Last week, after attending the Interfaith Unity service (and writing about it online), I was contacted by someone who said:
I am bi-sexual and I know how much the "church" condemns that. However I really get the vibe that you are not that way. I feel that you are very accepting. So, how can I have a relationship with God and not lie to myself and pretend I am not this way? I know what Leviticus and Paul have to say about some of these issues. So how is it that you have the beliefs that you do despite what the Bible says? I just feel like something so small shouldn't be such a huge deal as everyone makes it, yet the "church" speaks about it in a VERY negative light and condemns people like me and calls me, like, perverted and stuff. I don't know what to think about all of this, so I was hoping you might help me.My reply:
Throughout Christian history, followers of Christ have used four sources to guide them in the search for truth: scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. All four of these sources, guided by the Holy Spirit, help us know what is true.
Unfortunately, at various times in history, Christians have neglected some of these sources. This led the church to condemn Galileo and Copernicus, insisting that the solar system revolved around the earth, even though reason and experience demonstrated that the sun was actually at the center. It has also led many Christians to use scripture to justify slavery or even genocide. Even today there are Christians who deny that dinosaurs roamed the earth many thousands of years ago (despite all the scientific evidence), because it contradicts the Biblical account of "how the earth was created."
Pulling out isolated scriptures while ignoring reason, experience or tradition often leads to conclusions that are wrong and against the will of God. Consider Psalm 137:9: "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against a rock!" How much trouble would we be in if we insisted that every verse of scripture, regardless of context, was absolutely true? Our streets would be filled with dead babies ... and Christians who were happy to have killed them.
A better way to interpret scripture is to allow the Spirit to work through reason and experience. If we do that, then we will see that some verses may have been true for a particular time and culture, but are not true today. Other verses, we may even declare to be just plain wrong, because they do not fit with the overall message of the gospel. This is okay to do! In fact, to be responsible interpreters of scripture, it is something we must do.
Reading the Bible responsibly, one discovers a progression throughout many of its various and diverse books, a progression that draws the circles of inclusion wider and wider. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus insisted that his message was for everyone, even people in foreign lands. The people of his hometown weren't so accepting, however, and they tried to kill Jesus rather than allow him to minister to foreigners. (Luke 4:14-30)
Acts 8 tells the story of an Ethiopian eunuch who went to Jerusalem to pray. However, eunuchs were not allowed in the temple, because they were sexually different (a eunuch being a castrated male) and therefore defective. Deuteronomy 23:1 says: "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord." So naturally, when this eunuch arrived, the door was slammed in his face by those who insisted on following the scripture.
On his way back to Ethiopia, the eunuch, I'm sure, was saddened and disappointed. As he travelled, he was reading a passage of scripture that caught his attention, pondering its meaning. It was a passage from Isaiah, about a lamb led to its shearer (do you think the image of cutting here had special significance to this castrated man?) ... a passage of one who was humiliated and denied justice (wasn't hejust denied justice at the temple?) ... a passage that mentions generations (there would be no more generations for the eunuch).
Then he encountered Philip, one of the apostles, who explained the scripture to the eunuch, explained the good news about Jesus, and then agreed to baptize the eunuch and welcome him into the family of God. Why? Because he knew that this is where the Spirit was leading. Deuteronomy was wrong, or at least no longer valid.
I could go on for quite some time. Interpreting scripture and discovering meaning is a neverending process. So I'll just end this (for now) by saying that to exclude people just because of who they are is wrong. Jesus never turned anyone away, something that shocked many people in his time. God's love is boundless. All are welcome. With confidence I say: You don't need to pretend or lie. God loves you and welcomes you just the way you are.