My Bible Study this week is focussing on Romans chapter 1, 2 and 3.
If this doesn’t fill you with instant interest and/or dread then this is probably because you are not a gay Christian.
So, having successfully managed to avoid looking ahead to see what my Closer to God Bible Study had to say, I worked my way through the first part of Romans 1 earlier this week and finally reached that passage today.
I have struggled with Romans 1:24-27 for years. Struggled to understand how – and if – it applies to my life.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Romans 1:24-27, NIV
This is the one passage that gives me chills. The only one in the Bible to talk (possibly) about female same-sex attraction (the rest are all about the men), and the only one no-one has ever managed to successfully explain to me from a pro-gay perspective. I am not saying that there aren’t some interesting perspectives out there, but I have always been left with a kind of nagging doubt about this one.
To set this in its context (as we always must), Paul’s main point is about worshipping idols and his development goes something like this:
- God is revealed in nature and all people should be able to see this. (18-20)
- However, it is not acceptable to worship the creation rather than the Creator. This was happening in Rome, where people were worshipping idols made in the shapes of birds, reptiles and so on. This is, in Paul’s words “exchanging the truth about God (as revealed in nature) for a lie (worshipping the created)”(21-23, 25)
- When people do this, God “gives them over” to their sinful desires for sexual immorality. (24)
- Included in this sexual immorality is women having sex with women and men having sex with men. (26-27)
- Back to the general problem: people worshipping idols. Because they do this, they become utterly depraved, filled with wickedness from murder to disrespecting their parents and gossiping. (28-30)
- Even worse, they have no love, no concept of fidelity and no concept of mercy. (31)
- This leads them not only to do wicked things, but to encourage others to do them. God has righteously decreed that the punishment for this is death (31).
It seems to me to be pretty clear that Paul is talking about a big problem – worshipping idols – and is including certain same-sex behaviours as part of his discussion. Anyone who argues that the passage as a whole is about homosexuality is definitely missing the point. If this passage were specifically about homosexuality then Paul would essentially be saying that all homosexuals worship idols, are murderers and slanderers and devoid of love, faith and mercy. One doesn’t have to look far to see that this simply is not true. Rather, he is talking about the way in which worshipping an idol instead of the One True God destroys lives, perpetuates sin and leads individuals into a downward spiral in which they lose their very humanity and live a lie instead of being set free by Truth.
Dave Bookless, the writer of this section of the Bible Study, makes the point that Rome “was a notorious centre of pagan worship and sexual deviance.” The worship of several Roman deities probably involved sexual activity in the temples themselves, with some temples such as those dedicated to Venus actually hiring both male and female sex workers in order to “aid” those who came to worship (the situation was similar in Corinth, where Venus was called Aphrodite, and in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul similarly warns against participating in such worship, 1 Cor 6:12-20)
The question for us today is: can we take Paul’s statement about the worship of idols in Rome and the sexual orgies (including same-sex, um, sex) and apply it to gay couples today, many of whom are not devoid of love for one another, fidelity to one another and mercy towards each other? Much less murderers or slanderers.
Back to my Bible Study. Dave Bookless states that Paul “is not condemning people who are honestly struggling with their sexuality.”
What about people who are happy with the way they are, including their sexuality?
What about people in loving same-sex relationships?
What about Christians trying to reconcile the adventure of sexuality with the adventure of faith?
Is Paul condemning them?
I am honestly struggling.
And looking forward to seeing what Paul says in Romans 2 and 3. Because I have a feeling that it matters.
(Coming soon: Honestly Struggling – Part 2)
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