That’s a pun. Read on to see why…
Very often, those on the conservative side of the sexuality debate have argued that while the Bible is opposed to same sex practices, it is not opposed to same sex orientation. That is, it prohibits same sex sexual activities alone. Robert Gagnon is a clear and influential advocate of this position: according to Gagnon, Paul in particular is opposed to same sex practices, although would conceivably have room to allow what we today call same sex orientation.
This perspective is not an unusual one, but I don’t think it does justice to the biblical data. In his important book The New Testament on Sexuality, William Loader makes the important point that Paul is opposed not only to same sex sexual practices, but also to same sex “passions.” Thus, according to Loader, Paul would be opposed both to same sex sexual practices and to what we today call same sex orientation – it is what goes on in the mind as well as what goes on in the body that offends Paul. From Loader’s perspective, one cannot have one’s conservative cake and eat it too – it is not true to the biblical evidence to say that Paul would accept homosexual orientation while opposing homosexual practice.
Furthermore, according to Loader, Paul’s opposition to same sex passions and practice rests upon his pre-critical acceptance of Genesis 1, as envisaging a black-and-white distinction between “male” (and thus naturally attracted to females), and “female” (and thus naturally attracted to males). Because Paul held to this reading of Genesis, he was opposed to what he perceived to be unnatural homosexual passions and practices. The Christian today, according to Loader, has generally already dispensed with such a quasi-scientific reading of Genesis, and so is at liberty – one might say obliged – to dispense with Paul’s corresponding views on sexual passion and practice.
There is a lot to commend in Loader’s carful analysis of the textual evidence in this book, as well as in his numerous other books on similar topics. I do think, though, that those on the other side of the debate might have a comeback: is it really the case that “passions” includes orientation? Could it not be the case that while Paul condemns “passions” of the mind, he fully expects all humanity to exhibit fallen orientations and attractions, in every sphere of life, and he does not consider these orientations and attractions to be culpable “passions”?
It is interesting that a contemporary of Paul, Seneca, makes exactly this distinction. When he defines passions (to which he is utterly opposed), he is clear that they do not include sexual (and other) attractions, but rather refer to what one does with these attractions in one’s mind:
None of those things that strike the mind fortuitously should be called passions: they are not things the mind causes but things that happen to it. It is not passion to be affected by the appearances of things that present themselves; passion consists in surrendering oneself to them and following up this fortuitous impact. (On Anger, 2.3.1)
Seneca is opposed to passion, while explicitly leaving space for being affected by the attractiveness of things. Obviously this doesn’t settle the debate – but it’s a nuance worth considering.