The biblical texts a church chooses by which to govern its life say more about the church than the texts it selects.
Critics of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s policy of full inclusion of GLBT members – and its newly adopted definition of marriage as between “two people” – quote biblical texts they claim declare homosexuality itself as sinful.
An anonymous comment by a Views from the Edge reader advised people to read the Bible and think for themselves. “I think anyone reading the comments from Mr. Stewart should read the Bible and think for themselves. For example read 1 Timonthy 8-11.”
We don’t usually reply to anonymous sources, but this one deserves consideration because it asks us to do both things: read the text and think for ourselves.
Here’s the text about which the writer invites us to think for ourselves:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” [I Timothy 8-11]. Color added by VFTE for emphasis
Texts such as I Timothy are used to identify same-sex relations as sin, albeit in a longer list that names liars and perjurers, among others. But “sodomites” are not consensual lovers; they are rapists so named from the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah from which we get the words ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomize’.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about sexuality. It’s about assault, violence and humiliation. The tragedy of Sodom and Gomorrah was not consensual sexual relations. It was gang rape by a group of men intruding into Lot’s house to have their way with Lot’s house guests. Such male behavior was not unfamiliar to the partriarchal world of Hebrew Scripture when victorious soldiers humiliated their vanquished enemies by treating them like females.
While conservative evangelical and fundamentalist biblical interpreters condemn consensual love between two members of the same gender, they ignore the much clearer biblical position on adultery and divorce.
On divorce: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” [Luke 16:18); and “if [a wife] divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” [Mark 10:12].
On adultery: “You shall not commit adultery” [Exodus 20:14]; and “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel [Deuteronomy 22:22].
Many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and churches say they do not interpret Scripture. They obey it. But they don’t. They can’t. Because every reader has to think. One always has to decide which biblical texts take primacy over others. Presumably we would all agree – orthodox, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, liberal, and progressive – that Jesus’ command to the men who had encircled the woman “caught in adultery” to drop their stones takes primacy over a harsher approach to divorce and adultery.
But that’s a conclusion of interpretation, of selective primacy. For conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches to remain true to their objection to all biblical interpretation as undermining biblical authority, they should exclude all divorced persons from positions of leadership. That would exclude 50% of the American marital population.
We all think for ourselves. Conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are as selective as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and others they declare have forsaken biblical authority.
For the sake of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to [Timothy and us],” may the Spirit guide us and conform us all according to the rule of love.
– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Honorably Retired, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Chaska, MN, March 21, 2015.