Monday, February 18, 2013

On homosexuality, many Christians get the Bible wrong

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas, speaks as US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Biden as they attend a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral on January 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. (SAUL LOEB - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Homosexuality is one of the most divisive issues within churches and across our country today. The issue has become, for some, a litmus test on fidelity to God and the scriptures. The divide is not just between the progressives and conservatives. It is also a generational divide, with younger Christians generally seeing this issue differently than older Christians.

I recently delivered the sermon for the National Prayer Service at the presidential inauguration. While in Washington I took my family to the Lincoln Memorial. This iconic structure stands as a reminder of America’s great dream of equality and President Lincoln’s role in the emancipation of America’s slaves and the abolition of slavery in America. The words to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are inscribed on the north wall of the memorial’s interior. In them Lincoln noted that at the center of the conflict over slavery were very different interpretations of the Bible. Lincoln said of the two sides in the war, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

View Photo Gallery: From same sex marriages to prohibitions on homosexual behavior, Christian churches range in their outreach to gay members.

Southern preachers and slave owners believed the many references in the Bible permitting and regulating slavery (well over 100 verses), in both the Old and the New Testaments, were clear evidence that the institution was a part of God’s social and moral order. Abolitionist preachers argued in their sermons that the verses related to slavery in the Bible were a reflection of the cultural context and times in which the Bible was written and did not reflect God’s endorsement of slavery. They argued that there were “weightier” scriptures on justice, mercy and love that superseded those on slavery. This was the position that Lincoln himself adopted.

At the center of the divide over homosexuality today is the Bible. Conservatives and progressives “read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people.

In my own life, it was both reading the Bible’s passages on same-sex intimacy in the same light as passages on slavery (and violence and the place of women) and coming to know gay and lesbian people that led me to see this issue differently, particularly children who grew up in my church who loved God and sought to serve Christ. As I listened to their stories I saw that they did not fit the stereotypes I had been taught about gay and lesbian people. The love they shared with others looked very much like the love I share with my wife --a deep friendship and companionship. And their faith was as authentic as that of anyone else in my congregation.

For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.

Adam Hamilton is a United Methodist pastor and author of “When Christians Get it Wrong” (Abingdon, 2013) By Adam Hamilton | 04:00 PM ET, 02/13/201

Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 02/13/2013

You can find anything you want in the Bible. It's a very complex collection of work and as such it's a big mistake to cherry pick your scripture. Biblical scholars spend lifetimes studying, researching because the history of the Bible itself is so complicated: a compilation of letters copied, recopied and translated so many times and in so many languages, some of them nearly extinct, and the letters themselves somewhat cherry picked by a handful of bishops 2000 years ago.

Which does not take away from the import of the Bible. the overall message is still valid. But we have to remember that while much of it is supposed to be the Word of God, it was written down by the hand of man. And men are very fallible creatures, subject to prejudice, superstition and downright stupidity from time to time.

because if you really believe the Bible should be followed to the letter, you have to start stoning your wife, take multiple wives, cast out your children, take up slavery, etc.

And really it shouldn't be that complicated. Treat everyone you meet as you would like to be treated. The Golden Rule takes care of so many problems if people are truly willing to live that way.

The analogy Adam Hamilton is making simply will not work, for several reasons. For one thing, it would be impossible for anyone to regard slavery as an institution which, like marriage, dates back to the time of creation, for there is no mention of it in any of the opening chapters of the Bible. God created all men in the image of God. Particular forms of slavery-- such as indentured servanthood, entered the picture because of conditions prevailing after man's fall into sin. Heterosexual marriage, on the other hand, was ordained by God in the Garden of Eden before mankind fell into sin. He established it as part of the original created order, declaring that "a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife." Jesus upholds this view of marriage and teaches in Matthew 19 that God ordained marriage at the outset of human history precisely because he created mankind 'male and female.' The union of a man and a woman in marriage is really a 'reunion' of two subjects who belong together by virtue of their complementary characteristics-- the woman was taken 'out of' the man at creation in order to be given back to the man in marriage. Thus, the two halves of humanity, the male and the female, are reunited in marriage, so that out of the resulting 'wholeness' new life might emerge. So-called 'gay marriage' is really a subversion of God's design for created order, just as 'man-stealing,' a sin condemned in the New Testament which was the foundation of American slavery, is a subversion of God's created order. So slavery, as a sub-Christian arrangement tolerated for a period of time in the context of the Israelite theocracy, is not at all parallel to heterosexual marriage, which is a part of God's design for all human beings for all times. It is presumption for men to think themselves wiser than God by claiming that God's definition of marriage is outdated and must be replaced with a more 'enlightened' definition
10:15 AM EST
He who is without sin cast the first stone. I will not be throwing any stones; because, I believe that we, are all sinners in one way or another. We are all imperfect; because, perfection does not exist here on earth. I do not rate/judge one sinner worse than another. Sin is sin as defined by many different actions. One of which is homosexuality. My sin does not lessen or heighten your sins’ rating and I like everyone else will have to answer for it. My constant prayer is for forgiveness of my sin and strength to overcome my weaknesses. I believe that there are people born with a predilection for one thing over another. Is this like being born with a handicap? I do not know. But I am sure that GOD hears their prayers just as he hears mine and that unlike you and me he will rate/judge us according to his will and his purpose not according to our understandings of man’s interpretations.  

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