St. Paul was brilliant. He was also wrong.
Paul, fiery 1st century evangelist and follower of Jesus, was wrong about same-gender relationships. It’s no sin to be wrong – the sin belongs to those who use Paul’s 1st century words to abuse others today.
Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) opened a meeting with prayer just weeks before the Orlando massacre. He used the words of Paul to suggest that gays were worthy of death. I believe that Paul would see this as a tragic misuse of his writing.
As a devoted follower of Jesus, Paul endured beatings and imprisonment. He knew what it was like, to be tortured for the sake of an outlaw love.
I think if Paul knew that his words had been used to justify beatings, imprisonments and murder of LGBTQ persons, he’d be horrified.
He’d say that using scripture to justify hatred is unnatural, because this too is written in the bible:
“Whoever fails to love, does not know God, because God is love.” I John 4:7-8
So what prompted his troubling words about same-gender sex?
Paul had a burning passion for two things: the natural order of the cosmos, which he believed revealed God’s power and nature to all, and Jesus Christ, the God-man who exemplified its perfection.
Paul condemned anything that seemed to violate God’s natural order as he understood it:
Paul was a man of his time who enjoined silence upon women, endorsed slavery, and had never seen a committed, loving marriage between same-gender persons. What he did see of 1st century same-gender sexual relations, was ugly.
Pedophilia. Rape. Forced prostitution. Sexual trafficking.
Paul saw, correctly, that these things violated God’s good order. He issued a harsh condemnation of them – inadvertently furnishing hate-filled homophobes with material centuries later.
Paul was a seer. But what he couldn’t see, was the beauty of the natural order reflected in the lives of LGBTQ people, struggling to live as God created them.
What Paul couldn’t see, was the horrifying perversion of God’s good order that happens whenever religion-driven leaders torture LGBTQ youth to “make them straight,” as in this harrowing account:
But Paul did see God’s beauty reflected in Jesus – an unmarried 33 year old rabbi who regularly transgressed boundaries to reach out to ‘uppity women’ , Roman oppressors, and sex workers, as well as the ‘religious right’ of his time.
What Paul didn’t get to see because he never actually hung out with Jesus, was that Jesus welcomed physical affection from his friends. When a troubled Jesus predicted his own betrayal at the hands of one of his followers, the ‘man whom Jesus loved’ leaned back comfortingly against his chest (John 13:25).
Paul missed that.
However as Paul himself said, “For now we see through a glass darkly.”(I Cor. 13:12) He used the vision he had, for as long as he lived.
Maybe we can see a little more clearly now. God’s natural order is love, not hate – always.
And only love can save us now.