“The Bible says it!
I believe it!
That settles it!”
This is often the mantra of those who use scripture to claim LGBTQ+ persons and their relationships, marriages, and leadership within the church are incompatible with Christian teaching. They will point to a handful of scriptures to support their opinions and uphold discriminatory practices and policies. When scripture is used against LGBTQ+ persons, the Bible is being used as the ultimate and final authority on issues of Christian faith. This is often a sure and swift way to shut down dialogue and declare victory in a debate. After all, this is the Word of God, and who are we to argue with that?
Here are some essential things to remember when the Bible is used against the LGBTQ+ community:
The Bible Does Not Speak with One Voice
The Bible is not a chapter book with a well planned, coherent storyline and unfolding plot. It is not primarily a rulebook or a handbook – nor is it a suitable textbook on history, science, anthropology, or sociology. If the scripture is not these things, then what is this thing we call the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of sixty-six different books, written by many different authors, writing in many different styles and genres, from many different places and different times throughout history. What binds these writings together is that all of these different writers are all trying to best understand their relationship with God, each other, and the world around them. The beautiful result is a diverse set of writings formed by different experiences and points of view, open to different questions and offering different answers.
An honest reading of the scriptures will reveal a variety of perspectives on the nature of God, the origins of creation, the human condition, what happens after death, the purpose and use of money, the justice of war, our relationship with people of other religions, the role and rights of women, and almost every other important topic of religious inquiry. The same is true when it comes to human sexuality, marriage, and leadership within the church.
Remember that the scriptures offer different perspectives. These perspectives invite us to engage with the Bible in the light of our traditions, reason, and experience. Scripture should invite good conversation and encourage robust debate, not shut them down.
“Text without context is just pretext for whatever you want the text to mean.”
Words don’t have meaning in isolation. They only have meaning in context.
When it comes to the ways that scripture has been used against LGBTQ+ persons, their relationships, marriages and their leadership within the church it is essential that these texts are considered within their larger biblical and historical context. Every scriptural text is a part of a broader, unspoken set of assumptions, definitions, narratives, and histories, all of which would have been readily understood by the writers’ original audiences. The thousands of years of cultural distance that now exists between us and those first audiences means that much of that original context cannot be assumed.
When specific scriptures are used against the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to ask if the person citing this scripture knows its larger context.
Ask: Do you have an understanding of ancient marriage rituals? Do you appreciate the evolving nature of marriage from biblical times when marriage served as a way to shore up tribal and economic alliances as compared to more contemporary Western notions of marriage as expressions of romance, mutuality, and fidelity?
Ask: Do you have a sense of ancient idolatries involving temple prostitution and pederasty and how Paul’s writing might be addressing those issues?
Ask: Do you have a sense of the various definitions of the Hebrew words yada, shiqquts, and toeba and the Greek words porneia and arsenokoitai, which often appear as homosexual in many modern English biblical translations?
Ask: Do you have an understanding of the history of conquest and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war that formed the background of the Sodom and Gomorrah stories in Genesis 18-19?
Ask: Do you have an understanding of the ancient divorce codes and how Jesus’ critiques on divorce have as much to do with protecting the vulnerable as they do in institutionalizing heteronormative marriage?
Chances are these persons will not be able to answer these questions. Contextual work is hard work and, truthfully, churches have not done a good job teaching and equipping their congregations with the knowledge and tools to read the Bible in context. But in asking these questions, we might open them to the possibility that there is more going on behind the words on the page and that the anti LGBTQ+ interpretations of scripture might not be as simple and straightforward as they appear.
Anti LGBTQ+ Biblical Interpretations Have Devastating, Real-Life Consequences
When scriptures are used against the LGBTQ+ community, it can result in harmful, and sometimes even deadly, consequences. Taken literally, these scriptures condone the shunning, shaming, segregating, and even the execution of LGBTQ+ persons. We cannot minimize the impact of the literal interpretation of these texts. Literalist interpretations contribute to homophobia and transphobia, which can lead to bullying, ostracization, and family estrangement. The religious bias created by these interpretations are often cited in the anxiety, depression, and attempted suicides of LGBTQ+ persons. In addition, these literalist interpretations support systematic discrimination of LGBTQ+ persons, commonly used to deny LGBTQ+ persons equal protection when it comes to housing, employment, adoption, and healthcare services.
When encountering people quoting the Bible against LGBTQ+ persons, it is essential to point out the real-life implications of their words. It is hard to get someone to change their core beliefs, but it is crucial to ask them to take responsibility for (and ultimately to change) behaviors that cause harm.
When Reading Your Bible, Choose Compassion
“For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose.” ~ Rachel Held Evans
Only once does the Bible reveal Jesus reading scripture. The occasion was significant. He was in the synagogue in Nazareth, preparing to preach his inaugural message. This was his chance to send a clear message about what his mission and ministry would be about. What scripture would Jesus choose for this moment?
He chose to read from the Prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
Jesus chose a text about compassion. Of all the scripture available to him, Jesus chose compassion over judgment, mercy over sin, justice over piety. This choice defined Jesus, told us who he understood God to be, and set a course for what it would mean to be a part of his movement.
Like Jesus, when it comes to interpreting scripture, we too can choose.
May we also choose compassion.
You Do Not have to “Proof Text” the People You Love
For many of us, these conversations and debates are not theoretical. Who are these people whose being, relationships, marriages, and leadership within the church are being questioned? They are our friends, our family, our neighbors, our coworkers, our church community. In many cases, they are you. Too often, LGBTQ+ persons are forced to defend their existence Biblically. “Show me where the Bible supports same-gender marriage?”
Searching for specific scripture to defend one’s position in a debate is called “proof texting”—providing “proof” that God support’s your position. These conversations often end up with people quoting scripture back and forth, lobbing bible quotes at each other like stones. Proof texting battles can be exhausting and demoralizing and seldom lead to any new understanding or acceptance of those we love.
So we want to end this article by saying that you do not need to search for biblical proof for your loved ones’ existence, their relationships, marriages, and leadership within the church. You can walk away from those conversations, knowing what you already know—that your loved ones are children of God, that their relationships and marriages are means of grace, and their calls to ministry and service are divinely inspired.
Whatever your perspective, we hope this starts a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us through Director of Communications, Sam Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org, and thanks in advance for your help.