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.”

Food Trucks and Feasts

Today we food trucked for the IronPigs, the local Triple-A affiliate of the the Philadelphia Phillies, and for Ripple, an urban Mennonite community in downtown Allentown.  Two very different organizations with very different financial situations, but both very important to our community.  Both eating, in one sense at least, from the same figurative table, or at least from the same mobile kitchen.

Earlier in the day, I preached on Mark 6:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

I don’t usually give my sermons titles, but today’s was “prelude to a feast.”  I’d never really stopped at verse 37 before.  We’re always so excited by what’s coming next, we tend to miss the simple, direct command: “You give them something to eat.”  It’s stark, subversive, and just like Jesus. In the following verses, the disciples feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and some fish.  The provision is from God, but it’s the disciples who pass out the food. Jesus insists that his people be directly involved in the distributing the blessings — and thus seeing the miracles — of his kingdom.

After the resurrection, Jesus reiterates this point:

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

I knew a man who was deep in prayer for his children.  “God,” he said, “please bless my children.”

“And you bless mine,” was the answer back.

 

The Big Bang and the Personal God

I think I’d heard of God’s Crime Scene before clicking through a link on reddit this morning, but I don’t know very much at all about the work of J. Warner Wallace.

With that caveat, I share this post: A Personal God is the Best Explanation for the Beginning of the Universe.

I found this part to be especially interesting:

“Big bang cosmology, often referred to as the Standard Cosmological Model, demonstrates that everything we see in the universe (all space, time, and matter) had a beginning and came from nothing. If this is true, the first cause of the universe must itself be non-spatial, a-temporal, and immaterial.”

Wallace goes on to say that the first cause must also be personal (with respect to personal force, which can choose when to act, and impersonal forces, like gravity, which cannot). I’m not sure how convincing I find that part of his premise, but I like his point about the Standard Model requiring a non-spatial, a-temporal (timeless), immaterial first cause.

Christians believe, of course, that God is personal, and that God chose to incarnate (to step out of the immaterial and timeless glories of eternity) and come to us as Jesus.  Regardless of how creation happened, that’s how Christmas happened.

Have a Merry one!

Where is God in Hurricane Season?

God did not send Irma, Harvey, Jose, and Maria. I hope you know that.

Why didn’t God prevent Irma, Harvey, Jose, and Maria? Larry King asked a variation of this question on Twitter last night. If God is omnipotent, why doesn’t he prevent natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes? King noted that no religious leader has ever been able to answer that for him. The tone of the tweet was not antagonistic. It felt like an honest question mulled over a lifetime. It’s a question we’re all asking. And it’s not just about natural (or human-made) disasters. It’s about all kinds of tragedy and injustice and loss. It’s the cry of Jesus from the cross.

Before going further, let’s ask ourselves what we actually lose if start to allow for the possibility that God might not be omnipotent in the way we traditionally mean.

In philosophic and theological studies, the question of why terrible things happen to good or innocent people is known as “The Problem of Evil.”  Millions of attempts continue to be made to solve the conundrum as classically presented:  if God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, why does evil persist?”  Some answers are more satisfying than others, but none seem entirely sufficient in the moments they feel most needed.

Martin Luther said that we know God best through God’s love and compassion, not God’s power.  There’s something to that, but we’re still left asking “but if God has the power to prevent X,Y,Z, why won’t he?”

Luther also wrote at length about the suffering of Jesus on the cross as real spiritual trauma for God.  On the cross, Jesus (God in time and space and flesh and blood) experiences the quintessential human question: “God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, God experiences the human condition in totally, because on the cross, God experiences the feeling of being Godforsaken.  God experiences what we experience. God knows the pain we know.

We lose nothing, really, if we allow ourselves to consider the idea that God, who is mighty to save, may not be omnipotent in the way we generally think we mean.

My response to Larry King’s tweet was “maybe God isn’t omnipotent. but I do believe God is in the suffering and mourning and struggle. That’s why I follow the Crucified.”

It took the cross for God to know Godforsakenness. And God stayed on the cross. Christians follow a murdered God.  I think that tells us something.

If God isn’t omnipotent in the way we’ve traditionally said, how can we say God is mighty to save?

I think the answer to this part of the question lies in the call to take up our own crosses and follow Jesus.  To sacrifice confidence and trust in anything besides the love and compassion of God as the grounding of our being and the source of our identity.  The cross frees us from seeking our personhood or salvation in systems of politics, economics, and empire.  Naked and crucified, the God born in the poverty of the manger completes his final to move to total solidarity with us.  The life and death of Jesus are no quaint pantomime:  God knew hunger, tragedy, temptation, weakness, and loss.  God felt utterly abandoned by God.  We know and feel all of those experiences on the ebbs and tides of life.

In the person of Jesus, God found the fullness of God’s identity: the God who relies on the care of others for survival, the God who struggles within complex family systems, the God who celebrates at weddings and mourns the loss of friends.  The God who rejoices in our triumphs and the God who suffers the way we suffer.

Where is God in Harvey, Irma, and Maria?

God is in the shelters.  God is in the living rooms of family and friends where displaced people are finding hospitality and healing.  God is in the suffering and loss. God is in the hope of resurrection, in the kindness and compassion of strangers becoming friends. God is in the clean-up crews and buckets.

I don’t know what God is able to do about preventing human suffering.  I pray as if God can do every single thing.  But I do know what God is able to do in the wake of devastation.  Christians follow a crucified God, yes, but also one of Resurrection.  On the cross, God felt the horror of feeling Godforsaken.  In the Resurrection, proof of God’s attendant care breaks forth as Easter Morning.  Jesus was not forsaken or forgotten.  The power of God, mighty to save, manifests in healing after horror. We feel Godforsaken, but we aren’t ever really.  God’s attendant care is there in healing after horror. That’s another way God saves us.

I’m okay with the idea that the God who heals us might not have the power to prevent everything that hurts us.  Come what may, I always seem to find God in the aftermath.  None of this is to say with certainty that God’s not omnipotent in the classical sense.  But if God is, it seems God may have more to answer for than what the cross itself sets right. While it’s true that the frequency of extreme weather events rises with pollution, and while it’s true that so much of what we call evil or unjust is the accretion of broken people living broken lives, and while it’s true that none of that is God’s fault, a classically omnipotent God ought to be able to find a way around the human noise we throw up to heaven.  A classically omnipotent God, we hope, would say “regardless of your free will and brokenness, I have abolished evil, entropy, and want.”

That’s not the reality we seem to experience.  But that doesn’t mean God isn’t here, isn’t moving, isn’t active, isn’t real.  Jesus was killed by systemic injustice and the evil choices of his enemies.  Jesus was raised to glory by the God whose attendant care is there, healing after horror.

 

Black. Lives. Matter.

It doesn’t matter that Dr. Tisha Brooks and I share a hometown, or that she, her husband, my wife, and I all graduated from the same college.

What matters is that what she’s saying here.

The Stockley case is egregious.  If you’re not a person of color and have had a hard time understanding that Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist or militant operation, and that saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean saying “Only Black Lives Matter,” I’d be happy to talk with you.  You’ll get my perspective as a Christian who also happens to be white.

What Tisha is saying here is vital for such a time as this.

Brooks

Message from Tisha
Repost from Instagram @phdgirl24
・・・
This morning the “not guilty” verdict from the Stokley trial was released here in St. Louis and I got into an unexpected and heated debate with my landlord, who argued that the answer to problems like these is voting and Jesus, but not in his words “being in the streets.” I couldn’t disagree more for 3 reasons: 1) I’m currently writing a paper about activism as spiritual practice; 2) many of the people in my community are voters, Jesus-followers and are protesting in the streets as we speak; and 3) the Jesus I follow was always in the streets (or in the homes) of people who were marginalized, powerless, outcast and alienated from society. To the dismay of those in power, Jesus hung out with, listened to, and stood alongside of the poor, the sick and exiled, prisoners, prostitutes, and “the least of these.” In fact, it was this refusal to align himself with those in power that led to his crucifixion.
We are followers of Jesus because he was radical. We are followers of Jesus because he was a revolutionary. We are followers of Jesus because he has always been clear about where he stands. And though we are not allowed to hang this #blacklivesmatters sign in our window or post it in the front yard, because we do not own the property we stay in, we want to make it clear where we stand. We stand with Jesus, in the streets, in full support of those who are committed to being his hands and feet in this very broken and unjust world.
Activism = Jesus in the Streets.
#stl #stlouis #justice #jesusinthestreets #activism #protest #spiritualactivism#blacklivesmatter #professorslife #blackprofessor #speaktruthtopower#civildisobedience #faithandjustice #wherewestand #visioncarriers

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.”