I sat on a plane next to a pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church. Wikipiedia describes this small denomination as follows, “MCC has been a leading force in the development of Queer theology.”
He was a friendly, very normal guy, maybe 60 years old. He was not effeminate. Had he not told me he was gay, it would have never crossed my mind.
I enjoyed the conversation. Among other things, it got me in touch with the pain of living a gay lifestyle. He told of people driving by his house and shouting obscenities. He told of people dumping bags of trash in his lawn and writing graffiti on his house—all because he is gay. Whatever else you think about homosexuality, I hope we can all agree that being mean to gay people just because they are gay is every bit of wrong.
I asked him if he recommended the gay lifestyle. “Suppose someone was bi-sexual. They could go either way. Would you recommend they live a gay lifestyle?” “Never in a million years. You have no idea how painful it is to live a gay lifestyle in America.”
It was about an hour and a half flight and we talked the whole time. He was clear and straightforward, though not defensive. I asked him about theology. I said it in a kind way, but to the point: “How do you justify homosexuality in light of the clear teachings of scripture?”
I was thinking of verses like: Leviticus 20:13 (NIV) “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
“That one is easy,” he replied. “There are numerous verses in Leviticus that virtually all evangelical Christians see as part of the Old Testament code, but they do not apply to us. We don’t prohibit eating crabs or shrimp or bacon, for example.” He didn’t have to go on; I knew he was right about that.
I asked about Romans 1, thinking of this verse: Romans 1:26-27 (NIV) “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
He was as relaxed as he was familiar with the verse. He spoke of it as comfortably as I might speak of John 3.16. “It is just like the head covering and the prohibition for men to have long hair. We are commanded in the Bible to greet each other with a holy kiss, but most all of us say that applied to that culture but not to ours.”
I am not saying I agree with him, but I must admit I am not sure I have an air-tight reason why not. One of the puzzling things about scripture is knowing what passages should be interpreted literally and which ones applied to the culture of the first century but not to us. (It is this issue that makes my Sunday School lessons, Good Questions Have Groups Talking, work as well as they do. Email me if you want a free trial.
For example, I have never heard of a church that interpreted this verse literally and applied it in a straight forward way: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 (NIV) “As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
As I understand the Greek there, it is saying that women should close their mouths when they pull up into the parking lot and not open them till they get back into the car. I am told there are good cultural reasons why this made sense back in the day. I say again, I have never heard of a church that practiced this this way.
So, here is the question: on what basis do we declare one verse to only apply to the first century, while others we see as timeless and applying to all cultures at all time?
I will be interested to hear your feedback.
This might make a good conversation for a Sunday School lesson.