In this essay I want to illustrate how some interpretations of the Bible deemed to be condemning homosexuality are misguided and that, as a consequence, religious communities can affect and seriously put in danger the liberties of their members (who are deemed to be wrongful in their way of being and living their own lives). In fact, it is not impossible, for Christians who embrace these views to push forward policies and laws that support the restriction of rights for gay people.
Some of the most famous passages thought to concern the prohibition of homosexuality are in the Old Testament. For example, the story of God’s destruction of the city of Sodom is used in support of the condemnation of homosexual acts. Two angels were sent by God to visit this ‘sinful’ city. While hosted by Lot (a citizen), a crowd of men came to his door saying: “Where are the men that came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (Genesis 19:5). The verb “know” has been interpreted as “having sex with”, therefore reinforcing the crowd wanted to rape the two guests. Some other passages often cited are: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) and also “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).
However, studies on the Bible show that these elements may have been misinterpreted. For example, the Genesis passage on the destruction of Sodom might have been misunderstood, as the verb “know” used in this story might not refer to a homosexual intercourse. In fact, it is only in 1% of the whole Bible that this verb is used with this connotation (Rogers, 2006) and instead is used, in this case, to refer to making acquaintance with the guests. Therefore, the destruction of the city of Sodom may have been due to its citizens having lost the custom of hospitality (as like in other ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, hospitality was of singular importance and strangers were under the protection of the gods). This version of the story is supported in other parts of the Bible (Matthew 10:1-15; Luke 10:1-12).
Also, as Galileo Galilei famously argued, not all the passages of the Bible should be interpreted literally. If this was the case, many modern customs would be sinful (e.g. eating shellfish and other animals (Leviticus 11:9-12), the use of mixed seed or fabrics (Leviticus 19:19) and the harvesting of the corners of fields (Leviticus 19:9)).
Furthermore, the misguided interpretation of the Bible can be harmful for Christian people who are homosexual. Discrimination and bullying often take place. This social pressure can lead to the non-acceptance of one’s own sexuality and, in various cases, has led people to suicide. When religion is assumed as the basis for decisions related to laws and social regulations, homosexual people can be harshly penalised: in African countries such as Uganda and Burundi (where more than 75% of the population is Christian) has led to the criminalisation of homosexuality – with sentences up to life. Other parts of the world – including ‘Western’ societies – refuse to recognise the liberty of people to fall in love and marry someone of the same sex.
I strongly believe that the consequences of the misguided interpretation of the Bible are far too serious to be neglected: they are detrimental to the human dignity of a large proportion of the human population. As outlined before, there are various underlying causes and they ought to be analysed critically in order for the Christian society to wholly appreciate the word of God and embrace the main message of the Bible. As Jesus indicated, the most important commandments of God are: to recognise the existence of one solely God and, most important, to “Love your neighbor as yourself. [As t]here is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31). The true meaning of liberty for Christianity cannot be unleashed until we are able to love and care for each other as human beings created at the image of God and loved unconditionally by Him. Society as a whole can benefit from this message and that it is only with empathy and compassion that we can we actually appreciate the human dignity of all peoples and defend the true meaning of liberty.