by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
September 3, 2017
Earlier this week a group of evangelical Christians, under the guise of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, released the “Nashville Statement.” If you haven’t read it yet and you really want to, you can Google it. I’m not going to reprint it here.
Or, I can save you the trouble of Googling it and summarize it for you: “Sex before marriage is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Being transgender is wrong. Marriage is between one man and one woman.”
It’s nothing new or groundbreaking. On the contrary, it strikes me as being rather tired and old. The preamble reads like it was written by people who are still pouting over the fact that the stranglehold they once held on political power in this country has forever slipped from their grasp.
But even though it’s nothing new, I feel the need to respond to the “Nashville Statement” specifically because its authors would have you believe that their statement is biblical. (It isn’t.) They would have you believe that the Bible expresses the very same views, with the very same clarity, that the “Nashville Statement” expresses. (It doesn’t.) They would have you believe that, if you want the Bible to be your guide, then you must endorse their views on sexual orientation and gender identity. (I don’t, and you don’t have to either.)
I’m writing this article to make sure the world knows that there are millions – literally millions – of Christians who pray earnestly, who study the Bible earnestly, who seek to follow Christ earnestly, and who have come to a very different conclusion about what the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality.
Let’s start with this – the Bible doesn’t actually contain the word “homosexuality.” Anywhere. In the whole Bible. That’s because there is no ancient Hebrew or Greek word which corresponds to the modern term “homosexuality”. Not only did the ancient authors of the Bible not have a word for “homosexuality,” but they didn’t even have a conception of homosexuality as we use the term today.
That’s not to say that there weren’t sexual relationships between people of the same-sex in the ancient world. There certainly were, and they are widely attested to in the historical record. However, the same-sex sexual relationships of the ancient world took place primarily between people whom we would today refer to as “straight” rather than “gay.” And they were not distinguished from other sexual relationships based on the sexes of the participants, much less treated as a single, homogenous phenomenon distinct from sexual relationships between people of the opposite sex.
The idea expressed by the word “homosexual” – or better yet, “gay” – meaning a person who, due to their neurological and biochemical physiologies, is attracted to members of the same-sex and who may want to pursue a life-long, committed, romantic relationship with another person of the same-sex was an idea that simply did not exist in the ancient world.
If the modern concept of homosexuality as something separate and distinct from heterosexuality didn’t exist in the ancient world, then the Bible can’t possibly be talking about homosexuality as use the term today.
It’s certainly true that there are passages in the Bible that condemn sexual relations between people of the same-sex. But these aren’t addressing homosexuality as we understand the term. They can’t be, because the ancient authors of the Bible had no such concept. Rather, these passages of scripture are part of larger lists of taboo behaviors that were to be avoided in order to keep the people of God from worshipping the idols and the false gods of their neighbors who regularly engaged in those taboo behaviors.
The Bible doesn’t give a clear and direct condemnation of gay people or transgender people like the authors of the “Nashville Statement” would have you believe. The Bible is incapable of making any such condemnation, because being gay or being transgender – as we use those terms today – is something for which the Bible’s authors simply lacked any conception.
The Bible is very clear, however, about how we are supposed to treat other people. You won’t find the word “homosexuality” anywhere in the Bible, but you will find “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” You will find “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” You will find “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And you will find “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
In fact, in the Bible you’ll find a history of how God’s people slowly but surely let go of prejudices in order to keep expanding the circle of welcome. In the New Testament, you’ll read the story about how, even though the scriptures were clear that gentiles could not be part of the Jewish worshipping community, the Jewish Christians welcomed their gentile brothers and sisters into the church. And you’ll read about how, even though the scriptures were clear that a eunuch could not come into the temple (Deut. 23:1), the early Christian church welcomed an Ethiopian eunuch as one of their first converts.
All this is to say that those who try to tell you, “The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman,” either haven’t read their Bible very carefully, or more likely they intentionally selectively edited the Bible to fit their narrative. And this article is to let you know that there are a lot of Christians, like me, who take the Bible very seriously and also totally affirm our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ.
P.S. I hope you took away from this article that the Bible is big, and it’s complicated, and that’s even before we get into translating from Hebrew and Greek into English. If you have questions or would like to discuss this further, I am the pastor of the Custer Community Church in Custer, SD. You can contact me here.