Q & R: Paul, Romans 1, LBTQ

Here’s the Q:

I have an honest question. This is not an attempt to get an argument or twist your words and use them for my own purposes. My daughter struggles with the issue about how LGBTQ are rejected by Christians. As much as I have tried (and I honestly have tried) I cannot get my mind to accept that Paul meant something very different than what we mean today when speaking of homosexuality. In a recent Q&R you wrote:
“Very plainly, I do not not think that what we mean by “homosexuality” (an inborn or innate same sex attraction) would have even been a category in the minds of ancient people, any more than they would have a category called “democratic republic” or “capitalism” or “aspergers syndrome” or “biodegradable products” or “upward mobility.” ”
There are a couple of difficulties I see with the statement. 1) while you do not think an inborn same sex attraction would not have even been a category in the minds of ancient people–I find it difficult to believe such a view did not exist–or that Paul would have been incapable of knowing such a view. Isn’t that delving into the minds and psyches of people who are not around to respond? Certainly we are not so far advanced (nor were the first century people so backwards) that such concepts were unknown. 2) this then only deals with one aspect of same sex attraction. Clearly if it was not an inborn trait (or understood to be) in the first century–then there are cases where it is not an inborn trait in our world today. So what is Paul condemning in Romans 1? Just certain types of same sex activity while being OK with other types?
Again, please do not read this as an attempt to twist, debate, or attack. I am not seeking to defend a position. It really is an attempt to understand. I wish to have some sort of reconciliation in my own mind regarding this issue. I would dearly love, for instance, to be able to embrace my homosexual friends and say: “Your life style is acceptable to God!” (Frankly I have no problem in embracing my lesbian and homosexual friends and saying “I love you, dearly”, they are, after all, my friends.)

Here’s the R:

Thanks for your question. I’m glad you are listening to your daughter and letting her concerns influence your own.
On Romans 1, if you go to any of the Christian sites that focus on lgbtq issues, you’ll find a lot of resources on this. Here are three lines of interpretation that make sense to me. 1. Paul is talking about sexual orgies that characterized the Roman elite … orgies where sex with anyone for any reason was considered OK. 2. Paul is talking about abusive sex as domination … where one person dominates another of the same sex by requiring him/her to submit to sexual activity. 3. Paul is doing a one-two punch – in chapter 1 talking about Roman/Gentile debauchery to be followed in chapter 2 with self-righteous religious hypocrisy among his own religious tribe … in which case, for us to use Romans 1 to shame/exclude homosexuals shows that we haven’t gotten the point of chapter 2. (In other words, Paul’s rhetorical purpose is not to make an eternal moral pronouncement about a whole category of behavior that is little understood now – and was even less understood then. Rather, his rhetorical purpose is to push us beyond making moral judgments about “them” and instead see our and their common need for God’s grace, since we all are equally sinners.)
I think you’d find my book A New Kind of Christianity helpful – or perhaps your daughter would – especially on the Bible and sexuality.
One other brief comment: the fact that you use the term “lifestyle” indicates some assumptions that I think deserve reconsideration. Now I’m not trying to make an analogy that suggests homosexuality is exactly the same as any of the following characteristics, but consider how this sounds:

I would dearly love to be able to embrace my diabetic friends and say, “Your diabetic lifestyle is acceptable to God.”
or … I would dearly love to embrace my left-handed friends and say, “Your left-handed lifestyle is acceptable to God,” or …
I would dearly love to accept my non-blond friends and say “Your brunette lifestyle is acceptable to God.”

Not only does the term “lifestyle” carry a lot of problematic assumptions, but really, there is no such thing as “the” homosexual lifestyle, just as there is no such thing as “the” heterosexual lifestyle. The more important lifestyle issue, I believe, is that we choose a lifestyle of celibacy or fidelity in managing our sexual desires and drives.
I hope that’s helpful. Again, thanks for your good and honest question. God bless you – and your daughter, and your friends. They’re blessed to have a father and friend like you who is open to thinking and rethinking.