Romans 1 – a question for Justin Welby

I’m writing a blog about yesterday’s Equal Marriage debate in the House of Commons, but first, because it’s a key text for Christian conservatives and because it’s in the lectionary today, some thoughts about Romans 1.

I wonder how often those who use Romans 1.26 – 27 as the key text in support of their conviction that gay sex is evil in God’s sight read those verses in the context of the whole chapter (and the following chapters).

I’m not going to engage in a detailed study now. It might help if you read verses 1 and 2 for yourself.

Paul says divine retribution is falling from heaven on men and women who suppress the truth (1.18). Their conduct is indefensible because all that can be known of God lies plain before their eyes (1.19, 20). Their misguided minds are plunged in darkness and they have made fools of themselves. They have shaped the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man, birds, beasts and reptiles (1.1.21 – 23).

“For this reason God has given them up to their own vile desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and have offered reverence and worship to created things instead of to the creator (1.24, 25). Thus, because they have not seen fit to acknowledge God, he has given them up to their own depraved way of thinking, and this leads them to break all rules of conduct. They are filled with every kind of wickedness, villainy, greed, and malice; they are one mass of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and malevolence; gossips and scandalmongers; and blasphemers, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent new kinds of vice, they show no respect to their parents, they are without sense or fidelity, without natural affection or pity (1.28 – 31).”

Every time I read these verses I think, well, that doesn’t remotely describe me or apply to me, nor to my colleagues, trustees, and my many LGB&T friends in the UK and around the world. It doesn’t apply.

It is as a result of all the above-mentioned evil practices that:

“…God has given them up to shameful passions. Among them women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and men too, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion.” (1.26, 27)

This unnatural activity occurs in the context of the depraved behaviour Paul describes in the verses before and after this passage. Paul is writing to all of the Christians in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his people (1.7). I am tempted to say that Paul is writing to a regular congregation of Christians, the like of which you might have found in any Church of England parish last Sunday – except that would be offensive. I’m going to assume that the people in the church where I worshipped had not given themselves up to unnatural passions or their own vile desires but they didn’t look as if they had.

Paul pounces, of course, in verse 2.1. “You have no defence then, whoever you may be, when you sit in judgement – for in judging others you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, are equally guilty.”

It is tempting to apply Biblical passages and teaching to contemporary situations. It can also be totally wrong and inappropriate. What Paul says about the Christians in Rome is not generally applicable to all Christian congregations. They must have had an astonishingly disgusting reputation, the like of which I’ve never encountered in England.

In yesterday’s debate about equal marriage, the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s opposition to gay marriage and to extending civil partnerships was quoted repeatedly by conservatives opposing the Bill.

Theological opposition to equal marriage and disapproval of same-sex relationships relies to a great extent on the teaching of Paul that people think they find in Romans 1.

I’d like to know from Justin Welby whether he really thinks Romans 1.26,27, and Genesis 18.26 – 19.29 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Deuteronomy 23.17,18, Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13, really apply to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender people he knows as friends and to those 1,500 or more who are priests and bishops in the Church of England.

If the answer is no, then from where does he draw his theology that opposes progress towards the end of discrimination and prejudice against LGB&T people?

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