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In One Brief Year, this Visitor from God Changed Us Forever

Dear Friend,

We want to share with you the story of a dear friend of ours, Charles Harris.  We didn’t realize how truly special he was until he explained to us how he came to be in our midst at Gentle Spirit Christian Church about two years ago.

The simplest way to tell it is just that he turned up one day.  He was hungry more than anything, so he waited through the service and the sermon, and he enjoyed a sandwich at the picnic luncheon that followed.  When we asked him where he lived, he pointed to the east and said he lived under an overpass.

The reason Charles liked that overpass was that the police essentially ignored it — and with no ID and a powerful addiction, Charles found it easiest to stay out of the way of the police while nursing his addiction and foraging for food.

Not that Charles preferred this life; what he really wanted was to get off the streets.  Which is next to impossible if you’re in the grips of an addiction, so Pastor Paul urged our new friend to consider getting clean and invited him back the next Sunday.

The next Sunday, Charles showed up again and quietly offered a prayer of thanksgiving for seven days of sobriety.

A year later, we had helped Charles find housing and employment, and he never missed a Sunday service in the park.  In fact, when his supervisor attempted to schedule Charles to work on Sundays, Charles told him point-blank that going to church every Sunday was part of his recovery, and that without his recovery he doubted that he ever would have returned to work.

And then, just as quickly as God brought Charles to us, God called him home.  The substances Charles had put into his body had taken their toll.   Charles always understood this might be the case, and so did we. Still, we were devastated.

Later, we began to understand why it was that we became Charles’ last stop before going home.  And we’re grateful for that opportunity.  Charles had a beautiful smile, and during his time with us he always seemed to have it on.

So when people ask us why for four years running we’ve been worshipping in a park, year-round in all sorts of weather, Charles is part of our answer.

Any given week finds us helping people just like Charles.  We empower them to find food, housing, transportation, employment, recovery.  Sometimes it’s just about providing care, hope and love.

But no matter how we’re able to help, we want first and foremost for those in our midst to believe in themselves — to believe that no matter where they are in their lives, they still have a chance to find the things that have eluded them.  It’s why we start every service by greeting each other and saying, “You’re in the right place.”

Next week we know there’ll be someone else who believes they have no one to turn to, and we’ll be there to assure them that they do.

It doesn’t take much to help someone get back on their feet.  For instance, only $10 helps secure a bed for someone spending their first night off the streets.  $17 helps someone afford a MARTA Breeze card to get to their new job for a week; $68 does the same for a whole month.

If you would like to help us continue this ministry, just click on the You Can Help tab above to learn how.

We are deeply grateful for whatever you can do, and we wish you many blessings.

Kurt’s Story

February 23, 2010

Dear Friend,

We want to share with you the story of Kurt [not his real name], a 26-year-old man who came to our attention after he found himself in a local jail after an accidental brush with the law.  By the time Pastor Paul arrived at the jail, he had already been told that Kurt had just been casually informed by a jail employee that the mandatory intake bloodwork revealed Kurt to be HIV-positive.  They had then tossed Kurt into his cell to be alone with this new knowledge.

When Pastor Paul met with Kurt, he could tell that in Kurt’s eyes, his world was crumbling.  Kurt believed that when he left the jail he’d have nowhere to live, no job, and a new medical condition that he didn’t know the first thing about.  Paul could also see in Kurt’s eyes that he thought this minister had only come to preach to him.

Instead, Pastor Paul let Kurt tell his story, and he comforted Kurt and asked him to come by the church office after his release so the church could see about getting him a job and a place to live.  A week later Kurt was in the church office, and Paul walked him over to a local restaurant where he got an interview and a job.

Almost every week we encounter someone like Kurt.  Someone who’s just lost something — or maybe everything.  And every week we try to help them get it back.  In the last year, Gentle Spirit Christian Church has helped three people find housing, five people find jobs, and one person overcome an almost lifelong addiction.  We also feed anyone who shows up to the first picnic pavilion in Candler Park around noon on Sunday, and at the end of the meal we put all the leftovers in containers and send them home with the hungriest among us.

People give us looks when we tell them we meet outside year-round, but for us it all became worthwhile when Charles showed up last year.  He joined us at the picnic table because he’d heard we had food, and he shared that he lived under an overpass and had an addiction.  We invited him to eat with us again the following Sunday.  Six months later he was celebrating his sobriety, and we’d helped him find housing and a job.

Next week we know there’ll be someone else who believes they have no one to turn to, and we’ll be there to assure them that they do.

It doesn’t take much to help someone get back on their feet.  For instance, only $10 helps secure a bed for someone spending their first night off the streets.  $17 helps someone afford a MARTA Breeze card to get to their new job for a week; $68 does the same for a whole month.

If you would like to help us continue this ministry, just click on the You Can Help tab above to learn how.

We are deeply grateful for whatever you can do, and we wish you many blessings.

What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality & Transgenderism?

What does the bible say about homosexuality & transgenderism? This bible study is designed to be used in small group, Sunday school and interactive bible study formats, to help people fully understand the verses used by scriptural literalists to condemn gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people.  The overarching thesis of the study is that these verses, when understood in their historical and cultural contexts, only describe exploitative and abusive forms of sexuality, not loving same-sex partnerships. Click here to get started.

This bible study was originally published by Open Door Communities and written by Micah and Katharine Royal, who hold the copyright for the information.  A special thanks to Micah and Katherine for allowing us to republish it here. In some parts of this study, where the authors reference handouts or online resources, we’ve attempted provided links to current online resources. We’ve also made some minor edits for style and clarity.

Does God Discriminate Against Gay People?

Does God Discriminate Against Gay People?

Session 1 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Hook: Ask anyone willing to, to share about a time they experienced prejudice or discrimination of any type.

Ask: In what ways have you seen the bible used to support such action? Do you think that is a proper use or misuse of the people?

Explain: Today and in the next couple of weeks we are going to be looking at seeing if the bible teaches prejudice against homosexuals or homosexuality and discrimination against gays and lesbians. Many people today believe it does.

Explain that today you will simply be looking at the general question, “Does the Bible support discrimination and prejudice?” and in sessions that follow you will look at particular verses that deal with GLBT people.

Prejudice and Discrimination

When they have finished, ask: Does the Bible teach any form of discrimination or prejudice? Why or why not?

Have someone read Luke 4:18-19.

Explain that here we have Jesus’ mission in life.

Ask: Do his words suggest that he and his bible have the purpose of oppressing people based on their sexuality, race, or gender – or the purpose of setting people free from oppression?

Have someone read 1 Samuel 16:7.

Ask: According to this verse, does God judge people based on external qualities like height, economic class, sexual orientation or gender? By what characteristics does God judge a person? If this is the case, would God condone discrimination or prejudice?

Have someone read Acts 10:34-35.

Ask: Does God show favoritism based on externals like national origin, race, background, or sexual orientation, according to this verse?

Have someone read Galatians 3:27-29.

Ask: What does this verse say about how God views us? Do distinctions like gender, sexual orientation, race, and social status matter in God’s eyes?

Explain that each of these verses teaches us the basic principle of scripture that God does not discriminate. This means that God’s Word has to be misinterpreted for it to be applied in a way that discriminates against anyone or condones prejudice.

Confronting Bible Abuse

Ask: How is it then that people can use the bible as a tool of discrimination?

Have someone read 2 Peter 3:16.

Explain that here the scriptures describe how certain people will take hard to understand passages of scripture and distort their meaning for their own purposes.

One example of this is bible abuse, the ripping of select verses of scripture out of context in order to use them to support things they never were intended to – like the oppression of or discrimination of some other group of a minority group.

Ask: Is anyone familiar with other forms of bible abuse than misusing scripture to exclude GLBT people?

You may want to point out how scripture was misquoted to oppose the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and basic human rights for women.

Close by quoting Romans 10:9-13. Explain that this verse shows us that God does not discriminate, though at times we as God’s followers might want to try to say God does, so we can remain in our comfort zones. All who call on the Lord in faith, trusting God as Savior and Lord, are counted by God as God’s beloved children, regardless of what human distinctions might divide them.

Hopefully these verses demonstrate to you that God is not a God of discrimination and prejudice, but a God who looks on the heart, counting as God’s own all who put their trust in God. In the next several sessions, we will look at verses that specifically deal with GLBT-related issues. But, in the meantime, be rest assured, God does not judge you for being gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, or any other human distinction, but loves you for who you are.

Close in prayer.

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality.

Session 2 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Ask: Have you ever been misrepresented by someone else? What happened? What did it take to get that misrepresentation corrected?

Explain that during your last lesson, you discussed how God is not a God who discriminates against any of God’s children and how God’s scriptures have been twisted by others throughout history to try and say God supported their prejudice.

Unfortunately, this means that many people who promote prejudice and bigotry against minorities such as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, have verses of scripture which they can throw around as “evidence” that God is on their side. During this session, we are going to be looking at how we can discern what a verse of scripture, such as some of the verses quoted against GLBT people, means and what it doesn’t mean.

Keys For Understanding The Bible

Ask: What are some key pointers for determining whether a scripture supports a particular teaching or not?

Explain that you are going to look at five keys for understanding what God is saying to us through the bible. Using these five principles is a good starting point for really understanding what God is saying about an issue such as GLBT equality.

These five principles can be pictured as parts of a triangle.

Explain that each of these five principles is important, with the most important being on the bottom.

Ask: What are the different principles on this triangle? Why do you think they are important?

One key to understanding what God is saying about something is scripture.

Ask: How do you use scripture to interpret if a scripture is being misused?

(Hold up an orange)

Ask: What do you see?

(Allow comments)

Explain: A lot of our study of the bible is like our looking at this orange – we only look at the surface. Most of you said an orange. But a really observant person would point out the texture of the skin. (Peel off skin). A more observant person would talk about what was underneath the orange skin – the texture of the fruit inside, the size of the seeds…

There is a lot more to an orange than just “orange”.

The same is true with the bible: To truly see what God is saying about something we need to take time to really examine the scriptures on a topic. Folks who misuse scripture for their own ends are playing off the fact that many of us only go “skin-deep” in our reading of the bible. To make sure we are not being misled by bible abuse, we need to really look at the whole orange, seeds and all.

Ask: How can we do that with scripture?

Explain: Here are some keys for that:

1. Read the whole context.

Most people, when they quote a verse about homosexuality, or about hell or about anything, just lift verses out of the bible without paying attention to the story behind the verses. It’s like the old joke about the man who was depressed and opened the bible randomly to a page to see what God would say to him and he came across the verse “And Judas hung himself…” Horrified, he opened the bible again at random and saw the random phrase, “Go and do likewise”. Dejected, he opened the bible again one final time and came to the verse, “What you must do, do quickly”.

Now, if he only read those verses out of the context of the story they are in, he would end up in some big trouble – thinking God wanted him to kill himself.

But if he realized these were parts of a bigger story and read the verses leading up to these verses and following these verses he would realize that there was a bigger message which gave those verses meaning. And he would realize that God wasn’t really saying “Go kill yourself” at all but saying a very positive, life-affirming message.

One of the things we are going to be doing while we study what the Bible says about homosexuality is trying to figure out how the few verses that could be claimed to talk about homosexuality fit into the bigger story of the bible and asking: Do they say the same thing if you read them as a part of the big story? Anytime you read the scriptures, you need to see what the verses preceding and following the scripture you are studying say – in other words, how your verse fits into the story of that chapter or book of the bible.

2. Look into the history behind the story.

Again, a lot of times we don’t dig deep enough in the text. There is a story behind the story of the bible that affects how certain things are worded. It was written in a different land and a different time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us, but what it means is we need to try and figure out how the time and place of a particular verse in history affects its meaning.

For instance, if someone just moved to America for the first time and was just picking up English and heard the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, what would they think is going on? Falling felines and crashing canines from above! But if they studied how that word was used by people in America, they’d find out that the bigger story of American culture and history showed that language was figurative.

When people quote verses to discriminate against others, a lot of times they will quote verses dealing with customs that sound like practices today – until you study what those customs really were in the time the bible authors wrote about them. Other times, the text will have phrases which may sound like they describe one thing (like homosexual behavior, or like women being less than men) but which didn’t mean that in the culture of the day.

3. Compare different translations of the verses in question.

Another really big thing is that the bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and not “English, Spanglish, and Bad English” like we speak around here, so what we read is not the original words of the bible, but a translation. That is why it is important to compare different translations of the bible and find out what different translations translate things differently. (A few good bible commentaries will help here!)

This becomes important in looking at homosexuality because, as we will discuss more later, in some translations the word “homosexual” is used to translate the same word other translations use for “male prostitute” or “paederast” (which means pedophile). The difference in those translations means a lot!

Allow time for folks to discuss each of these points as they come up. Also ask how they think they might be able to apply these principles to verses used by anti-gay activists.


This means looking at the question of how it is it that different people have understood this verse over time.

Ask: Why might this be an important thing to consider in determining how to interpret a scripture?

A lot of times you can get insight into this. For instance, Christians of every stripe and tradition in every age have said that what Jesus taught is the foundation of Christianity and that without him we’d be lost. Because of the fact they all agree on this, we know that someone’s relationship to Jesus is key to what being a Christian is.

So seeing the history of how a verse has been interpreted can show us timeless truths that shed light on how to interpret obscure passages.

Ask: How might this affect your reading of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Also, it can help give us a check on reading into the text our own modern ideas.

For instance, one Greek word often translated by modern Christians who oppose gay rights as “homosexual”, arsenokoites, for the first several centuries of Bible interpretation – when most Christians still read ancient Greek – was never used to apply to gay relationships, but instead to masturbation, anal sex between a man and a woman, and child molestation. The fact that it is only after Western society began to discriminate more openly against gays and that only after most Christians quit speaking biblical Greek that this Greek word got translated as “homosexual” tips us off to the possibility that folks who use it to condemn gay people are reading in their own ideas to the bible.

Ask: How might this affect your reading of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Knowing the history of bible interpretation also shows us how Christians sometimes get it wrong.

Throughout history, individuals have also misused portions of the bible, taking verses out of context to support various acts of prejudice and discrimination. For instance, during the time of slavery, people found verses in the bible where the apostle Paul told Christians stuck in slavery in the Roman Empire to submit to their slave-drivers until and unless they could find their freedom and used those verses to defend keeping African Americans in slavery forever. In the time of segregation, people quoted verses against Jews marrying people of other nations who did not worship the true God to support their policy of separating people based on race in a way that mistreated minorities. And throughout the ages, men have quoted verses about a wife’s role supporting her husband (while strangely overlooking the verses about a husband’s role supporting his wife!) as a way to keep women out of power and thus oppressed and voiceless.

Though at one point all these were the mainstream interpretation of these verses, most Christians would agree these were wrong uses of scripture. Over the centuries, as God’s Spirit has led Christians, Christians have begun to understand that these interpretations of scripture were not God’s intended message, but in fact went against the basic teachings of Christianity’s founder, Jesus. The Holy Spirit has shown that Jesus’ message is one that sets people free, not one that oppresses people.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Reason and Experience

Ask: What are these? How do they apply to one’s reading of the bible?

The next two principles are reason and experience. These principles are based on the idea out that what God is truly saying will make sense in real life. God’s way works, while other ways won’t.

This works on a personal level and on a technical level.

On a personal level, if an interpretation of scripture is true, it will fit your experience of life and will ultimately make sense for how we live.

If someone’s idea of what God is saying about life doesn’t work in real people’s lives, they probably aren’t hearing God, however much they believe it.

Likewise, you have to experience God yourself and decide for yourself what God is saying and ultimately responsible for your own beliefs.

So, if it doesn’t work, it probably isn’t true

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

There is another way these two principles of interpreting what God is saying fit together and that is in the technical sense that I mentioned earlier. These are the basis of modern science. Scientists observe and thus experience things, record others’ experiences of things, and then apply reason to very earthly facts. Based on their study of how what God made works, they come up with explanations for life.

These two principles stem directly from scripture, too. Have someone read Romans 1:19-20 and someone Psalms 19:1-4. Explain that these verses show that through what God has made, our experience of it, and our reasoning, God reveals certain truths about God’s self and our lives.

History has shown how failing to pay attention to this aspect of interpretation has led people to misunderstand God. For instance, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the pope of the time all condemned as heretics people who, after studying the universe through a telescope, decided that the earth circles the sun and not the sun the earth, because the bible uses language like “the sun sets” and “the sun rises”. They said, that the bible obviously made it clear that the sun circles the earth!

Now we understand, based on looking at the story behind that story, based on studying the history of how God has revealed himself to people, and based, of course, on applying reason and our experiences from scientific experiments, that, you know what, that was a figure of speech like “it is raining cats and dogs” and that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the pope were doing the equivalent of claiming that falling felines and crashing canines from heaven were meant by that phrase.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

The final and most important principle of understanding what God is saying about a subject through scripture is using Jesus as your measuring stick for how to interpret scripture.

Have someone read Hebrews 1:1-4.

Explain that Jesus is God living, speaking, and acting in a human life. He is the perfect image of God, as this scripture says. In the New Testament we are told that he is Lord and his life is a revelation of God’s will for us.

That means that whatever God is saying has to fit Jesus’ model of living and Jesus’ message.

So if we think that God is saying X is true from a particular verse and Jesus has said not X, but Y, then we know we must have misunderstood God’s point.

A really big example of how this principle is helpful deals with how God views women. For the longest time, women were treated as second class citizens because society had always treated women as second class citizens and there are some verses in the bible that seem to support that. But, if you look at how Jesus treats women in the Gospels, you find that he treats them in a way that is revolutionary. In a society that says women should not be taught to read, what does Jesus do? He takes on women as students to learn the way of the Kingdom from him. He teaches women as individuals, not just servants of their husbands. He uses a few images for God where God is depicted like a mother or a housewife. He has the first people who proclaim the Easter message that “Jesus is risen!” be women.

There are a lot of other examples like this I could mention, but I think you get the point. Ultimately, Jesus is the perfect image of God, so whatever verses we read about anything – homosexuality, women, chewing bubble gum – have to be looked at through the lens of how Jesus lived, what he taught, how he died and rose again.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Concluding Question and Challenge

We aren’t going to have time to get into all the verses that deal with homosexuality today, but these are the different principles we are going to be using to evaluate what God is really saying in these passages.

I thought it would be neat to ask you to think about, from what you already know, what some insights are that we can gave from applying these principles to the question of homosexuality?

(Allow discussion)

Then pass out sheets listing some of the verses we will be studying, challenging those involved to really examine one of these passages, using all five principles.

Also, pass out the American Psychological Association [statement on] homosexuality, explaining that this is what unbiased scientific research has unveiled about sexual orientation.

Close in prayer.

The Book of Genesis and Gay Marriage

The Book of Genesis and Gay Marriage.

Session 3 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Before you begin, Ask if anyone had a chance to look at the verses given for homework and if any had found any that struck them or challenged them particularly. Ask also if using the five tools helped them understand the passages any better.

Explain that today you are going to be looking at what, if anything, the first book of the bible says about homosexuality.

Ask: Before I get started, what are some things you have heard the Old Testament says about homosexuality? What do you think of those things?


Explain: The first place we are going to look at is in the very beginning of the bible, in fact the book whose name means “in the beginning” – the book of Genesis.

Ask: Does anyone know of anything that this first book of the bible says which might apply to a discussion on homosexuality?

Explain: Well, probably one of the first places in Genesis people turn to is Genesis 1 and 2.

Ask if someone could read Genesis 1:26-31, and someone else read Genesis 2:18-25.

Then, allow people to share either things they feel these verses say about homosexuality or things they have heard people say about homosexuality.

Probably people will make reference to the oft-repeated statement, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. Some people may make the point that the verse doesn’t talk about homosexuality at all.

Here are some key issues to address:

Explain: Some people will quote this verse and say “It isn’t Adam and Eve, but Adam and Steve.”

Ask: Do these verses say anything against same-sex relationships?

Point out that, despite what some Christians want to claim, Genesis doesn’t get into a lot of specifics about a lot of things. It doesn’t give a lot of specifics, from a scientific standpoint, about the process God uses to create life, for instance. Likewise, the verses don’t give any specific instruction on same-sex relationships. We are told God made humans male and female and told them to have sex, thus reproducing, and to care for and shape God’s creation. And we are told the first two people are called Adam, meaning red mud, and Eve, meaning life, and are male and female. We are also told, generally speaking, the reason a man leaves his family of origin and cleaves to his wife, but we aren’t told one word about why some men do the same thing but cleave to a husband – and why some women cleave to another woman. The verses here do not say this is bad. But, they also do not say it is good.

Some people jump to the conclusion that since Genesis 1 & 2 don’t describe same-sex relationships that [these relationships] are necessarily wrong. Yet, is this really fair? Not really. Genesis 1 & 2 also don’t describe OB/GYN’s who help with the pregnancies resulting from heterosexual sex that we use today. It doesn’t describe college education. It doesn’t describe mass transit, automobiles, or even wedding ceremonies at a church. We don’t jump to the conclusion that OB/GYN’s are wrong, that getting a college degree is a sin, that riding buses or cars is evil, or that it is a sin to have a wedding ceremony at a church, even though Genesis 1 & 2 don’t describe these things. So you can’t use Genesis 1 & 2 to really condemn or praise same-sex relationships. You have to turn elsewhere – whether to other verses in the bible, to science, to personal experience, or to your own prejudice – to do that.

Do these verses say anything about transgenderism and intersexism?

In a word, no. We are told God creates human beings male and female, but Genesis 1 & 2 don’t say anything about other categories folks might find themselves in. We aren’t told if all humans will be male and female, or how God views those who are born not fitting neatly into the category of male or female.

Ask: Does this necessarily mean being transgender is wrong?

Explain that, again, you have to look somewhere other than these verses to determine that. They simply don’t talk about the phenomenon at all. These verses only speak in general terms about gender, sexuality, or even the way life began, in order to teach some fundamental principles that apply generally to all people. They don’t get into exact scientific detail about every part of how life began or about gender diversity or sexual orientation.

Remember what we learned happened to Martin Luther, the pope, and John Calvin during the Renaissance when they tried to treat the bible as a science book: They condemned as heretics folks who found scientific evidence that the earth circles the sun, not the sun the earth. They did this because the bible did not directly describe the earth circling the sun, but used poetic language about the sun rising and setting. They made fools of themselves, because that wasn’t really what God was ever saying. Something similar could happen to us if we out-and-out condemned ideas such as evolution, same-sex relationships or transgenderism because they are not explicitly described here in Genesis 1 & 2. God’s silence in Genesis 1 & 2 only means we have to look elsewhere for these answers, not that the things God does not describe are wrong.

Ask: If Genesis 1 & 2 don’t tell us directly whether same-sex behavior is right or wrong – and whether or not being transgender or intersex is alright – does it give us any principles that can we can use to figure out how to apply what we learn about these phenomenon elsewhere? Taken together with what we now know about sexuality and gender from science, what lessons can Genesis 1 & 2 teach us?

It doesn’t answer questions about whether it is wrong to be gay, because when Genesis was written, the idea of sexual orientation hadn’t been discovered yet. But if people are born gay or transgender, as most scientists now claim, Genesis 1 & 2 can answer questions such as: Is my sexuality a mistake? What is the purpose of my sexuality?

What does this story tell us about these things?

Allow discussion, then explain:

This story tells us a number of positive things:

First, none of us are accidents. Whether we are Adams who want Eves, Adams who want Steves, Eves who want Liliths, Adams who would be fine with either Steve or Eve, or Adams who don’t want anybody right now, thank you very much – God made us. God made us with a powerful purpose: To reflect God’s image, God’s character in this world.

A similar message applies to transgender and intersex people, who science now largely agrees are born the way they are. For the transgender person, the reality is that while your life circumstances might be personally difficult, involving surgery, discrimination and/or low self-esteem, the way you are born is no mistake. God has a reason you were born with a body of one gender and mind of another (or not easily fitting into the category of male or female). By being yourself, it could be said that you at least partly reflect an image of the God who is described as both mother and father in a unique way.

Also, God made us to be with others, too – that is a part of what it means to be in God’s image. That humans are made man and woman together shows that we discover our purpose best with others – with friends, with church family, and (for those of us called to be in a relationship) with a loving partner. We discover how to be God’s image in the world through our relationships with each other.

And, I think, Genesis shows us that this is a part of the reason for the gift of our sexuality. The fact that men and women are made for each other is called good by God. Our sexuality is a beautiful gift. And though this passage doesn’t say whether or not homosexuality or bisexuality is natural, modern science has found both to be natural varieties of sexual orientation, through empirical study, using the reason and experience we spoke about previously. Almost universally, psychologists who don’t have some preconceived political agenda argue that homosexuality and bisexuality are no more wrong than being left-handed, red-haired or brown-skinned. It is a natural part of the diversity of nature.

So if this is the case, which isn’t a question Genesis answers, but which science does, then Genesis shows us that all our natural variations – our skin color, our gender, our gender expression or gender identity, our sexual orientation – are gifts from God, given by God to give us yet another glimpse at a part of who God is. That means gay is gorgeous, bi is beautiful, lesbianism is lovely, and being heterosexual can be sexy. Each of these variations show us a part of who God is in a way that something else wouldn’t.

A big part of how God uses our sexuality is hinted at in this narrative.

Ask: Why does God give Adam and Eve their sexuality?

Genesis 2 makes it sound as though there is something missing from Adam that renders him incomplete without it. If you wanted to, you could say he is not completely made until he finds the person who completes him. That is why it is not good for Adam to be alone. God makes Eve for Adam to be Adam’s “helper”, his “partner”. The two are to complete each other. Through their relationship of love, of trust, and of mutual respect, they are to help each other become who they were meant to be, become the best “them” they can be. And their sexuality is a beautiful instrument of this. It is what makes them leave their parents of origin, cling to each other, and become one. In one sense, this describes the physical act of sex – two people joining their bodies. But in reality, it really describes an ongoing process of building each other up, of getting to know each other, an emotional and spiritual process of transformation. And our sex drives and our sexuality are a large part of the drive toward us doing this with another person. Our sex life with whomever it is that completes us is a sort of super-glue that physically, emotionally, and spiritually binds us to each other.

What does this teach us about the purpose of our sexuality – be it gay, lesbian, bisexual or hetero-sexuality?

The purpose in our sexuality isn’t just our pleasure, it isn’t to exploit others, but for our sex drive to be the driving force toward and centerpiece in a union with another human being, a union which helps both you and your partner become the complete person God made you to be.

As we step away from homophobic readings of Genesis and let modern sexology‘s studies on sexuality fill in the gaps which Genesis leaves, we can see Genesis’ beautiful lesson.

Close in prayer.

What Does the Bible Say About Sodomy?

What Does the Bible Say About Sodomy?

Session 4 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: Have folks share about a time they were an outsider in a new area and felt out of place.

Ask: What are some things people did that made you feel excluded or left out? That made you feel welcome?

Explain: The next Scripture you will look at is often quoted about sexuality, but, as we will see, has much more to do with hospitality and being a good neighbor.

Pass out handout about types of same-sex contact in the Old Testament. Have folks read over the handout. Explain that, as we read the Sodom story and parts of the bible that follow, they should pay attention to the varying forms of same-sex contact that occur and whether they are expressive of same-sex marriage, same-sex rape, or what form they are, as that will be relevant to your discussion.

Have someone read Genesis 19:1-26.

Ask: How do most people use this story in reference to homosexuality? Does it sound like this story actually says what people say it does?

Explain that probably most people who have heard this story have heard that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because it was so perverse because it was a gay city. That’s what I heard growing up – that God is punishing them for homosexuality.

Is that the truth?

Well, no. The bible tells us elsewhere why God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Have someone read Ezekiel 16:48-49. Ask: What sins does this verse say God destroyed Sodom for?

Explain that this verse and many others make it very clear that God does not destroy Sodom because it is full of homosexuals, but because of the fact that its people were greedy, arrogant, and don’t recognize God. This leads them to exploit others, especially the poor and strangers, without worrying about the consequences. The one element of this story that involves sexuality is a powerful example of how far their arrogance and un-neighborliness had gotten.

Ask: What sort of sexual conduct is described in the story in Genesis 19:1-26? Is it the sort of sex two loving, committed people such as you’d find in a gay union would have?

Explain that this is a gang rape that is described, not two men or two women who are having sex as an expression of love, faithfulness, and commitment. This is not an expression of love at all – and a far cry from what two lovers, be they bisexual, gay, or straight, would be engaged in.

Ask: Why might the people of Sodom have engaged in gang rape? What lesson might this story have been intended to teach?

This story was recorded by the Israelites in Palestine. One of the common practices of the people God was having the Israelites to expel from Palestine was to humiliate enemies and strangers. One of the signs of a good, godly city in bible times, was its care for strangers and its ability to welcome others. For instance, in the Sodom story, God sent heavenly messengers along Lot’s path who seemed to be strangers in the town. Lot is counted as a godly person for being open to these strangers. Being godly then is being open to all people, especially those who are strangers to your community and don’t yet fit in or have enough to get by, being open them as being sent by God into your lives for some reason.

A sign of a barbaric society in bible times was that it humiliated strangers and prisoners. The ultimate method was torture. The ultimate torture was for a straight man, often several straight men, to rape a stranger, enemy, or prisoner, anally. In fact this still goes on today in prisons, where hardened criminals will torture other inmates through gang-rape. The idea was to dehumanize the person. It was a form of psychological warfare, a type of abuse that had nothing to do with love or attraction. In it, sexuality is used as a weapon. A penis becomes a weapon of abuse.

This is what is happening in Genesis here. Sodom is so corrupt and so barbaric that when it sees seemingly helpless and harmless strangers, its straight male leaders feel the need to treat these pilgrims as enemies, to humiliate them with the worst torture imaginable in that day, simply because they come from a different land than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Ask: Is it fair then to use this verse to condemn non-abusive same-sex intimacy that is an expression of love?

Ironically, the bible also condemns men gang-raping women. Almost the same account as Sodom and Gomorrah is given in Judges 19-21. There God, through the leaders of the tribes of Israel, proclaims judgment on a town in Israel for becoming corrupt, giving into the dehumanizing religious philosophy of the people around them, and exploiting others. It all comes to a head when a young lady is gang-raped simply for being in a different town than she was from – for being different, in other words. The city is condemned as cursed and the armies of Israel wipe it out. Yet you don’t hear anyone condemning straight married couples for having sex because men are condemned for gang-raping a woman in Judges. It would only be fair to condemn all heterosexual love due to Judges, if you use Genesis 19:1-26 to condemn all gay love. The truth is, neither passages deal with love, but with sexual abuse and inhospitality.

In conclusion, the Sodom story teaches us:

  • To acknowledge God
  • To not become greedy and power-hungry
  • To welcome strangers and those not like us
  • That our sex is a tool of love, not war. Sex should not be exploitative or abusive, but in love and commitment. Don’t gang-rape people or engage in sexual abuse.

This passage does not deal with loving, faithful, committed same-sex relationships, except in so far as it teaches us not to look down on people who are different.

Close in prayer.

Abomination in the Bible

Abomination in the Bible.

Session 5 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Begin by asking for one or two people to review, in a few sentences, what we have seen so far in our look at the bible’s treatment of homosexuality.

Explain: Today we are going to be looking at some of the most controversial texts that deal with sexuality in the bible – descriptions of particular forms of same-sex contact found in what is known as the “Holiness Code” of the Old Testament. In particular, we are going to look at Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.

As we prepare to read these verses, remember the questions we’ve mentioned needing to ask when reading Old Testament texts: What does this verse really say and what does it not say? Is this a text whose command applies to all people in all time, or one which is not binding in the same way now, because it is fulfilled in Christ? What is the historical and cultural background of the text? How do these verses fit into the larger story of the books of the bible surrounding them? How do they fit into the story of the bible? Into the history of God’s work in the world? What does our reason and experience tell us? And most importantly, what light do Jesus’ life and teachings shed on these verses?

Have folks read these two verses:

Leviticus 18:22:

Don’t have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent.

Leviticus 20:13:

If a man has sex with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is abhorrent. They must be put to death; they are responsible for their own deaths.

Ask: First of all, keeping comments down to a few sentences, how have you heard this verse explained by religious people? What have they said it says about homosexual behavior or orientation?

(Allow comments)

Well, touching on the questions I told you to keep in mind, what are some things you notice that the verse does say and that it doesn’t say?

(Allow comments)

Well, here are a few facts about these verses that are often omitted by religious conservatives:

  1. This verse says nothing about women being sexual toward other women. This is interesting, isn’t it? If this verse was intended to be a universal indictment against homosexual activity, why are lesbians omitted from these verses? And why do religious conservatives fail to notice Leviticus doesn’t condemn lesbian intimacy? There is some debate about what particular sexual acts this verse condemns, but whatever it condemns, it does not condemn sex between two women.
  2. This verse calls for capital punishment for whatever act it describes. Whatever it is condemning, it is something that was viewed as very destructive either to God or the Jewish community who kept this law. Also, very few who quote this verse actually believe they should organize a gang to perform capital punishment, neither do they believe capital punishment should be performed for other acts that Leviticus calls for capital punishment about – children disobeying parents, men sleeping with their wives during their period. So this shows there is some real inconsistency with people who quote this verse as being in force today.
  3. Though this verse is said to call homosexuality a sin, this verse doesn’t even describe whatever same-sex act is described as a sin, but as a “detestable” or “abhorrent” act, or an “abomination” .

Ask: Can anyone think of what the difference might be between an “abominable act” and a sin?

(Allow thought)

Pass out copies of The Mosaic Code & the Hebrew word To’ebah and/or What the Bible Says About Homosexuality: Abomination. Explain that these resources are compilations from several resources that go through the meaning of the word translated “abomination”, “abhorrent” or “detestable”. Ask people to read parts of this page. Then ask: What significance do these resources’ content have in explaining what Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are saying?

Explain that this means that Leviticus does not say that a man to lie with man is wrong or a sin. Rather, it is a ritual violation, an uncleanness ; it is something dirty ritualistically, just as was eating shellfish, mixing fibers, and similar laws which Christians no longer consider binding on them.

Two things were to’ebah to the Jewish people: First, acts that went against the cultural norms in a way that one was considered ritually unclean or imperfect, and thus unable to go to the temple and worship God, were to’ebah. The idea is that you only take to God a perfect gift and, if you are somehow imperfect, you can’t go to worship until you’ve “cleaned up”. That’s why someone who had touched a woman during her period couldn’t go to the temple without getting stoned – in their culture, that was believed to make someone imperfect.

Another list of things called to’ebah were practices that were connected with religions around Israel that had gone wrong in their worship of God – practices like sacrificing children on the altar, practices like giving your children to be prostitutes in the temple as an act of worship. Stuff like that.

Some feel that this verse refers to male-to-male intimacy as merely unclean, like eating pork made someone unclean in Jewish religion. This would be then connected with the way Jewish people of the day understood sex. They viewed semen as having a life-giving property. Not understanding about eggs, they believed all semen needed to become a baby was a woman’s womb. So, men who masturbated were unclean, because semen that could have become a baby if put in a woman was wasted and fell on the ground. Likewise, men who had wet dreams were unclean and we are told in Leviticus that a man who had a wet dream had to go through a time of ritual purification before entering the temple. They had to bathe and wait a day before they could come to worship. This is also why women weren’t allowed in the temple during their period – that was the blood of pregnancy, which could some day produce a child, which was spilling out of them. This made them imperfect.

If this was the case, then this verse is condemning male-to-male intimacy because of this pre-scientific understanding of semen. It is a concession to a cultural notion we don’t share any more: Semen is getting wasted that could be used for making babies! How bad! Under this logic, since women don’t produce semen, it is okay for women to have sex with each other. After all, no baby-making fluid is wasted. Only during their periods are they unclean.

Ask: Any thoughts about this understanding of this verse? Do you think this is persuasive?

As we’ll see, these verses don’t condemn all male-to-male sexual intimacy. Likewise, they probably don’t merely condemn what they do condemn as ritual uncleanness or an imperfection that has to be “washed away” to go to worship. Instead, whatever they describe is connected with the horrible practices of the religions in Canaan that had really lost their way and were thus more serious. Evidence of this is that no one was stoned for mere acts of ritual uncleanness like eating pork or touching dead bodies or having a period or ejaculation. The sex acts described in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 had the death penalty. This shows how serious they were in bible times.

The “story surrounding the story” helps us understand what is being condemned, as does the original Hebrew words used in this text.

Ask: How do you think they fit into the story as a whole?

Well, first we have the context in the bible these verses fit into. They are in the book of Leviticus, a book where God outlines rules for how the Jewish people are to worship God, how their priests are to perform sacrifices, and the like.

And, these two commands are a part of a list of prohibitions connected with how Israel worships God. In the beginning and ending of chapters 18 and 20 a rationale for these command is given.

Have someone read Leviticus 18:1-5? Leviticus 20:22-24:

God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, I am God, your God. Don’t live like the people of Egypt where you used to live, and don’t live like the people of Canaan where I’m bringing you. Don’t do what they do. Obey my laws and live by my decrees. I am your God. Keep my decrees and laws: The person who obeys them lives by them. I am God.

“Do what I tell you, all my decrees and laws; live by them so that the land where I’m bringing you won’t vomit you out. You simply must not live like the nations I’m driving out before you. They did all these things and I hated every minute of it.

“I’ve told you, remember, that you will possess their land that I’m giving to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am God, your God, who has distinguished you from the nations. So live like it: Distinguish between ritually clean and unclean animals and birds. Don’t pollute yourselves with any animal or bird or crawling thing which I have marked out as unclean for you. Live holy lives before me because I, God, am holy. I have distinguished you from the nations to be my very own.”

After these are read, ask: Why is it God condemns the acts God lists in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13?

Explain that God is trying to keep the Jewish people from engaging in religious practices that the peoples around them engage in. That may sound weird to us in our day, when we try to stay open-minded to the beliefs and practices of other religions, but if you understand what these religious practices and views were like, God’s words make more sense.

One of the messages God gives again and again throughout the Bible is that, you can’t worship God any old way or believe any old thing about God. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to worship God or all other religions but ours (whichever ours is) are wrong. That’s not the point.

In the Christian religion, for instance, there are branches of Christianity that in the name of God do horrible things. I have distant relatives who are part of white supremacist groups, that say that all people who are not white are inferior to white people. After all, God is white, Jesus is white, and so white people are more godlike than black people, Hispanics, Asians, or Jews. So they feel the right to beat up, harass, and persecute those not like them because of their understanding of God. So, when they see races mixing, they burn crosses, put on masks, and form lynch mobs, in the name of God.

Theirs is a type of religion, a way of being a Christian, but one that, seen through the eyes of Christ, has lost its way, one that is evil and led more by negative spiritual forces than by the loving God and Parent of Jesus Christ.

Something like that had gone on in much of the religions of the people around the Jewish people God was working with in Leviticus. The nations around them conceived of the Divine as several small-minded, petty tyrants much like the warlords and blood-thirsty tyrants of their own lands. These were selfish, sex-crazed, hungry, egotistical beings, who had to be entertained and appeased by any means necessary. In their mind, the Divine was like a much more selfish, thoughtless, powerful version of themselves, and as such, didn’t have respect for human life and choice.

So they built up practices to appease these gods. The gods were hungry all the time – for blood. Human blood was the prime rib of the gods, so the nations around Israel sacrificed animals, slaves, and their own children on altars, so that their blood would keep the gods from hurting them.

They believed that the gods sent rain when the gods were happy and horny. So, to make them this way, they took small children and slaves and enslaved them, teaching them to be prostitutes in the their temples. When it didn’t rain, people would gather at the temple and have all kinds of sex – men with their sisters and mothers, with children, even heterosexual men with men and little boys, as a way of getting the gods aroused so that they would send rain.

(For further information, you may wish to print out copies of Fertility Cults of Canaan, which gives detailed info on Canaanite fertility religion)

Many scholars agree acts God is condemning in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are not acts of love between consenting adults, as we see in, say, same-gender marriages, for instance, but sexual acts connected with the temple prostitution and temple orgies of the nations around Israel. Included in these lists are also laws against sacrificing human beings and babies on altars.

This is further demonstrated, not just by this historical context, but the language used in these verses. Two different words are used for man in these verses – ish and and zakhar: “a man (ish) shall not lie with a male (zakhar) as with a woman”. Ish is the general word used for man in the sense of a male human being. Zakhar is a technical term meaning literally “holy one,” a man or male animal specifically dedicated to a deity for some sacred purpose. This technical term is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe male temple prostitutes of the type I’ve already described. (Taken from a series of articles on this passage at

What God is doing is condemning a set of religions that have gone wrong. God is trying to say to the Israelite people: You were in slavery and I didn’t rape you, I didn’t kill you, I didn’t prostitute you, I didn’t ask the Egyptians to sacrifice you. No, I set you free, I gave you land and room in which to grow, I taught you how to stand on your own two feet. So, don’t imitate these religions around you that enslave others, rape others, prostitute others, kill their children and neighbors. Let your religion be one that sets other free and grants life to others, one that loves your neighbor, one that frees your slaves every seven years, and so on. That is what God is saying.

Ask: Is having sex with small children and slaves who have been made into prostitutes as a part of worshiping idols the sort of sex most gay couples, lesbian couples, and bisexual people are engaged in, when they are intimate with each other? If not, is this a fair verse to throw at gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to condemn their relationships?

Finally, ask: Do you see any implications of this in understanding Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13? Are there any positive lessons we can gain from it?

(Allow comments)

The purpose of these verses isn’t to limit same-sex intimacy between two committed and loving partners, but to limit practices that are exploitative and abusive, particularly temple prostitution, in which men and young boys were exploited sexually as a way of appeasing the Divine, in ways God never intended or approved.

Close in prayer.

Unnatural Lusts

Unnatural Lusts.

Session 6 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: Ask the group members whether they are right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous. Ask them if they have ever had a time they had to do with one hand what they normally do with their dominant hand. What was difficult about it? What was easy? In what ways would they say this was “against their own nature”?

Explain: We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at what the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality. There are still a couple more passages that we need to discuss in order to be able to understand the references that people often make when they say that God condemns homosexual behavior, or homosexuals in general. Today we’re going to focus on one passage specifically.

Have somebody read Romans 1:26-27.

Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.

This is a passage that people often use to say that homosexuality is an “abomination” or a “detestable act”. They use those two very verses, standing alone, and say that they prove that God says homosexuality is a sin. What I’d like to do today is to take what we just read in context.

(Potential additional idea: You may want to share Homosexual behavior in animals  at this point and ask How does how often same-sex behavior occurs in nature affect the use of “natural use” in this text?)

I’d like to go around and have each of you read five verses, starting with Romans 1:1, and we’re going to read the entire first chapter of Romans.

Now that we’ve read through the first chapter, I’d like to point out a couple of reasons that this chapter is misused when people say it deals with homosexuality.

Ask: First of all, what exactly is homosexuality?

Allow discussion, then say: It is a sexual attraction of one individual to an individual of the same gender. With that context, I make my first point.

In several different translations of Romans 1:26-27 the point is made that the individuals in question were given over to exchanging natural lusts for unnatural ones. The women were with the women and the men were with the men. Consider this for a second. Ask: Whose natural tendencies does it go against to be with the same sex – a homosexual or a heterosexual? Who does this make it likely Paul is describing as going against their own nature in these verses?

Explain that a great number of the biblical scholars suggest that the people in this passage who were having relations with people of the same sex were not homosexual – they were heterosexuals who were taking part in, essentially, an orgy dedicated to a fertility god. Most scholars concur that, during this event, women weren’t just having sex with women or men with men, but rather the individuals were pretty much just having sex with whatever was able to have sex with them.

This brings me to a second point.

Ask: What in this was God really upset about? Is even sex the main issue here?

I want to point out here something about the nature of God. We are reminded countless times in scripture that God looks, first and foremost, to the condition of our hearts. Therefore, it isn’t even so much actions that sadden God as it is where our hearts are when we sin. The condition of our hearts when we turn away from God is what saddens God the most.

In that context, it’s fitting that what is said to bother God in this passage has to do with action only insofar as it is a manifestation of what is going on inside the people’s hearts. In Romans 1:21, it becomes clear to us that the problem with what is going on is that the people have taken their eyes off God. This is what disturbs God the most; this is what hurts God. What the people are doing is a manifestation of having taken their eyes off God and putting other things in God’s place. This isn’t to say that what the people are doing here isn’t wrong – it is – they are misusing the God-given gift of sexuality not out of any orientation, but out of selfish desires.

Ask: This verse describes having sex with people whom you are not naturally attracted to in orgies in which you worship idols. Is this the sort of sex most gay and bisexual couples have with those they love?

Explain that perhaps the most important point to make about this passage with regard to the question of homosexuality is that, again, this passage does not speak about the loving, committed, monogamous relationship that two people of homosexual orientations can have. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t even speak of homosexual orientation, but rather of heterosexuals who are acting in a way contrary to their nature. Furthermore, there is nothing loving or committed, or least of all monogamous about the things that are going on in this passage. It is, as I have said, an orgy. There is no regard for morals in this situation and, to put it in modern terms, each individual involved is treating one another like a piece of meat rather than a child of God.

So we’ve seen several things in this passage. We’ve seen, perhaps most importantly to the purpose of this bible study, that this passage actually speaks not at all of the homosexual orientation, but of people of heterosexual orientation acting in a way contrary to their nature. The issue in the situation, and the sin had to do with how the people were treating God and one another, and not at all with what gender people were attracted to naturally.

We’ve also seen that what went on in this passage was a manifestation of people having taken their eyes off God and, as a result, the things they did were done in the spirit of gluttony and selfish desire and not in the spirit of love.

There’s one last thing that we’ve seen, though, that I think we need to touch on briefly before we close.

Ask: What positive lessons can these verse give us about what we need in our romantic relationships?

Explain that we’ve talked about the fact that God cares most about the condition of our hearts – with what is going on inside of us, which is what causes our actions. If we are acting out of a true desire to please God, and to show love to one another while our actions might not always be perfect, we will please God. When we act our of our own selfishness, and put pleasures of this world above God in our lives, God is displeased. Each of us, in the way we live, are striving to please God. There was something in the passage in the behavior of the people that was very much not glorifying to God. The question we need to ask is not what gender are the people in our relationships but, in the loving relationships among the people in this room, are we seeking to glorify God? God sees the condition of all of our hearts. He knows greed from honest, true and committed love and he’s pleased with those of us in whom he sees a genuine love for our fellow man – or woman. This is true regardless of our sexuality.

Close in prayer.