Community of the Inner Light

To awaken from the nightmare of ignorance.


There is an issue which may challenge some of the teachings of the Church, and, some would say the very basis of our society, and that is the relationship of homosexual people and the Church.

In Western culture, homophobia (i.e., the hatred and fear of homosexuals) can be traced to our Judeo-Christian tradition. These days it is becoming more apparent that much of what we have held as true is less scripturally and theologically based than we have believed.

The Bible

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible serves as the primary guide in most moral and spiritual issues. In Orthodox Christian teachings, we rely on Holy Scripture (the Bible with the Apocrypha or Deutero-canonical Books) and Holy Tradition (the teachings of the Fathers of the Church). Many Christians selectively interpret scriptural texts; that is, they literally interpret references about homosexuality, while they liberally interpret all other scriptural texts. For example, Bible scholar R. J. Rushdoony states "God in His Law requires the death penalty for homosexuals." He bases his verdict on verses found in the book of Leviticus, but will Mr. Rushdoony execute this death sentence himself, or whom will he influence to carry it out? The Bible also says "Thou shall not kill!" (Ex. 20:13), Mr. Rushdoony!

The Bible really does not have very much to say about homosexuality. Jesus Himself said absolutely nothing about it, which is quite remarkable, indeed. Scripture says a lot more about gossip, judgment, pride and hypocrisy (and love!). Why does it say so little about homosexuality? Why, then, is this such a controversial subject?

Before we examine specific texts, however, we must first consider the fact that everyone understands scripture according to what they were taught. First and foremost, the Bible to most Christians, and especially for Orthodox Christians, is the Inspired Word of God; but it was transmitted to people by way of members of an early Hebrew culture and many of its instructions and laws are suitable to that culture and are less relevant now, for example, laws forbidding the eating of pork (Lev. 11:7) or the touching of the skin of a dead pig (Lev. 11:8).

In sacred scripture there is nothing about the idea of persons being homosexual, but there are certain texts that are, without any exception, concerned with homosexual acts. The early authors of the books of the Bible had absolutely no notion whatever that there was such a thing as a psycho-sexual type of orientation. That fact was only recently discovered. When they referred to homosexual acts, they assumed that these were performed by heterosexuals.

The Story of Sodom

One of the main texts that is used to condemn homosexuality is found in the book of Genesis and is known as "The Story of Sodom" (Gen. 19:1-29). In this story, two angels in human form were sent to Sodom to the home of Lot (the nephew of Abraham). The Bible says that while they were there, all the men of the city "both young and old, surrounded the house everyone without exception," and demanded that the visitors be brought out "so that we might know them" (verse 5). Lot implored the men to leave his guests alone and to take his two virgin daughters instead. The men of the city angrily attacked the door. As a consequence, all of them were made blind by the angels.

There are a number of problems with the traditional interpretation of this text. If the story of Sodom is indeed about male homosexuality, then why would Lot have given his two virgin daughters to the men of Sodom? What we actually have here is the threat of rape, and all forms of rape, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are abhorrent to God! The inhospitality, the injustice of a violent mob, and the hatred of strangers was the real "sin of Sodom." The prophet Ezekiel states "The crimes of your sister Sodom were pride and gluttony; she and her daughters were careless and complacent, so that they did nothing to help the poor and needy."(Ezek. 16:49) Jesus Himself also referred to Sodom's inhospitality (Luke 10:10-13). He said nothing about homosexuality when he commented about Sodom.

Were all of the men of Sodom homosexuals? Why should God have to destroy the whole city because they would all die without having heirs anyway? Did the city of Gomorrah also commit "the sin of Sodom" to merit its destruction too? More than likely, the people of Sodom (and Gomorrah) were evil people who humiliated, abused, and murdered strangers and people who were different. Quite ironically, lesbians and gays are often the victims of this sin.

It is quite plain, then, that the Story of Sodom is neither an example of, nor an argument against homosexuality. The other Old Testament texts which refer to homosexual acts do not refer to same-sex orientation.

Homosexual Acts

In the Old Testament there are only two texts that explicitly refer to homosexual acts, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. Both are part of the Levitical code of holiness which is not obligatorily binding on Christians. If this code would be imposed on Christians, many would be excommunicated or, at worst, executed. Many of the Levitical laws were concerned with dietary matters which science and progress have improved and thus such Levitical laws were made less relevant. Now much of the holiness law has ceased to have a moral bearing. Of singular importance for the early Hebrews was God's injunctions for them to be prolific: "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen. 1:28) was commanded by God when humans were few in number. Now there is a surplus population and this law is made less relevant due to overpopulation.

There are a number of examples of same-sex love in the Old Testament. Jonathan's (the son of King Saul) love for David was said to exceed the love for women (2 Sam. 1:26). The relationship between Ruth and Naomi was surely one of deep, abiding love because Ruth decided to leave her country, her people and her gods to come to a strange land and to accept the ways of a different people and their God (Ruth 1:16). Thus, sacred scripture does place a value on love between persons of the same sex.

The Attitude of Jesus

There is no record of Jesus saying anything against homosexuality in the Gospels. This seems very strange in the light of the condemnations of homosexuality made by certain televangelists who consider it to be threatening to family values, to the American way of life and to Christianity itself. Jesus, on the other hand, viewed religious hypocrisy and injustice done in the name of religion as greater threats to God's reign.

There are two places in the Gospels which demonstrate that Jesus' attitude toward lesbians and gays would not have been hostile.

The first is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew (8:5-13) concerning the healing of the servant of the Centurion. St. Matthew uses the Greek word "pais" to refer to the servant. In the Greek culture the word "pais" meant a young man who was the lover of an older, more powerful and educated man who served as mentor as well as older lover. The story shows an unusually intense love between men which Jesus should have condemned. (Why didn't He condemn it?) He also did not shun the Centurion, who was considered to be an enemy of the Jewish people and was a non-Jew or gentile who prayed to other gods. In fact, Jesus marveled at the great faith of the Centurion and granted his request.

The other example is also in the Gospel by St. Matthew (19:12). "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." It could be that the "eunuchs who have been so from birth" are the people we call lesbian or gay. Today's Fundamentalist Pharisees differ greatly with Jesus' attitude about these "eunuchs." For them, eunuchs must be excluded from worship and from the New Covenant community of faith.

In the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40), a eunuch who was of the household of Queen Candace of Ethiopia was one of the earliest converts to Christianity. Strange, how a person who was excluded for sexual reasons from the community of the Old Testament would be acceptable in the community of the New Testament!

The Teachings of St. Paul

In St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1:18-32) there seems to be the strongest rejection of homosexuality. Paul's concern was about the influence of paganism on the Christians of Rome. After describing a world which "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for mere images like a mortal human being, or like birds, animals or reptiles." St. Paul continues "For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up the natural intercourse with women were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

In this passage, St. Paul referred to homosexual temple prostitution performed by various cults (although most cults preferred to use heterosexual prostitutes). Again, St. Paul does not refer to same-sex love, and he clearly had no notion concerning an inborn sexual orientation which is determined prior to birth.

Other references to homosexual acts were made by St. Paul in two other epistles (1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Both of these texts have lists of people who are not supposed to be admitted into God's Kingdom. The interpretation of these verses depends on the translation of two Greek words which have always posed difficulties for translators.

In the King James Version we find the expressions "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind." In the Revised Standard Version, these expressions are used to form "homosexuals", but they were not the exact Greek words for "homosexuals" and thus reflect only the subjective opinion of the scripture scholars who made the translation. The New International Version uses the expressions "male prostitutes" and "homosexual offenders". The Jerusalem Bible speaks of "catamites" and "sodomites". "Catamites" were young men who were kept especially for sexual pleasures and were usually paid huge sums of money for their services. The word "sodomite", of course, refers to the Story of Sodom which was discussed earlier. Neither text, therefore, refers to people having a same-sex orientation, but to those who use their sexuality for personal gain.

Christ's Abiding Love

The Lord Jesus Christ did much to change attitudes and social customs. The status of women was greatly raised due to a Christian influence; in fact, women make the best and most devoted followers. By His example and commandments, Jesus embraced all, even the most despised members of society, but when one sees these days the initials "WWJD?" which mean "What Would Jesus Do?", the same people we hear asking this question are also the same ones that seem to be most homophobic. They selectively use Biblical verses as ammunition against others, preferring to hurt and destroy rather than using scripture to inspire, elevate, and make people feel good about themselves.

The sanctimonious, self-satisfied, smug "saved" members of the so-called "Religious Right" are trying to foist a Fundamentalist theocracy (which they would control) upon the American people to enslave them to only their point of view. It seems that the Reverend Henry Drummond, author of "The Greatest Thing in the World", may have had this in mind when he wrote: "How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside!"

To Orthodox Christians, the Lord Jesus Christ is the "Lover of Mankind" and we believe truly that God is Love and that it is only by love that the world can be saved. The main message of the New Testament is that all persons are loved by God so much that God sent His Son to redeem mankind. God's love through the Lord Jesus Christ is given to all people.

The Teachings of the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church makes a distinction between the homosexual condition and homosexual acts and addresses its pastoral concern and care for persons who are subject to an exclusive psycho-sexual attraction toward members of the same sex".

Traditionally the Orthodox Church considers this "attraction" to be a "passion" or "wrongful orientation of our desires". Passions are of many types, directed toward many Objects, such as self (pride), money (greed), food (gluttony), extramarital sex partners (lust), other' property (theft), etc. When such passions exist, no matter how strongly felt, the Church teaches us to conduct a spiritual and moral struggle against them. The Orthodox Church sees all persons as working to fight against temptation and to overcome passions. The Spiritual Weapons to be used in this "unseen warfare" include prayer, fasting, the Sacrament of Holy Confession, the reading of scripture and of patristic and spiritual writings, Christian fellowship, as well as pastoral and psychological counseling. The Church should do this with the same compassion, love, and sensitivity as it does with all others who struggle to overcome the passions and to grow in Christ.

The above is the Orthodox Church's official teaching, however, as far as the "praxis" or practical application is concerned we employ all of the above, but we must consider homosexual people to be God's children who, as all children, ought to be spiritually nurtured, loved, cherished, and considered to be precious in God's sight. Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice as one cannot choose one's eye color or whether to be right or left-handed before being born. "God is love; and those who remain in this love remain united with God, and God remains united with them." (1 John 4:16). Therefore, God is not so narrow-minded as to exclude people for a sexual orientation over which they have no control.

It is now-high time for the Christian Church to take its head out of the sand, wake up, and smell the incense. The Church must teach people about God's all inclusive and abiding love and of Jesus' atoning and reconciling death.

Let us all make a concerted effort to banish hatred from our lives. "The person who fails to keep on loving is still under the power of death." (1 John 3:14) Let us choose life not death; let us choose love not hate.

"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you!" (2 Cor. 13:14)

This pamphlet is reprinted here with both deep gratitude to and the written permission of Father John Kowalkowski.

Copyright 2003-2009 Father Maximus Gregorios
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