Final Piece That Brought Peace
by Susan E. Gilmore
After years of simply believing the church’s interpretation of the scriptures on the topic of homosexuality, I knew I would have no peace until I discovered on my own what the scriptures truly said. This research, I hoped, would be the final piece of the puzzle that would either bring me peace or hold me in the bonds of celibacy for the rest of my life. The operating principle of the church—“God said it, I believe it, that settles it”—did not leave much room for reexamination of Bible verses. With this principle drummed into my mind for thirty years, I lived a life sure that something had to be wrong with my behavior. My conscience had told me that I was loved by God, but my church had told me that the very basis of my being was wired incorrectly. Now I hoped I could get further enlightenment by revisiting the scriptures. If what I had been taught was true, I could not in good conscience deny the word of God. But if what I had been taught was not true, I could finally allow myself to accept my homosexuality without guilt or shame.
Knowing that the vast majority of Evangelicals believe all types of and reasons for homosexuality are wrong and an offence to God, and realizing that a lot was at stake in my personal life, I opened my Bible to search for the truth. With such an indictment of homosexuality by so many members of the Christian church, one might think that the Bible is full of passages concerning homosexuality, but this is not so. Out of the 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,103 verses, only 6 verses deal with the topic. In taking a fresh look, I knew I had to be objective. If so much as one verse spoke of a loving same-sex partnership in a negative light, I would have to accept that as God’s word.
Further, from my theological education I knew I had to interpret all six verses dealing with the topic of homosexuality using three guidelines. The first guideline was to interpret the verse in context—that is, in light of the passages surrounding it. The second guideline was to read each verse with the content of the entire Bible in mind, considering the biblical principles that might apply to the subject. Finally, the third guideline was to interpret each verse in light of the historical circumstances that existed when it was written, assessing whether I was seeing it through the lens of history or imposing the perspective of our modern culture on its content.
When I opened the Bible to determine my future, I was frightened at the potential upheaval the truth of the scriptures might bring. But what I found were facts that ultimately supported my feelings that my homosexual lifestyle was not equivalent to sin in God’s eyes, that my conscience had not been wrong. The more I studied the Bible, the more convinced I became that the church’s interpretation was not based on careful use of the guidelines I had vowed to use, and there was even evidence that it was based on nothing more than prejudice. I concluded that without knowing it the twenty-first century Christian church, which believes homosexuality is a sin has been fighting the wrong battle. Although such Christians would generally find other types of prejudice despicable, their interpretations of the passages on homosexuality are colored by the prejudice they disdain. Such misinterpretations have, it seems, been passed down through the generations, as Christians have relied on their pastors or priests to interpret the scriptures and guide their behavior and morality. In my mind, these layers of misinterpretations had solidified into an impenetrable granite slab.
Some will believe the truth of what I have found, having perhaps already suspected it as true, while others may find it impossible to believe that their church leaders have been fallible. Personally, I have had to come to grips with the fact that my church leaders who thought they were correct, had had good intentions, but were not correct in their interpretations. The truth had set me free.
Of the six verses that speak of homosexuality, three are in the Old Testament (written before Christ was born) and three are in the New Testament (written after Christ died). The first passage tells of the twin cities Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a story of unabashed cruelty, grotesque debauchery, horrifying depravity, and human wickedness. (Genesis 19:5) The central verse and surrounding verses that add context relate how a godly man named Abraham had a nephew named Lot, who also believed in God and knew God’s laws. Lot and Abraham traveled together as nomads, but when their flock of sheep grew too large for the land to support them, they split up. Lot noticed that the land around the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was fertile, so he told Abraham he wanted that land for his portion. Lot knew that the people of the cities were wicked, but the draw of the culture lured him. As time went on, Lot became more involved with the people of the cities, spending time away from his flocks and eventually taking up residence within the city limits of Sodom. Although aware of the risks of being influenced by its decadent culture, he ignored them, calling Sodom his home. Despite living there, Lot remembered the laws of God, so when one day two strangers passed him at the city gate he recalled the tradition of offering travelers lodging, food, and safety. Lot perceived that these were angels, and he wanted to protect them from the criminals among whom he lived. He took them home and fed them, but before they could turn in for the night the wicked men of the city surrounded the house and demanded that he throw his visitors out so they could rape them. Lot offered his virgin daughters, but the men of the city insisted on Lot’s male visitors. The angels helped by striking the men blind and leading Lot, his wife, and his daughters out of the city before God destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah.
I had always been taught that this was a story proclaiming the evil and sinfulness of homosexuality. But now I wondered how it was possible to equate the action in the story with men being lovingly attracted to other men or women being lovingly attracted to other women. Instead, I realized that this was a story about evil, domination, and hatred, a tale about sin without conscience. Regarding the context of the story, it is clear that the whole city is evil, and this story is not among other passages pertaining to homosexuality. In totality, it is a story of the salvation of Lot and his family, a godly family extracted from the evil that surrounded them.
The scriptures clearly express why God was so upset about Sodom and Gomorrah, although somehow Evangelicals have ignored the truth. I found four other passages that revealed to me what really angered God sufficiently to destroy the cities.
(Deuteronomy 29:22–26; Ezekiel 16:49–50; Isaiah 1:10–17; Jude 7)
When I discovered what the scriptures had to say about the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, I gained confidence, realizing this famous passage was not about homosexuality as we know it. From the first defining verse in Deuteronomy to the last in the Book of Jude, the facts about Sodom and Gomorrah were laid bare and differed radically from what we had been taught. The Bible spoke for itself: “The people of the twin cities did not seek justice. They did not defend the fatherless and the widow. They did not encourage the oppressed. They did not believe the truth about God. They paraded their sins. They worshiped other gods. They were happy about wickedness. All were evil. They were full of pride. They were overfed and unconcerned with the needs of others. They were not willing to repent. God was not on their minds. They never stopped doing evil. They seduced the unstable. They were sexually immoral and perverted. Now this was the sin of Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them, as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:49–50)
Historical information about facts revealed in these verses also supports a different interpretation from that of Evangelicals. In ancient times, male-to-male rape was used as a means of domination. A conquering army would further humiliate its enemies by the practice. Male-to-male rape was and still is clearly defined as mastery by sexual assault.
Having gained courage from what I found out about Sodom and Gomorrah, I then read, in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the second and third verses that pertained to homosexuality. (Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13) I focused on these at the same time, because they are interpreted the same way by Evangelicals and others of the Christian church. The book of Leviticus was written by Moses to the nation of Israel. It is called Leviticus because it was named after Levi, the father of one of the tribes of Israel. God appointed this tribe as the priests for the nation. The book is a written account of the offerings to be given to God, the laws of cleanliness, and the laws regarding conduct of the people of Israel and their priests. I again adhered to the guidelines of context, of awareness to context of the entire Bible, and history.
The second and third verses relating to homosexuality read as follows: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” and “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) These verses are frequently used as weapons against homosexuals. But again, it was clear to me that they can only be interpreted this way when they are not interpreted in light of context, the entire Bible, or historical circumstances.
To focus on context, I read chapter 18 of Leviticus, which consists of a series of verses about who people should not have sex with: “Your father’s wife; your father’s sister; your sister; your daughter-in-law.” Leviticus 18:22 clearly states that if you are a man you are not to have sex with another man; it is detestable. But what I had never noticed before was that the previous verse alters its meaning: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God, I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:21) Up until this point, the chapter lists those with whom people are not to have sex with. Then Leviticus 18:19 until Leviticus 18:21 focuses on the abomination of the nations living around the Israelites. It seems clear that Leviticus 18:21 and Leviticus 18:22 are a pair—they tell us not only what people should not be doing but why they should not be doing it. The practice of male-on-male sex was associated with the worship of the god Molech. The word detestable is not used to set male-on-male sex apart as worse than all other “thou shalt nots.” I knew that in the scriptures the word detestable was associated with idol worship. The context is a list of dos and don’ts for the nation of Israel.
Throughout the Bible, all forms of idolatry are hated by God. Historically, it is the time for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. God gives them laws to follow to keep them apart from the other nations that already inhabit the land. Idol worship, with its sexual sacrifice, was forbidden. I had to conclude that Leviticus 18:22 was not a condemnation of homosexuality but a condemnation of idol worship.
Now it was time to take a fresh look at the verses on homosexuality in the New Testament. I had sat through many sermons condemning and shaming homosexuality using 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.”
The background for the verse is that the book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul to the early Christian church in Rome. Christianity was one of hundreds of religions practiced by the Romans. The belief that Christ was God and the Savior of the world was new. Paul wrote to these new believers to help them understand that all people in the world were guilty of sin but that their faith in what Jesus had done on the cross would release them from their bondage. He also says that creation is a visible testament to the glory of God and that man should acknowledge God for what God had created. But I wondered where the verse about damnation of women having sex with women and men having sex with men fit into Paul’s thought process. All became clear when I read the preceding verse, Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.” The practice of having same-sex partners had always been part of idol worship, and God had always found it “detestable,” but the Roman Empire raised this practice to a whole new level. In Rome all sorts of sordid behavior was not only accepted but condoned and promoted. “They were filled with all unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:20) Thus the type of behavior described in the book of Romans is the lowering of moral standards to the level of sex with any and all. According to the context, I realized that Romans 1:26–27 did not describe homosexual sex between committed partners but instead sex in the basest of forms—random, anonymous sex between any and all.
The next two passages I also grouped together as they are almost identical: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (Corinthians 6:9) and “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine . . .” (I Timothy 1:9–10 ESV) In considering the context of the verse, Paul speaks of lawsuits between Christians. Following this verse, he says that thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortionists will also not inherit the kingdom of God. In a triumphant statement, Paul goes on to say that “such were some of you.” He speaks of all these sins as if they are things people “do,” not who people “are”—sins that could be dealt with and banished from their lives.
Regarding historical circumstances, Corinth was the Las Vegas of its time—what was done in Corinth stayed in Corinth. But even though Corinth was a wild city, to understand the culture you would have to know about the religions of the day. Religious practices then were not trying to hold back the tide of immorality; the religion of the day was the immorality. The spiritual life of a Corinthian centered on the temple, and the foulest of sexual perversions took place behind the temple doors.
Looking into the original Greek, I discovered that the word effeminate here in Greek is malakia, meaning literally “soft.” Jesus used the same word to describe fine cloth. In ancient Greece, the word referred to males who had the “feminine” characteristic of being obsessed with their appearance. Their perversion was seeking to be sexually dominated by all who were willing participants. The sin of these men, who were considered weak-minded, would have been wanton sex, being ruled by their sexual agenda rather than God. The practice of being sexually dominated came from temple worship and became part of the everyday lives of the Corinthians. Although this verse does speak of same-sex partnering, once again dominance and idol worship are the context.
One more word, the Greek arsenokoites, a combination of the words for “man” and “bed,” this final word study would either set me free or make me bow to the teachings of my youth. In English, this phrase seemed to be saying that men who slept with other men were abusing humankind, but the Greek word sheds a different light on the verse. Arsenokoites means to force sex on a weaker party. Regarding historical circumstances, we know that the practice of pederasty—an adult male taking an adolescent as his lover for pleasure as well as social status—was prevalent when the New Testament was being written. The advances of an adult male were to be considered flattering; but to the young man who did not have a choice in the relationship, the sex could be better described as rape. Although the sexual domination of the older over the younger was accepted in the culture, Paul spoke strongly against this practice for Christians, advising that pederasty was not love but a sin against the body, and that practitioners of it were “abusers of themselves with mankind.”
There is no way to deny that I Corinthians 6:9 is speaking of male-on-male sex, but there is also no way to deny that it is also speaking of sexual practices that are extreme, nonconsenting, or out of bounds for God’s people. To focus only the homosexual acts in this verse is to miss the point. What it was really saying is that this is a list of what God considers “out of bounds,” including the sexual abuses of both homosexuals and heterosexuals. The malakia and arsenokoites are grouped with “the adulterer” and “the fornicator.” Ultimately, I realized that this verse is not speaking of love among two people of the same sex, homosexuals who love and are committed. Rather, it is speaking of sex as domination; sex with someone other than your marriage partner; sex with any and all who are willing or nonwilling participants—sex as lewd behavior.
Consequently, what had for me started as fearful research of Bible passages ended with a bold belief that God had created me and loved me just as I am. I could now live without guilt imposed by others. I had fully considered the context of historical facts related to the Bible verses pertaining to homosexuality. I would not allow the errors and prejudices of others’ interpretations bind me in shame and sin.
These six verses and surrounding passages that had been used as weapons against me and countless other homosexuals were now keys to accepting myself for who I was, no longer a second-class citizen of the kingdom of God. As a lover of Jesus, I could at last hold my head high and say that I was just as much one of his servants as every other believer who sat next to me on Sunday morning; I belonged. I had discovered the last piece of the puzzle, the most important piece, and it had finally brought me peace.
It was time for me to share what I had discovered. I needed to plea to Christians to look again at the Bible verses traditionally used as weapons against homosexuals. I had lived a life in secret outside the doors of real fellowship while well-meaning church leaders held these six verses as their weapons of truth. I knew it would be difficult to change minds, but I had to try to convince the world of the truth I had found. I had discovered the cause God had called me to champion.
© 2014 Susan E. Gilmore
Susan E. Gilmore is a businesswoman, Christian church worker, and outspoken advocate for increased tolerance toward gay Christians who have been ostracized from their family of faith. She is also an activist blazing paths to peace between the Christian church and Christian homosexuals to minimize inner conflicts for gay Christians and create greater understanding and compassion in the Christian community. She lives outside Philadelphia. For more information, visit www.thepeaceseeker.com.
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