This may be one of the most boring posts I have written on my blog. Why?
I prefer to tell stories because I think we learn best from the experience of others, and God speaks to me clearest through interaction with others. But, for years I have heard some of my Christian friends talk about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. This issue is ripping our churches apart in most Christian denominations. It does not have to be so if we would be open to more light and less heat on the subject.
You have heard the words if you’ve grown up in a Christian church. “Homosexuality is an abomination before God.” Proof texting (a passage of Scripture used to prove a doctrine) all by itself is as dry as dust and holds no life-giving water for me.
So how do we take the Bible seriously without trying to make every word and each letter to be understood literally? For me, there are three guidelines to interpreting and understanding what the Bible means to me:
1) What does the scripture actually say in its full context (audience), and how is it consistent or inconsistent with how Jesus lived and what he taught?
2) What have Christians said about the meaning of this passage through the ages (tradition) as I do not live my faith in isolation, and I do not have all the truth.
3) Based on my personal experience in the world, with the Spirit’s help, how can I spiritually discern or grow from this truth? In my Baptist upbringing, we called this way of thinking “the priesthood of every believer.” In other words, how do I use the brain God gave me to understand a spiritual truth?
I believe many of the people who say “what the Bible says about homosexuality” have never really studied the context of what is written. I have to admit I was one of them. I did not read and study it myself for many years. I just chose the Bible verses that supported what I already believed, and repeated what I heard others say. As I have grown older and have known hundreds of persons who are gay through my ministry, and have been exposed to a new way of understanding as a result, my beliefs have changed.
So, let me try to explain what I believe about the Leviticus 18 passage used by many Christians against gay folks.
What does this passage actually say? You can read the entire chapter for yourself here.
The “abomination” word is used in verse 22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” It also adds a penalty at Leviticus 20:13, “If 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.” Few today would advocate the death penalty for all homosexuals, though there are a few. So why have this sexual rule or ethic? (Leviticus also says it is an abomination to eat shrimp or shellfish, all kinds of birds are forbidden, and the list goes on). The context is important to understand. In other words, I don’t know one Christian who lives by what Leviticus says, except when it supports the point they want to make.
It was the Jewish belief 3,000 years ago that everything to do about human life came from semen (women were not valued in the circle of life since there was no understanding of ovulation and eggs), in other words it all came from the guys only. So to masturbate or have sex with another male (spilling semen without creating children) was considered murder because no child could be reproduced. The future of the Jewish people depended on procreation, as it does for every ethnic group.
But there is no understanding here of mutual loving relationships between two males or two females. It was all about procreation. But to make the leap that couples who cannot or do not create children as a result of their sexual union disqualifies all of us heterosexual couples who have not been able to, or have chosen not to, have children in their relationships. I would be in that list.
As a preacher’s kid growing up in Alabama, I remember some members of my father’s church quoting scripture to justify not allowing African Americans to worship in our church (as if they wanted to worship with us), or not allowing African Americans and white people to date, or God forbid, to marry whom they loved regardless of race. The whole right to marry whom you love, regardless of race or gender, to me seems to be at least a civil (equal) right of every American in the same way that voting is. They did the same in my seminary years when they wanted to forbid women to be pastors or priests. But I get ahead of myself.
A minister friend of mine read my blog recently and wrote to me and said, “Malcolm, I appreciate the way you care for people who are homosexual showing them God’s love, but the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is so clear about how wrong that behavior is, when do you help them to see how wrong their lifestyle is?”
“I don’t,” I said without any inflection in my voice. “I just love them the way I believe God does, and in the way that I want to be loved,” I added. “I checked my job description when I came to work here in 1994 and I couldn’t find where it said I was supposed to straighten everyone out, so I try to avoid doing that,” I said with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.
I am a third generation ordained Baptist minister. I have been a minister on the staffs of Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and United Church of Christ Congregational churches. And now at this time in my life, I am a member of the Episcopal church. Some people would see the last two sentences as evidence that I am confused about what I believe. To me, hopefully it means I’m willing to be open to growing and learning from others. I don’t have the last word about truth.
For me, this scripture is not about mutual loving, respectful, committed relationships between two adults. It is about making sure there are enough children for the tribe to survive.
My experience in walking with hundreds of people who are gay is that I’ve never known one to say “I chose this way of being.” Rather it is the way they have always been. The way they were created. This is my experience in listening to them, maybe yours has been different.
The most loving thing I know to do is to encourage respectful, committed, loving relationships towards whomever he or she is attracted regardless of gender.
This blog is getting too long so I will stop for the day, and maybe add more later.
In the meantime, you can read ALL of the scriptures related to homosexuality in the Bible that most Christians reference:
- Leviticus 18 (today’s reading)
- Leviticus 20
- Genesis 19
- Judges 19
- Romans 1
- I Corinthians 6
- I Timothy 1
Want to read more? I recommend a book called “Those Seven References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible” by The Rev. John F. Dwyer. There is also an excellent short booklet written by Mel White, “What the Bible Says – And Doesn’t Say, about Homosexuality.”
Thanks for any comments that you have.