When one thinks of church LGBTQIA inclusion they immediately go to the clobber passages. There are seven passages in the Bible that are commonly read as prohibiting same sex intercourse. These are the passages that are used to justify exclusion of the LGBTQIA community from the kingdom of God. When studied in context they can also be used as justification for same sex relationships and full inclusion in the kingdom of God.
When it comes to biblical hermeneutics and inclusivity our church skipped over scripture’s famous clobber passages. There is much more in our scriptures that speak to inclusion without describing the physical act of sex. I think there’s incredible writing around meanings of ancient texts with regards to queer theology. (Colby Martin’s Unclobber or Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian come to mind).[i]But instead, our church leadership studied the scripture and worked diligently to highlight stories of God’s love for humanity.
One of these stories was that of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son Isaac.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”(Genesis 22:1-2)
Why is this significant? Abraham was incredibly old when he had Isaac. God said he would build a mighty nation from Abraham and then God is telling him to sacrifice his son? This seems despicable. This seems like God is angry and vengeful and full of malice. I don’t want to worship a God that asks someone to sacrifice his or her child. As a parent I especially feel this way. I don’t know if I can hang with this messed up God.
We have to remember that we’re reading stories of people that live in different stages of consciousness, with very different ways of seeing and understanding the world. We too relate to the world through our own place in time and our worldviews are shaped accordingly. We might remember what life looked like in generations past but we struggle to comprehend what life was really like in ages past. It’s hard for us to read our scriptures, especially the stories of Genesis and be reminded of the fact that we’re reading about a group of people living distinctly within an age where killing is an everyday part of life. So when we’re reading early scriptures we have to read it with the eyes of those living at the time. We have to read it with the eyes of those who are doing their best to hear God in a new way and live life in the way that God might intend.
There is a fair amount of evidence that during the Bronze Age, when Abraham’s story takes place, Ancient Near East cultures sacrificed children. We have archaeological descriptions of Ammonites sacrificing children. We have descriptions of sacrifices to the God Molech. We find out that child sacrifice is relatively common in the ancient near east and is done to ensure that crops will be good and wars will be won. Remember, this may seem barbaric to us now but we have to put ourselves in the place of people who lived in the tribal age. So it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for an Israelite to think that God would ask for a child sacrifice.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:9-12)
I place myself for a moment in the consciousness of the Bronze Age and I’m immediately uncomfortable with the command my God gives me not to kill my son. Like I said, child sacrifice is common. Gods command it. Each nation believes that child sacrifice helps win wars and bring about good crops. And now the Hebrew God is saying that there is no need to sacrifice children. This is an absolutely radical idea!
In fact, people had such a hard time with this idea that God could be “radically loving” as to not want children sacrificed that God has to command it again in the book of Leviticus:
“You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:21)
The story of Abraham and Isaac began the expanding of my theological imagination. Is it possible that our scriptures are showing us that there is a loving God and that God is working within our worldview and consciousness to bring pure love and peace, to bring shalom? Is it possible that we are so loved by God that a loving God stoops down to our level to show us these little glimpses of what God’s love really looks like? And for a tribal nation, God’s love means that God’s children don’t need to be sacrificed to bring God joy. There is already joy. There’s a gracious God working within our consciousness to show us that God is far more gracious and loving than we can imagine. God will make us uncomfortable in our own time and place in order to push us toward the possibility that something far great, more inclusive, and more loving is possible.
How about another story?
Surprising as it may sound, a story in our scriptures about the rape of women created in me the theological framework for becoming an inclusive church.
“When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”(Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
Let’s start out by saying that this should bother us. This is pretty terrible. Regardless of anything else it’s sad that humanity treated women this way at any point. But again, I look at the consciousness of the ancient near east.
In some Bibles this is called the “spoils of war” passage. This passage was called the spoils of war passage for a reason. Again, we’re in a place of tribal consciousness, which means that other tribes were seen as a threat. They were a threat to one’s land, to one’s ethnicity, and to one’s entire being. When someone went into battle in the Iron Age culture they made sure that everything was wiped out. That would ensure that there was no way for a tribe to infiltrate or mix with another tribe at all. It was completely common in the rules for war to completely destroy towns. An army would completely destroy each person in that town.
Soldiers would completely destroy livestock. Children might be taken as sex slaves. It was not uncommon for a soldier to rape a woman of another tribe before she was killed.
Keeping in mind that I’m reading stories from another age and time, I worked to read the scripture with different eyes. If you see a beautiful woman when you are sacking another tribe, take her home and make her your wife.
Remember. This is hard to digest but we have to put ourselves in their consciousness. What does God’s command do here? Women were property to be raped and killed and now I have to make her my wife? That’s a sign of humanity.
Have her shave her head and trim her nails. These are Hebrew signs of mourning, which is a very real part of humanity. So instead of treating a woman like an object and raping and killing you are now commanded to allow her to mourn, which shows her humanity.
After 30 days you can make her your wife but if you don’t like her then you must not dishonor her or sell her as a slave. A woman was property. But if you don’t like her you must give her a certificate of divorce.
This is a big deal. Normally a woman who lived and had no husband was sold into slavery and made a prostitute. The command in this situation is that she be given a certificate of divorce, which grants her status and ensures that she most likely will not face prostitution.
Can we see for one second how radical this passage is? Is it possible that there were soldiers who didn’t want to follow this law? “You mean I have to feed, clothe, and house this person? She’s property!” “You’re telling me that I can’t kill this person? God, what if she reproduces with someone else and their tribe come back stronger than ever?” Can you imagine what other nations might think? “Wow, they allowed some of us to live. They’re getting soft.”
Is it possible that this was controversial and people didn’t want to follow this commandment? Is it possible that followers of God were split over this, thinking that their God would never allow non-chosen people to live?
Once again I ask myself the same questions. Is it possible that God exists, that the Bible exists along a continuum of human growth and consciousness? Is it possible that God is working towards a perfect and loving peace and that God is doing it one small step at a time? Is it possible that our scriptures are showing us that there is a loving God and that God is working within our worldview and consciousness to bring pure love and peace, to bring shalom?
The beauty of this God is brought to light once again through the lens of Jesus. We get to see a loving God working to God’s people towards greater inclusion. It’s evident in Jesus’ first sermon in which he quotes from the scroll of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.”(Isaiah 61:1-2)
And what does Jesus do? In his first sermon back in Nazareth he brings back the scripture of Isaiah. He walks into the temple and he unrolls the scroll and he says these words:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But Jesus leaves out one crucial, life changing line. Jesus does not say, “And the day of vengeance of our God.”
People are amazed at Jesus’s teaching and Jesus realizes that he’s not made them uncomfortable enough. He tells reminds them of the time that God protected their enemies in Sidon. Jesus then reminds them of another time that Israel was afflicted with leprosy but only a king from Syria was healed. In a few simple lines Jesus tells the people in his hometown that the justice of God doesn’t happen through revenge fantasies. The love of God is not shown through strength or by might. The affirmation of God’s love is given to Israelites AND their enemies.
Then finally, he rolls up the scroll and says, that scripture has been fulfilled in this hearing. It tells us that once Jesus explains this to the people they want to kill him! They want revenge! They want God’s vengeance! Once again God moves God’s people into an unfamiliar territory where they’re confronted with the notion that God is more loving and more inclusive than they ever imagined.
There are countless other stories in scripture that, while they might seem odd to our modern consciousness, demonstrate God’s inclusive love for all the different people of the world:
Peter dreams of a sheet falling from heaven with all sorts of un-kosher foods on it, signifying to Peter that he can now eat the same food as the gentiles. The vision itself provokes crisis in Peter. “Surely not Lord! I’ve followed the laws and my ancestors before followed the laws.” The spirit of the Lord tells Peter not to call unclean what God has made good. God pushes Peter into an uncomfortable place where he must acknowledge that God’s acceptance of all people extends beyond Peter’s perspective of God (Acts 10).
Citing the passages mentioned here and more, we continually asked our church community to imagine it possible for us to be a part of God’s story. In his book, Disarming Scripture, Derrick Flood writes, “The correct interpretation of scripture always comes down to how we love. The Bible’s intent is not to be defended. The Bible was never intended to be this burden we carry. The Bible is a servant to Jesus. It’s a helper of the Holy Spirit.”[i]
Is scripture a living and breathing work or is it dead? If scripture is dead then our church’s reasoning for inclusivity is dead with it. If our scripture is still alive and if God is still writing God’s story then is it possible that God has called us to play a part in reflecting the uncomfortable and radical inclusion we see throughout the scriptures?
Is it possible when Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these,” That scripture is talking about reflecting God’s intention for inclusivity in us? Are we able to do those greater things?
Jesus and Peter both break with the tradition of scripture because they’re compelled by the spirit to welcome in the other as a full member in the kingdom of God. How might the spirit be leading our church to do the same?
We asked our church to imagine Christianity two thousand years from now. What would those Christians say about us? Would they find it appalling that we discriminated against the LGBTQIA community much the same way that we find the “spoils of war” passage appalling now?
Would they see the popular American evangelical stance to be welcoming but not affirming an affront to the decency of all humanity and barbaric at best?
How would that future church see us now if we continue to resist the calling of scripture’s arc? How do we look to the future church if we marginalize those who are right here in our church?
Today’s United States Supreme Court is evenly divided between “originalists” and “non-originalists.” The “originalists” believe the Constitution should be interpreted strictly according to the understanding of its adopters at the time it was written. The “non-originalists” believe it is a living, breathing document that will change as our understanding changes. A lot has changed in 250 years. To consider normative the understandings of one group of white males at one specific period in time is to do a disservice to the founding fathers and to the men and women who lead our nation today. We have grown in our knowledge and understanding. Interpretations are necessary in light of that growth.
The same is true of scripture. And the truth is that the church has acknowledged this for centuries. Galileo was placed under house arrest by the church because he believed the earth revolved around the sun. The church abandoned that view centuries ago for a simple reason – it was wrong. The church has adjusted its position on slavery, divorce and remarriage, transracial marriage, and other cultural issues. If history is any indicator, and it is, it will also adjust its position on LGBTQ acceptance. The only question is how long it will take.
We Imagine that Forefront can lead the way for others to find the inclusive and loving God we see in our bible. We believe that it won't be long until there are a lot of humans ready to embrace a Christianity focused more on right action than right belief, on God as the ultimate suffering participant instead of God as the ultimate threatener, and a church organizing for the common good instead of a church focused on its own self-preservation. Can you imagine us being that church?
We ask that you partner with us in seeing our Just and generous vision lived out in each and every aspect of humanity including our LGBTQIA siblings. You can partner with us by participating in our Imagine Campaign. In doing so you can help us as we bring the hope of an eternally loving and infinitely affirming God to all, without exception.
[i]Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible like Jesus Did, (San Francisco: Metanoia Books, 2014).
Colby Martin, Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality,(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016); Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: the Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, (New York: Convergent Books, 2015).