by John Wijngaards
Scriptural condemnation of homosexuality?
It looks as if homosexuality has been denounced in both the Old and New Testaments.
The Hebrew story of Sodom and Gomorrah has had much influence on Christian beliefs (Genesis 19,1-29). The story tells of God’s destruction of this city as a punishment for homosexual practices. See also Judges 19,1-30; Leviticus 18,22; 20,13-23).
In Romans 1,26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6,9-11 Paul condemned the ‘homosexual’ excesses in the Graeco-Roman empire.
In tradition, homosexuality was called a ‘sin against nature’ and was often put on a line with ‘bestiality’, that is: having intercourse with an animal. For the State it was a criminal offence, usually punishable by death. Note that our renewed, informed understanding leads to a different evaluation of socalled ‘tradition’.
However, a careful study of the inspired texts shows that the scriptural authors did NOT refer to ‘homosexuality’ as we understand it today.
What is the thinking in the Church today?
The traditional view
| While softening the complete condemnation it voiced in the past, the Vatican Congregation for Doctrine still opposes all homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered’ because they cannot lead to procreation.
The Congregation for Doctrine’s Declaration on Certain Issues Concerning Sexual Ethics (1974) was an improvement on earlier Roman statements because it acknowledged that there are
‘homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable’.
The modern theological view
Catholic Theologians today consider homosexuality an existing and valid variation of human sexuality. Its morality should be judged as we judge heterosexual morality.
Why this change of view?
| 1. The facts.
Social research has established that 3 – 6 % of the population in most countries has an innate homosexual disposition.
Three ‘causes’ of homosexuality are now generally accepted:
it is a genetic trait in some people;
| Scientific Research
2. On-going Reflection.
Homosexuality has always existed, but only in our own time are we becoming more aware of its origins and implications. Here we will quote some modern theologians discussing the issue.
- “ God, the one who has made all of creation, loves and cherishes all creatures without exception. And modern
psychology shows us that homosexual orientation is set by age five or six. Most psychologists agree that it is not a matter of choice, whether orientation is inborn as some think or acquired very early as others say. How then could an all-loving God possibly violate Divine nature and regard homosexuals as ‘sinners’?”
“Contemporary biblical scholars are indicating that the idea of homosexual orientation was unknown to the writers of the Sacred Scripture. Certainly these authors had no knowledge of the Kinsey research which established the existence of a continuum along which all of us are somewhere between the end points of totally heterosexual through bisexuality to exclusively homosexual. Many of the oft-quoted “condemnatory passages” may assume that heterosexuals are acting out of their violation of their ‘nature’.”
Sister Mary Ann Ford, Pastoral Theologian
- “When read at face value, the Scriptures have nothing positive to say about homogenital behaviour. However, most
Christians do not interpret the Bible literally; they try to understand the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context and see what meaning the Scriptures have for us today. These Scriptures were written approximately 2000 or more years ago when there was no knowledge of constitutional homosexuality. The Scripture writers believed that all people were naturally heterosexual so that they viewed homosexuality activity as unnatural.”
“Since we have come to know that homosexuality is just as natural and God-given as heterosexuality, we realize that the Biblical injunctions against homosexuality were conditioned by the attitudes and beliefs about this form of sexual expression which were held by people without benefit of centuries of scientific knowledge and understanding.”
“It is unfair of us to expect to impose a twentieth century mentality and understanding about equality of genders, races and sexual orientations on the Biblical writers. We must be able to distinguish the eternal truths the Bible is meant to convey from the cultural forms and attitudes expressed there.”
- “God has created people with romantic and physical attractions to the same sex, as well as those with attractions to
the opposite sex. Many, if not most, people, we are now discovering, have both kinds of attractions in varying degrees. All of these feelings are natural and are considered good and blessed by God. These feelings and attractions are not sinful. Most Catholic moral theologians now hold that homogenital behaviour, as well as heterogenital behaviour, is good and holy in God’s sight when it is an expression of a special and unique love which one person has for another. Both homosexual and heterosexual genital expression can be sinful if they are manipulative, dishonest, or unloving actions.”
Sister Jeannine Gramick, PhD, College of Notre Dame Maryland.
- “Catholicism uses four major sources for principles and guidance in ethical questions like homosexuality: scripture,
tradition (theologians, church documents, official teachings, etc), reason, and human experience. All are used in conjunction with one another. Scripture is the fundamental and primary authoritative Catholic source — but not the only source. Biblical witness is taken seriously, but not literally. An individual scriptural text must be understood in the larger context of the original language and culture, the various levels of meanings, and the texts’ applications to contemporary realities in light of the role of the community’s and its official leadership role in providing authoritative interpretations. Both Jewish and Christian scriptures do speak negatively of certain form of same-gender (generally male) sexual behaviour (not same-gender love), especially when associated with idol worship, lust, violence, degradation, prostitution, etc. Whether the Scriptures condemn all and every form of same-gender sexual expression in and of itself for all times, places and individuals is the topic of serious theological and Biblical discussion and debate.”
- I do not believe that God regards homosexuality as a ‘sin’ if homosexuality means the psychosexual identity of lesbians or gay persons, which we know from contemporary scientific studies is within the boundaries of healthy, human psychological development, and which seems to be as natural for some people as heterosexuality is for others. If homosexuality means the emotional, intimate bonding in same-gender relationships of love and friendship, I believe that since God is love, where there is authentic love, God is present.”
- “Where God is present, there can be no sin. If homosexuality means same-gender erotic, physical expressions of union
and pleasure, the possibility of personal sin exists in homosexuality — as it does in heterosexuality — depending on the interplay of three factors: including (1) the physical behaviour itself and its meaning for the person, (2) the personal motives and intents of the person acting, and (3) the individual and social consequences or results of the behaviour. For many people, sexual behaviour which is exploitative, coercive, manipulative, dishonest, selfish or destructive of human personhood is sinful; for all people ‘sin’ means freely acting contrary to one’s deeply held moral or ethical convictions,
whether these come from organized religion or a personally developed value system.”
- “ Same-gender expressions of responsible, faithful love in a covenanted relationship between two truly homosexually oriented people not gifted with celibacy is not something envisioned by the Scriptures. Whether this form of homosexuality violates biblical or anthropological principles of sexuality and personhood — especially in the light of current scientific knowledge and human experience about the homosexual orientation — is a key issue facing the churches and religious groups today.”
Father C Robert Nugent , co-editor of ‘The Vatican and Homosexuality’, holds degrees from St Charles College, St Charles Theologate, a degree in library science from Villanova University and a Masters of Sacred Theology from Yale University Divinity School.
- The Catholic Church is beginning to rediscover what it once knew; that not all persons are heterosexual, that many people are homosexual and that this is just fine. In the past, the Church accepted homosexuality more openly and even had liturgies to celebrate same sex unions.(1) There was a recognition that different sexual orientations are clearly part of God’s plan for creation-some people are heterosexual and some are homosexual-this is the way God made us and we have no right to criticize God. Wherever the human race is found we find persons of differing sexual orientations. (We find the same thing in God’s animal kingdom.) Human history shows that some humans have same-sex attractions and unions and others have opposite-sex attractions and unions. The desire to bond lovingly and sexually with persons of the same sex or of the opposite sex, is a fact of life, a fact of God’s creation, and we have no right to call it unholy. As the Acts of the Apostles says in the Bible, we have no right to declare unclean anything that God has made (Acts of the Apostles 10:15). To do so, in fact, is a sin.
See entire article: Professor Daniel C. Maguire, A Catholic Defense of Same Sex Marriage. Published in The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, April 2006.
For a vision of how the Church structures could work in the future, so that this important issue can be discussed have a look at the website on “Church Authority“.
For more information on homosexuality see our website on homosexuality