The Bible is Tricky; Love Shouldn't Be
(This is the 4th and final post on my series: Why I Write/Post So Much On the LGBTQ Topic. Thank you for taking the time to better understand where I’m coming from and why. Make sure to check out Part I: Gay Balloons and Star Wars Legos, Part II: Speaking of Jesus..., and Part III: And Yet it Moves)
THE BIBLE IS A TRICKY BUSINESS
If you think the Bible is easy to understand, you probably haven’t read it.
If you think that historically Christians have basically gotten pretty close to agreeing on how to interpret the Bible, you probably haven’t studied much church history.
If you think that historically Christians have, more or less, not been majorly wrong on some pretty significant issues, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.
At the risk of offending your intelligence right at the beginning, I want to make sure we are not naïve about something. Or, as it likely could be, ignorant.
The Bible is a complex compilation of literature that ranges in different styles; from historical narrative, to poetry, to metaphor, and everything in between. It was composed by humans over the span of possibly a couple thousand years and written in many different cultures and contexts. It was not written in English, so our English copies are a translation of Greek manuscripts (a dead language) which was either trying to translate Hebrew manuscripts (also a dead language) or it was the written recording of the spoken word in Aramaic (also, you guessed it, a dead language). Translators, for the most part, have done their best over the centuries to help the people in their historical context to understand the words written hundreds/thousands of years ago. It’s a tricky business, and we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think that sometimes people’s biases (theology?) influenced their choice on which English words to use to translate the Greek that recorded the Aramaic that translated the Hebrew.
Furthermore, as if the translation process itself weren’t difficult enough, virtually no two people in history have ever agreed completely on how to interpret every single word/phrase/sentence/verse/passage/chapter/book of the Bible. Followers of Christ have splintered in to thousands of different variations of what it means to be a “Christian.” New ideas and altered interpretations pop up in the scholarly world all the time. The church of 100 years ago would barely recognize the church of today. The church of 200 years ago would barely recognize the church of 100 years ago. And so on. As a result, if you study Church History, you will discover that the Church has been wrong so many times on such major issues that even the drunk old uncle at the family reunion would blush. Just to name a few (in no particular order): polygamy, patriarchy, slavery, witch hunting, astronomy, Inquisition, Nazi Germany, American Colonialism (i.e. Native American genocide), more slavery, various predictions of the End Times, denying women rights, denying colored people rights, beating our children, more slavery, etc, etc, etc. Yes, I realize some of these “misfires” are from what you might call “fringe groups.” But most of them are not. Most of them come from the majority position. And most of them are a result of misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible.
It is a tricky business, Bible reading/interpreting, and millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history as a result of God-fearing Christians missing the point. Don’t ever think, for one second, that you or I are immune to missing the point. That you or I are immune to misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible. None of us are. This is serious, serious (and tricky) business, and SO MUCH IS ON THE LINE.
If you read yesterdays post (And Yet it Moves) then you know that I would add to the above list: “homosexuality.” Millions of us are convinced that the church has misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied the Bible when it comes to sexuality and same-sex attraction. And as a result, millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history.
So why do I write/talk about the church and sexuality so much?
Because I think we’ve been wrong long enough.
HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE
Many of you have followed my series called UnClobber: The Bible and Homosexuality. Frustratingly I paused that series as we picked up and moved to San Diego and I have not yet gone back and finished it. But I promise within the next month that will happen. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, UnClobber is my effort to go passage by passage through the texts in the Bible that have been used to formulate the position that any expression of same-sex attraction is a sin. Or, to put it simply, that “homosexuality is a sin.”
The bottom line is that this simply is not true.
The Bible does not communicate this message.
We have erred on this just as we have on slavery. Just as we have on astronomy. Just as we have on segregation. Etc, etc, etc.
I won't try and summarize my thoughts on the Bible and homosexuality here. You’ll have to come back for UnClobber. But I do want to share one insight from the Bible as I close up this series. (For this insight, I am indebted to Matthew Vines and his incredible 1 hour and 7 minute talk on the Bible and Homosexuality. Definitely worth your time.)
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE (Alone, that is)
If you are Christian and still think being gay is a ‘choice’ then I’m here to tell you that you are in the minority position within your own clan. Most conservative Christians have moved or are moving away from that position because it has repeatedly been demonstrated to be false. The prominent position nowadays within the conservative Christian world is this: if you are gay then you are called to be celibate. Just being gay is not a sin, but any expression of gay love is.
In other words, if you are gay then we invite you to be alone.
It is now your cross to bear.
All people are born with certain pre-dispositions to certain sinful behaviors. Our calling is to learn to live in a way that does not give in to those temptations. (I saw this clip from John Piper about homosexuality. After cleaning the vomit off my keyboard I realized this summarizes pretty well the ‘conservative’ position).
Of course, no decent Christian would put it so bluntly (“if you are gay then you are called to be alone”). They would probably point out how a relationship with Jesus can fill that lonely-shaped-hole, or how friendship and Christian fellowship can help us not be lonely, and so on. And all of that is true… sort of.
But check this out.
Although it’s not technically a clobber passage, many people will point to Genesis chapter 2 (and a hyper-literal interpretation to boot) as foundational evidence that heterosexuality is the only God-blessed union. Here’s the perennial nail in the coffin:
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
And there you have it. God’s design is for one man and one woman. Clear and simple.
However, when was the last time you backed up a few verses and reminded yourself of why God created the woman for the man?
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die." 18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found
Did you catch that?
Man had relationship with God. But still, God said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So God set about to make a suitable helper for him.
After making a community of creatures for the man, the man still felt alone. None of them were suitable helpers for him. And at that point is when God makes a woman, who is a suitable helper for the man.
Man was alone. In spite of a relationship with God and other creatures. Man was alone.
And God said, “this is NOT good. Many other things have I created lately, and I’ve called them all very good. But this? This loneliness? This emptiness? This lack of relational connectedness I’ve discovered now exists within the pinnacle of my creation? It ain’t good. I got more work to do!”
God himself was not okay with man being alone.
But this is precisely the message that so many in the church say to those in the LGBT community: “Since you are attracted to someone of the same sex, and since that is not a “Biblical suitable helper” for you, then you need to remain celibate. You need to remain alone.”
See the irony?
The church stays hyper-focused on “a man will leave father and mother and be united with his wife” to the detriment of the fact that this relational environment was instituted precisely because it is not good for a person to BE ALONE.
Some would even suggest that a gay person learn to live with (and marry?) a person of the opposite sex. Be a homosexual that lives out a heterosexual life. But I ask you, is that a “suitable helper” for them?
Why do I write about and talk about faith and sexuality so much?
Because the Bible has been used for too long to suppress and oppress our LGBT brothers and sisters. It has been used to fabricate an anti-gay theology. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted and misapplied to the homosexual community. Not only have we ripped the clobber passages out of their historical, cultural and textual contexts (and endured terrible English translations of some words), we have also missed the beautiful thread of relational love that was sewn in to the fabric of what it means to be human: it is not good to be alone, thus saith the Lord. (sidenote: some people throughout history have sensed a special call to celibacy. Nuns, priests, missionaries, etc. This is a unique calling that we dare not impose upon someone else and force them to manifest or try and convince themselves that it is true. Heck, Paul even wrote that “it is better to marry than burn with passion,” but once again we say to our LGBT brothers and sisters, “you CANNOT marry, sorry, you must burn with passion.”)
As a result of my convictions and conclusions about what the Bible says and doesn’t say regarding human sexuality, I am compelled to be a part of sharing the good news of God’s grace and love for all.
THEY’RE REAL, PEOPLE
When I first told a friend of mine (who was gay) the story of how I was fired over my views on sexuality, he asked me this question: “so who is it?”
“Who is what?” I replied.
“Who in your family came out as gay? A brother? Cousin?”
“No one,” I said in return. “I have no gay family members or friends, that I know of.”
He went on to tell me how unusual that is. Most straight folk like myself who experience a transformation in their theological and ideological positions on this issue do so as a result of having to reconcile with the fact that someone close to them has come out of the closet. But that wasn’t the case for me. My path of transformation was not launched by the discovery that someone close to me was gay. Embarrassingly, I had no experience with the gay community and had no gay friends. Instead, it was through prayer, study, contemplation, and being open to God’s guiding Spirit that led me through the years it took for my head and heart to change.
But now? Now I know gay people. Now I have gay friends.
And guess what…
They are REAL PEOPLE, people.
With real stories. Real families. Real passions and loves. Real interests. Real gifts and talents. Real likes and dislikes. Real jobs and real lives.
They are not simply abstract concepts that we can discuss in our ivory towers. That we can pretend to know more about who they are and what they want and what they need than they do.
When you sit and listen to someone share with you how their own family rejected them and kicked them out of the house because they came out of the closet, your heart simultaneously breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.
When you sit and listen to someone tell you about the years they spent running from anything and everything that is good, and wasting their lives on destructive behavior, because they bottled up so much for so long and then fought the most extreme identity crisis you could imagine, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.
When you have coffee with someone who has to choose between either staying in a relationship with the person they love OR staying a part of their own family, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.
When you break bread with two women who have been in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship for 20 years and watch them love each other in the same exact way you love your own spouse, but they CAN’T call each other “spouse,” your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.
You want to know why I write so much about this? Why I talk about it, post about it, focus on these issues?
Because my heart has broken too many times, and because it’s also grown three times its size.
After my theological/sociological/philosophical/political transformation was complete, but before I met all my friends in the LGBT community, I was convinced the issues and the theology was worth fighting for.
Now that I’ve met, loved, and befriended the real people behind these issues, I am convinced THEY are worth fighting for.
Yes, the work of the Bible is certainly tricky business. But the work of Love? That should be far less tricky.
Paul wrote these words to the Philippian church, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 2:3,4
Why do I write/talk so much about the church and sexuality?
Because I’m tired of looking out for my own interests. I’m a selfish person and Lord knows I’ve done plenty of that in my life thus far.
These are my friends. And they, along with countless others, have experienced enough pain, marginalization, shame, guilt and fear. It’s time that I, and you as well, start looking out for THEIR interests.
Well, I’d like to thank you for spending this week with me. Reading as I share from my head and heart some of the reasons why so much of my online presence has been consumed with things relating to the LGBTQ community and the church over these past 9 months.
A quick recap:
Why do I write/talk so much about this so much?
- Because, practically speaking, this is the first time in my life I’ve been “allowed” to do so. That’s a lot of bottled up energy!
- Because I’ve discovered I’m passionate about it. And just like you, when I’m passionate about something it tends to be more prominent in life.
- Because my commitment to follow Jesus has taken me to this place.
- Because I believe Jesus’ life demonstrated a posture of love, grace, and mercy for the lowest, the outcast, the marginalized.
- Because I want future-me to be proud of present-me.
- Because I want to be on the right side of God’s history.
- Because I believe we’ve gotten this issue wrong as it relates to what the Bible says and doesn’t say.
- Because I’ve met enough LGBT folk to be convinced they are REAL people, and they are worth fighting for.
- Because my heart has broken for them, as well as grown for them.
If I may, I offer the following prayer of St Francis of Assisi as a Benediction to close this series.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.