Gay Sex, Politics, Religion and the Law

It seems that Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is under fire again for refusing to say whether he thinks gay sex is a sin.

I’m not a particular fan of Mr Farron, and won’t be voting for his party, but I think the flak being directed at him on this issue is unjustified. Much of it is pure humbug, manufactured to cause political damage.

Mr Farron (who is heterosexual) describes himself as a ‘committed Christian’. He no doubt feels that if he spells out  in public what he believes in private then it will alienate many potential voters even though he has voted progressively on this issue in the past. He’s probably right. On the other hand, by not spelling it out, he appears weak and shifty. The media are out to exploit his difficulty.

As someone who is neither heterosexual nor Christian I can help him. It seems to me very clear that the Bible does teach  that homosexuality is a sin and that if you’re a Christian you have to believe this at some level.

I say ‘at some level’ because another thing that is clear is that the Bible does not consider homosexuality a very important issue. Had it been a hot topic then perhaps Jesus might have been prepared to go on record about it, but there’s no reference in the New Testament to him personally saying anything about gay sex. ‘Thou shalt not have sex with someone of the same gender’ isn’t among the Ten Commandments, either.

I do find it strange that so many people who described themselves as Christian obsess about same-sex relationships while clearly failing to observe some of the more important biblical instructions, notably the one about loving thy neighbour…

But I digress.

I don’t care at all what Tim Farron’s (or anyone else’s) religious beliefs say about homosexuality, as long as they accept that such beliefs give nobody the right to dictate what others should do.

If you believe gay sex is sinful, fine. Don’t do it. If you don’t approve of same-sex marriage, that’s fine too. Don’t marry someone of the same sex. Just don’t try to deny other people rights and freedoms on the basis of your own personal religious beliefs.

And no, refusing you the right to impose your beliefs on others is not a form of discrimination. That goes whether you a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or merely confused. You are free to live by the rules you adopt. I don’t have to.

I’d go further actually. I don’t think religious beliefs should  have any place in the the laws of the land. It seems to me that’s the only way to guarantee freedom from religious prejudice. That’s why I’m a member of the National Secular Society. This does not exist to campaign against religion, but against religious privilege.

In fact the UK courts agree with me on this point. This is Lord Justice Laws, on behalf of the Court of Appeal relating to the case described here:

We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion, any belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

To come back to Tim Farron, I say judge him and his party by what you see in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and on his track-record as a politician, not by what you think his interpretation might be of a few bits of scripture.

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17 Responses to “Gay Sex, Politics, Religion and the Law”

  1. Toffeenose Says:

    Well said!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Farron seems to be as compromised as most politicians.

    I can explain what the Bible says, because I’ve studied it as a believer; but I do not claim any authority to try to impose it on others who don’t believe it, because gospel Christianity is a voluntary faith. What has been called Christianity, ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted and it became the religion of State by decree, cannot by definition be the original norm preserved in the New Testament 200 years earlier. Certainly it differs from it in obvious ways.

    Peter is right that the Bible takes the view that homosexual acts are wrong. (The Bible limits its language to acts and doesn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’.) Because the Bible says that everybody is sinful in differing ways, and tells Christians to show love to everybody, believers should not discriminate. The only people I have problems with are self-designated Christians who deny what the Bible says (or who are selective about which parts to believe). Non-believers like Peter understand the Bible here better than they do!

    The detailed guide to what is considered right and wrong in the Bible is the legal code for ancient Israel contained in the Old Testament. (The 10 Commandments are essentially the paragraph headings for this legal code.) In this code, homosexual acts are among the things that attract capital punishment. In the New Testament the church isn’t a nation with policemen and courts, but the biblical definition of right and wrong did not change with Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament never tries to grade sins, because it is not concerned with how to run a nation but how to get into heaven, and it regards *all* biblically specified sins as serious enough to debar somebody from heaven. (Similarly, if you break *any* of the laws of the land then the State will punish you.) According to the New Testament the only way to heaven is to accept by its criteria what you’ve done wrong, believe in Jesus, and let that faith work in the believer so as to change one’s life.

    NB Jesus did not mention homosexuality because it was rare among the Jews of his time, whereas adultery, which he did mention, was common.

    A final point. In the New Testament the church is a voluntary society, not a nation with an enforceable legal code, so its disciplinary procedures apply only to self-proclaimed believers, and even then do not run beyond expulsion. So why is there marked antagonism between the Christian community and the gay community today? I think it is that we live in a democracy, meaning that things like the school curriculum are up for grabs, and these two groups generally wish to take it in different directions. Under a dictator who deplored both homosexuality and Christianity, the two communities might get on better. I wish that both parties would be more strongly committed to free speech, though; free speech (unless physically threatening) is very important.

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton, you say that “homosexuality was rare among the Jews of his time”.

      What’s the evidence for this?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        From the time that the Israelites escaped Egypt in the Exodus more than a millennium before Jesus, they preserved the words of men whom they considered prophets. A good deal of the Old Testament is a collection of such prophetic writing. The prophets excoriate Israel for its transgressions of the legal code which Israel had in its hands by the end of the Exodus (the code I referred to above). The prophets are specific, and society-scale transgression of a law that is backed by capital punishment would not escape their notice. The prophets speak much about idolatry, then oppression of the poor. Sexual matters get a mention, namely adultery, but there is nothing about homosexuality.

      • telescoper Says:

        What I meant to ask was about whether there are records of punishments bring applied. The biblical code forbids adultery, but I’m sure it still happened. I’m wondering if there is evidence of that.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The four gospels in the New Testament are about the life of Jesus set to a background of the Judaism of the time, and it was Roman policy that the subject peoples of the Empire had to gain permission from the local Roman governor to enforce capital punishment under their own laws. It is known that the Jews were not trying to systematically enact the death penalty upon adulterers in Jesus’ day. The rabbis of the era slightly later than Jesus were against the death penalty in general; they wrote down their oral traditions in the ‘Talmud’ to preserve them once Israel ceased to exist as a nation, after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and ravaged the land during the Jewish uprisings of 65-70AD and 132-135AD. They rabbis claim that their traditions date from time immemorial, meaning pretty much from the Exodus, but I doubt that; many things we consider ancient traditions are no older than the Victorians, for instance.

        There is essentially no surviving Roman material about the Roman governance of the region. There is Josephus, an ethnic Jewish historian who wrote for the Romans. I’ll try to google what if anything he says about homosexuality later; I’m up against a deadline today.

      • telescoper Says:

        There is the episode in the New Testament about the woman taken in adultery who was about to be stored to death, to which Jess responded “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

      • Anton, you say that “homosexuality was rare among the Jews of his time”.

        What’s the evidence for this?

        Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

        There has been speculation that Händel was gay, for example. No hard evidence, but then again, if there were, then he probably wouldn’t have had a successful career and we would hardly remember him.

        Homosexuality was probably easier to hide than adultery, heterosexual fornication, etc: no unexplained pregnancies, not difficult to be alone with someone of the same sex, difficult to prove except to eyewitnesses, etc.

        Whatever the views on homosexuality in ancient Judaism, or today, the fact remains that a common theme (perhaps the common theme) among religions is the idea that (at least some forms of) sex is inherently evil.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is not always true, is it? If you know from videocamera that one masked man has broken into a clean room and you find copious amounts of Anton’s DNA there, does that not constitute strong evidence that it wasn’t Peter? The analogy might not be exact but it shows that your principle is not a truism, and it is not hard to see that meaningful inference can be made of the type I explained earlier.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter,

        Re the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (“taken in adultery” has changed meaning since King James’ day!), this was a rabble who were not subjecting her to a proper trial before the Jewish authorities, who even then would have had to seek Roman permission or risk a Roman punishment. There is no due process. (Where is the man they caught her with? Where is her husband, who has a say in whether to proceed?) The rabble are opponents of Jesus and they are using her to catch him out by getting him to say either “Yes, stone her as our law says” and get him in bad with the Romans for not seeking permission, or to say “No, don’t stone her” in which case they’d say “So you condone breaking our law, and our laws are given by God and outweigh the Roman laws”.

        Jesus’ reply might not mean “If any one of you has never sinned…”, for even legitimate judges have done something wrong some time in their lives. More likely he means “If any one of you has a bad conscience in this matter…”. Also, this is one of the few New Testament passages to differ between ancient manuscripts; it is in some but not others, and nobody knows if it was invented later or forgotten earlier.

      • “and nobody knows if it was invented later or forgotten earlier”

        This arguably applies to much of the Bible. 😐

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Arguably indeed. Have you familiarised yourself with the most recent developments in this argument on both sides?

  3. “‘Thou shalt not have sex with someone of the same gender’ isn’t among the Ten Commandments, either.”

    True, but coveting thy neighbour’s ass is. 🙂

  4. Slightly off subject but we do need a ‘Now Testament’ on how to save our planet Earth and all creatures from extinction – with 10 Commandments, or more?

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