I received a comment from a reader named Sheree on Sunday. She discusses some important topics, and I want to give her as full a reply as possible.
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I want to thank you for posting your comment. You brought up a number of things that deserve response.
I have really been struggling with the issue of homosexual “marriage” and the claims of bigotry that are being aimed at Christians who support keeping marriage as defined between a man and a woman.
One of the key things to nail down in all of this is to know what the words “bigot” and “bigotry” actually mean. Once we’ve looked at these words, we can figure out several things. First, individuals can figure out for themselves whether or not they are bigots. Second, individuals can determine to whom these words actually apply. Related to this is a third, individuals can decide how they, or their group, might be perceived as bigoted.
Bigot: A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to their own group, religion, race, or politics and to its opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of another group with hatred and intolerance.
Bigotry: Obtuse or narrow-minded intolerance, especially of other races or religions.
Sheree, let me focus on one element here, the hatred and intolerance. I’m sure you remember I John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Love is not a matter of words and speech, but of actions and truth. The same holds true of hatred and intolerance. If our actions are hateful and intolerant, but our words speak of love, then our actions expose our words as being false. I hesitate to use the word “lies” here, because I think self-deception should be treated differently.
American society is not viewed as bigoted, hateful, and intolerant based on the single issue of marriage equality. The U.S. has a long history of bigotry and hateful, intolerant actions against gays and lesbians. In 1953, less than sixty years ago, President Eisenhower signed executive order 10450, making it illegal for homosexuals to be employed anywhere in the federal government: post office, coast guard, national parks, anywhere. This was one of the main causes for being “in the closet”: you could be fired from your job for being gay. And hundreds of people were. Before 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state and was punishable by long prison sentences and/or hard labor. In California, my home state, the Briggs Initiative was on the ballot in 1978. The Briggs Initiative would have made it illegal for gays or lesbians to teach in the public schools, and would have required that they be fired. Ronald Reagan argued against the Briggs Initiative. It wasn’t until 2003 that anti-sodomy laws were finally ruled unconstititutional. At the time, sodomy was still a felony in 23 states. Today, despite the Supreme Court decision, sodomy is still on the law books as a felony in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Florida legally prohibited gay and lesbian couples from adopting children for 33 years, and not until 2010 was the ban was overturned.
This is not ancient history, Sherree. Many of us were alive when all this occurred. Heterosexuals may not be familiar with the details of the campaign, but the people against whom it was direct, gays and lesbians, are well aware of it, especially the older ones. They lived through it.
Sheree, if my career had been jeopardized by President Eisenhower or the Briggs Initiative, if I could have been put in jail for how I made love to my partner, if my ability to adopt children was prohibited by law, I would feel like the people behind these policies hated me. On a personal level, it can only feel like hatred when the policies are directed at you, no matter what people say.
When California voters passed Proposition 8, which overturned the right of same-sex couples to marry, I remember a lesbian believer in the midwest posting on Facebook, “They really do hate us.”
I think you can see that this anti-homosexual campaign could only be perceived as hateful and intolerant. Was it in reality hateful and intolerant? I believe it was–unquestionably hateful and intolerant. You may think otherwise.
People may not feel like they hate some small group of people, but if that large group of people and their leaders are at the forefront of a sustained legal attack on that minority for over sixty years, then they should not be surprised or offended when they are called “bigots.”
I think it is a real stretch under any interpretation to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. While all have sinned (in various ways) and fallen short of the glory of God, the main difference I see here is the attempt to justify homosexuality and thus refuse to repent and seek the forgiveness that God so freely gives.
Sheree, your right to religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, and your beliefs about homosexuality are protected. I don’t think there are many people who disagree that no one is perfect. The Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, which means “to miss the mark.” Everyone, whether they are Christians or not, would admit they don’t always measure up to even their own personal standards, which even Paul says is a legitimate standard. “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it.” (Romans 2:14)
No one is requiring you to “justify homosexuality.”
Likewise, gay and lesbian believers don’t need to justify themselves to you or your church. They can say, like Paul, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” Furthermore Paul warns us, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
You will stand, Sheree. I will stand. My 8 million gay brothers and sisters will stand, because the Lord is able to make all of us stand.
Sheree, if your church shares your belief that homosexuality is a sin that must be repented of in order to either be saved or to be accepted in your church, your right to believe that is guaranteed by the constititution and by God. You don’t have to change your beliefs. You and your church have the right to enforce that rule in your congregation, in your personal lives, and the right to live by it. You are not accountable to me; you are accountable to God. And I’m sure you know that this works both ways.
You and your church also have to right to vote according to your beliefs, no matter where you get your beliefs from. It’s silly for anyone to say you can’t vote according to your system of right and wrong, no matter what your beliefs are based on. It is obvious that people vote based on their politics, their personal philosophy, their religion, their self-interest, whatever.
I believe what you need to ask yourself is what you should do personally. Let me get Biblical again for a moment. In I Corinthians Paul said, “All things are lawful.” This is the foundation of Christian liberty, and is in turn founded on what it says in Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” which emphasizes opposite actions. God can call two Christians to work at apparent cross-purposes, pursuing what look like contradictory goals.
Paul says “All things are lawful for me,” but then he adds a bunch of “buts.” “But not all things are helpful.” “But not all things are edifying.” “But not all things are expedient.” “But I will not be dominated by anything.” Anything is lawful for Christians to do, but our personal criteria for whether we do something or not is based on whether or not it is helpful, edifying, and expedient. (I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23)
Sheree, since “All things are lawful” for us, it’s up to us to figure out for ourselves, with the Spirit’s guidance, what is personally helpful, what is personally edifying (strengthening), what is personally expedient, what keeps us personally under something’s domination. Personally? Absolutely. Paul wrote, “But I will not be dominated by anything.”
As Christians, we are called to live righteous lives and we do so to honor Christ. We will fall down in our sinful nature repeatedly, but we will seek forgiveness at the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing to add here, Sheree. You need to live a righteous, Christ-honoring life, and turn again to God when you stumble and fall. “Though you fall, you shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth you with his hand.”
So, should Christians avoid the controversy and the bigotry label by just laying low and essentially condoning gay marriage in the guise of loving everyone as Jesus would have loved? I don’t think so. Jesus loved the money changers in the temple, but demonstrated his disagreement. Time and again, he demonstrated love for the sinners, but called them to repentance for forgiveness of their sins. The media has given our children such a distorted view of life now that “anything goes”. Condoning gay marriage is just one more step further away from the life God intended for his children.
Sheree, here’s where I have somewhat to say. I am a Christian, and I believe in marriage equality. When my son finds a suitable partner, I want him to be able to get married, just like his two older sisters. I want him to have the same committed, loving, stable relationship that my wife and I have–hopefully even better!
First of all, I don’t support marriage equality in order to avoid controversy or avoid being called a bigot. Anyone who “avoids controversy” out of fear is a coward, and the Book of Revelation says of cowards, “their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” (Revelation 21:8) On the other hand, we are encouraged to be at peace with others insofar as it depends on us. “A time for war, a time for peace.” A time for controversy, a time for calm.
Sheree, Christians who campaign for marriage equality and believe in gay rights do so because they believe it is the right thing to do, the just thing to do. I would be violating my conscience if I did not speak out on this issue. The people you’ve been listening to would like you to believe that, among Christians, only cowards support marriage equality, only people afraid of not being “P.C.” support marriage equality, only people who can’t take criticism support marriage equality.
This is a lie. Well, let me be fair. It’s propaganda. It only works if “you’re preaching to the choir.”
Sheree, life outside of a religious community has always been characterized by “anything goes.” The song Anything Goes itself was written in 1934, long before the much-maligned influence of the “media.” In the days of the Judges someone complained that there was no king in Israel, and that “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25) Plato (424 BCE) complained about the youth of the day: “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What will become of them?” These complaints about anarchy and chaos are quite common historically, and they resonate for the older citizens among us, myself included.
Sheree, Jesus did drive the money-changers out of the temple. He expressed strong disapproval of their actions. But notice, Jesus didn’t drive money-changers out of Rome, or Marrakesh, or Athens. He drove them out of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was Jesus’ own religious community. For you, if you and your church feel called to this ministry, then this means that you drive the wicked out of your own church, your own denomination. Jesus didn’t drive money-changers out of a non-Jewish place.
And Sheree, please get this. You’re interested in preaching repentance to sinners. All of Matthew 23 is polemic directed at the scribes and Pharisees, the Bible experts, the religious leaders. There are nearly 100 references to the Pharisees in the gospels, nearly all of them critical and negative. On the other hand, only one “sinner” was ever told, “go and sin no more.” And Jesus didn’t utter a single critical word to the woman at the well. She had been married five times, was currently cohabiting with a man not her husband, and was probably a prostitute. He didn’t criticize her, didn’t tell her, “Go and sin no more.” He just told her about himself. When Jesus talked about Sodom, he didn’t mention homosexuality or immorality at all. What we focus on so much today is not what Jesus focused on.
We need to emphasize what Jesus emphasized. If we’re going to have truly “Christ-like” lives and ministries, then our emphasis should pretty much be what his was.
Jesus tore into a corrupt, self-serving clergy. He criticized pastors and theologians who profited from their position in the religious establishment without helping the people one iota. Jesus publicly criticized and rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, repeatedly, in front of their “parishoners,” until the leaders finally had enough.
These religious leaders were the ones leveling the charges at the woman caught in adultery. These religious leaders were the ones criticizing the (probably wayward) woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. These were the ones criticizing Jesus for being a “wine-bibber and a glutton” and for eating with “publicans and sinners.” In their arrogance they were condescending and insulting to the “unwashed masses.”
Sheree, I know you want to live a righteous life, that you want to be Christ-like. Please look at the difference between who you’ve been taught to attack, and who Jesus attacked. The primary group of sinners Jesus called to repentance were religious leaders. “Go thou and do likewise.”
You said that “Condoning gay marriage is just one more step further away from the life God intended for his children.” This kind of reasoning seems to me to be identical that of people who didn’t “condone” interracial marriage, and based that belief on the Bible. I’m sure you know that interracial marriage was once illegal in most of the United States. Interracial couples simply could not get married, and were forced to cohabit without the blessings, benefits, and protections of marriage. Although many states repealed their anti-miscegenation laws over the years, it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that these laws were unconstitutional.
It doesn’t matter that an unjust law can be supported from the Bible. Even if something seems right as rain to the majority of people, and has Biblical support for it, if a policy or a campaign targets oppression at individuals with certain characteristics or groups of people, then it’s bigotry.
Sheree, people aren’t going to wait around until everyone else feels “comfortable” with their marriage partner, and we shouldn’t expect them to, either. If a church chooses not to conduct same-sex weddings, so be it. There is nothing in the law that requires any pastor to automatically marry any two people who ask.
My father-in-law is a retired pastor, and he always had the right to refuse to officiate at a wedding. For theological reasons, he would marry two non-Christians, or two Christians, but he would not marry a Christian and a non-Christian. That was his right. None of that is going to change, no matter what inflated rhetoric you’ve heard. That is a political reality.
Still, I struggle with how to handle these issues with the same love that Jesus would have shown. What so many seem to miss is that it doesn’t do much good to quote scripture to a non-believer, since the Bible holds no authority to them.
We’re not talking about a black-and-white, either/or question, but these so-called “issues” are in large part a matter of politics, and the questions we need to answer are the ones I mentioned earlier. Is your personal struggle with the “homosexual marriage” political issue helpful for you? Is it profitable for you? Is it expedient for you? Is it helpful, profitable, or expedient for us to invest the amount of emotional energy it takes to deal with this? Some will answer yes, others will answer no. But all of us need to answer the question for ourselves.
And there’s the subject of bigotry, of hateful and intolerant campaigns. From the church’s perspective, is it helpful, profitable, or expedient for the churches of God to continue to participate in this 60-year campaign aimed at restricting the personal freedom and career freedom of gays and lesbians, to the point of incarcerating them in prison? There are, after all, political parties that would re-criminalize sodomy. (I have the Texas Republican Party in mind.)
Jesus allowed people to ignore his message, to walk away, to turn around and just walk away. He was content to minister to those who came to him willingly. Many Christians are not willing to follow Jesus’ example in this, to let people ignore their message, to simply walk away. They want to force people, both believers and non-believers, to conform to their religious beliefs on this issue. They want to use the coercive power of the government against people. Maybe not you, but there are so-called Christian people in the United States who would execute “practicing homosexuals.”
Remember the main reasons people say that the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah? Because they were looking for an earthly kingdom, they wanted to be out from under the rulership of gentiles. Jesus was not their political, kingly deliverer, and many believe that this is why Jesus was rejected as the Jewish Messiah.
When we look to political power to solve our problems, we reject Christ as Messiah. We reject his actual modus operandi, his way of working. It is enough for us to be like the Master, our Teacher. Our love of power threatens to destroy the work of Christ in the world, destroy many ministries, and destroy the testimony of the Church. Remember these words of Jesus:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Your brother in Christ,
[Edited 8/7/2012 to correct spelling of Sheree’s name. Mea culpa.]
An excellent response, Ron. I hope that Sherree will read and comment.
To me, her most telling words are these: “Still, I struggle with how to handle these issues with the same love that Jesus would have shown. What so many seem to miss is that it doesn’t do much good to quote scripture to a non-believer, since the Bible holds no authority to them.”
Clearly, she understands that not everyone marches to the same drummer, and we should not expect others to follow the path that we have chosen as our own. Families have their own “rules,” and do not (ideally) attempt to impose them on other families. Corporations have their own rules. Cities, states, nations – all have their own rules (laws). People can be punished if they violate those rules while they are in those locales. But I cannot be punished in Oregon for violating a “rule” that exists in Florida.
So, each of us must understand that while we must follow – or change – the rules of our communities, we should not expect those who don’t live under those same rules to follow them. At its most basic, it is the rule of “live and let live.” Or, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I like your description of how rules differ from place to place. And often those rules are not simply arbitrary; there are actual factors in the environment that require those different rules. That helps me accept regional differences that otherwise leave me shaking my head in disbelief.
Marriage is Adam and Eve
God made Marriage for one man to one woman
[edited for length and unattributed plagiarism]
Sherree, if you’re going to use the bible, particularly the Old Testament, to justify your hatred of gays or lesbians (or both), then please do me (and every other heterosexual Christian) a favor. DON’T publicly call yourself a Christian. It confuses the media. They then lump my friends and me in with you, and make us out to be bigots when we’re not. Thank you very much.
This is one of the best articles I have read this year. Thank you for such a clear perspective
You’re welcome, Virginia.
Thank you, Ron!
Glad you liked it, Gary!
Cheryle said: “At its most basic, it is the rule of “live and let live.” Or, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I would agree, Cheryle. I believe Jesus left us with a Law. One Law: Love thy neighbor as thyself. This is the Law Jesus gave when he was asked what one must do to inherit life. He didn’t say, “Accept me as your Lord and Savior.” He didn’t say, “Become a Christian!” He said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” What does that have to do with the gay marriage issue? To me, it means if you are a heterosexual person and you want the right to be able to marry the person of your choosing, then loving your neighbor as yourself would mean that you would allow someone else to also be able to marry the person of their own choosing. That’s how I see it.
Not factually correct. When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?” (because the Old Testament, which Jesus would have referred to as the Scriptures, had literally hundreds), he said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your soul and all you mind. And the second greatest was just like it; Love your neighbor as yourself. The two are linked. Because we are loving God with all of our everything, we must love the things that He loves. And He happens to love our neighbor as much as He loves us. And then Jesus said something interesting. He said “All of the law and the prophets hang from these two commandments.”
Jesus never said do unto others as you would have them do unto you, although that is how many have interpreted his words.
Chris, I think you may have missed Luke 6:31 — “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV)
True. I stand corrected.
What Jesus, actually, said was, to love God and the second is its equivalent: love thy neighbor as thyself. Read Matthew chapter 25’s goats and sheep story and you will find his confirmation that when you love your fellow man, you are loving God in the process. Thanks.
Would you please cite the Bible verse that discusses this one law of Jesus? Thank you very much.
Jesus taught that the entire Law and the Prophets could be distilled into two commands.
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 34-40)
This was not a new concept, by the way. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins this way:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25ff
Please see Luke 6:31
New International Version (NIV)
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
New International Version (NIV)
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Ron, this passage is about how to treat our enemies
27 ¶ But I say vnto you which heare, Loue your enemies, doe good to them which hate you,
28 Blesse them that curse you, & pray for them which despitefully vse you.
29 And vnto him that smiteth thee on the one cheeke, offer also the other: and him that taketh away thy cloake, forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 Giue to euery man that asketh of thee, and of him that taketh away thy goods, aske them not againe.
31And as yee would that men should doe to you, doe yee also to them likewise.
32 For if yee loue them which loue you, what thanke haue ye? for sinners also loue those that loue them.
33 And if ye doe good to them which doe good to you, What thanke haue ye? for sinners also doe euen the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receiue, What thanke haue ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receiue as much againe.
35 But loue yee your enemies, and doe good, and lend, hoping for nothing againe: and your reward shall bee great, and ye shalbe the children of the Highest: for hee is kinde vnto the vnthankfull, and to the euill.
Thanks for another great article! I so enjoy your perspective.
Thanks for the note, April. I always appreciate an exclamation mark!
Thank you so much for this well written, heartfelt article.
Y’er welcome! And thanks for stopping in!
I think Sherree should understand that same-sex marriage is not condemned by either the Hebrew or Christian Bibles. It is never discussed. The only thing that is frowned upon (condemned would be far too strong a word) is casual homosexual sexual relations. These are treated similarly to casual heterosexual sexual relations. The Bible is opposed to both. But while same-sex marriage is not discussed in the Bible, same-sex committed relationships are discussed in both the Hebrew and Christian Bible. And in both bibles, these relations are looked upon favorably. For more on this, see my blog Same-Sex Marriage and the Bible at http://sacredpause-roger.blogspot.com/2012/07/same-sex-marriage-and-bible.html.
Thanks for the input and the link to your post, Roger. Your post has some excellent information in it, and I recommend that folks check it out. Blessings!
Thank you for bringing this important topic to light. May your writings continue to bring reconciliation to a world divided. God be with you!
One of the best-laid-out answers to those who think like Sherree that I’ve ever read. So many of my Christian friends argue with me that unless I am aggressively promoting (their flavor of) Christianity to my non-believing friends, I am, essentially, condemning them to eternal punishment. They contend, as Sherree does, that the only way to show true love to homosexuals is to convict them of the sinfulness of their “choice”. Even if they allow that some people are genetically homosexual, they insist that we must tell them that their “lifestyle” is like a heterosexual man — genetically disposed to seek sexual relations with women — who cheats on his wife.
I will re-read your post again and again, because it is so full of wisdom. Thank you.
Well David, there was something spontaneous and honest about what Sherree wrote that made me feel that seriously engaging with her was worth the time. I believe its important to take people at their word about their own feelings and dilemmas.
I’m gratified that there was something here you want to go back to and read over. That makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
In the NRSV English translation of the Torah – in those books we call Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – we find two verses prohibiting only the men of ancient Israel (not the women and not different-gendered couples) from participating in a certain sex act more for reasons of national identity than personal or societal morality. Both verses seem to be written with the understanding that in a different cultural or generational context, such a prohibition might not be relevant or applicable.
In connection with the discussion in our age, some people say that homosexuality is immoral. This especially comes up when people on the other side of the issue say to these people that discrimination against homosexuals is the same as discrimination against people of other races of religions. They respond that the difference is that homosexuality is immoral. So the question is: what is immoral about it? … The law does not say. It just says that homosexual acts are a tōʻēbāh. But, as we shall discuss below, the word tōʻēbāh does not mean that something is immoral. It means that it offends some group. In the absence of the obvious harm that other laws involve, we cannot conclude that this law regards homosexuality as immoral. It regards it as offending. [The Bible Now, Richard Elliott Friedman & Shawna Dolansky, p. 19]
The text identifies male homosexuality by the technical term tōʻēbāh, translated in English as “an offensive thing” or “an abomination.” This is important because most things that are forbidden in biblical law are not identified with this word. In both of our contexts in Leviticus (chapters 18 and 20), male homosexuality is the only [specific] act to be called this. (Other acts are included broadly in a line at the end of chapter 18.) So this term, which is an important one in the Bible in general, is particularly important with regard to the law about male homosexual acts. The question is: is the term tōʻēbāh an absolute – meaning that an act that is a tōʻēbāh is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise? Or is the term relative, meaning that something that is a tōʻēbāh to one person may not be offensive in another, or something that is a tōʻēbāh in one culture may not be offensive in another, or something that is a tōʻēbāh in one generation or time period may not be offensive in another – in which case the law may change as people’s perceptions change?
Elsewhere in the Bible the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is they should say that they are cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (tōʻēbāh) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites of Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians do not eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (tōʻēbāh) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and do not find it offensive. See also the story of the exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (tōʻēbāh) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.
Now one might respond that the law here is different because it concerns an offensive thing to God – and therefore not subject to the relativity of human values. But that is not the case here. The bible specifically identifies such laws about thing that are divine offenses with the phrase “an offensive thing to the LORD” (tōʻēbāt yhwh). That phrase is not used here in the law about male homosexual acts. It is not one of the laws against things that are identified as a tōʻēbāh to God!
If this is right, then it is an amazing irony. Calling male homosexual acts a tōʻēbāh was precisely what made the biblical text seems so absolutely anti-homosexual and without the possibility of change. But it is precisely the fact of tōʻēbāh that opens the possibility of the law’s change. So whatever position one takes on this matter, Left or Right, conservative or liberal, one should acknowledge that the law really does forbid homosexual sex – between males but not between females. And one should recognize that the biblical prohibition is not one that is eternal and unchanging. The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive. [The Bible Now, Richard Elliott Friedman & Shawna Dolansky, pp. 35-38]
Doug, thanks for this discussion on the Hebrew meaning of the word translated as “abomination.” Our word really has accreted meanings and connotations totally absent from the Hebrew. Excellent and helpful!
tōʻēbāh looks an awful lot like the word “taboo”. “Taboo” is also extremely culture- and perspective-specific. Just the linguist in me speaking up…. A fascinating addition to the discussion, Doug. I had not fully processed that the word was sometimes used in the sense of “abomination [to someone]” and “abomination to God”. But again, even in English, this is here, in most translations of the Bible: “for this is an abomination”, versus, “it is abomination in the sight of the Lord”.
Thank you, Ron. I enjoyed several of your posts in here, and I was directed to all of them by a friend on Facebook whose homepage carried reference to this very article. Not that I have much time to spare on sitting around reading blogs (who does, really?), but I will make a point of returning to this one. I love a well-reasoned linguistics argument.
I’m not a linguist, but those English and Hebrew words do look mighty similar.
And the word “abomination” has taken on a life of its own in 400 years of Englsh usage, going from “unknown” or “offensive” in the original Hebrew to “something so wicked that God despises it and will never change his mind about.”
I’m glad you’re getting something good out of the time you spend here!
Ron – what an amazing, heartfelt, well written article. I just came across your blog on Christian Bloggers Network, and will be following your posts! 🙂 Awesome perspective and your indulgent tolerance of this issue and how you responded to Sheree’s questions was awe-inspiring.
I have this bad habit of going onto sites and discussion threads where lots of hostile words are thrown in my direction (false teacher, demonic, false prophet, wolf in sheep’s clothes, deluded, etc.). But Sherree’s comments were totally devoid of that kind of hyperbole and name-calling. Compared to them, Sherree was a nice person to interact with. I’m glad it resonated for you, Sarah.
Her questions were a bit “misguided” maybe (In my personal opinion) but she seemed earnest to get an answer – to try to hear and understand your point of view. I hope she read your answer because it was very well versed, and I hope she grasps it and considers it. One of the hardest tasks we have is showing other Christians when they might be in the wrong… and for me, this is one area that I feel most conservative Christians have taken the wrong road on.
I think the word “bigot” is pretty vague, and associates two concepts that are not equivalent: hatred & intolerance. Granted, there is a strong correlation between the two; but it is possible to have one but not the other. I may hate Christian fundamentalism, but I will not practice intolerance of it by voting to take away fundamentalists’ right to practice their religion. Alternately, it is possible for people who are intolerant to have other motives – ignorance, for instance, or misguided beliefs.
We may be inclined to call the people, who, say, voted for California’s Prop 8 hateful – but that is making a judgment about their motives. I think a better word for these kinds of laws (sodomy laws; bans on gay marriage; bans on employing gays) is OPPRESSION; and those who support them are oppressors. This word carries the weight appropriate to the cruelty and injustice of the actions, without speculating about the motives of the oppressors – which are, after all, secondary to the effects of the oppression. It also makes an implicit distinction between someone who, for whatever reason, has a personal and/or “moral” objection to homosexuality, and one who seeks to infringe upon the liberties of others by force of law.
I’m not sure Ron created the term bigot. It does have a specific, historical meaning, and I think Ron laid out pretty well how that applies to the people being discussed here. Sure, oppressor fits for those whose intent you are uncertain about. But we often do know the intent of the folks being labeled bigots, and it is because of both their conscious hatred AND intolerance that use of that term is absolutely appropriate. I have yet to encounter someone who has a personal or moral objection to homosexuality who was also not quite adamant about their desire to infringe on the liberties of homosexuals by force of law. So to me your label of oppressor seems to apply only to a non-existent group of people..
First of all, storm, my label “oppressor” applies to anyone who seeks to infringe on basic civil liberties by force of law – regardless of their motives. As such, it clearly applies to a very large group of people – regardless of whether or not there’s anybody who “has a personal or moral objection to homosexuality who was also not quite adamant about their desire to infringe on the liberties of homosexuals by force of law”.
Second, I can personally testify to the existence of such people – I’ve known a number of them, and I could rattle off several names (indeed, I, myself, once saw things that way). In particular, I’ve come across a number of theologically conservative Christians who feel bound by their beliefs in biblical authority to judge practicing homosexuality as being immoral, but who, for reasons of civil liberty, refuse to support treating gays differently under the law (this includes voting against marriage & adoption discrimination). Such Christians tend to be somewhat conflicted about their beliefs, than those I’d describe as “oppressors”.
I can’t say why you’ve never encountered anyone like that. Perhaps it depends on what region of the country you’re in, or what kind of town you’re in.
FABULOUS, well-written piece! Simply wonderful. Thank you so much; I will now proceed to share!
Well, thanks for the “all caps praise”! It’s always nice to be appreciated, of course. And thanks for sharing the link with your friends. I posted this piece this morning about 8:00 a.m., and it’s now 8:45 a.m. I’ve had more than 2,000 view of this post so far, and am inching toward 3,000 views for the whole site today. Your sharing the link with your friends has helped me have “a personal best.” But that isn’t as important as you expressing your appreciation. Thanks very much.
I have a friend who is very frustrated, sad, and angry that Christians in China can’t openly worship. She thinks its cruel and unfair. Ironically, she feels very much like Sherree and is in the thick of the anti-gay movement. What so many Christians fail to see is that theirs is just one choice of many. Sure it means a lot to them but that doesn’t give them a right to trample over other people. The golden rule should always be in play. For a religion charged with saving everyone’s soul, there are a lot of Christians turning people off and away from the faith. Where’s the kindness, love, and compassion? Where’s the humility? You’re not the only game in town.
Jamie, unfortunately people get fired up and enthusiastic with angry, intolerant preaching, whereas humility and compassion doesn’t tend to pull in the crowds. Although I guess that’s changing in terms of some very successful television preaching. We could all do with more kindness, love, compassion, and humility, that’s for sure.
I’m not sure where your friend gets her information about the church in China, probably from Voice of the Martyrs. My understanding is that the house church movement in China is very successful. I think leaving the building in favor of the living room is an excellent idea, whether you’re being persecuted or not. But I’m not really following the situation in China. VoM has always struck me as a vehicle for patriotic, anti-Communist propaganda. I don’t know how they have evolved since the 1970’s, however. I would, however, give you odds that the new focus is Islamic persecution of Christians. My impression is that they tend to follow whoever our national enemies are and focus on them.
Ron, this is really beautifully thought, and written. Thank you for this article, which I am going to save for the purpose of sharing with others.
Well thank you, Jay. If you’d let me know what kind of reception it receives when you share it, I’d appreciate it. Do you have someone particular in mind?
Thank you again for your sincere and insightful response to Sherree, but once again I would appreciate being able give a response of my own, since I believe that much of the misunderstanding and “anti-gay” attitude could be ameliorated with a better understanding of
Scripture that can be attained by utilizing the biblical scholarship of the last 150 years to try and get us to a better understanding of the Bible for us in the 21st century.
When I was a child back in the 1930s and 1940s, (knowing by the time I was 8 that I was “one of them”) I was threatened and overwhelmed, not so much by the the laws and initiatives, but by the vitriol I heard, as a “different” child, in my “loving, Christ-like religious environment.” I heard all the death threats claimed to be in the Bible for people like me and the claims that my homosexuality was a learned “behavior.” From whom would I have learned it if I did not meet anyone I knew to be like me until the late 1970s?
But as I have aged, I have just really wearied of having to explain to other Christians about myself and my orientation. I am simply the person that I believe God created me to be. If I am a “sinner” as a result, neither the Sherees nor other Christians will have to stand in judgment (if there is one) for my life. It is just I who will be responsible.
The following is something I wrote on my Facebook wall early in 2011 in response to persistent questions about my “chosen lifestyle.” I hope you will deem if fit to share with your readers.
As many of you know, I am an 80 year-old gay male living alone after the death of my beloved nearly two years ago. In my twilight years, and especially in the 21st century, I really don’t find it necessary to defend who I am and what I have become. I am just one happy guy still involved in the experiences of life and basking in the memories of the preceding 80 years.
Yet, even at this age and in this century, I still receive inquiries like the following and I want to put an answer out here so that any who wish may see my response. Some of you may know also that I was a Southern Baptist minister for a number of years during the last century. It is from my life in that capacity that I receive the most inquiries and to a degree I believe they are legitimate, especially when one comes along under the subject heading: “Educate me.” I believe that is the primary way that those of the heterosexual “lifestyle” will gain greater understanding of who I am and why. I want to give their sincere searches the attention they merit.
My response may at times sound flippant or condescending, but it is not intended to be that at all. (If you, as a reader, are offended, please accept my apology up front.) It may demonstrate my weariness at being asked the same question year after year when there is such an abundance of written material available to those who sincerely want answers. But I will address the question from my perspective – the only one to which I can truly speak.
Late last night (2/20/2011) I received the following via Facebook. It is from someone in my “ministerial” past. I present it to you verbatim:
Hi, Ted. I’ve been wondering about something and finally am getting down to just asking you about it. I only want to get a better understanding; I’m not being judgmental. How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin. I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue. Just wondering.
Six sentences about which books, theses and dissertations have been written, have been directed at me on Facebook where the normal response is limited to some 400-500 characters, not words. That is why I have chosen the format of a “note” that I can post on my wall. I hope it will provide the inquirer, and others who may read this, with a “better understanding.”
I always have to smile when I read, “your practice of homosexuality.” It is almost like there is the belief – though I am confident that is not the case — that at some point in my life I chose to get a degree in homosexuality so that I could take the state exam, get my license and then open up my office to practice. It seems similar to someone who might at some point choose to pursue a career in medicine or law and who chooses classes that will provide a solid background for the rigors of either a medical school or a law school curriculum.
Such is not the case with my homosexuality. I did not wake up one morning and decide that I would be homosexual and set about learning what I needed to know so that I could “practice” my sexuality. When my family asked me what I was planning on doing with my life, I did not say, “Oh, I think I will be a homosexual even though it will take years of study.” Being homosexual is what I am, not something I became or something I practice. Too, I don’t need to “practice” my homosexuality any longer since I am really quite proficient and professional in my ability to be gay.
I cannot remember when I was not homosexual. I may not have known the vocabulary that is available now but I did know that I was different before I entered grammar school. I discovered what that difference was a year or two later. There were no role models in Tennessee back in the 1930s so I lived a life of abject loneliness and sexual abstinence until I screwed up (Freudian choice of words?) the courage to come out when I was a few weeks shy of my 47th birthday and after I had left the ministry.
At that point I became a more serious student of scripture than I had ever been before. I did not read the Bible and simply say, “That’s what that means.” I began the kind of study that necessitated a lot of hard work since it required looking at it in the context of the time and customs when it was written, not just my reading it and interpreting it as I saw fit. I read books by scholars who were on both sides of right/wrong controversy where my sexuality was concerned. After years, I became convinced that what those scholars said — who were much more intelligent and versed in scripture than I – was true. “If you want to find a book that condemns homosexuality as an orientation, you must look somewhere else other than in the Bible.”
If we look at scripture in that manner we will find that many of the instances where a verse or two look as if they were condemning homosexual orientation, they were really polemics against idolatry, sexual abuse, inhospitality and other such subjects. We need to look at all of scripture in its historical context to better understand what the writing was saying then and determine what it means in the context of 21st century life.
When an inquirer states, “I am not being judgmental,” I begin looking for the judgment that undoubtedly will come, if not immediately, then certainly, soon. That happened in this inquiry as well. Notice the reference to “sin.” The statements, “How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin. I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue,” say, in essence, “I make changes and you haven’t” or “my repentance has been more effective than yours.” Reminds me of the little ditty we used to chant after Sunday school as children back in the dark ages: “We don’t smoke and we don’t chew and we don’t go with girls who do. Our class won the Bible.”
If we are speaking in theological terms, then, yes, I am a sinner. But my sin is not my homosexuality. The inquirer seems to define homosexuality as a behavior that is interpreted as sin. I did not engage in “homosexual behavior” until I was 47 years old. Does that mean that, even though I was homosexual all those years before, I did not become the sinner until I engaged in the behavior defined as sin? Does it mean that since I am now alone again and “not practicing my homosexuality” I am no longer a sinner? I think you can begin to see how ludicrous this becomes.
It also necessitates calling up that old standby that many anti-gay individuals and groups use: “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” This is an effort to relieve the guilt felt for hatred. If I (the sinner) am defined as the behavior that is defined as “sin,” then those who use the little statement above have not gained absolution of their guilt, they have rather compounded it. If I am the sin and the sinner, then the statement really reads: “Hate the sinner; hate the sin” and there needs to be some other escape from the unchristian act of hatred.
I would encourage those who read scripture, and use it to pass judgment, to begin reading the scripture as a means of confronting their biases and not as a tool for confirming them.
Many of those who condemn on the basis of scripture apparently have not confronted their own sins during their “studies.” Some of the most outspoken critics, of those of us who are gay, base it on scripture while they themselves, for example, have been through numerous marriages and are, therefore, guilty of adultery according to scripture. And we know what the Bible says the penalty for adultery is, don’t we?
Dr. Ted Hayes
This is one of the best, most thoughtful responses to the spiritual terrorism that many of us have encountered at the hands of christian bigots. If only they could be open minded enough to read such an article and appreciate the wisdom laid out so wonderfully here.
Thanks Storm. Of course I hope the same thing, that at least a few will read this and continue to think things through a bit more carefully.
I appreciate most of the responses here and will “chew on it” a while; however, I feel that I must clarify a couple of issues that seem to misrepresent my statements. I have gay friends and have been involved in ministry to groups that included gays and lesbians (in which no judgments were made and no issues of homosexuality were even discussed.) I have family members that are homosexuals. Christ would not have turned away from anyone and I have no right to do otherwise. I think many Christians have driven more people away from Christ than drawn them to Him.
However, I am trying to balance loving all unconditionally while not condoning sin (of any type). I also don’t preach repentance or beat people over the head with the Bible. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words. that is why I even addressed this forum.
My post was seriously to address the struggle I feel when it comes to voting on issues such as gay marriage. Christians all have their own issues with sinning and have to repent and seek guidance of the Holy Spirit to overcome and try to live a holy life as we are called to do. So, does the question come down to whether homosexuality is a sin or not? I’ve read all the arguments set forth in these responses and other forums, but it still seems a stretch to say it isn’t a sin. Like I said earlier, I will have to chew on that a while and take time to seriously consider the arguments made. Christians are no longer under the law, but that doesn’t mean that sins “vanish”, only that Christ has offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins.
I am trying not to take a hard-line stance and sincerely seek the viewpoint of those that may see things differently here, but it is difficult to be misquoted (e.g. “they contend, as Sheree does, that the only way to show true love to homosexuals is to convict them of the sinfulness of their ‘choice'”) and to be accused of hating homosexuals or quoting the Bible to “justify your hatred of gays and lesbians” and asked not to identify myself as a Christian. I don’t see this as constructive discussion of the issues. I really appreciate the responses of those that try to show another viewpoint.
I think that part of your problem with marriage equality, Sheree, is in your conflating religious marriage with civil marriage. Would you think, Sheree, that ANY long-term committed relationship needs some protection against the world (not to mention, unscrupulous family members)? I would! That’s civil protection, and doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you support marriage equality religiously, as something condoned by God. Without civil protection, you end up with tragic situations like the the video I’m linking at the end of this comment. Please watch, it’s less than 10 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR9gyloyOjM
Thanks for your gracious response, Sheree. I know what it’s like to be misquoted and to have opinions ascribed to you that you don’t hold. Your mild yet clear protest here is very cool.
I like your habit of chewing on things, as you say. It reminds me of Mary when she had to process everything people were saying about her baby son. Scripture says she “pondered these things in her heart.” The word translated “pondered” is sunballo, which means “to throw together.” And Paul told Timothy to “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
And I want to thank you for participating in this forum. It’s a gamble when you go where you know there will be disagreement, It takes a kind of faith to do it anyway, faith that it is worth whatever discomfort comes from disagreement, hostility, and mischaracterization. You did us all a great service by posting.
The voting issue still remains, and it is difficult. On a personal level, I can’t place my faith in politics. My focus has to be personal. But on a justice and equality level, things need to be codified in law, at least as a start. Personally, I don’t emphasize the legislative part, but many of my friends and acquaintances do, and they need to. But my personal cynicism about party politics is another topic for another time!
Your church should thank it’s lucky stars that you’re a member!
Thank you Ron for so eloquently plucking those words and placing on the minds of those who wish to perpetuate the horrific intolerance and hate that is so freely placed against the LGBT community. I have shared your article on Facebook. I think some of my family and friends can benefit from your words.
And thank you, Izzy, for appreciating the post, and for sharing it with your friends. I appreciate some heartfelt word-of-mouth! See you around.
You can twist what the bible says, but it still does not change anything. The bible says God made woman for man. It says that a man is not to lay with a man as he would with a woman. And the bible explains over and over the roles of husband and wife’s. Yes there are Christians who get caught up with the hate from LGBT, and act as bad as they are, however it is difficult to face the about of hate homosexuals have for Christians and not react it it. Hopefully in the future, those Christians will pray first to be defended from acting like the LGBT
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Wow! Eloquent and elegant words Ron – thank you.
In Australia at present, this debate is raging in the media and in parliament, and it is not a big deal to most of the community (68% support for marriage equality as of today). I have an additional perspective, coming from both the legal profession and a mainstream Christian background. The State has no power over how any faith community defines its sacraments and rituals. None at all. No authorised representative of any faith community has any obligation to register with the State as a State-authorised marriage celebrant. A Minister or Rabbi or Priest or Imam who is authorised by her or his faith community to officiate at marriages (or baptisms or any other ceremony) does not require the ‘blessing’ of the State to do so. Perhaps it is finally time for the Church and the State to completely separate from one another…
Glad to get your angle from Australia, Carolyn. I’m pleased that you like it.
So then, how does the state register or recognize people as officially married? What constitutes a State-authorized marriage? Would this be with a judge or what we call a justice of the peace?
And what exactly is being debated? Same-sex marriage? Forgive my ignorance, I really should know this!
The debate is about same-sex marriage here too. Supporters usually talk about it as marriage equality here. The selective-literalists are far less numerous and far less politically powerful here than in the USA. Marriage law is federal law here. A marriage celebrant neither a judge or a justice of the peace, rather a separate category all on its own. There are civil marriage celebrants and most ministers of religion are authorised according to the rites of their faith and also separately registered as civil marriage celebrants. This means that marriages performed by religious celebrants are recognised both my the State and by the relevant faith community. At law in Australia, there is no difference between de jure and de facto marriage, as long as you are part of a heterosexual couple.
My point is that it is no more the business of the State to be involved in commencement of a relationship than it is for the State to officiate at the signing of every joint-venture agreement between a couple of big development companies. The State and its Courts are available to parties (both couples and companies) if during their relationship, or at its end, the parties have disagreements that they are unable to resolve on their own. A growing number of people here are talking about the repeal of the Marriage Act as the simplest and most direct path to equality.
I want to thank your reader Sheree for her honesty and willingness to discuss openly the topic. She sets herself above the common fray by her willingness to ask questions. It’s her privilege to believe homosexuality is a sin…I don’t agree, but it’s her choice.
One of the ways the contemporary Christian churches are losing me is the emphasis so many have on “sin.” They seem obsessed with pointing it out, defining it, believing I guess, that the devil is always out there waiting to trap us unwittingly and they think that if they can define it, they can beat it. But there are also “sins” of omission like indifference and apathy, that typically go under their radar. To me it’s pointless to constantly worry about sin. I’d rather worry about what is the best behavior a Christian can exhibit. Somewhere in that model I would expect to find compassion, empathy, tolerance and a loving concern. Under that model, it should become obvious what our reaction to gays and other alternative lifestyles should be.
From a Biblical perspective our sin was totally taken care of on the cross. Jesus said, “It is finished,” and died. The Bible says that God remembers our sin no more. If that’s true, then why do we obsess over it?
The main reason, in my opinion, is our own pride. We want to be “perfect,” an are humiliated when we can’t be.
That attitude needs to be repented of and forsaken. That is also called “repentance.”
I just wrote my first blog entry, about refuting the six biblical “clobber passages” against LGBT’s. They are are refuted here: http://evolequals.com/2012/08/04/the-homosexuality-question-answered-not-a-sin-2/
Just read the post–you made some excellent points. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for the kind words! Me and some friends are trying to get the word out about our blog space, and everything is helpful. So far, it seems we write about all kinds of stuff, but it’s all pro-equality, in all ways.
Wow! I hope you take this as a sincere compliment. This is the first substantive Christian post I’ve encountered with which I have no quibble. It gives me pause to reflect on my views of Christianity and Christians. While I have encountered tolerant, embracing, and loving Christians whom I very much admire, respect, love, with whom I feel very comfortable associating, and who I believe make the world a better place–that is not the same as finding no issue in a substantive Christian-based view on a controversial issue. I am deeply grateful to be exposed to such a view.
Thanks so much Ron and to all the commentators here who added to the scholar info here. Current anti-gay religious climates on many denominational fronts have greatly soured me on “Christians”. It helps to know that not all religious people are anti-gay; and this information, with citations, is invaluable. I have shared this with others on my blog AsAshesScatter.com, and on Twitter. Thanks Ron, thanks to all supporters of marriage equality!
It’s unfortunate that the anti-gay religious folks get all the publicity. I hope your friends and readers are helped by what you’ve passed along to them. Take care and thank you!
Anti-gay activists may be getting press right now, but in the end, we’ll all get marriage equality, and with that, a long, slow process towards complete equality may begin. Nobody’s giving anti-women’s suffrage activists any press today, because it’s settled business. There are no separate entrances for “coloreds” in our restaurants. It’s unthinkable that an Irish or Italian person would be denied a job because of his nationality. Progress: it is slow, but it is inevitable.
Couldn’t agree more, David. And we need to dig in for the long haul. Sexism and racism still exist, and I think always will. So the work is never totally over.
Thanks for the input!
I do not think any of us like to be told we are wrong. Ask any criminals, they think they are in jail because the police got involved in their business. so it is understandable why the homosexuals are so hateful and anti-Christian. But they are not angry because Christians are trying to change their lives. . . they are angry because Christians will not let the homosexuals destroy something that God established. Stop attacking the Christians, and the Christians will not have to defend their rights.
Peter, I am humbled and deeply gratified by your words as well.
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Can’t begin to tell you how much I gleaned from this brilliantly articulated/argued article. Thanks, Ron!
Wonderful, Savannah! Glad you liked it.
What an eloquent and thoughtful response to the questions of a reader. I appreciate that you treated her question with dignity and I appreciate that Sheree is questioning and searching for an answer she can reconcile in her own heart and mind. Thank you, Thank you.
Most people deserve a genuine response.
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Love the sinner hate the sin ..for all have sined Rom 3 23
Calvin, the slogan “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is actually not very scriptural–at all. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to “hate sin.” Absolutely nowhere.
We are, on the other hand, repeatedly encouraged to forgive sin. Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant highlights forgiveness. Paul taught us to forgive. Jesus taught us to forgive. Jesus came to forgive sin, even died on the cross because of it. Jesus forgave unrepentant people from the cross.
Please check out my post https://biblethumpingliberal.com/2011/09/30/old-slogan-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-vs-new-slogan-love-people-forgive-the-sin/