Social Issues

I’m bisexual and still just as objective as you

If you’re a living person in Christian culture, then you’ve run into the following sentiment:

I can agree with much of what she's written and I definitely think that the church has lost its way. But as much as she speaks to the motivations of the authors of the Bible you have to ask how much she's motivated by being "an out bisexual feminist"? When people live opposed to what the Bible calls sin then they will often be opposed to the Bible itself for their own reasons.

The argument goes that because we’re LGBT (or, in this particular case, also a woman who believes in equality), we have “skin in the game” of biblical interpretation. Obviously we’re predisposed toward a particular outcome, so our judgment can’t be trusted. We can’t possibly read the Bible “objectively,” so any argument that a queer person makes about Romans 1 not necessarily being about sexual orientation is intrinsically untrustworthy.

Unlike straight people, who are clearly impartial and unaffected by this issue, so they can read the Bible without being influenced by their feelings. They can come to a clear-headed and open-minded conclusion on whether or not having sex with a similar-gender person is a sin, but a queer person can’t. In short, straights are telling the LGBT community that they definitely have our best interests at heart, and they can totally be trusted not to be wrong about this.

Aside from how incredibly patronizing this attitude is, we also have some fairly definitive proof that straights do not have the best interests of the LGBT community in mind. I know that in their head, they do– I know that they’re probably aware of how their “support” looks to us. They also don’t really care. To them, all that matters is that we’re saved from our sinful lifestyles; if they have to support legislation that will harm trans people, or force destructive conversion therapy on LGB youth, or encourage parents to physically beat their children into being straight, or call for us to be stoned to death … then they will. They have to hold us accountable for our sin, and if they kill us (or encourage other people to kills us) in the process, then no matter.

And even after countless decades of the Christian right condemning our very existence as sin, like this fellow:

Your website says you are bisexual, is it true? Is it not a sin according to God's word?

… we’re just supposed to accept that straights don’t have any possible motivation that could affect their judgment. They don’t have feelings about us that could make it difficult to be impartial. No ounce of hatred, no sliver of fear. No revulsion or disgust whatsoever. They approach LGBT rights and the Bible as a blank slate, with no predispositions of any kind.

Oh, except that’s completely wrong. In fact, people like Thabiti Anyabwile have explicitly argued in favor of Christians depending on their disgust (which is, needless to say, an emotional reaction) to drive their morals and biblical interpretation. Listen to Kevin Swanson and his ilk bloviate for more than two seconds and their hatred of us comes searing through.

Sure, maybe I’m being affected by my desire for love and acceptance when I read Romans 1 … just like any straight person can be affected by their disgust or hatred or fear when they read Romans 1.

The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to the Bible, no one is objective.

I came to the Bible a few years ago, doing my best to be open and honest about what I would find. To be blunt, my thinking at the time was that if I discovered that the Bible does speak on sexual orientations and condemned similar-gender relationships, then I was going to walk away from it all and leave Christianity behind. I knew I was bisexual, and if the Bible was going to tell me that was wrong, then I was done. Obviously, I’m still here, so I must’ve discovered something different. In my opinion there isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to be absolutely conclusive, so I err on the side of loving others and doing no harm. My hermenuetic looks a bit like St. Augstine’s, actually:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

This argument that only straight people can be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly and appropriately– because queer folk don’t want to be told we’re sinning– doesn’t make any sense. If it were true, then no one would ever be able to agree about any sin. Except we know that it’s possible for greedy people to know they’re greedy and that the Bible vociferously condemns it. Or how about the two sins that almost always get brought up in these conversations: pride and gluttony. I’ve known many people over the years that confessed to gluttony and acknowledged their belief that the Bible says that gluttony is a sin– and the same thing goes for proud people.

If straights are right about the LGBT’s supposed inability to “properly” read the Bible, then how in the world is it possible for anyone to read the Bible and feel challenged by it? Our personal experience tells us that it is not just possible, it happens all of the time. I still experience feeling “convicted,” to use the evangelical parlance, and I don’t even think the Bible is inspired or inerrant anymore.

We all bring our baggage to the Bible. That’s part of what makes our collective experience of it so beautiful. It’s a text we share communally and individually, publicly and privately. We talk, we share, and together we try to build an understanding that enriches our lives, brings us comfort, and helps us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

LGBT people shouldn’t be shut out of this conversation anymore. We bring a different set of experiences, a different way of being, a different way of seeing. When you silence anyone who isn’t white, or isn’t straight, or isn’t nuerotypical, you’re shutting yourself up into an ivory tower. It’s impossible to cut off the parts of us that make us human and still do good and loving theological work.

In my life, being bisexual puts me at a certain distance from the Bible because I’m not deliberately included in it. Because of that, my relationship with the Bible has to be more interrogative than it would otherwise be, because it’s a story we’re supposed to find ourselves in. When it’s not obvious where I fit, I have to do more digging. I’m open to discovering things that aren’t sitting on the surface. In a sense, I can benefit from the fact that I’m not the primary audience– often, I’m an outsider looking in. I can help broaden some of the narratives, bring stories into new lights and next contexts.

I can look a story that we’ve all heard a thousand times and ask questions like is it possible that Ruth is bisexual? When she abandons Moab and aligns with Noami in a speech that is often used in our wedding ceremonies; when she lives with Naomi, comforts her, listens to her, and raises a son with her … do we have to view her character as straight? Why do we assume she’s straight?

Because I don’t have the dominant experience of heterosexuality, I’m better equipped to get at the bottom of some of our assumptions. It’s my first impulse to ask why of concepts that seem long settled.

I lack objectivity. So do you. And that’s a good thing.

Photo by Murray Barnes
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  • Nicole Chase

    Preach. This.

  • Beroli

    Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of the people who most need to read this have radically different definitions of “objective”–and “love” for that matter–than we’ll find in any dictionary.

  • Amen. One of my seminary professors said something I frequently reference on this. If you see somebody refer to simply “theology”, they mean that it is from the perspective of a straight, white, male, middle to upper class, and probably European/American and Protestant. If anybody else does theology, it gets an adjective: queer theology, black theology, latin@ theology, womanist theology, feminist theology… That’s one of our ways of reinforcing that we (I am straight, white, middle class, and Canadian) are the objective default. Others may have something worthwhile to say sometimes, but they’re saying it from an obvious bias so you can’t just trust it in the same way. If it doesn’t intuitively make sense to people like me, it’s probably wrong.

    Oddly, when it comes to being affirming of LGBTQ, I did reach that as close to “objectively” as possible. I did not have any LGBTQ friends except one who had no interest in Christianity, so there was no conflict that I felt I needed to resolve. I did what a good evangelical does: I spent a few hours looking at what the Bible had to say, including some different translations and some introductory commentaries. And I was left unconvinced. Getting to know LGBTQ Christians later might have reinforced that, but there was no pandering to make myself feel better about being nice to anybody I know when I came to that conclusion.

  • Samantha

    LOVE this post. I jumped to it the moment I saw it come up on the Facebook feed.
    “We all bring our baggage to the Bible. That’s part of what makes our collective experience of it so beautiful. It’s a text we share communally and individually, publicly and privately. We talk, we share, and together we try to build an understanding that enriches our lives, brings us comfort, and helps us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.”

    Gorgeous. Thank you for posting this

  • Northwoods Dan

    Really good post, Samantha!

  • Kevin

    That whole line dismissing LGBTQ as just trying to justify their “lifestyle”(TM) is quite the ad hominem/genetic fallacy. Anyway I love the post.
    I totally agree with you on everyone’s being biased.(I’m a psychology buff[I know enough to be dangerous], and they have quite the list of biases.) One of my favorite allegories is Plato’s Cave Allegory. Growing up in an Evangelical/Fundamentalist homeschooled environment after high school I began to question my upbringing and Plato’s Cave was the best way I could express my sentiments. I began to wonder how much bias I had as a result of growing up in the [Evangelical/Fundamentalist] church, in USA, in a Western country, in Christendom. I realized if I grew up in Saudi Arabia I’d probably be Muslim; and if I grew up on a mountain in Bhutan I’d probably be Buddhist. Long story short a desire to transcend these biases, you hear other narratives, is what motivates me to get a Twitter account and to follow blogs like this one.(That’s also why I have the profile picture of that says, “It may be cooler out here but the stars are beautiful.”)

  • Anna

    Yes. Objectivity is nigh-impossible. The best we can hope for is to acknowledge as many of our preexisting biases as possible and come to the text with the knowledge that we are influenced by them.

  • keefanda

    I think one good way to answer such conservative religious folk is along the line of the following:

    I said it before and I’ll say it again: No one – and this includes every conservative or fundamentalist Christian – does not take the Bible as it is literally written to be “the final authority”, no matter how much they claim to take this Bible as it is literally written to be this final authority. This is due to the fact that no one – especially the conservatives – accepts the logical implications of taking this book as it is literally written to be the final authority. This fact should be presented to every conservative without end until they admit to this.

    Let’s address some of these implications in question – and note that I don’t advocate any of the below, but just want to show that the implications of the conservative position that the literal Bible is the final authority are not acceptable to said conservatives, which means their position is not logically tenable.

    There are many acts conservatives claim that the Bible literally proclaims to be acts that Christ’s death had to cover even though these acts are not actually literally listed in the Bible as acts that require the death of an animal or human to cover. This means that they add to what is literally written as requiring the death of an animal or human to cover, which means not taking the book as literally written to be the final authority.

    Note that acts that make a person merely temporarily ritually unclean are acts for which no human or animal had to die to cover. This means that if we stick to what the Bible literally says, Christ’s death was not meant to cover acts that merely make a person temporarily ritually unclean, as well as acts that were not listed at all.

    One example of an act that was not literally listed as an act that required the death of a human or animal to cover would be a rich man having more than one wife or concubine (think King Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines). Another example would be a man with more than one such woman enjoying more than one such woman at a time. Another example would be woman on woman sex. Yes, man on man, man on animal, and woman on animal were literally listed as acts that required the death of a human or animal to cover, but not woman on woman. (Why? Read on!) I think that the fact that they bothered to list woman on animal implies that it was not an oversight to not list woman on woman. This leads to a final example here: A man with more than one such woman enjoying more than one such woman at a time while also enjoying them enjoy each other.

    To borrow and modify a quote by Mel Brooks in his movie “History of the World, Part 1”, which was, “It’s good to be the King” (which was essentially about his character the King of France being able to have sex with whomever he wanted whenever he wanted): It’s good to a rich man in a man’s world in so-called biblical times, eh?

    In other words, we don’t have to take the Bible as the final authority, and we can then explore the implications of this.

  • D Liston

    I’m not a fan of the gluttony charge because, as a fat person, if I put anything in my mouth that isn’t a Slim Fast shake, it’s obviously gluttony that is my sin … (I’m not even saying it isn’t in my case, but, for example, my mother had a disease that caused malabsorption of nutrients. So she ‘over-ate’ and was judged for it, but in reality she was trying to get enough energy into her to simply be functional. That’s the problem with judging without knowing what’s really going on with someone in their life.)
    Anyway, the tendency seems to be to cut slack for your own sins but judge other people for theirs. Heterosexuals, for example, have become very lax about divorce, even though technically the Bible says it is adultery. I mean, Jesus Himself affirms this and raises the bar even higher – whereas he never makes any comments about homosexuality or abortion or women submitting.
    My own parents divorced and I think it was the best choice for them, by the way. I’m just saying. This ‘bias’ sword cuts both ways.

    • Kevin

      My late pastor recognized this(and he was a conservative) saying, “If it’s me, it’s a weakness; if it’s you, it’s a sin.”
      A Mennonite preacher I listened to said something similar on the culture war: we exaggerate the other side and gloss over own inconsistencies.

  • Sheila Warner

    Excellent! I’ve always thought that David & Jonathan were in love. Thanks for this!

  • Jackalope

    Along with the whole inability for ANYONE to be truly objective, as you pointed out, there’s also the fact that having “skin in the game” means that you’re more likely to pay solid attention to ALL the verses (if you are the sort of person who believes evangelical/fundamentalist beliefs about the importance of the Bible). From the time I was a teenager, for example, I was devoted to figuring out whether God was okay with women being in positions of leadership (to take my biggest button issue from the youngest age). I studied and studied; I read books and articles from both sides. Sure, there was a part of me that was vested in being able to be a pastor (or at least having my friends/sisters be one; I’ve never felt that was a job I wanted personally), JUST AS many men were vested in keeping all of the power and authority to themselves (although certainly not all; I’ve had some good male supporters,
    including important people like my dad and my youth pastor, who believed
    that God called both genders to leadership).

    What was the result? I can discuss every passage of the Protestant Bible that addresses women in leadership in a positive or negative way. I can debate the meanings of certain Greek words (authentein, kephale, etc) in passages used to keep women out of leadership, and discuss the ways in which they have been misused/misinterpreted. I can mention many examples of women in leadership positions throughout the Bible (Deborah, Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, female prophets in the Bible (Miriam, Huldah [who authoritatively rebuked King Josiah and thereby saved many lives], Anna, and Mary), and women who followed God’s instructions to go share/teach what they had learned (Mary Magdalene and the other women [exact names varying] who first saw the resurrected Jesus, Lydia, and the woman at the well), all of which point to the idea that God was NOT against the idea of all women being in leadership. I can also bring up other issues, such as why in most of the anti-women-in-leadership passages, the REST of the passage (applicable to men or to everyone) is generally acceptable as having been for [the author’s] time only and not directly applicable (I Timothy and men raising hands during worship, I’m so looking at you), and the only thing that is ETERNALLY BINDING is the restrictive bit about women.

    Now granted, I have a bias in all of this. I name it and I own it. While I did my best to approach the passages in an open-minded way, as Samantha pointed out, that’s impossible for ANY of us. On the other hand, if I have someone approach me who says, “Well, Paul says women can’t have authority over men, so that’s it, end of story,” with nothing to back them up, and no actual thought put into it? I could BURY them in biblical counter-evidence. (I usually try not to, since my end goal is for them to think about it more rather than pointing out how much more I know about the subject than them, but I COULD. And I have in the past written up multiple position papers on this and presented them to people who really truly said they wanted to know more.) Since I have a LOT more invested in this, and quite frankly, if someone is arguing with me and hasn’t bothered, I fail to see why that person’s interpretation is automatically more valid than mine.

  • butting

    Thank. You.

    This is beautiful.

    I’m currently reading (and loving) Katharine Bushnell, who pushes a similar notion early on: scripture has been translated and interpreted and corrupted by men, specifically men who are blind to the effects of the lens they’re reading through and blind to the degree that they’ve allowed that lens to pervert their work. (And oh yes indeed does she shows her working, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had reading theology.)

    Her suggestion for solving this: scripture needs to be translated by women, to put those manifold messes right.

    Your example of Ruth is exactly why Bushnell’s hundred-year-old goal could do with a minor modification: scripture needs to be translated by a group of anyone other than white cis-het men.

    As a group we’ve had our chance, and we screwed it. As far as I can see our job from here is to cheer on anyone working to put that mess right, and otherwise to shut the hell up.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    All these arguments were used whenever I tried to argue for equal rights for women. I was just trying to get an advantage for myself. It never did occur to me to point out that all the men arguing for their own superiority had their own skin in the game.

  • lurker

    Hi all,

    Sorry to respond to an old thread. Just catching up with all the good comments!

    I wanted to reccommend the book “The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks.

    It is a novel about the life of King David and goes into detail about the romantic relationship between David and Jonathan.

    I think commentators on the thread would like it very much! I did.