On a previous post, a commenter asks a good question that I thought was worthy of its own post. Here is her question:
Most evangelicals believe homosexuality is sin, that belief is deeply entrenched in what appears to be pretty clear scripture verses – verses that have been translated, studied and preached by bible scholars for years and years and years – and only somewhat recently are those verses being re-looked at and translated differently by gay Christians. If gay Christians want some credibility in this area, it better start getting a whole not more vocal about what the bible REALLY says about homosexuality being a sin or not. Somebody needs to come forward and take on the “evangelical establishment” in a public forum and make some noise here. Why do most bible-believing Christians feel homosexuality is a sin, and how is it that they’ve been deceived all these years, when they could have been openly welcoming their gay brothers and sisters? How is it that Evangelicals are all so stupid, and gay Christians (and those who only believe that gay is OK with God) are so smart?
We have already addressed the hermeneutics/bible issues here, so I won’t re-hash all that here. But here are my additional thoughts on the question (and I would love to hear yours).
I think this is a fair question with a fairly straight-forward answer. Another commenter offers her perspective over on the original post. She says:
“I think all the new interpretations are so recent because gay people have been hiding in the closet for a very long time! As far as I know there have been gay people in all times and places but it was nearly suicide to live openly. We have to test our interpretation of Scripture by what is most healthy and loving – recent open gay testimonies have forced us to choose between a more literal interpretation of Scripture and what appears more loving/healthy.”
I would add to that this thought… I think it is almost identical to how the view of women (and for that matter, historically, slaves) have evolved within the church’s understanding. In all these cases, there strong cultural forces at work that both influenced the writers of scripture and more importantly the interpretation and application of scripture.
I think the issue of women in ministry/leadership is instructional here. While certainly not all Bible-believing Christians support women in leadership, the dominant evangelical position today is egalitarian (at least among biblical scholars) which represents a significant shift over the past 50 years (let alone 2000).
Did we get better at reading the Bible? Was everyone else wrong? No.
What happened is that there were significant cultural issues and biases in the past — and these became the hermeneutical lense through which the scriptures were being read.
If your bias/assumption is that women should stay home, raise kids, and not work (a pretty dominant view, for example, in the 19th and early 20th century in this country), then you are more likely to read certain verses (like “women should be silent in church”) in a way that reinforces your world view — despite the best biblical scholarship available that tells us this was a historical and contextual issue Paul was dealing with in Corinth — not 1950’s Cleveland.
As those cultural biases died and changed, people were better able to read and apply the scriptures in those areas.
The same, I believe, is true of homosexuality. Now we are not yet at the point where the cultural bias (at least within the evangelical church) has shifted fully — but it has moved and with that move you have seen a more progressive view of the issue (even among non-gay affirming churches). Among the more moderate and liberal churches, you have seen a significant shift take place — one that not coincidentally coincides with an equal shift within the broader culture.
All of this should point out that much of our hermeneutics and interpretation of scripture is much more culturally bound than we realize. Those who are naturally homophobic, uncomfortable with homosexuality and homosexuals, etc, will read the scriptures as being decidedly anti-gay people. But for those who are not personally uncomfortable with homosexuality or homosexuals, they will often read the scriptures differently — and certainly apply them differently.
Does that mean I am saying it is all subjective and there is no truth?
No… not at all. But I am saying none of us interprets the bible perfectly and we are all influenced by our cultural assumptions and biases. Luckily, none of us are saved based on good theology, lol!
In terms of the “taking on the evangelical establishment,” I can only speak for myself and say “not really worth it.”
First, I am not uncomfortable with people agreeing to disagree and recognizing multiple faithful answers. For the same reason that I don’t feel the need to challenge people’s views on baptism (infant or adult), communion (symbol, sacrament, monthly, weekly, etc), end-times, view of women in ministry, etc, etc, etc — I am okay with people coming to their own prayerful conclusions.
Second, I think the only thing that will ever really change things is relationships and honest conversations with real people dealing with these very real issues. So I would rather spend my time listening to others and sharing my own story, than fighting and debating about Greek participles.
Third, I am classically post-modern in this sense — “you don’t want me? That is okay… I will go to a place where people do love and want me.” Why fight? The real mission of the church is too important to get stuck fighting about these issues.
Fourth, as the culture shifts continue, I think it is inevitable that the church (including the evangelical church) will shift as well — just as we have seen on the women in ministry issue.
Fifth, as Nancy pointed out in a previous comment, there is no lack of resources, studies and denominational position statements on homosexuality. But truth is that until the relational stuff takes place and people get beyond their own personal issues and discomforts, they will continue to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as a heretic — the great trump card of all fundamentalists (on the left and right!)
So those are my thoughts… would love to hear yours.