Recently, Jehovah's Witnesses published an article in their website reiterating their stand against homosexuality titled Is Homosexuality Wrong?. This post is an analysis of that article, applauding the parts that exalt love for one another, and criticizing the parts that present misinformation that may cause the organization's members to further close their minds and view homophobia as an acceptable reaction toward queer people.
What does the Bible say?
In the said article, Jehovah's Witnesses rightly stated that
attitudes about homosexuality may vary from one culture to the next or from one time period to another. However, they also stated that
Christians [referring to them] aren’t governed by popular opinion or citing Ephesians 4:14.
carried here and there by every wind of teaching,
They claim to
base their view of homosexual conduct (and any other kind of conduct, for that matter) on the standards set forth in the Bible, and then proceeded to list down what the Bible said about homosexuality. The following citations from the Bible are from Jehovah's Witnesses' own translation, New World Translation.
In a previous post, I discussed how various Bible scholars are at odds regarding the meaning of the word arsenokoitai that appears in the Septuagint, translated in the quoted verse as
lie down with a male. It appears that this word has been mistranslated, and might mean different things. Kevin DeYoung, a theologian, states that instead of the word arsenokoitai referring to homosexuality, it is possible that it actually refers to child grooming by enslaving boys in their young age to keep them as sex slaves in adulthood.
The article further cites both Romans 1:24, 26 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 to present how God apparently disapproves of homosexual activity, and that
men who submit to homosexual acts… will not inherit God’s Kingdom. By also quoting Colossians 3:5, the article rectifies their stand that
everyone must exercise self-restraint when it comes to urges to engage in conduct that displeases God.
Let's examine a few problems with this stand. The Bible does not reflect our modern understanding of human sexuality. It was written during a time when people did not really understand how the human body works. The Bible has never mentioned the existence of transgender persons and non-binaries. The Bible has never mentioned the natural conception of people who are born with two sexes. The Bible has never mentioned the existence of bisexuality, although it could be argued that the Bible includes it whenever referring to homosexuality. The Bible never made a distinction between a person's sex, gender identity, and gender expression, a distinction now being made by researchers. Advances in science has led us to an understanding that aside from what lies between our thighs, human sexuality and gender identity is a spectrum, something that the Bible never mentioned or even alluded to.
As a former member of Jehovah's Witnesses myself, I believe in the authenticity of the Bible, although with reservations. However inspired it might be by God himself, it is still written by man. And while for the most part its message has been unaltered and applies to every society that rose and fell since, a much more reasonable take is to understand that it is still an ancient book, and some of its parts no longer applies today, especially when scientific advancements made it clear that the Bible is wrong.
In my years inside the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, I have had first hand experiences of how the congregation deals with its members who are of a sexuality other than heterosexual. Notice how the article put emphasis on self-restraint. When I was inside the congregation, I had a misunderstanding of my sexuality, which later on I realized that I am bisexual. This emphasis on self-restraint might send the message that to some extent, queer people are accepted so long as they restrain themselves from commiting sexual immorality, that is, having sex with someone other than their marriage mate of the opposite sex. And to some extent, I agree, as that is exactly what I have experienced.
In many of their publications, the official stance of Jehovah's Witnesses is this: that people can and do experience homosexual attractions, but, in the spirit of Colossians 3:5, everyone should exercise self-restraint.
Does that mean the Bible promotes hatred of gays?
The article says:
I applaud the official stance of this organization against homophobia. However, this stance is only on paper, and rarely is the practice amongst its rank and file members. In practice, the congregation is heteronormative, and not only asks, but demands, that all of its members conform to its standards of how a man and a woman should conduct themselves inside the congregation.
Being a confused queer at a young age inside a religion that views homosexuality as a sin against God himself, it would be expected that I would never be given the opportunity to explore my sexuality. This is the case for everyone, gay or straight, as any sexual explorations were prohibited unless within the bounds of heterosexual marriage. Even masturbation was discouraged as it was viewed as a form of defilement of one's body. However, the emphasis on conformity extends to how one behaves. Men should be masculine and women should be feminine. However, misogynistic views that creeped into the religion has made it so that feminine men were more frowned upon than masculine women. I remember being admonished to act more
rigid, and masculine in the way I walk and move, to deepen my voice some more so as to remove as much trace of femininity as possible. This type of conformance can, to a queer youth, reduce them to a robotic husk of a person, never finding out who they really are.
The reality, therefore, is that officially, the organization is against homophobia, which is something I applaud. But this stance is rarely, if ever, emphasized on its members, leading to a practice of passive-aggressive micromanagement of queer people inside the religion to make them conform to the heteronormative practices of their congregation. This means that queer people inside the church have to be wary of everything they do, from the way they move to the way they speak, and that they would never get to experience a happy family life, being forced into either heterosexual marriage or a life of singleness dedicated in service of their organization.
But what if someone currently practices homosexuality? Can that person change?
The article states:
This stance, I believe, is blatant ignorance of the current scientific understanding in the field of psychology and biology. The article Homosexuality and Biology from the magazine The Atlantic states:
When the article mentions, therefore, that
some in the first century did change and turned away from homosexuality, they merely stopped the activity, but their identity and sexuality did not change. These are biological, something that they were born with. And the article agrees that this Bible citation does not mean that
those who stopped practicing homosexuality no longer felt any inclination toward their former lifestyle. This is consistent with anecdotal evidences from former members of the church. This change in their "lifestyle" is actually just a suppression of one's sexuality instead of a transformative faith in action, although the article presents the latter as the explanation for such cease in homosexual activity.
The organization of Jehovah's Witnesses
- believes that homosexuality is a sin deserving of God's judgment
- completely ignores the fact that sexuality is a spectrum, and tries to force gender expressions into submission and conformity with the acceptable practices within the organization
- completely ignores the science behind homosexuality and queerness
- officially states they are against homophobia, but does not enforce this enough amongst their members, making the practice still homophobic to its queer members
My experiences as a bisexual man inside the organization was less than desirable, although some like me had it worse living inside a congregation more conservative than what I was in. I applaud that Jehovah's Witnesses try to shun homophobia in their publications. However, since they still view homosexuality as a sin, the practice of homophobia is still evident in their members.
The Septuagint, also known as the Greek Old Testament, is a Greek translation of the old testament, originally written in Hebrew. ↩︎
De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.196-197), 1992. ↩︎
Another mistake Jehovah's Witnesses are making is calling homosexuality a lifestyle, as if it is something a person willingly chooses to follow. As said in the article from The Atlantic, biology is involved in one's sexuality. ↩︎