“Dear Christian friends:
I want you to know that I spend a lot of time with people who are not Christian, and with Christians of many political stripes. Some are fundamentalists and some are eco-warriors. Some are pro-gay and some are anti-gay. Some are conservative black preachers and some are liberal white preachers. I have had meaningful conversations and life lessons from tree-hugging pro-choice social justice warriors and from end-times-believing hellfire-and-brimstone Trump voters.
We know that secular culture is hostile to Christianity and to the notion of One True God. Secular culture has many gods: Hollywood celebrities, New Age gurus, nature spirits, and so on. And because people believe and follow these gods, that’s why their morality is all over the place—why they change lovers like they change their socks, why they pursue pleasure first and reap the consequences later.
But look: Can you say you Christians are any different? Look at the sex scandals and the abuse that have rocked religious institutions. Why should anyone trust the church? Why should anyone listen to you? Did you read the headlines this summer of the ways Christian boarding schools collaborated with the government to kidnap, kill, and forcibly reprogram indigenous children? Why should anyone trust organized religion? It’s just as the Bible says: “God’s name is blasphemed because of the people who claim to be God’s people.” (see Ezekiel 36:20-22)
The question you have to ask yourself is this: Does my faith in Jesus Christ change my behavior in such a way that people want to know more about him? Or does it make them turn from organized religion in disgust?”
Here’s the thing: *These are not my words. They are Paul’s. If you follow the argument of the above paragraphs, you’ve just read through the structure of Paul’s letter to the Romans, 1:14-2:24. Go and read it. Also, stop using two verses out of context from this letter as justification for anti-gay attitudes. If you do, then YOU are the reason people don’t want to hear anything you have to say about God (Romans 2:24).
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And 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. Rom 1:26-27
How do you figure these verses are out of context?
Simple: “For this cause.” For what cause? What’s Paul talking about here? This is part of a larger argument. What’s the argument?
Simple. Because the Gentiles “hold the truth in unrighteousness” (vs18). They knew God but didn’t glorify him or be thankful (vs21). They became fools (vs22). They practiced idolatry (vs23). They changed the truth of God into a lie (vs25). etc, etc, etc….
They rejected the obvious truths of the world that point to a holy God and so He didn’t stop them as they degenerated into this gross immorality of homosexuality.
So—and let’s be very clear about this—the argument is that people became gay because they worshiped pagan gods.
What Paul is saying is that worshiping pagan gods makes you gay. The etiology of homosexuality is the worship of bisexual gods like Apollo and Zeus, correct?
It’s flat out wrong.
But placing that (ridiculous) claim in context means examining what is before and after. What is before is verse 20: “therefore they are without excuse.” And what follows is the first verse of chapter 2: “Therefore YOU are without excuse.” These are the bookends for the handful of verses you emphasize that are (allegedly) about homosexuality.
The context is that in affirming this claim, that worshiping pagan gods makes you gay, the reader who agrees reveals that they are on the same moral footing, because, in Paul’s own words, “you do the exact same things” (2:1). The verses you highlight that are (allegedly) about homosexuality are a trap. Using these verses to denigrate gay, lesbian, and bisexual people will not fly by Paul’s own words. You are without excuse, “whoever you are.” He was pointing out hypocrisy among his own religious anti-gay Jewish siblings.
Paul was trying to get his Jewish contemporaries to NOT judge gentiles; a lesson that anti-gay Christians don’t seem to understand because they don’t read past 1:32.
That is why quoting these verses out of context is so toxic. Do you really believe that people become gay because they worship pagan gods? If so, then how do you explain all the Christian kids who have prayed to Jesus for years to make them straight? Are you saying they are secretly pagan? That would be a particularly cruel theology.
The fact is, you cannot affirm this claim—that people become gay because they worship pagan gods—without becoming a monster. So either Paul was using these verses as a rhetorical trap for self-righteous and homophobic religious Jews (“therefore you are without excuse”) to get them to reassess their sense of moral superiority, or he was wrong.
I’ll let you deal with that cognitive dissonance however you like.
Second, a textual note—it’s not actually clear that what Paul is talking about is homosexuality. Nowhere in the Torah is lesbianism called a sin—only “males lying with men as women.” It is possible that Romans 1:26 “women giving up their natural use” means submitting to anal sex (with men). In this view, it means that nowhere in the Bible is “homosexuality” condemned; merely one particular sex act.
One more time: lesbianism is never singled out as a sin in the Bible. Anywhere. You have to assume a greater meaning for “in the same way” than is apparent from the text. Humans have to shoehorn in the idea of “homosexuality” into these scriptures, because the word “homosexuality” didn’t even exist until the 1800’s.
Third, a historical note—”male temple prostitutes” (1 Kings 14:24) likely form the background for Paul’s words in Romans 1. Again, not “homosexuality” per se, but prostitution as a form of worship of gods like Zeus and Apollo. He was, after all, writing to people living in Rome, the heart of the pagan empire. “Receiving in their bodies the due penalty for their error” is likely a reference to Caligula, who was stabbed in the genitals by his sex slave. Again, this would be a reference everyone in Rome understood, but it is highly contextual.
The only reason for straight Christians to assume these verses are a condemnation of loving, egalitarian LGB relationships is cruelty. It requires a theology that believes God is more concerned about biological plumbing than about our sense or moral superiority (see Romans 2:1-24). The *whole point* of those first few chapters of Romans is to get Jewish Christians to let go of circumcision as a sign of “being saved” (2:25-29). It’s sad that so many Christians are still more concerned about other people’s penises than their own hearts.
But that’s what I mean by context.