Last edited: November 07, 2003


Take Another Look At Your Good Book

Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2000

By George Regas

I received an angry response to my recent column on gay marriage. The caller exploded with outrage that a minister of the Gospel would dare to endorse such a sinful lifestyle.

"Haven’t you read about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Don’t you believe the Bible is the Word of God? What kind of minister are you?" She didn’t allow me to answer. She hung up.

So this column must serve as my answer to this angry Christian.

Unfortunately, she is not alone. She speaks for too many religious people in this country.

Homosexual behavior was not a big issue for the biblical writers. It is referred to only seven times in all of Scripture and nowhere in the four Gospels is it even mentioned. Not a single sentence from the lips of Jesus.

Many who condemn gay men and lesbians and want to deal with them punitively read the bible with a selective literalism. Unquestionably, there are passages that forbid or deplore homosexual behavior, but the discussions of these texts are often superficial, if not distorted.

Take a Bible and turn to the third book which is Leviticus and read it. You will quickly understand how every religious person – fundamentalists and liberals – is selective about what is taken as God’s word!

The television evangelists are always talking about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and how homosexuality destroyed the city. I do not know one respectable Biblical scholar attributing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexuality. Yet the words sodomy and sodomite have come to mean the perversity of homosexuality.

As the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were already under the sentence of doom, the destruction of Sodom could hardly have been the result of the attempted gang rape of the angels. The prophet Ezekiel makes this perfectly clear. This is how he sees it: "As surely as I live, declared the Sovereign Lord ... now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen." (Ezekiel 16:48, 49)

The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was the sin of inhospitality, the sin of hardness of heart in the presence of human need, the sin of injustice and neglecting the poor. That was the abomination to God. Those were the Sodomites. It is amazing how God’s judgment upon a city for its corporate injustice has been transformed into a clarion call against private sexual behavior.

We should be honest and give up the hypocrisy of claiming, "I am a biblical literalist," when really everyone is a selective literalist, especially those who swear by the anti-homosexual laws of the book of Leviticus and then feast on barbecued ribs and delight in watching the Super Bowl. For the literalist, the book of Leviticus says it is an abomination, not only to eat pork but merely to touch the skin of a dead pig.

If the Levitical text on homosexual behavior is made normative – "A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman" – what do we do with other prohibitions? Wearing garments made with two different materials and sowing a field with two kinds of seed?

Let’s be honest about the Bible. No biblical literalist I know of still publicly advocates slavery or stoning to death an adulterer – both urged in parts of the Bible.

One day the renounced theologian, Paul Tillich, was accosted by a Bible-waving fundamentalist. "Professor Tillich, do you believe this book is the Word of God?" And the wise theologian responded, "Yes, I do if it possesses you rather than you possessing it!"

In no way do I discount the Bible. It is the foundational document, the foundation for all churches around the world. It is central to my life as a religious person. But if you take the Bible seriously, you can’t read it literally and dismiss what we have learned in the centuries after the Bible was finished.

Today we know gay and lesbian couples who live deeply committed lives of love and integrity. This sexual orientation and its expression in an honorable relationship was not the subject matter of the biblical writers. The really serious problem for Christians who live by "The Book" is not how to square homosexuality with certain passages which on the surface condemn it – but rather how to reconcile rejection, prejudice and cruelty toward gays with the gracious, unconditional love of Christ.

In any event, I read something of William Sloan Coffin that still haunts me. In a Washington cemetery on the gravestone of a Vietnam veteran, it is written: "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and discharged me for loving one."

• George Regas is rector emeritus of All Saints Church in Pasadena. He can be reached via email at

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