This past week, The New York Times, unfortunately America’s newspaper of record, claimed that “a Bible verse from Romans” actually “calls for the execution of gays.” No, I am not making this up. The article is right here. To be fair to the hapless Times, it was merely repeating baseless accusations previously reported by The Hill and Roll Call, but even so, this claim is beyond the pale.
Just to be clear: neither Romans chapter 1, nor orthodox Christianity in general, calls for the execution of gay people. Christianity is about loving others, not ruling over them. The religion also does not have a political platform or a set of rules it wishes to enshrine in law.
That said, the Bible does designate homosexual practice as a sin, but it also says “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The Apostle Paul — who wrote much of the New Testament — calls himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Christianity is about redemption from sin, and because Christians themselves understand the gravity of their own sins and the marvelous gift of forgiveness from God, they should not consider themselves better than other sinners in any way.
This context is very important to remember whenever you hear that Christians consider homosexual practice to be a sin. This is one sin among many, and all Christians are themselves guilty of sin. Furthermore, Christians should see much of the love in a homosexual relationship as still good. The sexual acts are wrong, but when any man or woman cares for and serves another, that is love.
What does Romans 1 actually say? It says that homosexual sex is a result of the sinfulness of mankind, and while it does say that these actions are sinful, it lists them with a long account of all sins which, under God’s perfect moral law, would deserve death. But the whole point of the passage — and the point of Christianity in general — is that God does not kill us, despite our sins, but offers repentant believers eternal life through the sacrifice of His Son.
Here is the passage (Romans 1:21-23, 26-32):
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. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. …
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Next Page: What these verses mean, and why they do not call for the execution of gay people.
While it is possible to cherry-pick verses and conclude that Romans discusses homosexuality and then says … “those who do such things deserve death,” to do so would ignore the real purpose of Romans 1, which states the sad predicament of humanity without God. As Paul later states, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23, 6:23).
This way of reading the passage fits with the rest of Paul’s letter, and Christianity in general. The basic idea is that everyone who has ever sinned against God’s perfect law (including Mother Teresa) deserves death and hell, but God had mercy on us and provided a way out.
If you stubbornly refuse to accept this interpretation — which is backed by the rest of scripture and 2,000 years of Christian history — and argue that Romans 1:21-32 is arguing for the execution of gay people, then you have to accept that the passage is also advocating the death penalty for a long laundry list of sins that covers about 100 percent of humanity.
Yes, you could say Romans 1 calls for the death penalty for “gossips,” “those who disobey their parents,” “insolent, arrogant, and boastful” people, and anyone who has “no understanding.” Romans 1 advocates the execution of the stubborn 5-year-old who wants to stay up late when mom and dad say he has to go to bed. Romans 1 calls for the killing of those who spread rumors. Romans 1 pushes the senseless murder of anyone who is arrogant or boastful.
If you reject the orthodox Christian reading of the text, you must accept the fatuous idea that Saint Paul, a theologian who stopped killing people when he converted to Christianity, is really arguing that Christians should kill every single person on the planet. Good luck with that.
To boot, homosexuality is not even on the list. Yes, in order to say Romans 1 calls for the execution of gays, you not only have to argue that everyone should be killed, but also that Paul’s list of offenses begins earlier than it does.
Again, the point of Romans 1 is not to condemn or ostracize homosexuals, but to explain the effects of separation from God, and to show just how hopeless a fallen humanity is without the saving power of Jesus Christ. Any other reading becomes incoherent very quickly.
Next Page: If Romans 1 doesn’t call for the execution of gays, why did The New York Times think it does?
Scripture can be rather confusing, and Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the harder nuts to fully crack. All the “for”s, and “therefore”s and “furthermore”s can become very confusing, and it is all too easy to lose sight of Paul’s main point in the weeds of his argument.
Nevertheless, Paul is not talking about human law, but divine law. He is not making a political argument for a law, but making a religious argument about the sinfulness of human nature and the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with each individual’s relationship with God.
So why did The New York Times say this “Bible verse from Romans…calls for the execution of gays”? Because a Republican congressman read it to the House Republican Conference. He read the passage in order to chide his fellow congressmen for backing an LGBT non-discrimination proposal in a military spending bill.
Rep. Rick Allen, a Georgia freshman, launched the GOP’s regular policy meeting in the Capitol basement by reading a Bible passage condemning homosexuality and suggesting that supporters of the LGBT provision, which passed the House the night before, were defying Christian tenets, attendees said.
Several Republicans walked out of the room in disgust.
“It was f—ing ridiculous,” said one GOP lawmaker, who was in the room and supported the LGBT provision.
Allen’s office confirmed that the congressman read Romans 1:18-32 in that meeting. This led Roll Call to do some investigating and learn that it could twist the verses Allen read to call for the execution of gays.
“House Republicans at a conference meeting heard a Bible verse that calls for death for homosexuals,” reported Jennifer Shutt. Defending her position, Shutt quoted the passage out of context. Rather than trying to understand what the verses mean, she invented a new reading of scripture unknown for 2,000 years. She did not even attempt to explain how, in her view, the passage calls for executing gays but not obstinate 5-year-olds.
Hopefully, Shutt is reconsidering her position after reporting that Allen nevertheless decided to pray for the victims of the shooting in Orlando. If the congressman really believed the passage he read aloud called for executing gays, why wouldn’t he have praised the senseless terror of Omar Mateen?
Naturally, the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued a damning statement against Allen. “House Speaker Paul Ryan and the other members of the House Republican Leadership have a responsibility to immediately condemn Representative Allen’s vile and dangerous remarks this morning at an official meeting of the House Republican Conference, during which he said LGBT people are ‘worthy of death.'”
The organization’s spokesperson declared that “Allen’s comments spread hate that does real harm” … and argued that “Republican leaders must make clear they will not tolerate lawmakers who sow hatred and violence against LGBT people.”
Again, this is absurd for a passage that condemns all mankind. HRC could perhaps be forgiven for this grandstanding — after all, it was Shutt who misrepresented the passage — but the group’s acceptance of Shutt’s utterly wrong reading of Romans 1 should alert Christians to the group’s unwillingness to understand their scriptures. Conservative Christians and gay rights groups aren’t just on different sides of an issue — they are speaking a different language.
So when The New York Times did a story about the political divide on homosexual issues after the tragic shooting of the gay nightclub in Orlando, the paper mindlessly repeated the false allegation. Authors Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez showed their lack of experience with Christianity by repeating Shutt’s view of Allen’s remarks: “A Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays.”
Again, all it takes to disprove this idea is reading the entire chapter of Romans 1, rather than a few verses. Or Peters and Alvarez could have just asked an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian if the verses actually call for something that Christians do not push. After all, surveys tell us there are millions of such Christians in America — surely it can’t be that hard to find us.