Those Scriptures Don’t Mean What You Might Think They Do: Jesus and Paul Say Nothing about Homosexuality, but Much about Protecting People on the Margin

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from a far-right group saying that a great way to share your Christian faith with homosexuals was to help that see that “Jesus has a better way” for them.

Now, I believe Jesus has a better way for all of us, which is part of why I’m a Christian. But that’s not what this group meant. This group meant that Jesus has a better way for the ordering of gay peoples’ lives specifically around a heteronormative model.

One of the many problems with this assertion is that there’s absolutely zero basis for it in the sayings attributed to Jesus, or even in the writings of Paul.

Jesus literally said nothing about same-sex attraction or committed relationships. Paul said nothing about the same-sex union of equals. Both were intensely concerned that we not abuse power, that we embrace people society has cast out.

What about Mark 10:6–9?

Mark 10:6–9 finds Jesus saying this:

6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Now, let’s look at the larger context:

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The context for 6–9 is that Jesus crosses the Jordan and finds himself immediately in the midst of a Pharisaical proof-texting session, mostly likely designed to get Jesus to say something the religious establishment would find, to use a much-misused modern term, “unbiblical.” Let’s look again:

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Obeying the dictates attributed to Moses (and ultimately, to God) had become near-obsessive-compulsion in the life and practice of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, and there have be heirs of that compulsion in every century. In the earliest Christian scriptures, we find religious groups (the Pharisees, as well as the pro-circumcision camp of early Christians, and others) using the texts to exclude people from their understanding of God’s radical welcome.

That’s part of what makes Jesus’ response about the divorce so fascination. Jesus is literally saying “the law of Moses regarding divorce was written because your hearts are hard.” In other words, “I know what the Scripture says, but God’s heart is bigger.”

The male/female language is descriptive, and *could* be read by the letter as proscriptive, but what Jesus has just done deconstructing the Mosaic divorce proof-text makes me skeptical of that approach. Using this text as a proof-text regarding Jesus’ view on what we call homosexuality is untenable from the start, because the text begins with Jesus himself imploding what seems like a slam-dunk proof-text legitimating divorce. (Notice, too, that it’s talking about male-directed divorce. Interesting, right?)

The other hugely important thing about this passage is that even when we use it to define God’s view of marriage, we completely ignore what comes next:

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Very, very few people are nearly as fastidious about this verse as they are about the ones seeming, at first glance, to indicate a definition of marriage as such. But even if they are, the textual device remains: Jesus begins a discussion on relationships and law by completely blowing up the expectation of religious elites based on their singular interpretation of a given text.

That’s Jesus for you.

“I know what the Scripture says. But God’s heart is bigger.”

What about Paul?

1 Timothy 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9

1 Timothy 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 are both from letters written by the Apostle Paul to people in the early church. Both have been used to proof-text the idea that modern, same-sex consensual relationships between adults of equal standing and volition are akin to every kind of evil-doing.

I’ll focus on 1 Timothy because it provides a fuller context.

9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine

Again, let’s look at the larger context. This passage begins not at verse 9, but, really, at verse 8:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

Thus:

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine

Notice that there’s no period at the end of verse 10? That’s because the passage doesn’t really end there. Verse 11 starts in the middle of the sentence: 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Verses 8 and 11 are essential bookends guiding what we’re supposed to do and not do with Scripture. We’ve already considered the notion that the Gospel message of Jesus is silent concerning loving relationships between same-sex consenting adults of equal standing, and that in his discussion of divorce and marriage, Jesus is actually exercising what Paul calls the proper use of the law.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

Let’s look at the fuller context:

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work — which is by faith.5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

As fascinating and liberating as this is, there’s a more pressing, and more literal, reason that neither 1 Timothy nor 1 Corinthians are talking about consenting same-sex relationships.

The word homosexual is not in the Bible. That’s because the word homosexual did not exist until 1869. Even then, the word homosexual was not used in the Bible until 1946.

Here is extended look here at what the word currently translated as homosexual in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians actually was and actually meant. Please read it.

We know the law is good if one uses it properly.

It’s impossible to trace convictions and conclusions to an interpretation of the Bible (especially a so-called literal interpretation) if we don’t know what the Bible actually says.

Given the history of the word itself, and the context in which we find the modern translation embedded, Paul simply cannot be talking about homosexuality as such. Wether Paul’s term refers to pederasty or temple prostitution (see also the discussion on Romans 1:26–27), we’re in no way, shape, or form dealing with consensual relationships between loving equals, nor are we talking about sexual orientation. We’re talking about abuse and coercion, things that we’d expect to find in lists of practices that are not manifested in the kingdom of God.

In short, the passages people sometimes use to condemn homosexuality actually apply to sexual abuse and coercion, to using and violating people on the margin for one’s own pleasure or need. Far from being outdated prohibition against something the writers of the Bible were not concerned with, these scriptures are evergeen given what we know about how widespread this kind of abuse has continued to be.

Taking these Scriptures seriously means working to end human trafficking, working to expose and report sexual abuse, working with and for survivors, not doing so with all the conviction you have, “conforming to the Gospel of the blessed God, we God entrusted to us.”

(Miss You) When You’re Gone

 

There’s an image in today’s British press of Dolores’ mother following her casket into St. Joseph’s church.  It’s very striking.

This from The Guardian:

Born in Ballybricken, Co Limerick, O’Riordan was the youngest of nine children (two of whom died in infancy) of Terence O’Riordan, a former farm labourer who was left unable to work after an accident, and his wife, Eileen, a school caterer, and went to Laurel Hill, a Roman Catholic school in Limerick. She was a tomboy, burying her dolls in the garden and spending most of her time with her heavy-metal-loving brothers. Yet she also played the organ in church and, well into her teens, wore flowery dresses bought for her by her mother. The influence of her church music and the heavy rock she heard at home instilled a desire to join a band – specifically, “a band with no barriers, where I could write my own songs”. That’s what she got.

At 18 she landed a job with a Limerick group called the Cranberry Saw Us by playing an early version of a song she had written, Linger (it was inspired by her first kiss, aged 17: “I’d always thought that putting tongues in mouths was disgusting, but when he gave me my first proper kiss, I did indeed ‘have to let it linger’,” she said last year).

Equally in thrall to rock and Gaelic folk music, her voice was startling and steely, and gelled uncommonly well with the band’s melodicism. Her Doc Martens-shod, spiky-haired look provided a visual anchor, overshadowing the rest of the group entirely. Despite being out of step with the prevailing Britpop and grunge scenes, they were taken on by the Smiths’ former manager, Geoff Travis, and courted by 32 record companies. The pivotal moment came when the successful label Island booked them as the support act on the fast-rising band Suede’s 1993 American tour. Suede’s seedy ambiguity cut no ice in the US, but the Cranberries returned home as stars.

Return home, a star.

Listening to 80s Music with Karl Barth

Very thoughtful survey. I’ve thought of Das Nichtige as “nothingness” because it consists of all that God opted not to create, and that because there “is” God and the things God opted to create, there must also be “not God” or “the nothingness.” Am I misreading Barth there?

Pop Culture and Theology

By Jack Holloway

I make a lot of “best of” playlists. Recently, I made a playlist of what I think are the 150 greatest 80s songs (find it here). I listened to hours and hours and hours and hours of 80s music, soaking it all in, and, like the Apostle Paul, “examining everything carefully, holding fast to everything good.”

I primarily study the theology of Karl Barth, and so I thought a lot about Barth’s theology as I contemplated the music I was listening to. Barth talks about God’s No and Yes, God’s wrath and redemption, judgment and forgiveness, and on and on. He thinks Christians should move from one realization to the other, from understanding our sinfulness to God’s forgiveness, from seeing sin and death to believing in God’s redemption.

“Human experience and thought,” he says, “would proceed in a straight line from despair to even deeper despair…

View original post 1,500 more words

Call to Worship: God Is Still Speaking

In the beginning, before we were born, before our grandparents met, before people fought over boundaries, before there were countries or planets or stars, in the beginning, before we were born,

there was God.

Before we learned to write or speak or even think words, God’s name was the rush of the wind in the reeds, the migration of continents, the burning of stars, the movement of love in the cosmos. Before all of these, God began speaking.

God said “I Am!” This is the Word that went forward creating all things. The Word was with God. The Word was God. Through God’s speaking Godself into space and time, all things were made.  Because God said “I Am,” God said “You Are.” In this way, all things were made.

After people began to fight over boundaries, after they’d charted maps and named stars, after they’d fled war and weather, this great I Am, which is God, became flesh.

In the tongues of the nations, he was called God With Us, God Saves.  He was called Emmanuel.  He was called Jesus. 

He was called the Messiah, the Christ, the One Anointed as prophet, priest, king.  The Word become flesh, the breath of God living and breathing, the Word who had brought forth all things.

God came as us. God came for us.  The God who spoke creation is here.

God found us hurting and needing and hungry.  God found us broken, afraid.  In the infant of Bethlehem, in the crucified God, we find God sharing our lot.  Speaking the language of our experience.

And God is still speaking.

Through the rush of the wind, through the courses of stars, through the turning of great wheels in the deep,

Through lowly birth, through a life on the margin, through betrayal by friends, through false accusations, through the injustice of empire, through death on a cross, I Am is speaking.

I Am says “We Are.”

Robert W. Lee IV

A few thoughts on Robert W. Lee IV, because I’m a Christian, I’m a UCC pastor, I oppose White Supremacy, I don’t believe BLM is a terrorist group, and, on a lighter note, I remember when MTV mattered.

First, my criticism of Lee (and MTV), which has nothing to do with anything he said after his first few words.

“My name is Robert Lee IV, I’m a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville…”

Robert W. Lee IV is Robert E. Lee’s fourth-great-nephew.  I believe the wording of this introduction was meant to make W. Lee seem like direct descendent of E. Lee.  I don’t know why MTV or W. Lee chose that wording or wanted that framing.  And maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe that’s just how I’m hearing/reading it. Being a fourth-great-nephew and bearing the name Robert Lee and speaking out against supremacy is no less compelling to me than being a direct descendent, but I feel like the statement started from a less than clear place, which is a shame.  Also, saying that the statue itself was the center of violence makes it sound like most of the so-called Alt Right protestors were really there because of the statue.  As evidenced by their own propaganda, we know this to not be the case.

Lee continued:

“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.”

True.

“Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”

If you’d asked me in 1996 if I ever thought I’d see a pastor talking about God’s call on the VMAs, I would have laughed in your face.  Lee is absolutely right here: we must answer God’s call to confront racism and supremacy head-on.  The same is true for any injustice.

I have seen absolutely nothing to make me believe that Black Lives Matter is what its most vocal detractors say it is.  I’d welcome a one-on-one discussion with anyone concerned that BLM somehow promotes black supremacy or is engaged in terroristic activities.  Yes, I believe all lives matter.  So does BLM.  If you know me personally and want to talk about this, please, let’s.

If there was any area of Lee’s statement that I could understand people reasonably taking umbrage at, it would be with regards to the Women’s March, and for reasons you might understand even if you don’t embrace them.  Observers who felt that the March was primarily concerned with abortion, or that it largely ignored the concerns (and input) of women of color, might take issue with Lee’s reference to it as a model for confronting racism and supremacy.

Lee and his Winston-Salem church have received tremendous backlash for the appearance. He’s since resigned and issued this statement, which begins:

“I’m writing this statement to make sure that people are able to read in my own words what has happened to me over the last three weeks so that the events of my leaving Bethany United Church of Christ might be understood from my perspective.”

“It began when MTV invited me to speak out at the Video Music Awards in Los Angeles as a descendent of Robert E. Lee who is committed to speaking out against white supremacy and the hatred that had permeated our country.   The event was in the immediate aftermath of the gathering of White Supremacist in Charlottesville who were rallying around a statue of my ancestor Robert E. Lee. I strongly support the removal of these monuments to the Confederacy and feel it is my duty as a descendent to speak out against White Supremacy.”

Let’s be clear: Lee is right about his duty, not just as a member of the Lee family, but as a Christian and a child of God.  He also strikes me as a young, 24-year-old pastor seemingly blindsided by the reaction from within and without his congregation. I have no idea whether he talked to his church about his statement before he made it.  I hope he did. If he didn’t, he should have. We don’t know what did or didn’t go on behind the scenes.  Whether or not it would have made a difference isn’t the point.

My assumption, and it is only an assumption, is that the faction at Lee’s church taking issue with his statement were more upset with his lifting up of BLM than with the fact that the Women’s March had less overtly in common with combating white supremacy and racism.  I may also be grossly underestimating how much of the negative response is from people who don’t want the statues to come down.  And lest anyone think there’s no such thing as a liberal or progressive that opposes abortion, I know many people like Melissa Linebaugh.  The seeming near-zero-tolerance policy among many progressives for people who oppose abortion is likely part of the backlash.  While the Women’s March wasn’t “a march for abortion,” as such, it’s not hard to see why many people have that sort of view of it.  It’s part of Lee’s pastoral job to understand that, and to be in conversation with his church before he goes on national television.  And maybe he did and maybe he was.  Again, at this point, we don’t know.

I haven’t seen a statement from the church.  I’ve looked.  Its Facebook page is down.  Its website isn’t very current.  This piece from the Chicago Tribune has a few more details, and some important elaborations from Lee:  “‘The uncomfortable media attention and differing views with me by some of the congregation — and I want to make it very clear that it was not all of the congregation — made it clear that I was no longer welcome there,’ he said, adding that he’s also received positive messages.”

If Lee left the church because most of its members can’t abide the idea that he supports bringing the statues down, or because they’re so convinced that BLM is covertly in favor of black supremacy that they can’t see themselves to conversation and resolution, they should be called to task.  We don’t (and likely won’t) know the specifics of their broken relationship, nor how long it’s been broken.  That’s partly to Lee’s credit.

Because there’s much we don’t and won’t know, let’s say what we do know:

Racism is evil. Racial supremacy is evil. America is divided in ways we don’t even understand and are perhaps much further from understanding than we’ve been given to think.  Robert W. Lee is right to use his family name to fight racism and supremacy.  All people are right to fight racism and supremacy.  Even agreeing on that, we won’t always agree on the best ways forward. All ways forward require forbearance, listening to each other, respecting each other, and upholding each other’s dignity and worth.  In times like these, those basic precepts seem sadly radical.  We have more work to do than we know, and more than we have the strength for.  Build us up, Holy Spirit. Build us up.

 

 

God As Midwife

This is the concluding paragraph from a piece Becca posted on Adriel Booker’s blog.

If our mothers had named the Holy One, would God have firstly been midwife, continually welcoming new life in even the most excruciating circumstances?  I have never found God absent in my darkest nights, even when the pain has threatened to swallow me, even when I’ve wished that I would die because the future felt too chaotic.  When my heart was utterly broken, when my body was tangled unconscious, when I bled out my first baby and was separated from my firstborn after birth, even when I’ve been in the middle of a painful conflict with a trusted friend.  God has always stayed close, putting pressure on my lower back, whispering truth to my inconsolable heart, hands covered in my blood, tears falling with my own.  She hasn’t been in control of or responsible for my pain but always present, always welcoming the most possible good, the healing, the new.

This is breathtaking and beautiful.  In the context of the life of my church, right now, at this moment, it was something I needed, and it was something I shared today as part of our look at female images of God in celebration and recognition Mother’s Day.

I want to say more about this, and it will probably be a podcast.  But someone asked me last week how we hold on to the promise that God is working all things out to our good when we experience so much bad.  (There’s a lot of physical sickness right now in the church, specifically cancer.)  Becca’s words were our answer. Thank you, Becca, and thank you, Adriel.