Friday, November 10, 2006

The Bible and Homosexuality

On Monday I shared Catholic theologian William Hunt’s insightful commentary on the Christian tradition and same-sex marriage.

My friend William’s commentary reminded me of another excellent reflection on this issue – one written by Vincent Smiles and published last November in the St. Cloud Times (see below).

Note: The constitutional amendment which Smiles refers to and if passed would have banned same-sex marriage and all legal equivalents in Minnesota, was defeated earlier this year. The Minnesota Pastors Summit was an event aimed at encouraging religious leaders to support the proposed Minnesota “marriage amendment”. The summit, held one year ago today, November 10, saw the rare and unusual collaboration of Christian fundamentalists and the Catholic hierarchy in an unsavory effort to support the enshrinement of discrimination into the Minnesota state constitution.


Bible’s Views on Homosexuality Aren’t so Easy for Us to Decipher
By Vincent M. Smiles
College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

St. Cloud Times
November 27, 2005

The Minnesota Pastors Summit has thrown its religious weight behind a state constitutional amendment that would ban not only same-sex marriage but even same-sex civil unions and thus deny health and other benefits to the lifelong partners of gays and lesbians.

Hopefully, the pastors will back away at least from this latter aspect of the amendment. Although, whether they ought to support such an amendment at all is open to considerable question. Using the state constitution to legislate morality is a dubious procedure at best.

The logical next step would seem to be an amendment that will curtail the rights of those found guilty of adultery or other immoral acts.

They have not so far proposed any such ideas, but the logic of this campaign suggests that they ought to do so. After all, adultery is a proven threat to marriage, whereas homosexuality is not.

Speaking as a Catholic theologian, I find the pastors moral certainty about homosexuality quite puzzling.

Informed theological debates in recent years have demonstrated only one thing clearly: There is no basis for absolute certainty on this issue. To be sure, the Vatican has made an amazing number of pronouncements on homosexuality in recent years, all of them condemning homosexual acts while emphasizing the obligation of compassion toward homosexuals.

Nevertheless, careful theological analyses, whether examining the biblical texts or wider issues, have been far less dogmatic than either the Vatican or the pastors.

In 1977, for instance, the Catholic Theological Society of America, responding to the Vatican’s text Persona Humana, which dealt with various sexual matters (premarital sex, masturbation and homosexuality), published a lengthy study
(Human Sexuality: New Direction in American Catholic Thought, Paulist Press), which far from fully endorsed all of the Vaticans conclusions.

On homosexuality the study said, for instance: “It is difficult to say anything about homosexuality that is not of a provisional nature. ... Simply citing verses from the Bible outside of their historical context and then blithely applying them to homosexuals today does grave injustice both to Scripture and to people who have already suffered a great deal from the travesty of biblical interpretation.”

When they turn to pastoral guidelines, the authors warn that persons involved in pastoral ministry need to examine their own attitudes toward homosexuals, because unconscious prejudices resulting from biased education or societal attitudes do serious injustice.

Given the long-standing ignorance about homosexuality and negative attitudes toward it, which of us can claim to be totally free of such prejudices?

The study goes on to suggest that homosexuals in stable, loving relationships should be left in peace by pastors.

This is recommended not simply as a lesser of two evils but as a positive good. The study even goes on to say that prayer, even communal prayer, for two (homosexual) people striving to live Christian lives, incarnating the values of fidelity, truth and love, is not beyond the pastoral possibilities of a Church whose ritual tradition includes a rich variety of blessings.

The study is well aware, however, that social repercussions might make such blessings inadvisable.

Perhaps the pastors might profitably read this and other studies before they deliver their promised sermons to their congregations about this issue. Such a lengthy and careful study, endorsed by a large number of thoughtful theologians, ought to give pause to those — whether the pastors, the Vatican or anyone else — who proclaim the truth on this matter.

For most people, the Bible constitutes the primary source, and the text that almost everyone imagines as settling the matter is Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, very few people examine the text carefully.

It is clearly not a story about homosexuality in the sense of same-sex couples being lovingly committed to one another. It tells of the men of Sodom wanting to force themselves on Lot’s divine visitors — in other words, it is a story about attempted gang rape.

If stories about rape could truly provide divine teaching about human sexuality, then what lessons should be drawn from Shechem’s rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) or Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)?

Do these stories teach that there is something wrong with men being attracted to women? Surely not! No more can any conclusions about homosexuality be drawn from the Sodom story of violent rape.

When Jesus referred to Sodom, he interpreted its sin as a refusal to accept visitors sent by God (Matthew 10:15); there is no word from Jesus condemning homosexuality.

The usual interpretations of Genesis 19 bespeak not accurate reading of Scripture, but prejudice against homosexuals. As voters decide whether they wish to support the pastors’ campaign, hopefully they will examine all sides of the issue.

This is the opinion of Vincent M. Smiles, who teaches theology courses at CSB/SJU that include study of the issue of homosexuality. He is married with three children.


Above: Michael Bayly (executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities) and Randi Reitan (of SoulForce Minnesota) at the November 10, 2005 rally to support equal civil marriage rights for all Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Pastors Summit – an event aimed at encouraging religious leaders to support the proposed “marriage amendment” banning same-gender marriage and all legal equivalents – did not go unopposed by people of faith in Minnesota.

Although both the summit and the proposed “marriage amendment” were actively supported by the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, a number of Catholic groups – including the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Dignity/Twin Cities, Catholics for Equality, and Catholic Rainbow Parents – played a key role in organizing a coalition of Christian churches, groups, and individuals to challenge the Pastors Summit.

In October 2005, CPCSM and Catholic Rainbow Parents initiated efforts to protest the Pastors Summit. A coalition called People of Faith for Equal Civil Marriage Rights was formed which organized a rally on November 10 outside the Pastors Summit’s venue, Grace Church in Eden Prairie.

Such organizing efforts involved the collaboration of a number of ecumenically diverse faith communities dedicated to defeating the proposed amendment. From this proactive and ecumenical dialogue and action emerged the
Faith Family Fairness Alliance, of which a number of Catholic organizations and individuals are members.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
“Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality is Complex and Nuanced”, says Theologian
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Good News from Minnesota
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
The Sexuality of Jesus

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