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April 25, 2011

IconAre there lesbians in heaven?

Christianity and homosexuality, rather famously, don’t get along too well, writes Kirsty Smith. But do these two things have to be segregated from each other, or can a compromise be made?

Make no mistake; this article is not actually an attempt to convert you. It is merely an objective examination of the facts, written by a self-proclaimed atheist.

Homo history
Homosexuality wasn’t actually condemned by Christianity until relatively recently. The earliest recorded same sex couple were in 2400 BC in Egypt. Many Greek and Egyptian Gods were homosexual or bisexual.

The word lesbian and its synonym sapphist come from the Greek poet Sappho who was born on the island of Lesbos, and whose poetry describes love and infatuation between females.

Pagan practice also saw love as sacred, regardless of the object of desire. Ancient Roman sculptures show men having sex with other men – though lesbians were viewed negatively, as stories depict them killing their husbands in order to be with a woman. (Not that I blame them.)

It wasn’t until fairly recently, after years of being viewed as nothing out of the ordinary, that homosexuality has been condemned by conservative followers of many religions.

What the Bible really says
To decide whether homosexuals can be Christians, the first step is to go straight to the source. By this I don’t mean God, that’s stretching it a bit far. I mean the Bible. People today are far too quick to take the opinions of homophobic Christians for granted, and assume they’re based on the Bible.

The two places in which God seemingly condemns homosexuality are Corinthians:1 and Timothy:1.

The Hebrew words used to describe homosexuality are malakoi and arsenokoitai. More accurate translations of malakoi give meanings such as ‘effeminate’, ‘male prostitute’, ‘catamite’ (a boy kept by a child molester), and less specific translations such as ‘malleable’, ‘cowardly’, ‘sickly’, ‘lacking self-control’ or ‘morally weak’.

Literally, arsenokoitai means ‘sexual aggressor’ (with the connotations of a rapist or a slave trader). The word, however, is believed to have been originally coined in the Bible.

If we look at the two compound words, arsenos means ‘male’ and koites means ‘bedders’. This could pertain to a man who sleeps around. Those who believe that the word refers to general homosexuality argue that Paul coined the term himself, and that was his meaning. This is rather a vague argument, but the best they can come up with.

Tricky translations

The very man who sponsored the printing of the King James Bible in 1611, King James I, was openly gay. Having done much of the translation himself, he would have known if he were sinning.

It wasn’t actually until 1946 that the word ‘homosexual’ appeared in the Bible, with alternative translations such as those mentioned being preferable up until this point.

Romans:1 tells us that those who change natural sex are committing a sin; ‘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 toward another’.

The phrase ‘natural use’ is slightly ambiguous here. If we take it to mean having sex without the possibility of conceiving, then, yes, I’m going to hell.

However, is it not more unnatural to have sex with someone you’re not attracted to? Forcing yourself to go through an unpleasant experience such as sex with someone you don’t want to have sex with is not natural. If you’re naturally attracted to a gender, then is having sex with them a sin?

We can go a little further in disproving this passage. If it is taken in context, it becomes clear that the homosexuality referred to took place in a homosexual prostitution temple. No wonder God wasn’t pleased.

So far, for every part of the Bible I have quoted, I have managed to argue somehow that the translation is wrong and that, somehow, God isn’t condemning homosexuality. There are some parts of the Bible, however, where I think bending what it says to permit homosexuality is unrealistic.

Verse 22 is translated in the King James Version as: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”. This doesn’t actually refer to lesbians, but this is probably because women had so few rights in those times and also that in the eyes of those who wrote the Bible, lesbian sex isn’t really sex. And I think we all know that’s not true.

If the verse is considered in isolation, as it is most often done, then it logically interprets as a condemnation of all sexual activity between two males. Some people argue that, if the passage is considered in context, then it could be referring to idolatrous activity in a Pagan temple.

Sex and marriage

Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”

The National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA) interprets this slightly differently. They claim that a better translation would be “If a man lie with another man in a woman’s bed, both have committed an abomination. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”. While this translation does not forbid gay sex, only where it can be done, no other Christians have accepted this translation, suggesting, once again, that it is unrealistic.

So, according to the Bible, sex before marriage is a sin. However, gay marriage is not a religious ceremony. Does this mean that lesbians and gay men either sin, in having sex outside marriage, or never have sex? If this were true, there would be very few gay Christians!

As it is, there is an actual possible gay marriage in the Bible. If the original Hebrew of Samuel is translated closer to the text than it is in many translations, then David and Jonathan were quite possible joined in a covenant, and Saul recognised this as a marriage.

No specific references are made to marriage; though this is quite possibly because the Hebrew referred, rather than to marriage, to the woman being ‘taken’ or ‘given’ as property. This (rather sexist) aspect of marriage would be inapplicable to David and Jonathan. If this joining of two people was considered marriage, then surely a civil partnership would be, too?

Where it becomes difficult is in translation. People who think that homosexuality is a sin can read the Bible one way, and those who think homosexuality is not a sin read it another way.

Jesus’ opinion on homosexuality (or lack thereof)

Christ Himself never actually said anything about homosexuality. Not a word. However, if we look at the way He treated people, He accepted people from all kinds of backgrounds, people who would otherwise be outcast. Christ had no misgivings in healing a male servant despite the fact that the Centurion, who requested His help, referred to the servant as his ‘beloved’.

The Bible can be summarised in a few major points. The first is unconditional love. We receive it, and we’re expected to give it. Homophobic Christians, by segregating lesbians and gay men, are not giving unconditional love.

Another point is that God made us. He made us in His image, and He knew us long before we were born. What kind of twisted God would make someone lesbian, just so they can go to Hell for their sins? He wouldn’t do that. He wanted us to love who we may, and live a life free from sins, like murder and theft.

Conveniently-forgotten sins

Along with being gay, there are other things banned in the Bible which are forgotten today.

Polyester and other fabric blends are banned, as they are made “of two kinds of material mixed together”.

It’s a sin for women to braid their hair, or to teach anybody, according to Timothy:1. Leviticus:19 tells us ”you shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard”, so the Beatles are screwed. It’s even a sin to eat shellfish.

Until Christians begin to adhere to these laws, how can they tell us that homosexuality as an undeniable sin, and that we’re going to Hell? It’s hypocritical and definitively unchristian.

10 Responses to Are there lesbians in heaven?

  1. randal says:

    Actually, the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible for a good list of all references to homosexuality in the bible

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/gay/long.htm

    My reading of the bible does not give me a message of unconditional love. Far from it. Jehovah frequently gets his followers to commit genocide, torture, etc. There’s the whole “go sacrifice your son — oh, just teaing you”. People argue that this all went away with Jesus, but the bible says no such thing (Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the old testament, not the guy to overturn it). Further, Jesus is not about unconditional love. If you don’t believe in him, you get tortured for eternity.

    People very carefully cherry pick the bible to get the bits they want. If you actually followed everything in the bible, you would be a raving monster. And inconsistent.

    Let’s be honest, if you read the bible for the first time today and instead of names like Jesus, Paul, Mark, and Jehovah, you saw names like Isis, Zeus, Aphrodite, etc, you would just shake your head. You would work hard to make sure people who followed this madness were controlled (no stoning your daughter because she was raped). You would openly condemn the monsters who followed this religion.

    There are a few good bits in the bible. My advice is gather those up, and then chuck the rest (including its god) as delusional rubish.

  2. mandal says:

    So, Christian’s just “cherry pick” the good bits while, the rest is all just awful? Get a grip kid, the reverse is obviously true. You just selected what you found to be the most offensive and posted it here. Talk about hypocritical. You clearly have little understanding on theology, so honestly, quit pretending your an expert on a matter you googled for ten minutes. Even people on your side can see that you’re misguided. Following the Bible would make you a “monster”? You know, there is a guy who followed every law in the Bible for a year. He wrote a book about it. His name is A.J. Jacobs. You should look that up and shut up while you’re at it.

  3. C says:

    Kirsty:

    An ambitious article about religion and homosexuality, but surprisingly it’s causing a lot of disagreement. Who’d have guessed?

    Anyway, you write early on that there are 2 places where the bible condemns homosexuality, then list several more. This looks like a mistake.

    Secondly:
    “Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”
    ….
    So, according to the Bible, sex before marriage is a sin.”

    This is a non-sequitur- you don’t justify it being about sex outside of marriage. The clearer reading is that it is an unjustifiable condemnation of homosexuality, in a book (Leviticus) filled with similar arbitrary condemnations that you later list.

    @ Mandal: A J Jacob’s book is rather an interesting read- the author himself notes that he had to forgo the injunctions to murder. His tongue in cheek ‘stoning’ of an adulterer, whilst humorous, is acknowledged to be far from what is required.

    For my own perspective, it doesn’t surprise me that the bible is inconsistent on homosexuality. It was written in various books hundreds of years apart by authors with conflicting political aims, edited and re-edited by men with their own political aims for thousands of years. A few canonical clashes are inevitable.

  4. HCC says:

    Hi. I don’t have moral issues with lesbians, in fact when a lesbian couple moved across the street, I was excited. I assumed lesbians would make great neighbors. However, like most other lesbians I have come to know, they are horribly unfriendly, wary, suspicious and just plain rude! Why are so many (not all) lesbians not nice?

  5. Eli says:

    @HCC
    You are an idiot. That is all.

  6. Nsolonkambwe says:

    all i can say many wrong dowers have tried making some bible qoutes to defend there actions but it’s is and will remain the same that homosexualty is a sin. God i watched l word when even some lesbian couple tried to have children but all i can say those are the demerits of technology and am pretty sure that deep in your hearts some where u feel that what u are doing is not right.

  7. Abby says:

    Incorrect you ignorant person , it is not right to fall in love ?. Let me place your narrow minded brain into mine, so say if it was law to marry a women (if you are a woman) and involve in sexual relations not like them but still do that because its the law or wrote in the bible – youd be happy? . No. I am the happiest I’ve ever been for years together with my girlfriend where’s your explanation behind that ? If god did not want gay people on earth then why am I here and so many others ? your point sucks so bad. I’m guessing you must be a closet gay too. Because deep down I don’t feel wrong I feel amazing – In addition to feeling ‘ wrong’ as I have done with a male. That does not mean I’m a man hater it just means I like women ALOT.

  8. frank says:

    god i hope not.it is hard enough meeting a straight good woman as is on earth.

  9. violet says:

    are we still being violent towards left handed people because they were born that way.

  10. Kris says:

    To quote Representative Steve Simon of Minnesota, “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?”

    I like to think that’s all that really needs to be said. It isn’t, because no words are ever going to end this argument. Only time and an utter lack of interest among the future generations in “old ways” of thinking will do that, but it’s good enough for me.

    Also, for the record, I’m not gay myself. So feel free to judge me on that at your leisure.

Milly Shaw

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