When LGBT Christians and their allies speak of biblical interpretation, they often focus their attention on the 6 passages of Scripture thought to address whether same-sex sexual activity is permissible. Because so many conservative Christians quote these 6 passages aggressively in efforts to condemn same-sex sexual activity, queer writers discuss them as the “clobber passages.” As LGBT Christians ourselves, we have been on the receiving end of much Bible-thumping and are grateful for the efforts to challenge Christians to consider these verses more holistically. However, as much as progressive writers call for the importance of placing certain passages of Scripture in context, it also seems that other verses get a free pass to assail celibate ways of life. In this post, we want to discuss these other clobber passages. We’d like to use this post to identify the verses in question, briefly describe the main arguments made about them in LGBT-friendly circles, and discuss why we find these arguments harmful. It is not our intention to offer a full exegesis in this post.
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.”
Inevitably, one of the first verses we hear referenced is Galatians 3:28. People with a progressive sexual ethic/view of gender often argue that St. Paul says gender is a wholly irrelevant construct that is to be done away with in Christ. After all, the first division was between Jew and Gentile, which Paul wrote to abolish. The second division was between slave and free, which the abolitionists worked to abolish. And the last division is the division between male and female, which some hold that modern Christians are working to abolish.
This argument is difficult for us because we’ve come to see some real value in recognizing that the Church is comprised of people from every tongue, language, and nation. Our differences are not obliterated by Christ. Rather, peoples formerly at odds with one another are now capable of being built into one body where each part can complement every other part. Additionally, our own journeys with our sexual orientations and gender identities have led us to regard gender as a profound mystery not easily understood or categorized. We know many people who have been adversely affected by the suggestion that gender is wholly irrelevant because these people perceive a real need to align better their bodies, self-awareness of their gender, and social acknowledgement of their gender.
We take Galatians 3:28 to say that the Gospel does not vary according to ethnic, class, and gender lines. Christ is the same, the good news that Christ has come to earth remains the same for all, and that everyone is welcome to share in Christ’s life without any exception. When you extrapolate this summary to the rest of Galatians as a whole, it seems that almost everything Paul discusses has a one-to-one relationship with our summary. The Gentiles did not become Jewish; the Gentiles were incorporated into the Body of Christ as Gentiles. The children of Hagar were just as welcome in the Body of Christ as the children of Sarah. Joining the Body of Christ did not deny one’s heritage.
Genesis 2:18 “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'”
We hear this verse cited frequently as a way to declare all forms of celibacy (and singleness) as being contrary to God’s will. People will rightly observe that this verse contains the first “not good” in all of creation. God made Adam a partner to be Adam’s helper so Adam would not need to be alone. Among those with a progressive sexual ethic, the marital relationship is an essential relationship for everyone (or almost everyone) so people do not need to be alone.
We naturally have strong objection to any suggestion that because we’re celibate, we’re somehow “alone.” We constantly share our lives with one another and with other people around us. “Alone” is the very last word we would use to describe ourselves.
Even as single people, we did not experience singleness as a crushing burden of isolation. We looked for opportunities to build surprisingly meaningful friendships that have stood the test of time. These friendships transcended age and geographic boundaries. Additionally, we have been blessed to be a part of various thriving communities (even if some of these communities were disjointed from one another).
We take Genesis 2:18 to mean that people need to be in relationships with other people. People find the fullness of their humanity when they relate to other people. We’re designed for interdependence, for community, and for communion with God and with each other.
1 Corinthians 7:6-7 “This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.”
Recognizing that it’s a bit challenging to figure out what Paul is talking about here from the bit we’ve quoted, we’re going to back up a bit. Paul is discussing managing temptations towards sexual immorality. We know many LGBT Christians who quote regularly a later verse that says, “For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Sometimes, these folks look at us askew because they assume that we must be completely divorced from any semblance of a healthy relationship with our own sexualities.
This particular passage is used to make an argument for celibacy as a spiritual gift. Many people regard the gift of celibacy as an exceedingly rare gift. After all, how many people can honestly manage spiritual feats that rival Paul’s greatness? Lindsey has attended many churches that have done various spiritual gifts inventories and remembers people boasting about how they scored a 0 (or whatever the lowest possible test value was on that particular inventory) for “the gift of celibacy.” In these church contexts, celibates were little more than freaks of nature, so it’s exceptionally unlikely that a person would know anyone who possesses the gift of celibacy. The idea that two people would be called to celibacy and then magically find each other in a way that permits them to do life together is akin to finding not 1, but 2, needles in thousands of haystacks.
We’ve also noted that people most likely to quote 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 at us do so in a way to say it’s next to impossible to be celibate, so any perceived “call to celibacy” must be a linguistic device to legitimatize self-hate. One who views celibacy in this way sees celibacy as oppression, oppression, oppression, and a good deal of repression as well. Celibacy does little more than to squish a person. Adding concerns about sexual orientation and gender identity into the mix, many LGBT Christians with a progressive sexual ethic encourage those exploring celibacy to discern any underlying internalized homophobia, assuming that the person feeling “called” to celibacy must be denying any sense of sexual desire.
While we do appreciate that reconciling one’s faith, sexuality, and gender identity can be exceptionally difficult for some people, we resist the carte blanche assertion that all celibates are freaks or remarkably internally oppressed. Such an assertion denies us our ability to tell our own stories. It also prevents us from sharing our definitions for celibacy and explaining how celibacy can be a pathway of integrating one’s sexuality.
When we read 1 Corinthians 7:6-7, we see Paul describing both celibacy and marriage as gifts. There is some distinction between the gifts, but only God is the giver.
As we have explored the question, “What is an appropriate sexual ethic for us as LGBT Christians?” we have had many people throwing Bible verses at us with an attempt to pound us into submission. Both conservatives and liberals are just as as prone to trying to educate us about their interpretations of the Scriptures in ways that can be condescending. But we’re aware that in most cases, this condescension isn’t intentional. We always welcome your comments. We’re particularly interested in learning whether any of our celibate readers have had additional passages quoted to them in an attempt to invalidate their vocations.
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