PASSAGE: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed; you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
COMMENT: You mention in requesting an interpretation of this passage that you've learned that a friend is gay. While this passage is often used to justify harsh judgments against all homosexuals, its deeper meaning is far less judgmental—and more important.
Paul's point in this passage is clear and, I think, inarguable. Choices have consequences. The new spiritual consciousness Paul describes as “the kingdom of God” will come into being according to the choices we make. Choices made from an appreciation of divine Love will result in loving relationships, loving attitudes toward others and an energy of love as our contribution to collective consciousness. Choices made from arrogance, judgment, greed, lust or other negative energies arising from false beliefs in fear and lack will produce instead a life experience of conflict, fear, resistance and lack. Those people—whether heterosexual or homosexual—whose energy is lustful, manipulative and selfish, who place sexual obsession above spiritual commitment, cannot possibly contribute to the consciousness that will express as the kingdom of God.
Paul was personally anxious, fearful and judgmental about all forms of sexual expression. He felt that sex was too potent a distraction and should be avoided if at all possible. He also thought that women had a lowly place in the divine scheme of things, that authority was to be obeyed without question and that slaves should accept their lot and obey their masters in all things. Over time, as we have grown in spiritual awareness, we have understood that while the spiritual principles Paul affirms are constant and universal, some of his specific applications reflect the limited mindset of the time in which he lived.
Over many centuries the Christian world consistently used Paul's words to justify the institution of slavery and the subjugation of women. His words haven't changed in the past 150 years, nor have we removed any of them from the text of the Bible. But we have grown in spiritual awareness, and we understand them differently. We no longer accept slavery or subjugation as spiritually justifiable in any way.
Paul's words about sexuality—and homosexuality in particular—are equally subject to spiritual awareness if we are willing to set aside judgments and preconceptions. We are all equal expressions of God, we are all equally the Christ in potential. We are all called to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to express that potential in all our choices and challenges. Making any fear-based energy—whether greed, lust, addiction or any other negative expression—more important than our Oneness with God leads to a negative life experience and keeps us out of the consciousness of the kingdom. But God is the Source of all love. And allowing that divine love to flow through loving relationships—all loving relationships—will indeed help to bring the kingdom of God into tangible expression.
I hope you'll be able to recognize that none of the names Paul calls “sinners” in this passage apply even remotely to your friend. It may well be that Paul saw all homosexual behavior as equivalent to the sexual misconduct of prostitutes, adulterers and others. He lived in a distant and different time, and it would be tragic indeed if we hadn't grown in spiritual awareness in the 2,000 years since he wrote his letter to the troublesome church in Corinth. The eternal spiritual power of his understanding lies, not in surface details, but in the underlying truth. You can't enter the kingdom—that is, achieve and express the Christ consciousness that Jesus demonstrated and taught—if anything else is more important to you. That's why the First Commandment to Moses is to "have no other Gods before me."
All these behaviors Paul itemizes—theft, drunkenness, greed, adultery—prevent us from inheriting the kingdom if we give them more importance than our personal relationship to God. If we truly put God first, these fear-based behaviors of excess would be impossible. If sex becomes a false God—if it becomes more important than anything on our spiritual path—then it will, indeed, be an impediment to the kingdom. This is true whether the sexual obsession is homosexual or heterosexual in nature. If sex—or alcohol, or money, or power, or food, or drugs—becomes a false idol to which we sacrifice everything good, noble and loving in our lives, then we are, through our choices, blocking our own access to the kingdom consciousness. This is especially true if we are achieving our own false goals at the expense of others—through lies, deceit or misuse of power.
So the question becomes, is it possible to live a sexually active life and still keep our spiritual priorities straight. Of course it is—for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Sex as an expression and experience of divine love is a rich and important part of how we express our spiritual essence in these human forms. In a society in which the only visible homosexuals were those given to grievous excess, it would be easy for Paul—and others—to assume that that was the very nature of homosexuality. Which would mean that homosexuals by very definition would be excluded from the kingdom.
We have grown in awareness. We know today that each of us is given a unique way to express and receive God's love through relationships with each other. Any relationship genuinely centered in divine love will bring more of God into expression in our world. And any sexual expression, relationship or obsession—heterosexual or homosexual—that becomes more important than our relationship to God will keep us out of the kingdom until we regain our true priorities.