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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. Barred in Atlanta

    You know why almost everyone on this post is off point, including the author of the article in dispute? Because these conversations should not be occurring in the year of 2011. At an age of such scientific development and advancement, the fact that humans are still discussing the Bible and God is asinine. This country, and world for that matter, would be so much better off if people would stop judging and basing their opinions of others and others' lifestyles on the tenants of the Bible (or the Jewish book of fairy tales as Bill Maher so aptly describes it) and what they believe God thinks of them and their choices. Why? Because none of it is real. I bet 100% of Christians would quickly dismiss Roman and Greek mythology or many of the ancient Asian religions as untrue and unfounded. But for some reason they read the Bible and take everything said in there as the truth to end all truths. It really blows my mind. Christianity was founded and practiced for the same reasons all other religions were; to help explain why things were happening that were beyond the scientific knowledge of people at that time. The only difference is the right people realized that with a little marketing and tweaking of the Bible to make it say what served their interests best, they could sell this religion in a way none of the others could be sold before. But we know so much now, and are continuing to learn more everyday. No, we still do not understand everything about our origins or the present state of the universe, but that should not mean we attribute their happenings to some space god in order to explain away their mysteries. "How did the sun get in that exact spot? I don't know, I am just going to say god did it." As Richard Dawkins said, that is the laziest way to live life, and everyone should be thankful, including believers, that our scientific forefathers did not think the same way. What if Jonas Salk asked, "Why are all of these children contracting polio? What is polio? I don't know, I guess it is just god's will." Wake up people, there is no need for God and religion anymore. We just do not need it to live happy, full and educated lives. In fact, in my experience, religion negates that kind of lifestyle completely.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jimbo

      People are afraid to die and afraid of what will happen to them and loved ones after death. Becuase of this reason there will always be religion, unfortunately.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Cindy

      Very well said, one atheist to another. I do though also appreciate the author's discussion around the convenience of modern biblical interpretations by the Evangelical community. If only they would pull their collective heads out of their booties and put on their thinking caps, the United States would be a much better place to live.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Ironic that you feel qualified to pass judgement on Christianity and God, while telling us all how much better place the world would be if we only weren't passing judgement on people. Cracks me up, every time.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • theAmyr

      "Christianity was founded and practiced for the same reasons all other religions were; to help explain why things were happening that were beyond the scientific knowledge of people at that time."

      What prove do you have to back up this extraordinary statement? That is merely a ignorant rebuff one is accustomed to seeing on internet forums from a 15 year old atheists.

      "We just do not need it to live happy, full and educated lives. In fact, in my experience, religion negates that kind of lifestyle completely."
      Really? From my experience most of the good in the world comes from religious roots, in some way or the other. Christians I know are so much happier and more fulfilled than their godless counterparts. Most of the charity, peace offering, and helping in the world comes from the desire of Christians to do good.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Michael

      Hear Hear! Thank you, Barred, for a sensible statement. You'll never change the minds of those who have shifted their minds into neutral, however, and who prefer to remain in the dark ages.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Jimbo

    Wouldn't it be cool if you could still get away with things by lying like you could 2000 years ago? What if an unmarried young girl from Kansas pops a baby out in the barn behind her parents house and says that she is a virgin, God came to her and said this is the return of Jesus and she is the new mother of God? I guarantee the christains would chastise her. So why believe the same story that people wrote 2000 years ago?

    June 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  3. Rich

    "And lo I say unto you, they shall condemn the innocent and misqoute me in their hatred. The love of one for another is beautiful in all its forms and should be celebrated by all. Those who oppose love, oppose me. Oh, and Fox lies."

    Lobotomy 9:11

    June 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Eric G

      I think it was Paul, in is letter to the Hermaphrodites..............

      Dear Hermaphrodites,
      Go screw yourselves.
      Sincerely,
      St. Paul

      June 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  4. Will E.

    But I still believe Bonhoeffer was referring to Lucifer in his "guise" as Satan.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  5. derp

    Let me get this straight. This article is suggesting that christians are hypocrites who cherry pick the bible?

    In other news, water is wet, poop stinks, and you cannot see in the dark.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • William Demuth

      NICE!!!

      June 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Eric G

      It is a well known fact that my poop does not stink.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Yo!

      "and you cannot see in the dark."

      I have night vision goggles....

      June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  6. Mattins

    The greatest irony? That in this supposedly democratic, supposedly enlightened country, we allow some people to use an ancient book of myths about an invisible man who lives in the sky to torment their fellow citizens.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Smitty

    I find it funny how the author can cite “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) and then leave out the next part "but if there be any contentious among you we have no laws nor do the churches of God."

    Sounds to me like Mr. Dudley is the one trying to bend scripture to say what he wants it to.

    Honestly, I don't even oppose gay marriage, but when someone tries to lie to me; poorly, I get a little irked.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  8. Tom

    If God cared so much about this issue, why didn't tell Moses about it and publish in the 10 Commandments – or why did He no mention it when He was among us in the form of Jesus? But people work on Sunday, take the Lord's name in vain, cheat on their spouses . . . those are all violations of the 10 Commandments and nobody is out their kicking and screaming about that. So what's the big hang up about gay marriage . . . seems like there are far bigger fish to fry.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  9. Keith

    I'm afraid that Mr Dudley is reading a different version of the Bible than what I have, and has been given over to a reprobate mind too boot!

    June 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Albert911emt

      Mr. Dudley has been to divinity school – have you?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Dean

      Perhaps there is something in your Bible about passing judgement on others?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Andrew

      You must be reading the version 'Old Testment: Uncut' and I think the author is referencing 'JC returns! Revenge of the Rising!'.
      I personally prefer the Harry Potter books though.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  10. C Bailey

    I suggest you get a refund from Yale Divinity School. It is like going to a communist education camp to get a degree in democracy. You will get a twisted view on the subject. God help you! You have learned nothing!

    June 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Mattins

      And I suggest you actually read the word of the god you claim to follow before shooting off your moutn. 😉

      June 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Curt

      Please, explain what you have learned that is inferior. And do include quotes and references to back up your position as he has done.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Dean

      And you, of course, know everything.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Bemused

      And where from would you have gotten your wisdom and your scathing foul mouth? Would you prefer Podunk-behind-the-hill divinity school as the main source of ministers and theologians??
      If Yale (communist Yale, haha) is good enough for Presidents Herbert and George Bush, their divinity school might just be alright.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Curt

      *that is superior. Sorry.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Albert911emt

      Have you graduated from, or even attended divinity school? Who are you to pass judgement? I believe if you actually read your bible, instead of critisizing others, you will find where it says that only God can pass judgement.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • C Bailey

      To all that replied. It is quite simple; either you believe that the Bible (original language) is God breathed or you do not. If the translation is true to the original text your opinion is irrelevant. If you believe that the Bible was merely written by men then you are free to have any and all opinions you can dream up as is the case here. We will all stand before HIM and account for our actions irregardless.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  11. Jason Jackson

    I read a similar quote to this once...

    Being unashamed of the gospel of Christ include being unashamed of the apostles of Christ.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  12. Elizabeth

    Excellent article.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Cool. Let's pick and choose which of God's laws we want to follow.

    Must be a slow news day CNN.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Free

      You're behind the times, my friend. The author has demonstrated that Christians have been doing precisely that for a very long time.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  14. ray

    Lighthouses are more useful than churches. – Ben Franklin

    June 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Oh no, Ben!

      I have syphillis. – Ben Franklin

      June 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Oh no, Ben!

      I have syphilis. – Ben Franklin

      June 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Ben got the VD from his preist

      June 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Dean

      I find it interesting that so many believe straw men and ad hominems are valid rebuttals. And these same people believe they can properly interpret the Bible and know God's mind. Astounding!

      June 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Dean: Thank you for taking the Holy High Road....

      By the way.... I had ad hominems once, but my doctor gave me some topical ointment and they went away.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  15. pretensions Christians

    I find it HILARIOUS that the anti-gay drones writing in this comments section are SO PRETENTIOUS about the warped beliefs they cling to and barely understand. Do you all HONESTLY think you have the capacity to understand the word of God enough to persecute LGBT persons? Is your comprehension of the Bible so complete that you can cherry pick what you obey and what you ignore with such indignant immunity?

    The OVERWHELMING majority of devoutly Christian persons that I meet who insert vitriolic notions into Biblical study to justify their own world views have ... a scarily little amount of actual knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Most of them know about as much as the children's church songs teach or the Veggie Tales movies talk about. The rest of their Biblical knowledge is nothing more than community norms and vary WILDLY throughout the nation and the world.

    If you're not secure enough in your faith that you can question and study what you believe .... you don't actually believe it ... or you're afraid of what you'll actually find.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      @pretensions Christians

      You said,"I find it HILARIOUS that the anti-gay drones writing in this comments section are SO PRETENTIOUS about the warped beliefs they cling to and barely understand. Do you all HONESTLY think you have the capacity to understand the word of God enough to persecute LGBT persons? Is your comprehension of the Bible so complete that you can cherry pick what you obey and what you ignore with such indignant immunity?

      The OVERWHELMING majority of devoutly Christian persons that I meet who insert vitriolic notions into Biblical study to justify their own world views have ... a scarily little amount of actual knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Most of them know about as much as the children's church songs teach or the Veggie Tales movies talk about. The rest of their Biblical knowledge is nothing more than community norms and vary WILDLY throughout the nation and the world.

      If you're not secure enough in your faith that you can question and study what you believe .... you don't actually believe it ... or you're afraid of what you'll actually find."

      First of all, I agree that alot of people who call themselves Christians do persecute gay people...I do not agree with this, however to tell someone what they are doing is wrong is not persecution...if it is then we need to stop "persecuting" murderers and anyone else who breaks the law...

      Secondly, it seems to me that the disdain you have for people of faith is evident in your angry rant at them throwing out as many five dollar words as you could find in your thesarus to back up you argument...but here's something to consider: no matter how many big words you use to make your point, it doesn't make your stance any stronger, it only makes you look insecure and makes you seem like the very thing you accuse the Christians of being "pretensious"...

      June 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Hypocritical

      Seriously "Doesn't Matter" ... you didn't say anything in what you wrote. All you did was talk about "five dollar" words and confused the words persecute and prosecute. Try talking about the substance of an argument and not the verbiage 🙂

      June 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Andrew

      Whoa! Slow down dude... It's called a vocabulary. You should get one, plant it in the garden of your mind... let it grow.

      As to your first point, your comparison of the crimes of gay persons to murderers is misleading and illogical. Your perspective gives value to the laws of your god and so you would say a murderer is wrong because he broke your god's law. From the perspective of secular society, a normal person would say a murderer is wrong because they broke our communal secular law.
      The communal morality of our society IS NOT the same as your religious morality. What you need to understand is that no religion is the sole arbiter of what is good or moral. You, sir, do not get to decide what or who is right or wrong in our society based solely on your interpretation of a book of fables that is almost 1500 years old.
      It was wise for our predecessors to endow us with unalienable rights in the midst of ones such as yourself whom have relentlessly sought to strip us of them to impose your beliefs and morality onto all. If you so strongly believe that gay people are "wrong", then don't be gay! Problem solved.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Yo!

      Hey Doesn't Matter

      "it only makes you look insecure and makes you seem like the very thing you accuse the Christians of being "pretensious"..."

      You're rant proves your the one who's insecure and when you're trying to impress someone you know what you're talking about it might help to spell it right. LOL!

      June 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      @Hypocritical

      Seriously "Doesn't Matter" ... you didn't say anything in what you wrote. All you did was talk about "five dollar" words and confused the words persecute and prosecute. Try talking about the substance of an argument and not the verbiage

      Perhaps you should read my post again, you seem to have missed the point and no I didn't confuse the words persecute and prosecute...read the post again and you might get it...

      @Andrew

      "Whoa! Slow down dude... It's called a vocabulary. You should get one, plant it in the garden of your mind... let it grow.

      As to your first point, your comparison of the crimes of gay persons to murderers is misleading and illogical. Your perspective gives value to the laws of your god and so you would say a murderer is wrong because he broke your god's law. From the perspective of secular society, a normal person would say a murderer is wrong because they broke our communal secular law.
      The communal morality of our society IS NOT the same as your religious morality. What you need to understand is that no religion is the sole arbiter of what is good or moral. You, sir, do not get to decide what or who is right or wrong in our society based solely on your interpretation of a book of fables that is almost 1500 years old.
      It was wise for our predecessors to endow us with unalienable rights in the midst of ones such as yourself whom have relentlessly sought to strip us of them to impose your beliefs and morality onto all. If you so strongly believe that gay people are "wrong", then don't be gay! Problem solved."

      I never said I get to decide what is right or wrong...I said God tells us what is right and wrong...and your talk of communal morality is laughable...we as a society have no morals...we are selfish and totally self-centered...

      @Yo!

      "You're rant proves your the one who's insecure and when you're trying to impress someone you know what you're talking about it might help to spell it right. LOL!"

      I wasn't ranting actually, I was responding to P.C.'s rant, and as for my misspelling of a word...I apologize for not being perfect as you must be...

      June 21, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Yo!

      "I wasn't ranting actually, I was responding to P.C.'s rant, and as for my misspelling of a word...I apologize for not being perfect as you must be..."

      As you continue to rant. LMAO!

      June 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  16. Where Now

    Do Christians have it all right? No. Do Christians need to work on their own lives? Yes. However, Yale divinity... Impressive but if you blindly follow the words of a respected teacher, you are no different than the stereotypical Christian you are attempting to portray. All that money spent and no analytical skills developed to perform the research yourself.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Brimshack

      There is absolutely no reason to believe this person is blindly following anyone. Neither is perfection at issue in any way shape or form.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. sealchan

    I should admit up front that I didn't read much at all of the article...it appears that it tries to qualify or equivocate a certain statement of morality with other morality statements. But for me as much as the Bible is full of literal statements on what is and is not moral, it is just as full of statements on how God has used people who had or who end up having committed immoral acts. God works with some pretty aweful characters and still succeeds in providing what we need. For me the morality statements are the lesser truth (and in some cases really just misguided views of humans or deprecated values of a culture from long, long ago)...it is what God can do for you that is truly great.

    I also think that the Bible is wrong in declaring h-y a sin. I believe that what will be found is that God created h-y and as with everything He created He looked and saw that it was good.

    And why is it that an article writer can use a word but we can't?...

    June 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  18. prophecy

    Men with long hair are gay.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • prophecy

      women with short hair, butches

      June 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Eric G

      Uh....... didn't Jesus have long hair?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • derp

      So you are saying jesus was gay?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Free

      I can't think of any gay men with long hair. Which ones are you thinking about?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Tim

      If you (Eric G) have a picture of Jesus, I'll buy a copy from you. I have been looking for one...

      June 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Tim: What would you pay for it? It is signed, but it must be a forgery becuase we all know that Jesus was illiterate.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  19. Grace

    People don't go to hell for being Gay. People go to hell because they are sinners. Simple truth.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Free

      Wouldn't treating people unequally not be considered sinful?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Grace

      Yes indeed. Being hateful to gays is sinful. Just like being gay is a sin. The problem is that being gay is a more obvious sin, so people tend to get 'righteous' about it. We all sin, I know I do. Just because some sins are more private then other, doesn't mean mine are better than yours. I'm a sinner, and I will always be one. That's why I got Jesus.

      June 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Tim

      No, equality isn't guaranteed. I wouldn't kill you if I saw you walking down the street, but I would kill a terrorist. Two different people, right? Treated unequally right? All based on what they do, not who/what they are, ultimately. Right?

      June 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Come on Now

      If you read the Bible you would realise that there is no Hell where people go to suffer. Death is the end of life....nothing more. Eccl 9:5, 6 Dead are conscious of nothing at all, Vs 10, there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol the place which you are going.

      June 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Tim: All this talk about killing and then comparing gay people to terrorists? You have missed the point. But you show just where gay people stand in your mind. And it is disturbing.

      June 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  20. BUTTLORD GT

    32 And lo: the LORD looked down from the shining heavens and did say to Moses 33 I AM GAY. 34 Moses saw that it was so.

    -Everitus 7:32-34

    June 21, 2011 at 2:39 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.