What does the Bible say about gay men?
The Bible describes sex between two men as a wicked, detestable, vile, outrageous, shameful sin.1 It says any men who do this have to be killed, and will not be allowed into the kingdom of God.
Does it really say that?
I’m pretty sure it does. Some people say the Bible isn’t as anti-gay as it seems, but I’m not convinced.
Some say the law against gay male sex can’t be about gay sex in general because that’s too private for the law to be enforceable, since there aren’t likely to be multiple witnesses. So they say that law must really only be about public acts of temple prostitution. But by that logic, you would have to conclude that none of the Bible’s rules about sex apply to acts done in private. Not even the laws that specifically say nobody else is around. I doubt that’s what was intended.
Some say Paul was only specifically condemning the practice of pederasty, but that’s not what he said. The word he used translates literally to “man-bed”. Why wouldn’t he use a word that specified boys or teenagers, if that was what he meant? And nobody thought it was wrong for adults to have sex with teenagers back then, so even if Paul was talking about pederasty, the age issue is probably not the part he would have objected to.
Some say the Bible implies that if you’re a man who sleeps with men or a woman who grinds with women, you have a 50% chance of being raptured into heaven, while for the rest of us who try to enter through the straight gate, the chance of being saved is much lower. But does the Bible actually say those people who are being taken are going to heaven? According to one of Jesus’s parables, the first people who will be taken away at the end of the age will be sinners being taken to hell.
There are more passages in the Bible that could be seen as vaguely pro-gay,2 but interpreting them that way is a bit of a stretch, especially considering how much more straightforward and clear the other passages are that say gays must be killed, etc.
What’s so bad about homosexuality, that it would deserve that kind of punishment? Nothing at all, as far as I can tell. I haven’t heard any good reasons to think gay sex is immoral. I’ve heard some bad ones though…
Is homosexuality wrong because it’s unnatural?3 What does it mean for something to be natural? It just means it wasn’t caused by humans. So can anything people do be “natural”? If any human behaviors deserve to be called natural, it would be things that people don’t have to make an effort to do, or things that people do without being taught or otherwise influenced by other people.
When gay people engage in gay behavior, they don’t have to make an effort to go against what they’re naturally inclined to do, like straight people would have to do if they were to engage in the same behavior.
And homosexuality doesn’t seem to be something people learn from other people, either. There’s no correlation between a person’s orientation and the orientation of the people who raised them, for instance. Nor is there any correlation between how tolerant of homosexuality a culture is and how prevalent it is in that culture. So I’d say homosexuality is about as natural as any human behavior can be.4
But more importantly, whether something is natural or not has nothing to do with whether it’s good or bad! Brushing your teeth isn’t natural, but that doesn’t make it bad. Getting struck by lightning is natural, but that doesn’t make it good.5
Is homosexuality wrong because it doesn’t contribute to keeping the world populated? Neither does celibacy, and Christians generally consider that a virtue, not a sin.
Some people may be worried that it would be hard to keep the world populated if everyone decided to have only gay sex. This fear seems to rely on the odd assumption that everyone would rather be having gay sex, and that the only reason most people settle for straight sex is because it’s more socially acceptable. In reality, most people are straight, which means they’re not interested in having gay sex. So this scenario is never going to be a real problem.
(Why would anyone think that everyone turning gay was a possibility? Apparently some people don’t understand that different people actually have different sexual interests. They think being straight or gay just means making an arbitrary choice between two behaviors that are both desirable to you, while in reality the majority of people only find one of those behaviors desirable.6
One reason people are confused about this is probably that some of them are bisexual and don’t know it.7 I imagine it could be hard to grasp the concept of people not being attracted to men, or not being attracted to women, if you’ve never experienced that.)8
Some people say it’s wrong to do anything that impedes the natural “purpose” or biological function of any part of the body (such as impeding the function of the reproductive organs by engaging in non-reproductive forms of sex), but they seem to apply that principle awfully selectively. I’ve never heard of anyone thinking it was morally wrong to wear earplugs or a blindfold.
Having gay sex doesn’t even really stop people from reproducing, anyway. There are plenty of gay people who want to have children, and there are plenty of ways they can do that. And for people who are bisexual, doing both is even easier.
Is homosexuality wrong because it’s unhealthy? Gay male sex may be more likely to spread disease than straight sex, but lesbian sex is less likely to do so. It would make more sense to conclude that nobody should have sex with men, rather than that nobody should have sex with the same sex. Also, if you think it’s wrong to have sex in riskier ways when safer options exist, does that mean you think it’s always wrong to have sex without a condom? How does that fit with being concerned about keeping the world populated?
Is homosexuality wrong because it’s disgusting? What is or isn’t disgusting is very subjective. For some people, all sex is disgusting. If something happens to disgust you, that’s no reason other people who aren’t disgusted by it shouldn’t be allowed to do it, especially when you’re not around. A lot of people may be disgusted by the thought of, say, old people having sex, but does that mean it should be illegal for old people to have sex? Should old people be executed if they ever dare to have sex? Of course not.
Is homosexuality wrong just because God said so? No, there would have to be some other reason behind it. If morality was defined solely by whatever God decided to command, rather than being based on a separate objective standard, that would make morality arbitrary and meaningless.
It would mean that instead of saying you shall not murder, God could just as easily have said murder was the best thing in the world, and it would be so. Imagine a world where all believers think murder is always absolutely good, because God said so. If you think that scenario would be bad somehow, that proves that you have moral standards that are independent of what God says.
The Bible says that at one point, God was giving people laws that were not good. That’s only possible if good is not defined by what God says. The Bible says if God was to kill the righteous along with the wicked, that would not be right. That only makes sense if there is a moral standard apart from God by which we can judge God’s actions.9
Strangely, most people who say homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so don’t seem to care so much about keeping all the Bible’s other dumb rules. Why aren’t these people just as outraged by people eating pork, working on weekends, wearing blended fabrics, and shaving their sideburns? Why don’t they insist on women being strictly isolated during their periods,10 slavery being legalized, and disobedient children being executed?11
Some people seem to think their never-changing God has changed his mind for some reason, and doesn’t care whether people keep all his laws anymore. But the Old and New Testaments both clearly say that God’s laws are meant to last forever. And not just some of them. All of them. It’s all or nothing.
What about lesbians?
The Bible isn’t so hard on lesbians. It doesn’t say they have to be executed or anything. But it does say it’s shameful when women engage in homosexual relations, right? Only when it’s unnatural. And having sex with women is only unnatural for straight women, not for lesbians. So I guess this passage isn’t really about lesbians at all.
There is one passage in the Bible that includes “practicing homosexuality” in a list of sins, but that’s an overly broad translation of a word that literally means “man-bed“. It’s an obscure Greek word of uncertain meaning, but whatever it means, it probably doesn’t include women bedding women.
Jesus did say that anyone who looks at a woman with lust is guilty of “adultery” and is in danger of going to hell. So it sounds like lesbians are in trouble… but not any more than straight men. Other than that, the Bible has nothing to say about lesbians.
What did the Sodomites do?
The Bible is awfully anti-gay, but one thing it does not say is that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. The Sodomite men in the story do seem to be gay; they all want to have sex with the men visiting Lot, and they aren’t interested when Lot offers to let them have sex with his daughters instead.12 But the Bible never says that was why God destroyed Sodom.
There are two passages in the Bible that give specific reasons for Sodom and Gomorrah being considered evil. One is a list of failings that have nothing to do with sex. The other says they were punished for sexual immorality, but it doesn’t specify what kind of acts they were being punished for. Could it mean rape? The malicious way the men of Sodom talked about what they wanted to do did sound pretty rapey. I see no reason to assume that second passage is referring to homosexuality when it could just as easily be talking about rape.
Fun fact: Christians used to have a same-sex kissing ritual
Several epistles in the Bible end by telling Christians to greet one another with a “holy kiss”, or a “kiss of love“. What kind of kisses were these? For the first few centuries of Christianity, Christians would greet each other by kissing each other on the lips. But this was only done between members of the same sex. Men and women were segregated during church meetings to prevent anyone from kissing members of the opposite sex, because that would be perverted! So same-sex sex was forbidden, but same-sex kissing was encouraged.
But these were platonic kisses, right? Not entirely. Apparently the church leaders eventually realized that some people were enjoying their kisses of love too much, so they had to make some new rules restricting how many times you could kiss someone, and what kinds of kisses were allowed. Today, a lot of churches completely disregard the Bible’s instructions, and use other forms of greeting instead of same-sex kisses on the mouth. Why do you suppose they would do that?