There are numerous scriptural arguments against homosexuality, but none as commonly used as Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which describes the apostle’s vision of the Gospel for the mixed Jew/Gentile church in Rome. Paul wrote it in the 1st Century, long before the idea of “sexuality,” when people spoke merely of various sexual acts. Even so, we’ll take a look at this proof text to see what it says about God’s attitude toward what we call homosexuality today.
Of course, because we worship the Creator, rather than any created thing, AUR understands that denying the possibility of human error in the process of transcribing, compiling, and transmitting scripture is irrational at best, idolatrous at worst. Scripture and its human stewards are mere creatures, and for the true believer God alone is perfect.
Therefore, we have to look for God’s wisdom through God’s messengers and messages, not always in them. Even assuming a certain work is “God-breathed,” it has to be read with consideration given to the limited understanding of those inspired by God to write. A 1st Century mind cannot speak truth with a 21st Century understanding of sociology, biology, and psychology.
Spiritual and Moral Truth
Even so, let us read what the proof text states with a serious eye to the God-breathed spiritual and moral truth therein. The proof text most often cited from the Letter to the Romans begins:
1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
The list of idolatrous imagery here demonstrates the point from above: Paul did not have a modern understanding of biology when he categorized living creatures as “man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Does this error in material fact mean that the underlying spiritual truth of the letter should be dismissed?
Absolutely not. Despite Paul’s unscientific laundry list of creatures, there is still wisdom in worshipping the wholeness of uncreated God, in whom all things are reconciled, rather than worshipping images as represented in God’s creatures, whether those creatures be living or not. In spite of its material errors, the text is still morally and spiritually valid.
Let’s read on:
1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Paul’s more general statement here, using “created things” rather than a list of examples, is much more to the point, and less subject to being rendered obsolete by new discoveries about Creation. Turning away from the worship of the Universal in favor of worship of the particular, those whom Paul describes were given over to self-destructive fetishism. The connection seems reasonable.
The Alleged Proof Text
Then follow the key verses:
1:26 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.
Given Paul’s 1st Century understanding of biology, and the primitive system of classification he has already demonstrated in regard to “man and birds and animals and reptiles,” it is reasonable to ask: is the class of behavior he is discussing really homosexuality as we understand it today? Let’s see what the context reveals by continuing onward:
1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
That’s quite a litany of selfish behavior! People who behave in a “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” manner are undeniably depraved, and those who don’t “think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” could certainly be deemed reprehensible from a religious perspective.
But do these things describe all same-gender sexual behavior? For example, are those homosexuals who honor loving, monogamous relationships “faithless, heartless, ruthless”? Of course not. However, those who are rampantly promiscuous could be described that way, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Can those who seek to attest, before God, their commitments in marriage be described as “God-haters” who “do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God”? Of course not. However, it is still true that anyone who justifies their licentiousness by dismissing the idea of a higher moral standard outside themselves certainly can be described that way, regardless of whether they express their wanton indulgence through lust, greed, or rage.
This is not to say that wanton, lascivious, amoral homosexual behavior of the type described by Paul does not exist. It certainly does exist, just as wanton, lascivious, amoral heterosexual behavior exists. And, in an ancient society driven by the traditional mother-and-father family, wanton homosexuality can certain seem like a category unto itself, just as “birds” might seem distinct from “animals” in a society without a sophisticated science of zoology.
But, if we are talking about faithless, heartless, ruthless, God-hating behavior as a general moral and spiritual category, all same-sex relationships certainly do not fall under this broad stroke of the Apostle’s brush, and it is our responsibility as serious devotees of Christian morality and spirituality to see beyond the dust in Paul’s mortal eyes to find the God-breathed truth with which he was entrusted.
How to Understand God’s Intent
One final objection: if homosexual behavior is not categorically “faithless, heartless, ruthless,” what about “senseless”? Are homosexuals behaving in a way that defies sense and reason?
Applying outside standards of sense and reason to biblical morality is a touchy subject for scripturalists and bibliolaters, so let’s see what the letter itself says about how can we identify God’s Eternal and Universal intent, behind the creaturely limitations of God’s mortal servant Paul.
Take a look at the verses introducing the proof text above:
1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
The Creator’s invisible qualities have been known “since the creation of the world,” meaning long before the existence of scripture and therefore independent of scripture, and are “understood from what has been made,” i.e., by studying the created world.
It is our duty as Christians and servants of the One True Creator God to seek truth not merely in the mouths of God’s mortal servants, but by studying “what has been made” by God. This dedication to rationalism would not only lead us to question the material facticity of Paul’s categories of living things, but also his categorization of sexual behavior, without having to doubt the divine inspiration of his underlying moral lesson.
“Suppressing the Truth By Their Wickedness”
By turning a rational eye to the objects of Creation, it is clear that there is a distinct difference between those for whom homosexual behavior is a matter of love, sacrifice in love, and commitment of character, and those for whom homosexual behavior is reduced to an obsessive fetish, often in the context (and in violation) of an otherwise heterosexual lifestyle.
Those like evangelical leader Ted Haggard and Republican Senator Larry Craig, who indulge in homosexual behavior as a twisted and suppressed obsession rather than an expressed and innate part of their psychological make-up, can certainly be condemned for being given to “unnatural” behavior due to their faith in created things, particularly their homophobic bibliolatry. Fetishism of this sort, as Paul’s letter asserts, is the result of perversions caused by turning away from all-embracing God to the worship of created things, mere images.
“Literalist” worship of Scripture as perfect and sufficient is precisely this sort of image-worship. As scripturalist preachers demonstrate again and again, bibliolaters who turn away from God and “suppress the truth” of human sexuality end up “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” and given to “shameful lusts.”
A clear line has to be drawn between homosexual behavior as natural psychology and homosexual behavior as an “unnatural” psychology, homosexual behavior informed by commitment and character vs. homosexual behavior absent of moral boundaries. This same line must be drawn through heterosexual behavior as well.
Moreover, this line should be drawn by those who try to understand “God’s invisible qualities” “from what has been made,” not those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Here, as always, the perceived conflict between Eternal wisdom and changing society is an illusion created by small-mindedness and error.
Given the knowledge to be learned from God’s own Creation using their God-given reason, these bigots “are without excuse,” as Paul’s letter makes very clear.