Debunking the Myth: “You Can’t be Christian and LGBT”
December 23, 2013 by Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program
For LGBT folks and allies the holidays are often rough. When we’re least expecting it – while watching a football game, opening presents, preparing a meal – the insults come seemingly out of nowhere. And so often, we shy away from responding because we know the retort will invoke God and the Bible. Try to engage in a real conversation from a place of confidence, integrity and even, if you’re not feeling it, from a place of compassion and love.
All week long, HRC is offering tips and strategies to help guide you through what may be a difficult holiday season, as part of our Religion & Faith blog series, “Debunking the Myth: How to Stand Your Bible Ground This Holiday.”
Today let’s talk about the idea that one cannot simultaneously identify as Christian and LGBT.
First, if your instinct is to respond to this accusation: "who are you to tell me who I can and can't be," you are saying something more theologically grounded than you might realize.
Since the origins of Christianity, presumed gatekeepers have been telling people who can and cannot be Christian (slaves, women, the disabled, the foreigner, LGBT people, etc...) and all of these gatekeepers have over time been challenged from the heart of Jesus' message, which always emphasizes inclusion and hospitality over exclusion and isolation.
Jesus had nothing at all to say about homosexuality, but he had a whole lot to say about those who would willingly keep others away from God. There are millions of out LGBT people who are practicing Christians in the world today and their claim to Christianity is as strong as anyone else's.
That said, when people say you can't be an LGBT Christian, they are usually asserting a belief based on their understanding of the Bible. To "prove" that LGBT people can't be Christians they may go to many of the texts we've already discussed this week (Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:22-23, Leviticus 18.6 and 20:13, or Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-29) or they may turn to Romans 1:26–27 where the apostle Paul seems to be condemning women who have sex with women and men who have sex with men as "unnatural" or to 1 Timothy 10-11 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 both of which refer to "sodomites" as part of a list of wrongdoers.
In all of these passages the text refers to behaviors and not identities. And, in all of these cases the condemned sexual behaviors refers to a licentiousness that moves people away from loving God and their fellow humans. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 you see "sodomites" placed in a long list of those condemned: "Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers." This list shows us behaviors that, in a very different time when sexuality was understood quite different than it is today, were driving people away from God. The list was telling us nothing about loving relationships formed with a sense of mutuality and compassion.
You might say something like: "Who has the authority to define who is a Christian and who isn't? On what basis is such a decision determined? If the Pope quoting Mathew (7:1) recently said, when asked about LGBT Christians, 'Who am I to Judge,' shouldn't we also resist the urge to judge who can be part of the Christian family and who can't?"
Follow up: If your conversation partner points to one of the passages discussed above or in previous posts, ask them if you might read the passage together to get a sense of the real sin discussed. If the translation uses the term "homosexuality" remind them that homosexuality as a concept was a 19th century invention and that sodomite is more accurate, but only with a historical understanding of sodomy. Then refer them back to the discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah to glean a clearer sense of the sin of Sodomites in the ancient world: abuse of strangers, neglecting the poor and needy, stigmatizing of outsiders, lust, sexual impurity, fornication, and adultery. Sodomy in other words is not a synonym for homosexuality and can no more address the complexity of same-sex relationships as it can heterosexual relationships.
Reclaiming the Bible: Ask your conversation partner to reflect on what Jesus' ministry has meant in their lives. Try to have an honest and heartfelt conversation about what has been most powerful and most grounding about Christianity. Share a passage or two that speaks to that experience for you. Then reframe the assertion, "LGBT people can't be Christians" into a question more bespeaking Jesus' ministry: "How this holiday season can we be better Christians?"
Have you tried this strategy out? Let us know in the comments below how it worked out or if you had a different kind of Bible conversation.
And for more resources from HRC’s Religion and Faith program, visit http://www.hrc.org/issues/religion-faith.
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