I wrote the Old Testament section, Ed Snow the New Testament section.
Clearly, Mormon sexual doctrine is influenced by the Bible. It would therefore seem important for us to understand what the Bible says on the subject of homosexuality.
Mormons believe (see the Proclamation on the Family) that we are all subject to the first commandment given to man, to “multiply and replenish the Earth” (Gen 1: 28):
“The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”
Because homosexual behavior offers no chance to “multiply” it cannot conform to this injunction. This is a fundamental problem with homosexuality. It may be one, however, that the Church has already negated. The Church no longer teaches its gay members to comply with this commandment; currently, gays are encouraged to live lives of celibacy rather than taking the risk that a heterosexual marriage and having children will somehow “work out.”
The sin of Sodom (Gen 18-19; see also Jude 7) has become synonymous with male homosexual sex. But what exactly was the sin of Sodom? In Genesis, the sin is usually described as “great wickedness” without further elaboration. The one specific sin involves the men who crowd around Lot’s door. What do they want? To commit homosexual rape, against men — angels even, perhaps even Yahweh himself — who are under Lot’s protection. This is depravity in the extreme. That they want to do violence to these men under these circumstances may say nothing about consensual, committed homosexual relations today. In fact, according to Ezekiel 16:49 the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with sex:
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
What of Leviticus (18: 22; 20:13)? Indeed, any homosexual sex is condemned in the Mosaic law as an “abomination” worthy of death. Note, however, that this injunction is part of the so-called Holiness Code, a corpus of laws (Lev 17-26) that concentrate on religious and cultic purity. Are Christians willing to take all of the Holiness Code as morally binding today? Do we execute those who dishonour their parents or blaspheme God? Should we still eat kosher? Can High Priests marry widows or divorcees? Must we still celebrate the Israelite festivals? Can we have slaves? This represents a fundamental issue: what rules are there for making Old Testament social views normative for contemporary believers? Why is slavery an evil today, but tolerable under Israelite law? One answer might be to go beyond the Old Testament to the New. Does the second testament guide us in our approach to the first?
Some commentators believe homosexual behavior was primarily a gentile, rather than an Israelite, practice. This may explain why Jesus never discussed homosexuality–it wasn’t an issue in his circles. For Jews dispersed outside of Palestine, however, Hellenistic society’s acceptance of homosexual love among males was more prevalent, although by the 1st century AD, it was increasingly viewed as self-indulgent, unnatural and exploitative. Even in Greco-Roman circles where this behavior was still accepted, it was thought shameful for a grown male to be the passive partner, this role being reserved for a male slave or male prostitute.
With Jesus’ silence on the topic, Paul becomes the author responsible for New Testament views on homosexuality. As an inheritor of Hebrew culture and values, Paul echoed typical Old Testament teachings on this topic . Contemporary Greek and Roman ideas concerning homosexuality no doubt also influenced him as well, but the extent of that influence may be debated.
In Romans 1:20-27, Paul has a “sidebar” discussion of homosexual activity among men and women inside his primary discussion of idolatry, suggesting that same-sex erotic activity is a direct result of idol worship. Says Paul, the idol worshipper reverses the natural order by worshipping a creation rather than the creator. As a clever commentator suggested, with Paul, “the idol worshipper does not seek to do the will of God; he seeks a god to do his will.”[see Oxford Bible Commentary, 1090] Romans 1:26b–27 says:
26b: Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
27: 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 their own persons the due penalty for their error.
According to Paul, idolatry turned not only the cosmic order upside down, but also human relationships upside down, with idolatry being the cause and homosexuality being the effect. More progressive readings of Rom. 1:26-27 have suggested that homosexuality is not directly condemned as a sin in this letter, but rather understood culturally by Paul to be a mere by-product of idolatry, albeit, an unfortunate by-product in Paul’s eyes.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul addresses homosexuality again, this time in much stronger language:
9: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts,
10: nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Here, the terms translated as “sexual perverts” in the RSV are the Greek terms “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” more recently translated as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” in the NRSV. Raymond Brown indicates “malakoi” (“soft”) could refer to the “effeminate” or the “dissolute,” while “arsenokoitai” (“those who go to bed with males”) could refer to “homosexuals.” More progressive readings of 1 Cor. 6:9 have suggested that Paul is condemning only male prostitution since “it brutalizes the active participant as well as victimizing the passive participant.” [see Raymond Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, 529]
Given Paul’s Jewish heritage, however, it is difficult to view these progressive interpretations as accurate portrayals of his original intent since Paul no doubt had Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 in mind in composing them. Such revisionist views may be useful for modern re-interpreters who have more liberal views on the binding nature of scripture and its possible cultural limitations. In any event, in the same breath in which Paul calls homosexual activity “shameless” in his letter to the Romans, he nevertheless reminds his readers: “[Y]ou have no excuse … whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Rom. 2:1)
When all is said and done, Nate Oman is probably right:
It seems to me that any Mormon discussion of same-sex unions should quit mucking around with Sodom and Gomorrah, the Mosiac law, or the New Testament. The real issue is what does one do with sections 131 and 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. These are the sections that link the concept of exaltation with the concept of marriage.
Mormons believe that their modern leaders are guided by God through revelation. Thus, the Mormon view of homosexuality may proceed ultimately from what Mormons consider to be modern revelation, rather than the scriptural exegesis of biblical scholars. But inasmuch as that revelation is guided by a reading of the Bible, the Bible remains relevant to the moral status of homosexuality today. We invite candid discussion, not only on biblical views of homosexuality, but also of the normative power we give (or don’t give) the Bible today. Should we live by Leviticus? Is Paul’s validation of Leviticus of import? Are all of Paul’s writings binding for modern Christians? If not, which ones do we choose?
1. In the Middle Assyrian laws from Mesopotamia, sodomy is only illegal if the active partner is of an equal or lower class to the passive partner.