Sexuality is as personal as it is political. For every individual exploring their sexuality and learning about their preferences, there’s a homophobic law or a religious commandment trying to impede on that personal experience. And while the world is more inclusive than ever, some religions still do not accept members of the LGBTQ community, let alone acknowledge their inherent humanity, instead arguing that homosexuality is a sin and worthy of punishment.
But that’s not true. At all.
“I think homosexuality — being gay, or lesbian, or bi-sexual — I think those are gifts from God that we have received,” Pastor Paul Eldred at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Bellevue, Wash, tells O.school. Eldred is also a proud gay man. “I think the sin is denying that those are gifts from God. We try to say those are unholy, but I think the opposite is true.”
Homosexuality is not a sin. Nor is it at odds with organized religion. Instead, people have misunderstood or outright distorted religious texts to condemn a group of people, Eldred says.
“We talk about homosexuality, but that word isn’t in the bible,” he explains. “It’s not in the original text, it’s only been added in more modern translations. That word didn’t exist until the 19th century. Really, what the bible’s talking about is same-sex actions, and it’s talking from a very patriarchal context. It’s talking about cultural norms that we don’t follow anymore and that are no longer applicable to us.”
In fact, there are numerous so-called “sinful” actions outlined in the bible that are considered common today. For example, Leviticus 11:8 says of pigs, “You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses, they are unclean to you.” And Leviticus 19:19 reads, “Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seeds. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” Yet here we are, eating bacon, touching footballs, enjoying the pure joy of a Labradoodle, supporting farmers who plant corn and soybeans, and pair denim jeans with wool sweaters.
Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor, wrote for the Human Rights Campaign that “the heart of the claim that the Bible is clear ‘that homosexuality is forbidden by God’ is poor biblical scholarship and a cultural bias read into the Bible.” These claims are anchored in passages like Romans 1:26-27, Leviticus 18:22, and Matthew 19:3-6. Creech also writes that what the bible does reference is “same-gender sexual behavior” and that what is labeled as abominable in these passages “is the violence, idolatry and exploitation related to the behavior, not the same-gender nature of the behavior. There are references in the Bible to different-gender sexual behavior that are just as condemning for the same reasons. But no one claims that the condemnation is because the behavior was between a man and a woman.”
Eldred agrees. “[The Bible] doesn’t discuss same-sex relationships that are loving and mutually beneficial,” he says. “A lot of what it’s talking about is steeped in rape culture, and even in very, very, ingrained patriarchy, that is not something that we really want to be emulating anymore.”
Eldred says that members of the LGBTQ community do not exist in opposition with the church, but actually enhance the church.
“I think it’s easy for us to boil down God in our own image and put God in a box that we think God fits into,” he says. “And in a lot of ways, the members of the LGBTQ community are gifts to the church because they make us expand our view of God beyond the binary. They expand it beyond what we think is acceptable and say, ‘Hey, we are beloved children of God as well and God made us exactly as we are and how beautiful is that?’ And the rest of us get to see a broader image of God and a more complete picture of what God is.”
Unfortunately, not every church feels enhanced by its LGBTQ members — a point of sadness for Eldred, who grew up as a member of the Lutheran church in a conservative town outside of Anchorage, Ala.
“When I was growing up, my church didn’t ever say anything explicit against homosexuality or being gay, but it’s kind of been the broader culture of Christianity, especially growing up in Alaska,” he says. “So, I always thought that I was broken when I allowed myself to think that I might actually be gay — that God wouldn’t make me this way. And it was really the realization that God did make me this way, that it wasn’t a choice I had made. [The idea] that God wanted me to be gay kind of allowed me to see the love of God in a new and life-giving way. That it wasn’t something that was broken in me, it was something God meant for me and God loves me that way — loves me as a gay man. He loves me exactly as I am.”
Being gay doesn’t mean you have to excommunicate yourself from your church, the Christian faith, or any other organized religion. “There are resources out there, there are pastors out there, there are churches out there that will accept you as you are,” Eldred says. “If you’re hearing from your church that you’re wrong, that you’re living in sin because of your sexuality or gender identity, know that God is on your side and God loves you as you are. There are churches that will affirm and celebrate you where you are and how you are. And I really want you to be able to find those churches that celebrate your beauty.”
If you, like Eldred, prescribe to the Lutheran faith, you can visit Reconciling Works, an online resource that can help you locate welcoming Lutheran congregations. GayChurch.org, ChurchClarity.org, QueerTheology.com, and the Human Rights Campaign can also help you locate welcoming congregations, find resources about the bible and sexuality, provide interfaith resources, and introduced you to blogs, podcasts, videos and more about how sexuality and gender identity can enhance theology and faith.
Most importantly, remember that you are loved, you are valued, and you are not the personification of sin.
“God loves you exactly as you are,” Eldred says. “You’re not broken, you’re beautiful — you’re a beautiful child of god. God made you this way, and that’s a beautiful thing.”