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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. Just me

    It amazes me how the interpretation of the Bible changes over time. What was once unacceptable is suddenly deemed "okay". Most often these changes seem to coincide with political views and gains. "If we say this is okay, we'll have more support, power, and continue to grow." Rather frightening when the desires of man supercedes the desires of God. What better testiment to the eventual doom by our own actions.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • LOL

      So I guess it would surprise you that it wasn't till recently that people started using the scriptures to condemn gay people and they added the word homoseb>xual to the bible. When the bible was first written the clobber passages so are taking so literally were never used to condemn a person seb>ual orientation. . It's why people changed their views on slavery and woman's rights too. If some follow the bible literally and woman's place would still be in the home.

      August 29, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Observer

      Just me,

      It was Jesus who radically changed everything. That's why so much of the Old Testament of the Bible is invalid nonsense. Blame him. Remember, God wanted us to kill unruly kids and all adulterers, etc.

      August 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  2. Glad-U-R-Net-God

    Jonathan, you make your way through a list of issues and giving us your's and Yale's temporal and temporary flawed perspective. "CNN Religion" is an oxymoron and you along with it.

    God is no respector of any of these opinions or writings. I'm thankful I can go to HIM for truth.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Observer

      So when Christ says about marriage, "let man not separate", do you tell all your divorced friends how sinful they are? Or is it just pick and choose like the article says?

      August 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  3. Nathan

    At the end of the day the temptation for self righteousness is one of the greatest temptations we have. The Bible says the man who goes home justified is the man who stands at a distance and begs for mercy and forgiveness. Until we admit we are a sinner, humble ourselves, love God and love others, we don't know Him at all. It's fine to say, "you know, that is a temptation, and I want to work on overcoming that, and sin will tear you apart". But only from a place of love and knowledge that YOU TOO are a sinner who struggles. Ultimately we all sin and all fall short and it is only by God's grace that ANY of is have a relationship with him. Humans (not just religous) are rife with hypocracy and judgement. There is absolutely double standards everywhere (athiests too). We need to be more humble and loving in our approach to others. If something is wrong, we can call it wrong, but judgment is God's realm: "it is mine ot avenge, I will repay". Our job as Christians is to love God and love others. Most of us have enough to work on in our own lives in trying to stay true to God that we don't have to try to fix everyone else. First develop loving relationships with people. Then from that relationship we can all help each other work on our temptations and trials. I'm speaking generally here. I know in my own life I have enough to work on myself not to worry about fixing those around me. I love God and I love my fellow man. It is by His grace that I can even attempt to have a relationship with Him. I pray His forgiveness for all my faults and shortcomings and I pray that the church is a beacon of light in a dark world, not a place of judgment and condemnation to those thirsting in the desert. Jesus said I bring you water that if you drink it you will never thirst again. May we search for that and provide it to others. Overcoming sin is simply an extension of that. Whatever sin it may be. And sin is sin to God. Jesus said sin originates in the heart. So following a "good" list isn't going to cut it when the word is living, active, and sharper than any two edged sword, literally living inside you, judging your own thoughts and actions. We all answer to God, not each other. Much love to all my fellow men. And may his peace find us all.

    August 29, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Observer

      There would be far less conflict between believers and nonbelievers if more believers were like you. Well done.

      August 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  4. Wildcat77

    Hmmm.. For those quoting leviticus, please show me where it says shellfish and pork are OK now...

    August 28, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  5. Phil

    Read Leviticus, particularly Chapter 18, verse 22, that should be enough said. Don't twist the words of the bible around.

    August 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Observer

      Phil,

      Leviticus (20:9) also says “If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death”

      So what is your point?

      August 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Gkibarricade

      Phil means that when anyone curses thier mother or father, he shall surely die. So if say your parents are religious and you curse them by burning Bibles, you should die. If you slap your father across the face and runaway with your boyfriend, you should die. It seems harsh and maybe unfair, but it's not the opinion of the reader that matters. God's Just, not fair; loving, not gentle. At least that the way it seems.

      August 29, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Observer

      Gkibarricade,

      Did you stone any unruly kids you've seen? If not, you certainly are sinning by not following God's words.

      August 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  6. God

    Hey Guys,

    Just to let you know, I'm cool with gay marriage, okay. So, like, stop saying I'm not.

    Best,

    God (Creator of the Universe)

    August 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • mary

      Thank you, for finally weighing in and talking sense

      August 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  7. Punjab83

    SMITE me all mighty SMITER!!!!!

    August 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  8. NoGODexists2012

    All of religion is a fabrication. God is an invention, a figment of your imagination, like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the easter bunny. Man created god, not the other way around!

    August 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • chris

      No SANTA??? dude

      August 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  9. mr.peanut

    b

    August 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  10. Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

    Just in case I didn't make myself clear before: conservative Christians will spend eternity in a lake of fire and sulfur.

    August 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • chris

      So thats fire and sulphur.... hmm

      August 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      actually it can be spelled either way, but nice try. either way, you're going to be burning in it

      August 28, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • chris

      So if all christians are going to hell,,, who will be with you wherever you go??

      August 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      I never said all Christians are, just conservative Christians (and probably some others as well). But rest assured, you will be going there unless you repent and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • chris

      you should define conservative christian... and why they're going to hell... enlighten me

      August 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  11. elijah44

    The bible is straight forward, it is an abomination for a man to sleep with another man, and the same thing with women. Did you get a high school education? What part of it is an abomination do you not understand? It does not matter if i or you believe Gods word or not. It is true and it is real. It was here before you, and it will still be here when you are dead and cold and in the grave. You are just one of many across time who have always tried to fashion Gods Word to your liking. But just like your bretheren before you, the truth was unveiled to their eyes when the entered the kingdom of Hell. The Words Of Jesus stands alone. It is the highest of the high Mountains. Every knee will bow, and every tonuge will confess that Jesus is Lord. All those that call on the name of the Lord will be saved!

    August 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Observer

      elijah44,

      You've completely missed the point. This is all about pick and choose. It's all about hypocrisy.

      Do you believe everything in the Bible? Do you believe that NO ONE should be allowed to divorce for mental or physical abuse, but ONLY for infidelity?

      "Did you get a high school education?"

      August 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • chris

      wow mr observer, you love poking fun at peoples education eh?

      August 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Observer

      chris,

      Let's see. Who was it that ridiculed Dudley's college education?

      August 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Observer

      chris,

      You also missed that the comment on education was a QUOTE from the person I was commenting on.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Chad

      @Elijah44
      Glad you could stand up as an example of what the author is illustrating when he talks about people choosing what they wish to believe in the bible and dismissing the parts they don't want too. Why even bother reading (or even better posting) an article if you're not even going to absorb the argument. Instead you walk start into the hypocritical argument the author is pointing out. Bravo sir (clapping) you're an idiot.
      @chris
      wow mr observer, you love poking fun at peoples education eh?
      You mean like Elijah44 just did to the author.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      chris one day every knee will bow including yours

      August 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • LOL

      "What part of it is an abomination do you not understand?"

      You're the one that doesn't understand. What the bible is calling an abomination is male prostitution, rape, and idolatry. Part of reading the scriptures is putting it into historical context to get the true meaning, that is reading comprehension 101. The bible does not condemn gays as we know and understand it today. God gave us science to show gays are his creation since they are born gay.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  12. Punjab83

    You are all nuts

    August 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  13. Sara Williams Staley

    Hi Jonathan,

    I am actually just starting at YDS this fall – I am a transfer student from Boston University School of Theology. I applaud you for this courageous piece and I think you are on target with many of your arguments. I would just challenge you on one thing: your wholesale rejection of evangelicalism. I too have an evangelical background and have done a lot of investigation and soul-searching into the very matters you raise in this article. There is actually a small but growing critical mass of evangelicals who have taken up a prophetic witness within the tradition. Evangelicals Concerned is a group dedicated to this mission – the group advocates for a more responsible Biblical understanding (such as the one you have laid out). Evangelicalism certainly has its flaws, as does liberal protestantism – in the end, any movement has those who would use its tradition for good or ill. I look forward to YDS and enjoyed reading your piece! Good luck in your next endeavors.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  14. chris

    Yale Divinity School... enough said.

    August 28, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Observer

      Chris,

      No degree in religion. . . enough said.

      August 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      Like most conservative Christians, Chris sees ignorance as a virtue.

      That's because conservative Christians HATE the truth and they will spend eternity in hell as a result.

      August 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • chris

      So from my short comments you've gathered that i'm a "conservative christian"... ok... i'm just saying most people that feel the way you do don't believe in any of the 'fairy tales', but i take it you're different.... and mr observer i'm just saying its common knowledge that there are some very fundamental conservative seminaries/divinity schools, and some that lean the other way... and maybe i'm looking at it with a bias but Yale is one that leans the other way... i'm sorry for being ignorant....

      August 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      I will pray for your soul.

      August 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • chris

      you believe in souls too??

      August 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      obviously if i think there's life after death.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • chris

      so if I'm going to hell,, you're going to where?

      August 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Observer

      chris,

      I wouldn't worry about it too much. If the Bible is right, there's going to be very few people in Heaven. For instance, look at all the h0mophobic Christians who trash gays and then commit adultery by remarrying. There's far more of them than there are gays.

      August 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      chris, don't mock God

      August 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • chris

      not mocking God... just you... unless you believe you are God...hmmm... there we have it at last

      August 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • chris

      @ mr observer,
      i agree theres too much hate... and hate well, its like committing murder... Sin is sin in Gods eyes... and if sin sent us to hell, all of us would go, except the guy who 'all conservatives going to hell'... cause he believes he is God...

      August 28, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      i don't believe i'm God, i just believe the Bible. i will pray for you chris that one day you will come to know God too.

      August 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • chris

      I don't know a lot about a lot but trust me... i know God... and you aint HIM! My knees have been bowed for a long time..

      August 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • LOL

      "My knees have been bowed for a long time.."

      Doing what??????

      August 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • chris

      i suffer from polio... so

      August 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • LOL

      "My knees have been bowed for a long time.."

      Doing what??????"

      I didn't write this someone stole my handle again.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  15. Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

    I just want to reiterate that conservative Christians will spend eternity in hell. That is all.

    August 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • chris

      So you're saying you believe in hell?

      August 28, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      Yes and I believe that YOU are going there.

      August 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • chris

      thank you

      August 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      The loving thing to do is to make sure people know that if they don't repent, they will burn. I'm just a messenger. I hope you repent.

      August 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • chris

      all you muslims are the same 🙂

      August 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      you won't be laughing on judgment day

      August 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  16. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 28, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  17. tDallas

    Thank you, Jonathan Dudley, for telling it like it is, and for reminding us of the hypocrisy of so many that call themselves Christians. As for my own position, I will not be debating what the "word of God" supposedly says until someone convinces me that it is indeed the word of God. I see it as the work of men, inspired by God, but filled with error and distortion as well as truth.

    August 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  18. gaza

    Read what the Word of truths says, Christian don't speak their ideas but God command. 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

    19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

    20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

    21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    August 28, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Lisa

      To simply cut and paste from the Bible, is wasting your time and just taking up space here.

      Do you have an argument to present or not?

      August 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • M. DaSilva

      Thank you for posting that gaza.

      Lisa, your argument is with God not with gaza. He/she simply posted what the Bible really says. Jonathan ignored this important part of the Bible.

      August 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      actually he references romans 1 in the third paragraph.

      Here's another quote from the Bible: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”
      Or another: "Does not nature itself teach you that if man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?"

      August 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • LOL

      gaza pick up a history book when reading the scriptures, that's part of reading comprehension 101. That scriputre is talking about people who are worshiping a pagan god using pagan sex rituals. It has nothing to do with the loving saved gay partnership we understand today, that they are born this way.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  19. Jotoole

    "I don’t doubt that the one New Testament author who wrote on the subject of male-male intercourse thought it a sin.". Presumably your "divinity" school did not teach that the divine inspired the bible. We all know that Paul was the vessel God used to write the part in question but are you saying it is not divinely inspired? If it is then it is correct regardless of any other argument you make about people who have this doctrine correct. Are you suggesting that they have other parts of their doctrine that are incorrect and must be aligned to the bible? You seem to be saying "yes, it is in the bible but I don;t believe it".

    August 28, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Conservative Christians Are Going to Hell

      So do you also think it's a sin for men to have long hair, which the Apostle Paul also thought?

      August 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Lisa

      Are you making a case for Biblical inerrancy? I find no merit in that argument whatsoever. Noah's arc alone is proof of its errancy. Not to mention the stuff about taking your brother's wife, etc.

      I won't argue against divine intervention but the influence of man's hand in the final writing is clear.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  20. A

    Augustine on life – who is to say that a fetus doesn't have senses? It may not have all yet, but nevertheless this is like people who claim fish feel no pain. Try and pull a hook from a fishes mouth and see how it reacts. Or search for this phrase if you need the science to back it up "The first conclusive evidence of pain perception in fish is said to have been found by UK scientists."

    On divorce I don't see what point you are making here. That it's good? That it's bad? That it's bad the Bible condemns something that rips people apart because of numerous reasons of selfishness?

    August 28, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • Observer

      Your argument could also apply to sperm and eggs. So should we preserve the possible life in every one of them?

      August 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
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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.