Evil Sex: Homophobia and the Bible

Has anyone ever asked you why you insist on getting involved with groups, belief systems, subcultures… you don’t belong to or apparently have nothing to do with? I’ve heard that question in regards to mental illness, Jesus, child rearing, country music, veganism, and often when addressing the issue of homophobia and the Bible.  

Well, I trust most omnivores will be okay without ever finding out why vegans reject the use of animal products. Heck, the entire world might be able to lead fulfilling lives without knowing why country music rocks my world. However, I doubt that an individual can make sense of our world without having, at the very least, a basic understanding of certain issues and how they might affect the behaviors of our social majority. This is the reason why I, a heterosexual Witch, pay special attention to topics such as homophobia and the Bible.

Homosexual relationships are demonized by many individuals of the Christian faith. According to some, the Bible teaches that amorous relationships between same-sex couples are sinful. Much smaller, and typically marginalized, Christian groups suggest that certain sections of the Bible portray homosexual relationships as beautiful and courageous (Karnan 1994). They also imply that the homophobic behavior of most mainstream Bible followers might be rooted in the negative ways Bible stories have been interpreted, and perhaps rewritten, over the centuries.

I asked a Baptist Minister and a Unitarian Universalist Church Pastor this question: How does the source of the Bible’s Golden Rule, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the prophets,” (Matthew 7:12) explain behaviors like homophobia?”

The Baptist Minister said, “Genesis 19 shows God was so disturbed by homosexuality that he destroyed cities to get rid of the filth. I get sad when I think some people feel they must live this way, but it is still unnatural.” On the side of the argument, the Unitarian Pastor told me that “Any God loving Christian knows that one of the Bible’s most passionate love stories was that of Ruth and Naomi,” two women.

I must say that I asked the question hoping for a miracle. Why couldn’t my Baptist and Unitarian interviewees quote the same Bible story, and make my life easier? I guess because in spirituality, like in life, different people use the same tools in very unalike ways. A heart surgeon can use a scalpel to perform the operation that saves a patient’s live; the same blade can mortally cut the person’s throat.

It seems that in the case of mainstream Christian society, most Bible followers tend to go for the throat. I read Genesis a few times, and although there is quite a bit of smiting going on, I didn’t find any specific passages saying that the Christian God wanted anyone’s body scourged to death because he was upset about their choice of bed partner. The book suggests that the population of Sodom is wicked, they are not particularly good to each other, have forgotten about their god and so on; there is nothing about homosexuality being a disturbing sin, or the reason for the Christian God’s wrath.

Someone might be inclined to argue that the same can be said about Ruth’s and Naomi’s story; there is no explicit statement about the two women being lovers. It can even be claimed that the fact that the Bible uses the same verb, “cling,” to describe how Adam felt about Eve and to speak of Ruth’s feelings towards Naomi (Karnan 1994), mean nothing. But I, and maybe a bit of ancient history, would have to disagree with that notion.

In his 1994 article, “Homophobia and the Bible,” Robert Karnan proposes that during the times the story was written, single women depended on the male heads of their households. Ruth gave up the safety of her homeland plus the support she would have gotten from her family, in order to maintain the companionship of another woman (Karnan 1994).

Further argument can be made over the fact that Ruth married a man and gave birth to a child, and to that I will say that people have evolved and so has society, but at the core we retain some of the same basic needs: people must eat, and they will do things for convenience too. Ruth married an old relative of Naomi’s family. This man got to keep the family’s possession—women, cows, crops, land and anything without a voice during that era—but where was that man when his child is born? The Bible story doesn’t say. Why? Probably because as Robert Karnan explains, the man isn’t important to the tale; The Book of Ruth tells the story of two lovers, and what they have to do to stay together. It is not the tale of a strong woman who finally finds a husband to care for her, or who sacrifices everything for the wellbeing of a really good friend.

I am not a Christian, I’m a Witch, but the teachings of the Bible affect our society in such a powerful way that I have taken the time to read it, and have tried my best to understand its myths. The answers of the Baptist Minister and the Unitarian Pastor, in this essay, explain how Bible knowledge, and the way its interpretation influence its followers, might be imperative in the battle against homophobia.

When I began writing this essay, I believe I titled it, Homophobia Might Be Caused by the Bible. I realized how inaccurate that statement was, made a third cup of coffee, and reconsidered my interviewees’ responses; specifically, about the focus of their answers. This close reexamination helped me recognize that Bible stories are too vague to be held responsible for its reader’s homophobic behavior.

Nevertheless, there is a connection between the Bible and homophobia. The negativity many of its followers choose to see, in the ambiguous ancient stories contained in their Holy Book, is indeed at the roots of many Christians’ intolerant—and sometimes criminal—attitudes toward individuals in same sex romantic relationships.     

Care to share your thoughts?

King James Bible Online

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  1. Debra She Who Seeks9/27/2011

    I love the story of Ruth and Naomi. Check out the story of David and Jonathan sometime too!

  2. Linda Wildenstein9/27/2011

    Everytime I explain what I used to be before what I am now, I get a little weak in the knees. I was in a former existance, a Christian Educator. Okay, now that that is said.
    Having studied the Bible for 12 years as an educator I can say that the books that are contained in the modern text are not all of the books of the script and the translations are not consistant with the historial text also translated. In other words, the church translators were not completely correct and there is more to the stories than the compilation now suggests.
    Then add to that bit of information...the fact that while very conservative denominations consider the Bible the absolute Word of God, the logic becomes fuzzy to the liberal Christian. Much like the ten commandments being law on the one hand and a list of suggestions to the other. And shuffle in a side order of Sunday Christians who only hear what is passed down to them through the filter of the minister, pastor or priest that gives the homily from the pulpit. So my question is....how can any thinking person take all the misinformation and come to the conclusion that someone else's concept should be how they live their life? 
    It's why most "good" people conform to that belief system and was the very bane of my existence, in one statement. "Because that is how we have always done it".
    I had the most wonderful young minds in my charge. They asked so many honest, seeking, intelligent questions about homosexuality, infidelity, hate and showed me so much by their love. But I also saw them close their minds, hold tight to "our side" attitudes and become their parents in their thinking and I fled.

  3. zombiegoddess9/27/2011

    Anytime I see the term "mainstream Christian" I want to kick something.  It is so readily assumed that as soon as you say you are a Christian that you are homophobic, closed-minded, hateful, blah blah blah.  I have been asked, "So, you a Christian" and when I said yes, I got the hand on hip glare and was told, "Then you must hate all gays.  That is so wrong of you.  Let me tell you why you are wrong..."  They have no idea who I am, what I believe, how I believe it.  Christianity as a whole is being demonized because of a (now) small group of individuals who have dubbed themselves "God's voice", telling everyone exactly how God feels about certain things and how He will punish anyone who defies His will.  I call bullshit.  Bullshit times infinity.  I may not be your run-of-the-mill Christian (whatever that is), and I may have a hard time believing and accepting a lot that is in the Bible, but I DO NOT for one moment believe that a loving God (and I do believe He is loving) would punish ANYONE for homosexuality or the like.  It would be like me saying that because I follow God and Goddess that I have a place card with my name all set up at a table in Hell.

    The Bible didn't cause homosexuality, God didn't cause homosexuality, it just is.  Period.  I would kill to see someone say that Buddha caused homosexuality just to have a chuckle.  God is like the red-headed stepchild, even notice that?  Hurricane wipes out New Orleans...God did it.  Tsunami destroys Japan...God did it.  LOL.  Geesh.  I stubbed my toe.  It was Buddha's fault!

    Okay *deep breath*.  I'll shut up now.  Hope I didn't tick off too many people, but if I did....blame Buddha.

  4. Dark Mother9/27/2011

    I hesitated before commenting in fear of sounding like an uneducated dolt but here goes.  I honestly don't give a crap about what fundie Christians, Muslims, Jews or any other Religion feels about homosexuality or Paganism.  What bothers me is when Religion is mixed into Law and the whole separation of church and state is trampled on.  They can believe whatever the hell they want in their world, just keep your shit over there.  That's my concern and cause.  I think its sad when someone bases all of their opinions on a book that was written thousands of years ago, translated into so many languages that it's almost akin to a game of telephone and has completely removed their source of reasoning for anything.  If someone quotes a bible passage to me I always have the same response.  "Yes, that is what the Bible says, but what is your opinion?"  The replies I have gotten have differed depending on many things but the bottom line is....you believe whatever the hell you want but keep your beliefs out of my laws.

  5. Oh Gibeah... I think Saul was the first person (um, character?) who I truly disliked; what a jerk. I once wrote something, not quite a story, where Jonathan and David lived out their lives and I think Saul was turned into a rat, can't remember. It was so long ago, yet, I still think "rat!" when I think about Saul.

  6. Knowledge is power. Just because it is a cliché it doesn't mean that it isn't true. There are so many issues with the translation of old text (even some that aren't that old). 

    Gods I think about the position you were in, and the truth is that I don't even want to imagine being in your shoes. 

    I wish more people could agree that the Bible is not the word of any god. If it was, then we would have slave, um... actually, I wouldn't have any, I would probably be working in someone's kitchen. Imagine the number of people who would be killed just for existing and the things that we wouldn't eat... I can go on and on, but why?

  7. I MUST disagree with you. I KNOW that grin on Buddha's cheerful face has to do with the last time I smashed my big toe. I mean, seriously, he must be smiling about something freaking hilarious.

    In all seriousness, grouping is bad and I don't like it. I think I've told you this before, but I'll say it again: I dislike when people say, "Oh, you are a Witch, so tell me more about Wicca." I really want to respond, "Well, why don't you go find a Wiccan to tell you about his or her religion?" Nothing against Wiccans, I just can't stand when people assume. On the same note, I don't argue with anyone when they say that I am not a mainstream Pagan. Like you, I'm not exactly sure what they mean by "mainstream," so I'm pretty positive that I'm not that. *Ramble... ramble... ramble*

  8. I learned a new word "fundie." Yep, I had to goggle it, even if after reading the definition it looks so freaking obvious. 

    You know? I can only read about the separation of church and state in very small doses. I'm saying that because, my goodness, the holes in the wall that is supposed to exist between the two has so many holes that there are times when I wonder if there is in fact any wall left (run-on sentence anyone?) The topic is just annoying and it usually gets me mad, particularly when I'm discussing it with someone who believes that everything is fine and dandy. Well, it isn't. 

    I was once talking to someone who said "I have no problem with gay marriage or gays in general. I just wish they stopped shoving their gayness in my face." 

    My first reaction was Ha! Did he just say that someone is shoving their gayness at his face? Then I heard the words and got really pissed. How dare he? I wonder what "his" conventionality calls for. Um, let's see, maybe for people to be gay only in their house or something idiotic like that. 

    Damn, I'm rambling again, so I'll stop...

  9. Georginamorley9/27/2011

    As I am reading these comments, I am looking out of my window at a glorious sunset....would whichever God we beleive in care about our insignificant sexual adventures while making such beauty? I think not. All those kinds of rules in the books of man were added by man to control man.
    I read quite a lot of the Old Testament, and found it fascinating, but at no time did I see it as relevant to my existence. It is a catalogue of legal claims on behalf of the family of David, proof of rights to land and leadership. I know many people will be offended by that statement, but it's true. Read it. Demonizing other families/tribes to grab their land(think Salem). Many people tell me "your reading it wrong" or "you need someone who is worthy to explain it to you properly", give me a break!!! I am 48 years old, extremely sensible and level-headed, and I know how to read!  
    Love and let Love! That's what I say :D XXX

  10. Very astutely put. I LOVE this post. I had never heard that take on Ruth, and I love it. But your overarching point about people interpreting the Bible any way they choose is a very good one, and deeply true.

    I'm a member of a Spiritual Exploration group at my UU church (I love that you asked a UU minister, by the way), and we discussed Chrisianity last month. A good point was made about how selective some people are about the parts of the Bible they quote. It's generally heald that the old testament is no longer binding on Christians, and yet it's the go-to fallback for homophobic BS.

    The whole thing just makes me angry. I would LOVE to see all these people devoting their energy to ending world hunger than to spreading hate.

  11. This one is complicated in part because, as you can tell, different denominations of Christians are vastly different. Arguably Unitarianism might not even be Christian, it just has Christian roots. I can't remember the last time I attended a UU where they even referenced the Bible, and my first experience with a UU service involved a gay pastor who had been United Church of Christ before they became accepting of homosexuality, and a Satanist and atheist in the back of the room chatting during the social consciousness discussion that was had in lieu of a sermon. I loved it.

    There are some denominations of Christians that pay more attention to the old testament, insist on its literal interpretation, and who often enforce stereotypical gender roles. There are other denominations (like my old one of UCC) that sort of ignore the Old Testament parts that make Jehovah not come off so well in favor of New Testament teachings. These churches also allow for the possibility that a)context has changed enough for the moral lesson in the Bible to change and b)maybe some of those stories really are just metaphorical. Even though I mention my own experience, different conferences within my own former church varied in interpretation and conservatism. It also happens with Lutheran synods, orthodoxies, and variation after variation of Christian reform churches.

    Even as a Christian, I operated on the "if it's found in nature, there's a reason for it," outlook. Homosexuality happens in over 400 species. It's part of the natural balance of life. If divinity made it, and put it out there, it looked to me more valid than what any book bound by human hand had to say about it.

  12. I completely agree with zombiegoddess when she wrote:  "The Bible didn't cause homosexuality, God didn't cause homosexuality, it just is.  Period.  I would kill to see someone say that Buddha caused homosexuality just to have a chuckle.  God is like the red-headed stepchild, ever notice that?"

    I don't think there is a connection between the Bible and homophobia. I'm a Christian & a TW (and yes, the two are separate) so I don't like it when people blame things on the Bible. For Sodom and Gomorrah, the Bible reference to homosexuality occurs in Genesis 19:5. I have a King James version, which doesn't mention sex, but the New International Version does. For other verses about homosexuality, see Leviticus 18:22 and I Corinthians 6:9  The Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, but doesn't give "Holy Cow, you're gay, get away from me, don't touch me!" type scenarios.

    In college, I had to take a class on the Koran, which I believe is much, much worse than the Bible where same-sex relationships are concerned. Some Islamists have been  flogged, stoned and put to death for same-sex relationships. Now THAT could cause homophobia!

    I don't judge other people or the path they have chosen. I really try to live by "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  Most of the time, this works out great for me, but then there are always people you just want to strangle. Just sayin'. OK... I hope I didn't ramble too much here or get off topic.

  13. I'm going to have to take another look at the Book of Ruth, and probably reread this post of yours. Oh, and read the Karnan book, or at least take a look at it...

    You keep adding to my reading list! lol!

  14. Many times the things done in the name of religion have very little to do with spirituality, doesn't it?

  15. I'm right there with you. To blame the a book that was written thousands of years ago, would be silly. It is all in the way people choose to see it. 

  16.  You know, when I wrote this post, I avoided including including Leviticus 18:22 and Corinthians 6:9, on purpose. The words are ugly, and unfair to use against people just because they happen to love each other. 

    I'm adding them here to point out that although I don't believe the Bible is responsible for homophobia, I would argue that the ugly words of Leviticus and Corinthians don't do anything to make anyone who believes in them, think positive about same-sex relationships.

    It is nice that you don't judge other people, and if other Christians were like you, posts like this one wouldn't exist. The battle of gay service members trying to serve their country without having to hide the ones they love would have never been part of our history. And same-sex couples having to fight their own society for the legal recognition of their relationships would have been crazy talk. 

    Leviticus 18:22 NIV "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable" and " 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 men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

  17. Happy readings ;-)

    Karnan's piece is actually an article. It is online, and I just linked it.

  18. I still think its fabulous people either think they can accurately interpret something written thousands of years ago without any application of context whatsoever or just completely disregard reality and rewrite history because they're in a position to do so and be believed. Both of these idiotic practices are the cornerstone of modern organized religion. 

  19. Sometimes (okay all the time) I wish social evolution didn't work as slow as it does... 

  20. MagicLoveCrow9/28/2011

    Magaly, I can honestly say, I have never read the bible. But, I would like to say, I hate how religion, is used, towards war, politics, marriages, etc. It doesn't belong there! I have always been taught, to try to see the person's soul. Don't judge by the cover! I went to a party once and started talking to a really cute guy and we were getting along so well! Well, would you know it, it turned out his partner came up and joined the conversation. I was like, how come, this always happens to me! LOL! They both started laughing! Magaly, I just wish, people would smile, put out some good energy, help each other out,  and take care of mother earth, instead of pointing a figure. Wouldn't it be a nicer place ;o)

  21. MagicLoveCrow9/28/2011

    finger, sorry!

  22. I have never really believed that sexuality is a black and white issue, that you are gay or not.  And people who are homophobic are in that gray area and it scares the poop out of them.  The entire world really just needs to relax, it's not a big deal.

  23. Very astutely put. I LOVE this post. I had never heard that take on Ruth, and I love it. But your overarching point about people interpreting the Bible any way they choose is a very good one, and deeply true.I'm a member of a Spiritual Exploration group at my UU church (I love that you asked a UU minister, by the way), and we discussed Chrisianity last month. A good point was made about how selective some people are about the parts of the Bible they quote. It's generally heald that the old testament is no longer binding on Christians, and yet it's the go-to fallback for homophobic BS.The whole thing just makes me angry. I would LOVE to see all these people devoting their energy to ending world hunger than to spreading hate. 

  24. It would be a nicer place indeed ;-)

  25. People are people, love is love. It's that simple. I don't see why some people don't understand this.

  26. I get a little fire up too when discussing the issue. I guess things are getting better, but I want for the day when all of us understand that different doesn't mean bad. Heck, we don't even have to like each other all that much, but we need to learn to let other people be happy. 

  27. ljrich9/29/2011

    What most Christians do not realize is that the Bible is a book that was written as open ended as possible so as to allow for personal interpretation. The writers obviously knew people would not be easily lead by others unless the book was written that way. Without knowing the context in which all the words were written, and the fact we don't talk like that today, makes it very hard for all Christian denoms to even get onto the same page with each other, let alone society. I suppose that when you think about it, all poetic literary works are subject to individual interpretation.

  28. I think any connection the bible has to homophobic opinions is purely based on the interpretations of the reader. I've read the bible too, but never got any ideas from it that same sex relationships were wrong, and personally I think that if that's what makes people happy - being in a same sex relationship, I mean - then they should go for it. It's better than what would be the alternative; a choice between a life without love, or a relationship you're in just to please others and/or keep up appearances.

  29. That is exactly what I think. Life always holds the color of the lens we choose to see it through.

  30. Indeed, we can't take the book of its time.

  31. I believe that all love is pure and natural whether it be same sex, different races, whatever. The heart is color and gender blind. It only knows what is feels from the depths and anyone who tries to control or squelch those emotions will only live a life of lies which will lead to sadness.

    I have asked a few Christians to show me where in the bible that it states homosexuality is a bad thing but nobody has. I complelty agree with you in the importance the bible and it's mythology has in our world due to the large population that follow it. What bothers me are the hateful interpretations that people take from it. Each story is told in a parable and not everyone will decipher it the same. The bible comes from the works of man and has been changed from it's original form many times over from the centuries not to mention all of the trasnlation issues. I have read it myself, but as I do with any spiritual book I read, I take what feels right for me and leave the rest. If I don't understand parts of it, I ponder and question but do not make harsh and definitive decisions with no solid ground to stand on.  "Because it has always been that way" or "That's just the way it is." are not acceptable reasons for me. I want to know it, to feel it, to believe it.     

  32. Some people have serious problems... I'm always hoping one of these days we'll all wake up seeing that everybody realizes that we are all equal, but there are days when I'm not as hopeful. But I guess if we search for and spread a bit of knowledge we might just get there or close.

    We can just hope...

  33. Mina Crump10/04/2011

    Sometimes hope is all we have. We'll just keep being the change we wish to see, my sweet friend.  

  34. Oh wow! I haven't read the bible since I was like 13, but back then I don't think I realized Ruth and Naomi were lovers. I'm going to reread that. This is a great essay Magaly! Love it!!