By far, the most problematic passage for Christians who support the sanctification of LGBT relationships is Romans 1. I mean, yes, there are also plenty of verses in Leviticus, but there are also plenty of verses in Leviticus about shellfish and polyester, things nobody is crusading against. But what are we to do with this New Testament passage?
Some people (like me) take a more liberal view of Scripture. But there are ways of viewing even this passage from a conservative perspective that takes much of the edge off. And as is usually the case, the key word is: Therefore.
Here’s the whole passage so you don’t think I’m cherry picking.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For 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. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 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.
28 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. 29 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, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 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.
Let’s work backwards. Starting in verse 24 through the end of the passage, we see people being given to depravity. There is mention of same-sex relations, but it doesn’t end there. Instead, it cascades, finally ending with people having “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.”
But this progression isn’t cut out of whole cloth. See, this cascading chain of sin is not the cause; it is the result. This evil took up residence in the people Paul is talking to for a reason. Look up there at verse 24.
The “Therefore” is the reason all this happened. And what’s the Therefore?
They “…exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Hrm. Well, that doesn’t sound like any gay people I know. Maybe it’s further up.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.”
That is the reason all this happened: idolatry. Now, I ask you, does that really sound like the men and women who released this yesterday? I don’t think so. Those folks sound pretty thankful to God. In fact, they sound like people who have dedicated their lives to glorifying Him.
So maybe Paul isn’t talking about them? Maybe Paul is talking about something else?
Pederasty (sexual relations between a man and a boy) and temple prostitution were rampant in the Roman world, and they seem to fit the bill here much more cleanly than the committed gay relationships we see today. Because sex that is exploitative does damage us — ask any survivor of sexual abuse. And sex that is merely a commodity demeans and dehumanizes us. It takes a spiritual union and treats it as something trivial. And it is those kinds of behaviors that will lead us to a path that is without love and mercy.
Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t see exploitative and destructive gay relationships. We do. But not because they are gay. They exist for the same reason we see exploitative and destructive straight relationships: because people are broken and sinful, and in desperate need of a Savior.
Because you see, Romans doesn’t end with Chapter One. There’s another Therefore leading off Chapter 2:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.