Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is Being Gay A Sin? Part Five - Common Christian Beliefs about the Bible, Gays, Homosexuality...

Is Being Gay A Sin?
We are in Part Five of the blog series, "Is Being Gay A Sin?" What does most of the world believe? What do most Christians think about The Gays? In this section, we'll look at the breakdowns of the types of Christianity most commonly in the discussion, as well as their common belief structures.  As a Christian, it is our duty to prayerfully study and understand what God was trying to communicate to His people, not only in ancient Hebrew times, the more recent Greek and Roman times, but througout ALL time.


Please read:

They will help you in reading this work in context and in the flow it was intended.

Part Five - Christian Beliefs about the Bible, Gays, Homosexuality…
People's beliefs regarding the Bible:

People differ greatly in their view of the Bible. That is just fact. In fact, generally speaking, fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians believe that:
  • The Bible, as originally written, is inerrant (infallible; free of errors) and that God prevented the authors from making even a single mistake.
  • Every verse is useful in their understanding of God's intentions.
  • One should initially attempt to interpret each passage according to its literal meaning.
  • Many translations are reliable, particularly the New International Version (NIV) and King James Version (KJV). NOTE: The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is the most widely accepted version among secular scholars as being the closest to the Greek translations. I grew up using the KJV and NIV, and I happen to love the Good News Translation. But please know that I am trying to answer the conservative, fundamentalist arguments that being gay is a blanket "sin". They tend to use either KJV or NIV. I do tend to either translate the original for myself during study, or I do give credit to the very educated secular scholars for their adherence to the nearly original NRSV.
When conservative Christians read biblical passages in English that clearly and unmistakably condemn homosexuality, they are inclined to trust the translators and conclude that God hates homosexuality. Unfortunately, many groups of translators have been heavily biased against certain groups, including witches, gays and lesbians; many have tended to warp their translations accordingly. I, as a Christian, and as a person of intelligence and tolerance, try to avoid criticizing the beliefs of religious groups. However, I am a Christian and I do feel free to criticize openly and fervently when the religiously motivated activities of a group exhibit hatred against an identifiable group or when they have a negative impact on the civil rights of others.

I’ve noticed a practice of a few fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian pastors which appear to be inconsistent, unethical and dishonest. Now, I don’t necessarily want to say it is malicious in nature, because I am not quite sure if they are doing it ON PURPOSE. But I use the word "appear" because I’m just not certain that the pastors are consciously aware of their practices:
  • Some pastors cite Genesis 19, a passage that condemns homosexual rape, as proof that God hates all homosexual behavior. Yet they would never quote a verse that condemns heterosexual rape and state that it applies to all heterosexual activity.
  • I have sat and listened to sermons where I have noticed some pastors switching between Bible translations in order to find the version that is most critical of homosexual behavior. When quoting Deuteronomy 23:17 some deviate from their usual usage of the New International Version (NIV). It accurately translates the original Hebrew condemnation of male and female prostitution in the temple (a common Pagan practice). They prefer the King James Version (KJV) which incorrectly translates the passage as condemning female prostitutes and male "sodomites."
More liberal Christians tend to look upon the Bible as containing many translation errors, whose verses were not inspired by God, but were influenced by ancient pre-scientific cultures. Passages often relate to customs of a long-past era that are unethical when compared to today's secular and religious systems of morality. Examples are verses which accept and regulate slavery, require widows to marry their brother-in-law, requiring victims of rape to marry their rapist, or condone abusive child disciplinary practices which most parents have now abandoned. Passages which might be interpreted as condemning homosexuality might also be not applicable today.

Each Bible translation reflects the world view, beliefs and mind sets of its translators. Essentially all versions of the Bible are funded by religious organizations whose translators who all follow a specific theological belief system. Their personal biases distort their work. There is an additional complexity facing translators: today's society is very different from that of Biblical times. It is sometimes difficult to find a current English word that closely matches a Hebrew or Greek term.

Fundamentalist Christians
Common conclusions by “Fundamentalist” Christians:
Fundamentalist Christians represent the conservative wing of Evangelical Christianity, which in turn represents the conservative Wing of Christianity. They typically believe in the strict inerrancy of the Bible and in historical Protestant beliefs. They interpret most biblical passages literally. They view the Bible as the Word of God fully applicable to present day situations. Many believe:
  • Whether a sexual act is a sin or not is largely defined by the act itself. e.g. all homosexual activity is inherently sinful, irrespective of the relationship between the two persons. Most heterosexual activity is not sinful if it is done within a marriage. 
  • Many biblical passages condemn all forms of homosexual behaviors, using inclusive terms such as "sodomite" or "homosexual."
  • God destroyed Sodom and its inhabitants because of their homosexual activity. All the men in the town wanted to have homosexual sex with the visiting angels.
  • There are no committed, consensual homosexual relationships described in the Bible.
  • The Bible refers to homosexual acts; it does not talk about sexual orientation. If such a thing as an unchangeable sexual orientation exists, it would have been mentioned in the Bible.
  • Same-sex practices are uniquely offensive to God. After all, the only time that God destroyed a city was Sodom because of male citizens' homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior is one of a small group of behaviors that will prevent a person from attaining salvation and going to heaven. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says that "...neither...effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind...shall inherit the kingdom of God." Other English translators substitute the term "homosexuals" here.
  • Some Fundamentalists interpret 1 Corinthians 6:11, as stating that if gays and lesbians are truly, God saved, will remove their homosexual feelings and convert them to a heterosexual orientation. Thus, no individuals who continue to engage in homosexual activities have actually been saved; all are destined for Hell after death. Others believe that gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation through reparative counseling and prayer.
  • Some Fundamentalist Christian organizations have invested heavily in media advertisements which emphasize that gays and lesbians can become ex-gays and leave the "homosexual lifestyle."

Mainline Christians
Common conclusions by “Mainline” Christians:
When North America is faced with a major ethical conflict, it tends to be resolved first among religious liberals, and last among religious conservatives. This has been the pattern in such conflicts as equal rights for women, including the right to vote; an end to racial segregation; and legalization of interracial marriage. Currently active topics like abortion access, physician assisted suicide, and equal rights for gays and lesbians appear to be in the process of being resolved in the same way.

The "gay agenda" which includes: 
  • protection from hate crimes based on sexual orientation; 
  • an end to discrimination in employment and accommodation; 
  • the right to marry or enter into civil unions; 
  • the right to be accepted as church members;
  • the right to be considered for ordination, etc. 
Most conservative Christians are firmly in favor of maintaining the status quo; many liberal Christians feel that ethical considerations require equal rights for homosexuals both within and outside of the church. A serious problem facing most mainline denominations is that the conservative/liberal split is reflected in the membership of their own congregations. Within each mainline faith group, there is a wide range of belief on all social and theological topics, from abortion access to the virgin birth. The larger mainline denominations have spawned internal, conservative, reform movements which are attempting to restore church teaching, belief and practices to those of earlier times. They seek to prevent sexually active gays and lesbians from being considered for ordination, and to prevent the church from holding homosexual union or commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. Meanwhile, liberals within these same denominations -- often including central leadership in the denomination -- are fighting for change. Bitterly fought battles have occurred in such denominations as the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Methodist Church. The possibility of denominational schism has been raised, as they were over previous ethical clashes such as the legality of slavery and women's ordination.

The Episcopal Church might be evolving in the direction of a schism. There are, in effect, two Episcopal Churches within the United States. Two bishops head a conservative, reform Episcopal movement which is attempting to end female ordination and roll back gains made by gays and lesbians within the church.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) may be moving towards a liberal point of view. At a 2000-Fall meeting of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, (a conservative reform group), speakers stated that "Scriptural condemnations of homosexuality merely reflect biblical authors' cultural biases and are not among the "essential" messages of the gospel." Several conference speakers said the Bible's condemnations of same-gender sexuality call to mind other scriptural passages used in past centuries to justify slavery and to keep women from participating fully in the life of the church -- on the basis of long-held interpretations that are largely abandoned today." Speaker William Placher from Wabash College, said interpreters of the Bible must "draw a line between cultural conventions and the truths that Bible stories convey," and always "keep in mind the assumptions the author brought to his time and place." He said the apostle Paul, for example, lived in a patriarchal culture where it was "socially acceptable to treat homosexuals with contempt."

United Methodist Church: The conservative wing of this denomination appears to be currently gaining ground. At their convention, a resolution was proposed about homosexuality. It read  "Many consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Others believe it acceptable when practiced in a context of human covenantal faithfulness. " This motion was simply a statement of fact. It accurately reflected the reality of the division within the denomination. However, it was voted down by a ratio of 1.5 to 1.

For the foreseeable future, mainline denominations will undoubtedly remain split over the homosexual issue, with one part of their membership following conservative Christian beliefs (described above) and the rest following liberal beliefs (described below). Only time will tell whether the conflict will be resolved through:
  • a compromise (as in a local option plan which would let individual congregations or regions decide what path to take), or
  • a gradual fading of the conflict as one division within the church loses support, or
  • Church schism.
One or more denominational schisms may well materialize as they did over slavery. However, history has shown that they need not be permanent.

Liberal Christians
Common conclusions by liberal Christians:
Religious liberals generally do not view the Bible as inerrant. They see is as a collection of writings by various authors, each of whom was promoting their own religious beliefs. Thus, biblical passages describe how Jewish and early Christian societies viewed various matters. They may or may not reflect the will of God. Passages relating to the genocide of whole peoples, the oppression of women and slavery are certainly not in accordance with the wishes of God.

Some religious liberals argue one or more of the following points:
  • English versions of the Bible are translations from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The wording has been filtered through the mind-set and prejudices of various sets of translators. They feel that one must carefully examine the original texts from the point of view of ancient Judean and early Christian societies in order to determine their precise meaning. 
  • Most religious liberals believe that some sexual acts are sinful; others are not. It depends mainly on the participants' relationship, not by the specific act itself. They view manipulative, dominating, coercive, under age and/or unsafe sex is sinful. Safe heterosexual or homosexual sex within a truly consenting and committed relationship is not sinful. Author Chris Levan sees this reflected in the Bible. He writes: "The best response that scripture can give with regard to homosexuality is the declaration that our Creator is very often not concerned about the 'who' of relationship so much as the 'how.' It simply asks if the relationship is functioning according to principles of justice and dignity? Does the partnership demonstrate mutual trust and compassion? If so, it is blessed by God."
  • The original passages in the Hebrew Scriptures usually do not refer to homosexual acts in general, but to specific immoral behaviors, such as rape, ritual sex in Pagan temples, and prostitution:
    • Genesis 19: Other biblical passages about Sodom identify the sin of the city as being unresponsive to the poor and needy, and being uncharitable towards strangers. The only obvious sexual sin of Sodom was a desire to rape strangers.
    • Leviticus 18 & 20: Male ritual sexual activity in Pagan temples is clearly prohibited. Such behavior was a common practice within the Canaanite fertility religion. The practice was also taken up by some ancient Israelites.
    • Deuteronomy 23: Prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual is always condemned.
Jimmy Creech, former senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church, in Omaha, Nebraska has concluded that: "...there was no understanding of sexual orientation in the culture and time when scripture was written. There was not even a word for 'homosexuality' or 'homosexual' in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, the original languages of scripture. There are biblical references that condemn same-sex sexual behavior, but they are all within contexts related to violence, idolatry, promiscuity and exploitation. Careful reading within the historical setting reveals that it is the violence, idolatry, promiscuity and exploitation that is condemned, not the same-sex sexual behavior. The same condemnation is given to opposite-sex sexual behavior that is violent, idolatrous, promiscuous and exploitative."

The Bible says little to nothing about homosexual feelings. Why? It doesn’t delve into the feelings of slaves, of women, of children, of MANY of the people in the Bible. It’s not that there were not homosexuals. It’s not that they didn’t have feelings. Take David and Jonathan or Daniel for example, clearly they had feelings. But there are not large discussions on the emotion and sexual nature of a committed loving relationship between gay people.  Further, the Bible says nothing about the concept of sexual orientation for the same reason as it does not mention television sets and airplanes. All were unknown in biblical times. The concept of orientation dates only from the late 19th century and only began to be seriously investigated in the middle of the 20th century. People just had sex with who they had sex with. It wasn’t scientifically investigated or discussed. They didn’t talk about penicillin or mood stabilizers either. If you wanted to take a leap and further argue the point, you can infer that the ancient Israelites were surrounded by warlike tribes. Their fertility was very important if the group was to survive. The early Christian church was persecuted by the Roman government and by the Jewish religious leaders. Homosexuals tend to have few children; thus their presence could be met with some level of opposition. At the end of the 20th Century, conditions are the exact opposite; we are threatened by our excessive fertility. Perhaps Paul's criticism of homosexuality (if that was his intent) is no longer valid today.

But, in my not so humble opinion, and many other theologians, Paul is not necessarily a useful guide for ethics and morals. Elsewhere in his writing, he was sexist: For example, he condemned women preaching (1 Corinthians 14:34). A passage in 1 Timothy 2:11 condemned the wearing gold or pearls. This book says that it was written by Paul, but most mainline and liberal theologians believe that it was written up to 80 years after Paul's death.  Paul accepted and did not criticize the institution of slavery (Philemon 1:15 to 16). Many Christians feel that some of his writings reflect his own prejudices are not a particularly helpful guide today.

Bible translators must be aware of the errors that have been made in previous versions of the Bible; they are widely discussed in theological literature. But it would probably not be economically possible at this time to produce a translation of the Bible that was accurate. People are so used to expecting homophobic references in a half-dozen locations in scripture that they probably would not buy a Bible that was accurate to the original text, or which admitted that the meanings of certain words are unknown. Most religious liberals agree with the main mental health associations. Sexual orientation is determined before school age, and is perhaps determined genetically at conception. It cannot be changed through prayer, religious conversion, reparative therapy, aversion therapy or counseling, any more than a person can change their race or gender.

Evangelical Christians (other than Fundamentalists)
Common conclusions by Evangelical Christians OTHER than Fundamentalists:
“Evangelical” Christianity is a very broad tent and contains a range of diverse beliefs. Most regard Fundamentalism as representing the conservative wing of Evangelical Christianity, which in turn represents the conservative wing of Christianity.  Sadly, there are no widely and truly accepted, precise definitions for the terms "Fundamentalist," and "Evangelical," or "conservative Christian." So, some of this may repeat the other sections or be quite vague.

Evangelicals, exclusive of the Fundamentalist wing, typically believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, but with a number of qualifications. They believe in historical Protestant beliefs, but have modified some of them. For example,
  • Many reject the historical view of Hell as a place of never-ending physical torture; they now view Hell as a place of separation from God.
  • Some have abandoned the historical view that all individuals who are unsaved during their lifetime will go to Hell. They feel that sending persons to Hell who have not had a chance to hear and accept the Gospel is profoundly immoral. It is an act that God is incapable of doing. They feel that God has provided some mechanism by which people who have not heard the Gospel can still be saved after their death, and attain Heaven.
  • On homosexuality, many non-Fundamentalist Evangelicals have beliefs that are slightly more liberal than those of Fundamentalists. They believe that:
    • All homosexual activity is inherently sinful, whether it is done by singles or by gays or lesbians involved in committed relationships.
    • Homosexual behavior is unacceptable. A Barna Research poll conducted in 2001-AUG showed that only 2% of Evangelical Christians (including Fundamentalists) regarded homosexuality as "an acceptable lifestyle." (In contrast, the general American population is evenly split on this matter.) The poll question is deeply flawed, because it can be interpreted in many ways. But it does indicate the degree of opposition to the acceptance of homosexuality as normal and natural for a minority of adults.
    • Many biblical passages condemn all forms of homosexual behaviors, using inclusive terms such as "sodomite" or "homosexual."
    • Some refer to the many references to Sodom in the Bible as implying that the inhabitants of Sodom were destroyed by God for their many sinful behaviors, only one of which was their homosexual activity.
    • There are no committed, consensual homosexual relationships described in the Bible.
    • Many recognize that sexual orientations do exist and are either fixed or nearly unchangeable for adults. Some even believe that people can be "born gay." Some agree with human sexuality researchers that three sexual orientations exist -- heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual.
    • Same-sex practices are offensive to God, but not uniquely so. Homosexual behavior is one of many sinful behaviors, like assault, theft, murder, etc.
    • Some Fundamentalists interpret 1 Corinthians 6:11, as implying that if gays and lesbians are truly saved, God will help them change their behavior and remain celibate.
As you can see, there are many ways that current Christians view the Bible, and its scriptures. We are required by God to study for ourselves and to be accountable for our spiritual well being.

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