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Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2003 13:38 UK

What does the Bible actually say about being gay?

Confused how two groups of church-goers can have such conflicting views about whether it's OK to be gay?

Bible page

Both sides of the debate about homosexuality in the church, which threatens to split the worldwide Anglican church, hold their views sincerely and after much study. So how can their views be so contradictory?

The Bible makes very few mentions of homosexuality - lesbianism isn't mentioned at all in the Old Testament - and as the examples below show, interpretations of the verses that do exist differ hugely.

Following each of the verses below is a brief illustration of what a hardline pro- and anti-gay position might be. (Most Christians hold views somewhere in between these two stances.)

An illustration of the division can be seen by what either side might say about the friendship in the Old Testament between David and Jonathan. One verse reads: "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; dear and delightful you were to me; your love for me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women."

A pro-gay position might be that this is a clear indication that King David had a gay relationship, and to pretend otherwise is naive.
An anti-gay opinion might be that the friendship between the two men was exactly that - a very close and loyal allegiance.

Similarly, the tale of Sodom is often debated. In it, Lot has two angels staying in his house. The men of Sodom surrounded the house. "They called to Lot and asked him where the men were who had entered his house that night. 'Bring them out,' they shouted, 'so that we might have intercourse with them.'"

To protect his visitors from an act which Lot describes as "wicked", he offers the crowd his two virgin daughters instead. The crowd are not satisfied and break the door down - the angels then make the intruders blind and Sodom is eventually destroyed by "fire and brimstone".

An anti-gay argument might say this story demonstrates the immorality of homosexuality, as has been accepted for generations, hence the term sodomy. Elsewhere in Genesis, God says of the men: "Their sin is very grave." It's an example of behaviour degenerating.
Of course the men's behaviour was wicked, but it was wicked because it's a tale of sexual assault and rape. When Jesus mentions Sodom, hundreds of years later, it appears to be in a context of a discussion of hospitality, rather than one of sexual morality.

There are several verses in the Bible which are similarly contested - there are however a much smaller number of seemingly clear statements. The most famous of them is probably from Leviticus: "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; that is an abomination."

An anti-gay position would be that this line is unambiguous. It is also repeated elsewhere in the book. The speaker of the words is God, so this is an explicit indication that homosexuality is wrong in God's eyes. It was one of the sins that justified God in giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites
A pro-gay argument might say that other verses in the same book forbid a wide range of sexual activities, including having sex with a woman who is having her period. This is an indication that the passage embodies specific cultural values rather than God's law.

There is some debate about how relevant rules in the Old Testament are to Christians. Some would say they are binding, since Jesus said he did not come to abolish the old laws. Others would say that Jesus set Christians free from the old laws, highlighting instead that people should love God and their neighbour.

Jesus himself says nothing explicitly about homosexuality. There are though two statements by him which have been interpreted as having a bearing on the subject.

"[A] man shall leave his father and mother, and be made one with his wife; and the two shall become one flesh."

This indicates Jesus saw heterosexual relations as the proper way of behaving.
Jesus is actually talking about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage

Later in the same conversation, after Jesus has spoken about divorce, the disciples say to him it is better not to marry at all. Jesus says: "That is something which not everyone can accept, but only those for whom God has appointed it. For while some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, or made so by men, there are others who have themselves renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let those accept it who can."

This shows that Jesus is more concerned with people looking after their own relationship with God, than with enforcement of rules. The reference to being "born so" indicates that heterosexual marriage is fine for those who are heterosexual, but it's OK to be different. Again and again Jesus reaches out to those on the margins of society, like prostitutes and tax collectors, to include them.
Jesus here is actually talking about people who were born incapable of having children, or people who were castrated - not about gays. He is actually saying that marriage and chastity are both within God's purpose. Jesus does appeal to the sinners, but once he has called them, he tells them to go and sin no more.

The letters of St Paul provide the other traditional support for the position that homosexuality is sinful. He writes: "God has given [people who worship false gods] up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and their men in turn, giving up natural relations with women burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males and paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion."

Paul later writes: "Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolator, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers of drunkards of slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God."

A pro-gay position might be that the word Paul uses for homosexual here could alternatively be translated as "male prostitute". In any case, Paul's writings are clearly of his time, and there are plenty of other verses which people have no difficulty in ignoring - for instance: "a woman brings shame on her head if she prays or prophesies bare-headed; it is as bad as if her head were shaved." This should be viewed like that.
Anti-gay argument might say this line is crystal clear in establishing that Christianity and homosexuality are incompatible. Paul is actually quite clearly referring to homosexual behaviour, and includes lesbianism. You can't just pretend that St Paul, who did so much to influence our understanding of Jesus, didn't know what he was talking about. He's clear that homosexuality is an offence against God and against people's own bodies.

Part of the reason the views diverge so much is because Christians think of the Bible differently. Some see it as literally the word of God, divine inspiration which humans should not question. Others see it rather as a book which is a witness to God's message, but one which was written by humans and thus has flaws.

Trying to find common ground between the two positions is no simple matter - one of the reasons that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is having such a tricky job keeping everyone on board.

Quotations are taken from the New English Bible.

Below is a selection of your comments.

It is clear from the pro-gay viewpoints that they will twist and turn every Bible verse they want to say what they want it to say, or otherwise just brush over it and say that we are apparently a more enlightened society in the 21st Century. The Bible is God's word and should be the only guide in a Christian's life.
Gary, Coventry, UK

All academic really; we will outgrow religion as we've outgrown our belief in goblins and dragons. One day we will just accept our mortality, and get on with the business of living.
Nathan, UK

This whole article demonstrates one of the many fundamental problems with the Bible: its ambiguity. It is so vague and self-contradictory on so many issues that it is useless as a moral compass. By the careful selection of passages taken out of context, the Bible can be represented as supporting any and every cause or standpoint you can care to name.
Jim, UK

Christians should neither be pro-gay nor anti-gay, because although God hates sin, He still loves the sinners.
Alex Wong, UK

Phew, it's all clear to me now. It is obvious that never the twain shall meet on this one. They should split their church now & stop clogging up valuable news time, time which should be spent on relevant subjects to modern life. So, a section of a dwindling church does not agree with homosexuality? - Fair enough, but society at large has accepted it has a normal human condition. Let's move on & leave them to it.
Roger, England

Jesus' words have been distorted through time. Through translations and interpretations no true copy of the Bible exists today.
Mo Murad, UK

It's good to see some unbiased representation of both views - thanks! One thing to add: Paul's own history as an ultra-orthodox Jew may have left something ingrained in his own attitudes. Before converting to Christianity, he was one of its greatest persecutors, owing to his religious background, and it's debatable as to whether his views are those which have developed since his conversion (which I find hard to believe), or if he kept them from his strict Jewish background.
Chris, Scotland

"Pro-gay" against "anti-gay" is misleading, as is missing out the wider Biblical picture. Sex is so good and strong and powerful (just read the Song of Solomon): it's what puts life into a marriage, and lives into the world. But used outside of marriage it ultimately perpetuates confusion, difficulty and hurt, even though, naturally enough, something in it seems so 'right' for a while.
Gavin, England

This is a sensitive issue, but the Bible does not treat homosexual relationships any differently to heterosexual relationships. The Bible clearly states that any sexual relationships outside marriage are sins against God. Thus the only sexual relationships which are endorsed by the Bible are those that take place between a husband and wife in marriage.
Brian, London, UK

I think that the main point of this entire argument has been missed. I believe one of the commandmants was "love thy neighbour". Not "love thy neighbour as long as he is not black, gay, has blonde hair...". Surely this statement condemns the actions of many clergyman as their actions of late towrds the homosexual community has been anything but loving.
Kate Hollow, England

For me, The Onion's haiku like satirical headlines say it best: "Mistranslated myths of nomadic desert tribe taken at face value", and "Fundamentalist Aesopians Interpret Fox-Grape Parable Literally"
Robert Sharp, UK

The question the whole church must ask is simple: What Would Jesus Do?
Sean, UK

It is always difficult to select verses from the Bible and hold them up as the true word of God if you are going to ignore other opinions which are now considered old fashioned or incorrect. Slavery is justified in the Bible, yet the modern world sees this as unacceptable. Surely the point is whether you are a good Christian, not who you choose to sleep with.
Kate Harrison, England

Being anti-gay based on what the bible says is being irrational. If 'GOD' rejects homosexuality, why wouldn't (couldn't) he write a less ambiguous text so he can save us the trouble? The bible is not a reliable book. It is full of contradictions, inconsistencies and mistakes.
O Almalik, Netherlands

The church is so obsessed with sex, when it should be more concerned about love. Jesus said 'love one another as I have loved you', not judge one another.
Marie, UK

I'm 37 years old, an evangelical Christian(the kind who that believe you can "know" God personally/for real), and a struggling celibate. I knew for sure I was gay at 13. Unmistakable gay feelings etc when still a pre-pubescent junior. I became a Christian at uni, and then two very real worlds collided. No doubts about the person or reality of God. Nor of his love for me. Nor of my sexuality. My spirit (and mind)has always leaned towards my staying celibate - but my heart and emotions want what most do, a settled, loving relationship. I read the Bible several times - all of it,and as a student too - none of the points raised are new to me. Following that collision c20 yrs ago, daily I try to work through the reality of my own personal 'collateral damage'.
Sam, Brit abroad

It is clear that Christians like the Islamic extremists will always quote biblical scriptures that suit their purposes for what ever selfish reasons. The rate at which the so called "liberals" are going, they will soon be calling for a new Bible.
Niyi Olaloku, Nigeria

The Bible in no ways contradicts itself. It is self explanatory and we do not need the human corrupt mind to interpret it. Homosexuality is an abomination to God and is SIN in clear terms. Let those clergy who are trying to defend it know that the judgment of God is upon them, because the Bible warns us against adding or subtracting the Word of God.
Tabby, Kenya

I think as humans we tend to use religion to explain the unexplainable and to justify why we do what we do . Life is thus made simpler really, we behave the way we behave because the Bible says so, the problem though is that the Bible is open to different interpretations depending on individual circumstance and what we really want to achieve.
Phumlani, South Africa

This argument is just as touchy as evolution. There is no real right or wrong answer, one can only interperet it as well as it can be and hope that it is the right one. Follow the obvious and fill in the rest.
Wyatt Bordewyk, US

Being gay is not a sin. People will see what they want to see or interpret from the Bible. Jesus died for everybody. We might remember the Ten commandments about love.
Patricio M, Chile


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