There is an incredibly common propaganda claim being passed around these days which is used to claim that Jesus was not against homosexuality. The claim is simply this:
“Jesus never said a word about homosexuality!”
But the fact he seemingly “said nothing” about it is irrelevant. Claiming that Jesus wasn’t against homosexuality since he didn’t mention it explicitly is no different than the way that young-earth creationist Ray Comfort looks at evolution: by thinking that if something isn’t seen directly then you can ignore all the evidence and simply choose your preferred conclusion.
But that logic is wrong. It is presumptive and ignores the full range of factors that need to be understood in order to determine the truth of a matter. We have tremendous evidence that Jesus was opposed to homosexuality, so let’s look at that evidence.
- As many Christians will point out, Jesus didn’t talk about bestiality either, or many other sins. He didn’t talk about every sin explicitly. So the lack of direct mention of homosexuality is not evidence for what he considered sinful or not. We must look at other facts.
- His time and culture. Let’s not kid ourselves. A Jewish man living in Palestine in the 1st century C.E. is overwhelmingly not likely to be at all supportive of homosexuality. No one even understood homosexuality at this time in history. Our modern views about homosexuality are very recent, and even today, there are millions of people who still condemn it (and almost universally on religious grounds). Evidence that Jesus was one of these types of people can be found in Matthew 19. Conservative members of the faithful will often remind us that Jesus spoke about marriage in verses 4-9 of that chapter, and he explained it as a union of a man and a woman, giving no indication that he thought homosexuality could be equal. His view of marriage in this passage is one based in the traditional view of a literal Adam and Eve as being the definition of a natural, God-designed, and God-sanctioned union.
- Jesus’s teaching was that the Old Testament laws did not have to be followed anymore. But this refers to the laws under which people were stoned to death, and so forth. It does not mean that homosexuality is not a sin. Many people make the mistake of equating the two. His message was not “nothing is a sin.” His message was that the method for redemption from sin has changed. He still believed there were sins, and among them were “sexual immorality” as I will explain the next point.
- Jesus said to abstain from “sexual immorality” (Mark 7:20-23) and since in Jewish culture that would have been the view of sexual immorality in the Torah, we can infer that he would have included homosexuality under that term. Also note that he even uses the term as distinct from adultery, so he is referring to sexual sins other than adultery.
- In Matthew 5, Jesus made changes to some Old Testament ideas such as an “eye for an eye”. But among those revisions he never corrected the verses on homosexuality. So the fact that Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality explicitly in the Bible is actually not a point in favor of the “Jesus was pro-gay” view. So when liberal Christians often claim that we have no reason to think Jesus would have been against homosexuality, remember that the issue is actually quite the opposite. We have no reasons to think Jesus would have supported homosexuality.
Mistakes of the Left
When we talk about Jesus and the Bible, we need to be honest. Trying to turn Jesus into a propaganda icon is neither honest nor useful.
It does not help the LGBT cause to claim that Jesus was pro-gay, because then the argument shifts from being a stand on human rights to being a claim about theology. This simply validates that opinion of fundamentalists that the Bible and their faith should dictate our morals and civil rights – that our rights are a question of theology, not reason and justice. Thomas Jefferson warned us of this over two-hundred years ago when he said that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
Trying to use Jesus as a progressive icon also stalemates the debate. Perhaps others can testify differently, but in my own experience, and of what I have seen among others, I have found that you cannot convince a religious person of anything using theology any better than you can convince them of anything using logic. Their theological beliefs are almost as ingrained in their minds as their belief in God to begin with.
I understand the reasoning behind trying to use theology to sway devout people to your view, since people think believers will be more willing to change their minds in that case. But it doesn’t work. Especially if your doctrinal stance on the issue is wrong.
And that’s the other reason liberals should avoid these arguments. They generally know less about the Bible than the fundamentalists who they are trying to convince. The strongest believers in terms of their attempt to adhere to the Bible’s word – the fundamentalists – study the Bible more and have a more deeply-rooted ideological framework supporting their beliefs. They tend to know many passages and doctrines throughout the Bible that their beliefs are built upon, all supported by extensively researched theology and apologetic arguments.
Liberals on the other hand, tend to take a far simpler approach to the Bible. They grab a few passages they like the sound of out of context from the complete doctrine, and pretend they are in line with their modern, western, progressive moral views.
For example, they readily tell you that Jesus said to “not judge”, and assume that Jesus meant as they do: to not criticize anyone’s life choices so long as they do no direct harm to anyone, in this life, as seen from a liberal viewpoint. But they ignore the actual meaning of the passage since they have ignored the following verses and other passages which shed light on Jesus’s actual intention (I discuss this particular issue in an article here).
Likewise, many liberals claim that Jesus’s message to “love your neighbor” must prove that he would have supported homosexuality. This is because, they argue, how can one love their neighbor if they condemn their actions and lifestyle? But again this is oversimplifying a more complex ideology, and injecting their own morality into the text. Because when Jesus says to “love your neighbor”, you cannot assume that all his views must align with yours. You must remember the time and culture in which Jesus existed, and that morality was completely based in God’s word. If Jesus thought homosexuality was an unnatural behavior then he wouldn’t think that condemning homosexuality was an act of denying anyone happiness. Like fundamentalist Christians today, he would have thought that homosexuality was hurting their lives and going to doom them on Judgment Day, and that getting them to stop sinning was therefore actually the right way to love them.
Now conservatives do this sometimes as well. For instance, often in regards to the New Testament’s view of money and wealth. But as with liberals and homosexuality, you will find that their attempts to justify their view is supported with only a verse or two without much regard to its context, the argument is convoluted, and they ignore the significant other factors pertinent to the issue.
So I do not believe liberals should be making the flawed claim that Jesus would have been supportive of homosexuality. When liberals use theological arguments, the result appears to be this:
- the focus of the debate is shifted away from its correct moral ground;
- they inadvertently support the conservative notion that our civil rights are a question of theology;
- and to conservatives ears, liberal arguments are understandably perceived as “I’m ignorant of the Bible – the very thing I am trying to use as a moral authority.”
I am not criticizing progressive moral views or policy. I am criticizing the act of pretending that Jesus and the Bible espouse such views as purely and consistently as many liberals think it does. So instead of making the Bible an authority, we should admit that many of its moral views are not like our own and we do not want them to be. Progress is better made when we admit the mistakes of the past.