The Other Clobber Passages

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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10 thoughts on “The Other Clobber Passages

  1. I find it distressing when people do not realize they read with cultural and personal experiencial lenses. It seems to me that Paul was saying all are equal, not identical (as are you). It confuses and frustrates me when we permenantly bond sexuality/marriage/sex together and condemn those who value and cherish them as distinct and glorious gifts that need not be expressed in partnership with one another.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Paul says we’re all equal, not identical. But at the same time, we’re not attempting to make either a complementation or egalitarian argument. It frustrates us quite a bit when we hear, “You don’t have to be celibate because gender doesn’t matter.” That statement is problematic in many ways, not the least of which is the assumption that we’re celibate because we *have to* be.

  2. I experienced hostility to celibacy in general when, as a Protestant, I began to voice interest in the possibility. I don’t recall that hostility being backed up Biblically most of the time, except once and again with the quotation of Genesis 2; it was often declared (with no support at all, Biblical or otherwise) to be a manifestation of hatred or contempt of the body, and/or to be a Catholic thing, which in the circles I traveled in was often held to be a condemnation in itself. But there were also a few people who were supportive.

    • Most of the time when we encounter hostility to celibacy, it’s from LGBT people who are sexually active or allies who do not understand why an LGBT person might choose celibacy. We’ve heard it mostly from people who come from Protestant traditions, which makes sense because most Protestant traditions do not emphasize celibate vocations. However, we’ve heard a bit of hostility toward celibacy from Catholics and Orthodox Christians whose sexual ethics are more progressive. Though we hear all 3 passages we quoted in this post with some regularity, we hear the Galatians and Genesis passages quoted most often.

  3. Sarah and Lindsey,

    Thanks for your post. I’ve been reading you for a few months now and have really enjoyed your devotion to each other and your vocation.

    I was especially touched by your interpretation of the “it is not good for man to be alone” passage. I think that the creation of Eve was not merely a provision for Adam to have an erotic partner, but also a means for bringing forth a broader community through childbirth. So that the creation of Eve didn’t just represent the inauguration of marriage, but also the possibility of a growing and expanding community—a possibility that would come to be just as much a part of God’s answer to the “not good” of man’s aloneness as Eve herself was.

    Thank you for another thoughtful and vulnerable post.

    Logan

    • Hi Logan, thanks for reading. We always appreciate the encouragement. We’re so grateful God has created many diverse forms of community for people since Genesis. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Great post. You raise some important points here.

    A few remarks upon Galatians 3:28 and Genesis 2:18:

    Galatians 3:28. While so often taken out of context, the verse really should be read carefully within its original surroundings. The point that it makes is that all the groups mentioned are unified in Christ and in him equally full heirs of Abraham and the promise. The inheritance point is crucial, as Abrahamic inheritance would typically have been regarded as something belonging particularly to the free Jewish male. However, in Christ we all possess his inheritance.

    This inheritance shouldn’t be perceived of as something that we all possess as detached individuals, but as an undivided inheritance that we share as an undivided Church—which is why being one is so emphasized. The point here is indivisibility in participation in the one Christ (cf. Colossians 3:10-11): in this one body, we are all heirs together in the common inheritance.

    It is a rather modern assumption that such indivisibility must entail interchangeability, or a flattening out of all distinctions. The inheritance in view in Galatians seems to be the gift of the Spirit (cf. 3:14; 4:6). As we see in such places as 1 Corinthians 12, the one Gift of the Spirit is the common life and inheritance of the one body of Christ. The inheritance itself is indivisible, as must be the body that receives it. However, the one Gift of the Spirit is ministered—re-presented—through the differences of the body, in their exercise of the diversity of the many gifts of the Spirit. Sadly, the tendency seems to be to occlude Paul’s point about the indivisibility of one inheriting body, focusing upon the interchangeability of many inheriting individuals instead, which is not the same point at all.

    Genesis 2:18. The woman is created to address a particular problem: the man’s aloneness. The man was created in part as an answer to the problem of the lack of any man to serve the earth (Genesis 2:5—like Eve in her relation to Adam, Adam was created to serve the earth, not to be subservient to it or to be exhaustively defined by his relationship to it). The creation of the man doesn’t adequately solve the problem, however. One man is hardly capable of serving the whole earth and performing all of the work of the priestly Garden-sanctuary. Exodus 18:17-18, where it was ‘not good’ that Moses had to judge Israel ‘alone’ (the same words are used), is an illuminating parallel.

    Eve addressed Adam’s aloneness, first by assisting him in his particular task, but, more importantly, as she performed her own task of giving rise to new life and communion, providing the possibility of humanity being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. Unsurprisingly, it is in the bearing of children that her vocation finds its principal, but no means exclusive, expression (hence, the particular character of the judgment upon the woman in Genesis 3).

    The ‘aloneness’ of Adam in Genesis 2, therefore, is less a need for human companionship as such as it is a need for a counterpart to enable him to perform his challenging vocation and to bring what he starts to completion. While companionship is definitely part of the picture, the companionship envisaged is inseparable from its fundamental orientation to serve ends and a good greater than the immediate psychological and sexual needs of the couple themselves. This inseparability is more than a mere holding together of two distinct ends—companionship and service of the wider world. Rather it is the integration and co-inherence of these. The life that the man and woman forge together is a life for the sake of the world. The deepest intimacy of their sexual union is an act that holds its own potential for the outflowing of the gift of life beyond them.

    As with Galatians 3:28, we should beware of our instinctive individualization of such texts. Marriage may be integral to the vocation of humanity, but that doesn’t mean that it is integral to my vocation. Nor need it mean that the unmarried are without a stake and a part to play within that common human vocation. Those of us who are unmarried and/or childless are still full participants in this project. Even though we may not personally marry and have children, in many and various ways we not only support those who do, but immediately serve in the tasks of extending and improving humanity’s stewardship of the creation, the raising of the next generation, and the worship and enjoyment of God, serving and serving alongside persons of the other sex in their own service. In our sexual continence we honour the marriage bed. In our various social, religious, personal, and economic vocations we also advance and realize the common human vocation and blessing. This is especially the case in the kingdom of God, where the task of being fruitful and multiplying comes to focus less narrowly upon procreation and is more about the spreading of the rule of Christ through our exercising of spiritual gifts in his body.

    • Alastair, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments expanding on Galatians 3:28 and Genesis 2:18. It’s so important to put verses in context. We’re glad that you’ve dropped by our comment box, and we hope to hear more from you in the future!

  5. I think I just encountered 1 Corinthians 9:5 being used as an anti-celibacy passage – which seems to me like rather a weird stretch. The argument seemed to be mostly against monasticism (Mount Athos in particular was cited as problematic), but there was also an element of ‘God made men and women for each other’.

    • Sounds like that could indeed be used as an anti-celibacy passage. Thanks for pointing this out. We’d never heard this one used in quite that way before.

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