Part II - UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible
Last week I launched a new blog series wherein I will embark on finally addressing my understanding of what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality. I’m already thrilled at the response… most of it has been very positive.
I know you are itching to jump in to the Bible already, but I do want to lay just a bit more groundwork and provide an overview of the Clobber Passages.
Because the Bible Says So
So you want to find out what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, because just recently you read an article about gay marriage, or about a church hiring a gay pastor, or because one of your childhood friends recently came out of the closet. Whatever the context may be, many of us have been there. Somewhere in the confines of our brain we know that homosexuality is wrong, but we admit to ourselves that we can’t immediately point to which verse in Scripture says so. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll usually discover that we don’t recall ever actually coming to this conclusion on our own, because of our own study of the Text. Rather, we probably just picked up this belief somewhere along the way: parents, youth pastor, a sermon here or a book there.
Like all good Christians we feel obligated to be prepared in season and out of season to give a defense for what we believe. And so we pull out our Bible app on our iPhone and type in “homosexuality.”
Depending on which translation we are searching, we discover (disappointingly so) only two verses come up.
“Surely there’s more than that,” we mutter.
So we get more creative and turn to Google (or Bing, if you’re the type of person that likes to try and get ahead of the curve so that you can tell your friends, “oh I’ve been using Bing for years.” Newsflash: Bing will never surpass Google. Give it up). In the search field we type, “homosexuality in the Bible,” or “why is gay a sin,” or “gay verses in the Bible.” And this looks a little more promising, for now we find a myriad of articles and websites that list all the verses in Scripture that address the sinfulness of homosexuality.
Excitedly we start clicking around, preparing to formulate the arguments in our minds and prepping to memorize the Bible verses in anticipation of our next conversation with our gay aunt, Becky, who shows up at Thanksgiving with her partner.
To our dismay, our list has grown from only two, to a paltry six (or seven, or even eight, depending on who is making the list).
Nonetheless, we press on. Determined to find in our Bible the support for what we’ve always known to be true: homosexuality is a sin. Because the Bible says so.
Some interesting Bible facts:
There are 66 books in the Bible. 1,189 chapters, and 31,173 verses
Of those 66 books, only 5 books mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality.
No big deal. That’s decent. Lots of biblical stuff gets less coverage than 5 books.
But to take it further, of the 1,189 chapters, only 5 chapters in the Bible mention (or appear to mention) homosexuality. That’s only one chapter out of each book that’s referenced.
Even more interesting is that, of the 31,173 verses in the Bible, only 6(!) mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality! That’s 0.0002% of the verses in the Bible!
Okay. You’re not impressed.
Let me illustrate anyways what that might be like.
I’ll use the example of San Jose State University. They have an enrollment of 31,280 (similar to the number of verses in the Bible). Of the graduating seniors last year, the most popular fields of study were Business Administration and Management (2,930 students), Library Science (874 students), Education (852 students), Computer Software (802 students), and Electronics and Communications (622 students).
Using the stats of how many “homosexual verses” are in the Bible, this would be equivalent to having 6 students studying, let’s say, underwater basket-weaving at the University of San Jose State. Six students, out of 31,280. With only one (perhaps two?) of those students graduating last year. 1 student with a degree in underwater basket-weaving.
The way you hear some Christians talk about homosexuality, as though it is of significant importance to God, and by implication, greatly dealt with in the Bible, it would be like saying: “If you really want to study underwater basket-weaving, the place you need to attend is San Jose State University. That is THE PLACE to go.”
(Okay, okay, before you head straight to the comment section to complain, I realize this analogy is silly, and it breaks down eventually, and it doesn’t really compare. But I still find it amusing to think about, in real terms, how absurd it is that homosexuality is treated by many Christians as though it is this significant issue when, by contrast, it is barely mentioned in the Bible. So I kind of like my analogy.)
“Quantity doesn’t matter,” you might retort, even though you’re slightly deflated at the sheer lack of interest the Bible shows on the subject. “Quality is what matters. The point is, these verses clearly say that homosexuality is a sin. So what if it isn’t mentioned much, because when it is, it is clear.”
But is it?
I don’t think it is. And I believe, if you read this series with an open mind, at the end of it you’ll discover it is much less clear than how you currently believe it is.
To Clobber or Not to Clobber
So what ARE these six verses/passages? In order, they are:
- Genesis 19 (the story of God destroying Sodom & Gomorrah)
- Leviticus 18:22, 20:13
- Romans 1:21-31
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
- 1 Timothy 1:9-10
Traditionally, these are the passages of Scripture that people reference when defending their position that homosexuality is a sin.
One is a story. Two are part of an ancient law established for a people group thousands of years ago. And three are within the context of Paul’s writings to early churches.
And when church going folk want to clobber gays with “proof” that they are abominations to God and God’s creation, it is to these passages that they turn. For somehow, in their minds, these verses are an affirmation that gays are sinners and/or the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination.
Let me be clear for a moment. I wholeheartedly believe that these passages of Scripture have something to say to us today. I believe that there is inherent value, truth, guidance and applicable realities to be found in these six passages. And throughout this series I hope that I can share precisely what we do find when we wrestle with and interpret these passages. They DO SAY SOMETHING. So don’t misunderstand me and think that I am setting out to dismiss these six passages. Remember, I’m moving forward with a high view of Scripture (as discussed in last weeks post). I’m not interested in the argument, “well so what if that’s what it says… we don’t have to listen to it.”
No, no. These verses say something. Absolutely.
I’m just convinced they don’t say what traditionalists want them to say. Or assume they say. Or misleadingly teach that they say.
I Say “Homosexuality,” You Probably Think “Gay Man Sex”
For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are reasons), the majority of people seem to associate the word “homosexuality” with “two men having sex.” Meaning, if you were to drop “homosexuality” in conversation with someone, chances are that person’s mind goes straight towards the association of two men having sex.
In contrast, should I say “heterosexuality,” there’s a good chance that what comes to your mind is something akin to: the word that describes the fact that people are attracted to the opposite sex.
I think we do something with the word “homosexuality” that we do not do with “heterosexuality,” and that is that we debase the concept and overly simplify it to one type of situational (sexual) activity. We think bigger about “heterosexuality,” and I’d like to challenge the reader to begin to try and do that with the word “homosexuality.”
Let’s elevate the conversation to consider aspects of a relationship beyond just the sex between partners.
I say all this because I think an important question as we move forward in our diving in to the Clobber Passages is, “does the author of this text have in mind a loving, committed, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults?” Because that is what I argue is a starting point for what a good, pure, holy relationship is. And if the biblical authors aren’t addressing that, then what exactly are they talking about? Can we, as reasonable thinking people, separate the concepts of “two gay people having sex” with “two consenting adults in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship.” We do it with heterosexuality, and I encourage you to at least try and do it with homosexuality as well. It will help in our study.
As we delve in to each of the Clobber Passages, some of the questions we’ll be asking are:
- Who was writing this story/passage
- To whom were they writing
- When were they writing
- What is the context of this passage within the whole chapter/book
- Do these passages address the issue of homosexuality, and if so, how
- Do they talk about a loving, committed relationship, or something else
- How is this applicable to us today
If you place yourself somewhere within the traditional camp then you would expect to find in these six passages a clear message that homosexuality is a sin. Perhaps not as your only reasoning for your position, but certainly a significant aspect of it.
But if we refuse to start with the presupposition that homosexuality is a sin, and allow the text to speak for itself, I firmly believe that what will emerge is most certainly not a clear statement on the sinfulness of two people of the same gender partaking in a loving, committed, monogamous, God-honoring relationship.
We will find statements that speak to sinful behavior. But if we let the meaning emerge from the text, rather than putting meaning in to the text, I promise you that we won’t find support for the traditionalist perspective.
If the Winds of Change Start Blowin’
I fully acknowledge that Christians throughout history have developed arguments against homosexuality using more than just the Clobber Passages (most specifically, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions). However, I won’t have the time or space to reach in to those areas.
I say this because I know that, even if I do succeed for some people in opening their eyes to a fresh (for them) understanding of the Clobber Passages, it very well may not be enough to change their theological position. And that’s okay.
But what it may do, is that it may begin to cast a sneaky shadow on their old beliefs about this issue. It may cause a chink in the armor, allowing light and air to breathe in to recesses of their mind and heart that previously were shut tight with the Truth. It may be a catalyst for further prayer, investigation, and questions.
For others, however, their position on homosexuality lives and dies with the Bible. They have all their chips placed in the basket labeled, “The Bible says it, so God says it, so I believe it.” And I wonder what is at stake for that person? If you are reading this, and you would describe your sole reason for believing homosexuality to be a sin “because the Bible says so,” then how might you respond if you learn the Bible might, in fact, not say so?
Are you prepared to do the hard, and probably painful, work necessary to allow your heart, soul and mind to be transformed? Will you see the Clobber Passages in a new light and, as a result, see gay people in a new light? Or will you insist on holding on to your truth that homosexuality is a sin? Will you make the conscious choice to, in light of new and compelling evidence, continue to maintain that even if the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality in all its manifestations, I still will.
Basically, I’m asking this: if you currently find your reasoning for your position on homosexuality from the Bible, what will you do if the Bible presents an entirely different reasoning?
I think that is a fair and genuine question to ask yourself.
I’m not saying you’ll be convinced. I’m not elevating myself to some awesome status whereby I’ll be able to change your mind with brilliant exegesis and reasoning.
I have no idea how you’ll think or feel at the end of this series.
But, I encourage you to start by asking
What will I do with my beliefs if I become challenged that the Bible doesn’t say what I always thought it said?
The Clobber Passages, long thought to hold the key to defending the sinfulness of homosexuality, long used to beat down gay people with a message of shame, long assumed to give a clear biblical position on homosexuality, have been used in these ways long enough.
It is time to unClobber our gay brothers and sisters.
We’ve laid the groundwork for where we will be going. I’ve stated my purpose for this series and why I’m doing it. The foundation for the Clobber Passages has been laid, and we are ready to start getting in to the meat of it.
Next post we’ll begin our survey with Genesis 19. The story of God smiting Sodom and Gomorrah.
I invite you to spend some time reading in advance.
Read through the story several times. And do your best to come at it as though you’ve never read it (or heard it) before.
Pay attention to what is going on in the story. Who is there, and what do they do? What happens in the story? What is the conflict, and what is the resolution? Why might God have rained sulfur and fire on these cities?
Is Genesis 19 a legitimate source for decrying homosexuality?