Beyond the Clobber Texts

This past weekend, we had our second annual Generous Spaciousness Retreat.  We had several people offer sessions on engaging scripture.  Shane Bauman, a member of New Direction’s board of directors gave this session talking about his journey with scripture beyond the 6-7 texts that are typically raised in conversations about homosexuality. While Shane comes from a particular perspective,  his session was intended to catalyze conversation among the participants.  The beauty of generous spaciousness is that it gives us the chance to have robust conversations, without argument or persuasion, where we seek to truly understand where the other person is coming from.  I hope that sharing it here on the blog will launch a robust conversation right here in the comment section – and we’ll be sure to invite Shane to come and participate too.

I grew up in a denomination that strongly valued the Bible. From a very young age, it was impressed on me that the most important thing on any topic was to figure out what the Bible says about it. As a child I went to Sunday school and learned many Bible stories. Our church also had a kids program called AWANA where we memorized many, many verses. The more verses you memorized, the more badges you got. As a teenager I worked at a Bible camp where kids had chapel twice a day plus a Bible lesson. Then as a university student I was very involved with Inter-Varsity, which is a Christian student organization that strongly values Bible study. I went on to work for the organization for 7 years and I led many Bible studies, and taught students how to study the Bible and lead Bible studies. So you can see that a huge part of my life has been invested in studying the Bible.

Believe it or not, after all those years of studying the Bible, by force or by choice, I still enjoy learning from scripture. The Bible is probably the book that continues to have the biggest influence on my life. It continues to be a book that surprises me and encourages me. It is still a place I look to for comfort and for challenge and for guidance.

So as a gay man a huge part of my journey has been to come to terms with what the Bible says about homosexuality. I have wrestled a lot with the passages that gay people refer to as the clobber passages. We call them the clobber passages because Christians use them to clobber us over the head. They are generally seen to be 6 different passages: the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, two verses from Leviticus, Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 and two sin lists, one in 1 Corinthians 6 and the other in 1 Timothy 1. Over the years these verses have been quoted to me in letters from relatives and friends, often without much commentary. They are seen as self-evident. Look at any Internet discussion about faith and sexuality and you will usually see one of the clobber verses being lobbed like a grenade into the discussion, usually with the attitude that this verse should end the discussion once and for all.

Working through these passages was challenging for me. I did a lot of reading and study to try and understand them. Entire books have been written about them. Theologians debate back and forth as to what they mean. Understanding the clobber passages is very important, however, I believe there is much more in the Bible beyond these 6 passages that speaks to us and can influence our thoughts on homosexuality even though these other parts of Scripture do not directly speak about same-sex sexual activity. I want to share with you some of my musings on some of these other passages and general themes in the Bible.

I want to add a few qualifiers before I go any further. First, I am not a theologian. I don’t have a degree in theology. I never went to Bible school or seminary. By profession I’m a university math instructor. So I’m not a Bible expert. However, I’m guessing that most of you aren’t Biblical scholars either. Most Christians aren’t. So in that respect I really hope that this material will be accessible and applicable to your life.

Second, I’m not a very good at debating. If you came here to be convinced of a point of view I have a feeling I’m not going to be the one to win you over. My goal is simply to share a series of scriptures that I have found helpful on my journey as I sought to reconcile my faith and my sexuality. I will be honest and say up front that I have ended up in a place where I believe God blesses same-sex relationships. I am now married to a man and it is my desire to honour God with my marriage. Therefore most of the things I will share this morning will come from that point of view.

Third, I’m still on a journey and I’m still learning. I really hope that I will always be open to hear from God in new ways. I hope that I will never feel like I have arrived or that I have all the answers. I want to have a teachable spirit that is marked by openness and humility.

I know that New Direction seeks to include people with very different points of view. The whole point of their retreats is the idea of generous spaciousness where people with differing views can share their ideas in an atmosphere of grace and mutual respect. So as I share I would like you to be thinking about some passages of scripture that have been helpful to you on your journey as you wrestle with the questions about faith and sexuality.

As a starting passage I want to read part of Psalm 139.

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide meand the light become night around me,”12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being;you knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. 

I could preach a whole sermon on this passage alone. There are a lot of beautiful ideas in this text. Two of the themes of this chapter are really important as we think about understanding our sexuality. The first idea is that God knows us completely.  “You have searched me and know me.” “You are familiar with all of my ways.” “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely.” Even in the womb, you knew me.You have always known me and you always will.

When we are wrestling with questions of sexuality or gender identity it can feel like we are unraveling. We start to feel like we don’t know ourselves at all. We become what feels like a ball of questions and doubts. It can be very overwhelming

But as we sit here together, God knows each one of us. There is nothing that you can say or think that will surprise God. He knows all of your questions and all of your ideas. And they do not threaten him either.

I personally find this thought very comforting and I think it’s a good foundation for our conversation. I don’t have to worry about hiding myself or my thoughts or my ideas from God. I don’t have to pretend with him. God knows everything about me. He knows me better than I know myself.

The second theme that I want to bring out from this passage is that we can’t get away from God. The psalmist lists many places that seem remote or far away. He refers to the heavens and the depths, the wings of the dawn and the far side of the sea. He talks about how the darkness cannot hide us because the darkness will become as light as day.

We can’t get away from God. We can’t be hidden from God. God sees us wherever we are. God is always with us.

There are times when you are wrestling with questions of sexuality that you feel very alone. You feel like you are hidden in a dark closet in a dark room in a dark house in a dark forest far away from anything. But even though we feel very alone, we are never alone. God is always right there. This passage makes this point very clear.

This was a huge encouragement for me when I was in the midst of the many questions I had about my sexuality and it continues to be an encouragement to me. God is always here. He will never leave me nor forsake me.

So as we think and discuss together this morning lets ask God to plant these two truths deep in our hearts. God knows us completely and he is always here with us.

The second passage I want to look at this morning is Genesis 2. The second account of creation. Although this story mentions nothing about homosexuality, it is one that anti- gay people love to throw in the faces of LGBT people along with the rhyme “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” So as I tried to reconcile my faith and sexuality, understanding this passage was very important to me.

First let me read the story. (I’m going to skip over a few verses that aren’t relevant to our discussion.)

“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

Skipping a few verses.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of