less time to mingle with new people and that there is no exhibition where we might again apply for a stall.

Martin, Luke, Dawn, Ruth and Ian

Luke’s Story – our latest video (and other videos)

Over on the videos page we are building a collection of people’s stories, short videos that you cold use in a house group or study setting.

The most recent film is ‘Luke’s Story’. Luke Dowding is one of the directors here at Affirm and in his story he tells us of his life at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, his wedding to his partner Steven and his desire to become an ordained Baptist Minister.

Also on the videos page you can find an interview with Ian and Martin Stears-Handscomb and a film of the sermon from Luke and Steven’s wedding.

These are great little films and we hope that you get a lot from them, more are coming soon.

A Safe Space – LGBT+ gathering in Bristol

Elaine Sommers, a good friend of the team at Affirm, has organised an event in North Bristol called ‘A Safe Space’.

Elaine describes this event as being for Christian LGBTI+ people, their partners and friends to explore faith, life and church.

Elaine is a transgender Christian from the Bristol area and a champion for the trans and LGBT community.

Elaine tells us that this first event will about finding out what people would want from such a group, it will be a time of fellowship rather than strategy, all are welcome.

The event is on Saturday 3rd June from 10:30 until 1:00.  For further details about this event please contact Elaine.

Bible Study 2: Being A Christ-Like Church

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to lgbt people

Study 2: Being a Christ-like Church

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

In the first blog in this series I argued that Jesus accepted and affirmed people as they are and showed compassion to those who were excluded from the “straight” norm, including those “born that way” (i.e. gay people). He also avoided criticising a centurion who may well have had a gay relationship with his servant – agreeing to heal the servant because of the man’s love for him. And drawing on St Paul’s affirmation that in Christ’s church there can be no barriers, we can say in Christ there is neither lgbt nor straight – we are all one in Christ Jesus. So lgbt people are welcome in Christ’s church.

Why then are there so many churches that do not welcome lgbt people?

One problem is that – as I said in the first blog, quoting Paul “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3 v 23) or to put it another way, all of us fail to live up to what Jesus wants us to be. So churches are full of sinners! Fortunately, Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7 v 34) and those who repent of their sins can be used in the service of His kingdom, the challenge each church has to address.

The good news is that there are a growing number of churches that do genuinely welcome lgbt people and recognise and use their talents and what they can offer as full and equal members of God’s kingdom. However that is far from always the case.

In that familiar passage in John’s Gospel “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3 v 16 & 17).

So why do some of His followers and many churches so often condemn instead of welcoming? In Matthew 7 v 21 right at the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Earlier in chapter 7 at verse 1 he has said “Judge not that you be not judged” and he continues with the lovely exaggerated illustration of someone trying to take a speck of dust out of a friend’s eye when they have a huge log in their own.

There is the temptation of those who feel they understand God’s will to become arrogant. Luke records the parable that Jesus taught – of the religious leader who thanked God that he wasn’t like the “sinners” of his time and the repentant man who showed humility and knew where he had messed up. Jesus praised the repentant man as the one who was at peace with God. (Luke 18 vv9-14) Often you will hear people say “hate the sin; love the sinner”. American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has the more Christian quote “love the sinner, hate your own sin”.

As a gay man, but a Christian first of all, I am conscious of my sins and seek to examine myself regularly and repent and seek to do better, in particular as a part of the service I attend each Sunday (as I am sure each Christian does in their own way). A prayer I value is the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

There are those who believe that we can change our sexuality. Even some who say that just by being gay or trans we are “sinful”. It reminds me of the people who came to Jesus wanting to know why a disabled man was disabled. “Was it his sin or the sin of his parents?” Jesus was quite clear it was neither (John 9vv1-34). We know that, although it can be to some extent suppressed, sexuality does not change. It would be wonderful if it did as no-one chooses to be LGBT. But people will take time to learn that. Each of us has a different story to tell and makes different decisions about how we deal with our sexuality or gender identity. That is why some of us must patiently and honestly share our stories with our Christian brothers and sisters to enable them to move forward on the journey of understanding.

That is not to say that all those Christians who struggle to accept gay people are hypocritical or un-Christian. There is a great deal of misinformation about what it means to be gay or transgender. Often people will believe the stereotypes of LGBT people that are out there. Many of us have had to deal with out own homophobia to accept ourselves as we are and others have to travel that journey too.

Of course as LGBT people we, like everyone else, get things wrong. We make bad decisions, let those we love down, say hurtful or malicious things and we know it and in our better times we regret it. But the good news is that in Christ’s real church we are welcome, we are affirmed. In our relationship with Christ, if we acknowledge when we get things wrong then we can be forgiven in just the same way as any other Christian. Jesus has promised his followers the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. As we seek the truth and share with other Christians we and they will see our faults and want to deal with them. That is where we meet God and are assured of His forgiveness as we seek to turn our lives around (which is what repentance means).

Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his time. He was often misunderstood. He made what the world would see as a mistake in standing up for the vulnerable, challenging injustice, healing the sick in mind and body, breaking some of the Old Testament rules on the way. That led to a cruel death on the cross. That was not the end though. God did not leave him there but raised him from the dead. Perfect love does not die but is vindicated on that Easter Day.

Going back to Matthew 7 v 21, can we sum up what Jesus says is the Father’s will? Yes we can!! When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus doesn’t just answer with one but gives two and moreover says they sum up all the law of Moses and the prophets’ teachings – namely “Love God, with all your heart, soul and mind” and then “love your neighbour as you love yourself” Matt 22 v 36 – 40.

Paul again in his letters emphasises the importance of self-giving love among Christians, most famously in 1 Corinthians 13, which he starts by saying “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words I can be a wonderful preacher and show myself full of the Holy Spirit, but if I don’t show a loving welcome and concern for others my words will be useless.

And we can look to Jesus’ words, this time in Matthew 25, when he makes it clear that those who will “inherit the Kingdom” are those who welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable – in the passage known as the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The New Testament is full of exhortations for followers of Jesus to show love. For example, in John 15 verse 12, Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So we should be able to be recognised as Christians by our loving welcome of all, particularly those different from ourselves. It would be so easy if we could just go into any church and always find people who do God’s will and show a loving welcome to all. It was said of the early Christians by the writers of the time “See how they love one another” (Attributed to Tertullian).

Now we cannot say that there is a particular denomination that is the most Christ-like, or (much as we would like to think sometimes) that high church or low church, evangelical, liberal, charismatic or any other label marks out the best of us. Those who would seek Jesus in our churches have to “taste and see” for it is “by their fruits” that you can tell (Matthew 7 v 16). We must pray that we pass the test!

Martin Stears-Handscomb