Interview with Candace Chellew-Hodge, Gay-Friendly Pastor

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever, an “online magazine for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Christians.”

She is a self-proclaimed “recovering Southern Baptist.”

Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, will be published this September.

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All this puts her in a rather unique position among Christians — she is both one of the flock and one who goes against a belief that has become almost synonymous with the word “Christian” (that the gay homosexuals must be stopped).

She was kind enough to answer a number of questions regarding her beliefs and attitude:

Hemant Mehta: How do you deal with other religious figures who consider homosexuality an abomination?

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge: I try to deal with all of my opponents with love and understanding. I also try to not take their rants against homosexuality personally. It’s not about me. Something about homosexuality sets them off. Something within them is reacting against the idea of homosexuality or a gay Christian. I want to understand what that is, so I try to listen deeply to them. What I mainly hear is fear and pain. They’re afraid of losing their faith and being wrong on some point of faith is scary — it means they may be wrong in other areas. I also hear the pain. Anti-gay Christians do have a deep concern for GLBT people and want to see them come to God. They often resort to repulsive ways of telling us about their concern, but I can still hear that concern and try to respond to them in a loving manner.

In the end, I attempt to look past the hateful words and actions and try to see the humanity in my opponent. If I can model this, perhaps I’ll get the same consideration in return. I treat them as I want them to treat me, whether they return that treatment or not. I don’t want to argue — I want to understand my enemy and in that way, perhaps eliminate one more enemy when we find common ground. We may still disagree about homosexuality, but at least a door has been opened to dialogue.

HM: Is there a generational gap on this issue in the church? In other words, are younger Christians much more likely than older Christians to be open to homosexuality and the belief that they [homosexuals], too, can get into Heaven?

CC-H: I think there is a generation gap going on, but that’s not to say all younger Christians are pro-gay. There are still plenty of anti-gay young people in the church. They’ve been taught by their elders that being gay is sinful, so they embrace that idea without much thought. I think it may be easier to get the younger Christians to change their minds.

I fear that many pro-gay young adults are simply turned off by Christianity because it’s seen as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. I do hope, however, that younger Christians within the church will see the error of their elders and bring the church into a more modern understanding of homosexuality and the Bible.

HM: How do you deal with the portions of the Bible which say homosexuality is a sin? On what authority do you take your interpretation? Is it based on the original intentions of the writers? A more liberal viewpoint?

CC-H: I have yet to find a section in the Bible that says homosexuality is a sin. There is no such passage. What the Bible condemns are some sexual acts between same-sex partners (mainly men). The acts condemned include sexual acts done in the context of temple worship (passages in Leviticus as well as Paul’s mention of same-sex acts fall under this category), use and abuse of another person sexually, pederasty or prostitution (condemned in other New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9), and rape (which is the entire point of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis). Nowhere does the Bible state that the sexual orientation of homosexuality is sinful — it merely instructs anyone, gay or straight, that any sexual act that does not spring from a place of love, respect and commitment to the other person involved is sinful. There is nothing in the Bible that condemns homosexuality, per se, or condemns sexual conduct between two consenting adults engaged in a loving, monogamous relationship.

The authority of such an interpretation comes from a long line of historical criticism of the Bible. There are plenty of biblical scholars who have come to this position including Bishop John Shelby Spong and Walter Wink. Even conservative commentators like Robert Gagnon are now admitting that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is not about homosexuality, but about inhospitality and rape.

The method of historical criticism seeks to understand each passage in the context of the audience to which it was first written. In that context, knowledge of sexual orientation was lacking — the original audience still believed the woman was merely an incubator and the whole of human life resided in sperm. A notion of sexual orientation was well beyond their grasp. In fact, the word “homosexual” wasn’t coined until 1869, so it could not have been used by biblical writers and was only later used in biblical translations after 1946 when the rise of Communism and the “homosexual menace” began to come into our society’s vernacular. Translators in that time made the decision to use “homosexual” to describe the sinful sexual practices mentioned in the Bible. Not a far stretch since homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. It seemed to make sense that these lustful, sinful acts could simply be covered with the new word “homosexual.” I believe translators are mistaken and were guided by their own internal and political prejudices against gays and lesbians — prejudices that persist today thanks to their decision to insert a fairly recent word and concept into an ancient text.

HM: How do other Christians treat you since you are outspoken in your defense of GLBT Christians and how they can be “saved” without trying to change their orientation?

CC-H: Depends on the Christian. Those who agree with me are glad that I am outspoken. Many in our community are afraid to be outspoken for fear that they’ll face reprisals or attacks from other Christians who disagree. So, they’re happy to have me out there advocating for them in the church.

As for Christians who disagree with me, most of the vitriol I receive comes in the form of hate mail. When face to face, most Christians who disagree with me are very civil and curious about my beliefs. I’ve had good dialogue with many Christians who disagree. Most often we end up still disagreeing, but at least we’ve had some contact. The only angry Christians who disagree are usually the ones who show up at Pride celebrations and want to argue with me. I usually smile and say, “God bless you” and walk away. There’s really no need in arguing with those sorts of Christians.

HM: What arguments can convince other religious people that homosexuality is acceptable to the Christian God?

CC-H: Again, it depends on the Christian in question. For some, like those who paint hateful slogans on signs and go to gay pride parades are really beyond reason. They have so much of their self-identity invested in what they hate that it would take a miracle to turn some of those around. Not to say it can’t happen, but no argument will sway them. Some event would have to happen to give them some sort of epiphany. That’s why I don’t argue with those sorts of Christians. Their hearts and minds are closed. I only hope that by refusing to argue I plant a seed of nonviolence in them that will take root somehow.

As for other Christians, some can be convinced by biblical arguments, but that’s usually a dead end. I believe that religious people’s hearts and minds will change in the same way they changed over the issue of slavery and racism. They will come to realize that discrimination against any group, for any reason, is wrong and condemned by God. Even though slavery is never condemned in the Bible, we condemn it today — even though ending slavery goes against “God’s word.” Why did we end slavery then? Because our conscience can’t take the thought of owning another human being. We now know, instinctively, that it is wrong. It was NOT arguments from the Bible that convinced us slavery was wrong — since the Bible says it’s right. We changed because we, as humans, came to a deep understanding that freedom is the right of every human being. That change came slower in the church — but you won’t find a church now that thinks slavery is something we should bring back.

This is how we will change society and the church on the issue of homosexuality. We work to raise the conscience of people so they realize that discrimination against a group of people simply because who they love is ridiculous and wrong. Polls are already showing that the younger generation is realizing this. It’s really only a matter of time before society grants full rights to gays and lesbians. The churches will eventually follow suit, with a minority of churches remaining firm in their prejudice (like the Southern Baptists still discriminating against women in ministry).

HM: What is the best way to approach anti-gay Christians?

CC-H: In a non-defensive manner. If we approach anyone spoiling for a fight, we’ll get one. When I encounter anti-gay Christians I try to do a lot of listening, because if you listen to them you begin to understand that their anti-gay stance has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own fears. They have a fear that if they’re wrong about this part of the Bible, then the whole house of cards that is their faith comes tumbling down. Gay Christians are a challenge to their idea of biblical authority. They don’t want to have to rethink or re-examine their faith, so it’s easier to make the gay Christian wrong than it is to be forced to examine their beliefs.

Having said that, though, not all anti-gay Christians are raving bigots. Many of them have just never met gay people and are simply in need of an education. Extending a hand of friendship and honest dialogue is often the best gesture we can make. Remember, we’re trying to raise the conscience of people — we do that by being open and ready to talk with anyone who will have a constructive and honest dialogue with us.

HM: How long will it take, do you think, until mainstream Christianity adopts more enlightened views on GLBT issues?

CC-H: For some of the more liberal streams of Christianity, I think it will be sooner rather than later. For the more conservative denominations like the Southern Baptists, I don’t know if they ever will. They still struggle with what to do with their women and only within the past few years apologized for their support of slavery.

HM: What can be done about Christian groups that try to “cure” homosexuality?

CC-H: There needs to be a concerted effort to continue to discredit them. Some good work has been done over the years — since most of their “research” into homosexuality has been debunked and their “experts” exorcised from any respectable professional affiliations.

It also needs to be made clear that, to a person, those who claim to be “ex-gay” will all admit they still “struggle” with same-sex attraction. It needs to be emphasized that all that has changed in these people is behavior, not orientation.

HM: Can you blame GLBT people for leaving the faith after being treated so horribly for so long?

CC-H: No, I don’t blame them at all. I left the faith for many years for exactly the same reason. It’s like leaving an abusive relationship — I applaud anyone who gets out of an abusive situation alive and relatively intact.

I am on a mission to help those who left that they don’t have to suffer in an abusive religious situation. There are many safe churches and denominations where they can return to Christianity if they so choose.

My only concern is that those who leave Christianity find something else that fulfills that spiritual side of themselves. I believe we are hardwired to be connected to something greater than ourselves — whether we call it “God,” “the Universe,” “the Holy,” or “no gods.” I love pagans because their rituals are rich with meaning. They don’t have a “god” that they worship, but they have a deep sense of the holy — a deep sense of awe at being alive. That is a deeply spiritual connection — deeper than most Christians I know.

I explored many faiths — Buddhism, Taoism and the like. I found much of value in each tradition, but returned to Christianity because its traditions and rituals are what connects me to the divine, the holy. It’s where I find my sense of awe. I want all GLBT people to find that place where they connect in that way. It doesn’t have to be in Christianity.

HM: At what age do you feel Christian children (or children in general) should learn about sexual orientation and GLBT people?

CC-H: I think it should be taught as early as possible that some people pair up as boy/girl and others pair up as girl/girl or boy/boy and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the relationship is based in love. Sexual matters don’t need to be discussed until later in life when they can handle that information, but the concept of two people loving one another, regardless of gender mix, should be taught from birth!

HM: Do you think the whole LGBT issue with the church is simply part of a larger rift between strict literalistic interpretations of the Bible and more open liberal interpretations?

CC-H: The GLBT issue is completely about biblical authority. If the literalists lose it’s just another battle they’ve lost over biblical authority. They argued for the rightness of slavery — because God blesses it all through the Bible. They argued for the rightness of racism because God’s word tells us to separate the races. They argued for the rightness of the subjugation of women because the Bible says women can’t be ordained, should never teach a man and keep quiet in church. They have lost all of these arguments about biblical authority and they’ll be damned if they’re going to lose another. So, they’re fighting tooth and nail. They’re losing and they know it, which is why they are fighting so hard right now.

HM: How successful have you been in your quest to change the minds of anti-gay Christians?

CC-H: That’s hard to quantify. I get plenty of emails from folks who say they once believed GLBT people were condemned but have changed their minds, perhaps because of something I’ve written or said. Whosoever, the online magazine I run, receives more than half a million visitors each year and I only hear from a fraction of them. I think I’d be shocked at how many lives I’ve touched over the years. I can only hope that I have planted seeds of change in the hearts of many anti-gay Christians — because the only way we can change hearts and minds is one person at a time.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues more deeply, her book will be out soon and you can pre-order it now.

Feel free to leave follow-up questions in the comments and I will be sure to pass them along.

  • Mike

    I appreciate these kinds of posts, emphasizing common ground we share with various believers. Thanks, Hemant.

  • Brian E

    Disclaimer: Not arguing for or against homosexuality, just debating the reverends position.

    Rev. Candace: I have yet to find a section in the Bible that says homosexuality is a sin. There is no such passage. What the Bible condemns are some sexual acts between same-sex partners (mainly men). The acts condemned include sexual acts done in the context of temple worship (passages in Leviticus as well as Paul’s mention of same-sex acts fall under this category)…it merely instructs anyone, gay or straight, that any sexual act that does not spring from a place of love, respect and commitment to the other person involved is sinful.

    Leviticus 18:22Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    She’s making a really weak argument here. Nowhere in the Leviticus’ contexts is this condemnation limited to a specific sexual act, or the lack of love or respect. It’s pretty cut and dry.

    I admire what she’s doing, I just think she’s ignoring or attempting to sugar-coat just how rigid and inflexible the bible typically is.

  • Tao Jones

    For a while I’ve been of the opinion that the sexual morality described in the Bible was mostly a socio-political program to encourage population growth.

    Polygyny was fine in the Old Testament, but polyandry was never discussed to my knowledge. Perhaps it didn’t need to be in a male dominated society.

    For masturbation, homosexuality and contraception, the rule seems to have been, “If you’re horny, make babies with your wife.”

  • Larry Huffman

    I cannot really pay too much attention to yet another personal interpretation of the bible that is taking place because the person following it is offended by what it means to take the book literal.

    The point is…the homosexuality references are there…as far as most christians are concerned. So what if one person who is a pastor disagrees. pastor is not a special title…she merely chose it as her job. Who cares…just as full of shit as anyone. Unless god is giving her perosnal revelation telling her what the bible means…then it is just one persons view of doctrine that is used daily by the christian church to divide and provide an intolerant wall between themselves and those they believe in sin.

    OK…so even if we concede that the honosexual references are what she claims…(they are not. Far too many biblical scholars have shown how the verses do condemn homosexuality…just as convincing as she has tried to sway the other way). How can she account for the condonement of slavery…or the kiling of non-believers…amopng so many other outlandish and utterly unethical positions held by the bible and christianity?

    Btter yet…how can she account for the fact that the bible says she should not even hold her position…since she is a woman?

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  • http://uncrediblehallq.net/blog/ The Uncredible Hallq

    My question for CC-H: If the Bible was written without regard for the reality of sexual orientation, does that mean it is in error?

  • Xeonicus

    I was very interested by this part of one of her answers:
    “Even though slavery is never condemned in the Bible, we condemn it today — even though ending slavery goes against “God’s word.” Why did we end slavery then? Because our conscience can’t take the thought of owning another human being. We now know, instinctively, that it is wrong. It was NOT arguments from the Bible that convinced us slavery was wrong — since the Bible says it’s right. We changed because we, as humans, came to a deep understanding that freedom is the right of every human being.”

    In essence, a Christian just said, let me paraphrase: morality doesn’t come from God, it’s just part of being human that we know whether something is right or wrong.

    Also…
    A) We know instinctively that it’s wrong.
    B) The bible says it’s right.

    So is our instinct wrong, or the bible wrong? I know my answer, I wonder what a Christian thinks though…

    There are probably some mental gymnastics that can explain all that away.

  • David D.G.

    What Xeonicus said.

    Consider this also:

    They argued for the rightness of slavery — because God blesses it all through the Bible. They argued for the rightness of racism because God’s word tells us to separate the races. They argued for the rightness of the subjugation of women because the Bible says women can’t be ordained, should never teach a man and keep quiet in church.

    Even if the Bible doesn’t specifically gore your particular ox of homosexuality (as you claim), if the Bible was/is wrong to promote all of these other things, which are really rather big issues where basic civil and human rights are concerned, then why follow it at all? What is so “holy” about Christianity when its foundational scripture, supposedly “the Word of God,” so regularly promotes such blatant IMmorality? I’d say that these and countless other factual and moral shortcomings of the Bible show that it’s all a hollow sham. If people are hardwired to believe in something, I think you could at least find something to believe in that’s not only better, but real.

    I’m glad that you and other liberal Christians are at least discerning enough to throw off the worst trappings of your superstition, even if you refuse to give up the superstition itself altogether. But to me, this and other attempts by liberal Christians to stick with Christianity (in what frankly is, by your own description, direct defiance of your holy book when it suits you) seem very much on par with spraying a cowpie with gold paint and calling it a Krugerrand. It doesn’t carry any more weight, and it still stinks.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    Look at the the mental gymnastics necessary to accept a moral position that essentially all atheists hold on the very simple principle it doesn’t hurt anyone at all!

    Religion needs to be scrapped, not completely reformed so that it’s meaningless.

  • Anne

    Thanks Hemant. I agree with what others said re the mental gymnastics; still, this is useful in trying to reach out to others.

    I find it a bit sad that some people don’t seem to realize it’s not that easy for many people to scrap their entire worldview. Sure it would be great if everyone became naturalistic humanists overnight. But most of us needed to take small steps, and accepting homosexuality can be such a step.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Not sure why the good reverend is so insistent on remaining “true” to a religion that clearly doesn’t want her.

    She lists some biblical scholars that support her interpretation. That’s nice. I’d wager they are in the

  • Ron in Houston

    Hemant – great interview!

    If you ever get tired of teaching I think you’ve got a lot of skills in other areas.

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  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Sorry for the repost – I entered an html tag that erased half of my first message.

    Not sure why the good reverend is so insistent on remaining “true” to a religion that clearly doesn’t want her.

    She lists some biblical scholars that support her interpretation. That’s nice. I’d wager they are in the less than 1%-ile of theologians. How can she possibly interpret Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” to mean that man-on-man sex is ok, so long as you’re not doing it as part of some ritual for another god? Contorting my brain with this rationalization gives me a headache.

    She wants to be wanted, but I don’t see it happening any time soon, not by mainstream xtianity. My heart goes out to her.

  • Darryl

    I too am stunned at times by how people can make sophisticated arguments to explain away facts that are staring them in the face, or to rationalize positions that are really repugnant–even to them, only to salvage a religion of otherwise questionable value, especially when it largely rejects their professional raison d’etre.

    Ah, ain’t we strange animals?

  • Pseudonym

    OK, Brian E:

    I fail to see how anyone can possibly read those verses that you quoted and think that they refer to sexual orientation and not to sexual acts.

    OK, I see how this may have been possible even 50 years ago, when sexual orientation wasn’t understood, let alone 2500+ years ago. But how is it possible today, and in particular, how is it possible for you to do it?

    It does not say “a man shalt not be sexually attracted to a man”, or even “a man shalt not take an unhealthy interest in tasteful retro-style interior design and disco music”.

    As for whether or not it refers to cult prostitution, I agree that if it’s true (and I don’t know; I’ll leave that one for the historians), it’s not immediately obvious though, as I’ll show in a moment, it is certainly plausible.

    First, there are some other examples of “commandments” which superficially look like silly general prohibitions, but in reality were designed to target specific misbehaviours.

    Here’s a famous example, one of the ten commandments:

    Exodus 20:3-6 You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    If you took a small part of that rather large commandment out of context, it superficially looks like “no sculpture”. In context, it clearly means “no idols”. You may recall that, as the story goes, the Israelites were busy constructing a golden calf at the time this was going on, so obviously this was a problem.

    The point being that it doesn’t take too much research to realise that this commandment was meant to combat a specific idolatry problem, rather than being a general prohibition on representational art.

    Now, let’s take a quick look at the context of the first of the two verses you presented:

    Leviticus 18:21-24 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord! You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act. You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual intercourse with it; it is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations which I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things.

    Now I don’t know about you, but reading all that (and the bit that follows; more condemnation of those evil other nations about to be driven out) with an open mind, it actually seems quite likely to me that that the sexual acts described are connected somehow with the religious practices of those evil other nations, such as cult of Molech.

    Leviticus 20:13 is harder to interpret this way, since it’s in the middle of a bunch of restrictions on sexual practices. However, again, all that stuff is surrounded by stuff about Molech, spirits and mediums. (See, for example, vv 1-6 and v27.) The connection seems a little more tenuous to my inexpert eye, but it’s not completely ridiculous.

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  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Interesting interview. Thanks!

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Great interview Hemant! I especially appreciated her gracious and transformational but not combative approach towards those who disagree with her.

  • Darryl

    Pseudo, you’re making my point. By your reasoning one can deduce that offering your children for human sacrifice and sodomy with animals is on a par with homosexual acts.

    I fail to see how anyone can possibly read those verses that you quoted and think that they refer to sexual orientation and not to sexual acts.

    So, are you saying that the Bible bans homosexuals from expressing their love? Cold comfort to gay people.

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  • Pseudonym

    Darryl, I’m not sure where you got that from what I said. A quick recap, so we’re understanding each other, may be in order.

    Here’s what Candace said in the interview:

    I have yet to find a section in the Bible that says homosexuality is a sin. There is no such passage. What the Bible condemns are some sexual acts between same-sex partners (mainly men). The acts condemned include sexual acts done in the context of temple worship (passages in Leviticus as well as Paul’s mention of same-sex acts fall under this category) […] it merely instructs anyone, gay or straight, that any sexual act that does not spring from a place of love, respect and commitment to the other person involved is sinful.

    Brian E believed that this was untrue, and quoted the relevant passages from Leviticus in support.

    I pointed out several things.

    First, Candace was undeniably correct that nothing these verses (or anything in the Bible, for that matter) says that homosexual orientation is “sinful”.

    Second, it is extremely plausible that Candace is correct that the specific prohibitions in Leviticus are intended as prohibitions on anything even closely resembling temple prostitution as practised by Moloch worshippers. (That the Hebrews needed to be told not to offer their children to Moloch strongly suggests that there was some kind of problem that needed addressing.)

    That’s all. Beyond things which resemble Moloch worship, I said nothing about what the Bible “bans”.

    More details:

    What Brian E left out in the ellipsis was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (which, Candace correctly points out, is more about a threatened gang rape than mere homosexual sex) and 1 Corinthians 6:9. (She didn’t mention 1 Timothy 1:10, but it’s essentially the same as 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Corinthians is more persuasive because we know that was actually written by Paul of Tarsus; we don’t know who wrote 1 Timothy.)

    Candace wasn’t entirely explicit about what she thinks 1 Corinthians 6:9 precisely means. Whatever it is, she’s a bit too dismissive for my taste, because there is very little, probably no, consensus on what the verse means (and, by extension, 1 Timothy 1:10).

    This is important if you’re trying to understand what Paul of Tarsus (who wrote 1 Corinthians, but probably not 1 Timothy) was trying to say. The key word is “arsenokoites” (no “arse” jokes, please), which is translated inconsistently, reflecting the high uncertainty about what the word means. In modern translations alone, I’ve seen “homsexuals”, “sexual perverts”, “practising homosexuals” (as if Paul knew the difference) and “homosexual offenders”.

    The trouble with this is that nobody knows what the word actually means. Of every use that we know about, almost of them appear in lists (and these two New Testament uses are no exception) without further explanation.

    For example, here’s the appearance in the Sybilline Oracles:

    (Never accept in your hand a gift which derives from unjust deeds.) Do not steal seeds. Whoever takes for himself is accursed (to generations of generations, to the scattering of life. Do not arsenokoitein, do not betray information, do not murder.) Give one who has labored his wage. Do not oppress a poor man. Take heed of your speech. Keep a secret matter in your heart. (Make provision for orphans and widows and those in need.) Do not be willing to act unjustly, and therefore do not give leave to one who is acting unjustly.

    And in the Acts of John:

    And let the murderer know that the punishment he has earned awaits him in double measure after he leaves this (world). So also the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, swindler, and arsenokoites, the thief, and all of this band…

    Most secular classics scholars are of the opinion that these two usages most likely don’t refer to anything sexual at all.

    There are other words with the same root which date from the Classical Greek era, and the meanings extremely varied. I can refer to such things as pederasty, and to the rape of women by gods.

    So that’s why I’m not entirely happy that Candace dismissed 1 Cor 6:9 as referring to cult temple prostitution. In reality, nobody actually knows what Paul was referring to.

  • Pseudonym

    OK, in retrospect, I think I was a little harsh on Candace there.

    Being a bit more charitable, my opinion can be summed up as: Going by historical evidence, Candace’s interpretation of 1 Cor 6:9 is no more wrong than the usual conservative interpretation.

  • Darryl

    Pseudo, you completely missed my points, and your arguments are so full of holes it would take more words that I care to express just now to demonstrate that. As I said in another post on another recent topic, all this disputation over interpretation is beside the point, since what the Christian Church has made of this subject has been clearly expressed over centuries in its tradition, and tradition is the guide to interpretation. The orthodox position in matters of sex is very prudish, misogynist, and pro-heterosexual–just like the Judaism from which it comes. If you prefer modern revisions of Christian sexuality be my guest, but before you go making fatuous arguments from the Bible, especially by getting down to lexical definitions of Greek terms (boy, has that been abused), perhaps you ought to peruse the Patristic literature.

    As I have said before, I applaud modern-thinking, open-hearted Christians that repudiate homophobia, but it just offends my love of truth when history is spun like the partisan talking points of a money-grubbing Republican.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    On 31 July 2008, Brian E wrote:

    Disclaimer: Not arguing for or against homosexuality, just debating the reverends position.

    -snip-

    Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    Well … if we’re going to read Leviticus literally, this means that Senator Larry Craig’s attempted public restroom hookup with another man was OK Biblically.

    Since men’s room stalls are too small to lay down in, this means that the sexual acts happening in them involve sitting or standing participants.

    There’s no “lie with mankind” if the two men are sitting or standing.

    :^)

  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    Thank you all for your comments. I’m enjoying the debate back and forth.

    I didn’t go into detail about biblical interpretation in this interview, but if you’d like to read more about it here are a couple of links:

    http://www.whosoever.org/bible/
    http://www.otkenyer.hu/truluck/six_bible_passages.html

    Thanks to Pseudonym for making many of the points I would have made. The bottom line on the Bible is that when read in context (and not in English) there is no condemnation of homosexuality as a sexual orientation and all the sexual prohibitions are against any sexual act (gay or straight) done in the worship of foreign gods or uses and abuses another or breaks covenant. There’s no condemnation of loving, committed gay or lesbian relationships.

    Thanks, Hemant, for the opportunity to be heard here. I’m glad I could start such a great discussion.

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  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    Pseudonym,

    Again, I just did a shorthand version of what the Bible says. I certainly understand, in depth, the debate over the translation of arsenokoites in 1 Cor. 6:9. Yes, most scholars will admit they haven’t a clue what that word means. I believe it was political and cultural bias that caused translators to insert the word “homosexual” there.

    There’s even a man who is suing Bible publishers for inserting the word and causing great anguish to GLBT people over the years because of this culturally motivated interpretation.

    Not sure if it’s worth a lawsuit, but it is worth noting that “homosexual” never appeared in the Bible before 1946.

  • cipher

    Not sure why the good reverend is so insistent on remaining “true” to a religion that clearly doesn’t want her.

    I’m afraid I have to agree. This strikes me as being a example of someone wanting so desperately to belong, or to cling to a belief system, that she’ll jump through all sorts of hoops to make the text say what she wants it to.

    I believe the Metropolitan Community churches are evangelical, and accept all doctrines of Christian orthodoxy – except for this one. There are also gay Orthodox Jews who accepts all of the tenets of Orthodoxy – except for the Levitical prohibitions against homosexual behavior. They want to remain restrictivists in all of the areas that don’t affect them. I can’t really see this as courageous.

    I’ve heard these arguments before – temple prostitution, non-consensual acts, etc. One of the passages occurs next to a section about conduct in time of war, so it must refer to that. I don’t buy it. The text is clear – if two men engage in a homosexual act, it’s an abomination and they are to be put to death. I really don’t see any way to spin this.

    I agree with Darryl; I prefer the company of liberal Christians, and I approve of their sentiments, but, I think that here, the effort fails. Ultimately, either you accept the text as written, or you reject it. I reject it, as I do the rest of the Bible. I don’t see any other way.

  • Vincent

    I recommend John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social tolerance, and Homosexuality” for a good read on how the anti-gay sentiment of the Bible has been overblown.
    However, Boswell, and Candace work too hard to make the case.
    The fact is that man on man sex was condemned by the early Israelites and they memorialized that in their scriptures.
    That said, the condemnation is weak. The passages condemning it, like the Sodom story, really do suggest that something else is the bigger sin (unhospitality to strangers – very big in most early cultures – for instance in the Sodom story).
    Of course remember that if the townsfolk had agreed to merely gang-rape Lot’s daughters then all would have been okay, so there is clearly something wrong with the fact that they wanted the men.

    Pseudo,
    I think you miss a big piece of the Leviticus condemnation.
    One way of reading the passage is as you suggest: “here are things associated with Molech worship, don’t do them as part of your worship of me.”
    That’s a very strained way of reading it.
    The more obvious way is “These are things Moloch worshipers do. Don’t do them.”
    To read the first way, which is what Candace seems to suggest and you seem to agree with, is to say “Bestiality should not be done in worship of me (or Molech). Child sacrifice should nto be done in worship of me (or Molech). etc.
    However, to do these things for other reasons is perfectly fine.

    Candace goes so far as to invent a valid reason completely from whole cloth: from “love, respect and commitment.” Where in Leviticus does it say “gay sex is okay if you love each other?” And if it’s implied, then is it also implied that “bestiality is okay if you are committed to the sheep”?

    The most reasonable way to read the passage is “these are bad things Molech worshipers do. Don’t do them.”
    One of those things, as far as I can tell, has always been men having sex with men.

    I am surprised by the way, that you spent so much time discussing the word translated as homosexual without dealing with the word “Abomination” which most often was used to mean “that which is ritually unclean” and thus something that would prevent you from entering temple until you had been purified – like menstruation, handling a cadaver, etc.

  • Brian E

    Pseudo,

    Let me address the one point you made regarding sexual orientation, the same as Rev. Candace makes. Both of you agree that there is no condemnation of a given sexual orientation in the bible, but then the Reverend states, as you agree, that there was no concept of sexual orientation when these passages were written! So how could the bible condemn a concept that it has no concept of?

    Let me re-phrase this into this question: If the concept of sexual orientation existed at the time Leviticus was written, do you really think Leviticus would’ve read like this:

    Thou shalt not have sex with another man as thou would a woman, it is an abomination. However, it is permissible to be attracted to and love another man as thou would a woman; I the good lord have no problem with that.

    Really?

    The ultimate point I’m trying to make is that it is a far greater stretch to try and reconcile acceptability of homosexuality in the face of these passages than it is to interpret complete abomination of homosexuality, which of course the history of christianity clearly verifies.

  • ash

    Leviticus 18:21-24 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord! You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act. You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual intercourse with it; it is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations which I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things.

    Now I don’t know about you, but reading all that (and the bit that follows; more condemnation of those evil other nations about to be driven out) with an open mind, it actually seems quite likely to me that that the sexual acts described are connected somehow with the religious practices of those evil other nations, such as cult of Molech.

    so, is it…
    male/male sex acts = on a par with child sacrifice + beastiality
    or…
    male/male sex acts = part of religious practise, but
    male/female sex acts = not part of religious practise?

    y’know, just to clarify, coz either way looks like blatant discrimination to me…

  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    I think it’s fascinating to have a biblical authority discussion with people who say they don’t believe in the book, but enforce it in stronger terms than many Christians do. I’m not quite sure what to make of it really.

    Let me cut to the chase, though. The battle about homosexuality in society and in the church will not be won by biblical argument. The point I tried to make in the interview is that it was NOT biblical argument that ended slavery. The pro-slavery folks had the Bible solidly on their side. There is absolutely no condemnation of slavery to be found. Abolitionists did all sorts of mental gymnastics to make the Bible condemn slavery.

    But, try to find a Christian now who supports slavery. Even though the book so many consider the direct word of God approves of it at every turn, they will contradict the Bible with ease. What changed? Society’s conscience raised to the point that they simply could not countenance the holding of other human beings in bondage.

    Gays and lesbians will never win the Bible debate as you all have so expertly demonstrated. So many people – including atheists, it seems – will not be swayed by biblical arguments. What finally sways people is the notion that discrimination against any group of people – even those we may disagree with – is wrong and should not be tolerated in society or in church.

    Even the Southern Baptists have apologized for supporting slavery and Congress just got around to doing is as well. However, that does not mean that the authority of the Bible has been so badly damaged that it cannot recover. We still take the Bible as authoritative on many things – just not the things that we have heard and heeded a new revelation from God about. We don’t think the earth is flat, even though the Bible does. We understand that God is alive outside the pages and bringing new revelations to us.

    Polls are already showing that younger generations understand that homosexuality is just another expression of sexuality among human beings. It’s no big deal to them. The conscience of our society is already being raised. At some point (hopefully in my lifetime), arguments from the Bible against homosexuality will be just as quaint (and offensive) as arguing that the Bible supports slavery.

    The same thing will happen in the church – just more slowly – but it will happen.

    So, I know you’ve all had a grand time tearing down biblical arguments, but they really don’t concern me much anymore. Working in the world for the acceptance of GLBT people (and GLBT people coming out everywhere they can) is the most important thing right now – not having a futile argument about Bible passages.

    Change is already occurring – and even within the church. It’s not a matter of gay people desperately wanting to be liked or accepted by the church. There will always be bigoted churches who won’t welcome GLBT people, just as some still don’t accept blacks or let women hold leadership roles – but those are the minority. GLBT people are working to reform the church, to remind it of its prophetic role and to be society’s headlights and not eternally it’s taillights.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I myself don’t understand the atheist obsession with biblical literalism. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an atheist say in some form or another, “it says that — right there — you can’t argue it!”, even though there’s zero precedent for staunch adherence to literalism in any respectable form of historical or textual criticism.

    Most Christians would say they rely on the Bible for their belief structure, and many would earnestly like to do away with the messy anti-gay stuff but feel bound to the text. If an alternate interpretation satisfies people to the point where they can let go of their bigotry, then I say the ends justify the means.

  • http://atheistsage.blogspot.com/ Sage

    I find it interesting that while I believe in using the nebulous concept of ‘intent’ in interpreting legal issues, I’m much more of a strict textualist when it comes to the Bible. I find it so baffling when Christians argue that although the Bible SAYS something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what GOD wants.

    I wrote a 30 page paper this year attempting to reconcile homosexuality with scripture. It basically amounted to: “you can’t, but you’re going to have to or else your religion will become obsolete.”

    … Not that it already hasn’t.

  • cipher

    I think it’s fascinating to have a biblical authority discussion with people who say they don’t believe in the book, but enforce it in stronger terms than many Christians do. I’m not quite sure what to make of it really.

    And I think liberal Christians today are projecting their perspective backward retroactively. I keep saying it, and I keep getting told I’m wrong, but I continue to say it – concerning doctrinal basics, what the conservative Christians of today believe is what most Christians have believed for most of the past 2,000 years.

  • Brian E

    Candace,

    Thank you for your reply, it helped to better understand your position. I believe we’re all working toward the same goals more than we realize.

    However, there are still a couple of follow-up questions I have.

    For one, I think most posters here have a hard time understanding why you stay with a religion that, in this country, is hijacked by the extreme right. Are you so confident in the tenets of your faith that you cannot imagine atheism or another religion as a viable alternative? Or is Christianity the necessary vehicle for your purposes?

    Secondly, regarding your views/interpretations of god/bible:

    We understand that God is alive outside the pages and bringing new revelations to us.

    To me, this represents very dangerous thinking. David Koresh believed god was revealing himself to him. So have countless others that have committed vicious atrocities. Nobody should operate under the mentality that a god is revealing itself to them; this is delusional thinking. This is why we debate the passages of the bible; do you NOT believe that god’s word is eternal? Do you believe god changes his mind over time? At what point do you deviate so far from traditional christianity that you’re essentially creating your own new sect?

    Despite all that, I again praise you for your efforts. Christianity is not going to disappear overnight; it going to takes years of diluting the tenets of the faith until they are as transparently useless as other ancient religions. In this respect, we again are fighting the same fight. Thank you.

  • Darryl

    Did I catch what Candace said correctly? Did she concede the point? What the Bible means is not most important, but what society now knows to be true?

    I find it provocative that Candace admits that society–not Christianity or the Church–is generally out in front of religion on matters of human dignity and tolerance. This is a point made recently by Siamang who said something to the effect that religion tends to put a drag on social progress. How can fair treatment of homosexuals be one of “the things that we have heard and heeded a new revelation from God about” when the revelation came first to society and not the Church? If society is ahead of religion–if it gets the memo from God before Christians do–then what need do we have of the Church, and why should we care what the Bible says about homosexuality?

    Derek, for me it’s not a matter of what the Bible says, but what the Church over its history has said the Bible means.

  • Siamang

    Candace wrote:

    I think it’s fascinating to have a biblical authority discussion with people who say they don’t believe in the book, but enforce it in stronger terms than many Christians do. I’m not quite sure what to make of it really.

    On it’s face, it seems funny. But when you look deeper you may find that from a different point of view that these were the things that brought people away from seeing the Bible as a guide for all ages of mankind… a living document like the US Constitution.

    We have no need to reconcile Leviticus with Jesus’ one commandment, so we don’t re-lens leviticus or Lot or Sodom or Corinthians through that. We see it as text, and we look at the text and the social context of the time.

    If you come here, you’ll notice that I don’t engage in Biblical scholarship debates here, because it’s not my expertise. I long ago tossed that baby/bathwater out the window (too little baby in it for my tastes).

    But I do recognize that some that do are well-versed in it. I also recognize that they do take the text “literally”… not like “all this is literally true”, but rather “all this is literally what was meant by the writer”. They have no need nor desire to read the bible the way my grandparents do… by skipping those hard chapters, the tricky bits and the stuff that makes your stomach go all wiggly… and just go right to the 23rd Psalm and the Sermon on the Mount.

    Some people on here are experts in the Bible, even though they’re not Christian. Perhaps that expertise is what brought them OUT of being Christians. I know in some cases, it was reading of the entire Bible that convinced them that these books were the work of ordinary human beings.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    for me it’s not a matter of what the Bible says, but what the Church over its history has said the Bible means.

    “The church” is far from a monolithic entity. Of course, I don’t know church history as well as I would like so I can’t say one way or another what I think the established doctrine at any given time has actually said (especially since I get such conflicting information from different people asserting their particular position!)

  • http://www.cogspace.com/ Katie

    The citation against homosexuality in Leviticus is a pretty typical example of something taken way out of context. Let’s remember that the context of Lev. is Jews wandering around in the desert for a long time. Everything in there – the whole system of Kosher food restrictions that Christians don’t follow, the instructions on where latrines ought to be dug, and all the other nonsense in Lev. is aimed at keeping a group of people alive while they try to get out of immediate existential peril.

    Simply put, Christians ought to abandon anti-gay propaganda for the same reason they abandoned the Kosher food laws – because they aren’t relevant anymore. (Not that the Kosher food laws or the sexual prohibitions actually are based in any way on solid science for protecting a population, but they do happen to have that (rather spurious) result. For a similar example: don’t walk off a building ’cause Imaginary Deity A will pull you down to your death. Lo and behold, following this rule keeps you alive, but it’s just gravity doing the pulling.)

  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    Did I catch what Candace said correctly? Did she concede the point? What the Bible means is not most important, but what society now knows to be true?

    Darryl, yes you read me correctly – the church has long, long been the taillight when it comes to social progression. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, interracial marriage, women’s rights – now gay rights – the church has been on the wrong side of history every single time. I think that’s really quite obvious.

    Why people like me are valuable to Christianity is that we agitate for the religion to keep up – to keep relevant. I believe God reveals truth to everyone at the same time – it’s just society gets it quicker because they’re not tied up in their ridiculously strict thinking about how things can change with new knowledge. The church has fought all new knowledge tooth and nail and thought that God couldn’t be speaking this or that new truth when others saw it as obvious. That’s why the church needs forward thinkers or else it would be hopelessly stuck in the dark ages. We’re not in the church to be accepted – but to help move the tradition forward. It’s a glacial pace – but it does move.

  • http://infidelicacy.blogspot.com/ Steve

    A lot of comments were added while I was writing this, so I apologize for rehashing what’s already been said.

    I’m still not sure why you think that cherry picking your faith is perfectly reasonable. Essentially you are discarding the parts of your religion you (or society) don’t agree with. The reason that Christians don’t support slavery now is because it’s morally wrong, despite what the bible and god say about it.

    We still take the Bible as authoritative on many things – just not the things that we have heard and heeded a new revelation from God about. We don’t think the earth is flat, even though the Bible does. We understand that God is alive outside the pages and bringing new revelations to us.

    Tolerance for gay people, eliminating slavery, allowing interracial marriage and giving women the right to vote and own property (and not be property) are all things that have happened because we as a culture have recognized those things as being important. Secular society has a tendency to drag religion along with it into the present, usually kicking and screaming.

    The notion that god is alive outside of the bible (and gives new revelations that support your beliefs) because the bible doesn’t agree with what society at large acknowledges seems like a fallacy. If you follow the argument to its logical conclusion, you don’t need the bible at all because you can change it whenever it suits you. Why is it authoritative on anything, when it’s pretty clear that it’s morally wrong about so many things?

    I agree with you that working in the world for the acceptance of GLBT people is very important, especially in religious circles because that is where the biggest stumbling blocks are right now – but those stumbling blocks exist because of the church and, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to embrace the very institution that is responsible for it.

  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    We understand that God is alive outside the pages and bringing new revelations to us.

    To me, this represents very dangerous thinking. David Koresh believed god was revealing himself to him. So have countless others that have committed vicious atrocities. Nobody should operate under the mentality that a god is revealing itself to them; this is delusional thinking. This is why we debate the passages of the bible; do you NOT believe that god’s word is eternal? Do you believe god changes his mind over time? At what point do you deviate so far from traditional christianity that you’re essentially creating your own new sect?

    Brian E,

    I think it’s quite easy to tell whether God has spoken to you, especially in light of Jesus’ commandments. If we love self, God and neighbor then God would never prompt anyone to commit atrocities.

    I did an interview on a conservative radio station a couple of years back and got attacked for not putting the Bible above God. A conservative preacher on the show said, “If I didn’t believe the Bible was the literal word of God nothing would stop me from cheating on my wife, raping a woman and committing murder.”

    I told him, “I don’t believe the Bible is the literal word of God and it’s never crossed my mind to do any of those things.”

    People who think that a book stands between them and total depravity scare the living hell out of me. Thus are the Christian fundamentalists though. But, I say clearly, anyone who says God told them to murder someone or hole up in a compound with guns is listening to his own twisted ego. God doesn’t command such things.

    Now, before you go off on me about all the wars God commanded back in the Old Testament – I don’t think God did those things. I think people justified their bloodthirst with God. I think the Bible shows, not an evolution of God, but an evolution of how we understand God. Jesus came to reveal a God of love and grace. This is an example of how God reveals herself in new ways.

    Call that creating a new sect if you’d like, but there are plenty of liberal Christians who are moving in this direction and we will take the majority of the church with us – even if they kick and scream the whole time.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Derek said,

    I myself don’t understand the atheist obsession with biblical literalism.

    I think part of it is the believers that atheists engage in religious discussion/debate with tend to be literalists, so that’s what atheists are used to. It’s “easy” to argue with someone whose starting point is so clear. (“God said it, I believe it…”). Perhaps atheists find the liberal believers more confusing in some ways because there is an extra layer of complexity where you have to judge what is and what is not metaphor. There might be some frustration due to that confusion, but I wouldn’t call it an “obsession”.

  • http://www.whosoever.org Candace

    Candace- I still don’t understand why you think that cherry picking your faith is perfectly reasonable.

    Steve,

    Everyone does it – from the most strict fundamentalist to the most loony liberal. Ask a fundamentalist if he agrees with Jesus’ view on divorce and soon you’ll learn he has a couple of ex-wives himself. No one, except atheists apparently, takes the Bible at completely face value. Everyone cherry picks. Liberals are just honest about it.

    The reason that Christians don’t support slavery now is because it’s morally wrong, despite what the bible and god say about it.

    And that’s exactly my point.

    The notion that god is alive outside of the bible (and gives new revelations that support your beliefs) because the bible doesn’t agree with what society at large acknowledges seems like a fallacy.

    How so? If God hasn’t said a new word since the canon was closed, then God is dead. No need to worship a dead God. Christians believe in the Holy Spirit that still lives and moves in the world. God is certainly alive outside the Bible and I don’t agree with everything God may reveal.

    If you follow the argument to its logical conclusion, you don’t need the bible at all because you can change it whenever it suits you. Why is it authoritative on anything, when it’s pretty clear that it’s morally wrong about so many things?

    What makes the Bible continue to be relevant, to me at least, is that it is a chronicle of a people’s journey with God. It is a book of stories that reflects not just the nature of God, but the nature of humans as they struggle to deal with their meaning here in this life. It’s the same innate truth that resonates from Shakespeare, King’s speeches and any other piece of great literature. It is true because it speaks to the depth of human experience. This is apparently what keeps drawing atheists to it. The book talks about a God they don’t believe in, but they just can’t seem to get enough of exegeting it and arguing over it. That’s a powerful book that has some deep truth in it. We haven’t even begun to plumb its depths. To get stuck in literal interpretations is to miss the power and beauty of the book!

    I find myself in the stories people tell about their journey with God. I struggle like Job, I run like Jonah, I feel close to God like Jesus, I feel like a traitor to God like Judas. The stories resonate – they help me live as a better human, closer to the divine. I love the book. I love to talk about it, delve into and compare notes with others. Literalism is a buzz kill.

    Yes, the writers got so much wrong, but on a spiritual level they got it all right. It’s their wisdom I follow, not their social advice.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    It’s “easy” to argue with someone whose starting point is so clear.

    Of course, since literalists are intransigent from the get-go, I fail to see a point in directly engaging them in the first place. Speaking from experience, it’s really just a good way to get angry and embittered about Christians in general.

    Perhaps atheists find the liberal believers more confusing in some ways because there is an extra layer of complexity where you have to judge what is and what is not metaphor.

    At that point, I may engage the liberal believer in the “why” and “what” of belief because they’re simply more likely to be honest and forthcoming and it’s more likely to result in positive dialog, and foster understanding and friendship. But objecting to their mode of exegesis seems kind of silly — especially when they can use it to avoid the religiously motivated behaviors the nonreligious find so odious!

    There might be some frustration due to that confusion, but I wouldn’t call it an “obsession”.

    Duly chastised :)

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Maybe the following question is a bit off track, but as Candace said above Jesus condemned divorce quite clearly. I suppose most Christians who’ve had divorces would say that they have sinned, but would then give the standard reply that everyone sins and falls short of God’s standard. Yet they are still forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus.

    So my question is at what point do repeated sins (multiple divorces, or say looking lustfully at someone aka. “adultery”.) become unforgivable? Is it just an endless cycle of falling short, repenting, being forgiven, then falling short again?

    Now for argument’s sake lets assume that the semi-liberal view of homosexual sex being a sin, but homosexual orientation being OK is in fact true. Can’t the sinner who indulges repeatedly in such sin just be repeatedly forgiven? Is the situation any different from someone else who can’t stop sinning some other way? I though I remember someone (Ray Comfort?) saying even the smallest sins are damning because God is so righteous. I think Ray said we are all lying, or getting angry (committed murder in our hearts or something), or lustfully eyeballing people all the time anyway so we need that grace to save us. Why couldn’t homosexual sex be just another pebble in the mountain of human sin?

    Didn’t the Blasphemy Challenge supposedly teach us that there is only one unforgivable sin? (I don’t even know if that was true…)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    The way I learned it in Christian High school was that while unbelief (=blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) was the only unforgivable sin, unrepentance (i.e. not changing your actions) was a strong indicator of secret unbelief, because if you were truly saved, the Holy Spirit would move you to repentance. The NT also recommends temporary excommunication for unrepentant believers, and warns sternly against taking God’s Grace for granted.

    I was of the opinion that unrepentant people wouldn’t necessarily go to hell, but that they were flirting with danger, and they at least wouldn’t get their “heavenly rewards” (though I never quite understood exactly what those were supposed to be).

  • No name

    Wow, so basically religion is just parasite drag, since you admit that it’s the last thing to come to it’s senses. You know a great way to deal with parasite drag? Get rid of it.

  • Xeonicus

    Candace,
    After reading through all these comments, I think I’ve come to a better understanding of your position. Sans the belief in God, which I consider entirely the domain of faith, I’m on the same page with you about the bible (if I’m not misunderstanding you). To me, It is not an absolute, infallible, divine text. It’s simply a good piece of literature with good stories that resonate with us on a deep level that all of humanity shares. I place the bible on a similar level with Homer’s Odyssey. Personally, I dip into reading the bible now and then, and I also find that I agree with some of the lessons it teachs, purely from a secular standpoint.

    I think part of the problem/surprise is that this viewpoint is not all that common. I’ve always thought that Christians believe in the bible as the divine word of God and the absolute authority on everything, even if they have to perform some mental gymnastics to make it work. I have to say that this approach reminds me very much of Unitarians and the concept of personal faith, unattached to a centralized dogma. Really at that point, you are free to believe pretty much anything you want.

    That is how I actually became an atheist. Having never been a strong Christian, I naturally fell into mindset that it was entirely up to myself to decide what I believed. I more or less transitioned to a deist, then an atheist afraid of calling myself one so I ignorantly chose agnostic, and finally I realized: “oh duh, I’m an atheist”.

  • Darryl

    I think I’m beginning to understand where Candace is coming from. Her last two or three posts cause me to wonder why she even attempted to defend homosexuality in relation to the Bible: it is superfluous.

    Statements like hers confirm my belief that some folks enjoy the “stories” and the trappings of religion so much that they choose not to take the small step from a religion that entails “an evolution of how we understand God” to a recognition that such a religion entails an evolution of how it imagines God. When I became fed up with the harm that religion does, my cost-benefit analysis compelled me to take the step.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Candace, as a fellow “liberal” Christian (actually “emergent” but to the atheists here it’s essentially the same thing), I just wanted to say thanks for being here and engaging with all of these guys. I’ve already had this conversation with them too many times to want to engage in it again, but you are doing an admirable job. I like your approach to faith and scripture and find much that resonates with (or even directly echoes) my emerging approach. Keep up the good work.

  • Jenny

    There’s a step that’s missing from this and other similar discussions, on the web and elsewhere: We haven’t talked first about, “What is Christianity?” or “What is a Christian?” As a result, many statements are based on assumptions that are not shared by others in the discussion. One example might be that many people here seem to assume that Christians by definition believe in a God who desires to, and does, control behavior through reward and punishment. Then their points are made in opposition to such a belief, when in fact, many Christians believe in a God of whom that is not true, for example, Christians in the mystic tradition.

    To be fair, I would say that many people in this discussion are making assumptions about atheism and atheists without stating them explicitly as well, and this has the same result of people talking past each other. Is an atheist simply someone whose beliefs happen not to include a belief in God, or a god? Or is an atheist someone who specifically believes that no God or god exists? Do atheists consider religion a matter of personal preference? Or is it a harmless form or mistaken thinking? Or is it an evil force that, morally speaking, must be opposed? When I say something about atheists or atheism, I need to be clear what I mean by those terms.

    Maybe, instead of having a discussion about whose beliefs are right and whose are wrong, it would be more enlightening to have a discussion in which each of us shares what we believe and why.

  • Darryl

    Mike, from my understanding, Candace’s liberal theology is not the same as the emergent theology that we have heard from you. I don’t think she’s driven to make all the pieces fit.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, from my understanding, Candace’s liberal theology is not the same as the emergent theology that we have heard from you. I don’t think she’s driven to make all the pieces fit.

    Darryl, you’re probably one of the few that have bothered to make the distinction.

    Though to be honest, I’m content to not have all the pieces fit either. I gave up the need to have everything make perfect sense a long time ago when I realized that human cognition and life in general just don’t work that way.

  • Pseudonym

    Wow, a lot has happened since last night my time.

    First off, thanks to Candace for joining in. I’m getting a much better idea of where you’re coming from (a slightly different place than me, but that’s cool).

    Secondly, I’m pleased that we’re off the topic of Biblical interpretation and on to application. For liberals like myself, Candace and Mike, there’s a deep sense in which, as Darryl correctly pointed out, Biblical interpretation is actually superfluous.

    Take any Biblical story that you like, say, David slaying Goliath. Did it really happen as described? Did the story change over the years? Is it purely mythological? These are interesting questions, but for me living in today’s world, why does it matter? A book that is only a collection of random semi-historical factoids is next to useless.

    What Candace is describing, instead, is what’s known as “narrative theology”. Given that Mike describes himself as “emerging church”, it’s likely that he has a very similar position (he can expand on this if he cares to). As Candace said:

    What makes the Bible continue to be relevant, to me at least, is that it is a chronicle of a people’s journey with God. It is a book of stories that reflects not just the nature of God, but the nature of humans as they struggle to deal with their meaning here in this life.

    The narrative theology view, in a nutshell, is that there is such a thing as “the divine” that people have real experiences of. The Bible, as well as the sacred texts of the other major religions, are works written by people who have had this experience as a way of understanding them. As a result, sacred texts, including the Bible, tend to be coloured by the time and place where they were written.

    The understanding of “the divine” in the Bible has changed over the course of it being written. The early Hebrew texts are very different from the later post-exile ones. The Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical texts are different again, the life and teachings of Jesus are different again, and the writings of Paul of Tarsus, as he incorporates Greek philosophy, is different again.

    This is why I get a bit exasperated when people, usually conservative or fundamentalist Christians, bring up the idea of “traditional Christianity”. There is no such thing. There are so many traditions, so many understandings, so many beliefs that there is no one authentic form of Christianity that everything else is a deviation from.

    It doesn’t even stay static for the duration of the New Testament.

    I can already hear the usual atheist objections to this mounting, so let me make something clear: This is only a problem if you’re a fundamentalist. If you don’t believe that everyone in the world must believe as you do, then there is nothing bad about changing your position as often as circumstances change. In fact, this is a strength, not a weakness.

    Remember, too, that Christianity was really the first religion in history that was not designed to be tied to a single nation or ethnic group. It was not designed to be a “state religion”, or in any way “in charge”. This is important to keep in mind when thinking about what constitutes “Christian tradition”.

    And what about non-Christian sacred texts? Most liberal Christians are of the opinion that they are also valuable, but if you haven’t been brought up in the culture, they can be hard to understand, so each to their own on that point.

    Brian E asked a hypothetical question, which I found really interesting to think about:

    If the concept of sexual orientation existed at the time Leviticus was written, do you really think Leviticus would’ve read like this [...]

    The short answer is: I have no idea, and we don’t have enough evidence to make a determination.

    Whatever Moloch worshippers were doing, Leviticus would still probably have prohibited it. Leviticus is like that.

    There are some things that would have been different, had circumstances been different, of course. For example, if refrigeration had existed at the time of Leviticus, I think it’s likely that there wouldn’t have been prohibitions on pork and shellfish, though there might have been religious laws on how to use refrigeration properly. (I thought that Katie made this point very well, BTW.)

    Paul is a different matter. If sexual orientation had been well-understood in Greek culture, what he said might have been quite different, or he might not have mentioned it at all. Exactly what he would have said would just be speculation, and probably would have depended on the specifics of what Greek philosophers had written on the topic.

    One other point on Biblical interpretation I’d like to make clear before I leave this topic alone: Nobody is claiming that anything in the Bible is in favour of loving same-sex relationships. As Candace correctly pointed out, it’s neither pro nor anti slavery. And, of course, it says nothing one way or the other on stem cell research.

    Since the Bible is silent, Christians must decide these issues on other grounds.

    One final thing that Candace brought up:

    [...] the church has long, long been the taillight when it comes to social progression. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, interracial marriage, women’s rights – now gay rights – the church has been on the wrong side of history every single time. I think that’s really quite obvious.

    It’s not obvious to anyone outside the US. Taking slavery as the example, the first country to formally outlaw slavery was actually Hungary, under its first Christian king.

    In Britain, which is what I’m most familiar with (since slavery was abolished in my country, Australia, when it was abolished in Britain; not that Australia had a huge history of slavery) churches were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement. It was mostly Nonconformists and the Clapham Sect at first, but spread to most of Anglicanism very quickly.

    This just underlines my point: There is no one thing called “the Christian tradition”. Any argument that assumes that such a thing exists is wrong.

  • Leta Horine

    Rev Candace! I love you for WHO you are not for who I think you should be!
    Thank you God for our unconditional loving consciences and thank you for my Baptist Mom and atheist Father! And, thank you God, that I am neither a Baptist nor an atheist!
    Leta

  • Jenny

    [removed by author]

  • Geraldine

    The bible condemns some forms of homosexuality in the context of these forms of sexuality as a whole. It basically say prostitution, rape, etc., is wrong gay AND straight. Candace Chellew-Hodge is right. For further reading:

    http://www.truthsetsfree.net
    http://www.gaybiblechristians.org

    I think the reason that many of you atheists are disclaiming what she say is because you’re afraid that what she’s saying might actually be true.

  • http://street-streetmachine.blogspot.com/ AlexM

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Dwight Hasbrouck

    I wonder what the outcome would be if Candace had to debate against Jesus!? If He were an opponent?


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