Seeing the Forest

Ada & Zora

If you’ve read The Beginning (Part 1; Part 2), you may still be wondering how exactly we reached an affirming decision through our Bible study. What changed? What was affirmed? And what did we hear God say?

We don’t intend for this blog to be a manual for affirming Christians. Thankfully, many such resources already exist. We also do not wish through this blog to give equal consideration to the notion that Christians can be “open but not affirming,” or that LGBQ* people should reach some sort of spiritual compromise through a heterosexual marriage.

We have grown to be fiercely affirming Christians. Sharing this journey with you requires some discussion of mechanics. The mechanics – the trees – have helped us to shape some sense of the forest, but had we focused only on the trees, we may have missed the great expanse of who God is and who we are in light of and in movement with God.

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The Clobber Passages

Non-affirming Christians hinge their beliefs about LGBTQ inclusion on seven passages in the Bible (often referred to as the “clobber” passages) which have been used to shut the doors on purposeful debate. In the tried and trite words of Zora’s former pastor: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

A crucial part of our Bible study and discernment process was learning that there are alternate and better ways to interpret the clobber passages: interpretations that are truer within the context of individual books and the context of God’s covenant to build a new kin-dom on Earth.

Maybe you’ve studied these interpretations yourself. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the clobber passages, we’d recommend God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines.  It’s accessible, thorough, and purposeful. (We’ve also heard that Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by James Brownson is a worthy read, though likely a more academic one.) God and the Gay Christian wasn’t available during our study, but other resources were, especially online. We mentioned some in this post.

Many scholars much more qualified than us have already put the clobber passages to rest. From here, we’ll instead describe some of the large concepts that framed our study. This is part of the theology of two Christian women who value the Bible and are committed to each other in marriage.

Context

The Bible is near-impossible to fully comprehend without context. The Bible is a library of books written over the span of what many scholars believe to be about 2,000 years and was originally penned in three languages over a vast expanse of geography by tradespeople, physicians, scholars, rulers, farmers, and more. It would be difficult for the writers of the Bible to comment on the holiness or sinfulness of concepts like a carbon footprint without context and without applying Jesus’ teachings to today’s time and place. (Imagine if this dialogue we’re having today were conveyed without context to an audience in 4017 A.D.)

The Bible cannot be understood apart from its context, and comprehension demands far more than the too-oft habit of cherry-picking where the Bible is to be contextualized and where it is to be taken at face value. Through our study we developed a deep appreciation for biblical context and scholarship.

Celibacy

Biblical contextualization is also key in discussing what some Christians term “Side B”: the notion that God loves LGBQ Christians so long as they do not “act” on the instincts of love and identity that heterosexual people are permitted to express. Side B Christians believe that LGBQ people have no option except lifelong celibacy.

However, Scripture reveals that lifelong celibacy is a gift to which few are called. Forcing those without the gift of celibacy into a lifelong muting of love given and identity shared is a gross misunderstanding of Scripture at best and a cruel injustice at worst. Some non-affirming Christians concede that people of the same gender can live together in a romantic relationship while forgoing sex, but this theology misses the mark. The whole point of celibacy is not simply sexual abstinence but a freeing up of one’s self to seek God above all.

(The “Next Best Thing” After Celibacy)

Similarly, forcing LGBQ individuals to disavow their identity and enter into heterosexual marriages is dishonest to all parties and too frequently leads to unions that dishonor God and God’s creation.

“Biblical Marriage”

“Biblical marriage” is a concept that results from inconsistent biblical contextualization and is rife with problematic power dynamics. The Bible is full of marital examples of which most modern Christians would disapprove: polygamy (Jacob had two wives, and King Solomon purportedly had 700); adultery (Solomon again, this time with 300 “concubines,” an archaic term that biblical translators use in lieu of addressing sex slavery), and abuse (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ruled that a man who rapes a woman must then marry her, and the verse seems to victimizes the rapist). The authors of the Gospels record that Jesus said little on the subject of marriage.

In most biblical examples, marriage was an economic contract, and most frequently one in which women had neither say nor romance. Just as the writers of the Bible had no concept of marriage as it is commonly known in western society today, the writers of the Bible also had no concept of sexual orientation as it is known today. The clobber passages we referenced earlier don’t describe anything like the shared intimacy and commitment upon which we and other queer couples build our relationship. Throughout most of the Bible, the concept of marriage as the vehicle for divinely inspired sexual and romantic love is alien.

Endless Pasture

Jesus’ ministry was an intentional outreaching to people with marginalized identities. He did not recast the Good Samaritan as the Good Israelite or ask the woman at the well if he could speak to the man of her household. Jesus brought marginalized sheep into a flock that has endless pasture to spare. But today’s non-affirming Christians live by an opposing code. Many ostracize those that society has marginalized, claim authority over Scriptural interpretation, and brush aside valid disagreements. Indeed, they are often the religious legalists of our day.

Before we began our study, we had lived by the scriptural interpretation of a largely white, male-dominated, colonized, evangelical Gospel. Through our study, we learned that this was merely one interpretation of Scripture – one theology, one translation in the bound cord of understanding God. Every English Bible is a translation, and every translation has an agenda. Some promote literalism, and some illuminate the holy messiness of a document written over a span of two millennia. An agenda is not inherently bad; it can provide a lens through which to understand God.

Dimly through the mirror, we can see and approach the holy mystery. But dimly through the mirror, we must not miss the forest for the trees: Biblical interpretation is not our God, but one vehicle through which we encounter God. It is also a vehicle that requires significant mechanical understanding.

Those who live in awe of the Good News – and we count ourselves among them – have too much to lose by assuming that one default interpretation of Scripture exists or that a default Christian identity exists. What’s more, when we confine ourselves to a monolithic interpretation, we sever the limbs of the patchwork body of Christ.

This is the forest: that we were created as we are and with the capacity for love. We – Ada and Zora – were created with the capacity to embrace marriage as an expression of God’s love for creation and for us and for Godself. And this is the forest: the soft and loamy home in which we are born – in which we must be born – while a world outside, beckoning with mystery, awaits our marvel and discovery.

 

 

Next week: Ada in the Aftermath…

 

* In this post, we use the acronym “LGBQ” to denote the full spectrum of people of all genders who are not heterosexual. Gender identity and sexual orientation are different portions of people’s identities. This post is only about sexual orientation.

Image from viewbug.com.