The Bible, Gays and Lesbians
In my last series of posts about Barclay and the Bible I related the story that he tells about an old and illiterate Friend who heard someone making an argument from the Bible and who responded with words to the effect of “God never said that.” Barclay then went back and looked at the passage in question and found that it was mistranslated in the English Bible. This is one of my favorite stories from Barclay. That isn't saying a whole lot since Barclay was not one for telling stories. When I am leading a workshop, I often follow this up with a challenge to modern Friends, “Do we know the voice of God so well that we can tell when God is being misquoted?”
I had a similar experience some 25 years ago now, I would guess. I was attending Cambridge Meeting at the time and one day during worship, a woman rose and gave a message about how homosexuality was a sin because it was prohibited in Leviticus. At the time I was not as familiar with the Bible as I am now but her message did not ring true with what I had experienced of God. When I got home I looked in Leviticus and was surprised to find that she was at least correct in her Biblical citation. This was one of the things that prompted me to start reading and studying the Bible more. I also began reading what other people had written about homosexuality and the Bible. Unlike Barclay, I do not know Greek, Latin and Hebrew so I have had to rely on the scholarship of others. While preparing this material I have relied in particular on two books to provide references for the meanings of the Greek and for the cultural background of the first century Middle East. These books are Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality by John Boswell and The Children are Free by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley. I have read many of the books that take a liberal view on the subject. I am open to further suggestions on what I might read, especially if it presents a different perspective.
Barclay stresses that one way to test whether a revelation is from God is to see whether it is in accord with Scripture. If this test of revelation is true, and if God indeed does want us to extend our love and the bounds of our community to include, without reservation, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, as I believe God does, than we should be able to find a scriptural basis for this. So in the interest of intellectual and spiritual honesty I will try to lay out just such a scriptural case. I do not expect that this exercise will resolve the issue any more than Margaret Fell's Women's Speaking Justified resolved the role of women in the Church. I offer this instead as a response to the Friends in FUM who have said that when they hear liberal Friends advocating for acceptance of gays and lesbians, they hear a request that they give up the Biblical foundation of their faith. I propose this as a way of seeing scripture in a new light, a way of seeing what was there in Scripture but hidden, just as the Quaker understanding was there but unseen until George Fox and others had it opened to them.
In this endeavor I will follow the pattern of Barclay. I will lay out the positive case as I see it and then I will address the objections in the forms of the various passages that are cited to show that homosexual sex is sinful. I will break this up into a series of posts. I often push the limits of what makes for a readable post as it is. This may allow time for discussion as we go along.
I will also be clear about an underlying assumption of mine, which is that homosexual orientation is something that one has. It is not a choice. Whether or not it is genetic, hormonal, environmental or just the way God made us is beside the point. It is the way we are. I base this assumption on my own experience. As long as I have been aware of such things, I have always had a heterosexual orientation. I never chose to be heterosexual. I have heard my gay and lesbian friends tell about their stories of how they came to realize that they were homosexual and for them it was not a matter of choice but of coming to recognize who they were, even in the face of social disapproval. Since I never experienced a choice I accept their testimony that they did not experience a choice either. I also recognize that if you make the assumption that homosexuality is a choice then it can color how you understand and interpret scripture. If our disagreements are not about the words of scripture but the assumptions we bring with us as we read scripture, we can still perhaps resolve our differences but we have moved beyond the realm of Biblical study.
One last note. I have been pleased with the way discussions here have gone. We have managed, in most part, to discuss our disagreements without being disagreeable. This is certainly a hot-button topic and I hope that we can continue to be respectful of each other, even as we explore areas in which we may be in passionate disagreement.
Blessings to all,