June is officially “Pride Month,” in which we celebrate the public empowerment of, and advocacy for, our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Though the momentum around the debates about sexuality, orientation has notably shifted (even prominent evangelical Tony Campolo came forward recently with his own advocacy for full inclusion of LGBTQ people and families in the Christian Family, as well as for marriage equality), there are many who still claim that being gay, same sex unions or inclusion of LGBTQ people in communities of faith is un-Biblical or un-Christian.
I know for some, the case is made that Christianity should not follow suit with mainstream culture, simply because it’s popular or easier. We are called often times to be intentionally counter-cultural in our ethics and our life choices. And in the case of a scriptural basis for such judgments and discrimination against LGBTQ people, I understand what references people inevitably are using. Most of us familiar with the debate know what some call the “six clobber passages” used to Justify the Christian position of intolerance. But we also know that we can find a basis for the justification of nearly anything in scripture if we search hard enough, and if we don’t consider context.
This dynamic of other parts of culture arriving at apparently clear conclusions about how we, the world and the universe work and the church entrenching itself in outdated thought has been around for centuries. Galileo was labeled a heretic in the 1600s for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun, and there are still those who deny the overwhelming science pointing to the age of the planet. As a general rule, important new knowledge presents a compelling opportunity for new thought. But sometimes – like in the case of gender identity and sexual orientation – new thought is seen as a threat within the Christian faith.
We have to consider a few things the authors of Biblical texts did not have to inform their thinking. For example, they did not know what we now know about sexual orientation, and in many ways, gender identity, being biologically inborn and developed. Much of it is beyond our control. As my gay friend who was raised Southern Baptist once said, “Do you think if I had a choice not to be gay in the culture I grew up in I wouldn’t take it in a heartbeat?” Orientation and identity are largely genetically and neurologically informed, and we know that now.Also, in the times the texts were penned, most cultures in the regions believed that procreation strictly was a process instigated by men. They believed the entire potential for a new life was contained within the man’s semen, and that women were little more than human incubators. Understandable, I suppose in a patriarchal society, but inaccurate. At any rate, this explains why any man “spilling” or “wasting his seed” as seen as sinful. It was because they believed this was effectively infanticide. They imagined that there was a living being in his semen, rather than just a part of the potential puzzle pieces needed for life.
We also have consider our own ignorance when approaching scripture, however. For example, in Corinthians and Timothy, some of us were taught that Paul is speaking against “sodomites.” But actually, the greek word that has been interpreted that way is not one that has an accurate translation today, and scholars debate what it means still. The best we have is context of the surrounding words to help us. Some believe he’s speaking out against men who rape boys, while others think he’s referring, as he does in other texts, to ritual sex acts (often orgies) done as an act of non-Christian worship. Another act Paul condemns is male-to-male prostitution, which also often involved young boys. I’m with Paul on that one.
In Leviticus, where the same-sex judgments come in, it’s in the midst of other “purity laws” meant to keep people safe and healthy. This is why things like male-to-male sex were considered on par with eating shrimp or touching a pig. And based on what they knew at the time about hygiene and disease, it’s understandable.
And then there’s Sodom. The problem often comes in when we read the prophets and anytime they refer to Sodom, we automatically assume it’s about gay sex. But in truth, there’s no mention of that in any of the prophets with regard to Sodom. In fact, the sins of Sodom mentioned include: pride, lack of care for the poor and marginalized and violating cultural codes of hospitality. And in Genesis itself, there are two things going on with regard to sexual acts. First, when military forces invaded a new city, it was custom for victors to rape the losers, men especially, as a gesture of subjugation and humiliation. Also, there were many non-Jewish religious practices throughout the city, which included (like Paul talks about) religious acts of sex, including same-gender sex or orgies as a form of worship.
And nowhere – not once, anywhere – does it refer in the Bible about anything related to the LGBTQ community aside from how we’ve interpreted the ones about sexual acts. Nothing about being attracted to the same sex. Nothing about feeling like you were born in the wrong body. And nothing about making a commitment to a person of the same gender before God and witnesses to build a family and pledge one another’s love and lives to one another.
When we know more, we have the opportunity to think and act differently. Well, we know more.