As it says also in Hosea, I will call “my people” those who aren’t my people, and the one who isn’t well loved, I will call “loved one.” And in the place where it was said to them, “You aren’t my people,” there they will be called “the living God’s children.” (Rom 9:25-26 CEB)
A few years ago I took part in an online discussion. The topic under discussion turned to the way the church has demonized LGBTQI folk. At one point a young man, angered by the very topic, dismissed the Bible and further negated the place of the New Testament inferring that it had no bearing on the life and experience of LGBTQIA individuals. This young man, sadly, proclaimed his belief that “Paul wrote a whole letter on Sodomy!”
While I understand the hurt and frustration of this young man, what struck me most in this exchange was that, because many in the church have had a proof texting focus on selective passages in order to sustain a position based on prejudice and exclusion, this young man (probably unknowingly referring to Romans) was under the assumption that a whole letter in the New Testament was devoted to the demonizing of GLBTQI folk!
I cannot fault this young man for this assumption. I do fault some in the church for putting a stumbling block before this sensitive young man so that he felt he could not come to the New Testament without being systematically condemned.
When, as a 15 year old devout (perhaps slightly overly zealous), Evangelical/Pentecostal boy discovering that I was attracted to men, I somehow managed to get hold of the book The Unhappy Gays by Tim LaHaye (best known as the author of the popular “Left Behind” novels). In the book LaHaye proposed “18 steps for overcoming homosexuality.” LaHaye utilized Paul a great deal. As a young man who loved Jesus, what he wrote terrified me. Unfortunately I internalized the words of this Christian leader. He wrote,
Homosexuality is not just a sin against one’s own body, but an offense against God. Therefore the phrase “a Christian homosexual” is really a contradiction in terms. A homosexual violates God’s clearly prescribed will, thwarts his purpose for man, and has incurred “the wrath of God”. If a man persists in this sin long enough, God will “give him up to a reprobate mind.”
He goes on to recount a story in which he met a man who claimed to be both gay, happy and a born again Christian, to which LaHaye responded, “You’re kidding yourself on both counts. A Christian homosexual will either be trying to extricate himself from his sin or will feel so guilty about it he is miserable.”
He summarizes his understanding of Romans 1:18-28 as follows,
By no stretch of the imagination can anyone be helped or improved in life by adopting a homosexual lifestyle. Clearly it is ungodly, vile, against nature, and shameful. It leads inevitably to a “reprobate mind”. That is, a mind with a conscious bent toward sinning. The text certainly explains the arrogant, open defiance that characterizes many of the leaders of today’s militant homosexual movement — they have a reprobate mind. Add to that the basic anger that characterizes all homosexuals, plus their obsessive selfishness, and you begin to understand why they are driven to make their depraved life style widely accepted… Certainly no sexual practice is so destructive to an entire society as homosexuality.
One might be tempted to think that the vehement rhetoric exposed by Lahaye over thirty years ago has softened and that conservative Christian approaches to the topic have evolved. For the most part they have not. They have, at times, a slightly more nuanced hermeneutic. For example, William J Webb’s, “redemptive hermeneutic” in his influential book (among Evangelicals), Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, writes,
The cultural environment and Israel’s theocratic setting may have influenced the severity of the Old Testament penal code, which called for the death penalty for homosexual behavior. Yet, the inherent negative assessment of homosexual activity itself remains a transcultural dimension. Thus, at least this prohibitive aspect of the homosexual texts should be viewed as transcultural and applied as such within the Christian community today. Although it is not a popular stance today, only by retaining heterosexuality as normative and homosexualities as aberrant do we perpetuate the redemptive spirit of that text, as it was invoked in the original setting.
Thanks for agreeing that killing us is no longer an option in a non-theocratic state.
The Assistant Professor of New Testament at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, often touted as a “leading expert on homosexuality,” Robert A.J. Gagnon wrote,
Affirming same-sex intercourse is not an act of love, however well-meaning the intent. That road leads to death; physically, morally and spiritually. Promoting the homosexual “rights” agenda is an awful and harmful waste of the church’s energies and resources. What does constitute an act of love is befriending the homosexual while withholding approval of homosexual behavior, working in the true interests of the homosexual despite one’s personal repugnance for same sex intercourse, pursuing in love the homosexual while bearing the abuse that will inevitably come with opposing homosexual practice.
Those who still utilize “proof texting” to support a terrorizing position have abandoned and distorted the heart of the great commission in their treatment of LGBTQI folk. They have devised stumbling blocks to the reception of God’s grace.
Paul, perhaps best described as the Apostle of Grace, has been turned into the Apostle of Condemnation. He has been read out of context, so our job is to place Paul back in context and recover what was indeed central to Paul — faith and grace — and what application this may have for LGBTQI believers.
As most of my friends know I am in the middle of putting together my Masters thesis. It is not focused on “the Bible and same sex practices” (although it is a component). It is more an exploration of hermeneutics.
In the last few days it has hit me. I chose this project for a number of reasons. I chose it for the young man I encountered online who believed he could never open the New Testament or approach God. I am also, in a strange way, writing as the fifteen year old boy and later Bible college student who tried to kill himself, because he did not have the conceptual tools or skills needed to recognize LaHaye’s hateful rhetoric for what it was. I guess I am writing this for the many Robbys and Robertas still out there.
I am so grateful for the support and tools I have been given through my seminary experience in order to work on this, to read and interpret the sacred texts for myself, afresh. It is a symbol of coming full circle.
It does get better… I am the “Happy Gay.”
ROBERT SCHOTTER holds a B.A. in Christian studies and is currently finishing a Masters in Biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. Robert was raised in the Salvation Army and, while pursuing ordination in the Salvation Army, came to terms with being a Christian and Gay man. Robert chose not to pursue ordination rather than live his life in the closet. Robert has spent the last 20 years advocating for persons with intellectual disabilities and working as an abuse investigator in New York City.
Robert lives in the Pocono Mountains with his partner Dean, 3 dogs and 2 cats.