Gay marriage separates the two major Christian communities that dominate Germany. But what does the Bible really say about homosexuality?
MUNICH — Gay marriage is bad. Pope Francis recently confirmed this in his "Amoris Laetitia" text, which is ironically about "The Joy of Love." He rhapsodizes about tenderness and a "healthy sexuality," recommending couples "begin each day with a kiss." But when it comes to homosexual relationships, the pontiff is clear: "There is no reason for seeing any analogies between homosexual relationships and God's plan concerning marriage and the family, not even in the broadest sense." Period. Amen.
Pope Francis, who is working so hard at bringing the Catholic Church closer to its people, remains faithful to the doctrinal posture that was defined through the catechism in 1983, which stated that homosexual acts are unacceptable:
"They infringe on the law of nature, because the creation of life is impossible during the sexual act." Homosexuals are to be treated with "respect, tact and sympathy." But from the Church's perspective, their relationships remain deficient, even if they comply with everything Francis recommends warmly to married couples: taking care of each other, being faithful and starting each day with said kiss.
Many Germans feel offended by this religiously justified rejection — because they are religious themselves, because they feel unappreciated in their attempts to have a good relationship or because they see how much pain discrimination has caused, and continues to cause.
What the scripture says
The Bible's position about homosexuality seems pretty clear: It's condemned both in the New and Old Testaments. "You must not sleep with a man, as you would do with a woman, for this would be an atrocity," one passage reads. "If one sleeps with a man as he would with a woman, then they both have committed a horrible crime. They shall both be sentenced to death."
The apostle Paul claims in the first chapter of his letter to the community of Rome concerning sinful men and women: "Their wives exchanged the natural intercourse by the perverse, as well as their husbands who burst open in desire for each other."
But these convictions aren't quite as clear as they might initially sound. First of all, it must be said that among the more than 30,000 verses of the Bible, only 50 deal explicitly with homosexuality. And only once, in the letter to the Romans, is lesbian sexuality ever mentioned. Jesus never says a single word about gay or lesbian love. He does condemn fornication and prohibits divorce. Some Bible experts conclude that Jesus believed homosexuality wasn't an option. But a majority now claim that he simply wasn't that interested in the topic.
Some experts further wonder whether the condemnation concerns homosexuality at all. The topics of the different chapters of Leviticus cover different aspects of the preservation of the divine order: the question of how to offer sacrifices, whether fallen grapes should be left to the poor and whether fortune telling should be prohibited. The death penalty is often invoked — even for couples who have sex while the woman is menstruating. But if this opinion has been deemed outdated by now, why should anyone continue to believe that homosexuals somehow offend God?
Further, two of the three passages in the epistles of Paul speak of boys and sexual exploitation — something that was accepted in Ancient Greece and Rome but that Christians rejected. It seems reasonable to suppose that the letters to the Corinthians and the letter to Timothy deal more with violence than sexual orientation. After all, until the 19th century, it wasn't even known that being gay is a sexual orientation. Homosexual men were considered to be offensive pleasure seekers, but women were nothing but affectionate with each other.
When verses grow obsolete
The passage in the letter to the Romans says women and men getting together with same-sex individuals is a breach of etiquette. But should we really still take that seriously? Pope Francis also acknowledges in his "Amoris Laetitia" that St. Paul's belief that women should be submissive to men is obsolete. St. Paul further stipulates that women should wear long hair and men short hair. In that case, the images of Jesus with a flowing mane would suggest the son of God himself was being sinful.
It therefore makes sense to regard the biblical prohibition of homosexuality as temporary. It was the rule of the small, threatened people of Israel, who depended on their offspring. It was the opinion of the Apostle Paul, who wanted to provide his young Christian communities with rules to survive.
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Pope Francis in South Korea in 2014 — Photo: Government of South Korea
That's at least how the Protestant leadership sees things. After heavy debate in 1996, Germany's Evangelical Church, which encompasses most of the country's Protestants, declared itself in support of blessing homosexual couples, as long as there's a clear distinction with marriage. It went even further in 2013, when the first German homosexual couple was married during an Protestant wedding ceremony in Seligenstadt.
Last weekend, the leaders of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandendburg and Schlesischen Oberlausitz decided to align the wedding ceremonies for homosexual and heterosexual couples, as the third national church in Germany. The justification: "The Bible knows the wealth of the formation of a relationship between two persons. It reflects the rich and God-given facets of sexuality in love."
The decision was approved by a large majority. Two days later, the synod of the evangelical church in Norway also decided that homosexual couples could marry. Even the Old Catholic Church in Germany, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1870 after the dispute about the pope's infallibility, began allowing wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples in 2014.
The Roman Catholic Church, for the foreseeable future, will not follow suit. For the Catholic hierarchy, unlike for Martin Luther, church marriage is a sacrament, a symbol of divinity. Moreover, in addition to the Bible, natural law plays an important role too, stipulating the union of men and women. God has created them for mutual replenishment, and only their union allows the creation of life.
But why then do gay men and lesbian women exist at all in God's creation? Even the Catholic Church acknowledges that the main purpose of marriage is no longer to secure succession, but instead to provide mutual love and respect.
Why can't that be true for homosexual couples?