“Ask a Priest: Could the Old Testament Be Wrong About Homosexuality?”

Q: I’ve recently been struggling with the idea of homosexuality being a sin, and I was wondering if you could enlighten me on the reasons behind the argument of whether or not homosexuality is indeed sinful. I know that the main biblical verses used in the argument are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. First, “Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination.” Second, “If a man lie with a man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” However, Leviticus being from the Old Testament, and if as Christians we are no longer obligated to abide by the Old Testament Law since Jesus died on the cross, does that not make the use of Leviticus an invalid argument? In Galatians, Paul says we are no longer under the Law, and Paul said Leviticus is the yoke of slavery in Galatians 5:1. And lastly, I have read that in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Hebrew verb “yada” or “to know” was mistranslated into meaning “have sex with” when it is usually made very apparent with context clues if the verb actually means to know as in have sex. For example, “Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived,” Genesis 4:1. So when the mob at Lot’s house demanded to “know” the angels, they really meant to know them, as the city had been under attack and strange visitors were of more concern instead of mass homosexual rape. I also believe it is correct that God had already decided to destroy the cities over inhospitality and prostitutes and false idols and such before the mob came, reiterating that it was not a homosexual mob that caused God to destroy the cities. Thanks for your time. –A.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to hear that you trying to get an understanding about homosexuality and the moral ramifications connected to it. Let me try to address each of your points.

First, it is good to note that homosexuality is not a sin. It is homosexual acts that are problematic.

Homosexual acts are sinful because they go against God’s beautiful plan for human sexuality, which involves the complementarity of a man and a woman coming together in marriage with the hopes of founding a family. Like all sins, homosexual acts will not lead the people who do them closer to fulfillment and happiness, because they contradict God’s wise and beautiful plan for our lives.

Homosexuality itself is a disorder, and people who struggle with it need sympathy and support.

Three numbers from the Catechism of the Catholic Church might be worth quoting here. They appear under the header “Chastity and homosexuality”:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. [end quote material]

So the Church believes that folks with homosexual tendencies are called to live chastely and that they can become saints, with the grace of God and lots of prayer, etc.

Leviticus has to be read in the light of Tradition and within the whole of Scripture. Jesus did not wipe away all the rules found in the New Testament. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). True, Our Lord did away with the dietary rules (“Thus he declared all foods clean” – Mark 7:19). But he didn’t do away with Old Testament bans on adultery and murder.

St. Paul, who felt released from many Old Testament practices, was no defender of homosexual behavior. “The males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity” (Romans 1:27).

As for the Genesis text about Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin, yes, there is a bit of fuzziness. But there was a tradition that understood the sin as being linked to homosexuality, as reflected in the Letter to Jude: “Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (v. 7).

True, there seemed to have been other sins linked to Sodom and Gomorrah, such as neglect of the poor (see Ezekiel 16:49-50), though even there we see a reference to “abominations.” In any case, the lines from Leviticus carry no ambiguity.

(For more reading on this issue, see this blog.

By the way, the Catechism, which came out in 1992, mentions that the psychological genesis of homosexuality remains largely unexplained. Therapists such as Joseph Nicolosi more recently have done a lot of work in the field of helping people move away from homosexual tendencies.

One webpage gives a sample of his work. The whole book is worth a read.

Lastly, for a good overview of the Church’s approach to homosexuality, consider the video “The Third Way”. I hope some of this helps.

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