Ivey Merrill—LGBT-Today.com exclusive
As I walked with my church in the annual Pride Parade in 2013, I see signs with bold black paint: “HOMO SEX IS SIN!”, “GOD HATES FAGS!” These are nothing new.
The amount of protestors at the parades become less and less each year. In fact, they need police protection now so they don’t get attacked by an angry group of onlookers, however, this is San Diego, where gay is okay; things haven’t always been this way. On the contrary, the protestors used to outnumber the parade onlookers.
And still today it is one of the most contested recent issues in the interpretation of the Bible: what does God say about homosexuality? Just in that same year I marched in the Pride Parade, there had been 2,001 incidents of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community alone (NVACP).
The colloquial, and perhaps even a bit pejorative, word “biblical literalism” is a relatively new concept and practice. Technically speaking, this is called literal biblical hermeneutics, or a literal interpretation of the Bible.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that literalism was coming into practice in American society, but has ultimately become one of the main issues that is causing Christian denominations to become hostile with one another.
Literalism could tear America apart as it is causing a rift and polarization between the main two groups of Christians: liberals and fundamentalists. Farther than just Christians, this reﬂects onto the general American population regardless of religion, which has also become polarized under the terms “liberal” and “conservative.”
Biblical literalism has been used throughout American history to discriminate against people groups several times. It has been used to justify slavery, the denial of women’s rights, racism, and most recently, homophobia. It seems that groups focus their hatred toward one group of people, and when asked why, they just say, “Because the Bible says so,” with no other real justiﬁcation.
Most literalists just take what they hear from a sermon and use it as their justiﬁcation for discrimination without actually doing their homework on it, so to speak. Most literalists who write sermons will do what is called “cherry picking,” that is, taking verses out of context for the sake of their personal gain to prove a point.
That, in all reality, is entirely different from how the Bible intended it to be used. Theologians at PLNU agree that this “cherry picking” is “exceedingly wrong” and not how the Bible should be used (Powell, Smith). Still, this same group of people who use Scripture to condemn are quick to say that, “God loves all his children”, and that “Jesus believed in equality,” unless, of course, you’re gay, transgender, an outspoken woman, get an abortion, use contraceptives, or date someone of another race.
First, we must ask ourselves, “What does it mean to take the Bible literally?” The technical deﬁnition is, “The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning in which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take into account all ﬁgures of speech and literary forms found in the Bible” (Theopedia).
Has that left you confused? You’re not alone. In essence, this means that the Bible is interpreted strictly by what it says, including ﬁgures of speech. Do theologians agree with this method? No. Even Nazarene theologians and professors believe the Bible is, for the most part, up to interpretation. For instance, in Song of Solomon, the speaker says, “You are so handsome, my love! So charming! The green ﬁeld is our bed. Cedar trees above us are the beams of our house. Fir trees overhead are its rafters” (1:16-17). Does this mean the two lovers slept in a green ﬁeld and had a house made of ﬁr and cedar trees? Of course not!
To understand the roots of literalism, we have to explore its past. Before the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the pope, bishops, and other leaders of the church were the ones who interpreted the Bible and spoke with authority on church matters. But when the Bible was translated into the language of the people, and the priesthood of the believer was afﬁrmed, people of faith were free to study and interpret the Bible on their own. Applying methods of studying other literature to the Bible, biblical scholars and theologians began to examine the history and context of the ancient writing to better understand their meanings, an approach known as the historical-critical method.
Their studies led to new understandings and insights about Biblical teachings. However, by the mid-1800s, some evangelical Christians began to reject this approach and afﬁrmed that the Bible speaks clearly and plainly and means exactly what it says.
Soon, those who adhered to those beliefs became known as fundamentalists (Brookshire). The ﬁrst clear issue that divided Christians over the Bible was slavery in America. In fact, it’s why there are Northern and Southern Baptists (who didn’t apologize for using the Bible to justify slavery until 1995) as denominations instead of just “Baptists”.
Slave owners used passages from the Biblical books Ephesians and Titus to justify actions that are explicitly mentioned in the Bible as sinning (Brookshire). For slave owners, sins of murder, adultery, and likewise in the Bible that were committed against slaves weren’t really sins, as long as the Bible said slavery was okay. They used the Bible as their justiﬁcation instead of facing the truth of the matter: they were selﬁsh and greedy because they wanted slaves for free labor, maximum proﬁt for them, and they felt no shame in their actions.
Admittedly, it is just in human nature to be selﬁsh, but using the Bible as a justiﬁcation for slavery was an abhorrent distortion of the Bible’s intended use as a book of morals to live by.
Since then, we have also used the Bible to justify Native American genocide (1 Samuel), sexism against women (1 Timothy), child abuse (Proverbs 13), racism and segregation in the South (Acts, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy), interracial relationships (Acts, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy), denial of abortion and contraceptives for women (Hosea, 2 Kings), and most recently; homosexuality.
But what does the Bible really say about homosexuality? This is almost impossible for most Biblical scholars and theologians to answer because there is no simple answer; the most straightforward answer to this question is, “nothing.” In ancient times, the word “homosexuality” nor the idea of sexual orientation even existed, so even the few biblical references to sexual acts between people of the same sex or gender (in fact, there are only 6 of them), do not directly address our 21st-century questions.
There are entire books that examine these six passages and interpret them in light of their social, cultural, and historical contexts. First, the passages in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Timothy 1:10 should be excluded since it is unclear whether or not the issue is homosexuality, promiscuity, or prostitution.
Also, all references to Sodom and Gomorrah can also be omitted. In the Old Testament, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which has most often been used to condemn homosexuality, would be better used to talk about how we treat foreigners in our country (i.e. immigrants).
In the story, the city is destroyed because of the city’s general hostility towards outsiders, not because of homosexuality. The Jewish value of hospitality was absolutely pertinent, and therefore, the story was used in the Old Testament to teach it. Therefore, that actually leaves us with only three verses that explicitly and unequivocally condemn homosexuality (Wink).
Other scholars have noted that verses from Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 that are often cited to condemn homosexuality are part of a larger “Holiness Code” that governed life for priests in the Old Testament times. Most of these traditions we ignore as modern Christians, such as eating shellﬁsh and mixing fabrics. In the Gospels, Jesus never speaks about homosexuality.
All the New Testament passages used to condemn homosexuality come from Paul’s letters, which historians tell us were written in a time when sexual relationships were governed by status, not sex or gender.
In Paul’s time, there was no concept of sexual orientation — it would have been considered “natural” for free men to have sex with anyone, male or female, as long as they were inferior to them (Brookshire). Sex between men and women was acceptable because women were inferior (which is also why Paul condemns women speaking in church).
For those who consider the Scriptures in light of their historical and cultural contexts, answering questions regarding homosexuality is difﬁcult, because the Bible doesn’t speak openly or directly about same-sex relationships, or provide a single teaching about marriage. Hebrew society included polygamy, and Paul frowned upon marriage because he believed Jesus’ return was imminent. As one theologian puts it, “The Bible has no sexual ethic” (Crail).
So where does that leave us? Since most of us are not Biblical scholars, it’s hard to know how to understand the Bible and apply it to our world today. How should our experience inform our faith, especially when our experience seems to contradict what the Bible says? For the most part, articles and texts examining homosexuality as a sin boil down to, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and that it isn’t a sin to be gay; it is just a sin to act on it. Nevertheless, even the Nazarene denomination that we, at PLNU, identify with practices literalism, especially regarding homosexuality and transgenderism.
In Wesleyan articles online, there are very detailed and lengthy explanations on each topic, and why it is condemned, however, even these seem to contradict each other, and as one article puts it: “Some gay rights advocates contend that the Scriptures acknowledge multiple gender possibilities simply by mentioning examples from Scripture…however, the Bible also mentions incest, bestiality, male and female prostitutes, and other intentional distortions or disordering of the Creator’s intent” (wesleyan.org).
So, have we just stated that the Bible is completely invalid to prove the point that gay rights advocates cannot use Scripture to afﬁrm multiple gender identities? While using that logic, all Wesleyan arguments against homosexuality and transsexuality become invalid, since the Bible has just become completely invalid.
When interviewing people on what they were and were not taught in church, all of them reported being taught that suicide and homosexuality was a sin, but none reported being taught that eating shellﬁsh or mixing different kinds of fabrics were a sin (besides a seventh-day Adventist, who was taught eating shellﬁsh was wrong). However, the latter two also appear in the same book of the Bible.
Why would we comply with only some of God’s law and throw out the others? Picking and choosing what we decide to comply with and ignore is sheer hypocrisy. The Bible is clearly being manipulated to justify discrimination towards a minority, and not because “God says so.” If we followed all of God’s rules that most fundamentalist groups decide to ignore, we would be smited for wearing cashmere with polyester and having shrimp cocktails. The real issue isn’t whether or not the Bible says it’s okay; it’s methodical socially constructed hatred toward a group of people, but perhaps out of a lack of understanding, using the Bible as a defense mechanism.
Although not a justiﬁable reason to interpret the Bible literally, maybe it really is out of fear. We push out what we fear, and we twist things we believe in to say what we want it to say in order to make us feel safe. Perhaps the real problem this whole time has been that the Bible is being distorted to be used as a defense mechanism out of fear, not the justiﬁcation of contempt or hatred towards different people groups throughout the last two centuries.
Perhaps the people who are naysayers of the acceptance of the LGBTQ community just simply do not understand, and, therefore, project their lack of understanding (denial, fear, etc.) onto the affected group. However, this does not mean we can take away all accountability on their part. Using a holy book to justify one’s fear over trying to understand it is still, in the words of Dr. Robert Smith, “exceedingly wrong.” Some contest that this fear affects other’s personal lives, however there is no real need to be afraid. I fail to see how homosexuality affects someone else’s personal life. There has been no reason to discriminate against the LGBTQ community for any reason, regardless of one’s religion, because most religious people do not uphold everything their religion states evenly.
They ignore the parts that would be against how they please to live, yet would love to continue to tell others how to live their lives. If they honestly believe that LGBTQ humans deserve to be mistreated and denied basic human rights because their religion says so, they should uphold the other parts of their religion.
Don’t mix clothes, don’t get tattoos, etc. Otherwise, they're blatantly and unabashedly hypocritical beyond reasonable basis. In addition, saying, “We can’t be perfect, we’re going to sin,” is still not a viable defense; going off of what is stated in the Bible, all sins are treated equally, and Jesus died on the cross for peoples’ sins.
So, by that standard, one cannot judge homosexuals or those with different gender identities, for the orientation that God has imparted on someone is a decision from God that cannot be judged. In terms of legislation, the lines between separation of church and state are becoming more blurred in the U.S. as time goes on. Just last week, Charlotte, North Carolina passed a law allowing transgender people (part of the LGBTQ community) to use the bathroom they identify with.
The same day, the state house came together (during a recess, something they have not done in 30 years) to write legislation to make that law null and virtually any other anti-discrimination law in the state, including discrimination based on sex and race (NY Times). This bill gives the right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on a religious basis because it effectively prevents anti-discrimination laws from being passed by the local governing bodies. The governor should have vetoed this bill based on the mere fact that it’s unconstitutional and goes entirely against the basis of America. This discrimination law will no longer separate church and state; it’s an attempt to conjoin them. Lawful discrimination doesn’t change the fact that it is still immoral and doesn’t make it any less discriminatory.
Aside from being unconstitutional; it continues to push the agenda of hate, which is something we shouldn’t be pushing for. It sets a negative precedent and image of America that we shouldn’t be known for. They claim this is over the bathrooms and whether or not transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom with the gender they identify with, but this is the backdoor to further discrimination of the LGBTQ community. On an individual level, it’s dangerous not to allow them to use the bathroom they identify with because they could be harassed and victimized by entering the bathroom of their birth gender and not the one they identify with and dress as.
People are worried about predators using this as an excuse to sneak in and harass and sexually assault others, but the fact of the matter is: if someone is going to use a law to pretend to identify, they’re probably the type to dress up as the opposite gender and try it whether or not there’s a law in place. Finally, not everyone in America shares the same beliefs, so legislation should not be attempting to make everyone abide by a particular lifestyle. By trying to force others into a particular belief system, they are pushed further away and also having their life infringed upon, which is unconstitutional.
Having laws to legally discriminate against a group and their fundamental rights is unconstitutional, and has been shown time and time again by due process clause in the Bill of Rights and in famous Supreme court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, Lawrence v. Texas, and United States v. Windsor.
It can’t be said with certainty how the Bible should be interpreted in light of the issues that confront of today; in the absence of certainty, perhaps we should ask ourselves the famous question, “What would Jesus do?”. Time after time, Jesus chose inclusion over exclusion, compassion over contempt, and understanding over fear.
Exclusion, contempt, and fear all lead to depression and an overall sense of a lack of belonging. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among ages 10-24. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to their straight peers (CDC). In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBTQ youth in the U.S. (SPEAK).
Even more so, LGBTQ youth who come from rejecting families are eight times more likely to commit suicide (Family Acceptance Project), and nearly half of all transgender youth report having seriously contemplated suicide (Grossman). When young people are killing themselves because they have been taught that they are inferior, worthless, and condemned by the Bible, I think God’s heart breaks. God created all people with sacred worth (Galatians, Genesis, Romans), and all of God’s children deserve to hear that God loves them and does not reject them.
As Christians, and people who all essentially have the same belief (which is in God, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, etc.), we may not always agree, but what matters is not that we come to the same conclusions, but rather that we afﬁrm our unity even when we disagree. The Bible guides us all in our lives together; however, these are just words if we don’t embody them and bring them to life. Each of us is called out to live out these words in different ways, but my hope is that we can respect and trust each other to live them out in the ways God calls us to and that we don’t stop listening for the way God is still speaking to us.
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