We were reading the second half of Romans 1 in Bible study the other night, and I asked the group what they thought would happen around the water cooler at work if they actually expressed out loud what Romans 1 says about gay sex.
There was an awkward silence.
“I’d be ostracized”, someone said. “It would be the end of any respect from my colleagues”, said someone else. “I’m not sure that I would be able to remain at my workplace”, said another.
Best to keep quiet then.
But the trouble with burying what we know to be true, for the sake of retaining people’s respect or regard, is that the truth has a way of rising from the grave. And when it does, we are shown to be shifty and insincere, which apart from being bad in itself, also tends not to be so good in the respect-and-regard area.
So in the interests of not “practising cunning” but making an “open statement of the truth” (2 Cor 4:2), I thought I would post a few things that I know to be true about homosexuality but which I am not really allowed to say in polite society, and which therefore I am very tempted not to say.
The first is that homosexuality is a modern invention. I don’t just mean the word ‘homosexuality’, which was coined in the late 1800s, but the concept—the idea that within a minority of the population there is a fixed inner homosexual essence or identity, which can be embraced or suppressed but never successfully changed.
As numerous secular scholars (such as Foucault, Halperin, and Greenberg) have argued at considerable depth, this ‘essentialist’ view of homosexuality is hard to defend, and is quite novel historically speaking. There is no equivalent term or concept in other cultures, even in those where sexual activity between males was well known (such as in ancient Greece). According to these scholars, having a ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ identity is a social construct, and in historical terms a very recent one.
This rings true to me, not only for biblical reasons (further below) but because I have seen the construct change significantly even within my lifetime. In the mid-70s, for example, the talk from gay activists was very much about sexual ‘preference’ (your right to choose who to have sex with) not sexual ‘orientation’ (your innate sexual nature). In fact, gay rights advocates at that time were opposed to any talk of homosexuality being a biologically-determined state or ‘orientation’, because if that were the case it might be regarded as a disorder to be fixed or cured. However, after the AIDS crisis of the mid-80s, gay rhetoric swung decisively in a ‘born that way’ direction.
Now I am not really qualified to judge the strength of secular scholarship on the origins of ‘homosexuality’ as a concept, but their argument certainly accords with the Bible’s categories of thought. If you were to ask me whether the Bible is against homosexuals or homosexuality, I would reply that the Bible says nothing about either. It says quite a bit about people of the same gender having sex with each other, but nothing about the modern social construction of identity we call ‘being a homosexual’ or ‘being gay’.
Which leaves us with numerous questions, but the next one I want to ask is: If it is not an innate sexual essence or identity that prompts some men to want to have sex with other men, then what does drive that behaviour?