We Welcome the LGBTQ Community to Participate in the Full Life of Our Church
When searching the Bible for a concrete answer to any 21st century issue, it is imperative to hold specific texts in light of the arc of the Gospel. One needs to consider the whole story of God’s relationship with humanity from Genesis to Revelation. This way we can “see the forest for the trees.”
The Bible helps us on our Christian journey of faith by both challenging and comforting us. Our faith can be informed and shaped by the experiences and wisdom of those who have gone before us. For example, we see God’s identity as the Source and Creator of life in the Book of Genesis. We can be fed by the message that we are all made in God’s image. And at the same time, we can acknowledge that we make decisions, consciously and unconsciously, that alienate us from God and lead to a brokenness that is healed by returning to God. These spiritual realities are true for us without being factually true. In other words, you can believe in the timeless truths revealed in Genesis without believing that God made it all happen in 7 calendar days.
Our belief is that the overall message from the Bible returns time and time again to God’s love for us, and all people. That’s the lens through which we read the Bible, follow Jesus’s way and teachings, and celebrate the Holy Spirit’s continued presence in the world today. God’s love challenges our prejudices and the norms of our culture that continue to marginalize and denigrate people. We don’t pretend to be perfect, or to have all the answers. When tempted to hate we defer to love.
The power and authority of the Bible for us happens when the study, interpretation, and prayerful discernment of these sacred texts evokes an encounter with God’s still speaking voice today.
What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
Homosexuality is a “hot button” issue for many Christians. The answer to the question depends on your belief about the authority of the Bible, how our current Bible was put together, how you read the Bible, which version you read, and what you already believed before you read it. For some Christians, the Bible is, literally, the “Word of God.” For these folks, if it’s “in the Bible” God said it. End of discussion.
But interestingly, there is no Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word for “homosexuality.” It wasn’t until 1869 that Dr. Karoly Benkert, a Hungarian physician created the term by combining "homo," the Greek word for same, with the Latin "sexual." So obviously, the word hadn’t even been created until long after the Bible was written.
The Biblical passages that have been identified historically as ones that condemn homosexuality are found in both the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Christian (New Testament) Scriptures. Most of the Hebrew references translate the Hebrew "kedah" into the English word “homosexual” or “sodomite.” The Hebrew word, however, means “temple prostitute.” Judaism, as a monotheistic religion (one God), was threatened by many competing pagan religions. Many of these religions included worship of fertility gods. Worship at these pagan temples included sex (both heterosexual and homosexual). It was those practices that the Hebrew scriptures were prohibiting.
Similarly, in the Christian scriptures, the Greek word, "malakos" is translated into the English word "homosexual." Malakos referred to a Greek practice of pederasty – that is, older men having sex with boys. A unique-for-the-times hallmark of the early Christian church was that it was based on mutual, affirming love and care. So pederasty would be condemned as the abusive, coercive, power-over sexual activity it is, and clearly a violation of Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you.”
The Bible: We take it too seriously to take it literally.
For us at Bethel, and for many other progressive Christians, we offer and practice an interpretation of the Bible that is not literal, in that we believe the Bible is not God dictating his thoughts into the writers’ ears, but rather that the Bible is a collection of inspired literature that represents faithful peoples’ experiences of God.
We believe that the writings of the Bible were inspired by God, and that those who wrote them had a genuine experience of the Divine (either individually or in the life of the communities in which they lived). We are fed by the wisdom and truth that is found in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t have to be factually true to speak to us, and to draw us to God’s heart of love.
This view of the Bible liberates it and us.
It liberates the Bible because it releases us from the intellectual challenges we find if we read it carefully. Most of us, if we have read the Bible, know that it can seem to contradict itself. We know, too, that the Bible condones human activity that does not seem consistent with the radical love revealed in Jesus Christ. Slavery, polygamy, holy war, rape, and social prejudices of many shapes and forms can be found (and justified) in the Bible.
Love is good.
The books of the Bible have been shaped by the community’s experience of the Living God. And just as importantly, they have been shaped by the cultural insights and biases of the people who wrote them. From our perspective, Biblical descriptions of “homosexuality” refer to unhealthy abusive acts that dehumanize. This is in marked contrast to mutually loving, caring, monogamous, healthy, mature relationships between consenting adults who are homosexual, bi-sexual, and transgendered. It is our call and responsibility to put Bible teachings into their proper cultural and historical perspective to be truly faithful to the call to be Jesus' ambassadors in the world.
We believe that love is a gift from God. When it is shared between two people, in a faithful, intentional relationship, God smiles and says, “It is good.”