George raises many fascinating questions concerning homosexuality, and John Burgeson has directed me to his thoughtful web page on the topic.
First, I'd like to say that I hope I didn't offend anyone by raising the subject - I did not want to give the impression that I was some kind of knee-jerk homophobic - and sadly this kind of thing is all too common among Christians - I'll never forget seeing a TV clip of an American Fundamentalist preacher saying that AIDS was God's judgement on homosexuals. Many years ago I was involved in the tricky process of trying to befriend and witness to a homosexual man. A couple of "keen" new Christians asked me why I hadn't told him that homosexuality was "disgusting". (as if that would have helped a person who was an outcast, even among the homosexual community). Although I didn't adopt that approach, I don't think those of us who were involved handled it well. The upshot was that he was so desperate for friendship that he determined that he would "become a Christian", without really understanding what it was about, and that furthermore, he would immediately renounce his homosexuality, without understanding how difficult that would be for him. In fact we tried to stop him jumping in at the deep end, but his mind was made up. Needless to say, the "conversion" didn't last long. I maintained friendship with him for a long time after he renounced Christianity, but no further progress was made, either in reconciling him to Christianity, or in being able to help him develop as a human being. He remained a lonely outcast, unable to relate either to homosexuals, or to heterosexuals. The picture I got from him of the gay scene was not one that put it in a good light. According to him, if you couldn't "deliver the goods sexually", then they just didn't want to know you. Friendship and cuddles without full sex were not, apparently an option that many of them would put up with. (Though this guy was heavily into self-pity; perhaps it is not an accurate description of the homosexual scene - though it does seem to find resonance with Paul's verse discussed below).
In context, it seems that Paul is implying that all kinds of sexual perversion are a result of Godlessness. He argues (v 20), that the existence of God is self-evident from the creation, and so there is no excuse not to honour God. In this context, he describes homosexuality (v27):
"In the same way [as the women] the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."
I checked out the Greek version of Romans 1:27 on the web. There is a useful web-site at http://www.greekbible.com/ which allows any bit of the NT to be retrieved, and it allows individual words to be clicked, and the dictionary definition to be pulled up in a pop-up window. Unfortunately, irritatingly often, the dictionary does not work, but it works often enough to be at least of some use.
John raised the issue that maybe there is a difference between "perverted homosexual relations", and homosexual relations within a long term loving relationship - indeed, I would not doubt that such relationships seem to enshrine the same nobility in terms of love as heterosexual relationships. It was clear just how deep this love can be on a recent UK TV programme about the composer Benjamin Britten, and the long term relationship with his companion the Tenor Peter Pears. Some letters they exchanged as Britten was in his last illness were read out. They were as moving as any love letter between man and woman.
However, just because one can be moved to hear of the love between two human beings does not mean we can overlook the bible. It seems to me that from the Greek, the key phrase is
fusikhn crhsin thV qhleiaV
(that was meant to come out in Greek Symbols font. Apologies if it looks like gobbledegook).
The rough translation would appear to be "natural (sexual) relations with women" The first word "Fusikayn" is given as "natural , inborn, agreeable to nature" etc. As far as I can see, the only translation that might just permit a different interpretation, given current scientific theories about homosexuality, is "inborn". On the one hand, it could be interpreted as saying that _all_ men have the inborn tendency to be attacted to the opposite sex, and that therefore any attraction to the same sex is a deliberate perversion of nature; i.e. someone who deliberately chooses to be a homosexual when he could have chosen to be heterosexual is sinful and perverted.
However, perhaps it might allow the possibility that some are "inborn" with an attraction to the same sex, in which case, it is not contrary to the nature of that person. (Another definition the dictionary gives is "by the aid of the bodily senses"). This also depends on how scientifically valid the assertion is that some people are natural born homosexuals. I'm afraid I don't know enough about the subject to be able to comment intelligently on that issue.
I can't say I find the second interpretation terribly compelling; it is arguing about what it doesn't say, rather than what it does say. The straighforward reading is pretty clear, and pretty shocking as well. How does one interpret a "gay marriage" i.e. a blessing of the union in Church, in the light of this verse? I have heard many Christians argue that St. Paul was a bigot, who didn't like women. Some skeptics have argued that St. Paul was a repressed homosexual himself, which explained his tone in this verse - "protesting too loudly". I do not hold with this kind of interpretation, which can lead, as I have said before to "picking and choosing". If Paul was untrustworthy in this respect, what about when he said that all Scripture was inspired by God? If we can question this one, maybe we can question anything, and the slippery slope begins.
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