Is homosexuality a sin?

There are three passages in the Old Testament (Gen. 19: 1-13; Lev 18:22; 20:13) and three in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I Tim. 1:10) that have traditionally been read as prohibiting homosexuality. On top of this, the entire biblical narrative presupposes that sex is supposed to take place between a man and a woman in the context of marriage (Gen. 2:23-24). The biblical definition of “sin” is “missing the mark” (hamartia), and on the basis of this scriptural evidence, I have to regard homosexuality as “missing the mark” of God’s ideal. So yes, I regard homosexuality to be a sin.

Having said this, I need to add three important points.

First, there are a number of scholars who argue that these six passages are not as clear cut in denouncing all forms of homosexuality as they may initially seem. For example, some point out that the word Paul uses in I Tim. 6 and I Tim. 1 that is usually translated as “homosexuality” (arsenakoitai) is very ambiguous. It’s never used before Paul coins it in these verses and historically it’s been translated in a wide variety of ways. (For example, Luther translated it “masturbation”). Also, some scholars argue that the kind of homosexuality Paul had in mind when writing Romans 1 would have been the kind typically practiced by Romans and would not have included loving, respectful, monogamous committed relationships. I am not persuaded by these arguments, but neither can I casually dismiss this debate.

Second, there is absolutely no justification for the way many Christians today make homosexuality out to be worse than other types of sin. Judging from the way certain Christian leaders have publicly crusaded against homosexuality, you’d think it was the number one sin in the Bible and the most damaging sin to society. Yet, while we have at most six verses in the Bible that mention homosexuality, we have around 3,000 passages that address greed, gluttony and the need to care for the poor. Not only this, but if there are any sins American Christians are most guilty of, they’re greed, gluttony and apathy toward the poor. And if there are any sins that demonstrably kill people, it’s these ones. Yet Christians go after gays. Why? One can’t help but suspect it might be because it’s one sin they can feel self-righteous in condemning.

Third, and closely related to this, there’s no justification for the way many Christians make homosexuality a “deal breaker” sin. That is, many seem to think that it’s impossible to be a Christian and also be gay. You can be Christian and be greedy, an overeater and never sacrifice for the poor, but you can’t be gay? You can be Christian and be divorced and remarried, gossip and judge others — all mentioned in the Bible more than homosexuality — but you can’t be gay? Why?

When people get their life from their religion rather than from their relationship with Christ, they need to find some sin-group they can positively contrast themselves with. Sadly, for many Christians, this happens to be gay people.

This tendency to put sins on a scale of importance, ranking homosexuality near the top and other sins – the ones we are guilty of (and that are mentioned more frequently in the Bible) – towards the bottom is antithetical to the Kingdom. Jesus commands us to do the opposite. We’re to regard our sins, whatever they are, as planks sticking out of our eyes, and other peoples sins, whatever they are, to be mere dust particles (Mt. 7:1-3). With Paul, we are to confess that we are “the worst of sinners” (I Tim. 1:15-16).

So, while I believe homosexuality “misses the mark,” I adamantly believe it doesn’t do so more than any other sin we might think of — including the ones we are guilty of.

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