What about the Bible?

For some Bible readers the message of the Scriptures seems clear – God condemns all homosexual behavior, even that within loving and committed same-sex relationships. They don't understand how anyone could read the Bible differently, so no further inquiry or discussion ought to be necessary. To these readers it seems that people who support lesbian and gay Christians and their committed relationships are either twisting the Bible's clear meaning or ignoring it in favor of their own experience or preference.

Those of us who affirm our homosexuality as a gift and thank God for blessing our committed relationships see it differently.

While some of us might well regard the scriptures more liberally than our conservative friends, many of us share traditional Anglican views of biblical authority and interpretation. And when it comes to understanding the small handful of Bible verses that address homosexuality and working out our theology on the issue, we believe that Anglicans of goodwill can discuss their differences rationally, and even respectfully disagree.

Even so...

Our faithful inquiry has convinced us that a careful study of the Bible itself does not support its traditional interpretation. Our love of the scriptures and desire to interpret it rightly lead us to challenge the conventional wisdom.

Obviously, our personal experience affects how we read and understand the Bible. For many of us it was the apparent conflict between our faith and sexuality that led us to study the scriptures more closely in the first place. And many GLBT people have been so abused by those who wield the Bible like a weapon that approaching the complicated task of biblical interpretation objectively is difficult. We sense that some of those who espouse the traditionalist view are equally challenged by their own inner conflicts and prejudices.

It is our task, then, to engage the process of biblical interpretation and theological reflection with all the resources of our tradition and reason (and experience!) – and to understand those who disagree with us – as we discern together God's purpose for lesbian and gay people, our committed relationships, and our Church.

Resources

The following articles, study guides, and book reviews express several (primarily gay-affirming) perspectives, loosely organized by subject matter. Additional resources for dialogue and group study are available on the Blessing Same-Sex Unions page.

See also:

Biblical References to Homosexuality (Overviews): [back to top]

A Response by the Diocese of California to Resoluton I.10.d of Lambeth, 1998.

  1. Is homosexuality incompatible with Scripture? What Scriptural tenets support or refute that contention?
  2. How does the Tradition of the Church and of Anglicanism contribute to our resolution of this issue?
  3. What is the evidence of Reason and Experience, and do they alter our conclusions?

What the Bible REALLY says about Homosexuality, Integrity Toronto. A pamphlet offering a brief look at the Bible references traditionally presumed to address homosexuality, concluding that these verses give no specific guidance applicable to our times. See also, Does the Bible Say Anything about Homosexuality?, presenting what the Bible does say to gay men and lesbians in their intimate, faithful and loving relationships.

The Bible and Homosexuality: the Herzog-Brauch Debate. Two respected academics – Dr. Manfred Brauch and Dr. William Herzog – examine the biblical references to homosexuality and discuss how their understandings of the texts are influenced by their differing concepts of biblical authority and interpretation.

Homosexuality and the Bible, Walter Wink. What guidance does the Bible offer the church as it considers the morality of homosexuality? Dr. Wink states that the current debate raises in an especially acute way the question of how Scripture informs our lives. Christian morality is, he says, "a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God. It is the attempt to discover a manner of living that is consistent with who God created us to be."

What the Bible Says – and Doesn't Say – about Homosexuality (.pdf), Mel White. "Many good people build their case against homosexuality almost entirely on the Bible. I want to show as best I can that we gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians take the Bible seriously, too. I've spent more than 50 years reading, studying, memorizing, preaching and teaching from the sacred texts. All I ask is that you consider what my research has taught me about those passages used by some people to condemn God's gay and lesbian children. Then, decide for yourself."

Homosexuality and the Bible: A Case Study in the Use of the Bible for Ethics, Loren L. Johns. Examines the biblical arguments regarding homosexuality and their contentious debate within the Mennonite tradition.

Violence to the Bible, or Inspired by the Bible?, Thomas D. Hanks. Does the Bible support the church's traditional prejudice and violence against gay people? Dr. Hanks argues that a few biblical texts have been arbitrarily selected, violently misinterpreted, and then used as a pretext to rationalize common human fears and hatreds. A more thorough study of the texts and the history of their interpretation amply supports the conclusion that the Bible itself has suffered repeated violence from its official translators and interpreters. Properly interpreted it provides no rational basis whatsoever for promoting prejudice and violence against sexual minorities.

The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Robert A.J. Gagnon, book review by Dr. Ralph Blair. One conservative Canadian theologian considers Gagnon's book required reading for anyone wanting to engage the current debate. Dr. Blair disagrees: "A book should not be judged by its cover, its jacket's many blurbs, or its superabundance of words and footnotes by which it thinks it will be heard... The more Gagnon goes on and on, the more he misinterprets, misrepresents, misconstrues, and misapplies. Yet for all his verbiage, he offers little more than what's been said before and what's been refuted by biblical scholars, historians and scientists."

The Bible Condemned Usurers, Too, John Corvino. The author suggests that the church's reinterpretation of Bible verses against usury (rather than slavery or divorce) is the best analogy for its re-examination of biblical passages in the homosexuality debate, a model that "preserves not only the inerrancy of the Bible but also the authenticity of experience."

Specific Old Testament References: [back to top]

God's Plan for Mankind, Paul Varnell. What can we learn about God's plan for sexuality from the biblical story of the Garden of Eden? Is there a normative sex ethic implicit in the "creation order"? This author contends that contrary to traditional expectation, the Adam and Eve story fails to show that God's plan includes men's desire for women, heterosexual sex, or the generation of children.

Sodom (from "Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?"), Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. From the classic, gay-affirming, evangelical book that examines homosexuality from biblical, scientific and psychological perspectives. "If, then, we decide to follow the time-honored principles of allowing the Bible to provide its own commentary and of interpreting cloudy passages in the light of clearer ones, we are forced to admit that the Sodom story says nothing at all about the homosexual condition." (Book review, Dr. Beverly Dale.)

Sodom: A Visitor's Guide, Paul Varnell. "Of the religious folktales of the world, few have occasioned more hatred and cruelty, suffering and death than the Old Testament story of Sodom, the city purportedly destroyed by Jehovah because its inhabitants were homosexual. The story comes down to us in a highly confused state, and it seems unlikely that most of those who cite it have ever tried to puzzle out its contradictions."

Dirt, Greed & Sex, L. William Countryman, 1998 (excerpt). Subtitled "Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today", Dr. Countryman's popular book argues that while ancient Christian purity codes were meaningful in their time, they are of questionable relevance today.

Homosexuality in Leviticus, Paul Varnell. "The Levitical condemnation of male homosexuality has been hugely influential. But its meaning is ambiguous, and it may have applied to a supposed practice – Canaanite religious prostitution – that never occurred at all."

Specific New Testament References: [back to top]

"But the Bible says..."? A Catholic reading of Romans 1, James Alison (January 2004). "You need a very modern liberal reading of the Bible in order to make it a weapon against gay people, and those who refuse to do this are, by and large, much more traditional in their Biblical reading habits. But this sounds so counterintuitive in our world that I'd like to take time to show that there is at least one perfectly respectable Catholic way to read this text which enables us to see it in quite a different light."

Hermeneutics and Romans 1, Thomas D. Hanks. What are the commonly accepted guidelines for biblical interpretation, and specifically, how do they apply to controversial modern questions about human sexuality? Instead of limiting the investigation to only the biblical author's intention ("exegesis", what the text meant to the original author and readers), the author raises the more complex question of how modern readers should respond to the text in the light of their scientific understanding and different historical context ("hermeneutics"), using Romans 1 as a test case.

Love in the Ancient Mediterranean, Bernadette J. Brooten, book review by Wayne R. Dynes. Brooten's Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism brings to light a wealth of surprising information about attitudes toward lesbianism and the role of women generally in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Reviewer Dynes argues, contrary to Brooten, that Romans 1:26-27 does not refer to lesbians at all.

Paul's Letter to the Romans, Paul Varnell. "Paul's claim about the origin and significance of homosexual desire and conduct can hardly apply to people who did not reject an earlier belief in God and turn to pagan gods. Specifically, it hardly applies to homosexuals who are Christians, or Christians who come to realize their homosexuality."

Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences, Dale B. Martin. "The New Testament provides little ammunition to those wishing to condemn modern homosexuality... It is not surprising, therefore, that the interpretation of two mere words has commanded a disproportionate amount of attention."

History, Tradition and (Homo)Sexuality: [back to top]

The Body's Grace, Rowan Williams (1989). Within this broader reflection on sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury writes, "[T]he absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures. I suspect that a fuller exploration of the sexual metaphors of the Bible will have more to teach us about a theology and ethics of sexual desire than will the flat citation of isolated texts."

Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: Biblical Texts in Historical Contexts, Mary Ann Tolbert. A look at the Bible and homosexuality from the perspective of the cultural construction of gender and sexual relations in ancient Mediterranean antiquity.

Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: a historical perspective, Martii Nissinen, book review by Dr. Ralph Blair. "Published by a major Lutheran press, [Nissinen's book] is comprehensive and succinct in surveying the primary texts on homoeroticism from the world in which the Bible was written."

How Natural is Nature? Augustine's Sexual Ethics, Bernadette J. Brotten (.pdf). "People in the ancient Mediterranean world, who thought of sexual relations as occurring between two unequal partners, classified sexual acts on the basis of whether they were in accordance with nature, law, and custom. By classifying certain acts as contrary to nature, they meant that all cultures and peoples would always reject them; when they classified other sexual acts as contrary to law, but in accordance with nature, they meant that some cultures might reject these acts, while other cultures might accept them." But what is natural? On what grounds? And who decides? (Real Audio, 47 min)

The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, John Boswell. The author describes the development of the Christian "tradition" against homosexuality. "I would like to dispose briefly of the notion that the Bible had something to do with Christian attitudes toward gay people... [but] so many people have a feeling that the Bible is somehow involved that its teachings on the subject matter must be addressed in detail."

People with a History: John Boswell. This resource guide includes reviews and bibliographic information on the work of one of the most influential and controversial historians of the church and homosexuality. It references Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (1980) – in which Boswell challenged the traditional view that Christianity has always and everywhere denounced homosexuals – and Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (1994), a study of the medieval rites which Boswell argues were used as public liturgies to celebrate erotic same-sex relationships.

Intuitive Assumptions and Clobber Passages, Bill Morrison. The associate editor of Integrity Toronto's newsletter argues that the Bible's "intuitive assumption" about the universality of heterosexual orientation has hardened into a "matter of belief" for some conservatives only now that it's being questioned.

Faith & Queer Theology, Tong Kwang Lighthouse Presbyterian Church, Taiwan (in Chinese).

Take Back the Word: a queer reading of the Bible, Robert E. Goss & Mona West. From the introduction: "This anthology attempts to provide examples of a Queer biblical hermeneutic that engages the entire Bible and its message, not just selected texts and characters. It is a strategy that 'outs' the Queer community by articulating the community's lived experience in and beyond the closet as well as its particular concerns when encountering and appropriating the biblical text."


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IntegrityCanada.org is an outreach of Integrity Vancouver in cooperation with Integrity chapters across Canada, ©2004 All Rights Reserved