On Gay Sexuality and Scriptural Clarity…

I’m lucky enough to have a Christian academic friend who has proved an enormous help over the years as I have sifted through my accumulated weird and not-so-wonderful rag-bag of charismatic evangelical beliefs. Usually he would say very little as I sought to draw him out on yet more superstitious clap-trap; he would just listen intently – and then with laser accuracy, pose a quietly explosive question. Once we knew each other well enough, he confided that he used to think that people who actually believed all that kind of stuff were ‘nutters.’ Even that comment brought a little more freedom to my spiritually schizophrenic soul, our laughter effectively pinging off yet a few more strands of any lingering bonds.

‘Nutters’ – it sounds somehow sad yet harmless. But this morning I clicked on a youtube video to find a story of American evangelical funding being diverted from feeding the hungry to pushing for anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda – which originally included the death penalty.

It throws Steve Chalke’s candid stand last week against the traditional evangelical line on homosexuality into sharp relief. And also contextualizes Steve Clifford’s official Evangelical Alliance response, which though seemingly-respectful, nevertheless emphasizes their stance that homosexuality is clearly incompatible with scripture.

I was convinced of that myself, once. Not that I really gave it much thought. After all, not so long ago, homosexual acts were illegal in the UK, so those of us old enough to have been around at the time, grew up accepting that they were just wrong. The fact that this was apparently borne out in scripture was unsurprising.

There’s an old saying that used to be quoted in my NLP ‘modeling’ class: ‘you can’t understand someone until you have walked a thousand miles in their moccasins.’ As evangelical Christians, we were taught that scripture was clear enough for us not to have to engage in any real ‘understanding’. But when I finally woke up to the fact that I had never heard gay Christians themselves represented in our church teaching, I began to take steps to listen to the experiences of any who were prepared to risk opening up to me.

The stories were diverse. I had extensive conversations with some who were petrified about peers in their church learning about their sexuality, to others who had come out about their sexuality but believed they should be celibate, to a number who had repeatedly asked for prayer, or put themselves through ex-gay ‘programmes’ – including some who had self-harmed or attempted suicide when it failed to change them – to a few who had found a measure of peace and contentment in a heterosexual marriage, to others who were deeply frustrated with their experience of heterosexual marriage, some who divorced and then settled in monogamous gay relationships… and so on. Such a wide range of personal experiences and beliefs about scripture and how it played out in their lives. Definitive scriptural truth continued to be beyond my grasp; but these deeply painful experiences did at least show me that what I had been taught amounted to little more than old wives’ tales mixed in with a pinch of shallow conjecture.

And meanwhile, something else had been happening. Hearing and engaging with these stories had drawn me out in a way that my attempts to arrive at a clear biblical line never had done. I broke through the need to arrive at the objective truth on this issue by discovering a deep sense of affinity with and care for many of these friends who were having such an agonising journey.

And surely that is the whole point? Coming up with an objective scriptural perspective on gay sexuality may be beyond our scope. But maybe the very impossibility of producing a crystal clear scriptural line underlines the fact that the really important issue is the foundational call to love one another? That much, at least, really is crystal clear in scripture.

And when care for one another not only flies out of the window in our obsession with scripture, but potentially leads to utilising church donations given in good faith to push through harsh anti-gay legislation – then continuing to be a Christian ‘nutter’ has surely gone way beyond a laughing matter.

3 thoughts on “On Gay Sexuality and Scriptural Clarity…

  1. Every time this subject comes up I find myself looking at the the relevant New Testament passages to see if I can make them say something different, even looking at the Greek! But I just can’t! The problem is that it’s there in black and white and I don’t really want it to be. I’m happily single and heterosexual, but it’s still a problem because of the “agonising journey” you speak of Liz which some individuals are having to endure, and all because Scripture, that book we call “The Word of God”, seems so uncompromising. I certainly don’t think we should try to make it say any thing different. Is not the binding force behind the agony of so many due directly to do with the fact that The Bible is believed to be “The Word of God”.? I’ve no wish to downgrade Scripture—after all it’s what gets me out of of bed in the mornings! But, if no-one believed it was the word of God all we would be left with is prejudice, which somehow would seem easier to deal with and there would be a lot less of the ‘hanging over the fires of Hell’ experiences which have been common right up to our generation. Also, there would be less indignation over the legislation currently being debated in Parliament.
    So what are we to do? It may just be(may I not be struck down dead!) that we have got it wrong about Scripture! There is no doubt that it’s a remarkable collection of literature bequeathed to us through, and by, many generations of faith who, at least to a degree, may have understood it for their time, even if they do seem to have been less enlightened than ours. Should not the discussion be about how we are to view Scripture? I can hear some of the answers now, one being “The Church should not be discussing this issue of Scripture when there’s such a needy world out there!” That’s as good as I’ve heard in terms of preacher’s rhetoric from one public platform, but I suspect that the speaker was taking refuge, behind philanthropics, to avoid having to bite the bullet on this issue. When one thinks of the ghastly problems caused by the mainstream view of Scripture, a view from which has emanated much personal and silent suffering, what we know of just being the tip of an iceberg, I feel as though all discussion on the issue is hitting at the branches rather than the root. Anyway, Liz, I’ve probably been a bit long-winded and I suspect that I’m labouring under my own little narrow view of things, but it’s now 0450 hours, so I’m not going to do any more amendments. Hope this doesn’t distress you too much!!!!!!!!

  2. The first thing I would want to say in the light of your reflection is that scripture is not the Word of God – that is a title that uniquely belongs to Jesus (see Rev 19:13, Jn 1:1, 14); scripture is exactly what it says – scripture. You ask two important questions, “Have we got it wrong about scripture?” and “Should we not be discussing how we view scripture?” I would reply with a loud “Yes” in both cases! This is a huge subject (and even bigger than that!), but there are a couple of points that I think are important for here and now.

    Scripture is a body of writing that has come into being from individuals and communities writing down their understanding of their life-experiences and God; it contains different perspectives, discussion, argument and disagreement from their particular point in history and culture. It speaks with many voices. There is much to learn from it, but it invites us to engage with it and wrestle with it – it is dynamic not static.

    Secondly, if I accept that Jesus is ‘The Word of God’ then all scripture must be interpreted in the light of his character and relationship with him, not as some authoritative text separate and on its own (as so many Christians do). This being so then our response to scripture must be in terms of the values that it teaches, not turning it into ‘laws to be obeyed’. It is about the life of the Spirit and setting us free. It calls us to a values way of living. This being so the question of homosexuality is quite clear.

    The truth is that scripture does not address the issue of someone born with a same-sex sexual orientation at all. Period. All the 14 frequently quoted biblical texts clearly address heterosexual married men not someone who is authentically homosexual. For a full account of my thinking on this please go to – http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11195.

    Sop if we address this issue from a ‘biblical values perspective’ we are presented with three key words: truth, justice and love. The ‘truth’ is that a significant percentage of people are born with a same-sex orientation: it is who they are, to suggest anything else is simply a lie. That reality must be accepted and responded to. Our response must be one of ‘justice’ – that is creating a situation which is honest, right and liberating for gays and lesbians to be true to themselves; anything else is a perversion of the truth. This is the only path of love. This is not some kind of soft libertarian, politically correct response – but a tough biblical one forged in the face of truth. All godly human relationships are about the expression of love , whether we are gay or straight.

    There is a great deal more I could say, but for now this all I am able to offer due to time and space. I hope it helps – a little!

  3. Thanks, Noel, for gracing my comment with your response. I’m currently looking at the account of your thinking on the link you have given. There’s obviously a lot there and it looks very comprehensive and clearly thought out. Accordingly I will read it through very carefully and, if appropriate, I’ll post a response here on the Spiritual Journey TV site. One thing I will say, though, having been reminded of an experience from what I’ve read so far: Some time ago I was invited to a social gathering where it turned out that everyone apart from me was gay. One person there who learned there and then that I wasn’t gay caused a bit of a stir by shouting out across the crowded room, “Hey, he’s not gay!” In the circumstances I felt abnormal. But it was done and taken with good humour by all. But the point I was coming to was that, I asked that person if he had ever found a member of the opposite sex attractive, even going right back into his earliest childhood memories. He was emphatic in his answer, even when I pressed him on it, that he had never ever had the slightest attraction to anyone of the feminine gender. That was like a revelation to me for I had always understood that everyone is born heterosexual and that gays have at some point made a choice and “turned”, as might be read or implied in Romans 1:26-27. I’m assuming, of course, that the gentleman was being truthful, although in my earlier “Christian” years I was led to believe that all gays are, by nature, deceitful. No doubt you’ll have some thing to say about that. Thanks again.

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