A New Perspective: Clobber Passages

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that if God is good, God will reveal that Truth. And I want to believe that God is good. Don’t you?

When I bring up the idea of inclusivity in the Church, I am usually met with confusing looks. “Uh oh, the liberal is here.” Indeed, I am. I am sharing this information because I have been deeply hurt by the Church. I am sharing this information because I was taught from a young age to fear the person I see in the mirror, because I was a detriment to the Faith. I am sharing this information because I have Southern Baptist theology engrained in my being and I must remind myself on a daily basis that there is much more to theological study than the white, heterosexual, male interpretation of Scripture that I have been fed for years (note: there is nothing inherently wrong with Scripture/theology that has been interpreted by white heterosexual males, but we must admit that this normative understanding of Scripture has indeed allowed for some very terrible things to take place- slavery for example). I am sharing this information because I believe that there are other people like me, who are desperately seeking answers to questions that have been burning in their hearts since they were young. I am sharing this information because my mere existence is rebellion to some people, and this should not be the case. My hope is that conversation can emerge, bridges can be built, and we can begin to have healthy dialogue about the possibilities of varying Biblical interpretation. I am operating on the idea that the God that allegedly created the universe is Good. Right now, in my uncertainty, I don’t know much else other than if God is good, then God’s creation is good. God made good things. I think we can agree on this, right? Does God make bad things? Maybe that’s another blog post for another day…for now, I am choosing to approach this with grace, and I hope you choose that as well. Perhaps, if anything, the ideas I present can further affirm your own beliefs and convictions about the Bible, and encourage you to dig deeper into Scripture.

The seemingly most clear depiction of God’s ruling against same-sex attraction can be found in the “clobber passages.” If you’re unfamiliar, these are the six verses in the Bible that allegedly clobber the gays (just FYI, clobber means to hit someone hard, to deal with harshly, to defeat heavily). For years, these clobber passages did exactly that. I could barely open my Bible to these pages for fear that flames would shoot directly from the passage into my broken, queer soul. I was very intimidated by these verses and chose to listen to others’ interpretations instead of formulate my own ideas. This is shocking to think about now: I had more fear of the words in the Bible and the Christian communities I was a part of than I did the actual supposed Creator of the universe. When I was removed from my community, I had nothing else to lose. I had already assumed my soul was condemned. Learning why God condemned me just seemed like the logical next step. I was surprised to discover the affirming theology within the lines of these texts. It gave me a new hunger for examining Scripture that I had not felt before. What if, somehow, these verses did not condemn a loving, same-sex relationship?

*This post will be strictly focused on passages in the Old Testament, stay tuned for the New Testament readings!*

Passage 1

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door. [Genesis 19:1-11]

What If?

We have been taught that this passage is very much focused on homosexuality and the perversion that comes from same-sex activity. So much so, that the word “sodomy” is a modern term for sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation.There is a large focus on sexual immorality in this text, and for good reason. It is about rape, after all. I have not looked into the actual statistics, but I’d say it is safe to assume most people would say that rape is wrong under any circumstance. If we look back at Genesis 18, we see God telling Abraham God’s plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their “grave sin.” Are we to believe that this entire community is full of homosexuals? I guess we could, but that seems unlikely. I have always found this passage particularly intriguing because we seem to completely disregard that Lot offered these sex-craved men his two young daughters and gave them permission to “do with them what they please.” Modern Christianity tends to ignore this because, somehow, homosexuality is much more prevalent in this passage. The great question, though, is what was God’s purpose for this passage? What did we need to see?

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. [Ezekiel 16:49-50]

This chapter in Ezekiel is focusing on the abominations of another group entirely (Jerusalem). God actually determines that Jerusalem is far more at fault than Sodom ever was, and homosexuality was not even mentioned. For those who are aware, Jude also refers to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and mentions that their sexual immorality and unnatural desires led to their destruction. Can we determine that the sexually immoral act that happened was a homosexual act? No, we cannot, but we can see that rape and defilement of young women did occur. I also want to reference Judges 19 here, because it shares a strikingly similar (yet often left out) passage. In the same fashion, a man is traveling and seeks shelter at a local’s home. In this particular story, the man is traveling with his concubine (fancy word for mistress). When the townsmen ask the homeowner to let them “know (term regarding sexual acts)” the visitor, the concubine and a virgin daughter are offered instead. In gruesome detail, we are told that the concubine was brutally abused throughout the night, and the story ends with her being chopped into pieces. I think it was no accident that these stories paralleled each other so closely. Excess was an enormous problem in the ancient, Biblical world, and it continues to be in our modern-day society.

Passage(s) 2

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. [Leviticus 18:22]

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. [Leviticus 20:13]

What if?

These passages are seemingly straightforward with their commands. The typical argument for these levitical laws would be that they are null and void because of Jesus Christ. While we could immediately toss those Scriptures out and throw a few of the others in as well (like commands to not mix fabrics, seeds, and plant materials Lev. 19:19), that doesn’t seem to address the fact that these Scriptures did mean something for the people when they were written. What was that, and can it relate to modern-day homosexuality at all?

We can immediately determine that the words were written for men alone. While we know that women were not regarded as much more than property in the ancient Biblical times, we also see in Leviticus 20 that women are referenced and given specific commands not to sleep with animals, so we know that this command to not sleep with the same sex could have easily been extended to women. Why were they not told to refrain from laying with a woman? Some affirming theologians would say that these two verses had everything to do with men keeping their masculinity. If a man lies as a woman, he is no longer playing the active/masculine role in sexual intercourse; he is playing the role of the woman/effeminate position. We do know, especially based on the Genesis and Judges passages above, that women could seen as disposable and much less important than men in the Old Testament. Perhaps, sex had more to do with power than love. It was not uncommon for men to rape other men in an act of dominance and power (I am very excited to explore gender roles, sex, and cultural expectations presented in the Bible in future blog posts, so stay tuned for that).

What could this mean?

It is important to refrain from twisting Scripture to fit an agenda. This is a very common theme in modern Christianity (again, see slavery for a great example of this). It is equally, if not more, important to look at the cultural context of the passages we study in the Bible. It is possible, that based on the time and original intended audience, that these verses in the Old Testament are not directly (nor indirectly) condemning a loving, same-sex relationship between two consenting adults? The more I have dug into these passages and those like it, the more affirmed I feel. There is no concrete evidence that these passages are speaking about what our culture sees as a same-sex relationship. We have adapted so much of the Bible to fit with our culture today (women no longer have to cover their heads or remain silent in church, you can have sex on your period if you want to, you can eat shellfish, and you can wear mixed fabrics. You don’t have to marry your rapist, you don’t have to marry your dead husband’s brother, and divorced people are allowed to stay in church). Yet, for some reason, we are slow to figure out how to adapt the modern idea of same-sex relationships to the ancient texts of the Bible.

As a queer person learning this alternative interpretation for the first time, I was uncomfortable. How is it possible that the Scripture I have always known is possibly saying something else? What does this mean? While these exact passages did not build the foundation of my faith, they represented the Bible in its entirety in this moment; my foundation was becoming unstable. If it is possible to look at these verses through a different lens, what did that mean for the rest of the Bible? For the rest of Christianity? That is an overwhelming thought. I am not the kind of person who would typically embrace uncertainty. It would be the acceptance of what I already know: I don’t have all the answers. This is a great fear of mine. I must have the answers in order to feel secure; something that goes entirely against the idea of a mysterious God. Very recently, I have learned to find comfort and security in this uncertainty. I am beginning to find joy in the mystery of God instead of frustration with unanswered questions. What if God is calling believers to strip down the walls that have been built around them in regards to theology, denomination, and interpretation? What if there is a chance that more than one answer is the right answer? What if what you knew to be right all along, might not be right after all?

What if God is calling us to embrace the uncertainty?

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