If Paul had been living in the 21st century, would he have added ‘neither gay nor straight’ to Galatians 3:28?
As you might know, Galatians 3:28 reads:
There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Most people who responded did so with a Christian version of, “Hell, no!” But I think we do ourselves and the Bible a disservice by pretending it universally contains specific, timeless admonitions and prohibitions. Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes it does. But usually those are pretty clear. Stuff like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The Old Testament mentions them, Jesus mentions them, Paul refers implicitly or explicitly to them.
You know, kind of like divorce.
The Bible mentions divorce 34 times. It features prominently in the levitical law. In Malachi God is described as hating divorce, and in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus equates divorce with adultery and even gives specific reasons in which divorce is acceptable. Paul argues Christians shouldn’t even divorce their non-Christian spouses and reiterates Jesus’ command against remarrying after a divorce.
So how many people actually follow that? Nearly 40 percent of regular churchgoing Christians are divorced. And I would guess a good percentage have remarried or plan to be. They have already made the decision that the Bible’s clear, multitestamental admonitions are confined to a specific culture.
Perhaps you would disagree.
At some point, everyone – even the most ardent of biblical literalists – says: This is not universal, not timeless, not applicable for me in my 21st century life. Your reasons for advocating silence for women in church while ignoring the examples of outspoken female leaders in both testaments may be sound, but you’re still arguing for a culturally limited reading of at least some of the Bible. You have drawn a line.
Scientists, who see the overwhelming evidence for an old, slowly evolving earth, draw this line at Genesis 1-2. Archaeologists, who see evidence contradicting the historicity of Israelite origins, draw lines at the book of Joshua. Most Christians have drawn the line at the numerous passages condoning genocide and slavery. And, increasingly, biologists and psychologists are drawing that line at passages dealing with homosexuality.
Because passages describing homosexuality as a choice (Romans 1) or describing it in male-only terms (Leviticus 18 and 20) are reflecting a particular culture – one with an incomplete, even inaccurate, view of human sexuality and biology.
I’m not sure I can say I definitively affirm the rightness of gay relationships – I’ll weasel out of it, Obama-style, and say my views are evolving on the matter – but I can say biblical discussions of homosexuality are far more culturally dependent than those on divorce. Yet we all know divorced people, so we shrug that issue off. We don’t think we know many or any gay people, so it’s easier to take a hard line. Regardless, there’s a lot of gray here – a lot more gray than most seem to realize.
Which is why I appreciate the perspective of Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network. I’m not gay, and I don’t struggle with same-sex attraction, which means I cannot truly understand the full complexity of this issue. But Justin’s perspective as an openly gay, fully committed Christian is valuable for those of us who want to hear all sides and gain a better understanding of what God truly expects from our gay brothers and sisters. When he speaks, I think it’s my duty as a Christ-follower to listen.
Justin weighed in recently with a broadside against perhaps the most popular line of argument against homosexuality among those Christians who see themselves as more enlightened, even progressive, than those whose objections to homosexuality sound more like homophobia than love.
People on all sides make a lot of assumptions about us and what we believe.
But for many people I talk to, the most frustrating response of all is when they try to explain themselves, only to have a Christian friend or relative say something like this:
“I love you, and I know this is hard for you. But I believe that what God says matters more than what feels good. All of us sometimes have to put our own desires aside to serve God. I might have a desire to cheat on my wife or look at porn, but part of being a Christian is turning from sin, and that’s what I do and what you have to do, too.”
It’s good Christian theology, right? So what’s wrong with that? …
See, those of us who are committed Christians already know that turning from sin is important. We are already seeking to follow God with our lives. The issue isn’t that we believe sin is okay or that we think our own feelings matter more than God; the issue is that we don’t agree on what the right or wrong thing to do in the given situation is. We don’t agree on whether the behavior in question is sinful, or what God is calling us to do in the present circumstances.
The committed Christian who is in a gay relationship isn’t in that relationship because he thinks “God’s Word doesn’t matter” or that it’s “okay to sin.” Not at all! He’s in that relationship because he believes God has called him to it and that the Bible passages used to condemn gay relationships have been misinterpreted.
Now maybe you believe he’s wrong. Fair enough. Maybe he is. But if he’s wrong, he’s sincerely wrong. He’s doing what he honestly believes is right.
You don’t have to agree that Paul would have added “neither gay nor straight” to the book of Galatians. But I make this challenge: Are you willing to make homosexuality an agree-to-disagree issue? More importantly, how would this change your treatment of God’s gay children?