Support us with Kachingle!
May 6, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Within Christianity, many denominations exist, each with different perspectives on how to interpret the Bible. Trickier still, within each denomination, followers might be divided on these interpretations. Thus, when a topic such as homosexuality comes up, individuals can turn to their Bibles, religious leaders or personal belief systems to interpret what they accept for themselves.
“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”
— Romans 1:27 King James Version
Although homosexuality is often discussed within the Christian faith, Vox looked further into what religious texts say about homosexuality within the Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist faiths.
Scholars have argued that Islam prohibits homosexuality, based on the version of the story of Sodom found within the Quran. The prophet Lut told the residents of Sodom, who regularly practiced sodomy, to stop. When they refused, Allah destroyed the city. “The chapter tells you that these are forbidden activities in the religion,” says Rashed Nizam, chairman of the Shura Council. “Any kind of sex outside of marriage is forbidden as well.”
Notable passages: Hud 11:77-83 in the Quran.
Judaism takes the same standpoint as Christianity when it comes to homosexuality the Torah, or the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament, contains the book of Leviticus, which bans homosexuality. It calls homosexuality between males an “abomination” and states that perpetrators will “surely be put to death.”
However, as Mary Hartigan, a volunteer who works with the rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom, points out, it is often only Orthodox Jews who follow those teachings; she and other more liberal Jews embrace homosexuals. “We see it as a product of biology, and if it’s biological, then how is it a choice?” she says. It seems there’s the same diversity of viewpoints in Judaism as in Christianity.
Notable passages: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in both the Torah and the Bible.
The Pali Canon, which documents the Buddha’s teachings, does not reference homosexuality. However, in explaining basic rules of conduct — known as the Five Precepts — Buddha taught followers to “abstain from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures.”
The text does not elaborate as to what he meant by “sexual pleasures,” and some translations have suggested the Buddha meant celibacy or abstention from all sexual pleasures.
“I knew I was gay at about 15,” says Zach Rose-Heim, 21, who works at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Resource Center on MU’s campus. “I was out to some people in my church. They were very supportive. It wasn’t, ‘Let me pray over you and try to fix you.’” However, the sympathetic members in his church knew that some of the older parishioners wouldn’t understand. They encouraged Rose-Heim to keep the information to himself, not only because it would make his life easier but also because some might doubt his ability to be a spiritual leader.
Because his parents are ordained ministers, Rose-Heim felt that religion was a part of him from the day he was born. Raised as a Disciple of Christ, a denomination within the Christian faith, he says religion became a big deal when he entered high school and became the state president of the youth of the Disciples of Christ church.
Although religion played a major role in his upbringing, these days Rose-Heim, who notes that he’s not a representative of MU or Disciples of Christ, says he has become disenchanted with religion. He feels religious conviction too often is used to perpetuate hate, which he doesn’t see as the mission of churches. Rose-Heim doesn’t think that the people who were involved with creating the Bible intended for it to be used as a means to rule people but rather as a way to make the world and its people better through love and compassion.
“Based on what I’ve seen, my (denomination) hasn’t taken an official stance on homosexuality,” he says. According to Rose-Heim, Disciples of Christ has a diversity and pro-reconciliation council that addresses concerns regarding gender and race. Individual churches discuss sexual orientation to an extent because of their lack of a set doctrine.
People often turn to the Bible for answers to their questions about homosexuality, but what does the Bible say? Although the Bible discusses homosexual acts, it doesn’t describe homosexuality as a sexual orientation says John Baker, 54, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbia. And because of this, “the Bible leaves us with many questions,” he says. Back in 2001, the church held an inclusivity series that identified categories of people the church felt they could minister to more effectively. The categories ranged from race and gender to class and sexual orientation.
The Bible has authoritative power for Baptists, Baker says. Some Baptists are open to modern approaches to biblical studies, not just agreeing with what is handed down through traditional studies.
According to Baker, as of 2002, 84 different types of Baptists existed, bringing along differing ways of looking at the Bible. Although biblical verses are often used as a way to reject homosexuality, only six main passages within the Bible actually reference homosexual acts, Baker says.
“The Bible does contain passages that speak to homosexual behavior, but there are broad interpretations of what those passages mean,” Baker says. He states that some scripture is bound to a certain culture and time.
A vast majority of the congregation received Baker’s inclusivity sermons positively and saw them as a message in accordance to the Gospels. But there were those who left the church over the series. Baker says some thought the messages would negatively influence their children. “I’m not preaching or teaching anything goes,” Baker says. “There is such things as sexual sin.” However, as he points out, scripture should be handled with care. “(It’s) 2,000-year-old texts we are trying to apply to today. Not that it’s outdated, but we must interpret in regards (to that fact).”
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” — Matthew 7:1
“The Catholic faith doesn’t interpret everything in scripture absolutely literally,” says John Weaver, deacon of Columbia’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church. “From the Catholic perspective, scripture needs to be taken in context from broad perspectives.”
Weaver says Catholicism is based on scripture and apostolic tradition, which means Catholics follow the practices that were established by the disciples and apostles who were closest to Christ.
“The Catholic church doesn’t view homosexuality as a lifestyle choice,” Weaver says, pointing out that the Catholic church doesn’t hold that people choose to be gay.
When it comes to homosexuality, the church doesn’t condemn anyone for homosexual feelings. In fact, homosexuality isn’t against Catholic teachings, but rather any sexual activity outside the confines of marriage is. “By Catholic definition, the sacrament of marriage is between one male and female,” he says. Therefore, much like premarital sex between a heterosexual couple, it is homosexual acts, and not homosexuality, that are against Catholic teachings.
“Homosexuals deserve the respect given to them as human beings,” Weaver says.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in person, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
— Matthew 25: 37-40
The Rev. Dick Blount, an 82-year-old retired Methodist minister, recalls what lead him to found the Open Door Ministry, a group that accepts gays, provides support and understanding to families and teaches a series of lessons on Christian faith and homosexuality. Hailing from Fulton, he grew up in a Methodist church and rarely missed a Sunday service. People always told him he’d be a minister someday, and after trying to avoid it for a while, at 27 years old, he went to seminary for three years. Because he questioned the race relations that plagued his community during his younger years, Blount became a man of social justice as well as spirituality. “I got into this because of love,” Blount says. “I had to do something.”
When he moved to Columbia in 1991, he discovered that people didn’t talk about homosexuality in the church. After joining Missouri United Methodist Church, Blount decided to teach a series of lessons on Christian faith and human sexuality. “I felt that’s what Jesus wanted me to do,” he says.
The Open Door Ministry doesn’t try to argue with opposing beliefs or try to change people. When it comes to those who use biblical text to reject gays, Blount says: “You never gain a thing to argue scripture with people. Acceptance is the only way to do it. We are all worthy children of God. To talk about changing them is (an) offense against me and (an) offense against God who created them.”