"When are you going to talk about scripture that condemns homosexuality?"
The question came from a young woman who attended a workshop based on my book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. This particular workshop was held a couple of years ago on a college campus and attracted a cross-section of students who were both supporters and detractors of homosexuality.
This question is usually asked by a pro-gay person who wants to know how to answer challengers who quote scripture. This woman was different -- she had come for an argument and intended to challenge me with anti-gay interpretations of scripture.
"We're not going to talk about those passages specifically," I told her. "Instead, part of this workshop is on why we should never argue scripture with anyone ever again."
She was visibly disappointed and left halfway through the workshop. I now realize that I should have given her a more in-depth answer to her question, because there are still plenty of people, both for and against homosexuality, who insist on arguing about what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.
There are several reasons that gays and lesbians should never argue scripture. First, it's pointless and nobody wins. Those who are anti-gay have their authorities and scriptural interpretations and so do pro-gay people. No one wins a "they said, they said" argument because no one will believe the scholars from either side no matter what argument anyone makes.
Secondly, arguing over scripture just hardens the opinions of both sides. Neither side is willing to give an inch. This is not a true dialogue, it's simply a contest of who can argue the longest, and usually the loudest. No one is convinced, and everyone leaves further entrenched in their own ideas, and usually angry. No education happens, and little, if any, compassion ever happens.
Thirdly, the arguers on either side never share the same starting point on scripture. Those who are anti-gay are more likely to see the Bible as the infallible "Word of God" -- which means the words literally dripped from the lips of God through the pens of the scribes and onto the page. Each jot and tittle is God-breathed and never to be contradicted. (Never mind that much of the Bible is full of contradictions and much of it we disregard with impunity these days. Those sorts of inconveniences never actually apply to the argument around homosexuality.)
Those who argue from the pro-gay side are generally those who see the Bible as inspired by God, but not the literal, infallible words of God. This means they are more open to different interpretations and approaches to scripture. Those who see the Bible as "God's literal word" only know one way to read any passage, and it's usually to back up their current beliefs about God, homosexuality or any other issue.
The most important reason, however, that gays and lesbians should never, ever argue about scripture is because the Bible has nothing much to say about homosexuality. We have to remember that this is an ancient book. It was written at a time when people believed the world was flat and that the earth was in the middle of a three-tiered world with heaven above and hell below. It was written at a time when people believed that the whole of human reproduction was held in the sperm of a man and a woman was merely an incubator. Speaking of women, this was a time when they were seen as chattel -- property to be passed along from father to husband, from husband to brother and so on. It was written at a time when slavery was seen as God-ordained and animal sacrifice was the way to cleanse sins.
In short, we cannot extract modern ideas from an ancient book. The writers of the Bible no more understood homosexuality than they understood that a spherical Earth orbited the sun. At most, we have a commentary on same-sex sexual behavior involving lust and abuse, but nothing -- pro or con -- about the modern concept of sexual orientation. We don't take the Bible's word for it that the earth is flat and women only incubate babies and contribute nothing else to the process. Why on earth would we take it as an authority on sexual orientation?
The Bible remains a holy book because it maps humanity's journey with God, and not the other way around. Because it maps our journey with God, it maps our evolving understanding of how the Holy works in this world. Humanity has moved from seeing God as a harsh judge and lawmaker to a seeing God as full of grace, mercy and love.
We don't learn about God by pulling out tiny details of the book and proclaiming them as true for all time. Instead, the Bible puts us in touch with God when we recognize its overarching message, which can be summarized by 1 John 4:7-8: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."
The reason gays and lesbians should never argue over scripture is because, not only does scripture not condemn homosexuality, arguing over it produces nothing but strife, division and hatred. Anything that does not promote love is not of God. Instead of arguing, let us love one another, even those with whom we disagree. This is God's message to us. Nothing else matters.
Follow Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revtheodyke