By Brian Bolton
Fundamentalist Christians continue to express their hysterical reactions to the new reality of marriage equality in contemporary America. For example, Religious Right lawyer Matt Staver declared that same-sex marriage is “the beginning of the end of Western civilization.” Sen. Rand Paul echoed this apocalyptic appraisal, saying that same-sex marriage constitutes a “moral crisis.” An avalanche of similar doomsday prophesies was unleashed by overwrought fundamentalist leaders, suggesting that God’s wrath would punish a nation awash in sin.
Illustrating the extreme response to legalization of same-sex marriage, the Texas Republican Party has incorporated the fundamentalist perspective into its platform, asserting that “homosexuality is a chosen behavior contrary to God,” and calling for reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. The Texas Republican manifesto repeatedly condemns public accommodation laws that “require business people to compromise their Christian convictions,” emphasizing that to be forced to serve LGBT customers violates their constitutional rights. They demand exemption from allegedly unjust regulations through the passage of so-called “religious liberty laws.”
The undisputed empirical fact is that fundamentalists have lost the battle against same-sex marriage. The public strongly favors marriage equality, with 60 percent supporting and 35 percent opposed. Approval among young adults is even higher at 75 percent. All major segments of the religious spectrum have moved toward greater acceptance of same-sex marriage during the past 20 years, with current approval rates estimated for the unaffiliated (80 percent), Catholics (60 percent), mainline white Protestants (60 percent), black Protestants (45 percent), and white fundamentalists (20 percent). These average round figures are based on the results of various surveys conducted by reputable religious polling organizations.
While change has been slow, a number of mainline Protestant denominations now routinely ordain gay ministers and marry gay couples, based on the theological argument that Jesus was an advocate of inclusion. Even in fundamentalist churches, there has been an active minority movement toward tolerance, acceptance and recognition of LGBT Christians, with some congregations and denominations becoming openly “gay affirming.” Organizations like Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, the Gay Christian Network, and the Reformation Project are reaching out to major fundamentalist organizations and denominations for dialogue.
What caused the shift?
Several factors have helped to bring about one of the most dramatic shifts ever observed in modern American attitudes. First, the role of parents of gay children has been substantial, especially through organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Most Americans can empathize with parents caught in the agonizing dilemma of family commitment versus faith conviction. Prominent political parents like Dick Cheney, Rob Portman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have put a human face on this difficult issue.
Second, the welcoming acceptance of LGBT students by their peers at all educational levels, especially in the middle and high schools, has certainly been influential. Third, the persuasive argument for the majority of religious believers is the oft-repeated dictum that LGBT people are also God’s children and deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else.
In this article, I review and summarize what the bible actually says about marriage and homosexuality. This documentation establishes a basis for exposing and persuasively arguing against fundamentalist Christians’ dishonest theopolitical agenda directed at same-sex marriage and LGBT Americans. Fundamentalists hope to accomplish their goal of denying equality under the law to gay people through promotion of misnamed religious freedom legislation.
One man, one woman?
Fundamentalists define marriage exclusively as a biblically approved relationship between one man and one woman, with no other permissible arrangements. For example, Texas Republicans assert that God-ordained traditional marriage is between “a natural man and a natural woman.” This definition is affirmed by numerous scriptural verses (e.g., Genesis 2:24; Exodus 21:22; Deuteronomy 24:5; Proverbs 5:18-23; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7). Jesus also endorsed the conventional view of marriage (Matthew 19:4-9; Mark 10:6-9).
However, it is important to recognize that Hebrew history provides many illustrations of another apparently acceptable form of family alliance, known as polygyny. This term refers to a circumstance in which one man has multiple wives and concubines (e.g., Genesis 4:19, 16:1-4, 29:15-30). Three prominent Old Testament patriarchs who enjoyed this type of union were Gideon (Judges 8:30), David (2 Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13-16), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3). Three other forms of marriage sanctioned in the bible are slave (Exodus 21:1-11), captive (Deut. 21:10-14), and levirate (Deut. 25:5-7). It appears that the fundamentalist definition of marriage is not the only God-ordained marital configuration.
Scripture also provides ample evidence of another type of nontraditional affiliation: homosexuality. Male shrine prostitutes (referred to as homosexuals, sodomites or dogs) participated in worship rites at some temples in ancient Israel. The practice was routinely condemned (Deut. 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:23-24) and two kings attempted to terminate the activity (1 Kings 15:12; 2 Kings 23:7). Five verses are suggestive of homosexual orgies (Psalms 22:11-20; Isaiah 57:8; Habakkuk 2:15-16; 2 Peter 2:7-14; Jude 7-13).
What was Jesus’ orientation?
The gospel is ambiguous about a question that opponents of same-sex marriage studiously avoid: What was Jesus’ sexual orientation? It is helpful to consider several subsidiary questions. Who was the disciple Jesus loved? Who was the disciple who laid his head on Jesus’ bosom at the last supper? See John 13:23-35, 19:26-27, 20:2-4, 21:7, 20, 24 for elaboration. Note that the Greek words translated as love refer to personal affection and intimate relationships.
Who was the jealous disciple and why did he betray Jesus with a kiss, and then admit that Jesus was innocent, before committing suicide? See Matthew 26:49, 27:3-5; Mark 14:44-46 for clues. Jesus addressed him as “friend” at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:50). The Greek word for this salutation has clear sexual connotations. What activity did Jesus engage in at the foot-washing ritual after the last supper with only a towel around his waist? See John 13:2-15 for details. Of course, the foot is widely recognized as an erotic object and feet may be a euphemism for private body parts.
What was Jesus doing at the back of the garden at Gethsemane while the disciples were sleeping? See Matthew 26: 36-45; Mark 14: 32-40; Luke 22: 43-44 for elaboration. Who was the naked youth fleeing and does his appearance suggest an illicit encounter? (See Mark 14: 51-52). In any discussion of homosexuality, participants should be prepared to ask about Jesus’s sexual orientation.
As with Jesus, Paul’s sexual proclivities have been the subject of detailed examination, suspicion and conjecture. It is Paul’s relationship with the runaway slave Onesimus that has provoked the most questions about his unusual interest in men (Philemon 1:10-20; see also Romans 7:18-23). But Paul and Jesus diverge completely in how they express their attitudes toward homosexuality. As documented in the next section, Paul formulated an unequivocal position, whereas Jesus never directly condemned homosexuality.
How ironic that the unconventional lifestyles of the two principal founders of Christianity would raise so many problems for bible-believing fundamentalists who absolutely loath gay people and reject the constitutional concept of marriage equality for them.
This section renders all earlier discussion and scriptural conclusions moot, because marriage is irrelevant for dead sinners, and this is why the bible doesn’t prohibit or even mention same-sex marriage. As the verses quoted in this segment conclusively demonstrate, God and his chief spokesmen (Moses, Jesus and Paul) made unequivocal statements about mandatory capital punishment for homosexuals, including lesbians.
First, God’s definitive action in the gruesome tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is summarized.
All the men from every part of the city of Sodom called out to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities (Genesis 19: 4-5, 24-25).
This horrific story makes absolutely clear God’s abhorrence of homosexuality and the appropriate punishment warranted — burning alive. The episode also illustrates God’s preference for collective punishment. In addition to the homosexual men of Sodom, all other residents were also incinerated, including women and children (we reasonably assume), plus all innocent citizens of Gomorrah and the other two major cities of the plain, Admah and Zeboiim. (Only the little city of Zoar was spared.)
Second, Moses’ statement as part of the law revealed to him by God is unambiguous and impossible to misconstrue. If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:13).
Third, Jesus, endorsed every word and action contained in the Hebrew Covenant. Of course, the son would fully support the father’s commands. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). Note that Luke 16:17 repeats Matthew 5:18.
Jesus also invoked the terrible fate of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah in condemning those who rejected him and his revolutionary message (Matthew 10:15, 11:23-24; Luke 10:12). Thus, Jesus was knowledgeable about the Sodom and Gomorrah story and we assume that he understood the justification for God’s fiery judgment on all residents (Luke 17:29), thus endorsing his father’s penchant for collective punishment.
Fourth, Paul clearly approved of execution for homosexuals, including lesbians and other “perverts.” Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:26, 27, 30).
The entire passage from Romans describes homosexuals as degenerate criminals comparable to those who commit every type of illegal and immoral behavior. It is important to emphasize that Paul extends Moses’ definition of homosexuality to include women. Three other passages in Paul’s epistles contain additional condemnation of homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). See Romans 9:29, 2 Peter 2:6, and Jude 7 for more references to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Religious liberty laws” have their genesis in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that dates back to 1993. Interestingly, it was then-Gov. Mike Pence’s signature on Indiana’s RFRA in 2015 that initially propelled him to heroic status and subsequently to infamy among fundamentalist voters for championing “religious freedom” from public accommodation laws and then collapsing when business leaders told him to rescind the Indiana RFRA or else — which he quickly did.
More than 20 state legislatures across the country have considered various types of so-called “religious liberty laws” that would allow fundamentalist Christians to refuse to provide services to LGBT people, thereby expressing their merciless imprecation of homosexuality. Most of these efforts have failed, due primarily to criticism from the business community, including large corporations like Wal-Mart, sports organizations like the NCAA and NBA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. When legislators have been obstinate as in North Carolina, the financial punishment has been severe.
Religious liberty legislation was conceived of and promoted by fundamentalists to demonstrate their outrage at what they claim is the defilement of God’s sacred institution of holy matrimony. Underlying this manifest anger is their bible-based revulsion directed at homosexuality, which they call an abomination and sin against God. While same-sex marriage is the ostensible target of their wrath, the emotional fuel for this extreme reaction is generated by less than 4 percent of Americans who identify as LGBT and whose very existence fundamentalists find to be so upsetting.
The obvious question is: Why don’t these anti-gay, scripture-citing fundamentalist zealots who oppose same-sex marriage so vehemently and assert that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin just obey God’s clear command? Why don’t they advocate execution of homosexuals just as God authorizes? Why do Bryan Fischer, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Matt Staver, Phil Robertson and other fundamentalist spokespersons refuse to invoke God’s unequivocal mandate to kill homosexuals?
The answer to this question is simple: They do not possess the courage of their claimed Christian convictions. All of them know that the bible requires execution of homosexuals, because anti-LGBT activist pastor Kevin Swanson reminded them of this scriptural decree at last year’s National Religious Liberties Conference. If they really respected God’s perfect word, they would initiate a national movement to encourage state legislatures to enact laws that would expand application of the death penalty to homosexuals. Surely, they could ask the federal courts to include this provision in the U.S. criminal code, a request that follows logically from their (bogus) claim that the U.S. Constitution is based on the bible.
Of course, this will not happen because the disingenuous fundamentalists know that their reputation as a national laughingstock would be exacerbated by these bible-based proposals. In other words, they are cowards for Christ. By refusing to endorse execution for homosexuals, fundamentalists again demonstrate that they are willing to adopt theopolitical positions, like advocacy for “religious liberty laws” that avoid the public ridicule associated with invoking God’s unambiguous command. This is just one more example of their biblical dishonesty.
What should humanists do?
Fundamentalists have recently escalated their assault on the LGBT community with the development of “Project Blitz.” This infamous ecclesiastical action plan expands Christian nation ideology to include a focus on what these extremists deem to be acceptable sexual expression. Specifically, they demand that lawful sexual behavior be restricted to relations between heterosexual, married couples and that discrimination against LGBT people be legalized by approving religious exemptions to civil rights legislation.
To thwart their hateful agenda, it’s necessary to directly confront fundamentalist Christians about their blatant biblical hypocrisy. Their claim that God only endorses marriage between one man and one woman is false. Their unwillingness to discuss Jesus’ sexual orientation is simply denial of an embarrassing possibility. Their refusal to acknowledge that God requires execution of homosexuals is outright dishonesty. Rather than addressing the issue truthfully, they use the deceitful subterfuge of attacking same-sex marriage by demanding exemption from public accommodation laws that they allege violate their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.
Fundamentalists assert that people who support same-sex marriage are rejecting biblical authority, when in actuality it is the fundamentalists themselves who disregard God’s clear commandments on this subject and numerous others. Fundamentalists in the United States falsely accuse their fellow Americans of persecuting them because of their avowed sincere commitment to obeying God’s word, a charge that is not true. Everyone recognizes that fundamentalists do have the constitutional right to hate and condemn LGBT citizens; however, they do not have the legal right to discriminate against this small minority or anyone else.
Humanists should take appropriate action to expose the dishonest fundamentalist jihad against the gay community. It is not enough to defend the rights and dignity of LGBT people. It is essential that humanists publicly expose fundamentalists’ false assertions, biblically dishonest claims and devious legislative strategies.
There are many opportunities and venues for disseminating the biblical truth about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, including letters to the editor, op-ed essays, call-in radio programs, community forums, public demonstrations and legislative hearings. Humanists should make clear that their targets are false claims and unbiblical actions, and not the fundamentalists themselves. As they say, hate the sin but love the sinner.
FFRF Lifetime Member Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist living in Texas.