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 Gospel of Offense

I often run into people who are unconcerned with the wording they choose, unphased if particular words or phrases mean something different to the hearer than was intended by the speaker.  I hear people presenting “hard truths” that drive people further from the gospel, rather than helping them to find the loving arms of the Savior.  I see people who believe that affronting people in the name of the Lord is appropriate.

All of this is supported by one faulty premise: the idea that the gospel is intended to offend.

In many circles, I’m told that my words don’t need to be carefully chosen or delivered with love, because it is God the listener is rejecting, not me.  And it appears that this is meant to be a comfort.  As though the idea that in response to my words, someone may reject God (and not merely reject me) means I feel less concern or responsibility.  If I have any love for my neighbor, this is not a consolation; it’s a reminder of just how much responsibility I have in choosing my words and representing my God well.

Jesus didn’t spend much of His time on earth offending people.  He generally extended love, compassion, and understanding to those with whom He interacted.  At times He presented people with challenging instructions or ideas, but that challenge nearly always was accompanied by gentleness.

With one exception.  The only group whom Jesus repeatedly offended was the extremely religious.  Those who were charged with drawing the people into relationship with God, yet were presenting a false picture of God to those around them.  Those who seemed to overlook the love, forgiveness, and restoration that God offers.

If I am following the example set by Jesus, then I will not find comfort in the offense of people separated from God.  If I am following the example set by Jesus, I will reach out in love and mercy, putting the needs of others above my own comforts.  (Even with something as seemingly minute as word choices.)

The gospel is not offensive.  It is good news!  It is good news to those who are living life without God and to those who have been drawn into relationship with Him.  It is good news to those who are broken and to those to whom God has brought restoration.

The idea that the gospel is offensive is an excuse.  It is an excuse to offend, to speak without love, or it is a shield to protect a fragile ego and deflect a feeling of rejection.

Our job is not to offend.  Nor is it to excuse careless speech with a faulty expectation of the gospel.  Our job is to love so well that people will experience God’s love and be drawn to Him.

Few Are Chosen

Yesterday we continued our discussion around the question:  Who does Jesus say will get into heaven?  This week we focused a lot of our attention on the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 22:1-14.

Jesus tells the story of a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to tell those who were invited that the time for the banquet had come, and they all refused.  So the king sent his servants out into the street to invite anyone they found, good or bad, so that the banquet hall was full of guests.  Yet one of those guests was not dressed in wedding clothes, so he was bound and thrown out “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“For many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus concludes.

This parable confused me for years, and it appeared yesterday that I was not alone.

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In this first century world of honor and shame, turning down an invitation brought shame on the host, the act of which also brought shame on the potential guest.

So to avoid this pending round of shame for all involved, feelers were sent out before a party was ever officially scheduled.  The host, or servants of the host, would visit each potential guest to learn their availability for the coming week or two, or whatever timeframe was being considered.  Once all schedules had been consulted, the host would pick a day when the most people possible would be available.  The host would then let everyone who was available know when the party would be held.

This way, all shame can be avoided.  Those who are unavailable are excluded from the guest list. The host knows everyone on the final guest list is available before the invitation is sent, and the guests have already held that time in their schedules, so that when the invitation comes, they can RSVP “yes”.

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It was at this point that we enter Jesus’s parable.  The guests know that the king is planning this banquet, and know when to expect it to take place.  The king has communicated the plans.  And, if anyone had the authority to say “no”, their schedules were already taken into account.

Except, when the formal invitations arrive, the guests have better things to do.  Though they had essentially committed earlier in this process, they decline to attend when the formal invitation is issued.  When shame is at stake.

So, the king sends out his servants to fill the banquet hall with whomever they can find.  And, by virtue of their attendance, everyone who attended accepted the invitation.

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Accepting an invitation to a wedding comes with certain expectations.  It is expected you will show up, if you accepted the invitation.  It is expected you will be on time (whatever that means within the given culture).  It is expected you will dress and behave appropriately, and generally, it is expected that you will bring a gift of some sort.

Everyone who attended the king’s banquet accepted the invitation.  Yet one man chose not to meet the expectations that come with the acceptance.  He chose not to dress appropriately for the occasion.  And because he did not meet the expectations that accompanied the acceptance, he was tossed out.

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So what of this

“for many are invited, but few are chosen”?

Most explanations I’ve heard for this only consider the verse or two that precede it.  Many are invited, they say, yet one who came was not chosen.  So, with invitation in hand, he was tossed out.  The chosen are those with a guarantee, and without said guarantee, you may be tossed out.

Yet is seems a closing statement like this more appropriately applies to the full story.  It seems that Jesus is deliberate when He speaks and that each word is important.  It seems unlikely that Jesus would have told this whole story if the only key piece was the final few verses.

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According to the culture of the time, you choose the guests you want to attend before you ever schedule your event.  The details of the event are dictated by the availability and preferences of the guests you choose to include.

The king chose the guests around whom he would create this banquet for his son.  Yet those that he chose declined to attend.  So he sent his servants out to invite whomever they found.

Being chosen is not a guarantee.  In this story, the chosen were not even at the wedding banquet (by their own choice).  The focus of Jesus’s closing statement was not on the one who was tossed out.  It was on the many who were invited, even though they were not the original “chosen”.

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The Jewish nation prided themselves on being the chosen people of God.  Yet many of them declined when Jesus said, “Follow me.”

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The emphasis isn’t on the few; it’s on the many.  Although “the chosen people of God” was limited to the nation of Israel, many are invited!  We are invited!

Genealogy or “chosen-ness” does not limit our access to God.

Many, countless, are invited!

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

Why Passover?

Passover begins at sunset on Monday.  What better way to prepare for Easter than the way Jesus did, by celebrating a Passover Seder, the traditional dinner of Passover.

It was at this Seder that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.  It was at this Seder that Jesus broke the piece of matzah, or unleavened bread, that came to be known as the afikomen, which means “that which is to come”.  It was at this Seder that Jesus lifted each of the four glasses of wine, and when He got to the third glass, the Cup of Redemption, that He said, “This is Me.  This is My blood.”

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
—Leviticus 17:11

“A life for a life.  My blood for yours.”

“Do this in remembrance of Me.  When you break this bread, which symbolizes the hope that is yet to come, do this in remembrance of Me.  When you drink the Cup of Redemption, do this in remembrance of Me.  The Passover is a time of remembrance of what God has done.  Do this in remembrance of Me.

Sola Scriptura

I have read a lot lately about how we should stick with the simplest reading of the Bible.  It’s being said that we shouldn’t be concerned with historical context.  We shouldn’t try to understand the situation of the readers or writers, or to understand the situation that is being addressed.  We shouldn’t be concerned with what the words meant to the people writing or reading the passage.  All that matters is the words on the page.

(Of course, what’s actually being said is all that matters are the words on the page as I understand them in my current situation within my culture.)

Sola scriptura.

Except it’s never truly only Scripture.  Each person brings their history, their experiences, their prior understandings, and their personal definitions to the table.  Even when we go straight to the dictionary for each word, who decides which dictionary to use?  When a term has multiple meanings, which of the various definitions do we use?

None of us has the ability to have our reading of Scripture be completely unaffected by our history and circumstance.  But let’s set that hurdle aside.

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What about the text itself?

The Bible was written to communicate to its original audience.  God intends for it to also communicate to us today.  But the intent of the writers was to communicate to their intended audience.  To twelve tribes forming a nation.  Or to an exiled people longing to return to their land.  Or to a fledgling church trying to thrive in a hostile environment.  And the authors chose words and phrases that would communicate to their audience.

The text of the Bible is full of idioms and cultural references.  Some of these go unnoticed by most current-day readers.  Others were replaced by the translators with what the writer “meant”.

Here’s an example:

God has a long nose.

Several times through the Bible, the authors state that God has a long nose.  So what do we take from that?  I’ve asked several people what they think that is telling us about God, and I’ve gotten a variety of answers.

  • A long, straight, powerful nose is dignified, so it’s saying God is dignified.
  • A big nose looks funny, so it’s saying God looks funny.
  • Maybe it means God is like an elephant; maybe it means He never forgets.

The ancient Hebrews described things by their actions, not their visual attributes.  When a person is angry, often their nostrils flair, so anger was connected to the nose in ancient Hebrew thought.  So to have a long nose means those potentially flaring nostrils are far from you.  Anger is far from you.  You are slow to anger.

But a basic, “simple”, surface reading of this phrase leads us far from the original intent of the author.

In this example, to overcome this confusion, most translators simply wrote “God is slow to anger”.  “God has a long nose” appears nowhere in my Bible translation, although it is what was in the original text.

This means, for anyone not fluent in ancient Greek and Hebrew, our starting point isn’t sola scriptura at all, but already includes interpretations by the translators.  Translators who recognized that sometimes it’s necessary to translate not only a word from one language to another, but also translate a thought from one culture to another.

Various translations of the Bible focus on different things.  Some seek to translate the essence of the idea, such as translating “long nose” to “slow to anger”.  Others attempt to get as close to a word-for-word translation as possible.  Vocabulary alone makes this approach quite an undertaking.  For example, most are aware that Greek has many words for the various forms of “love”, while English has one.  Nuances are lost in this word-for-word translation when several different Greek words are all translated into a single English word.

Other times the Greek or Hebrew has a single word for which we have many.  How does one pick the “correct” English word to correspond with the original word, especially when that single Hebrew or Greek word encompasses ideas from a range of English words.

Finally, there are words for which no one knows the original meaning, and so the translators make their best guess.

In English translations, we don’t have sola scriptura – the process of translating brings in countless judgments on the part of the translators, as they seek to select the proper word and choose which idioms to translate according to intent and which to translate word-for-word.

…And for those who are fluent in the original languages of the Bible, they don’t truly ascribe to sola scriptura, either.  I have never heard anyone teach that God has a long nose, without following that statement with a description of what that phrase meant in the time it was written.

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Is it ever really sola scriptura?

The only time sola scriptura exists is while the Bible is still sitting on a shelf.  The moment a person opens those pages, there is more to the equation.  Any time we interact with the Bible, it is no longer just the Bible.  An interaction is taking place.  And the reader, the reader’s culture, the reader’s history all come in to play.

There is no sola scriptura.  There is Scripture, God, and us, part of a rich history of people experiencing God.  When we truly seek to explore people’s experiences of God, not solely on our terms from our perspectives, but taking into account the perspectives, circumstances, and cultures of those recording the events, that’s when God breaths life through the Bible into us.

So why don’t we recognize this interaction, and then take the next step and truly engage the Bible?