“Are you struggling with same-sex attraction, Chris?”
On this night there were just three of us. A small group of men from my small Evangelical church who met at a dilapidated diner once a week. Increasingly I was beginning to question my conventional Evangelical beliefs. On this evening I had questioned the ‘homosexuality is a sin’ stance of my church. The two men had quickly turned to their favorite ‘Clobber Verse’ to address my resistance to this belief:
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 18:22 (NIV)
Apparently Israel 5,000 years ago was one giant orgy. Compared to the sexual behavior addressed in Leviticus much of what is categorized as pornographic today would be wholesome, refreshing, old fashioned sex. Leviticus 18, primarily written to men, forbids sex with a close relative, sex with your mother, sex with your father’s wife, sex with your son’s daughter, sex with your aunts (on both sides!), sex with your daughter-in-law, sex with your brother’s wife, sex with your neighbor’s wife, and, for God’s sake, stop having sex with animals!
There is an apparently off topic prohibition on child sacrifice to the regional pagan god Molek. I do wonder why the author included it in this chapter. Pagan worship did sometimes involve sex. Having sex with your wife during her period was also an abomination for which God would vomit you out of the land. And then, of course, the condemnation of homosexuality.
For my Evangelical friends sitting with me in the shiny, upholstered plastic seats of a restaurant long past its prime, Leviticus 18:22 completely resolved the issue. When I read the book of Leviticus I see a culture emerging from their primitive pagan neighbors. I see a transcendent leap in consciousness. I see a culture where men are having sex with their mothers, their daughters, their son’s wives and their neighbors wives, their aunts, and, also, with animals, but now they are collectively realizing this is not behavior that is going to produce social stability. It is also not genetically wise. Putting what now seems like clear common sense restraints on sexual behavior was a transcendent leap in consciousness. But it was not a perfect one. Having sex with your wife during her period, while maybe off-putting to many, probably doesn’t belong in the same category as incest and bestiality. And homosexuality also does not belong in that category. All of the other sexual behaviors have clear elements of harm and coercion. Homosexuality between two consenting adults is neither harmful nor coercive.
My Evangelical friends might respond, “Well that is the Old Testament. What about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? (If Donald Trump is reading this, Evangelicals always say “First Corinthians”, not “One Corinthians”. It is an Evangelical Shibboleth.)
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
This “Clobber Verse” introduces another problem with the Biblical presentation of homosexuality. The Biblical authors, trapped in the consciousness of their age, have no concept of U.S. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten Buttigieg. The idea of a same sex marriage between two responsible, consenting adults who are contributing to their communities simply doesn’t exist in the mind of these ancient authors. The perception of homosexuality was ‘male prostitutes and homosexual offenders’. Homosexuality in the Ancient Greek and Roman world was often between owners and slaves or older men and post-pubescent boys. (I found Matthew Vines insight on this helpful. See his book: “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships”) The idea of a same sex marriage and heterosexual marriage being equally socially viable options seems to be a very new, emerging development in our collective consciousness.
Evangelicals may then pull out possibly the most powerful “Clobber Verse”, “What about Romans 1:26-28?
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Romans 1:26-28 (The Apostle Paul)
Here is where I begin to go in a new direction. As I was studying this and many others issues I increasingly began to see that the Apostle Paul was simply wrong. Why am I doing all of these intellectual and hermeneutical contortions trying to interpret these verses? The Apostle Paul was in error and guilty of promulgating other grievous beliefs. Here are a couple examples:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (The Apostle Paul)
If that is not a thoroughly misogynous statement I don’t know what is.
And then there is the Apostle Paul’s advice on how to be a “Good Slave” and a “Good Slave Owner” in Ephesians Chapter 6:5-9:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
As I pulled the thread of homosexuality teaching sparsely woven through the Bible the writers were exposed as very human. It became obvious to me that Paul was very much a human being limited by the consciousness of his time. Paul was not a walking, talking, preaching, and writing Oracle of God producing perfect, inerrant teaching that was as authoritative as if they came from the lips of God. The writings of the Apostle Paul are simply that: The Writings of the Apostle Paul. Not the Word of God.
Paul got it really wrong on Women. Paul got it wrong on Slavery. And Paul got it really wrong on Homosexuality.
I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle when my Earnest Evangelical Friends asked me if I was ‘struggling’ with same sex attraction. At the time I was single and an elementary school teacher. Maybe combining those data points contributed to that speculation. But it also revealed that they were so buried in their Evangelical Presuppositions that the most likely explanation to them was that I was changing my views on homosexuality so that I could come out of the closet and indulge my secret same sex desires.
Just for the record I am a heterosexual and I am now married and I have three children. I am still an elementary school teacher. The reason for my shift from an Evangelical view of homosexuality was initially an increasing compassion for those with a same sex orientation. The harm of teaching those with homosexual orientations they must be celibate or ‘convert’ to heterosexuality was obviously harmful. And all the good things in heterosexual marriage I also saw in same-sex marriage. And then damn broke when I carefully examined the biblical texts on homosexuality. The biblical teaching on homosexuality was clearly logical and ethically flawed. And, increasingly, I saw the Bible as a very human book…not The Word of God.
More on that another time.