Romans 1:18-27 may be the most-used Clobber Passage of all. Virtually all North American gay and lesbian believers, once their orientation is known, have received it in a cut-and-paste email from concerned friends and acquaintances. If you’ve spent much time in the blogs you have probably seen the passage pasted into a thread, as though it actually constituted communication, ministry, witnessing or something.
Evangelicals don’t realize they are using Romans 1 for the exact opposite purpose that Paul wrote it. But they continue this egregious perversion of the text without ceasing. Paul’s intention for writing Romans 1 is easily demonstrated, but I’m sure they will somehow manage to avoid using the passage for the purpose Paul intended.
For the typical conservative minister, the primary use for Romans 1 is to prove that homosexuality is a vile sin, which proves to them that they must under no circumstance tolerate unrepentant gays and lesbians in their churches or, for some, in their families.
In fairness I must acknowledge that some evangelicals do struggle with the position their denominations and congregations expect them to uphold. One example of a conservative denomination beginning to grapple with their addiction to intolerance and judgmentalism is the Church of the Nazarene. While their recently published Pastoral Perspectives on Homosexuality is woefully inadequate, it is a beginning, It is evidence that God is speaking to them, and some number of them are beginning to listen.
Evangelicals use this passage to prove that non-celibate homosexuals are condemned by God and should not be tolerated in the church. Using Romans 1 as a pretext to pronounce God’s condemnation on homosexuals is like using a trowel as though it were an axe. They use the passage to do the exact opposite for which Paul intended it. Quite simply, they completely ignore the immediate context.
Repeat after me: “You’re taking the passage out of context.”
Any summarizing discussion of Romans 1 takes the passage out of context when there is no mention of Romans 2:1-4, which actually continues to verse 11. In Romans 2:1 Paul gives the “therefore” which explains the purpose for everything in the previous chapter. The word “therefore” tells you the reason Paul wrote everything that came before it. Everything leading up to Romans 2:1 is foundational to this main point.
Romans 2:1ff is what Paul wanted you to walk away with when you were finished. The first verse of Romans 2 is actually the conclusion of Romans 1.
Paul wrote Romans 1:18–2:1 to urge us to stop judging one another, but we manage to use it as the basis for judging people big time.. Here is Romans 2:1 in three translations:
Therefore, you have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (NIV)
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (RSV)
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (KJV)
- Whereas all human beings are idolaters, and
- Whereas [most] human beings are fornicators, and
- Whereas [a few] human beings are homosexuals, and
- Whereas all human beings have a depraved mind,
- Therefore, stop judging one another.
So you see, in context, Paul was telling us that we are without excuse if, for example, we condemn homosexuals. because we are foolish gossips and heartless braggers, which are sins of the depraved, or useless. mind. (Interesting, the Greek word translated with the horrible sounding words “reprobate” and “depraved” means “useless.”)
Paul did NOT write Romans 1 to prove how wicked gays and lesbians are. He wrote it to urge us all to stop all the judging and condemnation. If you insist on using Romans 1 to prove how evil homosexuals are, then “You are without excuse,” because your judgment is “inexcusable” (KJV). There is no excuse for judging one another. We have been warned.
All of us must stop judging one another. And I really do mean all of us.
Repeat after me, “You’re taking the passage out of context. Paul wrote that to teach us that judging one another is inexcusable–Romans 2:1.”
And if they go off on a tangent to justify their judging, simply repeat:
“That’s an interesting question, but you are taking the passage out of context. Paul wrote that to teach us that judging one another is inexcusable–Romans 2:1.”
“That may be, but you are taking the passage out of context. Paul wrote that to teach us that judging one another is inexcusable–Romans 2:1.”
Repeat as needed. If they remember nothing else you’ve said, they will remember that.
Romans 1 concludes with one of Paul’s famous sin lists. As you read the list, make a mental note of how many may apply to you.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28:32)
Romans 2:1 says that the person who judges another person, homosexuals for example, condemns himself because he who judges does the same thing. An evangelical asks, “So how does that work? I have never had sex with a man, but Paul says that I’ve done the same things gays and lesbians have done. What’s with that?”
That is fairly easy to explain. Look at the long list of “sins of the depraved mind.” There’s quite a variety there. I’m guilty of about half of them. I’m sure my friends would say I’m being too hard on myself, but I know my own heart. If I’m going to be brutally honest, I experience at various times 1) greed, 2) envy, 3) strife, 4) deceit, 5) malice, 6) gossip, 7) insolence, 8) arrogant, 9) boastful, 10) inventing evil, 11) foolishness, and 12) heartlessness, not to mention the 13) lust mentioned in Romans 1.
These are all sins of the mind that is reprobate, depraved, and useless. And why exactly do I have a reprobate mind, the mind that makes me a gossip and a fool? Paul says it is because I “did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.”
Frankly this strikes me as a little odd, since I feel I do retain the knowledge of God, I do acknowledge God. It may mean that I am not consciously aware of God at all times, and those times when I am unaware of God cause me to slip back into my useless mind. There may be other explanations that work for other people.
What I have in common with murderers and liberals, rapists and fundamentalists, clergy and Jehovah’s Witnesses, is a depraved and useless mind.
It’s interesting. I’ve never had anyone say, “Ron, I’m concerned about you. You’re a gossip. Did you know that this is a sin of the depraved mind? Don’t you realize that because you gossip you deserve to die?”
“Ron, don’t you realize that your heartlessness toward that person is the product of a depraved and useless mind, and that because of it you deserve to die?”
“Ron, don’t you realize that the strife you cause is the product of a depraved and uesless mind, and that because of it you deserve to die?”
“Ron, don’t you realize that your foolishness is the product of a depraved and useless mind, and that because of it you deserve to die?”
But we are willing to mete out this logic of condemnation on others.
I know some of this sounds silly, but these sins of the depraved and useless mind really are the basis for Paul’s assertion that “you who pass judgment do the same things.”
And we all take turns forgetting to acknowledge God.
[Note: I know that many of you will find this discussion inadequate because it leave gays and lesbians as “sinners,” and this is not acceptable to you. Well, it’s not acceptable to me either. I don’t believe that same-sex relationships are sinful, any more than heterosexual ones, which is why I am demonstrating the falsity of the Clobber Passages.
I may be wrong, and I’m sure many of you are certain that I am, but my suspicion is that Paul himself did believe that same-sex relationships were wrong, but he also believed that women were to keep silent in the church with their heads covered. If I am wrong, so be it, and please continue to share your understanding of what Paul is talking about with all that difficult language of his in your various venues.
I am also convinced that most gay males do not go through universal descent into sin described in Romans 1. I am persuaded that genetic, prenatal, and environmental factors are at work. But you know what? The why doesn’t even matter to me. The overwhelming testimony in the gospels and epistles tell me not to judge and condemn. The topic of this post is to demonstrate the perverse misuse of Romans 1.
I have not analyzed the passage itself, but rather have refuted the use made of the passage by means of it’s context.
What I think we agree on is that Christians are to refrain from judging and condemning one another. I am certain, from the passage’s subsequent context, that Paul did not want us judging and condemning gays and lesbians.
[For more posts on the Clobber Passages, click here.]
[For posts on Gays and Lesbians in Luke, click here.]
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