Rev. Yme Woensdregt
A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality: Part I
June is PRIDE Month, and cities and communities around North America are celebrating, including the planned Pride Weekend here early in June. It is an opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community to celebrate their God–given identity.
Some people may not be sure what LGBTQ stands for. I won’t take it it for granted that you do. It denotes people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. From time to time, you’ll see other letters added such as “I” for Intersex, or the number “2” for 2–spirited. Some people also add another “Q” for Questioning. The list continues to evolve.
Sadly, many Christians and churches continue to condemn members of the LGBTQ community. As “Bible–believing Christians”, they do so on the basis of 7 texts in Scripture — yes, only 7 — which seem to condemn homosexuality. These 7 texts have become known as “clobber texts” because they are used to beat up LGBTQ people. I say they “seem to condemn” because a careful reading leads many of us to conclude that they do not condemn committed same–gender relationships as we understand them today. They are about something else altogether.
But I don’t want to rehearse all those arguments in this column. I’ve done so before, and I think they are deeply flawed. Furthermore, we can’t simply lift verses out of the Bible without paying attention to the context of the time and place in which they were written. As we see in the Bible itself, we have the sacred and joyful responsibility of reimagining how God is at work in the 21st century with the same kind of passion as the original authors of the Bible imagined how God was at work in their times.
So in these next two columns, I’m going to follow the lead of Matthew Vines, a Christian LGBTQ activist. In his book God and the Gay Christian, Vines suggests that there are other Scriptures which can guide faithful Christians as we seek an equally faithful interpretation of sexuality and gender identity.
Let me highlight 10 Scripture texts that emphasize the value of love. In fact, as you read the Bible carefully, you’ll find that there are so many Scripture texts which emphasize that all people are beloved of God—all people, not just those who are like us. And further, Scripture tends to specially affirm those who have been historically rejected as unclean or unholy.
1) Genesis 1:26: “Let us create humankind in our image.”
Let’s begin, as the Bible does, with a story about creation. It ends with this sentence that out of all of creation, human beings are created in God’s image. Notice also that this verse refers to God in the plural. Some think this is the “royal we”, but it could also suggest the idea that God contains a diversity of identities within God’s own mysterious and infinite self. That’s one of the ideas behind the doctrine of God as Trinity — that God is a community of love.
In any case, this assurance that human beings are created in God’s image reminds us from the get–go that everyone is a sacred creation. God’s image is broader than our own experience and understanding. Someone may look — or love — differently than we do. Yet simply by being a human, that person reflects the image of God.
2) Acts 10:15: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
In Acts 10, Peter has a dream in which he is commanded by God to consume food that is deemed “unclean” according to Jewish law. When Peter protests, the voice in the dream reminds him that when God’s declaration that something is clean supersedes any other command or law. Peter’s dream sets up his encounter with Gentiles later in the chapter. One of the earliest struggles for the church was whether Gentiles could be included in the community of Jesus the Jew. This text reminds us that God’s beloved community is not defined by our rules or boundaries. God expands the boundaries every time.
3) Isaiah 56:3–5: “Thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
Ancient Israel condemned and ostracized eunuchs. Deuteronomy 23:1 says quite clearly that they could not be part of God’s community of love. They didn’t adhere to sexual norms, and so they were beyond the pale.
So it comes as a huge surprise that the prophet Isaiah would make such a bold proclamation. Here’s an example of a later author in the Bible coming to a different conclusion than an earlier author. The prophet proclaims God’s love for those who were deemed “sexually other”. Isaiah proclaims the promise that God’s faithful love will embrace all who honour God, regardless of whether we have called them outsiders.
4) Acts 8:26–40: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
Centuries after Isaiah, this story recounts Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch. It is probably the most–cited biblical story by those who seek to affirm queer identity within Christian faith. This eunuch has two strikes against him: his nationality and his sexuality. And yet, he seeks to follow in the way of Jesus even as he continues to live out his sexual otherness. Philip welcomes him, and joyfully baptizes him into Christ’s community. The eunuch’s question to Philip — “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” — underscores that his sexual status is not a barrier to inclusion in the eyes of God.
Next, I will suggest 6 other scriptures that continue to proclaim the word that God’s love is wide and boundless and embraces us all.
A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality: Part II
In my last column (see above), I suggested a number of Scripture readings which can help guide faithful Christians in a more loving direction when we think of our brothers and sisters on the LGBTQ spectrum. Those who are opposed to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters use 7 so–called “clobber texts” which seem to condemn homosexuality. I respectfully disagree. Those 7 texts which seem to condemn homosexuality are about something quite different than committed same–gender relationships.
Just this week, I read a very interesting article in which the author details what those texts are really about when the Bible talks about homosexuality. I’ll share that in a column in the next few weeks.
In this column I will continue with a list of 10 readings which suggest a more loving way of interpreting sexuality and gender identity. The heart of the gospel is love, and anything which fails to be loving is simply not Christian. These 10 readings are only a small sample of the overwhelming number of Biblical texts which call us to love.
5) Isaiah 43:1: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”
This message from the prophet Isaiah emphasizes God’s steadfast love and protection for God’s people. In particular, this verse reminds believers that all are loved and claimed by a God who redeems us and will always be with us. This reading emphasizes that we don’t receive God’s love because we are worthy. It is all grace, and God loves us solely because of God’s devotion. That includes those who are queer, transgender, bisexual, gay, or lesbian. This passage tells us that all people are called by name and do not need to be afraid.
6) Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is convinced that in the new community of Jesus, all human differences no longer count. For the early church, this meant a debate about whether Gentiles could be included in the community of Jesus the Jew. For the contemporary church, this means a new conversation about who is included, and who is excluded. Paul, along with the early church, decided that human distinctions don’t count. Christ’s promise and God’s love is abundant and embraces all people. Human boundaries are made irrelevant by the power of God’s love. Those divisions and prejudices that have historically kept groups of people apart or given some power to some over others have no place in Christ’s community. The particular phrase “there is no longer male and female” offers a challenge to traditional binary understandings of gender roles.
7) Mark 12:28–31: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
All the gospels make clear that the Great Commandment is the overarching command of a faithful life. The heart of all we do is to be marked by love. We are to love God with all that we are, and we are to love our neighbour. This command to love underpins any and all other commands. As a result, if what we do goes against the command to love, it’s not Christian.
8) Psalm 139:13: “It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
This beautiful, famous psalm sings of God’s intimate and intentional knowledge of each person. It suggests that every crucial part of our identity was known to God, crafted by God before we were born. As beings made in such love, we are created good. This psalm also suggests that nothing will remove us from God’s steadfast love and presence.
9) Matthew 15:21–28: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
This wonderful little story in Matthew’s Gospel tells about an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. Her nationality and her gender made her an outsider; even Jesus rejects her when she comes seeking his help for her daughter. But she challenges Jesus, and he ends up praising her faith and healing her daughter. The woman knows that God’s love is so expansive that it can surprise and stretch even Jesus himself. Her faith encourages Christians to be mindful of our own prejudices and understand that God’s love isn’t as restrictive as our own.
10) 1 John 4:7–8: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
This passage emphasizes the centrality of love. Why do we love above all else? Because that is the nature and character of God. If we don’t love, we cannot claim to be followers of Jesus, who lived out God’s love in every word and act in his life. Anyone seeking to follow God must also seek to love others. We must trust that anyone who loves is also born of God.
Indeed, there are a host of other Scriptures which emphasize that those who follow Jesus are called first and foremost to love, to serve, to embrace one another. None are beyond the scope of God’s love. None are beyond the pale. My prayer is that the church learns to be more compassionate, more welcoming, more inclusive.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook