There’s a thought that’s been marinating in my brain for a while. I haven’t made a point of saying it out loud (or in print) until now because it’s been said a billion times by better authors with wider audiences, and I am therefore, essentially, a mockingbird just singalinging what I’ve heard.
But it struck me one day as I sat in church not too long ago, and again this evening when I read this HuffPost piece which features a tweet from a dear, gay friend of mine who’s spent the last decade at war with himself over his sexuality and what God has to say about it, and who now blogs over at The Gay Post-Evangelical. He’s been clobbered by the clobber verses a billion times, including in the comments of that HuffPost thing, so I feel the time has come to speak up.
I’m intrigued when people use “the clobber verses” to underscore the fundamental sinfulness of The Gays and The Transgenders, etc., and dismiss them as bad christians, non-christians, or worst of all, abominations before God. At first it makes me sad, because so many of God’s Beloved Image Bearers are LGBTQ people, His prized children, our beloved sisters and brothers, and if it hurts God’s heart for them to be so summarily condemned (and it does), then it ought to hurt mine too (and it does).
After that, though, it makes me angry-chuckle because in order to cast these judgements, one must uniformly and with grandiosity commit to totally ignoring context. This practice of pulling verses out of context to beat others up is called “proof-texting” and it’s the absolute worst thing ever…in this context.
1) The Clobber: 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.”
The Context: This one is fun to use if you’re willing to skip past the rest of Romans 1 and simply refuse to continue through to chapter two. Because after having listed all these horrible sins of the Gentiles (see vv.28-32), Paul says, “YOU THEREFORE have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
I think this would be considered a “mic drop.” Everything Paul had to say in Romans 1 about liars and slanderers and the arrogant and evil and greedy and gay was mentioned only to draw the spotlight down on those claiming the name of Christ while condemning “those others” for doing the exact same things they themselves were guilty of doing. What’s more: Paul’s proposed solution to all this judgy madness? Embrace the Kindness of God which leads to repentance. Like, “Hey! Check yourself! And look at how much God loves you! So maybe be nice and stop judging others!”
Also, it’s worth noting: We pour out what we take in. If we’ve taken in and been taken in by the mercy and kindness of God that draws from us repentance, we’ll pour out mercy and kindness into others. If you want to know what you’re taking in, look at what you’re pouring out. Like judgment.
2) The Clobber: 1 Corinthians 6:9 >> “…Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men…”
But instead of doing that, they’ve made a practice of cheating each other in court, just like all those non-Christians they condemn. And Paul is telling them: You who participate in this kind of worldly nonsense won’t inherit the Kingdom of God (and we won’t immediately get into how that inheritance isn’t merely an Eternity in Heaven thing, but a Here On Earth thing), any more than thieves, drunkards, idolators, adulterers, the greedy and sexually immoral, the gay, etc will.
(Uh-oh for all of us, right?)
3) The Clobber: 1 Timothy 1:10-11 >> “…for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me.”
The Context: Again (do I spy a trend?), this passage (vv 3-11) has nothing to do with homosexuality or relationships at all. It’s about false teachers, doctrines, philosophies, etc. And once again we’re given a list of sins (vv. 9-11) generally practiced by those who don’t understand the actual gospel; and also – incidentally – practiced by most Christians.
You see the pattern too, right?
Each passage contextually offers a list of sins that keep us from inheriting the Kingdom. And there is literally no person alive, who has, does, or will ever live who does not fall into one or probably many of the Categories of Sin on these lists.
So if these passages condemn the gays, they condemn us all. Just like Paul said in Romans 2:1.
Now, I don’t particularly care to have the debate again over whether or not God Loves Gays.
He does, period.
I won’t debate whether or not non-cis-hetro-normative relationships or personhood are inherently sinful. You can study that for yourself. Read books. Study biblical history and culture. Look at science and genetics. Do the hard, heart-searching, God-searching, people-loving work of living life with some LGBTQ folks and figuring out what you believe God has to say about them through Christ on the Cross, and as a witness to their lives and relationships. Just don’t, for the love of God and all that is holy, pull a few verses out of their contexts and hope they’ll do the work for you.
I’ve spent over a decade neck-deep in this issue with dozens of friends and have come to a hard-won position of full affirmation, where I’m at perfect peace. Wherever you land, I hope you find that peace as well. We don’t have to agree. Many astute, world-renowned scholars still disagree about this issue. I do hope that no matter what, you’re nice to LGBTQ people and realize they’re Jesus’s disciples too.
What I will say is this: Whenever you find a list of sins in Scripture you’re so sure can be used to prove someone else is going to hell or whatever, remember your sins are listed there too. However screwed they are, you are equally so. Me too.
As the old adage goes, “Whenever you point a finger at someone else, you’ve got three of your own pointing back at you.” So let’s stop prooftexting each other and ourselves to hell.
Let’s do that other biblical thing and remove the plank in our own eyes before setting to work on the speck in our gay neighbor’s eye.
Or, again, as Paul said in one of those really important contextual verses we don’t like to quote because they ruin the point: “At whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things…So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”
I’ll work on me.
You work on you.
May God work in us all to complete the good work He began ages ago when He first called us Beloved.