Why the LGBTIQ Community should care what the Bible says

The morning that the Supreme Court announced its decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 marked a significant moment for marriage equality.  It did not grant sweeping equality for same-sex relationships, but it at least opened the door and set a marginal line of precedent that, hopefully, will be the foundation upon which a final, national position will be made.  This was something worth celebrating, but it was certainly not the final battle.

The next steps are not entirely clear.  Looking around, I see a lot of people who fully support marriage equality, but I also see a lot of people who oppose gay marriage.  Note the difference; it is not accidental.  Those who support this cause, allies, see it as an issue of equality, that everyone should be allowed to marry whomever they wish.  Two consenting adults should be equally respected and afforded the same legal rights and protections, including the right to be married.  For allies, this issue is “marriage equality”.

The unfortunate fact of the situation is that most of those who oppose marriage equality in this country are Christian.  The only way to have a significant impact on the number of people supporting or opposing marriage equality will be to address that largest population of opposition.  But how do you accomplish that?  The first step is to understand why some Christians are opposed to marriage equality.

I’m going to take some license here and (1) generalize people opposed to marriage equality and (2) speak for them, even though I do not agree with their beliefs.  (You can read some of my thoughts on the subject, if you would like.)  For many of those who oppose this issue, it is not about equality in their mind.  They know the Bible clearly says in several verses that homosexuality is an abomination to God.  Offering legal recognition to a union that is abhorrent to God is not something that should be supported, endorsed, or even an issue on which you should sit on the sidelines.  To these people, homosexuality, as an “act” or “lifestyle”, is a perversion and should not be condoned.  This issue is “gay marriage”.

Most Christians who oppose marriage equality do so based on what they’ve been taught from, or read in, the Bible.  For some this is just an excuse, but for others, it is really about trying to make decisions based on their understanding of God.  This is important, because our understanding of God and His Law shapes our morals, how we live our lives and how we interact with other people.  Even if it makes us uneasy, or it doesn’t agree with what “everyone else” thinks is right, God’s Word is higher than our own opinions or desires.  Even if you believe in a different god, multiple gods, no god, or something other than a god, it is important to understand what the Bible says, to effectively engage a Christian on this topic.

If a Christian believes that the Bible calls any homosexual relationship an abomination, then that needs to be addressed head-on.  If you see someone about to step off the curb in front of a moving bus, it would be reasonable for you to try to physically restrain them, in an attempt to save their life, even if they don’t want your help.  Likewise, if someone truly believes that homosexuality will lead to eternal punishment, they can reasonably feel compelled to try to inhibit someone’s ability to harm himself or herself.  Only by changing the Christian’s understanding of what the Bible says will you open them up to seeing marriage equality as marriage equality, as opposed to “gay marriage”.

When someone quotes the Bible as their basis for opposing marriage rights (or anything related to homosexuality), a frequent response is to attack the Christian back with other verses from Leviticus that the Christian does not follow (“nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together” ~Leviticus 19:19 being the one I see the most).  The flaw in this strategy is that it is antagonistic and frames the discussion as a debate.  This is not going to be effective in changing anyone’s mind.  You are not going to convince a Christian that the Bible is a fairy tale or that it is wrong.  A better approach would be to address the specific verses being quoted and try to help the person see them in a different way.  To do this, you need to understand what the Bible says and why it is being misunderstood.

You will have more successful discussions if you show someone how to read the Bible differently or if you show someone how their understanding is flawed, instead of trying to convince them that their entire belief structure is false.  This can’t be an argument or a debate; no one is going to change someone else’s mind by throwing catch phrases at them.  The key is to help the person understand the truth in the words that they aren’t seeing.

They believe that the words are truth, and above that, they believe that God’s Law stands above all else, even if they don’t always understand it.  God has authority, and just as a child may not know why a parent is telling them to do something, they are expected to recognize the parent’s authority and obey.  This imposes a large burden on one to make sure that you understand your instructions accurately, and that is the key to this approach: show Christians that they have been misunderstanding the instructions, and help them see what’s been written in a different way.  That is how to get Christians to support marriage equality; help them understand that “gay marriage” is not against the Bible, it is not against God, it is not against Jesus.  In fact, loving and encouraging and supporting your neighbor are at the heart of all of Jesus’s teachings.

Just so I’m not misunderstood, I am not saying that it is the responsibility of the LGBTIQ community to drive these changes.  That responsibility lies solely on Christians who do understand the truth of this issue.  We cannot stay silent when our friends or family or church members or pastors/preachers/priests speak falsely.  We have to confront this issue and share our understanding.  We have to stand up and be heard, to engage this topic, and stop hoping that everyone will come around if we give them time.  The reason this post is targeted to the LGBTIQ community and allies is to try to offer some guidance on how to have these conversations, if you’re going to have them.  You are not obligated to change the dominant Christian view of homosexuality, but if you choose to engage someone, if you choose to challenge someone, if you have a friend that just doesn’t get it, this is how you can reach them.  The arguments and debates are not being effective; this is something that may be effective.

God does not hate people for their sexual orientation, or for the person they love, or for the identity they feel in their heart.  God loves everyone.  Every broken, screwed up mess that we all are.  He loves us.  Every single person reading this, He loves you.  He knows everything in your heart, and He loves you more deeply than you will ever know or comprehend.  Anyone who has told you any differently was not representing God, and that is a tragedy.  God does not exclude anyone, even if some of the institutions in His name have.

I know that a lot of people have been hurt by Christians and the “Church”, and that has pushed a lot of people away from trying to know God.  I cannot undo whatever has been done or said, but that is not how God feels, and that is not how all Christians feel, and I am heartbroken that people have been so poorly treated.  I just want to make it very clear that God does not exclude you, and God does not hate you.  God will always welcome you.  If you have ever wanted to know more, or wanted to explore God, I encourage you to do so.

I’m not trying to convert anyone; that is not my purpose in this.  But I also don’t want anyone to walk away from God because they have been given the wrong image of who God really is.  We, as Christians, are supposed to be representing God, to be showing everyone else who He is and how He calls us to live our lives.  We do not always do this well, but don’t let our flaws be the reason that you decide not to search for Him.

 

There are several sources available that can provide some analysis of Scripture.  This specific blog post is rich in information, and the author has a wonderful way of responding to questions with grace and humility.  The rest of his blog is also worth reading, as he tackles several topics of interest.  I highly recommend checking it out if you would like to be prepared to engage someone on this topic.

The Passover Lamb

My family had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover that year, just like any other.  My brother and I were still so young, and Jerusalem at Passover was so exciting.  The atmosphere during the holiday was electric!  Because Alexander and I were “men” (though clearly still boys), our father took us with him each time he went into Jerusalem, leaving our sisters and mother behind with our relatives in the neighboring village.  The day before, while our sisters were helping our mother prepare the Seder meal, we pushed through the sea of bodies with our father, making our way to the towering temple.  Imagine that! – standing before the very building where God dwells among men.  My young mind could scarcely take it in.  We would return the next day to sacrifice our Passover lamb, but for now, we just wanted to stand in the midst of the faithful, so close to the presence of God.

Then it was the first day of Passover, and we were again heading into the city, this time to purchase and sacrifice our lamb.  My brother and I fought our way through the crowded streets, overflowing with pilgrims, toward the city gate.  Suddenly, the atmosphere changed.  What had been charged and electric was now at fever pitch.  Chants and jeers flew past our heads and we strained to understand what was going on.  Alexander burrowed through the crowd as only a small child can, and I was close on his heels.  “Alexander.  Rufus!” our father called, as he raced to catch us.

Suddenly we burst through the crowd and onto the street.  There before us was a man.  Well, almost a man.  His body was bloody and broken like I’ve never seen before.  The image of this tortured man, struggling under the weight of a log as Roman soldiers screamed and whipped him, haunted my dreams for years.  Then, for an instant, the man looked our way.  He looked at us.  Straight into our souls.  I will never forget those eyes.  They were not begging for mercy or pleading for help.  They were simply full of love.  How could this man, under such pain and distress, as his body threatened to fail him entirely, have such love for me?  Only a boy.  A child he had never met.

At that moment, the man’s body truly did fail him.  He fell to his knees, and then to his chest, under the weight of that cruel log.  And the Roman soldiers screamed all the more.  And they whipped him to get him to stand.  But the man did not.  I could see the strain in his arms as he tried to rise under the log.  But he could not.  His beaten, bloody body had nothing left to give.

Suddenly a Roman soldier locked eyes on our father and grabbed him by the neck, pushing him toward the man and his log.  My brother and I were terrified!  What would they do to our father?!  It was our fault – we had raced through the crowd, pushing to the front.  He had merely followed us…  The soldier forced our father to carry that log.  Though terrified for our father, I was secretly grateful that it was lifted off that man who had suffered so much.  Our father carried that log to the place of death, with the bloody, loving man following behind.

When we got there and the soldiers released our father, he wanted to leave quickly, but we begged to stay.  We had to know what would happen to that man.  I wish we had listened to our father.  The cries as each man was nailed to his cross were excruciating.  Haunting.  Watching that crossbar being dragged up the base, with the men hanging from their wrists, steadily jerked up, their raw, torn backs dragging along the upright.  I’ll never erase those memories from my mind.  Eventually, our father put his arm around our shoulders and gently led my brother and me away, leaving the men hanging in the chasm between life and death.

The rest of that day was a fog for Alexander and me, periodically fighting back tears as we remembered the horrific images of that morning.  Confused by the darkness around us.  But I clearly remember that evening.  The three of us had again gone to the temple.  Having offered our Passover lamb, we lingered to be there during the evening sacrifice.  Just as the priest began sacrificing the lamb for the nation, we were all knocked to our knees, as the ground violently shook beneath us.  People screamed and cried out to God.  When the shaking lessened, a priest ran out of the temple, his face ash white.  “The curtain,” he stammered.  “The curtain to the Holy of Holies – it has torn!  From the top…”  Other priests ran in to confirm these wild claims as the white-faced priest stood where he was, terrified.

My brother and I avoided Jerusalem for years after this.  We were terrified to again enter through those gates.  To see the magnificent temple gleaming in the sun.   It was years before I understood what had happened that day.  It was years before that day of horror and death brought me hope and life.  Years before I knew the name of that bloodied man or the love in his eyes or the significance of that Passover sacrifice.

A Christian View on Marriage Equality

The Supreme Court of the United States is considering a couple of cases relating to marriage equality today, and I’ve seen a broad spectrum from my friends in their responses.  Something I’ve seen frequently is that same-sex marriage is against the Bible.

So what does the Bible say about same-sex marriage?  In my research, I have not found a single instance of same-sex marriage being mentioned in the Old or New Testaments.  And, if you understand what the Bible meant by marriage, this makes total sense.  The Bible was written to the people of the time, in their language, using their idioms, in words and descriptions that they would understand.

In Israeli culture of the Old Testament, and even in Greek culture of the New Testament, marriage was not what we call marriage today, in the United States.  Back then, it was a transfer of property; the father of the bride and the groom-to-be would get together, haggle over a price, slap hands and make an arrangement.  This was not about love, this was not about two equals coming together in mutual consent; it was like going into a store and buying a couch.  In that culture, a woman was nothing more than property.  There were, of course, people that loved each other, but that was not what brought people together in marriage, and it had nothing to do with the law.

In that context, what could possibly be said about same-sex marriage?  A man was not property (although there were slaves, they were not property in the same way that women were), and a marriage was a transfer of property.  Alternately, property could only be owned and transferred by men, so a woman would not have been able to negotiate for the transfer of property (another woman) to herself.  Of course the Bible didn’t say anything about same-sex marriage, because one person could not transfer ownership of another person of the same sex in marriage because you were either a person or a couch.  A couch could not own another couch any more than you could go into The Room Store today and buy a man.

I know that the easiest rebuttal is that “homosexuality is an abomination”, as said a few times in Leviticus and elsewhere.  If you read the scriptures about this abomination, you will see that the lists surrounding this word are of those activities being practiced as pagan worship. Add to that, that the word translated in those Levitical verses would more accurately be translated as “temple prostitution”, and it becomes plausible (and entirely accurate, in my research and prayer) that the abomination is worshiping another god, and not a committed and mutually-consented relationship between two people of the same sex.

This is not a simple topic, but unfortunately it is very easy to “simplify” it down to a few specific verses that appear to say something and call it a day. However, a significant part of understanding the message of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, requires an understanding of the differences that language, speech patterns, idioms, culture and customs all play. Assuming that a superficial reading of a text that has been translated (twice) into modern language and culture is accurate to the meaning intended 4,000 years ago does a disservice to the beauty and richness of the law, the histories and the prophets.

This conversation deserves its own space, so I don’t want to go too deeply right now, but this blog post is a very well-written discussion about this topic, and I highly recommend reading this and some of his other pages, as well.

This discussion should not revolve around the question “what does the Bible say about same-sex marriage?”  The Bible is understandably silent on the topic.  However, as we’re searching for our proper response to this, a great starting question is:  “What does the Bible say?”

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

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So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

—Galatians 3:26-28

First contact

I was driving down the road the other morning, and I saw a few people standing in front of a Planned Parenthood building.  Some were holding signs saying to pray, saying to thank your Mom for not aborting you, and various other things.  Some people were obviously praying themselves; heads down, arms raised, rocking back and forth.  Some people were trying to attract the attention of those, like me, driving by.  And some were vocalizing in some form towards the building itself.

As I drove by, I thought about those people out front.  Then I thought about the other people; the other group of people that might be at that clinic early on a Saturday morning.  Young women.   Frightened women.  Women facing a decision I can’t even fathom.  Women at their lowest; at their most vulnerable; in more dire need than they have ever been.

Then I thought about myself.  At my lowest; at my most vulnerable; in more dire need than I had ever been.  I had been lying in bed.  I had been in a downward spiral for awhile, and had just hit rock-bottom and was still reeling.  It was in that moment that I first felt the presence of God, that I first had any idea that God was actually there and speaking to me.

God’s first contact with me was simply to let me know He was there; to let me know that He was available; to let me know that He loved me.  He didn’t bring up my past mistakes.  He didn’t bring up my present mistakes.  He didn’t tell me to repent; He didn’t tell me to change; He didn’t tell me what I needed to do to be good enough for Him.  He just let me know that He was there, and that He loved me.

My thoughts shift back to the women at the clinic, and what they’re experiencing in their moment of greatest need.  How can we, as Christians, make our presence known in the same way that God has reached out to us?  How do we let them know that we are here; that we love them?  How do we give them the compassion that they sorely need?  How do we comfort them the way we were comforted?

The Missing Half of the Church

Most men and many women within the Church seem to believe that the culture into which Jesus came was God-ordained.  That the way people related was according to God’s will.

Which is so strange.

We recognize that people are sinful and more often than not succeed in severely marring what God created to be beautiful.  We recognize that Israel at the time Jesus walked the earth was far from what God intended: far from the testament to the world of God’s goodness that they were created to be.  We recognize that the cultures around Israel were also far from what God desired.

And yet, within all of that “un-godness”, we have assumed that the relationship between men and women at that time was exactly what God intended and that it is the duty of the Church to preserve that model.

God chose Deborah to lead His people Israel.  (Judges 4-5)

God chose to speak to His people through prophetesses throughout the story of the Bible.  In fact, in II Kings the high priest sought out a prophetess when he needed an answer from God.  (II Kings 22:11-20)  God even chose a prophetess as one of two people to proclaim the birth of the Messiah in the temple courts.  (Luke 2:36-38)

He chose women to be the first witnesses of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-8), to be teachers of men who would become great leaders in the church (Acts 18:24-26), to be apostles (Romans 16:7).

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The ancient Hebrews were a people who described and understood things by their actions, rather than by their physical attributes.  If looking at a cow, a horse, and a sparrow, we would say, of the three, the cow and the horse are similar, because both are large, four-legged animals.  But an ancient Hebrew would pair the horse and the sparrow: both are quick and agile.  The ancient Hebrews knew God, they described Him and understood Him, according to His actions.

We say actions speak louder than words, yet we far prefer to follow statements in scripture with no thought of their cultural context or the intent of the author, than to recognize the actions of God.

Paul says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (I Timothy 2:12), yet God did (Judges 4-5, Acts 18:24-26; Romans 16:7).  Perhaps we should take a second look at what Paul is saying.  Perhaps we should explore why Paul appears to be issuing an absolute that is in opposition with God’s actions.

Perhaps if we sought more understanding, we would realize the huge disservice we have been doing to the Church and to the world, by depriving the Church of the many great leaders and gifted teachers within half of our population.

God highly values women.  Not solely as homemakers and mothers and casserole-bakers.  He values them, He equips and uses them, as leaders, as teachers, as prophets, as apostles.

It is time for us to quit crippling the Church, by essentially tying one arm behind our back, gouging out an eye, and binding up a foot, and to allow the Church to operate in its God-created fullness.  To allow those God is calling to lead, guide, and teach the Church, those upon whom God is bestowing great wisdom, to respond to His call.

The Infallibility of Man

How and when did the Church adopt the doctrine of the infallibility of man?

Although the precise definition often differs, the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture seems to be widely accepted.  And although most wouldn’t list it among their beliefs, it appears the infallibility of man is nearly as strongly held a belief.

Quite some time ago, the Church seems to have taken the following journey:

  • Scripture is infallible.
  • I understand Scripture to be saying ____.
  • Therefore, the doctrine of ______ is infallible.

There seems to be no division between the infallibility of Scripture and the infallibility of man’s interpretation or understanding of Scripture.

But these are obviously two different things.  The second involves man’s interaction with Scripture, and since man is clearly fallible (the gospel would be unnecessary without that fact), man’s interpretation cannot be seen as infallible.

It’s easy to look back through history and identify interpretations of Scripture as being in error, when we don’t hold to those interpretations today.  The earth is clearly not the center of the universe.  Nor is the sun.  However, at various times the church knew that each was at the center, because they had Scripture which declared it so.  Or more precisely, they had Scripture which they had interpreted to declare it so.

Much, much harder, however, is to look at our current understanding of the teachings of the Bible, and seek to discover whether our interpretation may not be the only interpretation.  To discover whether our understanding may not be God’s true intent.

If the Church had reevaluated the passages on which they were relying during the time of Copernicus or Galileo, they may have found an equally reasonable interpretation of those passages that also agreed with the science of the day.  They even may have found a more reasonable interpretation.

Today, many seem to think that reevaluating one’s beliefs is equivalent to throwing out truth in order to bow to the culture.  However, if the reliance remains on Scripture, that argument doesn’t hold water.

Scripture is the ultimate authority.  Not my understanding or interpretation.  Not even if that understanding or interpretation is widely held.  Not even if people in authority declare it so.  Scripture is the ultimate authority.

For centuries it was believed that the Bible condoned, even encouraged, slavery.  Countless families were destroyed and countless lives were horribly impacted by this understanding.  I don’t want to think about where we would be today if this belief was never reevaluated in this country.  If people did not revisit Scripture to seek God’s heart on the matter.

If we insist on holding firmly to our currently-held beliefs, without a willingness to allow God to reveal a more accurate truth, the effects can still be devastating today.  We must continually approach Scripture with an open mind, seeking to understand God’s truth, not just to reaffirm our beliefs.

God loves the world and desires that none should perish.   It is imperative that we put God’s priorities above our own, and humbly seek understanding of truth.  Even if the truth God reveals isn’t in line with our prior understanding.

Even if it’s scary.

Even if it changes everything.