Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

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Christians will go to great lengths to get God to consent to their prejudices. It’s actually quite astounding and equally sad. 

Every day I watch and read fellow followers of Jesus attempting to use Scripture to discriminate against, marginalize, and condemn people who identify as LGBTQ. They engage in the most protracted, passionate, theological gymnastics, arrogantly and confidently tossing out chapter-and-verse grenades in an effort to make the case that God has a problem with being gay and that the Bible is proof. They do this with great authority, unwavering confidence, and very little tolerance for dissent.

This is one of the most irresponsible things Christians have ever done.

In truth, only a literal handful of the Bible’s 31,102 verses mention what could be translated as homosexuality (an English word first coined in 1946)and in even those few cases the reference is solely to a sexual act, never to anything remotely resembling what we understand as gender identity or sexual orientation. The reason for this is quite simple: such complex ideas were beyond the grasp of the writers, just as the shape of the planet or the inner workings of the human body or the nature of gravity were. This is understandable. They had no knowledge of how the brain worked and so they could only observe behavior and imagine that was the extent of sexual identity. 

This is the greatest flaw in attempting to use the Bible to address the intricacies of human sexuality—that it is woefully inadequate for that specific task. The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown, very human authors in multiple languages, during which time the concepts of gender identity or sexual orientation were formed at only the crudest levels.  

The Bible is a product of its time and culture and contains the inherent limitations of its writers. It isn’t an attack or mutiny to admit these things, it is simply being honest with our sacred text. Even fundamentalists and Conservatives understand this. We see it in the way our orthodox Christian understanding and approaches to slavery, women’s rights, mental illness, and divorce have all evolved with what we’ve learned over time. It’s the reason we no longer stone adulterers or accuse paralytics of moral failing or imagine Hell sitting below a flat earth.

This is why arguing incessantly about a handful of parsed out lines of Scripture, as if these verses answer the complex questions of sexuality is such misguided time and such a misuse of the texts themselves. Using these few bits of text to justify discrimination and bigotry is reckless and irresponsible. We don’t rely on the Bible to understand gender identity and sexual orientation for the same reason we don’t rely on a 2,000 year old medical text to understand the circulatory system, or use ancient hieroglyphics to map out the Cosmos. We know that these things are not enough because time has taught us.

When we put our bodies in the hands of surgeons, we want them to bring every bit of study and experience and historical learning to bear, because of the complexity of the task. We wouldn’t accept that what we knew in the first century was at all adequate. In fact, we’d demand that anything antiquated, technologically or intellectually be discarded. That is the only responsible decision when life is in the balance.

In this and in so many other ways, God has given us time as a gift in which to gain understanding about the world and about our bodies and our brains, that we didn’t and couldn’t know two or three thousand years ago. We gladly and wisely use this experience without giving it a second thought, without exception. In every other sphere of life, this is how we live; allowing new revelation to help us make better decisions and to override information when it proves to be incomplete or erroneous.

The damage the Church has done an continues to do to the LGBTQ community by trying to claim the writers of the Bible understood things they simply couldn’t have understood about sexuality, is one of our greatest shared sins. We need to allow all that we’ve learned to inform our faith perspective. We can go to the Scriptures for wisdom and guidance and inspiration, but we should never go to them as authoritative textbooks on biology or anatomy, and never as an excuse to ignore what we’ve discovered since they were first recorded.

If we don’t see and consider the Bible’s limitations regarding the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, we will continue to try to use God to reinforce our fear and sanction our prejudices, and we will continue to engage in behavior toward the LGBTQ community that makes our violence and mistreatment feel righteous, while not at all reflecting the love of Jesus.

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283 thoughts on “Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

  1. There is no contradiction and it’s straight-forward:

    I cited the greek word used>We learn what the greek word means when translated> We apply that to the context of the audience/time/etc.

    It’s like the word humankind. Will people misunderstand who we are addressing thinking it’s just to men? Maybe in a few hundred years, but context will help them understand that is a word used for all people. Do we need to go replace everywhere it’s written humankind or mankind? No, we understand that when we see that it is to all people.

    It doesn’t take advanced educational background to understand when there is consistency used in language. If brethren for the time is consistently used to address men and/or a group of people regardless of gender we can see how it is consistently used in other passages in the same way.

    Just like in other languages, like Spanish, words are understood in context. If there is a stadium full of boys we say “niños” if girls enter into the mix, we still say “niños”. If it’s ALL females, we then say “niñas”.

    No contradiction, but context in language.

    Again, I’m not anti the use of saying “brothers and sisters” or anything like that, but what I saying is if we’re so unable to keep the literal words written and make them into divisive issues where there wasn’t even an issue then we start off on a bad foot.

    And this goes both ways. If someone is hellbent on saying that it’s for the word brethren in that passage could only have addressed men only then they are doing the same injustice to the passage and have also not understood the context, but that’s not the fault of Bible, but of the person being ignorant.

    Additionally, I think the passages I cited are VERY CLEAR that women are included in the very roles you asserted they should be! I would think you would celebrate that!

    • In the preface of the ESV translation the translators explain ” In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, ‘anyone’ replaces ‘ any man’ ”

      You see, the literal translation is understood here as the meaning not the words themselves.

      This is why JP’s post is important.

      So often Christians are arguing about words and not meaning.

      This is why so many Christians are suffering from cognitive dissonance because some biblical scholars give more weight to words rather than to meaning. Some biblical scholars dissect language and chop up verses in the most unhelpful way as if there is some hidden code in the words (which are are not directly translated and therefore could not possibly have a formula to them) and totally miss the meaning of the message.

    • English is a language that is continually evolving with words shifting in meaning and intent. I am 58 years old and I have never heard the word “brethren” meant as anything other than exclusively male. If the word translated as”brethren” can be faithfully translated using an inclusive word, then the inclusive word would be the better choice.

      It’s like saying that Wayne Gretzky was a great American hockey player. Canadians will rise up howling in protest because, strictly speaking, while anyone on the continents in this hemisphere is an American, it is not what we commonly understand it to mean.

      I accept “humankind” and “mankind” as referring to all genders because those meanings have not changed. I do not accept “men” as including other genders because that definition has definitely shifted in common usage. I also do not accept “guys” as being inclusive.

      • Good point Patricia, yet there are Brethren churches (Mennonite background) which include men and women in their congregations. Word preferences can vary from person to person. I don’t have a preference but I pay attention to how my choice of words affect others when I am in conversation with. As well, transgender people may prefer to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ , others ‘they’ and some don’t care one way or another.

        The only thing I can make of all of this is that we must be willing to care about others to the point of sacrificing our own word preferences in order to understand how others see the world around them and experience life. It takes patience to understand that the rules don’t always apply.

        • and Peter, I apologize if I am coming off poorly, this is not the best forum and I don’t have a lot of time to spend making these comments perfectly succinct and diplomatic but I think it is a worthy discussion. Thanks for the food for thought.

        • I have a friend who was Brethren and since she was not allowed to speak in church, I felt that the name of her church exemplified the exclusion she felt. She is now an Anglican priest. Other than the denomination named Brethren, which is an entirely other matter, I still will say that I have never heard the word used to mean all genders.

          I agree that our word choices matter, but I believe that being inclusive is rarely offensive, while being exclusive is often unhelpful.

          • Patricia, yes, I get that, for sure! I was a member of a fundamentalist church which referred to our membership as brethren which included women. They continued to use that term even when political correctness become popular. Some of the congregation wanted to use brothers and sisters. The pastor said it was not an important distinction. He gave a long sermon on it and the pitfalls of political correctness. I see now that at the root of the term brethren is the submission of women and gender exclusion but when the word brethren is used I still picture a church congregation with men in leadership positions and women in domestic roles. It’s difficult to let go of the associations we have with words.

  2. One thing I like to ask when a Christian is trying to use God to beat upon a gay person is this — “can a hermaphrodite marry and if so which sex does he marry? Since the beating is all based upon the sexual organ one person has, the hermaphrodite has both. So using the theory of the person beating up on a gay person, by default either way a hermaphrodite goes they are being gay.

    Some people smile and nod but there are some Christians that get really, really mad at my theory. I call it putting God in a box. Their own person box, nice and tidy to be used with their version of Christ’s mission. I do believe that God is much bigger than a box.

    • I believe the Roman Catholic, and some other Christian, approach to intersex/”hermaphroditism” is the same as it is for those with same-sex attraction – that marriage is not a licit option, sex outside of marriage is sinful, and the only option is a celibate life. Barbaric.

      Just as barbaric as the primitive medical science that allowed (even relatively recently) the sort of infant genital mutilation performed on some intersex babies to make them conform to more societally expected genital shape, that often results in complete loss of capacity for orgasm.

  3. It sounds like it’s time to end a chapter as some here value diverse opinions as less than others. So, here are my final thoughts.

    Gloriamarie,

    RE: “Sorry, if you are going to insist on using gender exclusive language and justify your use of it, that tells me that you choose to ignore a boundary I set and makes me wonder if you ignore other boundaries women set. I am done.”

    – Nowhere EVER did I “insist on using gender exclusive language”. Multiple times I explicitly said I was not anti to “gender neutral language”, but rather used the original language and provided the meaning (of which I think most here seem to agree with eventually on the meaning even if we disagree on the gender neutrality or lack thereof).

    – I simply and plainly explained that people get hung up on the word and not the meaning behind the word which detracts from the point and gets us distracted on secondary issues.

    – Finally, your last sentence is MOST offensive to me and hardly do I feel offended, but what you have insinuated about me regarding if I “ignore other boundaries women set” and you know nothing of my character other than what I have exemplified here of respectful discussion. Even if you disagree vehemently with my point of view I would’ve expected you to treat me with the same degree of respect. Nothing of what I wrote was personally to you, yet you felt you should attack my character falsely.

    I thought differing thoughts and opinions were the valued by those who consider themselves “Progressive” or similar titles, but I see that diversity of thought is not valued.

    At the end, I hope there is some ounce of value people can glean from reading these posts to see that when we set our hearts to seek first God, then when we have heart-change we desire to walk with each other through the uncomfortable, messy, and challenging life as broken people behind restored because of the finished work of Christ.

    • Peter, you started out your visit here to the blog by quoting scripture;

      “ …considering themselves wise they became fools” I think you started off on the wrong foot by causing

      Do you really think you laid a foundation of trust with other commenters by revealing how much you despise and look down on others?

      Offended you started on the blog and offended you leave.

  4. Ok, not to change the subject entirely, but this is for those who take the Bible literally and believe in its inerrancy: which creation story do you believe and/or not believe? The one in Genesis 1 or the one in Genesis 2? These are two vastly different creation stories, demonstrating two different relationships with God by virtue of our creation. Go!

    • Dawn, love your question. I would add, how many times did that rooster crow? Three or Nine?

      About the Creation stories in Genesis. Have you read and noticed the remarkable similarities between the Genesis accounts and the Tale of Gilgamesh which dates from about 2100 BCE which is the 3rd dynasty if Ur?

      I am unsubbing from comments on this discussion. Until the next time, folks.

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  7. I guess my biggest question after reading your article is…

    Which parts (or verses) of the Bible is it ok to believe in and use to shape our World View?

  8. “The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown”

    Funny, Liberals Christians believe this, but still still insist on reading the Bible. Guess what kids, the parts you like are myths too.

  9. To all my Christian brethren that like to beat the gay’s on the head with the bible I suggest you put down the KJ bible and start learning how to read Greek. Each translation lost true meanings of certain, some or a lot of verses. cooler heads can conclude that Paul was giving direction to solve specific problems among the Corinthian Saints of that day. The people were forcibly taking boys into temples and having sex with them, they were having pagan ceremonies, etc. So Paul was trying to solve the problem in Corinth and most likely not giving a Jesus type order of life.

    So many modern day bibles have added terms such as homosexuality, a word that never existed in the day of Jesus. Now if you are led to n Old Testament verse, I have questions for you. Are you a pick and choose Christian. You can’t just pick out one piece from the Old Testament and forget other verses. Verses that would rule out some type of cancer patients, men wounded in war or accidents causing harm to a certain part of the body would prohibit them from entering the congregation of the Lord. There are a heck of a lot other such verses.

    Deut 23:1 “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.”

    Now about the KJV — you can research on your own about who, what and why the translation was started. You can start a big christian fight talking about the KJV but no place in the Bible does it say the KJV is best and only Holy Bible.

    One example of the poorly translated KJV –
    Erasmus (KJV translator) had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation!

    So those that throw that first stone might want to consider what was said in the bible about throwing stones.

  10. Yes and thank you very much for this comment. It feels like those who hold these “outdated” truths are not welcome to share these beliefs without being labeled, judged and called names. Focusing on biology allows for empathy and understanding; however by no means permits one to act in any way they see fit.

  11. It’s not the Bible people should have difficulty with it’s people misrepresenting the Bible– that is the problem.

  12. “it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author.”

    If you don’t believe that the Prophets and the Laws handed down to Moses are those things, then I’m not sure why you’re bothering with it at all. That’s the must basic claim as to why the Bible is holy. No one has to believe it. But that belief would seem to be a prerequisite to be a Jew or Christian.

  13. 2 Timothy 3:16
    All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

    “All Scripture”. Not the ones you pick and choose. It is God breathed.

  14. an excellent article/essay & one that should be read many times by Christians.
    I would point out that the word ‘homosexuality’ was first used in 1865 but did not appear in print until 1869. at that time it was used within the new science field of psychology to describe the phenomena of same-sex attraction.
    Using the word to describe a person as a homosexual occurred in the earl to mid 20’s & was not used as a derogatory term until the 30’s. It was in 1946 that the word first appeared in an English language version of the Bible, (ASV).
    Thus began the problem we have today, a problem that should never have arisen.

  15. Simply and clearly stated, He created them male and female. Generally, there need not be a lot of confusion. However, our world is fallen and we are broken along with it. Unfortunately, we love imperfectly and have fears and egos that do damage. Let’s strive to love better, inspire hope, do justice and walk humbly with God.
    The Bible speaks as an authority for life and practice, and yes, followers differ on its reading. It still speaks. It speaks of hope and freedom and deliverance and identity (in Christ) and meaning.

  16. As usual very well done.
    Just one point, the term “homosexual” was first used in C.G. Chaddock’s translation of Krafft-Ebing’s “Psychopathia Sexualis”. By 1895 homosexual was in common use.

  17. In the fifth paragraph, you state that the Holy Bible is “not” divine inspiration! If it is not, then there is no authority in it and anything it says can be ignored! There is no Christianity, because Jesus did not really die for our sins! So why even argue about what is and is not sin? Do what you want. Make your denomination be what you want!! Problem solved!!

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