Friday, June 13, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Whether We Believe in the Bible

Photo Credit: David Campbell
     "The Bible says homosexuality is wrong" - that's the starting point for many conservatives.  The greatest fear among both conservatives and moderates is that, if the Church accepts homosexuality in any form, then we are rejecting the authority of the Bible.  
     The whole debate about homosexuality is fraught with such heavy emotional baggage in part because it is attached to this larger issue of Biblical authority.  
For many, the question of gay marriage is simple: “Either you believe the Bible, or your don’t.”  
The great fear is that we Christians will lose our ethical bearings in the world and become lost in a moral swamp of squishy ground in which everything is personally debatable.  

     On one hand, this makes a lot of sense.  For Christians, the Bible is our moral compass.  The Bible is our guide for life.  Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God and actually alive with the Spirit of God.  The Bible is our supreme authority for understanding God and how God wants us to live in this world.  Of course, we also use reason, tradition, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but the Bible’s voice is always in the trump suit.  The Bible always has the authority to correct us.  The Bible is always the voice that moves the Church to reform when we have gone astray.  It is good and right for Christians to highly value the authority of the Bible.
     And when the Bible talks directly about homosexuality, it is always negative.  Accepting something the Bible seems to reject outright sounds like heresy to many.  It sounds like gay-affirming people are saying we get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe in.  And of course, if we can pick and choose which texts have authority over us, then none have actual authority.   
If we are the filter of authoritative texts, then we are the real authority not the Bible. 

    Some advocates of gay marriage and other gay rights are perfectly fine with this conclusion.  
Whether Christian or not, they view the Bible as an archaic, mostly obsolete book.  
These Christians view it primarily as the story of God’s work in the world, but they see it as so heavily weighted with ancient cultural baggage that it has nothing meaningful to say about ethics in today’s world. 
     Another group of Christians prioritize Jesus’ teachings over all else, to the point of radically discounting both Paul and the Old Testament.  With all of their good intentions and honest love for Jesus, these genuine Christians are also practicing Marcionites.  Marcion was a 2nd century Christian leader who rejected the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament in favor of the portions that incline theology toward an all-forgiving God.  Marcion was ruled a heretic, and the global Church affirmed our commitment as Christians to the authority of the whole Bible.

     However, a whole other set of gay-affirming Christians remain Bible stalwarts.  They believe in the Bible with their whole hearts, and they are trying to shape their lives by the Bible’s teachings.  They remain deeply committed to the authority of the whole Bible - both Old and New Testaments.  And yet, as they understand the Bible, gay marriage is an acceptable option for Christians.  Even more, some of them feel that the Bible itself compels them to work for gay equality in the Church.

     Let’s hear directly from a few leading thinkers among Bible-believing, gay-affirming Christians:

  • Kenneth Grider:  (I'm starting with this old Nazarene dude because he is the author of the much respected and very heavy A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, the curriculum for many a Nazarene theology course.  Late in life, Grider became a regular advocate of gay marriage as a Christian option.)  I am raising questions, in the hopes that we Wesleyan scholars might take another look at Scripture, in the light of recent DNA findings that homosexuality is genetic...  The Bible is a book of religion and ethics, not a book of science as such.  It is a altogether trustworthy on beliefs and practices, but only if you interpret it according to its times and according to our times.
  • Walter Wink: In the same way, women are pressing us to acknowledge the sexism and patriarchalism that pervades Scripture and has alienated so many women from the church. The way out, however is not to deny the sexism in Scripture, but to develop an interpretive theory that judges even Scripture in the light of the revelation in Jesus. What Jesus gives us is a critique of domination in all its forms, a critique that can be turned on the Bible itself. The Bible thus contains the principles of its own correction. 
  • Rob Bell I say all of this because as a preacher, the Bible is where you start. ...  I find the Bible more fascinating more ever.   (Actually, I highly recommend reading all of Rob Bell's fantastic series "What is the Bible?"  In classic Bell style, it's profound, magnetic, wandering, and accessible.)
  • Brian McClaren:  When Jesus is the focal point of the story ... We'll let the person of Jesus ... become the light in which all interpretations are evaluated, the key in which all interpretations are played, the leader behind which all interpretations arrange themselves as followers, and the meaning in which all interpretations have meaning.  In so doing we'll cherish the Bible in a more truly biblical way (recalling John 5:39-30 and Hebrews 1:1-3) -- as a unique, irreplaceable, and God-given witness in "words made print" to the unique, irreplaceable and holy "Word made flesh."  
  • Rachel Held Evans I have wrestled, and I love the Bible more now than I have ever loved it before. I love it more than when I demanded that it answer all of my questions, more than when I forced it to fit my cultural categories ... But the Bible is not a blueprint. It isn’t a list of bullet points to be followed or a to-do list to be obeyed. It can’t be crammed into an adjective or forced into a theology.  No, the Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, stories and songs, prophecies and proverbs, philosophy and poems, spanning thousands of years and multiple cultures, written by dozens of authors and inspired by God.  It is teeming with metaphor and imagery, tension and contrast. ...  I love the Bible more now than ever before because I have finally surrendered to God’s stories.
  • The Gay Christian Network: (GCN offers an open and honest Christian discussion about what they call "The Great Debate" in which Christians give - with love and grace - their best arguments for and against gay marriage for Christians.  The quote here is from their statement of faith.)   We affirm that the Bible is Holy Scripture, divinely inspired and authoritative, and not merely a human work.  We believe that worship, prayer, obedience, Bible study, love, fellowship, forgiveness and service are all important aspects in the life of a Christian believer, having been saved by the grace of God and not by our own human effort.  We believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians are full participants in God’s kingdom, and that the ways of holiness and the ways of sinfulness are equally available to them as to others. Recognizing this, we strive to live holy lives, turning to prayer, Scripture, and the leading of the Holy Spirit to discern God’s will.
     So this is a sampling of Christian leaders who deeply believe in the Bible and yet also affirm that gay marriage is acceptable for Christians.  I'm not saying I agree with all of the people I just quoted, but I do believe they are genuinely committed to the Bible as inspired by God and authoritative in our lives.  My point is simple. 
This debate is not simply about if we believe the Bible or not. This great debate is about how we interpret the Bible.  It's not about whether we believe but about how we believe the Bible. 
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