Homosexuality and Christianity


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    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
    Leviticus 18:22


    The ancients seem to have accepted homosexuality without too much concern. Plato recounts a myth that sets both male and female homosexuality firmly within the realm of normality1. Zeus himself kept a catamite (young male lover), his cup-bearer Ganymede. And no one thought less of Alexander the Great because of his male lover, nor found it odd that one of his best fighting units was composed exclusively of homosexual couples.

    Christianity brought new attitudes, more extreme than those of its parent religion, Judaism. Homosexual sex was now an outrage. The Church's view on this matter was founded in the scripture cited above "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination". This however was not thought to be a strong enough indictment, so the early Church reconstrued the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. To the Jews, Sodom had traditionally been identified with shortcomings such as irreligiousness, pride, and adultery. It was these wrongdoings that they thought had incurred the wrath of God. Only later, when they came to be outraged by liberal Hellenistic and Roman attitudes to sex, did they start to associate the cities of the plain with misdeeds such as fornication and homosexuality2. It was Philo of Alexandria, living in the first century AD, who seems to have first interpreted the story as one principally about homosexuality, and this was the version that the Church Fathers preferred3. So it is that, to this day, anal intercourse and sometimes other sexual practices are referred to as sodomy, and practising male homosexuals as sodomites or sods. (Several American states still regard sodomy as encompassing any form of intercourse other than that carried out using the missionary position).


    Lot Leaving Sodom, Woodcut, 1493.
    Sodom is being destroyed by God. Lot's wife has been turned into a pillar of salt.


    As the Roman Empire crumbled, the Church succeeded in replacing traditional sexual liberality. Homosexuals were soon being punished by forcible castration and public display4.

    In 342, the Christian Emperors Constantius II and Constans declared the death penalty for any man who took on the passive role of a bride. In 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius denounced males "acting the part of a woman", and condemned those who were guilty of such acts to be publicly burned.[y5, and this was confirmed by the Code of Justinian in the sixth century. Through Gratian's Decretum the death penalty was adopted by European nations, for example under Edward I in England and Louis IX in France. Alfonso X of Castile favoured castration followed by hanging upside down until dead, but at the end of the fifteenth century Ferdinand and Isabella changed this to the more traditional burning.

    According to the Golden Legend all sodomites throughout the whole world had been divinely exterminated in preparation for Jesus Christ's arrival, but somehow the practice had become popular again. In Europe, homosexuals were burned to death like heretics throughout the Middle Ages — the non-clerical ones at least. The French continued to burn homosexuals as late as 17256.

    For centuries heresy and homosexuality went together in the Christian mind, twin evils both deserving of death. Virtually all non-Christians were believed to practice homosexuality, and virtually all heretical groups were accused of it as well, whether or not there was any evidence. One such heretical group is particularly notable in this respect, the Bulgarians a group of Gnostic Dualists related to the Cathars. They flourished in the eleventh century, and as the name suggests were based in Bulgaria. In Old French a Bulgarian was a boulgre, modern French bougre. In English the word adopted another spelling — bugger. Historically it was applied to a succession of heretical groups, each of which was accused of sodomy. So it is that under the headword bugger the Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions: the first obsolete "A heretic ...", the second current, "One who commits buggery; a sodomite ...". (If the Bulgars really did practice anal intercourse, it was almost certainly with their wives and for contraceptive reasons. Anal intercourse between man and wife was a common form of contraception throughout Christendom for many centuries7.)

    Detail of Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy by Caravaggio (c.1595)
    While homosexuality was always heavily criticised by Church leaders, there are many hints, such as monastic rules, penitentials, and secular jokes that it was always common within the Church.
    Paintings of visions, like the accounts of visionaries, often have strong sexual overtones,
    homoerotic in the case of male ecstatics


    A few people executed during the Christian hegemony of Europe include:

    • Giovanni di Giovanni (1350 – 1365), 15 year old Italian boy, whose prosecution came soon after the outbreak of the Black Death in Florence. Religious leaders like Bernardino of Siena blamed sodomites for having brought the wrath of God down on the heads of the populace. They wanted to purify the city by means of fire, leading to burnings at the stake and other punishments such as that suffered by Giovanni DI Giovanni. His punishment was to be paraded on the back of an ass, then to be publicly castrated. Finally, he was to have a red-hot iron inserted into his anus "that part of the body where he allowed himself to be known in sodomitical practice"
    • Jacopo Bonfadio (c1508 – 1550), Italian humanist and historian. His humanist views earned him powerful enemies in Genoa, who accused him of sodomy. For this alleged crime he was arrested, tried and condemned to death. He was beheaded, and his body then burnt. The records of his trial have been "lost".
    • Dominique Phinot (c1510 – c1556), French composer of the Renaissance, According to Cardano he was executed for "homosexual practices", probably in Lyon in 1556. Details have been "lost"
    • Francesco Calcagno (1528 - 1550) was a young Franciscan friar executed for blasphemy and sodomy by the Venetian Inquisition. A twenty-two-year-old Franciscan friar from Brescia, Calcagno was interrogated in Brescia on 15 July 1550 and executed in Venice on 23 December 1550, after an investigation by the Holy Office of the Venetian Inquisition.
    • John Atherton (1598 – 1640) and John Childe. Atherton was the Protestant Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. He and John Childe (his steward and tithe proctor) were tried for buggery in 1640, and executed on St Stephen's Green in Dublin.
    • Lisbetha Olsdotter (died 1679), Olsdotter was a Swedish cross-dressing woman. Disguised as a man she became a soldier. She was judged guilty of the charges under a religious law of 1655; for having, with full intent, "mutilated her gender", "mocked God and the Order of God", and fooled her "fellow Christians" by impersonating a man. She was sentenced to death by decapitation. The Royal court confirmed the verdict on 12 November, and ordered the priests to clarify for her what sin she had committed in the eyes of the Christian religion.8 She was decapitated on Hötorget in Stockholm in 1679.

    In most countries, records have not been kept, or if kept, have not been systematically studied. One exception where dozens of cases in Italy the sixteenth century alone, suggest that thoroughout Europe thousands must have been executed9 .

    Five Catholic monks were burnt to death in Ghent for homosexuality on June 28, 1578,
    These were 5 of 14 homosexual monks executed by Calvinists in Ghent around this time

    Like Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Calvinists all cited the bible as justification for the capital punishment of homosexuals.

    Martin Luther viewed homosexuality as satanic. His views are recorded in Plass's What Luther Says:

    The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.

    Puritans (Calvinists) in colonial North America were as keen as their European counterparts to fulfill God's eternal laws. Acts short of actual sodomy were enough to justify taking a man's life, especially if he doubted the existence of God. The New Haven Colony court executed William Plaine, one of the original settlers off Guilford in 1646. According to John Winthrop, the charges were that Plaine, though "a married man ... had committed sodomy with two persons in England," and "had corrupted a great part of the youth of Guilford by masturbations ... above a hundred times." When asked about such "filthy practice," Plaine "did insinuate seeds of atheism, questioning whether there was a God." Governor Eaton of the New Haven Colony had written to the governor of the Massachusetts Colony seeking the magistrates' and Church elders' advice about Plaine's punishment. All agreed that he "ought to die," citing "the word of God", or this horrendum facinus [dreadful crime].10

    Sodomites executed by being savaged by Dogs..
    New World; Sodomites savaged by mastiffs. An engraving of Theodore De Bry.
    Based on the accounts of Girolamo Benzoni.
    Originally published as "Benzoni in the New World between 1590 and 1634."

    Capital punishment was invariably justified by reference to the Bible. As until secular times Churches did not recognise a separate crime of paedophilia, so children were punished as well as the pederasts who abused them. When the New Netherland Colony court sentenced "Jan Creoli, a negro," for a second offense of sodomy, the record stated: "this crime being condemned of God ... as an abomination, the prisoner is sentenced to be conveyed to the place of public execution, and there choked to death, and then burnt to ashes...." The rationale was cited as Genesis 19 and Leviticus 18: 22-29. A note in the margin of the court record states that he was executed at New Haven on 25 June, 1646. On the some date the calendar lists: "Sentence. Manuel Congo, a lad ten years old, on whom the above abominable crime was committed, to be carried to the place where Creoli is to be executed, tied to a stake, and faggots piled around him, for justice sake, and to be flogged; sentence executed. . . ."11

    Poe's law, named after its author Nathan Poe, states that without a clear indication of the author's intent, it is difficult to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.

    All of the British colonies in North America, passed laws making various activities capital offences, in line with Biblical teaching. They included blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery, sodomy, bestiality. and disrespecting one's parents. In most colonies, no special provision was originally made for homosexual rape nor for the rape of children. Under the law, victims were also subject to the death penalty, presumably because the bible made no provision for them to be excused as innocent victims. Provisions were relaxed generally in the late 1640s so that boys under fourteen were to be "severely punished," but not put to death.

    From the The General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony, 1641
    Revised in 1648 by the addition of the text shown here in yellow
    [Samuel Green, 1672, Law Library, Rare Book Collection, US Library of Congress]

    8. If any man LYETH WITH MAN-KINDE as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination, they both shal surely be put to death: unles the one partie were forced (or be under fourteen years of age in which case he shall be seveerly punished) Levit. 20. 13

    Different colonies had similar laws, but New Haven was distinctive in spelling out the death penalty for masturbation if visible to others, for women who engaged in anal sex, and for women acting "against nature," (possibly lesbianism, but it is impossible to be certain what was intended).

    According to many Christians, homosexuals and effeminate men love the devil.

    Homosexuality has always been particularly common in single sex institutions (such as prisons, mental asylums, sailing ships and boarding schools) and no less so in religious ones (monasteries, nunneries, seminaries, etc.). Medieval Church commentators freely admitted that homosexuality was common among clergy12. St Peter Damian was particularly worried by priests who engaged in homosexual activity with each other, then confessed to each other and gave each other light penance13. He was also critical of the practice of soliciting male penitents who revealed their homosexual inclinations during confession. As for other crimes, clerics tended to get off lightly, if they were charged at all. While other offenders were executed, clerics could expect a mild punishment, even though they provided a high proportion of offenders14.

    Despite the prevalence of homosexuality in their own ranks, Churches have, until the last few years, consistently expressed abhorrence at homosexual practices. Now, for the first time, some of the traditional views have been softened, and homosexuality is accepted by the Church of England, for example, merely as "falling short of the Christian ideal". In the Republic of Ireland homosexual acts such as kissing could until the 1990s incur two years in prison with or without hard labour. Buggery was punishable by penal servitude for life.

    This Christian work suggests that acceptance of homosexualy has led to huge increases in mass murder and serial murder.


    The traditional Christian line, that homosexuals should be executed, is still held be traditionalists Christians. As they correctly point out it is the modern Christian Churches that have changed their views - they themselves are merely holding true to the historic teaching of all main denominations.

    Christian attitudes to homosexuals reverberate in other ways. For example, the Church enjoys exemptions from laws on sexual orientation in many countries so that it can continue to discriminate. Every major natural disaster is still accompanied by sermons from pulpits asserting that the disaster is God's punishment for unchristian sexual activity. Many senior Churchmen have declared as a fact that the AIDS epidemic is a punishment from God for homosexual activity among men. No senior Churchmen seem to have addressed the questions that naturally arise, such as what God had against recipients of blood transfusions, or why lesbians have lower rates of AIDS and all other venereal infection than heterosexuals. The obvious corollary is that God must approve of lesbianism.

    With the possible exception of New Haven, lesbians seem never to have been persecuted by Christians as homosexual men were. Indeed the phenomenon seems to have been largely unnoticed. Famously, the crime of lesbianism never made it onto Victorian British statutes because no one was prepared to try to convince Queen Victoria that lesbianism existed.

    A number of medieval nuns experienced and recorded hallucinations that they regarded as divine visions and which lead them to kiss each other on their open mouths, eventually leading to a sort of divine ecstasy.

    One cannot help but imagine that it suited all concerned not to understand the underlying motivation for and consequences of these phenomena, and to regard them as another form of religious rapture, just as sadomasochistic hallucinations and practices were seen as pure and holy.


    After a "100 percent Christian" Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in Norway on 22 July 2011, American Christians were quick to identify him as God's agent against homosexuality
    By 2001 such views seemed eccentric, but they are in line with historical Christian teachings, where all sorts of disasters were blamed on sinners such as homosexuals who had defied God's commandments.





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    1. Plato, in his Symposium, relates that the ancients believed each person to be only half an individual. Original beings had been divided into two, sometimes creating a man and a woman, but sometimes two men and sometimes two women. Our sexual orientation was determined by an atavistic desire to find our other half.

    2 The introduction of the sexual aspect was assisted by a reference in the story of the destruction of Sodom where some men want to "know" Lot's guests. The story is told in Genesis 18:20-33 and 19. It is interesting to note that Lot and his daughters, who were saved because of their goodness in the sight of God, committed incest immediately after the destruction, apparently without God showing any interest in the matter. Neither had God been at all concerned that the righteous Lot had previously offered his virgin daughters to the men.

    3. Current Jewish thought is set out in the Soncino Chumash, which explains the "cry of Sodom" (Genesis 18:20) as "Either its cry of Rebellion against God; or the cry caused by its injustice and violence". Another note explains the inhabitants of Sodom were punished for selfishness and for their refusal to help the poor.

    4. Procopius Anecdota XI 36, cited by Tannahill, Sex in History, p 143.

    5. Codex Theodosianus, 9, 7, 6 cited by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, p 183.

    6. Tannahill, Sex in History, p 360.

    7. Tannahill, Sex in History, pp 268-9.

    8. The crimes and sins of Lisbetha Olsdotter were:

    • Abandonment of husband and children;
    • Wearing of male clothing, which was forbidden in the Bible
    • Secular fraud (by pretending to be a man);
    • Bigamy, as she married when she already had a husband;
    • Homosexuality,
    • Having ridiculed the holy act of marriage by marrying someone of the same sex;
    • Theft, having received salary as a soldier; to which she was not entitled as a woman
    • Fraud, for taking a profession she was not capable of performing.

    9. Clink on this link for cases of homosexuals executed for homosexuality in Sixteenth century Italy, with extensive references.

    10. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), pp.90-91. Details available on line here (Colonial America: The Age of Sodomitical Sin)

    11. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p.90. Details available on line here (Colonial America: The Age of Sodomitical Sin)

    12. A few examples are Fra Salimbene (thirteenth century), St Catherine of Siena (fourteenth century) and Benvenuto of Imola (fourteenth century), to which others could easily be added, along with statements made by Church Councils. A number of monastic rules were specifically designed to minimise homosexual activity (sleeping with ones clothes on, keeping the room lit, all sleeping in sight of each other, and so on).

    13. Peter Damian, Liber Gomorrhianus (published c.1049).

    14. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 265.



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