Show of hands: how many parents here have “punished” their children by letting them do just what they wanted? You know the scene, you have been saying “no” to “just one more cookie pleeeeeeeeease!” until you think that you have forgotten every other word in your vocabulary. Then it dawns on you to try just the opposite, feed that ravenous appetite until the sick tummy teaches the lesson that the child seems intent on ignoring. It is a method that can all too easily backfire with the lesson learned that one cookie is good, but endless cookies are great. Of course, the parent’s intent is to teach the lesson through the consequences not the behavior.
In the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that God used this same tactic to teach some folks a lesson. Because of their wickedness, God just gives up and allows them to suffer the consequences of their lust. When this passage is used to view homosexuality as sinful, it ignores the points that: 1. Lust is the sin they give into 2. The people are heterosexuals lustfully seeking sexual gratification through homosexual activity 3. The punishment from God is the consequence, not the behavior.
- Romans 1:24 reads “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” It is the lusts of their hearts that is the sin.
- Verses 26 & 27 speak of women giving up their “natural” desire for men and vice versa, it is not speaking of those who have a natural desire for the same sex. It may be a fine point, but surely not one to overlook, particularly in the historical setting where an understanding that some folks are indeed “born that way” was not part of the cultural context
- Verse 27 ends with “…and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” It is not stated specifically what that due penalty is, but one can imagine a host of sexually transmitted diseases that may have resulted from the promiscuity as the consequence of the behavior.
And anyway, focusing on the sexual sin of lustful promiscuity is a convenient weapon of mass distraction considering the list that follows: They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (verses 29-31) Not to mention that Paul’s intent in the opening of this letter to the church in Rome was to make a clear point that ALL are judged by the law of God, whether they knew it from synagogue or simply from creation itself. He is leading to the familiar lament “for we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (3:29). In the context of understanding our sinfulness, the question of whether homosexuality is sinful is of little consequence considering the overwhelming evidence of sin’s abundance.
Yet, if one is homosexual, the question of potential sinfulness is a concern. This passage certainly does not make an unambiguous case for drawing that conclusion, but neither can it be said that it is outrageous to see that Paul is calling homosexuality unnatural and a sin. If there were a mountain of scripture to support the latter then my reasoning here could be considered a desperate attempt to impose my view on scripture. But isn’t the opposite more true? The overwhelming message of scripture is God’s love for an undeserving humanity and even in this passage the reason for pointing to our depravity is to lead us to the joy of accepting God’s grace. So why would so many people be burdened with a desire that is natural for them but against the creator’s will? The illogical nature of that paradox is a great reason to read Romans 1 closely and see that what is being condemned is promiscuity specifically not homosexuality generally.
A blog post is not the best place to unpack scripture as difficult as this. Given its brevity it can only be a start, perhaps a catalyst for thought and discussion. Thankfully, this coming Sunday’s episode of Darkwood Brew will focus on this text so we can all spend some time in conversation with it. I hope you will join us, come say “hi” to me in the chat room. I’ll be the one in the Culture Dove outfit.