I was talking to a colleague last week about the homosexuality debate at the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference. He is on the conservative side of the issue and remarked that he did not appreciate the argument that advocates of LGBT inclusion were using.
“I love gay people, too,” he said, “and I don’t plan on treating them poorly or differently. So it’s not a matter of ‘loving your neighbor’ to me. It’s a matter of what Scripture says.”
To which I say, Bingo!
The Bible is the problem with our debate – over homosexuality, the role of women, politics, and any number of other contemporary social issues. There is a huge divide in the Christian church over the authority of Scripture. It slices across denominational lines and national borders. The division is between those who cling to a more authoritative, literal reading of Scripture, and those who … don’t, for any number of reasons.
I don’t know if there will ever be unity in our own denomination until we navigate this concern.
Let’s be honest – Scripture does not look kindly on homosexual behavior. The Levitical code in the Old Testament is blunt. Paul in Romans 1 is blunt. No amount of scholarship is going to change my mind that the Biblical writers assumed that homosexual behavior was sinful.
So I say, plainly but with much fear and trepidation, since I was raised in an evangelical home and live in the Bible Belt – Scripture is wrong!
… (crickets chirping)
Let me restate that. Regarding cultural norms and social practices, Scripture is often wrong. But we are wrong to read Scripture in this way.
Why is it wrong to read Scripture in this way? Because it is impossible! I don’t know anyone who lives completely and consistently obedient to every norm laid down by the New Testament, much less the Old! That would mean silent, jewelry-less, head-covered women in worship, men with short hair, and children who are completely submissive to their parents.
It’s also wrong because Scripture was not meant to be read in this way. The Bible is not, contrary to popular clichés, a guide to successful living, nor is it a rulebook. It is not the authoritative guide to science, history, or human behavior.
Instead, Scripture is a collection of letters, poetry, outlandish visions, oral reports, stories, and songs. Primarily and most importantly, Scripture is the written witness of God’s people to God’s own revelation. It’s our book of how we have seen, heard, experienced God.
And, of course, our primary experience of God is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. In fact, Jesus is the Word of God. The whole point of the New Testament is to make that argument, and to point our attention, our focus, and our allegiance to Jesus.
How frustrating, then, it must be to God, that for many Christians, the primary attention, focus, and allegiance has gone to the Bible instead! It’s easier, I suppose, because it’s something written down in black and white. But in the end, it’s simple idolatry. Biblio-idolatry.
John tells us quite clearly why he wrote his gospel: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
In recent times, the church has surprisingly and happily discovered that gays and lesbians can have life in his name, too – without denying their sexual orientation.