November 22, 2013
I have been attending a local UCC since the beginning of June and I plan on joining in a few weeks. I need some help from you in explaining the traditional "clobber" verses that many conservative Christians use to proclaim that God is against homosexuality, in particular the New Testament verses, to my more conservative family.
Dear Former Fundy,
When I was in seminary, I went to church with my mother—she was a Jehovah's Witness at the time. I took unseemly pleasure in taking one of her church friends to task on her, in my view, erroneous readings of the Bible's scant teachings on homosexuality.
I was a much better biblical scholar then than I am now (oh, diminishing brain capacity and rise of Google! A curse and a blessing), and we went fully nine rounds on those few juicy verses in Romans and I Corinthians.
Here's the upshot: even though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had bested her in my vainglorious display of theological prowess—SHE didn't know it. And that galled me. She used the circular arguments she had been taught to memorize over and over, and finally ended the conversation by accusing me of the grave sin of ‘interpreting' God's word.
"Well, of course I'm interpreting it—it wasn't written in English, but in Greek and Hebrew." She looked at me blankly.
Because you asked: one thing you can say to your people about both Romans and I Corinthians is that they were letters written to specific congregations at a particular time in human history, and our cultural context since then has changed dramatically. Jews were, unsurprisingly, intent on preserving their race, since so many holocausts, wars and pogroms had decimated their numbers, and might do again. The only way to increase their numbers back then, since conversion was relatively rare and IVF unknown, was heterosexual sex—hence the taboo on both homosexual sex and masturbation, which wasted precious sperm.
Greeks, Romans and others, with whom they were living side by side in the very sophisticated, pluralistic cities of Rome and Corinth, had rather more expansive sexual mores. They all worshipped in the same churches, and were getting into terrific church fights about sex, among many other things, like coffee hour, and who the best preachers were (if you think I'm joking, I assure you I'm not).
Paul, the author of both Romans and I Corinthians, was seeking to put a stop to their bickering before the local church imploded and dealt a great blow to the rise of the Way of Jesus.
You might also remind your conversation-mates that Jesus, though he preached a lot of sermons about a lot of topics over his three years, didn't have a darn thing to say about gay sex. But he sure had a lot to say about hypocrisy, self-righteous religious bigots, and the power of love over the power of judgment.
Then again, here's what I've learned: you can try all you like to clobber the conservative Christians back with your own clobber verses, but you will just wear yourself and them out, and very likely, neither one of you will budge. And dessert after Thanksgiving dinner will taste terrible.
Better, perhaps, to work on and worry their sense of certainty. I once, in conversation with an evangelical woman whose lesbian daughter had just come out to her, said, "What if you meet Jesus at the end of your days, and you come to face to face, and He looks upon you with great tenderness and says, ‘Daughter, you loved me so well and did so much for my church, but about this one thing you were dead wrong.'"
She didn't answer. How could she?
I bet Jesus will have something pointed to say to each of us. Worth thinking about!
Bless you, and may you be a blessing!
For a funny response to the Hebrew scripture clobber verses on homosexuality, see this old Internet meme sent to conservative commentator Dr. Laura: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/drlaura.asp
For a more scholarly exegetical response from a great populist theologian, Walter Wink—who shares his own struggles with prejudice against gay folk but comes down on the side of love, read here: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1265
And for a brief, compelling testimony from a Christian heart about the importance of marriage equality, check out this recent video from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. http://youtu.be/TzV1r5SCc8U
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