Voices: If you’re using the Bible to condemn being gay, you’re reading it wrong

·4-min read
The Bible is a culturally important and influential document – but it’s also complex, contradictory and inconsistent (Josh Haner-Pool/Getty)
The Bible is a culturally important and influential document – but it’s also complex, contradictory and inconsistent (Josh Haner-Pool/Getty)

In one of the more bizarre stories of the week, a Christian couple has reportedly refused to allow a gay couple to view their home.

Luke Main, 33, and his wife, Dr Joanna Brunker, 34, put their cottage up for sale with estate agency Purplebricks. They screened potential viewers by asking, “Would you mind telling us a bit about your position and circumstances when you have a moment please?”

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a standard question about whether potential viewers have a property to sell, have a mortgage in place, or whether they’re just time-wasters fancying nosing around someone else’s home.

Not so for Main and Brunker, however, who allegedly used the opportunity to flex their homophobic tendencies and refuse to allow “two men in a partnership to view or buy our house… as it is contrary to the gracious teaching in God’s Word, the Holy Bible, eg Romans 1:24-28 and Jude 7 (King James Version)”.

Main and Brunker might be homophobes, but they’re well-mannered with it, ending their message with a courteous “with regards”. After all, nothing softens the blow of prejudice like a polite sign-off.

Luke Whitehouse and his partner Lachlan Mantell, the same-sex couple who requested to view the cottage, were understandably distressed by the response of the property owners to their viewing enquiry. Purplebricks was also unimpressed. The property company has since removed the advert from their website, saying that the Christian couple’s “stance is completely opposed to our views and values”. Quite right.

We all know that homophobia is – sadly – still alive and kicking, but it’s astonishing that the Bible is still being trotted out to support discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

Let’s be clear, the Christian holy book has nothing to say about being gay – even in the passages quoted in Main and Brunker’s email. Our conceptions of sexual identity are modern constructions that simply didn’t exist when the biblical texts were written. Then again, why on earth would we expect an ancient sacred book to speak to 21st-century social issues?

The Bible, considered by many to be only a historical or faith document, shapes our assumptions and values whether we are aware of it or not. In the cultural context of the UK – often described as secular and presumed to have moved beyond religion – the Bible continues to frame dominant perspectives on a range of moral concerns.

So, the Bible is culturally important and influential – but it’s also complex, contradictory and inconsistent, and it offers precious few clear teachings about any of our most pressing social issues. From incest to racism, rape to misogyny, the Bible is ambiguous. You might find a quote that seems to take a clear stance in one biblical book, only to find a contradictory passage in another.

Then, of course, there’s the cherry-picking argument. That some biblical quotes are dusted off to justify prejudice, while others are abandoned, reinterpreted or ignored as out of date.

The most popular example of this is in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, which seems to prohibit same-sex sexual relations, as well as the eating of sea creatures without fins and scales. While Leviticus 18 and 20 are regularly weaponised against LGBT+ people, shellfish remains on the menu.

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Church attendance may be in decline in Europe (though not in many other nations across the globe), but the Bible has never lost its claim to authority – not only in the context of Christian theologies but also in terms of its status as a cultural artefact. This sacred text has exerted tremendous cultural influence worldwide, and interpretations have shaped and perpetuated harmful social attitudes and legitimised discrimination and prejudice.

Dr Chris Greenough, reader in theology and religion at Edge Hill University, argued that “while the Bible is often used as a source of authority, it is misleading to call it ‘the word of God’. In fact, Christianity teaches that the word of God is not scripture, it is Jesus Christ. As such, Jesus said nothing explicit about same-sex relationships or transgender people.”

Homophobic interpretations of particular biblical passages simply don’t stand up in the wider context of the Bible. It contains no clear and definitive message on homosexuality, let alone one that precludes gay couples from viewing properties.

Katie Edwards has a PhD in Biblical Studies and was a senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield until 2020