It’s Pride Month, which means that while many LGBTQ+ people will have a chance to celebrate, express and honor themselves in community with their people, various individuals on the religious right will be getting out their “Turn or Burn” banners to antagonize marginalized folks on the streets. While public opinion has undergone massive progress on LGBTQ+ acceptance, the right wing has become bolder, hate crimes are on the rise and public acceptance has slowed or even receded in some places.
While I fully support queer liberation, I am still part of a tradition that has been the primary source of violence and oppression toward my queer siblings. Now, in case this makes any difference to you, I want to offer an apology. As an ordained clergy person in an institutional Christian denomination, I repent and apologize for the injustices and violations and suffering that queer folks (and those who love them) have undergone because of my religion and institutions. I am a representative of a tradition that has caused enormous, massive harm and I am terribly sorry.
One way I try to practice repentance (changing action, not just feeling sorry) is through the frequent repetition of the basics of LGBTQ+ inclusive theology. There are many people who genuinely want to be loving but who feel constrained by a commitment to their understanding of the Bible. If that describes you (or a loved one), this is for you to ponder. May it help to change your heart, mind and life.
For many people, the central issue is the (false) belief that the Bible is unambiguously against homosexuality. So let us confront that: Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, there are a grand total of five places where same-gender sex may be referenced. Two of the five references are in the book of Leviticus in long lists of commandments that include a prohibition against wearing clothing made of multiple types of fabric, stoning children for disrespecting their parents, not eating bats and the importance of welcoming immigrants into your land. Unless someone is willing to embrace all of these rules (and I do not know any Christians today who do), we should be honest that these are insufficient grounds on which to base theologies. Two more of the references occur in lists of vices found in the New Testament letters (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy). The New Testament was written in Greek, not English. And the words that are sometimes translated “homosexual offenders” in these two lists are rare Greek words aresonkoites and malakos. Most serious biblical scholars agree that these are ambiguous terms that do not mean “gay people” but rather indicate those who exploited people sexually or acted in ways that defied normal sexual roles in ancient times. The final problematic scripture is in the book of Romans. This is much more challenging than the previous four verses. It is more explicitly negative about same-gender sex, but what is usually missed is that Paul was primarily talking about idolatry — the replacement of the worship of God with the pursuit of things and ideologies that benefited just a few.
One final scripture that people point to is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this story, a pair of angels are traveling disguised as human men, and stop in a town called Sodom for the night. Some male townspeople attempt to rape the travelers, and divine fury is called down upon the town.
Hopefully you read that and think: “Sounds like God is against rape, not gay sex.”
But in case that’s not enough, in the biblical book of Ezekiel we find this verse: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Even scripture itself describes the issue as arrogance and lack of hospitality and compassion.
May the church rapidly change and repent.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain.
Read the full June 12 - 18 issue.
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