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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. Luke

    Whatever sin we choose to commit, no matter what any society says about it, is still sin in the eyes of God. He makes the rules whether we like it, choose to accept it or not. The only hope for any of us avoiding the punishment God says we all deserve is to put our faith in the ability of Jesus' death on the cross, to act as the payment that quenches God's wrath for the sins we commit everyday.

    July 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes, God made the rules, like the one saying that if someone wants to marry a girl who has not slept with a man, all he has to do is to force her.

      July 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • William

      Every time I see remarks like this, speaking about damnation and the retribution of God, I cringe. These are in no way the teachings of Christ, which have existed unchanged and unbroken for over 2000 years in the form of the Orthodox Church. It is sad that these ideals are so prevalent in America, as they turn many away from leading a Christ-like life. It gives Christendom, as a whole, a bad reputation as being finger pointers and guilt mongering.

      The idea that sin is a stain, absolved by the blood of Jesus, was never a part of Christian doctrine. The word sin, itself, literally translates as "to miss the mark". Sin is the thoughts or actions that a person commits that leads away from a Christ-like nature, instead of towards it. The idea of "Original Sin" was invented by the Catholic Church, and was never a part of the original Christian doctrine.

      All people are sinners. All are worthy of God's love, and the love and forgiveness of their brothers. I don't post this to change anyone's mind about their beliefs, but to show people that Christianity never intended to give to power to judge and condemn to it's followers.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  2. Randall Travis

    Please forward this Op-Ed to as many people as possible!

    July 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  3. Fool4Reason

    I commend Jonathan Dudley for his stand on hypocrisy. I absolutely think he he correct in his basic idea that, people will often twist the words of other people to serve their own self interest. His points in this article are well thought out and presented. While I don't pretend to understand humanities need for religions and god, I think it is important to show support to any of my religious brother and sisters who have the intelligence to honestly question their fellow man. So my question to those people of faith out there is a simple one:

    Why should religions continue to enjoy their tax fee status all over the world?

    Governments all over the planet are going broke primarily because they spend far too much money on offense and defense (war and the prevention of war) This fact seems beyond dispute to me. Another fact which seem beyond dispute to me, while I understand not many happen to agree with me on this next point – is that religion and the varying levels of belief in god are a prime contributor to our human need to dominate our planet and each other. Therefore, I think religion is a prime contributor to our need for our armed forces and our incredibly draining government spending on them.

    So I ask again, why should religion not pay its fair share of the huge burden that the belief in god helps place upon on our limited worldwide resources?

    And if you doubt that the money spent on armed forces and war could be put to better use elsewhere, consider this: The entire US Space Shuttle program during its 30 year history cost US taxpayers about 196 billion dollars adjusted for inflation. That is 196 Billion in 30 years. The US military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan spent 170.7 billion during this past year alone! In fact $1,291Billion US dollars have been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past 10 years. I wonder how many would agree that the money spent on all wars during the past 30 years was better spent than the meager comparative amount spent on space exploration. And don’t even get me started on the money we spend – or don’t spend – on keeping our only home – planet earth – a happy and healthy place to live. We as a race of people really need to rethink our priorities, and stop thinking (and spending) so much on god, and war and start thinking (and spending) more on our fragile blue planet. – F4R

    July 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • J.W

      A church is not a business. It relies on donations.

      July 17, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • NyteShayde

      Oh, it's definitely a business. A mulit-billion dollar business. Whether it's donations or not, they're still trying to sell you something, aren't they?

      July 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  4. Mishha

    It would be better to follow the word of God regardless to the hypocrisy of men....

    July 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. J.W

    wow it looks like my comments are just disappearing

    July 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Yolanda

      It must be a conspiracy by CNN to suppress dissenting voices!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      CNN IS THE ANTICHRIST!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  6. morgan painter

    morgan painter

    It is the duty of Christians to stand for what is right in the eyes of the one they profess to follow.

    BUT, they should not do so with anger and hatred and threats of hellfire. They should remind themselves that God is willing that all should be saved. They should concentrate on saving people rather then condemning them.

    God doesn't actually destroy people it is the evil they have attached themselves to that he destroys. Before the flood, Noah warned of coming disaster and all who wished could enter the ark and be saved. Those who chose wisely were saved. Those who did not were destroyed.

    Then there is the story of Jonah. He told the people of Nineveh the entire city would be destroyed if they did not repent. The leaders took the message to heart and they repented. Down to every last citizen. The entire city was spared.

    Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because there was not ONE decent person in the whole of those cities. God destroyed the evil and the people made themselves part of it.

    Those are warnings for how it shall be when the reign of this world ends.

    Chose you this day whom you will serve.
    Choose wisely as did the family of Noah.
    Repent as the people of Nineveh.
    Avoid the sinful behavior of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Darren

    Bottom Line: A marriage is a LEGAL process/contract with OPTIONAL religious involvement.

    When a marriage ends, everyone leads to a LAWYER, not a church. It's obviously a legal matter. The bigots really need to shut the **** up. You don't want gay marriage? Don't have one. If you don't want to give gay couples the same benefits as straight couples then fine tax us at 50% of your rate because we are only half as valuable as straight human beings in your eyes. Plus this single gay guy is sick of paying for Red State Welfare which is where most of these wackos live. Thank you.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  8. Observer

    A marriage is a LEGAL process with optional religious involvement.

    If marriage was just a religious event, then when it fails, people would head back to church and explain why they lied to God when they stood in front of their family and friends and swore to stay married "until death do us part".

    When marriage ends, everyone leads to a LAWYER, not a church. It's obviously a legal matter.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  9. T. Matheno Matthews-EL

    O.K. Enough !!!!!!!!!!! What ANYONE does in the privacy of their home or minds has NOTHING to do with ME ! But trying to force me to agree with ANY life style is an INVASION of privacy PERIOD. IF one must publicly validate their personal positions, they are deemed questionable as a result. What I am persuaded is right for me, I am fully persuaded of and need no public approval!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • jean

      No one needs you or anyone else to "validate their personal position" or agree with their "lifestyle"... all that gay people want is for those of you who disagree with them to stop trying to legislate your position. I don't care what bigots think or feel, they just need to stop trying to enact laws based on their feelings about the lives of other people, especially as the lives of gay people do not impact their lives at all.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  10. Luke

    the bible is not the word of God

    July 17, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • Dj

      then you are a child of satan

      July 17, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Tim

      Guess we're brothers 🙂

      July 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • marie sims

      I will pray for you.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  11. SMH

    The one consistent thing in all of these posts about gay marriage is the neglecting of what the Bible says about marriage. In Genesis 2:24, God clearly states that a man and woman would join together and become one flesh. More and more people are trying to change what is clearly written. Either you accept it or you don't. The beauty of it all, everyone has freewill to choose. I didn't write the Bible but I accept it as the infallible Word of God physically penned by men but totally inspired by God. I choose to believe what the Bible says. The real meat of the matter is that folks want to get married in the church and have the Bible changed to fit what their flesh desires. Mr. Dudley can write opinion based articles siding with gay marriage. Hollywood actors can give their opinion about gay marriage. I can post what I believe on this board. All of it doesn't matter because if what we say does not line up with God's Word, then we are in error. Mr. Dudley would do well to not rely on head knowledge to understand the Bible. One last thing, please someone show me where in the Bible that God references man and man or woman and woman equating to marriage.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • Observer

      No one says the Bible doesn't call gay marriage an abomination. The Bible also says shellfish is an abomination.

      This is all about hypocrisy and picking and choosing what sins people make a big deal out of. If they ACTUALLY cared about sinning, Christian h0m0phobes would be busier trashing the greater number of them who commit adultery.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • morgan painter

      It is the duty of Christians to stand for what is right in the eyes of the one they profess to follow.

      BUT, they should not do so with anger and hatred and threats of hellfire. They should remind themselves that God is willing that all should be saved. They should concentrate on saving people rather then condemning them.

      God doesn't actually destroy people it is the evil they have attached themselves to that he destroys. Before the flood, Noah warned of coming disaster and all who wished could enter the ark and be saved. Those who chose wisely were saved. Those who did not were destroyed.

      Then there is the story of Jonah. He told the people of Nineveh the entire city would be destroyed if they did not repent. The leaders took the message to heart and they repented. Down to every last citizen. The entire city was spared.

      Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because there was not ONE decent person in the whole of those cities. God destroyed the evil and the people made themselves part of it.

      Those are warnings for how it shall be when the reign of this world ends.

      Chose you this day whom you will serve.
      Choose wisely as did the family of Noah.
      Repent as the people of Nineveh.
      Avoid the sinful behavior of Sodom and Gomorrah.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @morgan painter
      You still haven't realized that Noah's arc is a myth? How do i know its a myth you ask? Well lets posit some logical questions:
      1. How can noah build such a large cruiseliner to hold ALL the animals of the earth with primitive tools?
      2. How can noah accommodate a lion and a zebra on the same ship without the lion having his zebra for lunch?
      3. How can noah (who thought that where he lived in his little part of the world was actually the entire world) save the indian bengali tigers, australian kangaroo, polar bears, penguins that he doesn't even know exist because he's a primitive man????
      4. From no 3, IF noah did bring polar bears and penguins onto his ship, did he build a special refrigerator to keep them from dying (cause u know they cant survive in warm climates)
      5. If this supposed flood did occur, why can't scientists find a plethora of fossils from that point in time of all the dead animals? did god use special water in the flood that dissolved all the bones of the animals?
      6. In order to flood the whole planet, you would need 3 times the amount of water that already exists on this planet, and you would essentially destroy the planet. And where did all that extra water go? It just disappeared or evaporated??
      AND i could go on and on to show you how easily it can be seen that noahs arc is a MYTH!

      Oh and another thing, look up the wiki on the 'Epic of Gilgamesh'. This collection of myths were written 200 yrs before the bible and the noah story is copied right outta there! Read up on 'Relationship to the Bible' section for noah and the flood. Thanks!

      August 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  12. Jesus reigns :)

    Doesn't make sense why do (some) gays expect America's laws to play "house" with them and stamp their "house game" real?

    July 17, 2011 at 5:53 am |
    • Abused Altar Boy

      Jesus was gay. He was a 30 year old Jewish man, NOT married and ran around with a bunch of dudes. Deny it all you want. But you know the truth.

      July 17, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Tim

      Jesus wasn't gay he was bicurious...get it right, Abused Altar Boy

      July 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Jesus reigns 🙂

      You said "Doesn't make sense why do (some) gays expect America's laws to play "house" with them and stamp their "house game" real?"
      Because their "house game" is just as real as that of anyone else. If you don't like their game, you have the right to not play it. If you try to stop them from playing it, then you are trying to deny them the same rights that you enjoy. That makes you a bigot.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  13. Daniel Fogel

    Kudos, Jonathan Dudley!

    July 17, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  14. Yolie

    Jesus replied, (Matthew 19:11) "Not everyonecan accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunichs becase thery wer born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accep it."

    July 17, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  15. Joel

    The Bible talks a lot about greed; why don't the Evangelicals picket Wall Street? Instead, they vote for stooges who enable it.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  16. DianaGail

    Question to Christians: If a man and a woman have a marriage ceremony in your church, but did not get a certificate (piece of paper) from the government, would you still consider them married? If so, then why does a piece of paper between two men or two women issued from the government stating they are married make any difference to you? They aren't demanding a ceremony in your church, so why do you care?

    July 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • christianmom

      because its a marriage. bottom line.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • fimeilleur

      And?

      July 17, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • christianmom

      A marriage is between a man & a women Not a man & a man or A women & a dog or any other animal.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • fimeilleur

      That's your definition. The beautiful thing about language is that it evolves. Take the word g ay... it used to mean happy. or f ag, in the UK, it's a cigarette. Flat: UK = apartment; Canada = 24 beers.

      Soon, very soon, we will all accept the word marriage to mean a contract between two people in equal partnership....

      July 17, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • christianmom

      Its not my definition its God's. You know the God that created this earth & me & you. But yes sadly your are right, It will be passed every where.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • SKyle

      @ christianmom – One of your children will be gay. Count on it.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:22 am |
    • jean

      Christian mom, the problem with that is that there are and have been many, many deities created by men throughout history. Their worshipers often think that their own interpretation of what their own god or gods want is what everyone should recognize as self evident. However, your interpretation of your god's word based on your holy book does not influence everyone because everyone does not worship the same god, and those that do, do not necessarily interpret his message in the same way.

      And the United States is not a theocracy, so our laws are not based on anyone's religious beliefs.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • dannyboy49

      Just to correct the marriage problem. A man and a woman are join by law and is called a marriage. A man and man or a woman and woman should be called a Civil Union. There is no need to change the meaning of a word marriage by minority people just to suit themselves. The word Marriage has been around for a long, long time with a meaning of a Man and a Woman joined in Marriage.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  17. Yolanda

    Jonathan Dudley is hot!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  18. calling337

    it's easy for non-gays to focus on this because they feel, well i'm not gay therefore Gods approves of my life less my other sins...at least i'm gay this is most peoples real thought process and it's sad is what it is

    July 16, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  19. Martin

    Well Said! I hope that you are leading a new generation of Christians that will THINK for themselves instead of just puking up the same lost ideals and ideas from centuries past. Good Work.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • GrammarGod

      But still, isn't that a picture of a wedding cake? Gays should not marry. It's sooo gimmicky anyway... a gay marriage? Call it something else but not marriage.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Observer

      GrammarGod,

      At this very moment gay policemen, firemen, soldiers etc. are risking their lives (or may have died) so that you can sit in comfort and tell everyone that they are not worthy of the same rights you have. Can you think of any description other than being an INGRATE?

      July 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Truth

      I agree! You know, no one seems to worry about all these little children who are indoctrinated with some religious beliefs while they are still so young and imressionable! Religions always strike at the weak to turn them in a certain direction. People like this think: "God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life." And they worry about gay people doing just this!!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  20. chooten

    I respect this man's opinion, not only because he is a scholar, but because he is shining light on the huge inconsistensies in the church. I love the church as much as anyone. This year I was baptized, but I am free to question her intentions because unlke our God, it is not perfect. Human interests have defiled it's purity. I am also tired of church leaders hiding behind fake tradition and the bible. The bilbe can be interpreted many different ways, and has been edited by men with their own social and religous interests. We Christians would do well to think and debate about our tolerance towards each other. Love is the way.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:00 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.