Part II – UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible

Presenting the Clobber Passages

Last week I launched a new blog series wherein I will embark on finally addressing my understanding of what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality. I’m already thrilled at the response… most of it has been very positive.

I know you are itching to jump in to the Bible already, but I do want to lay just a bit more groundwork and provide an overview of the Clobber Passages.

Because the Bible Says So

So you want to find out what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, because just recently you read an article about gay marriage, or about a church hiring a gay pastor, or because one of your childhood friends recently came out of the closet. Whatever the context may be, many of us have been there. Somewhere in the confines of our brain we know that homosexuality is wrong, but we admit to ourselves that we can’t immediately point to which verse in Scripture says so. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll usually discover that we don’t recall ever actually coming to this conclusion on our own, because of our own study of the Text. Rather, we probably just picked up this belief somewhere along the way: parents, youth pastor, a sermon here or a book there.

Like all good Christians we feel obligated to be prepared in season and out of season to give a defense for what we believe. And so we pull out our Bible app on our iPhone and type in “homosexuality.”

Depending on which translation we are searching, we discover (disappointingly so) only two verses come up.

“Surely there’s more than that,” we mutter.

So we get more creative and turn to Google (or Bing, if you’re the type of person that likes to try and get ahead of the curve so that you can tell your friends, “oh I’ve been using Bing for years.” Newsflash: Bing will never surpass Google. Give it up). In the search field we type, “homosexuality in the Bible,” or “why is gay a sin,” or “gay verses in the Bible.” And this looks a little more promising, for now we find a myriad of articles and websites that list all the verses in Scripture that address the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Excitedly we start clicking around, preparing to formulate the arguments in our minds and prepping to memorize the Bible verses in anticipation of our next conversation with our gay aunt, Becky, who shows up at Thanksgiving with her partner.

To our dismay, our list has grown from only two, to a paltry six (or seven, or even eight, depending on who is making the list).

Nonetheless, we press on. Determined to find in our Bible the support for what we’ve always known to be true: homosexuality is a sin. Because the Bible says so.

Underwater Basket-Weaving

Some interesting Bible facts:

There are 66 books in the Bible.
1,189 chapters, and
31,173 verses

Of those 66 books, only 5 books mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality.

No big deal. That’s decent. Lots of biblical stuff gets less coverage than 5 books.

But to take it further, of the 1,189 chapters, only 5 chapters in the Bible mention (or appear to mention) homosexuality. That’s only one chapter out of each book that’s referenced.

Even more interesting is that, of the 31,173 verses in the Bible, only 6(!) mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality! That’s 0.0002% of the verses in the Bible!

Okay. You’re not impressed.

Let me illustrate anyways what that might be like.

I’ll use the example of San Jose State University. They have an enrollment of 31,280 (similar to the number of verses in the Bible). Of the graduating seniors last year, the most popular fields of study were Business Administration and Management (2,930 students), Library Science (874 students), Education (852 students), Computer Software (802 students), and Electronics and Communications (622 students).

Using the stats of how many “homosexual verses” are in the Bible, this would be equivalent to having 6 students studying, let’s say, underwater basket-weaving at the University of San Jose State. Six students, out of 31,280. With only one (perhaps two?) of those students graduating last year. 1 student with a degree in underwater basket-weaving.

The way you hear some Christians talk about homosexuality, as though it is of significant importance to God, and by implication, greatly dealt with in the Bible, it would be like saying: “If you really want to study underwater basket-weaving, the place you need to attend is San Jose State University. That is THE PLACE to go.”

(Okay, okay, before you head straight to the comment section to complain, I realize this analogy is silly, and it breaks down eventually, and it doesn’t really compare. But I still find it amusing to think about, in real terms, how absurd it is that homosexuality is treated by many Christians as though it is this significant issue when, by contrast, it is barely mentioned in the Bible. So I kind of like my analogy.)

“Quantity doesn’t matter,” you might retort, even though you’re slightly deflated at the sheer lack of interest the Bible shows on the subject. “Quality is what matters. The point is, these verses clearly say that homosexuality is a sin. So what if it isn’t mentioned much, because when it is, it is clear.

But is it?

Really?

I don’t think it is. And I believe, if you read this series with an open mind, at the end of it you’ll discover it is much less clear than how you currently believe it is.

To Clobber or Not to Clobber

So what ARE these six verses/passages? In order, they are:

Traditionally, these are the passages of Scripture that people reference when defending their position that homosexuality is a sin.

Six passages.

One is a story. Two are part of an ancient law established for a people group thousands of years ago. And three are within the context of Paul’s writings to early churches.

And when church going folk want to clobber gays with “proof” that they are abominations to God and God’s creation, it is to these passages that they turn. For somehow, in their minds, these verses are an affirmation that gays are sinners and/or the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination.

Let me be clear for a moment. I wholeheartedly believe that these passages of Scripture have something to say to us today. I believe that there is inherent value, truth, guidance and applicable realities to be found in these six passages. And throughout this series I hope that I can share precisely what we do find when we wrestle with and interpret these passages. They DO SAY SOMETHING. So don’t misunderstand me and think that I am setting out to dismiss these six passages. Remember, I’m moving forward with a high view of Scripture (as discussed in last weeks post). I’m not interested in the argument, “well so what if that’s what it says… we don’t have to listen to it.”

No, no. These verses say something. Absolutely.

I’m just convinced they don’t say what traditionalists want them to say. Or assume they say. Or misleadingly teach that they say.

I Say “Homosexuality,” You Probably Think “Gay Man Sex”

For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are reasons), the majority of people seem to associate the word “homosexuality” with “two men having sex.” Meaning, if you were to drop “homosexuality” in conversation with someone, chances are that person’s mind goes straight towards the association of two men having sex.

In contrast, should I say “heterosexuality,” there’s a good chance that what comes to your mind is something akin to: the word that describes the fact that people are attracted to the opposite sex.

I think we do something with the word “homosexuality” that we do not do with “heterosexuality,” and that is that we debase the concept and overly simplify it to one type of situational (sexual) activity. We think bigger about “heterosexuality,” and I’d like to challenge the reader to begin to try and do that with the word “homosexuality.”

Let’s elevate the conversation to consider aspects of a relationship beyond just the sex between partners.

I say all this because I think an important question as we move forward in our diving in to the Clobber Passages is, “does the author of this text have in mind a loving, committed, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults?” Because that is what I argue is a starting point for what a good, pure, holy relationship is. And if the biblical authors aren’t addressing that, then what exactly are they talking about? Can we, as reasonable thinking people, separate the concepts of “two gay people having sex” with “two consenting adults in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship.” We do it with heterosexuality, and I encourage you to at least try and do it with homosexuality as well. It will help in our study.

The Plan

As we delve in to each of the Clobber Passages, some of the questions we’ll be asking are:

  •             Who was writing this story/passage
  •             To whom were they writing
  •             When were they writing
  •             What is the context of this passage within the whole chapter/book
  •             Do these passages address the issue of homosexuality, and if so, how
  •             Do they talk about a loving, committed relationship, or something else
  •             How is this applicable to us today

If you place yourself somewhere within the traditional camp then you would expect to find in these six passages a clear message that homosexuality is a sin. Perhaps not as your only reasoning for your position, but certainly a significant aspect of it.

But if we refuse to start with the presupposition that homosexuality is a sin, and allow the text to speak for itself, I firmly believe that what will emerge is most certainly not a clear statement on the sinfulness of two people of the same gender partaking in a loving, committed, monogamous, God-honoring relationship.

We will find statements that speak to sinful behavior. But if we let the meaning emerge from the text, rather than putting meaning in to the text, I promise you that we won’t find support for the traditionalist perspective.

If the Winds of Change Start Blowin’

I fully acknowledge that Christians throughout history have developed arguments against homosexuality using more than just the Clobber Passages (most specifically, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions). However, I won’t have the time or space to reach in to those areas.

I say this because I know that, even if I do succeed for some people in opening their eyes to a fresh (for them) understanding of the Clobber Passages, it very well may not be enough to change their theological position. And that’s okay.

But what it may do, is that it may begin to cast a sneaky shadow on their old beliefs about this issue. It may cause a chink in the armor, allowing light and air to breathe in to recesses of their mind and heart that previously were shut tight with the Truth. It may be a catalyst for further prayer, investigation, and questions.

For others, however, their position on homosexuality lives and dies with the Bible. They have all their chips placed in the basket labeled, “The Bible says it, so God says it, so I believe it.” And I wonder what is at stake for that person? If you are reading this, and you would describe your sole reason for believing homosexuality to be a sin “because the Bible says so,” then how might you respond if you learn the Bible might, in fact, not say so?

Are you prepared to do the hard, and probably painful, work necessary to allow your heart, soul and mind to be transformed? Will you see the Clobber Passages in a new light and, as a result, see gay people in a new light? Or will you insist on holding on to your truth that homosexuality is a sin? Will you make the conscious choice to, in light of new and compelling evidence, continue to maintain that even if the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality in all its manifestations, I still will.

Basically, I’m asking this: if you currently find your reasoning for your position on homosexuality from the Bible, what will you do if the Bible presents an entirely different reasoning?

I think that is a fair and genuine question to ask yourself.

I’m not saying you’ll be convinced. I’m not elevating myself to some awesome status whereby I’ll be able to change your mind with brilliant exegesis and reasoning.

I have no idea how you’ll think or feel at the end of this series.

But, I encourage you to start by asking

What will I do with my beliefs if I become challenged that the Bible doesn’t say what I always thought it said? 

The Clobber Passages, long thought to hold the key to defending the sinfulness of homosexuality, long used to beat down gay people with a message of shame, long assumed to give a clear biblical position on homosexuality, have been used in these ways long enough.

It is time to unClobber our gay brothers and sisters.

Coming Up

We’ve laid the groundwork for where we will be going.
I’ve stated my purpose for this series and why I’m doing it.
The foundation for the Clobber Passages has been laid, and we are ready to start getting in to the meat of it.

Next post we’ll begin our survey with Genesis 19. The story of God smiting Sodom and Gomorrah.

I invite you to spend some time reading in advance.

Read through the story several times. And do your best to come at it as though you’ve never read it (or heard it) before.

Pay attention to what is going on in the story. Who is there, and what do they do? What happens in the story? What is the conflict, and what is the resolution? Why might God have rained sulfur and fire on these cities?

Is Genesis 19 a legitimate source for decrying homosexuality?

Books on my “To Read” List

Next up (in no particular order) on my “must read” list:

How God Became King, by NT Wright

Have we forgotten (or completely missed) what the four Gospels are all about? I think, yes. Love me some NT!

Chasing Francis, by Ian Morgan Cron

Ian Cron is an Episcopal Priest with an amazing story and an amazing heart for the King. This is a novel about a megachurch pastor who has a crises of faith and finds a new way through studying St Francis of Assisi. Sounds rad.

Unfair, by John Shore

John has become an acquaintance of mine over the past few months, and he wrote this book a while back to address the problems he sees with the “Christian” view of gay people. John is witty, snarky, and super smart.

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, by Christian Smith

Biblicism is a scary thing. I’ve heard great things about this book (not least of all from the good Rachel Held Evans). I think he argues for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, rather than the old “pick and choose” proof texting of Biblicism. Since a majority of the Christians I know, and interact with, are Biblicists, I think this will help me better understand (and help?) them.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I love me some good Fantasy, and I’ve heard that this series by Rothfuss is worth the read. While I’d love to read Game of Thrones, its sheer size overwhelms me. So, for some much needed mental respite, I’m gonna dive in to this!

Peaceful Protests and Trader Joes

So here’s kind of a cool story.

If you go here, and scroll down a bit, you’ll see a story about

Trader Joe’s and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) announced today that they have signed an agreement that formalizes the ways in which Trader Joe’s will work with the CIW and Florida tomato growers to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program.

Basically, Trader Joe’s is committing to be a part of the Fair Food Program, which is a

groundbreaking approach to social responsibility in the US produce industry that combines the Fair Food Code of Conduct – a set of labor standards developed in a unique collaboration among farmworkers, tomato growers, and the food industry leaders who purchase Florida tomatoes – with a small price premium to help improve harvesters’ wages.

At the end of the article, you see the CIW tell its followers that

in light of today’s great news,the CIW is calling off the actions planned for the new Trader Joe’s store in Naples

Ha!

Love it.

I love that A) the people from CIW were actively working on peaceful protests in an effort to make a difference in labor standards, AND IT WORKED!

And I love that B) Trader Joe’s, a store that my wife and I LOVE, chose to jump on board with the Fair Food Program (even IF it was because of threatened protests).

It’s a win-win-win-win! (CIW-Trader Joes-farmworkers-consumers, respectively)

Why Can’t Politicians Change Their Minds?

I’m no political expert, and try to tread carefully when making any sort of statement or opinion on political matters, but here is something that has always bothered me about the political climate: Politicians are not allowed to change their minds. Ever. Throughout the course of their political career. And if they do, they get nailed for it. Criticized. Hammered. Accused of being wishy-washy and hypocritical.

But why?

I’ve preached a few sermons so far in my relatively short ministerial career, and hopefully I’ll preach many more. Right now, I’m fully aware that I am still growing and maturing. Still learning and discovering. And I know that I will never, never, reach a point where this journey ends. Where I can cease learning, discovering, questioning and growing.

I can guarantee you that years from now I will teaching things very well may be different from what I might say today. Does this make me hypocritical? Wishy-washy?

I can promise you that, as I grow, I will find myself reevaluating things I’ve previously held to me true. Hopefully, whatever community I am in at the time, will give me space and grace to say, “you know what, I used to believe this… but now, looking back, I think I was wrong.”

But politicians simply aren’t given this space.

It is expected, I presume, that they figure EVERYTHING out at a certain age (before they enter politics?) and then NEVER waiver from their positions. Ever. For if they do, they will be criticized, pulverized, scrutinized, and other things that end with -ized.

Sad.

Sure, there’s something to be said for the gal/guy who is consistent with their voting record and unchanging with their positions. But isn’t there also something to be said for she/he who can acknowledge “this was what I used to think. This is how I used to vote. And you know what, I can see now that that was the wrong choice. I have grown and become more aware and educated, and evolved in to a new position.”

That’s something I think I can respect.

Tonight was the Arizona Republican Presidential Debate, and I thought Rick Santorum might take this posture when he was attacked for “No Child Left Behind.” I guess he voted for it back in the day, and now that it has proven to be disastrous he is against it. And people are attacking him for it. If Santorum could have just acknowledged that it was a bad decision , that he’s grown and moved beyond that, and that he’s changed, then I think it would have come across way better than, “hey, politics is a team sport… The President needed me to vote for it… blah blah blah…”

I may be alone on this, but it doesn’t bother me much when politicians change their mind as a result of growing, learning, broadening, etc.

And I hope it won’t bother the people I pastor if/when it happens to me.

Part I – UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible

Introduction

As announced on Monday, I will be launching a new blog series called, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.

My hope is to spend the next few weeks sharing with you some of the insights I’ve gained through my study of homosexuality in the Bible.

This could possibly be one of the most important issues of our generation, and while some may be content to ignore it or dismiss it, I feel compelled to be a voice calling out for love, for understanding, for education, for compassion.

I follow Jesus as best I can. And this, my friends, is where I believe Jesus is currently leading me. And so, as unpopular as it may be, I am following.

And I invite you to as well.

“Is homosexuality a sin?”

That question, all four words of it, are for many Christians the first four words and (sadly) the last four words in a conversation about homosexuality. There is essentially only one question to ask, and depending on how you answer it you will either find yourself on their side or against them. Furthermore, what most people mean when they ask this question is, “Is homosexual sex a sin?”

I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, and I hesitate to answer it, because I’m much more interested in elevating the conversation than I am trying to boil it down to a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s not so much that the question is not important, rather I get frustrated that it’s the only question so many Christians care about.

When I reply back with, “well, it’s not that simple… I can’t really say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” this is what I mean:

Imagine I were to ask you,  “is heterosexuality is a sin?”

How might you respond?

You certainly would not be content with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Neither of those answers would make sense or do justice to the question. Probably your answer would involve some version of the following: “Within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship/marriage, then of course two people of the opposite sex having sex is not sinful. But if it’s heterosexual activity outside those confines, then I would say that it is a sin.”

So is heterosexuality (sexual activity between people of the opposite sex) a sin?

Sometimes yes.
Sometimes no.

Likewise, if you ask me is homosexuality (sexual activity between people of the same sex) a sin?

Sometimes yes.
Sometimes no.

Most Christians I come across would not allow any space or nuance to answer the above question like I have when it comes to homosexuality. Using the Bible as their handbook, they feel confident that homosexuality is always a sin, no matter what.

I disagree.

In this series, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible, I won’t be covering every nuance of this issue. The scope is much too great, and my knowledge is far too thin. Rather, I’m going to target my approach specifically to wrestling with the handful of passages in the Bible that are commonly used in arguing the sinfulness of homosexuality. These passages are affectionately referred to as the Clobber Passages.

And let me say this, I realize there are several ways that the Bible gets used against homosexuality. (Pause… re-read that last sentence. Don’t you just inherently feel queasy inside with the sentiment of using the Bible against something or someONE? Ugh… I do). Utilizing the Clobber Passages is just one approach to arguing for the sinfulness of homosexuality, and I believe it is the weakest approach (as this series aims to point out). There are other ways people go about it (from a covenantal perspective or from an ‘image of God’ perspective, for example) but I’m less interested in that for the time being.  I also recognize that in other traditions (i.e Catholic, Orthodox, etc) utilizing the Bible is only one of several avenues by which they argue against homosexuality. Again, that will not be the focus of this series.

I’m interested in unsettling the way that many Christians use the Clobber Passages to argue against homosexuality.

What are the Questions Being Asked?

Entertaining the above question for just a moment (“is homosexuality a sin”), what assumptions are being made by the person/institution asking such a question? I think when someone asks that question they are doing so because in their mind they have been convinced (or told) that the Bible gives an answer to that question. The Bible, it is presumed, gives a definitive answer to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”

If that were the case, then one would expect to find both a quantity and quality of passages in the Scriptures that effectively and clearly support such a proposition. One would expect that there exist enough texts, or at least enough clear and good texts. Or, perhaps if there aren’t very many texts, at least there ought be a few really clear and simple ones. And vice versa, if there aren’t any really good and clear passages, then perhaps there is at least a vast quantity of texts to gather together. Either way, the assumption is that the Bible is sufficient to provide an answer (which would be a “yes”) to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”

So then, how many texts actually speak to this issue? And of those texts, are there any that are clear and easily understood to sufficiently answer “yes” to the above question? For if we (the church) are going to assume such a position (that homosexuality is a sin) then we should probably make sure the Biblical ground we are standing on is secure. And if it is not (which I’m setting out to demonstrate), then where does that leave us? Can we still answer the above question? Should we still answer the above question? Are there other, more important questions that deserve our time, energy, and attention?

The Purpose of This Series

Over the course of the next few weeks I would like to go through each of the Clobber Passages and attempt to demonstrate that the “traditional” reading of these texts completely miss the point, and in no way present a reliable or reasonable case for the sinfulness of homosexuality.

(Timeout: It is helpful to define, when necessary, the terms that we use. When I say the “traditional position,” I’m referring to the conservative Christian viewpoint that presumes there is a Biblical position, backed by the Text, that pronounces homosexuality to be a sin. However, within this “tradition” there is admittedly a range of ways that this belief is expressed. For instance, on one extreme you have those that would say just being gay is an abomination, and that person will spend forever burning in hell (i.e. the folks of Westboro Baptist). Then, perhaps on the other end, you have folks that acknowledge that just to be gay is not an inherently sinful reality, but to act on that gay-ness in any way is a sin. A gay person’s lot in life, under this view, is to live a life of celibacy and sacrifice, never knowing or expressing love. The point being, that in any “traditional” view on homosexuality, the Bible clearly gives an answer regarding its sinfulness.)

I’ll be offering (for some, at least) fresh readings of the text that bring to light alternative understanding of the Clobber Passages. By pointing to historical context, textual context, and etymology, you will see that different (better?) interpretations of the Clobber Passages emerge naturally without any outside help or force.

By the end I hope to show that the burden lies on the traditionalist to show why we should still answer “yes” to the above question in light of the lack of biblical evidence. Brian McLaren, in his book “New Kind of Christianity,” refers to “fundasexualism” as a combative brand of religious fundamentalism that preoccupies itself with sexuality. Not all people who subscribe to a traditional understanding of the Clobber Passages would necessarily be fundasexualists, but my belief is that because the Bible does not provide evidence to answer “yes” to the above question, then Christians need to consider that and re-consider their stance on the issue of homosexuality. Or at the very least, cease using the Clobber Passages as proof texts to declare homosexuality a sin.

Who Will Read this Series

This series isn’t for everyone. I get it.

But some of the types of people who might be interested are:

  • Christians who have friends or family members that have come out of the closet, and maybe for the first time are looking to the Bible to really see if there’s reason to view their loved one as a “sinner,” like they’ve been told they should.
  • Christians who have grown up with the traditional perspective and never questioned it… until now. And they are thirsty for some fresh understandings that perhaps will resonate more closely with the world they live in.
  • Christians who, by nature, simply have an open mind and an open heart. They may not have spent much time thinking about homosexuality in the past, but somehow they made their way to this blog and figure, “heck, why not? I’m always open to hearing different perspectives.”
  • Christians who have had massive tension between what they feel to be true (that being gay isn’t a sin… that same-sex couples aren’t destined for hell… etc) and what they think they know to be true (the Bible, though, says it’s wrong).
  • Christians who cannot get behind the traditional perspective on this, but have never been given a way to understand the Bible differently with regards to the Clobber Passages.
  • Christians who have always believed some version of the traditional perspective on homosexuality, yet really respect other Christians who have come to different conclusions. They don’t understand how other Christians can read the same Bible and come to radically different conclusions, so they are genuinely interested in hearing someone like myself explain how I “deal” with the Clobber Passages.
  • People who are NOT Christians but are still interested in what some Christian thinkers think about homosexuality.
  • People who are gay and have never had someone affirm them. Never had someone say, “you don’t have to listen to those in your life that would seek to shame you and defeat you by throwing Bible verses at you.”
  • My mom. She’ll read it. She reads everything I write. Thanks mom.

Who Won’t Read this Series

On the flip side, I’m convinced there are many people who have no interest in a series like this. Such as:

  • Christians who have always believed the traditional perspective on the Bible and homosexuality and see no reason to question it. They rarely question anything in their Christianity. Because “questioning” something shows a lack of faith, and that displeases God.
  • Christians who have a vested interest in making sure the answer is always “yes” to the above question. Some people would be taking a huge risk in questioning the traditional position on homosexuality. Some people might lose friends, family members, their jobs, respect, belonging in a church, etc.
  • Christians who, quite frankly, are lazy. They don’t see this issue as being all that important, and don’t understand why it’s worth discussing.
  • Christians who are afraid of what they’ll find. Most people in life, if you press them, will admit that sometimes they avoid learning about certain issues because they know that once they know they won’t be able to go back. Like people who put off seeing Food Inc., because they know that if they do then they will be forced to change their eating habits. And people don’t want to change their eating habits. And Christians don’t want to have to face the possibility that perhaps they might just be wrong on this issue. Fear is HUGE in this discussion. Huge.
  • Christians who think “there couldn’t POSSIBLY be anything true to what this guy has to say. The Bible is CLEAR on this issue, and even entertaining such notions as this guy proposes is like flirting with the devil.” *shudder… scary.
  • Christians who fear the “slippery slope.” They think that an alternative reading of the Clobber Passages threatens the inerrancy of Scripture. To question the “sinfulness” of homosexuality is to question the very integrity and inerrancy of the Bible. This is to be avoided at all costs. If you’re okay with “gays” then you no longer “believe in the Bible” (whatever the hell that means). So, in an effort to avoid questioning the inerrancy of Scripture, they avoid questioning homosexuality.
  • People who can’t handle reading about sex. Especially about gay people having sex. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Some people just plain get uncomfortable with the topic, and feel icky just reading about it. So they don’t.
  • People who don’t like to read. Or, at least don’t like to read long stuff. Perhaps when I’m done, I’ll make an abridged version, “For Dummies” if you will. Maybe add some pictures.

Outline for the Series

Here’s the basic outline of what to expect in the upcoming series. Of course, as author and administrator, I reserve the right to add/change/or delete anything I want.

Part I: Introducing UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible
That’s this post. Just establishing what the series will be like.

Part II: The Clobber Passages
Laying out the Clobber Passages, how they’ve been used, and.

Part III: Sodom and Gomorrah
God genocided a city because of homosexuality. Right??

Part IV: The Levitical Law
Ancient purity laws involving shrimp and sex (although preferably not together)

Part V: Paul and Homosexuality
What’s with that goofy Greek word arsenokoitai?

Part VI: Romans
Save the best for last. This is the standard go-to passage.

Part VII: For Your Consideration
A look at a few other passages worth considering

Part VIII: Learning to UnClobber
If the Clobber Passages can no longer clobber, what do we do?

Before We Begin

I will be taking a few things for granted in this series. As I stated above, this will be a specifically targeted series, and I can’t (nor do I want to) try and address everything about the issues related to homosexuality.

Homosexuality is real – I am coming from the position that gay people exist. I will be taking for granted that some people really truly are gay, and it’s not because they “choose” to be gay. This understanding is becoming less and less disputed in the Christian world, and not at all in the secular world. It is just understood that some people are gay (most estimates are as low as 2% of the population or as high as 10%). Rare nowadays is the person who still thinks that every human ever born is heterosexual, and that some just choose to be attracted towards the same-sex. And if you are that person, who doesn’t believe that gay people actually exist, then just be aware that I won’t be using this series to convince you otherwise. There are plenty of sites and resources out there that prove that homosexuality is a real thing, and that people who are gay are gay because that’s how they were born and, in part, raised (by nature and nurture).

It also should be noted that the Bible ought not be expected to give us evidence for whether or not there really are homosexual people. The Bible cannot answer this question for us. The Bible doesn’t even try. Gender identity and sexual orientation are fairly recent categorical dimensions, but they describe and help frame for us an ancient reality. There have always been gay people, throughout all of history, and in all cultures (even within the animal kingdom). So the Bible should not be expected to help answer the question, “are people truly homosexual, or are they just heterosexuals who are attracted to the same-sex?” Nor can it be expected to help answer “how are people gay? What makes them that way?”

The best we can hope for (if anything at all) from the Bible, on this issue, is to try and ascertain what God expects for those born with same-sex attraction. That is generally the position most Christians assume: the Bible doesn’t tell us why people are gay, or what exactly that means, but it does tell us what God’s view towards such people/actions are.

High View of Scripture – There are basic fundamentals to interpreting Scripture. And I will try to implement those in this series. When digging in to Scripture, it’s important that we follow some boundaries and guidelines, otherwise we end up just “proof texting” (a method where you search the Bible for a specific verse/word/etc to support a specific belief or idea). Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, it’s popular to proof text. Search Google for “homosexuality,” find a Bible verse, and declare the matter settled. I will be taking for granted the fact that this approach is simply naïve, ignorant, and insufficient.

I have a high view of Scripture. I believe the Bible is inspired by God, and has great profit for teaching, admonishing, correction and training women and men in the ways of right living. I believe the Bible is authoritative for the believer, and reveals to us the Word of God, Jesus. (I tell you this, because I’ve run in to more than one person who assumes that anyone who thinks like I do about homosexuality clearly has a low view of Scripture, doesn’t think it’s the Word of God, and doesn’t know how to read it and know the Truth).

So moving forward we will be assuming that there are some people who are truly gay, and that the Bible is not a source that seeks to affirm or deny this reality. And I will be working within a framework that has the highest view of Scripture and seeks to utilize generally agreed upon fundamentals of interpretation.

This Works Best With You

Hopefully you’ll accept my invitation to engage with this series.

Leave your comments, questions and concerns in the comment section.
I’ll try to answer as many questions as I can.

Share the blog posts with your friends and family.
Even if it’s to say, “hey everyone, check out this wacko!”

Because you never know who might be desperate for the things I’ll be discussing.

And as we engage with this potentially divisive topic, I encourage you to keep an open mind and an open heart. And to keep love and kindness and respect as driving motivators should you choose to interact.

This will all be much more meaningful, interesting, and fun if you choose to join the conversation or share it with others who might be interested.

Thanks for reading.

An Apology and a Recant

Well, it happens to the best of us.

I was wrong.

And I owe a couple of apologies.

Last week I gave my review of the Grammy performances. In it, I said the following:

Bruce Springsteen can still rock it, of that there is no doubt. He looks good and sounds good (although when you sing a song with only a four note range, it’s kind of hard NOT to). My issue was with the song, “We Take Care of Our Own.” Call it my aversion-to-USA-thinking-they’re-better-than-anyone-else syndrome, fine. But I just don’t resonate with the message “wherever our flag is flown / we take care of our own.”

And also:

For the first time ever, I enjoyed  a live performance of Taylor Swift! The song is great, but she finally put together a live performance worth remembering. I loved the set and costumes, and how cool that Taylor rocked out on a banjo?! All around a great little number.

As it turns out, I was wrong on both accounts. Springsteen’s song is NOT a “we-are-better-than-everyone-else” anthem, and Swift was  NOT playing a banjo.

So, I offer my apologies to Bruce and Taylor.

Bruce, I didn’t give you ENOUGH credit.

Taylor, I gave you TOO MUCH.

Sorry.

Thanks to my buddy Matt Morris for setting me straight on the purpose of “We Take Care of our Own.” Turns out it functions as the exact opposite of what I thought. He is actually critiquing the lack of taking care of people. I would still say, however, that he kinda brought this criticism on himself in a way. When your verses are so gravelly and hard to understand, but your chorus (the HOOK) comes through loud and clear, it’s kind of hard NOT to think what I originally thought. Nonetheless, I will be the first to argue the importance of context. And when you rip a chorus out of context from the surrounding verses you can end up with entirely different meanings.

And thanks to my brother, Logan Martin, for pointing out the fact that the “banjo” Taylor was playing had, in fact, all six strings. Whereas a real banjo has only four. She tricked me. She tricked us all.

See. I’m not above admitting when I’m wrong!

Out of the Theological Closet

Upcoming New Blog Series

Those of you who periodically read my blog, tune in to my Facebook, or follow me on Twitter may have noticed a recent increase in activity on posts, comments, links and stories relating to issues of homosexuality. Over the past few months I have been more and more openly dialoguing about this issue, and each time the conversation inevitably works its way around to the Bible. In almost every instance I am eventually asked things such as:

Why do you ignore what the Bible clearly teaches?

Where do you get your Biblical support for such beliefs?

What do you do with (insert passage here) this Bible verse?

And so on.

Sometimes they come in a snarky “read-this-passage-and-you’ll-be-fixed” sort of way (implying, I guess, that I just never knew such verses exist??).

But mostly the questions are posed in a “genuinely-curious-about-your-perspective” sort of way.

I’ve briefly mentioned here and there some of my thoughts and perspectives on what the Bible teaches (or doesn’t teach) about homosexuality. But each time I end up wishing I had more space, more time, to really do justice to what I’ve discovered over the past few years.

And so, I am beginning a series of blog posts to deal directly with the issue of the Bible and homosexuality, titled, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.

As you’ll soon discover, if you aren’t already aware, there are only a handful of places in Scripture that address (or appear to address) the issue of homosexuality. These are commonly referred to as the “clobber passages” (I’ll let you guess why that’s so). I won’t be breaking any new ground, most of what I will be writing about has already been written. But perhaps you have never read them before, or never heard the clobber passages broken down in a different way. So I will add my voice to the discussion in hopes that some of you will be exposed in a new way to what the Bible says, and doesn’t say, about homosexuality.

Why this series, on this issue, and why now?

Several months ago I was promptly fired from the church I pastored for five years when they discovered my theological position on homosexuality. During my time there, I did not discuss my views with anybody other than my wife and a few of our closest non-staff friends. I knew my position would be controversial, and probably not accepted or tolerated, so I kept it to myself. However, once I was “outed” and swiftly terminated, I realized my time for silence on this issue was over. I now feel previously unfelt liberty to share my beliefs, and finally able to speak openly about the journey that Christ has taken me and my wife on over the past 6 years.

I am, if you will, out of the theological closet.

And it feels amazing. As hard as it was to lose my job, lose friendships, and lose much of my identity, what I’ve gained back (in the freedom to be open about my convictions on such issues) is incredibly beautiful. I have felt, for years now, this strange conviction (placed only by God’s Spirit, I promise you) to be an active voice in the conversation that is emerging between the LGBT community (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) and the Christian church. However, I have not been in a place where I could do that… until now.

So I invite you to join me in this journey. Participate in this dialogue.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog (there is a button on the right side bar. Click it.) and be emailed when a new post goes up.
Friend me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter. And check in each time a new post has been added to this series.

But don’t just read them (although that IS a good place to start).

Interact with them. Share your thoughts in the comment section. Ask questions.

And then SHARE this blog with your friends and family. At the end of every post there are ‘share’ options for emailing, blogging, or posting it straight to your Facebook wall.
I promise you there are more people out there desperate to have these sorts of conversations (and even more desperate for alternative understandings of the Bible) than you can possibly imagine.

I think this issue is of the utmost importance. Not only for our society today, but even more so for the church. For the Bride of Christ.

If we’ve been wrong on this issue (like we’ve been on issues before), then we need to quickly right the ship and start moving forward in peace, hope and love.

Hopefully you’ll stick around and hear me out.

I think you’ll be surprised at what there is to learn about the Bible and homosexuality as we seek to UnClobber our brothers and sisters.

Part I: Setting Up the Series

Part II: The Clobber Passages

Part IIIa: Sodom and Gomorrah the Story

Part IIIb: Sodom and Gomorrah and the Bible

Part IV: Levitical Law and Abomination

Part V: Paul and Homosexuality

Part VI: But Romans is So Clear!

Part VII: Other Bible-related Thoughts

2012 Grammy Wrap-up

Last year I gave my HIGHS, LOWS, and DISAPPOINTMENTS from the 2011 Grammy’s. Not one to walk away from an obvious tradition, I again offer you my assessment of last night’s Biggest Night in Music.

I’d like to reiterate my appreciation for how the Grammy’s have evolved: more performances and more action, with only the “biggest and awesomest” awards being handed out live (I’m talking to YOU, Short-Film Animated, Short-Film Live, Documentary Short, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. #oscars).

Breaking the night up in to 3 Acts, with a Postlude, here’s my awards for the 2012 Grammy Performances.

Act I

“Worst Song to be Performed Well by an Old Timer”
Bruce Springsteen can still rock it, of that there is no doubt. He looks good and sounds good (although when you sing a song with only a four note range, it’s kind of hard NOT to). My issue was with the song, “We Take Care of Our Own.” Call it my aversion-to-USA-thinking-they’re-better-than-anyone-else syndrome, fine. But I just don’t resonate with the message “wherever our flag is flown / we take care of our own.”

“Best Collaboration Between Newbie and Old Timer”
Last night gave us quite a few of these mashups, but I thought that Alica Keyes and Bonnie Raitt’s, who was the first collaboration of the evening, was also the best. I loved the simple guitar/keys combo, and their tribute to Etta James was simply beautiful. They blended perfectly.

“Best Tribute to Classic 80’s Toys”
Did anyone else think Chris Brown’s bland and uninteresting performance of “Turn up the Music/Beautiful People” looked like he was a failed Cirque du Soleil auditioner who was prancing around on a giant Rubik’s Cube in an eerily similar way to that classic NES game, Bubble Bobble? Well, if not, then you probably do now.

“Still Doesn’t Work, Award”
Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson tried this duet last year on American Idol, and it just doesn’t work for them. Their chemistry is awkward and their blending is bad. The best part? When Jason’s mic went out and it was just Kelly.

“Most Underwhelming”
Sorry, I just could not get in to the Foo Fighter’s “Walk.” It sounded like the B-side track to almost any given garage band in the Pacific Northwest. I’m just not tracking with they hype on that one.

“Best Performance by a Mile”
Without question, Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” was hands down the best performance of the first hour. And would eventually prove to be (in my opinion) the clear winner for Best Performance of the Night. Last year, if you recall, his performance was uber-cool, but his vocals (which are normally pitch perfect) were a bit harsh. But last night he absolutely killed it! It was fun, it was engaging, it was interesting… but more importantly, it was GOOD. And where did he find such talented Doo-Wop horn players who could also dance? I’m a big Bruno fan, and so I was thrilled that although he didn’t walk away with any hardware, he DID walk away knowing that he easily had the best performance at the 2012 Grammy’s. Harder to put on a mantle, but more fun to show your friends at your next Cranium party.

Act II

“Biggest Surprise”
For the first time ever, I enjoyed  a live performance of Taylor Swift! The song is great, but she finally put together a live performance worth remembering. I loved the set and costumes, and how cool that Taylor rocked out on a banjo?! All around a great little number.

“Best Reminder that Not all Great Singers Can Sing (or OUGHT Sing) Other Styles”
Adam Levine has an incredible voice. I love it. But there was nothing incredible about his cover of the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl.” It was kind of embarrassing. Foster the People did a slightly better cover when it was their turn. Ultimately, the moment was saved when the real, live (barely) Beach Boys took the stage! They might not be able to move anymore, but they can still harmonize nicely.

“Lamest Song of the Night”
Really? Please, don’t argue. There’s no grounds to say that Sir Paul McCartney’s song, “My Valentine,” was anything other than lame. Okay, it was also boring.

“Most Disappointing”
The idea of Rihanna and Coldplay sharing the stage sounds really good on paper. And it SHOULD have rocked. But, it didn’t. Neither one seemed to know what the other was supposed to be singing. They were unison at times when they probably were supposed to be harmonizing, but neither seemed confident to go off melody. It looked as awkward as it sounded, too. Their individual performances were unimpressive, too. As my wife said, “I’ve never NOT enjoyed hearing Coldplay live before. Weird.”

“The Mumford and Sons Moment of 2012″
Remember last year when Mumford and Sons, relative unknowns for most of the populace, took the stage and blew everyone away? Well, Civil Wars came awfully close to accomplishing the same feat last night. They showed a couple things: 1) In light of all the terrible vocal blending happening all night long, Civil Wars showed you how it OUGHT to sound. And it was amazing. 2) In light of all the over-the-top performances, Civil Wars showed you how the “music” is still the most important aspect. 3) They showed that people who follow Jesus DON’T HAVE TO MAKE JESUS-Y TYPE SONGS ALL THE TIME! For heaven’s sake, sometimes just focus on making GOOD music, and don’t get bogged down with whether or not it’s GOD music. Civil Wars possibly stole the show last night.

“Best Use of Blue”
Katy Perry, bravely offering a new song, looked good. That counts for something. Can’t say I dug the song (anyone else thinking, “ouch, sucks to be Russell!”). And the bait-and-switch trickery at the beginning was unfulfilling.  I like Katy, but last night didn’t impress.

ACT III

“Best Old Timer of the Night”
Of all the oldie’s that took the stage, I think the overall best performance was Glen Campbell, featuring The Band Perry and Blake Shelton. Glen still has range (unlike Bruce), can still move around (unlike Beach Boys) and sang a good song (unlike Sir Paul). And The Band Perry and Shelton didn’t screw it up (unlike Maroon 5). All around enjoyable moment, especially when at the end Glen closed with “and rhinestone cow-GIRLS.” #adaptingtothetimes

The “That Was Nice” Moment
Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood? That was nice.

“Biggest Sigh of Relief”
Phew… everybody can breath again. Adele still has pipes! The artists who single-handedly elevated and carried the music industry in 2011, and then went and got everyone FREAKED out with vocal chord surgery, came back last night and threw down her mega-hit, “Rolling in the Deep.” Now, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t the Live-Adele that we’re accustomed to. She missed some notes and pushed others. But I expected that, seeing as how this was her first moment back and all. Nonetheless, she proved once again why she was oh-so-deserving of completely sweeping the statues last night. Well done, Adele!

“Best Tribute (and also), Best Cover”
Jennifer Hudson, thank you for doing justice to Whitney Houston’s “I WIll Always Love You.” Although you probably would have been loved and hailed no matter how you sang it, simply because of the moment of it all, you actually earned the standing ovation (yes, I’m sure they stood for Whitney… but jHud made the moment that much better). The music industry lost a Great over the weekend, and from LL’s opening prayer to Jennifer’s moving ballad, it was a great night of celebrating Whitney Houston that didn’t also lose the fact that it is, still, the Grammys.

“Worst Re-Appearance”
I wish the producers would have allowed people to text in, throughout the show, to vote on who got to come back and perform again. Because certainly it would not have been Chris Brown or the Foo Fighters. But, alas, we had to sit through them again. This time they were accompanied by DJ’s David Guetta and Deadmau5. And during the whole “wait, is this really what’s so exciting?” performance by Deadmau5, I couldn’t help but wonder: “how do we know that he’s not just doing the DJ equivalent of lip-synching? What if he just pushed PLAY on his iPod up there on that giant cube, and is now just dancing, flailing his right arm, and lighting up his high-as-a-kite techno Mickey head?” I’m not convinced otherwise…

“Best Excuse to Own a DVR”
Nicki Minaj. Don’t get it. Don’t want to get it. The word that kept coming to mind during her “performance” (I use that term lightly) was: unfortunate. It’s unfortunate we had to watch that. It’s unfortunate we had to listen to that. It’s unfortunate that the Grammys semi-ended with that. It’s unfortunate that some people call that “music.” Like my buddy Zach Lind from Jimmy Eat World tweeted, “Congrats to this Nikki Minaj person. She’s reached a point where no one will tell her “no.” That’s not easy.” #unfortunate

_________________________

So there you have it.

The best moments of the night:
Act I – Bruno Mars
Act II – Civil Wars
Act III – Adele

Do you think I got something wrong?

Did you love something that I dismissed?

Did you loath something that I praised?

What were your favorite moments (or most cringe-worthy) from last night?

I welcome your comments.

Love God, or Love Spouse?

A month ago or so I received this question from a college student:

“Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”

My assumption is that he was in some sort of relationship, and was wrestling with how to properly align and prioritize his love for his God and his love for his girlfriend. And this is a wrestling match I remember well from the days of my youth. Periodically I peruse old journals I kept in high school and early college, and chief among many of those entries were struggles I was having with “putting God first” when it came to whatever sort of relationship I was in.

Like the above question states, how do we ensure that our love for God is greater (because we are told that it ought be) than our love for all others? Even above the person in our life that we love the most? Or, are we perhaps coming at this all wrong?

Here was my response:

You asked: “Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”

Interesting question.
I’ll respond with a question: Why do you assume that the two (loving God and loving a spouse) are mutually exclusive?

Or, to put that differently, it seems that built in to your question is the assumption that there are two different entities (God and spouse) and that the act of loving these two entities are in some way compare-able.

But what if they don’t stand in contrast to each other? What if, instead, they feed off each other?

Meaning, what if every time time I “love” my wife, I am simultaneously loving God?

If God is love (as John teaches us) than might we also say that “Love is God?” And if THAT’S the case, then each time I act towards my wife in a loving way, each time I think towards her with loving thoughts, each day that I choose to continue to honor our vows and cherish and adore her, I am continually (in the very act of loving) also expressing a love for and a love towards God.

Perhaps if we thought of it like this, we would be less inclined to feel guilt and shame at thoughts like: “do I love my spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend more than God?” , “does this make me a bad Christian?” , “am I putting this person first in my life, in front of God?”

I think those sorts of negative voices can be dismantled when we re-frame what love is, who God is, and how we actually LOVE GOD when we LOVE PEOPLE… most of all, our spouses.

Or, actually, most of all: our enemies. When we love THEM we are probably loving God the MOST. But that’s a different topic.

If viewed like this then it becomes relatively impossible for us to love anyone more than God, for every time we enact the sacred gift of giving love to someone we are simultaneously loving Love. We are, in a sense, calling forth God through our act of love while also demonstrating our love of and our love towards God.

Earlier today I came across this blog post, where Richard Beck also dialogues with a college student. (you should pause now and go read that… then come back). In it, he wonders if we’ve created a Bait and Switch type of Christianity. And as I read through his post it reminded me of my above correspondence with this college student. Instead of worrying so much about “improving our relationship with God” (as Richard’s conversation went), or about “ensuring we love God more than others” (as my conversation went), would our time and energy be better spent repairing broken relationships, giving of our selves for others, making time in our day for an old friend or family member, showing kindness to strangers, etc.

For when we choose love, we choose God.

Or, as one commenter on Richard’s post said:

The closer you get to God, the closer you get to people

The closer you get to people, the closer you get to God

The more you love God, the more you love people

The more you love people,  the more you love God

Opposing the Already Oppressed

Nothing says “un-Christian” more to me than the responses of some Christians, organizations and churches to the recent ruling in Washington and to today’s announcement that California’s Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

When thousands (millions?) of American-Christians start to rally up the troops once again to combat any progress the LGBT community makes.

I just can’t fathom the spirit that says, “oh yeah! you think you gained some steps toward equality and respect and dignity in this country!? Well we will just see about that! We’ll rally together enough people to shoot you back down again! And if you don’t stay down THIS time, then we’ll just keep trying! Every time you take two steps forward, we’ll gather enough support to push you three steps backward!”

It just feels unChristian, doesn’t it?

I realize I’m bias. I realize that since I’m a straight-ally, and in full support of human equality when it comes to the rights people ought to have regardless of their sexual orientation, that my opinion on whether the above posture is “Christian” or not is going to be slanted. My version of Christianity, in my mind, takes after its figurehead: Jesus. And Jesus, as best as I understand him, was concerned about things like love, justice and unity. Not so much concerned with fighting to oppress the already oppressed. And certainly not concerned with a persons sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, when people who profess to also follow Jesus actively fight and campaign to continually keep gay and lesbian couples as second-class it makes me question their fundamental understanding of Jesus’ message, his Way, and his Kingdom.

Part of me can kinda-sorta understand a Christian’s commitment to what they view as the only acceptable form of marriage, and how that leads them to actively support movements to protect that belief. I don’t agree with them, but I respect their actions as coming from their convictions. But at some point, on some level, to just continue and continue to fight and campaign and appeal and argue, it just feels mean. I realize this sounds contradictory, and I’m okay with that. But to me there is a difference.

What am I proposing, then? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose it’s silly to say, “if at first you don’t succeed, then happily give up and go home.”

It’s just the immediate sense that I get from reading people’s response. The instant state of, “quick, assemble the crew, the enemy has gained some ground and we need to respond immediately!” I guess there’s just something innate to that that rubs me the wrong way, and feels less “Christian.” Less “Jesus-y.”  (Although, to be fair, I think opposing gay-marriage in the first place is not Jesus-y).

Some day, in the (hopefully near?) future, arguments like this will be behind us. We’ll reminisce about these days with a strange sense of, “wait, why did our country not let gay people marry?” in similar ways that we now reminisce about the days when blacks and whites had to drink from different fountains. That doesn’t make any sense to us now. And one day this won’t make sense to us either.

In the meantime, if you find yourself to be one of the millions of followers of Jesus who don’t think gay people should be allowed the same basic right as you, then I ask you to hold that conviction kindly. Handle it with love. If your sense of “what’s right” is so strong that you just have to fight gay-marriage, then please do it with grace and humility. Don’t immediately rush to kick the man again who just started stumbling to his feet.

I guess that’s what the above movements feel like to me.