So it comes down to five Bible verses.

The argument that homosexuality is wrong, that homosexuality is sinful, has no other leg to stand upon – if it has any at all – than these five verses: two from Leviticus, one from Romans, one from First Corinthians, and one from First Timothy.

Some want to argue that homosexuality is wrong because it is harmful to others, but there simply is no evidence that homosexuality causes harm to others.  The allegations made on this score are in error, and are offered only out of ignorance or sometimes malice. 

Some want to argue that homosexuality is wrong because it is “unnatural.”  And yet beyond a shadow of a doubt, homosexuality (a sexual attraction to those of the same sex) arises frequently in human beings and frequently in hundreds of other animal species.  Nature is far from homogeneous; nature is given to variety and diversity.  It is only out of ignorance (or, again, malice) that one would try to argue that homosexuality was unnatural.  And is the naturalness of something our test of its morality?

The Indiana Yearly Meeting Minute on homosexuality says that “We believe the Holy Spirit and Scriptures witness to this” [homosexual practices as contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind], but I hear in our discussions only appeals to Scripture, not appeals to the Holy Spirit. 

No, the only argument that might have any standing is the claim that there are five verses in Scripture that supposedly proclaim homosexuality to be sinful.  Some people have come to call these the “clobber texts” because they have been repeatedly used to clobber gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people as sinful. 

And so it matters how we read the Bible.  The Bible is really a complex collection of books, some histories, some prayers, some letters, some imaginative stories, some poetry, some prophecy.  Some of it is written in Hebrew, and some in a  1st century conversational Greek even though Jesus spoke Aramaic.  So translations have to be worked through.  In the face of this complexity, we need a consistent approach to reading the Bible: we cannot read some passages one way, and some passages another. How we read the five clobber texts has to have some consistency with how we read what the Bible says about war, adultery, the role of women in the church, what foods we should eat, what we should do about wealth, what we should do about our desires, or hundreds of other questions.   

At an Indiana Yearly Meeting annual session a year or two ago, the Bible came up in one heated session, and a pastor said “God-breathed” in the midst of the discussion, and others murmured, “God-breathed” in agreement. They were quoting 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 

“God-breathed.”  Yes, useful to remember.  But what does it mean?  What was “Scripture” when the author of 2 Timothy wrote these words? 2 Timothy was likely written towards the end of the first century C.E.  There wasn’t yet a New Testament to which he could refer.  Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels.  The various manuscripts that are compiled into our New Testament were written and circulated in various collections over the first two or three centuries C.E., and weren’t accepted as an authoritative corpus until the late 4th century by action of various gatherings of bishops (the Synod of Hippo, 393, the Third Council of Carthage, 397). 

And who wrote 2 Timothy?  The letter begins “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”  But there are a good many reasons to doubt that it was Paul who wrote this letter.  It doesn’t match the style of his other letters, and we can’t fit it into the sequence of his known travels as reported, for example, in Acts. Most Bible scholars take it to have been written by a follower of Paul, someone trying to copy his example.  But what are we then to make of a letter that begins by telling us something that probably isn’t true?

2 Timothy is a letter with a good deal of holy wisdom in it.  It is worth study and reverence.  But we can hardly take it to be absolutely the literal, end-all truth because the not-Paul who wrote it, claiming he was Paul, tells us that other Scripture (not specified) is “God-breathed.”

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5-17). Jesus uses the Scriptures, which like his Jewish compatriots he would have considered holy but neither complete nor inerrant.  More importantly, He invariably turns the meaning towards a new teaching. And his teachings often come in parables, the meaning of which we are led to puzzle through.  His disciples were often confused and on the wrong track – the Bible tells us repeatedly.  The parables do not yield their meanings easily. 

So how come we to think that the Bible gives us its meanings easily and plainly to us? How can we grab a snippet of text and say “there, that’s clear,” especially when the snippet runs against the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount or the two Great Commandments?  Especially when the snippet runs against the srong current of Jesus’s good news.

George Fox knew the Bible by heart as did many other early Friends. He already knew it by heart, however, when he was in his time of seeking and despair – and yet it did not suffice.  When he had his epiphany on Pendle Hill, he didn’t say, “I see, the Bible is all we need.  It’s a finished revelation that is utterly sufficient in all ways.”  Instead he said, “Jesus has come to teach His people Himself.”  We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible, a treasured book of incomparable wisdom and instruction.  But to substitute the Bible for the Holy Spirit is not what Jesus has in mind when he tells us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), reaching back to Deuteronomy 6:5. 

Revering the Bible doesn’t mean thinking it an easy look-up reference, a closed book of act-by-rote-rule instruction.  Jesus came to breathe a new spirit of love into the old law. 

Views: 1820

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 1:09am

Hmm, "if we believe the Bible to be true."

I believe the universe to be true; ie God made it; and nothing in it is accidental.

So the Bible isn't accidental either. Neither was the old Friend who was freaking out on the drive to the Retreat because we'd seated him between two women. (& my stepson didn't even like to have two different kinds of food touching on his plate; lucky he eventually found a guy who really loved him!)

The question always is: "What meaning does God intend for us to find in this?" It's as clear to me as to you-- that the Bible is not God's effort to tell us that (for example) eating shellfish is sinful.

Having actually waded through it a few times (skimming & holding my nose in a few spots) I don't believe that God is using it to tell us that genocide can be a good thing... but it has passages by people who did think so. There are enough different messages in there to suggest caution in attributing them all to God.

Does it have "a Message"? Yes, I do believe so. And we vehemently disagree as to what that message is. Hence, somebody's lack of "clarity".

If we both pray about it, whether or not we come to agree any time soon, isn't that a better approach than this?

Comment by Norma Silliman on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 1:18am

As an alumni of George Fox University I am sensitive to the issues raised by the OneGeorgeFox "movement" right now. LGBTQ students are asking to be accepted in the Quaker community. In conversation today about how to approach those in NWYM who believe the Bible clearly teaches against homosexuality it quickly became clear that this isn't really about homosexuality, but about how we understand how God speaks to us. Doug Bennett's article puts it very well for me. I have experienced God's grace when scripture about divorce was taken out of the "traditional" perspective and I was shown how much Jesus loved the woman who'd been married several times. I choose to listen to Christ's Sermon on the Mount, Two Great Commandments, and the testimony of the Spirit when I meet men and women who obey them--regardless of their sexual orientation. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Comment by Thomas Kent on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 1:33am

I agree Forrest that prayer is key in everything.  However there is no reason why people can't speak what the Holy Spirit has shown them.

Comment by Beth Belch on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 3:50am

I may be wrong, but what I believe Bruce is pointing out, is the need for consistency.If we say," Well, since Jesus came, God doesn't mean that *we* can't eat pork and shellfish" or "that's out of historical context" for passages that imply women should not speak up in public, or that condone slavery. But we take those "clobber" passages to be completely literal with no larger historical context, and unaffected by Christ's coming, that is inconsistent.

Comment by Beth Belch on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 3:52am

Sorry, though I do agree with Bruce, my comment was meant too regard DOug Bennett, in the original piece!!


Comment by Nicholas Churchill on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 7:05am

If the Bible is "true", then all of its teachings are true, yet many who revere it basically pick and choose those passages that have meaning for them. The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong. It also says that women should be stoned to death for various infractions, that slaves should be obedient to their masters, that men shouldn't shave their beards, etc.  No Christian is going to stone his wife to death or own slaves, and many Christian men shave.

Scripture isn't the Word of God - it's a record of the Word of God, given to people in certain times and places who received it based on their understanding of God and the world in which they lived. To say that the Word of God is written  in stone - that understandings of it can never change - is to essentially limit what God "is" and to deny His ability to speak to us and teach us in the here and now. Absolutely no one that I know, does or does not do, everything that Scripture says to do or not do. Either all of it is true, and we are hypocrites for not treating it as such, or "truth" matures in the Light.

I don't mean to segue here, but Martin Luther once said that, "Reason and intellect are enemies of faith, to be utterly crushed and destroyed." Given that the Reformation was based in part ON reason and intellect, I have always found this statement to be odd. After the Reformation, the spirit that gave it impetus became every bit as rigid as what came before.

I am not one to conflate teachings from different spiritual traditions, but am mindful of a Buddhist saying in which followers are told to keep their minds on "the moon", and not on the finger which POINTS at the moon. Scripture is a guide, not the destination. Jesus didn't have a Bible, and neither did the first Christians. Were they without authority? Without the presence of God in their midst, speaking to them?

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 8:51am

I know several homosexuals that I like very much and everytime I pray about this I am sent to the first chapter of Romans.  Not by a preacher or by memory (I can't find my keys never mind remember a scripture verse), but I have to believe by the Holy Spirit.  I'm sorry but infering that this book might not have been written by Paul and therefore it might not be from God and therefore it is probably wrong just doesn't make it authoritative enough to say what is clearly not the norm is fine.  Sin is sin.  We all have sin in our lives.  We all have to struggle with it.  That's what grace and mercy is all about.  I have enought trouble dealing with my own sin so I can't judge another's life but I can't sanction it anymore than I can buy a drunk another drink.

Comment by Mackenzie on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 12:09pm

It might interest you to take a look at what Greek phrase is used in Romans ("para physin"). It's commonly translated "unnatural" but could also be translated as "against one's own nature" or "uncharacteristic, unexpected." It's used in Romans 11 to refer to God's behaviour in accepting Gentiles. Certainly it's not saying God is in violation of the laws of nature!

In light of that, it seems to me that Romans isn't referring to people who are characteristically gay, people who spend their whole lives with those feelings, but rather to people who are attracted to gender A yet have relations with gender B in spite of this. That Leviticus is referring to temple prostitutes in Pagan religious rituals is something you'll hear from a rabbi. When this "para physin" line comes up in Romans, it's in context of a list of Pagan practices that the Jews do not observe. This seems to me to be yet another reference to Pagan fertility rituals.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 2:03pm

"Sin" is "alienation from God."

For some people, homosexual behavior may result from, or exacerbate, their own alienation from God. Such people should probably avoid it.

What comes from God to one person is not necessarily what comes from God to another.

When I look at the first chapter of Romans... I see Paul speaking from two viewpoints: his own, as a First Century Palestinian, and God's. Naturally enough, he confuses the two.

But his central point is that alienation. People are created one with God; we are also semi-autonomous. Sorting out the tension between these truths has proved difficult. Imagining themselves completely separate, people do peculiar things, many of them overtly wrong and harmful, some of them merely offensive to First-Century Jews.

If homosexual behavior is (as Paul says) a result of alienation from God... then it is not, in itself, the significant problem. And if (as I say) it's natural for some people, it still isn't a significant problem-- except that some people are judging others, insisting they should do violence to what seems to them to be their true nature.

I say that reliance on a book-- to serve as a stand-in for God, as a substitute for the assent of God from within our hearts-- is itself, on its face, a symptom of alienation from God.

It's a very fine book-- for finding the historical tracks of God, together with the fingerprints of fallible men, working our way through the Divine/human courtship as it's been so far-- with hints of what God intends for our ultimate relationship. It is not, itself, that relationship.

More attention to cultivating that-- might leave less attention to spare on other people's sexual behavior.

Comment by ben schultz on 3rd mo. 26, 2012 at 9:37pm

I just always love this topic and the craziness it makes for word people.

I also love the spectacle of people deciding for me (especially quakers) just what I should be up to in my private sexual life.

Hows all that talk working out for you all?

BTW. Read Chuck Fagers book, "Without apology:, for some up to date history about this issue and quakers, funny stuff. ---Well, kinda funny.


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