At least I’m guessing that is the case that Jesus would have accepted GLBT people. But as Chris Sosa writes “Queer identity, as it’s commonly understood, wasn’t a concept until very recent history. The entire Bible had been finished for over a millennium by the time the word “gay” came to exist.” So we’re doing a bit of gymnastics to try to link our current issue with practices several millennia ago.
But Chris attempts to do so anyway by arguing that evangelicals read Paul correctly in condemning sexual acts between the same gender. Of course you’d have to assume that Paul is indeed describing these acts in the same context as today. So that if Paul is addressing catamites and arsenokoitai he is not referring to male prostitutes and those who sought their services, he is in fact describing the lesbian couple down the street who have been together for over twenty years and share a life, a garden and cats.
That is a jump I wouldn’t want to make. I’d invite folks to check out the oldest meme on the internet, going back before web browsers, in the days of the bbs and telnet where the clobber passages were handily dealt with. They are relying on scholars seeking to include GLBT folks in the church, an exercise that has an over forty year old history. Which is about the time that this issue came to the public spotlight and churches as well as the rest of society began to be confronted with GLBT people as people.
The developing pro and anti GLBT positions of the modern churches are the result of that forty year history, it is not the result of what has always been the case from all time as conservatives claim. The result is that among mainline protestants and Catholics, the majority today support marriage equality and GLBT rights. It is the mainstream position of the church today despite what evangelicals are arguing. Which is why you see the desperate attempt carve out spaces for discrimination.
Of course there is now a new generation of evangelical writers and activists that are making inroads, especially to a younger group of evangelicals who are tired of the culture war and the attempt to marginalize people, many of whom they are friends with. Brandan Robertson, Matthew Vines and others are likely to see positive fruits of their labors within their lifetimes.
So to choose the anti gay position as the default suggests to me an effort to help a secular narrative on why the Bible is not worth arguing over. But for those of us who are liberal, Christian, and gay, this piece has no words of advice. In fact it doesn’t even acknowledge our existence. But I do take some lessons from this piece that I think religious liberals ought to keep in mind.
First, there are two ways to go with arguing over the Bible. One is to wait with baited breath on what the correct interpretation of the text is to determine if GLBT people have dignity and equality or not. Chris and I would both reject this approach. I take that dignity and equality as a given. The second is for GLBT people to take ownership over the Bible and how it is read, which is the approach I would favor.
The reason we find stories of David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi in the Bible is not because GLBT folks are looking to validate themselves or make themselves acceptable. That is a given. It is rather to find our own stories, our own lives within the text. It is an expression of claiming ownership over how the text is read so it can be life giving to us.
A recent book on interviewing GLBT folks in the Metropolitan Community Churches discovered that the MCC did not provide validation of who they where. It was a community of support to be sure. But most respondents were already aware at an early age of their own dignity and rejected religious messages that told them otherwise. The original intuition was the basis of their own acceptance.
So to argue the Bible, as those of us who are GLBT and Christian do, is not to give undue power to the text, it is giving power to our own lives and experience.
And I’d question Chris’ advice to secular people on whether they should argue the Bible or not. I accept that if you come off somewhat uninformed, your arguments will not be compelling to the other side.But I don’t believe the Bible is a closed book either, only to be read by insiders. I know too many atheists who are well read when it comes to the Bible, to presume that they should somehow not be a part of the debate. Especially as it bears on the lives of people in the wider society.
And what about Jesus? As was noted before no one identified as GLBT in first century Palestine. But we do know how Jesus related to others who found themselves in the margins. Women, children, religious outsiders, eunuchs who scholars believe could be the closest equivalent to GLBT in that world, those that did not bear children. And he welcomed them. I have no reason to believe Jesus would not do the same today.
Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma