That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature;and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error. – Romans 1:26,27
(Excerpts from: Homosexianity by R. D. Weekly – For the sake of familiarity, scripture quotations appearing in the book were replaced with the New World Translation) http://www.amazon.com/Homosexianity-Letting-Devastating-Scripture-Orientation/dp/1442163062/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356175321&sr=1-1&keywords=homosexianity
On it’s face, this passage seems to clearly condemn same-sex sexual activity, whether engaged in by men or women. The acts are described as “vile affections”, “against nature” (unnatural), and “unseemly” (indecent). The passage even says that those who engage in such activity receive in themselves fitting recompense for their sinful activity.
When it comes to biblical condemnations, they don’t get much clearer. We have clear language describing the same-sex acts, God’s perception of the acts, and God’s judgment against them.
First, let’s examine the ENTIRE context:
18 For God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who are suppressing the truth in an unrighteous way, 19 because what may be known about God is manifest among them, for God made it manifest to them. 20 For his invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable; 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor did they thank him, but they became empty-headed in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened. 22 Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish 23 and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.
24 Therefore God, in keeping with the desires of their hearts, gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them, 25 even those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; 27 and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.
28 And just as they did not approve of holding God in accurate knowledge, God gave them up to a disapproved mental state, to do the things not fitting, 29 filled as they were with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, badness, being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malicious disposition, being whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, insolent, haughty, self-assuming, inventors of injurious things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, false to agreements, having no natural affection, merciless. 32 Although these know full well the righteous decree of God, that those practicing such things are deserving of death, they not only keep on doing them but also consent with those practicing them.
One thing should have stood out after reading this greater context – something that should have reminded you of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. There is a direct textual correlation between the sexual acts described here and the idolatrous worship, although this time female-female sex is also condemned. By examining the two verses (vs. 26 & 27) in isolation, we could easily overlook this link.
In verses 18 and 19 we see that God’s wrath is being revealed against people who are holding back His truth in their unrighteous activities. His truth has been revealed to these people, yet they choose to continue in activity that denies or otherwise restrains that truth from being received by others.
Verse 21 states that although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God. They imagined their own versions of truth and their hearts were darkened as a result. They claimed to have the truth (v. 22), but were really fools – fools who replaced the glory of God with graven images.
The people who are the subjects of this discourse are idolaters. They were holding back [what they knew to be] the truth of God by presenting their idolatrous beliefs as the truth.
[At this point, I’m going to switch authors. I like how Justin Lee described his own research and thought processes while examining this passage, in his book TORN. For the sake of familiarity, scripture quotations appearing in the book were replaced with the New World Translation] http://www.amazon.com/Torn-Rescuing-Gospel-Gays-vs-Christians-Debate/dp/1455514314
The passage made it sound like God gave people over to homosexuality as a result of their turning from Him. Did that mean that straight people had become gay when they turned from God? Was being gay a punishment for turning from God?
I hadn’t turned from God. I was sure I hadn’t turned from God. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I certainly had never turned away the way this passage seemed to suggest. How could it say that my being gay was a punishment for turning from God? And if other Christians read this, no wonder they thought I was some kind of apostate.
Did it perhaps mean that they were already gay, but that they were celibate – until they turned from God and He gave them over to homosexual behavior? But that didn’t seem to be what the passage was saying. It said the men had abandoned relations with women after they turned from God and after God gave them over to impurity. That made it sound like they had been straight before, not gay and celibate. Once again I was stuck with the same question as in the Sodom story: Why would straight people choose to have gay sex?
Or maybe I was looking at it all wrong. Maybe this was meant to refer more broadly to all of humanity – that because we, humanity, had sinned, God had allowed some kind of corruption of our natural sexual desire to affect us as a species. So perhaps my same-sex attractions were the result of humanity’s fall in a broader sense, and not necessarily my own turning from God.
But if this was about all of us, then why did Paul keep saying “they”; “They are without excuse,” “They became fools,” “God gave them up,” “Their women exchanged natural relations,” and so forth? It certainly sounded like he was referring to a specific group of people, not just humanity in general, and that this group of people had turned from God, worshiped idols, and been given over to some kind of unnatural sexual activity. But who were those people and did they have anything to do with me? Was he talking about gay couples or was he talking about something entirely different? Whoever “they” were, clearly in Paul’s eyes they were sinning. I didn’t want to be like them. But what exactly was going on in this passage?
Then I noticed something else curious. When I had skimmed the passage initially, I had read the idol worship and the sexual behavior as two unrelated sins, mentioned to provide examples of wickedness. But as I read the passage more closely, I realized that in Paul’s view, these two behaviors were somehow connected. Twice, in fact, he said that the dishonorable sex was a direct result of the idol worship:
[They] turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things. Therefore God, in keeping with the desires of their hearts, gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them….
[They] exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created….That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites
What was the connection between the idol worship and the dishonorable sex? I could understand saying that sin in general is a result of turning from God, which is what I had originally interpreted this passage to mean. But Paul had a long, separate list of sins at the end of the passage. If he intended to mention homosexuality as one of the sins that result from turning from God, why didn’t he list it there with all the other sins? Why did he single it out and specifically connect it with idolatry?
I began to research this question, and it didn’t surprise me to discover that in Paul’s day, as in the time of Leviticus, some idol-worshiping cults included sex (in sometimes bizarre ways) as part of their worship rituals. Cult temple prostitution, castration, and same-sex sex rites in honor of popular goddesses were all well-known practices of the time.
This explained Paul’s connection of idol worship to shameful sexual behavior. With this new information, suddenly the whole passage made a lot more sense to me. The “they” was a reference to people who had turned from God, as represented by the idol worshipers. Paul was using them and their sexual rites as an illustration to make a point to his audience.
In some ways, it was like the strategy the prophet Nathan had used with King David in 2 Samuel 12. David had had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed so that he could have Bathsheba. Rather than directly confronting David about his sin, Nathan told him a story about a rich man who stole from a poor man. After David became angry at the man in the story, Nathan revealed that the man in the story was in fact a representation of David.
Paul’s strategy in in Romans was similar. He began by talking about wicked people who had turned from God, then discussed how they had begun to worship idols, leading God to give them over to the dishonorable sex rites that accompanied such worship – rites that involved gay sex practiced by otherwise straight people, something Paul knew his audience would find objectionable. Furthermore, Paul said, these people had become caught up in all kinds of sins. And just as his audience was nodding their heads in agreement, ready to condemn these people, Paul sprung his trap, catching them by surprise:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing. – Romans 2:1(ESV)
Paul’s entire point in this passage was to show his audience that all of us are sinners in need of a Savior. The idolaters who engaged in shameful sex rites were a perfect illustration for the seriousness of turning from God, a way to get his audience agreeing with him before he unexpectedly turned the tables on them. Read in this light, the purpose of the passage was much clearer.