How Gay Marriage Is Infiltrating Evangelicals' Reading of the Bible

Christian cross on an LGBT rainbow flag.

Gay marriage is infiltrating evangelicals' understanding of the Bible and how to live Christian lives in society. Many sophisticated theologians argue that marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, that the Bible does not forbid homosexual behavior, and that biblical notions of sex have been disproven by science.

"It is long past time that lesbian, gay, and bisexual Christians learn that there are Christian congregations who will welcome them as they are and that there are faithful Christians—pastors, theologians, church leaders— who are unashamedly Christian and unashamedly gay," writes Megan K. DeFranza, a co-author of Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church. DeFranza argues that gay Christians "do not have to choose between their sexual identity and their Christian faith."

She is not alone in this position. The book, published by Zondervan, features a dialogue between two positions: the "traditional" view which regards homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage as wrong, and the "affirming" view which finds a place for gay marriage inside the Christian church. Interestingly, the two scholars who argue for the traditional view agree on most points, while the "affirming" authors disagree with one another on how to interpret scripture.

In discussions about homosexuality and the church, Christians must wrestle with two kinds of Bible passages: those explicitly condemning homosexual behavior (called the "prohibition passages") and those presenting marriage as between a man and a woman.

DeFranza takes an interesting approach to both. Contrary to most readings of the prohibition verses, she argues that scripture only condemns abusive same-sex behavior, not same-sex behavior in general.

"Just because the Bible declares some heterosexual sex as sinful does not mean that all heterosexual sex is sin," DeFranza argues. "In the same way, just because the Bible condemns certain kinds of same-sex sexual acts does not mean that all same-sex sexual acts are therefore out of bounds."

She points out that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (and its parallel in Judges 19) depicts "gangs threatening to rape men and angels." As such, the story warns about judgment upon sin, but teaches "nothing about marriage."

Similarly, the prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, which condemn "the effeminates," "sodomites," or "male prostitutes," can be read as "proscriptions of decadence, lack of self-control, and exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of enslaved persons and prostitutes."

Leviticus 18 and 20 clearly condemn homosexual behavior or "sleeping with a man as one beds a woman." But DeFranza rightly argues that "not all of the Levitical commands are considered binding by Christians today." She argues that the cultural gulf between ancient society, when "same-sex relations were understood to dishonor a man by treating him as a woman," and today, when "sexual orientation" is better understood, should enable Christians to discard this command of the Old Law.

Finally, DeFranza addresses Romans 1, which she considers a "rhetorical 'sting operation' intended to stir up judgmental ire against 'godless' Gentiles which turns on those doing the judging, proving all need redemption in Christ." This is, indeed, the purpose of the passage. The scholar argues that "the apostle could very well have had in mind the excesses of the Roman aristocracy and imperial court."