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.
All societies throughout all time and across the whole world have decided which types of unions to validate. Some have validated polygamous marriages, some, what we would call, incestous marriages. People of different religions, races, and ethnicities have been allowed or prohibited in certain cultures at certain times. Even today here in the U.S. the types of marriages that are validated vary from state to state. Some states allow a girl as young as 14 to marry with parental consent, some do not. Some allow Jews to marry their 1st cousins etc. Don't you all see? WE, as a people/nation decide which types of unions to validate and which ones not to validate. Our choices change over time of course. I'm not saying that Gay marriage should or shouldn't be allowed. I'm just saying that there is no inherent RIGHT for anyone to marry, but rather whatever WE, the majority, agree to.
Does the Supreme Court know that you have decided they were wrong in deciding Loving v. Virginia? Because they said in their unanimous decision that marriage was a fundamental civil right.
Either they are wrong. Or you are.
Primewonk: I apologize if you misunderstood. The TYPE of marriages that a society does or does not allow are in no way guaranteed as any kind of civil right. Marriage in and of itself may be a civil right since all societys throughout time have enacted the practice, but the TYPES of marriages,e.g., gay, incestuous, polagamous, etc. are agreed upon by each seperate society.
you can't be serious right. this "opinion" piece is bs and it doesn't hold water with even its own explanations pointing at it is as false.
Actually it's why there are now gay churches, gay clergy, priests, pastors, rabbi's that are gong on record stating that being gay as we now and understand it today is not a sin. There have been pastors that actually wrote apology letters to the gay community. Regardless of your religious book, it doesn't give you the right to deny them their civil rights since hundred's of thousands of experts have stated that being gay is not a choice, it's not a mental illness and it can't be voluntarily changed.
Angel, I couldn't help but notice that you just called this professor wrong. Yet you didn't bother to refute a single point he made.
Insert Polarizing Inflammatory Comment Here
Equally inflammatory response because uninfromed opinion is obviously more correct than yours.
3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven —the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Some argue that since homosexual behavior is "unnatural" it is contrary to the order of creation. Behind this pronouncement are stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity that reflect rigid gender categories of patriarchal society. There is nothing unnatural about any shared love, even between two of the same gender, if that experience calls both partners to a fuller state of being. Contemporary research is uncovering new facts that are producing a rising conviction that homosexuality, far from being a sickness, sin, perversion or unnatural act, is a healthy, natural and affirming form of human sexuality for some people. Findings indicate that homosexuality is a given fact in the nature of a significant portion of people, and that it is unchangeable.
Our prejudice rejects people or things outside our understanding. But the God of creation speaks and declares, "I have looked out on everything I have made and `behold it (is) very good'." . The word (Genesis 1:31) of God in Christ says that we are loved, valued, redeemed, and counted as precious no matter how we might be valued by a prejudiced world.
There are few biblical references to homosexuality. The first, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, is often quoted to prove that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness of the city's men to observe the laws of hospitality. The intention was to insult the stranger by forcing him to take the female role in the sex act. The biblical narrative approves Lot's offer of his virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual demands of the mob. How many would say, "This is the word of the Lord"? When the Bible is quoted literally, it might be well for the one quoting to read the text in its entirety.
Leviticus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, condemns homosexual behaviour, at least for males. Yet, "abomination", the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexuality, is the same word used to describe a menstruating woman. Paul is the most quoted source in the battle to condemn homosexuality ( 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and Romans 1: 26-27). But homosexual activity was regarded by Paul as a punishment visited upon idolaters by God because of their unfaithfulness. Homosexuality was not the sin but the punishment.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gave a list of those who would not inherit the Kingdom of God. That list included the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and robbers. Sexual perverts is a translation of two words; it is possible that the juxtaposition of malakos, the soft, effeminate word, with arsenokoitus, or male prostitute, was meant to refer to the passive and active males in a homosexual liaison.
Thus, it appears that Paul would not approve of homosexual behavior. But was Paul's opinion about homosexuality accurate, or was it limited by the lack of scientific knowledge in his day and infected by prejudice born of ignorance? An examination of some of Paul's other assumptions and conclusions will help answer this question. Who today would share Paul's anti-Semitic attitude, his belief that the authority of the state was not to be challenged, or that all women ought to be veiled? In these attitudes Paul's thinking has been challenged and transcended even by the church! Is Paul's commentary on homosexuality more absolute than some of his other antiquated, culturally conditioned ideas?
Three other references in the New Testament (in Timothy, Jude and 2 Peter) appear to be limited to condemnation of male sex slaves in the first instance, and to showing examples (Sodom and Gomorrah) of God's destruction of unbelievers and heretics (in Jude and 2 Peter respectively).
That is all that Scripture has to say about homosexuality. Even if one is a biblical literalist, these references do not build an ironclad case for condemnation. If one is not a biblical literalist there is no case at all, nothing but prejudice born of ignorance, that attacks people whose only crime is to be born with an unchangeable sexual predisposition toward those of their own sex
I regret there is no "approved" or "vote" button. My compliments.
The bible says to murder faggots.
Insert gun in mouth, pull trigger, meet your god! Win win for everyone!
I don't believe in god, scumbag. But it's the only thing the bible got right.
Well 'Christians'? You gonna denounce this screed, or do you secretly agree with him?
If you don't believe in god, why the animosity towards gay people?
Lawrence's position is obviously non-Christian. We have difficulty justifying killing even in self-defense or in defense of the weak.
I think Daniel raises some valid points interpreting bible while getting many things wrong.
The bible is condemning impure acts, and cites examples of offenses to God, such as the vile acts described in Sodm. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest that in itself is a condemnation of a monogamous man-man relationship.
God created gays the way they are. Therefore we can not mock, bully or 'convert' gays.
And then there's the areas where he gets it wrong...
I am gay. Therefore I am going to find evidence in the Bible that will help me feel better about being gay. I take things out of text...boom, I feel better. Being gay is not a sin, it is not condemned, and I'm ok in the eyes of God. hhhmmmm....sounds like the same hyprocrisy Christians are accused of every day.
We believe in love,but we don't believe in God. We all have sinned. What is the greatest sin. Some seek forgiveness others don't.We all will discover the truth one day. In the interim we should love one another and be thankful we live in a country where we can believe what we want and discuss openly our views.....kinda COOL!
Empty hand-wringing apologetics. Translation error, context of the time, blah, blah, blah.
Nobody wants to admit the truth: these are fables and laws written by desert dwelling primitives that created a deity in their image who hated and punished the things they reviled. Such a thing has no place in a modern semi-civilized society.
GLENN BECK is a FALSE PROPHET
The bottom line is that our government should not be forcing any religion on it's citizens and we need to treat all citizens equally.
Thanks for this article. I read your book about 20 years ago.
I don't have a problem with the Bible. What is do have a problem with is self-serving interpretations of the Bible being forced on society as law. Author Anne Lamott probably said it best. "You can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same things you do."
Bravo! Thank you.
For those who are using the more "extreme" verses in the Old Testament, you need to understand that those verses weren't so extreme at the time and in the place which they were written. Each verse needs to be taken within the context of the time and place for which it was written, not just immediately applied to modern day America. This applies for Leviticus.
Yes, the death and resurrection of Christ erased the need for much of the OT law, but that fact that the same sin is mentioned again in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (New Testament) is an indication that God considers it to be a sin. I would appreciate a logical rebuttal and not one filled with name-calling. Just because we don't agree doesn't mean we have to be uncivilised.
so are you saying that those 3000 year old sins in the Old Testament, e.g. Leviticus 19:19 "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." . . . may not be relevant in New Testament times 2000 years ago?
" those verses weren't so extreme at the time and in the place which they were written."
And yet you claim your God never changes. If you think he was okay with certain things like slavery or the murder of disobedient children at one point in history but no longer wants that of his people then your God has changed right along with the people who claim to worship him, which would lead the logical person to think either your God is fallible or invented.
Yes, a lot changes in a thousand years. Is clothing mentioned in the New Testament?
OK, so we can disregard the Old Testament? . . . simplifies the argument . . . I would further propose, since we are editing, that we only regard the teachings of Jesus as valid - since we are talking about "Chrisianity" - what do you think?
Jesus said beware of wolves in sheep's clothing, talking about false prophets . . . I see modern Christian theology as sheep's clothing, because it focuses on other teachings besides Jesus'
Okay, here is an article that talks about te interpretations of the original greek. Not as clear cut as you seem to think it is.
"If you think he was okay with certain things like slavery or the murder of disobedient children at one point in history but no longer wants that of his people then your God has changed right along with the people who claim to worship him, which would lead the logical person to think either your God is fallible or invented."
He's right. If I can't have fifteen slave wives and sell their children into slavery for profit, why be Christian at all?
"marvel at the diversity of creation". Creation is the big word in that one quote. So I guess since being gay is not a choice to some "according to doctors who know only a small % of the human brain". I guess gay people are created to balance the population, so we wont over populate. Im not against being gay, I just dont understand the point of being gay. Maybe someone who is gay can tell me the point of it.
I just dont understand the point of being gay
The point is, that's how God created them to be. I don't understand the point of being an ignorant fool, maybe you can help me with that?
I'm Gay – and it wasn't a choice. Trust me, I spent a long time *trying* to change – though I'm sure to many 'Christians' I just didn't 'try enough' or something. What's the point of being Gay? I don't know – does it truly matter, though? All we ask for is for equality in the Civil sphere – not trying to 'force' churches to do anything – no matter how many 'Christians' scream otherwise.
That's sort of like asking what is the point of having brown hair? It is a naturally occurring variant in the population.
Point? What's the point of anything? Gay people exist in every society, and they rarely exceed ten percent of the population. What's the point of red hair or gray eyes? What's the frikkin' point in being left-handed? Your silly god didn't make the world, and things don't have a "point." Get used to it, because it's real.
'Christians' love to trot out the clobber verses to condemn Gay and Lesbian citizens... why? Easy – those verses don't affect them, or their rights in 21st-Century America. Confront them with any verse that *does* affect their rights – and there are a LOT of them that do – and they'll suddenly start yelling 'taken out of context! Taken out of context!' Confront them about the divorce rate among 'Christians' and they'll say 'Yes, that's a shame' – but restricting divorce laws to 'Biblical' reasons? Ha! They'll never support that because suddenly it's not about 'someone else' it's about *their* right to marry and divorce for all the myriad reasons that 'Christians' currently do today. It's all about spin, denial of Biblical responsibility, and having some 'other' to oppress while willfully ignoring the issues – the 'beam in their own eye'.
Divorce does affect Christians, and it is shameful that the Christian divorce rate is so high. Every person, Christian and non-Christian alike, have a way of rationalizing their sin, gay and lesbians too. It's human nature not to observe your choices objectively. But just because you rationalize sin to make it fit your agenda doesn't mean it's not a sin. For example, just because you're driving 80mph in a 45 because your wife is pregnant doesn't mean you're not breaking the law.
"It's human nature not to observe your choices objectively. But just because you rationalize sin to make it fit your agenda doesn't mean it's not a sin. "
Nowhere in your bible does your god condemn the saved loving respectful relationship of a gay couple. Only prejudice people read the scriptures to bring condemnation of gays. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."
dasizzle – you prove my point EXACTLY. 'Oh yes, divorce among Christians is terrible... but don't you restrict my rights to it!' Trying to dance around the issue is, unfortunately, a common 'Christian' tactic. 'Christians' will NEVER allow laws that restrict their own secular rights to succeed. Sally Kern was applauded by 'Christians' for her 'Gays are worse than terrorists' screed, and then blasted by those selfsame 'Christians' for trying to pass a law restricting Divorce in Oklahoma. Mike Huckabee was applauded for his 'social experiment' comments by 'Christians', and then blasted by those selfsame 'Christians' when he tried to pass 'Covenant Marriage' laws in Arkansas. These are just two examples of how 'Christians' will moralize punishing laws for 'other' people, but NEVER for themselves. Hypocrites.
I'm not arguing that hypocrisy is absent from Christians. I'm simply arguing that hypocrisy doesn't change the standard which was set by God.
Sin is translated simply as "missing the mark." God sets the mark or standard. We all miss it, but that doesn't mean the standard is meaningless.
"You don't understand. God has ALREADY forgiven me for any crime I may commit, so put up your hands and step away from the cash register." Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.
We all know what Christians feel about gays. Beating a dead horse – get off of them. How about this, what does the Koran/Quran say about gays? What does Buddhism sacred text say about gays? Hinduism? Satanism? Wicca? Jews? Islam? Humanism? What is the trip about Christians and their stance on the subject? Unless there is some truth to the Christian view – how about what other religious texts say about gays? I thought there are other religions besides Christianity.
Sure there are other religions in America – a lot of them – but take a look at the anti-Gay organizations currently active in America, and their donors – 'Christian' groups make up 99.99% of the anti-Gay animus driving this controversy, so what sense would it make to suddenly start pushing back against, say Judaism – especially since 2 out of 3 of the Judaic divisions support, or are at least neutral on the subject?
I thought there are other religions besides Christianity.
There are other religions, but they've got it all wrong and worship false gods. Or, so say the christians anyway.
it takes a sharp knife to split a hair that fine.
It takes a sharp to split a hair that fine.
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