Monday, August 20, 2012

The Bible & Gays

The Bible and Gays
Durrell Watkins
There are four questions I am most often asked about spirituality in relation to LBGT people. My ministry is within a church that is rooted both within the Christian tradition and the Gay Rights movement. However, I am a spiritual humanist and a religious pluralist and while I speak from a primarily Christian viewpoint, the message that I try to offer is universal. Here are the questions and my answers.

Is it a sin to be gay?
“Sin” means to miss the mark (an archery metaphor). To “be” anything is a matter of ontology (of “is-ness”). So to discover that one is something and to be honest about it can never be missing the mark. Self-discovery and expressing one’s truth with integrity is hitting the bull’s eye!

Did Jesus condemn homosexuality?
Jesus condemned precious little. One of the few things that he did condemn was the tendency of religious people to participate in condemnation! Jesus seemed to have a great deal of patience with almost everything other than self-righteous people who tried to enforce religious rules in a way to oppress or control others.

Was Jesus ever sympathetic to homosexual persons?
The word “homosexual” would not have been part of Jesus’ vocabulary. However, in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s gospel (and the story is repeated in the 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel) Jesus is said to have healed a centurion’s servant. The original hearers of that story would have assumed that the servant was the centurion’s lover. From what we know of 1st century Roman culture, we know that such relationships were not uncommon. And for a person of such high rank to be so concerned about a servant that he would approach a faith healer of lower status in a desperate attempt to help his servant suggests an intimacy far greater than one would expect between a military officer and his “servant.” How did Jesus respond to the centurion? He praised his faith! His relationship was not condemned or even questioned.

Also, in Matthew 19, Jesus defines “eunuchs” in a much broader sense than we normally hear. He says that, there are those who are castrated, which is the usual definition. But he also says there are 2 other kinds of eunuchs. He says some “choose” to be eunuchs (living a life of celibacy) and that others are “born” eunuchs (people who by nature are sexually different). He also says that not everyone would accept his broad, inclusive, and non-judgmental definition of eunuchs, but he says, “whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Jesus was giving an example of sexual diversity - some are different because they’ve been surgically altered. Others are different because of personal choices to not marry or to remain celibate (e.g. monks and nuns). And still others are different because they are born different, that is, they are innately different. Jesus did not suggest that anything was wrong with any of the eunuchs, and he certainly did not propose an “ex-eunuch” program. Some of us are “different” from the majority, and Jesus seemed to think that was OK and that everyone who can accept such diversity needs to accept it! His teaching reminds us of Isaiah 56 where the prophet places these words in the mouth of God, “The eunuch need not say, ‘I am a dry (barren) tree’…I will give them in my house a monument and name which will be even better than having children; an eternal, imperishable name…For my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.” In any case, Jesus never condemned same-sex love or attraction.

But aren’t there bible verses that do condemn homosexuality?
It depends on how you read the bible. The people who wrote the documents that in time became our bible were products of their time and culture. They had specific agendas and were writing to particular communities, usually in response to definite events. None of them had any idea that 21st century Americans would be reading their work. In fact, none of them knew there was a North American continent or that the world wasn’t flat. And so, we do read statements in the bible that support slavery, that assume women are in some way inferior to men, that seem to suggest God takes sides in bloody military conflicts.

             Today, we do NOT accept that women are in any way inferior to men.
Today, we believe slavery to be one of the greatest evils of human history.
Today, many of us believe that war is almost never the will of God.

Do we read the bible with an awareness of its historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts? Or do we cling to isolated verses that seem to support one prejudice or the other? How we choose to read the bible will determine if we believe the bible promotes homophobia. And how we choose to read it actually says more about the reader than the text.

Out of the entire bible written by many people covering a period of more than a thousand years, there are only about half a dozen sentences that are routinely used to shame, condemn, harass, or terrorize gay and lesbian people! Each of those rare, isolated passages, when taken in their cultural, historical, linguistic, and literary contexts can be deconstructed in ways that are actually quite liberating for same-gender loving people! Love and even mutual attraction are never condemned in scripture.

The bible is against rape, exploitation, and harming your neighbor (and rightly so!). It is not a collection of books meant to condemn love, mutuality, or any life-affirming situation.

Now, reflect on these passages from the bible that some of us believe accurately sum up the divine message for the human family: “God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them!” – 1 John 4.16; “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Eternal, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.” – Jeremiah 29.11; “By the grace of God I am what I am.” – 1 Corinthians 15.10; “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5.22-23.

There is no law against love and we are all one. This is the message of the bible. It doesn’t tell us who to hate; it tells us how to love. We can be sure that LBTG people are as capable of living love-filled lives as anyone else.


Kittredge Cherry said...

I really appreciate the clarity with which you explain the Bible and homosexuality. I get lots of questions about this at the Jesus in Love Blog, especially about eunuchs. I will be referring to this post again as a resource as such questions arise. Thank you!

Kittredge Cherry said...

I hope you’ll let me translate this into Spanish for my new blog Santos Queer:
Spanish readers need the message that God loves gays. Yours is the best article on the subject. I hope to use your article in Spanish to respond to the hate mail being sent to Santos Queer.

Kittredge Cherry said...

The Spanish translation of this excellent article is now complete and posted at the Santos Queer Blog. Gracias!

See it en español at this link:
La Biblia y las personas gays: ¿Es un pecado ser gay? ¿Condena Jesús la homosexualidad?