An open letter of how one Christian lesbian has used the Word to fully embrace herself, and her challenge to the Church of the Nazarene.
My Church Family,
I write this letter, not with the intent to change anyone’s mind or convictions, but to share my story, and if sharing my story challenges the views you hold then please honor them and grapple with them. Question if your views still serve you or if you are holding onto them because they are familiar and offer some sense of comfort. In writing this letter, I simply hope that by sharing my story future generations do not have to deal with the same struggles that I have endured. I hope you can read this letter from a place of curiosity and open-mindedness.
I have chosen to write this in two parts: first sharing my story, and second discussing a few of the verses in the Bible that refer to homosexuality. From an early age, I came to love God and had the desire to learn more, draw closer, and do His work—that always felt natural to me, and it still does. As time passed, I learned more about the God of love, mercy, and grace. A God who is constantly chasing after us, a God who loves us just as we are, not as who we can be. A God who wants to be with us, to create with us, to engage with us, walk with us, and guide us. A God who is above all things wants to reside with us!
For seventeen years, I sat in the pews of my church three times a week, forging a relationship with this God, volunteering to help in my church, taking on leadership roles, praying with others, giving tithes and offering, and overall being part of the community. Over time, I started to hear about the evilness, damnation, and wrongdoings of a certain group of people. This didn’t sit well with me, because how could a God of love, mercy, and grace look down or damn a group of people simply because they love someone of the same sex? These two versions of God did not seem to be the same. And to further complicate things, I was in this group of people—the people who loved someone of the same sex.
From the age of about 11, I realized that my attraction was towards women. I had no attraction towards men, and it actually rather repulsed me (I imagine it’s the same for heterosexual people when they think of being with someone of the same sex). I tried to be with men, which came from a sense of expectation from society, family, and religion. With each heterosexual experience, I found that I had to force myself. Furthermore, I was lying, putting up a front, deceiving and hurting another person: myself. Ultimately, I was trying to be something that felt foreign and unnatural to me. Worst of all, in trying to be something that was against my design, it felt like I was lying to God. I even tried to “pray the gay away,” and when that didn’t work, I tried to “pray the gay away” again. But never did my attraction towards women dissipate.
There was a time that I made the difficult decision to leave the church—because why should I be part of a community that hated me? But never did I stop engaging with God. Then there came a point in my life where I was done lying to myself and done staying away from the house of God. So I started researching what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. Because again, the two versions of God did not seem to go together—how can something that came natural to me be a sin? I read multiple books, talked to pastors, prayed, and grappled with what I had been taught, only to discover that what we think the Bible is saying goes deeper than we imagine.
The book Unclobber by Colby Martin was recommended to me while I was in the midst of my journey. From Martin, I learned that there are a total of 31,102 verses in the Bible, and only six discuss homosexuality. (Also, the word homosexual never appeared in the Bible until 1946, more about that below). Here is a brief summary of some of the passages that mention homosexuality and some of the explanations Martin provides that have helped me come to peace with who I am:
Sodom and Gomorrah- Genesis 19:4-5
“4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.”
The storyteller points out that every man in the city shows up at Lot’s house. This should rule out that the story is about same-sex attraction, as it simply cannot be the case that every man in the city from old to young is gay.
“5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Consent is not on the mob’s mind; rather they want to do something to the men. In other words, they want to gang rape the men. This was how dominance is demonstrated in the ancient world (and very much today), and its use strips others of power. These verses are not about homoerotic desire, but rather about dishonoring the other and stripping them of their masculinity and thereby their humanity.
To ask Genesis to weigh in on the question of the biblical posture toward same-sex attraction or the sinfulness of a loving, committed same-sex relationship is to ask questions it does not and cannot answer. Further, Ezekiel 16:49-50 states, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom, she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” As far as Ezekiel sees it, Sodom and Gomorrah was not about homosexuality.
Leviticus 18:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9
Leviticus 18:22 (English version): “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination.”
1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.”
The Greek word arsenokoitai is used in Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. This word was not translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946, when the Germans wanted to mass produce the Bible but did not have enough money. So the American Bible company Biblia paid for the project and influenced the decision, resulting in the word “homosexual” entering the German Bible for the first time in history, and then later in the English Bible. The German, Swedish and Norwegian versions of Leviticus 18:22 state, “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” “Homosexual” replaced “those that lie with young boys.”
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
The word translated as “dishonorable” is the Greek word for atimia. If something is atima it is about bringing dishonor to a person or family. To commit atimia was to engage in a behavior that had no value and would bring shame, it was a violation of the cultural customs of the day. Paul demonstrated how Gentiles were engaged in acts that clearly went against Jewish cultural traditions.
The word “shameless” is the Greek word aschemosune, and it describes behavior that is unseemly or indecent. The situation being described here is one where men, being overtaken by their passions, engage in same-sex acts that were possibly performed in public spaces or in conjunction with pagan idol worship.
When verses 26 and 27 are taken together, what emerges is a picture of Gentiles who have rejected God, turned toward idolatry, and were given over to distorted sexual practices that offend and are contrary to Jewish purity laws and cleanliness customs. The shameless acts were done as a result of men being consumed with passion. In other words, they were not acting out of a place of love and mutuality, but out of a desire for excess. This passage conveys the feelings the Jews had about culturally offensive sex acts.
So after grappling for years, researching, praying, and just downright calling on God, I can finally say that I am at peace with who I am and at peace with God! The most repeated phrase in the Bible is “fear not.” As Martin says, “When we feel that something we are hearing doesn’t resonate with the God of love, we must raise our hands. Especially if our hands shake with fear. Apathy and passivity are the opposite of love. When we stay silent, we are making a big bold decision. We are casting a loud vote for the status quo. It is a vote for fear over love. And the only thing necessary for the triumph of discrimination in the Christian faith is for doubtful Christians to stay quiet.”
So today, I ask you, my church family, will you continue to stay silent and be comfortable or will you join hands with your LGBT brothers and sisters and fully welcome us into the Church of the Nazarene?
Bethany Raya is a graduate student studying human resource development and is a university scholarship administrator. She has earned her undergraduate degree in sociology and a minor in gender studies. Raya has held numerous leadership positions in the church youth ministries and has co-founded a local non-profit aiming to create a safe place for LGBT kids in the Treasure Valley.