This article is in response to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “Young People Ask” article, “How Can I Explain the Bible’s View of Homosexuality?“
Note: As of the writing of this article Watchtower has never used any variation of the term “LGBTQ+” in its literature. However, its views on homosexuality apply to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
What JW.ORG Says
“The Bible makes it clear that God designed sex to be engaged in only between a male and a female and only within the arrangement of marriage. (Genesis 1:27, 28; Leviticus 18:22; Proverbs 5:18, 19) When the Bible condemns fornication, it is referring to both homosexual and heterosexual conduct. —Galatians 5:19-21.
If someone asks: “What’s your view of homosexuality?”
You might reply: “I don’t hate homosexuals, but I can’t approve of their conduct.”
Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses are literally the dictionary definition of homophobic, which encompasses anyone who has prejudice against homosexual individuals and/or homosexual conduct.
Watchtower also attempts to frame the Bible’s stance on homosexuality as a simple black-and-white issue. It is not. The Bible was written two thousand years ago, and thus historical and textual context is needed when examining how the Old and New Testaments frame homosexuality.
For example, the Bible speaks positively of slavery. However, Watchtower regularly asserts that examining the historical context surrounding slavery reveals that the Israelites’ view of slavery differs from how it was utilized in modern history:
- “Clearly, Jehovah did not approve of ‘man dominating man’ through abusive slavery. But did not God later allow slavery among his people? Yes, he did. However, the slavery that existed in Israel was vastly different from the tyrannical forms of slavery that have existed throughout history.” Awake! | September 8, 2001
So too must we examine the Bible’s view of homosexuality in historical context. Many Christian denominations have reconsidered their stance on LGBTQ+ issues in recent years, not because of being “’carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching'” as Watchtower accuses, but because of studying historical context, Bible principles, and our increasing understanding of gender identity and sexuality.
Consider the Reformation Project, a “Christian organization that works to promote inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity”:
“For the first 1,600 years of the church, nearly all Christians believed that the earth stood still at the center of the universe. But the invention of the telescope led Christians to reconsider their interpretation of the Bible.
Psalm 93:1 says, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” Joshua 10:13 says the sun “stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” Ecclesiastes 1:5 says, “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.”
Galileo argued that the biblical authors used figurative language when describing the heavens, so the text “would be accommodated to the understanding of every man.”
Despite the weight of tradition, the telescope presented Christians with new information that required them to reconsider some of their beliefs—and their interpretation of Scripture.
Christians today are in a similar position because of new information that we have about sexual orientation.
In the ancient world, same-sex attraction and behavior were widely considered to be vices of excess that might tempt anyone—like gluttony or drunkenness. Same-sex attraction was not understood as the sexual orientation of a small minority of people.
Such Christian movements argue that Christianity promoted a message of inclusion and understanding, upending the exclusionary practices of the Mosaic law:
Christians have reconsidered their interpretation of Scripture due to their experiences in the past. The early Christians chose to include Gentiles in the church without requiring them to be circumcised and obey the Old Testament law—and they made this decision based on their experience. Peter declared of early Gentile believers, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us… Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:8, 10)
By proclaiming a rigid, “LGBTQ+ Bad” agenda Watchtower is refusing to engage with meaningful conversations around the history of the book upon which they claim to base their beliefs.
More importantly, however, Watchtower’s rhetoric is harmful, and is traumatizing to its repressed LGBTQ+ members:
What JW.ORG Says
- “If you’re guided by the Bible’s moral code, then that is your lifestyle choice, and you have a right to it. (Joshua 24:15) Don’t feel ashamed of your view.”
- You could add: “To illustrate it, I also choose not to smoke. In fact, I find the very idea of it repugnant. But suppose you’re a smoker and you feel differently. I wouldn’t be prejudiced against you for your view, just as I’m sure you wouldn’t be prejudiced against me for my view—am I right? The same principle applies to our differing views of homosexuality.”
- If someone says: “Homosexuals can’t change their orientation; they’re born that way.”
You might reply: “The Bible doesn’t comment on the biology of homosexuals, although it acknowledges that some traits are deeply ingrained. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5) Even if some are oriented toward the same sex, the Bible tells Christians to shun homosexual acts.”
✔ Suggestion: Rather than get ensnared in a debate about the cause of homosexual desires, emphasize that the Bible prohibits homosexual conduct. To make a comparison, you could say: “You know, many claim that violent behavior can have a genetic root and that as a result, some people are predisposed to it. (Proverbs 29:22) What if that was true? As you might know, the Bible condemns fits of anger. (Psalm 37:8; Ephesians 4:31) Is that standard unfair just because some may be inclined toward violence?”
Watchtower begins by implying that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice,” yet later encourages its members to avoid conversations about “the cause of homosexual desires.”
In reality, decades of studies and evidence shows that homosexuality is not a choice, and forcing individuals to repress or change their sexuality has a proven link with suicide and depression. From a San Francisco State University 2018 Study:
- Rates of attempted suicide by LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were more than double (48%) the rate of LGBT young adults who reported no conversion experiences (22%).
- Suicide attempts nearly tripled for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and intervention efforts by therapists and religious leaders (63%).
This is why Watchtower discourages its members from getting “ensnared” in a conversation about choice–because it is demonstrably false.
Watchtower attempts to defend its stance by decrying the “flawed notion that humans must act on their sexual impulses.” They say, “The Bible dignifies humans by assuring them that they can choose not to act on their improper sexual urges if they truly want to.”
This places the blame purely on the individual; if she should act on her natural desire to experience romantic love and intimacy, this is her “not truly wanting” to serve God. This has been stated quite overtly in previous Watchtower publications:
- “Homosexuals find themselves “in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.”” Awake! 1995 Feb 22 p.14
There is absolutely nothing harmful about a safe, consensual, loving relationship. However, Watchtower hatefully compares non-hetero sexual identity with “smoking cigarettes” and having a “genetic predisposition for violence,” as though ingesting nicotine or choosing to punch someone in the face is the same as wanting to act upon one’s innate sexuality. Historically, Watchtower has also compared homosexuality with pedophilia:
- “Similarly, a Christian cannot excuse immoral behavior by saying he was ‘born that way.’ Child molesters invoke the same pathetic excuse when they say their craving for children is “innate.” But can any one deny that their sexual appetite is perverted? So is the desire for someone of the same sex.” Awake! 1995 Feb 8 p.16
The article is also full of bizarre, unfounded statements such as “same-sex attraction is often nothing more than a passing phase,” and “although it can be found among both genders, it seems that bisexuality is becoming increasingly common in girls.” And most dubiously:
- “The fact is, millions of heterosexuals who wish to conform to the Bible’s standards employ self-control despite any temptations they might face. Their numbers include many who are single with little prospect of marriage and many who are married to a disabled partner who is unable to function sexually. They are able to live happily without fulfilling their sexual urges.”
Unmarried heterosexuals within Watchtower have the prospect of getting married, whereas this option would never be open to an LGBTQ+ person under Watchtower’s standards. This quote also underscores Watchtower’s underlying assertion that sexuality is all about sexual intercourse. The hypothetical married couple with a disabled spouse mentioned above are, well, married. They have love, companionship, romance–all things that LGBTQ+ people are forbidden from experiencing within Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Suffice it to say that despite their arguments to the contrary Watchtower is dangerously homophobic, and a significant amount of Christian scholars disagree with their black-and-white reading of homosexuality as presented in the Bible.
If you are a LGBTQ+ Jehovah’s Witness in need of support, head over to the wonderful resources at jw.support