We all know the Bible appraises self-worth according to strict sets of laws and hierarchies: Go to Hell if you covet the neighbor’s house, kill the neighbor, or take off with the neighbor’s wife. It runs moral meanings smooth over broken fine lines that fall somewhere between fact and fiction and good and evil. God still hates figs and shrimp, right? It also often hides contradiction and its very own accommodating history under stories that once upon a time were not its own: Remember, Christmas and Easter grew from Pagan roots.
Unfortunately for us, the Bible and people’s interpretations of it can brew misguided thoughts about homosexuality. But it does deserve our attention. Its words read just like modern humans behave: We wake hand-in-hand with dissension; we evolve, yet still keep patterns of judgment close. And we all at some point in time ask, “Where did we come from? What’s the point?”
So where do the gays go from here?
Well, former United Methodist minister and Duke University seminary scholar, Jimmy Creech, suggests that maybe it’s time we re-evaluate what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
In Adam’s Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays, straight-identifying Creech defends same-sex love against the Church’s dangerous distortion of homosexuality as sin. He digs deep into Biblical texts, mines credible sense from scripture and history, and writes passionately about his decision to reconcile his stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage even though these things ultimately led the Church to revoke his ordination credentials.
What would Jesus do? Jimmy Creech might know.
Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?
No, it’s actually not possible for the Bible to say this in any way. First of all, the writers of the Bible had no understanding of the innate human trait of sexual orientation. Consequently, there were no words for homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. These words were coined in the late 1800s when the young science of psychology studied human sexuality and discovered that sexual orientation is an innate aspect of human personality. We’ve come to understand these three sexual orientations as equally normal, natural and healthy. There are a few references in the Bible to same-gender sexual acts, though all of them are condemned because of the context in which they are found: violent rape, idolatry, and promiscuity. There is, by the way, no condemnation in the Bible of same-gender loving relationships. However, because of the fear and prejudice against same-gender loving relationships, church leaders have used these condemnations of violence, idolatry and promiscuity to condemn same-gender loving relationships. If the logic used against homosexual sex acts was used in the context of condemned heterosexual sex acts, one could claim the Bible says “heterosexuality is a sin.” But, of course, no one does.
Another issue at play is patriarchal culture. Men are considered the masters (the Hebrew for husband actually means “lord”) and women are inferior and subservient. Consequently, for a man to have sex with another man as men have sex with women violates the rigid gender roles and threatens the patriarchal culture. Such an act puts the submissive man in the woman’s role which from the biblical perspective is “abominable.” Interestingly, there’s only one biblical reference to women having sex with women (chapter one of Romans), most likely because the writers of the Bible (men) weren’t concerned about that – it didn’t threaten their patriarchal culture.
The few references to same-gender sexual acts have thus been interpreted and used in ways to justify the persecution of LGBT people. In similar ways, passages in the Bible were interpreted in ways to justify slavery, white supremacy and racial segregation. The Bible denies equal rights to women because of its patriarchy and allowed the persecution and mass murder of Jews. Modern society has rejected the misuse of the Bible to justify these injustices even though each case is a form of abuse. Using the Bible to justify the persecution of LGBT people is no less an abuse and can no longer be tolerated. It’s intellectually dishonest, pure bigotry.
Can you explain how the word “homosexual” is misused in Biblical texts?
In First Corinthians and First Timothy, the Apostle Paul used Greek words that no one else had ever used – either before him or after him. These words came to be associated with homosexuality in the late 13th Century after Thomas Aquinas condemned same-sex sexual acts in his writings. From then on, the Greek words in these two passages were understood to mean, a “man who has sex with a man.” Because there was no Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek words (the three languages in which the Bible was written) for a “man who has sex with a man,” the term Sodomite was invented. It is often found in translations, but has no basis in the languages of the Bible – it’s purely an example of bigotry written into those translations after the fact.
Aquinas was the first church teacher to associate the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with same-sex acts. Before then, the destruction was attributed to the violent inhospitality and greed of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. A similar thing happened when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published in 1952. Instead of using “a man who has sex with a man,” or the King James version, “them that defile themselves with mankind,” or Sodomites, the translators chose to use the modern term homosexual – even though there was no basis for it in biblical languages. Consequently, people who do not know this history innocently claim that the Bible says “homosexuals can’t inherit the kingdom of heaven” because First Corinthians says so; and, that “homosexuals” are contrary to sound doctrine.
While careful study of these passages reveals no condemnation of same-sex loving relationships, the mass of people who read these passages without the benefit of careful study feel justified in condemning homosexuals. The harm that has been done to LGBT people by this scandalous scholarship cannot be exaggerated.
Do you think Christianity will eventually embrace LGBT people in the future, however near or far?
Yes, mainline Christian communities will fully embrace the LGBT community with equal standing and participation in the nearfuture. Christian communities actually have come a long way toward this goal in a relatively short time. The Unitarian Universalist Association was the first in this country, soon after Stonewall. And now the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, USA, the Episcopal Church, USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have all embraced the ordination of clergy in same-sex committed relationships and marriage for same-sex couples.
Even though the ecclesiastical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church remains adamantly against sexually active LGBT people, more than 74% of Catholic laity support same-sex marriage or civil unions with support for their full civil rights and equal protections. There will be some who will never accept same-sex relationships, but they belong to the past of fear and hatred, not the future of acceptance and equality.
What do you say to non-believers, atheists and agnostics? Do you see religion as something essential and necessary to humanity’s place in the universe?
No, I don’t believe religion is essential and necessary. Religion is an organized or structured expression of the innate wonder and awe human beings have about life, nature and time. This wonder and awe and the beliefs people have about it are not dependent on religious language and concepts. I find common ground with anyone who explores those big questions about life.
Being religious doesn’t guarantee a person will be good, nor does being a non-believer make a person bad. These are just two ways humans approach the mysteries of life. But, I do believe everyone who is aware and sensitive to what’s happening in the world, in their lives and the lives of others, has a keen sense of wonder and awe about it all. What really matters is how we treat each other.
Your memoir, Adam’s Gift, is about the United Methodist Church’s decision to revoke your ordination credentials after you performed same-sex commitment ceremonies. But what do you think the real gift was for you?
Adam’s gift was the truth about himself – a truth he’d concealed for nearly 50 years of his life. It was a gift because it opened my eyes to a reality I’d not seen before – a persecution of LGBT people in which I unknowingly was complicit. It was his humanity, his dignity and integrity, his gentleness and humility that would not allow me to rely on my conventional stereotypes and prejudice about the gay community. While there was much study and understanding I had to pursue afterward, Adam transformed me in the moment he revealed to me his true personhood and personal history. He gave me his most precious gift: His personal truth.
How do you feel about Christianity’s position in US politics? It’s sad, but a holier than thou attitude still marginalizes the LGBT community.
It’s not possible to speak of “Christianity” as if it is one set of beliefs and values. Today, Christianity is not a term that has meaning because of the diversity within and among Christian groups. The Christians with whom I’m aligned are progressives. There are large numbers of moderate Christians too. And, there are Christian reactionaries who have found a political home in the Republican Party. The attack on LGBT people by many Christian reactionaries is sincere – meaning, it is an expression of their real fear and prejudice. However, right-wing politicians cynically exploit this bigotry for political ends (Karl Rove and George W. Bush). I believe that the political strategy of exploiting anti-gay bigotry is coming to an end. With marriage equality in a growing number of states, with the repeal of DADT, and the current discussion of the Respect for Marriage bill, the momentum is toward inclusion and acceptance, not exclusion. Even some right-wing Republicans are saying their party should no longer talk about gay issues.
How do you think we can change the way other people less understanding think about LGBT people?
People I know who’ve changed their hearts and minds about gay people have done so because they got to know someone who is gay. They didn’t change because of a good argument or debate about the Bible. They changed because they couldn’t reconcile their fear and hatred with the dignity and character of someone they discovered to be gay. Sometimes, this is a new acquaintance whose respect is earned over time. Sometimes, it’s someone loved for a lifetime. So, the gift Adam gave to me is a gift all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can give to someone – a parent, sibling, child, neighbor, pastor, friend or colleague. LGBT people should not undervalue the power of their own dignity and integrity. There are, of course, some people whose minds and hearts will never change.
In addition, those of us who are straight must challenge anti-gay bigotry and malice whenever we encounter it and challenge elected officials who perpetuate persecution. An unjust world belongs to all of us, and all of us have an obligation to end the injustice.