Que(e)ries, Round 2: Are We Christians or Bible-Worshipers?

Ada & Zora

Image description: Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) throwing a Bible at her friend Mary (Jena Malone); a still from the movie Saved!

Our Que(e)ries contact form has given us invaluable connection with you, our community of readers. Usually when we get a Que(e)ry, we put our heads together and reply via email. Sometimes, a Que(e)ry leads to a conversation. Sometimes, it leads to a post like this.

You’ve shared so openly with us, giving us a glimpse into both the pain and the joy that you, our siblings in Christ, are experiencing in your souls and in your communities. We hope you can feel – even through this online format – that we are walking beside you.

One of the most common hurts we hear about stems from beliefs about
the Bible: the anchor text of our faith.

So in this post, we offer…

  1. Affirmation that God does not condemn the fulfillment of queer identities
  2. A rebuttal to a popular conservative article attempting to “debunk” affirming theology
    1. The myth of an unbroken “two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding”
    2. The myth that contextualizing the Bible makes it worthless
    3. The myth that the Bible includes all there is to know about God’s relationship with humankind
  3. Advice for tuning your spiritual compass
  4. A reminder that the Bible is not God

1. Since realizing that I’m queer, I’ve been wrestling with reconciling Christianity, the Bible, and homosexuality. My greatest fear is to come to the conclusion that God condemns homosexuality, and I am deeply in the closet due to this fear. (by C.)

Thanks for reaching out, C. You’re learning so much about yourself and about the vast mysteries of who we are created to be in the light of who God is. Congratulations on learning that you’re queer, and welcome to the family!

This is Zora writing. I want to start out by simply affirming that God does not condemn homosexuality and does not condemn you for who you are. When I was in a position similar to yours – realizing for the first time that I was queer while living in a conservative Christian framework – I needed to hear this message. I hope it will help you find the rest and peace that Jesus offers us. (I wrote about how encouraging it was to hear positive messages from queer-affirming Christians in Coming Out on Campus and In the Beginning: Part 1.)

God loves you just the way you are made. God would never condemn a human for fulfilling their sexuality or gender identities. These identities – like many others – are integral to who we are, and God – who is love – cherishes every part of us. You might need to hear this message over and over before you fully believe it; if your upbringing was anything like mine, you’ve heard the opposing condemnation over and over. Most of us – queer or straight – have at least a little internalized homophobia, but that is reflective of our human and therefore faulted society, not the love and freedom that God grants. Have patience with yourself as you walk toward the light.

2. I’ve been reading up on Christians who affirm LGBTQ identity as well as Christians who “debunk” those who affirm it. For example, this essay by Albert Mohler tries to debunk God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. What do you think of his argument? (by C.)

This conversation is really about you and your relationship with God – not Albert Mohler. But since his essay is on your mind, let’s talk about it. There are three quotes from Mohler’s piece that we’d like to address because they represent threads in a fabric of Christianity that we find problematic and unresponsive to the living body of Christ today.

i. “…Two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding.”

Ada here. Sorry, Albert, but there is no cohesive “two-millennia Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding.” One example of disruption in this “two millennia” of Christian theology is the Protestant Reformation, a cataclysmic shift in Christian thought that happened 500 years ago. Furthermore, the evangelical Christianity that Mohler ascribes to was born during the Great Awakening, so it would be more accurate to call his faith founded on less than three centuries of tradition. (Of course those three centuries have roots in historic theologies, but just because a kid mimics their beloved grandparent doesn’t mean that a kid carries the full wisdom of their seasoned elder.)

Another example disrupting Mohler’s timeframe is the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1845. (Albert Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, so this is particularly relevant.) The SBC was created in opposition to the Northern (now American) Baptist Church (ABC). The schism occurred because the ABC called for abolition while the SBC staunchly maintained their sinful enslavement of Black and brown humans.

Today, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. And in the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally, it took enormous social pressures before the SBC would simply condemn the alt-rightIn the not-so-distant past, the SBC clung to slavery. In the present, they are still tinged with racism, and they cling to homophobia, misogyny, and LGBTQ-exclusion, like Mohler does.

tumblr_m1coj7Ito71qctwb3o1_500

The myth of the two-millennia Christian theology is an erasure of Christian history from which we can learn so much. Our faith has a rich, diverse, and challenging history – one that we should learn about from a posture of humility and reflection, not arrogance and assumption.

ii. “If we accept [Vines’] argument [that reframes the clobber passages], we can simply remove this controversy [about LGBTQ-inclusion] from our midst, apologize to the world, and move on. But that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible and in the Church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures.”

Zora now. Funny enough, I agree with Albert Mohler here: his conservative fundamentalist worldview does require that questioning just one belief destroys confidence in the Bible, in the Church, and in the Gospel. His is a particular kind of Christianity that requires airtight undoubting and non-questioning. It’s no wonder that those raised in this faith too often grow up and abandon the Christian faith altogether.

Such an immobile, concrete faith – built on the foundations of hyper-revered human forefathers – is subject to crumbling when the winds blow or the ground shakes. However, a faith that withstands Jacobian-wrestling and Martha-like questioning is a faith that will grow. It is the stronger faith – the faith we should strive to own.

This idea that “losing” one part of the Bible (though really we are contextualizing, not losing) reminds me of a pattern in abusive relationships. An abusive partner might say, “If you lose me, you will lose everything. You need me, and without me, you are dirt. No one will love you like I do.” Because the person being abused loves and trusts this abusive partner, and because they hear it so often (and because of some psychology that’s better explained by psychologists), they internalize the lies of their abuser.

Though it’s a harsh metaphor, it resonates with me. I grew up with a faith that clung to the Bible as the sole buoy in a storm. My pastors and teachers told me that the Bible was all there was, and that “the Bible clearly said” whatever they wanted it to say. My faith community was dangerously close to worshiping the Bible.

Little did I know that there were entire lifeboats of people around me, traveling through the storm with the Bible on board, yes, but also with historical knowledge, modern science, personal experiences (testimony), and an appreciation for the mystery that makes our faith… faith.

iii. “This leads to a haunting question. What else does the Bible not know about what it means to be human? If the Bible cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about us in every respect, how can we trust it to reveal our salvation?”

Ada again. Like many conservative fundamentalists, Mohler posits a disconcerting view of Scripture. The Bible is not God. I’ll say it again: the Bible is not God. (How Christians came to conflate the Bible with God is an interesting rabbit hole down Greek philosophical influence on Judaism and Christianity.)

The Bible is inspired by God, and that inspiration is obvious through the miraculous coherence of this text written across millennia by authors from different cultural contexts and through the spiritual nourishment it still gives us. But the Bible does not “know about what it means to be human” in the intimate way that Jesus did and the way the Creator and Spirit still do.

The Bible is an amazing book, but it is not the end-all-be-all of our faith. We are Christians: followers of Christ, and the whole of Jesus could not possibly fit into four beautiful but tiny, repetitive accounts. The whole of Jesus is a mystery being revealed to each of us in our own timelines and through our journey on this Earth with humankind – made in God’s image – and with God the Trinity themselves.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but soon we will see face-to-face.
Now we know in part, but soon we will know fully.”
I Corinthians 13:12

3. I’m worried that I won’t be able to find peace with any side of the [LGBTQ-inclusion] argument through scriptural text since interpretation is so ambiguous and faulty. I feel like I don’t have a spiritual compass any more. (by M.)

M., we’re with you: learning about the diversity and challenges of scriptural interpretation can leave a Christian feeling directionless, especially Christians that are used to cultures of clear-cut answers. I (Zora) am still working my way through that dizziness myself, but I’m hopeful for my future. I’m learning to think of the Bible as a means of tuning my spiritual compass, not the compass itself.

There are many ways that Christians tune our spiritual compasses. The teachings and beliefs of many conservative evangelical churches centralize sola scriptura: the belief that everything we need to know about our faith (and therefore, God) is within the Bible.

But there are more ways of encountering God than scripture. Take prayer, for instance – especially the listening kind. Or take a small group, where you experience holy warmth and friendship that nurtures you to grow. Consider a powerful sermon that weaves together Scripture, yes, and the wisdom of a saint.

One of our mentors encounters God through a morning dance; another friend through nature walks; another through silent meditation. For millennia, Christians have used these and other tuning mechanisms to encounter God. Have you considered that the “route” that you take to experience the Holy Spirit might’ve changed directions? Is there a place or a time or an activity in which you feel closest to God? Use that to tune your compass for now, and keep an eye out for biblical landmarks to guide your path.

The Bible doesn’t speak to LGBTQ inclusion as we know it today and as science and human understanding have revealed. However, Jesus did have explicit instructions for the direction in which we should travel. His true north is radical inclusion, daring love, and a new kind of kindom that he has charged us to build. Even when the lens of biblical interpretation feels foggy, we must continually travel in Christ’s direction.

4. I go to a conservative church where it is emphasized that the Bible is the only way to know God, and I am having a hard time reconciling what it means to “interpret” the Bible. [Does interpretation mean that we are] “picking and choosing” what we like about the Bible, and therefore picking and choosing what is sin? (by C.)

In our experience, churches like yours that believe “the Bible is the only way to know God” dangerously conflate the Bible with God. The Bible is not one of the Godheads of the Trinity. It is not “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The Bible is a reflecting pool through which we try to grasp an understanding of God and of the beliefs and history of a people. Such wrestling is not a one-and-done deal; we do not master the Bible the way one would master a language or craft. A healthy faith requires us to wrestle with scripture all our lives.

Every reading of the Bible is an interpretation of the Bible, because the reader cannot be the Bible. (Besides, every translation of the Bible is by definition an interpretation.) Every reader approaches a text with their own perspective, including their own experiences with the world and definitions of terms.

Therefore, literal readings of Scripture are still interpretations. And because a literal interpretation is the one that requires the least context, the least education, and least self-reflection, it can be the most dangerous one.The rise of fundamentalist evangelicalism parallels a time in U.S. history when science and education were seen as anti-Christian, and the rise of uneducated pastors who eschewed critical thinking and questioning led to congregants who also eschewed these central tenets of faith.

For me (Ada), witnessing the diversity of Christian traditions helped me to critically examine the conservative evangelicalism I once believed was the center of the Christian universe and the only right way to be a Christian.

To take the Bible seriously means that we cannot afford to take it literally. For the sake of an uncontainable God, and for the sake of the kindom yet to be built, we must take the Bible seriously, and that means we must approach it critically – with attention to context and the living Spirit.

If you’ve enjoyed this post’s Q&A format, you might also enjoy our post Que(e)ries: Round 1. And if you’ve got a question or a thought for us, feel free to send it over. You can remain anonymous, and we’d love to hear from you.

Media from the movie Saved! (2004)

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