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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. steveinmo

    This is an old one that's still active, so I'm guessing lots of heated discussion. I'll risk giving my answer.

    Yes, the Lord plainly states all the sin He considers abomination, of which practicing sodomites are just one. But I believe the reason there's such a spotlight put on them is if you read the Bible carefully, you'll see that this practice shows up, prevelently and in the open, approaching the very end of a decadent society. When a society has risen to such a state of disorder and with no moral compass of what's right and wrong – in the eyes of the Lord, not man – then He's not far away.

    Sin is sin, no one more or less severe than another. But in this case, one can rightfully conclude through careful reading and historical study that the practicing sodomites are simply a symbol of society reaching the peak of its corruption.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Observer

      What does the Bible say was the "sin of Sodom and her daughters"?

      You might check a dictionary and you'll find that it's likely that the majority of Christian heteros practice sodomy. Don't let facts get in the way of hypocrisy.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  2. Jim

    You lost me as soon as you questioned Paul's authority on a subject. That makes everything else he wrote suspect, and, if you don't believe God's word is inspired, you are no expert on Christian Spirituality.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Observer

      Paul spoke in support of slavery, against equality for women and had bad things to say about marriage. If that's what you believe in, so be it.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  3. Dennis

    But you don't get it! Those other verses are metaphorical... because of... reasons! And the other ones are laws for a time gone by, unlike the stuff against gays which is literally on the same page.

    October 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  4. Douglas

    GLBTQ&Q brothers and sisters are under tremendous pressure to break abstinence. Similarly, straights are fed a steady diet of popular culture messages encouraging them to fornicate. We must stand up and demand and end to the race to the bottom of the filth pit. We can do better than that. Our GLBTQ&Q brothers and sisters can say no to sin along with our straight brothers and sisters. Resist the temptation! Drive out fear! Honor the dignity of GLBTQ&Q and straight abstinence. Tell STDs to take a hike!
    Best, Douglas

    October 5, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  5. Matt

    Congratulations on graduating. Welcome to the real world. Now you need several years to throw off your professors' opinions and form some of your own.

    October 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jason

      Congratulations on being an id.iot. As if anyone who changes their mind on a topic in college is therefore not forming his own opinions.

      October 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  6. t

    "I also don’t doubt that those who advocate gay marriage are advocating a revision of the Christian tradition" I agree, but would like to add, at its core, isn't Christian Tradition itself a "revision" of sorts? From the Old Testament to the New?

    Nicely stated piece, and refreshing to see that not all who receive religious education are "drinking the Kool-Aid".

    October 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  7. Jared

    Also the Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!

    October 2, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Jason

      Then who created Steve?

      October 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Observer

      Jared,

      Read the Bible. It doesn't say who created the parallel civilization in Nod. It could have been a "Steve". Try again.

      October 3, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • David

      Did you seriously just use the "Adam & Steve" argument?? Wow. I'm embarassed for you.

      October 3, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Jason

    Evangelicals think life should be filled with misery, so they have no problem saying gays should go through life lonely and miserable.

    October 1, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  9. Douglas

    A celibate, gay, Christian minister tells his story...a story of hope!
    There is power and salvation in celibacy for GLBTQ&Q folk!
    http://www.mlive.com/living/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2010/11/celibate_gay_author_says_you_c.html
    Best, Douglas

    September 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • *frank*

      How sadly anti-life. Truly sickening.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  10. Douglas

    A celibate, gay, Ghristian minister tells his story...a story of hope!
    There is power and salvation in celibacy for GLBTQ&Q folk!
    http://www.mlive.com/living/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2010/11/celibate_gay_author_says_you_c.html
    Best, Douglas

    September 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Observer

      Wake up Douglas. All you have to do is to BELIEVE to have eternal life according to the Bible. Read it sometime.

      October 1, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  11. Jason

    Read the article, folks. Evangelicals have no credibility when it comes to social justice issues. They don't learn from their own past.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  12. jb

    read the old testament and find the truth for yourselves

    September 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Doesn't apply

      OT doesn't apply.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Douglas

      jb, Good point! The Old Testament contains prophesy pointing to the good news of the gospels which follow. Our GLBTQ&Q brothers and sisters have found fulfillment through celibacy. There is intense pressure on GLBTQ&Q folk to engage in forbidden acts
      to "fit in" with the crowd. But there are GLBT&Q folks whose minds are "set like a flint" standing on the promises of God. They are the sons and daughters of God who give praise for the ability to say yes to celibacy. I support them and encourage them whenever I can. Straights do battle with Satan also with pressures to conform to a fornicating lifestyle that is celebrated in popular culture. Together, we can say yes to salvation and no to Satan. Up with celibacy...Up with Abstinence before marriage for straights...Down with fornication and the filth merchants of popular culture whose wages of sin are death.
      Best, Douglas

      September 28, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Observer

      Douglas,

      There's no reason for celibacy for gays if there isn't for all the adulterous hetero Christians who remarry.

      The Bible says several times that all you have to do to get into heaven is to believe. That's why so many Christians can ignor their adultery. Shouldn't be any different for gays. You know, as in the Golden Rule.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  13. Jason

    People, PLEASE pass this on. This needs to be read so badly!

    September 28, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  14. stacy

    Ok! Well your wrong! The bible clearly teaches in Leviticus 18:22 that man should not lie down with man as man lies down with a woman. "it is an abomination" in the sight of God. I guess one can call that a sin. No more or less than sin. However, no matter how one slices it, it's still sin. As the hair goes, it was addressed so as men would look different than wemon. l find it immusing how you run from the facts. It is listed in the the bible and in the new testament. Don't compare it. Don't run from it. Simply call it what it is......SIN! Repent and be cleansed from all unrightousness. If eating meat offends your brother, never eat meat again Romans 8:13 It is offensive that you can call it anything other than wrong! For me and my house, we will repent of sin and serve the Lord.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • Observer

      Stacy,

      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?

      September 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Jared

      Disgrace to Christianity?? Salvation through celibacy! Does no one read their Bible anymore, salvation comes through one person and that is Jesus Christ; you can be celibate and still not be saved. God is 100% against gay marriage. It is to be between one man and one woman, period! End of discussion. Ephesians 5:15-16, "wives submit yourself unto your husband," "husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church." Clearly this is talking about a man and a woman. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. People need to read their bible's they'll learn a lot!

      October 2, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  15. Douglas

    Salvation though celibacy. This timeless message brings hope to GLBTQ&Q folks who yearn to establish a relationship with God free from acts that are forbidden and are counter to biblical instruction. Be supportive of GLBTQ&Q folks who are bold and brave in rejecting what is "popular" (multiple partners, risky behaviors, unhealthy acts) and are eager to be saved through faith. GLBTQ&Q folks need allies to support their efforts to practice celibacy. I am an ally, how about you?
    Best, Douglas

    September 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Jack

      Lol, "timeless message," eh?

      September 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Jack

      Salvation through allowing the prejudices of others to condemn you to a life of romantic unfulfillment. No thanks.

      September 25, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Steve

      Salvation is to stop the hate and prejudice by people like you. You're a disgrace to christianity.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Observer

      Douglas,

      Gays shouldn't have to be anymore celibate that heteros.
      John 3:16 “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

      That's all it takes. That's how hetero Christians ignor their adultery of remarrying.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  16. ed4JC

    you think it is co-accident that earth quakes happening in the place they never expected to happen. nothing is out of God's sight pls. you think the fire on Sodom and Gomorrah is just fiery tell? pls open your eyes and see and pray for the mercy of God.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  17. ed4JC

    WOW!!! what story? so you think "Opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own." what happen to lev18:22 " And you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is a perversion." may be if you have not read it is God who gave the law not Paul. I wander if any one can just wright on ccn

    September 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Observer

      "I wander if any one can just wright on ccn"

      Obviously. Wow!

      September 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  18. Jack

    Great, Well-research, well-written, brilliant article that should be passed on!

    September 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  19. Charles Busch

    Well written, but inadequately researched. No mention at all of critical Old Testament Texts. Author stayed decisively away and chose only to focus on that which supported his point. Wrestle with the God of the Bible not the issues. Words can be played at all day long.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Jackson Stacey

      Haha, as if the author is unaware of Leviticus and as if those texts pose any problem at all for the author's view. I actually think it's a strength of the Op-Ed that he ignored those texts as it's way too easy to argue against them, given that they're surrounded by condemnations of eating ostrich and planting two different kinds of seeds in the same field.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Matt

      @Jacksom Stacey: Actually the old testament texts totally pose a problem.

      October 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  20. Jackson Stacey

    This needs to be passed around. People need to read this!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 7:37 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.