The clobber verses vs. ‘the only thing that counts’

I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:12-14

So, yes, the anti-gay clobber verses are there, in the Bible. Open the Christian scriptures and, if you know where to look, you can find all six of them right there in the pages of the Bible that many Christians, rather unbiblically, call the “Word of God.”

Thus we have to ask two things: First, do these clobber verses mean everything that those who rely on them want them to mean? And, secondly, is there anything in the other 31,000 or so verses of that Bible that might lead us to a different conclusion?

Regarding that first question, the answer is no. Those who wield these six verses as weapons almost never cite them in a way that acknowledges or accounts for their textual or cultural context. We could, yet again, go through them verse-by-verse to rehash all of that, but the clobber-verse enthusiasts have ignored or dismissed every other such discussion, so I don’t see any point in trying to summarize a shelf-full of scholarship here only to have it, yet again, ignored or dismissed.

Instead, I think it’s more helpful to focus on that second question, because this whole argument is nothing new. It quite exactly parallels an argument that forms one of the dominant recurring themes in Paul’s epistles and, indeed, the entire New Testament.

Paul, in particular, dealt extensively with the question of Bible-as-rulebook and found himself embroiled in some very contentious arguments with those who wielded clobber-verses against him, accusing him of violating the authori-tah of scripture. That passage quoted at the top of this post summarizes Paul’s response: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

You may recognize that maneuver. It’s the same duplicitous, weaselly trick I’ve constantly employed here as an explanation for why “love your neighbor as yourself” trumps a half-dozen context-deprived clobber verses. I don’t regard it as duplicitous or weaselly myself, anymore than Paul did, but that’s how it always gets characterized by Team Authoritah — as a dodge, an evasion, a way of “playing fast-and-loose” with the Bible. Paul was quite familiar with that criticism because he was well acquainted with that team.

Actually, Paul was up against a much more formidable incarnation of Team Authoritah. The six-verse case against homosexuality is nowhere near as robust as the massive scriptural case for mandatory circumcision, but this modern reprise of the same clobber-verse argument takes the same form. The contemporary anti-gay argument is just a paler, thinner version of the anti-Gentile argument wielded by Paul’s sparring partners in the early proto-church.

That conflict involved the clear teaching of scripture — much clearer, in that case, and much more prominent. And Paul’s argument directly challenged — directly contradicted that clear teaching.

Then, as today, one side argued the brute authority of scripture and the other side responded with talk of love and essential principles that trumped particular rules, no matter how explicit.

Same argument. Same hermeneutic. Same body part.

The other similarity between that argument and this one, of course, is that both were intensely focused on the same body part. It’s a bit depressing that after nearly 2,000 years, the followers of Jesus are still cycling through the same arguments over rules, love, and the authority of scripture as pertaining most importantly to what must or mustn’t be done to that very same body part.

I’m trying to tread delicately here — more delicately than Paul did, actually, as the first part of that passage from Galatians shows. The apostle eventually got so fed up with all the but-the-Bible-says anti-Gentile arguments that he eventually just snapped and said that. Rules, rules, rules — “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” You want this to be about rules? Well, then, you don’t just get to spotlight the rules for other people’s genitals, if you want to make this about rules than you are “obliged to obey the entire law.” In that case, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” and you “have cut yourselves off from Christ.” Trust me, you do not want this to be about rules.

Oh, and speaking of cutting things off, here’s a suggestion …

One key to Paul’s argument there in Galatians — and the reason he could not have come to any other conclusion than the one he did — can be seen there in his colorful suggestion in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”

That right there is the huge difference between the argument Paul is making and the argument being made today by the anti-gay Christians conscripting Paul as a forger of clobber verses. “Those who unsettle you,” Paul says. Other translations render that “trouble you,” or “agitate you.” Paul was talking to the very people that the rules clearly taught by scripture demanded to be excluded. Nowadays, anti-gay Christians talk about those same people, but not to them. And that changes everything.

When people are an abstraction, it’s easy to exclude them, or to imagine that some holy text renders them intrinsically in violation of sacrosanct rules. But when you talk to such people, rather than just talking about them, they become real and it becomes impossible to pretend that they are less important than your precious rules.

Paul broke those rules and taught others to break them. How did the apostle respond when confronted with the clobber verses that directly contradicted his teaching? He said such clobber verses do not “count for anything.”

“The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

  • JustoneK

    WORKS BASED AFTERLIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT BLAH BLAH BLIDDY BLAH I’VE NEVER READ YOUR BLOG BEFORE SO HERE IS WHAT I AM GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAITH

  • Jenny Islander

    AND FURTHERMORE TWO CONSENTING ADULTS SOMETHING SOMETHING MARRYING A TOASTER BLARGLE BLARGLE WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN BECAUSE REASONS

  • VigorishChiliad
  • Twig

    I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT

    … LOUD NOISES

  • JustoneK

    I LOVE THAT MOVIE.

    WAIT HOLLYWOOD IS FULL OF TEH GAYS WE MUST BOYCOTT UNTIL IT STOPS

  • ako

    GUYS, GUYS, WATCH OUT!
    CAPSLOCKING IS PART OF THE GAY AGENDA!

  • JustoneK

    wait you’re trying to get me to stop YOU’RE PART OF THE GAY AGENDA

    STOP TRYING TO SILENCE ME

  • Mark Z.

    REMIND ME HOW THE LITTLE HORSE SHAPED ONES MOVE.

  • AnonaMiss

    YOUR ARGUMENT IS WRONG AND SINFUL WHAT DO YOU MEAN I NEED TO READ THE FIRST THREE PARTS OF THE ARGUMENT

  • Carstonio

    At last, an entry from Fred where the words of Sam Malone from Cheers are relevant, in this case describing Team Authoritah: “Those Galatians…when will they listen…”

  • Carstonio

    My turn for the all-caps festival…

    DON’T YOU GET IT? IF SOCIETY SAYS IT’S OK FOR MEN TO HAVE SEX WITH EACH OTHER, OR WOMEN TO, GENDER WILL CEASE TO EXIST!! OUR GENITALS WILL SHRIVEL AND WE’LL ALL BE NEUTER, LIKE KEN DOLLS!! WE’LL ALL BE ALIEN FREAKS!! MOMMY, DON’T LET THEM TAKE MY PENIS!!!!

  • Bnerd

    Ah yes, Galatians 5. You’ll notice the Evangelical Tribe rarely if ever quotes this scripture; and it’s because they know as we all do Paul directly contradicts their view. “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ”. That’s pretty blunt and in your face; even coming from Paul. But it speaks to exactly the message of Jesus: He came to break down barriers. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those that had their “good time” on Earth will find themselves begging to have their thirst quenched in the afterlife (as the Rich Man quickly found out). You’d think more people would understand the radical nature of what Jesus was teaching and realize there isn’t a way one can exclude a class of people (or worse, brutalize and hate them) and claim the mantle of Christ. Those two things are contradictory. They don’t *fit*. They never have. And the thin justifications for them wilt like a flower without sun and water.

  • DStecks

    It never fails to amaze/disgust me how much mainstream Christian theology requires you to disregard the New Testament. That today’s pharisees are all gentiles makes it that much more bizarre.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    BUT IF WE ACCEPT THE GAYS

    THEN WE’LL HAVE TO ACCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO CROSS-DRESS AND SAY THEY’RE THE OPPOSITE GENDER

    AND I’LL HAVE TO ADMIT WHY I SPENT SO MUCH TIME IN MY MOM’S ROOM WHILE SHE WAS AWAY

    OH GOD I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS

  • AnonymousSam

    WHAT IS THIS LIGHT ON MY KEYBOARD IT NEVER TURNS OFF?

  • redsixwing

    FSCKING MAGNETS HOW DO THEY WORK

    ALSO GENDER IS THIS BUDGIE

  • Fusina

    Shhhh! You’re scaring my kittehs. You know, those adorable purring freaks that are a sin to touch–and yet I can’t help it. Must pet kittehs.

  • The_L1985

    Personally, I’m enjoying a bit of juvenile amusement at Fred’s choice of a rooster to illustrate this post.

  • AnonymousSam

    Oh, come on, this whole post and that’s how your inner juvenile manifests?

    Oh well, you wouldn’t be the first.

    “And the cock crowed three times–”

    Hey, ‘cock’ is in the Bible! It’s in the Bible!

    - George Carlin, RIP, you left us and look at where we ended up just a couple of years later.

  • The_L1985

     Hey, now, George wasn’t perfect.

    He didn’t like yogurt, for one thing. :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Totally, OT, but years ago when I worked at a previous job, we had an intern who was…not bright.
    Two things of note:

    1.  He was a Computer Science major.
    2.  He was completely unaware of the existence of the Shift key.

    He would capitalize words by turning on Caps Lock, typing the first letter, and then turning off Caps Lock.  This, of course, led to him FREQUENTLY YELLING IN HIS E-MAILS AND IMS because he forgot to turn it off.

    One day we showed him the Shift key, and he responded to it as though we were sorcerers.  In fact, he referred to it as the “magic key.”

    The next day he was back to using Caps Lock.  We acknowledged defeat and never spoke of the “magic key” again.

  • Fusina

     I do hope you won’t judge all CompSci majors by this person. Some of us know where the shift key is. And we use it. Lots. Especially when writing comments to a blog posting. Also when writing programs…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Not at all – I mentioned his major not as an indication that I thought he was in any way representative, but rather to point out just how dismaying the whole thing was.  I mean, if anyone should know how to use the Shift key…

  • Kiba

    YOU DISAGREE WITH ME!! OMG I’M BEING PERSECUTED!!!11!!! 

    Hmmm. I’m thinking we need to start misspelling words if we want this to be more realistic.  

  • Fusina

    Sorry, I was trying to be funny, and apparently fell completely flat.

    I have to admit to being highly amused by Geoffrey, Tina and a couple of people who left before I learned their names. It really takes a lot of cloth to make a blindfold that keeps out the light that well.  Kind of feel a bit sorry for them. Once I realized that one of the things that the “do not judge” verses meant was that I didn’t have to do anything about other people sinning, it was great. I am free. Gives me a lot more time to put into my hobbies (none of which are peering into people’s closets to make sure they are obeying God)

  • Emcee, cubed

     Please note that caption. Fred was well aware of what he was doing…

  • The_L1985

     That just makes it funnier.

  • LL

    Yeah, as a fairly longtime (20-something years) atheist, I long ago gave up (actually never really started, but live long enough and eventually you have some sort of religion-related discussion with somebody) arguing with religious people over their rules. When people decide that their rule book is the last and only word, it really doesn’t have anything to do with reason or logic. 

    It’s kinda sad, because the story of religion (the real story, not the largely made-up Bible stories, for example) is in many ways very beautiful and inspiring. Religion has (my opinion) inspired mostly horrible behavior, but it has also inspired some very wonderful behavior. It is always sad (but not surprising) to me when someone chooses to be inspired to be terrible, rather than wonderful. When they believe that their religion requires them to be hateful (or nicely hateful, like this Tina person) towards other people. “Well, gosh, I really don’t want to stone you to death, but, welp, sorry, my rule book requires me to. It’s a darn shame, but rules are rules. I can’t use my brain or my own God-given judgment, I just gotta go by the book, you know how it is. But remember, it’s a religion of peace and love that is so wonderful everyone should be required to be a part of it as you cry out in agony, die and then burn in hell in everlasting torment.” 

    Most religious people are the very worst advertisement for their beliefs. They should probably keep that in mind. It’s not the Bible or Koran or any other holy text that has convinced me that there’s no God. It’s all the people who are convinced that words in a book mean more than treating other humans (made in God’s image, supposedly) decently. It’s people who’ve made life on earth the hell that it is. The books themselves are just words. They don’t have any power that people don’t want them to have. 

  • The_L1985

     Also…I’m still picturing God as Eric Cartman, saying, “This is MY book!  You will RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH!”

  • AnonymousSam

    There we go. ^_^

    Though I forgot about this verse myself. I’m rather fond of it for this purpose too. Though as LL says, there tends not to be much value for a non-Christian to debate using Christian rules. It’s just nice to be able to point at something and say, “But what about that? Doesn’t that completely contradict what you’re saying?”

  • Lunch Meat

    My favorite anti-clobber passage from Paul is Colossians 2:20-23:

    Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    What’s with the chicken? 

  • Stephen Frug

    “Open the Christian scriptures and, if you know where to look, you can find all six of them right there in the pages of the Bible…”

    Could I please request a list of the six canonical clobber verses?  I mean, I know Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13), and I presume that’s two, but how about a list of all six?

  • Lunch Meat

    Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are parallel passages about (homosexual) gang rape. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 include a Greek word that has been interpreted to refer to homosexuality along with a list of other sins. And the second half of Romans 1 talks about men rejecting God and then “being filled with lust for one another.”

    Hmm, that’s seven, but I’m not sure which one isn’t supposed to be there.

  • The_L1985

    What’s another word for “rooster?”

  • AnonymousSam

    Innocently enough, September is National Chicken Month.

  • PJ Evans

     I, on the other hand, tend to ignore the shift key a lot when I’m typing stuff in – most of our software is case-insensitive. They can probably spot my stuff by the lack of caps….
    Why, yes, I have most of a degree in CS. Never going to finish it, though.

  • Kiba

    Rhymes with rock and begins with a “c.”

  • http://audioarchives.blogspot.com/ spinetingler

    Caulk?

  • http://audioarchives.blogspot.com/ spinetingler

     Chalk?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    I once went to a Home Depot and asked the nice young man for some caulk.

    Didn’t help that it was White Bone caulk.

    Man, it just boggles my mind that a certain subset of religious folk can be even more obsessed with… roosters… than I am.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Usually I get a good dick joke, but it seems like a non-sequitur here. 

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Capon.  At least for roosters that have been ‘Galatianed’. 

  • Carstonio

    Couple that with the use of the word “trim” in the film 48 Hours, and shopping for home improvement products can lead to all sorts of embarrassments…

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Pretty sure it’s  1 Timothy.  I don’t tend to hear that one mentioned in debates.

  • Rowen

     The ones that are usually cited are

    1) Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Or the Help-Meet
    2) Sodom and Gomorah and Do you know what “know” means?
    3) Leviticus and all of it’s lay layings.
    4) Romans
    5) Corinthians
    6) Timothy

    I’m gonna go ahead and plug my article here, too, which was meant to be a funny guide after I had written it out about 20 times on online arguements.
    http://crasstalk.com/2011/07/what-does-the-bible-say-about-homosexuality/

  • http://www.facebook.com/kalleoskar.isaacson Carl Oscar Isaacson

    Today I worked through part of Plato’s Phaedrus with my Rhetoric students. This is the tenth or so reading of this text. A number of things jumped out at me from this reading. One pertinent here is that the homo-erotic behavior of Greek males was nothing like the current image of homosexuality. It was also nothing like the behavior of homosexual men and women I’ve known. I have to wonder what the homo-erotic behavior was that Paul and the writer of Leviticus inveighed against. There is a whole lot more to our sexuality than where we put our genitalia and with whom.

    I think one reason that the rules don’t apply – beyond the truly excellent one that we are not a people of rules but of grace – is that the behavior condemned isn’t the behavior of most gay males or lesbian females or bi-sexual males and females today. 

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    On this subject…

    Australia will be having several votes on marriage equality in the next month or so. They’re expected to be very close, and if they pass, will only just pass.

    Could those who pray please pray about this?

  • reynard61

    Argumentum ad Caps Lock — because it *always* works…

  • malpollyon

    Argumentum ad majusculum


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