The first chapter of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 1) is sometimes cited as an example of anti-gay bigotry. I differ with that view. One can stipulate that even people with divinity degrees differ on whether Paul teaches bigotry here, and that it's not surprising that those who listen to differing positions adopt one or another. But it's probable that dismissing a claim of Paul's bigotry toward women is an even more difficult proposition, if one considers 1 Cor. 14:34-35 ("Women should remain silent in the churches" and so forth). Note, though, what the Reformation Study Bible says about that passage: "In view of [1 Cor.] 11:5 [which includes the phrase 'every woman who prays or prophesies'] and other New Testament passages, it is certain that Paul is not absolutely forbidding women to speak in every church situation. Paul may have been addressing a particular problem in Corinth, such as women creating disorder during the worship service. He may have in mind a specific function… . It has been suggested that vv. 34, 35 are a quotation from the Corinthians themselves that Paul rejects in v. 36 [which reads 'Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?' (NIV)]." So maybe it just looks like Paul is teaching bigotry, and that on more careful examination, his views, even in that passage, are in keeping with Jesus' teaching.
St. Paul in Prison – Rembrandt
From that example and others one can see clearly that in his epistles, Paul addresses particular concerns and situations taking place in the communities to which he wrote. Other more general themes are also visited. There is wonderful teaching about Christian love, wise guidance regarding the functions of the church as the body of Christ, encouragement to the faithful, and powerful witness. There is also social commentary and Paul's personal opinions on a wide range of topics. When Paul writes things that seem patently out of line with Jesus' teaching, it should give one pause. What is the context of Paul's message, and how can a practicing Christian learn and apply what Paul is saying?
Jesus taught unconditional love toward others. In particular, Jesus showed that to do God's will one would serve others without regard to their social status, standing, or identity. It's a separate issue from behavior. This teaching is at the very core of His message. How did it play a part in Jesus' teaching, and why did it infuriate the Pharisees and Sadducees to the point that they eventually had him killed? Jesus directly challenged the "Temple system," including the purity laws, which coincidentally made the high priests fabulously powerful and wealthy. The purity system as applied to humans (in T. Megillah) ordered them as follows, starting with the most "acceptable": Priests, Levites, Israelites, converts, freed slaves, disqualified priests (illegitimate children of priests), temple slaves, bastards, eunuchs, those with damaged testicles, and those without a penis. This social order dictated legitimate marriage couplings and social status in the community. Public sinners, such as tax collectors and prostitutes, are distinguished from the masses and are placed at the periphery, along with physically unclean folk such as lepers, menstruating women, the blind, and the lame. 'The Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron: 'For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.' (Lev. 21:16-20 NIV, emphasis added).
The Good Samaritan by François-Léon Sicard (French, 1862–1934)
In the Tuileries Gardens, Paris.
When Jesus gave his two great commandments, take a look at the key figures of the parable, which answered the question "who is my neighbor?" (i.e., that neighbor whom I am to love as myself) (Luke 10:27-39). Three men came along the Jericho road and saw a man in trouble, and almost certainly "unclean." ("A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead." - Lk. 10:30b NIV) The first man was a priest; top of the social pecking order, and someone certainly aware of the purity laws. He crossed the road and passed by the injured man. The second to arrive was a Levite—second on the pecking order—Levites were "keepers" and defenders of the Law, and served as assistants to the priests. He also crossed the road to avoid the injured man and went on his way. Both of these prominent men knew and kept the law by steering clear of the "defective" man. Only the Samaritan, one of essentially no standing among those who would hear the parable, came to the man's rescue. Again, it was status or standing that kept the priest and Levite away from the injured man, and not his behavior, and Jesus teaches pointedly that it is just those characteristics that must be ignored in order to follow his two great commandments. It really couldn't be more clear.
In Romans 1:21-32, Paul speaks to a number of sins that seem to be related to pagan rituals that may have overtaken some in Rome ("they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…" (Rom. 1:22b,23,25a NIV) Paul refers to adulterous and promiscuous sexual behavior (Rom. 1:26-27) apparently among heterosexual men and women ("men… abandoned natural relations with women," etc.). Other sins such as wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and others are identified, and punctuated with Paul's summary indictment, "they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy." (v. 31) These are all sins of commission and are not bigoted denouncements of people of a particular social status–or gender identity, or sexual preference. Paul does not teach bigotry toward gays in this passage.