A few weeks ago Brandon issued a serious challenge for gay affirmative Christians to convince him that it was okay to be gay. I decided I would take him up on the challenge, along with numerous others.

 

First, I am going to assume that at issue for Brandon are the Biblical texts that “clearly” prohibit homosexual behaviour.

 

The first step is to determine the approach we will use to the Biblical text. While I have attended seminary, I am by no means a Biblical scholar. However, I contend that the Bible needs to be understood as the story of the interaction of God and humankind in recent history. That statement does not concede that all scripture is inerrant. Indeed there are many scripture passages that clearly contain error. A good example of this is the long rants of the friends of Job. While these passages sound like good theology, God himself corrects them by the end of the book. So, taking, say, the first twenty chapters of Job as truth would NOT be a good way to come to some conclusions about the nature of God.

 

Likewise, we must recognize that there are large chunks of the Bible whose interpretation has been contested for centuries. The books of Daniel and Revelation are examples of this. I have spent much time analyzing the different approaches to interpreting Revelation, and have concluded that anyone who thinks he/she knows what it’s all about is … misguided, to say the least. Every Bible scholar takes some of Revelation literally, and some of it allegorically or symbolically. It seems to me like there is no real pattern or reason as to how to decide what to take literally. My basic rule is that any assertion about what a text with an obscure meaning is saying can only be made by comparing it to a text that has a clear meaning. Thus, Revelation is to be interpreted in the light of Jesus words about what would take place after he “went to prepare a place for us,” and in the light of Paul’s prophetic words about the end times in Thessalonians.

 

So, with a healthy scepticism about the value of seeing all scripture as inerrant, and a healthy scepticism about taking all scripture literally, I approach Romans 1. For me, this is the most problematic passage that makes any reference to homosexual behaviour. (I do not see any of the Old Testament passages that refer to homosexuality as relevant to a modern discussion, and the other New Testament passages are filled with enough controversy about translation difficulties that I see their meaning as obscure at best.)

 

The most common way that pro-gay theologians explain away Romans 1 is to say that when Paul refers to natural and unnatural behaviour, he is saying that a person who is homosexual by birth is naturally gay, and therefore it is not unnatural for him or her to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex. I must state that I have never found this argument convincing. Recently, however, I am realizing that Christian fundamentalists like to take the Bible literally ALL THE TIME. So, for someone raised in the extreme religious right, it seems acceptable to take this passage even more literally than Paul ever imagined. My problem with this approach is that it fails to see the big picture. It’s like being unable to see the forest for the trees.

 

To take a narrative and contextual look at Romans 1, one gets an entirely different picture. Paul is not at all attempting to say that what is natural is acceptable, or that what is unnatural is unacceptable… this would open up all kinds of immoral behaviour. When we come to Romans 2:1 (and I am indebted to James Alison for these insights), we see that Paul’s intention all along was to get the attention of these self-righteous Roman Christians. To get them going. By mentioning all the corruption around them, by playing on their tendency to judge others, by appealing to their homophobia, he got their attention. He hears them condemning all the miscreants mentioned in chapter 1. And then he turns it back on them, saying “you are condemning yourself…”! The implication is that if we hold each individual accountable to the Levitical law, there is indeed no chance for any of us to find salvation.

 

As we continue reading Romans (and I would suggest reading the whole book in one sitting to get the overall picture) we begin to get a picture of a race condemned. None of us are able to live up to the law (chapter 3). We are all without hope – apart from the grace of Christ, through faith (chapters 3 and 4). In chapter 7, Paul emphasizes out freedom from the law, using the example of a widow who is freed from the law of marriage by her husband’s death. Eventually, we come to Romans 8, and the emphatic declaration that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been called, justified, and glorified, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. (“Nothing” in this passage actually means “nothing”. Think on that one!)

 

Eventually we come to Romans 14, where once again we are admonished to stop passing judgment on one another. When I get to this chapter, I am reminded of the issue of circumcision of the Gentiles that was addressed in Acts 13. I believe (thanks to the insights of Jeffrey Siker) that the acceptance of LBGT persons as members of the body of Christ today is a similar issue. To have to be straight in order to be saved would be like demanding the Gentiles be circumcised in order to be accepted into the body of Christ. The whole tone of the letter to the Romans reminds me of Jesus in John 10:16, where Jesus hints at welcoming Gentiles (and LBGT folks) into the kingdom: “I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd.” 

Bruxy Cavey in The End of Religion says we need to focus on principles instead of rules and precepts (page 99). Jesus said the same thing when he summed up the law in two commandments, both referring to love.

In summary, my point is that when we read the scripture as narrative, when we see the beautiful story of a God of grace and mercy and hope reaching out to a hurting world of pain that sweeps through the whole of scripture, it is very difficult to see a God who condemns any one group of people. The only requirement for salvation is receiving grace through faith. We are then called to live out our lives not in judgment of others or according to the letter of a law, but in terms of the love and justice of this God of mercy and grace. And I know of no reason why LGBT persons are any less equipped to do this than are any others of God’s people.

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