But what about all those anti-gay clobber verses?

I do not believe that homosexuality is objectively immoral,” I wrote the other day. Again.

This horrifies many of my fellow evangelicals — not solely because they are anti-gay, but largely because they are pro-Bible. That notion of “objective immorality” is tied up with the need or desire to turn to the Bible for “objective” standards of morality — for rules. If we cannot turn to the Bible for objective rules, then we’re left without a rulebook, and how can we possibly get by without a rulebook? Without a rulebook, “How can we know the way?“*

The Bible is not a rulebook. Trying to read it as a rulebook doesn’t work. Read it that way and you’re bound to be frustrated, misled and confused. Filtering through the Bible to pluck out the rules produces two results, neither of them helpful. First it gives you a jar full of context-less rules, and second it leaves behind the vast bulk of the Bible — all those stories and songs, prophecy, proverbs, parables and promises filtered off to the side by the quest for rules.

So the end result of trying to read the Bible as a rulebook tends to be an anxiety about the worth or meaning of this text that expresses itself as a desperate assertion or “defense” of “the authority of scripture.” The greater the anxiety, the fiercer the defense.

And that is the core of the current argument over the “objective immorality” of homosexuality. It’s not really about sex and it’s not really about LGBT people at all — they’re just collateral damage, pawns in a game that doesn’t regard them as players worthy of “our” attention. What the argument is really about is defending “the authority of scripture.”**

Hence the adamant insistence on the anti-gay clobber verses as the absolute, unambiguous final word on the “objective immorality of homosexuality.” It’s not so much a fear of the prospect of LGBT people participating fully and openly in the life of the church, it’s a fear of undermining the authority of scripture — of the terrifying prospect of life without an objective rulebook.

As for the clobber verses themselves, there are six of them. Six. Out of 31,000 or so — but still those six are, in fact, in there.

It’s interesting, though, that these six verses in particular should be where the defenders of the authority of scripture have chosen to make their stand. Only one of them is really a straight-up, hard-core, thou-shalt-not style prohibition. The other five are just vaguely negative passing references.

It seems to me that if you want to reassert the authority of scripture, you’d be on surer footing by focusing on a different set of authoritative biblical rules from the biblical rulebook. The hundreds of verses regarding wealth and poverty offer a wealth of potential clobber verses — all far clearer and far stricter than any of those six brief mentions of stuff-that-sounds-sorta-gay. And those verses can be found in every part of the Bible — all throughout the law, prophets, wisdom literature, Gospels and epistles.

Yet no one seems interested in defending the authority of those clobber verses. They’re not clobber verses at all because clobbering someone with them would draw attention to them, and that’s the very last thing we want.

When I run afoul of the authority of the half-dozen anti-gay clobber verses I get hate-mail informing me that I’m not “really” a Christian at all, just some anti-Bible, anti-God wolf in sheep’s clothing. And yet I have almost never been criticized or challenged for my lifelong, egregious pattern of brazenly flouting hundreds of those non-clobber verses regarding wealth and poverty.

I have life insurance and interest-bearing bank accounts and investments. I am, perpetually, lending with the expectation of repayment. I have more clothes than there are days in a week, more stuff than I need. Every little bit I clean out the fridge and toss away food that’s gone bad. I am thus — absolutely, undeniably and unbiblically — stealing from the needy, the hungry, the naked and the poor. I am now, and for years have been, in flagrant and indefensible violation of scores of explicit biblical commands — all of which are far clearer, less culturally conditional, and less ambiguous than anything in those six anti-gay clobber verses.

And yet none of the Christians so scrupulously concerned with those six verses are the slightest bit concerned with my behavior in this regard. Most of them can’t be, because they’re violating all of those clear commands too. When the subject is “homosexuality,” and I say “the Bible is not a rulebook,” they are horrified and appalled. When the subject is money, they say “Hey, relax, the Bible is not a rulebook.”

Such self-serving inconsistency makes it impossible and unnecessary to treat their claims of concern for “biblical authority” as sincere, honest or legitimate. If this purported concern for the authority of the scriptures were demonstrated in their own lives and their own wallets with even a fraction of the passion they have for Other People’s Genitals, then that concern might merit a more substantial engagement. It is not and therefore it does not.

“By what authority do you disregard the Holy Sextet of anti-gay Bible verses?”

Tell me first by what authority you disregard the hundreds of biblical teachings on wealth and poverty and then I will answer.

In the meantime, nice shoes. Nice car. Nice house. Nice to know I don’t have to take your lectures on the “authority of scripture” any more seriously than you do.

(See earlier: Sex & Money, part 1; Sex & Money, part 2; Sex & Money, part 3.)

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* For those who don’t click links:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way. …”

There’s all the rulebook you’re gonna get.

** You’re forgiven if every time you read the phrase “the authority of scripture,” you hear Eric Cartman’s voice pronouncing that word “authori-TAH.” That’s kind of unavoidable.


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  • JustoneK

    Dammit Fred.  You might as well have spelled it authoritah the whole way.

  • Yeah.
    As the old joke goes, some people use scripture the way a drunk uses a lamp-post.

  • picklefactory

    So the answer to folks who cite the anti-gay clobber verses is, basically, a tu quoque?

  • picklefactory

    Or is it “The Bible is not a rulebook”? I like that one better. I can even agree with it.

  • The Old Testament injunctions against homosexuality are, of course, part of the purity laws. It’s easy enough to dismiss these by pointing out that none of the other purity laws in Deuteronomy are considered to apply to Christians today – modern Christians don’t keep kosher or refrain from wearing clothing made of mixed fibers.
    But what about the anti-homosexual verses in the epistles of Paul? These writings of Paul – indeed, all his writings – have to be understood as a part of the cultural context in which they were written. In ancient Rome, the modern notion of gay relationships did not exist. What was common, however, was the sexual exploitation of adolescent boys by adult men. This practice, inherited from the ancient Greeks, combined a mentoring relationship with what we would today recognize as sexual abuse. In addition to this, the sexual exploitation of slaves – male and female, of all ages – by Roman men was both commonplace and legal.
    To the extent that Paul knew of same-sex sexual activity, this is what it would have looked like to him. As a Roman citizen, it is even possible that he may have been subjected to this sort of behavior when he was a teenager. It is not surprising that he was against it. We still condemn this kind of behavior when it takes place today. But these condemnations have nothing to do with what happens between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom.

  • ReverendRef

    It seems to me that if you want to reassert the authority of scripture,
    you’d be on surer footing by focusing on a different set of
    authoritative biblical rules from the biblical rulebook.

    I don’t know if any of you caught it, but this past Sunday, 9/9, there was a live simulcast event entitled iPledge Sunday that was hosted in fundagelical congregations around the country.  It was sponsored by the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, and speakers included our buddies Tony Perkins, Kirk Cameron and Rick Santorum.

    Being a clergy-type person, I was sent several e-mails calling for our parish participation.

    I didn’t go.

    But I did write a letter to the editor of the local paper calling them out on recent and past behavior.  The authority of scripture I appealed to was this:  As
    Christians we need to ask ourselves:  Am
    I more interested in following man made regulations of religious purity; or will
    I love my neighbor as myself, respecting the dignity of every human being? — with a little BCP thrown in for good measure.Feel free to read the whole thing over on my blog.  So far, I have not received any threatening phone calls or found graffiti on the church.  I have, however, received numerous words of encouragement from parishioners, one non-member, and one anonymous phone call saying, in essence, “Good job.”Appeals to the authority of scripture mean nothing if you can’t love your neighbor as yourself.

  • I like to think of James 5.

    [1] Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
    [2] Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.
    [3] Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.

  • swbarnes2

    What was common, however, was the sexual exploitation of adolescent boys by adult men.

    But during that period, the norm for sexual relations between men and women was equality?

    Where are all the verses where Paul says that exploitation of adolescent girls by adult men is wrong?  Where is the verse that says “slave girls, you don’t have to obey your master if he demands sex”?  Is it right after the one where he tells Christians to let their slaves leave if the slaves wish to leave, and to pay them fair wages until such time as the slave chooses to leave?

  • ReverendRef

     Most of James is good for pointing out the errors of the rich and righteous.

    From this past Sunday’s lectionary selection:

    Is it not the rich who oppress you?  Is it not they who drag you into court?  Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you.  You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the laws as transgressors.

    Which I found extremely appropriate on the day of the event I mentioned earlier.

  • Riiight, no adult men had sex with other enthusiastically consenting adult men in ancient Rome. Whereas all heterosexual sexual relationships were non-exploitative.

    Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

  • I, for one, would love to read some of your Christian hate-mail.

  • I have a question!

    These people who are totally confused by and terrified of sexuality — what do they make of the Song of Songs?

  • redsixwing

     Usually, a totally not-sexy-at-all love letter from God to the Church, using the metaphor of a human marriage between One Man And One Woman, wherein all the fun is saved for after the painful long searching and waiting is over.

    … I don’t generally read it that way, myself, but it’s a pretty common interpretation.

  • I question if anyone who thinks the Song of Songs could possibly be about that has actually read the thing. 

  • EllieMurasaki


    …what is this ‘figurative language’ thing? Lot/daughters? you LIAR.

  • I don’t think this is a winning argument, honestly, for all that it’s probably accurate. I’d imagine it’s more successful to say that Paul didn’t know about homosexuals as people who are made a particular way. Then bring in Peter’s vision about not making unclean what God has made clean and possibly also point out that this line of Paul’s is going against Jesus’ teachings, so really what side are you on here.

  • The_L1985

     Er….the Bible condones slavery in a lot of places.  That doesn’t make slavery right.

  • The_L1985

     Oh, that’s totally symbolic!  It’s about the relationship between Christ and the Church, donchaknow.

  • Tina

    There is nothing loving about affirming, condoning, encouraging or remaining silent about sinful behavior

  • banancat

    I suspect that one of the reasons KJV-only is such a big thing is that the old-fashioned language makes it easier to pretend those poems aren’t actually about sex. Some people are also just really bad at understanding euphemism and metaphor.

  • AnonymousSam

    That depends entirely on what constitutes sinful behavior. If you want to start a list from the Bible, be sure and tell your significant other to stop shaving, because that’s a sin. So is wearing nylon and cotton at the same time. And eating fat. And touching kittens. And performing any form of physical labor on Sunday, which includes, but is not limited to: planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, cooking, shearing, scouring, beating, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two loops, weaving, separating two threads, tying, untying, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, curing, smoothing, scoring, measured cutting, writing, erasing, building, demolition, extinguishing a fire, lighting a fire, applying a finishing touch or transferring between two domains.

  • JustoneK

    oh but you’re not reading it literally.  clearly.

  • Neither is there anything loving about behaving badly towards those whose behavior we consider sinful.

    And there certainly is nothing loving about singling out some sinners for condemnation while turning a blind eye to other sinners.

    So at some point, we need to decide how important it is to be loving. Because if it’s important, then we eventually have to give that stuff up.

  • Fusina

     Okay, see, your comment is addressed. And I quote:
    Matthew 7 New King James Version (NKJV)

    7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    Still trying to teach this concept to my children. I am hopeful of succeeding some day.

  • The_L1985

     You’re absolutely right.  ReverendRef, why didn’t you condemn iPledge from the pulpit?

  • Madhabmatics

    (Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio); 3932: Weep, you girls.  My penis has
    given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous
    femininity!-pompeii graffiti

  • Feel free to read the whole thing over on my blog.

    Would if I knew where your blog was, Ref…

  • ReverendRef

    ReverendRef, why didn’t you condemn iPledge from the pulpit?

    Actually . . . I did — http://stlukesgrantspass.org/Sermon%20Sept2%202012.pdf

     I just happened to do it a week before the thing. 

    This past Sunday I was busy preaching about God going to the dogs.

  • ReverendRef

     Hmmm . . .  just assumed people would google Reverend Ref.

    But no matter — http://reverendref.blogspot.com/

  • The_L1985

     This is beautiful.  I can’t stand when people preach politics in church, but this is one of those cases where you can’t explain what’s morally wrong without mentioning political actions of others.

  • TheFaithfulStone

    Well, I got this reply from “wintermute” (weirrrrd) on long dead thread today about clever-dick legalism and then I read this post and how we’re all supposed to love our neighbors.

    Seems like some people are taking the text of the Great Commandment as an instruction to establish a really, really, strict and exclusive homeowners associations.

    Or to quote from somebody unknown “Love thy neighbor as thyself is not a command to move to a gated community.”

  • DavidCheatham

    Riiight, no adult men had sex with other enthusiastically consenting adult men in ancient Rome

    And the made-up word used there is _not_ the word used for that.

    The clobber verses in the New Testament don’t even really _exist_.

    There’s a reference to people getting drunk and having sex with members of the same sex and being humiliated, and people told God did that. (This is the strangest ‘condemnation’ of homosexuality I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly a condemnation of drunken orgies.)

    And there’s the word ‘arsenokoitais’, used by Paul, and copied in whoever wrote 1 Timothy, that wasn’t translated to mean ‘gay men’ until very recently, and in fact is not the Greek word that means ‘men who have sex with men’, but is some unknown word.

    There were indeed a lot of adult men in relationships with other adult men at the time…and despite not having the idea of ‘homosexual people’ per se, society had perfectly good words used to refer to those acts that were not used by Paul.

    In fact, in the early church, there was a debate about homosexuality…and it managed to somehow overlook the verse that we are now informed condemn it. And, that condemnation via one word doesn’t make any _sense_. It’s being read by people who assume homosexuality is a sin, so of course it makes sense on a list of sins

    But in the context of _Paul_, homosexual sex was just something that men occasionally did, and was fine if the man was doing the penetrating.

    This entire thing is like if I wrote, the modern day, a list of things that resulted in poor health, and included ‘soft drinks’, and two thousand years later no one knew what ‘soft drinks’ were (My writing being one of the only uses of that word), and decided that I meant _liquids_, and that you should only live on water inside food and ice. This is of course nonsense…drinking liquids is _incredibly_ common and I certainly wouldn’t have suddenly decided to condemn it by randomly including it in a list of bad things without further explanation, and I wouldn’t have made up the term ‘soft drink’ when the perfectly good term ‘liquid’ exists.

    Even if I had, I wouldn’t have condemned it with a single phrase, at the very least, it’d have an explanation. A mention. Something. Same with homosexual behavior. (Paul was writing to the Corinthians, aka, Romans, who would have no idea what Jewish law said on that subject.)

  • Carstonio

     There’s not supposed to be sex in the Bible. Song of Songs is almost like someone played a joke on the ancient scribes and stuck a 7th century BCE equivalent of the Penthouse Letters column in the copying stack. “Dear Absalom, I never thought this would happen to me…” Sex is supposed to be shameful and sordid, not beautiful and lyrical. If you don’t feel dirty afterward, you’re doing it wrong. :)

  • ako

     I think the point is “The Bible is not a rulebook, and if you look honestly at what the Bible says and how people behave, even the ones shouting about the Bible being a rulebook don’t really treat it as one.”  Which is both true and great fun as a righteous smackdown, but can easily be mistaken for tu quoque

  • Tina

    So you don’t understand the different Levitical laws, their purposes and which are no longer to be upheld and which are? I suggest a little more research and scholarship on your part so that you will be more informed.

  • Tina

    I agree but to give up caring enough about someone to let them know their actions are damaging and sinful is giving up loving them. Of course it should always be done with gentleness and respect but needs to be done if we say we are loving.

  • Tina

    Yes we must recognize our own sin first and then if we love someone we should care enough about them to let them know as well about any unrepentant sinful behavior. 

    And I think you need to do more study on what biblical judgement means and does not mean. 

  • AnonymousSam

    I understand that people very badly want to cherry pick at them in an effort to appeal to a questionable authority in a matter that really isn’t their business to judge according to the very tenets of the faith they claim gives them the authority to judge.

    “That which I have made clean…”

  • Tina

    Where does the bible say that homosexual behavior was made clean? Show us please or you are simply blowing smoke.

  •  Sure; absolutely. If I genuinely believe that your relationship with your husband is sinful and damages your soul, and I genuinely love you, I should tell you so, with gentleness and respect and support. And you should do the same for me.

    And if I genuinely believe that your relationship with your bank account damages you, and I genuinely love you, I should tell you so, with
    gentleness and respect and support. And you should do the same for me.

    And if I genuinely believe that your narrow-minded view of Christianity is sinful and damaging to your soul, and I genuinely love you I should tell you so, etc.

    All of this is speaking hypothetically, of course. Heck, for all I know, you don’t even have a husband.

  • AnonymousSam

    If you love someone enough, you must also respect them enough to make their own decisions. If you don’t love someone, then you have no business opening your mouth to tell them what they should be doing with their lives. And if you love them and tell them that you fear for their soul and their response is to continue sinning, walk away; you have done all that you are entitled to do.

  • Where does the bible say it’s OK to assosciate with a woman while she’s on her period? Show us please or you are simply blowing smoke.

  • Tina

    Well I agree sort of. Yes people make their own choices in life and assume the responsibilities of the consequences of those choices. So yes at some point walking away is the right thing but only after you gave it your best shots. 

    As Christians we are called to love everyone.

  •  transferring between two domains.

    No Internet on Sunday? I … I’m not sure I could handle that.

  • Tina

    Well I am happy to hear those things from you in love.

    However can you show me scripturally where God condones and/or blesses homosexual behavior?  When you do that I will gladly admit that my scriptural view of Christianity is narrow minded. Until then it is your version that is unbiblical. 

  • Tina

    I will point you to more study of the Levitical laws. I would hope that you would spend some time in research so you don’t look foolish.

  • NoDoubtAboutIt

    I think you need to give me a reason to give a rat’s ass what the bible says about anything.

    Hint: try not to make it I better care or I’ll end up in hell, because that’s where I’d much rather be than anywhere near you.

  • Tina

    Good luck!

  • Jenny Islander

    Of course, Sodom still gets dragged into the mess, despite what God Himself says through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16: 49-50):  Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.   And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw [good]. 
    The NIV translates the first accusations bluntly as “arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned.”  “Abomination,” as far as I can tell by comparing translations, means simply that: something God abominates, something God detests.  Not anal sex.

    Seething outbursts against those who trample upon the poor, spit on justice, and pride themselves on their wealth and righteousness are all over the prophetic books, but of course only a few verses that might be read to mean either (1) God’s gonna get you on this specific date cuz you wouldn’t join our church, haw haw or (2) God’s gonna get you for having sex without my approval , haw haw ever get preached in good God-fearing family values churches.

  • AnonymousSam

    Acts 10. “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” I see no reservations for specific sinful behavior. I also don’t see any specific instructions for many of the other laws of Leviticus to expire, and in fact, they were repeatedly upheld in the New Testament.

    “It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid.”

    “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished.”

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.”

    And yet here we are, still able to pet wriggling kittens without being struck by lightning. Clearly the text is not as black and white as all that.