Category Archives: Homosexuality
Today I read an article linked on Facebook by one my favorite bloggers of all time, Rachel Held Evans. I had so many thoughts running through my head as I read, and I figured there was no better place to get them all down in writing than on my blog (at this point, I really recommend you read the article, as my post won’t make much sense otherwise).
I believe that the message of this article is a game-changer in the Christian treatment of homosexuality. Though I “came out” in support of gay marriage a year and a half ago, I’ve also been consistent in my defense of the beliefs of more conservative Christians who believe homosexuality is sinful. I am always quick to remind more militant LGBTQ allies that your capacity to love others has nothing to do with what you believe, and that we can love across the divide. I think about my parents and many of my friends, who are non-affirming yet also very loving people. I suppose in a way, it is them I am defending.
And yet. I don’t think I can anymore, because I don’t think that doing so is faithful to the Gospel that I believe in.
I found the parallels the article drew between anti-Semitism and homophobia to be incredibly alarming. To stretch the analogy further, if I lived in the time before the Holocaust when anti-Semitism was still so deeply engrained in the Christian religion, and I rejected that hatred for the Jews, how could I not believe that anti-Semitism was a toxic belief? How could I not challenge those who believe Jews are little horned devils responsible for the death of Jesus?
In the same way, I have very slowly come to the understanding that believing homosexuality is sinful is, at its core, toxic. I know the situation is a little different. But I also know that there has been no shortage of hatred for LGBTQ people throughout church history, and I think that this hatred, and the belief that homosexuality is sinful, are intrinsically linked.
This harmful belief marginalizes those who identify as LGBTQ in such incredibly hurtful ways. I understand the belief is born out of a desire to be faithful to scripture, and a desire to see God’s will carried out in the lives of others. But I think that in its underbelly, it is a breeding ground for contempt, as the article I shared explains.
I think about my life growing up, how I was implicitly taught that people who say they are gay are just freaks who are displaying a lust-filled distortion of sexuality. I think about the derision and annoyance I felt in my heart whenever the “gay agenda” was “pushed on me” by television. At the time I didn’t know there was a label for what I felt for the LGBT community, and that this label was homophobia
And now, here I am, staunchly resting on the other side of this debate. When I think about my more recent experiences with both affirming and non-affirming Christians, I have discovered that in almost every situation, I need to defend the humanity of LGBT people to non-affirming Christians in ways I never have to do otherwise.
I remember debating fiercely with a friend when the Phil Robertson debacle happened, and I remember feeling so sad and angry when she very callously told me she thought what Robertson had said was funny, and that gay people just need to grow a thicker skin. This is just one experience of many that perhaps aren’t as extreme as anti-Semitism in Europe was, but are harmful nonetheless. And my own experiences have been very mild indeed, compared to some of the heart-breaking stories I have read in which LGBT people are rejected, bullied, and hated.
My experiences have led me to the understanding that to believe that homosexuality is sinful is to believe that an entire people group’s capacity to fall in love is inherently and uniquely broken and distorted. So it comes as no surprise that the non-affirming view generates such contempt.
I never thought I would come to such a place of earnest conviction about my belief in this because I have always, always been the sort of person who desires reconciliation and mutual understanding more than winning an argument. But there is a time when reconciliation requires taking a step away from the radical inclusion of Jesus, and from the powerful message of love which is in the undercurrent of everything he teaches. And supporting gay marriage fits that message in profound ways, ways that the non-affirming view cannot.
Saturday, October 11 was a pretty ordinary day for me. I taught swim lessons in the morning, then went for a long-overdue shopping trip for much of the afternoon. After I got home, I did some cleaning and otherwise spent the evening watching TV and relaxing. Pretty typical.
For a lot of people, though, Saturday, October 11 was a pretty special day, because it was National Coming Out Day. I saw a handful of Facebook statuses as I scrolled through my feed that day about guys and girls who were out and proud, etc. Some were more bold about it than others, and some were kinda funny and made me chuckle.
As I thought about these gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people who were announcing their pride in their sexuality to the social media world, I could help but think about how much I truly hope for the day when these kinds of statuses won’t be written anymore.
Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t for the reasons you think. It isn’t because gay pride offends me, or because I think people should keep a lid on it, or anything of the sort. Rather, it seems to me that this pride is expressed so loudly because it is a retaliation against those who wish to silence and shame them because of their sexuality.
It seems to me that, through no fault of their own, LGBT people have more to prove when it comes to being comfortable with their sexuality, because for so very long they couldn’t be without also being stigmatized and looked down on. And now that the tides are changing and same-sex relationships are becoming more widely accepted—though of course still not uncontested by a long shot—they are able to take pride in being out. And they should.
Yet, the optimist in me can’t help but think about a day when they won’t have to. I am hopeful for a time when it is so normal for a girl to confess feelings for another girl, for a guy to marry another guy, for a girl to admit she was born with the wrong gender, that we don’t bat an eye at it. That will be the time when there is true equality, when LGBT people are fully accepted in our culture as the beautiful people that they are.
I pray for that day. I really do.
So right now, yes. Be as bold and abrasive as you want to be on social media on National Coming Out Day. It is, after all, your day. Declare the truth about your sexuality from the rooftops. But also hope. Hope for a day when telling someone you’re gay is so ordinary, so mundane, that they respond with a shrug of their shoulder and a question about if you have a crush on someone. A day when, if they’re a good friend, they don’t have to feel sorrow for what you’ll go through as a result of being out. A day when revealing the gender you’re attracted to is no different from another part of who you are coming out of the woodwork as you develop into adulthood.
For that day will be so much better than this one.
In this post, I will be writing about the final three sessions of the conference, since they all revolve around one question: why are millennials leaving the church? Of course, as someone right in the middle of the generation labeled millennials (who are generally considered to be people born between the years 1984 and 2002), this conversation is very pertinent to me, and I found the discussions concerning this topic to be very enlightening.
The morning breakout, titled “Vanishing Acts”, discussed several key “felt needs” that the church should be addressing if it is serious about creating a space that is inviting for millennials. The breakout was led by Nick Cunningham, the young adult pastor at Ginghamsburg Church.
The first felt need Nick talked about is the need for relationships. He cited a study which revealed that 60% of millennials who have chosen to stay in the church do so because of the friendships they have developed. Often, however, churches can make this environment difficult by structuring small group gatherings as classroom lectures. When a group leader spends a whole hour teaching a lesson, it creates an environment that prioritizes lessons over relationships and gives people the perfect opportunity to leverage curriculums as a shield against forming genuine relationships.
Another felt need we discussed during the break-out was the need for authenticity. Nick used a pop-culture example to illustrate this need: Anne Hathaway, whose image has traditionally been associated with the smiling, sweet girl next door (think The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted, and Bride Wars) didn’t gain the respect of the public until her role in Les Miserables. In this film, her life is tragic, and her distressed emotional state is revealed for all the world to see. In short, Anne plays a role that is authentic.
Millennials today are looking for an oasis from the hype—a place where all the gaudiness and unrealistic representations of life are blessedly absent, and we can be real about our dreams, fears, doubts, and hopes about our faith and our future. We are looking for a place where the truest, hardest questions in our hearts will be handled gently yet seriously, instead of being glossed over with an oversimplified answer that doesn’t really hold water when we step outside the doors of a church and into real life.
Admittedly, vulnerability is hard; revealing our authentic feelings is hard. But it is also the truest way to form meaningful relationships, and in that way, the first and second felt needs we discussed are inextricably interrelated.
Nick concluded his break-out with an appeal to millennials. Of course, the work to reconcile the lost generation of young people back to the church cannot be a one-way street. He encouraged our generation to challenge ourselves in three ways: first, to stop being cyncial, and look for the hope that is the kingdom of God instead of dwelling in wariness at every turn. He also encouraged us to not be reluctant to make decisions and step outside our own bubble of comfort. And lastly, he acknowledged that it is often so easy for us to become ensnared by shallow, trendy approaches to church. He encouraged us to continue seeking that authentic community which is so important in the body of Christ.
After the morning sessions, we broke for lunch then continued on to the final two sessions of the conference—the two I had been anticipating greatly during the weeks preceding the conference. Rachel Held Evans, a popular blogger and author of two books, delivered the afternoon keynote entitled “Keeping the Church Weird.”
She started with the sobering statistics: today, 59% of millennials have stopped attending church. Rachel contended that the reasons for this are varied and complex, but at the heart of it is grace. We wrap the gospel in so many layers of theology—so many principles for “right belief”—that we make Christianity more exclusive instead of more inclusive.
Rachel also talked about the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, which you can read in Acts 8:26-40. Traditionally, pastors use this story as a framework for evangelism: this is how you reach people who are seeking after Jesus. However, to connect this story back to Nick’s point about authenticity, reading the story that way overlooks the absolute scandal of what Philip was doing.
As a eunuch, the Ethiopian was ceremonially unclean. He was a outcast of the religious right, deemed unworthy to participate in temple worship, let alone be baptized. Yet when Philip explains who Jesus is to him, he does not hesitate to ask Philip to baptize him. Rachel points out that alarms must have been going off in Philip’s head: “But this guy isn’t clean; how could he understand the gospel?” “This man is the last sort of person I would expect to baptize!”
Yet when the rubber met the road, and Philip was poised with a simple question, he did not hesitate. He led the eunuch down into the water, and he baptized him.
It is a beautiful example of the truth that the Gospel isn’t offensive because of who it keeps out; it is offensive because of who it lets in. If we get out of the way, and let God do his work in the world, he might use methods we don’t approve of, and that thought can be terrifying for those who have the methods—who have the theologies—all hammered out.
Church, Rachel reminded us, needs to be a place where the outcasts, the eunuchs of today, feel just as welcomed as the middle-class “acceptable” people. It needs to be a place where everyone can pass within the doors of church, breathe a sigh of relief, and lay out the real and true baggage of our lives before our fellow believers.
In short, church needs to start looking like an AA meeting.
After Rachel’s enlightening discussion, there was time for Q&A, and of course one of the first questions asked was what church leaders can do practically to demonstrate that they are serious about implementing this sort of change. At this point, Rachel bravely shifted the conversation from the eunuchs of the ancient world to the eunuchs of today: the LGBTQ community.
She talked about the many changes we can make in order to demonstrate genuine compassion for them: first, use their language. Learn what the acronym means, and why they use it (and as a side note, don’t ever use homosexual as a noun!). Create room for their voices to be heard, and listen to their stories in the same way that Philip listened to the eunuch as he explained his fascination with Isaiah 53.
Rachel concluded her talk with reminding us that solidarity is not the same thing as conformity, and people rarely fit into the categories that we try to assign them. She offered the idea that the best way to establish that solidarity despite the differences is confession. Confession drops our guards and puts us on level playing ground as equally broken human beings. When we are honest about what hurts, honest about our own shortcomings, we pave the way for others to do the same.
The Q&A with Rachel continued into the afternoon break-out session, where we returned to the broader discussion of evangelicalism in the United States. Rachel discussed how it is troubling that those who are most committed to the evangelical label are also the ones who define it most narrowly.
This is very problematic in the Church today, because our narrow theology has led to what Rachel called the “cost of false fundamentals”: people are leaving the church because the feel they must make choices that aren’t central to the Gospel (i.e., believe in creationism or evolution, be gay or be Christian). And when their reading of scripture and their experiences of the world lead them to embrace a view contrary to the conservative one, that rejection is equated with rejecting the Gospel.
Yet, for every rule we create, for every stipulation we place upon what constitutes a faithful follower of Jesus, there will always be someone for whom the rule doesn’t fit. There will always be someone who is walking unashamed in the grace of the Father, yet who seems to our limited vision to be living a life contrary to our idea of Christianity. Embracing these people and accepting that sometimes God accepts those we deem unacceptable is the epitome of grace.
This, Rachel suggested, is the direction the church must turn. We must embrace those who seem unlovable. We must be willing to step out and speak an honest word, even when we fear upsetting other or losing their respect. Sometimes, our capacity to love despite our differences is more resilient than we expect.
Thank you for listening along with me as I write out my experiences at the Change the World Missional Conference at Ginghamsburg Church. I learned lessons there that I will never forget, and I hope you learned a little something as well by reading about the teachings of these incredible men and women of God.
This is the second essay in a two part series. For part one, click here.
Over the past year, I have studied the topic of homosexuality and the Bible extensively. I have read the relevant scriptures in context many times, and I have carefully weighed both affirming and condemning commentaries about the Bible and its treatment of homosexuality. Through these studies, I have found that each position requires an overarching framework by which the reader interprets biblical texts and assesses their applicability in our modern society. And I have also found that the framework offered by the affirming argument aligns with the overarching narrative of scripture in a way that is holistic, compelling, and doctrinally sound.
The purpose of this essay is to outline this framework and assess how it applies to homosexuality. I will be separating this argument under several different headings, each of which addresses a different angle of what I believe about homosexuality and scripture. In this respect, it will be very different from my first essay, which methodically assessed a series of passages that are traditionally used to condemn gay relationships as sinful. In this essay, I am much more concerned with the larger, overarching themes of scripture, especially the New Testament.
I will be honest and say up-front that there are no Bible verses that directly and explicitly affirm homosexuality. However, I believe that the reason for this is the same reason why there are no explicitly clear scriptures that condemn slavery or misogyny, or afford women equality in the church and in marriage. Every part of the Bible was written by individuals constricted by their cultures to people constricted by the same cultures. This does not mean the Bible does not contain timeless truths, and it does not mean the Bible was not divinely inspired. Rather, I think the Bible contains a complex blend of timeless truth and ideas limited to particular times and ways in which the Holy Spirit infused writers to write words relevant for a particular people, but not always for all people in all times.
Therefore, discussing an affirming view of this issue can be quite a challenge because our culture is so different from the varying cultures in which the manuscripts that now make up the Bible were written. It is the exact same problem that abolitionists of the mid 19th century faced when told that challenging slavery was the equivalent of denying God’s Word. In that day, the pro-slavery camp actually had much more explicit evidence by way of particular verses than the abolitionists did (much in the same way conservative Christians today have more explicit evidence concerning homosexuality). See this blog post for more thoughts on that, and how this point connects to my discussion below.
The Nature of Sin: Origination in the Heart
One clincher for me in the debate about the sinfulness of homosexuality was what the Bible says about the nature of sin. Specifically, in Mark 7 we read a story about Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees. The Pharisees get upset with Jesus because his disciples are eating food without washing their hands—which they considered to be a ritually unclean act. Jesus chastises them, then later in private discusses the encounter with his disciples:
““Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”” (Mark 7: 18:23)
Jesus is telling us here that sin is not external—i.e., committed by forgetting to wash your hands, but rather internal. Sin is a matter of the heart, and letting your own flesh win the day. All the sins he lists—sexual immorality, theft, murder, etc., stem from a deeper place that abandons love for the other in favor of some form of selfish indulgence. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples that sin has nothing to do with violating the letter of the law and everything to do with letting your own flesh reign.
Paul describes a similar concept in his letter to the Romans. As a human being who struggles constantly with sin, his words are full of frustration and angst:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:21-24)
We see here that sin is as deeply saturated within the spirit of Paul. It is within his very nature, and holds a place of internal conflict within his heart. Such is the nature of sin; it originates inside and then is manifested in selfish acts.
Now, what does all this talk of sin have to do with homosexuality? As we have established, sin originates with the heart. Every evil action stems out of evil desire. Therefore, to claim that homosexual relationships are sinful, but heterosexual relationships are by nature wholesome, you would have to concede that there is something innately sinful and corrupt about loving someone of the same gender. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot come up with a reason having to do with the heart why this would be so.
The New Covenant Means Freedom from the Law
For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of life as a believer under the New Covenant is freedom from the Law. But let me be clear. This does not reduce the Law to pointless and arbitrary rules. Rather, as Paul states in Romans 7:7-10, the purpose of the law is to reveal the sinfulness of our own hearts. He uses the example of coveting; because the law forbade it, Paul realized how often he desired to covet.
But as New Covenant believers who are infused with the Holy Spirit, we are utterly free from the restrictions of the Law. Paul makes this abundantly clear over and over again throughout the New Testament; he reminds us that “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:18b). And in Romans 10:4 Paul tells us again, “Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” Galatians 3:19-25 and Ephesians 2:14-16 offer similar exhortations about freedom in Christ from the burden of the Law.
And so, under the New Covenant, we are free to walk in direct community with the Father through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. There is no set of written codes that is sufficient to guide us; the Holy Spirit itself provides the guidance we follow. And to the extent that we produce love, joy, peace, patience and all the other fruits of that Spirit, we are walking in obedience to the Father, and no code or law of morality or righteous practice is necessary. Therefore, when we see our gay brothers and sisters—whether single or in covenant relationships—exhibiting such fruit, what right have we to impose a moral code upon them? What right have we to say that their lives run contrary to the very real truth in scripture which says that against such things as the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23)?
Before I move to the next section, I would like to expound on the preceding paragraph by offering a few more examples in scripture. For it is all well and good for me to say that the witness of fellow believers is sufficient to embrace the wholesomeness of their relationships. But unless I can back it up with biblical passages, these are just my words.
So let’s have a look at Acts 15:1-21. In these verses, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are having a contentious debate about the newly converted Gentiles, and whether they ought to be bound by the law of circumcision. After several Jews insist they must, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas stand up and offer their arguments. Peter begins by reminding the council that God alone decides who is accepted: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (v. 8-9). Then, he chastises them for insisting that the Gentiles bear a yoke the Jews themselves have not been able to bear (v. 10). Paul and Barnabas enthusiastically reinforce Peter’s points by describing the signs and wonders God has performed through the Gentiles (v. 12).
In the end, James resolves the issue. He suggests a compromise: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (v. 19-20). In other words, the testimony of good works brought by Peter and Barnabas, and Paul’s insistence that God alone decides the condition of the heart, are sufficient; the Gentiles are not bound by the law but free to pursue the will of God without conforming to Jewish law.
I would suggest to you that the debate that the Jewish council had about the Gentiles is the very same debate we Christians have about the gay community. We exclude them from the possibility that they are walking in obedience to the Father because their lives do not conform to the standards that we understand to be established as law by God. To the Jews of that day, it was inconceivable that God could accept those who have chosen so blatantly to deny his law. And to many Christians today, it is inconceivable that God would accept and work His will within the hearts of gay people, simply because they have the capacity to fall in love with the same gender instead of the opposite gender.
The Exhortation to Love Fulfills the Law
Here we come to the very linchpin of the pro-gay biblical argument. For me, Romans 13:8-10 is one of the most important passages in all of scripture. It sums up everything we could possibly need in order to walk faithfully in the will of God. This beautiful passage reads:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
The extraordinariness of Paul’s claim is overwhelming; it is saying that love itself fulfills the law, and no other commandments are necessary! Not only this, but as Justin Lee informs us in his essay on homosexuality (which you can find here), this passage is essentially the crescendo of all the arguments Paul has been building in Romans to this point:
“Incidentally, this passage in Romans 13 isn’t just some random, obscure passage. Paul spends almost the entire book of Romans building an argument about law, grace, and sin, trying to explain what the Christian gospel is all about. Paul uses the word ‘law’ 74 times in twelve chapters! The passage I just quoted from Romans 13 is the conclusion of Paul’s grand argument; it’s the last time ‘law’ is mentioned for the rest of the book.”
This is the same point we see again and again in scripture, spoken by Jesus himself as well as the other New Testament writers (see Matthew 22:37-40, John 13:35, Galatians 5:14, 1 John 4:7). Every commandment God has ever given us is simply an extension of the commandment to love. Therefore, if we love, we automatically live in submission and fulfillment of God’s commands; this is Paul’s point. And so when a man loves a man with the same compassion selflessness, and strength of spirit that a woman loves a man, why would that first sort of love violate Romans 13:8-10 when the second sort wouldn’t? Therefore, to call gay relationships sinful reduces God’s law to an arbitrary command that is divorced from the standard of love and renders the Romans passage void.
There is just one other Bible passage connected to love that I find to be very enlightening for this discussion. In Matthew 12, we read an account of Jesus’ confrontation with some Pharisees. They have caught his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, and they demand that Jesus chastise his followers for violating the law. Instead, Jesus turns the tables on them completely:
“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice; you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7-8)
Here Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6, in which the prophet Hosea is rebuking the Jewish people for being aloof of the suffering around them. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley, co-authors of The Children Are Free, offer this commentary on Jesus’ words:
“Amos, who prophesied around the time of Hosea, talked about how people of the time were attending places of worship, offering sacrifices, and then going home to cheat the poor and foster injustice. Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing the same thing; they were more concerned with rule keeping than with human hunger. Jesus’ point is clear: Human need is more important than rules—even rules found in the Bible.”
Again and again, throughout the Scriptures, Jesus ignores the pull of legalism in favor of compassion. He recognizes human need, whether it is physical or emotional, and meets those needs. This sort of compassion—this sort of love—is not the sort that thrives on obedience to laws but rather keeps an open heart toward the suffering of those around it and engages that suffering. This is the love we are called to demonstrate again and again throughout scripture, and it is exemplified in the love of a same-gendered partnership no less fully than an opposite-gendered one.
The very purpose of the Gospel is to free us from the law of sin and death. We are no longer under the yoke of the Law, but rather we are free to pursue the heart of the Father and walk daily in his commandment to love. And perhaps, if nothing else, we should remember that our lives should reflect the fruit of love that God is sowing in us. For as Jesus says in Matthew 17:16-20,
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
I have seen such good fruit produced among Christians in the LGBT community. I see devotion to the Word, loving-kindness for those around them, and compassion demonstrated where often none is deserved. I see love demonstrated in all of its beautiful forms, both romantic and otherwise. There is no corrupted heart, no sinful indulgence in the way these Christians interact with others, no veil of sin between them and God because they are in same-sex relationships.
And so I ask you. Who are we to deny that witness?
I’ve been meaning to write this series for a long time, and I am now very excited to finally write down all the thoughts that I have read about and mulled over for more than a year now.
This blog post is going to be written in a considerably more formal and long-winded tone than most of what I write here. The reason for this is that once I get into “English major” mode and set about exploring a thesis I’ve established, the formal writing style tends to flourish. That being said, I will be breaking up this topic into two separate blog posts. This post addresses the so-called “clobber passages”, the six passages in the Bible that Christians typically use to condemn homosexuality. In my next blog post, I will address the scriptural foundation for why I find it plausible to affirm gay relationships.
Before I officially begin my exploration of the “clobber” passages, however, I must offer the disclaimer that most of what I discuss below is a summarization of others’ research, all of which is cited at the end of this essay. I am not a Bible scholar, and indeed I have not even taken formal courses on biblical studies. But that does not mean I don’t have a brain and can’t uncover and examine biblical interpretations and assess their validity for myself. So my words below reflect the soundest, most persuasive arguments I have found which have informed my current understanding of scripture and homosexuality.
And so, without further ado, please enjoy part one of this series…
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I believe the Bible is the holy, inspired Word of God. I also believe that covenant gay relationships are equal in all respect to straight ones. I know that most modern evangelicals would find those two statements to be entirely incompatible, but the research I have done over the last few years has led me to believe that this is not the case.
In this half of my discussion of homosexuality and the Bible, I will be discussing five of the six passages that Christians typically turn to in order to condemn gay relationships as sinful. Let me say before I begin, however, that I recognize that it is not enough to refute traditionalist arguments concerning the so-called “clobber passages”; I must also be able to provide a biblically cohesive reason for why I believe scripture supports gay relationships. This is what I will be addressing in the second half of my series.
The first reference to homosexual sex in the Bible is in Genesis 19. This passage narrates the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s decision to destroy the cities because of its inhabitants’ many sins. Due to its irrelevance, I will not be incorporating this passage into my discussion of the traditionalist biblical proof texts on homosexuality. I believe that the context of this passage as well as cross-references in Jude and Ezekiel are clear enough that we can safely surmise that the homosexual acts described in it are domineering and lust-driven acts of rape that have no place in this discussion. I will leave it at that.
In Leviticus 18 and 20, we find two matching series of commandments regulating sexual practices among the early Israelites. Embedded in this list, we find a commandment forbidding same-sex erotic behavior (v. 18:23) and a subsequent decree of capital punishment for such behavior (v. 20:13.) There are several ways of understanding these verses. Some identify them as sexual purity codes established to distinguish the Israelites from the surrounding cultures of the time. They refer to the beginning verses of Leviticus 18 to support this claim.
While I believe this is a sound observation, I also think that there is more to these verses than that. Furthermore, to group Leviticus 18 and 20 under the category of moral law does not acknowledge the bizarre and erratic nature of the laws—for example, why do these verses forbid intercourse during a woman’s period (v. 19) and having sex with a woman and her daughter (v. 17), yet remain silent on more general sexual sins such as premarital sex and adultery? These laws are oddly specific.
Therefore the most sensible analysis that I have found for the purpose of these laws had nothing whatsoever to do with morality and everything to do with protecting the social hierarchy of ancient Israelite culture. These laws also served the purpose of protecting women and children, who were considered socially inferior in a patriarchal society. Preserving the patriarchal order of male headship was necessary for their safety and the general preservation of societal structure. Therefore, men having sex with men would have disrupted that order. These laws were not established for moral reasons but for social ones.
There are no further verses in the Old Testament that refer in any way to homosexuality, so we will now turn our attention to the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Paul lists off a number of sins, traditionally called the vice lists. Homosexuality is included in both lists, and when most Christians read these verses it can seem plain as day that Paul is condemning same-sex behavior as universally and inherently sinful. However, a deeper look at the original wording of these verses suggests a great deal of ambiguity.
In the Greek, the word translated as “homosexuality” in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy is the word “arsenakoitai”, which is a compound word that combines the Greek words for “man” and “bed.” So it is very clear that “arsenakoitai” refers to some form of same-sex erotic behavior. However, it is difficult to get more specific than this, because “arsenakoitai” was used so rarely in writings contemporary with Paul’s letters. In fact it is so rare that some scholars even suggest that Paul created the word himself.
The 1 Timothy passage sheds some light on how we may be able to interpret “arsenakoitai” properly. The verses in the NKJV read:
“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.”
It is very interesting to note that this vice list is broken down into closely connected pairings: “the lawless and insubordinate”, “the unholy and profane,” etc. In the grouping which includes homosexuality (here translated as sodomites, betraying again the ambiguity of the Greek word), we find that it is grouped with fornicators and kidnappers. Why would this word be grouped with seemingly unrelated sins, except because they are in some way connected?
I would offer the suggestion that “arsenakoitai” refers to Romans who indulged in pederasty. This would explain the word grouping. It is very likely that the Greek words for “fornicators” and “kidnappers” refer to male prostitutes and the slave traders responsible for selling them to the “arsenakoitai.” Therefore what Paul is condemning is not homosexuality as we understand it today, but rather exploitive sexual practices among first century Romans.
Again, though, the interpretation of the word is not conclusive. The view offered above, however, is the one that I have found to be most faithful to the context of scripture and the meaning of the original Greek words. Therefore to translate this word generically as “homosexuality” is an unfortunate travesty.
Because the same exact compound word appears in the 1 Corinthians passage, I will not address it further here but rather let this interpretation of 1 Timothy stand, since this passage offers a little more context than 1 Corinthians. It should be noted, however, that the vice lists in the two passages as well as the manner in which Paul expounds on these lists is remarkably similar. Suffice it to say, based on the wide variety of ways the original Greek is interpreted and translated, I believe it is completely implausible to rely exclusively on these two verses as a reliable way of deciding the sinfulness of homosexuality.
This leaves one last passage in the Bible which addresses homosexual sex: Romans 1:18-32. I believe this is the most compelling of all the “clobber” passages, and so I will be spending more time addressing it than I have the other verses.
In most of my studies, I have found that those who affirm gay relationships appeal to verses 22 and 23 to suggest that Paul is talking about Roman pagans who worshiped idols (specifically, the Roman goddess of fertility, Aphrodite) and engaged in unnatural sexual rites (both heterosexual and homosexual in nature) as part of their temple worship.
While I believe this interpretation has some degree of merit, I also do not believe it describes the entirety of what is going on in Romans 1. The inclusive language in verses 18-21 suggest that Paul is talking about a much larger group of people than just a few Roman pagans. Likewise, the extremely long list of sins in verses 28-32 seems to include the sorts of sins that all of humanity is guilty of, and not just a selective, small group known for its temple sexual practices.
In his review of Eugene Rogers’ book Sexuality and the Christian Body, Richard Beck suggests that the key to understanding Romans 1 lies in the general human understanding of race and gender. Throughout history, the “standard view” holds that women are morally inferior to men, and thus more prone to sexual deviance and promiscuity. Likewise, minority races have been considered the same way (e.g., in antebellum America, black men had a scandalous reputation for having an unnatural sexual appetite for white women). As Beck writes:
“In both cases we see how immorality generally, and sexual licentiousness in particular, get attributed to natural kinds (e.g., race, gender). In the Old and New Testaments this same reasoning was applied to the Gentiles. As a natural kind the Gentiles were considered to be naturally prone to immorality and sexual deviance. Paul gives us the standard Jewish view of the morality of Gentiles in Romans 1.”
So we see that this passage is about much more than Roman pagans or even modern-day gays and lesbians. Paul is describing Jewish sensibilities toward Gentiles, only to refute them two chapters later. In Romans 3:9 Paul essentially levels the playing field and reminds the Jews that there is no morally superior race, but all come to God equally, as sinners in need of redemption. The point, then, of Romans 1 was not to condemn homosexuality as we understand it today, but rather to outline Jewish understandings of moral inferiority—including sexual deviance—then turn the principle on its head.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that these arguments in and of themselves do not suggest support for the morality of gay relationships. Rather the purpose of writing this is understand how and why these passages describe specific homosexual acts as inherently immoral (as in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy), culturally binding purity laws regarding gay sex (Leviticus 18 and 20), and general statements about the sexual perversion of a class of people considered to be morally inferior (Romans 1).
While I believe the interpretation I have offered of passages is valid, I also recognize that it is not enough to refute the conservative approach to these verses; I must also be able to present why I believe scripture affirms and supports gay relationships. If scripture is to be our guide for morality and living a Christ-centered life, we must be able to draw from its pages a cohesive understanding of what it means to live such a life, in our romantic relationships as well as in every other part of our lives.
Part two of this series, which I am very excited to write, will address this. After all, writing about the “good news” is so much more of a blessing than exploring the problems with the “bad news.” I hope you enjoyed this, and look out for part two to be published within the next few days.
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It was a slow day at work today, so I found myself digging through the Rachel Held Evans blog archives and ran across this little gem. If you’re not up for clicking the link and reading the blog (though I highly suggest you do!), let me summarize it for you here. The post is essentially a review of Mark Noll’s work The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. The book, as Rachel describes it, walks you through mainstream Christian beliefs about abolition and the Bible during the mid-nineteenth century. During this time in our history, Christians viewed the right to own slaves much in the same way that Christians today view the sinfulness of homosexuality and other hot-button theological issues: to interpret x, y, and z verses differently than the Church has done traditionally is to undermine the entire Word of God and to stand in direct contradiction to God’s divine will.
I find it to be incredibly disturbing to realize that there was a time in our history when Christians debated abolition so fiercely. We drew lines in the sand and stood for “truth” and defended the clear interpretation of Scripture against those crazy abolitionists whose interpretations were biblically unsound and downright dangerous to the Christian witness.
I get really sad when I think about how little we as the body of Christ have learned over the last century and a half. As I read Rachel’s words, I realized that our attitude today is very much the same as it was then—it’s just that our society has evolved morally, and conservative Christians of that day had no choice but to allow their interpretations of Scripture to evolve with it or regress into irrelevancy. But again, the attitude is still there: God’s law (a.k.a. sound doctrine as established by religious tradition) trumps human conscience and the moral sensibilities of the heart.
Now, does that mean I believe the Word of God is subject to the whims of culture and history? No. It’s just that I think that we human beings are notoriously capable of being wrong and holding to terrible beliefs. But I also think that God built us with resilient moral compasses, and that time has a way of exposing those moral compasses and lining them up with the universal principles of love and grace (even when we fight tooth and nail against such progress). I truly do believe that as we increase in knowledge we also increase in compassion and advocation for the oppressed. And that, I think, is why in the end abolition won out—at least in the United States.
Anyway, I’m digressing. I do that a lot. The main point that I wanted to make as I think through the implications of Rachel’s post is this. The Christians of the mid-nineteenth century were defending the clear interpretation of Scripture (yes, it was clear!! See Deuteronomy 20:10-11, 1 Corinthians 7:21, Ephesians 6:1-5, Colossians 3:18-25; 4:1, and I Timothy 6:1-2). Their treatment of this issue ought to really humble us, and make us think twice before declaring that a certain principle is indisputably in line with scripture. Because as Rachel points out, when looking at scripture through a purely exegetical lens, the anti-abolitionist argument was stronger.
But it was still wrong.
The abolitionists had it right when they appealed to the broader scope of scriptural themes, and to the way Jesus validated the inherent worth of human beings, and to the way Paul said that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And I understand that the hot-button issues we face today, such as homosexuality and gender equality, are entirely distinct from slavery. But I really believe that we can still learn from the slavery debates of the nineteenth century and apply them thoughtfully to these debates today. In my opinion, these are the three most important things we must learn from our Christian anti-abolitionist for-bearers if we want to avoid the dogmatism that trapped them:
- Sometimes the most straightforward commandments in the Bible aren’t always the ones that are in line with the life and teachings of Jesus, but instead are distorted by an incomplete understanding of culture and history.
- Just because the Church has traditionally upheld a belief for centuries doesn’t mean that it is a right belief.
- We must learn to ask questions, think critically, engage those on the other side of a debate and ask ourselves if we could be wrong.
Christianity’s history with abolition should serve as a very grave reminder that dogmatic devotion to specific principles should never take precedence over the Bible’s over-arching themes of love and grace. For love and grace, the sacredness of human beings made in the image of God, the ability to empathize and celebrate who humans are and who God is…these things always, always trump the letter of the law and the even the clearest commandments of Scripture.
It’s so hard to find the balance between speaking up for what you believe in, and letting things go in favor of promoting unity within the body of Christ. All last night and into today, the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy riddled its way through my Facebook news feed. I read up on the controversy, listening to voices on both extremes of the liberal/conservative spectrum. I listened to one video that raged against the fakeness and homophobic hatred of the Duck Dynasty clan, and I read another article that called conservatives to rally around Robertson and fight against the wrongfulness of his suspension.
A couple of articles, such as this one, and this one, rose above the noise for me as honest and convicting responses to Robertson’s statements and A&E’s decision to suspend him. What struck me as particularly honest about these articles is that they don’t try to justify what Robertson said. Because seriously, what he said was vitriolic and dehumanizing, even if that wasn’t his intent. And I don’t care what your beliefs about homosexuality are—if you believe that Phil’s statements reflect the heart of Jesus, I think you’d be dead wrong. Jesus was very much in the business of instilling worth into his listeners and affirming their humanity. On the contrary, what Phil said reduced gay and lesbian human beings to sex acts. And that is wrong.
Anyway…everything I said in the preceding paragraph was my initial response to the controversy. I’ll admit that I then proceeded to offer my input all over Facebook about how wrong Robertson was and how there are consequences when you abuse your right to free speech in such a manner.
I’m not sure yet if that was a good idea, because I don’t know where the balance is. As an LGBT ally and as a Christian, I want to stand against remarks such as Robertson’s, but I also feel that at some point, I’m doing more harm than good by adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. But on the other hand, standing back and saying, “Come on now, let’s just love everybody,” isn’t really an effective response either. I don’t want to stay out of it when someone who is a public face for Christianity in this country compares homosexuality to bestiality and worse, but I also don’t want to contribute to widening the rift between the gay and Christian communities—or the liberal and conservative groups either, for that matter.
I suppose the answer is to approach the issue with love as the focus. Problem is, I’m pretty sure everyone—ranging from those lobbying to support Phil to those decrying him as homophobic—thinks they’re approaching this issue with love as the focus. It’s all quite disheartening, if you ask me. But the way I see it, the real demonstration of love is the one that can see both sides of the coin. The one that can look at what Phil said and ask, “How would a gay person feel if he read this?” I’d imagine he’d feel pretty terrible. And the other question we should ask is, “What was the condition of Phil’s heart when he said what he said?” What he said may have been crass and vulgar, but the capstone of his comments was a call to love. And we can’t ignore that and paint him as an evil person representing evil things, as much as we might think he deserves it.
I bring up the topic of homosexuality quite a bit on this blog, and I ask myself why sometimes. Why do I feel such a burden for sexual minorities? Such a need to listen to their experiences and read about their stories and express what I’ve learned in writing? I can’t really say why except to wonder if it is a burden God himself has placed on my heart. Or maybe it’s because I feel like I have to seriously overcompensate, because most church people I know don’t listen at all. Or maybe…maybe it’s just that I’ve always felt compassion for those who have been treated unfairly. And in this day and this society and this time, precious few people groups have been treated more unfairly by the Church than the LGBT community.
A little while ago, I discovered Stephen’s Sacred Tension blog. I started reading it…and I couldn’t stop. His words struck me so deeply and filled me with a boiling rage because of what my fellow Christians are responsible for, and what we will have to answer for one day. And I thought about all the things that conservative Christians I know have to say about homosexuality, such as flippantly comparing it to adultery, or defining it exclusively in terms of sexual urge. And even more subtle jabs, such as talking about how gay feelings are something that can be healed by God, and that if a person hasn’t experienced that healing, it means they haven’t surrendered their will to the Lord and submitted to the process of sanctification.
One post in particular that Stephen wrote got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to love. Here’s an excerpt:
“I am not asking you to change your beliefs. I am asking you to see that your beliefs have consequences. If you are conservative when it comes to this subject, my intent is not to convince you that homosexuality is right in God’s eyes.
Instead, my goal is to convince you of the price of your words, because there is a price – a terrible price. Most Christians believe they speak eloquently and wisely on this topic, but as long as they fail to realize the cost of their words, they will be babbling uselessly to those who are practically dying to hear the gospel of love. My goal is to show you what it really means when you say, “homosexuality is a sin.”
No matter what you mean to say, what is often heard (and what I often heard) when Christians condemned homosexuality was not a condemnation of sex, but a condemnation of love.
A condemnation of having someone to be with in your old age.
Of having someone warm to be with you at night.
Of having someone to raise a family with.”
I hate to say it, but most conservative Christians are entirely insensitive to how members of the LGBT community perceive the message that homosexuality is a sin. And I wonder if this is because they are afraid—afraid to have their own perspective challenged, afraid to wonder what it will mean to admit that gay people do not associate being gay with sex and promiscuity so much as they associate it with their capacity love another person romantically. Because if Christians admit that, then suddenly the whole game changes. Suddenly what they’re asking LGBT people for when they ask them not to sin isn’t just to quit sleeping around. They’re asking them to give up on marriage, and romance, and family.
Or at least, that is how gay people see it.
And if we fail to put ourselves in the shoes of the LGBT community, then we fail to love them. It’s really that simple.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says this:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
Of course Paul isn’t just talking about becoming as a Jew, or as those under the law or without it, or as the weak. He became all things to all men. And as believers in Christ, you and I are called to be the same. To those who are gay, become as one who is gay. See the world through their eyes. Join in their suffering. For goodness’ sakes, listen to them when they say, as Stephen does, that calling homosexuality a sin makes them feel like a very integral part of them is broken. Listen to them when they say they can’t change their attractions, they can’t become straight. Until you do…until you listen to them, and open your heart to what they are trying to tell you, I really believe you are failing your LGBT brothers and sisters. And I believe you are failing God’s call to love.
I’ve been told that the Church (meaning, in this context, those who call themselves conservative Christians) in this nation is not homophobic, that we are just firm in standing against sin. I’ve been told that we don’t really treat homosexuality as any more or less of a sin than anything else the Bible condemns. And for most of my life, I believed that was true.
Someone I know once said to me that the Church is like a bunch of fish in a pond. The pond is homophobia. We swim in it, and it is so familiar, so easy, so comfortable to us. We just slide and dive through it, and we don’t even realize what we’re surrounding ourselves with. It doesn’t look like hate and fear, but if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s often what we feel for “them”, the LGBT community. It doesn’t look like fear. It just looks like a faceless acronym that is firmly entrenched in our heads but nowhere near our hearts. And it doesn’t feel like we’re accusing anyone of anything, or painting anyone in a caricature, or drawing circles in the sand, but that’s what we’re doing.
I say these things from time to time, but I always get push-back when I say them to other Christians. So, to make it clear why I think this way, here are a few short stories from my own life that illustrate the homophobia that I have seen displayed by Christians in my life. And I’m not just pointing fingers here, because a couple of these stories are my own, before this book opened my eyes wide. Just as a short disclaimer, my stories mostly involve the way I internally processed the issue of homosexuality, and not much else. Growing up I was never very close to anyone who was gay, and the friends I did have who were gay never confided in me. Looking back, that might be a blessing, because I don’t know how I would have reacted.
Anyway, here’s what I want you to think about as you read: none of these stories seem to perpetuate hate. They don’t seem extreme or Bible-bashing or starkly anti-gay. But they are. It’s in the undercurrent. It’s in the attitude behind the words and the choices. But that doesn’t make it any less hurtful to our witness as followers of Christ.
I was a senior in college, and I was sitting on my bed doing homework when my roommate walked into our room. She entered with a flurry of energy, and I could tell straight away that she was agitated about something. She said to me, with this voice that was so firm and decisive, “Tiffani, I joined the Gay-Straight Alliance group on campus.” I blinked in surprise, and the wheels in my brain started to turn. I wasn’t really sure how to respond, so I just laughed nervously and gave her half-hearted, totally insincere affirmation. But in my mind I was thinking…what is she doing? She knows homosexuality is a sin, and she knows she really shouldn’t be supporting sin. I don’t understand why she’s joined this group at all.
But the thing was, the only thing I knew about that group was what it was called. People who say they are gay teaming up with “normal” people and setting out to convince the campus that being gay is normal too. Or at least, that’s the mental description that flooded my mind when my roommate told me the name of the group. Because really, what else could a group like that be about? No way it had anything to do with spiritually and emotionally supporting struggling, lonely gay students who had—God help them—chosen to attend a Christian college best known for its conservative values. In my mind, all I saw was my friend’s beliefs being compromised by weirdos who had turned their backs on God. Never mind that she hadn’t said a thing about what she believes concerning homosexuality. Never mind that all she wanted to do by joining that group was to love and support students who in all likelihood felt ostracized.
That never entered my mind, and that’s because in my mind, gay people didn’t need support so much as they needed to be told their live were sinful. And I believed that because I was homophobic at the time.
This past August, I attended a girls’/women’s conference at my church. I blogged about it in this post. Throughout the day, they had breaks every so often. During one of these breaks I struck up a conversation with an older woman in the pew behind me. We made small talk for a bit, and I ended up asking her if this was her home church. She said it was, and that she and her husband had recently switched churches. They had been going to a United Methodist church in town. My interest was instantly piqued, because I’d been browsing around on Sundays looking for a new church to attend, and I’d heard a lot about this one and had attended it the previous week. So I asked the woman what she thought of it, and why she left it. I saw her demeanor change instantly. And she said to me, in a tone so cold and disdainful that I regretted asking, “We left because the Methodists don’t take the Bible seriously, and they refuse to take a stand on homosexuality.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I was so angry and frustrated. Until I’d asked her about the church, she’d been very kind and friendly. But it was like the topic of homosexuality flipped a switch in the woman’s brain and deprived her of every ounce of agreeable dialogue. I ended the conversation right away, because if I’d continued it, I probably would have said something I regretted. It just infuriated me so much that this woman would pick one “sin” out the Bible and leverage it as a legitimate reason to leave a denomination she’d been attending for her entire life.
Growing up, my sister had a friend. They were quite close, and he was over at our house all the time. I knew he had a really sad home life, and that he lived with his grandmother because his parents were screwed up in some way, but I didn’t know the details because they weren’t really my business. I’d always thought something about him seemed a little…”off”. But I couldn’t really put a finger on it and didn’t really concern myself with it too often. It was just this idea I had that there was something strange about him.
Then my sister told me he’d confessed to her that he was gay. And it was like something clicked in my head, and I thought, “Aaah. Now I get it. That’s why I’ve always thought he’s a little strange.” Just to clarify, at the time there was positively no room in my religion for “gay”. The way I saw it, gay and bisexual orientations didn’t exist, and anyone who claimed them was confused, promiscuous, disdainful of Christianity and/or probably had a rotten home life. So I’m very ashamed to admit it now, but my very first thought was that the boy’s admission made sense. This kid had a hard life. His parents weren’t really there for him, and I’d heard from my sister that he experienced bullying. “No wonder he says he’s gay,” I thought. I felt sad for him, and I was glad that my sister was such a good friend to him, because the way I saw it, he was a very confused, hurt, lonely boy who needed such a friend. In my mind his “gayness”, his bad home life, his odd personality, and the bullying were all connected. Fix the last three, and you’d fix the first one. I did feel compassion for him, but it was compassion laced with pity, and that sort isn’t really genuine at all. I thought there was something wrong with him, and I thought there was something to fix.
This story is another that occurred at my church. This time it was Sunday morning, and I was listening to a sermon. It was the Sunday after DOMA had been overturned, so of course I’d been expecting the pastor to address it somehow. I mean really, it doesn’t get much hotter than this issue, and we all know churches love hot-button issues like gay marriage.
Of course, predictably, the pastor addressed it. And he addressed it the same way I’d always heard Christians talk about gay marriage: in a tone that begs mercy from God for the terrible depravity of our nation. I don’t remember his exact words, but they were something very close to this. And of course he didn’t just speak them. He wailed them in just the perfect “woe-is-me” tone. You know—hands raised in the air, anguished face lifted up to the church ceiling. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d dropped down to his knees. It was all very melodramatic. He apologized to God on behalf of gay couples who want to marry. Really, he sort of apologized to God on behalf of the whole nation for legalizing gay marriage. It was quite presumptuous, if you ask me. And then he talked about God’s judgment, and how awful it will be for sinners on the day when they must answer for their sins. Of course, he concluded with a hasty reminder that we must love the “homosexuals” and that they deserve God’s love just as much as we do. But considering it was a quick sentence tacked on after minutes of railing about how terrible it is that they are now allowed to marry, the words kind of lost any impact they might have carried. The call to love was an afterthought. Reminding God that we as a church were totally not okay with the legalization of gay marriage was what that tirade was really about.
I shared this story quite recently, but it really impacted me deeply so I feel the need to add it to this little collection anyway. This past summer I went home for my sister’s bridal shower, and that Sunday I went to the church my family attends—the same church I grew up in and attended since childhood. I don’t remember what we discussed in Sunday school that morning, but I remember that afterwards our conversation veered off topic. We started discussing some pretty controversial issues, which included discussing homosexuality, scripture, and the Church. One lady, who I’d known for many years, and who had always been extremely sweet, started talking about Romans 1 and the authority of Scripture. She said that God knows best, and his instructions are laid out very clearly and authoritatively in the Bible. Then, to my utter shock and dismay, she said that Romans 1 is a clear commandment from God that gays and lesbians are not welcome in church. And that was that, no questions about it.
Nobody skipped a beat. No one challenged her, myself included (in my defense, this was more because I was shocked that such homophobic words would come from the mouth of such a kind lady than because I was too scared to say something). To everyone else’s credit, they didn’t exactly agree with her either. They just kind of shoved what she said under the rug and very abruptly changed the subject. I can’t say for sure, of course, but my guess is that they’d forgotten she’d said anything at all shortly after the class was over.
But I will never forget it. It was the moment my very positive perception of this woman was irrevocably crushed, and it was the moment when I realized that homophobia is just as pervasive in my home church as it is in the larger evangelical world.
I’ve shared these stories not to cast judgment on the Church, or to rail about how awful all the Christians are. I can’t do that, not really. Because I was a part of that group—the homophobic group, I mean—for most of my life. I share these stories because I think they demonstrate how subtle the homophobic mindset can be in the Church. With the exception of perhaps the last story, none of these really seem all that bad. I mean really, come on. Of course Christians shouldn’t support sin by joining gay/straight alliances on their college campuses. Of course a church’s failure to stand up against sin is a legitimate reason to leave it. Of course homosexuality is caused by living in a broken home. Of course the pulpit is the right place to take a political stand against gay marriage.
Of course gays and lesbians have no right to sit in our pews and fellowship with us.
It hurts my heart so much to know that I was part of this problem for so many years. I bought into all the stereotypes hook, line, and sinker and saw nothing but sexual immorality when I saw gay people. I was swimming blissfully about in my pond of homophobia, and I had no idea where I was, or what I’d bought into all those years.
But I’m not there anymore. I’m not ignorant. I’d like to say I’m not homophobic, but twenty-four years is a long time to live with those stereotypes intact, and I don’t think recovering from that will be an overnight process. But I am now guarding my thoughts and words carefully, trying to reject anything that sees my LGBT brothers and sisters as something less than God’s beloved children.
Homophobia is real. And it is pervasive. And if you look clearly, if you look with a heart that is seeking to practice agape love, you might just see that homophobia is not limited to places like Westboro Baptist Church. You might see that it is subtly present in your own church.
In church yesterday we got into a discussion about deception and discernment, and about how sometimes ideas that are not from God tend to seem like they are, tend to seem full of love and peace and power all the right adjectives, when in reality they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. In reality, they are elaborate lies designed to keep us lulled in a life that isn’t truly what God wants for us.
That discussion has been on my mind since then. I think that these sorts of things are easy to say and believe, but it is quite another thing to think about them concretely and wonder in what ways deception is at work in our own lives, and dare I say it—in our own churches!
Thinking on these things reminded me of an experience I had several months ago. I had gone home for a weekend, and Sunday morning my family went to church, as usual. I attended the same Sunday School class I used to attend when I lived at home. I knew the ladies who attended the class moderately well. One lady in particular had been a part of the church for a long time, and she was extremely sweet and wise and compassionate—just the sort of person you’d love to spill your guts to in a moment of crisis, or have as a mentor in your life.
I don’t remember the topic of discussion that Sunday, but I do remember that we went off topic and started discussing other things. Controversial things. And then…this sweet lady who has always had the kindest of dispositions started talking about Romans 1. She started talking about how gays and lesbians are not welcome in this church, because God’s Word says in Romans 1 that their lifestyle is perverse and sinful.
To this day I wish I’d said something, I wish I’d stuck up for my LGBT friends. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t really because I was too afraid. I’ve become accustomed to challenging the status quo, and I would have spoken up except for the fact that I was reeling in shock. I was utterly speechless. I couldn’t believe that this lady, who was always so sweet and kind, loving and gentle…would say such venomous things about those who identify as LGBT.
My point in sharing this story is not to demonize this woman. I’d still say today that she is one of the sweetest ladies I know. My point is to illustrate that even the most terrible deception can come from the mouth of someone you least expect. I never would have thought that person would say words that hurtful. But she did. Even the kindest of souls, the ones who seem most in tune with the will of the Father, can be deceived in unimaginable ways. In the moment, hearing that in the church I’d spent so much of my life attending was shocking. But in retrospect it is sobering, because I realize how easy it truly is to fall into the trap of deception and be led astray by ideas that are not of God.
In the future, I’m going to try to be more aware of that, and continually examine my own heart and remain open to the guidance of the Father.