I almost titled this "My Theological Manifesto." But then I remembered Rory and Paris working on a project for school in "The Gilmore Girls," and Rory advising Paris, "First, lose the word 'mainfesto.'" So... 'My Understanding of Scripture' it is.
It strikes me this may well be long overdue. I have a commenter (or two... it's hard to know how many, although the most recent one seems politer than the one who was calling everyone "honey" or even "dyke"... a word I don't automatically despise... I think it has morphed, for much of the lesbian community, into a word we have reclaimed, much like African American people have reclaimed words once hurled at them like bullets). (That was a long aside, no?). Anyway, I have at least one commenter who keeps trying to convince me of the sinful nature of my relationship with Beloved by quoting scripture at me... primarily Leviticus, though I believe Romans was mentioned at a certain point.
Herewith: my approach to understanding and interpreting scripture.
1. The understanding of scripture as always "literally true and authoritative" (the doctrine of biblical inerrancy) is ultimately a bankrupt enterprise, and contrary to the intention of the Author/authors.
My daughter recently told me about a controversy in her biology class. I wondered whether she meant abortion. Of course, she did not: she meant the controversy of creationism versus the theory of evolution. The author(s) of the creations stories in Genesis (there are at least two there) had at their disposal creation myths of the ancient Near East. Their intention in telling the story of the seven days of creation was etiological: a seven day week was already in place. It was also, strongly, theological: God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen. It was also liturgical: the seven days of creation unfold with the grace of a gorgeous worship service, all in balance and harmony. That it would be so miserably misunderstood by 21st century Christians that they would reject God's gift of scientific reasoning and inquiry is disheartening, to say the least.
Now, here's where the intellectual bankruptcy comes in. Theological conservatives insist on literal understandings in some places and not in others. God created the world in seven days? Check! Jesus literally gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist? Uh, not so much. Why one and not the other? The "whore of Babylon" spoken of in Revelation: a prostitute from Babylonia? Of course not! Sorry folks. You can't pick and choose which things are held to be literally true with no rhyme or reason. If you acknowledge that some things are symbolic, then you must admit that some of the things you want to be literal might be symbolic. You must admit that.
2. Scripture is inspired by God and mediated through human beings.
The Biblical witness is comprised of many, many different kinds of literature, written across a period of many centuries, much of which has its roots in oral tradition, and all written for different audiences and with various purposes. For all its diversity, it has this common thread: it is the attempt of human beings to record their experience of living in covenant with the very real, very transcendent God. However, the historical context and scientific worldview matter; they inform the authors of scripture, and they influence their pronouncements. Let's talk about Paul.
Paul, in Romans 1, is not writing a Manual of Sexual Sins for All Times and Places, but a comment on those who are engaging in idol worship, and the sin he perceives as a result of that. (All LGBTQ folks who have engaged in idol worship this week, sound off!). Furthermore, Paul has a specific understanding of nature, of what is natural. It is his understanding that same-sex behaviors fall outside the realm of nature. Safe to say he never got the memos about same-sex behavior in bison, swans, gulls, penguins, bonobos, dragonflies, or any of the rest of the approximately 1500 species that exhibit same sex attraction and pairing off. Just as in humans, this behavior is observed in a minority. But just as in humans, it is clearly natural, i.e., occurring in nature. So Paul's calling it "unnatural" is incorrect. If Paul understood it to be natural would he have condoned committed same-sex partnerships? Well, given his feeling that no one should marry (see #3), I think it unlikely.
3. Scripture is not a monolith; it does not give us one easily discernible rule of thumb about sexual matters.
To talk about "scriptural family values" is to invoke, simultaneously, Jesus' prohibition on divorce, Paul's recommendation that people not marry because Jesus is coming back right away, Leviticus' permission to stone disobedient children, and Genesis' Big Love stories involving multiple wives and concubines. There is no single "scriptural family value" that can be invoked. There just isn't. Sorry. For those who believe that Romans 1 should dictate the understanding of all relationships between persons of the same sex, show me one preacher-- just one-- who is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 [I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.] should be the guide for all those who understand themselves to be heterosexual.
4. For Christians, there is a rule that can guide us in our understanding of how to live morally. When in doubt, defer to Jesus' law of love.
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.” Matthew 22:37-40
Can people live in committed partnerships with persons of the same sex while obeying Jesus' great commandments? I believe they can. For those who wish for further details to be fleshed out, Jesus also offers this view of salvation:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:31-40
Again, no mention of sexual behavior. Much mention of caring for the hurting of this world. This is not "my" view of "who is saved," it is Jesus'.
5. Jesus trumps Paul and Leviticus.
Self-explanatory. But I will explain nonetheless. Jesus says not one word, not one, about same-sex relationships. And it is very possible that Jesus healed the same-sex partner of a Roman soldier (Matthew 8:5-10). And where Jesus does speak of sexual behavior, he holds up covenant as the overriding value... hence, no divorce. Jesus trumps Paul and Leviticus.
So, dear Anonymous. Thank you for your concern. But I believe with all my heart that you are mistaken. I believe that God made me a woman who is affectionally and sexually drawn to be in relationship with another woman, and I have committed myself to her in love and fidelity. I believe that scripture, properly understood, offers no obstacle. Here ends the manifesto. Amen.