Questions from Christians #1: “Doesn’t the Bible say it’s a sin to be gay?”

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This is by far the most common question I get about faith and sexuality. It’s a huge, complicated question, but people always want a short, simple answer.

You want short? Okay, here goes.

Question:

Doesn’t the Bible say it’s a sin to be gay?

Short Answer:

No.

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That’s the most concise answer I can give. Pretty simple. But in case you’d like a little more, here’s a slightly less short answer.

Slightly Less Short Answer:

No, the Bible doesn’t say it’s a sin to be gay. Being gay just means someone is attracted to the same gender.* The Bible never mentions this. It mentions sex, not attractions.

The real debate is about whether the Bible says it’s a sin to have gay sex. Some Christians get confused and think this is the same thing as debating whether it’s a sin to be gay, but those are very different questions. One is up for debate. The other isn’t.

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Still want more? Here’s an even less short answer.

Even Less Short Answer:

Okay. [deep breath]

Being “straight” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having sex, right? You could be straight (attracted to the opposite gender) and still waiting for marriage, for instance. You might not be dating anyone. You might never date or have sex with anyone. You might even commit yourself to lifelong celibacy. None of that changes the fact that you’re straight, if you’re attracted to the opposite gender.

The same is true for gay people. I’m gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m having sex, or that I ever have had sex, or that I ever will have sex. It’s very important to understand this, because while I can choose whether to have sex, I cannot choose what my orientation is. I’m still gay either way.

The difference between “being gay” and “having gay sex” is a SUPER IMPORTANT DISTINCTION, and when Christians fail to make this distinction, they’ve already failed in their quest to communicate with gay people. It’s a subject I’ve addressed many times before. And it matters.

I know that part is old news to many of you, but for some people…

That is brand new information!

So what about the Bible?

Well, the Bible never mentions orientation. At all.

The Bible does, however, mention sinful examples of gay sex:

Old Testament

  • In Genesis (the Sodom story) and Judges (the Gibeah story), we are told about angry mobs who threaten to gang rape unwelcome male strangers.
  • In Leviticus, male-male sex is forbidden as part of a list of rules given to the Israelites.

New Testament

  • In Romans, Paul describes a group of people who engage in idolatry and are given over by God to “shameful” same-gender sexual practices.
  • In 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Paul uses the Greek word arsenokoitai (“homosexual offenders”) in a list of sinners.

This has led to two different interpretations.

Some Christians believe that the Bible condemns gay sex and that gay Christians are therefore called to lifelong celibacy. This is sometimes called a Side B view.

Other Christians believe that these passages only deal with specific cultural issues like rape and idolatry, and that they don’t condemn loving gay relationships in today’s society. It’s similar to how most Christians today don’t believe women have to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11:5-6) or remain silent in church (1 Cor. 14:34), believing those passages to be tied to a very different culture from ours. This is sometimes called a Side A view.

Christians on Side A and Side B disagree on gay sex and relationships, but they should be able to agree that the Bible never condemns simply being gay.

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So there you go, three different short answers to that question. If you’d like a longer, more in-depth analysis of my own personal view, here are some places you can find it. And keep watching, as I continue to address more common Christian questions in my new series!

* For the sake of simplicity, in this post I’ve used the word “gender” to refer to one’s maleness/femaleness and “sex” to refer to sexual activity. No angry letters please, gender studies majors; I know it can be more complex than that.