Romans 1 and Sound Bite Theology

Romans chapter 1:26-27 is sometimes taken to be a quick proof that all gay relationships are wrong.

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. (TNIV)

If you take this New Testament sound bite out of context, it does seem to be pretty comprehensive in its condemnation. However, it isn’t nearly so general when you read it in context. First of all, the passage starts off describing people who abandoned god and became idol worshippers.

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. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. (21-23)

And here these people, the idol worshippers from verses 21 to 23, have started to sin sexually.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (24-25)

And here, the idol worshippers extend their sexual sin to include same-sex activity.

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. (26-27, my emphasis)

These verses are not about a contemporary gay Christian couple. How could they be? The initial cause of the behaviour in verses 26 and 27 was idol worship, as mentioned in verses 21 to 23. The behaviour arose “Because of this”. Christians are not idol worshippers, so verses 26 and 27 are not about Christian gay couples.

You could say that the words used in verses 26 and 27 are so negative that you can extend them to cover all same-sex sexual activity: “shameful acts with one another”, and so on. But remember that the homosexual immorality described in these verses follows on from the sexual immorality of verses 24 and 25. That means that the sexual immorality in those verses was heterosexual immorality, and that immorality is described with equally negative words: “sinful desires”, “degrading their bodies”. It is clearly ridiculous to use verses 24 and 25 to condemn all straight relationships, and it is clearly ridiculous to use verses 26 and 27 to condemn all gay relationships. It is far more realistic to realise that verses 24 to 27 aren’t about all sexual relationships, just the immoral ones that arose out of idol worship.

When you read Romans 1:26-27 in context it is clear that it isn’t an anti-gay sound bite.

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About Andrew McFarland Campbell

I'm Andrew. Belfast born, Cambridge educated, living in Dublin. Married to John. I earn my living by writing, mainly documentation, but I write fiction as well. I am a liberal Christian and founded Faith and Pride.

Posted on 17 January, 2011, in Defence, Romans. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Indeed! Am really liking your posts, and it reminds me of many a conversation (argument) that I had with ‘Straight Christians’, and members of the church.

    Keep up the excellant work, and look forward to reading more.

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