God’s Judgment Hall: the Case of Homosexuality
Written by J. Michael Smith, a United Methodist pastor
The Text: Matthew 7: 1-5
“1Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” –Jesus, Sermon on the Mount
I want us to think for a few moments about what it means for a religious person to sit in judgment against another human being.
In fairness, it’s hard to be religious and not judge others. After all, isn’t religion concerned with teaching “right” from “wrong?” Jesus himself bids us each to examine our own behavior: seeking what is good and trying to avoid what is bad. It then becomes so easy, while trying to figure out right and wrong for ourselves, to develop some opinions about the actions of others. And sometimes we get carried away thinking about others, and like Santa Claus, spend lots of time keeping a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.
But before thinking about how we judge others, let’s start by reflecting on whether we have ever been judged by another Christian.
- Perhaps you were judged because you don’t go to church enough.
- Perhaps you have been judged by a religious person because you use alcohol or tobacco.
- Perhaps you are disparaged because you are divorced, or because your kids got into trouble, or because you have never gotten married, or never had children.
- Perhaps a church member has been condescending because you lost job, or because you don’t have a better job.
- Perhaps something bad happened to you, then a religious person came along and decided that you didn’t have enough faith, or else God would have protected you from your troubles.
- Perhaps a religious person has doomed you because you couldn’t buy into the way that a particular congregation interprets the Bible, or because you have your doubts about the Bible, or religion, or even God.
- Perhaps a religious person is offended because you are too spirited in your religion: in practicing your religion you use drums, or you dance, or you drink coffee during worship, or you don’t dress up properly.
- Perhaps a religious person has dismissed you for being female, and assigned you an inferior place in the church or society or family.
- Perhaps you have been judged because you, or someone you love, is gay or lesbian, or bisexual…and that religious person who judges you will swear on the Bible that you or the person you love is an abomination to God and society.
The sad truth is this: religious people often sit in judgment against other human beings.
I’d like for you to spend a few moments with me today thinking conscientiously about individuals who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual. I picked the issue of homosexuality to go with these words of Jesus because I reckon that the issue of homosexuality provokes more “judging” these days than nearly anything else.
For the purposes of this sermon, we will be talking about human beings who are attracted to and desire to be in an intimate partnership with another person of the same gender. Those same-sex partners may or may not desire physical intimacy. They may or may not wish to have their relationship be openly acknowledged, celebrated or encouraged by others.
[Note: Our conversations today have moved into more complicated issues of gender identity and sexual preference. In order to consider everyone who does not identify as heterosexual, we are left with a growing string of initials, trying to connect with all those who are stigmatized and marginalized based on sexuality. LGBTQIA+…so far. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/ Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) A check of Wikipedia articles on each of these words will give a working knowledge of how the terms are commonly used. And while you’re at it, look up “cisgender.” Most current arguments in the church are about sexual orientation: persons who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This work focuses more on orientation rather than identity.]
What does the Bible really says about persons who identify as gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual…and sexual behavior that involves another person of the same gender? And what sins are committed against LGBTQIA+ persons whose environment is impacted by those disparaging comments so often uttered by the average church member?
The History of “Homosexual”
Let’s begin by examining the English word, “homosexual.” It has been in the English language only since 1892, and there is no equivalence to it in any of the ancient languages used by Christians or Jews: not in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. Neither the Old Testament (written in Hebrew) nor the New Testament (written in Greek) has a word that corresponds to the English uses and definitions of “heterosexual” or “homosexual.” There are words in both the Old Testament and New Testament (sometimes euphemisms) that correspond to various types of same gender sexual aggression. But there are no words or euphemisms in any biblical language that refer to loving, same sex intimacy. Several biblical passages are often cited in judging homosexual behavior, and we will be taking a very close look at them in this pastoral.
Both words, “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” were labels developed at the end of the 19thcentury to help a “modern” public understand and talk about an emerging cultural phenomenon. With the rise of modern societies (especially in Europe, Australia, and North America) a significant number of people were becoming increasingly self-conscious that their personal sexual desires and aversions were different from the way people generally talked and acted. A proliferation of literature in the 19thcentury portrayed the “norm” as boy meets girl, mutual romance ensues, physical passions flame, male and female get married, have children, and live happily ever after; end of story. Throughout the 20thcentury, the proliferation of film (both movies and television) promulgated this “norm” even more. As people read the Bible, they increasingly projected this “norm” onto texts that were not originally written with those cognitive categories in mind. And the more the “norm” was promoted by religion, law, family life, and education, the more a growing number of people felt themselves to be marginalized.
So, finally, by 1892, that divergence had a label: “homosexual.” The term was picked up by mainstream culture, which also manufactured a slew of derogatory synonyms. Throughout the 20thcentury, as consciousness of “homosexuality” grew, some people (including influential individuals in the fields of religion, politics, health care, psychology, and education) felt so much anxiety about homosexuals that they began to condemn and even prosecute those who could be identified as such. The assaults ranged from simple insults to institutional discrimination to castration. “Heterosexuality” was enforced by bullies, who often used their positions in government, religion, family, science, and education to carry out their cruelties.
But simultaneous to “homosexual” persons being judged, there arose a growing resistance to such bullying. Pioneers in the field of mental health and psychology argued successfully to remove “homosexuality” from the “disease” category. Movements in Christianity, centered on the theme, “What Would Jesus Do?” concluded that many religious folks were acting most unlikeJesus. They recalled that while Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, he didhave something profound to say about loving ones’ neighbor. At the turn of the 21stcentury, many Christians began to distinguish the “Pharisaical Jesus” of organized religion from the “Humane Jesus” of the New Testament, and grew appalled at how the name of God was being invoked to condemn, deny, and humiliate LGBTQIA+ persons. And the best scientists in the world were advocating an appreciation for the incredible array of nature’s diversity…debunking superstitions, opening new insights into those matters once thought simply queer, and teaching the world to be curious rather than judgmental. People began to let reality itself, science and experience, challenge their rigid thought categories.
Many people used the labels (homosexuality and heterosexuality) in positive ways for over 100 years to try and learn about the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual challenges faced by those individuals who knew that they simply didn’t fit into the ever increasing and crystalizing expectations regarding sexual pleasure, aversion, fulfillment, covenant, family, and lasting happiness. Some people used the labels to advocate for civil rights and public respect for all persons.
If we moderns think in terms of “homosexual” and “heterosexual persons” (and we’ve wisely begun moving beyond those simplistic and stereotyping labels now for the last 40 years) the writers who left us the Bibleneverwrote about those broad concepts. They were focused instead on more granular behavior, not categories of sexual orientation…and certainly not categories of gender identity. The biblical terms we now translate to mean “homosexuality” were, in Bible times, very specific terms that described male-on-male rape, kept boys, pagan fertility cults, military rape, male prostitution, and pederasty. The Bible does not directly address the issues that are most important in American society today: the morality of same-gender sexual intimacy, same sex marriage, and protection of civil rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. The Bible gives no specific guidance regarding same-gender relationships that are sexual, loving, mutually joyful, and life-giving.