LGBTQ+ Welcome and the Bible
Overview of Christianity and Human Sexuality
We're Talking About THAT?
On Sunday, February 12, we began a four-week Bible Study series on LGBTQ+ Welcome and the Bible, as part of New Joy's Exploring our Radical Welcome initiative. The first session offered an initial overview of Christianity and human sexuality. Each week we will publish Pastor Chris’ notes from these Bible Studies. These notes are not fully fleshed out essays, and they are certainly not everything that can be said about these important topics.
The Bible opens with beautiful poetry about the creation of the world and the creation of people.
What kinds of truth or realities can poetry express that prose or scientific observations cannot?
6 days of creation; 1 day of rest
Genesis 1:26-28 People are made in the image of God (at times the Bible imagines a kind of divine council. Here the Lord may be addressing other divine beings when initiating the creation of humanity. “Let us make humankind in our image”). Man and woman are both made in the image and likeness of God.
Humanity is made on the sixth day, on the same day as all other land animals.
From the beginning God gives a command to humanity (Genesis 1:28): “be fruitful and multiply” - an implied command to have sexual relations and to procreate
Another creation story - there are two creation stories in Genesis - man is made from the earth, woman is made from the man. They’re of the same matter and nature, and woven into the fabric of creation.
Genesis describes the creation of men and women, and offers some insight into their purpose.
What kinds of truth or realities can poetry express that prose or scientific observations cannot?
Lutherans tend not to view these stories as history in a modern sense of precisely recounting and interpreting the past, but instead as faithful stories filled with religious power and promise. What do you think is the purpose of these creation stories?
WILDLY DIFFERENT SOCIAL NORMS
Once we start reading the Bible’s stories, we soon realize that ancient communities had different cultural realities and social norms than we do. And the answer isn’t necessarily to restore the realities and norms of these ancient communities.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH What’s going on here? Many of us have heard about “sodomy” and of the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Over the centuries many Christians have misinterpreted this story to be a condemnation of homosexuality. Yet what is on display in Sodom is not consensual relations, but a desire for violent gang rape.
Whereas Lot extends gracious and generous hospitality to the two men, the town does the exact opposite. Hospitality is a holy calling in the Bible (Leviticus 19:33-34). Sodom fails to extend the requisite, commanded hospitality.
Scripture also interprets Scripture. The Prophet Ezekiel comments on the sin of Sodom. “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Ezekiel 16:49-50. The sin of Sodom was its greed and pride.
Extramarital Sex to Produce an Heir
When Abram and Sarai are unable to conceive, Abram has sex with Sarai’s servant Hagar in order to produce an heir. (see Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, child Ishmael, Genesis 16). If any of us are childless today, we would not seek to produce an heir through extramarital sex.
Offering Daughters to a Violent Mob
When Lot welcomes two angels into his house, a violent mob approaches his door with a violent desire to rape the men. Lot refuses their demands, but instead offers his daughters to the violent mob (Genesis 19). In a similar situation we would not offer family members to be abused by a violent mob.
Polygamy seems also to have been practiced in the New Testament. Paul wrote that ministers should be “husbands of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6 – could Christian men who were not ministers have more than one wife?). Apparently, some early Christians, and potential converts to the faith, practiced polygamy. We do not practice polygamy.
Vulnerability of Single Women
Marriage was the way to secure a vulnerable woman. Sometimes this meant a married man took a widow as his second wife (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). We do not believe that marriage is the only means by which to protect a vulnerable person, or that a woman must be married to be financially or socially secure
Paul also wrote that women should not speak in church or have authority over men (1 Corinthians 14:34-36; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). We believe that God’s Spirit calls all people into ministry without distinction.
Paul wrote that it is better for believers not to get married. Marriage was acceptable, of course, if you couldn’t control your libido. Much of his ambivalence about marriage stems from his expectation of Christ’s imminent return. (1 Corinthians 7). We have a different perspective both on marriage and the timing of Christ’s return.
These examples highlight that we do not live in the societies from and for which the Scriptures were first written. In fact, understanding the context of these Scriptures helps us to understand why these rules/teachings were established in the first place, even if we acknowledge their literal applicability today is untenable.
Obviously many of these rules do not make sense in our contemporary contexts, but they existed for a reason. We do not merely dismiss them as archaic. Considering the cultural context of these teachings, what is the purpose of some of these practices? Pick one or more of these teachings and try to understand its wisdom.
Have you experienced a change of perspective on a “big” issue or major personal commitment? Have you seen others change their perspective, or rules, about something? What do you think brings about such changes?
The best of our contemporary values around marriage and sexuality - marrying for love, consent in matters of sexual relations, dating - are not really found in the Bible. Does that make these things “unbiblical”? In a technical way, perhaps, but that’s the wrong question to ask. The internet, the English language, baseball, and space travel aren’t in the Bible, either.
Christian, Not Biblicist
Many beautiful, wonderful, holy, faithful, and life-giving aspects of our world are not found in the Bible. Many of our core social norms are not found in the Bible. And that’s ok. We are not Biblicists – we are Christians. Our faith and our daily lives are not limited by the printed words of the Bible, but instead are gracious gifts opened up for us by the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns not just in the past, but yet today and in the promised future.
When we look to Scripture for specific rules on gender roles, marriage, and sexuality, we tend to encounter norms that are shaped by extremely different cultural and social norms than what we have today. As 21st century Christians living today in the United States, we inhabit a significantly distinct society from those we read of in Scripture. Everything from life expectancy to legal codes, technology to how we think of the self, is radically different. The ways we live out our faith, then, are also necessarily different.
CORE CHRISTIAN COMMITMENTS
Given the radically different historical, social, and gender norms of the societies from which the Bible was written, norms that shaped the Bible’s explicit teachings about gender and sexuality, we need a different approach to Scripture on these matters. When looking to Scripture for guidance today on gender roles, marriage, relationships, and sexuality, we should look to the central teachings of our faith, the core commitments of Christian belief and ethics, and apply those faithfully to our most intimate and personal relationships.
LOVE GOD, LOVE NEIGHBOR (Matthew 22:36-40; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). This is the primary teaching of Jesus – love. Not like. Not affection. Love that deeply regards the humanity, dignity, and honor of all people, neighbors, friends, and enemies alike.
LOOK TO THE GOOD OF OTHERS, NOT SELF (Philippians 2:3-4). Fundamentally, Christianity is other-centric, focused on honoring and improving the welfare of those around us.
NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN PEOPLE (Galatians 3:28) At the conclusion of an argument about how the promise of the Gospel works, Paul writes that there is no distinction between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. Gentiles are grafted into the promise through faith in Christ, not through works of the law. The previously important distinctions (ethnicity, social status, gender) break down in faith.
NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN PEOPLE, PART II (Joel 2:28-29) The Prophet Joel, speaking the word of God, announces that the movement of God’s spirit does not favor certain people because of social distinctions. Note that in this passage when Joel proclaims that God’s spirit would be poured out also on slaves, that is both a status and an ethnic distinction, as only foreigners, non-Jews, would have been held as slaves.
IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD (Genesis 1:26-27) If humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, this means all people. All people are made in the image and likeness of God. When I gaze upon my neighbor, I see God’s beloved handiwork, image, and child.
How does placing love at the center of our interpersonal ethics change, if at all, how we view people who in previous time periods would have been shunned, or worse?
Let’s take that question and push it into today. What groups of people tend to be marginalized and rejected today? How is Christian love for them expressed?
How does placing love at the center of our interpersonal ethics change, if at all, the types and kinds of human relationships we engage in and bless, especially those that would have been forbidden in other eras?
SESSION 4 LGBTQ+ Welcome and the Bible. The fourth and...