A few times now, gay or lesbian couples have come to my office to ask me what I do about those troublesome verses in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality. Not surprisingly, they often come from a variety of evangelical and/or fundamentalist traditions, and they are seeking assurances that what I am telling them is Biblical. Or maybe not. Maybe they just want to know that I've actually thought about it some.
In general, I'm not a big fan of "giving answers" to people. We here in the congregation I serve really are about the journey together and about wrestling with this stuff, not being spoon-fed answers. But, as it happens, I do have some thoughts about those troublesome verses. And here is what I've told the folks who come to my office:
1. All of us Christians are selective literalists. We are literalists in that we all have passages that we believe to be "literally and for-all-time true," and we are selective in that we prioritize certain passages over others. I am yet to meet a Christian who takes the whole of the Bible fully literally and lives faithfully by the commandments contained therein. Slavery? Stoning of children for disobedience? Levirate marriage? Didn't think so. Even the most fundamentalist Christians I have known talk about "cultural" laws that may have been for certain times (but not now), and "moral" laws that stand for all time. It's funny, however, that the commandments they consider "moral" are usually the ones that don't affect their lives in significant ways, while the "cultural" commandments might require some real sacrifice on their part. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence. Right?
The point is, all of us Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible we read literally. Some Christians pick out the nine or so verses that "deal" with "homosexuality" and make them the center of the Gospel message. (Curious, that, as Jesus never spoke of homosexuality, but I digress.) Some Christians pick out the hundreds-to-thousands of verses that speak to caring for the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the otherwise marginalized, and make them the center of the Gospel message. Some Christians pick out the hundreds or so verses that speak to creation care, and make them the center of the Gospel message. And so on.
I myself believe that when Jesus said, "Feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, give clothing to the naked" and the like, that he literally meant for us to do those things. But hey, that's just me.
Maybe you noticed: this methodology I'm proposing does assume that we prioritize the message that we think is "literally" true. Is this a nod to the fundamentalists? Is it an acceptance of literal truth as having the highest priority for our faith? Hardly. It's an acknowledgment that for many of the people who come through the doors of the church I serve, literal truth is still very important to them. My job is about meeting people where they are, opening the door to some understandings and experiences of God that may be new for them, and helping them grow in faith. So if people start with the literalist interpretation of the Bible, that's where I start, too. But I don't stay there. There's a whole world of allegory, metaphor, parable/story, and loads of other ways to interpret the Bible that faithful people may utilize.
2. Now, that doesn't really answer the question. Those verses are still there. There may be only a few of them, but they are there. So what to do about them? I can exegete many of them away - the sin of Sodom, according to Ezekiel, was not the man-on-man action desired by the men of Sodom, but rather that "she and her sisters has pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (That's Ezekiel 16: 49 for all you sword-drill types.) By the Bible's own wording, it was Sodom's lack of care and hospitality that led to their downfall, not the fact that the men of the town wanted to rape the visitors to Lot's house (though I don't imagine God was overly pleased about rape, either....) That 2 Kings passage is about temple prostitution. And so forth. I sometimes also mention that in Biblical times, there weren't a lot of faithful examples of lifelong, committed same-sex couples (though you may want to read about Jonathan and David's relationship - even if it was not "sexual," it was surely far more intimate than any relationship David had with a woman), so the writers of the Bible had little to go on.
I myself have known many committed same-sex couples in whom the Holy Spirit was clearly at work. The fruits of the Spirit were alive in their relationship, their love radiated outward to others, and clearly they knew they were children of God. How can we deny that kind of evidence? We can't.
3. At our church, we take the Bible seriously but not always literally. I don't actually spend a lot of time on Biblical self-defense, mostly because it's simply not in my makeup. I grew up in the UCC, and while I hold the Bible in very high regard, I have always felt free to wrestle and argue with it. If the Bible can't withstand my questions.....well, it's not much of a holy text, then, is it? Furthermore, I don't feel the need to come up with "the right answer" to respond to a troublesome text, because there isn't a single right answer to counter troublesome texts. Sometimes they are just plain troublesome. It's a mark of faith to admit that.
I don't mean that I just throw out the stuff I disagree with. We must wrestle with challenging texts - that is how we grow and mature in our faith. And if, after a night of hard wrestling, we are unable to continue because of a hip joint that's come out of place.....well, there is blessing in that, too. We can be troubled by the texts of the Bible. It is good that they trouble us.
What I worry about is that we let the wrong passages trouble us. We should be more troubled by our casual acceptance of war and poverty in this nation than we are same-sex marriage. We should be more troubled that we are facing the judgment in Matthew 25 for not clothing the naking, feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, and caring for the sick and those in prison. Why don't such passages trouble us more?
4. The Bible should be thought of as a library of books, whose authors do NOT speak univocally regarding God's nature or activity in the world. For a good example of this, just go read Job, then read Proverbs. Do they sound like they agree with one another?
5. I usually conclude by mentioning that, oh by the way, I'm a Christian Universalist. Meaning I believe that Jesus lived, died and rose for the salvation of all of humanity, and that in the fullness of time, all of humanity will be fully reconciled to God. Look, either what Jesus did worked or it didn't. If it worked, it worked for all of us. And if it didn't work for all of us ... well, maybe we should reconsider calling Jesus the "Savior of the World." And, fair warning: if you try to convince me that humanity's stubbornness can overcome or ultimately thwart the will of God, well, I will just point out that your God seems pretty weak, small and puny compared to the One who will persistently seek us - in all the ways God can imagine to reach us - and, in the end, redeem even the worst that we can do to each other.
And all God's people said "Amen!"