You can find this essay at the RLP website: HERE
After my passionate post on the subject of homosexuality, I’ve received numerous emails asking me to clearly state my interpretation of the parts of the Bible that are thought to speak to the issue of homosexuality. Initially I thought I would respond by email to those wanting to discuss the Bible, but the number of emails was overwhelming so I thought I would post my thoughts here.
I’d like to speak to this issue in 4 parts.
Part One – Hypocrisy:
If we Christians were honest, we would admit that we do not abide by all the commandments of scripture ourselves. I don’t mean that we try and fail. I mean we deliberately choose to ignore scriptures that are not convenient for our lifestyles. As I pointed out in my post yesterday, the amount of scripture that is ignored, scorned, and abused by modern Christians is incredible. This blatant disregard for scripture never seems to bother church people when the issues at hand have to do with their own sins. But suddenly, when the subject of homosexuality comes up, everyone becomes a biblical literalist. The hypocrisy of this is appalling.
I think we should afford our homosexual brothers and sisters the same luxury we claim for ourselves. If we plan to ignore whatever scriptures threaten our lifestyles, perhaps we should offer them space at our bonfire to burn their little handful of scriptures as we burn the Bible chapter and verse.
We should all agree that none of us are able or willing to follow all the teachings of scripture. Let the one who is obeying God’s word ask for detailed scriptural explanations from others.
In my book, that settles the argument, and there is no reason to go further. However, if you are determined to hold homosexuals to a higher standard, demanding detailed explanations for why they do not obey minor parts of the Bible while all of Christendom tramples on the very heart of scripture, move on to part two:
Part Two – The Bible and homosexuality:
The Bible never addresses the subject of homosexuality as an orientation. The idea of sexual identity was not a part of human thought until very recently. The Bible addresses some specific homosexual acts in very specific contexts. The idea of two people in a loving, committed homosexual relationship was not understood in the ancient Hebrew world and is not a subject in the Bible. Very credible biblical scholars treat the passages in question as specific commands against specific acts, and not as a wholesale prohibition on a homosexual orientation.
For many people, understanding this obvious limitation of the Bible is all that is needed. The Bible does not address the broad subject of sexual orientation because it was written before that was an issue. Any specific condemnation of homosexual acts must be seen as just that – a specific condemnation of an act in a specific context.
However, if that sounds too wishy-washy to you, if it sounds too slippery and subjective, let me now speak to all 6 of the passages in the Bible that are thought by some people to address the issue of homosexuality.
Part Three – Exegesis
There are exactly 6 scriptures that are thought to address homosexuality. I’ll either quote the passage or provide a link so that you can read it.
The story of the destruction of Sodom – Genesis 19:1-29. If you read this story, you’ll quickly see that the men of the city of Sodom wanted to commit a brutal, homosexual rape. We simply cannot condemn a sexual orientation because of a rape. There is a heterosexual rape described in the next passage we will examine together. Shall we condemn heterosexuality because of this rape?
Any reasonable person will understand that this passage has nothing to say about loving, consensual homosexual relationships.
Judges 19:1-30 is a sad story of human evil of the type that is often recounted in scripture. It is basically a retelling of the Sodom story in a different context. This time, however, the men actually did rape a woman. This passage speaks to the need for God’s love in a brutal world. It has no bearing on the question of homosexual orientation for the same reason that the Sodom story is not applicable. Both of these stories condemn ignorance and sexual brutality, but not homosexuality.
Texts 3 and 4 are both in Leviticus and make up a part of the Old Testament Levitical code.
Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
The code of rules and behaviors in Leviticus does not apply to Christians. The book of Acts, specifically chapter 15, makes it clear that Gentile Christians are not required to keep all of the Mosaic laws. No Christian group I know demands full compliance with this ancient code of behavior. If we did we would have to keep kosher laws. We don’t even demand compliance with the sexual laws in Leviticus. If we did, we would allow polygamy, which is lawful in Leviticus. Unless you are prepared to obey all the laws in Leviticus, you cannot blame the homosexual for not feeling bound to obey all of them. To point to these two verses and demand selective compliance is ludicrous.
The Old Testament really has nothing specific to say to Christians about homosexuality. We turn now to the New Testament.
Jesus had nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality. His absence of comment does not support or condemn homosexuality. Jesus was Jewish, kept the Law of Moses, and mainly dealt with Jewish people. The issue of homosexuality was not relevant or important to his ministry. It’s not surprising that Jesus never addressed what was not an issue for his culture.
Paul, who lived in the gentile world and dealt with gentiles, discusses specific homosexual acts twice. These passages are the only two times homosexual behavior is mentioned in the New Testament. Let me repeat that because it is important. The two passages I am about to discuss comprise the total New Testament witness on the subject of homosexuality.
I Corinthians 6:9 – “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” (NIV)
“Male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.” Can someone explain to me why we would condemn an entire orientation because of the prohibition of these very specific behaviors?
The Greek words Paul used in this passage include the word for a young, effeminate male prostitute and the word for the older man who paid to have sex with him. Admittedly, there is some disagreement over how these words should be translated, but let me point out that I’m quoting from the New International Version, arguably the most conservative modern translation available. You may disagree with this translation, but you cannot dismiss it as ridiculous. The scholars who worked on the NIV are not lightweights. And uncertainty and ambiguity in translation is only a further argument for tolerance.
We can acknowledge that the New Testament condemns prostitution and a system where a younger man makes his living committing sex acts for money with older men. But we cannot condemn homosexuality in general because homosexual prostitution was condemned. Paul condemns many heterosexual acts in his writings, even in this very verse, yet we do not condemn heterosexuality.
Romans 1:18-29 is the last passage we shall look at. It is the one most often quoted, and it is clearly the closest thing we find to condemnation in the New Testament. Verse 27 is the most specific verse.
I simply ask you to read this entire passage with an open mind. In it, Paul says that those who reject God will be given over to “shameful lusts”. They will engage in many acts that are not pleasing to God. Men will “burn with lust for one another.”
In Paul’s experience, the only homosexuality he knew was that practiced in the non-Jewish world and probably tied to pagan temple worship. He claims that homosexuality is one of the punishments for those who reject God. But what are we to do with gentle and committed Christians who love God and worship God, but who tell us that they have a homosexual orientation?
My homosexual friends who are Christians are not haters of God. They have not rejected the Creator. Nor do not burn in lust for each other and run around committing scandalous acts. They are quietly committed to their partners in love. The dilemma here is that the homosexual Christians I know just do not fit the picture Paul gives us in Romans.
I’ll be honest- I don’t know exactly what Paul meant by this passage. I know he was describing people who chose not to worship God and then “burned with lust for other men.” I don’t know exactly what he meant, but I know this DOES NOT describe the homosexual Christians I know, who love God with great passion.
Because of my inability to make clear sense of these passages, I am willing to allow a person’s sexual orientation to be between him or her and God. I am willing to take a chance and err on the side of compassion and inclusion.
And consider this: Jesus condemned divorce several times in the gospels. You can read one instance here. Jesus is clearly saying that just because a judge on earth grants a divorce does not mean that God sets aside the commitment. So, according to Jesus, when divorced people remarry they are living in a constant and willful state of adultery. And yet, why is it we have no problem with divorced and remarried people in the church? I believe this is because the divorced people are our friends and church members. So we are willing to look at their lives with grace and include them in our communities. We don’t understand what Jesus meant exactly, but we assume they are doing the best they can in a difficult situation. “And surely Jesus couldn’t have meant that they spend the rest of their lives alone,” we say to ourselves. We don’t offer the same grace to homosexuals because it is convenient to sacrifice them on our altar of Biblical fidelity. We can reject them and claim our actions as examples of how much we respect the scriptures.
This even though the New Testament witness on divorce is MUCH clearer and comes right from the mouth of Jesus.
It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple.
Part Four – Conclusion
Those are the 6 passages in the Bible that are thought to address the subject of homosexuality. The Old Testament passages amount to nothing and the two New Testament passages are ambiguous at best and highly open to interpretation.
I do not think the Bible teaches that every expression of homosexual love is sinful. The scriptural witness on this subject is shaky at best.
Even if you do not buy my claim that we have no right to demand specific explanation of scriptures from homosexuals since we don’t provide similar explanations for the hundreds of passages we blatantly ignore…
Even if you do not agree that the Bible never really addresses the subject of homosexuality as a sexual orientation…
Even if you reject my biblical analysis and decide that the Bible is condemning of homosexuals…
Would you at least agree that the passages are ambiguous and open to many interpretations? Would you at least agree that others may responsibly interpret them and not agree with you?
If you could at least acknowledge that those of us who disagree with your interpretation are nonetheless serious-minded people who read the scriptures carefully and want to follow them, then perhaps you would be willing to err on the side of compassion. Perhaps you would be willing to open your churches to our homosexual brothers and sisters, trusting them to read the Bible just as you do, with love and hoping for Grace from God.
I was reading “Turtles All the Way Down” last night and I came upon this story and I really liked it. So I am sharing it with you from the RLP, this story can be found in his archives on the RLP Website. Enjoy …
A Real Live Preacher Dramatized Bible Story
The two men in expensive robes looked very out of place in the darkest part of the back streets, but they were not afraid. Their robes and their attitude let everyone know who they were. No one would dare harm them, even at night.
“Do we understand one another?”
“Yes, separate one. I understand perfectly.”
One of the robed men tossed a few coins into the shadows of a doorway. As they turned to walk away he called back over his shoulder.
“Don’t be late. And don’t disappoint me!”
They walked quickly through the alleys with the sleeves of their robes pressed over their noses and mouths. The man who had thrown the coins said to his companion, “A most distasteful business, I must say.”
Jesus came early to the temple the next morning to continue his discussions with a small crowd of people made up mostly of tradesmen from the streets of Jerusalem. They were thrilled that this exciting, young rabbi seemed to enjoy teaching regular people. Soon they were knotted around Jesus and engaged in a passionate discussion of the Torah and its interpretation.
Their conversation was interrupted by the panicked and fearful shrieks of a woman. All heads turned at the same time to see a group of about ten men pushing their way through the crowd and up to the front where Jesus stood. These were important and very religious men, some of them scholars and officials of the Temple. Others were Pharisees, respected and wealthy men who took pride in keeping themselves away from sinners.
The townspeople around Jesus parted respectfully, allowing them to the front. Two were dragging a woman along with them. They thrust her violently toward Jesus, and the crowd drew back further when they saw her.
The woman stood with her head down and her hair covering most of her face. Her shoulders were hunched inward with shame, and she was desperately holding a tattered robe around her body. Her feet were bare and her hair was dirty. She was disheveled and confused, and she was not properly covered. A glimpse of her thigh was visible through a fold in the cloth. Under her chin the robe sagged, revealing her collar bone.
One of the Pharisees stepped boldly forward and spoke directly to Jesus. “Honored Rabbi, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.”
He paused and looked around at the crowd for effect before repeating himself loudly.
“In the VERY ACT! Her guilt is beyond question. We bear witness to it. Now the law of Moses says that we should stone her here and now. But of course, with Jesus here at the temple today, we are fortunate to have an expert opinion on matters of the Law. We wouldn’t want to act hastily. After all, a woman’s life is at stake.”
He cocked his head slightly and stretched his arm out toward Jesus with his palm up.
“So I ask you, rabbi, what do YOU say we should do?”
He said the word “rabbi” with mock intensity, drawing it out until it almost sounded like an insult.
Jesus looked at the group of religious men before him. They met his gaze without looking the slightest bit uncomfortable or unsure of themselves. He turned his head and looked at the small crowd of people who moments before had been listening to him teach and asking questions. They were all looking at him now. Some of them were nodding to each other as if to say, “Yes, I’d like to know what Jesus says about a terrible thing like this.”
Then Jesus turned his eyes to the woman who stood trembling before them all. His eyes moved slowly over her, picking up details that told him something of her story.
She was a woman of the streets; that seemed obvious. She looked hard and desperate. The bottoms of her feet were calloused and thickened, as were the fingers clutching the edges of her cheap robe. She had known hard labor, and the life she now lived made her harder still. Her hair was dirty and there was straw in it. It looked as if someone had thrown her to the ground, tossed the robe at her, and given her a few seconds to make herself presentable.
But something was wrong here. Something was missing. Something nagged at the blurry edges of his awareness, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Jesus slowly lowered himself into a squatting position, eyes still on the woman. Then he looked at the ground before him and wrote with his finger in the dust as he thought and wondered. The crowd was quiet. They stared at him and wondered what he was going to do next.
And then he froze. His index finger stopped moving in the dirt. He understood. He knew what was missing. His eyes closed and he let the air out of his lungs with a groan. His shoulders sagged. He became intent on the ground before him, and he wrote in the dirt, “Where is the man?”
He stood quickly and stepped across what he had written and toward the Pharisee who seemed to be the ringleader. He spoke directly to him, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Where is the man?”
“You know what man. It does take two to commit adultery. Why have you not brought him here to face justice alongside her?”
The Pharisee’s face tightened with anger. “The whereabouts of the man are not your concern here today. You call yourself a rabbi, do you not? We have come to you with a legitimate question of the law and of justice. Answer please, honored rabbi. What is to be done with this adulteress who stands before you in obvious guilt? Answer and perhaps we shall talk about the man when we are done with her.”
Jesus narrowed his eyes and stepped forward again until he was standing right in the face of the Pharisee. Years of carpentry work had made Jesus strong. He had broad shoulders and rough hands. But the Pharisee was unafraid. There could be no greater triumph for him than if Jesus were to strike him down.
But Jesus made no violent move toward him. Instead, he spoke softly in a voice that only the two of them could hear.
“You set this up, didn’t you? Yes, of course you did. How does one catch a woman in the very act of adultery, I wonder? How unless he knows ahead of time when it is going to take place. How much did you pay him? I wonder how a man like you even knows how to find people who will do things like this.”
The Pharisee looked calm and spoke in a whisper. “The crowd awaits your answer, rabbi.”
Jesus turned and took three steps back to the side of the woman who had not moved or lifted her head. Her hair still covered her face, giving her some small feeling of privacy. Jesus stood for a few moments looking at the place in the dirt where he had written “Where is the man?”
Then he addressed the crowd in a loud voice.
“You have called me rabbi, and I willingly accept that title and all that goes with it. You have come to hear my judgment in this matter. Very well, my judgment I will give as long as you pledge to honor it.”
The ringleader squinted and looked suspicious, but the other religious leaders and many in the crowd were nodding in agreement. What he said seemed fair enough.
Jesus bent down and picked up a fist-sized rock. He bobbed it up and down in his hand, feeling its weight, and then he spoke again.
“This is what I say. She is guilty, so stone her according to the law of Moses. Yes, stone her now and let God’s justice be done!”
The woman screamed in terror, and the crowd exploded into frantic whispers. Everyone was talking at once. The Pharisee who had asked Jesus for judgment smiled. He had never in his wildest dreams expected such an easy and complete victory.
Many in the crowd were shocked and uncomfortable. Although the Law of Moses indeed specified this penalty for her offense, public stoning was rare and frowned on by the Roman government. Many would say that stoning was right, but few had the stomach to cast stones themselves. No one knew how to proceed. Even the religious leaders who brought this woman to Jesus did not think that he would say such a thing. Jesus was supposed to be an advocate of mercy for common people. He was known to associate and even eat with women like this.
Jesus used the confusion of the crowd to maximum effect. He slowly raised the rock over his head and faced the woman. The crowd became silent. All eyes were on him. Then Jesus turned to the man in the fancy robe, the Pharisee.
“You have heard my judgment. Now hear my terms. Let the first man to cast a stone be a man who is himself guilty of no sin! And let him come forward now, before us all, and claim his right to take this rock and carry out this justice.”
With that Jesus hurled the rock at the feet of the ringleader. It hit the ground with a loud thud. Then Jesus squatted back down and resumed writing in the dust by the feet of the woman.
The crowd was stunned. Many stood with their mouths hanging open. Some of the townspeople, empowered by Jesus, nodded in agreement. After a few moments everyone began leave. Some of the religious leaders melted into the crowd and left as well.
Jesus never looked up. He kept his eyes on the ground as the crowd dispersed. In the end, the only one left was the man who had brought the accusation. Feeling his power slipping away, he turned and left himself, uttering a barely audible oath as he walked away.
Jesus squatted in silence beside the woman. When he looked up they were alone. He rose to his feet and spoke to her.
“Daughter of Abraham, lift up your head and look around you.”
“Then lift up your eyes at least and see who condemns you now.”
Slowly, the woman’s hand pulled her matted hair away from her eyes. She looked around, amazed to find that there was no one left but her and Jesus.
“Who is left to condemn you?”
“No one, sir.”
“Then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and be at peace.”
She pulled her robe more tightly around her shoulders, dropped her hair into her eyes again, and began to walk away.
“Daughter of Abraham. I have something to say to you before you go.”
She stopped, but she did not turn around or look up.
“Your name is worth more than this; do not dishonor it. Your life is worth more than this; do not waste it.”
The woman made a slight move with her head that might have been a nod, then started to walk again. Jesus spoke one last time.
“Daughter of Abraham, YOU are worth more than this. Go now and sin no more in this fashion. Be instead the child of God that you were meant to be.”
This time her shoulders shuddered and a soft sob was heard. She ran and disappeared around a corner.
Jesus watched her go and whispered softly to himself, “Go, daughter of Abraham. Go and live your life, for we are all worth more than this.”
So here’s what you do. You take a phrase or a word or a short teaching out of the Bible. Something like “The book of life,” or “The Son of Man,” or “The Light of the World,” or “No one comes to the Father but by me.” These phrases could mean anything. They meant something in their day, surely, but the deepest and most scholarly study in the world cannot unravel exactly what they meant.
But you. You somehow know the truth. You take these phrases with no study at all, and you fill them with your theology, like someone filling helium balloons at a carnival. Then you hang a little basket below your balloons and float away, so delighted in the complex theological construct that you’ve put together. And from your elevated position you lay burdens on people that you could never keep yourself. Lightning bolts thrown down from the sky. Zeus never wielded as much power.
You are going to hell for your lack of faith or for your participation in a religious life or non-religious life that I don’t understand and therefore don’t approve of.
You may not be a sexual person, but must live in strict, celibate loneliness. You will fall in love many times over the years, but you must deny your love and break your own heart over and over and over again, all the days of your life. (And this from a preacher who can’t say no to a second bowl of ice cream.)
You must believe the things I tell you about the world, the earth, the sky, the stars, and God. You must give intellectual consent to all parts of my message. And if you cannot believe what I say, SHAME on you! Shame on you even if you tried very hard to believe but could not.
Give me your life; give me your money; give me your mind; give me your time. Give me all of these things, and I shall take them from you and use them to fill up more balloons so that I can fly higher and throw my lightning bolts down on more people.
And the hard thing for me is that you think this is the right way to treat the Bible and the mysterious phrases found within it. In your mind, you are the great Bible scholar, while I am a little weak in this regard. Weak and liberal and not very serious about the Bible.
For I, in my weakness, can hardly stand before the mystery of the ancient scriptures. I am hurt by them, filled with joy by them, angered by them, and sometimes inspired by them. And I often can do nothing more than confess my own confusion and brokenness.
You shake your head at me and say, “What kind of a minister are you? Don’t you believe the Bible?”
And I look back at you, just as puzzled. “Believe the Bible?” What does that even mean? I say it over and over to myself.
“Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible.”
Eventually the word “believe” starts to sound like something you do with your hands. Like punching something or pushing a vacuum cleaner around. Like you could believe the Bible all over the house and then out into the front yard, where you could believe it around in little circles while waving to the neighbors. Then you could believe the Bible back into your house and store it in the closet, where you keep it until you feel like believing it out in public again.
Do I believe the Bible? I’m trying to know the Bible. And by knowing, I mean the way that Adam knew Eve, and the way that the Creator knows us. I mean the kind of knowing that is like falling in love. I’m trying to love/know the Bible. And I will always struggle with how I can love/know the scriptures when some parts are so hard and mean and awful that you feel bad for even reading them. And then some parts are so beautiful that you can’t stop crying when they whisper little hints of truth and mystery to you.
So that’s all I’ve got. Whatever that says about me is what I am. I’m less sophisticated and more unsure than when I began years ago as a young minister. I’m tired and fairly broken myself. I just turned 47, so I’m half dead if I live to be an old man, and more than half dead if I don’t. So there’s just no time left, really. No time for talking or fighting or judging.
It seems like it is the time for listening and loving and accepting all who seek truth in peace and are open-minded enough to confess that they are simply not up to the task.
Sit down Christian. You cannot wave your unread Bible and scare me because I know the larger story that runs through it from beginning to end. I’m trying to resist the temptation to snatch it from your hands and beat you with it. I am your worst nightmare, a Texas Preacher who knows the good book better than you do. Show me your scriptures. Show me how you justify condemning homosexual people.
Show me what you got, Christian. The Sodom story? That story is about people who wanted to commit a brutal rape. Let’s all say it together, “God doesn’t like rape.” You could have listened to your heart and learned that, Christian. Move on. What else you got?
A passage from Leviticus? Are you kidding me? Are you prepared to adhere to the whole Levitical code of behavior? No? Then why would you expect others to? Move on. What else?
Two passages — two verses from Romans and one from 1 Corinthians. There you stand, your justification for a worldwide campaign of hatred written on two limp pieces of paper. Have you looked closely at these passages? Do you understand their context and original language? I could show you why you don’t have much, but there is something more important you need to see.
Come with me to the church cellar. Come now and don’t delay. I am shaking with anger and fighting the urge to grab you by the collar and drag you down these steps.
You didn’t know the church had a cellar? Oh yes, every church does. Down, down, we go into the darkness. Don’t slip on the flagstone and never mind the heat.
There, do you see the iron furnace door, gaping open? Do you see the roaring flames? Do you see the huge man with glistening muscles, covered with soot? Do you see him feeding the fire with his massive scooped shovel?
He feeds these flames with the Bible, with every book, chapter and verse that American Christians must ignore to support our bloated lifestyles, our selfishness, our materialism, our love of power, our neglect of the poor, our support of injustice, our nationalism, and our pride.
See how frantically he works? Time is short, and he has much to burn. The prophets, the Shema, whole sections of Matthew, most of Luke, the entire book of James. Your blessed ten commandments? Why would you want to post them on courtroom walls when you’ve burned them in your own cellar?
Do you see? DO YOU SEE? Do you see how we rip, tear, and burn scriptures to justify our lives?
The heat from the cursed furnace rises up and warms the complacent worshipers in the pews above. The soot from the fire blackens our stained glass so that we may not see out and no one wants to see in.
Do you smell the reek of this injustice? It is a stink in the nostrils of the very living God. We are dressed in beautiful clothes and we wear pretty smiles, but we stink of blasphemous hypocrisy.
Every church in America – mine not excepted – has a cellar like this. We must shovel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, because every chapter and verse we ignore must be burned to warm our comfy pews.
Our souls are stained from the biblical holocaust, but somehow these two scraps of scripture mean all the world to you. You swallow whole camels, and now you’re gagging on a gnat? When did you ever give a shit about what the bible has to say?
Sit down, Christian. Sit down and be you silent.
How long has it been since you forgot that we were called to walk the earth as pilgrims? Do you not remember when he told us to give our coats to those in need and sell our possessions to help the poor? Did you forget how the first church had all things in common so that none would lack?
Did you forget the day he told us that whatever we did for the oppressed we did for him, and whatever we withheld from them was kept from him as well?
Sit down, Christian. You have not earned the right to speak to this generation. The right to speak is earned with love.
Take back your Bible. Take it back and start reading it. Fall in love again with Jesus. Sell what you must and walk the earth. Let your love be astonishing and people may one day listen to your words.
Even now you might be saved. Our God is merciful and forgiveness awaits.
Real Live Preacher . com pgs. 107-109