Introduction: A Few Personal Declarations
Before we examine “those” passages, there are a few things I wanted to get out in the open first. I hope they will (at the very least) give the reader insight into my faith, my struggles, my approach…and hopefully, my heart when it comes to this divisive subject:
1. First and foremost, I am a Christian. While I may not be your kind of Christian, the matter has been settled. That’s not arrogance, but it’s the truth. I get amused by those who call into question my faith, using the very God and the same Bible that gave me assurance of the validity and reality of that faith. It’s not up for discussion!
2. I hold the Bible in high regard. It is “inspired” and “authoritative,” though we might differ on the definition of those words. I’ve devoted the majority of my adult life (45+ years) to being a diligent learner and teacher of Scripture. Just because I don’t agree with some common/traditional interpretations of various Biblical passages, that does not call into question my commitment to the Bible nor the veracity of Scripture’s authority in our lives. (cf: Hebrews 4:12)
Author's Note: Belief in the “inspiration” or "infallibility" or "inerrancy" of Scripture does not guarantee correct understanding (or interpretation) of that Scripture. God inspired the writers of the Bible (II Timothy 3:16), but that doesn’t protect those who read it, those who preach it, nor those who translate it from making mistakes! Several people can read the Bible and come up with very different understanding of the meaning. How else can we explain so many sincere leaders who diligently study the Bible, but come up with differing convictions on such topics as mode of baptism (i.e., when, who and how much water?), church governance (Pope, bishop, elder, pastor?), eschatology (Rapture, tribulation?), etc.? My issue with words like “inerrant” and “infallible” is not whether they are accurate descriptions of the Bible, but that they don’t take into account those of us reading it are neither!
3. I am not a Biblical literalist, but that does not make me liberal, deceived, unholy…or wrong!
Example: If I say someone has a heart of stone, you don’t believe for a minute there’s granite in their chest. Same if I say a person is “cold as ice.” So when Psalms 17:8 talks about God having wings, I don’t think it literally describes God’s physical form, even though it literally says that. Over the years, I find that most who say they take Bible literally…really don’t!
4. I didn’t always believe what I now believe. (And not just on this subject.) It’s not a sign that God has changed, but my understanding of God has changed. I began my Christian journey as an extreme Fundamentalist, but moved to a solid mainstream Evangelical position, though not in the same way it's understood today. These days, putting a "label" on where I am is not easy, but I am enjoying the journey. I have many questions, and fewer definitive answers. It was Thomas Merton who said, "If the You of five years ago doesn't consider the You of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually."
Explanation: Adapting our message of Good News in light of our culture is essential to staying relevant. It’s okay to question the status quo of accepted and traditional Biblical interpretation! Without scholarly interpretation and contemporary application, the 21st century church might still practice polygamy, stonings, slavery, subjugation of women, beating kids with sticks, etc.
5. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we are called to “love one another.” (e.g., John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8) Love is not dependent on agreement; it's a choice. Regardless of what we think of…and how we respond to…the beliefs and/or behaviors of others, if it’s not rooted, grounded and expressed in love, it is not from God! (cf: I John 4:7)
6. I can’t make anyone believe…or change what another believes. Moreover, it is not my responsibility; I am only called to share what God has taught me. Beyond that, I trust the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our promised Teacher. (cf: John 14:26)
Example: Peter’s transformation and enlightenment in Acts 10; he came to understand God’s work is inclusive rather than exclusive…but it was a divine work of instruction, not the result of debate, dialogue or discussion.
Truth comes to those with a willingness and a motivation to learn. Jesus said those who had “ears” would hear. In this metaphor (Again, He wasn’t talking about literal “ears”) Jesus indicates that an openness to learn is paramount to being taught spiritual truth. In other words, those who need to find the truth (e.g., a sincere Christian who’s coming to terms with their sexuality) are apt to learn new insight or receive fresh application. Jesus promised that those “who hunger and thirst” will be satisfied. (cf: Matthew 5:6; 7:7) And the converse is true as well, according to Jesus’ metaphor. (i.e., those who refuse to learn…won’t!) Rigid doctrine--the mindset that we are right, with no possibility of being wrong--can actually form a barrier to our ability to "hear" and learn from God's Spirit. New wine does not go into old wineskins. (cf: Mark 2:22)
7. My primary goal is to take the sting out of the Biblical verses used to hurt (and exclude) homosexuals from the faith community. It's why they are commonly called the "Clobber" passages. What I present is possible alternative explanations. I’m not alleging that I’m right and others are wrong; I’m merely showing that there might be a different way to understand these verses. For the most part, I try to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, using traditional principles of biblical interpretation, such as context, culture, audience, etc.
Remember: we don’t have to agree. But I won’t argue the subject. I’ve learned that arguing serves no purpose, and rarely imparts any truth. (cf: II Timothy 2:23-24) My approach (and this material) is not designed to satisfy someone who’s dogma is already set in stone; it’s geared to those who have a sincere desire to learn. Or at least listen with an open mind. If we disagree, I will continue to value you as a brother or sister in the faith; I hope you can grant me the same response.