Until the church can come to a place of full inclusion (acceptance and affirmation) of our LGBT sisters and brothers, the church will continue to fail miserably at fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to love God and neighbor and being the body of Christ in the world. I honestly admit my personal daily failure to fulfill this mandate and to incarnate the love of Christ; I would never point to my own life as an example of what loving my neighbor as myself should look like. However, I also would not appeal to scripture to justify my failure to love, as opponents of full inclusion routinely do.
All the wrangling we do over a handful of biblical texts that condemn some form of same-sex behavior is necessary and we will continue to discuss and debate what the biblical writers’ intentions may have been; it’s what biblical interpreters do. But in terms of our practical discipleship to Jesus who made everything turn on our human capacity to love, all our exegetical endeavors to figure out what the authors/faith communities intended in these texts are largely irrelevant. With regard to our daily discipleship to Christ and in view of God’s judgment (which I believe restorative and redemptive, not punitive or retributive) all that matters is how well we love.
And anything short of full inclusion is a failure to love.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the handful of texts known as the “clobber passages” (Lev. 18:22/20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9; Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Tim. 1:10), which condemn some form of same-sex behavior, actually condemn ALL same-sex relations. Would they negate Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as ourselves. Would they override God’s call upon the church to emulate Jesus’ inclusive love and compassion? Would they diminish Jesus’ inclusive vision of the kingdom of God?
If they did, then I would have to argue that the biblical writers were wrong on same-sex relations—just as they were wrong about God sanctioning violence and ordering the annihilation of whole civilizations. I would argue that the biblical writers were wrong the same way they were wrong about the validity of patriarchy, the moral inferiority of women, or their support of slavery. I would say to the Bible’s condemnation of all same-sex relations what I would say to a “divinely ordered” genocide: “Follow Jesus—love as he loved, give as he gave, welcome as he welcomed—and to &%## with those scriptures you’re using to fuel your animosity.” (By the way, Jesus rejected and reinterpreted regressive, life-diminishing scripture texts in his wrangling with the religious gatekeepers—see for example, Matt. 5:38-42; 12:1-6 and 19:7-8).
It is virtually impossible to know with any degree of certainty what the biblical authors actually had in mind with the so-called “clobber passages.” Trying to recover authorial intention is a nearly impossible task, and it is very easy to manipulate the evidence and read into the authors whatever we want them to say. (For an excellent treatment of the rhetorical strategies both conservatives and progressives employ in interpreting biblical texts, read Yale University professor Dale Martin’s discussion in Sex and the Single Savior.)
What should be clear to everyone is: Committed, faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships are very, VERY different than same-sex relations rooted in self-indulgence, manipulation, and exploitation. And, of course, the very same thing can be said of heterosexual relationships.
Whatever else Paul got wrong, he got this right:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
I’m sure you have heard too many times Christians who are against the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church say, “We take this position out of love. We are simply being true to scripture.” I don’t buy it. We can read the disputed texts in a variety of different ways, either as a way of excluding LGBT persons or as having no bearing on the issue at all.
So why do so many Christians read them in a condemnatory and exclusionary way? I think it’s because there is still a lot of disguised and concealed homophobia in the church. Dale Martin believes that a lot of scholarly interpretation of the disputed texts is homophobic. He writes,
I am not claiming that these particular men are themselves homophobic. Rather, I would argue that their writings about homosexuality participate in a cultural homophobia, an irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality . . . that pervades much of Western culture and expresses itself in discourses about sexuality, institutionalized marginalization of gay and lesbian people, and social structures that discriminate against them.
Until the church can come to a place of full inclusion it will continue to be shaped by this “irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality.” As a disciple of Jesus and a minister committed to the church I’m saddened that society is moving faster on this issue than the church at-large. Some Christian groups like the Southern Baptists seem to be entrenched in homophobia.
Our capacity to love well is all that ultimately matters. Until the church is able to fully accept and affirm our LGBT sisters and brothers, the church will continue to fail to live out her calling, and history will show that our current resistance to full inclusion and same-sex marriage is no different than our past resistance to abolition and civil rights.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward.