Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What scripture teaches about gays & lesbians. An open letter to one who asked me how a pastor can oppose HB74

Rev, Rodger McDaniel
921 Arapaho Street
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82009

XXX East XX Street
Cheyenne, WY 82001

Dear Mr. XXX
Thank you for your letter of February 19th. I want to first say how much I appreciate the gracious way you approached this difficult issue and to thank you for your kind words about my work with the homeless. Interestingly (and emblematic of the nature of this issue) I received your letter on the same day I received another telling me my public position on same sex marriage was “courageous.” Such is the debate.
My position on gays and lesbians was arrived at through prayer and careful study of scripture. It is based not on the Golden Rule so much as on the great commandments. In Matthew 22, the devout are attempting to “entangle” Jesus. Verse 15 says, “Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk.” Later in that same debate, the Pharisees ask Jesus, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But it is what Jesus says next that I find persuasive.  “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."
One of the clearest messages given by the life of Jesus is to resist a literal interpretation of scripture if that interpretation conflicts with those two commandments. It’s what got him crucified. He healed on the Sabbath and dared touch those the scripture rendered unclean, the lepers of his day as homosexuals are to some today.
Second, I believe we make a mistake when we elevate the words of the Old Testament and Paul’s letters to the same sacred level as the words of our Lord. Not everything in the Bible is there because God wants us to follow its lessons. There are many examples of bad behavior and erroneous teachings that were exposed for their error by the words of Christ. The ancient Hebrews established many laws, naming a great range of personal conduct as “an abomination.” The one named in Leviticus 18 is among the very few of the more than 600 such laws some Christians still seek to enforce.
The Bible is riddled with inherent contradictions. The model for marriage, to the extent it exists in scripture, is polygamy, mating with slave women, taking the wife of another. The issue for Christians is how do we find a coherent Biblical message?
We are Christians because we proclaim Jesus as Lord. Therefore I have no reluctance in rejecting words that are inconsistent with what Jesus taught.
Third, Christians should be overly cautious about using the Bible to cast judgment. It is more than a “judge not lest ye be judged” thing. The Bible we read is a translation of a translation of a translation. Over centuries, translators have made personal choices in how to interpret the original language in which the scripture was written.  Your letter cites 1st Corinthians 6: 9-10. It is an example of the problem. What follows is a quote from a Catholic priest and Bible scholar about these verses:
The meaning of these texts, said to exclude homosexual people from the Kingdom of God, hinges on the meaning of two Greek Terms, `malakoi' and `arsenokotai.' Throughout history these terms have been translated variably (masturbatory, practicers of heterosexual anal sex, sodomites, catamites and the like). Suggested translations today still vary (morally loose, masturbators who waste their property, boys and their pederast partners, temple prostitutes serving men and women, gold-digging gay hustlers who pursue the elderly). No one really knows what these terms mean. There is no good reason to suppose they apply to consensual, respectful, homosexual acts per se, especially since such an interpretation would be in conflict with all the rest of the Bible.[1]

I also call your attention to that fact that whether homosexuals are included in Paul’s list of the condemned depends entirely on which version of the Bible you are reading. The following is a comparison of 1st Corinthians 6: 9-10 from three accepted translations found routinely in Christian churches, the New International Version, Revised Standard Version and the King James Bible.

Note that not only are gays and lesbians absent from some versions of this scripture, but the list common to all includes a number of troubling behaviors that are never used to deny their practitioners a marriage license, e.g. drunkards, thieves, greedy, robbers, slanderers, swindlers, revilers, and even the effeminate.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (New International Version, ©2010)

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (King James Version)

 9Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,  10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (Revised Standard Version)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God

There is another scripture I wish to share with you that has greatly influenced my thinking on this and a number of other spiritual issues arising from new technology and science. It is Deuteronomy 29:29. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

God did not stop revealing the truth of God’s creation on the day the last page of the Bible was written and this text envisions continuing revelations throughout time. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives facilitates an understanding of the “things that are revealed.” I believe one of those revelations is genetics. Neither the writers of the Old Testament nor the Apostle Paul could have ever anticipated the genetic components of God’s creation.

Until recently genes and their controlling capabilities were among “the secret things that belong to the Lord our God.” However in our lifetime, God has revealed to us that a person’s sexuality is determined by the way in which God created us. Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches us that once revealed, those things now “belong to us” giving us the responsibility for using the revelation, not to judge others, but so “that we may do all the words of this law.”

That is the “law” to which Jesus attached the great commandments to love God and one another. I once listened to a sermon wherein the preacher said, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ Cute line but not true to scripture. Afterward I asked him, “Who then do you believe made Steve?” Paul knew and wrote in Hebrews 3:4, “Every house is built by someone, but he that built all things is God.” Paul may not have known all that God put into “building” humans but Paul knew God was the builder. If God made Adam and Eve, we cannot deny God also made Adam and Steve.

I suspect had Paul any inkling his letters would be used 2000 years later to judge some less worthy than others, he’d have spoken more carefully. After all, this is the same Paul who said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

I apologize for the length of this letter and for its “sermonishness” (if there is such a word). I was grateful to receive your thoughtful letter and felt it deserved a thoughtful response. Answering your letter compelled me to take some time to assemble my own thinking on this difficult matter.

I have not written this in the hopes of persuading you of my views but for the purpose of assuring you I do believe in scripture and try my best to follow the teachings of Jesus.

With warm personal regards,

                                                                                                Rev. Rodger McDaniel

[1] By FatherDaniel Helminiak who teaches psychology and spirituality as Professor at the University of West Georgia. He is also a psychotherapist, Catholic priest and theologian, author, and lecturer. He holds a PhD in psychology from The University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in theology from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston College, where he was teaching assistant to Prof. Bernard Lonergan, whom Newsweek magazine called the Thomas Aquinas of the 20th Century.


  1. you are invited to follow my blog

  2. Your best post yet, Rodger. Thank you!

  3. Excellent, thorough, faithful exegesis. I am honored to count you as a colleague in ministry!

    Jose Morales