I was kind of curious to see where she was coming from, what was motivating her to give free Bibles to homosexuals. As it turns out, she indeed did think we were all sinners in particular need of her call to repentance.
We ended up having a chat about Romans chapter 1. I think all the Christian Biblical arguments about homosexual relationships boil down to a few verses in this one chapter, particularly what Paul means by a Greek phrase that, in the King James version is translated as "natural use": phusikos chresis. That term could be very properly translated, "instinctive sexuality." Phusikos is related etymologically to the English word "physical," but is best translated "instinctive," hence "natural." It would apply to those things which to us, in our physical being, are natural in the sense of being instinctive. So Paul here in these two verses (26 & 27) is discussing individuals who reject or turn away from their sexual instincts. I pointed out to the woman giving out Bibles at Gay Pride that, given that homosexuality is the natural, instinctive sexuality for gay people, the situation Paul seems to describe in these verses applies not categorically to gay people, but to heterosexuals who are so carried away by lust that they engage in sexual behavior that is unnatural to them.
Could it apply to gay people? Absolutely. It would apply to any people, gay or straight, who get carried away in the pursuit of sexual pleasure to the point that they exceed natural limits and natural desires.
My current scripture study has taken me into the early chapters of Romans, so in the last couple of days I've had a chance to read the entire first chapter (and following) and reflect on it some more. When you read this chapter in its entirety, you see that Paul is painting a picture here of individuals who are self-centered and ego-driven, who refuse to acknowledge God as the creator and center of all things. Unbridled sexual lust is only one characteristic of such individuals. Other characteristics include covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, whispering, backbiting, spite, pride, boasting, disobedience to parents, lack of understanding, covenant breaking, lack of natural affection (hard-heartedness?), implacability, lack of mercy.
The picture that emerges is someone with a hard-hearted, self-centered approach to the world. This, by the way, is the "natural man" spoken of in scripture, not to be confused with the "natural use" alluded to by Paul in verses 26 and 27. The whole thrust of Paul's discussion here is to emphasize that we all fall short in this way. There are times in all of our lives when we think only of ourselves. When we become impatient and let our anger get the better of us. When we are argumentative, hard-hearted, and unmerciful toward those who offend us. When we let ourselves be more driven by our lusts and our hungers than by love.
True love for our Creator would demand that we tame the ego, that we shift the center of our universe from ourselves to God and, through God, toward our fellow human beings.
Thus, interestingly enough, the very beginning of Romans chapter 2 begins with:
Therefore [this follows on Paul's argument at the end of Romans 1] thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
In other words, the impulse to judge and condemn others flows out of that same category of self-centered, hard-hearted attitudes that mark us as in rebellion against God. So ironic, I guess, that this section of scripture is used so frequently and so harshly to judge and condemn gay people. Of course, for gay people to turn it around and use it to condemn and judge conservative Christians would be equally ironic.
Or would equally well prove Paul's point. It is this hard-heartedness, this eagerness to fight and condemn others that marks us all as in need of the mercy and grace of God. If we fight over scripture, and use scripture to condemn each other, it is only proof of exactly what Paul is talking about here.
So a gay person reading this passage of scripture could respond to it a couple of ways. Some can and do read it and see chapter 1, verses 26-27 as a categorical condemnation of all homosexuality -- even homosexuality that is expressed in accordance with our natural, instinctive sexuality. They respond by disciplining themselves in such a way as to live celibate lives. Or perhaps, the right confluence of circumstances and finding the right life partner allows them to successfully marry heterosexually. Those paths, no one can seriously dispute, require discipline, patience, and faith, and require extraordinary selflessness. In other words, they would represent the kind of repentance process that Paul describes here as essential.
But other gay people can and do read this section, and do not see it as a categorical condemnation of homosexuality, but as a condemnation of unbridled lust, and of that egotistical, self-centered attitude I've already described. We may choose a loving partner with whom we make and honor a life-time commitment, and with whom we seek to live chastely and affectionately just the way loving heterosexual couples might. In doing so, we are frequently judged and condemned by conservative Christians; we may suffer various forms of exclusion and discrimination in our churches. For us, the challenge is to respond with forgiveness, patience, and kindness, all the while not judging those who judge us so harshly. In a way, this is every bit as -- perhaps more -- "unnatural" than remaining celibate or living heterosexually. For what is more natural than to respond to misunderstanding and judgment with anger and counter-judgment?
My point is, both ways of living as a gay person would be congruent with Paul's teaching in this passage of scripture. Both ways would require the virtues of patience, steadfastness, selflessness, faith, hope and love that demonstrate that we have centered our lives around the worship of the Creator rather than "the creature" as Paul so aptly puts it here (vs. 25).
The possibility that different gay people would apply this scripture differently in relation to how they govern their sexual lives is allowed for in the Pauline understanding of proper devotion to God, which is conscience-centered and conscience-driven.
Paul argues in chapters one and two that even those who have not received God's law as revealed to Moses (the Gentiles) know God's law in their hearts. It is our own, innate knowledge of right and wrong, Paul argues, that ultimately condemns us when we sin. So we must exercise caution and heed our conscience, not harden it.
But where honest differences of opinion emerge, the highest law is to live in harmony, kindness and patience, being careful not to wrong one another by judging each other.