Wedding of Caroline & Mary Ann, August 16, 2009

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality.

Session 2 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Ask: Have you ever been misrepresented by someone else? What happened? What did it take to get that misrepresentation corrected?

Explain that during your last lesson, you discussed how God is not a God who discriminates against any of God’s children and how God’s scriptures have been twisted by others throughout history to try and say God supported their prejudice.

Unfortunately, this means that many people who promote prejudice and bigotry against minorities such as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, have verses of scripture which they can throw around as “evidence” that God is on their side. During this session, we are going to be looking at how we can discern what a verse of scripture, such as some of the verses quoted against GLBT people, means and what it doesn’t mean.

Keys For Understanding The Bible

Ask: What are some key pointers for determining whether a scripture supports a particular teaching or not?

Explain that you are going to look at five keys for understanding what God is saying to us through the bible. Using these five principles is a good starting point for really understanding what God is saying about an issue such as GLBT equality.

These five principles can be pictured as parts of a triangle.

Explain that each of these five principles is important, with the most important being on the bottom.

Ask: What are the different principles on this triangle? Why do you think they are important?

One key to understanding what God is saying about something is scripture.

Ask: How do you use scripture to interpret if a scripture is being misused?

(Hold up an orange)

Ask: What do you see?

(Allow comments)

Explain: A lot of our study of the bible is like our looking at this orange – we only look at the surface. Most of you said an orange. But a really observant person would point out the texture of the skin. (Peel off skin). A more observant person would talk about what was underneath the orange skin – the texture of the fruit inside, the size of the seeds…

There is a lot more to an orange than just “orange”.

The same is true with the bible: To truly see what God is saying about something we need to take time to really examine the scriptures on a topic. Folks who misuse scripture for their own ends are playing off the fact that many of us only go “skin-deep” in our reading of the bible. To make sure we are not being misled by bible abuse, we need to really look at the whole orange, seeds and all.

Ask: How can we do that with scripture?

Explain: Here are some keys for that:

1. Read the whole context.

Most people, when they quote a verse about homosexuality, or about hell or about anything, just lift verses out of the bible without paying attention to the story behind the verses. It’s like the old joke about the man who was depressed and opened the bible randomly to a page to see what God would say to him and he came across the verse “And Judas hung himself…” Horrified, he opened the bible again at random and saw the random phrase, “Go and do likewise”. Dejected, he opened the bible again one final time and came to the verse, “What you must do, do quickly”.

Now, if he only read those verses out of the context of the story they are in, he would end up in some big trouble – thinking God wanted him to kill himself.

But if he realized these were parts of a bigger story and read the verses leading up to these verses and following these verses he would realize that there was a bigger message which gave those verses meaning. And he would realize that God wasn’t really saying “Go kill yourself” at all but saying a very positive, life-affirming message.

One of the things we are going to be doing while we study what the Bible says about homosexuality is trying to figure out how the few verses that could be claimed to talk about homosexuality fit into the bigger story of the bible and asking: Do they say the same thing if you read them as a part of the big story? Anytime you read the scriptures, you need to see what the verses preceding and following the scripture you are studying say – in other words, how your verse fits into the story of that chapter or book of the bible.

2. Look into the history behind the story.

Again, a lot of times we don’t dig deep enough in the text. There is a story behind the story of the bible that affects how certain things are worded. It was written in a different land and a different time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us, but what it means is we need to try and figure out how the time and place of a particular verse in history affects its meaning.

For instance, if someone just moved to America for the first time and was just picking up English and heard the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, what would they think is going on? Falling felines and crashing canines from above! But if they studied how that word was used by people in America, they’d find out that the bigger story of American culture and history showed that language was figurative.

When people quote verses to discriminate against others, a lot of times they will quote verses dealing with customs that sound like practices today – until you study what those customs really were in the time the bible authors wrote about them. Other times, the text will have phrases which may sound like they describe one thing (like homosexual behavior, or like women being less than men) but which didn’t mean that in the culture of the day.

3. Compare different translations of the verses in question.

Another really big thing is that the bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and not “English, Spanglish, and Bad English” like we speak around here, so what we read is not the original words of the bible, but a translation. That is why it is important to compare different translations of the bible and find out what different translations translate things differently. (A few good bible commentaries will help here!)

This becomes important in looking at homosexuality because, as we will discuss more later, in some translations the word “homosexual” is used to translate the same word other translations use for “male prostitute” or “paederast” (which means pedophile). The difference in those translations means a lot!

Allow time for folks to discuss each of these points as they come up. Also ask how they think they might be able to apply these principles to verses used by anti-gay activists.

History

This means looking at the question of how it is it that different people have understood this verse over time.

Ask: Why might this be an important thing to consider in determining how to interpret a scripture?

A lot of times you can get insight into this. For instance, Christians of every stripe and tradition in every age have said that what Jesus taught is the foundation of Christianity and that without him we’d be lost. Because of the fact they all agree on this, we know that someone’s relationship to Jesus is key to what being a Christian is.

So seeing the history of how a verse has been interpreted can show us timeless truths that shed light on how to interpret obscure passages.

Ask: How might this affect your reading of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Also, it can help give us a check on reading into the text our own modern ideas.

For instance, one Greek word often translated by modern Christians who oppose gay rights as “homosexual”, arsenokoites, for the first several centuries of Bible interpretation – when most Christians still read ancient Greek – was never used to apply to gay relationships, but instead to masturbation, anal sex between a man and a woman, and child molestation. The fact that it is only after Western society began to discriminate more openly against gays and that only after most Christians quit speaking biblical Greek that this Greek word got translated as “homosexual” tips us off to the possibility that folks who use it to condemn gay people are reading in their own ideas to the bible.

Ask: How might this affect your reading of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Knowing the history of bible interpretation also shows us how Christians sometimes get it wrong.

Throughout history, individuals have also misused portions of the bible, taking verses out of context to support various acts of prejudice and discrimination. For instance, during the time of slavery, people found verses in the bible where the apostle Paul told Christians stuck in slavery in the Roman Empire to submit to their slave-drivers until and unless they could find their freedom and used those verses to defend keeping African Americans in slavery forever. In the time of segregation, people quoted verses against Jews marrying people of other nations who did not worship the true God to support their policy of separating people based on race in a way that mistreated minorities. And throughout the ages, men have quoted verses about a wife’s role supporting her husband (while strangely overlooking the verses about a husband’s role supporting his wife!) as a way to keep women out of power and thus oppressed and voiceless.

Though at one point all these were the mainstream interpretation of these verses, most Christians would agree these were wrong uses of scripture. Over the centuries, as God’s Spirit has led Christians, Christians have begun to understand that these interpretations of scripture were not God’s intended message, but in fact went against the basic teachings of Christianity’s founder, Jesus. The Holy Spirit has shown that Jesus’ message is one that sets people free, not one that oppresses people.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Reason and Experience

Ask: What are these? How do they apply to one’s reading of the bible?

The next two principles are reason and experience. These principles are based on the idea out that what God is truly saying will make sense in real life. God’s way works, while other ways won’t.

This works on a personal level and on a technical level.

On a personal level, if an interpretation of scripture is true, it will fit your experience of life and will ultimately make sense for how we live.

If someone’s idea of what God is saying about life doesn’t work in real people’s lives, they probably aren’t hearing God, however much they believe it.

Likewise, you have to experience God yourself and decide for yourself what God is saying and ultimately responsible for your own beliefs.

So, if it doesn’t work, it probably isn’t true

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

There is another way these two principles of interpreting what God is saying fit together and that is in the technical sense that I mentioned earlier. These are the basis of modern science. Scientists observe and thus experience things, record others’ experiences of things, and then apply reason to very earthly facts. Based on their study of how what God made works, they come up with explanations for life.

These two principles stem directly from scripture, too. Have someone read Romans 1:19-20 and someone Psalms 19:1-4. Explain that these verses show that through what God has made, our experience of it, and our reasoning, God reveals certain truths about God’s self and our lives.

History has shown how failing to pay attention to this aspect of interpretation has led people to misunderstand God. For instance, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the pope of the time all condemned as heretics people who, after studying the universe through a telescope, decided that the earth circles the sun and not the sun the earth, because the bible uses language like “the sun sets” and “the sun rises”. They said, that the bible obviously made it clear that the sun circles the earth!

Now we understand, based on looking at the story behind that story, based on studying the history of how God has revealed himself to people, and based, of course, on applying reason and our experiences from scientific experiments, that, you know what, that was a figure of speech like “it is raining cats and dogs” and that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the pope were doing the equivalent of claiming that falling felines and crashing canines from heaven were meant by that phrase.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

The final and most important principle of understanding what God is saying about a subject through scripture is using Jesus as your measuring stick for how to interpret scripture.

Have someone read Hebrews 1:1-4.

Explain that Jesus is God living, speaking, and acting in a human life. He is the perfect image of God, as this scripture says. In the New Testament we are told that he is Lord and his life is a revelation of God’s will for us.

That means that whatever God is saying has to fit Jesus’ model of living and Jesus’ message.

So if we think that God is saying X is true from a particular verse and Jesus has said not X, but Y, then we know we must have misunderstood God’s point.

A really big example of how this principle is helpful deals with how God views women. For the longest time, women were treated as second class citizens because society had always treated women as second class citizens and there are some verses in the bible that seem to support that. But, if you look at how Jesus treats women in the Gospels, you find that he treats them in a way that is revolutionary. In a society that says women should not be taught to read, what does Jesus do? He takes on women as students to learn the way of the Kingdom from him. He teaches women as individuals, not just servants of their husbands. He uses a few images for God where God is depicted like a mother or a housewife. He has the first people who proclaim the Easter message that “Jesus is risen!” be women.

There are a lot of other examples like this I could mention, but I think you get the point. Ultimately, Jesus is the perfect image of God, so whatever verses we read about anything – homosexuality, women, chewing bubble gum – have to be looked at through the lens of how Jesus lived, what he taught, how he died and rose again.

Ask: How might this affect your interpretation of scriptures purported to be about sexual orientation or gender identity?

Concluding Question and Challenge

We aren’t going to have time to get into all the verses that deal with homosexuality today, but these are the different principles we are going to be using to evaluate what God is really saying in these passages.

I thought it would be neat to ask you to think about, from what you already know, what some insights are that we can gave from applying these principles to the question of homosexuality?

(Allow discussion)

Then pass out sheets listing some of the verses we will be studying, challenging those involved to really examine one of these passages, using all five principles.

Also, pass out the American Psychological Association [statement on] homosexuality, explaining that this is what unbiased scientific research has unveiled about sexual orientation.

Close in prayer.