Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Bashing and the Bible: The Issue That Won’t Go Away

Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, MCC Global Leader, one of many ministers calling for the reinterpretation of the Bible (Adam Bouska photo).

Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, MCC Global Leader, one of many ministers calling for the reinterpretation of the Bible (Adam Bouska photo).

Dallas, Texas – Gay bashing associated with death-dealing interpretations of the Bible is not over—not by a long stretch. In the tonier precincts of North American society, queer and straight trend setters deal with the old “scripture wars” as if they are tired remnants of a fight no longer worth dignifying with comment. But nothing could be further from the truth for millions of LGBTQ people in North America and around the globe, especially the young, who are routinely being judged as “abominations” by Christians and Jews who fatally misinterpret scripture.

Three current articles on Huffington Post and elsewhere on the web are bringing the issue of the harm bad interpretations of Bible passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament into sharp focus. The publication of Matthew Vine’s book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (Convergent Books 2014), a passage-by-passage refutation of homophobic interpretations of the six or seven “clobber passages” so often marshaled to denigrate and dehumanize queer people and their relationships, has raised a fire-storm of howling protests by conservatives on the web. Michael Brown, the right wing pundit, is in high dudgeon over the decision of a previously reliable gay bashing, evangelical press conglomerate, the WaterBrook Multnomah Group, to publish Vine’s book and to defend it in the evangelical community. In Brown’s screed, “A Shameful Day in Evangelical Christian Publishing,”[1] he condemns anyone who would defend interpretations of the Bible that contravene the total damnation of LGBT people. Brown decries the defense publisher Stephen W. Cobb[2] makes of Vine’s book, writing, “Have we totally lost our bearings as the people of God? Are we now debating the undebatable and trying to sanction the unsanctionable?”

Brown cannot imagine that the time honored, blood soaked history of interpreting the Bible as a “no homo” bulwark against what evangelicals used to solidly oppose as an abomination is now being contested in his own community of faith. Declaiming anyone who challenges these clobbering passages as a traitor, Brown writes: “…Those who want to revise biblical sexuality and morality have moved away from the Word of God….They have muddled the waters of the faith, and brought reproach on the gospel, further confusing a very lost society, and become propagators of deception in the church. And they will answer to God for all this one day.”

On the moderate and liberal Christian front, the issue of harm done by Bible bashing and misinterpretation is back on the front burner, too. Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, global leader of the Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), challenges world church leaders such as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to distance the church from using scripture and tradition to bring about the deaths of African LGBTQ people like David Kato of Uganda. Dr. Wilson writes on behalf of queer people of faith in the Huffington Post[3]: “Archbishop Welby, … Will you use your power to defend those who writhe under the heel of Christians who selectively cite the Bible? Or will you huddle by the fire in the courtyard and deny us over and over? Remember, it was Jesus himself who said, ‘When you have done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.’”

None of the current voices in the “gay bashing and the Bible” debate carry more moral energy, however, than the Easter article published in the Huffington Post by Jane Clementi, “Loving All God’s Children Equally.”[4] Clementi is the mother of Tyler Clementi who committed suicide in September 2010, after his intimate encounter with another young man was broadcast to the world by his Rutgers classmates who spied on him in his own dorm room. Reconsidering the experience of church through the eyes of her child who died from the shame and horror of anti-gay bullying, Clementi writes:

After Tyler’s death, in the silence of my shattered world, as I looked deeply into God’s Word and listened, God continually and clearly spoke of His unconditional love for all and how we should exhibit God’s love to others with kindness and compassion, always seeking unity, giving life, being respectful and welcoming with hospitality and inclusion, always allowing everyone to be at peace with who they are and how God has created them, perfectly and wonderfully made in God’s image. Why have we lost this message? The church must start to embrace these truths and stop preaching hate.

“Sadly, as I look back — almost as if through Tyler’s eyes — I see things so very differently now. Looking through the eyes of a far-less-mature believer, a child with many uncertainties, and a vulnerable youth with much less confidence in how his sexual orientation fit into God’s plan or God’s kingdom, I now see the harm and pain that is caused by the misinterpretation of scripture that homosexuality is a sin.

“Regrettably, Tyler received a clear message from our faith community, whether it was in youth group, Sunday school, the infrequent short sentences that were spoken on rare occasions in the sermon, or maybe even the silence — the shameful, silent disapproval and judgment of how God created him to be different. But Tyler got the message loud and clear, and clearly that is not a message of love for a young person sitting in the pews next to you.”

For Jane Clementi, the matter of scriptural interpretation is not about the finer points of the ancient languages, or doctrinal and moral purity, or even about the unity of church fellowships and ideologies. It is simply about life and death—the life and death of victims of lethal assumptions about the Bible. She concludes her call to the churches on Easter Sunday:

“We must reexamine those six scriptural passages with open hearts and minds and understand that what Paul was saying to first-century Christians does not translate to what we understand today in 2014 about loving, committed same-sex relationships. We must stop judging; we must stop imposing shame. The church, the Body of Christ, needs to acknowledge that homosexuality is not a sin. The church should apologize, put up a rainbow flag on their church sign and welcome all to God’s family. That is how to love our gay Christian brothers and sisters: Love them like God does.”

BashersJane Clementi’s crie de coeur should touch a nerve of concern and compassion, and help LGBTQ people and their allies to re-engage the issue of how the Bible is used in relation to queer people. This issue is not going away. When even one child or gay adult in the USA or around the globe falls into despair because of shame and condemnation linked so intimately with how communities of faith use the Bible, that is one person too many. The use of the Bible, any portion of it, for purposes of dehumanizing and demeaning LGBTQ people must no longer be tolerated by communities of faith, biblical scholars, preachers, priests, rabbis, and theological seminaries. Marriage equality, no matter how currently successful an issue for human rights, will not secure a safe future for queer people until the theological justifications for violence against them are faced squarely and changed to interpretations of life, tolerance, and acceptance.

Evangelical Christians are no longer of one mind about same-sex loving people. The distress of Michael Brown and other right wing purists to the contrary, dissenting evangelical voices are opening their Bibles to new, exciting interpretations that make room for life and varieties of human experiences. Faithful queer religious leaders like Nancy Wilson are chiding their heterosexual counterparts to read their Bibles in the contexts of love and acceptance, and some of them are doing so with new attention to how the “Church’s Book” can become the word of life again. Jane Clementi’s appeal to church and synagogue to open their scriptures to a more just, inclusive, and loving embrace of LGBTQ people puts the reinterpretation of the Bible on the side of marginalized people everywhere—where it should have been all along. It is simple, Clementi reminds all of us: as simple for the faith community of today as it has always been for readers of the Bible throughout history who opened the Book and found the words of life there—not death.

[1] Michael Brown, “A Shameful Day in Evangelical Christian Publishing,” http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/43537-a-shameful-day-in-evangelical-christian-publishing. Accessed 4/18/14.

[2] Stephen W. Cobb, “Why Publish God and the Gay Christian?” http://www.convergentbooks.com/why-publish-god-and-the-gay-christian/. Accessed 4/21/14.

[3] Nancy Wilson, “A Tale of Three Bishops,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-nancy-wilson/a-tale-of-three-bishops_b_5162843.html?utm_hp_ref=religion. Accessed 4/21/14.

[4] Jane Clementi, “Loving All God’s Children Equally,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-clementi/loving-all-gods-children-equally_b_5176554.html. Accessed 4/21/14.

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay bashing, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, religious intolerance, Tyler Clementi | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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