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My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?
June 21st, 2011
10:10 AM ET

My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?

Editor's Note: Jonathan Dudley is the author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics.

By Jonathan Dudley, Special to CNN

Growing up in the evangelical community, I learned the Bible’s stance on homosexuality is clear-cut. God condemns it, I was taught, and those who disagree just haven’t read their Bibles closely enough.

Having recently graduated from Yale Divinity School, I can say that my childhood community’s approach to gay rights—though well intentioned—is riddled with self-serving double standards.

I don’t doubt that the one New Testament author who wrote on the subject of male-male intercourse thought it a sin. In Romans 1, the only passage in the Bible where a reason is explicitly given for opposing same-sex relations, the Apostle Paul calls them “unnatural.”

Problem is, Paul’s only other moral argument from nature is the following: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15).

Few Christians would answer that question with a “yes.”

In short, Paul objects to two things as unnatural: one is male-male sex and the other is long hair on men and short hair on women. The community opposed to gay marriage takes one condemnation as timeless and universal and the other as culturally relative.

I also don’t doubt that those who advocate gay marriage are advocating a revision of the Christian tradition.

But the community opposed to gay marriage has itself revised the Christian tradition in a host of ways. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, for example, marriage was deemed morally inferior to celibacy. When a theologian named Jovinian challenged that hierarchy in 390 A.D. — merely by suggesting that marriage and celibacy might be equally worthwhile endeavors — he was deemed a heretic and excommunicated from the church.

How does that sit with “family values” activism today?

Yale New Testament professor Dale B. Martin has noted that today’s "pro-family" activism, despite its pretense to be representing traditional Christian values, would have been considered “heresy” for most of the church’s history.

The community opposed to gay marriage has also departed from the Christian tradition on another issue at the heart of its social agenda: abortion.

Unbeknownst to most lay Christians, the vast majority of Christian theologians and saints throughout history have not believed life begins at conception.

Although he admitted some uncertainty on the matter, the hugely influential 4th and 5th century Christian thinker Saint Augustine wrote, “it could not be said that there was a living soul in [a] body” if it is “not yet endowed with senses.”

Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic saint and a giant of mediaeval theology, argued: “before the body has organs in any way whatever, it cannot be receptive of the soul.”

American evangelicals, meanwhile, widely opposed the idea that life begins at conception until the 1970s, with some even advocating looser abortion laws based on their reading of the Bible before then.

It won’t do to oppose gay marriage because it’s not traditional while advocating other positions that are not traditional.

And then there’s the topic of divorce. Although there is only one uncontested reference to same-sex relations in the New Testament, divorce is condemned throughout, both by Jesus and Paul. To quote Jesus from the Gospel of Mark: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

A possible exception is made only for unfaithfulness.

The community most opposed to gay marriage usually reads these condemnations very leniently. A 2007 issue of Christianity Today, for example, featured a story on its cover about divorce that concluded that Christians should permit divorce for “adultery,” “emotional and physical neglect” and “abandonment and abuse.”

The author emphasizes how impractical it would be to apply a strict interpretation of Jesus on this matter: “It is difficult to believe the Bible can be as impractical as this interpretation implies.”

Indeed it is.

On the other hand, it’s not at all difficult for a community of Christian leaders, who are almost exclusively white, heterosexual men, to advocate interpretations that can be very impractical for a historically oppressed minority to which they do not belong – homosexuals.

Whether the topic is hair length, celibacy, when life begins, or divorce, time and again, the leaders most opposed to gay marriage have demonstrated an incredible willingness to consider nuances and complicating considerations when their own interests are at stake.

Since graduating from seminary, I no longer identify with the evangelical community of my youth. The community gave me many fond memories and sound values but it also taught me to take the very human perspectives of its leaders and attribute them to God.

So let’s stop the charade and be honest.

Opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Dudley.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality • Opinion

soundoff (6,474 Responses)
  1. Richard

    Well said!

    June 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  2. NewsRaider

    Romans Chapter 1. I suppose the author never read that.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • PayAttention

      UM, he must have, since he references it in paragraph 3. Maybe you didn't read that far?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • NewsReader

      Since the author specifically mentions Romans 1 in the third paragraph of the article, one would assume he has read it. Unlike someone who makes nonsensical comments without reading the article.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Phil

      YouMean Paul's letter to the Romans (more specifically the Roman Church).
      Oh, you must have thought that was part of the Gospels – nope. You see Paul the deciple (or someone named Paul or someone writing for Paul...) Wrote to the early Church in Rome his thoughts on early Chirstianity and his beliefs on the teachings of Christ. These are in the Bible, in the New Testiment but not part of the Gospels. Maybe if you studied a little you might know what you are talking about.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  3. love one another

    If we were all made by the Big G O D why do we all look different then? Shouldn't we all have the same skin tone, appearance, voice, etc...? Maybe we're all being tested to see how we really treat each other and that will be ultimate decider when we see those pearly gates not what a holy book says.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Erik

      Or maybe God values diversity as much as we do.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Oh dear Lord! Learn what "made in the image of God" really means. Hint... it has ZERO to do with physical appearance.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • William Demuth

      No dude, in the image of God means we are just as shallow, ignorant, racisit and twisted as Yahveh was.

      The world record holder for mass murder is still the one and only God of Abraham!

      June 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  4. Le'

    The bible focuses on living in a spirit of repentance to achieve salvation. For some reason people feel that once you are saved you won't commit anymore sins. That is not true no sin is acceptable to God. He would not have given the Son "Jesus Christ" as a sacrifice if we could just do better. Obviously we need more forgiveness than ever before, looking at the news these days. I say read your Bible from the beginning to the end and then ask yourself is there really any difference in the way people act today as in the later days no the only constant is that with Jesus we can over come our short comings without Him we are doomed to fail.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • May

      I might add to watch just which Bible you read, as so many have been altered to fit different Protestant denominations.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • fuyuko

      I think god put us on earth to be happy. fretting about sin, repentance and all that negativity seems counter to that to me.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  5. CJ

    Gays are loved by God. Gay acts are condemned by God. It is as simply as that.
    I don't judge. God judges. You can't change who or what God is just because you want some legitimization of a corrupt lifestyle.
    You claim Christians cram their beliefs down non-believers throats. I say you are trying to shove your selfish agendas down everyone's throats. Funny how my posts are 'awaiting moderation' while anyone who is pro gay 'marriage' can say or bash whomever they want. Talk about a double standard. A CNN faith blog is an oxymoron. So stick that in your @nus and smoke it

    June 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • May

      You are right. God loves the sinner, not the sin. He gives us plenty of opportunity to repent and promise to sin no more, that we may be able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Throughout the Bible we are told we must be celebate, not just some, but all. Single people, divorced people, married people must have relations only with-in the confines of marriage, which has been defined as between a woman and a man. If God was not opposed to so called gay marriage, we would have seen examples of such in the Bible, instead of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorah. It's a heavy cross to carry no doubt, but if you really read the Bible, all will see, that unless a man and woman marry, all are to be celebate if they are to attain Heaven. The alternative is Hell.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • fuyuko

      meh. the love the man, hate the sin thing is sort of silly to me. a gay person is going to be gay, and hating his gay actions which is a part of him is just like hating the hetero for having hetero feelings. i wish christians would stop being moral bean counters and fret about what they do within the confines of their own relationships.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • William Demuth

      CJ if God actually took action against gays, you wouldn't have any clergy left.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • CJ

      William: Ahhh, resorting to insults because your claims have no basis in reason. Your logic is flawed and therefore you must sling poo like a monkey.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @CJ&May
      god and satan are imaginary beings. u have put complete faith in the religion u were brought up in, when there is no evidence of god or satan. Therefore u cannot force ur beliefs (which is not based on evidence) on others. Reality says that when we die, we die. Thats it. There is no magical fairy in the sky who is keeping tabs on whatever u did and is waiting to judge u. heaven and hell are imaginary places made to scare ancient people and keep them in line. I guess it's still keeping u guys in line!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  6. Johnny

    The best place for a bible to be is near a toilet seat so it will be very useful.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • CJ

      There is a special place in hell for people like you

      June 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      CJ

      Now you threaten with damnation? Thats how the church gets what it wants, and how preacher get their rocks off.

      Fear, its all Christians have left to silence the molested and defrauded.

      So stick your hell in the toilet with your bible and flush it.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @CJ

      You said: "There is a special place in hell for people like you"

      Hell, you say?

      If god is all loving, all good and all just as Christians profess, how do you reconcile this with the fact, that there is a place called hell?

      How could an all good, all merciful, all just god, spend His time constructing such a place? Did he whistle while He worked?

      If god is all loving, all good, all merciful and all just...how do you reconcile this with the fact that god would burn humans for all eternity? What crime could justify such a punishment?

      Man lives a finite number of years. Only a finite number of "sins" could be committed in this finite time. How is it just to punish a finite number of sins with eternal agony?

      Christians also claim their god is all knowing (omniscient). If this is true, then He would know who will be saved and who will be damned, even before they are born. Yet, god lets them be born knowing their ultimate fate is eternal punishment. Seems wrong somehow, but that's just me.

      Christians often prattle on about having a choice of accepting Christ or spending eternity in hell. This is not a choice. This is Vito Corleone making an offer that cannot be refused. Pfui!

      If a puppy peed on the floor, would you hold it over a burner, even for a second? I couldn't. Not a puppy and certainly not a human. I am more moral than your vile god.

      Like many of your fellow Christians, you seem to like the idea that people who do not agree with you, will be horribly punished. If I am wrong, and there is a god and there is a Jesus...you and I may be roomies.

      Cheers!

      June 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • CJ

      William: I didn't mention damnation at all. Funny how you made the connection between hell and damnation. My point is that God will not be mocked by these prideful obstinate people who think they can live as they choose without consequences and choose not to believe in a God who could obliterate them at any time just by ceasing to think of them at all. His Mercy will soon run out and I hope you don't start believing in a hell when you realize that you are in it. It will then be too late.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • CJ

      David: Why don't you go ask God those questions yourself when you stand before Him at judgement. Better yet, ask Satan why he is excluded from God's presence for all eternity. God is merciful but God is also just and woe to them on whom His full wrath is poured out upon.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      CJ

      Say what? SO now you distinguish between damnation and hell?

      Trying to rewrite two thousand years of dogma right here on CNN?

      You Jesus freaks are a trip, you just make the crap up as you go along!

      June 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • CJ

      William: The Bible speaks well of people like yourself when it says that a fool is like a broken cistern. No knowledge can it hold. It is you who is filled with hatred. A hatred of God Himself and your fellow man. Anyone who approves of a sin is just as guilty as the sinner who committed it.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • 3lwood

      @ CJ, you are the most arrogant person ever to assume you know the mind of god.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  7. joeseattle

    There are so many lame twists of logic in this piece amaturishly designed to manipulate the feeble-minded.
    Example: He brushes together divorce and remarriage. You can take a look at the scripture and interpret the words for yourself, but the quoted passage does not forbid divorce. It says remarriage after divorce is adultery.

    You may not like what it says, but let's at least be clear on what is actually written there. Virtually every analogy/example the author uses involves similar interpretive slight-of-hand. No intellectual honesty whatever – either he's no intellectual (likely) or not honest.

    Think for yourselves people. But if you do ever approach truth, don't expect it to be some sugary syrup that condones every wet dream or convenient dispensation you could ever want. The idea that what's in the Bible is dismissible just because its unpopular is plain stupid. There have been lots of unpopular ideas which eventually became regarded as truth. How convenient they are is irrelavent.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  8. M

    Maybe I am a bit confused. I thought the basis of Christian Faith was that Jesus ascended to Heaven to be the eternal divine judge? Why are we persecuting Gay people and denying them the right of marriage? That is for Jesus to decide when you meet your maker. Why use fear tactics and opression to show people the word of the lord? Isn't that what the Jewish community did to Jesus?*according to the Gospels anyways* There are schools Kindergaden through Graduate school that are all based around your beliefs, there are businesses that are ran with the Bible in mind, you have a good portion of society carved out specifically to meet your needs. Churches dont even pay taxes. Live your lives as you will and let Jesus decide everyones fate once they come to their judgement day. Horrible things have been done in the name of every belief! Instead of focusing outward focus inward and help guide those who share your faith away from perverting it., this applies to all beliefs not just Christians.

    "Your choice is what you choose to be and if it's causing no harm, you're alright with me"
    -BH

    June 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Visitor

      You are a bit confused....

      June 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • M

      It would be nice if you could expound upon your statement. I didnt graduate from Divinity school, but growing up with Christian and Catholic ties I was always taught not to judge and not to condemn.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • May

      Evil prevails when good men do nothing. Why would you want to take the chance that you are encouraging someone to spend eternity in Hell? All should pray for discernment, pray to be able to do God's will, and to have the strength to perservere in doing so.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • M

      May,
      That is a very good point. It is true good men should act, good women for that matter as well. However, this country was founded upon the principle of freedom from religious persecution. By allowing gay marriage your not encouraging it, in the same way the government allows people to drink though it is not encouraged. Your absolutely right that, as a Christian, you should pray for all of those things. But praying is far cry from influencing National Laws that are supposed to protect ones right to believe in whatever they please.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Superman

    Your comment section sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!111

    June 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Superman

    What the h.e.l.l? C.N.N, where do you get these lo.wli.fes that write arti.cles for your web.site?!? H.o.m.os.e.xuality is S.I.N! We shouldn't ignore it just because it's one of many s.i.ns! And I bet that he's g.a.y...so, he's the one trying to make the Bible acceptable to his lifestyle!

    June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • 3lwood

      Haha! Bruce, you were right!

      June 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Bruce

    Dear Mr. Dudley,

    If you are reading these comments, you will no doubt see as painfully obvious what I could have told you long before you wrote your wonderful article: the people who you are talking about will read your article in basically the same way they read scripture. For example, they will read your article and come away with nothing other than, "oh, Jonathan Dudley is obviously gay and is writing whatever he is writing (not that I read it, mind you) to justify his gayness and his gayish gaydiosity so I can feel free to ignore whatever he says and pretend I'm being faithful to the Word of God."

    June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Raine

    While I agree with most of your argument the two things with Paul (his two quotes) are a textbook straw-man argument and weakens your whole argument. I would consider revising and restating it since most of your argument hangs on that premise.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  13. af090391

    Aww, does it hurt peoples moral superiority that there's multiple views on the bible, or that the core values of your religion have changed over the course of time? Maybe, it's a good time to ask yourself why there's 50 million different christian sects that believe something different about the bible, many of them claiming to only go by what the bible says. Perhaps you can realize that your religion, and your religious sentiment are not superior, you are not necessarily right, you don't necessarily know any truth, and perhaps you should stop hating and discriminating against people out of ideas that you don't know are truth, but hold a meager bit of faith that from any outsiders view seems ridiculous.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  14. YBP

    Who cares either way? Theology is the study of the imaginary. And America guarantees its citizens freedom from all religion.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • JustinH

      Freedom of, not freedom from religion.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  15. mar

    If only all christians embraced celibacy.......

    June 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • rachel

      only "if"

      Better yet, if christians followed that book (bible) to a T, that would be so entertaining!! We'd really have some craziness going on here. We'd all have to hide because of stones flying everywhere.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  16. Christine

    The one flaw in this article is "Paul objects".....its a shame that after getting a degree at Yale Divinity School you have failed to truly know the most important thing about the BIBLE. Its the Word of God – inspired by the Holy Spirit. Its not Paul's book nor is it Moses book. Its God's Word – unfallible and true – whether you agree or not. The minute we start to disect His Word and decide what is culturally acceptable or contextually true – we start on a slippery slope. We can justify anything we want as acceptable and not a sin but the Word of God is clear from Genesis to Revelation. My suggestion – you need to read it again...your divinity school degree has not helped you at all.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • rachel

      The bible is a book written by man, just like every other book sweetie.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Jim

      A collection of fairy tales inspired by an invisible sky friend is something that only children, or the feebleminded, believe in.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • YBP

      There are no gods, Christine. And do you anything about Saul of Tarsus? He invented pagan-based Christianity based on his mystical visions, and was in bitter conflict with Jesus' original disciples, the ones that actually knew him. The Jewish ones. The Zionists. Like Jesus himself. Today Paul would be put in an asylum. And Jesus would self-destruct all over again, just like the crazies at Waco. Whatever your problems and insecurities are, Christine, religion is not the answer you're looking for.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Bruce

      Your hair better be really really long, Christine. It's only natural.

      Now go cook dinner for your husband, and don't deny him, because that is your calling.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Christine.

      Come to the dark side, the boys need more red meat.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • That Guy

      Are you serious? That is all the Christian Church and the Vatican have done over the last 1700 or so years. The bible itself was put together and taken apart by MEN who chose which books they saw fit to include and which to leave out. It's ridiculous how you criticize someone's credentials then say something as ignorant as that.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Dan

      Very well said! God bless you, sister.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  17. ej

    Just like the Bible proclaims in Isaiah 5:20 : Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

    Sounds like this guy.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • William Demuth

      What it sounds like is a brownie recipe.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  18. cyberCMDR

    Man is not a rational animal, man is a rationalizing animal – Robert Heinlein.

    People will believe something or want to do something, and then cherry pick the Bible (or some other authority) to justify doing what they wanted to do. With the Bible you can justify slavery, murder, even genocide, if you read from the right passages. Under God's command, the early Israelites destroyed whole cities of their enemies, killing men, women, children and even the animals there. Sometimes they were less vicious and took slaves. You want to bomb an abortion clinic? The Bible can justify it. You want to protest at soldier's funerals because America has gays? The Bible can justify it. Just like the Koran, selective interpretation can be used to justify whatever you want, and any act is forgivable because "It is God's will."

    Whatever happened to "Judge not, that ye be not judged"? How about "Love your neighbor as you would love yourself"?

    June 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Bryan Law

      Luke 6:35-37 "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

      June 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • cyberCMDR

      For those interested, here's the full quote:
      "We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers. Look around you. Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg. If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum. He uses one-valued logics. If he is exceptionally bright, he may use two-valued, 'either-or' logic to arrive at his wrong anwers. If he is hungry, hurt, or personaly interested in the answer, he can't use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking. He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk. Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists. He classes his own mental process as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein. Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal."

      June 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  19. realfastbill

    Well said sir!

    June 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  20. EZRA

    Opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own.
    ------------------------–
    The only reason these bans and "laws" ect. are in teh Bible in the first place was to further some writers agenda or opinions and now, so called, Christians just take the bits they want to defend their lifestyle or exclude others. Religion is an abomination.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.