[Vision2020] Alternative Biblical View of Homosexuality

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Tue May 15 21:17:07 PDT 2012

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for posting one of the best biblical analyses of the issue I've
read.  For those who have not seen it, I repost my column on the topic and
attached the full version with endnotes.  While on sabbatical at the
University of Queensland in 1995, a queer scholar in religious studies led
me to the point that in the ancient middle east the top male had the
presumptive and sometimes legal right to penetrate any human below him on
the pecking order.

For those who don't have time to read what is below here are my concluding

The God of the Bible appears to have, as liberation theologians have said,
a “preferential option” for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, and those
who are different. The word “sodomite” should be reserved, if we should use
it at all, for those who use sex to dominate, humiliate, and terrorize

We should preserve and dignify the word “homosexual” for people who love
others of their own sex, and our liberal democracy should protect their
right to do so with the same tenacity that we do with any other fundamental
human right.

Yours for equality marriage,

*The Real Meaning of Sodomy*

                                  By Nick Gier

“Sodomy” and “sodomite” are some of the ugliest words in the English
language.  They of course are derived from the Canaanite city of Sodom,
whose destruction along with Gomorrah is related in Genesis 19.  Most
people assume that homosexuality was the grounds for divine retribution and
that this is the reason that gay men have been branded “sodomites.”

Interestingly enough, Jesus did not interpret the story in this way. First,
Jesus says nothing specific about the sin of homosexuality anywhere in the
Gospels.  He does of course speak of sexual sins, but all of us, regardless
of our sexual orientation, commit a few of these.  Second, when Jesus
instructs his disciples to preach in the towns of Israel, Jesus warns that
those who do not receive them peacefully will be judged more harshly than
the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10: 5-15).

Jesus joins other ancient authorities in viewing the sins of the Sodomites
as the abuse of strangers, neglecting the poor and needy, and the
stigmatizing of outsiders. For example, Ezekiel says that the people of
Sodom and Gomorrah “had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but
did not aid the poor and the needy” (16:49-50); and the Wisdom of Solomon
says that they “refused to receive strangers when they came to them”

The narrow sexual interpretation known today comes from an ancient minority
report from thinkers such as Philo of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo.
The former condemned the Sodomites for “forbidden forms of intercourse” and
the latter for “lewdness between males.”  The odd point about this charge
is that the object of Sodomitic lust is not male humans but sexless angels!

Today’s conservatives appear to follow Augustine’s untenable position,
struck down in the recent Supreme Court decision, that only sexual acts
between people of the same sex count as sodomy.  The Texas law was
particularly insidious because in 1973 the legislature legalized
heterosexual anal and oral sex (even including bestiality), but
criminalized homosexuals who performed the same acts.

Thomas Aquinas ranked sodomy as the worst crime second only to murder
itself, because it essentially amounted to wanton destruction of a
potential person.  As the only proper place for the male seed is the female
womb, those who masturbate, engage in oral sex, and, yes, even those who
use contraceptives are all sodomites. If the sin of sodomy is the practice
of nonprocreative sex, then every sexually active human being is a sodomite!

 Protestant theologians generally joined Catholics in making sodomy a
unique and unredeemable sin.  It is interesting, however, to note that John
Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, does not define the Sodomites’ sin as
homosexual acts. Instead he prefers the social meaning of sodomy, reminding
his readers that the Sodomites were “in the habit of vexing strangers,”
whereas Lot had offered them shelter and a meal.

The men of Sodom come to Lot’s house and demand that the two visitors be
handed over to them.  The Sodomites’ intentions were overtly sexual (“so
that we may know them”), but these men were no more homosexuals than are
the bullies in our prisons who rape newcomers and weaker prisoners on a
daily basis.  Although sexual in nature, these attacks are essentially acts
of aggression against the “other,” those who are weaker and those who are

Prison rapists are carrying on an ancient patriarchal tradition where the
dominant male has the right to penetrate anyone subordinate to him--women,
lower men, boys, and slaves. Arno Schmitt states that in the ancient world
it was “the right of men to penetrate and their duty to lie on top” and
that the raping “of one’s slaves . . . was not only sanctioned by public
opinion, but by some jurists as well.”  Needless to say, medieval
Christians were compelled to declare that the “woman superior” sexual
position was also, incredible though it sounds, a form of sodomy.

The point of these stories, however, goes beyond the destructive hierarchy
of “top males.”  The message for our time is that those who embrace those
different from themselves, such as Abraham and Lot, are blessed, while
those who discriminate against them, such as the Sodomites and Gibeans,
should be despised.  I will let readers apply this biblical doctrine to
contemporary America and discover to which group they belong.

The God of the Bible appears to have, as liberation theologians have said,
a “preferential option” for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, and those
who are different. The word “sodomite” should be reserved, if we should use
it at all, for those who use sex to dominate, humiliate, and terrorize

We should preserve and dignify the word “homosexual” for people who love
others of their own sex, and our liberal democracy should protect their
right to do so with the same tenacity that we do with any other fundamental
human right.

For thirty-one years Nick Gier taught philosophy and religion at the
University of Idaho.  An expanded and fully documented version of this
column can be found at

On Tue, May 15, 2012 at 6:32 PM, Art Deco <art.deco.studios at gmail.com>wrote:

> My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/15/my-take-what-the-bible-really-says-about-homosexuality/>
> *Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak <http://www.visionsofdaniel.net/>,
> who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and
> author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality"<http://www.amazon.com/What-Bible-Really-about-Homosexuality/dp/188636009X>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.
> CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/>
> 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.
> Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter <http://twitter.com/cnnbelief>
> 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.*
> --
> Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
> art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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