It’s a story that will likely never be featured on Escape to the Country. Luke Whitehouse and Lachlan Mantell, a same-sex couple, have been told that they can’t buy a £650,000 home in Surrey. Not because they can’t manage the mortgage but because of their sexuality. When they attempted to arrange a viewing, they were informed by the owners, Luke Main and Dr Joanna Brunker, that “we would be unwilling for two men in a partnership to view or buy our house”. The couple later reportedly told the MailOnline, “We’re practising Christians and are sticking to our beliefs and haven’t done anything wrong.” They also referenced various Bible texts in their reply to the couple.
This comes the same month that Gareth Lee lost a seven-year legal battle against Ashers, a Belfast bakery, that had refused to make a cake for him with the message “Support gay marriage.” The bakery owners said theirs was a “Christian business” and they couldn’t make a product with a message that contradicted their beliefs. The European Court of Human Rights, after several earlier court rulings, decided that Lee’s claim was inadmissible.
Full disclosure. I thought, perhaps naively, that I’d never have to write about this subject ever again. As a Christian it breaks my heart that the authentic, quintessential Christian themes – social justice, peace, equality – are obscured by matters that are largely irrelevant in biblical terms. But no. Opposition to same-sex equality – and to women’s choice – have taken on an almost sacramental status within the conservative Christian movement, and one’s stance on them is a litmus test of faith. Jesus wept.
The legality and morality of discrimination aside, it simply has no basis in an intelligent, mature understanding of scripture. Did God make Adam and Eve? I believe in God but I also believe that we’ve been given the ability to interpret ancient texts. And the languages in which they were written: “Adam” in Hebrew is more gender-free, almost an earth creature, than the word for a male, a man.
As for the incessantly-quoted story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s not about what its fans seem to believe. Remember, Lot, one of the narrative’s main participants, tries to placate the mob by offering them his teenage daughters instead of his male houseguest. Hardly family values. Even the Bible itself explains in Ezekiel that the sin of Sodom was “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease” and a refusal to “aid the poor and needy”. It took another 1,000 years for the Vatican to claim that it was in fact about homosexuality.
Elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, the subject is seldom mentioned. Mind you, the tale of David and Jonathan makes for interesting reading!
But in any case this is a guide for a people several millennia ago, and while it contains extraordinary and often exquisite wisdom and beauty, it’s also of its era and purpose. There are a handful of prohibitions against homosexuality – a word not coined until the 19th century – but also statements supporting slavery, and the death penalty for the most trivial actions. Literalism is dangerous, irrational and, most poignantly, unchristian.
The issue is never mentioned in the Gospels, and while silence doesn’t necessarily imply support, one of the qualities that distinguishes Jesus from most of his contemporaries is his rejection of legalism and pedantry. The law, he insists, is designed to liberate and enlighten, not imprison and dull. He breaks bonds and barriers repeatedly, reminding us that the conduit to God is love.
Saint Paul does mention sex between people of the same gender, but the important word here is sex. Not relationship. His specific condemnation is for men using boys, likely teenagers, probably in pagan initiation rituals. The original Greek version uses the word “exchange”. So, these are straight men and this has absolutely nothing to do with committed and giving partnerships between two men or two women.
I’d also use the term “God-honouring” for such partnerships. Because this heterosexual man, married for 34 years and an ordained Anglican priest, has been taught more about genuine Christianity by gay couples than he can ever say: by gay Christians who held to their faith in the face of so much church homophobia.
One day perhaps various homeowners, bakers and the like will ask for forgiveness. One day, perhaps.