One of the biggest issues facing Christianity today is the morality of homosexual activity. While most Christians throughout history have considered it a sin, many are reconsidering this traditional position and arguing that our faith does not actually require it. They are coming up with novel ways to understand the Scripture passages most commonly used to condemn the practice, and they are formulating new arguments in favor of it.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this debate, there are a bunch of bad arguments being thrown around by both sides, and in this article I want to take a look at two of these bad arguments, one that supports the traditional view and one that opposes it, and see where they go wrong. While it may seem strange that I’m going to critique an argument that supports the Church’s teaching on the matter, there’s actually a very good reason for it. We can’t be content with an argument just because it supports what we believe; bad arguments for correct conclusions don’t help anybody. In fact, they do more harm than good because they can give people the impression that we don’t have good reasons for our beliefs. Instead, if we’re going to defend our faith competently, we need to use good, solid arguments, and the first step in doing so is to clear away all the bad ones.
The Old Testament
To begin, let’s look at the Old Testament's teaching on homosexual activity; you’ll often see people bring up passages from Leviticus that condemn it:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
There’s no doubt that these two verses condemn homosexual behavior; no amount of interpretive gymnastics can avoid that conclusion. Because of the clarity of these condemnations, many Christians assume that the issue is settled. The Bible says it, so it must be true.
The Paul Problem
However, there’s a big problem with using Leviticus to argue against homosexual activity (or against much of anything, really): Christians are no longer bound to obey it. The teachings of Leviticus are part of the Law of Moses, but that law has lost its force now that Jesus has redeemed us. For example, St. Paul tells us:
Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26)
Using the analogy of a custodian, St. Paul explains that we don’t have to follow the Law of Moses (here simply called “the law”) anymore. It served its purpose for the Israelites up until the time of Jesus, but it’s since been abrogated. Now that we have Jesus, we no longer need a custodian, so we’re not bound to obey the Law. As a result, Leviticus by itself can’t be a source of Christian morality. At best, these passages can play a supporting role or be part of a larger argument, but we can’t simply point to them and consider the case closed.
Next, let’s look at a bad argument in favor of homosexual activity. Many today contend that since the Gospels never record Jesus saying anything about it, he must not have considered it sinful. People who use this argument often add that Jesus accepted outcasts and those rejected by mainstream society in his time, so if he were around today, he would accept homosexuals as well.
This argument has some emotional appeal, so it’s easy to see why people would be drawn to it. However, the logic behind it just doesn’t work. First of all, we don’t really know whether Jesus ever said anything about homosexuality. The Gospels don’t record him saying anything about it, but they only contain a fraction of what he said in his public ministry. As a result, we simply don’t know if Jesus ever preached about it. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, we just don’t know what Jesus may or may not have said about the subject.
Secondly, even if Jesus never said anything about homosexual activity, that still doesn’t mean he condoned it; lack of condemnation doesn’t equal approval. Jesus could very well have considered it a sin without feeling much of a need to talk about it. First century Jewish morality was pretty strong in its condemnation of same-sex activity, so maybe he felt that his time was better spent preaching about things his contemporaries needed to learn rather than telling them what they already knew. He didn’t come just to reiterate accepted Jewish norms of sexual morality. Rather, he came to call people to perfection (Matthew 5:48), and for that, he didn’t need to remind them of everything they already believed. Consequently, even if Jesus really was silent on this matter, his silence doesn’t mean that he was okay with homosexual activity.
Thirdly, while it’s true that Jesus probably would reach out to the gay community if he were around today, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t consider homosexual activity sinful. He didn’t eat with sinners and reach out to outcasts just because he was a nice guy; he didn’t do it because he accepted their sinfulness and wanted them to keep doing what they were doing. No, he reached out to them because he wanted them to change their lives. When Jesus’ opponents questioned why He ate with sinners, he responded, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
As a result, even though he probably would spend time with people in the homosexual community, that doesn’t mean that he would accept their lifestyle. At the very least, it’s equally possible that he would reach out to them in order to call them to repent of that lifestyle instead, so just like his alleged silence on this issue, his practice of reaching out to sinners doesn’t mean that he would accept same-sex activity if he were around today.
Clearing the Way
In a certain sense, we haven’t accomplished much in this article. By refuting one argument for each side of this debate, we haven’t gotten any closer to the truth of the matter. However, in another sense, we’ve made some real progress. The first step in finding the truth is to brush aside the bad arguments, and that’s what we’ve done here. We’ve brushed aside some bad arguments so we can focus our attention on the better ones, with the hope of finding where the truth really lies.