Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1 Corinthians on Sex and Marriage

1 Corinthians 6 contains one of the texts typically used by Evangelical Christians (and some Mormons) to condemn homosexuality.

A lot of energy in the debates over this scripture focuses on the proper translation of a couple of terms in verse 9 that have been translated in the King James Version as "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind." A footnote in the LDS edition claim that the word translated as "effeminate" here means "catamite" in the original Greek. (I don't think that's true... I think the Greek word here is "malakoi," which means "soft". Who knows whether Paul was referring to "catamites" or "boy escorts" that were common in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.) Another footnote links "abusers of themselves with mankind" with "homosexuality." In some versions, this gets translated as "homosexuality," in others not.

But, read in context here, I think the translation really doesn't matter. How we render some of those terms into English is moot, since Paul follows this list of sins with this declaration: "All things are lawful unto me."

What does this mean? It means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not consist of a list of do's and don't's.

Look at the context of what Paul says here, from verse 9 through the end of the chapter in verse 20. He's talking about "fornication," about "harlots." He's talking about a way of life in which we allow ourselves to be governed by worldly appetites rather than by the Spirit. If Paul is talking about homosexual behavior here, it's clearly homosexual behavior that's out of control, that involves prostitutes or random hook-ups, where sex is being pursued for sex's sake. He's not talking about relationships of commitment and love and trust. Assuming that to be the case would be the same as assuming that a condemnation of harlots is the same as a condemnation of sex between heterosexual married individuals.

Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I WILL NOT BE BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER OF ANY." In other words, the question here is: Are we ruled by our lusts, or are we ruled by the Spirit?

Gay and lesbian folks historically have been so shamed and beaten down and have so much had inculcated in us that any feeling of attraction toward a member of the same sex is "grievous sin" that we often find it difficult to distinguish between "bridled" sexuality that is an expression of love and out-of-control lust. But that distinction exists for us just the same as it does for all of our Heavenly Parents' hetero children.

Paul here is saying "All is lawful"; it just needs to be governed by love and by the Spirit.

The context of the entire chapter here is the condemnation of legalism! This discussion is occasioned because the Saints in Corinth are actually taking each other to civil court and suing each other! And Paul insists that the Saints should be governed by the Spirit, and a people governed by the Spirit should not need to solve their problems in this kind of legalistic manner.

So ironic that a letter condemning legalism should be twisted into a set of rules that members of the church have used to condemn homosexuals.


1 Corinthians 7 gets real about sex and marriage. And all of it is very relevant to LGBT believers. Read the chapter carefully for yourselves and tell me what you think. But here's what it looks like to me:

In the eyes of God, whether we are married or unmarried doesn't matter. It's up to us to decide what works best for us. (As Paul stressed in chapter 6, "All is lawful.")

If we have the gift of celibacy (like Paul did), that's great! It means we are free to focus all of our energy on service to God and to others!

If we don't have the gift of celibacy, we shouldn't try to force ourselves to be celibate. If our libido is too strong, we won't be able to resist the temptation of falling into "fornication," which will cause us to lose the Spirit. If we have a strong libido, we need to constructively channel it within marriage.

Marriage is a good thing. It can give us an opportunity to give ourselves completely to another human being. Once we make that commitment, we belong to our spouse! That requires a certain discipline! We have a mutual obligation to provide each other with the physical solace of sex. If we don't meet our spouse's sexual needs, we run the risk of libido driving our spouse to fornication. It's OK to go without sex in marriage for a time, especially for purposes of prayer and fasting, but it needs to be by mutual consent! One spouse can't just arbitrarily decide to stop having sex... That's unfair to the other spouse.

(Men's obligation to women here, by the way, is identical to women's obligation to men!)

Whatever state we are in when God calls us, it's all good! If we're married, it's good to stay married. Don't leave a spouse for the sake of the Church! (I found it very interesting what Paul says about believing spouses married to unbelieving spouses...) If we're single, it's good to stay single. But, that doesn't mean single people can't get married. They can! It's all good! It's up to us to discern what works best for us when it comes to these things. Paul is not trying to tell anybody they must do this or they must do that... He's offering advice. What matters is keeping the Spirit and channeling our sexuality in constructive ways.

We're all different! Some of us have different gifts than others. It's all for the good!


Paul is adamant that celibacy should NOT be forced on people. To do so endangers their spiritual well being! It's best to find the right balance. Some of us don't really need sex. If so, that's great! If we do need sex, channeling our sexuality within a relationship will teach us mutual love and surrender.

I'm not sure these principles apply any differently to gay people than they do to straight people. I've seen the harm that comes from forcing people to be celibate. I've seen the harm that comes from pushing gay people into marriages with straight spouses, where the gay spouse simply can't reciprocate in the way that married partners are supposed to reciprocate. I've seen the good that comes from gay individuals constructively channeling their sexuality into loving, committed, same-sex relationships.

Is there a better argument than Paul's here for why Christians should accept and celebrate same-sex marriage?