Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality- Explode the Myths Heal the Church is the third book I've read on the Bible and homosexuality. The first was Straight & Narrow by Thomas E. Schmidt, which concluded the Bible said being homosexual (or more precisely having homosexual sex was a sin). The second was What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak. That boook concluded that the Bible is really silent about homosexual relationships and only condemned homosexual sex as part of either Jewish purity laws, idolatry and/or exploitative relationships between men and boys. The first book was written by a straight man, the second by a gay priest. Both looked at the Bible. But, each came to completely different conclusions about what it would tell us to do today about homosexual relationships.
Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality was written by a straight man high up in the Presbyterian Church. Like me, he has no personal ax to grind when it comes to this issue. He is not a homosexual and pretty much went along with the general condemnation of by the church until he was forced to confront the issue because of his position in the Presbyterian church. I think that this book will appeal a great deal to the large numbers of Christians who are in the position of wanting to treat homosexuality with compassion but who feel they need to stay true to the Bible.
Honestly, parts of the book were rather difficult for me to get through. Jack Rogers cites a lot of facts, dates and names around the Presbyterian church's struggle with this issue. He goes into way more detail than I care to know. In fact the last chapter is entitled "Recommendations for the Presbyterian Church". I must confess I skipped that chapter. But, I think these details will be important for church leaders in other denominations who have to address this issue. We each must confront this not only on a personal level. But, if we are in a church, as churches and as denominations, we must confront it together. Seeing what the Presbyterians have done right and wrong may be helpful.
I have always resisted the comparison of homosexuality to being black. While there are some similarities in terms of the denial of civil rights, there are major differences. However, the chapters on the church's history of the treatment of blacks and women based on interpretation of scripture are important lessons. As Jack Rogers points out there has been a history of using the Bible to justify oppression. Women and blacks, in particular, have been denied their rights by white men largely based on those men's interpretations of ancient texts. Most people believed:
- The Bible records God's judgment against the sin of people of African descent (Ham- Noah's son) from their first mention in scripture.
- People of African descent were inferior in moral character and incapable of risiing to the level of full white, "Christian civilization" and
- People of African descent were willfully sinful, often sexually promiscuous and threatening and they deserved punishment for their own acts.
Take the above paragraph and you can directly substitute women for blacks. Women were condemned by God and men because Eve led Adam into temptation. Women were not seen as capable of being as morally upright as men. So, blacks and women, were oppressed for their own good and because it was the natural order of things. When I read this, it didn't take a great deal of insight to realize you can plug homosexuals into these three sentences and many Christians wouldn't disagree at all. While most people today would find these statements ignorant and reprehensible when applied to either women or blacks, they would have no problem applying them to homosexuality. Similarity this was "natural" and "common sense" in this country just a few decades ago when applied to blacks and women. Rogers goes into a fair amount of detail showing exactly how the Bible was (mis)used to justify oppression against blacks and women, citing the scriptures used and the scholars who applied them. These things were seen as "self-evident" reminscent of the man Jack Rogers ran across who said he had no need to study how to treat homosexuals because his grandmother had told him it was wrong and that was good enough for him.
In the third chapter, Jack Rogers shows how the church began changing its mind on scripture when it moved from a sola scriptura mode of proof-texting to applying the overall theme of scripture of Jesus' mission to interpret scripture. Churches have started to approach the Bible through the lens of Jesus' life and ministry and as he points out, he cannot imagine Jesus turning away anyone who is despised and discrimated against to the point of suicide yet that is exactly what many of our churches are doing. That, in and of itself, should give churches huge pause in what they are doing. He gives 7 guidelines for interpreting scripture in times of controversy.
In Chapter 5, we get to what the Bible says (and doesn't say) about homosexuality. This was old news for me. But, it will be new news for some. In a nutshell, the Bible is silent about committed, homosexual relationships. The few passages of scripture that talk about homosexuality talk about homosexual sex presumably between uncommitted people. The passages in Leviticus that so many Christians love to toss around, condemn things like eating shellfish, planting two types of crops in a field, blended fabrics and other things we all do routinely as "abominations". I won't go into the detail here. But, this part of the book will be very eye opening for many. If you think you know what the Bible says about committed homsexual relationships in 2009 and you think it condemns them, reading this chapter or "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality" might be shocking to you.
The last chapter that I read addresses the idea of homosexuality and marriage. Professor Rogers shows statistically speaking that, while marriage is in trouble in the United States, it doesn't need defense from homosexual marriage which does not threaten heterosexual marriage at all. He also points out the hypocrisy of putting homosexuals in the bind of saying that all sex outside of the institution of marriage is sin while denying them the right to marry. We are assigning homosexuals to a life of celibacy, a life that the Bible clearly states is not for everyone and is an assignment from God.
I see more and more Christians who are willing to at least debate gay rights now. Both civil rights and how homosexuals should be treated in the church is up for discussion. A while ago Brian McClaren called for a five year time out to think about the topic. But, while I like the fact that he is not advocating continued discrimination, by doing nothing, we are condemning gay people to continue to suffer from this discrimination. We should never hesitate when it comes to seeking justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. The time is always now. Hopefully, books like this one will move some people off of the sidelines and into the arena to fight for justice.