Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is Being Gay A Sin? Part One

Part One
What? Is Being Gay A Sin? Why in the… Why?…
Holy Cow, Michael! What a topic for a fluffy-non-religious-non-political writer.  Have you lost your mind? Why would you write about this? Why? Well, because.

First things first, I am not mentally ill. I am not under any delusions of grandeur. I don’t harbor any secret desire to stir up trouble or even “make a difference”. I am a realist at heart. And my realism and possibly even…not pessimism, but more existentialism cause me to know that most people will probably never read this little essay. It’s a collection of studies and letters I wrote to my parents that are becoming blogs and even a book in the next couple of years. I don’t know if people will read it. And even if they do, they will mostly likely have an opinion formed before they even read this far. And those opinions will likely not change because of anything I write.

At least not now... and not here. Not like this

Most people already have a mindset and a completely rote response to everything they do in life. This is a sad, sad fact in today’s society. It’s also just a sad fact of life, at least now. I like thinkers and questioners. I like people that ask “Why?” I like it when people don’t take answers at face value and really want to know the why of something instead of blindly assimilating information and moving on to the next blind assimilation. But… I don’t think that society, technology, or even how we are groomed and trained for social interaction will change for the better. It will most likely keep moving at its current pace and speed towards total integration and accessibility. And let me add this to that last sentence: that speed seems to be hurtling our society into integration and accessibility at a rate that boggles the mind.  

So, is being gay a sin?

It’s a very simple way that I view this:
  • If you are uber-conservative, it is a safe bet that you won’t listen with an open mind or heart on this hot topic. It is probably going to already be a sin in your mind. It will probably stay a sin in your mind. In my experience with talking to many families and my own, you will not listen to me, or anything that I have to say about this.
  • If you are uber-liberal, it is a safe bet that you already do not think it’s wrong, or don’t want to listen to any scriptures denouncing this subject. It is my experience that you will make a blanket assumption to say it’s okay, and will not be a sin in your mind. It will never be a sin. And you will not listen to me, my reasoning, or anything I have to offer on this subject.
So, I admit freely, no. No.  I have no delusions here. I am all too aware that this small blog entry will not solve THIS answer for such a large, heated topic in our culture and religions. This is a very emotional and sensitive topic that is a very open ended discussion to which no real answer is ever afforded.

I. Mean. Ever.

People will never all be taught or agree one way or the other. People will always have a memory, or an emotional tie to either being told or taught that it’s wrong, or that it’s okay. And I have no notion of fixing this topic for anyone, other than myself. I only researched the topic because of college classes a long time ago [NOTE: I was in seminary getting my double degrees in Theology and Music], and because, personally, I like to make sure I know what I believe and why I believe it.

If you are gay, gay-friendly, or liberal, there is a great chance that you will think I am being too nice or possibly giving too much to the conservative view. On the flip side of that coin, if you are conservative, you may think I am giving too much to the pro-gay side or agenda. Both views could be correct. Maybe I am. Maybe I am not pro-gay enough. Maybe I am too conservative in my views, and maybe even… I am not a very good gay man. Or, maybe I am just right. Just conservative enough to make someone conservative read this. And gay enough to relate to someone that would normally never listen or entertain the scriptural debate due to years of having it hammered down on them like a weapon. The thing is... most people that are anti-homosexual use quotes from the Bible. And liberals have developed very snarky responses to those scriptures. But the problem I have with the whole argument or discussion is that both sides usually don’t know the quotes. Most can only paraphrase one from the Old Testament, and they are not committed to finding out about the context of the scripture, the original language used in translating the scripture, and eventually put up a wall of ignorance. Yes, I just said a wall of ignorance. And they do it on both sides of the argument. Sadly, as with any wall, it tends to become a very thick wall. I’ve been there. I’ve used it. And to be honest, once built and made into a comfy cell, it’s difficult to escape and broaden anyone’s personal belief system or mindset.

I don’t say that to condemn. I truly do not. Having been raised in a religious home, I will be the first to admit that it IS easier to be spoon fed by a preacher on Sunday than to do any reading or research on your own. Honestly, I almost hate having to dig through old books from my days in seminary. I hate having to proof (and then prove) the material I am using as information by going back to my own concordances and Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts and dictionaries. It can be a huge undertaking, it can seem endless. The rabbit trails keep leading to rabbit trails and more digging. And I eventually just get tired, or want a drink. But, if you are serious, and you genuinely want to know, all of the boring research doesn’t seem so bad. Or so boring… So, the big fuss is this: There are basically six main scriptures used by religious conservatives to discuss homosexuality:
  • Genesis 19:5 – “Bring them out so we may know them
  • Leviticus 18:22 – “You shall not lie with a male as those who lie with a female; it is an abomination."
  • Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death."
  • Romans 1:26-27 – “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions: for their women exchanged the natural use for that which is against nature.  And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural use of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
  • I Corinthians 6:9 ­– "The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the realm of God."
  • I Timothy 1:9-10 – “Law is not made for a righteous person but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and fornicators and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound (healthy) teaching."
That’s it. That’s all. This is the big fuss that has plagued mankind for centuries and caused untold division and grief. And this has been occurring and happening on both side of the argument.

If you are going to actually read all of this (I still get humbled and awed that people read what I write), and these blogs on the topic, I only ask that you read with an open mind, and that you read in context, and that you read the entire chapter as well. It will give you a better preparation for each passage.  For Romans 1:26-27, read the first 3 chapters of Romans.  Also, I would sincerely recommend reading Genesis 38 for a clearer picture and a better understanding of the Old Testament attitudes about men and women, their relationships towards one another, sex, and the necessity of producing heirs and continuing the human race. It will also shed light over the issues of the control of men over women, the double standard for men and women, and other sexuality issues. Now, I am a guy that usually writes for entertainment. I write for pleasure. I look at my life and write things that are funny. But, this is serious stuff. I don’t want you, as the Reader, to feel like I am giving you homework. But I am not asking you to blindly believe me, to blindly trust me, and to merely use this writing to soothe your own personal belief system. I ask that you read what I write, and then verify what I have presented. I will try to give you as much information as possible in the writing itself. No writer wants the reader to feel like they need to stop reading, complete an assignment, and then pick back up and continue. This isn’t meant to be painful. It’s meant to be a personal memoir of my own coming out, and the journey I took by studying the Bible and learning to accept myself.

That’s why I am writing this. Because of all of this… for the gay boys, for straight men …for all women …because I am personally curious …because it would have been helpful to me when I wanted information. I mean, someone has to write it all down, right?

The Bible has often been described as a sword, and it is. It’s a powerful and terrible weapon in fighting to be a better person. In fighting “the devil” and in trying to overcome “evil” and things that might hinder you living your best and more complete life. But I think, in context, that probably should have been worded as scalpel. Swords are for war and for battle. Those are the times when you need to really dig deep. However, scalpels are for when you are examining your heart and your soul, and when you are making painful changes and performing spiritual surgery on yourself, would you hack away with a sword, or carefully use a scalpel. Do you, Reader, understand my point? There is no reason to take a sword and hack away at a Christian brother or sister, or even a non-Christian man or woman and do irreparable damage with the Bible. Would you do that in person just because of different beliefs? Because of race? Because of nationality? That’s just sick. It’s sick and wrong and COMPLETELY against the very teachings of Christianity.

Thank God, that I was raised to study, to learn, and to KNOW BETTER for so much of the things that so many conservatives do to people in this day and age. And no, I wasn’t hurt very badly personally, but I see it all around me. Now, I don’t share some of the horrible coming out story with many, many gay people. No one has ever openly or meanly gay bashed me. My parents have never been anything but loving (granted, if you read much of my stuff, you realize that them showing love is definitely “in their own ways”, as much as they could…) Sure, I had my trials and tribulations on the road to growing up, coming out, and then finding myself. Many speed bumps were crossed. Some were crossed at alarming speeds and I would never want to repeat those things. And there are many things that I don’t particularly like remembering, even in the present day. There were also things that just… hurt… no matter “how good I had it”.

But, that isn’t necessarily a “gay” thing, is it? Didn’t everybody have “angst” growing up? Didn’t everyone want to be taller/shorter/thinner/buffer/different hair/no zits, etc? I would assume that everyone has some embarrassing adolescent story about an inopportune boner, or getting dumped, or not “fitting in” with whatever assumed cool crowd of the day was happening. Right?? <…cue the sound of chirping crickets…> No? Just me?

So, because of the way I grew up, I don’t really equate a lot of my teen angst to being gay. I equate most of it to selfish parents. Oblivious grandparents… Codes of secrecy for dysfunctional families in the deep gothic southern rural areas… There are any number of things I don’t like to remember, relive, or even remain in touch with those people, family or not.  I don’t ever want to repeat the years with my first stepfather or his weird brand of humor, ridicule, and eventually mental and physical abuse. I never want to see certain drugs again in my life because of my natural father and my stepmother. But those things are not gender, race, or orientation specific. And those stories, while they haunt me, are not integral to my “coming of age” or my self-realization of my own sexuality. They had nothing to do with it… nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Where are you going with this, Michael? Reader, I say ALL of that to say this:

In the spirit of Full Disclosure, you do need to understand that I am gay. I’m gay. Gay, gay, gay. That does slightly bias my views. Secondly, you need to understand that I identify as a Christian. That also does slightly bias my views of Christianity and the supporting scriptures of Christianity. I may not believe the typical-run-of-the-mill version of Christianity, but I know I believe in God. And I grew up with my mother in a very conservative home with ministry oriented parents and I even attended seminary (don’t faint – yes, seminary. Yes, I graduated. Yes, I loved it.) I was taught that being gay was a sin. I was raised that way from childhood, through college, and through seminary. It definitely was a very large obstacle in coming out or admitting I was gay. It made it hard as hell, and that’s one reason I began this journey years ago to research these Scriptures for MYSELF, and to KNOW what I personally believed. It has made the world of difference I needed. It made it so much easier to rebut, respond, and eventually discount many of the undereducated and uninformed opinions that were presented to me. And I am very thankful that I was afforded the opportunities to study, learn, and know those things.

I, myself, have few issues with anyone’s lifestyle choices. I try to offer no judgments. And as I am learning in my own journey, I apparently have very few boundaries. The one thing I think that was definitely “nurture” versus “nature” is that I came out of my childhood with a wellspring of life experience that has made me this way. It’s hard to judge a friend that got a little too drunk when you’ve had to pick a methed-out parent up off of the bathroom floor and put them to bed before you got dressed for junior high, y’know?? Why should someone else’s declaration of something taboo bother me, when, every two weeks, I was raised in such a polar opposite world. My natural father and stepmother were crazy – seriously crazy. They did drugs, rode motorcycles, and lived very selfish lives. My mother was very religious and lived in a world that revolved around church. That dichotomy helped me to learn to navigate in almost any setting, but it also taught me the valuable lesson that you have to know what you believe, why you believe it, and to really learn to be yourself.

But it’s not my opinion and judgments that bother me. Well, they don’t bother me lately. I don’t judge, hate, or maliciously try to mislead people. However, it seems to me that there are wide variety of cultures, nations, and regional peoples that DO judge. They DO hate. They DO spew untruths and misconceptions on such a myriad of sub-topics within the umbrella of “Gay” or “homosexual”. And it’s very, very frustrating. Sometimes, once in a great while, it even still hurts. Oh, yeah… you might want to reread that last sentence. Only “once in a while.” This is true with me as with almost every gay I know. The thing is, we have developed a thicker skin, a defense mechanism of bitchiness and hardness that allows very little to hurt anymore in the way of name calling or being denounced as “less than” in society. If you are told you are vile, repulsive, and somehow a mistake your entire life…well, you kind of get over it.

But, I don’t want this to just be an opinion editorial solely based on what I “personally believe” and putting “my own story” out there to touch the hearts of others. If you have ever read my work, or followed me or my writings for any length of time, that’s not my way. I don’t think it ever will be. Well, I hope it won’t be. However, here is what I DO hope: I want to write this piece with facts, from both sides of the argument - pro and con. And fairly present both sides with all facts out. Not just rhetoric and hot button words that bring out emotions.

Hopefully, armed with that knowledge, I CAN promise you that I don’t gloss over the Levitical Law scriptures, or in the Epistles, and I also try to present both sides of the argument. Then (if you read that far) and ONLY then do I insert my own personal story, in my own words. After…

First, I am not an authority on all things homosexual. I am not an authority on all things spiritual. I am a man… a somewhat simple, complicated, human man. I am not writing this series of blogs and chapters to this book to purposefully change the world. I don’t even know if this could change the world or help. I don’t think many would read this, and even be moved. I don’t think that my goal is to do anything other than share some information. Hopefully to offer help, support, and hope to some people that are being abused and downtrodden. And that is based on my OCD personality, and the need to shed light on the actual truth and words from the Bible. I get very antsy when people misquote the Bible, be it with wording or in context, and when they misuse statistics to further their own cause. Second, and very importantly, I began writing this for personal research. I was personally curious and to be clear, the more I see a battle, and a war being waged around me, literally and figuratively, I feel compelled to share information so that people can at least make an educated choice for themselves to know the original Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek scriptures, know the context and times of the writing, as well as the context and times of the translation of those scriptures (that is just as important). THEN they can accept or reject those things for themselves.

There are many well defined views and studies on homosexuality. There are books written, both pro and con, on the subject, and the world at large is STILL up in arms about the gays. There are even subject matter sources on how heterosexuals should respond towards homosexuals and bisexuals. Seriously.

Those gays are just always causing such a ruckus! Can we all not just agree to disagree? Can we all not just live and let live? Well… no. No we cannot. And to be perfectly, frankly, honest - I wouldn’t want to. I don’t want to just be tolerated and then still thought of as “less than”. I don’t want to be something that is brushed aside and it’s okay to be discriminated against or even thought of as something that God doesn’t love or a mistake. And I especially don’t want any of those things when they are propagated by people that haven’t even been decent enough to delve deep and study for themselves where their hatred, bigotry, and ignorance stem from. That kind of puts a burr under my saddle, if you know what I mean.

The Bible, and thus, the rest of the world, basically has two extremes about homosexuality.
  • That of most religious fundamentalists, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.
  • That of most religious progressives, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers and therapists.
Most, if not almost all Americans express views somewhere between these extremes - much like a Kinsey scale for view on being gay. And almost everyone has an opinion, and loves to argue about it.

Some basic approaches to analyzing the Bible:
I believe that when you face difficulties, whether in life, or in a culture, or in trying to read and understand the Bible, that prayer, patience, and a positive attitude are key ingredients. No one ever made ANY situation any better by becoming impatient, or by trying to take short cuts. You need to pray about what you believe. Especially if you build your personal belief systems off of the things that you believe the Bible teaches. If you are a mother or father, the responsibility is even greater, because your child needs to be taught what your familial belief structures are and need to be given a frame of reference.

On a personal note, I become very disheartened when people use the Bible to harm other people. It’s a beautiful book, filled with many amazing stories and Holy Scriptures that help to define and comfort people. There are also times when it can shed a light and reprimand you to a better way, a more moral way, of life. All of these things are for the better, and for the good of the people that believe and read the Bible. So, it really does bug me and make me mad enough to chew nails when I read about some idiot on Fox News or MSNBC that knows enough scripture to be dangerous, but has been WAY too lazy to actually delve into the original languages and read political climate context into what was actually happening. Or those well-meaning friends and lazy Christians that just want to help, but only know what they have been taught “growing up”. Those people that just let their pastor tell them what to think, how to live, what to wear, and where to go. Those people to me are just like the Pharisees and the Sadducees - spiritually fat, little babies. They don’t want any meat and potatoes, they just want milk. They have no real connection to God or the scriptures, they are just languishing and soaking up whatever they can, and spitting it back up without ever really digesting the nutrients of the Bible that could help them grow into spiritual adults.

At some point, we all need to just take a deep breath, and stop fighting. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s pointless. I am not here to advocate anything of a political nature; I am here to present information. To report on information and translation of old books and scriptures. So, don’t get all riled up over the current political climate. Take a breath, read the information, say a prayer, and make up your own mind. Think for yourself. Let God lead you to paths of truth and righteousness. All of the fighting and name calling and ignorance need to stop. If you are in 2012 and can’t either research for yourself, you are too lazy, or stupid to be in National discussions about the issue. I am calling out people from both sides of the gay/sin argument that are misquoting scripture and misusing scripture to fight each other. It’s silly. It’s selfish, and it’s not pleasing to God on either side. You ALL look like idiots - idiots that fight and cause division rather than read, research, and try to educate. I get sick of it on both sides – both the lazy conservatives that just assume they are correct, and the undereducated gays trying to respond to attacks. I realize the gays were the underdog and that so, so, SO many gays, sadly, have chosen to abdicate their Christianity. That breaks my heart, but then they try to use the scriptures to respond to the conservatives. Which is it? You do or do not believe? You can’t have it both ways either… We all need to stop. We all need to educate ourselves, and we all need to remember that in civilized society, it’s okay to disagree without blubbering on a press conference.

Being complete and totally straightforward, the Bible refers to homosexual behaviors in several passages. The way they are worded in the KJV and NIV versions of the Bible, not one of those references are positive.

However, do not assume that everything can be taken at face value. In order to understand the intent of these passages, one must make fundamental decisions -- whether to:
  • Accept the teachings of one's church or faith/familial belief structure.
    • If you follow a conservative denomination's teaching then you will most likely be taught that homosexual behavior is chosen, changeable, abnormal, unnatural, and condemned by God. It is something that a person does. You will probably be taught that all six of the passages condemn all same-sex behaviors.
    • If you follow a progressive faith group's teaching, you may well accept homosexuality as an alternative, normal, natural unchangeable sexual orientation for a minority of humans, which is accepted by God. It is something that a person is. You will probably be taught that the six passages condemn specific same-sex sexual acts that are unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships.
  • Personally study passages from your favorite version of the Bible to reach your own conclusions. This is something that most people don’t do currently. And those that try and do may learn a few scriptures here and there, but unfortunately, this is filtered by the theological beliefs of the translators.
  • Personally study the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek writings and attempt to understand precisely what the writers taught. This will not likely be the response that so many give in trying to understand the further intent and purpose for God’s word and the Bible, but when you DO study and really search out what scriptures mean, the rewards are amazing.
  • Guard against “cherry picking” One of the saddest things I noticed in both seminary, bible school, church camp, and in life in general is the tendency that pastors and lay people have to cherry pick scriptures to meet a purpose. That’s not a difficult thing to do, and the temptation is great. But, prayerfully consider what I have suggested. Don’t cherry pick, read in context, understand the political and socio-economic conditions under which scriptures were both written and translated.  As the reader, you may want guard against ONLY studying certain verses. Please when you go back to verify my work, read the surrounding verses and/or chapters to put it into better context.
Conservative and Liberal Views… The standard disclaimer
I have listed above the scriptures used, and what the Bible actually states in its translation. Going forward I will do my best to present not only the actual scripture, but the original wording, the translations, and the context of the scripture. That is what I can do for this project. As the Reader, you can make up your own mind. I’ll probably use the standard KJV or NIV. My personal favorite is the Good News Translation. That’s what I use in my personal devotions. Anyway, I’ll attempt to give interpretations of key passages of the Bible from both a conservative (Fundamentalist and other Evangelical) and from a liberal position, as generally as possible:
  • Conservative Christians generally want to believe and accept English translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version (NIV) and the King James Version (KJV) as authoritative. They usually accept the inerrancy of the Bible. They interpret passages literally, unless there is a good reason not to. They consider all Bible passages as instructive in today's society. When they see any same-sex activity condemned, they believe that this applies to all homosexual activities. All homosexual behavior is sinful, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Homosexuality is a chosen, unnatural, abnormal, changeable, and perverted lifestyle, which is hated by God.
  • Liberal Christians are more apt to follow a wider variety of translations, and to be more concerned with instances of copying errors in the original Hebrew or Greek, of forgery, and of biases among the translators. Well, the nerdy ones like me. The general layperson in a church tries their best to consider some passages (e.g. those referring to slavery, burning some hookers alive, raping female prisoners of war, etc.) as not being valid today, as immoral, and against the will of God. They differentiate among various homosexual and heterosexual sex practices, treating some (rape, prostitution, temple sex rituals) as immoral and some (within committed relationships) as positive. Homosexual orientation and behavior is seen as a normal human sexual expression among a minority of adults. It is not changeable or chosen. Like all sexual behavior, it can be a sin if it is exploitive or manipulative or not carried out safely within a committed relationship.
That is my goal here - I want to supply information and ask you to prayerfully consider it, to truly study and read the scriptures knowing the intent and the context. We can all help to stop fighting over scripture and hurting one another. Those things are never pleasing to God.

Here are additional blogs in the series:
Part One - Why and Introduction
Part Two - Sodom and Gomorrah
Part Two - Levitical Law
Part Two - Romans Road To Salvation
Part Two - Oh, Paul... Nobody Likes Prison Rape
Part Two - Wrapping Up the "Big Six" Scriptures
Part Three - WWJD, Y'all? What Would Jesus Do?
Part Three - Better Run Tell Somebody!
Part Four - Same Sex Activity In The Bible
Part Five - Common Christian Beliefs
Part Five - One Anglican View Against Being Gay
Part Six - Examples of Gay Couples in The Bible
Part Six - David and Jonathan - A Love Story
Part Seven - Conclusions, Recaps, and References


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