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My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,831 Responses)
  1. dscon

    what CNN decides is the main topic of the cnn day.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Pete

      Because Obama recently became the first President to endorse gay marriage...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Pete

      Kiind of a big deal..

      May 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  2. Emerald Laughter

    If you folks are going to use the Bible for nothing more than gay bashing and beating people over the head, then I'm going to go home and burn my copy. These Bible Thumpers give Christianity a bad name. If that is all you bigots get out of the Bible, you aren't going to Hell, you already live there.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Sharp

      We might also add that Jesus Is often accused of being gay.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Sharp

    There is a nasty twist to the minds of those who are deeply religious. Call it Righteous Bossyness. These people, of whatever faith, have a need to order others about & impose their beliefs on others. The founding fathers knew this fact deeply from the many groups of colonists forced out of Europe under threat of prison or death for their beliefs. The Republicans are pandering to this inborn bigotry in their pursuit of the almighty vote & the almighty dollar. This is about as Un American as it gets & I hope they pay in the fall elections.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • momoya

      It's disturbing, ain't it?!?!? yucky!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Pete

      Well, the conservative right is largely comprised of various Protestant religions; they interpret the Bible individually. So a contrary interpretation for the Catholic demography would kiind of give the Left some more support on the matter.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Sharp

      Pete; Actually I disagree. You can't call the Catholics liberal on this & the Protestants conservative.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Pete

      I'm not calling them liberal. A by-the-book Catholic is quite likely to stand on the Right. What I'm saying is that a pro-gay article by an ordained member of the Church, like this one, has the power to bring a large number of voters into a different perspective on the topic because Catholics traditionally seek counsel on interpretive matters pertaining to Scripture. Not to mention that Catholics do tend to congregate in some of our most liberal States, so its an attempt to reach beyond those borders.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  4. Doug

    Plato was gay.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  5. Answer

    Another article that once again proves that all the nuts will come out to just holler "wait til you meet your maker"..

    So many times you religious retards have nothing but empty words and threats.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  6. Rockpile68

    It is good that Daniel Helminiak is no longer a practising Catholic priest as he was probably one of those stidking it to little boys. I am one of the survivors!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • SteveFromOhio

      I'm really sorry that you suffered that abuse. I hope some day you will be able to forgive the people who abused you and stop feeling the pain that you currently feel.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Sharp

      If you were abused, especially by a priest of God, it is a mortal sin & that man will pay the price. Still it is small comfort but most abusers have nothing to do with any church. Like youth sports & scouting it merely provides a pool of easily available victims.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Leigh2

    I believe the bottom line is whether you accept Christ as your Savior not. Then it follows you will do what you can in order to please God, since He loves you. If you follow the ways of the 'world', then you belong to the 'world'. Christ came into the world to save it, not condemn it. What you do with the grace of God available to you is your deal and your deal alone. No one is going to stand in your place for you.

    1John 4:19 NIV

    We love God because He first loved us.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  8. david saint

    All i have to say is this...never once did Jesus say "you must hate the gay man", or anyone else for that matter. So im going with what JC taught, which is love, compassion, and tolerance for our fellow man. I actually had a conversation with someone the other day who is undecided. "it does say to admonish gays" she said. "But not ostracize them" was my response. We both agreed they are two different things. So, admonish them if your religious beliefs lead you to, but dont hate, dont ostracize, because once you do you have completely lost Jesus's message and teachings.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • AJ

      "Hate the sin, not the sinner"

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Pete

      Jesus preached tolerance. Look at the Good Samaratin. The problem isn't whether or not we are to accept gay marriage in our religions, its whether or not we can accept it in our society.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Pete

      I agree with you, so don't get me wrong. Separation of church and state should extend to this issue, because a state policy is currently basing their stance on church dogma. This isn't a small insignificant class of people that urge this issue, and therefore if it is even in question by such a large number, then we should accept it as a popular way of life in this nation.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  9. k Wilson

    No matter how you slice and dice it there is no good fit anatomically between the genitalias of two males and two females. Even if the marriage rights are administered, they can not consumate the marriage in the traditional sense of the word. "God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve." JH God said, "...be fruitful and multiply." Gays represent a special group of people and their marriage calls for "special treatment."

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • momoya

      Wow, I guess in your world hermaphrodites are out of luck.. You realize that your argument also applies to b.lo.w jobs, right? Hope you don't like 'em.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  10. imapatriot

    "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." Pretty clear, yes?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Sharp

      OLD TESTAMENT. We are talking about the New Covenant here.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Canopus

      Yes, clear, as are all of the Holiness Rules in Leviticus. You follow all of those, right?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  11. steve-o

    The bible is anti gay. It is also pro slavery and anti woman. It is as realistic as a Stephen King novel and should be treated as a piece of fantasy.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Pete

      Do you feel that lucky Steve O? Are you really going take that chance. You know you are not.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • JWT

      What chance are you talking about Pete ?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • momoya

      Pete thinks that if there's even a slight chance of Allah being god we should all bet on it since we have nothing to lose in making that bet..

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • JWT

      Thats what I figured. Well there is no god in my opinion. It's nto a bet just a fact from my pov and as valid as people who say there is one. I will never have a god nor have I ever nor will i ever need or bow to one.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  12. Albert

    If the bible is so mutated and unreliable wouldn't it be the more honest position to say, look, I don't believe it, it's not worth the papyrus it's written on, instead of trying to twist what it says to support your cause or point of view?

    The question isn't whether the bible is true. The question is what does it say.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  13. sensable christian

    Amazingly this is exactly the same interpetation I was taught by several priests and lay teachers at at parochial high school in Danbury, CT in 1976. It made sense to me then and still does now.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Pete

      Its funny, because I was as well up in MA. Catholics have long had the stigma as a close minded and intrusive global cult, but when others study our theology, they will soon realize we take a pretty agnostic approach towards interpreting Scripture.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  14. Linden Atrocity

    Who cares? We don't live in a Theocracy. So religion doesn't dictate laws.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Sharp

      The Tea Party Republicans are working hard to make that happen.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  15. puckles

    The poop chute was not made for the peeper. PERIOD!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Emerald Laughter

      Your mouth wasn't created to be a poop shoot either, but look at all of that crap coming out of it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • WAT

      And earlobes weren't meant to stick jewelry in. And eyes weren't meant to see through glass lenses. And people weren't meant to wear clothing. And no one is forcing you to partake in any of those things either. Shut up and move on.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  16. aaron

    why are people really caring what a book written forever ago and re-written by anyone who wanted to interpret it differently says. i dont think i will ever understand that. i think everyone who believes in religion and shuns science should be made to give up all of their belongings that were invented by scientific methods and just pray for things to happen to and for them.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Eric

      Aaron,
      The Bible is not actually a "book", rather a collection of texts offering the Word and thoughts of God to his children.
      I completely understand your skepticism, just read a little and be open... love ya'

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • galaxy101

      This would pretty much mean they'd need to give ALL of it up.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  17. Bambam

    There's really nothing "christian" about today's right-wing-bible-beating nuts. It's difficult to tell them apart from the freak factions of the Muslim world!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • sensable christian

      yup

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Emerald Laughter

      They are the American Taliban and they want to impose their version of Sharia Law.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  18. Rich

    The author should re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a clear explanation. Skewed theology.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Equality for All Humans

      Isn't that kind of his point? Every human in the world does not believe in the same things the "Catholics" do. Incidentally, the very same catholics (priests) who have molested little boys.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Riiiight – and per his own website he left the priesthood when he realized he was gay – that at least I give him credit for – unfortunately many other gays stayed in the priesthood and did those nasty things. Hopefully now vocation directors are more vigilant about refusing admission to those similarly inclined.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  19. Ivan

    Honestly, Christianity has done nothing more than bread ignorance and intern silently condone violence and oppression against those they love like brothers. Its sooo F'ing sad!!!! Religion is dying and it always been a constant pain in the ass for most of humanity it wont be long before we are rid of it! or do us all a favor and go meet your makers and leave us the hell alone. BTW- if you dont like that i have to say- go right on praying for my internal soul like a good christian

    May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Dan

      You say religion has *only* done bad things. What about the soup kitchens? What about the homeless shelters? What about the mission trips to rebuild after hurricanes? What about the addiction recovery groups?

      I will not deny that religion has done things for which it should repent, but I don't think you are being fair to the full story.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Sharp

      "We have all sinned & fall short of the glory of God. " The problem with religious bigots is they can't see that when it applies to them. Of course God understands & forgives but that mercy has limits; That is what Hell is for.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Sharp, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Exactly. We are all sinners. The problem is when we decide to just not call a sin a sin, just a "matter of personal taste".

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  20. Equality for All Humans

    Great article that says it all...end the gay debate. They are human beings with human rights.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:44 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.