“What would Jesus say?,” or “What would Jesus do?,” are the questions we are asking. We know “what Jesus would say” would be embodied in “how he lived” and how he treated those who were same-sex in practice. So, the place to begin is at the table with Jesus, and there we learn that he’d welcome, talk to, and summon all to follow him and to be converted. A third topic of Jesus’ teachings on morality is that of the Jesus Creed: Jesus would summon people to love God and to love others. Clarity on our topic can be reached at this juncture.
To love God is to yearn for, pray for, and work for God’s glory in heart, soul, mind and strength. Loving God means, for Jesus, to follow Jesus; loving God means loving the God of Israel; and to love the God of Israel is to love and to live in the story of Israel, that story that is written out in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Tanakh). We are talking then about loving God as expressed in listening to and living out the Scripture. This point is important: for moral logic to occur, we need to agree or disagree on this very point — namely, that the Scriptures of Israel shape our story and our theology and our practices.
And love for God is sacred (which means holy). To love God is love God properly — with all we are. One cannot love God and other gods. God is Jealous of his love, and that means that God expects his people to love God with a sacred love that is unstained by “other love.”
To love God then means to live in the story of God with Israel, and this is where (I believe — maybe you disagree?) we need to mention the Old Testament texts dealing with homosexuality. I will publish those texts in this post and make brief comments. Each of these texts, of course, is surrounded by debates and I cannot engage each debate in this context. I will state how I see the text, and leave it to you to make up your mind.
First, there is Genesis 19:1-14:
Gen. 19:1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” 3 But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10 But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
Gen. 19:12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
Some think this text is only about violation of hospitality customs. That is, when the townsfolk come to Lot’s door in order to “be intimate” (JPS) with the two men (who are angels) who have entered into Lot’s home, the hospitality interpretation sees this “be intimate” to be friendship rather than homosexual behaviors. But, in my judgment, since the text uses the same word (“to know,” yada) at “be intimate” and for Lot’s daughters who have not yet “known a man,” it is far more likely that the townspeople expect Lot to oblige their sexual cravings. The whole scene is one of debauchery and violence; no one questions that the men of Sodom are morally bankrupt. That is why the city perishes.
Comments: This text, it is true, is not talking about the men of Sodom involved in anything other than casual, violent sex; anyone who says this differs from faithful consensual relations would be accurate. This does not mean this text should be dismissed, but the text is about grievous behaviors.
It is also right that this text was not simply taken in the OT to be about homosexuality. Isaiah 1:10-17 does not meantion homosexuality directly, but deals with hypocrisy, justice, and the like. Jeremiah compares Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah and does so under the terms of adultery and false dealing and evildoers and wickedness. Again, nothing about homosexuality. Ezekiel 16:49-50 sees the sins of Sodom as arrogance, lack of care for the poor and needy, and it adds “abomination”. Jesus’ references to Sodom and Gomorrah also do not mention homosexuality. But, early Jewish texts find in Sodom sexual perversion and so does Jude 7 in the NT.
My point, to bring us back to the beginning, is that Jesus teaches that his followers are to love God, and I contend that loving God means loving God’s story with Israel and that means the scriptures of Israel — which have texts that are relevant to this discussion. I think there is evidence that the sin at Sodom was homosexual, violent sexual relations — and I am contending, though it will take more texts than this, that loving God means to embrace this story as part of the story of the followers of Jesus.
Here’s the text from Judges 19:22-30:
Judg. 19:22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24 Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
Judg. 19:27 In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. 29 When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’”
Another story of debauched, violent behavior — and it seems to me to be about homosexuality. The men want to “know” a man. A Levite, with his concubine, visit Gibeah where they are not treated with hospitality. An old man does offer hospitality, but the townsfolk desire relations with the Levite; the old man refuses to give him to them but does give the men the concubine. Well, the story gets worse: the men rape the woman, the Levite packs her up the next day (the language seems appropriate), takes her home, cuts her in twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each tribe as a sign of the outrageous behavior of Gibeah. The story deals with sexual sins, and it is reasonable to think the men wanted sexual relations with the Levite. But the same points obtain: this is about violent, debauched sexual relations. The story tells of sickening behaviors.
Not much can be drawn from these texts: (1) the debauchery and violent vices of the men of Sodom and Gibeah are condemned as vile and wicked; (2) it could be assumed that homosexual relations per se are wrong from these texts. The reason there is hesitation by Lot and by the host at Gibeah is because they find the behavioral desires of the townsfolk “out of order.”
Two more texts. Leviticus 18:19-30 and 20:13 (similar listing), which both come from a covenant context that is shaped by the priestly focus of the Temple and its leaders:
Lev. 18:19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her. 21 You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.
Lev. 18:24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves. 25 Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 27 (for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled); 28 otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people. 30 So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.
20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Leviticus 18 is drawn theologically from a covenant relation with God: because God has redeemed and led Israel to the Land, they are to live with God and in God’s way according to “God’s order.”
Sexual sins are listed in Leviticus 18; sins that are found among pagans. Incest laws basically. Then sex during menstruation is prohibited, then adultery, then child sacrifice to Molech, and then in 18:22: “do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” Then bestiality.
Comments: “abhorrence” or “abomination” (to’ebah) occurs in chp 18 in vv. 22 (homosexual relations), 26 (general), 27 (pagan Canaanites), 29 (general, leads to being cut off from people), 30 (pagan Canaanite practices).
We should know that these commandments pertain to Canaanite fertility cults, to ritual prostitution in pagan shrines and worship, and not to consensual sexual relations that are being advocated today. By and large, this interpretation that what is in view is pagan sexual perversions, while it narrows the texts beyond that which they do say, provides the more likely historical context. But, the question is not as simple as that, though we should be willing to admit whatever historical research turns up: the question is “why” is this sin singled out? Is it because it is religious ritual (which is really not mentioned, unless in the word “abhorrent”) or because same-sex sexual relation is considered morally wrong, unnatural, unclean, out of order and such things get wrapped into religious polemic? Probably the latter. In other words, it is clearly the case that these sins separated Israel from her pagan neighbors, and the intent is to get Israel away from corruption, perversion, and idolatries, but the question is then raised about why it is these sins and not others that are addressed.
But, I see no reason to see the texts in Leviticus as rape or violent. These texts need to be connected with Deuteronomy 23:17 and 1 Kings 14:24.
So, the question now becomes: Do we follow the laws of Leviticus today? Good question. Christians have always allowed the authority of the OT to have moral force, so OT laws are not simply dropped. We cannot say “Holiness Code, therefore useless for today.” So we need discernment of the sweep of Christian Scripture and to look to the NT to see if such prohibitions are carried on by Jesus and the early Christians. Next post covers three NT texts.
But, back to where we are in moral logic: to love God is to embrace the God of Israel’s story in sacred Scripture. Part of those scriptures deal with our topic; we need to know what they say in order to shape our own story. I’m wondering mostly if you agree with the observation that loving God means listening to and living out the story of Scriptures in our world today. It at least can provide us a basis for conversation and discernment.