Pride is the Letter to the Romans Embodied

Content Warning: Discussion of rape and queerphobia.

So far we have made it almost 2 weeks into June, which means many conservative social media personalities are focusing on spreading their gender and sexual ideologies as far as they can. This year in particular, there has been a focus on Romans 1’s apparent “condemnation” of homosexuality. However, much of this comes from a lack of understanding the literary context of the passage, which causes them to completely miss the point.

One thing that often gets missed is the fact that Romans 1 was never meant to just stop at the end of a chapter. It was meant to be read as a whole letter and the reader/listener was supposed to continue on to what we call chapter 2 (and so on). Because of this, most people miss the fact that the author is using a rhetorical device to tell the reader that they are casting judgment on themselves.

First, we have to understand the fact that the passages “condemning homosexuality” are actually a condemnation of the actions of the wealthy in Rome. Men giving up their desire for women and burning for other men is more focused on the way the wealthy in Rome were rich enough to have all kinds of sex with women, but would then exercise their power by having sex (normally through rape) with other men since it was a show of dominance.

The role of sexual humiliation within the imperial family was notorious. Caligula (37-41 CE) was known for raping both men and women and was eventually assassinated after sexually humiliating a military officer. Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh associates Caligula’s demise with Romans 1:27 when it says “[men are] committing shameful acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” as it is a present tense statement, meaning it is something that is actively happening, not a future judgement. Further, Nero was also known for his raping of both men and women, including his own younger brother, during his rule.¹

Surprisingly, many people take the “penalty” to mean being forced to live in a homosexual or transgender “lifestyle” as it is God giving people over to their desires. This was rather apparent in many of the Twitter comments people were making about the President displaying pride flags at the White House. However, that framing ignores the fact that being queer is not a judgment or a burden at all. The burden comes from living in a world that does not accept people for who they were created to be.

However, the rest of the passage is about the condemnation of those who create those burdens for queer people by thinking they are righteous. Thus, we get the author’s words in chapter 2 that says:

“Therefore, you, and every person, are defenseless when you are condemning in this manner. For when you are condemning another, you are likewise condemning yourself. For the one judging is practicing these things.” Romans 2:1 (translation my own)

Everything that the author says in chapter 1 is there to tell the audience that they are just as much condemned as the worst people they could think of, the Roman elite.

Going further, the author uses this to set the groundwork for the message of the letter, which is to tell the Christians in Rome to get along regardless of their background.

Ironically, the way that some use Romans 1 to condemn homosexuality is exactly the thing the author is condemning in the letter. According to the letter, they are themselves condemned because of their condemnation. Meaning every person using Romans 1 to condemn others is in error.

Pride is not about division and the casting of judgment. It is about the acceptance of all humanity as they are created to be. Pride is the message of Romans embodied.

¹Keesmaat, Sylvia C., and Brian J. Walsh. Romans disarmed: Resisting empire, demanding justice. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019. Chapter 9.

Kalie May
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