Rachel Held Evans: Ask a Gay Christian

Rachel continues her excellent series, “Ask a…” with this post in which Justin Lee responds to reader questions:

In the end, I decided that I needed to be consistent in my approach to the Bible: whatever standards I used for deciding this needed to be the same standards I would take to other issues. I spent years prayerfully studying how Jesus and the New Testament writers used Scripture, what the Bible has to say about the nature of sin in general, Jesus’ teachings about the law and the Sabbath, Paul’s teachings on sexual morality and marriage, and how the early church resolved controversial issues of their day. The more I studied, the more convinced I became that we Christians had applied a different standard to the homosexuality texts than we had to other Scriptural texts, and that condemning Christ-centered relationships solely based on gender was actually inconsistent with biblical teaching.

via Rachel Held Evans | Ask a Gay Christian (Justin Responds).

  • Wes

    I find it ironic that as I am reading this post, there is a giant Rand Paul banner on the side. I know you don’t control this, just noticing.

    In any case, I am finding that this response is where I am landing on this topic. I am coming from an more “conservative” and “evangelical” background, but I am finding that the standards that we have put on these hot button topics (GLBT, abortion, etc) seem to have a made up standard that is far more socially driven than Scripturally driven.

  • elisa

    I’ve been going through this big traumatic change of worldview too, after 30 plus years of being very involved in ministry as (I thought) a celibate heterosexual within and without the pentecostal and neopentecostal community. My prior view of homosexuality was that it was the result of childhood wounds, of which I have the whole textbook case set to incline me towards lesbianism, but I have fought this within myself, begging God to deliver me from such impulses or even to take my life rather than let me fall into sin. But one of my most revered Christian friends believes it is a genetic predisposition, and her belief perhaps even more than science, has been a bit of an epistemological touchstone for me. I also just read The Shack and I loved the way the love of God was portrayed there. It made me think God might still love me even if I were a lesbian. It might not mean certain hell and certain excommunication from the Body of Christ. . .
    Has Rachel or anyone else written a book about their findings? I desperately want to understand all of scripture coherently and I have been thinking the same thing about how randomly the church interprets different guidelines and sins etc in the Bible. Please tell me more!!! Or show me where I can find more guidance. . . I’m so grateful you are putting these things online.

    • http://www.robgagnon.net/ ben w.

      Elisa – what a great perspective you have that you’d be seeking the Lord’s will and wisdom in these things through His Word. I am amazed and praise God that you’ve been given the grace to walk in purity for 30+ years!

      I don’t have any resources defending the position laid out above, but rather the contrary. If one really takes the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets as authoritative, then I think one has to affirm that homosexual acts are sin. I understand your frustration with the church interpreting different sins and guidelines “randomly”, but I assure you it’s not random. (of course, there is bad teaching on all sorts of things, but this issue is rather clear, biblically.) I think the fullest treatment is presented by Dr. Robert Gagnon (http://www.robgagnon.net/). I encourage you to read Dr. Gagnon’s writings for a full explanation of these things, but here’s a simple summary of how to know what biblical laws apply to Christians today:
      1. God gave the Israelites a Law, including great detail.
      2. Christ fulfilled that Law perfectly, then died a death so that Christians have died to that Law and it’s demands (Romans 7:1-4).
      3. We now live under the “Law of Christ” – including all the commands of Jesus and His apostles (i.e. – the New Testament).

      And the New Testament affirms that homosexual acts are a sin (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10).

      Finally, even if there is a biological predisposition to homosexuality, that doesn’t condone the acts. All manner of people are born with a disposition to sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, lying, violence, etc. but that doesn’t make such things allowed. It simply proves that we live in a fallen world, where our hearts, minds and bodies groan for the complete redemption by Jesus.

      Sister, I honestly am praying for you tonight that you’d stay strong in your effort to faithfully follow Jesus for another 30+ years. God’s love is eve deeper than you can imagine, and He loves His children enough to give them the power and comfort to walk in holiness all the days of their life. I pray you would do that and be a brilliant display of the power of the God’s work in your life.

  • Aaron

    Tony stop talking, writing, posting. You need to stop. You’re making it worse for you because you are leading people astray. Please please please stop.

  • Basil

    Elisa
    Just a couple of points, because I think you ultimately need to answer these questions on your own terms:

    1. Homosexuality is biological. Now it is not clear whether that is due to genetics, or hormones affecting the development of the brain of the fetus during pregnancy, or some combination of both. However, what is clear is that the “wiring” of a gay person’s brain is anatomically different from that of a straight person (I had a college biology professor forward me a very dense article about differences in brain structures between gay and straight men — complete with photos — ok, it was over my head, but seemed pretty convincing). On this biology point, from what I read in that literature, it appears that female sexuality is somewhat more fluid than male sexuality — i.e., in surveys men are more likely to break into “gay” and “straight” categories than women. The other relevant point is that homosexual behavior is really, really common in nature: everything from fish, squid, birds, dogs, sheep, whales, and even chimpanzees (our closest relatives in terms of genetics). The frequency of this trait tells you that it serves some sort of biological purpose, or else it would not appear with such frequency. It also means that arguments that homosexuality is “unnatural” are just a pure unadulterated lie.

    2. I am not a literalist in approaching religious texts, because I think literalism is dangerous, particularly if you are not fluent in the original language of the text (ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek, i.e. not modern Hebrew and Greek), and if you are not well versed in the social history of the places where that text was written. With all that set aside, we can cherry-pick all sorts of quotes from the Bible that conform God to our existing prejudices. For example, in Ruth 1:14, it says that Ruth “clung” to Naomi, using the same verb in Hebrew to describe how Adam felt about Eve (Genesis 2:24). I guess that means that there is Biblical sanction of lesbian relationships…

    You can construct tedious arguments, like Ben’s above, about the Bible forbidding homosexuality, which conveniently ignores the fact that the word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in Biblical translations until the 1950′s. At some point, all of this fails a logic test. If you believe in God, and that he made heaven and earth and all that is in it, it just seems unlikely that he could not make someone straight if that is what he wanted. If you made the universe, how hard could it be for him to determine someone’s sexual orientation? It just doesn’t hold up to say that the homosexual’s fate is just to live this celibate and lonely life, bereft of the human love and affection that everyone else can at least aspire to. It strikes me as a lack of faith in God to believe that God just randomly creates homosexuality just to make you suffer. We are all, gay and straight, on a journey that is both personal and spiritual. Whether you are lesbian, or not, or somewhere in between, I don’t think God would abandon you to suffer in loneliness and shame.

    There is this story about the Rabbi Hillel talking about the Talmud just says to do not unto others what is hateful to yourself with the rest being commentary. This same idea is echoed by Matthew who spoke about about loving the Lord, and loving your neighbor as yourself. If you, correction, WE can get closer to that, than everything else is immaterial.

    If you want more online resources, I would check out the Gay Christian Network (the weblink was on Rachel Held Evans page somewhere), Soulforce, Faith in America, and Canyonwalker Connections.

    Final point: Aaron, no one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to read Tony’s blog. Just saying…

    • ben w.

      Basil –

      1.Whether or not homosexuality has biological connections (and I beleive it probably does) doesn’t have any bearing on the morality of the action. A propensity toward violence, anger, drug use, or whatever is probably always some complicated combination of “nature and nurture”. Still, violence is wrong for the person who is tempted daily and for the person who is never tempted. Also, your point about homosexuality being “natural” to other species is immaterial as well. We aren’t to learn our morality from animals (animals also eat their young, attack the innocent, horde food only for themselves…), but from God and what He’s revealed to us. If anything, these animals reveal the sad nature of our fallen world, not a moral example.

      2. I’m not sure what you mean by “literalist”. I don’t think you disagree with my interpretive methods, just that I take the Bible’s teaching as authoritative. Romans 1 plainly and clearly condemns homosexual acts, even without using the word, in any translation.

      Finally, your point about God being able to “make straight people” is well taken! The Bible tells us that we’re in a moral mess because of the Fall of man (Gen 3). We’re born in sin and we all do various kinds of sins. Except for the Grace of God and left to my own devices, I would show you someone worse than Hitler, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot. But God! God can change people! That’s the Gospel of Jesus! He can make sinners into to people like Jesus! He can make theives into generous givers; he can make a murderer into an apostle. This wouldn’t be easy and rarely quick, but it’s the testimony of the Gospel that God makes people new. For some who are born with homosexual desires, God can make them new and give them new desires. For others, God may choose not to give them heterosexual desires, but would give them the peace and comfort of Himself so as not to “abandon you to suffer in loneliness and shame.” This doesn’t mean it would be an easy walk. It would need to be done in community with other strugglers walking in the footsteps of Jesus. But is this really too much for God??

      • Melody

        Ben, the fact that you just compared homosexuality to violence, anger, and drug abuse tells me a lot about the way you view gay people. Homosexuality, unlike what you just compared it with, doesn’t hurt anyone. Maybe you didn’t mean to come across that way, but that isn’t an effective way to convince a gay person of your opinion.
        “Literalist” means you’re taking the Bible at face value in English, without bothering to learn about the Greek idioms or historical context. Quoting Romans 1 is the oldest “argument” in the book. Contrary to popular conservative belief, it doesn’t say that everyone is naturally straight. It says that those who were naturally predisposed to heterosexuality went against their nature as part of their pagan practices.
        I don’t know if you are aware of this (I wasn’t until quite recently), but the terms “homo-” and “heterosexuality” weren’t coined until around the turn of the 20th century, due to Freudian analysis. The translations that include the word “homosexuality” do so because it fits with their preferred theology, not because the original manuscripts say so. The fact is, sexuality isn’t as black-and-white as you or I would like. There’s a huge spectrum, ranging from completely straight to completely gay, and plenty of gray area, and that hasn’t changed throughout recorded history. They just tried to keep it quiet during the Dark Ages.

  • ben w.

    Melody,

    I wasn’t intending to compare homosexual acts to those sins in every way, just in that 1) they are both sins, 2) they all share a biological influence, and 3) this biological influence doesn’t remove moral culpability.

    (as a clarification, not a boast: I studied both biblical Greek and Hebrew for 2.5 years each. I’m still no scholar, but I understand what it means to read the Bible according to the original languages, taking into account idiom and historical context. This discussion has driven me back to the text and so I read this passage in Romans 1 again in Greek tonight).

    You said: “[Romans 1] says that those who were naturally predisposed to heterosexuality went against their nature as part of their pagan practices.” Can you provide a commentator from pre-1950 who makes this argument? 1975? even 1980? I think the history of interpretation would show that Romans 1:26-27 has essentially universally been read as dealing with same-sex sex, except for recent re-interpretations. We could postulate the reasons for that, but it should be seriously suspect if this interpretation was essentially unheard-of for about 200o years. Sometimes an argument is the “oldest one in the book” because everyone has acknowledged its validity for a long time.

    I know people disagree with my position (such as Rachel Held Evans), but I think the clarity of the Bible on this issue requires dissenters to admit – “the Bible is clear on the issue of homosexuality, but I simply think Paul and the Bible got this one wrong.”

    • Carrie

      Ben – I have also studied Scripture on this issue and I stand with you. People arguing about this as if it is the same as other prejudices enforced in the past by poor biblical interpretation are wrong. This predisposition for homosexuality ultimately results in an act, it is not based on a genetic characteristic that does not involve behavior, i.e. gender or race. I think that your initial post to Elisa was done well and lovingly. I appreciate your bravery to share what I believe is the truth. Thank you.

  • Basil

    I think your reading of Romans is divorced of historical context in which it was written, in particular the passage’s admonitions about idolatry and worship of graven images.

    A further note on religious interpretation: Abd el-Karim Souroush is a famous Quranic scholar in Iran (still alive, I believe) and he has written extensively about what is “religion” versus our “understanding of religion.” He has written at length about how the our changing social prisms through which we interpret religious text. I think that principle is applicable here: perhaps commentators before 1950 did not make argument that Romans does not condemn same-sex relationships (outside of sex in pagan temple) because no one ever really thought about the question. Would any American scholar have even raised the issue, pre-1950? There were sodomy laws on the books in nearly every state, and homosexuality was grounds for dismissal from the armed forces, from the civil service, and was strongly linked to Communism and moral depravity during the McCarthy-era witch hunts. So what scholar would even have raised the question, just out of idle curiousity? Wouldn’t it have been a bit dangerous to their careers? Wouldn’t most scholars of that era just assumed that homosexuality was bad, and therefore the Bible must condemn it? Did anyone actually bother to prove that assertion?

    That isn’t to assert that anti-same-sex readings of the Bible have always held sway. Same-sex relationships were given social sanction in antiquity, and this carried forward into the early Christian era. The late John Boswell wrote extensively about this in his book entitled “Same sex unions in pre-modern Europe” (its a good read). The arguments he raised continue to be hotly debated in academia, but have certainly not been dismissed.

    Maybe we are being expedient, in asserting that Paul wasn’t being sweeping in his condemnation of same-sex relationships. Or maybe we are returning those passages to something approaching their original intent.

    That said, if we want to be literalists, then I think we can assert that the Bible gives sanction to lesbian relationships based on the cherry-picked passage in the Book of Ruth, which describes Ruth clinging to Naomi in the same way (and with same Hebrew verb used in Genesis) as Adam clung to Eve. If we are in error, at least we are in error on the side of love, which is the most important consideration.

    Having academic arguments is great fun, especially when we are trying to analyze text and place it correctly in its social and historical context. But what is really important her, and what drove this whole back-and-forth are the questions posted by Elisa, who is trying to determine:

    a. Is she a lesbian?
    b. Is being a lesbian condemned by the Bible
    c. If she is a lesbian, does she have to live a celibate life in order to receive God’s love.

    Question a is Elisa’s alone to answer. She should keep in mind that current scientific thinking holds that female sexuality is somewhat more fluid than male sexuality. There are no right or wrong answers to question a, just honest answers that she must give herself.

    Questions b and c are where we, on this forum have divergence. I am utterly unconvinced that the Bible condemns same-sex relationships. The theological reasoning cited above is simply wrong on a whole number of levels, full of untested, unproven and ahistorical assumptions. I think there is a selectively bias in how anti-gay passages are read, and construed to conveniently support existing prejudices (in this case against icky gay sex, as if sex is ever pretty!). In an earlier era, we had these same debates about Biblical passages supporting or opposing slavery, and interracial marriage. Those debates seem ridiculous when we read them now. This debate will seem similarly ridiculous in 20 years.

    Sexuality is God’s gift to us, and an important (though not only) way for us to give and express love. To compare someone’s sexuality to drug abuse and violence is just hateful. To tell someone that they can only receive God’s love if they cut themselves off from human love and live a life of suffering, loneliness and desolation — that is simply malicious, hypocritical and evil. God’s love and grace are free and come without preconditions.

    Sexual orientation cannot be altered or “changed”. The same is not true of our religious orientation.

    • Casey

      Basil,

      You write, “Wouldn’t most scholars of that era just assumed that homosexuality was bad, and therefore the Bible must condemn it? Did anyone actually bother to prove that assertion?”

      The progression of Romans 1 goes like this: suppress, substitute, subvert. The glory of God in the image of God (male and female) is still too clear for the unbeliever, so that image must be dishonored. That dishonor takes the form of homosexual practices. It is not that heterosexuals believe such practices are dishonoring, while homosexuals (and those who support them) believe it is honoring. These folks know it is dishonoring and degrading also—that is the whole point of Romans 1. No scholar, who understands Romans 1, has to assume anything. God has made it quite clear.

      A good scholar will never undertake to prove what everybody already knows.

  • Basil

    A good scholar proves his argument. A crappy scholar just makes assumptions to cover his/her tracks. Nothing that you write is at all compelling, for two reasons:

    1. Everyone didn’t just “know” that homosexual acts were degrading/bad etc.. in antiquity. There are many instances where there was social sanction of homosexual behavior in antiquity (look at homoerotic Greek art of that era, or read the original Byzantine Greek Passion of St. Sergius and Bacchus, which has some very strongly homoerotic elements to it — in keeping with a larger tradition in antiquity of venerating gay soldiers. I’m sorry, but you can’t just bluff your way past all of this with an unproven (and unlikely) assumption.

    2. You have offered no proof that would support a “wider” reading of Romans — that homosexual acts are ALWAYS bad/wrong/degrading in all contexts, as opposed to a narrower reading of Romans in which the same sex behavior being referenced probably has to do with temple prostitution. The latter seems more likely, but in any event, you have no proof for a “wider” reading . You have offered no evidence that Paul was referencing a wider revulsion towards same sex sexual behavior.

    Your analysis of biblical text would be more complete if it was grounded in a better knowledge of mid-antiquity Greco-Roman social history, as opposed to being colored by the prejudices of early 21st century America

  • Sandra

    One thing I’d like to know, regardless of which side of the argument you find yourselves on:

    Does the Bible stand in judgment of you, or do you stand in judgment of it?

    Answer that question, and if the answer is the former rather than the latter, please prayerfully ask God before you tell men what is right and wrong.

    Matthew 7:3

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    Romans 3:3-6

    “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:

    “So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.”

    But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?”

    Philippians 2:12-13

    “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

    James 1:23-26

    “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

    If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    James 2:8-13

    “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

    Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”


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