anti-gay biblical interpretation is a choice, too

Good morning. Oh how nice it is to get a full night’s sleep. I feel so much better and even kind of looking forward to the day’s work — grading the first 23 or 24 of my students’ research papers.

But first my mind’s been spinning a bit about homosexuality and Christianity. My friend Chanel asked me to help her out with a paper she’s thinking of writing, more specifically with help arguing that Christianity is simply wrong when it condemns homosexual relationships. (Side note: her request was also kind of cool because her ideas for her paper actually coincide with some inchoate new ideas for my Charlotte Gilman paper. (I was writing on Gilman’s Herland. Now I’m probably going to move over to The Crux.)

Anyway! I made a list of the best books by biblical scholars and theologians supporting full inclusion and equality for gay Christians (I have only two books from a Jewish point of view and none yet from a Moslem view) to give to her.  I’ll probably post it later. It’s long.

I also looked for videos that could give Chanel a quick overview of the issues and the “clobber passages.”  Came across this one from a West Wing episode. I remember this.

I can’t help but love that. It’s a powerful scene. But I also can’t help but sigh and think… “Well, that’s good, but it ain’t gonna convince many anti-gay Christians.” It’s rather a straw-man argument. It just focuses on Leviticus. By leaving off the other “clobber” passages — in Genesis, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, etc — at the most it would only put a dent in one-seventh or so of the argument that the bible condemns homosexual relationships.  It’s really Paul’s epistle to the Romans that’s the harder one to deal with. I think all of the other passages — they can be pretty easily interpreted as talking about non-consensual relationships or about something other than same-sex relations altogether. But Paul is a little harder to deal with.

I actually think that, in Romans 1 and 2, Paul is trying to get his (mainly Jewish) readers to realize their own arrogance and sin when they condemn “those pagans” and their horrible practices. (Here is theologian James Alison’s version of this argument.) But Paul’s thinking is just in general harder to deal with — if you are someone who values Paul’s views, of course. (If not, like the creator of this excellent video called “Homosexuality and Christianity,” you can just say “Paul is wrong,” and that solves the problem.)

Anyway! Where was I? Oh, just that I love this West Wing clip, but it’s kind of a straw-man argument. Or, it only address one facet of anti-gay biblical interpretation.

And finally, since I really gotta get to my day’s worth of grading, I just wanted to post this one quick thought, and make myself wait until tonight to say anymore.

It just occurred to me that we could see biblical interpretation the same way many religionists see homosexuality.

The anti-gay interpretation of scripture is the default interpretation, really. It’s the non-thinking interpretation. It is what has become the automatic assumption of centuries (though many passages that are used now to condemn homosexuality, for centuries were used to condemn other practice).  In other words, relatively few people come to the conclusion, after studying a pericope or book of scripture that homosexual relationships are abominations. Instead they start out with that assumption. Not that anti-gay or even semi-objective interpreters (though who really is objective?) don’t study the scripture and still come to the same conclusion. They do. NT Wright is a theologian whom I greatly admire,and who has studied the New Testament in the kind of depth that few on the planet over the centuries ever has or ever will, but who still thinks we are called to be at least highly skeptical of homosexual relationships. Wright is a notable exception to my rule. But the default interpretation of the “clobber” passages is that “homosexuality is a sin.”

So, it occurred to me to say to those who still interpret the scriptures the default way need to be reminded — maybe even preached to? — that interpretation is a choice.

The anti-gay religionists’ logic is this: “Homosexuality is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homosexuality is a sin.

But the same logic could be applied to back to those anti-gay religionists: “Anti-gay interpretation of the Bible is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homophobia is a sin.

Heheh, I like that. It works. It’s kind of an example of “reverse rhetoric.”

And now,  to grading…

6 thoughts on “anti-gay biblical interpretation is a choice, too

  1. Hey Laura,

    Thanks for sending that stuff to me. I picked up a copy of The Children Are Free and read it the other night. I really enjoyed it. I haven’t gone back to What God Has Joined Together yet ’cause their stuff on bisexuality really turned me off, but I suppose I should give it another chance just to see what I can use in the paper.

    I was really surprised by how vague some of the clobber passages are. I thought they must be pretty explicit for people to use them so rigidly against gay people, but especially the “strange flesh” one seemed like you’d have to make a big jump to leap to the conclusion that that condemned homosexuality.

  2. Laura,
    I find it bold of you to continue to abide by the authority of Paul’s writing, though perhaps, you’re not really sure why it is authoritative. Your admission of struggling to obfuscate Paul’s teachings in Romans, ironically also speaks to your primary respect for the Bible in general. Although I’m on the other end of this argument, I respect your desire to find logic in building a case against Paul’s teachings against homosexual relationships. What you are postulating is what I’ve considered the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. The former makes a conclusion only after carefully examining the evidence with complete objectivity. The latter simply looks for conclusive evidence of a predetermined position. You have found comfort in assuming that antigay marriage advocates have simply taken the latter position and conveniently looked for Biblical positions to fortify their predetermined beliefs. Interesting. Could the same argument be use for murder? Does the Bible inductively build a case against murder to where the reader is objectively left with no other option but to concede to the logic of this Biblical position? If not, how do we then determine the unquestionable position that murder is wrong? I only use murder as an example of where we certainly would agree in order to test the logic of your postulation that the Biblical position against marriage is concluded “deductively”, where upon the Biblical argument against murder is concluded “inductively”. Enlighten me.
    Sincerely, Scott

  3. Hi, Scott. Thanks for your comment. Here’s my slightly-rambling answer. I’m in the midst of last-week-of-the-term stress, and so I don’t want to take the time to polish or really organize my thoughts (sorry — hope you understand).

    First, I came to my interpretations of Paul after several years of intense intellectual struggle. I have never been able to find simple or easy comfort in assuming ANYthing. I can see how you might guess that I had, though, if you’ve only read this one post. My blog posts are spurts of thought, very often. So I can see how you might have interpreted my thoughts as reflecting an easy assumption or some “comfort” in an easy assumption. But no, I struggle with everything – too much, sometimes.

    Second, I think we agree that inductive biblical interpretation is the only sound biblical interpretation. So, I don’t think deductive versus inductive would describe the differences in our interpretations.

    In this post, I was trying to point out how much all interpretation is… well, interpretation, AND how much… or how ultimately impossible it is to get outside of our presuppositions. In other words, my interpretations are a mix of deduction and induction, as are yours, as are everyone else’s.

    But more specifically, I was pointing out something I had just thought of: how the vast majority of people who think about this issue START OFF assuming one view (same-gender relationships are sinful). I know I did. We start off thinking that BEFORE we even look into it. And so I think I was just realizing — and wanting to point out — that even-more-than-usual pre-suppositioning (new verb!) may be going on when the vast majority of interpreters start OUT with a bias. Like I said, I know I did.

    Over the last 25 years, I have just had my interpretation of many biblical passages completely changed (on many issues / questions) — so many times that I have come to realize how much or a role presupposition plays in biblical interpretation. It’s just happened to me too many times…

    I once interpreted Paul one way, and after more study on Romans in particular, I came to a different conclusion. The first felt inductive, the second also feels inductive.

    Anyway, finally, I appreciate your appreciation :) of my desire to listen very closely to what Paul is telling us. I’m not willing to solve the problem by saying, “Paul is wrong.” Fortunately, I don’t think I have to.

    Anyway, sorry again for the messy spurts of thought. Gotta get back to work. Or sleep. :) One or the other. Thanks again for your comment.

  4. LAURA,

  5. Laura,

    I stumbled on your blog searching for a Building Great Sentences DVD. I teach some writing courses myself, so your headings caught my eye. I see that homosexuality is a big issue for you from several of your posts. One thought comes to mind: you list a number of Bible passages that are hard to reconcile with a pro-homosexual ethic. In my experience, the person who frequently goes into contortions explaining scripture is generally the person who is on the wrong side of truth. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, deny the divinity of Christ–and then resort to some very twisted exegesis to deal with things like Thomas’s confession: “My Lord and my God” or the first verse of the Gospel of John. Have you considered the possibility that a straightforward reading of scripture is generally best, though it condemns one’s own moral choices?

    Tim Hensley
    Bristol, Virginia

    • Hi, Tim. Thanks for your comment.

      If I remember right, the struggle I was speaking of was “intellectual,” yes, but it was a struggle primarily because of my sense/instinct (i.e., something I sensed by the Spirit without intellectual struggle) was against the common view — or, at least, the predominant view since the middle ages — i.e., that same gender love is a sin.

      But, of course, definitely — when someone struggles to make something make sense, yes — that could well be sign of forcing an interpretation on scripture. But there’s also the reality that often we accept the common view without listening to what the Spirit is telling us. The common view can be right or it can be wrong. It’s just “common,” not necessarily right. So, that was mainly my struggle: following sense of what God wanted against what was the popular view.

      So, of COURSE, I have considered that my interpretation of scripture is wrong. How could I not? But I have come to have no doubts — spiritually or intellectually — that my view that same gender (like opposite gender) love is not a sin.

      Your sense that intellectual struggle can point to forcing an interpretation is right on, I think. But that intellectual struggle can also be a sign of vibrant spiritual health. The popular view is not always the right view, and so that struggle will inevitably sometimes happen.

      So, I guess I would ask you. You sound so sure. Have you had no struggles (the spirit pushing you against the common view) on this issue? You haven’t questioned your interpretation of Scripture here? Not at all? How can it be so quick and easy? so sure and final?

      Thanks again for your comment. I’ve been off my blog for a long time, so it’s nice to hear a voice calling me back to it.


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