Jun
2015

The Bible clearly states. . .

On Friday June 26, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage is a Constitutionally protected right.  Responses, pro and con, were swift in coming.  As a Bible-believing Christian, a United Methodist minister, and a Hebrew Bible scholar who welcomes this ruling, I was not surprised that many other believers did not.  Disagreements among believers on doctrine and Bible interpretation are certainly nothing new, and I have dear friends and family members who I know differ with me on this issue, as on others.

I was, though, saddened by many responses. Christian vocalist and evangelist Carman Licciardello wrote:

I have to hand it to the LGBT community. They have fought for what they believed in much harder than the Christian community ever did. They’re much more united than we are. They comprise only 3% of the American population and took in the 83% who claim to be Christians and won. 

Similarly, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, when asked by ABC correspondent George Stephanopolous if he was calling for acts of civil disobedience against the Court’s ruling, replied:

I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.

You’re going to see it on the part of Christian business owners. You’ll see it on the part of Christian university presidents, Christian school administrators.

Most bewildering was this tweet from Christian radio talk show host Bryan Fischer:

What none of these responses recognize is that not only are there many Christians, like me, who support this ruling, but that there are Christian churches–the United Churches of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church, to name three–that permitted their clergy to perform same sex marriages, where the law permitted, prior to this decision.  What is more, 48% of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning) women and men identify as Christian–indeed, 13% identify as Evangelical, and 11% as Catholic, despite the position of the Roman Catholic Church and of most Evangelical denominations in opposition to homosexual acts, if not to same-sex attraction.  Are these persons, these denominations–let’s make it personal, am I–then, not “really” Christian?

Many friends have posted links to a blog by Jonathan Parnell, titled “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins.”  Rev. Parnell writes,

As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And if our society celebrates it, we can’t both be caring and not say anything. Too much is at stake. This means it is an oversimplification to say that Christians — or conservative evangelicals — are simply against homosexuality. We are against any sin that restrains people from everlasting joy in God, and homosexual practice just gets all the press because, at this cultural moment, it’s the main sin that is so freshly endorsed in our context by the powers that be. Let’s hope that if there’s some new cultural agenda promoting thievery — one that says it’s now our right to take whatever we want from others by whatever means — that Christians will speak out against it. The issue is sin. That’s what we’re against. And that’s what should make our voice so unique when we speak into this debate.

But what about those of us who genuinely are persuaded that homosexual practice is not inherently sinful?  The response invariably is that those of us who take this position are rejecting Scripture.

 

It certainly cannot be denied that there are passages of Scripture that condemn same-sex relations (though perhaps not so many as is sometimes claimed).  However, the Bible is also perfectly clear on other matters about which we are not so ready to claim its authority.

For example, it is absolutely clear that divorce and remarriage are condemned by Jesus, in the very passages commonly cited as demonstrating that biblical marriage is between one man and one woman (Mark 10:1-12//Matthew 19:3-9; see especially Mark 10:11-12, and compare Matthew 19:9 and 5:31-32Luke 16:181 Cor 7:10-16).  Yet my own United Methodist Church, which states in its Social Principles that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (2012 Book of Discipline ¶ 161F, p. 111), also states that “when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness” ( 161C, p. 109) and that “Divorce does not preclude a new marriage” ( 161C, p. 110).

Please do not misunderstand me here.  I do not believe that the Scripture passages regarding divorce and remarriage should be applied legalistically. However, if I am indeed to take the entire Bible literally as word of God, without picking and choosing, then how can I justify reading Mark 10:11-12 any differently than I read  Romans 1:23-27?

The truth is, none of us read the Bible in that way–and we never have.  As Rachel Held Evans reminds us in her thoughtful blog, the “plain teaching of Scripture” has been used far too often to confirm what we already believe: to condemn racial integration, to oppose the ordination of women–even to reject the view that the earth goes around the sun, and not vice versa.  All of our readings of Scripture are interpretations of Scripture, built on who we are and where we stand. This means that we must read humbly and prayerfully, and be prepared to acknowledge the possibility that our reading has been misguided–or at least, that we can learn from a different approach.  Ms. Evans puts it very well:  “One need not discount the inspiration and authority of Scripture to hold one’s interpretations of Scripture with an open hand.”

In the following blogs, I will wrestle with the question of how to read Scripture.  This involves, first of all, a willingness actually to read the Bible, not to rely upon what we already believe the Bible to say.  Secondly, it requires a determination to acknowledge, honestly, the implications of our commitments.  Most importantly, reading the Bible requires that we realize what the Bible is: not an encyclopedia, or an instruction manual, but a confession about who God is, and an invitation into a relationship with God.

 

12 thoughts on “The Bible clearly states. . .

  1. Thanks you so much for this blog. I agree with you about this issue. Too many people use the Bible to support thier sin as the right thing and use the Bible as justification. I don’t think that’s what God ever intended.

  2. Hi Dr. Tuell, as a former student of yours, I enjoy continuing to learn from you in this and other issues.

    I was wondering if in exploring this topic over the next few blogs you might also explore some of your own process of arriving at your conclusions. I don’t mean simply the explaining of Scripture, but your own heartfelt reasons for your beliefs as well. For example, is there anything you could see, hear, or read that might convince you are wrong in your interpretation? Or perhaps to phrase it in another way that seems less contrary-what convinced you that you were absolutely right to the point you can fight with the convinction you have fought with? These kinds of things are very useful for a person like myself who is still wrestling with the issue and has not come down on one side or the other yet. I know the arguments from Scripture and tradition, but I’d like to know the reason and experience portion now as well.

    Thanks!

  3. Let me say I’m very much on the fence on this issue. It would take too long to fly explain what I mean. I say it to simply state I’m not definitely “conservative” on it.

    With that in mind, I am growing fatigued by these arguments. If one wants to posit that the Bible does not explicitly or completely state homosexual acts are sinful, keep your arguments within that topic. Stop trying to argue because we permit this then we should permit that. It rings hollow to me and does not help me wrestle with this issue.

  4. Thank you for your insights into God’s message. While listening to some persons on radio and TV concerning and condemning this Supreme Court decision, and purporting to be speaking for all Christians, I am dismayed that their views are so different from mine. They are not speaking for me. Am I a good Christian? I hope so but I don’t know. Only God knows. And I am ok with that.

  5. I agree with Adam that two wrongs don’t make a right and I am not on the fence on this issue. However, I am not closed-minded either. If someone can present a reasonable argument, I’m willing to listen and maybe change my mind. I would like to know how anyone can interpret 1 Timothy 1:9-11 or Jude 1:7 as ambiguous about the subject of homosexuality. I struggle with this because the Bible tells us to love the sinner but hate the sin. The sinner is easily defined…that’s everyone of us. The sin, although sometimes more difficult to define, needs to be admitted in order for there to be repentance. I’m still waiting for a logical argument on this subject.

  6. I agree w/Adam Estep, In a sense you say because we don’t directly follow the Bible on divorce then we don’t need to follow the Bible on homosexuality, or whatever we want. This is a slippery slope. Since we can use the Bible to condemn homosexuality or support slavery or support homosexuality and condemn slavery or racism, then I guess the Bible also supports white supremacy correct? And if it can support the earth as flat and sun going around the earth, then why not support anything and everything and nothing.

    Your argument basically reduces the Bible to a text with no authority. You are trashing your very own faith/belief system/and dare I say religion!

    Great job!

    Let the chaos continue!

  7. Same old same old. I’v seen such a plethora of these sorts of pieces in the last few years. They are nothing but attempts to interpret the Bible in ways that make us more compatible with our secular society. The author talks about homosexuality not being inherently sinful and then does nothing to demonstrate this except to show that his church has already capitulated to secular mores on divorce, so why not this issue too? That is not a very cogent or persuasive argument. Seriously, ask yourselves, what exactly separates the “progressive church” from secular progressives? I can’t think of anything except a little lip service.

  8. I enjoyed very much reading this. It has a lot of true. But I have to be honest: it also lacks of certain objectivity. But before sharing my thoughts, I want to leave out of the table the issue about saying that a “true Christian” should not agree with homosexuality. Let’s focus on the Bible.

    Some doctrines in the Bible have been subject in the history of the Church to intense debates, even violent, due to the apparent ambiguity with what they are expressed in our beloved Book (or they are not even there). Predestination, The Sacraments, the Priesthood of ALL believers, Millennium, etc.However, others are very clear, since the words and expressions that the writers used in the Bible are univocal/unambiguous. Even some Jesus’ words and expressions are very mysterious some times, and some times are very plain. When the Bible speaks about homosexuality among with other sexual practices, in the book of Leviticus Chapter 18, the NIV uses the words “detestable”, “perversion”, “wickedness”. And it also says “Do not…”. The Message says: “Don’t…” and uses the words “wicked”, “abhorrent”, “perverse”. I’m not an expert in Hebrew, but the Brown-Driver-Briggs dictionary say’s the word for “wicked” in this passage is ‘zimmah’, which means “plan, device, wickedness, evil plan…”. Strong says something similar. This article quotes other similar passages. It’s very interesting that in the Church history, until now, this matter was never a subject of debates as the ones I mentioned earlier. I think it’s because how clear, at least the Book of Leviticus, speaks about the matter. So, if you are going to honestly read your Bible and obey it, at least in this passage and in this matter it clearly says “Do not… that is detestable”.

    About some “permissive” attitudes some denominations (no the Church) has about certain things, we can find light in Jesus words precisely in the passage the article quotes, Mark 10. In verse 5 Jesus says: “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” (NIV). God, through Moses’ Law, is “permissive” about divorce because “our hearts were hard”. But Jesus grace and ways are higher, so when “the disciples – Jesus’ disciples – asked Jesus about this, He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (v. 10-12) It’s very interesting that He said that to His disciples, not to the Pharisees. (QUESTION: Which path do we want to walk, Jesus’ path or the Pharisees path?) We have to note that there is no “permissive” instruction about homosexual marriage, there is not even mention of a same sax marriage in the Bible, because, before God (according to Leviticus, at least), just the thought of homosexuality is detestable. Romans also teaches us this: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (3:3-4, NIV). What I think should be our position as Christians in the light of Mark 10:10-12, is to take care of our marriages, even from dating! I should be taking care of my spouse and advise others to do so, to avoid divorce, instead of using the divorce of others as an excuse.

    Why homosexuality is treated differently from other sins? I think the answer it’s not only because it’s cultural or trendy. It has other implications. Please, for some lines think about homosexuality as a sin, without regard of anything that has been said. Just do me that favor, think of it as a sin. When a thief, a liar, a murderer, comes to the church, they are willing to let Jesus change their life. They do recognize their sin and repent and try as hard as they can, with the help of Jesus, to stop sinning. However, homosexuality is a lifestyle, like other sexual sins.1 Corinthians 6:18-20 makes a distinction between sexual immorality and other sins. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body… You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” The Greek word here for “sexual immorality” is ‘porneia’, and according to our favorite Greek dictionaries (Strong’s and Thayer’s) it might include adultery, fornication, homosexuality.Strong even says: “indulge unlawful lust”. This is one of the reasons, including culture, of why homosexuality is treated differently. By the way, in Paul’s time homosexuality and other “non-traditional” sexual behaviors were very common. Thanks for granting me thinking of homosexuality as a sin for some lines.

    So this is a little of what you can find in the Bible about this subject. I do disagree on bashing people for their sin, but we can care for them at the same time we disagree with them. I’m a medical doctor, and in the sake of professional ethics, legal instances and even love, I can’t hide my patients their illnesses. As a matter of fact, I have some friends and relatives that agree with homosexuality and other sexual practices. They know what I think. I’ve told them what (following with this post spirit) I think the Bible says. Some of them decided not to maintain our friendship, some others have certain limitations when we speak, with others we are as always, knowing clearly what the other think. Of course, following your beliefs has a price.
    Thank you for reading this, may God bless you all.

  9. A Heber scholar that does not understand the proper place of the Torah and how that relates to this issue? The stats you present are indeed fascinating, only three percent of the population united to get a ruling like this. That is something for Christian’s to think about. However, as someone who as intimately walked through this dilemma in Seminary as you will find documented in my blog on my website, I think you may come to a different conclusion.

  10. Yes, I would like to know some of your personal experience with this as well. How did you come to these conclusions?

  11. One day while reading Mt19:12, it entered my mind that Christ, in saying that some [people] are unable to marry BECAUSE THEY ARE BORN THAT WAY, was speaking about non-heterosexual people many of whom I sincerely believe are created the way they are. And since everything created by God is good, humans being VERY good, then why would He condemn them for loving someone? Now I am not saying that LGTB people shouldn’t marry but quite the opposite. I sincerely believe that Christ was referring to marriage as the people of His day knew it. It’s also interesting that He ends this passage by saying “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

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