It started out so simply.
A friend of mine posted a meme on social media: “Nothing can separate you from the love of God, not your gender identity nor your gender expression nor your sexual orientation.”
The first part of that statement comes from the end of Romans 8, Paul’s stunning proclamation of the all-inclusiveness of God’s grace.
The second part makes that statement a relevant affirmation for our time, reminding us that a grace with limits is not grace, a love with exceptions is not unconditional.
Despite the overwhelming majority that “liked” the meme, one member of his church felt compelled to ask whether being loved by God excused one from knowing right and wrong, citing Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, passages that have been used to oppose same-sex relationships.
Scripture does not address gender identity and expression, because it was unknown in Biblical times. So the thread that followed focused on what the Bible says – or does not say – about homosexuality. For this person, the Bible was clear and emphatic that homosexuality was wrong.
Here is the reality: only a handful of verses in Scripture address same-sex relationships – six in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. Far more is said about our use of money and our neglect of the poor. Yet, most people who condemn our LGBT brothers and sisters often conveniently ignore how Scripture calls us to account for our finances.
For the three New Testament passages, two occur in lists of sinful behaviors. In those two cases (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11), a Greek word is used that occurs nowhere else in the Greek language. For centuries in the church, the word was translated as “child molester” — not “homosexual.” And even if we use those lists as exclusions, anyone who overeats or drinks too much or is greedy is in trouble, since they appear on these lists as well.
As for Romans 1:24-27, it describes behavior. It does not condemn it. Indeed, the “unnatural” behavior described there is more reminiscent of pagan sexual temple practices, not loving, committed relationships. What is even more interesting is that the passage concludes in Romans 2:1, when Paul states, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.” Isn’t it ironic that the passage used to condemn homosexuals was written so that others would not be condemned?
That brings us back to the Old Testament, in which the passages are found in Leviticus. Yes, these passages do state that “men lying with men” is an “abomination.” Yet, Leviticus 11 states that eating “unclean” food — including pork — is also an abomination. We place the food restrictions in their social and historical context. So why do some people have such a difficult time placing the restriction against sexual practices in their social and historical context? Both sets of restrictions are given to separate the Israelites from the behavior of their pagan neighbors. In that context — like Paul in Romans — these sexual practices reflected pagan temple practices not loving, committed relationships.
As a church, we are called to a responsible interpretation of Scripture, not reading our prejudices back into the text. And through that interpretation, we are called to follow in the way of Jesus, who reached beyond all cultural, social, and sexual distinctions.
Because here is the ultimate reality: Jesus said nothing about same-sex relationships. But he did say that loving our neighbor is like our love of God. Jesus did say, “Do not judge so that you may not be judged …. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1,3) And perhaps most scarily of all, he condemns the scribes and Pharisees — who sound more and more like too many of our churches — with the following words:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you … For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15)
When I hear those words, I want to be found on the side of Jesus. I want to be found on the side of love.