Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Jesus Said About Homosexuality

Recently I happened to be attending a Sunday service in a very liberal congregation — in fact, one not even claiming to be Christian. The minister’s sermon was an attempt to explain away all the biblical passages condemning homosexuality — the “clobber passages,” he called them. Essentially he had two ways of getting around them. Either they don’t really refer to homosexuality, but to some other type of abuse; or they are irrelevant, because the Bible isn’t an authority for people today. Or both.

In the course of his sermon the speaker mentioned having seen a pamphlet entitled “What Jesus Said About Homosexuality.” When he opened the pamphlet, it consisted of a set of blank pages. The back cover explained that, of course, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. The minister’s story got a good laugh from the congregation, but it got me thinking: Why didn’t Jesus have anything to say on this topic? Why did that pamphlet have nothing in it but blank pages?

Well, suppose the speaker had seen a pamphlet called “What Jesus Said About Partial Birth Abortion?” That would be empty, also. There are many things Jesus never spoke about. I doubt that he ever said anything about smoking, drug abuse, computers, the Hubble telescope, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the printing press, or flush toilets. I think you can figure out why Jesus never mentioned these things.

Why didn’t Jesus talk about homosexuality? It wasn’t an issue in the cultural setting in which he moved. Homosexuality was common in the Graeco-Roman world, but for the world of the Jewish people the issue had been settled by the Law of Moses — the Law from which Jesus said nothing would be removed till it had achieved its purpose (Matthew 5:18). Passages such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 had resolved the question for the community which Jesus was addressing; there was no need for him to bring up the subject. The New Testament community accepted the same attitude toward homosexual practice, as reflected in passages such as Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

Listening to the sermon in this liberal congregation (they don’t even use the word “church”), I had some ideas about why Jesus never taught about homosexuality, and wanted to discuss them with the minister. However, he had something else to do after the service and I didn’t get a chance to speak with him. Our conversation wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway, because this particular group seems to be all about supporting the gay community, and not much else. In fact, the previous evening the church had hosted a fund-raising spaghetti supper for the local LGBT group (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). I was brought along as a visitor, but when someone asked me about my stance I made it clear that I was present as a guest, not a supporter. (The spaghetti was good, anyhow.)

If I had been given the opportunity to discuss exactly why Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality, I would have tried to go deeper into the question of why the Bible contains passages forbidding it. I would have attempted to get at the biblical view of humanity, as created in the image of God “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The human body is obviously designed in such a way as to promote a form of activity that is heterosexual. Using that body in another way is to deny that design, and in fact to deny the image of God. Indeed, it is to deny God himself, which is why Paul names homosexuality first in listing those practices that display a refusal to acknowledge God (Romans 1:18-28).

Of course, if one denies that God is real, or that there is any design to the universe, then my arguments carry no weight — as they wouldn’t have done in this liberal congregation. But from what scientists are learning today about the origin and structure of the universe, and about how living organisms are able to reproduce their own kind, the denial of God’s design makes less and less sense. It is sad to see people who think they are “progressive” still stuck in the science of a generation or two ago.