On Taking the Bible “Seriously”

When Christians disagree with each other on important theological questions, it can be easy to declare that the other person is ignorant, intellectually dishonest, or clearly missing the meaning of critical texts and simultaneously assert that you have come to the proper conclusion–end of story. Listening to the conversation about LGBT people in the church, it’s common for to hear some variations of “People who think you can be gay and Christian are twisting the Bible to say what they want it to say” or “Those who advocate for same-sex marriage are trying to throw 2000 years of Christian teaching out the window.” Rarely do these quick judgments prove true. In today’s post, we’d like to discuss why the claim “Any person who wants a same-sex marriage cannot possibly take the Bible seriously” is problematic.

Amid the polarized debate, the conclusion that “God can and does bless same-sex marriage” is sometimes referred to as a “Side A” or “LGBT affirming” position. Here at A Queer Calling, we purposefully abstain from debating the permissibility of same-sex marriage or whether gay sex is a sin. If you want to participate in those debates, there are plenty of other places on the internet to do so. This post is not an apologetic for a “Side A” position, but is rather an attempt to shift the conversation away from polemics. Agree or disagree with progressive Christians who support gay marriage, it is generally a good idea to avoid writing a person off as a rebel, a heretic, or a revisionist before actually attempting to see where that person’s argument is coming from.

Taking the Bible seriously means carefully considering its claims relative to one’s Christian tradition. Christians throughout the centuries have wrestled with the Scriptures, and certain passages are better known than others for leading to conflicting interpretations. Consider:

  • So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’ John 6:53-56
  • Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 1 Corinthians 6:27-29
  • Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:5-6
  • And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
  • Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  1 Timothy 2:11-12
  • Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. Romans 14:13-14

Theologians within every Christian tradition can examine Scriptures, shake their heads, and wonder how seemingly intelligent people from other Christian traditions can miss theological truths that are blatantly obvious. Each Christian tradition offers guidance on how to interpret the Scriptures, and interpretation sometimes varies widely. Roman Catholics can read Matthew 16 and wonder how it’s possible for any Christian not to accept the Pope as Peter’s successor. Many Protestant traditions read John 6 as symbolic and allegorical. The United Church of Christ has a different interpretation of Scriptures than the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. If the PCUSA held to identically the same Scriptural interpretation as the Roman Catholic Church, then these two bodies would likely be much closer to each other in doctrine. Oftentimes, Christians from different interpretative traditions can agree on which Scriptural texts apply to certain theological debates.

We know a lot of people who believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. The vast majority of these friends are LGBT Christians who came to their conclusions only after devoting themselves to rigorous study and prayer about what the Bible teaches about sexuality, relationships, marriage, and the human condition. Whether one agrees or disagrees with their conclusions, it’s neither helpful nor fair to assert that these people have not considered what the Bible says. Many have turned to Scriptural interpretation tools within their Christian tradition in order to wrestle meaningfully with relevant texts.

As we have traveled on our own journeys with faith and sexuality, we’ve been blessed to meet so many friends searching the Scriptures using the light of their Christian traditions. Is Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1 the right textual corpus to use when discerning one’s sexual ethic? What did Jesus say about marriage? How do the Scriptures bear witness to marriage? Where can we look in the Bible to discern what God wants for married people? What does the Bible say about gender and gender roles? What do we learn if we search the text for all instances of the words “sexual immorality”? Are there places where Christ surprised people by how he responded to those in sexual sin? How have the Scriptures been used to defend human sinfulness, particularly as it relates to slavery and misogyny? What is the historical context around particular verses? Are there parallel accounts in the Scriptures that can provide additional information? How has my Christian tradition understood celibacy? Which Biblical commentaries are accepted within my Christian tradition? How does reading alternate translations challenge my understanding of the texts? How does Christ love the Church? How do the commitments people make to one another mirror Christ’s love to the Church? It would be difficult to catalogue all of the thoughtful questions raised by friends who have concluded that the Bible is silent on the topic of loving, committed, monogamous, lifelong same-sex relationships.

We also know a lot of people who believe that the church should not bless same-sex relationships as marriages. Many of these friends belong to Christian traditions that clearly proclaim marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. For people holding this viewpoint, what benefit is there in talking with a Christian who believes that God can bless same-sex marriages? Why is this point of view worthy of any respect? People ask us this almost weekly. First, the Bible is most living and active when one searches the Scriptures to guide one’s own life. Trying to live out one’s convictions means going beyond hypothetical scenarios. The Bible can speak to us when we approach readings by asking questions and seeking illumination from the Holy Spirit. Discerning one’s sexual ethic or vocation necessitates asking a lot of questions. Second, listening to a person from a different Christian tradition can give you insights into your own tradition. Call us nuts, but some of the best questions we engage in involve people in different Christian traditions. Theological thinking works differently across various traditions. Seeing another’s theological approach can challenge us to explore our own tradition more fully. Third, developing relationships with other Christians can provide mutual aid and support. Even if you think that a person is seriously theologically mistaken on one issue, do you want to go so far as to say that person doesn’t have a relationship with Christ at all? Asserting that any person who advocates for gay marriage does not take the Bible seriously comes close to saying that person does not value growing in Christ. Even across our most vigorous disagreements, as Christians we should hope that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone’s lives. It’s possible to believe that a person is wrong while still respecting the intellectual processes that person has used to reach his or her current conclusions. We all are works in progress, relying on Christ as the good shepherd to lead us.

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4 thoughts on “On Taking the Bible “Seriously”

  1. Thank you for this. I often hear Christians who oppose same sex marriage complain that they get labeled as hateful homophobes just because after studying scripture, praying, etc. they have concluded that scripture does not support same sex marriage. And I think that complaint is legitimate. I know many kind, loving people who just sincerely believe the Bible forbids same sex relationships. They came to that conclusion after studying the Bible, praying, etc., not because they just hate gay people. It’s a very unfair accusation to make against them. But then some of these same people turn around and accuse those who believe that the Bible supports same sex marriage of “twisting scripture.” Often we’re accused of just wanting to accommodate or fit in with the modem trends and culture. Like every Christian who decides to support gay marriage is suddenly invited to all the hippest parties. I know there are straight Christian allies out there who receive more criticism than support for their views. But after prayerful consideration and thorough study of the Bible, they have concluded that same sex relationships and marriage are not condemned by the Bible and should be supported, even though it means they will face a lot of criticism for it. I don’t understand why we feel the need to make those who disagree with us out to be the very worst sorts of people. Two people on opposite sides of an issue can both still be good people. And it’s not “giving in” to accept that the other side might be wrong, but wrong for all the right reasons. Or, as you so eloquently put it: “It’s possible to believe that a person is wrong while still respecting the intellectual processes that person has used to reach his or her current conclusions.”

    • Andrew, thanks for reading and for your comment. It’s absolutely true that so many people write off anyone who believes differently.

  2. Thank you for this post!! Several times, you have posted helpful insights for how ‘affirming’ individuals can best love their celibate friends even when they think they’re wrong. I’ve been thinking of contacting you to ask for help in the opposite camp: how can someone with a traditional ethic (gosh this language is so laden) love someone well who’s in a same sex marriage ie. whom I may think is sinning? I think this post is a beginning to my answer. Most helpful – and something I try to keep in mind with varying levels of success – is your conclusion that we’re not all on the Spirit’s same timeline! Learning to be faithful to my conscience while loving my neighbor is ding dang HARD haha! So – thank you for your courage in taking some very unpopular stands with clarity, beauty, and grace. There’s so many polarizing false dichotomies and you constantly show a lovely third way.

    • Sarah, we’re glad this post was helpful for you. We’ll probably revisit your question in future posts. We look forward to seeing you again in the comments. 🙂

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