This article has been written for a specific audience – Christians who want to find a way to include the LGBTQ+ community in their church but who feel boxed in by scripture. A friend from a small group I was part of for several years used to say:
‘When I get to Heaven I want to ask what’s wrong with being gay. I accept what the Bible says, but I just don’t see the problem.’
This is where millions of decent, honest believers find themselves – naturally inclined to include but forced into a position by a particular approach to scripture. Most right-minded people of faith are compassionate souls, in my experience, and suffer a great deal of cognitive dissonance on this issue.
As a result, many churches (in the UK, at least) barely address the question of inclusion at all. They are caught in an uncomfortable zone between the call to kindness and another to honour scripture, and don’t know how to reconcile the two. The topic of sexuality is almost never spoken of from the pulpit in such churches, which might give the impression that LGBTQ+ people are welcome, but what they’ll discover after joining is that many in the congregation believe there is something innately wrong with them and how they live their lives. The LGBTQ+ individual who’s happy in their own skin will never be fully accepted or allowed to take a leadership role. This is no kind of welcome at all; rather a guarantee of heartbreak down the road.
I invite you to imagine something with me – that the real problem lies with the approach to scripture taken by many in the Evangelical movement, and not with the LGBTQ+ community. What if that were the case? Would you choose to disassociate yourself from the Church’s institutional sin of painful, tacit exclusion? I’m going to offer a way out for those ready to perceive it.
What about Paul?
The difficulty for most believers yet to resolve this issue is that Paul seemed to be pretty clear on the issue. Romans 1: 26-27
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
To deal with this honestly, we need to consider how literally we take all of Paul’s opinions. In truth, the Evangelical movement has been in the practice of shelving some of Paul’s teachings for decades, despite claiming to believe the Bible is inerrant (without error). Consider, for example, how we apply (or don’t apply) his instructions on hair length. 1 Corinthians 11:13-16
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.
Does the very nature of things teach me these things? Nope. In fact, the very nature of things tells me that hair length is utterly unimportant. Most churches have elected to quietly put this teaching aside. We have trusted our guts, accepting that ‘the very nature of things’ is a subjective matter. Similarly, we’ve largely moved on from Paul’s teachings on women’s silence in the church. I Cor 14: 33-35
As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches, They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.
I’m happy to say that I’ve never been to a church where women are required to be silent. We have overridden Paul, offering some pretty thin apologetics for doing so rather than admitting the truth – this no longer makes sense in the modern day, so we’ve put it on the shelf. And what of Paul’s instruction on slavery? Ephesians 6:5
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
I know what some would say – that this can be interpreted by a present day reader as an encouragement to thrive in whatever job we’re in by ‘working unto the Lord’. Though there is some value in this idea, it still requires us to ignore the actual intended meaning of the verse. Not convinced yet? Then answer this – would you offer this passage as instruction to a victim of modern day slavery? Unless you’re a monster, the answer is no, and yet it wasn’t long ago that these passages were used by British politicians and slave owners to argue against the abolition of slavery. No doubt, Confederate leaders in the USA did the same.
We need to recognise that our relationship with passages of scripture changes over time, mostly in response to scientific discovery and society’s slow but inevitable journey towards equality. This is a healthy, natural process and should not be resisted, lest we become institutionally opposed to life, liberty, and happiness.
The false doctrine of inerrancy
It will surprise many to learn that the notion of Biblical inerrancy is a modern invention, concocted in the 19th century in response to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), in order to defend a literal reading of Genesis and oppose the important scientific discoveries of that time. The false doctrine of inerrancy was a fearful reaction to uncomfortable questions, giving people permission to switch off their brains as a purported act of service to God.
This was further compounded in 1978, when hundreds of conservative evangelical leaders crafted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, in order to counter what they perceived as liberal or non-literal interpretations of the Bible that were emerging. I understand that for many readers this will be new information and might feel threatening, but surely the truth is better than the lies you’ve been fed – that Biblical inerrancy has always been a fundamental aspect of Christian belief, when in fact it’s just a bit of modern day denominational jiggery pokery? I promise you, jettisoning the false doctrine of inerrancy will free you to engage with the Bible much more deeply and without the intellectual torment of cognitive dissonance. That is certainly my story, and I love the Bible more than ever.
Following Jesus’ example
When working out how to approach the scriptures, we need only to emulate Jesus, for whom inerrancy wasn’t even a question. I wrote on this in a recent article, and encourage anyone sincerely questioning inerrancy to read it. The same is true of the early church, which had no consensus on which letters and books were to be considered scripture, and certainly didn’t define the writings they had as without error. I repeat – Biblical inerrancy is a false doctrine, a carnal invention, driven by fear, and it’s time we exposed it for what it is and cast it aside.
Making things right with the LGBTQ+ Community
Once the false doctrine of inerrancy has been abandoned, embracing the LGBTQ+ community becomes an easy choice, because we’re no longer bound by a handful of verses which clearly don’t make sense in a modern context. Remember, we already do this in a number of areas, and all I’m advocating is extending the list – we don’t keep slaves, we don’t dictate hair length, we don’t muzzle women, and we don’t persecute, marginalise, or exclude the LGBTQ+ community.
For me, the Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community is the key fork in the road that will determine our future, and right now, we’re going down the wrong path. If we want any kind of voice in the coming decades, we need to change our minds on this issue, drop all the tacit disapproval, sear off the cognitive dissonance, and offer a heartfelt apology and welcome to all. The Church has caused so much damage to all the wonderful LGBTQ+ people who deserve to be loved, included, and celebrated – let’s go beyond inclusion and step into humility, confessing the harm we’ve done and seeking to make amends. Let’s love and learn from each other, and seek reconciliation with sincere, open hearts. It’s going to be a long journey, but it begins with a single step.
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