Don’t get me wrong: I’ve done my homework. I’ve been reading the Bible for as long as I’ve known how to read, and I studied it in classrooms for nearly a decade. I studied the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, studied the cultural contexts in which these ancient texts were written, studied hermeneutics and histories of interpretation and theology and all that convoluted jazz.
And I loved it. That’s part of why I was so willing to share my views on same-sex love, Christian faith, and the Bible after I came out as gay (around the time I started seminary). For several years, I eagerly corresponded with anyone and everyone who asked me questions about my pro-LGBTQ beliefs: a childhood friend here, a former professor there, with an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in, like, twelve years thrown in. Some of these people were nice; others were nasty. Regardless, I considered engaging in this correspondence to be an essential part of my ministry.
But after several years, I started to say, “No thanks.” Most of the time now, I just refer them to a few published resources, then walk away. Here’s why:
- The Bible debates can drain your soul.One of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, once told her students: “I’m not going to talk with you about why women can speak in church, because talking about that actually reduces who God made me to be.” Tempting as it is to defend ourselves against every attack on our dignity, and important as it is to spread defensive strategies among those who need them, defensiveness can take an inner toll over time. Toxins are still toxic for those who are trying to neutralize them, and oppressive ideas are still oppressive for those who repeat them in order to refute them. To echo my professor, I believe that God made us to share our gifts with the world, and constantly standing on guard against our naysayers can slowly erode our inner confidence and sap us of energy we need to share our gifts well.So, if you are an LGBTQ person of faith or a woman of faith who has felt targeted in the Bible debates and felt compelled to respond in battle, consider that laying down your weapons at least every once in a while may be necessary for your spirit’s health.
- The Bible debates are frequently futile.Many of those who seek out the Bible debates are not the kind of people who are worth engaging. Often, they are the kind that prefers diatribe over dialogue, the kind that is more occupied with accusing others and justifying themselves than they are with asking questions and learning something new. Not every person who asks you a question is really asking you a question, by the way. Some people, I’ve learned, use questions as an avenue for condemnation. Some people are just trying to get their foot in the door, and once it’s opened, they’ve got you in their line of fire. In fact, some people appear to be genuinely convinced that they are asking you a real question, but then once they realize just how coherent and compelling your answers can be, they show their true colors.Several years ago, when I spoke with one of my seminary professors about some of my family members who did not support me as an openly gay man, he invoked the following words of Jesus: “Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Matthew 7:6). There are plenty of “good Christian folk” out there who are acting like swine. Think twice before stepping into their muddy pit.
- The Bible debates have stunted the Christian imagination. We have invested so much in addressing the so-called “clobber verses” that many of us have neglected alternative means of demonstrating that Christian faith and LGBTQ identity are compatible. A dozen verses after that line about pigs, Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” Why get bogged down in arguing with people about whether or not we are good trees, when we could just bear good fruit and let that speak for itself? According to 1 John 4:7, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Why not just love well, then let our love testify on our behalf?
- We don’t have time for this.Seriously. We have families, friends, jobs, goals, dreams, faith. Who has time for those haters? What do we owe them? Haven’t they already taken enough from us?
Of course, you are free to debate haters and non-haters alike as frequently and as fiercely as you please. As for me, I have decided to turn my focus elsewhere. The way I see it, we were made to enjoy life to the fullest and to share our gifts with the world, and I want to dedicate more of myself to that and less to justifying my right to do so.
Photo by William Stell.
About William Stell
William Stell is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bordentown, NJ. He has written for Huffington Post’s Queer Voices section, Religion Dispatches, Geez Magazine, and www.religioussocialism.org. Connect with him on Twitter: @wmstell.