I could write much more extensively on the subject of how the scriptures relate to the problem of homosexuality. But this is a summation of how I understand and approach this.
The Role of Scripture in the Christian Life
I feel first of all that it is necessary to discuss my understanding of the role the scriptures play in faith and in the teaching of the Church. Among some there is a tendency -- emanating from American Protestant fundamentalist culture -- to treat the scriptures as if they are a rule book. In this view, all behavior in life should be measured against whether or not the scriptures explicitly, specifically prohibit or encourage it. Folks who adhere to this point of view have a tendency to resort to heavy-handed "proof-texting," citing passages that they think support their point of view of whether something is acceptable behavior or not. I believe this use of scripture is false and idolatrous.
My understanding of scripture is based on the notion expressed in D&C section 68:
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. (v. 4)
In this uniquely Latter-day Saint understanding, scripture is God's living revelation to people who are in relationship with God. Scripture may or may not be recorded in writing; it may be expressed and received in any setting where the Holy Spirit is present to inspire the speaker and carry the word into the hearts of the listener. Scripture and revelation are one and the same thing, and "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19: 10).
In this concept of "living" scripture, the actual words spoken or written provide only half of the picture. It is possible to hear or to read the words, and miss their full significance, because a true understanding of scripture is only possible with the translating power of the living Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can speak to us through the medium of written scriptural texts in many different ways, sometimes offering us one true understanding and later offering us a different true understanding of the same text. The gift of the Holy Spirit is essential to reading, understanding, and receiving scriptures properly. Every time I read the scriptures, I begin with a prayer, asking the Lord to grant that the Spirit can open to my mind and heart the hidden treasures contained in the scriptures, that I can access only with the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will enable us to "liken the scriptures unto us" (I Nephi 19: 23), often taking a story or a text from a situation that seems on the surface to be completely different from our own situation, and showing us how it is directly relevant to us.
This is why it is never enough simply to have once read a scriptural text. Once you have read all of the standard works cover to cover, your work with scripture is not done. Reading the scriptures daily is a necessary spiritual practice, no matter how many times we have read them, because it is only in daily reading, under the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit, that we receive the bread we need for our spiritual journeys every single day of our lives.
In this understanding of scripture, written texts are valuable because of the testimony they provide. The value of ancient scriptures is less in the cultural and historical specifics in which they were recorded, and more in their witness of an eternal God who has fostered a living relationship with his people throughout history, from ancient until modern times.
This is why using the scriptures as some sort of hide-bound rule book is dangerous. Anyone who is familiar with the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy knows this. It is not to say that regulations of the Pentateuch are irrelevant to us! Far from it! But their relevance to us is in their witness of God's relationship with the children of Israel, in their journey from slavery to nationhood. The rules themselves -- it seems evident to me -- were culturally specific. They were intended for a group of people and a culture who -- for the most part -- were still steeped in idolatry, violence, and hard-heartedness. We may have some things in common with the people of that time (and again, the Spirit can show us what we have in common). But we also have our own sins, our own cultural blind-spots, and our own weaknesses that require God's guiding, merciful hand in a very different way. Which is why for specific guidance, we need to look to what God is speaking to us here and now, in his living relationship with us today.
My own present relationship with scripture began in response to an invitation from the Spirit to begin reading the Book of Mormon. At that point, I was still feeling pretty alienated from the faith I had been raised in. I felt as if the only thing my faith community had to offer me was condemnation and intolerance. But the invitation of the Spirit was warm and incredibly loving and compassionate. The Spirit promised to teach me, to show me a way back to my Heavenly Father that was tailored to me and my specific needs as a gay man, who had once contemplated suicide, who was in a long-term, same-sex relationship, who was excommunicated from the Church, and who was in a lot of pain. None of those specifics of my situation mattered so much as that my Heavenly Father loved me and wanted me to turn to him. The Spirit could show me how -- in my specific situation, with my specific needs -- I could begin and stay on the journey. But I had to pick the book up, I had to pray and ask for help, and I had to read it. And, accepting the Spirit's invitation, I did, with a hunger and a desire to learn and to know what God had to teach me through scripture.
That journey, continued daily, one day at a time, began almost four years ago. And it has been one of the most powerful journeys of my life. I do not find hate, judgment, or condemnation in the scriptures. Always, the scriptures show me a way forward, teach me exactly what I need to do in the many very challenging situations I find myself in. How to handle situations with my spouse, with our son, my relationships with family, co-workers, members of my ward. How to deal with discouragement, doubt, pain and sadness. How to deal with discrimination, hate and homophobia. The scriptures have something to say about all of these things to me, because I am in a living relationship with my living Heavenly Father, who has sent the living Holy Spirit to teach and guide me, and help me liken the scriptures to myself. None of us need ever have fear of the scriptures, or believe that because of who we are that they are somehow unaccessible to us.
The Weightier Matters of the Law
There is a narrative within scripture about the nature of Law and the role of the Law in the life of the faithful. There are greater and lesser principles of the Law. All laws (lower case) are subsumed under the "Great Commandment" to love God, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. Jesus Christ came as the perfect exemplar of this law of love. Paul, in his teachings (see I Corinthians 13), pointed out that there were three great Christian virtues, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these was love. The highest, most perfect expression of that love was exemplified in the greatest act ever performed in human history: the Atonement. Christ gave his life for us, that we might live.
On a number of occasions, Christ made public demonstrations calculated to show that when lesser aspects of the law come into conflict with "the weightier matters of the law," the weightier matters always take precedence. Christ performed a number of healings on the Sabbath, for instance, and encouraged his disciples to gather food on the Sabbath, offending those who preferred a stricter interpretation of those laws. Christ prevented the implementation of the Law in the case of the adulteress who would have been stoned to death.
Later, through revelation to Peter (described in Acts 10), the Church was eventually led to abandon the old Levitical prescriptions and ordinances. This was a period of trauma and conflict in the Church, as conservative "Judaizers" resisted, resenting the influx of Gentile members who did not observe (and did not even know) the old Levitical law. The nature of this conflict, and the theological difficulties it presented are best documented in the epistles of Paul. The Pauline theology encouraged the faithful to see how the law of "rules and ordinances" was a "schoolmaster" to prepare us to live the higher law of love that was most perfectly revealed in Christ.
Modern-day revelation has deepened our understanding of the nature of this higher law. D&C section 121 is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful expressions of this law, demonstrating that perfect love and service are demonstrated through gentleness, meekness, kindness and persuasion, never domination or coercion.
Applications of the Law
Christ showed that when lesser aspects of the law come in conflict with the weightier matters, the weightier matters always take precedence. But there are numerous other examples in scripture that demonstrate the contingency of law. I am intrigued, for instance, by the great mystery of Adam and Eve's disobedience in the Garden of Eden. This act of law-breaking is rightly viewed as a paradox, especially given perspectives available only in Latter-day scripture. Nephi explained it best:
If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2: 22-25)
This act of disobedience was actually necessary in order for God's entire plan for humanity to unfold. My own theory about this is that God's plan required us to leave his presence, to learn and grow on our own. But eternal law dictates that we can leave God's presence only through disobedience. This is speculation on my part, but can anyone else explain this mystery to me? This would also explain why Christ's Atonement was a necessary enabling part of the plan established from before the foundation of the world...
But there are other stories in scripture where we are struck with the paradox of disobedience to one law required in order for God's plan to move forward: Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac; Nephi's murder of Laban.
The point is that obedience to God's law frequently requires difficult ethical choices. It requires us to discern between weightier and lesser matters of the law, and between specific demands of particular, historical contingencies, and the general demands of revealed commandments. To make this all the more complicated, another great governing principle providing the framework for making these ethical choices is the principle of free agency. God frequently leaves us on our own to wrestle with and come up with answers to problems by ourselves. God will assist us in our decision-making process, if we ask, but frequently God demands that we do our own footwork first (see D&C 9:7!). I believe God wants us to wrestle, to agonize, and to struggle with our ethical choices, because it is the only way we will grow!
Homosexuality in the Law
OK, so finally I can talk about what the scriptures have to say about homosexuality. Frankly, we don't have a lot to go on:
*Genesis 19 - the Sodom and Gomorrah story, in which the men of Sodom attempted to rape two angels
*Leviticus 18 - the Levitical prohibition against a man lying with a man as with a woman
*Romans 1 - in which Paul describes sexuality that is against nature, and that is the consequence of idolatry
There are a few other less clear passages that are sometimes added to the list -- depending whose list you read. For example, there's Jude's comment about going after "strange flesh" in Sodom. (Raping angels?) There are Paul's comments about effeminacy and sexual perversion, particularly in I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1. If you look up homosexuality in the topical guide in the LDS standard works, it lists a few Old Testament passages where the Kings of Israel are described rooting out the "qadesh," or male ritual fertility prostitutes (rendered in the King James Bible as "sodomites" by translators who had no idea what "qadesh" were).
The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are silent on the subject of homosexuality.
How we read what texts are available is heavily influenced by our cultural norms, mores, and expectations. Western European culture -- particularly Hellenistic Greek culture -- was generally positive toward homosexuality up until about the 3rd century B.C. or so, after which denigration of homosexuality became increasingly prevalent. Historians have documented, however, that in the late Middle Ages homosexuals were literally demonized. Many of our attitudes toward homosexuality were inherited from the age that invented witch-burning. We need to take this cultural accretion into account when we consider whether our reading of particular scriptures are being applied correctly to the real-life situations of the gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in our midst.
I'm not here going to insist that I have "the correct" way of reading the handful of Biblical texts that seem to relate to homosexuality. To do so would be incompatible with the way I read scripture, and with my beliefs about the role that scripture should play in the life of faith. Suffice it to say that I read these scriptures (as I read all scripture) with the Holy Spirit as my guide, with attention to the weightier matters of the law, with an awareness of the specific, real-life circumstances of real individuals in the real world, and with an awareness that loving action in the world often requires complex ethical judgments.
Modern Day Revelation
I come full circle in this discussion to where I began: the principle of modern-day revelation.
As Latter-day Saints, we rely on modern-day prophets and apostles to lead and guide the Church. They provide the rules and precepts by which the Church is governed, not the book of Leviticus.
We know, through modern-day revelation, particularly D&C section 132, about the centrality of marriage and family in the plan of salvation.
The Priesthood Manual, used by bishops and stake leaders to govern the Church, provides the specific framework of ecclesiastical law through which homosexual activity and behavior is handled.
Given present understandings about the nature of family, and given the present framework of rules established by modern-day prophets and apostles to govern and guide the Church, homosexual activity is proscribed. Those engaging in it will be disciplined according to the judgment and discretion of those who are called as judges in Israel, often (usually?) with excommunication.
Still, someone in a situation such as the one that I face, and that is faced by so many other gay men and lesbians, must wrestle with perplexing realities. Those realities include the fact that the way homosexuality is typically characterized by Church leaders seems to bear no resemblance to what we actually experience. Much of the rhetoric was once dominated by extremely negative characterizations that included words like "abomination" and "monstrosity." Most Church leaders simply do not seem to understand the concept of sexual orientation, and what it means to those who are same-sex oriented.
The perplexities faced by gay and lesbian individuals are compounded by the ways in which Church policy on this issue has shifted in the last 20-30 years. Once we were counseled to "just get married." Now we are counseled to avoid marriage and "remain separately and singly" throughout our entire lives. Again, we wonder if Church leaders really understand the meaning and nature of same-sex attraction. A number, most prominently Gordon B. Hinckley in his famous Larry King interview of December 26, 2004, have admitted that they do not understand it.
We must make difficult ethical choices, often in situations where we have been totally abandoned by family, church, and friends. Like others, we yearn for companionship in our lives. We desire the joy that human beings were created for, a significant part of which comes through intimate relationships.
If we are wise, we will seek wisdom from God in making those choices, and we will rely on the scriptures to help us to see our way forward.