When a writer decides to take a public stand on a controversial issue, he had better be prepared for some push back. You simply can’t expect consensus. You can only hope to get people thinking and, perhaps, open a healthy dialogue. A good, respectful exchange of different opinions is essential to expanding minds. We need to be pushed and challenged on a regular basis so that we test our own knowledge and faith.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called This Little Light of Mine. The piece was about my reaction to a Facebook post that a few old church friends were tagged in. The post was supportive of a small business owner who was being sued for refusing to provide a service for a gay couple’s wedding. The tone of the post came off as very condescending and judgemental and it bothered me since it was from a Christian. I called into question what kind of message that sort of post sends to non-Christians. I mentioned that when it comes to my stance on homosexuality, I prefer to stick to what Jesus had to say about the subject, which is nothing at all. I mentioned that most of what the Bible says about homosexuality comes from Old Testament scriptures like Leviticus, where the topic is scattered among many other “sins” that we no longer consider sins and that, even in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sins in question regarding homosexuality were aggravated by multiple layers of depravity such as rape and child exploitation. I am admittedly not a Bible scholar but, to my knowledge, there is no scriptural reference to a loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship.
A pastor friend of mine who often reads my essays, particularly my faith-based pieces, is sometimes the person who pushes back and tests me. I’m glad he pushes and tests me, it always leads to a rich exchange of ideas. I respect him deeply. He challenged me on the piece I referenced above. We had a long, somewhat confrontational, but quite respectful text conversation about the topic. He told me he thought I was misrepresenting the New Testament in regard to what it says about homosexuality. I assured him that I wasn’t trying to claim that the New Testament was completely silent on the topic, only that Jesus was. I admitted that, of course, the Apostle Paul did write a few things in his letters that appear to condemn homosexuality. My friend asked me how I could justify my article given what Paul had to say on the matter. I simply told him that I am never quite sure what to do with Paul. To me, Paul has always been a bit enigmatic. He was so instrumental and vital to the early Christian Church–without his work, the Church could have failed–but his message seems sometimes to veer off the path, too. Paul has always been a controversial figure among biblical scholars. Some give him near complete Godly authority, some are a bit confused about him, and some even have called him a false prophet. Wherever you stand on the subject of the Apostle Paul, it can’t be denied that he penned a significant portion of the New Testament–so what are we to do with him?
My friend pushed me hardest when he pulled out the “trump card” of fundamentalist Christians with regard to scripture. He asked me flat out if I was denying that all scripture was “God-Breathed.” That is a tough one. If you grew up in an evangelical Protestant denomination, you likely have heard that phrase your entire life. All scripture is God-Breathed. What do you say to that? It gets right to the heart of faith, doesn’t it?
My friend rocked me with that question a bit, I must admit. I thought carefully about it before responding. I finally said that, while not completely denying that scriptures were God-Breathed, I feel there’s room for cultural context in scripture. I believe that we have to understand the scriptures from the cultural context in which they were written. I believe it is impossible not to do so because, otherwise, it’s apples and oranges. I came back at my friend with another question. I asked him if he ever listened to woman’s teachings on the Bible. He said he did so often. I told him Paul wouldn’t have liked that. Paul, of course, said women had no authority to teach men and should remain silent in church. My friend basically said that he interpreted that passage to mean that women shouldn’t take authority over men, but it was ok if men gave them authority. I felt that was an interesting take but an example of the kind of selective interpretation that often seems to come up when the “sin” of homosexuality is on the table.
None of this means we need to throw the scriptures out or rewrite them. There is also the fact that, while the original scriptures may indeed have been God-Breathed, we aren’t working with the original scriptures. We have translations. Translations are not perfect. Which translation is God-Breathed? What about the scriptures that didn’t make the cut, were they God-Breathed? If so, why aren’t they in the Bible? If not, who decided which scriptures were God-Breathed and which ones were not?
Here is the other thing about the whole God-Breathed question that I don’t know what to do with. From where do we get the phrase “God-Breathed”? We get it from Paul himself. In 2 Timothy (that’s pronounce second Timothy, President Trump) 3:16-17 Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-Breathed and is useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That, to me, brings a whole new question into focus. Paul is the originator of the phrase, God-Breathed. It appeared in a letter he wrote. He wrote those words with not one inkling that his very letters would one day become scripture. Paul was a great Christian, but he wasn’t God. So, we are back to our original question, what do we do with Paul? Do we elevate him to the level of Christ? I think we all would agree that is a no no.
I don’t have the answer to what to do about Paul, only questions.
Now I’ll go back to what Christ had to say about homosexuality, which is nothing. That’s what I’m going to say about it, too. Ask me if I think it is a sin for a man and a man or a woman and a woman to have a loving, committed relationship with one another in marriage and I’ll say, I’m going with what Jesus had to say about it.
Paul said it’s better for nobody to be married, fancy that!
Here is an undeniable fact about marriage and sin. Everyone who was ever married–man to woman, man to man, or woman to woman–was a miserable sinner.
Here is another undeniable fact, sin is sin. Murder is the same as gluttony when it comes down to it.
If you want to get bogged down in trying to figure out whether gay marriage is a sin or not, knock yourself out.
I’m sticking to what Jesus said.