Over at Mark Harris’s blog, Preludium, he has posted a thread titled “We rise to play a greater part”. I have no idea how to make a link. I will email and ask my webmaster to edit this post in order to add the link to the thread on Preludium. [Link added. The webmaster]
Let me say right up front, Mark has said all I would want to say, and probably better, about why I believe sex between people of the same sex, who are in loving, committed relationships is no more sinful than sex between me and my male spouse.
At this moment, there are sixteen comments, most favorable and supportive of Mark’s article, one obvious troll, and another who may or may not be a troll but who asks for the scriptural warrants for what Mark writes and what I believe. I say may or may not be a troll because we have given these warrants before, ad nauseum to no avail, but maybe the commenter has never seen them before. Maybe she is sincere.
The reason our scriptural warrants carry no weight with those on the other side of the sexuality debate is that we do not read the Bible the same way; we do not have the same purpose when we engage the scriptures.
I read the scriptures as the collected stories of the people of God and their experiences with the one true God. Scripture is not the final word; scripture is the first word. It points to the final Word, which is a “who”, not a “which” – Jesus, a person. When I read scripture, I am often convicted of failing to love enough, my neighbor, my God, myself. I often find the understanding of the ancient people who wrote these things, and their experiences of God, are far different from mine. They cause me to reflect on my understanding and experience, and serve sometimes as a corrective, sometimes as a reminder that I owe my very life – literally – to God as I have experienced God, as the love of Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit, and to honor that experience.
The scriptures are full of things that are good for humankind in any era. They are also full of things that are culturally imprisoned in the time in which they were written. Who among you would refrain from wearing fabrics of mixed fibers, or refuse to fight to free a slave today? Yet mixed fiber fabrics are proscribed, and slavery is assumed as a natural state.
Let me take a tiny break here and say that I am not writing this to convince anyone. There is a request for the scriptural warrants for what Mark and I believe. To baldly give them, without stating how I approach scripture, would buy into an alternative way of approaching scripture from mine, a way that mines scripture for proofs, for rules to follow and rules to hold against others. This is not the way I read scripture, so we will be talking at cross purposes, even as I give the warrants that direct me in supporting the same degree of acceptance, appreciation and support of loving same sex couples as is accorded to mixed sex couples.
In short, I read scripture for the big picture; I appreciate the details; I follow Jesus, not words; I use the words to follow him only when necessary. I do not expect to convince anyone who does not agree with me. I write for those who are hungering and thirsting to hear that they are beloved by God, they and those they love, just as they are.
And now, to do exactly what those who disagree with me do.
Jesus is caught letting his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, because they are hungry. The Pharisees say, see, he lets his disciples break the law! Jesus quotes back to them scriptures where David himself broke the law to feed his companions. Then Jesus says,
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath is a gift from God, a day of rest when the rest of the world is working their slaves and their animals and themselves relentlessly without thought for spending time with one another and with God. It was made for our good, a counter-cultural, revolutionary act, to stop for one day, do no work, have your slaves and animals do no work, do nothing to create, just bask in the glory of creation and of having been created.
However, the gift of Sabbath as law, something for which we were created to keep and obey, violates the very giftedness of Sabbath. Therefore, law can only kill the spirit both of the law itself and the human being who is compelled to keep it. Whereas, keeping Sabbath out of love for God, humankind, and all creation, is a giving and taking of gift between us and God.
If you are hungry, go ahead and pick grain on the Sabbath. God will not smite you for it.
In the same way, the Levitical laws, and those portions of St. Paul which are read as condemning same sex relationships in all times for all cultures, have become death rather than life to people who the writers of these laws never even considered possible – monogamous, committed, loving partners affectioned one to another who at the same time have rich faith lives before God in Christ.
Luke 10:25 and following: The Good Samaritan
It is better to go through life defiled and unclean than to use the law to make fences that keep out the neighbors to whom you don’t want to have to show unconditional love, fences like “love the sinner, hate the sin”.
A lawyer plays games with Jesus, trying to find out where the boundaries, the fence posts are beyond which he does not have to love one’s neighbor. Jesus tells a story.
A man is beaten up, stripped and robbed. He is left for dead. For all the priest and the levite know, he IS dead. Even if he isn’t, without any clothes to indicate what kind of person he is – God forbid, he might be a shepherd, one of the untouchables! – they will not go near him. They will not risk defilement for the sake of common care for a fellow human being.
The only person who will do so is a Samaritan, himself one of the unclean ones the priest and levite wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole even if he were dying. The unclean do what God would do, the loving thing, better than the righteous, those who keep the law.
The God figure in this story is the unclean Samaritan, God who has made him/herself unclean, in Jesus, to save us from ourselves, our sin of fence-building, our sin of fear of God – fear that God will destroy us, yes, if we don’t keep the rules and get everything right, but even more, fear that God might love my hated enemy just as much as God loves me, without any of the conditions scripture gives us a warrants to say “love the sinner, hate the sin”, which is just another way to hate one another.
Tough love is not love.
And now, the text to which the questioner on Mark’s blog herself alludes when she mentions eating bacon,
Acts 10:1-16 Nothing, and no one, is unclean.
It is so tempting to read this story and say, with a sigh of relief, oh thank God, it’s only about what we eat. But remember, that is not the way I read scripture. Already, I have seen more in the Sabbath passage than just keeping Sabbath or not. I have read in the Good Samaritan story that it is better for me to become defiled and unclean before God, if embracing LGBT relationships will do that, and that, in fact, that is just what Jesus is inviting us to do.
I read scripture, initially, especially if it is a story I know almost by heart, just as it is written, the plain bald words on the paper – in the case of Acts 10:1-16, a story about how Peter was taught that no food is unclean, so he can go and visit Cornelius in his house. I miss the “therefore”: Therefore, Cornelius is not unclean, nor is his family.
One day I was reading this passage, as assigned in the lectionary (the rotation of readings of scripture over a 2-3 year period) and suddenly it was as though scales had fallen from my eyes. I was not reading the Bible looking for warrants abrogating the Levitical code or the passages in the Pauline writings that were being applied to gay and lesbian persons in this day and culture. I was just doing my morning devotions.
Suddenly, this reading became much more than about an old taboo we had long given up in Christianity, the taboo against certain foods. Suddenly the passage became real, and alive, here, and now. NOTHING is unclean! NO ONE is unclean! Jesus has set us free in ways I never even expected.
I was very excited. At about the same time, I started to read of others who had had the same revelation about this passage.
And I also had to endure this truth: Nothing in heaven or in earth, in scripture or experience of God in Christ Jesus, will dissuade those who are convinced, or determined to believe, that loving relationships between persons of the same sex are just as holy as is mine with my husband.
The council in Jerusalem, in Luke’s time, didn’t get Peter’s experience, either. They right away built a fence around this law-blowing vision. Read Acts 11:1 and following. Peter has to justify to the council why he went to gentiles. He tells them the vision. The council is silenced.
Later, the council has to give up circumcision of the gentiles as a requirement for becoming a follower of Jesus. So they build the fence: anyone who does right is okay; gentiles can become Christians but they must abstain from things that are polluted.
The fence becomes the law. Humans point to the fence in order not to have to live the mind blowing, law blowing vision. It is not because it is in the scriptures that our fellow humans continue to harp on about the sinfulness of gay and lesbian relationships. It is because these fellow Christians don’t want to see anything different. Humans choose the fence over the vision because it suits us to do so.
There is my answer to the questioner on Mark Harris’s blog, Preludium. It will not convince anyone who does not want to be convinced. I know that. Instead, I have given an account of why I am where I am in my faith journey with God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Do not be afraid.