12 min read

Ask Us Anything 3: What does the Bible say about LGBTQ+?

The truth I see in the Bible’s big picture that God is love and that out of love, Jesus lives, dies, and lives again with arms outstretched in an expansive embrace of all, is part of what leads me to a place of inclusion.
Ask Us Anything 3: What does the Bible say about LGBTQ+?
Photo by Ana Cruz / Unsplash

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
August 28, 2022
Scripture: Isaiah 55:6–11, Matthew 22:36–40

It’s the third week of our Ask Us Anything series. If you’re just joining us, we’ve been leaning into your hard and holy questions for a season — creating space for conversation and giving you the chance to speak your deep wonderings about life and faith into existence.

If you want to play along at home with your own burning question, you can do so at the website, askusanything.church. That website is our hub for the project, and it’s where the questions and responses will live — even beyond the four weeks of this series. And there should be a link in our online bulletin today, too.

If you don’t have a question to ask, you can still participate by browsing the questions that have been asked so far and then voting on which ones we should tackle next.

If you missed any, you can catch up on our podcast feed. The questions have been so good, but before we get to this week’s questions, I want to remind us of our ground rules for this series. Here’s the first one:

These aren’t answers. These are responses.

People have been grappling with many of these questions for a long time, so to say we’re going to answer them in twenty minutes or less would be foolish and arrogant. So these are responses — not answers.

Here’s number two:

This is one perspective, and you don’t have to agree.

We’re coming at this with a posture of humility. We might be wrong. This isn’t meant to be a period at the end of a sentence but a semicolon.

And finally, our third and final ground rule:

This is not about information; it’s about transformation.

We’re not just responding to these questions so you leave here smarter, but we also hope that we can take this information and integrate it into our daily rhythms so that it all might, by God’s grace, transform how we live and move in the world. This is not about information; it’s about transformation.

That said, let’s get into this week’s questions.

I was really hoping for a few softballs this week, but you all are relentless. Here’s the first question we’re tackling:

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Whose idea was this? Here’s the second one.

Does the Bible still matter?

It’ll soon be clear why I’m grouping these together. I also want to note that I’m sharing these questions verbatim, but for the sake of our time this morning and going forward, I’m going to edit the question slightly, as the term “homosexuality” has often been used derisively and is considered offensive by many LGBTQ+ persons. I’m certain that the person who asked this anonymously intended no harm, and the word is common in many Christian circles, but we’re going to replace the term homosexuality with the more inclusive term LGBTQ+.

So, what does the Bible say about LGBTQ+?

This is one of our most upvoted questions, so it’s clear that many of you have this same question. So here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to begin with this first question and consider what we need to keep in mind as we respond. Then, I’ll briefly share where I’ve landed and offer a glimpse of how I’ve gotten there. And finally, we’ll wrap up with a response to that second question which, hopefully, brings it all home and offers some good news for us — by God’s grace.

As we begin, let’s pray…

So, what does the Bible say about LGBTQ+?

In short, nothing.

And now, you may be thinking, “What about Genesis 19 and Leviticus 18 and Romans 1?” These, by the way, are a few of the passages of scripture often used to condemn LGBTQ+ persons, so how can I say that the Bible says nothing about it? We’ll get to those passages here in a bit, but first, it’s important to note that the Bible doesn’t actually say anything. It can’t speak. And what’s more, we can’t expect this collection of stories and histories, prose and poetry, parables and letters written so long ago by human beings bound to a cultural context to address every single thing happening in our world today — thousands of years later. We just can’t.

I mean, it’s as if someone 2,000 years from now — in the year 4022 — stumbles upon our texts and emails and voice recordings only to proclaim with a great deal of certainty that our primary form of communication was through a type of hieroglyphics that we called emoji and pictures with words overlaid that we called memes. And not only that, but our deity seemed to be a small round sentient robot that we called “Alexa,” who catered to our every whim.

We know that’s ridiculous. But that’s often what we try to do when we take various scripture passages and do what I call a “peel and stick” — apply them wholesale to our lives without any sense of the context or culture.

And to be clear, this doesn’t mean that we should ignore and disregard the Bible as if it’s some irrelevant out-of-touch nonsense. That’s not what I’m saying. Here at The Local Church, we take the Bible seriously. We maintain that the Bible is inspired by God and that the Holy Spirit had a hand in its creation, collection, preservation, and the like — and is still at work today in our reading and hearing. So I’m not saying we should ignore it. Not even close. It’s vital to our life as followers of Jesus. But I am arguing that we must be thoughtful and intentional about how we think about the Bible.

I think a lot about this moment from my undergraduate world religions class. It was the session before an exam. And I remember people kept asking, “Is this going to be on the test? Is this going to be on the test?” And then another asked, “Can we have a study guide?” And the professor, this sweet, gentle man, got so frustrated with us. I remember him saying, “You all aren’t interested in learning; you just want to pass. You’re not interested in the impact; you want the answers for the test. You want the bare minimum, but there’s so much more.”

I think sometimes this is our approach when it comes to the Bible. We want to know what’s going to be on the test. What do we need to know to be a good Christian? What do we need to do to get into heaven?

And in fact, this way of engaging with scripture (or the lack thereof) has caused great harm, in particular, to marginalized groups of people throughout history, on whom the Bible has been used as a weapon to control, manipulate, and cling to power.

The Bible is so much more than a blueprint. More than an instruction manual. More than a study guide for the test.

Scholar, author, and podcaster Pete Enns gives us an alternative view when he writes:

Rather than providing us with information to be downloaded, the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled, and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it.

So, no, the Bible doesn’t say anything. It’s not about downloading information. Instead, we interpret the Bible. We have to do the work of making those connections between then and now, bringing ourselves into the conversation. As human beings, we can’t not. We don’t exist in a vacuum. And that’s why if we’re going to have a conversation about LGBTQ+ concerns and the Bible, we have to talk about how we interpret the Bible — about how we do this work.

In his book, Staying Awake, queer Methodist pastor Tyler Sit describes how, in fifth grade, he came across Romans 1:27, which says:

“…and in the same way also the males, giving up natural intercourse with females, were consumed with their passionate desires for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

He describes how devastating it was to read this because he knew then what’s still true now — that he’s gay. But instead of walking away, this question actually moved him to press deeper into this question with greater curiosity and authenticity. And his exploration, in part, led him to what is commonly referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a framework for reading and interpreting scripture that helps us do that work of bringing the past forward and respond to the invitation Pete Enns describes of the ancient, well-traveled, and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it.

It’s called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral because it’s modeled after how John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, engaged with the Bible. And it’s called the Quadrilateral because there are four parts: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.

And now, all four parts are not created equal. We maintain that Scripture is primary, but the quadrilateral names the reality that our scripture reading is always filtered through tradition, experience, and reason — sort of like that coffee percolator there in the back. Tradition, experience, and reason are all in conversation with one another and with scripture to help us discover truth and discern rightly how to apply it in our time and place.

So what do we mean by tradition, experience, and reason?

Briefly, tradition is how the text has been read and interpreted throughout history. It takes into account the voices doing the interpreting and their context, what’s been written about these passages through the years, and how one’s faith tradition has taught a specific passage. It’s an acknowledgment that in each era, Christians have been working these ideas out in their own context. Tyler Sit puts it like this:

To learn tradition is to convene a family reunion of all your spiritual ancestors, and like biological family reunions, the people you gather won’t be perfect… We receive tradition; we create tradition.

Then there’s experience. For John Wesley in the 18th century, this came to a head concerning the role of women in the church. In a letter to his protégé, Timothy, addressing Timothy’s pastoral context in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote that women shouldn’t teach or assume authority over a man. But Scripture is also full of examples of women teaching and prophesying, and because Wesley not only knew these stories — the women at the tomb announcing resurrection, for instance — and had experienced his mother’s influence on his faith and couldn’t deny the fruit that many women were bearing when they got the chance to lead and testify, he was among the first to allow women to preach. Experience asks, “What does my experience lead me to believe?”

Finally, there’s reason. In other words, we get to use our heads. We don’t have to leave our minds at the door; rather, we get to use our God-given minds to make sense of what we read in scripture, what we discover through tradition, and experience in our lives.

So then, here’s the payoff: What do we do when we come across these passages that seem to denounce same-sex relationships and condemn LGBTQ+ persons?

Here’s a glimpse of where I’ve landed and how I got there — but I want you to keep our ground rules in mind. Know that there is space for conversation and difference. John Wesley was fond of asking, “Though we may not think alike, may we not love alike?”

So first, let’s consider the passages used to condemn same-sex relationships. There are only a handful in the Bible — often referred to collectively as “clobber passages.” When thinking about how to read and interpret scripture, I like to think of these and every passage as a piece of a larger puzzle. If you were putting a puzzle together, you wouldn’t try to do it if you didn’t have the picture on the box. That sounds terrible. You need the picture on the box to tell you where those pieces fit in the context of the larger puzzle. You need to see that big picture.

The passage that Gail read for us this morning gives us that larger picture. This passage is the picture on the box that helps us better understand where all the other pieces go.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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 greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

What does Jesus mean by “the Law and the Prophets?” He’s talking about the Hebrew Bible! This would have been Jesus’ scripture — what we know as the Old Testament. So when he says, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” he’s saying that everything you’ve been taught and everything you read and every interpretation about every passage of scripture has to be measured against love of God and love of neighbor. And if it doesn’t measure up, if it’s lacking in any way, then there’s more work to be done. You have to keep going.

And so, for me, the truth I see in the Bible’s big picture that God is love and that out of love, Jesus lives, dies, and lives again with arms outstretched in an expansive embrace of all, is part of what leads me to a place of inclusion. I can’t reconcile the exclusion of LGBTQ+ persons with love of God and love of neighbor.

We could also talk about the inclusion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, Jesus’ knack for hanging out with those who’d been marginalized and excluded, and what Paul means in Galatians when he says that all are one in Christ Jesus. But I also want to note that when these passages were written, there weren’t necessarily categories for what we would call sexual orientation today. So to drop our worldview and understandings onto theirs is anachronistic at best and harmful at worst. The biblical authors were much more concerned with love being rightly ordered in covenantal relationship, which has less to do with specific body parts and more to do with its nature and how it’s lived out.

When I think of tradition, I lament the tradition of LGBTQ+ exclusion in many churches and denominations, including our own United Methodist denomination. It’s a struggle we’re currently in, and I hope that The Local Church, in partnership with so many other allies and advocates across our denomination, will help lead the way toward full inclusion.

But tradition isn’t limited to doctrine, and when I think about the spiritual ancestors at my family reunion, I think of friends like Brittany and Justin, mentors like Amanda and David, authors and theologians like Michael, Steve, and Matthew, who have opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, named and wrestled with their own questions, and shared with me their own evolutions and interpretations — not necessarily telling me what to think but instead sharing their journey as spiritual companions and inviting me to come alongside.

When I think of experience, I can’t deny my own experience with LGBTQ+ Christians — their faithfulness, their resilience, and how they stick with the church even when the church has thrown so much you know what their way. Most of all, I think about how they’ve helped me experience a more complete picture of God and what it means to be created in God’s image. I think about how, in Genesis, when it says that God makes human beings in God’s own image: “male and female in the image of God,” it means that the full expansiveness of “maleness” and “femaleness” originates in God — and how there’s a lot of space in between — just like how each day includes dawn and dusk in between day and night. So I think about how LGBTQ+ persons offer me a beautiful picture of what it means to embody those in-between spaces in the expansiveness of God’s image.

I also look at the fruit — of generosity and justice, of hope and resurrection. I think about Jesus’ reminder in Matthew’s gospel that rotten trees can’t bear good fruit — and I can’t deny the good fruit of my LGBTQ+ siblings. The ways they’re making a difference in the church and in me. I don’t want to imagine a world where the sweetness of that good fruit isn’t available to all who hunger.

And finally, it’s reason that helps me bring it all together. It’s reason that leads me to question what more might be going on with these passages and helps me think through legitimate and logical possibilities. It’s reason that helped me get to this place.

So that’s how I’ve gotten here. And if you’re still wrestling with this question, I get it. If you’d like to continue the conversation or if you have your own questions, ponderings, or struggles, know that I’m here for it and am committed to journeying with you as your pastor. It’s all in love. That’s what we do.

So, finally, that second question: “Does the Bible still matter?”

This is a question I can’t respond to alone. This is a question for all of us. But here’s what I know: I know that for generations, the inspiration, images, and stories found within the pages of scripture have, by God’s grace, brought liberation for the marginalized, justice for the oppressed, peace for the anxious, comfort for the grieving, and salvation for those longing to be made whole. These words have been a means of grace — a place of encounter with the divine and a revelation of Jesus, love with skin on, the embodiment of love, who shows us what it means to fully love God and love neighbor.

It’s in the pages of scripture where I first discovered the truth that God is with us, and God is for us — all of us. It’s where I was captivated by a vision of a world turned upside down, of peace that surpasses all understanding, of reconciliation and resurrection, of a new heaven and a new earth where all things are made new. In a world bent on polarization and division, inequity and injustice, violence and bigotry, I’m not willing to give this story up.

So does the Bible still matter? For me, absolutely.

Thanks be to God. Amen.