Part I - UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible
As announced on Monday, I will be launching a new blog series called, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.
My hope is to spend the next few weeks sharing with you some of the insights I’ve gained through my study of homosexuality in the Bible.
This could possibly be one of the most important issues of our generation, and while some may be content to ignore it or dismiss it, I feel compelled to be a voice calling out for love, for understanding, for education, for compassion.
I follow Jesus as best I can. And this, my friends, is where I believe Jesus is currently leading me. And so, as unpopular as it may be, I am following.
And I invite you to as well.
“Is homosexuality a sin?”
That question, all four words of it, are for many Christians the first four words and (sadly) the last four words in a conversation about homosexuality. There is essentially only one question to ask, and depending on how you answer it you will either find yourself on their side or against them. Furthermore, what most people mean when they ask this question is, “Is homosexual sex a sin?”
I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, and I hesitate to answer it, because I’m much more interested in elevating the conversation than I am trying to boil it down to a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s not so much that the question is not important, rather I get frustrated that it’s the only question so many Christians care about.
When I reply back with, “well, it’s not that simple… I can’t really say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” this is what I mean:
Imagine I were to ask you, “is heterosexuality is a sin?”
How might you respond?
You certainly would not be content with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Neither of those answers would make sense or do justice to the question. Probably your answer would involve some version of the following: “Within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship/marriage, then of course two people of the opposite sex having sex is not sinful. But if it’s heterosexual activity outside those confines, then I would say that it is a sin.”
So is heterosexuality (sexual activity between people of the opposite sex) a sin?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.
Likewise, if you ask me is homosexuality (sexual activity between people of the same sex) a sin?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.
Most Christians I come across would not allow any space or nuance to answer the above question like I have when it comes to homosexuality. Using the Bible as their handbook, they feel confident that homosexuality is always a sin, no matter what.
In this series, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible, I won’t be covering every nuance of this issue. The scope is much too great, and my knowledge is far too thin. Rather, I’m going to target my approach specifically to wrestling with the handful of passages in the Bible that are commonly used in arguing the sinfulness of homosexuality. These passages are affectionately referred to as the Clobber Passages.
And let me say this, I realize there are several ways that the Bible gets used against homosexuality. (Pause… re-read that last sentence. Don’t you just inherently feel queasy inside with the sentiment of using the Bible against something or someONE? Ugh… I do). Utilizing the Clobber Passages is just one approach to arguing for the sinfulness of homosexuality, and I believe it is the weakest approach (as this series aims to point out). There are other ways people go about it (from a covenantal perspective or from an ‘image of God’ perspective, for example) but I’m less interested in that for the time being. I also recognize that in other traditions (i.e Catholic, Orthodox, etc) utilizing the Bible is only one of several avenues by which they argue against homosexuality. Again, that will not be the focus of this series.
I’m interested in unsettling the way that many Christians use the Clobber Passages to argue against homosexuality.
What are the Questions Being Asked?
Entertaining the above question for just a moment (“is homosexuality a sin”), what assumptions are being made by the person/institution asking such a question? I think when someone asks that question they are doing so because in their mind they have been convinced (or told) that the Bible gives an answer to that question. The Bible, it is presumed, gives a definitive answer to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”
If that were the case, then one would expect to find both a quantity and quality of passages in the Scriptures that effectively and clearly support such a proposition. One would expect that there exist enough texts, or at least enough clear and good texts. Or, perhaps if there aren’t very many texts, at least there ought be a few really clear and simple ones. And vice versa, if there aren’t any really good and clear passages, then perhaps there is at least a vast quantity of texts to gather together. Either way, the assumption is that the Bible is sufficient to provide an answer (which would be a “yes”) to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”
So then, how many texts actually speak to this issue? And of those texts, are there any that are clear and easily understood to sufficiently answer “yes” to the above question? For if we (the church) are going to assume such a position (that homosexuality is a sin) then we should probably make sure the Biblical ground we are standing on is secure. And if it is not (which I’m setting out to demonstrate), then where does that leave us? Can we still answer the above question? Should we still answer the above question? Are there other, more important questions that deserve our time, energy, and attention?
The Purpose of This Series
Over the course of the next few weeks I would like to go through each of the Clobber Passages and attempt to demonstrate that the “traditional” reading of these texts completely miss the point, and in no way present a reliable or reasonable case for the sinfulness of homosexuality.
(Timeout: It is helpful to define, when necessary, the terms that we use. When I say the “traditional position,” I’m referring to the conservative Christian viewpoint that presumes there is a Biblical position, backed by the Text, that pronounces homosexuality to be a sin. However, within this “tradition” there is admittedly a range of ways that this belief is expressed. For instance, on one extreme you have those that would say just being gay is an abomination, and that person will spend forever burning in hell (i.e. the folks of Westboro Baptist). Then, perhaps on the other end, you have folks that acknowledge that just to be gay is not an inherently sinful reality, but to act on that gay-ness in any way is a sin. A gay person’s lot in life, under this view, is to live a life of celibacy and sacrifice, never knowing or expressing love. The point being, that in any “traditional” view on homosexuality, the Bible clearly gives an answer regarding its sinfulness.)
I’ll be offering (for some, at least) fresh readings of the text that bring to light alternative understanding of the Clobber Passages. By pointing to historical context, textual context, and etymology, you will see that different (better?) interpretations of the Clobber Passages emerge naturally without any outside help or force.
By the end I hope to show that the burden lies on the traditionalist to show why we should still answer “yes” to the above question in light of the lack of biblical evidence. Brian McLaren, in his book “New Kind of Christianity,” refers to “fundasexualism” as a combative brand of religious fundamentalism that preoccupies itself with sexuality. Not all people who subscribe to a traditional understanding of the Clobber Passages would necessarily be fundasexualists, but my belief is that because the Bible does not provide evidence to answer “yes” to the above question, then Christians need to consider that and re-consider their stance on the issue of homosexuality. Or at the very least, cease using the Clobber Passages as proof texts to declare homosexuality a sin.
Who Will Read this Series
This series isn’t for everyone. I get it.
But some of the types of people who might be interested are:
- Christians who have friends or family members that have come out of the closet, and maybe for the first time are looking to the Bible to really see if there’s reason to view their loved one as a “sinner,” like they’ve been told they should.
- Christians who have grown up with the traditional perspective and never questioned it… until now. And they are thirsty for some fresh understandings that perhaps will resonate more closely with the world they live in.
- Christians who, by nature, simply have an open mind and an open heart. They may not have spent much time thinking about homosexuality in the past, but somehow they made their way to this blog and figure, “heck, why not? I’m always open to hearing different perspectives.”
- Christians who have had massive tension between what they feel to be true (that being gay isn’t a sin… that same-sex couples aren’t destined for hell… etc) and what they think they know to be true (the Bible, though, says it’s wrong).
- Christians who cannot get behind the traditional perspective on this, but have never been given a way to understand the Bible differently with regards to the Clobber Passages.
- Christians who have always believed some version of the traditional perspective on homosexuality, yet really respect other Christians who have come to different conclusions. They don’t understand how other Christians can read the same Bible and come to radically different conclusions, so they are genuinely interested in hearing someone like myself explain how I “deal” with the Clobber Passages.
- People who are NOT Christians but are still interested in what some Christian thinkers think about homosexuality.
- People who are gay and have never had someone affirm them. Never had someone say, “you don’t have to listen to those in your life that would seek to shame you and defeat you by throwing Bible verses at you.”
- My mom. She’ll read it. She reads everything I write. Thanks mom.
Who Won’t Read this Series
On the flip side, I’m convinced there are many people who have no interest in a series like this. Such as:
- Christians who have always believed the traditional perspective on the Bible and homosexuality and see no reason to question it. They rarely question anything in their Christianity. Because “questioning” something shows a lack of faith, and that displeases God.
- Christians who have a vested interest in making sure the answer is always “yes” to the above question. Some people would be taking a huge risk in questioning the traditional position on homosexuality. Some people might lose friends, family members, their jobs, respect, belonging in a church, etc.
- Christians who, quite frankly, are lazy. They don’t see this issue as being all that important, and don’t understand why it’s worth discussing.
- Christians who are afraid of what they’ll find. Most people in life, if you press them, will admit that sometimes they avoid learning about certain issues because they know that once they know they won’t be able to go back. Like people who put off seeing Food Inc., because they know that if they do then they will be forced to change their eating habits. And people don’t want to change their eating habits. And Christians don’t want to have to face the possibility that perhaps they might just be wrong on this issue. Fear is HUGE in this discussion. Huge.
- Christians who think “there couldn’t POSSIBLY be anything true to what this guy has to say. The Bible is CLEAR on this issue, and even entertaining such notions as this guy proposes is like flirting with the devil.” *shudder… scary.
- Christians who fear the “slippery slope.” They think that an alternative reading of the Clobber Passages threatens the inerrancy of Scripture. To question the “sinfulness” of homosexuality is to question the very integrity and inerrancy of the Bible. This is to be avoided at all costs. If you’re okay with “gays” then you no longer “believe in the Bible” (whatever the hell that means). So, in an effort to avoid questioning the inerrancy of Scripture, they avoid questioning homosexuality.
- People who can’t handle reading about sex. Especially about gay people having sex. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Some people just plain get uncomfortable with the topic, and feel icky just reading about it. So they don’t.
- People who don’t like to read. Or, at least don’t like to read long stuff. Perhaps when I’m done, I’ll make an abridged version, “For Dummies” if you will. Maybe add some pictures.
Outline for the Series
Here’s the basic outline of what to expect in the upcoming series. Of course, as author and administrator, I reserve the right to add/change/or delete anything I want.
Part I: Introducing UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible That’s this post. Just establishing what the series will be like.
Part II: The Clobber Passages Laying out the Clobber Passages, how they've been used, and.
Part III: Sodom and Gomorrah God genocided a city because of homosexuality. Right??
Part IV: The Levitical Law Ancient purity laws involving shrimp and sex (although preferably not together)
Part V: Paul and Homosexuality What’s with that goofy Greek word arsenokoitai?
Part VI: Romans Save the best for last. This is the standard go-to passage.
Part VII: For Your Consideration A look at a few other passages worth considering
Part VIII: Learning to UnClobber If the Clobber Passages can no longer clobber, what do we do?
Before We Begin
I will be taking a few things for granted in this series. As I stated above, this will be a specifically targeted series, and I can’t (nor do I want to) try and address everything about the issues related to homosexuality.
Homosexuality is real – I am coming from the position that gay people exist. I will be taking for granted that some people really truly are gay, and it’s not because they “choose” to be gay. This understanding is becoming less and less disputed in the Christian world, and not at all in the secular world. It is just understood that some people are gay (most estimates are as low as 2% of the population or as high as 10%). Rare nowadays is the person who still thinks that every human ever born is heterosexual, and that some just choose to be attracted towards the same-sex. And if you are that person, who doesn’t believe that gay people actually exist, then just be aware that I won’t be using this series to convince you otherwise. There are plenty of sites and resources out there that prove that homosexuality is a real thing, and that people who are gay are gay because that’s how they were born and, in part, raised (by nature and nurture).
It also should be noted that the Bible ought not be expected to give us evidence for whether or not there really are homosexual people. The Bible cannot answer this question for us. The Bible doesn’t even try. Gender identity and sexual orientation are fairly recent categorical dimensions, but they describe and help frame for us an ancient reality. There have always been gay people, throughout all of history, and in all cultures (even within the animal kingdom). So the Bible should not be expected to help answer the question, “are people truly homosexual, or are they just heterosexuals who are attracted to the same-sex?” Nor can it be expected to help answer “how are people gay? What makes them that way?”
The best we can hope for (if anything at all) from the Bible, on this issue, is to try and ascertain what God expects for those born with same-sex attraction. That is generally the position most Christians assume: the Bible doesn’t tell us why people are gay, or what exactly that means, but it does tell us what God’s view towards such people/actions are.
High View of Scripture – There are basic fundamentals to interpreting Scripture. And I will try to implement those in this series. When digging in to Scripture, it’s important that we follow some boundaries and guidelines, otherwise we end up just “proof texting” (a method where you search the Bible for a specific verse/word/etc to support a specific belief or idea). Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, it’s popular to proof text. Search Google for “homosexuality,” find a Bible verse, and declare the matter settled. I will be taking for granted the fact that this approach is simply naïve, ignorant, and insufficient.
I have a high view of Scripture. I believe the Bible is inspired by God, and has great profit for teaching, admonishing, correction and training women and men in the ways of right living. I believe the Bible is authoritative for the believer, and reveals to us the Word of God, Jesus. (I tell you this, because I’ve run in to more than one person who assumes that anyone who thinks like I do about homosexuality clearly has a low view of Scripture, doesn’t think it’s the Word of God, and doesn’t know how to read it and know the Truth).
So moving forward we will be assuming that there are some people who are truly gay, and that the Bible is not a source that seeks to affirm or deny this reality. And I will be working within a framework that has the highest view of Scripture and seeks to utilize generally agreed upon fundamentals of interpretation.
This Works Best With You
Hopefully you’ll accept my invitation to engage with this series.
Leave your comments, questions and concerns in the comment section. I’ll try to answer as many questions as I can.
Share the blog posts with your friends and family. Even if it’s to say, “hey everyone, check out this wacko!”
Because you never know who might be desperate for the things I’ll be discussing.
And as we engage with this potentially divisive topic, I encourage you to keep an open mind and an open heart. And to keep love and kindness and respect as driving motivators should you choose to interact.
This will all be much more meaningful, interesting, and fun if you choose to join the conversation or share it with others who might be interested.
Thanks for reading.