This article is about religion and God. “Oh, no!,” you might be thinking, as you quickly reach to click out. It’s true, this entry has a frankly non-secular and subjective tone to it, more so than many of my other postings. I am a Christian and have no problem with stating that fact here and now. I am a religious man and have been for some time, although I do not practice the religion in a ‘group’ context, preferring rather to internalize my relationship with God and pray, as is written in Matthew 6:6, in my room with the door closed. However, today I am opening the door to let you in, so you can see how I maintain my faith and retain pride in my gay identity.
When I was a teenager, I started praying regularly to God. In these prayers, every night for years and years, I would ask for God to forgive my sins. I knew I had a deep-seated attraction to men, the same attraction that a heterosexual man has for a woman, and I couldn’t shake it from my thoughts. I would pray that God eliminate these from me, turn me around and make me straight. In fact, when I first started praying for this, I didn’t even know what the words heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual meant, so I prayed to God that he not make me “heterosexual” (confusing that word with the definition for bisexual, thinking ‘hetero’ means mixing things up and having sex with both men and women) and also not homosexual. I also tried to train myself to become heterosexual by exposing myself to pictures of female bodies and male bodies in underwear ads and trying to conjure lust for one and contempt for the other. It never worked, but I would keep praying. He answered one part of that regular prayer of mine, but He ignored the other. The scriptures say that if you have faith and never cease to ask God in faith, what you wish will become your reality by faith.
Although I was a teenager, technically bisexual at that time (and thus more malleable with respect to my sexual identity), God moulded me into the gay (homosexual) adult that I have become today. With time and years of prayer, I began to understand what my problem was, and it wasn’t my homosexuality. It was my understanding of who God is and what He wanted from me. I came to the conclusion that I was gay for some reason, and God had some purpose behind it; He wanted me to do my best to serve Him within the context of my sexual identity (which became with time more of a romantic identity). He also wanted me to think about why He might be against homosexuality, and in what context He was against homosexual acts. So I went to the very source, the Bible, and I found what I was looking for.
God is Love. It was these three words that first opened up my life, and it was on these words I built my faith (as a mature adult). There is so much possibility whenever there is Love! Then, upon a more thorough treatment of religious texts, I found that there is no condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. I had always assumed that homosexuality was expressly condemned and forbidden, because it was what I had always heard from preachers and religious adults around me. All of them said: God is against homosexuals. I just accepted that and condemned myself without actually applying myself to reading the Bible or using my brain. In giving all references and potential references to homosexuality a thorough overview, I realized that God is against homosexual lust. However, the core religious texts are just as explicitly against heterosexual lust, and thus God holds us to the same high standards, no matter what our sexual orientation. It was then that I realized that my self-hate as a religious gay man was unjustified, just as the homophobia engendered by so many in organized religion is unjustified, in the eyes of God.
Thus, I invite you to explore the religious texts with me. In this exhausting but rewarding article, the most important in the history of this blog, I explore each and every reference and potential reference to homosexuality in the Bible and the Qu’ran. For the Bible, where I devote most of my energy because there are more references, I use the New International Version [NIV] for most verse translations into English, with some citations of the King James Version [KJV]. My goal is to illustrate what these revered texts both say and don’t say about homosexuality, from the point of view of treating each and every word written in the Bible and the Qu’ran as the word of God. This is not my practice—I tend to rely on prayer to guide me more than religious books—but I present my arguments here from the most conservative and fundamentalist perspective to prove the point.
In Genesis 1:28 [NIV], God gives instructions to the first humans: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”
This maxim has often been used against homosexuality: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” you will see some people brand on their banners and carry into the streets. It is their opinion that it is our personal duty to have heterosexual sex and procreate. However, upon analyzing the verse, this is a mandate given from God very specifically to Adam and Eve before the Fall from Paradise, not a command for every subsequent human being to live by. For Christians, Jesus says specifically that marriage and reproduction are not meant for everyone in Matthew 19:11-12.
I think it’s safe to say that not everyone needs to procreate. We, as human beings, have long ago filled the Earth and have done our best at subduing it. This is especially true today, where humans are depleting the Earth’s natural resources and inflicting serious harm on its climatic balance as a result of consumption. Human reproduction is already out of control and will eventually be beyond the Earth’s resources to sustain it, and if it continues there may eventually be devastating population collapses. It may have been God’s mandate that we reproduce, but not mindlessly beyond our means.
According to traditional interpretations, the fact that most people on Earth are, and continue to be, heterosexual is an indication of God’s will. And these heterosexuals have an opportunity to procreate, and that allows humans to continue to exist. However, the reverse argument is also true—not all of us turned out to be heterosexual, no matter how hard we tried, and this is also true in the animal kingdom. This is a fact and must also play some part in God’s will. From a practical vantage point, homosexuality often provides a “check” on out-of-control population growth and ensures that resources remain more abundant for a given group of people.
In summary, I hold that Genesis 1:28 was specifically intended for Adam and Eve. After that, with a whole lot more people on the planet thanks to the primordial couple, I think God expected us to figure out the whole reproduction thing by ourselves. However, even with homosexuals the mandate can still be upheld. In today’s world it is entirely possible for homosexual couples to procreate. This simply involves medical procedures and/or sperm banks. These days, carefully-considered pacts are often made between gay male couples and lesbian female couples. This method of procreation requires no sexual contact, thus preserving the sanctity of the love that exists in the two respective relationships. Now that that’s settled, I move on in Genesis to the story of Sodom and Gommorah.
Sodom and Gommorah
The story of Sodom and Gommorah is often used to justify God’s disapproval of homosexual love. In fact, the very act of anal intercourse (presumably between men, but now applied for any anal sex) came to be defined by the very city of Sodom. With such ugly words and stereotypes permeating our consciousness, it would seem like the Bible has some choice things to say about gays and anal sex. But where do these haunting references come from, in Biblical terms, and are they justified?
In Genesis Chapter 18, God was angry with various (unspecified) sins that were committed by people living in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah, so He was contemplating razing the cities. Abraham asks God if He will spare Sodom if there were even 50 righteous people within its walls. God agrees that He will spare the entire city for the sake of five righteous people alone.
Genesis Chapter 19 [NIV] starts with “The two angels arrived in Sodom in the evening, and Lot [a resident of Sodom] was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down his face to the ground.” Lot then offered the two angels his lodging: “You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning. ‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’ But he [Lot] insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can….”
Before continuing on with the story, let’s take a moment to consider philology and translation. The NIV Bible (written in ‘modern English’) finishes this sentence with “so we can have sex with them.” This is, in fact, the one and only reference to any kind of homosexual act in the Sodom and Gommorah story in the entire NIV Bible. In reality, it would be hard-pressed to really consider this a homosexual threat considering that angels are as much female as they are male, having no defined sex. However, something that I learned more recently is that NOT all translations finish this sentence in the same way. The King James Version and the Revised Standard Version translations use “Bring them out to us so we can KNOW them.” Apparently, “to know” is the literal translation of the ancient Hebrew word yadha used in the oldest manuscripts from the Bible, and this verb, “to know” is used hundreds of other times in the Bible without reference to sex acts.
In fact, if we think about it, the passage makes a lot more sense if the translation is literally “to know.” Does it really seem logical that a whole city of men, including (quite specifically) little boys and hobbling old men, are really all that interested in having one large orgy with two angels? I’m trying to imagine it now. Genesis Chapter 18 suggests that finding only 50 righteous men in Sodom would amount to only a few of the whole. This implies that there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of men in this city. And apparently all of them came to Lot’s house to “know” two angels who arrived. Considering that only so many people can have sex with two individuals at a time, all of them would have to line up and wait their turn, erections at the ready, while the angels serviced everyone. It would require hours and hours of waiting there in line for a turn. Does this really make any logical sense whatsoever? However, in a city (what we would consider a small town today, of maybe 1-2000 people) where everyone probably already knew everyone, everyone would probably like to know who the newcomers are, hear their story, and have a conversation with them and determine if they are trustworthy. Considering that the angels wanted to be in the square, and not in a private individual’s home, it can be inferred that they also wished to have a more public visit to Sodom and Gommorah.
The story continues in the NIV, 6“Lot went outside to meet than and shut the door behind him 7and said, ‘No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
9“Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “this fellow [Lot] came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge. We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.”
For comparison, here’s the King James translation of this critical moment:
6And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
9 And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.
Genesis 19:6-8 is slightly more sobering, because it does suggest that the men gathered outside may wish some harm on the two angels and have clear contempt for Lot. But what seems more likely is that they are there to take the angels into their custody, perhaps to interrogate them or later imprison, torture, kill, or expel them. It is already clear from Genesis 19:9 that the people of Sodom are rather distrusting and xenophobic: “this fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge.” Lot is an “alien” and a “soujourner,” but he doesn’t seem to be a newcomer—the fact that the angels found Lot in the city gateway has meaning, as it was traditional that city elders gather in this place to discuss governance, thus connoting that Lot has already become one of them. If Lot had already established himself in Sodom (this makes sense within the context of his and his wife’s reluctance to leave), yet the people still did not trust him and thought of him as an “alien,” then that speaks to the broader exclusionist or xenophobic character of the culture of Sodom. Given the strongly protectionist nature of ancient cities, a “soujourner” like Lot probably wouldn’t have been allowed to grant entry to strangers from the outside world without permission from the city’s citizens, and the gathering of men makes sense as a kind-of defensive military reaction to check the credentials of the two guests. The context suggests that the men of Sodom feel like they have the true right to be "the judge" of these foreign angels, and that Lot had no right to "be the judge" and admit them into the city as a foreigner himself. Therefore, it seems highly possible that Lot’s guests are similarly looked upon with even more suspicion than Lot, who they clearly already lack respect for. But this can only be speculation considering that the “wicked thing” is not defined, and there is nothing to suggest that the men of Sodom want sex. In fact, the only person who seems to have sex on his mind is the protagonist (Lot), who does later end up having sex with his daughters. The reference to his daughters’ virginity may well be foreshadowing their desire (but clear situational inability) to conceive children and Lot’s eventual incest with them.
However, what is clear from the passage is that the crowd summarily denied Lot’s offer of sex. This seems to fit my hypothesis that a crowd of boys, tottering old men, and the like really didn’t want to line up for sex that night. In fact, it seems that Lot is offering sex in exchange for maintaining his hospitality. This same situation, sex in exchange for maintaining private hospitality and refusing outsiders from the city to “know” the guest (“bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him”, Judges 19:22, KJV), also occurs in the Ancient Jewish context in the story of Gibeah [Judges 19:20-25]. The parallel story from Judges, in which the crowd’s intent to “know” [Judges 19:22] and to “kill” [Judges 20:4] the guest, appears to prove the point. Similarly, it thus seems fair to conclude in the Sodom and Gomorrah story that the “wicked thing” is the violation of Lot’s offer (Genesis 19:2) of hospitality and rest to his angelic companions: “they have come under the protection of my roof” (Genesis 19:8). Hospitality seems to be so important to Lot, such a strong value, that he would prefer that the crowd entertain itself with his virginal daughters than simply “know” his guests, to whom he promised rest. The idea probably seems abhorrent to modern readers, but it does serve to communicate the dead seriousness of hospitality in the Ancient Jewish culture.
The story continues [Genesis 19, NIV], “10 But the men [the angels] inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.” Then the angels told Lot to tell his relatives to leave the city, “13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”
I think it’s also significant to note that the angels did not bring an end to the conversation until this point. It wasn’t the people of Sodom’s expressed desire to “know” Lot’s guests (in whatever context that might mean) that caused them to act, to shut the door, blind the men, and confirm the city’s destruction. The angels did not do anything and did not pass God’s final judgment on the situation until after Lot’s attempt to maintain hospitality failed and the situation became physically violent. Not only their inhospitality and their xenophobic disrespect but also their violent intemperance led to their downfall. However, no sexual act actually occurred in the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah story, and there is certainly no reference whatsoever to anal sex.
References to Sodom are also prevalent in other parts of the Old Testament outside of Genesis, and while they refer to many other sins explicitly, homosexual acts are never one of them. The Talmud suggests that people of Sodom slaughtered a young girl for her generosity to a poor man, and this book cites her death cry as the herald for the destruction of the cities [Sanhedrin 109]. Continuing with the NIV Bible, in Deuteronomy 29: 23-28, the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah was explained by the fact that the covenant of God was “abandoned,” which suggests that all of God’s laws were ignored (not just one), a condition described as “poison” [Deuteronomy 32:32]. Ezekiel 16: 49 is very explicit: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” The closest Old Testament verse to equating the sins of Sodom with sexual immorality is in Jeremiah 23: 14: [NIV]: “..the prophets of Jerusalem…They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” However, this verse only associated adultery with the prophets of Jerusalem, not with the sins of Sodom and Gommorah. These two cities are, most importantly, the symbols of divine retribution in the Old Testament and act as a call to Jews to reform their ways. For example, in Isaiah 3: 9 [NIV], the statement “they parade their sin like Sodom and Gomorrah” stands alone. It demonstrates that they were proud of their sins and openly defiant toward God about them. In Zephaniah 2:10, the Moabs are threatened with the same fate as Sodom and Gommorah “for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the Lord Almighty” [NIV]. This makes inherent sense, as most certainly Lot (one of the people of the Lord) was insulted and mocked by the crowd in the Genesis story. In sum, there are plenty of before-Christ verses that hint at or give direct testimony to the sins of Sodom, but interestingly none of these sins have anything to do with what we think of today as “sodomy.”
The view of Sodom as a representation of inhospitality (with no connotation to sex, rape, or lust) is repeated by Jesus’s own words to his disciples in the New Testament. In particular, in Luke 10:12 and Matthew 10:14-15, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town” [NIV]. Inhospitality to God’s angels led to the downfall of Sodom, but their fate was relatively easy and sin relatively minor when compared to those who are inhospitable to the Son of Man and His messengers. Thus, within the Christian context, the role of Sodom as a symbol of inhospitality and divine judgment (but not as sexual immorality) stands. The Old Testament also seems to confirm that the unequal treatment or mistreatment of guests and foreigners is a sin in Leviticus 19:33 [NIV]: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.” This, in turn, echoes Jesus’s “greatest commandment”: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The men of Sodom did not adhere to this principle, either with respect to “alien” Lot or his guests, and this is the one obvious sin they are guilty of that fateful night.
In the light of the above discussion, there is no doubt that Sodom and Gommorah are represented as cities of sin, but only under the most narrow-minded interpretations could the story of Sodom and Gommorah be associated with male sex considering the context and the logic behind the verb “to know.” However, let’s go ahead and say that the NIV translation is correct and the context really is “we want to have sex with them.” These angels must have been very beautiful, and if the beauty of the angels did inspire lustful desire in the men of Sodom, then within that context the destruction of Sodom could also be justified. Lust is, without any doubt, a sin according to the Christian and Jewish faiths, but that holds as much for heterosexuals as it does for anyone else. Furthermore, the men of Sodom clearly had no love, fidelity, or respect for the angels, from what is clear from Genesis 19:9 as they approach to forcibly break into Lot’s house. Therefore, the sex would not be consensual. It thus stands, if we are conservative and must insist that “to know” could only mean “have sex with,” that the men of Sodom wanted to rape the angels. While the angels are neither male nor female, it hardly matters—non-consensual sexual violence is without question a grave sin. Furthermore, homosexual rape is most often not committed by people who are truly gay/homosexual or bisexual, because it serves as an act of violence and physical control more than it is an expression of lust. Whether it was lust or violence that inspired the men of Sodom, both are important examples of violations of God’s law in both heterosexual and homosexual contexts, and in any case it is clear that love is certainly not their motivation. This latter statement stands true whether there was sexual intent or not—the story of Sodom and Gommorah was not a love story between two people and should not be confused as such.
Probably the most direct and blanket reference to homosexuality in the Judaeo-Christian context comes from two verses in Leviticus:
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” [18:22, NIV]
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them has done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” [20:13, NIV]
From the strict-constructionist’s vantage point, these verses can be taken a number of ways. From my perspective, I don’t see how a man can lie with a man as one lies with a woman. Men don’t have all the same openings that a woman does, the last time I checked. Traditional Jewish thought is that this particular reference refers to penetrative anal intercourse, which makes sense and seems quite practical in the ancient context. While loving relationships and sex between men was glorified in Ancient Greek literature, anal sex between men was not looked fondly upon in this culture for similar reasons. It was considered unclean, and before latex condoms such intercourse could be a ready cause of urinary tract infections. While hardly serious in today’s world of antibiotics, such infections could be difficult to overcome and deadly for some in ancient times. Furthermore, having sex with a man, then having sex with a woman (potentially exposing her to fecal matter from the previous intercourse) seems to be a sure-fire path to a dangerous urinary tract infection for her. Forbidding such activity seems like a wise rule for the time, although in today’s world of antibiotics and latex it is much less a concern.
But let’s get back to the verse. Even under a highly conservative viewpoint, you might be able to get around the mandate of this verse by having other (non-anal) forms of sexual intercourse with a man, or having anal intercourse while standing up or sitting. Other clever gay men have rightly pointed out that, if involved in loving, monogamous relationships with only men, you are not ever lying with a woman, and thus the rule is void. The verse appears to be geared to an explicitly bisexual reality: a man cannot lie with a man AS HE LIES with a woman. Threesomes are clearly not allowed. In any case, women having sex with women is not addressed by Leviticus and seems to be fair game. This is in contrast to other specifications, where men and women are both quite explicitly prohibited from sexual relations with animals [Leviticus, 20:15-16].
Putting the possibility of polyamory aside for a moment, the Bible clearly promotes a monogamous doctrine. One example: Matthew 19:5-6 [NIV]: “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Traditionally-speaking, a man should not be having sex outside of marriage, and when the love between him and a woman is sanctified before God, upon having sex they become one flesh. Sex/“one fleshness” should thus be limited to this type of relationship and this relationship only; sex with men outside of the realm of the already-established sacred love could be categorized as lust/adultery/fornication, a sin. The same is true for a man who lies with a woman who is not his wife [Leviticus 20:10 (NIV): “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death”]. So if a man is lying with a woman, he should be married to her and loyal to her, and thus he should not be having sex with other men (or other women) at the same time. Therefore, he must not lie with a man AS HE LIES with a woman. I think this model could also be applied to men. If a man has sex with a man, it should be out of love and not lust, and all sexual activity should remain in the context of that loving relationship and should not involve an external source of lust (specifically a woman within the context of this verse, or other men more generally).
I have argued for the contrary, but I’m perfectly willing to accept the most conservative interpretation that Leviticus bans all kinds of sexual intercourse between men, because as a Christian I believe that this book’s inclusion in the Bible is meant to portray how life was before the arrival of Christ, not how it should continue to be. Its list of rules and regulations are both tedious and outdated. I’m not sure who Leviticus is—the author claims to be “the Lord your God,” but I frankly don’t think so, because I don’t believe God would ever promote violence. Keep in mind that it is not just men lying with men as they lie with women that merits a virtual death sentence. Another sexual morality example comes from Leviticus 20:18—“if a man lies with a woman during her monthly period and has sexual relations with her, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them must be cut off from their people.” Because the monthly period can be unpredictable, irregular, and come on quite suddenly, sex with a woman during her period could be quite unintentional. And yet it seems to require social ostracism and exile, which in ancient times (pastoral groups navigating a semi-arid landscape) was often a death sentence.
There are also many rules regarding eating restrictions, and many different types of non-kosher/haram foods that most Christians eat are banned in Leviticus (Chapters 11, 17). One example is Leviticus 17: 13-14, where anyone who eats meat containing blood “must be cut off” from their people. Also, it is specified: “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” [Leviticus 19:19, NIV]. Unlike the homosexual reference, this command is quite clear-cut, and I believe I’m breaking it now as I write. There are also a multitude of rules regarding cleanness—if you get anywhere near a woman who has her period or touch things that she touches, you are unclean. Becoming clean again requires isolation and waiting until evening. Women who finish their periods must wait seven days and on the eighth day sacrifice two pigeons or two doves [Leviticus 15:29]. The same is required of a man who discharges involuntarily [Leviticus 15:13]. I won’t even get into the very precise rules regarding sacrifices and the atonement of sins. If you are a true believer in Leviticus, it seems rather hypocritical to hone in on one verse and forget the rest. Either take it (remember your bird-related obligations) or leave it. I think of it more as an interesting insight on ancient cultural life than I see it as a personal doctrine that God wishes me to follow.
With regard to the Christian religion, a strict constructionist attitude toward Leviticus is also not really an option. Jesus intentionally contradicts several parts of Leviticus. For example, Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:18-19, cancelling entire chapters of this Old Testament book. Furthermore, Jesus redefines the Levitican meaning of clean and unclean: “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, then out of his body. What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All of these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” [Mark 7:18-23, NIV]. Jesus also redefines the punishment for sin: death and ostracism is replaced with forgiveness and mercy. We have seen that Leviticus prescribed adulteresses (and other likewise sinners) should be stoned, but in John Chapter 8 a woman actually witnessed in an act of adultery was brought before Jesus. He said [John 8:7, NIV], “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one did, and once everyone got bored and left, Jesus dismissed her, “neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” [John 8:11, NIV]. Jesus was clear that it was not our role to judge each other for our sins (in this case a sexual morality issue) or inflict punishment accordingly: “why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3 and Luke 6:41, NIV].
In a recent conversation with my Grandma (the most fundamentalist of Christians) about Leviticus, I think she had an appropriate perspective from the Christian point-of-view. She says that she thinks of Leviticus as a representation of the strict rules one has to follow to live a righteous life without Christ. “It’s impossible to abide by them, but I think that’s the whole point,” says Grandma, “upon accepting Christ’s message of Love we become exempt from them.” She’s right; divine love supercedes all other commandments—Jesus even says so explicitly and in doing so paraphrases Moses’s 10 commandments into one: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commandments” [Matthew 22:37-40, NIV].
Love is thus the key to all life, to righteousness, and to all relationships. And this leads back to the topic at hand: a true, sacred love that exists (or is supposed to exist) between heterosexual lovers when they get married can also be present in a relationship between two men or two women. In other words, the pairing of two men together or two women together under the motivation of love and not lust. I’ve seen it happen (very rarely) with my own eyes; I have seen gay marriages performed in a church that are based solidly on love (see my post “Memories of a Beautiful Soul”). And if this can happen, Jesus’s words again strike through those of Leviticus: “This is my command: Love each other” [John 15:17, NIV]. I will return to this idea at the end of this article. The real sins, those listed above from Mark 7:20-23, to be retained from Leviticus (relating to sexual morality) are lust, lewdness, and adultery. Not love, marriage, and the physical expression of love therein.
As a Christian, I tend to take the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) of the New Testament more seriously than any other scripture before or after. I think it’s particularly telling that Jesus has a lot to say about sexual morality, yet he does not have anything to say (one way or another) on homosexuality. His speeches have a universality to them, in which all people and all relationships are treated equally and subject to the same laws. Jesus’s Greatest Commandment, “Love each other” has already been introduced above. But Love is not lust. In fact, within the Biblical context, lust appears to be defined as an interest or an act resulting from pure sexual desire, pure physical attraction, without love. Regarding sexual morality, Jesus equates adultery and lust with each other, for example, in Matthew 4:27-28 [NIV]: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” While he uses the lust of a man for a woman as an example, it has a more universal meaning beyond this exclusive context—the similar lust of a man for a man or a woman for a woman would clearly fall under the purview of ‘adultery’ by the same logic.
Jesus also discusses the nature of marriage between a man and a woman and the “sin” of divorce. I’ve introduced this idea of “one-fleshness” in the Levitican context above, but I will repeat it here from Mark 10:6-12 [NIV],
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ For this
reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
This verse, repeated in Matthew 19:1-12 with additional context, has often been interpreted falsely as a refutation of homosexuality. However, the verse in Mark 10:6 is not a command but an observation—men and women who complement each other do come together in marriage, but they don’t have to [Matthew 19:12]. Once two people come together as one flesh in their love for each other, unless lust (marital infidelity, a breach of the contract of divine love between the married couple) mandates a separation [Matthew 19:9], the marriage/love between the couple should be maintained and divorce is not justified. Like for the adultery command, while Jesus uses the example of a heterosexual relationship, he has no need to make clarifications about two men together or two women together. At the time, the very idea of “homosexual love” and its distinction from “homosexual lust” did not exist, and such a characterisation would have been poorly-understood. The idea of marriage between two men or two women would have been an utterly foreign concept in Jesus’s day. So instead of expressing an opinion for or against male-male or female-female relationships in a ‘marriage’ context, Jesus applies universal meaning to the example of a heterosexual marriage, just as he does in the example of adultery. This is what makes Jesus’s words so powerful in the context of Christianity—his teachings have a universality and inclusiveness, even in the use of one example. He is able, for instance, to summarize the entire Law into a simple phrase and use examples (such as those discussed here) and parables to express wisdom in one context that can be applied to all other contexts. No other prophet in the Christian religion does this so effectively.
To summarize, Jesus’s ideal construction of sexual morality seems to be the following. Because lust = adultery = sin, a relationship between two people must be founded on some other basis. Romantic love and courtship (eros) leads to bonding, but it is God who makes them a married couple. This construction of the ‘spiritual marriage’ that Jesus described in Matthew and Mark should not be confused with a legal marriage or a traditional marriage ceremony in a religious house. There are many “marriages” of the spiritual sort that are not legal ones, and many legal/church marriages prove with time not to be spiritual ones.
How does God make a spiritual marriage, then? I think a clue can be found in 1 John 4:16 [NIV]: “God is Love (Agape). Whoever lives in Love lives in God, and God in him.” Thus, the Love that characterizes God is what makes a marriage; in other words, a married couple likely has both love (eros, passionate love) and Love (Agape) between them. As eros wanes with time, Agape becomes more important. Within this context, what Jesus says about the married couple makes sense: “what God [Love] has joined together, let no man separate.” If the Love between them is real and true, a part of God (Agape) exists between them, which allows them to unite into one flesh, both physically (within the context of sex, which Jesus accepts as a reality of marriage in Matthew 19:12) and spiritually. As a consequence, the individuals in the married couple must be servants/slaves, not to each other, but to the Love (Agape) that exists between them in the manner that they are servants/slaves to God. Outside of Love, sex (heterosexual or otherwise) appears to be lust.
These are difficult and very high standards to live by, but the interpretation seems relevant in the Biblical context, and it is not an impossible achievement. My grandparents provide an example of a true spiritual marriage that has withstood the test of time, and sometimes I do think they are one person, so fused they are to each other emotionally (they cannot stand to be physically without each other for a single day). I promise to return to parallel Greek philosophy on this subject in another posting, where I will deconstruct the ideas of love and lust with a more complex construction: the transmutability and exchanges that occur between Eros, Agape, and Philia, and relate them back to Judaeo-Christian/Islamic thought.
Following the Four Gospels, the New Testament continues with a series of letters and historical anecdotes as well as descriptions of dreams. Although the true authorship of most of the Bible, including the Four Gospels, is unknown, many of the subsequent books are written by Paul, an apostle to Jesus who converted to Christianity several years after the Jesus’s ascension, as well as his followers. These letters provide a fascinating account of the spread of Christianity across the Mediterranean world. They also express the cultural values and motivations of the earliest Christian communities, who were often struggling for survival. Pauline doctrine has also traditionally been used to defame homosexuality, so I will address the relevant verses here, from the New International Version (NIV):
Romans: 1:21-30. “21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened….24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even the women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust (̕ορέξει) for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
The easiest solution for strict constructionists of the Bible is to declare, upon reading these verses, “Paul said it; God condemns homosexuality.” I am hardly a strict constructionist, seeing some verses (particularly quotes from Jesus and their universal meaning) as more relevant than others; as Christians I believe we can hardly say that Paul’s words have the same authority as Christ’s. However, for the sake of argument let’s say that they do. Let’s take Paul as seriously as the verses in Genesis and Leviticus, which I have argued are suitable for the context of homosexual lust but not for homosexual love.
First, Romans 1:21-30 is easy to legitimize, because it provides only a condemnation of homosexual lust in the same way that is condemned for heterosexuals in Matthew and Mark. It’s simply an extrapolation from what we already take from Jesus’s more universal teachings to be true. Romans 1:26 has been put forward as the only Biblical condemnation of female homosexuality, and it is a weak one at that. Any number of relations can be “unnatural” for a woman within a sexual morality context—bestiality (sex with animals) is one example cited explicitly in Leviticus. In any case, the key here is that unnatural relations are a consequence of “shameful lusts.” Because they are inspired by lust, unnatural relations can thus be kind of fornication, or “adultery” in the Christian sense of the word.
Being a lover of all things Greek, I have a penchant for both the ancient and modern language, so I went ahead and explored the semantics of these verses as written in their original tongue. There is no single word for “lust” in Hellenistic Greek, but the meaning is rarely difficult to ascertain. Jesus’s quote from Matthew that equates lust with adultery uses the verb ̕επιθυμήσαι (epithimisai), which means “to covet” or “to desire.” Romans 1:27, which attacks male-male relations, uses the word ορέξει (orexei), which means quite literally “appetite.” There can be little doubt, then, that the reference to homosexuality in Romans is a direct reference to appetitive desires, i.e. lust, and not love. Furthermore, according to Paul in Romans Chapter 1, these lusts are a penalty for not glorifying God or giving thanks to him [Romans 1:21]. Thus, for those homosexuals who do glorify God and give thanks to him, the verses have no relevance or jurisdiction.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 [NIV]: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers no swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Moving on to First Corinthians, the Greek-English translation of the list of offensible sins in the verses of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is much less clear than that from Romans. Male prostitution would certainly be a justifiable example of lust, but it is not obvious that the Greek word μαλακοί (malakoi) used here really means prostitution in this verse. The translation for “female prostitute” a few lines later in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 is πόρνη (porni, a feminine singular noun, which could also mean adulteress), so it seems strange that a male prostitute would not use the masculine version of the same noun (πόρνος, i.e., pornos—male prostitute/catamite). Instead, μαλακοί (malakoi) is used, which literally means “the soft ones” (‘ones’ being masculine plural). The meaning is quite obscure, possibly referring to ‘male prostitution.’ But this seems a stretch to say the least, especially given that it appears in a list and has no context to accompany it.
The word translated in the NIV as “homosexual offenders” is similarly unclear if not more so. While the word “homosexual” did not exist in Ancient Greek, male-male sexual relations abounded in Ancient Greek literature, entire books (Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium) were written about them, and there were correspondingly many ways of describing them (often with the terms eronemos, erastes, and eros). Clearly Paul had no difficulty in discussing male-male sexual relations (with reference to lust) in Romans. Yet here, the key word taken to mean ‘homosexual’ is ̓αρσενοκοίται (arsenokoitai, a plural masculine noun). The singular version of the word would be ̓αρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitis). Looking again in my trusty Ancient Greek-English dictionary, κοίτη (koiti) means “bed”, and ̓αρσενο (arseno) is a prefix which means “male.” Thus, the combination word could mean “men of the bed” (analogous to sloth more than lust), male bedders (men who engage in sexual excess). Other possibilities are “those that lie with men” (in the coital Levitican sense) or maybe even “men sex.”
In any case, despite the abundance of other expressions available to describe male-male sexual relations in Greek literature, my Ancient Greek dictionary confirmed that this word was not ever used outside of Paul’s letters. It seems to be a word that Paul invented entirely by himself, but as a result its meaning is still not understood. So I did a little more investigation into this. In fact, there is an entire scholarly debate and many academic articles written over the meaning of this one word, and no consensus has been reached. It appears only twice, and both times in Paul’s New Testament letters in a list without context. I think it is interesting that the exact same word (the only other known use of it), ̓αρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoitais), is not translated as “homosexuals” but instead as “perverts” in the NIV Bible for 1 Timothy 1:10. I think “perversion” is probably a more acceptable solution to the translation problem given the word’s ambiguity and lack of clarity. If it is, indeed, a reference to male-male intercourse, I would argue that the κοίτη (koiti) extension of the word references the physical act, that is, sexual excess and lust in the Levitican sense (Jesus’s “adultery”), rather than love. Mimicking Paul, if I were to make up an Ancient Greek word for homosexual love, it would probably be ̓αρσενοφίλης (arsenofilis).
The context thus suggests that even Paul doesn’t attempt to find a way around Jesus’s Greatest Commandment as applied to homosexual love. Paul was, however, full of personal opinions, which he expresses in the letters that are now included in the Bible. He clearly wasn’t a huge fan of human sexuality in a heterosexual context either, including within the framework of spiritual marriage as supported by Jesus. He states in 1 Corinthians 7:1 [NIV], “it is good for a man not to marry,” a verse which is also translated in the NIV as “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is applied as a general philosophy and is not just directed to his religious leaders. But, in that worse case scenario that we don’t wish to live asexually, Paul clearly states that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” [1 Corinthians 7:9, NIV].
Jude 1:7 [KJV] “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Finally, another Pauline verse sometimes used against homosexuals, or rather to link the stories of Sodom and Gommorah to homosexuality, is Jude 1:7 (the “strange flesh” of the King James Version). However, more so than the other verses presented here, this one is not concretely linked to homosexuality, as a directionality of the sexual passion is not established. Because human flesh is not “strange/corrupt” to humans, the verse suggests bestiality (sex with animals) or possibly sex with angels. Again, “taste for flesh” is analogous to “lust,” and thus, even if it were a reference to homosexual acts, it could only be a condemnation of homosexual lust and not homosexual love. Accordingly, the NIV translation of this verse is “Sodom and Gommorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
Within the chronology of the Bible, Jesus was the last to equate the story of Sodom with inhospitality. Later, post-Jesus interpretations of the story, such as from Jude, begin to associate the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with our popular understanding of it today as a divine retribution (in part) for lust. The interpretation of Sodom and Gommorah in Jude (as relating to lust) is synonymous with other secular (non-Biblical) historical accounts of the story from the 1st century A.D. These include Flavinius Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities, an attempt at Jewish historiography, which describes the episode as a rape story. In addition, Philo of Alexandria offers a more moralistic extrapolation in his commentary on the event, in which he put emphasis on gluttony and an (imaginative fictional) account of heterosexual and homosexual activities in the cities [as translated by F.H. Colson, Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1954]. However, within the Bible, the only reference to lust in the Sodom and Gommorah story comes from a much later Jewish re-interpretation of the story (Jude). I would strongly suspect that the homosexual aspect of the story developed by Josephus and Philo of Alexandria came in reaction to the expanding Greek diaspora of the Mediterranean world and subsequent cultural reactions to the traditional Greek practice of pederasty (man-adolescent sexual/academic relationships). The theme of lust in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, while practically non-existent in the Bible itself, would be picked up again in the quranic interpretation of the event, which transitions nicely to my next section.
However, to conclude my discussion of Biblical references to homosexuality (and yes, we’ve been through all of them), I came to the conclusion that the scriptures, from even the most fundamentalist and strict-constructionist point of view, are strongly opposed to homosexual lust but provide accommodation to homosexual love. The same Biblical standards are also applied to heterosexual lust (which is condemned in a great many more verses than those presented here) and heterosexual love. I personally concluded many years ago that God had nothing against my sexual orientation, whether it be His will directly or a consequence of my development, and He wished me to proceed with it exactly as I would within a heterosexual reality, in Love. But unfortunately, Love is not an easy thing to develop between two people, and most of us (heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual alike) are doomed to fail.
Homosexuality and the Qu’ran
One very pious Muslim friend, presented previously in this blog as Farid, once recounted to me his dreams and the reality of homosexual experience within the context of his religion. He told me that he had entered the gay world as a romantic, hoping to love, marry, and have sex with only one man, as is prescribed in his religion for the normal heterosexual relationships. He apparently prayed to God, promising Him that if God helped him immigrate to Canada, he would seek a relationship with only one man and love only him. Farid’s dream makes moral sense within the context of the above discussion.
Now a citizen of Canada, Farid never succeeded to find the love, or rather the Love, that he was looking for in a relationship. Upon entering the highly-sexualized environment of the gay culture, he ended up establishing relationships on sex (i.e., homosexual lust) and then trying to proceed onto the higher love he was seeking. That never worked out; these relationships collapsed quickly, so he saw himself as cursed and reformed his philosophy on the matter based on his own experience. He said that because homosexuality is against all monotheistic religions, and especially against his own, that God is fundamentally against homosexuality. He said that, as a gay man, just having sex for sex’s sake works best, as he can just ask for God’s forgiveness after each time he has intercourse, and he will be forgiven. But if he were to love a man, that would make the “sin” a fundamental and continuing part of his life and thus tarnish his pure love for God.
Hearing this broke my heart. I see so much love in him bursting to come out and express itself, yet he doesn’t have the courage to live it. At least he tries (he’s done better than me in that regard). However, his strategy is not uncommon throughout the Muslim world, where many homosexually-inclined men marry women by a sense of heterosexual duty, but they also cheat on their wives in sexual relations with other men. Then they come home to their wives and ask God for forgiveness, and the cycle repeats itself. But when Farid upheld this perspective, not only did I feel like he misinterpreted my religion (Christianity, which he made reference to), but what he said also went against my entire conceptualization of what God is. I have already presented my spiritual views on the distinction between homosexual lust and homosexual love, and how I think homosexual love is justified within the context of Christian doctrine. If God is Love, then why would he be more accepting/forgiving of lust but find love, find Love, more condemnable? To me, it seemed like the equivalent of saying “God sometimes loves himself and sometimes hates himself.” So after Farid told me this story about God being against homosexual love, I asked him: “What is the relationship between God and love in Islam?”
He responded, “God is Love! We actually call him ‘Love’ in place of ‘Allah’ sometimes.” So even in Islam, Allah = God = Love, which is exactly the fundamental principle of Christianity. Our commonalities seem to be greater than our differences. But God is Love, and Love can be engendered between two men--not lust but the real and lasting love as develops (or should develop) between two heterosexuals in a romantic relationship. So, in that case, how can the physical expression of that Love (one-fleshness) be sacred and virtuous in the heterosexual context and profane and sinful in the homosexual context? By His definition, God enters both types of relationships and makes them sacred through the presence of Love. So how can Allah sin? By definition, He cannot!
I figured that there must be some strong theological foundation in Islam against homosexuality for my friend to feel so profoundly, fundamentally tormented by his romantic orientation. I assumed that the Qu’ran had some choice things to say about us gays, nasty things, things that would make me want to jump off a cliff. Whatever the Qu’ran says, it must be the motivation for the current persecution and even holocaust of MSM (men who have sex with men) ongoing in some Muslim countries. No good Muslim dares to say anything in favour of homosexuality. No mosque is open to them; every Muslim must remain closeted in his/her religion. At least, that is how the current culture of the religion seems to treat homosexuality. It is haram, no ifs, ands, or buts. However, in this same religion, the Qu’ran is the one and only verifiable word of God, a “pure book” which expresses His will on Earth. According to Islamic tradition, it was transcribed by the Prophet Muhammed from the words of the Angel Gabriel (“the Messenger”), and the Book’s very existence (memorized and written by illiterate people) proves the miracle of the Qu’ran and its divine origin. Everything in the religion centres around this one source of supreme authority; everything in the Book is truth, everything that exists outside of the Qu’ran is subject to be judged and interpreted through it. In other words, the Qu’ran is the standard by which all else is evaluated.
I recently set about reading the Qu’ran as a kind of spiritual and intellectual adventure. I see so much love and faith in God in my friend Farid; his perspectives often inspire me, and I wanted to see where it came from. He gave me a Qu’ran in French, so I’ve been reading my way through it. I see so much beauty in the words and the ideas of the Book, which echo many fundamental aspects of Judaeo-Christianity. But where are all these verses that are supposed to condemn homosexuals, that have been the source of so much grief across the Muslim world? Where is it in the Qu’ran where homosexual love is prohibited?
As it turns out, there are only a few very vague references to homosexuality in the Qu’ran, and the verses are so scant and general that they make the Bible (as discussed above) look downright homophobic. The first and most important of these I read through not even knowing that homosexual acts were implied. Here is what I read from my French translation:
Sourate 4:15-16: “Celles de vos femmes qui forniquent, faites témoigner à leur encontre quatre d’entre vous. S’ils témoignent, alors confinez ces femmes dans vos maisons jusqu’à ce que la mort les rappelle ou qu’Allah décrète un autre ordre à leur égard. Les deux d’entre vous qui l’on commise [la fornication], sévissez contre eux. S’ils se repentant ensuite et se réforment, alors laissez-les en paix. Allah demeure Accueillant au répentir et Miséricordieux.”
“15And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them. 16And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is oft-returning to mercy, the Merciful.” [Trans. Mohammed Habib Shakir].
When I first read this, I thought it could be summarized as such: if women are caught in adultery (fornication), they are to be confined to their houses, if men are caught in adultery/fornication, punish them, unless they repent, in which case they are entirely forgiven. I had no idea that the adultery discussed here had a directional sexuality, as it doesn’t read as such in either translation. In fact, from the two translations I have here, it seems that the verse applies explicitly to women who are caught in adultery/fornication with either a woman or a man. I assumed the same was true for a man—if he is caught in adultery/fornication with either a woman or a man, he is to be punished unless he repents. Apparently the nuance which implies a homosexual adultery/fornication in the second verse (16) is in the words “among you,” although even that is unclear. Why wouldn’t there be a punishment for a man caught in adultery with a woman as well as one who is caught in adultery with a man? I’m not so sure that it doesn’t apply to any type of adultery/fornication, although being not at all educated in Classical Arabic, I wouldn’t want to hazard to dive into the semantics of the verse like I do with the Pauline letters. However, apparently this verse has traditionally been understood as a condemnation of homosexual fornication/adultery [Murray and Roscoe, Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature, p. 89].
Ok, so let’s accept it as such. The definition of adultery and fornication are acts that violate a sacred pact of divine love (adultery) or exist outside of such a Love (fornication); both are considered acts of lust that are not part of an established relationship where Love exists. Homosexual (as well as heterosexual) acts of adultery = fornication = lust are also explicitly condemned in the Bible and in the teachings of Jesus therein. From a theological and scriptural perspective, I see nothing wrong with what is presented in this verse against homosexual lust. Sourate 4:16 makes the distinction that the act of interest is one of lust and not Love, as does the verse before it with regard to women (Sourate 4:15). Just like in the Bible, there is nothing here that condemns homosexual love or homosexual spiritual marriage.
It is also interesting that a homosexual act of lust should be treated so leniently, especially considering the gravity of such a violation implied in Leviticus and Romans. The Qu’ran is, by comparison to the Old and New Testaments, the most forgiving of texts, not the least forgiving as I would have thought from cultural attitudes in the Muslim world. In the case of a homosexual act of lust, a punishment is to be accorded to both parties for having committed the lustful act, but if they repent then all is forgiven and they are allowed to continue in peace. Just like my friend Farid—when he commits an act of lust (loveless sex), he asks for forgiveness. But such an action, existing outside of Love, is still clearly a sin requiring repentance and forgiveness. The treatment with regard to homosexual lust in the Qu’ran is especially lenient considering the penalties for other violations, including that for women (confined to their house for a lifetime) for the same crime. In Sourate 24:2, fornicators are given a very explicit punishment of 100 lashes of the whip. In the homosexual case, all that is required is repentance, or if not some kind of unspecified punishment (but death is never implied or encouraged—the punishment is thus implied to be lenient or matching that of fornication in Sourate 24:2).
There are plenty of hadiths that directly contradict this verse of the Qu’ran. Hadiths are narratives or witness testimony (many whose authenticity have been questioned) from the life and teachings of Muhammad, from what he had to say outside of the Qu’ran. These hadiths often serve to elaborate on the meaning of the spiritual text of the Qu’ran and give further examples; however, the Qu’ran remains the one and true word of God and the hadiths are only just that, elaborations made by human understanding. The hadiths suggest that lustful homosexual acts between men were to be punished by death, and these narratives have served as the basis for Sha’aria condemnations and the death penalty/prison sentence for homosexuality in too many Muslim countries. Imam after imam has upheld the death penalty for homosexuals. I don’t feel like I have to make an argument on the authenticity of these hadiths and the Sha’aria law, capital punishments, and suicide pacts that stem from them. All of these are downright against the very fabric of Islam because they violate the Qu’ran, which specifies very clearly that the committers of homosexual lust are to be given the chance to repent and will be left in peace without punishment if they do so. The Qu’ran is not always clear on everything, thus necessitating the hadiths, but it couldn’t be clearer in this particular case. The Qu’ran offers protection and forgiveness—anything/anyone that says or does otherwise violates the word of God.
Quranic law toward homosexual acts of lust are thus clearly spelled out in Sourate 4:15-16. The Qu’ran also offers another moralistic reproach in the post-Greek sense in several verses relating to Sodom and Gommorah. I offer again the translation of the verses of interest in English according to the translation of Mohammed Shabib Shakir, with the equivalent phrases provided in brackets in French to add an alternate translation to clarify meaning when homosexual acts are referenced or potentially implied.
Sourate 7:80-84: And (We sent) Lut when he said to his people: What! do you commit an indecency which any one in the world has not done before you? Most surely you come to males in lust [vos désirs charnels] besides females; nay you are an extravagant people. And the answer of his people was no other than that they said: Turn them out of your town, surely they are a people who seek to purify (themselves). So We delivered him and his followers, except his wife; she was of those who remained behind. And We rained upon them a rain; consider then what was the end of the guilty.
Sourate 11:77-82: And when Our messengers came to Lut, he was grieved for them, and he lacked strength to protect them, and said: This is a hard day. And his people came to him, (as if) rushed on towards him, and already they did evil deeds. He said: O my people! these are my daughters-- they are purer for you, so guard against (the punishment of) Allah and do not disgrace me with regard to my guests; is there not among you one right-minded man? They said: Certainly you know that we have no claim on your daughters, and most surely you know what we desire [ce que nous voulons]. He said: Ah! that I had power to suppress you, rather I shall have recourse to a strong support. They said: O Lut! we are the messengers of your Lord; they shall by no means reach you; so remove your followers in a part of the night-- and let none of you turn back-- except your wife, for surely whatsoever befalls them shall befall her; surely their appointed time is the morning; is not the morning nigh? So when Our decree came to pass, We turned them upside down and rained down upon them stones, of what had been decreed, one after another.
Sourate 26: 160-172: The people of Lut gave the lie to the apostles. When their brother Lut said to them: Will you not guard (against evil)? Surely I am a faithful apostle to you; Therefore guard against (the punishment of) Allah and obey me: And I do not ask you any reward for it; my reward is only with the Lord of the worlds; What! do you come to the males from among the creatures [Accomplissez-vous l’acte charnel avec les males de ce monde?] And leave what your Lord has created for you of your wives? Nay, you are a people exceeding limits. They said: If you desist not, O Lut! you shall surely be of those who are expelled. He said: Surely I am of those who utterly abhor your My Lord ! deliver me and my followers from what they do. So We delivered him and his followers all, Except an old woman, among those who remained behind. Then We utterly destroyed the others.
Sourate 27.54-57: And (We sent) Lut, when he said to his people: What! do you commit indecency while you see? What! do you indeed approach men lustfully rather than women [vous allez aux hommes au lieu de femmes pour assouvir vos désirs?]? Nay, you are a people who act ignorantly. But the answer of his people was no other except that they ~s said: Turn out Lut's followers from your town; surely they are a people who would keep pure! But We delivered him and his followers except his wife; We ordained her to be of those who remained behind.
Sourate 29.28-30: And (We sent) Lut when he said to his people: Most surely you are guilty of an indecency which none of the nations has ever done before you; What! do you come to the males [commerce charnel avec des mâles] and commit robbery on the highway, and you commit evil deeds in your assemblies? But nothing was the answer of his people except that they said: Bring on us Allah's punishment, if you are one of the truthful. He said: My Lord! help me against the mischievous people.
In each of these verses, some account of the sin of Sodom and Gommorah is expressed. I have already given my primary arguments on this story within the context of the Old and New Testaments, and many of these also can be applied to the Sourates. In Sourates 7 and 11, an attempt to exile Lot from Sodom seems to be implied, and Sourate 11 echoes the Genesis version of the story and puts emphasis on inhospitality toward Lot’s guests. Combining all of the Sourates together to tell a single story, with their emphasis on male-male lust, it would suggest that the Qu’ran supports a homosexual rape interpretation to the lead up of events leading to their destruction. However, like in Genesis, there is no actual sexual act in the climactic moment of inhospitality (Sourate 11) toward the two angels.
Sourates 26 and 27 indicates that men are committing adultery with their wives in engaging in sex with males, thus harking back to Levitican standards that men should not lie with both men and women. Furthermore, Sourate 29 even connotes male prostitution. In all cases where homosexual sexual relations are directly referenced--Sourates 7, 26, 27, and 29—they are clearly defined as acts of lust (“carnal act”, “desire”, “of lust”). These are by no means acts of love. In addition, these lustful actions are indicated to be “extravagant,” “ignorant,” and “surpassing limits” but are not defined as the final reason for God’s destruction of the cities. The beginning of the passage from Sourate 26, like Isaiah, points first to these cities abandoning God and lacking a fear of God. Inhospitality is spelled out in Sourates 7 and 11, adultery against wives in Sourate 26, and theft, prostitution, and corrupt governance are further implicated in Sourate 29. Thus, even in the Qu’ran, which places emphasis on homosexual lust in the sins of the cities, does not prescribe Sodom and Gommorah’s destruction to this sin and points to a multitude of other grievances as well as a general disinterest and lack of concern for God. A faithful Muslim man who commits an act of homosexual lust does not necessarily have the same lack of concern for God as the Sodomites in the Qu’ran, and a Muslim man who engages in homosexual love is not guilty of any of the sins from the quranic version of the Sodom and Gommorah story, because the sexual sin of the men of Sodom is carefully defined as lust in the Quran. Therefore, the story of Sodom in the Qu’ran is clearly no more a love story between two men than it is in the Judeao-Christian version. In addition, female homosexuality, either in its expression as lust or love, is not at all referenced in these verses. Furthermore, these verses are not commands but historical elaborations and cautionary tales—the Qu’ran’s legal prescription on the subject is given earlier in Sourate 4.
Islamic Wisdom on Ideal Human Love and the Realities of Lust
In a different conversation with my friend Farid, we talked about how traditional Muslim values seek to eliminate lust from relationships. According to his description, in part because men tend to be the more lustful sex, women are required to wear the veil and often a gown in public for the purposes of “modesty.” One chief advantage of this is that it serves to hide her physical appearances and body, the object of lust, thus equalizing her with other women. Heterosexual men thus have to meet their spousal partner within some other kind of context, talking to her and getting to know her rather than lusting after her beauty. Eventually, after much getting to know each other, the woman becomes more open to showing her physical features. By that time, however, love (eros) is already being cultivated between the two. Then when the couple are ready for spiritual marriage (Love/Agape), a ceremony is performed, and sexual relations ensue. According to this ideal model, the two individuals are virgins before marrying each other. Thus, when they do have sex, they construct their sexuality internally. Furthermore, no one cares what they do (sexually) in the privacy of their home—that is for them to determine.
Farid believes that this is the right model for developing both a loving relationship and a sexuality, because sex (and the pleasure derived from it) is only ever defined within the context of the couple. It also fits Jesus’s model for marriage, discussed above. I think Farid is right; there is a lot of beauty in what he says. This seems like a fair path for ideally constructing a sexuality, not one in which we experiment around with tons of different people and then “decide on” what we like with regard to our sexuality. Instead, this is a model of deciding on what we like within the context of Love, and letting the sexuality follow suit and be subservient to that love. Christians (as well as most Muslims today) do not follow such a strict model for the development of romantic relationships, and we are often more physically exposed. We don’t have people hiding their physical features to keep lust at bay, so we have to take the personal initiative to be self-controlled and deliberate in the world of romantic relationships, love, and sexual relationships in order not to sin in a spiritual context.
However, Farid’s spiritual observations on lust and love do not stop at the ideal. As mentioned above, he has lived a life that has involved sexual recreation. He didn’t construct a sexual reality with just one person, instead quite a few people, and eventually being in gay (physical) relationships for him became mostly about the sex. He says that his own lifestyle has “perverted” him, because he has “known too many men,” and now he has particular tastes with regard to what (not who) he wants to have sex with. He has had too much experience and cannot turn back the clock to construct his sexuality internally with one person when he has had too much ‘external’ exposure. Now he mostly likes to have sex in a particular way, and it mostly has to be with someone who has particular weight and physical traits (a good ass seems to be one of them). It was ugly, what he had to say; these men are no longer potential Lovers for him, they are essentially physical objects that he possesses and uses, and they use him in turn. He says that now he doesn’t know if he could find his way back to a romantic mindset, because that desire to sexually possess a physical object (rather than Love a human being) has become too strong in his mind. According to him, if he began a loving relationship with a man that he wasn’t as physically attracted to (in terms of his body/sex), he would remember the experiences and pride that he had with more beautiful bodies, and that obsession with beautiful bodies/sex would burn within him and make him unhappy.
While I think Farid’s case is an extreme, it proves a point. God forgives him for his sin (homosexual lust) each time, but the slate is hardly wiped clean. Once lust starts to enter our lives, it can take over, and suddenly our own values are thwarted and Love is harder to reach. It takes courage and a strong will-power to overcome such a dependence; it’s a power that few people (if any) have the resolve or faith to master. As Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” [Matthew 26:41, NIV]. Farid has a gift that many of us don’t have: he is an incredibly beautiful man, and in the gay community that means he could get as much sex as he wants whenever he wants it. Opportunities are thus more abundant. But when he told me his story (the post entitled “Finding Our Way: My Friend’s Story”), he used the expression “I lost myself” when referring to these transient romantic and sexual relationships. This couldn’t help but recall to my mind Jesus’s words from Luke 9:25 [NIV], “what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Michel also told me that he “lost himself” the night he had unprotected sex with a stranger and was infected with HIV (see my article “The Virus with a Face”). Was this, I ask, in the context of sexual desire or in Love that Matthieu lost himself? As for Farid, despite struggling with the ideals and the realities of constructing a sexual identity, he remains the most beautiful man I know inside and out.
After an extensive textual investigation of the various religious scriptures contained in the Torah, the Bible, and the Qu’ran, and treating each and every verse with respect like it is the word of God, it is relatively easy to conclude that the prophets condemn homosexual lust but provide accommodation for homosexual Love (Agape) and the (chaste) pursuit of homosexual love (eros). It is also important to note that lust, adultery, and fornication is considered a sin for heterosexuals as well, so at the end of the day we are all told to live by the same standards. Furthermore, while heterosexual and homosexual lust are both condemned, the texts seem to have regular reminders about homosexual male lust in particular. I think that this could relate to the fact that back then, as today, MSM (men who have sex with men) tended to treat their sexual relations as a kind of recreation, a “basic need to satisfy,” without providing the serious, long-term spiritual and emotional commitment required in heterosexual relationships. Men tend also to be treated as the lustier of the two sexes (verses in the Bible and the Qu’ran seem to be directed particularly at men), and thus the same reminders are not applied to women. There are no corresponding verses condemning female homosexual lust (beyond those relating to adultery) for precisely this reason—they are more willing to engage in committed emotional intimacy and homosexual love rather than lust.
I wrote this posting because I was sick of people condemning homosexuality based on the word of God. The Word of God turns out to be universal—it defines lust as a sin and love as holy, and makes clear distinctions between the two. For homosexuality, as for heterosexuality, love and lust exist. In all sexual orientations, relationships can be initiated in either lust or love (eros) or be motivated by either lust or love (love in this context being either eros or Agape). The monotheistic religions provide a moral prescription between the two, indicating Love (Agape) and spiritual marriage to be the right path for believers wishing to engage in sex. Lust is correspondingly reproached. I am sick of people condemning homosexuals, parents throwing their homosexual children out on the streets or even killing them, in the name of God. It is my strongly-held belief that those who do anything but Love in God’s name are committing a grave sin. Furthermore, I believe that any mortal who actively passes moral judgment on the sins of others (including homosexual lust) is failing to “remove the plank” from their own eyes, as it is God’s right and not theirs to be the judge.
I am also sick of gays rejecting God because they think that He is working against them. It is my belief that He only Loves them and wants what is best for them. There can be so much beauty and meaning in religion and spirituality. For me, abandoning God to maintain what is natural to us (our romantic/sexual orientation) seems a little like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There’s no reason why we can’t maintain both a spiritual and sexual identity.
I’m also sick of being one of very few gay men seeking Love in the context of human relationships; I believe it is a noble goal, one that I have personally been true to (quite unsuccessfully). However, my personal example should not be followed, as I’ve never really tried. I’ve traded lust for perhaps a worse sin (sloth). In fact, I think my sloth is much worse than lust because, unlike those motivated by their appetite, I make no warm human connections and bring no joy, tenderness, and comfort into others’ lives. If there is anything closer to the opposite of Love, it’s not lust or even hate, it’s apathy. In being so lazy, I also fail to realise my own needs and hurt myself. In addition, when I do eventually make the effort, I admit I will probably also fail; I may well find myself making love in a relationship (with eros) without having the resolve to wait for Agape. The body is, after all, weak, even though the spirit is willing. In general, while the text of this article presents evidence for the religious condemnation of lust but not love, I think it’s important to put lust into context. In this world of murder, violence, theft, betrayal, vicious lies and apathy, lust by itself hardly seems like the gravest of sins (outside of the context of destroying a pre-established marital Love).
Back to the broader issue of homosexuality, I’m perhaps most irritated by the fact that religious leaders are often proud to reject us and our lifestyle “of sin” in the name of God. They fail to see the indecency of their own heterosexual lust. They expel us from their communities and inspire their followers to do the same, without reading their own religious scriptures and putting their own mind to the task of understanding Love. They don’t even bother praying about it or asking God about these issues (such as homosexual love); they think they automatically have the answers if they perform enough acts of piety. Jesus’s words from Luke 14:5 [NIV] come to mind, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” God, Love, is the great unknown, the “Supreme Lover” and He is beyond the capacity of any human to fully understand and interpret.
There may be cultural prejudices against homosexual love, but it seems unjust to bring God into those, because He by definition does not have a culture. In general, I think it’s a bad idea to reject love. Too many fail to find Love, like Farid, and they resort to lust as the easy answer. The monotheistic standard is this: Love must be the motivation and the goal in human relationships (including sexual ones). I think failing to love and not bothering to try is what makes lust a sin from a spiritual perspective.
The goal of this article is to promote healing (including my own) and provide a common ground between divided parties. Some might say that I’m misinterpreting the scriptures, others might affirm that I’m nothing more than an “infidel” or a false prophet. The fact of the matter is that I’m not claiming to be a messenger, a teacher, or prophet at all. I’m just an unattractive gay man with a blog who is looking to include more love in his life. Furthermore, deep down inside I know that it is not just my destiny but also my duty to love (homosexually and otherwise, in whatever way I can). In the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone else believes—only what I know from my personal relationship with God to be true, and it’s only to Him that I am accountable. If you have any doubts or questions, I suggest you go to God with them. As a religious gay man, I will ask forgiveness for my sins (including my lusts), but I will never repent for loving someone.
In my next post, I will address more abstractly this idea of love by using a Greek conceptualization (Eros, Agape, and Philia), distinguish lust from eros, and discuss how they all relate to each other as well as Judaeo-Christian/Islamic thought within a more philosophical context.