Found in lists of laws concerning prohibited sexual activity (such as incest or bestiality), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit the Israelites from engaging in male homosexual acts. These two verses are arguably the most controversial ones in the Pentateuch and certainly the most controversial in Leviticus. Christians of a more traditional bent are likely to quote these laws as evidence that God abhors homosexuality. They subscribe to a "plain-sense" reading of the verses. Those of a more liberal bent seek to counter such a reading in a number of ways: They point out that Christians do not follow many of the laws in Leviticus (for example, the dietary laws or the law against wearing clothing made from two different kinds of cloth in 19:19). If we don't follow those laws, why follow this one about homosexuality? Another argument has to do with the difference between the ancient understanding of homosexuality as an aberrant behavior freely chosen and the more modern understanding of homosexuality as a permanent sexual orientation. The biblical writers, in other words, didn't know about homosexual orientation and thought that those who engaged in homosexual behavior were deliberately choosing to sin.
There are a number of other such arguments against the traditional interpretation of these verses that merit consideration. In any case, the church must continue to wrestle with these verses, and with others, as it seeks discernment of God's will on this thorny issue.
22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011