Proposition: Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I think there is a place for thoughtful engagement over the “clobber passages.”
Yep. The Clobber Passages. Those six (or eight, depending on who you’re talking to) passages in the Bible that appear to “clobber” the idea that God could ever love Gay people just the way they are.
As a liberal and an advocate for full LGBTQ inclusion in the life of both the church and the culture, I often run into a line of questioning (particularly on Social Media and the comment threads on blog posts I write—oh, the comment threads … boy howdy!) that goes something like this: “How can you call yourself a Christian and still be for … you know … Gays? Don’t you believe in the Bible?”
I can’t tell you how many literary interactions I’ve had that began with something very much like, “You can’t believe that stuff and still believe the Bible.” It happens. (Like here or here or here).
To which I respond with as much dignity as I can muster, trying hard not to sound like a third grader: “Can too!”
What happens next is predictable.
“Well then, what do you do with __ (fill in the blank with Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, etc.)?”
So, I begin my spiel: “You must realize that the world of the Bible and the world of twenty-first century suburbanites are different worlds … ” And off I go.
But as I’m writing to my newest interlocutor for what seems to me at this point like the 37th time, I get a hollow feeling in my stomach. Even if I were the Albert Einstein of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, even if I could come up with some kind of seemingly airtight Thomist proof for my position, even if I could make the angels sing and the Begonias bloom on command (which, by the way, if it needs to be said, I am not and I cannot) I would still never be able to convince my conversational dance partner of the truth of my arguments … that the world out of which the Bible emerged could never have anticipated the world we inhabit.
I often despair, convinced that even making these arguments is pointless, since I’m never going to convince the person with whom I’m arguing.
Having said all that, though, I am beginning to think that having a well-reasoned response to the “You-can’t-be-a-Christian-and-still-believe-the-Bible-doesn’t-condemn-gay-people” argument is worthwhile … especially now. The Supreme Court has helped to usher in a new world, a world in which the things we used to take for granted about human sexuality and relationships has been turned on it’s head. Marriage looks entirely different today for everyone in our country than it did just a short time ago.
So, we in the church who have been pushing for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people have a big job still to do.
Why do I say that?
I was doing a consultation with a church one time on why they should become Open and Affirming, embracing LGBTQ people into the life and ministry of the church. Afterward, an older woman came up to me and said, “How do you square this with the Bible?”
So, I said, “Well, that’s a long conversation, worth more time than we have right now.”
“Well, the reason I asked is because two weeks ago my granddaughter came out to me as a lesbian.” Tears in her eyes. “I’ve been raised all my life as a Christian to think being gay is a sin. But I love my granddaughter more than just about anything. And I don’t want to abandon either my faith or my granddaughter. So, I was hoping you could help me make this be all right.”
And I knew immediately that we in the church who love and support not only LGBTQ people, but the people who love them, still have a lot of work in front of us.
What do I mean?
Well, even though the current is shifting, that doesn’t mean everyone will automatically turn around and swim in the other direction … just because everyone else appears to be doing so. In fact, the cultural trope of hyper-individuality (Thank you, Baby Boomers!) stands explicitly over against the facile adoption of “what everyone else is doing” (c.f. your mom’s favorite incredulous question: “You wouldn’t jump off a bridge just because your friends did, would you?”).
Consequently, and even if it’s for their own peace of mind, people who are making huge alterations in their thinking patterns need the fortification of good intellectual and moral reasoning. Most folks can’t just turn on a dime; they need good reasons to change.
All of which we know instinctively, right?
But here’s part of the psychology behind such a change: When things are moving so rapidly, many people who don’t want to be left behind are looking for intellectual and moral reasons to do what everyone else is doing. Those reasons need some substance, of course. But if you can provide them good reasons, many people who find themselves in the midst of a great cultural shift, are looking for reasonable justification that will give them permission to change their minds.
People need reassurances that they’re not jumping off a bridge into uncertain waters. That grandmother needed the story of her lesbian granddaughter. Other Christians are going to need reassurance that they can simultaneously believe the Bible and that God loves LGBTQ people just the way they are.
So, I think refuting the clobber passages is an essential enterprise now more than ever—not because it will convince those determined not to hear, but because it promises to give support to those searching for a way to live in a brand new world.