Throughout the modern world and the history of man, few social questions have been quite so divisive as those concerning the morality surrounding homosexuality. Much like similar social topics, views on homosexuality cut to the core of what we consider a human being to be and what his or her role in life and society is. The varying views on the morality of homosexuality have fueled social movements and government crackdowns that have led to unprecedented social rights for gays, lesbians and transgenders in some parts of the world and the government mandated imprisonment and execution of homosexuals in others.
While the majority of the debate over the morality of homosexuality occurs in the secular arena, many individuals and organizations refer to religious texts to attempt to make a claim to moral authority on the issue. Although every society refers to their own religious traditions to attempt to sort out this issue in their own culture, the most frequent religious text thumped upon by conservatives and liberals alike in Western society is the Christian Bible. While religious conservatives used certain key biblical texts as their primary evidence of the inherent immorality of homosexuality for many centuries, the late 20th and early 21st century has seen rise to a growing number of religious progressives who point exactly the same biblical verses as evidence that the creators stance on homosexuality is not written in stone.
As we take a look at the six primary biblical verses that are under fire by both the religious left and right, it should become abundantly clear that two different perspectives inform how each of these groups are approaching biblical dogma. On the one hand, religious progressives tend to approach the Bible in textual terms that take into consideration various translations that the text has gone through, the time frame that different books of the Bible were written and the total rewrites that the Bible has undergone through out the millennium. Religious conservatives, on the other hand, approach the Bible as religious text that was handed down from the creator and believe that every word in the current translation of the text is meant to be taken literally.
"Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may meet them." But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. "Now behold, I have two daughters who have not met men; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof."
Genesis 18 and 19 concern the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God. Religious conservatives point to this passage as evidence that the reason God destroyed these cities was due to homosexual acts, as the crowd seemed to be clamoring for the male angels. Religious progressives and most Jewish traditions interpret this passage and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah of indicating that the cities were destroyed due to the desire for both rape and copulation with something that was not human.
"Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination."
Religious conservatives point to this biblical verse as an unmistakable indication of God's views on homosexuality and his condemnation of the behavior. Religious progressives point out that word translated into "abomination" is only used in other passages to describe suggested dietary constrictions or habits of personal cleanliness. When the original text refers to specific sins such as idolatry and how to behave in society, a completely different word is used, suggesting to progressives that Leviticus 18:22 is more of a direction concerning personal health and cleanliness.
"For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:"
"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet."
When religious conservatives read these verses, it seems very clear that the passage is once again condemning homosexuality, and it is the only biblical passage that seems to clearly condemn lesbianism. Religious progressives argue that the verse is often taken out of context and that key words seem to have been intentionally translated in order to conflate the meaning of these verse.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Again, religious conservatives read the modern translation of these verses very literally and interpret the passage as being quite clear. Similarly, religious progressives point out that the word "homosexual" is a relatively new one. The word used in the original text is Greek word that combines the word for "man" with another word indicating a bed that is used for sexual purposes. Progressives explain that there was a common word for gays when this text was written, and the use of this word instead implies that the verse is condemning loose sexual practices in general.
1 Timothy 1:9-10
"Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine."
Once again, religious conservatives find it difficult to see how one could read this passage as something other than a condemnation of homosexuality. However, religious progressives argue as they have before that we are not reading the original text. The original Greek term here is "arsenokoitai," which was frequently used in the ancient society to describe a variety of people, including pimps, male sex slaves and prostitutes and people who masturbate.
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
While religious conservatives interpret "strange flesh" as referring only to homosexuality, religious progressives argue that this reference the same disturbing passages concerning the angels visiting Sodom and Gomorrha in Genesis as discussed above. They also point out that the original word translated here as "strange flesh" was also used to describe a variety of perversions and has been interpreted over the years as "unnatura
l desire," "sexual sin" and similar terms indicating sexual perversion in general.