What follows is not an attempt to change anyone's mind about the sinfulness or blessedness of homosexual orientation and practice. We all have our perspectives, and they change like glaciers, not ice cubes. Rather, I want to lay out in as concise a manner as possible my own readings, prayer, and reflection in this these past few years, showing essentially four different options people of faith have in this regard. I'm pretty sure we all fall into one of these four understandings. My goal in showing them in a descriptive, matter-of-fact manner is to humanize all four perspectives, so that we don't demonize one another.Thank you, Mike!
By way of a quick prelude: I will not be handling any Old Testament passages that describe or seem to describe homosexual activity as an 'abomination.' That is because these very same passages (as GodHatesShrimp.com humorously points out) describe many other things as 'abominations,' our English translations belying the fact that this word simply denotes that which is cultically unacceptable to the ritual purity of set-apart Israel. So I will exclusively look at the three New Testament passages, which all happen to be by Paul (Jesus doesn't mention homosexuality in the Gospels). I'm not even going to go into Paul's passages in-depth, but they're the ones in I Corinthians 6, Romans 1 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
The four options, as I've seen them, are as follows:
1.) Paul *is* addressing contemporary homosexual orientation / practice and this *does* matter
2.) Paul *is* addressing contemporary homosexual orientation / practice and this *doesn't* matter
3.) Paul *isn't* addressing contemporary homosexual orientation / practice and that *does* matter
4.) Paul *isn't* addressing contemporary homosexual orientation / practice and it *doesn't* matter
1.) This is the standard view in most evangelical churches as well as the official Roman Catholic and East Orthodox perspective. In essence, our English translations of 'homosexual' in the NT are to be trusted and affirmed as addressing precisely the same kind of homosexual orientation and activity as we see today among monogamous and non-married homosexual persons. Because Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching, we should see this as prescriptive for moral and Godly living today, teaching it accordingly.
2.) Paul is talking about contemporary homosexual orientation/action, but it's up to us, the Church, to decide whether this is binding for today. Now lest you think this is an option only for hippie-dippy liberal revisionists, think again: The church *always* interprets Scripture for today. The evangelical church, for instance, decided that was Jesus told one guy (Nicodemus) about being 'born again' was binding on all people everywhere, whereas what he told another guy (the rich young ruler) about selling all possessions and giving them to the poor was virtually never applicable! We've also decided that Peter's admonition of women not to wear braids or jewelry because of sinful pride was culturally-conditioned and temporary, as is Paul's admonition of women to wear head-coverings, even though he seems to appeal to some pretty cosmic and universal principles for doing so. In the same manner, some good Christian people (and churches) conclude that Paul was simply mistaken about homosexual orientation & practice, or that his teaching was culturally-appropriate for his era but actually harmful and contrary to the Gospel for ours. We the Church are always 'binding and loosing' interpretations of our Holy Writ... an awesome and wonderful responsibility.
3.) Many biblical scholars puzzle over the actual meaning of arsenokoitai, the Greek word Paul used which is translated from King James on as 'homosexuals.' (See explanation) In short, many think that Paul is writing about pedastry - man-boy love - and temple prostitution where otherwise 'straight' people become 'gay for a day' (only not really) to engage in debasing pagan rituals. So Paul is in fact, according to this perspective, writing about the primacy of love and consideration, and against harmful idolatry. 2,000 years of translation later and we lose sight of context and original intent. Most sociologists agree that contemporary loving, monogamous homosexual orientation didn't even exist until relatively contemporary times... therefore we are dealing with, strictly speaking, an 'extra-biblical' phenomenon that should, perhaps, be looked at through a different lens than seemingly 'obvious' passages in Scripture. We should instead appeal to Jesus and Paul's clear teaching on love, freedom and liberty of conscience, while upholding healthy Christian standards of monogamy and sexuality that we'd encourage anyone of *any* orientation to keep as best as possible.
4.) Number 4 is a bit of a non-sequitur, as I think you can see. : )
Four options in reading Paul
On his blog The New Christians, Tony Jones quotes an insightful comment made by Mike Morrell. Here is part of the comment: