One of the most widely recognized teachings of Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Over the centuries, however, some of Jesus’ followers have used the Bible to support such horrors as the Crusades, the Inquisition, oppression of women, burning of “witches,” anti-Semitism, and slavery. Remarkably, many Christians appear to have learned little from such offenses, and they continue to use the Bible as an excuse to oppress some of their neighbors, including their homosexual neighbors, like me.
My name is Linda. I was raised in a very loving Protestant home near Seattle, Washington, with my parents and younger sister. We all attended church pretty regularly, and were each involved in various church activities, such as Sunday school, Bible study groups, and Young Life. In an effort to more fully understand and develop my faith, I attended Seattle Pacific University, a well-respected Methodist college. As part of my curriculum, I took several courses in biblical studies. Although I anticipated that these courses would lead me to a closer relationship with God, my in-depth study of the Scriptures eventually led me to lose my faith and become an agnostic. There was a lot of study, soul-searching, and prayer involved in my decision, and I still believe that some of the teachings of Jesus are remarkably revolutionary and inspiring. For example, I still try to live my life by the “Golden Rule”––Jesus’ teaching to “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Growing up, though, I was homophobic. For example, I remember snickering with classmates about a homosexual teacher in junior high school. To me and my equally misinformed friends, she was strange, “queer,” out of the norm, and a grievous sinner. After all, this is what we had been taught all of our lives, and we reflexively condemned and ridiculed her behind her back. What a shock it was for me when I discovered about 15 years later, at the age of 28, that I too am a homosexual woman. I firmly believe that it took me so long to recognize my own sexual orientation because of the ignorance, fear, and prejudice that had been instilled in me as part of my Christian upbringing. (How could I possibly be one of “them”––the loathsome caricatures I had heard spoken of in whispered tones for so many years?!)
“Coming out” was the most liberating experience of my life. As I have often explained to friends and family, the mirror often seemed like just a picture on the wall. I had never really seen or understood myself until I finally realized that I am physically and emotionally attracted to women. The price of my liberation was very high, however, as I was married at the time to an amazing man––a man with whom I fully expected to share the rest of my life. Todd and I met during our freshman year of college, and we married shortly after graduation. His love and support helped me along the inevitable path to self-discovery––a path that he patiently walked with me for several years. Despite our deep love and respect for each other, we knew that our relationship could not survive my sexual orientation. After nearly seven years of marriage, we therefore divorced. Although I will always feel horribly guilty for the pain that my belated realization caused, I am certain that I had no choice in the matter. I am also certain that I could not ultimately be the wife whom Todd deserves. If homophobia did not pervade our society––in large part because of the vitriol from many Christian leaders––I have little doubt that I would have recognized my orientation long before we married, and that the pain that Todd, I, and both of our families endured could have been avoided.
After 28 years of living as a heterosexual person, I was very naive about how my life would change. Before coming out, I was Linda Patterson––a fun-loving, sun-loving, hard-working grad student, who liked to laugh, read, ski, play squash, follow politics, and take long road trips. After coming out, I was Linda Patterson, a lesbian. None of my other characteristics seemed to matter to some people anymore. Suddenly I was judged, feared, and hated based upon a single characteristic––my sexuality. Although I was certainly aware of homophobia in our society, I was ill-prepared for the constant onslaught of hatred and negativity that is directed at people based upon this one trait. I guess I had not paid much attention to the attacks until I realized that they were directed at me. For over a decade since coming out, I have heard homosexual people blamed for such tragedies as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the horrifying terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and the devastation that was wrought by Hurricane Katrina. I have seen various Christian organizations serve up anti-homosexual initiatives on state ballots to rally homophobic constituents to the polls. I have seen homosexual people disowned by their own families. I have seen homosexual people hide or deny their sexuality in order to avoid being disowned by their families. Some have even participated in “ex-gay” Christian ministries at the behest of their parents. (I know one man who stuck with such ministries for over fifteen years before finally accepting himself as homosexual.) I have seen countless reports of “gay-bashings”––where homosexual people have been beaten or killed by violent bigots. I have even known a couple of victims of this despicable crime. Not surprisingly, I have also seen homosexual people try to escape the pain of marginalization and degradation with drugs and alcohol.
Fortunately, the situation is not all doom and gloom. We continue to see more and more homosexual people stepping up to demand equality, and opinion polls show growing acceptance of us, as well as growing antagonism toward the disparate and unequal treatment of people based upon sexual orientation. Indeed, the State of Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples in 2004. Although states such as California have banned same-sex marriage, the margin of victory for such measures has decreased substantially over the years, and polls show that the majority of young voters favor same-sex marriage. Based upon the progress that has been made in recent years, I am optimistic that hostility toward homosexual people will eventually be viewed as a shameful relic of the past. In the meantime, a major obstacle to equality seems to be the widely held belief that the Bible condemns homosexuality for all time and under all circumstances.
Although the issue of homosexuality and the Bible has been on my mind for many years, the impetus for writing this book ultimately came when I went to a Gay Pride Parade in my hometown of San Diego, California in the summer of 2007. As I walked to meet my friends, I encountered a preacher who was standing on a street corner spewing hate-filled homophobic rhetoric through a bullhorn. It was a surreal moment as I walked through the crowd of happy and peaceful parade-goers who were smiling, laughing, and holding hands––despite the preacher’s rant in the background telling us that God hates homosexual people and that we are all going to Hell (to the preacher’s great delight, it seemed). While I often hear people use the Bible to condemn me and my homosexual friends, this preacher’s particularly crude affront compelled me to research the biblical texts for myself. I consulted several study Bibles, and bought a few books that address the Bible’s position on homosexuality. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn. I read every book I could find on the subject, and it became clear to me that the discourse among scholars has been completely eclipsed by prominent self-aggrandizing Christian leaders who resort to simplistic slogans to condemn their homosexual neighbors.
I was surprised to discover, for example, that of the over 30,000 verses contained in the Bible, only six refer to homosexuality. And Jesus never even mentioned the issue. I was also surprised to learn that neither the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, nor the many Bible verses that refer to the story, support the idea that the cities were destroyed as punishment for homosexuality. Although there are five verses in the Bible that do appear to condemn homosexuality, the condemnation seems to be based upon very primitive and antiquated views that most modern-day Christians rightfully reject. For example, the book of Leviticus, which describes sex between men as an “abomination,” also requires the stoning to death of children who curse their parents. The Apostle Paul––the only New Testament author to speak about homosexuality––describes it as a “degrading passion.” However, Paul describes all sex in negative terms, and he counsels Christians to avoid marriage and to remain celibate.
I was so intrigued by what I learned from my investigation that I decided to take a sabbatical from my career as an attorney to write this book. Because I now believe that the Bible has been grossly misused to condemn homosexuality, I thought it was important to share my discoveries with other people who are interested in––and perhaps affected by––the topic, but who have not had the benefit of time to research the issue for themselves. Widespread misconceptions about what the Bible says about homosexuality are negatively impacting the lives of millions of homosexual people and our families. We are sick of hearing chants like “God hates Fags,” which attempt to devalue our lives and our loves, and we are hungry for information that we can use to counter such attacks.
Unfortunately, most books that address the issue of homosexuality and the Bible are either too scholarly to appeal to the average reader, or too simplistic to provide much meaningful information. Moreover, I have not found any mainstream book on the subject that is written by an agnostic. The existing books are written by Christians, and they tend to skirt or avoid troubling texts in the Bible, such as those that condone genocide, slavery, and the degradation of women. I believe that my agnosticism permits me to offer a more skeptical perspective on the texts––a perspective that has been missing from mainstream bookshelves. While such an approach is likely to stir some controversy, it is my sincere hope that it will also stir hearts and minds to challenge those who use the Bible to bash their homosexual neighbors, as well as provide a useful resource for homosexual people wishing to defend themselves against such attacks.
In chapter 1, I set forth various homophobic statements made by Christian leaders in order to illustrate the breadth and pervasiveness of homophobic attitudes within the church. In chapters 2 through 4, I examine each of the six Bible verses that are used to condemn homosexuality, and conclude that the verses either do not condemn homosexuality at all––as in the case of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah––, or are far too contextually and culturally removed to warrant a modern-day condemnation of homosexuality. In chapter 5, I address and rebut the view of some Christians that the creation stories and the complementarity of male-female reproductive organs provide God’s implicit condemnation of homosexuality. I also discuss how nature specifically equips our bodies and minds for both heterosexuality and homosexuality. In chapter 6, I present the biblical stories of David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi––stories of extraordinary and abiding love between people of the same sex. In chapter 7, I challenge the modern myth of biblical “family values,” and discuss the fact that biblical authors accepted and approved many practices that most modern-day Christians find unacceptable––practices such as polygamy, intra-family marriage, and abducting virgins from neighboring villages. I also discuss how the Bible portrays Jesus as having little interest in “family values.” Instead, Jesus is portrayed as calling people away from their families to live an itinerant and celibate lifestyle, and to preach about the coming kingdom of God. In chapter 8, I discuss how biblical authors accepted and approved the practice of slavery, and how these views were used to support the scourge of slavery in America. Although the struggles of slaves and homosexual people are distinct in many ways, slavery has much to teach us about the present debate regarding the Bible and homosexuality. I provide extensive endnotes and a Bibliography for readers who prefer more detail, and who may wish to explore certain issues further.
The terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” are widely regarded as imprecise and overly simplistic. Many scholars view sexual orientation as a spectrum. At one end are people who are sexually attracted exclusively to the opposite sex, and at the other end are people who are sexually attracted exclusively to the same sex. Those whose sexual orientation falls somewhere in-between may refer to themselves as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. I am a good example of the semantic issue. Although I was married to a man for nearly seven years, and was able to be aroused by him sexually, I consider myself to be a homosexual woman. While some would define me as “bisexual,” I am much more attracted to women both emotionally and sexually, and believe that the word “homosexual” more accurately describes my “orientation.” After being in relationships with both men and women, I know that I can only be emotionally and sexually fulfilled with a woman.
Based upon both my personal experience, and my review of a wide variety of books and articles on the subject, I recognize that none of the foregoing categories adequately captures the complexities of human sexuality, or the biological and social factors that influence sexual identity, attraction, or activity. Because more satisfactory terms are not yet available, I use the term “homosexual people” to refer to individuals who are sexually attracted exclusively or predominantly to people of the same sex. I use the word “homosexuality” more broadly to refer to sexual activity between people of the same sex––whether the individuals involved are heterosexual people, homosexual people, or bisexual people. Of course, the Bible does not refer to “homosexuality” anywhere in its texts, as the term was not coined until the late nineteenth century. Nevertheless, I believe that my broad definition of “homosexuality” best reflects what the biblical authors had in mind when they addressed the subject of same-sex relations, as they appear to have focused upon sexual acts as opposed to sexual orientation.
In keeping with Christian tradition, I use the term “God” with a capital “G” and refer to this deity as masculine. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, as this version of the Bible appears to be one of the most accurate English translations to-date. For the most part, I analyze only the texts themselves, and it is beyond the scope of this book to address the debate among scholars regarding whether cities mentioned in the Bible actually existed, whether biblical figures actually lived, whether events described in the Bible actually occurred, whether prophetic texts were written after the events they purported to predict, etc.