Update 09-07-2011: this excellent article shines light on the conundrum of trying to define laws/moralities with regards to sex.
The bible and the church take a pretty harsh stance on homosexuality. According to the bible, god created man and then created woman to be with man. That is the way relationships are meant to be structured:
A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NIV)
If you don’t do it this way, if you sleep with your own gender god will not look kindly on you. In Leviticus (written c 550-400 years before Christ) god states that
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Liv 20:13 18:22).
This god of the old testament displays strong opposition to homosexual acts. During Jesus’ time on earth very little was said about homosexuals but afterwards, in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
(1:18) From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth… (26) God let them follow their own evil desires. Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way, and they did things with each other that were not natural. (27) Men behaved in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did shameful things with each other and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds… (2:6) God will reward each of us for what we have done. (7) He will give eternal life to everyone who has patiently done what is good, in the hope of receiving glory, honour, and life that lasts for ever. (8) But he will show how angry and furious he can be with every selfish person who rejects the truth and wants to do evil. (9) All who are wicked will be punished with trouble and suffering. (Romans 1:18-2:9)
Later, in Pauls first letter to the Corinthians he says:
(9) Don’t you know that evil people won’t have a share in the blessings of God’s kingdom? Don’t fool yourselves! No one who is immoral or worships idols, or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert, or behaves like a homosexual (10) will share in God’s kingdom. Neither will any thief or greedy person, or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others. (11) Some of you used to be like that. But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Spirit have washed you and made you holy and acceptable to God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
This is confirmed by Paul’s friend, Timothy who wrote:
(10) The Law was written for people who are sexual perverts or who live as homosexuals or are kidnappers or liars and won’t tell the truth in court. It is for anything else that opposes the correct teaching (11) of the good news that the glorious and wonderful God has given me. (1 Timothy 1:10,11)
It should be noted that although these words were written by Paul and Timothy, Christians believe that they are part of the holy scriptures, written as the inspired word of god. These aren’t the thoughts of man, this is god’s word.
So the god of the new testament also discriminates against homosexuals. Now, while there’s mounting evidence that some people are born gay, I think that it can be demonstrated that the bible is unclear in what it preaches at an even simpler level. I’m convinced it doesn’t add up.
As we read in Genesis, apparently god created male and female like ying and yang so that when the time is right the man will marry the woman and they will become like one person. This is the way is is supposed to work according to the Christians I know. However, this heteronormal model is over simplified, and I believe it was probably based on the less-than-divine knowledge of people who lived thousands of years ago.
First the writer needs to define what is a man and what is a woman. Most people will classify a persons gender based on their organs; boys have penises, girls have vaginas. So what about intersexuals (also known incorrectly as hermaphrodites)? They may be born with both a penis and a vagina and historically the doctors and/or parents select a gender. What’s god’s plan for them? This is just the tip of the iceberg. As noted in the Wikipedia , sex chromosomes do not just come in two flavours;
“There are quite a few other possible combinations such as XO, XXY, XO/XY, XYY, XX male, XY female, and there are many individuals who do not follow the typical patterns.”
To add to this list, there are other combinations such as XXX, XXXX and XXXXX or people born with a combination of XX and XY throughout their body.
So, it is possible for nature to spew forth a smorgasbord of genetic abnormalities and chromosomal combinations that break down the traditional dichotomous classification system. It is also possible for a person to be born a male trapped inside a woman’s body: i.e. 5-alpha-reductase deficiency:
Individuals with 5-ARD have XY chromosomes and testes, and tend to have a vagina and labia, but with a small penis capable of ejaculation instead of a clitoris (this penis, however, appears to be a clitoris at birth). These individuals are normally raised as girls. However, come puberty, their testes will descend, their voice will deepen and they often will develop a male sexual identity. But they develop only limited facial hair.
The problem is that intersexuals are born naturally with an ambiguous gender. They may be a small percentage of the population but they still exist. God’s law needs to be applicable to all humans but it doesn’t work for intersexuals and many others.
The bible seems to assume that if, for example, someone is born with male organs, then they are going to be equipped with male hormone and a male brain which drives their emotions and impulses a certain (natural) way. I rank this stark heteronormativity on par with the theory that the earth is at centre of the universe.
It looks like I’m not alone, some other people have looked at the evidence rather than just making stuff up:
Critics of heteronormativity say that the existence of intersex, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people undermines any fundamental assumption that gender is naturally dichotomous. They believe it problematizes justifications such as the appeal to natural law, or certain Christian notions of faith in God’s plan or belief in the goodness of Creation.
This is viewed as being rather hypothetical to my church family, but it does exist. I was talking to a lesbian friend a few weeks back. I don’t see how it would be possible to try to push a Christian agenda onto her because she met a intersexual at last years pride picnic. How can you tell her about the ‘natural way’ god intended when she’s met a person created naturally who physically doesn’t abide by any of the laws of the creator?
The Christians are left in there own little fantasy world where these are not real problems because these people do not really exist. The truth is they do exist. They are either suppressed by our society and assigned a gender or they decide not to hang around churches because they don’t need to hear this ancient propaganda. Intersexuals are real, homosexuals are not pretending and the bible needs revising.
Update (3/3/06): I was reading back through this and thought I should add a link to this Four Corners transcript
(Janine Cohen’s report ‘The Gender Puzzle’, aired 25/07/2005):
“RACHAEL WALLBANK: We were able to take the court through a journey, really, a scientific journey that firstly dealt with the kind of diversity in human sexual formation, arising from chromosomal diversity as well as bodily formation diversity, to the point where we could deal with evidence concerning brain sex differentiation in the human being.
JANINE COHEN: The court was presented with several scientific studies suggesting a biological basis to transsexualism. A Dutch study looking at the hypothalamus of six male-to-female transsexuals found they had similar features to female brains. They examined the part of the brain essential for sexual behaviour and found it was the same size in female transsexuals as it was in other women. In men, this region of the brain, known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, is much larger. The study suggested that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones. Other studies supported this theory.”