A few years ago, a friend of mine put up a link on Facebook with the a title something like “Every Verse Where Jesus Talks about Homosexuality.” Puzzled, I clicked through … only to get a completely blank page, with nothing but the title. And some ads, because, y’know, capitalism. I laughed, especially when I saw a number of confused people commenting on the facebook post, wondering why the page wouldn’t load. I think it’s one of the few click-bait articles I’ve ever enjoyed, mostly because I enjoy pointed humor.
But, while I enjoyed the joke, I’ve always been bothered by people who attempt to make this argument seriously, and why as much as I appreciate Matthew Vines‘ work, I’m curious how sustainable an approach like “the Bible doesn’t truly address sexual orientation” actually is. While on a personal level I find the interpretations offered by people like Dr. Brownson encouraging and compelling, I’m wondering if perhaps they’re starting the argument in the wrong place.
I don’t think the problem with the conservative Christian approach to LGBT people is their interpretation of the “clobber passages” like Romans 1. I think the problem is that they are approaching the whole work of Scripture with a heteronormative lens; except, in the case of conservative Christians they don’t see heteronormativity as a social construct but as a holy and inspired part of Scripture.
When I read the Bible and notice that there’s an awful lot of husbands and wives, I attribute that to heteronormativity. Yes it’s “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” but that doesn’t mean anything significant concerning my sexual orientation. Just because biblical writers included Mary and Joseph, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zachariah, et al, doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that God intended for only straight couples to be blessed and for all gay couples to be condemned as an abomination. It was just “a matter of course” for the writers, just like nearly every single romance novel in Barnes & Noble features straight people.
It was the way the writers saw the world, and now we as a society have progressed. Gay people and their relationships are more visible now, and we’re starting to see this reflected in our media, like in Glee or Modern Family. I am hopeful that one day it will be a completely normal thing for a major epic fantasy series to lead with a queer protagonist, just like I’m hopeful that books with female leads won’t be considered “for girls only” or “chick lit” someday.
However, for the conservative Christian, this view of the relationships and marriages in the Bible puts me solidly into the territory of “not respecting the Bible.” Many Christians hold to positions like inerrancy and infallibility and inspiration, and when you combine all of that in the typical evangelical, what you’re going to get is someone who believes that heterosexual marriage is sacrosanct and the only kind ordained by God … because, in the Bible, that’s certainly true. There are no gay marriages in the Bible, and no one is ever going to convince a conservative Christian that David and Jonathan where gay for each other.
Because, to someone who has a “high view of Scripture,” nothing it includes– or excludes– is an accident. It is perfect, flawless, without error, and unquestionably right. About everything. And if the Bible doesn’t feature a gay couple, it must mean that gay marriage isn’t permitted. I’m pretty convinced that with this attitude, even if the Bible didn’t have a single verse about “a man lying with a man is an abomination,” conservatives would still fight against marriage equality.
I don’t think this attitude is insurmountable– this isn’t the first time that conservative Christians have thought this way about an issue (*coughslaverycough*). I think that the arguments that Vines and Brownson are making can be extremely helpful in starting conversations about LGBT equality, and hopefully some will receive some illumination about the heterosexism they’re carrying around with them as they try to interpret different passages. But, ultimately, I think that’s what should come first, and I think the Christian LGBT-and-ally community should be much more deliberate about confronting this.
Which is why I’m somewhat troubled with the attempt to use a supposedly “high view of Scripture” in these discussions, because I used to be squarely in that camp and personally, if Matthew Vines had told me he had a “high view of Scripture,” I would have laughed in his face. I wouldn’t have known exactly why I would have been so utterly convinced that he didn’t honor the Bible the way I did, but I would have felt that way all the same. Conversations about LGBT equality in Christian environments will necessarily involve — at least on some level– a critique of certain passages in the same way an egalitarian looks at “women be silent in church”or “I do not permit a woman to teach.”
The default of the Bible is sexist and heteronormative. It … just is. I appreciate all the amazing work so many scholars have done over the years to mitigate all of that. I love feminist and queer theologies, egalitarian interpretations, and the work of so many liberationist theologians. There is much beauty and value and richness and depth in this library, so much shared history and tradition. But, when I read the Bible, I do have to set aside its more problematic elements– especially the fact that the people who wrote it were misogynistic and heterosexist.
Until conservative Christians can do that, I’m not certain that the anti-LGBT-equality movement will truly die.
Photo by Argya Diptya