Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder , Senior Minister




“Recovering From Painful Scripture”

Sunday, August 22, 2010




Rev. Dean Snyder

Recovering from Painful Scriptures
Can Affection Be Bad?

We are spending the month of August on the theme: What we can learn from Scriptures we wish weren’t in the Bible.

We’ve talked about the prohibition in the New Testament against remarriage after divorce. The superficial interpretation of this Scripture has forced too many people to have to choose between their faith and the possibility at a second chance at love and marriage.

We’ve talked about Scripture that seems to deny women voice and positions of leadership in church. We’ve talked about Scripture that seems to give divine rights to kings and governments.

Next Sunday we are going to look at Scripture that seems to condone and endorse slavery.

Today we are talking about Scripture that seems to condemn same-gender love.

There are seven Scriptures in the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality.

The story of the city of Sodom in Genesis 19 is often used to condemn homosexuality but it is a story about inhospitality and rape. We agree that rape is wrong and criminal and tragic.

There are two verses in the Book of Leviticus –

Leviticus 18:22 says: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 says: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death …”

I find the Book of Leviticus fascinating because it tells us so much about the early formative culture of Judaism, but we do not consider many, even most, of the rules in Leviticus authoritative. We eat shrimp (Lev. 11:9-12); we wear nylon, polyester, and spandex (Lev. 19:19); we preserve meat more than two days (Lev. 7:18); we allow people who are “blind” or “lame” or “have a broken foot or hand” to serve at the altar (Lev. 21:16-20); and in my garden I plant pumpkins in between the sweet corn (Lev. 19:19).  All these things are forbidden by the Book of Leviticus.

If you ever hear anyone use the Leviticus quotes to condemn homosexuality, don’t take them seriously. They have not studied the Bible. They are proof-texting and taking Scripture out of its context.

In the New Testament in I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10, among the list of those who are condemned are, in Greek, malakoi and arsenkoita, words that have been translated as “male prostitutes” and “homosexuals” in contemporary translations. These are very shaky translations. We’ve never been very clear about what these words mean. Martin Luther thought arsenkoita was a reference to masturbation. These words are so unclear that we can not draw any dependable conclusions based on them. Fuzzy translation has caused lots of confusion and pain.

There is also a passage in the Book of Jude which some people think may be a vague reference to same-gender lust, but it is too complicated a reference to tell really. (Jude 1:7)

I wanted to get these other references out of the way because I think there is only one passage in the Bible that really challenges us – Romans 1:22-32. I’d like you to find this passage in your Bible or a pew Bible. Page 152 in the New Testament if you are using a pew Bible. This is the passage I think challenges us…the only passage that is a challenge on the topic of same-gender love.

 Paul is writing about Greek or Gentile culture, people he might call Pagans:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. [Idolatry]

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. [Again, idolatry]

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.

Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.

They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die - yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (Rom. 1:22-32)

What Paul is doing here is setting up a contrast. He is talking about the worst kinds of behaviors he can think of in order to later show the power of the grace of God to forgive these awful things and save people from them.

There is a lot of debate about this passage among biblical scholars, translators, and theologians, but let me tell you what I think.

I think that for the Apostle Paul, the man of his time and place in human history and culture, same-gender sex was, in his mind, about as awful a thing as he could think of to use as an example of the human capacity to do bad things.

I know that same-gender sex was sometimes a part of pagan temple worship, and that this would also have been repugnant to Paul, but I think we make a mistake if we do not assume that same-gender sex was something that Paul, as a man of his time and place and culture, would have found unacceptable and perhaps repulsive.

What I want us to look at is Paul’s assumptions about same-gender sex.

He assumed it was “unnatural.” Look at Romans 1:26-27. Paul’s assumption is that different-gender sex is the only natural expression of sex and that same-gender sex is unnatural. In this way he was not different from almost everybody else of his time and culture, or for that matter the time and culture I grew up in.

Secondly, he assumed that same-gender sex was a result of “degrading passion.”

Romans 1:26 says: “For this reason God gave them up to “degrading passions.”

Paul’s assumption is that all men are sexually attracted to women and all women are sexually attracted to men and same-gender attraction is the result of lust that is so out of control that same-gender sex can’t satisfy them anymore so they need to look for new thrills.

This is Paul’s assumption.

What if Paul’s assumptions are wrong?

What if research and study tells us that for some of us same-gender attraction is not unnatural but natural? What if same-gender love is not the result of persons having gotten bored with the opposite sex and looking for bigger thrills, but what if – for some of us – same-gender sex is the way we can best and most authentically express romance and sexual affection. 

The evangelical Baptist professor Tony Campolo did his doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania 30 or 40 years ago. He interviewed 500 gay men. I’ve heard him say that he was convinced that being gay was not a choice for any of the 500 men he interviewed, not even once.

What if the Apostle Paul’s assumptions are wrong? What then?

What if, as medicine and sociology are discovering, same-gender love is natural for some of us?

The United Methodist Church teaches four principles about how we interpret Scripture. Dee and I have mentioned them in every sermon this month. I should give a pop quiz.

We understand all Scripture in the light of Christ.

We understand any specific Scripture text in light of its place in Scripture. We don’t proof text.

We utilize the best scholarship available to us in the study of Scripture – historical, literary, and textual.

We understand Scripture’s meaning in light of reason, experience, and tradition.

What if reason and experience teaches us that an assumption a biblical writer held was wrong? Then we need to reread the Bible in light of new learning.

If mental illness is not the result of demon possession, we need to reread the Bible.

If disease is not the result of sin, we need to reread the Bible.

If political power is not the result of divine endowment, we need to reread the Bible.

If the earth’s resources are not unlimited, we need to reread the Bible.

If heterosexual attraction is not natural for everybody, we need to reread the Bible.

Here’s what I think Paul is saying: Any of us who have lived very long know that we human beings are capable of doing awful things. We are capable of murder, rape, predatory sexual behavior, lying, and even, even, even…gossip. That’s what Paul says.

But there is nothing the grace of God can not forgive and save us from. This is Paul’s message. Don’t confuse his message with his examples.

This is why it is so important that we understand that the reason we study the Bible is to learn how to think, not what to think. We study the Bible to learn to think with the mind of Christ.

The old saying is “Give somebody a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.”

Give someone a list of rules and maybe they will have a good life for a day as long as the situation and culture doesn’t change. Teach people how to think like Christ and they can figure out how to live good lives throughout the changing centuries.

If a list could have done it, the Bible could have been one chapter long. We would not have needed the prophets or Christ. We would not have needed Good Friday or Easter or Pentecost.

The purpose of the Bible is to teach us how to think with the heart of God and the mind of Christ.

Lewis Smedes who taught for many years at the evangelical Fuller Seminary says:

First, “the Bible does not tell us anything about…homosexuality.” All the biblical writer knew about was people they assumed were heterosexual who engaged in same-gender sex acts.

Second, Smedes says “the Bible does not tell us [anything] about the character of gay people…any more than it tells [us anything] about…my fellow Dutchmen.”

Third, he says, “the Bible does not tell us about the personal quality of homosexual relationships.”

We need to learn these things from experience. Then we need to read the Bible in the light of our experience.

What the Bible does tell us is the quality of relationship we should seek for.

Turn to Galatians 5:22-23 (NT p. 191): “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Turn to Philippians 2:2-8 (NT p. 197):   

Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

I could give you 40 other examples. Christ shows us all – straight, gay, married, partnered, single – the quality of relationships we should seek and work and pray for.

I have a gay friend, deeply spiritual, deeply Christian, who wrestled with the Romans passage for a long time. “Degrading passions…exchanged natural for unnatural…shameless acts…consumed with passion,” all the rest. He wrestled with all the language; he wrestled with the assumptions behind the passage. He worried. He prayed.

Then one day it came to him. “I suddenly realized,” he said, “whoever Paul was talking about, that’s not me. That’s not who I am.”

So I most of all want to say to those of us in the congregation who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender…whoever Paul is writing about in Romans, that’s not you, that’s not you, that’s not you. Please do not let anyone define you.

Lewis Smedes, the evangelical teacher and preacher says: “All I know about gays and lesbians is what I discern them to be as friends and neighbors and fellow Christians. What I have discerned from knowing them is that gay people are as likely to be honest and courageous and loving as any other [group] of people…. They are as likely to love God and seek God’s will and mercy as any heterosexual is.”  

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, whatever, Christ loves you and Christ wants to be present in your relationships, including your marriages and partnerships. Don’t let anyone separate you from Christ.

The great blessing for all of us who either are gay or know and love and respect lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender friends and fellow Christians is that this helps liberate us from a superficial reading of the Bible.

This week someone suggested that Foundry didn’t take the Bible seriously. I said nobody takes the Bible more seriously than Foundry Church. Reading the Bible in a superficial, uninformed, shallow way, out of the context of reason and experience, that’s not taking the Bible seriously. Nobody takes the Bible more seriously than Foundry Church.

Sexuality can become dysfunctional for any of us. It can become a means of control. It can become violent. It can become compulsive. I am not saying that expressions of sexuality can’t be unhealthy. Don’t misunderstand me. When sex is not an expression of love and caring, we may need to find help.

What I am saying is that it is not about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or straight. It is not the anatomy of the relationship; it is the character and quality of the relationship.  

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) May the Spirit fill us and be present in all of our relationships.

Lewis B. Smedes “Exploring the Morality of Homosexuality,” Homosexuality ands Christian Faith, edited by Walter Wink (Fortress Press), 78.

Smedes, 80.

Smedes, 81.

Smedes, 80.