Pope Benedict XVI devoted his 2012 Vatican Christmas address to attacking homosexuality as unnatural and gay marriage as a threat to humanity. Pope Benedict seems to be continuing a tradition of backwards thinking that is a hallmark of the Catholic Church. Many Protestants and other religious devotees share this opposition to homosexuality.

The interesting thing is that such views are not only out of touch with modern values surrounding equality, but are inconsistent with Christian principles of tolerance and inclusiveness preached by Jesus. I make this point as a student of religion, not a religious person myself, only to highlight the contradiction in the stance of many Christians who oppose gay marriage and homosexuality in general. Ultimately, I feel that any reliance on an archaic textual tradition for defining beliefs about the world is irrational in itself, but I will leave that argument for another day.

The New Testament does not mention anything said by Jesus about homosexuality. On the surface this would seem to imply a case could not be made one way or another about Jesus’ views on homosexuality (which would be problematic enough for so-called authorities like the Pope who feel that they can). But a close reading of the Gospels indicates that Jesus would have probably gone out of his way to accept homosexuals as legitimate members of the community, given his sympathy for outcasts, including prostitutes.

In Luke 7:36-50 a women who is described as a “sinner” (a likely allusion to her being a prostitute) is permitted by Jesus to wash his feet, despite protests from his disciples. Jesus makes a point of forgiving her for her sins, asserting that “Your faith has saved you”. You can read the full account here.

Incidentally, the woman is sometimes identified as Mary Magdalene, who became one of Jesus’ most avid followers. This association is not textually based, and is a rather loose interpretation authorised by Pope Gregory “the (so-called) Great” around 600 CE but corrected in Vatican II amendments authorised in 1969 (Arne de Keijzer, 2006).

Anyway, the point is that according to the Gospels, Jesus did not reject the company of those accused of being sinners, including those accused of sexual immorality. Although there is no direct reference to homosexuality, there is no reason to believe that homosexuality would not have been similarly viewed by Jesus.

This is not to say that Jesus would have accepted the behaviour of homosexuals as okay. Clearly, he felt the woman was in need of forgiving, and it is only through her faith in him that she was redeemed. But then Jesus felt that most people were sinners, hence his well quoted reprove of those who wanted to stone an adulterer, “You who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:1-12).

Although Jesus did not think highly of sex being used in a recreational manner (hence his praise in Matt. 19:10-12 for those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”), this was applied to all sexuality. Further, those who engaged in sexual relationships were not denied participation in the congregation, and so sexual activity was not regarded by Jesus as a basis for exclusion from the Church.

It is reasonable to conclude, based on what we know of Jesus’ views as recorded in the New Testament, that opposition to homosexuality is inconsistent with the teachings of Christianity, and contrary to the message of tolerance and protection of the persecuted that Jesus advocated.

The Pope, like on so many matters, has some serious reflection to do, as do many others who attack homosexuality in the name of Jesus. It reaffirms the view that most Christian authorities, including and especially the Pope, lack sufficient understanding of the teachings of Jesus to speak authoritatively in his name, and have even less to contribute to debate over contemporary human issues such as gay marriage.

Standing up to the religious authorities who regard homosexuality as a sin is an important step in forging a better society that is truly committed to freeing  groups from repression and ensuring that the liberty of all people is thoroughly grounded in sound principles such as equality, humanism and compassion.

Gay marriage is marked by a ceremony that allows participants to commit themselves to one another as life-long partners, and therefore accords with the main purpose of marriage, which is to bind partners in a pact based on love, mutual respect, service to one another and lifelong commitment. These are not men hanging around gay clubs trying to score some action, but individuals who feel they truly love one another and want to spend their lives together. On what basis can Christians, ostensibly committed to the values of love and tolerance, be opposed to such a thing?