Furnish gives us perspective in turning to the writings of Paul. “Since Paul offered no direct teaching to his own churches on the subject of homosexual conduct,” says Furnish, “his letters certainly cannot yield any specific answers to the questions being faced in the modern church. … For Paul, neither homosexual practice nor heterosexual promiscuity nor any other specific vice is identified as such with ‘sin.’ In his view the fundamental sin from which all particular evils derive is idolatry, worshipping what is created rather than the Creator, be that a wooden idol an ideology, a religious system, or some particular moral code.”
In Romans 1, Paul is ridiculing pagan religious rebellion, saying that the pagans knew God but worshipped idols instead of God. To build his case — which he’ll turn against judgmental Jews in chapter 2 — he refers to typical practices of the fertility cults involving sex among priestesses and between men and eunuch prostitutes such as served Aphrodite at Corinth, from where he was writing this letter to the Romans. Their self-castration rites resulted in a bodily “penalty.” Catherine Kroeger comments in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that ‘Men wore veils and long hair as signs of their dedication to the god, while women used the unveiling and shorn hair to indicate their devotion. Men masqueraded as women, and in a rare vase painting from Corinth a woman is dressed in satyr pants equipped with the male organ. Thus she dances before Dionysos, a deity who had been raised as a girl and was himself called male-female and ‘sham man.”‘ Kroeger continues: “the sex exchange that characterized the cults of such great goddesses as Cybele [Aphrodite, Ishtar, etc.] the Syrian goddess, and Artemis of Ephesus was more grisly. Males voluntarily castrated themselves and assumed women’s garments. A relief from Rome shows a high priest of Cybele. The castrated priest wears veil, necklaces, earrings and feminine dress. He is considered to have exchanged his sexual identity and to have become a she-priest.” As such, these religious prostitutes would engage in same-sex orgies in the pagan temples all along the coasts of Paul’s missionary journeys. ‘Paul’s conception of homosexuality,” as Thielicke points out, “was one which was affected by the intellectual atmosphere surrounding the struggle with Greek paganism.” Says Scroggs: “The illustrations are secondary to [Paul’s] basic theological structure” (Cf. 3:22b-23, Paul’s own summary), and Furnish adds: “homosexual practice as such is not the topic under discussion.” Doesn’t what Paul says in the beginning of Romans better describe these pagan orgies he meant to ridicule than it does the mutual love and support in the domestic life of lesbian and gay male couples today?